January 27th, 2013

Reflecting Upon a Post in Time, Volume 1- #Educon 2010

I told myself I would do two things this year, 1.  Write more both here and in a book I have bouncing around in my head, and 2. Reflect more on some of the writing I have done in the past.  

The first has gone okay as I have been writing more in this space (but not in a book, yet) and the second is just starting today.  My plan is to revisit one or two blog posts each month, from the same month a year, two, three, or four prior.  I’m thinking (hoping?) that it will not only allow me to revisit my writing and thinking, but also see if my writing has trends. (Basically, am I doing the same thing, thus writing the same stuff, year over year and if so, how are things changing?)

Make sense?  

Okay, so my first attempt at this will bring us back to January of 2010, a week prior to attending my first Educon.  (BTW:  I am writing this post from my 4th Educon.)  The post was entitled “Catching Up with Old Friends for the First Time”.

Educon 2.2is next weekend and I can’t wait.  Not only will I have the opportunity to hearChris LehmannDean ShareskiWill Richardson, and Michael Hornspeak about current, progressive issues in education, but I am going to get the chance to meet face to face with some of the most valuable people in my life these days, my PLN.

Since July of 2009, when I started writing this blog and being more of a participant in the global conversation, I have begun to develop very meaningful, albeit virtual, relationships with learning leaders across the United States and the world.  These are people who I have come to count on to push me, provide me with support and resources, and challenge the way I look at teaching and learning.  These are folks who I began “chatting” with over Twitter, my blog, or Ning and have developed a real fondness for, and relationship with, over time.

But, what you need to know about me is that I am not a gregarious person by nature.  I’m something of an introvert and can be quite insecure about my thoughts and insights.  Put me in a room with 150 strangers and at the end of 4 hours I’ll walk out with 150 strangers.  In my virtual room, however, that introverted, often times insecure person is pushed aside by the person inside of me that is interested in developing a voice in the global conversation.  During the past six months since I started this blog and began growing my PLN, I’ve noticed that I am more confident in my ability to interact with others online than I am in person.  I am simply more comfortable communicating and conversing virtually than personally.

This shift has really been meaningful for me because it has allowed me to unlearn old beliefs and practices while I try transform into a 21st century learning leader.  Next week, I’ll have the opportunity to meet my peers that are helping me find this voice and undergo this transformation face to face for the first time, only I won’t be in a room with strangers and I won’t be awkward or hesitant, because I will simply be catching up with old friends…for the first time.

There was a vulnerability in that voice from four years ago, a vulnerability that may have been lost a bit over time.  I’m assuming that is the result of my growth and and development in this space.  Perhaps it’s a sign that I am becoming too comfortable, too set in my ways, and my growth is stunted.  That will be something for me to explore a bit moving forward.  

One thing that hasn’t changed is the excitement of coming to Educon.  The trip to Philly each January has become a pilgrimage of sorts, one that is becoming more difficult each year as the family calendar fills up with more swim meets and hockey games (thank you Kelli, Ben, Beth and Emma), but one that reinvigorates my learning, reinforces the bonds in my learning network, and today at least, reintroduces me to the learner I was three years ago.  

More reflections to come…

January 26th, 2013

Risk for Those We Serve

I spent last night listening to the opening night panel discussion at #Educon then talking and reflecting thereafter with friends and colleagues.  The members of the panel spoke of entrepreneurship and the need to believe in oneself enough to take the risk to be entrepreneurial.  It is through and with this entrepreneurial spirit of course, where innovation and reform are born.  

In education being innovative is hard.  It is risky.  To be a change agent means to go against the grain.  Against one’s colleagues, administration or community, and perhaps against one’s union.  Educators will often point to another group to reason away innovation.  Teachers will point to administrators, administrators will point to school boards, school boards will point to the community and the community will point to legacies and traditions as a reason as to why innovation can’t take place.  

To be innovative means taking a risk which may disappoint others, including those that make decisions about your continued employment.  The problem, however, is if we never take a risk in education, we will only be satisfying the adults in our systems, when our focus should always be on the kids we serve.   

January 25th, 2013

Ode To Joy at #Educon

You have probably seen this video before, but if you haven’t take a moment to do so.  (If it doesn’t pop up, you can view it here.)

You should have noticed that the entire event was triggered by a young girl throwing some change in the lone performer’s hat.  From there, the orchestra and chorus grew.  First one by one, then in small groups, then in large groups until the piece begins to crescendo at the 3:00 minute mark.  

I realize that this is a well orchestrated (excuse the pun) flash mob sponsored by a local bank, but for about 5 minutes that square in Spain was full of joy, full of wonder, full of smiles and I bet, full of goosebumps.  Something happened that day, something that the 500 or so people who were there will never forget.  Watch it again if you need to.  

Did you see the little girl climb the light pole to see better (1:58)? Or the diners at 2:34 stand and take notice?  Surely, you saw the two adorable conductors at 3:22 and thirty-six seconds later the young man seeming to teach his female friend about the piece.  You did, right?  And, please don’t tell me the man at the 4:10 saying “wow’ then captured singing along at the 4:24 mark wasn’t moved by the experience.  

They were all moved…because they were there to experience it.  The story of the day they experienced Ode to Joy in Place de Sant Roc in Sabadell, Spain will be with them forever. 

Similarly, triggered by the talented staff and students at the Science Leadership Academy, 500 educators have descended upon Philadelphia to create something beautiful and awe inspiring as well, ideas on how to make a difference in the lives of children, all through the powerful and messy conversations.  Everyone here is a “rock star”.  Oh sure, the very best thought leaders in education will be attending, but they are here to get messy too.  Everyone provides value to every conversation.  Inspiration will come from not only from those who are facilitating the discussions, but by anyone and everyone willing to share.

There will be agreements and disagreements.  Ideas will be constructed and deconstructed.  Opinions will be shared and rebuked with passion and elegance.  A voice or two will be raised and a handshake or two will confirm no hard feelings and much respect toward another. Conversations will spill over into hallways, neighborhoods, hotels and perhaps even an establishment or two.  But, for the next two days, beautiful music will be made in Philadelphia.  Education’s version of Ode To Joy.  

Much like the folks in the video above, those of us lucky enough to attend will be affected.  Our lives will be better for it.  Like most gatherings, we’ll wonder and stress over how we are going to take all that we have learned back to our homes and, like most gatherings, most of what we talk about will be lost in translation when we excitedly share our experience.  But, no worries, because the conversations we do have here are important.  They are life changers.  The joy, wonder, frustration, confusion, excitement and yes, goosebumps we experience at Educon do make a difference in our lives, even if its just saying we experienced them at all.  

January 22nd, 2013

SAU 16 Technology Vision Statements: My Comments

The local school district has asked me to add some comments to a discussion they are having regarding the construction of a new technology vision statements.  Below were the comments I shared.  Your comments regarding my comments are welcome.  

This was the discussion prompt:

If technology was used to help students gain knowledge and skills that build intellect, character, and a lifelong thirst for learning, we would:

Here are my comments:

This isn’t a technology issue… it is a cultural issue.  The SAU can lead the country in technology infrastructure, but without a change in culture it won’t make a difference.  PD should be focused on changing practice, not technology.

I’m not convinced there even should be a vision statement about technology if the SAU/district vision statement is up to date.  Technology is simply a tool to achieve that vision, not a separate entity.

Learning should be about constructing knowledge, not building or gaining.  Knowledge is too messy to simply be accumulated.  Again, this goes back to building a culture of modern learning.

The SAU should look to leverage partnerships with private industry, other school districts, charter schools etc.  Not only does this make sense economically (at times) but it also is consistent with other industries. 

The word “competition” should not be used in a school vision statement.  Competition results in winners and losers, schools should never promote a system that results in “losers”.  As such, vision statements should include the word “collaboration”.  The participatory nature of modern technology tools allows for meaningful collaboration.

As an extension of that, we should be teaching our kids how to safely connect, collaborate, and learn from “strangers” they meet on the internet.  There are more than 2 billion people in the world that can connect electronically, many of these are experts in a subject matter and/or have a unique understanding of current topics.  We shouldn’t be shunning them all, instead we should be teaching our kids how to access these experts.

This notion of a school (and teachers) building and designing a curriculum are long past.  The state has defined what we teach kids.  Instead, its all about access.  How are we providing access to our students?  How are we creating opportunities for students to gain, vet, assimilate, construct, deconstruct and reconstruct knowledge?

Technology should be leveraged to eliminate time as the single, biggest limiting factor in education.  Schools can’t truly assess students based on their competency when limited to a specific time frame.  Ultimately, it always comes back to producing enough within a specific time period, which is always going to limit some students.  But, the ubiquitous nature of connective technologies should allow time to no longer be an issue.  

NOTE:  The district is just starting this process.  From my understanding, these discussions are just starting.  

January 17th, 2013


From Seth Godin:

It’s tempting to sit quietly, take notes and comply, rationalizing that at least you’re not doing anything negative. But the opportunity cost your newly lean, highly leveraged organization faces is significant.

Not adding value is the same as taking it away.

If this is true, we’re training our kids to provide no value to the organizations they join.

January 16th, 2013

Are You A Pump or A Filter?

When a student enters your room, do you see her potential or her limitations?

When you differentiate your instruction, do you do so with abilities or disabilities in mind?

When you adopt a new policy, do you open possibilities or create obstacles?

Do you assess for competence independent of other factors, or are effort, conduct and timeliness also used to determine a student’s grade?

Do you believe that each student should have the opportunity to create their destiny or do you believe that some are destined to be attorneys, some doctors, some teachers, some plumbers and some deadbeats?

At a school board meeting years ago, a parent stood up and announced that the biggest problem with our school was that 80% of our students were on the honor roll. Much to the delight of that parent, our principal agreed. It was short lived however, as our principal said that we should have 100% of our kids on the honor roll, not just 80. The problem wasn’t that we had too many kids on honor roll, it was that we had too few.

That parent saw school as a filter. Our principal saw school as a pump.

January 15th, 2013

No Longer Linear

I was done my bachelor’s degree at 22.  I started school when I was 5, and 17 years later I graduated from Colby College.  Right on track.  I went to elementary, middle, and high school before venturing off to Colby.  I never went abroad, took a gap year, studied at a Career and Technical Center, or Community College, and certainly never online (my word processor didn’t quite have the connectivity).

My experience was as linear as it could get as I dutifully moved from one level to the next.  It wasn’t wrong.  It was just like most of my peers as few alternatives were either viable or desirable.  

Today, the track students choose no longer needs to be linear.  Kids have the capacity to travel, take a break in their studies, enroll in highly technical and rigorous courses at their local career and technical centers, learn online and attend a community college prior to entering a bachelor’s program.  Further, bachelor’s programs are now offered in a variety of ways and often takes more than 4 years to complete.  Some of this is due to the skyrocketing costs of college, some is also due to the emergence of viable and desirable alternatives to the linear path.  Regardless students are able to choose from a variety options to create their own learning path, one that no longer resembles the linear one I took decades ago. 

And, that’s a good thing.  

January 14th, 2013

When You Say to a Student…

"it isn’t personal, it’s just the system", you fail to recognize that it is indeed very personal to the student you are saying it to.

I know you want to take music, but our scheduling system won’t allow it.
I know you want to earn credit through your internship, but we can’t award credits for that.
I know you are a professional dancer, but you will be truant if not in school.
I know you want to take a different bus home, but you need to take this one.
I know you got all A’s in your classes, but we value college-prep classes more.
I know you wrote a stellar paper, but you handed it in an hour late.   

As educators, our job is easy when we make decisions to preserve the system, but we weren’t hired to do an easy job.  We were hired to advocate for students.  We were hired to make decisions in the best interest of our students.  Every student, not just a system full of students.  

I am not suggesting we don’t have programs and systems.  Running a public school void of those is not possible.  But, if we truly want to personalize education, we need to create systems that give us the flexibility to personalize the decisions we make for children.

I know that when I make decisions that benefit students, my job may be not be easier, but my sleeping is.  

January 10th, 2013

Push vs. Pull

Why is it that the next level always feels as though it has to fix the previous one?

Middle school teachers want to fix elementary schools - “Why can’t they just teach the math with traditional algorithms?”

High school teachers want to fix middle schools - “Why can’t they just get them to write a 5 paragraph essay instead of a blog post?

College professors want to fix high schools - “Seriously, do they know what library research is?”

Professionals want to fix all of education - “These graduates are not ready for ‘real life’.”

Why don’t we ever consider that perhaps the previous level is trying to push our level forward instead of us thinking we have to pull the previous level “up” to our level?

Is it possible that we are assimilating folks into what we perceive as the “real world” instead of asking if the “real world” is changing and we aren’t seeing it.  

January 10th, 2013

Grades as a Byproduct

Each year students start the year with goals to do well in school. All “A“‘s. Honor Roll. Nothing lower than a “C”. They vary from student to student, but mostly they focus on grades.

Two problems come to mind. First, it forces the student to focus on producing enough work to earn enough points (at the right time) to get a “good” grade. Second, grades based on production can vary a great deal depending on the teacher establishing the expectations.

What if we asked our kids to set non-academic goals?

To care.
To try their best.
To be kind.
To be helpful.
To respect.
To try new things.
To take on challenges.
To be determined.

I bet if we focus on those, good grades will naturally come as a byproduct. Besides, have you ever met a person who cared, tried her best, was kind, helpful, respectful, was willing to try new things and take on challenges, and showed determination who wasn’t successful?

Me neither.
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