Student Privacy vs Friends, Friends of Friends or Public

Student privacy is this weeks #edublogsclub prompt. Ouch and ugh and all of those step on toes feels here.

I LOVE taking pictures and sharing all of the cool and wonderful things that go on in my world both as a mom and a teacher. I took 86 pictures TODAY.. and today was a ho-hum Wednesday full of nothing special, but 86 picture worthy moments in my mind.

Here are some of the pictures from my classroom today.

Because I know that I am going to take thousands of pictures over the course of the year, I send a special release form home with the students at the start of school. While the vast majority of the pictures that I take are of hands in action, I do have clearance to take pictures of faces and video of students in action.

On my release form I also ask about posting to social media and the identification of students. While I have a couple of students each year that can’t be identified by name and face because of CPS issues and such like that, almost every parent wants the pictures of their student posted to social media so that they can share the pictures with their family and friends.

In fact, any of you readers who might be interested can watch the shenanigans from my world on:

  • Facebook at Stephenville High School Art
  • Instagram at emilymaxwellmclemore or SvilleArt
  • Twitter at artsymac or SvilleArt

If you are interested in seeing completed art projects, you can check out my student’s work at Artsonia at Stephenville High School I am very proud to say that I have published 1000 pieces of art just this school year! I can’t wait to see what we will be able to do next year when our campus goes 1:1 and the students can easily upload their own pieces!!

What is frustrating here is that Artsonia changed their user agreement this year and required parents to sign on with their email address and approve their child’s accounts. Previously, parents could sign a consent form and authorize the school to upload their child’s work without an email address.

In my world of economically disadvantaged students with a great number of non-English speaking parents, this has been a continuing problem as many parents will happily sign the consent form, but they don’t have access to go online and set up parent accounts. I expressed this frustration to Artsonia, but to no avail. Because of this, while all the parent/guardian’s approved their child’s artwork to be published online, 69 students or 418 pieces year-to-date are hidden from the public. Sad.

Nonetheless, I can say that yes, I take tons of pictures and post students in action almost on a daily basis. I understand privacy issues but sometimes get caught up in the moment. Living in the land of teens, I am usually just focused on making sure that I don’t get shots of cleavage while taking a picture of hands at work or making sure that I don’g get a clear shot of what is on their phone. While it is almost always the screen of their music.. you never know!

In the end, student privacy and social media is an ever evolving issue. In today’s world filled with constant scrutiny and fear over loss of educational dollars, using social media to promote the incredible authentic teaching and learning that is going on in public schools is crucial.  The best defense is an even better offense. I make sure that my community, district administrators and parents know that when student’s enter my classroom that their time is used wisely, that they are engaged in meaningful activities and that visitor’s are welcome.



7 reasons why I love working in a public school

I didn’t even know what a “listicle” was when I got this week’s #edublogsclub prompt! Thankfully, they had a wiki article about them… basically its a short form of writing for the internet that uses lists.
Well, I am all in on this one. I LOVE lists!!
So here you go…


7 reasons why I love working in a public school

  1. You are challenged every single day to work to improve the lives of all people with no regard to race, color, creed, mental ability, disability or social status.
  2. You are challenged to do more with less resources than you thought possible. (Sure, we would all love more resources, and we deserve more resources, but being able to create magic in the lives of our students with sometimes nothing is pretty amazing.)
  3. You are given the opportunity to love thousands of students in the course of your career. As a high school teacher closing in on 20 years of teaching, I’ve already taught, mentored, and can tell you personal stories about more than 3000 students.
  4. You are given the opportunity to hone your craft, adapt your teaching style and become a better mentor with every new crop of students.
  5. You are offered a chance to learn from the past and start fresh every new academic year. Yesterday’s problems and last year’s power struggle don’t have to impact tomorrow’s promise.
  6. You are offered a chance to learn new curriculum  and teach new subjects. Just because you started off your career as a reading teacher doesn’t mean that you have to finish your career as one. Trust me. I hold 8 different certifications and have taught over 20 different subjects!
  7. You are NEEDED! You are IMPORTANT! You are VALUED! The world may say otherwise, politicians may make your life harder and give you more hoops to jump through, but at the end of the day, society needs you, children depend on you, and YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

In this time of educational uncertainty where every time I walk by a news source and am horrified at the state of our political system, I am reminded that at the end of the day, the education system and public schools are filling a basic need in the lives of millions of students. This need will not go away no matter what politicians do to the system. So instead of wallowing in the uncertainty, I am choosing to celebrate in the daily successes my students.

May we all in public education fill our news feeds with celebrations, successes and the triumphs of teaching a truly diverse and incredible group of public school students.


A deeper approach for better results

In January, with the start of the spring semester, I deepened my approach to teaching basic drawing skills to my art 1 students. While they were not necessarily thrilled with this decision, they quickly saw the benefits to adding the “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” techniques. It’s something that I have wanted to do for years, but trying to fit in such a hands on approach during the middle of contest season just never seemed to work. But this year, I decided that even though I couldn’t do all of the steps, I could at least do the basic introductory steps.

I have Betty Edwards workbook and have adapted her lessons to fit a high school classroom. Her workbook is phenomenal and I wish we had time to do the entire book. (If I had just a drawing class, this is absolutely what we would do!) I take her concepts and teach basically the first five or six lessons.

What is truly amazing is that these techniques, because they are visual lessons and not language dependent work for ALL students of ALL abilities. Given that my classes are made of mixed abilities from the valedictorian to the non-speaking life skills student, I truly value lessons that work for all students!

Over a couple of weeks, my students learned to see every day objects with new eyes. They learned how to use a simple transparency to transform their drawings. They learned how to break large concepts into small manageable segments. And oh man, it has changed the way my students view drawing!

After working through basic lessons, I took a couple of my daughter’s old bicycles up to the school and set them up for the students to draw. Students then took their drawings and enlarged them onto a 18×24 piece of paper that they then had to create a positive and negative pattern on. This felt like it took forever.

But the projects are fantastic! This is the first drawing project where almost every one of my students were not only successful, but created a quality piece of art! Students that are frequent fliers in detention worked bell to bell for weeks on this piece! How I wish I could show you all 100 pieces and tell you the story of every student while you looked at their piece.

But I can’t. So I’ll show you a few really cool pieces.

So anyway, I just had to share this success story. It’s so gratifying when going that extra mile and doing that extra hard thing is rewarded. That’s a rare thing in education!

And the next time I want to set aside the lesson plans and take a few extra days to teach in a more meaningful way, I am going to remember this feeling and these results and give myself the grace to go rogue.

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This week’s #edublogsclub is about challenging situations in education. Wow. Well, as a veteran educator, I feel like I know a thing about challenges in education just from surviving this long in this profession.

I’ve been pondering education and what I consider to be the overarching challenges no matter the age or subject and these are my top 3 challenges. I found pictures from my phone to illustrate!

The greatest challenge in my opinion is knowing how much pressure to apply on students and teachers. Too little pressure and the results are lack luster. Too much pressure and the teacher and/or student folds under the weight of expectations.

I love the idea of clay on a pottery wheel as a metaphor for education. When we throw clay on a pottery wheel, it is important that the clay be wedged, have the right moisture content and be placed on the correct spot on the wheel. If any of these aren’t done correctly, the piece that is going to be thrown won’t look/work right. Further, as the wheel spins, only so much pressure can be applied to the clay at a time. Too much pressure from one side without balancing the clay in other hand will force the clay to move across the batten (base) and eventually the clay will spin off the wheel!

Learning to use the right amount of pressure.

Such can be said for education! The expectations on students and teachers are spinning out of control. The increased pressure to perform better with fewer resources has caused schools to spin faster and faster and teachers and students are being slung from side to side and are holding on by a raveling thread.

Next, those that legislate education seem to forget that educators can only do so much without the proper tools. I thought this picture from my phone was perfect. A few weeks ago I need to get a cork out of a bottle, but I didn’t have a cork opener. I did a little google searching and found a you tube video that showed how to use a key to get the cork out of a bottle. I figured why not, worse case is that I ruin the cork and I can’t drink the glass of wine. So I used my house key, followed the instructions and amazingly it worked! The cork, while it didn’t look great, survived and I was able to use it to close the bottle back up.

Not having the right tool.

This is totally the way education works! In order to get to the “prize” of good test results or  an appropriate level on the state’s accountability scale, educators are expected to figure out how to reach students without ruining the love of learning in the process and without the correct tools! The concept of “making do” is such a part of education that it’s not discussed, it just is.

And finally, my third challenge to education is that the curriculum that needs to be taught is not and can not be the priority because we are teaching children and these children deserve more than just robots that spout platitudes and absolutes.

Understanding that what you want and need to teach is wrapped up in knots and is buried under the weight of a student’s life, the educator’s expectations and the government’s policies.

This picture from my phone is of a large mess of yarn and string tangled together. This is the very definition of teaching! Every piece of yarn represents one of my students and the pieces of yarn are tangled, knotted and completely and utterly dependent on each other to be untangled and to be given lives of their own. Sure I can pretend that the mess doesn’t exist and I can try to pull out just one piece of yarn at a time, but the reality is that in order to teach one student, I have to figure out how to teach the masses, the messes and the tangled jumble of lives. It is only when we have the yarn ball at least somewhat unraveled that we can begin to move onto teaching and learning curriculum.

So there you have it. This is where I see the challenges in education.


Google and the difference it makes in Education


The world of communicating with students has changed. While some might bemoan the technology takeover, I for one, am a hardcore believer in the benefits of real-time appropriate communication with students that is made possible because of technology.

For example, last night from my own home:

  • I communicated with a student about a project and the deadlines that are looming for contest. It didn’t matter that it was after 10pm. The student sent me an email and I was able to respond and give the encouragement to finish the project.
  • I proofed a student’s work and sent feedback to the student using the comments section on Google Slides. Changes that were made were seen immediately and I could clarify where needed.
  • I read an article for my own classwork. I took notes and used a highlighter…all in a virtual format. No printing required!
  • I posted to a discussion board about education.

All of these things were time sensitive and so much easier because of the technology tools available.

One of the best and most useful platforms that I have found to use with students is Google’s FREE Productivity Tools. The school district I work in is a Google for Education school and we use the G Suite for Education services. But I also use these services for my personal work, blog and other needs.


If you haven’t started using Google Productivity Tools, I highly suggest trying them out. These tools truly change the game. How? For one, every change, edit and fix is automatically saved when using Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides and Sites! These tools have replaced my need to use Microsoft Office tools and even better, because they are cloud based, it doesn’t matter where I want to work on files created within these programs, they are available if I have the internet.

The tools also work from a phone or tablet. Google Drive is where I store just about everything these days. I also use Google Photos to store my pictures. I can upload my photos from my phone and then delete them to free up my phone storage. I can then access the pictures from anywhere, send them to print, add them to blog posts, whatever I need. Even better, file size doesn’t matter as the storage is unlimited with the Google for Education service. I use this with my personal gmail account as well and I have 15GB free.

Lastly, if you are a teacher and expect students to collaborate on projects, using a Google product lets you really see what students did. Instead of getting a finished project that only 1 student worked on out of a group of 4, but you don’t really know what was done and when, so you have to give everyone the same grade.. now you can give a grade based on actual work provided by students! You can even have the file tell you the percentage of authorship of the file. It is really quite cool.

I could go on as there are so many more amazing Google tools, but for now, I’ll leave it at… just try them! They are free and they just might make your life easier.

The Value of Pictures

This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt was to add photos to posts. Well, I’ve got that one down. I am constantly taking pictures and videos. My life is well documented. In fact, I have to say that I am rather proud of the fact timg_9832hat while there are 7,802 pictures in my phone, many of those pictures include fun family moments, cool projects that my students are working on and simple everyday selfies. And these photos haven’t been taken and left to die in my phone. They live again on instagram, twitter, this blog, Artsonia and facebook!

As an educator, I have learned the value of a picture taken of a student at work in my environment. A picture can express hope, frustration, encouragement, success, failure and so much more. I use pictures to show what my students are working on, what they are struggling through and eventually their successes. It keeps students accountable as I post updates on my high school art facebook page regularly and no student wants basically the same photo uploaded day after day!

Further, parents really enjoy looking into the world that their children spend so much time in. There are no secrets in my classroom and I really work hard to get authentic moments. Yes, I often end up telling kids to move their phones out of the shot.. not because I want to hide the fact that they are listening to music from their phones, but their phones are not the story of the picture and I’m afraid some naysayers about education and teens would see the phones and not see the kids hard at work!

Below are pictures taken on Tuesday from my classroom during one of my art 2 classes. It only takes a couple of minutes to take pictures and post to my school facebook page, but the goodwill from student’s families and friends is incredible!


So there you have it. I truly love taking photos of students at work and of their finished projects. It clutters my phone and overwhelms my storage space at times, but it is worth it. Besides having photo evidence of what is happening in my world, it also is a really important level of transparency in this day and age. While I don’t take pictures of every student everyday, the body of photos show the life, camaraderie and work ethic of my students and the once hidden high school art room is captured, shared and enjoyed by students, parents and the community as a whole.

Redefining Leadership


This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt was a sticky-tricky tar baby one for sure!  Here is the prompt…

Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change. Here are some sentence starters that may help you as a work on the ideas for your post:

  • The best school leader I have ever worked for/with…
  • Teaching leadership skills to students…
  • The qualities of a true leader include…
  • Leaders don’t…
  • Leaders never…
  • Leaders always…
  • I wish my school administrator/boss…
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on…
  • A leader I admire…
  • Peer coaching…
  • Effecting change…

I pondered what to write about. I have so many thoughts about school leadership! Dang, I’ve been a public school teacher since 1997. I’ve taught in 2 states, in 7 school districts and worked for almost 20 principals. I’ve seen and learned A LOT about leadership! But I also want to continue working in public education and want a job as a campus administrator, so I’m not looking to air out our dirty laundry for all to see!

And then, in my course work I came across a Ted Talk by Drew Dudley and it was a light bulb (or lollipop) moment. If you have 6 minutes, it is definately worth watching!

Here are my takeaways from his talk.  Dudley states “We’ve made leadership something bigger than us, something beyond us. We’ve made it about changing the world.” Further he says that our mindset is that until we do something big enough to deserve the title, we devalue the things that we CAN do everyday.

And finally, Dudley says that sometimes the most important moments, where we are true leaders, where we impact a person’s life, where we change the trajectory of someone’s future are simply moments that are forgotten to us. We move on not even realizing that we made an impact.

So instead of focusing on the things that I wish my leaders did, or the things that I wish my leadership wouldn’t do, I’m redefining my interpretation of leadership. Yes, I want leaders to do big things that will change the world. But more than that, I want leaders (and I am including myself and my fellow teachers) to be leaders that change individual moments in the lives of our students. I want to celebrate so many “lollipop” or forgotten moments each week that everyone starts seeing themselves as leaders. I want to celebrate so many seemingly insignificant moments that impact the lives of students and their families that the students see their own leadership potential.

Because THAT is how we Redefine Leadership.

The parallels of long distance running and public education

I’m writing this from the comfort of my recliner. My sore and blistered feet are propped up and I’m eating all the carbs in sight. Why? I ran a 1/2 marathon yesterday, so today I feel entitled to calories and rest.

I’m not a new runner and the 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles) distance is one that I typically enjoy and am trained to complete. Yesterday’s race I made “rookie” type mistake and wore shoes that I knew going in I shouldn’t wear, but I did anyway. I paid for it.

By mile 3 my feet hurt. By mile 6 every left step was uncomfortable. By mile 11 the hot spots on the side of my right foot were killing me. But I kept going. I considered stopping and checking on my left foot, but I didn’t want to see the wound that I knew was there. So I just endured it and finished the race.

And while contemplating my stupid shoe issue, I came to realization that much like the problems with my shoes, so are the problems in education.

How? Well here are my parallels.

  1. These shoes are not a new shoe for me. I’ve worn this brand for years. But this pair is newer and they have never felt right. While the brand and the style didn’t change, something about the way they were made was changed.

    Isn’t this the way of high stakes testing? We have been testing in public education for years and years. I’m not even saying that testing is bad. We need markers so that we know what learning is taking place. But the way the tests are made has changed. The purpose and the mindset has changed even though the official reasons for testing are still said to be to measure student success.

    And because the shoe still looks like the shoe we know, we expect to be able to wear it the same with the same result.. and we end up with a bloody toe. And the test while it has changed its name over the years, still is supposed to measure student success, so we and teach the students the way we know how, expecting the same results… and we end up with disenfranchised and unsuccessful students. 

  2.  The shoes never fit right, but I wore them anyway.

    From the first time I wore the shoes, the tops of my toes rubbed in them. For short runs, my toes would be a little pink when I finished running, but it wasn’t too bad. For longer runs, I’d make sure that I wore thin socks.  I knew there were issues. But I continued to wear them. My older, comfortable shoes were past their mile markers and not suited to long runs anymore. And of course, I had just gotten these shoes. They were clean and pretty! They just had to get better!

    And so goes education. After almost 20 years in public education, I can say honestly that some of the things that we do are just plain stupid. The newest and best things for engagement, to boost test scores, to prevent drop out.. and on and on.. some of these things do work. (This post isn’t about those things…. ) And some of them never fit right, they rub students and teachers the wrong way, have continued issues and are just bad. But we do them anyway, because it is the new’s shiny and clean and pretty.. and surely, once we get used to it, it will get better! 

  3. I knew that the problem existed, but I ignored it.

    For months I wore my “pink ghosts” knowing that they didn’t fit right. But I ignored the problem hoping that eventually the issues would work themselves out. Every time I put them on, I knew the possible blisters. I would rationalize the issues and go on with my run.  My toes would hurt after a few miles, but oh well. I’d tell myself to get out that other pair of shoes from my closet and try a different pair. Good intentions and really pretty easy to take care of. But after my workout, I’d be in a hurry and quickly be off to work and not think about the shoe issue until I was about mile 3 into a run. I know, it doesn’t make sense.. but not much makes sense a 4:30am! 🙂

    And the same goes for education! Oh my does it! We know that problems exist and we even know how to fix many of them. But we act as if we ignore the problems that they will eventually either get fixed, graduate or go work someplace else! This mindset helps no one, nor does it make sense.

Running and public education are my passions.

As I strive to be a better runner, I have to be willing to stop and make necessary changes… often ones that only can be seen after the first 6 miles… including trying a new brand or style of shoes.

As I strive to be a better advocate for public education, I have to be willing to stop and make necessary changes.. often ones that can only be seen from inside the school building. For now, I focus on my classroom… but one day in the not so distant future a campus? I can hope. Until then, I will remember that this is a marathon.

My Working Space

Welcome to my Week 2, #edublogsclub post.

The prompt asks me to share about where I get my work done, how my space is organized and any tips or tricks that I want to share.

To begin,  while I spend more hours in V-21 than anywhere else, I don’t know that I really get all that much work done.. at least between the hours of 7:45am and 3:40pm. I typically work on my graduate classes or projects for myself after hours at home. But for this post, I am going to focus on my classroom.

The Physical Space

Here is a glimpse of my classroom on the first day of school. After almost twenty years teaching, I still love the clean and organized room at the beginning of each year. It’s kind of like the “new car smell.”


As reflected in the pictures, I have a lot of space. Good thing… I have a lot of students and two class periods a day I teach Art 2, Art 3 and AP Art and have students in both the front and back classrooms at the same time.

And then there is the real life part of this post…

This is what my corner of the room looks like today…. img_9545-2

Yes, it is cluttered! Yes, it is visual chaos.

I do my absolute best to keep the space organized, but it really gets tough. One of my best teaching qualities is my commitment to differentiation for all 120+ students. The downside is that giving personalized instruction and projects to every student who comes into my room takes lots of materials, time and space!

The aesthetics

A few years ago while taking graduate arts education courses, I learned about the Reggio Emilia approach to classroom management, education and space planning. While I still have way more useless stuff on my bookshelves than I’d like, I really took the mindset of environment as the third teacher to heart. The research discussed in the Reggio Emilia Inspired classroom resonated with me and pushed me to activate ways for students to use the “hundred languages of children” which included sculpture, painting, drawing, touch, texture and so forth.

Further, in bringing this philosophy into my classroom, I was challenged to discard the primary colored plastic tubs of the typical American classroom. Why do we find it necessary to hide supplies from students? So I stopped. One of the biggest changes was the way I stored my colored pencils.  It was a small thing in the scope of a large classroom, but it has been great!

The back story on this was that our tennis coach asked me one year if I had any need for the plastic tubes that tennis balls come in. I said yes not really knowing what I would use them for. Well, the tubes are PERFECT for colored pencils! The clear containers were exactly what Reggio Emilia called for! And because they look cool and are organized, there wasn’t a need to hide them in a closet. Even better!


Tips and Tricks

An efficient classroom is not only one that is organized, but one that makes sense. I have been in classrooms where there were exact procedures for folders, late work and so forth, but these procedures didn’t make sense or were not consistently enforced by the teacher.

So my biggest tip for life in education is to create procedures that you are not only willing, but capable of enforcing and carrying out EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  If you can’t commit to the procedure, then don’t bother.

For example, my students know that when it is getting close to the end of class, they had better have their space clean, supplies put away and be seated, or they won’t be dismissed when the bell rings. No one leaves the room if anyone is standing. Done. And even then, I have to say it almost on a daily basis. I don’t say it ugly, but I have to say.. “Where are you supposed to be?” or “If you plan on leaving when the bell rings, you need to be seated.” or any of the many variations on the same theme.  It’s a boundary. The teenagers in my room know that it is there, they expect it to be enforced, but they are going to check.. every single day. That’s the job of a teenager.

And you know what? Because I enforce such a seemingly insignificant procedure, I don’t have many problems in my classroom. Why? because my student’s know that the rules are the rules and I will follow through. I don’t have many rules. I don’t have arbitrary or crazy ones. I have simple, easy to enforce meaningful rules.

So that is my biggest tip and trick for classroom organization and management. Keep it simple..and keep it going. Every single day.

Man, I had so much more to say, but my soapbox is only so big, so I’ll step off it now and save my other organization tips for another post.

Final take away

At the end of the day, whether you work in a classroom, in an office, at your kitchen table, or from your bed, create for yourself a space that is inviting and a place that works for you. Sure, we all want to say that we want it to be more  organized.. but do we? Sometimes somewhat organized or loosy goosey is what resonates with our personalities and I don’t feel like apologizing for my stacks of project piles on the corner of my desk. Neither should you.

So thanks for stopping by and I hope enjoyed a glimpse into my world.

i refuse to feel guilty

The world would have me believe that I am not enough. I’m not supposed to like who I am. The media and my news feed say that I should be constantly trying to make myself better either by using special products or eating (or not eating) certain foods. The commercials on tv, the ads on social media and the magazines at the store check out lines push me to question my body image, my lifestyle and my parenting choices. img_9517

But I’m done with that.

I refuse to feel guilty about the fact that I LIKE ME!

I am fully aware of my shortcomings: my bmi that says that I am overweight, my waist measurement that says I’m fluffy, my cluttered house, my spoiled children, my neglected husband.

But you know what… even in the midst of my daily disappointments, I like me.  It has taken a long time to get to this point in life and I refuse to discount my joy because of my shortcomings.

Join me in the joyful mindset. Focus on good things.

I’m going to eat real food this year, not processed diet food. I’m going to celebrate being 42 and a mother of 3 incredible girls.  I’m going to strive to be physically, emotionally and mentally stronger everyday. I’m going to enjoy sitting on the couch with my husband and maybe I’ll even watch a little tv! I’m going to do handstands and cartwheels and maybe even the splits. I’m going to run 1/2 marathons, ride my bike and swim laps.. because I find those things to be fun. I’m going to paint and sew and scrapbook.

I’m just going to enjoy being me.