What is Your WHY Behind Professional Learning? by Meredith Johnson

This morning I have been reading the book, Start With Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. You’ve already read the book? Terrific! Since it was published in 2009, ten years ago, I would imagine many of those who selected it as one of our top ten Fall Focus books recommended it from the impact they felt in their own lives. I am only in the very beginning pages of the book, yet it has my wheels turning as to WHY educators seek out professional learning and collaboration with others.

I ask you the question to ponder and reflect upon, WHY do you seek out professional learning and collaborating with others?

You read books, attend conferences, listen to podcasts, spend some of your weekend at an EdCamp, travel far and wide to present your ideas and experiences with others, grab the recent edition of Education Week, Educational Leadership, or a journal published centered on your content area. You also participate on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or whatever the latest and greatest social media site that fits your learning. I am certain that most of you know a teacher down the hall who hasn’t read a book or joined any of the learning opportunities mentioned above. They might even laugh when you mention something you recently learned about during your favorite Twitter chat. Does that dissuade you? Not in the least bit!

So, I pose the question – Why is professional learning and collaborating with other so important to you?

I sincerely hope some of you who read this will jump onto the Twitter hashtag #BookCampPD, locate the question and provide your answer. I believe we can all learn from the reflective responses that are shared.

Against the Wind by Meredith Johnson

How fortunate we are as educators to have the opportunity on Saturday mornings to chat with others about our favorite topic and read passionate responses to posed questions. This morning, I was inspired by others during #LeadUpChat and #LeadLAP. I view it as a waterfall of insightful comments that rush over me as I try my best to keep up and yet have a sense the bright sunlight on my face from their caring tweets. As the graphic below shares, my thoughts are swept away into reflective moments that inspire a blog post like this one.

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This morning, I posted a graphic by George Couros @GCouros about a culture of compliancy rather than quality learning, creativity and innovation. I began thinking about the changes in education and society, during the last fifty years, away from compliancy toward innovation. A light bulb flashed on in my mind when I realized that when I worked in a school or district setting that embraced my strong need to seek innovative approaches toward increasing student achievement, I flourished as a leader. On the other hand, when I spent time in a culture that required compliance, “do as I say,” be a good solider and “follow what we tell you” my frustrations boiled over.

compliance innovation

These thoughts brought on additional reflection – “Did these compliancy settings stop me from being innovative?”

No, they didn’t.

Since student achievement soared, thanks to the amazing, dedicated educators who guided the children in all the settings, I am certain quality learning was taking place. I believe this took place, in part, from my never-ending modeling, leadership, and commitment that all students would be readers. I spoke of the frustration of being an innovator, yet, surrounded by those who sought compliance from me to follow long ago established rules. You have heard of the Bob Seger (1980) song, “Against the Wind”? As the words in the song share,

running against the wind

“Against the wind
I’m still running against the wind
I’m older now but still running against the wind
Well, I’m older now and still running
Against the wind.”

 

That is what it felt like in schools or districts where those who were supervisors sought compliancy and I quietly moved toward creativity and innovation. This is not to say that I don’t well understand their position of seeking a person who would listen carefully, return to their school and obediently follow their directives. After all, this is the leadership model that they had spent decades learning from and following; it was what they were most comfortable with. In my narrow-minded thinking, I would make it personal and convince myself it was about me. Oh my, I reflect now and see it was never about whether they did or didn’t like me. It certainly was about who I was as a person – independent, creative, innovative, willing to move whatever stone necessary to increase student achievement and prepare them for the, always changing, future that was ahead. Working in four different states, six districts, and eleven schools I found that when teachers were leading committees, setting the goals and in leadership positions, there was the greatest ownership toward doing their very best for children and increasing achievement. It created a sense of community that was unmatched in all of the other experiences.

I share these thoughts as I am certain there are many in supervisory roles who want “good soldiers” who will be compliant, never rock the boat, and follow directives. This would work great if we weren’t in times where the world around us is changing at the speed of light.

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During the chats I spoke about, I received this tweet – “You are role model for “storm weathering” of all kinds, and sometimes when I am hanging onto the “light post” while the gust is blowing, you come to mind.” Statements like this one, warm my heart and confirm my commitment to continue to share my stories with others. I appreciate all of you more than words in a blog posting can say. Thank you!

January 12, 2019 Blog Post by Aubrey Yeh

Guest Blog Post by Aubrey Yeh

When I was teaching in the classroom, I had this sign on my door. It was laminated, and I would fill in whatever book I was currently reading with a white board marker. I wanted my students to see that reading wasn’t just for LA class, it was something that I, as their music teacher, enjoyed too! I loved the conversations it sparked with my students, and they really would ask me about my book. Talk about great accountability – if I had the same book on there for too long, they would ask, “Ms. Yeh, is that a really long book or something?”

blog currently reading sign

I’m not in the classroom anymore, but I still love reading! I was inspired by my friend Mari’s blog and, for the first time, kept track of my reading in 2018. I finished a total of 48 books (and started three more that I am getting close to finishing now in 2019). The nerd in me really wanted to get to a round number (50) or to one per week (52), but alas, I’ll have to settle for 48. Meanwhile, here are a couple of interesting stats about my reading:

  • I read 35 books for the first time, and 13 as re-reads (although one was by accident – I was a couple of chapters in, thinking it sounded really familiar when I realized I had read it a few years ago)
  • I read 5 professional books, 4 faith-based books, and the rest (39) were mostly YA novels or biographical novels.
  • I really enjoy getting into series – this year, my series reads included Harry PotterEnder’s GameThe BeyondersThe Golden CompassThe Lunar ChroniclesThe Breadwinner, and Dragonwatch!
  • I started getting into audiobooks for the first time. I still struggle to focus when listening to books, but I really enjoyed listening to books that I have previously read on audiobook. It brought a new dimension to my imagination of the story, and if I zoned out for a bit (which is not unusual), I could still track what was happening.
Overall, I really enjoy reading for pleasure, and it’s a great escape from my day-to-day life! Maybe I should read more professionally, but honestly, I do a lot of other professional reading through blogs, articles, etc. As I begin 2019, I don’t have any major goals for reading this year except to keep it up and continue tracking what I read. I do have quite a list of books related to refugees or migrants that I started in 2018, and I will probably continue to work through it in 2019.
One thing I am always on the lookout for is good YA novels, especially series! My favorite stories tend to be an adventure, fantasy, or historical fiction. If you have anything good to recommend – please let me know!

My Story of WHY I Am a Teacher by Nicole Biscotti

I do not come from a long line of teachers. I don’t even come from a long line of educated people. My mother was the first person in my family to earn a college degree and I am the first to earn a Master’s Degree in my family.

I do come from a long line of people who loved, valued, and believed in education though. Our values are transmitted in the smallest of actions. Maybe it’s not always what we model as much as where we place our attention.

My father was a truck driver and never attended college but he taught me to value education. When I went to kindergarten it was a huge deal.  I received a new wardrobe called “school clothes” and I was not allowed to play in them! He made sure that I could write and do basic math before I even went to school so that I would be “ready”.  School is an important place. 

When I had low grades my dad fought tirelessly with the Dean to have me placed in advanced classes. At the end of the term when I did well we sat in her office until she was available because he wanted her to know how well his daughter had done. I can achieve. 

When I rushed through homework with poor penmanship, my dad made me write it over. When I cut school to hang out with friends in high school he assured me that he could take time off of work and was happy to attend class with me. When I got a 97% on a Math final he told me that I was capable of 100%. Learning is serious business. 

My mother taught me to value education as well. When my first grade teacher sent me a letter my mother framed it and hung it up in my bedroom. Teachers are important people. 

My mother spoke to me about social issues and read me thought provoking pieces like Langston Hughs’ words: “What happens to a dream deferred…” and Martin Lutheran King’s speech, “I have a dream…”. She never told me to read but I did because I watched her read all of the time. Education gives you perspective. 

I saw my mother struggle to support us while she went to school for years. She worked nights so that she could attend college classes during the day. I watched her better her financial status when she became a nurse. Education opens doors. 

My grandparents taught me to value education through their stories. My grandmother grew up in poverty and thought that her only way out was by working multiple jobs. She always told me that her only regret in life was not knowing what she could have become. My grandfather’s aspirations of being a doctor died in his youth when he left college because he couldn’t keep up with night school and his construction job. Education makes dreams come true. 

I earned a Master’s Degree in Education and began teaching high school as a single mother of four children at 38 years old. Becoming a teacher was not an easy path for me. I chose education because when I had the opportunity to start over I wanted to dedicate the rest of my working life to a cause that I cared about. It’s never too late to connect with your purpose. I have a deep respect for educators and I’m proud to be one. I believe that education opens doors to connect students with their purpose.

nicole biscotti - blog author

About the Author: Nicole Biscotti, M. Ed. is proud to be an educator who is passionate about students having the opportunity to develop their unique talents. The most inspiring part of her work is guiding student leaders. Follow her on Twitter and check out her YouTube Channel to see some of the great things that her Student Ambassadors are doing.

Reaching for a Gift Card This Holiday Season? Hold Your Horses!!

Meredith Johnson, author

Is that you I see reaching for a holiday gift card because you’re unsure of what to get someone this year? May I please offer you a different possibility for that relative or friend who you find challenging to pick out a perfect gift? It is quite easy! Just walk your snow boots over to a different area of the store that has cards – in the stationary section – a holiday card! Hold onto that card for a minute while I explain the details.

If you are reading this, chances are very good that you’re an educator, correct? I am also going to assume that your strong moral value of teaching children, caring about the welfare of others, and giving, is a trait you share with that loved one or friend. In fact, without the guidance of that person, you were about you purchase a gift card for, you might not be in the field of education at all. My marvelous mother lived to be 95. Perhaps you have a grandparent or family member who is also older? When her birthday rolled around, or the holidays, I wanted so much to buy her the perfect gift to show her how much I appreciated her. My challenge was, she had everything she could possibly need or want. What could I possibly get for her? This is where my idea begins!

Do you still have the holiday card in your hand? Terrific! Within that card, you could write about the gift you are going to donate in their name. Whatever amount you were going to spend on a gift card, write a check to a school, that is important to you, and request that they purchase books for students. Books in the hands of children are something that continues to give throughout their lives as it builds a solid foundation for them to grow on. When your friend or relative reads your message about donating books for children I would imagine a warm glow and broad smile will be easily observed.

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Perhaps you would like to donate specific books? Recently, the International Literacy Association Young Author Choices for Reading and the Children’s Choice 2018 Reading List were shared. You may locate the perfect holiday book on one of these sites. If you are already a teacher, you might find the Scholastic one dollar books of interest. For a dollar a book, you could place many in the hands of students! Barnes and Noble also offer a Holiday Book Drive and last year they donated 1.6 million books to 650 charities – see store for details.

Twitter’s Ripple Effect

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by Meredith Johnson, #BookCampPD moderator

Since I joined Twitter in March of 2012, almost six years ago, my understanding of its “ripple effect” is still growing. Years ago, when I would try to encourage my colleagues to join as my enthusiasm was like going outside on a beautiful, spring day, after months of a cold Minnesota winter, I was met with resistance. Some would say, “Oh, Twitter … yeah … that’s where teachers send each other tweets about how wonderful they are.” Or, very often, “I would like to try it, but I just don’t have the time.” These comments didn’t dissuade me but made me feel sorry that they wouldn’t enjoy the tremendous professional learning that was taking place there each day.

Fast forward six years, and I certainly see the daily influence passionate educators have for one another. What is so interesting is that you may not even ever realize your impact on others. During a chat, you quickly post a tweet, sharing your thoughts, and overtime, hundreds might read and connect with it. This happened to me recently when Bridget Gengler @BridgetGengler shared a blog posting she had written. Extraordinary things can happen, as she shared in her blog, from one idea, shared during a chat. What is most important is the impact and change that occurred with her students from this graphic by William Arthur Ward. I was thrilled when she agreed to share her blog post on our https://bookcamppd.com/blog-posts/ site. What an amazing person she is!

thank you gratitude

After moderating the #BookCampPD chat for almost two years, I also lean back and reflect on observing the shifts that take place, overtime, as educators continue their use of Twitter. A person might start out with the tremendously helpful chat, #NT2T on Saturday mornings at 9:00 EST, and move to be a guest moderator, leading their own chat, diving into writing blog posts, creating a podcast or writing a book. What amazing lead learners they are!

As I have always loved being an innovator, pushing the comfort zone of those in education, I wonder how Twitter will evolve over time. When I began in education, we didn’t have computers, certainly, Twitter didn’t exist, there weren’t any blog posts, podcasts and very few books were being written by those who are daily involved with educating children. What will come next? How can we help each other grow, be supportive of “failing forward,” and jump into new ideas, such as @Flipgrid, that will shift learning? One thing I am sure of …. we are #StrongerTogether. Many thanks to all those who share their passion for helping others each day on Twitter.

stronger together

GRATITUDE – Pass it on!

Be the Change - Gratitude

A guest blog post by Bridget Gengler @BridgetGengler

Back in the beginning of October I joined the #BeKindEDU chat. That particular evening the chat’s focus was gratitude. Meredith Johnson from #BookCampPD posted the following quote from William Arthur Ward – “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving , turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” I decided to begin my gratitude movement in my class with this quote during our morning meetings that week.

On Monday morning as we sat down for our morning meeting, I introduced the whole concept of gratitude. I asked my students what gratitude meant to them. We had to begin the discussion with the meaning of gratitude as many did not know.  I shared with them my daily routine of gratitude and how I always send a message to someone different each morning and express my gratitude towards them.  I wanted them to understand how important it is to express how thankful you are for what you have and also how giving and expressing gratitude can also create joy in you, the giver.

Then I asked them to share what they thought the quote by Ward meant. This is what one girl said- “Gratitude changes an ordinary day into a great day and then it makes you feel happy because you can make someone’s day.” My hope was that they would start to understand the intrinsic feeling one gets from expressing goodness and thankfulness to others. With those thoughts in mind, I had them share something or someone they were grateful for and why. I had them write it down. I collected all the notes of gratitude and every morning meeting for the rest of the week I read some of the notes. Every morning the students looked forward to hearing what their classmates were thankful for.  They looked forward to this new routine of gratitude notes. We continued this practice for the next couple of weeks.  Gradually the notes turned into letters. I asked them to write letters to anyone with whom they felt compelled to share their gratitude. I also had them write a letter of gratitude to a Veteran for Veterans Day. All of those letters were handed out to Veterans.

Finally came the week before Thanksgiving. At the beginning of the week I told them that we were going to have a gratitude celebration on Friday with pumpkin pie and a gratitude circle. Each student randomly picked a name of another student in the class. Once they had the name of that person, I told them that their challenge and task was to spread gratitude to this person by making them a gift and card or letter. The next morning I put out a whole bunch of supplies and gave them time to make their gifts and cards. I stressed how much more rewarding it would be to try to keep it a secret until Friday and  also really create something from the heart.  As I walked around, observed and listened to them talk I could feel the excitement and genuine care that each student was taking in creating something for their classmate. They wanted to make something special and they showed that in their actions and words. The pride I felt on that day was like no other. When I thought about this activity I was not sure how serious that they would take it. But as I watched, they did not let me down. As they finished their creations, they kept them hidden in decorated gift bags that we put away until Friday. The rest of the week was a buzz of enthusiasm in anticipation for our Gratitude Circle on Friday.

When Friday afternoon came the students sat in the same circle that we sit in for morning meeting but this time it was our Gratitude Circle. I started the circle by placing a an empty wreath in the middle. I told them we were going to fill this wreath with leaves of gratitude. We went around the circle and I had everyone share one thing with which they were grateful. We wrote it down and they each got a chance to add their leaf to the wreath. They loved listening to all the things that everyone was grateful for.

After that, I passed out the bags that they were going to give out. Excitement filled the room! I told them that they would share who they picked and as they give the gift to that person share one reason why they are grateful for him/her.  Everyone was instructed to hold off on opening their bags until the end so we could give hear and see everyone share their gratitude. I started with a volunteer and he stood up, shared who he picked, walked over to that person and as he gave the bag to her, he told her why he was grateful for her. This routine was followed until all children had a bag. You could have heard a pin drop as each child shared. They all listened intently to each other and enjoyed what everyone had to share. There was genuine gratitude and joy shown to each other. Each student loved being appreciated and each student enjoyed expressing gratitude.

My heart was exploding with joy as I observed with  a huge smile on my face and tears in my eyes. They got it! All the time and talk about gratitude was worth it!  They understood! They understood the joy and the blessing that gratitude brings.

They saw my happiness and  even questioned why I was happy.

I told them ” because now you all see what I have been talking about. All the times I share how I am so thankful and how important it is to verbalize it. Once we do that, not only does it brings joy to others, but it ignites the fire inside of us – it leads to smiles, joy and positivity.

It did not end there- after they were done, I told them that I had something for them. I gave them each a card with a short personalized letter. I realized that some of them had never received a card before- they did not even know how to open it. With the help of each other, they found their letter inside the card and  they all began to read their letters.

I could hear some of the conversations- ” I am going to hang this in my room.”

“What does your letter say?” “Mine says this.”

One little girl who tends to be difficult to reach sometimes and doesn’t always express herself, said to her friend, ” I love mine!” Then she looked at me and said ” Thank you, Mrs. G. Thanks for being a great teacher.”

I do not need affirmation but it is great to feel the gratitude. Exactly what I had been teaching them and trying to get them to understand came back to me. Oh, how my heart was full that day!

This day was by far one of the best days in my 23 years of teaching. There was so many times in previous years when I wanted to do this but didn’t know if I should take the time. YES! Take the time!

The year has started out difficult for me with a grade change and all the demands for academics and testing .

But as educators we can not forget that we are teaching children. They need to feel the love. They need to feel the gratitude. They need to know that others care. They also need to learn how to give the gratitude, care and love. We have to take the time to allow these moments to happen. These are the moments that they will remember and carry with them.

On this day each child was honored. Each child felt important. Each child knew that he or she mattered. That is what is important!!!

Never Ending Journey by Meredith Johnson

What is there about Twitter that draws educators from all over the globe to return day after day? Certainly, at the end of a day, many are exhausted emotionally and mentally from rising to each occasion in meeting the needs of students, staff, and families; but they return. Have you ever reflected about why you return and share your passion for education with others?

As moderator of #BookCampPD I read books that are our focus, so I can model for others my love of learning, create questions or guide others. I am currently reading Lead With Culture by Jay Billy and I keep running into examples that reflect the educational journey I was on. I think to myself, “What??! You also were greatly influenced by Richard Allington, when you realized you needed to increase your understanding about literacy, in order to help guide others? You greet students each morning too?” and the list goes on and on as I read page after page. My love of learning continues and aides in my passion to help others.

I retired after forty years in education, twenty–six of them in administration, in June of 2017. Why did I stop going to school every day after four decades? It certainly wasn’t because I had lost my passion for helping others. Unfortunately, it was feeling so discouraged when I wanted to hear what a soft-spoken kindergartner child was telling me but I couldn’t. I would ask another educator to help me understand what the student said but, from a loss of hearing, it was a constant struggle. My knee and hip would cause me to fall to the floor walking down the hallway and you can imagine how frightened this made the students feel. I also worked so very hard to remember the thousands of details a principal juggles each day and would be tremendously discouraged when I dropped one of the “plates” as I felt I was letting someone down. Yet, in retirement, I found that Twitter allowed me to continue my passion for helping others. Where my physical body had failed me, my mind and emotional connection to education continued.

I spent months trying to decide which aspect or area of education I would place my energy and motivation. Should it be STEAM, or technology, perhaps turning around an at-risk school, or family and community engagement? Which of these topics could I focus on that would provide the most help for others? Finally, I selected books and professional learning, as I felt there was the most room for positive change and it would be a never-ending concentration. I am thankful every day for the educators who are involved in our #BookCampPD #PLN.

Guest Blog Post by Stacey Dallas Johnston

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September 27, 2018

BIO:

Stacey Dallas Johnston is a veteran educator, a blogger, and the person in the meeting who always has a question. After 18 years in the classroom teaching HS English, Johnston is working on Special Assignment with the Nevada Dept. of Education on Teacher Leader Initiatives for the 2018-2019 school year.

This Teacher’s Journey

I launched a blog this year to not just share my experiences as a 18-year educator, but to open up a space where other educators: new ones, veterans, retired, K-12 and beyond can share theirs. Teaching is hard. The narrative around our career is often negative, but there are so many wonderful stories to share.

My journey has been one of triumph, learning, tears, evolution, and reflections. My blog is a step toward not only reflecting on my journey, but to contribute to the narrative surrounding educators and education in a positive way. With 3.5 million educators in the U.S. , there are unfortunately not 3.5 positive stories shared daily. This Teacher’s Journey is a small step in changing that.

As a veteran educator, my experiences have run the gamut. Professionally, I have earned accolades and awards, taken hours and hours of coursework and professional development, attended and presented at conferences. I’ve taught grades 6,9,10,11,12. I’ve taught remediation classes all the way to AP. I’ve taught over 3,000 students: wonderfully creative kids, kind human beings, those who struggle to learn, those who needed school and my classroom for normalcy and escape. My students have suffered experiences that most adults will never have to. I have bought shoes and food for students, paid for bus passes and field trips, been a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. I’ve been privileged to be their mentor, their cheerleader, the one who introduces them to a new book, the one who helps them discover their voices.

By giving my students a multi-faceted education, and by continuing to be a life-long learner and advocate, I have had the pleasure of seeing them bloom into leaders, confident adults, human beings who can overcome even the darkest of circumstances. The extra hours, the extra dollars, and the extra work have all been worth it because my journey has given me the extraordinary opportunity to help young people take journeys of their own.

I am honored and humbled to be one of the adults in the lives of over 3,000 students who helped carve out a path to education, career, and happiness. The stories are many and by sharing them, I hope to let others know how special my students and colleagues are and how important teaching truly is.

I invite you, fellow educators, to share your journey with me. Help me make This Teacher’s Journey the place where anyone who wants to can read about our daily lives, our struggles and celebrations, our professional and personal evolution.

Teachers are people too–people with stories to tell. Let me help you tell yours.

#thisteachersjourney

Professional Learning – Meredith Johnson

By: Meredith Johnson – mjjohnson1216

Professional Learning – BookCamp Bounce Back

Remember the feeling of standing at the edge of the ocean, your toes in the sand, at the point where the crashing waves just barely reach your feet? You look out in the distance at a turquoise wave that will soon tumble at your feet. Excitement builds as you wonder if the next wave will come closer and extend the water up to your legs. As each wave pulls back out into the ocean, you can feel your feet sinking down into the sand. You quickly realize that you want to take a few steps further out into the ocean to increase this feeling of exhilaration. Many of you will quickly look around and call out to a friend or family member to join you as happiness was born a twin. A ‘Kodak moment’ has been created in your mind’s eye that you will long remember.

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A new professional learning book can fill a learner with many of these same sensations. Observation of the book, excitement at experiencing the learning of something new, curling up and letting the words and ideas rush over you and the desire to implement many of the concepts being covered by delving in deeper. As the words and new ideas are incorporated into your working memory, you feel enthusiastic at the thought of sharing this with others. At some point, the responsibilities of life knock at your door and the book must be set aside. Perhaps you find the time to pick back up where you left off or, sadly, items placed on top of it hide the book for months into the future.

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Connie Hamilton @conniehamilton recently tweeted, “Without an opportunity to process educational events, real learning is less likely.” This also holds true for the professional learning book you are reading. During each of the ‘BookCamp Bounce Back’ sessions, that are planned during #BookCampPD’s Fall Focus, you have the opportunity to share and reflect. What steps would you like to take in implementing some of the ideas you read in any of the thirty-three books we have highlighted? What has already been implemented and worked very well or still needs to be “tweaked?” Do you have photos to share with others in our #PLN chat that would add clarity? In Jarod Bormann’s @Jbormann3 book, that we reviewed during our summer, FAR – Friends and Reading, the final two steps are ‘reflection’ and ‘share.’ Our ‘BookCamp Bounce Back’ will assist you in these professional learning steps.

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The first step in experiencing the ocean, is to get in your car and drive, bicycle or walk there. Similarly, reading a professional learning book is only the first step in expanding your knowledge. ‘Bouncing Back’ to books we have previously read provides the opportunity for reflection and planning next steps. I hope you will join these chats on September and December 30th. Learning together, with all of you, is something I continually look forward to!

Meredith Johnson