The Vision of the Project

Recently I helped my husband work a concrete pour. This wasn’t our first pour together, and like all the times before, we were nervous. He had already prepared the environment: cleared the building site, built the forms, bent and placed the rebar and supported the forms with clamps and stakes. We were pouring a 4-foot wall, about 100 feet long, to support the hillside and allow Tom to begin his newest building venture.

Pouring concrete is very hard physical and mental work, fast-paced, even frantic, especially if there are not enough people. One of the workers we had hired cancelled at 11:30 p.m. on the Friday night before; no time to find a replacement. So, there was the man who drove and operated the concrete truck, my husband Tom, our friend Ed, and me. This could put us in the category of “not enough people.” We talked about the stress this would put on all of us, and decided to go ahead.

For a job such as this, everyone works together as a team, yet someone has to be in charge: that person assigns the specific jobs, provides the tools needed for each job, and goes over the instructions, answers questions and invites input, then goes over the details one more time. The mental challenge is to manage what is happening in real time, to anticipate what is about to happen, and to know when to step in and help your co-workers without neglecting your own tasks.

My job was to guide the “elephant trunk”, the canvas sleeve attached to the chute which puts the concrete where it needs to go, to re-direct any spillage, and to communicate to the driver: “Hold up” or “Bring it on.”  Ed stood above the forms with a long pole which he used to tamp and shake and settle the cement as it filled the forms, and he shoveled overfill to underfilled areas. Tom followed up with the “finish work”: the screeding and floating, which levels and smooths the surface, and helped Ed and I as needed. This was roughly a 2-hour job, it seemed like 30 minutes, and we never stopped moving, from start to finish.

As it is with working concrete, so it is with the SETT Framework. Developed by Joy Zabala, the Director of Technical Assistance at the Center for Applied Special Technology, this is a valuable tool that collaborative teams may use to create the best learning environment for each student. SETT is an acronym for Student, Environment, Task and Tools, and provides an outline for the gathering of student information. This is a great starting point for designing instruction for each of your students. A friend and previous co-teacher of mine uses the SETT outline this way:  She fills in the info for each student during the first couple of weeks of school, as she is getting to know and understand each child. Then she sorts the outlines by their similarities, and this helps her determine who goes where for small group instruction. Brilliant!

The PATINS Specialists can help you determine the best tool-a.k.a. assistive technology- which will effectually fit the needs of a particular student. They can suggest software, show you hardware, and demonstrate how it is used. Maybe there is an item in the Lending Library that you would like for a student to try. And of course, the ICAM should be your first stop for specialized formats when you see a student struggling to access the curriculum. We can explain the federal mandate to provide specialized formats, describe each of those, and advise you on the requirements for obtaining specialized formats of print instructional materials and related content.

Last Saturday, Tom referred several times to the “vision of the project.” It was not just about this 4-foot wall we were pouring, it was about the tiny home that will eventually be, which will provide needed shelter for someone in a peaceful setting.

Remember the vision of your project will be realized when your students move forward on productive paths because you have created the best learning environment, have given them meaningful tasks and the tools to complete the job. This is our vision too. We are here to assist you every step of the way.

Thanks so much!
 
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Twitter: Really a Place to Grow My Personal Learning Network?

Illustration of two birds with talking bubbles

In what seems to be a faraway land to many who don’t understand what it’s like to be a teacher, collaboration and camaraderie are vital to our well-being, which in turn positively impacts our students. Yet, sometimes the walls of our classroom can seem isolating, so seeking these connections beyond the school walls is necessary. Luckily, technology is on our side and has expanded the reach of our could-be connections.


Growing our professional learning networks (PLNs) as educators through social media platforms, like Twitter, is one way in which we can relate, share, and learn from our peers. These mutually beneficial relationships can now be accessed in the comfort of our homes, on our computers. The only thing standing in your way is you.

With that in mind, are you ready to fire up your own Twitter handle? Then the first thing you’ll want to do after setting up your account (or remembering your long-forgotten password), is to follow great leaders in education.

Now browse your feed for inspiration, retweet, like, or respond to a tweet, or even privately message someone. There is much information to be gained from just looking around - at different hashtags and individual or organization pages.

Or just maybe you’re ready to jump into or at least lurk around a Twitter chat. There are tons of education chats to choose from, and these chats are where some real-time interactions and connections can be made to grow your PLN.

Chats are offered on a variety of subjects. Led by a moderator who posts questions and allows time for responses as in the example below, they typically last thirty minutes to an hour and are hosted weekly. As seen in the image below, Q5 means question 5 and A5 (or sometimes seen as R5) mean answer (or response) to question 5.


screenshot of 4 tweets in a Twitter chat displaying the question/answer format

You’ll also notice that #PatinsIcam is added to each tweet. This is the hashtag of our project and of our weekly chat that runs from roughly September to June. (The #PatinsIcam chat returns on Tuesday, September 5 at 8:30pm EST. Earn 1 professional growth point for participating!) The chat’s hashtag must be added to each tweet in order for the tweets to appear in the feed of the chat. Without the hashtag, your tweet is only added to your page.

There is more than one way to follow or participate in a chat. I recommend using Tweetdeck. This site syncs with your Twitter account and allows you to follow multiple users or hashtags (among many other options) in separate columns. The benefit of using Tweetdeck for Twitter chats is that you can continue to view the chat in live time while you craft your tweet off to the side without blocking your feed with a tweet box. 6 Steps to Using Tweetdeck to Participate in a Twitter Chat

Below is a sample Tweetdeck dashboard with the user's home page and multiple chat columns.


sample of Tweetdeck dashboard


While there is much to gain from your peers and other educators as a bystander,
you
have information, responses, and ideas to offer as an active participant in your PLN. The connections you can create with others on Twitter are limitless.



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Failing Forward

Bev Sharritt using a Braille Note Touch
As the specialist at PATINS for Blind/Low Vision, I work with Braille, and its evolving technology. In an exercise in review (and humility), I decided to type this blog on one of the Braille devices that we provide in our lending library. Here is my first line attempt:


“My blog is due throughursday so i geed to startd.”

Hmmm, probably need to brush up on my Braille skills as I head into the school year towards training sessions with teachers for the blind and their students. Definitely a wobbly ride after a summer of staying off the proverbial bike, but after a few more sentences, words were flowing more smoothly, at a creeping rate of about 25 wpm.

The device, a Braillenote Touch, is a Braille note taker created to fuse with an Android Tablet so that a student who uses Braille as a primary literacy media can access anything their sighted peers can access.

Watch me work at my speed on the device.

Watch more proficient users on the same device.

I learned to read and write Braille back in 1996 from a delightful teacher named Margaret, who had taught for many years at the Indiana School for the Blind. I struggled with e’s and i’s while writing Braille because they are mirror images of one another like b’s and d’s are in print. Margaret helpfully admonished, “You go up the hill and down to hell,” describing the orientation of the dots in “i” and “e”. I think of her every time my fingers pause at these litters, I mean, letters.

I read Braille as a visual code, rather than a tactile code, as do most sighted folks. The course I took taught the complete literary Braille code in one semester, and after this, I could read my students’ work, and compose documents on a mechanical Braille writer for them to read. It was much easier than I anticipated--mainly learning an alphabet code ala Kindergarten plus punctuation, plus 250 or so contractions (like learning stenography), but, nevertheless, accomplished in a single semester.  

If you’re looking for a fun brain challenge, the app Braille Tutor is free, and will guide a sighted user through the code. Many folks look at others using Braille as “amazing” or “inspirational”, but they just learned to read like the rest of us, one letter, word, and corrected mistake at a time. If you’ve learned all the ins and outs of that current game on your device, I’m sure you can learn Braille.

When I go back to typing in Braille, using 8 keys, my muscle memory kicks in, for the most part, but I am wretchedly slow, and the letters that were difficult for me before remain hard. It really is like riding a bike, but y’all could probably walk beside me and keep up, and I definitely should wear a helmet. Throughout my years of teaching, the more I used it, the faster and more proficient I became.

Even more than reigniting the synapses in my brain reserved for Braille, this exercise reminds me of the need to consider that the learners (students and teachers) that I’ll be working with are ready to fail and ready to achieve. As C.S. Lewis put it:

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”  

How are you setting up your learning environments for failure this year? How will you create situations where students will struggle? How will you model reframing a failure into a learning opportunity? Here’s a list of resources to spur you on to failure.

I’m going to break out the Braille device once a week. I kind of like the word “throughursday” that came out in my first attempt. Sounds like the day you need to struggle through to get to Friday.

Wishing you all a year full of epic failing forward opportunities!



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The Reward

Summer has come and gone for many students around the state, and it’s back to school. New experiences, new friends, and new teachers. One must think of what each one of those students brings to the classroom.

That thought struck me this summer when we were on our family vacation. As with one of my blogs last year, I got to thinking about interactions with my grandkids as inspiration. This summer was no different.

My wife and I, joined by my two daughters and their families, have made it a tradition of going to the Outer Bank of North Carolina. It’s warm, relaxing and a nice way to finish the past school year and begin the summer.

Each morning we like to pack up the kids and head to the beach for the day to play in the sand and surf. We encourage all five of the grandkids to play hard but take time out to rest when they get hot, tired or hungry.

This year, my oldest grandson, Dean, who is 7, took time to sit and rest next to his mom and chat. The sun came and went from behind the clouds and Dean started watching them. “Look, Mom, that one looks like a dog,” I heard him say. Back and forth they went trying to figure out every cloud that passed by.

It wasn’t long before Logan, my 5-year-old grandson, joined them. Logan listened to them describing what they were seeing. He would glance at the sky and squint searching for what they were observing.

After a couple of minutes, Logan whined, “I don’t see it.”

“Right there. It looks like a Pokémon,” Dean said.

“Where? I don’t see it,” Logan replied.

Fluffy white clouds with a blue sky background.
After listening to a couple more descriptions by Dean and his mom, Logan was on the verge of tears. “I don’t see it,” he said.

Dean tried to help and came closer to Logan and pointed to the cloud he had described. “See that cloud right there?” pointing to a large billowing one, “Doesn’t that look like a dragon?”

Logan looked hard and said, “In the clouds? I see it now, I thought you were looking at the blue part.”

It wasn’t communicated to Logan that they were looking at the clouds. Logan had missed critical information as to how to play the game.

We have all experienced that situation at one time or another when that one key tidbit of information was missing and those around us just assumed we understood.

When we get that missing piece, it’s been called that “Aha!” or lightbulb moment. Whatever you call it, it’s that realization of understanding what was missing. For Logan, it was simply the clouds.

I have to wonder how many students come to school with just a few missing pieces here or there. It’s our place to help them find them through listening, encouraging questions and watching facial expressions.

The reward is the smile one sees when that missing piece is found, and we’ve made a difference. I enjoyed watching my grandsons, Logan and Dean, that day as they sat for a while longer both having fun comparing clouds.

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Leftie or Rightie?

Left arm lifted holding a pencil

Is your dominant hand left, or right? I’m a definite leftie. I am part of the 10-12% in this world that function stronger with their left hand. On the PATINS staff, Julie and Jim join me as lefties.


Some cultures consider left handed people as an outcast. The Anglo-Saxon word for left is “lyft” which means broken, weak. A mere nasty habit to overcome. This might explain why, as an elementary student, I was pulled out of my classroom of peers to go out in the hall and work on writing with my right hand with Miss O’Neil, the “special teacher”. I wasn’t comfortable writing with my right hand nor did I have good results with my right hand. I also remember being sad that I was missing out on what my friends were doing in my classroom with my teacher. Miss O’Neil told my parents that I would always need a pencil gripper to properly write. (That turned out to be incorrect)

In this right-handed world, I have learned to adapt quite effectively. Here’s a few examples:
  • My coffee mug with the inspirational saying? I’m glad you can read it as I drink.
  • Opening those cans with a can opener? I buy the pull tops.
  • Zipping a zipper? Skilled at holding that fly/flap with my other fingers to keep clear.
  • Reading a measuring cup? Mastered the metric system.
  • Spiral notebook? Built a tolerance to dents from resting on the spiral or went for the loose-leaf.
  • Writing over pencil/pen on my paper? Those smudges on the butt of my hand are washable.
  • Cutting with scissors? Not so great UNTIL my first left-handed pair, then perfect!
  • Reading a tape measure? I can read upside down and get the job done.
  • Video Game Controller? Wasn’t any good at video games anyway.
  • Desk in school? I was all smiles when I was introduced to a left-handed desk in college. Until then, I preferred to sit on the floor with my work on my knees or lap.
Studies show that lefties are better at using both hands proficiently over righties. Seems our brains are wired to do this. That explains why I can use my ten-key calculator with my right hand at lightning speed as well as a mouse with my right hand.

If you want some more fun facts on lefties, check out this short video. In the meantime, be mindful of lefties in your circles. If you are a teacher, try to be open to flexible seating options. Keep in mind what it is you are trying to assess and then let the student demonstrate his/her individual ability to conquer the task. If only Miss O'Neil would have checked out my penmanship as a leftie... we both might have put our time to better use.

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Death By Paperwork

"Death By Paperwork" in a creepy font and a blood splatter
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

This year I messed something up in my back, and by April it was hard to sit for more than twenty minutes at a time. Every drive, conference or meeting I was engaged for a bit and then the rest of the day was spent imitating your favorite wiggly child, trying to ease the pain. I felt terrible.

Sometimes it got better, and then it got worse. I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

I had enough and went to a specialist, definitely not something I was looking forward to. I hate going to the doctor. But within a few sessions, my life had changed.

It was like getting glasses in the correct prescription or wearing good shoes after years of wearing Old Navy flip flops. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced how my spine was meant to be.

About three years into my career I had another issue that was a major pain: paperwork.

Paperwork is like back pain. Everyone gets some, some people get more than they can handle. It comes when it’s least convenient and it will not go away if you ignore it. By the end of my third-year the IEPs, evaluations, and caseload documents piled up to my ears. It was affecting my ability to do my job and my family life. I felt terrible. If death by paperwork was a thing, it felt imminent.

I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

An administrator gently suggested I see some “specialists.” I did not want to admit that I was struggling to anyone, but after meeting with others who were amazing at keeping on top of it all, they gave me some ideas. They pointed out some of my mistakes, the weight that was causing the paperwork pain, and they helped me develop my paperwork treatment plan.

In less than two months, I started to feel better. My files were in order and I felt in control. By the next year, I was rocking a weekly paperwork schedule and found tools to help me streamline and automate. I was spending even more time working with kids than I was before! It was career changing. I didn’t know how good it could be.

You, dear reader, might be dealing with some pain in your career. Maybe it’s paperwork or a student on your mind who you don’t know how to reach. Maybe it’s a new tool or expectation that’s pain in your neck, and doing your job effectively seems out of reach. Maybe you complained or ignored it. You tried what you knew to fix it, you asked friends for ideas. Nothing may have worked.

If it’s related to supporting student’s access to education, we’ve got a team of specialists here to help.

It might just change your life.


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Summer Musings, Student Thoughts


Summer. What a great time to store up some natural vitamin D, enjoy the outdoors, and clear our minds from the doldrums and cobwebs that some of us collect during the winter months and look for renewal for the upcoming school year.


At our house, we remodeled our kitchen and, that was an undertaking! It only took three times longer than anticipated but the end result is gorgeous. One does not realize how old something is until it is updated though to be sure, my daughter did try to advise me of this for a while. I took the opportunity afforded by dust, chaos, and disarray to purge the rest of the house. This made the mayhem worse. The saving grace for me was in knowing this messiness was temporary and actually, in my relative control. We have expanded some of the renewal to include new carpeting, which should be installed next week. So it is not smooth sailing yet. Then, of course our family get together is happening before the carpet comes in so it is not “perfect”. There is a lesson in there, too. Perfect is not necessary. 

As I gear up for the 2017-2018 school year, I cannot help but reflect on the daily lives of some of our students. This is not a statement of poverty, class, background or anything else. It is just life. The issue of clutter, chaos and stability crosses all the lines. So, how does this impact our students?   

On an individual level, consider how each of us is able to focus, find things, concentrate, think, create, remember or recall in an environment where we feel we have control, or where we feel we do not. A great example of this comes to mind with the topic of homework. How can homework get done in the midst of chaos? Let alone get done effectively. What does it take to set students up for success when it comes to homework completion? We have to look at individual needs on a universal level.

If we follow the UDL principles set by CAST and follow up work at the UDL Center we have an expectation to facilitate students ability to become expert learners. How can a child and young adult be resourceful and knowledgeable; strategic and goal-directed; purposeful and motivated amidst clutter, chaos, mayhem and limited choices? I think of students with complex disabilities.  Again, the issues cross all the demographic lines. Without a voice or a way to effectively communicate, an individual is dependent on the organizational style, timelines, thought processes of those around them. I do not see how this can promote the development of expert learners.

As an occupational therapist, we look at the whole person, not just the physical aspects of disability. When I see homework not getting completed, there are usually a number of reasons and punitive measures do not seem to get better results. These other reasons can include many issues including significant/subtle learning disabilities, no adult support, poor executive functioning, and emotional issues. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Also, a question that is good to ask is “What is the purpose of the activity?” The answer to that question alone can make a big difference in focusing on critical elements of performance for a student that is useful in growing their expert learner potential. This can even be explored with seating and positioning in the classroom. Without control and confidence of one’s physical state, learning becomes the secondary focus. So, homework, in-class work, whatever the work of a student is we need to know what we are working toward universally, know the student individually, and intentionally plan upfront for all the diversity and chaos eager to learn this year!

Let’s find “techy” ways to help students find their own control and stability in a chaotic world.
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The Hyphen

I never quite realized why I chose a career in special education until this spring. Both of my brothers are electrical engineers and I had a math minor in college. Ending up as a special educator certainly was not my intention when I went off to college. I always would joke that I selected a profession that did not require a government clearance.

Recently, I realized that my mother influenced my career. Mom made it a priority in her life to make sure everyone was cared for, that no one was forgotten. She single handedly took care of my dad for twelve years after he had a debilitating stroke. When I would take her to doctor's appointments she would always take time and ask the doctor how they were doing almost immediately after they would ask her how she was doing. I would often just chalk up this behavior as part of her dementia.

But then it hit me. She knew exactly what she was doing by asking the doctors how they were doing. It was not related to dementia at all. At her assisted living facility I would watch her make sure that fellow residents had everything they needed at meals. She would inform nursing staff if she thought a resident needed some attention. She always had a stash of Lifesaver mints to give to residents and employees. She truly cared for everyone and in her own little way worked to make everyone's life just a little better. For 93 years she had been tossing starfish back into the ocean!

Why did I end up in the special education field? I was destined by my upbringing! I was taught to seek out starfish and return them to the ocean. When I was in the classroom I would somehow always get a challenging student or two because 'I could work with their uniqueness '. At the time I would wonder what I did to make my supervisor continually give me challenging caseloads. I know now that my caseload was based on my ability to see the starfish in everyone. We all need to find the starfish and return them one at a time to the ocean.

I am sure my mom taught me a lot of things. It has just taken me 64 years to realize how she modeled and shaped my life and career. Thanks Mom for your patience with your middle child. You threw me back into the ocean many times!

You always hear it is the hyphen or dash that really counts between your birth and death. It represents the accomplishments, both good and bad, in the course of one's life. Mom has quite a distinctive hyphen, oh the stories it could tell!

Rest In Peace, Mom
February 14, 1924 - June 17, 2017

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Julie Kuhn
Jim, this brought me to tears. How beautiful and thank you for sharing this amazing reflection. What a rich life.
Thursday, 13 July 2017 10:42
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UDLabyrinth


On a recent gorgeous summer night the only choice my family had to make was whether to walk or ride bikes through town. The unanimous vote was to walk, and the mile that separates our house on Franklin College Campus to the courthouse on the square was full of colorful discussion. My 6-year-old daughter Zoë was very excited about the adventure. She mused aloud about many topics -- including how high the water was in the creek, why the college boys next door grilled in the rain and when she could host her next sleep-over. As we wandered through the streets of the downtown area, smoky barbecue aroma surrounded us from the annual competition that had taken place earlier that day.


We found ourselves heading south on Main Street toward a labyrinth nestled in a small sculpture garden that Richard Goss, owner of Richard’s Brick Oven Pizza, built in 2015. The labyrinth that started out as foot-tall bushes now loomed over our heads.

Richard Labyrinth
Zoë asked endless questions about the purpose of a labyrinth, what it was used for and what people did once inside. I explained that labyrinths were used for meditation and reflection, moving through the intricate design was personal and people used it for different reasons. We stood at the entrance of the maze together. The only direction I gave her was that once inside the labyrinth walls she could move through in her own personal way, but with a catch. She would have to be silent. I explained that some people (like me) chose to reflect and think in a labyrinth, which is hard to do with people  talking or making noise. She nodded in understanding and looked longingly at the entrance. I asked her if she would like to go in first and she entered, smiling over her shoulder.

I moved onto the stony pathway next, ambling at a medium pace but deliberately taking in every step, trying to clear my mind. As the fog began to lift, tiny granules of thought began to form into larger structures, castles of ideas began to envelop the dark corners of my brain. With every step, every twist and turn of the path, I felt myself sinking into the calmness and refreshment of what the labyrinth meant to me.

I glanced to my right and made out the shape of my husband, Bill, as he followed his path through the labyrinth. Our paths that once seemed very different converged for a brief moment. His eyes never met mine as he focused on a spot on the horizon; he walked slowly and deliberately and appeared to be far away. He methodically moved through the intricate design in total silence. I ached for a moment, wishing I could focus my mind in the same way, shutting out the sound of the breeze, the birds overhead, the occasional swish of my arms brushing against the hedge wall.

WHOOSH...I could see my daughter's pink shirt through the hedge in a blur as she ran by. I could see her curls blowing back in the breeze. My attention turned to the sound of the gravel crunching under her feet in a rapid pace, her head tilted slightly back in sheer exhilaration but still in complete silence. I giggled to myself as she dashed by. She was doing exactly what I asked her to do, but her style was completely contrasting mine.  

Upon reflection I realized that we had one labyrinth and one instruction yet three totally different interpretations of how we were going to complete the task. Was my method any better than Zoë’s? Was my reaction to the labyrinth any less because I was not focused like Bill? We all reached the end with a better understanding of what the journey meant to us. It was personal and uniquely executed but the gains were similar.  

As I walked away from the labyrinth, I considered the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Figuring out the most personal and unique way to increase knowledge while being given a multitude of tools and approaches seems like a never ending task. Piquing interest/designing education in order to engage students who come from so many different backgrounds and preferences in learning is the hurdle that teachers face daily.  

Allowing for differences, planning ahead to make sure that those differences are not only accounted for, but respected every day, is what UDL is all about. After all, it is not how we get to the finish line, it is what we know when we get there. Our journey is the most important part.


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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

David Bowie said it best:

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Don't want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man”

This has been a big year of changes for me. Some I could control, most I could not. Some I anticipated, some smacked me upside the head. Regardless, they happened and I, like all people had to “turn and face” them. Strange, bizarre, positive or anxiety causing, I see them as a positive disruption of the status quo. An opportunity.

My favorite thing about change is that it makes you think. Without disruption I find myself drifting through a situation, just getting by on muscle memory, prior experience and luck. When you are busy and have many different people/obligations pulling your strings in various directions it can be nice to coast for a bit. Too much of this makes me complacent. I prefer to spend life on the balls of my feet, not the heels.

Change likes to create chaos. It makes you pick favorites and prioritize the rest. It acts as a filter through which you sort your time, space and desires.

Summer break creates a huge change in the daily schedule. Suddenly you find yourself with a totally different arrangement of time. How are you using it? There are lots of great opportunities. Some of them don't even involve professional development! However, you plan on using this time, keep in mind that you can’t do it all. Make space for the things that make you a more relaxed and well-rounded individual. Sort your time through a filter that will help you to be ready for the next big changes around the corner.

If professional learning is on your list, there are plenty of opportunities left. See here for Indiana’s Summer of eLearning. The PATINS specialists are out and about! We take vacations, but we are also available to help prepare for the new school year when you are ready.

The pessimist complains about the wind;
the optimist expects it to change;
the realist adjusts the sails.
-William Arthur Ward                                      

440px 2013 Ahmanson Cup Regatta yacht Zapata II b photo D Ramey Logan




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