Friday, May 14, 2021

Lessons from Disney Many Years Later

Some of my momentos.
When I was in college, I did what was considered crazy by many of my friends. In a world before online classes were widely offered, I decided to take a semester away from college to get some real world experience. That "real" world was of course Walt Disney World. For six months, I lived in Buena Vista, Florida and worked in attractions at The Magic Kingdom. I took some courses at Disney University, officially referred to as Disney Institute, where I learned skills not taught in traditional college courses and earned my Ducktorate Degree.

Over a decade later, I still have mementos from that semester including the little magnet that was used to represent my position for the day at Jungle Cruise. They got rid of the magnet board and now use a digital assignment system, but those magnets still hold a sentimental value for all of us that worked before a computer told you where to stand for your shift. I also saved a Cast Atlas which was the behind the scenes map so I didn't get lost, and both my name tags. The dirtier/aged name tag is the one I wore every day in the parks, while the cleaner one was provided to me when I became a campus representative and helped future interns with the process at school before leaving for the program.

The first day of my Disney College Program, I arrived at The Magic Kingdom in the early morning, before most of the employees and obviously before the park opened for the day. That day it felt magical to see Main Street USA without the crowds. While I saw this as a magical experience only a few were able to witness, now it's sadly a common view as the park was closed for months.

The following week was spent earning my ears as I learned the ins and outs of the park, the history of Disney, and specifically The Jungle Cruise where I was assigned for the semester. When I was handed the 50 page packet and told to start memorizing the script, I was in shock. However, like every other part of the internship it turned into an experience I will always remember that helped me grow as an individual.
Main Street USA, Early Morning 2004

In the end, I may have been driving boats and telling jokes all day but I also learned those soft skills that we always talk about with our students. Here are just some of the lessons I learned during the semester that I still use everyday as a professional.

Accept Disappointment and Learn from It
My very first day during check-in, I was asked "Which is your favorite park?" Which I immediately replied Epcot. After a pause, the HR representative said "What's your second choice?" Disney's recruiters said that they tried to match positions based on majors. So as an education major, I thought I would be placed at Epcot or Animal Kingdom. Imagine my surprise when I was assigned Magic Kingdom. I was upset, but I knew that I wasn't promised a specific position and that it was the reality of my assignment. I let myself be upset for a bit and then moved on. Of all the college students assigned to Jungle Cruise that year, four of us were education majors. Maybe Disney realized something at the time that I just didn't understand.

Working with Others
Disney was the first time I was forced into a situation where I couldn't talk my way into a situation I preferred. In school, even when groups were created by the teacher, I tended to work with the same people that I had grown up with and knew. In college, I got to know everyone in my core classes and when it was group projects, we tended to gravitate to the same groups each time. At Disney, I was thrown out of my comfort zone and actually had to work with people that weren't always the easiest to get along with. This allowed me to learn soft skills such as conflict resolution and compromising because I couldn't just walk away when someone made me upset.
Another day on the river, Jungle Cruise

Public Speaking
As a Jungle Cruise Skipper, I was responsible for telling scripted jokes along the ten minute boat ride. While scripted, it still had to feel natural and not off. This got easier as the semester went along, but some other things I learned in terms of public speaking were just the general skills. Intonation, eye contact, and volume control. As a naturally loud person, I had to learn to hold the microphone away from my mouth and also be conscience of how loud I was being in general.

Non-Verbal Communication
Each day I would interact with over 500 people many that didn't speak English. This made non-verbal communication even more important as I directed them to seats, gave safety information, and tried to make the ten minute ride enjoyable when they couldn't understand the jokes. The classroom is the same thing. Teachers always talk about "the look" and it's true. Students can take a lot of social clues from a teacher's non-verbal communication. 

Time Management
While working at Disney, I didn't bring a car to Florida. Therefore I relied completely on the transportation provided by the student housing. They had a variety of bus routes that went to all the parks, along with major shopping areas. For The Magic Kingdom, the bus stop was in the cast member parking lot which was about a half mile behind Splash Mountain. AKA, really far and not walk-able due to safety. I would then have to get on a different shuttle to the cast member locker room where I would change into my costume and clock-in. This process meant that if my shift began at 1pm, I really had to get the bus that arrived by noon so I had time to get the shuttle, then my costume, and actually get ready. 

Expect the Unexpected
Part of the training at Disney included emergency preparedness. As a ride that took place on water, we had to prepare for weather related incidents along with other acts of craziness. While crazy things happen at Disney all the time, there are two specific incidences that I was somehow in the wrong place at the right time for and ended up needing to assist.

On February 8, 2004* I was working crowd control at the 3pm parade. After we put the ropes up, we would play silly games with kids until we had to clear the street. I was mid-Simon Says when a manager came over the walkie-talkie saying the parade was stopping after three floats and to wrap up the ropes. While we were putting the ropes and poles away in the storage closet, we learned why the parade was canceled; an accident backstage. This accident also led to a complete revamping of safety procedures for all the parades. Luckily no children witnessed the accident but every cast member there that day knew what happened and had to pretend everything was normal to preserve the magic for guests.

On March 10, 2004* I was coming through the hippo pool when I noticed people standing up on the boat ahead of me. As I slowed the boat I was driving down so we didn't crash, I realized they were standing because the boat was under water. That's right, only twice in the history of all Jungle Cruise attractions have boats sunk, and I was there the first time. While other cast members started wading the water to assist people across to dry land, I had to keep the forty passengers in my boat seated and calm. The remainder of the day was filled with paperwork and standing at the entrance of the ride to inform guests that we were closed.

It's Called Work, Not a Vacation
Throughout the semester, there were a few people forced to move out of student housing after their internship was terminated. Sometimes gossip would spread, and other times they would just disappear silently into the night. The most common story though was a sad trend. Many of the college students took the semester thinking it was a fun break from school. They would call in sick (and get caught) from work to go play in the parks, hang out at the beach, and a few other common excuses. The average Disney work week was five days, my "weekend" was Monday and Tuesday because weekends were busy in the parks, but I still got two days off a week where I could enjoy Orlando's many opportunities. Claiming to be sick and taking a day off never crossed my mind because I knew that calling out would leave everyone else in a bad situation. Each time someone took off a scheduled shift, the rest of the cast members would have reduced breaks and other changes to compensate for being short one person.

The same is true for teaching. Many teachers will overwork themselves and come in when they are feeling under the weather because they know the strain it puts on everyone else to be short-staffed.

Graduation Day, May 14, 2004

The semester at Disney was amazing and at the end I was sad to leave. I even considered staying an extra semester but my mother wisely convinced me to finish my degree. A decade later, I still remember the lessons I learned there and hope that I bring some of that Disney magic to all my students.

* Clarification of dates listed. I had to use Google to find the dates of these two incidents but there was conflicting information between message boards and Wikipedia. I did not record the exact date in a journal or anything at the time so I am using the dates that appeared the most likely to be correct.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Networking and Growing as an Introvert?

Recently I've started to focus more on my networking. A post I saw on Linkedin really made me think. The concept of the post was how to get a promotion and/or raise. The content was about not waiting for others to notice you but to force them to notice you. Alright, not exactly force them to notice you but brag about yourself or make sure they're aware of your accomplishments. 

I started to write a response to the post right on it as a comment, but realized that I needed to think my response out more and it was probably going to be longer than a quick response. So here it is. 

Image Source
Jane Underwood, Linkedin
The advice made sense but how do you accomplish that goal when you're an introvert? Some people reading this are probably thinking "Cori you're not an introvert. You never shut up." This is kind of (definitely) true, but listen when I speak because I'm normally rambling nonsense. When I'm in a situation where I'm trying to introduce myself, whether it be a social or professional, I just can't do it. I'll find I can't find the right words, I'll say um, ah, aaaaa, and am definitely making the conversation very awkward. 

I've always had this problem with job interviews and I'm sure I've lost out on more than one position because of my awkwardness during the process. Now, I actually feel that introvertness in my current position. My boss tells me to list all my certifications and titles at the beginning of every presentation, webinar, or training session. When I said I don't feel comfortable doing that, a colleague was assigned to "introduce the speaker" and rattle off the list of titles and certifications that you see on the right bar of my website. See, I can show my accomplishments on my website, but I don't feel the need to brag about them. I'm not one of those people that puts every badge on my email signature because it will show my expertise. I have them in one place and that should be enough.

Yes, I have tons of certifications and for many of them I have worked very hard but they don't actually mean much. I mean, they do, but I don't think they're bragging worthy. The only title I have right now that I feel is worthy of bragging isn't even a title. I was selected as part of a national delegation last year for an international educator's conference. It's the only thing where I actually "beat the competition" to be selected. For many of my certifications, I just checked the requirement boxes.

Additionally, many of my titles that have been earned are collaborative accomplishments. When I became a Certified Innovator, I had a group of students and a parent help with the application video. I then attended a three day program where I worked with a team of other educators to complete a project for change. Let's not forget that while I attended that three day program, my colleagues all had extra work because they were down a teacher and agreed to give up their prep periods to allow me the time to attend the program. 

When I got my degree, I had support from the school district I was working at during that time. The district reimbursed part of my tuition to help ease the financial burden of completing a degree. Many assignments required me to try things with my students and reflect. So without a class of amazing students that completed new lessons instead of the old curriculum ones, I would not have had the ability to complete my personal assignments. My administrator served as my advisor and supervisor for the internship part of my program. She had to meet with me weekly and completed paperwork to ensure I completed the requirements for state certification. 

Image Source
So yes I have a ton of accomplishments, but none of them are really mine. Back to the original point of this post, I don't feel comfortable drawing attention to myself when it's really not just myself. Every title I have earned belongs to all the people that helped me achieve them. My students, my colleagues, my mentors.  I don't feel right bragging about stuff that would not have been possible without my support system that was in place. Some would say this could be defined as imposter syndrome. I don't feel like an imposter that will be found out. I just know that nothing I have accomplished belongs to just me and therefore have trouble bragging about it. I am grateful every day to my support system that has gotten me to this point.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Simple Leap Might Lead to An Amazing Experience

I took a big leap last night. A few of Southeast PAECT's members have been conversing with a local celebrity, Second Lady of Pennsylvania, Gisele Fetterman. For those of you that don't know who she is (it's okay), I will admit that prior to a news article about her, I had no idea who she was either. Honestly, until Covid, I hadn't even paid that much attention to our Lt. Governor John Fetterman. Now I follow them both on Twitter because their back and forth banter is funny and a welcome relief from many political posts. 

Twitter Feed
Besides their adorable teasing of each other, Gisele Fetterman also tweets about her many charities. One of these charities is what lead to our recent back and forth and my leap of sending an email. Fetterman recently shared her excitement for being assigned an adopted family to cook dinner for through This started the discussion for me when I responded that I wish I knew how to make a lasagna and she responded we could learn together.

Flash forward to the next exchange with myself and one of our regional board members when I tweeted about doing a virtual cooking class for #TeacherSelfCare and she responded "Please invite me ❤️❤️❤️❤️". Seriously fangirling at this point. So I reached out to the rest of our regional board and then with them agreeing that it would be a great event, I sent an email to the Lt. Governor's office. 

Now I'm waiting for a response, but I'm just proud at my professional growth to be brave enough to even reach out for something like this. The old me would have been afraid of rejection. Now I'm taking more risks because the worst that can happen is she says no and we'll be exactly where we are now.

Can we still host a virtual cooking class without Gisele Fetterman? Sure. Will it still be fun without her? Of course. So whether she can join us or not will not really change the event. However, if she can join us, her presence will be exciting for all our members who are currently working really hard to help students.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Today's Fiction Leads to Tomorrow's Reality

Screenshots of Christopher Gorham as Auggie in Covert Affairs on USA
Image screenshots from
Covert Affairs, USA Network
Think hard of things that didn't exist five, ten, even one year ago. My friend Ari posted an article, This startup wants to replace the white cane for blind people, on Linkedin that immediately reminded me of a show I enjoyed a few years ago. In the show, Covert Affairs, the character of Auggie was blinded while serving in the military and became a CIA operative. In the show, Auggie would walk around the CIA offices with a small laser device in this hand but would use a traditional walking stick when out in public.

While this example immediately came to mind from the article shared by Ari I thought back to a meme that was circulating a few years ago featuring Star Trek gadgets. Examples included the tricorder which can be compared to a modern smart phone, hand-held screens that can be compared to tablets, and more.

Image Source:
Emerging EdTech
Looking a little more student friendly, we can explore the Jetsons. Yes I know most of our students are too young to know the Jetsons (I feel old) but a short clip of the show can be used to inspire students. Perhaps George on a video call with his boss, or Rosie the sarcastic robot maid. The Jetsons also originated in the 1960s but displayed so many concepts that now exist. 

We are at an amazing time where if there's an idea, there's a way. This is why the concept of problem-based learning is so important for students. Give them a problem and tell them to solve it. Don't give them a pre-designed solution. Let them explore. Prototype. Fail. Try again.

It doesn't take long to find examples of amazing innovations being completed by students around the world. During an international science fair hosted by Google in 2019, the winning student projects were unbelievable.

  • Fionn Ferreira (Ireland) - Removing microplastics from water.
  • Celestine Wenardy (Indonesia) - Low-cost, non-invasive glucose meter
  • Tuan Dolmen (Turkey) - Harness energy from tree vibrations.

In a different competition from 2012, Jack Andraka, discovered a method to test for cancer that was less invasive and more affordable than traditional testing.

If your students have great ideas but you don't have a way to help them expand the ideas, reach out to your network. Use Twitter and Linkedin to find an expert in that field. Mentoring young minds is a rewarding adventure and many businesses will encourage this type of outreach. If it's something you want to keep in school but don't have the funds to help the students continue the project then help them learn about fundraising and grants. Talk to their parents about the possibility of crowd-sourcing. Obviously for safety reasons you don't want a student to create a Go Fund Me page, but their parent can. 

Another easy way to help them get started is to do digital prototyping. They might not be able to build and test their idea, but start with the design. Teach them about presentation skills and create 30-second commercials for their idea's potential investors. Many major companies have grants for educational institutions. I can't be positive since I've never been on the judging side of these grant applications but I would think that involving students in the application and demonstrating community buy-in can only help make your applications stand out among the rest.

Image Source: Picuki
Keep inspiring your students. Challenge them to try new things. Yes it might be scary, but encourage and support them.

To leave you with an inspirational quote, in 1962 John F. Kennedy made a decision to fund the space program and gave one of the most inspirational speeches of the generation. A speech which has been viewed, heard, and quoted for generations since. Most people only remember the line about because it's hard, not easy. However I think the entire speech is inspirational and powerful motivation for students that are trying to explore and create with a goal of bettering tomorrow.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Google Went Down... Now What?

So Google had a major outage this morning that lasted about a half hour. Luckily it came back up, but within that half hour I realized just how much I rely on Google.

  1. When my alarm went off, I said "Okay Google, please turn the lights on" but Google responded that it had a problem and to try again.
  2. After manually turning my lights on thinking I'd have to reset my plug I said "Hey Google, what's today's weather?" and got a response to try again later.
  3. I picked up my phone and went to check some things only to see login errors on a few apps.
Now I was getting mad and thinking my wifi was out or something so I switched my phone to data only to see the same issues. By the time I left for work Google was restored but this morning was an interesting wakeup call. Think about it. How many of us subconsciously (at this point) use Google for daily tasks? Any application, including Zoom, that I normally click "login with Google" didn't want to let me login this morning. 

Screenshot of Google Workbench App Status Page
Google Workbench Dashboard
Now imagine our students. Many schools use Google Apps for Education on a daily basis. During this outage, students couldn't access Google Classroom, Google Meet, Gmail, and more. Schools couldn't send out emails regarding the outage because Gmail was down too. So these students would see the site not working and that would be it. 

So we as educators need to start making some changes to the ways we do things. Perhaps relying exclusively on a single platform is part of the problem. You wouldn't invest your lifesavings in a single stock so perhaps we shouldn't invest out entire educational process on a single suite of softwares. Diversify. Maybe use a few products from Google, a few from Microsoft, and then a few smaller umbrellas such as Nearpod. This way if one goes down, everything doesn't just stop.

What do you think? Leave a comment on this post and let's start a discussion. Collaboration has always been important in education, so let's collaborate on troubleshooting a "one time crazy situation" that can and probably will eventually happen again. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

ISTE2020: A Week in Review

Just like everything else, ISTE looked a little different this year. Instead of taking place in an expo hall/convention center, ISTE moved virtual for 2020 and stretched a few extra days.

Error message seen multiple times on ISTE website during the conference.
Unfortunately for a virtual experience there were also virtual hic-ups. Many times throughout the week I had error messages when clicking on session links. It seems that while they knew how many people registered for the conference, they hadn't taken into account the strain on their servers to handle the traffic. There was also an issue of sessions being "full" but I know that web conferencing software has limits and even the in-person ISTE sometimes has to close off sessions for safety when they are full.

I think the hardest thing was that ISTE was based on Pacific Time Zone which meant things started later in the afternoon and went into the evening here on the East Coast. Even so, I was able to attend a bunch of sessions and meet some awesome people. Even more interesting, after talking in the chat box of one session, I got a DM from someone I had worked with six years ago asking if I was that same Cori. It was nice to reconnect and we're now connected on Linkedin so we can stay in touch moving forward.

Screenshot from Best of Both Worlds session.
On the first day of ISTE, I had the privilege of presenting a condensed panel The Best of Both Worlds: O365 and G Suite Can Co-Exist with some of my fellow Microsoft Innovative Education Experts and Google for Education Certified Innovators. One of the biggest takeaways I had from my own presentation was that when organizing such an endeavor, communication becomes more important than ever. Also, proof-read online forms before hitting submit or you too will end up with a condensed timeslot instead of a full hour (oops). The panel went well and we've already discussed perhaps hosting an encore on social media using StreamYard.

I attended many sessions during the week on coaching/mentoring, esports, future-ready learning, and more. I think the biggest takeaway I had was from a session on the science of audiology. The session talked about proper mic placement, speaker volume, and in class sound amplification vs web conferencing audio issues. I thought it was really interesting because as a naturally loud person I always say "can you hear me in the back without a microphone" but I learned that hearing and understanding are not always the same thing. The audio setup is not to amplify a voice but to evenly distribute it because when you naturally raise your voice, you're also changing the tone which can make it harder to understand even for people without hearing difficulties. Using your teacher voice is no longer an excuse for poor classroom audio.

The virtual expo hall was truly lacking from the experience of walking up and down rows of vendors. While I did stop to "chat" with a few vendors, it was much harder to explore products when watching YouTube videos or reading PDFs compared to physically holding something. Yes, I also missed the swag, but most of the time I only keep a few key items anyway.

Overall, I missed the in-person experience and I truly hope that 2021 in Texas takes place. However, I understand that the entire world has shifted right now and ISTE did the best they could given the circumstances.

Disclaimer: As a Microsoft Innovative Education Expert (MIEE), I was fortunate to have my registration covered by Microsoft as a presenter using Microsoft tools. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Microsoft Office Specialist: Associate

Microsoft Office Specialist: Word
This week, I had the opportunity to sit for the Microsoft Office Specialist exams from home. Normally, these tests require you to make an appointment with a physical testing center. Due to social distancing requirements, they have modified the exams to allow virtual tests. The tests were completed on a virtual computer with a live proctor on the other side of the account.
Microsoft Office Specialist: Associate 
Microsoft Office Specialist: Powerpoint
Thanks to an amazing organization out of Australia, I was able to sign-up and participate in these virtual exams from my home in Pennsylvania. Even better, the normal price tag was removed and the exams were free during the conference. I registered and took three exams: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Powerpoint, and Microsoft Excel. By passing all three exams, I also received a fourth recognition: Associate.
Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel

When you teach computers, these industry certifications are something that you often speak about with your students. Rather than just write "I'm proficient with Microsoft" passing these exams give you verifiable proof that you are indeed proficient with the software. The company that runs the exams on behalf of Microsoft works with many schools to become verified testing locations and offer site licenses rather than individual test fees. This allows schools to offer the exams and certifications to their students during computer courses throughout the curriculum. 

By finally taking the exams for myself, I learned a lot about the certification process and requirements. I also realized that I either know more than I thought about Excel, or the expert test which I didn't take is what I really think about when I say "I'm not good at Excel." Next time I find an organization offering the exams for free, I may try the expert level. For now, I'm happy to be able to officially say I'm a Microsoft Office Specialist Associate.