I am THRILLED to announce the launch of my new website karawelty.com!
What this means is that this website and blog- GrowLeadServe.com, will no longer exist in the very near future. Instead, I will be forwarding this URL to karawelty.com. I will be posting some of my most popular and sought after posts from Grow. Lead. Serve. to my new website so you can still access my already created content. Stay tuned!
I will also be posting brand NEW content and posts very soon to my new website! So, in short, you will now need to stay updated with my new blog posts through karawelty.com. Please subscribe to my new website by visiting the new link, and then on the sidebar to the right it will say, “Subscribe to My Blog" - be sure to click it!
Thank you readers and subscribers for your unwavering love and support from here on Grow. Lead. Serve. I could never fully express in words what it means to me to have readers like you in my corner. Stay subscribed on my new website so you will not miss any new educational posts on technology, leadership, and more! I hope you like the new look of what I have in store. 

- Kara




Lately, my Twitter feed has been flooded with articles that contain the "top" tools in Makerspaces, STEAM, PBL and beyond.

This prompts me to ask myself...


Is it helpful to see what other schools are doing in these arenas? Absolutely yes. May some of these tools be beneficial for my students? Maybe so. Is there a one-size-fits all approach to any of these initiatives? No, no, NO.

What works eloquently for one school, may or may not be successful in another school. This same thought process applies to individual students.

We cannot create a playbook for anything in education because education will always be unique to the students we are learning with. We also cannot rely solely on the tools. Tools are superficial, while the learning and questioning is deep.

But, first and foremost, we need to ask ourselves: What goals do we have when implementing a big idea like a Makerspace? In order words, what are we trying to do and WHY are we trying to accomplish it?

For the record, I truly believe in these initiatives. I do not love it because it is the popular thing to do, so I feel pressured to do so. I love these approaches because it naturally helps push teachers "out of the way," while organically pulling students right in the center of THEIR learning. After all, it is not about us teachers anyways; It is about the students.

Be Empowered


In my heart of hearts, my wish is for every school to feel empowered to implement what speaks to them, while keeping in focus what is best for THEIR kids. We need to think deeply about our purpose  and then have the courage to go after our big ideas.

Many forget the step of making these ideas their own. More importantly- have the students MAKE IT THEIR OWN. Mix-it-up to be whatever feels "real" to you. Furthermore, do not forget to maintain flexibility in all you do. You may have a "game-plan," but it will need to be adapted on game day.

Learning is Messy


A "top tool" list may be beneficial to frame your brain around ideas, but be cautious when you start living someone else's playbook. Live out your own playbook for you and your community. Start by rallying a team beside you to gain a variety of perspectives on what your kids really need.

As your journey continues, remember: Learning is messy. More importantly, learning is not a ladder; Learning is more like a McDonald's Play Place... Choose your own adventure.

-Kara





You may remember Xanga as the blogging service that used to rule the world. I remember Xanga as a website that empowered me as a child. Ever since the days of Xanga, I have been engrossed with learning "how" technology works.

To set the scene, during this time period I was in 5th grade and my family just received our very first computer. At this point, I only knew how to do two things with a computer:

1. How to use Microsoft Word
2. AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) like a pro


Game-Changer


Once my parents purchased dial-up internet, I stumbled across Xanga. Xanga was nothing short of a game-changer for how I saw the world. Before this moment, I never saw a website where kids, and people of many ages, posted their thoughts, pictures, and musical playlists.

My mind raced with endless questions...I immediately wanted to post my own thoughts, while reading the ideas of others. In addition, I wanted to know how to change a site's layout, script, font, color, and more. But, even with the internet, I did not know how to figure this out. Therefore, I determined that if I was going to find the answers my questions, I needed to play around with the website so I could learn myself. Through this determination, I taught myself HTML.

When I was in school, these tech skills were not valuable in the classroom and I spent much of my alone time at home diving into this. I would have loved to be a kid today where coding, STEAM, and Makerspaces flourish in many schools.

What Will Prevail?


With all of this said, even though the tools are exciting, we cannot lose sight that the people should always take precedence over the "things."

In some schools, even with the greatest tools, teachers wait to learn these technologies until someone shows them how to use it seamlessly. Then, students are often trained to wait at a standstill in schools to try a new tool, app, or game until a teacher shows them the way.

But, here is the issue- when we constantly lead with this ideology, we are inadvertently teaching that the tool is more important than who we are. Also, without directly saying it, we are communicating learned helplessness when it is time to learn a new tool.

We need to shift our thinking to resourcefulness OVER resources. I love learning and teaching new tools when there is meaning behind it, but the tools will never solely propel us to our goals. What will prevail is the tenacity of the team and the students; Tenacity will always prevail over any opposing force. We cannot forget that technology is an important asset, but it is not the end-all-be-all.

Lasting Thoughts


We can surround ourselves with....

*The most brilliant network
*The newest and brightest technology
*The highest quality of resources
*The largest sum of money


But, all of these incredible assets will not be as valuable unless we are equipped with the resourcefulness, determination, and self-reliance to navigate these assets. Technology is important, but WE are even more important. Let us become our own best resource!

-Kara


Throughout my experience in education thus far I have led curriculum department teams, curriculum writing teams, new teachers, district-wide events, programs, and technology and instructional movements. Throughout my myriad of experiences, I have quickly learned how demanding it can be behind the scenes to create meaningful professional development (PD); Yet, it is a non-negotiable in education. With a hearty set of demands placed upon educators each day, time is sacred and each minute in PD should be valued in gold.

With that said, PD may not always be a grand slam in everyone's eyes, and that is okay. But, in my eyes, the grand slam is still my goal. Although we can never be perfect, the valid point is to constantly improve your practice through feedback and trial-and-error. As we know, teachers face similar obstacles in the classroom while attempting to seamlessly differentiate for each student; It is hard work, but it is always worth it.

Therefore, after reflecting upon my own work, below is a curation of the top 7 lessons I have learned through my own experience in the pursuit of constance self-improvement. Without a doubt, I know I will continue to develop my professional toolbox on this topic, as well.

1. Get Feedback from Multiple Parties Prior to the PD and Know Your Audience

More often than not, we are asked to teach to a variety of adult learners who are teaching different subject/special areas, contents, grade levels and more- All in one day, place, or session. This is not rare, this is the norm.

Rather than seeing this as a negative, I believe this allows for an exciting challenge of meeting every adult learner where they are at. Therefore, to value your time and the teachers, be sure to contact the educators and administration prior to the PD to actively seek out what they are wanting to learn, while asking what topics they are the experts in.

When in doubt: Never assume, always ask.

2. Invite Others, then Go Global

Ask yourself: Is there anyone else you can invite to this PD who would benefit from the learning and conversations taking place? For example, can you ask District/Central Office personnel from your school district to attend your PD? 

Now, let's think even bigger: Can you invite other parents, teachers, and administration outside of your school? If others outside of your school are unable to attend, consider sharing the relevant and treasured resources to social media: A quick tweet can globally connect the world with your PD in seconds, or a Periscope can share the learning live with anyone who is interested.

3. Plan a Healthy Mix of Structured and Organic Sessions/Break-Outs

I love infusing EdCamp models into my PD sessions as much as possible, but I also see the benefit in structured settings that are formatted in a way where colleagues can thrive on collaborative and cooperative moments. Even when discussing topics with whole groups of teachers, you can still provide opportunities to spice the learning up, get teachers moving, and to allow time for peer dialogue.

If you are struggling between choosing a more structured PD and more organic PD (like EdCamps), determine your purpose, content, setting, and individuals involved first before making any decisions. Also consider this: Anytime you can add in teacher choice, you will see engagement rise.

4. Empower Teachers to Lead 

Do you see teachers doing amazing things in your schools? Of course you do. Rather than talking about how incredible the teaching was from a second-hand account, ask the teacher him/herself to lead a break-out session or to share his/her wealth of knowledge in other ways.

Every single teacher wants to feel important and valued, just like students. Anytime you can highlight the work of the teachers and their strengths, you are not just building solid PD, you are forming the building blocks for an unshakable culture.

5. Do Not Be Afraid to Adjust on the Fly

While developing sessions for PD, I spend hours upon hours on the content, delivery systems, resources I want to share, and more. Even the night (and morning) before, I continue to go over my work to ensure that it is beyond worthwhile, while constantly innovating my ideas.

Even after gaining feedback from teachers, paired with the careful planning and time, I still find that I need to adjust my PD constantly on the fly during the live session. We adjust our teaching all of the time when teaching students, but for some reason, we feel that we need to stick to a "script" when it comes to teaching adults. I have found that teachers will appreciate and respect you more if you "read the room" and adjust your plans as needed.

6. Embody "FUN"

Have you ever listened to someone present who was monotone, expressionless, and/or lacking energy? It is pretty painful, isn't it?

In order to gain engagement, you need to be engaging yourself. It all starts with a simple smile and passion for what you do. Beyond this, you can add in sneak peeks to your personality, if you are comfortable doing so; I dance, play music, get teachers moving, laugh at myself, and try to not ever take myself too seriously. We can still be professional while having the time of our lives.

7. Connect with Experts

Knowledge extends beyond the four walls of your school, while giving perspective from others. Connect with the experts on your topic to see if they have any tips, resources, or ideas that they would be willing to share. Also, you can invite the experts to Skype or Google Hang-out with you and your group. The options are limitless, and the worst that someone can say is "no."

- Kara



The title of this post is incredibly misleading; There is much more that goes into building a collaborative culture than simply asking for help. But, I must admit that asking for help is a meaningful start. Although I live my life to serve others, which is reason why "serve" is apart of my mission, Grow. Lead. Serve., I also have come to understand that we must be willing to ask for help first before others feel comfortable reaching out to us.

Many of us hear metaphors that include:


- Life is a "give and take."
- "You give before you get."
- "You must sow the seed before you reap the harvest."


Although these saying have meaningful intentions, after years of hearing "always give first," you begin to feel guilty when asking for even the tiniest assistance. Furthermore, sometimes we even feel weak or inferior if we ask for help; As if one person can somehow know all of the answers to life. We cannot do it alone; We need each other.

I have found that by asking others for genuine guidance, you start to heighten the comfort level between you and your peers. Giving to others can include providing others with resources, suggestions, time, effort, and your heart. It can even be established by asking a question to gather feedback, like, "What would you do in this circumstance?" or "I see that you are really successful with _________, do you have any tips that you could share?" 

By asking for help, you can also show interest in another person. In addition, you can build a culture where people conclude that "If he/she feels comfortable asking for help, I am going to feel at ease asking him/her for help next time."

Everyone deserves to feel heard and it all begins with us.

It may sound over-sentimental, but try asking a colleague a question that can ask for help, or to gather essential insight. You will be astonished to see how your culture may launch to the next level with the beginnings of one small act.

-Kara


I live for lessons and ideas that I can apply to all areas of my life. Reverse Innovation is one of those transformational ideas. 

To give you a short backstory, a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a TED Talk from 
Vijay Govindarajan titled "Reverse Innovation." Needless to say, I was pulled in instantaneously. I thoroughly enjoy learning from global experts in all areas: business, finance, leadership, education, and more. We often stay in our own bubble of expertise to a fault. I have found that there is a plethora of learning that can take place from listening to the successes, and trials, from those in other professions.

While watching Govindarajan's TED talk, I was hooked. Although his principles mainly apply to the global economy, they can truly be transferable to a myriad of pursuits, careers, and passions. I also recommend reading Govindarajan's book, Reverse Innovation: Create Far from Home, Win Anywhere.

The above infographic depicts a few of my favorite points from Govindarajan:
  • "Do a lot more with a lot less"
  • "Change from value for money to value for many (people)"
  • "Be curious about all problems"
  • "Think ambitions over expectations"
  • "You cannot unlock new opportunities by using the same logic"
These concepts are written effortlessly, yet have a much more complex meaning. Furthermore, the meaning of these interpretations can change drastically based on the perspective you bring to the table.

Govindarajan even shares real stories of how reverse innovation is changing the developing world by offering "universal access to world-class quality" at low prices that are unheard of. For example, a $30 artificial leg was made using recycled plastic yogurt cups from Thailand doctors; Can you imagine? Miraculous innovations are occurring all around the world, even in unlikely places.

Applying the Concepts to Education

With tightening budgets and growing expectations for educators, one may find it difficult to transpose the above ideas to education. Yet, many educators are finding ways to be innovative and "doing more with less" while focusing on the people, ambitions, and opportunities before anything else. 

I am curious to learn from you: How are you, your colleagues, or your school "doing a lot more with a lot less?" Share your stories below! 

- Kara






I'll never forget Mrs. Rasmussen's English Literature college course.

To graduate at an accelerated rate, I decided to take summer courses while working towards my Bachelor's Degree. When you hear "summer course," you may think of an easy and watered down version of a full-length spring or fall class. But, this course with Mrs. Rasmussen was an exception. This class, 7 years ago, completely changed my life.

Mrs. Rasmussen is one of those individuals that you instantly love when they walk into a room. She brought in a dynamic and effortless energy that pulled you in closer with each and every word. Moreover, she knew literature at all angles and was a luminous speaker and writer. During her course, Mrs. Rasmussen chose a few of her favorite, deeply thought-provoking, books for us to read. Then, we discussed these books in class with theories and thoughts that were nothing short of "bloggable."

Before Mrs. Rasmussen, I never met a person who was so well-versed in literature. Throughout my school career, I was always advanced in reading and writing and I forever hoped for an literary educator like her. In the same fashion, before Mrs. Rasmussen, I never met anyone, yet alone an educator, who was a published author. At one point in class, Mrs. Rasmussen shared her book, The Bird Sisters, and I was astounded, dazed, shocked, and genuinely impressed (So impressed that I bought 2 copies)!

I had written and read rigorously my entire life, with hopes to be an author one day. In spite of this, deep down I doubted it was a reachable goal. Before then, I never met a published author. Even when I was a child, I came to the conclusion that authors were a rare breed; Like the infamous Loch Ness Monster- often discussed, rarely seen.

Without even realizing it, Mrs. Rasmussen electrified and amended the course of my life. Due to her example, I started believing that I could actually be an author, too. It was no longer a dream, it was a plan. Through this, I became fully aware that role models are the KEY to creating. In order for kids, and people, to believe they can change the world, they need role models who are doing so, too.

Role Models Energize the Vision


Sometimes we have a dream and we can become successful with or without role models who are living our passions; We can persevere by creating our own visual. While on the other hand, in many cases, having a mentor in some capacity can make all the difference.

Every student at our school has a passion waiting to come alive. Nonetheless, whether we are an expert or novice in each child's hobby is not the heart of the message. Instead, what is valued the most is our willingness to learn more, while connecting with those who ARE the experts. In other words, let us ask this question: How can we connect our students to the individuals who can help build a vision into a work of art? 

Life-changing connections can still come to fruition unexpectedly by those we meet. Adding on, we understand that today connections are more bountiful than ever before- they are simply one click away. Although a plethora of resources can bring powerful change, in essence, it just takes the power of ONE to transform everything.

-Kara


As many of you may know, I am beginning a magnificient adventure as a Technology Integrationist and Mentor Teacher this upcoming school year. I have been reading constantly to find research, along with real-life experiences from educators, to help support the journey.

In life, you can never fully prepare yourself for any new experience that awaits, even in education. But, reading and reflecting on my own experiences has proven to be beneficial thus far. While reading, I stumbled across a book titled, "Differentiating Instruction with Technology in K-5 Classrooms" by Grace E. Smith and Stephanie Throne, which was published from ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). After doing more research, I found that Grace and Stephanie are both Educational Technologists and researchers who are dedicated to find best practices for teachers. Through their work, they also discovered a variety of other research in educational tech, which they brought forward in their book as well.

I created the image above based on the information from Grace and Stephanie, which they obtained through CARET (Center of Applied Research in Educational Technology); CARET was founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is a project through ISTE.

6 Ways to Use Technology to Boost Student Performance:


1. Use technology in a way that "directly supports curriculum objectives."
2. Use technology to "foster student collaboration."
3. Find and use applications that "adapt to student knowledge and experience, while giving feedback to student and teachers."
4. Integrate technology into the "typical instructional day."
5. Use technology to give students opportunities to "design and implement projects that tie with curriculum."
6. Build a community where students, parents, teachers, and administration "support technology usage."

I found these 6 points to be compelling. If you take away the word "technology" in any of the above statements, you will find THE optimal learning environment in any classroom, with or without tech. To illustrate, classrooms should always aim to support objectives, to be collaborative, while giving students opportunities to design their learning- Technology is not the magic remedy in those equations. Yes, technology can boost student performance in these mentioned areas, but it cannot be done without the cultural infrastructure which supports those notions to begin with.

Although I believe technology is crucial, I also understand it is not the "end-all-be-all." Instead, the learning and the environment is what our underlying basis and principle should consist of. Technology can be an added asset to use as we see fit.

In my opinion, the most thrilling part of the learning expedition is not the technology or knowing all of the answers to questions that pull at us. Instead, the enthusiasm is won by focusing on the discovery. The discovery is magical. As educators, we all hope to discover our "WHY," which is our mission, which will lead us to find HOW we can move to fit each learner every single day. As a result, we will see first-hand WHAT this may look like for each individual.

In closing, with or without technology, I wish you joy on your own discovery of learning.

-Kara


enter of applied research educational technology

Inspiration


I truly believe in the work of George Couros and "The Innovator's Mindset." For example, I am now reading "The Innovator's Mindset" for the second time and interestingly enough different points have now stood out to me. An element that George mentions is the difference between "engaging" students and "empowering" students. Through the differentiation that George made between the two concepts, I started reflecting on intangible and tangible results that I experienced in the classroom.

Student-Led Learning


This past school year, I devoted myself to engaging students through student-led learning. "Student-led" or "student-centered" learning can take on different meanings depending on the circumstance or the interpreter. I knew that I wanted to empower my students through this process. I did not want to be "THE" keeper of the knowledge, instead, I wanted to be the caretaker of student talent. Needless to say, it can be overwhelming to begin such a mindset shift. "Big ideas" are wonderful, but to be implemented properly, it is beneficial to think of your "big idea" in mini-steps, while reflecting and changing footing as you go.

Therefore, to start my student-led process, I first started by recruiting my students and gaining their help. Together, we took student goals and learning standards and reworded them to student-friendly language. In time, students then started leading small reading goal setting groups and conferring groups.

Learning Curve

I must say that success in these groups did not happen overnight. There was a HUGE learning curve, for myself and for students, but that is okay. My students were not used to leading and being "in charge" and I was not used to it either; These symptoms were a direct side effect of inexperience. But, instead of chalking up the attempts as failures, I started asking my students what they felt they needed to successfully lead groups and to work as a team. {Fact: If you ask 6th graders for "honest feedback" you will get just that. They do not hold back; Which is terrifying and humbling all at the same time}. Nonetheless, their answers surprised me: They said they needed to learn "how to work together" and how to "help other kids to talk when they wouldn't say anything."

I pride myself in using collaborative skills and cooperating learning strategies, so their honest feedback was an eye-opener for me. However, I took a step back and realized that in my cooperative learning techniques, I was showing them how to be collaborative in well-structured settings where I was overseeing every interaction. As a result, when the tables turned and students led the groups, they were not able to apply these collaborative skills to new settings that were completely unfamiliar. 

In other words, "I," the teacher, was leading the movement and swooping in as needed rather than allowing them to learn organically. In my infographic above, I give general statements that fit under "engagement" and "empowerment," although many could fit in both columns. Likewise, this does not mean that student engagement does not matter. It does matter. But, if we think of how we learn as adults, most of us would rather be in the driver seat to a certain degree, rather than sitting in passenger seats waiting for delivered information at a uniform pace. It is a balance. I wish I could create a formula of instruction that works in all cases, but I cannot. As we all know, it depends on the individual learner and what that leaner needs at any given moment.

As George Couros says, "Should we be a sage on the stage, the guide on the side, or the architect of learning? - The answer is that teacher should be all of those. The art of teaching is figuring out when you should be which one." 


"We're All in This Together"

Consequently, through listening to straight-forward feedback from my students, I was able to help model interactions that were more conversational based from student-to-student. I quickly saw students taking their own spin on how they spoke and interacted. Looking back, I believe that students starting becoming more comfortable based on the freedoms and lack of limits.When I say"lack of limits," it is important to note that I am not implying that high standards and expectations were not set. Alternatively, through consistent student input, I did not need to constantly iterate MY expectations and mine alone. Instead, the process was natural; It allowed for all of us to come together to build reasonable expectations as a team. The instruction moved from teacher-led, to student-led, to "we are all in this together."

Through watching my students excel through the steep learning curve, I learned how to reangle my approach. It was never about students leading in the first place, it was about students needing to feel heard and valued. Once individuals feel that their opinions evoke real change, leadership and empowerment naturally happen. 

-Kara


Accountability breeds response-ability.  
― Stephen Covey

When you think about accountability and shared accountability, what ideas and feelings come to mind?

In education, accountability tends to have a meaning associated with data, standardized tests, teacher evaluations, and more.

But, if we look beyond the stigma, we can see that "accountability" can possibly take on a whole other meaning.

Seen and Heard


On Marriam-Webster online, the word accountability is a hot topic as well. For example, to determine why visitors are searching for definitions of certain words, Webster has a "Seen and Heard" section which asks, "What made you want to look up the word _________?" ...To give you an idea, the word accountability has 160 responses to the above question. After reading countless responses, a common pattern emerged; Many were researching accountability for presentations, business meetings, projects, bible studies, and for other work and personal reasons. Throughout the comments, it seemed that many were hoping to reach a sense of clarity to determine if accountability was a good or bad thing.

I do not think there is a clear answer because accountability can be negative or positive; This may depend on your experiences and perspective. It may also change based on how you use the word. To some, accountability goes hand-in-hand with responsibility, to others it means someone placing blame on someone else,  and several may see something completely different.

I have found that placing blame on others can lead to a patterns that leaves us feeling helpless. Once we get into this rut, it can lead to strained relationships and habit cycles that are difficult to break.

What If?


But, what if accountability was rooted in: Trust, a common goal, shared responsibility, and reliency? What if accountability was shared as a gift, rather than a hindrance? What if accountability was synonymous with teamwork?

Although the idea of accountability and shared accountability may not need to be reinvigorated,  I do want to share the shift in my own opinion on accountability. My perspective shift has helped me grow as an individual beyond measure. Recently, as I was gathering my thoughts for this post, I started sketching the seeds of my thoughts first. Although I am not the best artist, the sketch displays my organic thought process behind shared accountability.

4 Foundations of Shared Accountability



  • Trust: I believe in the work you do. You believe in the work I do.
  • Common goal: We are all in this together.
  • Shared responsibility: If we succeed, we do so as a team. If we make mistakes, we learn together as a unit.
  • Resiliency: We will overcome adversity with poise.


Be Responsive


The foundations may be applicable to many areas of your life, even outside of your career. These foundations may plant the seeds of bountiful growth like they did for me. Or they may not sing to you.

Nevertheless, I have found time after time, even with myself, that results may begin with an individual, but they seem to gain even more traction with responsive teams who share mistakes, common goals, and successes.

-Kara