Monday, April 29, 2013

Teacher Retention and iBooks

Well it's that time of year again. New teachers are being hired left and right and contracts are being signed. If you live in Bush Alaska or work in education anywhere you know this is an important time of the year. It is particularly important in the state of Alaska though, more so in rural Alaska than anywhere else. 

The average teacher turnover in the bush is about two years. Some years in the Lower Yukon school district as many as four or five teachers will leave before their contract is even complete. Last year was a good year we only lost one. There are many factors surrounding teacher attrition in rural Alaska. The cost and the quality of housing, the pay, and access to medical facilities are all key factors in an educator's decision to come out to the bush. Many leave because they were unaware or ill prepared for what they encountered. Unknown factors such as travel costs, Internet access and cell phones, or simply the amount of daylight in the winter are all very important to a first-year teacher.

This brings me to my personal desire to better inform new hires in Lower Yukon. Many years ago a friend and I in Togiak made a 60 minute DVD for new teachers. (Yes, Tim, if you read this, I still have it!)

 We got rave reviews from new teachers, returning staff, and administration. We just wanted to make sure that our new colleagues would be more prepared than we were when we first arrived. My first time in the bush included being dropped off on a dirt runway with three dogs and 12 suitcases. I had no cell phone (there actually were no cell phones at the time), no contact information for my principal or assistant principal, and did not know where I lived. Luckily the school maintenance man, who was off duty at the time, passed by to pick up an outboard. He asked, "are you the new teachers?" I replied, "Is it that obvious?"

Needless to say there was a fairly steep learning curve. Being from Louisiana I did not know how to turn on my boiler. Combined with the fact that we had mailed bed sheets and blankets instead of bringing them on the plane, I spent several chilly nights before getting the hang of it. Eventually we got our boxes from the school and the post office and everything was fine. The reality is still quite obvious: being prepared for the Bush will make you more successful. Learning about the culture, the region, the customs, and the climate not only makes you a better teacher but it could very well save your life... or at least your sanity/dignity. 

The link below will take you to an iBook that I created for the Lower Yukon School District. I did not write most of it, but I did contribute. The text represents dozens of individuals from 10 villages. It has input from current and former employees. The pictures are from my camera or those of my friends. The quotes are real, the ideas are collaborative, and the purpose is simple. I wish to inform new hires to rural Alaska of the truth behind their new adventure. It's not sugarcoated but it is positive. I implore you that your feedback be the same.

The simplest method for getting this iBook is to click on this link using an iOS device. You may download this item to your computer and import it to iTunes, too. From there you can sync your books to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod. 

Thanks for trying this out and I hope that you let me know what I can do to make it better in the future.

Monday, April 22, 2013

ASTE 2014 Retreat

"What an amazing weekend," that is all I can say. Being a member of ASTE's Board is still a bit surreal for me and I cannot express how proud and thankful I truly am. Spending three nights and four days with the most brilliant educators and technologists in state leaves me feeling hopeful, energized, and excited like never before in my career.

Among the hours of stimulating conversation and thrilling discussions of the future of Alaskan education we decided on numerous details of various import: the 2014 Conference theme, for example. 

Hearing from lawyers about liability of board members, the university system on the horizon of teacher education, and even lobbyist in the legislature, we definitely learned a lot. Visits from the Department of Education also shed light on the goals of the State and the vision behind the new standards. Most of all I appressiate learning from my esteemed colleagues. At one point I shared in awe with a friend that, "there was no problem, technology based, education related, or otherwise, that couldn't be solved by the men and women in this room." This Board, made up of school board members, master teachers, superintendents  directors of technology and curriculum, and consultants, is truly remarkable. I am humbled by there mere presence and blessed by their friendship. 

All work and no play is never healthy, though. Thanks to the fun-filled leadership style of our president, we shared drinks and stories in the evenings nightly and socialized out doors when possible. Enjoying the hospitality of board member families we all had a delightful evening of bonding on the deck while serenaded by a live classical ensamble. After a delicious BBQ (including "ivory" or "white" king salmon, which I have never had before) we shared each other's company around a bonfire on the beach, staring out over glassy waters toward Admiralty Island hoping for humpbacks. Though never lucky enough to be visited by a whale, we did observe some playful sea lions. 

The final day of the retreat we wrapped up early so everyone could get to their flights and the far corners of the state. Knowing it was imposible to get to my home in one day anyway, I scheduled a bit of time to play and was rewarded handsomely! A friend took those who wanted to out on a trip around the inlet. Not enough wind to sail, we putted around and sun bathed for hours. I am told southeast Alaska is a rainy and somewhat gloomy place. As far as I can tell it is gorgeous and I would like to keep my memories that way... 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

ASTE Board Membership

In all my years as an educator, first in Louisiana and now eight years in Alaska, I have never been so excited by the future of education. I see the horizon racing toward us as communication on every level changes almost constantly. The classroom walls we once knew are falling away and the rows of desks are becoming antiquated with individualized instruction. 

This shift is where my heart is and where I feel I could be most impactful, helpful, and successful. I see no group or organization more in tune with the future as I see it than the Alaska Society for Technology in Education. 

In my career as a teacher in Alaska, the highlight of my school year was the trip to Anchorage to learn and network with the finest educators from around the state. I cherished the opportunity to show off my students’ work and our mutual successes in multimedia rich content and online learning endeavors. I was so happy to run around the Cook taping power strips and setting up projectors and speakers! Later, as a consultant, I saw myself through the lens of a vendor and professional presenter. I saw the dedication and hard work that was involved in the planning and organization of the event itself. Now an administrator, I see the leadership potential and the vision ASTE shares with the state and nation’s most effective educational technologists.

This is all to say that my deepest honor as an Alaskan educator would be to serve on the board of such a prestigious organization. I am proud to share with you now that I am on the ASTE Board and look forward to working for you in any capacity you see fit. Thank you to all who have shared their knowledge with me freely, to those that coached me along the way, and to those that encouraged me to pursue this position.