Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why I Called the Jehovah Witness Headquarters

This week I received an email from a librarian asking for assistance.  Here is the content of her email:

We have a student who is a Jehovah Witness.  Her language arts teacher came to see me today and told me that her parents have objected to just about every novel/short story that they are doing.  I’m looking for recommendations for YA books that would be appropriate for a Jehovah Witness.  From what I can tell, that means no profanity, sex, witches, spirits, etc.  Any thoughts?  I’d appreciate the help!!

After thinking for a few minutes I decided to go straight to the source.  I found the site and called the  number I found there.  I told the woman who answered the phone that I was trying to assist a librarian and teacher in providing reading material for a student who was Jehovah Witness that would not be in conflict with her religious beliefs but also meet the curricular objectives of her class.  She seemed a bit wary, put me on hold and then I found I had been transferred to a different person.  I repeated what I had said earlier only to be transferred five more times.  Finally I was connected with a man who was willing to try and answer my question but offered no concrete book title suggestions.  

That is when I turned to who I should have turned to in the first place, a former student who is also Jehovah Witness.  Having worked in education for 23 years I have built connections with amazing students who are now equally amazing adults, moms, dads, teachers, etc.  This particular student held morning meetings before school in my library for the other Jehovah Witness students in the school.  He use to also hang out in the library whenever he could.  He is also a master at sign language and would practice in the library by signing everything I said.  I found it fascinating to have my own personal interpreter.   Anyway.....  He asked some specific questions about the course and the student. Turns out the course was an 8th grade language arts class and the teacher was having her students explore various genres throughout the year.  The first genre was horror.  Since Jehovah Witnesses cannot read anything with witches, sorcery, magic, spirits, etc., finding a horror book to read was indeed proving to be difficult but not for my friend.  Here is what he suggested:

When I told my Voxer "support group" (you know who you are) that I had called the Jehovah Witness Headquarters I was met with a resounding, WHY???!!  

I grew up in the deep, deep, deep, Bible Belt South.  My parents were Northerners and we were also part of a religion that, at the time, only 2 other families besides ours practiced in the town in which I grew up.  We held church service in each others living rooms.  For those of you not familiar with the Deep South, if you are not Southern Baptist, do not drink Coke and sweet tea, and, for the love of God, do not say Ma'am and Sir, you will be branded the devil himself and ostracized.  

Well, being from the North, my parents taught me that saying Ma'am and Sir was rude (which it is in the North).  This won me NO points with my teachers.  With our religion I had to, as a first grader, excuse myself from the classroom when my teacher read from the bible.  I also excused myself from the classroom when the principal would pray over the loud speaker.  When birthday parties or field days or anything that happened where snacks and drinks were provided for students I would have to be taken to the teacher's lounge to get a Sprite because I could not drink anything with caffeine.  Can you imagine how this went over?  Did my teachers respect my religious beliefs and make accommodations without a fuss so that I still felt accepted and a part of the class.  HECK NO!  My teachers made sure to treat me with as much scorn as possible and made it clear to the other students that they were to stay away from me.  I also found out much later that the parents of the students also told their children to have nothing to do with "that devil girl".  

This is why I called the Jehovah Witness Headquarters and went the extra mile to get an answer to the question posed.  I know how it feels to be in the shoes of the 8th grade girl wanting to fit in but also wanting to remain true to her religion.  It is a hard and lonely place to be, but it doesn't have to be if we as educators learn how to respect others.  

I know that there is a movement to bring prayer and the bible back into our schools and I know that the movement is filled with good intent.  I feel, however, that these people have failed to take a step back and see it from the other side.  

Let's set up a scenario:  You are the only Southern Baptist in a mostly Pastafarian town.  In the public schools the teachers read daily from the Pastafarian religious text and recite Pastafarian prayers over the loud speaker.

How would you feel as a Southern Baptist child in that school? As a Jewish child?  As a Catholic child? As a Muslin child?

What would you do if you were a Southern Baptist child in that school? A Jewish child?  A Catholic child? A Muslin child?

This scenario is NO different than the movement to bring prayer and the bible back into schools.  Promoting ANY religion in a PUBLIC school where children come from a variety of religious persuasions is not only disrespectful but is terribly HURTFUL.  

As educators we need to tread lightly and be aware of the subtle ways we send unspoken messages to the students in our classes.  The bible on your desk.  Talking about Jesus and God in the classroom.  Having a "Choose Life" car tag.  Posting on social media your disgust over the Michael Sam's kiss.  Having a black velvet painting of Rush Limbaugh hanging over your teacher desk.  Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8 bumper sticker on your car.

Look at these tweets from a public school administrator below.  If you do not share his political views would you feel safe to express your own opinions in his school as a student?  As a parent?  As a community member?  As a teacher?

Do you find this next tweet ironic given the previous tweets? 

"If we reached one child it's worth it."   Knock knock. Could you reach yourself first?

Is this to say that as an educator you can't have your own personal religious or political beliefs?  No.  But these beliefs have no place in the classroom or on social media where you represent your school because when you do it HURTS KIDS.  I know because it HURT ME.

Friday, August 29, 2014

This Week @ Elkmont & Beyond: August 25-29, 2014

Learning With Friends

The always inspirational, Jennifer LaGarde, shared the video below and I just had to share it with my teachers.  I want to be just like Tim every day and do the Dance Off Of Magic on my way into work!  What about you?

My friend, Tom Murray (Alliance for Excellent Education), used Google Hangouts to kick off the back-to-school series of Project 24 leadership activities. Project 24 is a systemic planning framework around the effective use of technology and digital learning to achieve the goal of “career and college readiness” for all students. This initial Google Hangout explored how school leaders can deploy strategies that use data, support teachers, and use technology to provide more robust, student-centered learning opportunities for every student.  Tom's special guest was the incredible Eric Sheninger from New Milford High School.  If you missed this event you can watch below or catch it HERE as well as mark your calendar for more great webinars to come.

Although Tom Murray is super busy in Washington DC now, he took time out Friday morning to walk me through the  workings of Project 24.  It is incredible what Tom and his team have been able to put together!  If you are a school thinking about a 1:1 or BYOD initiative OR if you already have  a 1:1 or BYOD initiative it is IMPERATIVE that you connect with Project 24.  Project 24 is completely FREE and will assist you in not only evaluating the technology needs of your district but also provides easily clickable resources to help support you as areas that need to be addressed are discovered.  Not using Project 24 leaves you flying blind and hoping you are doing the right thing.  Project 24 provides with with a framework or roadmap for success.  Did I mention that it is FREE?!

Tuesday night I went to see Dr. Tommy BiceAlabama State School Superintendent, speak at Lee High School in Huntsville, AL.  While not a personal friend of mine, Dr, Bice is a friend to innovative teachers who have been trapped in antiquated schools with administrators who are more comfortable towing the line rather than rocking the boat.  I love that Dr. Bice has given us the freedom to rock the boat, shed the antiquated, ineffective means of teaching and empower students to be masters of their own learning! 

Our Week in Pictures


Learn, grow, and share with us by following the Limestone County School's Digital Passport Initiative Blog as we bravely move forward this year as a 1:1 and BYOD school district.


Congratulations to Ms. Candi Holt! Her Dive Into Technology Donors Choose project was successfully funded!

Donors Choose project was successfully funded!

PLC Leaders used a Google Document to schedule a date and time for our first PLC Meetings in September. We will build our professional learning goals within our PLC to compliment growth goals set in our Educate Alabama PLPs.

Kenny Jordan learned about Weebly to create a website for parents of children with disabilities. He will use this site to create a place for other parents to learn about, celebrate, get advise and support each other. I am looking forward to seeing the final website Mr. Jordan puts together using Weebly.

Ms. Pat Gartman has set up a Google Calendar for teachers and is ready to start using it. next step is to train teachers just how easy it is to plan on a shared Google calendar!

Katherine Pankey uses Remind messages with links to video tutorials to help students to review what was covered in class. This is very helpful for students who were absent! Ms. Pankey also sends attachments via Remind so that parents can see what will be on this week's test!

Linda Smith and Beth Bates are embracing the wonders of Kahoot! Here is a quote from Beth, "You may have already heard of this, but if you haven't, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, take a minute to check it out. It's awesome and it's FREE! And it's great for BYOD!"

Harnessing The Power of BYOD

One quick and easy way to use the devices students bring to school is as clicker/response systems. By using teachers are able to gather information quickly to drive instruction in real time, provide ongoing feedback and help students identify their own strengths and weaknesses. Basically, BYOD is a great formative assessment tool.

Socrative is a system that uses cell phones and or laptops (user's choice) for gathering feedback from students. You can post as many questions as you like in a variety of formats. One of the more "fun" question formats is the "race" format in which students can work individually or in teams to answer questions as quickly as possible.

Kahoot! allows learners to both respond AND create with any device that has a web browser and works over wifi or 3G/4G, creating a variety of trusted learning spaces.

Poll Everywhere is a service that allows you to collect responses from an audience via text messaging. The free plan for K-12 educators provides selection of features and quantity of responses that is adequate for almost any classroom. One of the neat ways to display feedback gathered through Poll Everywhere is in word clouds. The word cloud feature integrates with WordleTagxedo, and Tagul.

For more BYOD ideas follow my BYOD Pinterest Board here:

6 Things We Need To Stop Saying in Education from Dr. Justin Tarte's blog 

  • Instead of saying 'teaching,' let's start saying 'learning.'

  • Let's stop saying we are trying to increase 'rigor,' and let's start saying that we are trying to create an environment that 'appropriately challenges' our students.

  • Instead of saying 'professional development,' let's start saying 'self-directed growth

  • Instead of differentiated instruction start saying 'personalized or customized learning.

  • Let's stop saying 'assessment' and let's start saying 'input and feedback tool.'

  • I challenge you to replace the word 'meeting' with the word 'gathering.'

To read more about the 6 Words We Need To Stop Saying in Education click here:


The first 25 Elkmont High School teachers to add how they are using technology in their classrooms will receive a free Flocabulary tote bag!

Must include your name and HOW you are using technology in your classroom to alter learning for students.

Adding pictures and links will get you a special BONUS PRIZE!

Our Weekly Smore!

Each week I send out to faculty and staff an #iCONNECT Tech Tips Newsletter made with Smore.  Please feel free to share these with your teachers as well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

This Week @Elkmont & Beyond! August 17-23, 2014

Digital Passport Initiative Set To Launch at Elkmont High School

Elkmont High School is proud to announce that on Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 1:00 pm CT Limestone County School District’s Digital Passport Initiative will officially launch for the 3rd and 4th grade students at our school.

The Digital Passport Initiative is a 1:1 (student to laptop) initiative of the Limestone County School District. Under the supervision of Dr. Tom Sisk, Limestone County is dedicated to providing a device per student which will serve as their "Passport" to 21st Century Learning. This initiative is not a device initiative; it is a curriculum initiative. Limestone County Schools are dedicated to using the device for instructional purposes to advance student learning. A 1:1 initiative has proven to increase test scores and student attendance and decrease student discipline in districts all across America.

The rollout for the Limestone County 1:1 Initiative is different than most other districts. We believe we should begin at the elementary level and foster these digital natives early rather than the widely used method of a top-down approach. Therefore, we will begin placing 11” MacBook Air laptops in students hands in grades 3 and 4 in September 2014. This rollout will include approximately 1400 students and 130 teachers district wide.

Teachers of these grades have already received the laptop in the Spring of 2014 and are familiar with the device. Ms. Nikki D Robertson at Elkmont High School, along with Instructional Technology Facilitators embedded at each Limestone County School with 3rd and 4th grade classes, have been hired to assist teachers with the digital curriculum pedagogical change that will take place as a result of having devices in the classroom.

To keep up with the learning taking place with these devices and the objectives of the Digital Passport Initiative visit the Limestone County Schools DPI Website at Each week a blog post detailing our learning adventures will also be posted at

If you would like to learn more about the LCS Digital Passport Initiative at Elkmont High School please contact Ms. Nikki D Robertson at

This Week in Pictures

3rd & 4th Graders Continue Digital Citizenship Lessons

This week the 3rd & 4th Grade DPI lessons veered away from Digital Citizenship. We spent this time learning several important things as well as having a bit of fun with our MacBooks. We started out learning how to sign into the MacBook using our personal usernames and passwords. It is very important that student know how to do this on their own so that they can use their laptops at home. We also discussed how to completely shut down your computer and why. For instance, no one in Ms. LuAnn Adams class could get their login credentials to work. We held down the power button until the computer screen goes black. Then press the power button to turn the computer back on. 90% of the time powering your computer all the way off and back on again will solve most computer problems. We also learned how to log out of our accounts so that someone else can log in to the computers we are currently sharing. The last "technical" thing we learned and practices was how to properly take care of the charging cable for the MacBook Air.

For fun we explored Photo Booth. We had such a good time being absolutely silly! We then transitioned into a bit of musical fun by becoming beat box musicians using IncrediBox.

Next week will finish up our Digital Citizenship modules.

Just 5 more days until our BIG DAY! YAY!

Celebrating Our Successes!  

Mr. Kenny Jordan, Assistant Principal, walked and talked with me this week about how much he likes using Remind (formerly Remind 101). We then went door to door down the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade hallway knocking on doors and asking teachers about their experiences using Remind as a way to communicate with students and parents. Every teacher that uses Remind had great stories to share. One teacher shared that she sent home a Remind message for her students to wear red for Spirit Day. All of her students came to school wearing red the next day.

Paper notes and newsletter can get lost or never read. Emails, websites, blogs, and electronic newsletters are often left unread as well, but a recent study proved that 100% of all text messages are read. Thus, if you want to make sure your message has been received use a text messaging service like Remind.

Another service that I like even better than Remind is Check it out if you would like or stop by E1 to have Ms. Robertson help you set up an account to use with your students/parents.


Ms. Pat Gartman, Assistant Principal, continued learning about Twitter and the power of a hashtag this week as she tweeted about the 5th Grade Project Based Learning field trip to Downtown Elkmont.

Be sure to use hashtags like #EHSRedDevils, #LCSForKids, and #iConnect to share the learning fun we are having at Elkmont High School this year.


5th grade teachers, Ms. Tessa Hardiman, Ms. Candi Holt, and Ms. Missy Bailey, used digital cameras this week to begin documenting their Project Based Learning (PBL) Unit. You can follow the pictorial history of the project as it happens by checking back to the Flickr album below from time to time. Pictures will be added as new events are captured.


Ms. Katherine Pankey, Mathematics Teacher, signed up for Google Classroom this week. 
Ms. Robertson has setup a Google Classroom Classes for each of Elkmont High School's PLCs.

Not familiar with Google Classroom? Watch this will blow your mind!

Professional Development

Thursday I had the pleasure of spending the evening learning from the always inspiring Jennifer Lagarde as she presented 27 Ways To Make This The Best Year EVER!  Check it out for yourself and see what you missed! Then make a note to never miss anything Jennifer presents again!

Saturday I got to spend the afternoon doing PD in my PJs with SimpleK12.  Not only was I able to learn great information about Google from presenters like Kyle Pace, Monica Burns, & Kimber Thompson, Caitlin Tucker, and Lori Maldonado,  but I had the honor of presenting as well.

My presentation was about using Google Hangouts to make learning rewindable.  The great thing about SimpleK12 is that the learning can take place 24/7 and is there for you when you are ready.  Plus, they have engaging, well informed presenters.  You can't lose when you use SimpleK12 for your PD needs.

Fun with Family

Friday, Saturday & Sunday my daughter and grandson from Atlanta made the three hour trek to Huntsville to visit.  Our weekend was fast, exhausting and fun!  We took the grandson to Sci-Quest which features more than 150 interactive exhibits pertaining to the principles of science.  Even at 3 years old, he loved it and so did we!  The Earthquake simulator ROCKED! Literally!  The other place we took the grandson was to the US Space and Rocket Center.  It was truly an amazing experience to see and do some many things there.  I love that I was able to spend some quality time with my family while building brain synapses that will help my grandson have points of reference as he learns and grows.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This Week @ Elkmont High & Beyond: August 11-15, 2014

DPI Modules:

This week 3rd and 4th grade students began using MacBooks to explore how to be good Digital Citizens and how to stay safe online. Students are completing five learning modules through Common Sense Media's Digital Passport programMrs. Laura Dougherty's 3rd grade students were the first to get their hands on the MacBooks and did an AWESOME job!

I learned quite a bit from that first lesson and adjusted the lesson accordingly. Next, Mrs. Atina English, Mrs. Tina McMunn and Mrs. Anita Bates classes got started on their learning modules.

During our first visit students learned how to make safe passwords, how hard it is to multitask while using a cell phone to talk or text, and the importance of staying safe while online as well as online privacy.

Tech Comfort Survey:

Tackling a new position this year offers great new learning opportunities.  To get a better feel for the educational community in which I am now working and as the Instructional Technology Facilitator, I followed the advice gleamed from the Flipped and websites and sent out a Tech Comfort Survey.  While the results in the slideshow below may look dismal to some, to me they let me know where the "need to work on" areas are as well as who my "experts down the hall" are. 

My next step will be to work with my administrative team to create blocks of time during the school day each month for small groups of teachers to meet in a workshop setting. This workshop time is vital as it allows for collaboration between teachers and professional coaching from the Instructional Technology Facilitator.

Other open ended questions asked on the survey that will also help navigate the professional learning needs of my new school community included:

  • What technology (app, website, etc) not mentioned above do you have a high degree of confidence in using in a school/classroom setting?
  • What technologies have you heard about through PDs, other educators, or friends that you would like to learn more about?
  • If you could only learn three (3) technologies this school year, which three (3) do you feel are critical to helping you in the classroom?

Perhaps my favorite and arguably the most important open ended question came last in the survey:

I'm looking forward to an amazing year of developing meaningful learning connections with my new school community.  

Presentations & Connections:

This past Tuesday I had the wonderful opportunity to present to the Lauderdale County School Librarians.  The invite to speak with this amazing group of librarians came from District Technology Teacher, Carol Pace, who I met at the Alabama Educational Technology Conference (AETC) this past summer.

I feel as if the presentation was an epic fail, however, because I, despite having experienced a few previous bumps in the road, have still not secured a HotSpot in case the venue in which I am presenting does not have adequate Internet service.  

The lack of adequate Internet (speed in this case) prevented use of several valuable audio and video components of the presentation.  The worst aspect of my over site, however, was that the attendees were unable to actively participate in a presentation that was designed for audience participation. 

I hope that despite this, the attendees gleamed something from the session and didn't feel as if their time was wasted.  

Here is a link to the presentation and if you have adequate Internet service be sure to click on the many links embedded in the pictures to get the full effect: 

Friends shouldn't let friends listen to Voxer and drive.   

I feel very fortunate to have friends who are in this "starting a brand new job boat" with me this year.  We have our own little, private Voxer group where we can vent, encourage, support and make each other laugh as we journey down our new found paths.  

With that said, friends shouldn't let friends listen to Voxer and drive.  Jennifer, you know what you did.  I almost peed my pants and drove off the road I was laughing so hard! 

Despite the almost peeing in my pants incident I am so very grateful that I stepped outside of my comfort zone, began connecting and building professional relationships on Twitter and have developed true friendships with professional educators across this country.  If you do ONE thing this year make it TWITTER!  It will transform your life.

#iCONNECT Tech Tips Newsletter-August 11-15, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Voice is Power: Are You Using Yours?

This post is a featured guest post on The Media Specialist's Guide To The Internet.  A special THANK YOU to Julie Greller for asking me to guest blog on her site.  Julie's blog has been an inspiration to me for years!

Summertime immediately brings to mind the raspy, soulful voice of Janis Joplin, sleeping in, and sand between my toes.  In reality, though, summertime is a flurry of professional development sessions, educational conferences, lesson planning, and connecting with other educators.


This summer I attended four conferences, five professional development sessions, one 3 day workshop, moved, visited my new granddaughter in Kansas, got married, went on my honeymoon, and started a new job and I have loved every minute of the non stop action!  

As a connected educator, cofounder of EdCamp Atlanta, a “groupie” of all things EdCamp, a blogger, and a Twitterholic, I take for granted the fact that I speak up and contribute to educational conversations on a regular basis.  But many educators do not feel comfortable following suit, and this is a problem.  It is a problem because if we fail to speak up then who is doing the speaking for us?

Quote by Vickie Davis (aka: Cool Cat Teacher) Photo:

It is a problem because if we fail to speak up, connect, share, and learn from others how are we going to continue to grow professionally?  Is passively waiting for our school district to provide us with timely, relevant, professional development good enough?  Do YOU want to be just “good enough”?

At one of the conferences I attended this summer the failure to speak up and it’s consequences became glaringly and embarrassingly obvious.  An amazing speaker had just finished talking about the importance of making our voices heard and how each one of us has a story to tell.  Immediately following this riveting speech that received a standing ovation the conference transitioned into a SmackDown session.  For those of you not familiar with a SmackDown session it is one of my favorite things!  During a SmackDown everyone in attendance is encouraged to come up to the microphone and share, in two minutes or less, an app, website, lesson, etc., that they used or discovered that year.  There is usually a long line of people waiting to share their great finds and often a cut off point is determined by the moderator of the SmackDown.  It is fast, energetic, exciting, and you learn a lot of new, cool things in just a small amount of time.


At this particular conference for school librarians, however, no one shared during the SmackDown session.  

NO ONE.   

Yes…. NO ONE.  

As moderator, I and a few board members modeled how a SmackDown works.  I then encouraged the attendees to share some of their great tidbits.  


I encouraged attendees, saying, “Certainly everyone here has at least one thing they did in their library this year that they can share (big smiley face)”.  



I was aghast at the deathly silence that engulfed the room filled with school librarians from around the state.  Librarians who had earlier expressed grave concerns about zero funding of their libraries for the last nine years.  Librarians who had just lamented the firing of all school library aides throughout the state.  Librarians who recounted horror stories of school districts that had received waivers from the state department to do away with having a school library at all.  Yet, these same librarians couldn’t find even one thing to share during the SmackDown session at a conference for and about school librarians.  

If this group of school librarians couldn’t think of anything worth sharing with others in their field is it any wonder that the state legislators don’t see school libraries as valuable enough to fund?  

If this group of school librarians couldn’t think of anything worth sharing with others in their field is it any wonder that principals and superintendents don’t allocate local resources to help fund their school libraries?

If this group of school librarians couldn’t think of anything worth sharing with others in their field is it any wonder that administrators don’t see libraries as valuable enough to even have at their schools?

At another conference later in the summer I asked a librarian friend of mine who was there that fateful, silent day, why she had not shared during the SmackDown.  Her reason for not sharing was that the other librarians in her district were jealous of her and “bullied” her when ever she spoke up about anything so now she just keeps her mouth shut.  Seriously???  She was “mean-girled” into silence by other librarians?


This time I was silent.  I simply couldn’t think of anything to say in response.

Now that I have had time to recover from the shock, this is what I want my friend and all the other librarians to know:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ~ Marianne Williamson

I challenge you, whether you are a school librarian, teacher, administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator/Facilitator, Superintendent, etc., to share.


Your voice matters!  

I also challenge you to ask yourself this question:  

Have I done, taught, discovered anything today, this week, this year, that is of value in my school, in my classroom, in my library, in my district that is worthy of sharing with others?  

If your answer to this question is no… turn in your letter of resignation.  You are hurting the rest of us and more importantly you are hurting children.

Yes. Speaking out and sharing is scary. What if people don’t like what you have to say? What if someone criticizes your blog? What if you sound stupid?  What if you aren’t as great as someone else?  The stakes in education are too high for the barrage of negative “What ifs” we cripple ourselves with and our students are too valuable for us to cheat them by giving into the fear that the negative “What if’s” bring.


If nothing else in this post has yet convinced you of the power of and importance of your voice, please watch the video, Obvious To You-Amazing To Others by Derek Sivers.  It does a great job explaining why you should share.