I learned to love to read.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user alex.ragone

Sometimes we as administrators take for granted how easy it is to contact a teacher during the instructional day. Call the room. Leave a personal voicemail. Email them. Send a Skype message. While the lines of communication are open, they can also potentially interrupt instruction and learning. Flashback to the early 1980s, when I was in first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Koller, whom I adored, needed to step outside into the hallway to have a conversation with another staff member. Times were different then… no one had to arrange for coverage by a certified teacher to watch her class of  sprightly six-year-olds. We would be just fine on our own.

I can still picture very clearly in my mind where we were sitting when the other teacher popped her head in the door to get Mrs. Koller’s attention. My classmates and I were seated criss-cross-applesauce on the carpet. Mrs. Koller was seated in her rocking chair, the place from which she engaged our minds and hearts by reading aloud to us. When her colleague requested her attention, she had a variety of options. She could have had us talk quietly to our neighbors until she returned. She could have asked us to return to our seats and complete another task. She could have given us no directions and allowed the free-for-all to ensue. 🙂

Instead, she looked at the group of students seated patiently at her feet. She handed Charlotte’s Web to me, and said, “Lynmarie, I would like you to continue reading to the class. Please sit in my chair!”

My heart swelled with pride. My mind raced! Would I be fluent enough for my classmates to understand me? Would I be able to hold their attention? I pulled myself onto what felt like the world’s most distinguished chair, and confidently read the next several pages of the story to my classmates. I remember feeling so incredibly proud that she chose me for this task. Perhaps it was because I was seated near the front of the circle. Perhaps it was because she was confident in my abilities to read the text. For whatever the reason, it is one of my most cherished memories from elementary school.

She trusted me. She empowered me. She believed in me. I always loved stories, but when Mrs. Koller handed that book to me, I learned to love to read.


Thanks, @thenerdyteacher, for encouraging us to take the time to remember and share the wonderful things school has done for us!

You know who you are.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user always be cool

So a little bird tweets me that there is some sort of list out and about that has my name on it. Neat-o!

Only, upon further inspection, I examined the list and realized, Hey. Let’s all simmer down here. The fact that my name appears on that list is silliness. I know for a fact there are other edu-tweeters out there that are waaay more influential than me. (And have a significantly higher Klout score, for what it’s worth. (Not much.)) Plenty of fantastic people are represented, from whom I learn an awful lot on a daily basis. But this post is not going to debate who should or shouldn’t be on that list. To do so would give it even more attention than it warrants.

What’s worth recognizing is that the list exists. And why is that? Because someone is paying attention to us. We, as a collective network of educators who care about children and their futures, are sharing with one another on a regular basis and helping to influence our practices in positive ways. People are noticing.

I’m thinking about my network. I can easily name ten people who influenced my practice today. Do I need to publicize it in a list? No.

You know who you are.

This influence is not limited to the intertubes, of course. I’m considering the people who’ve shaped me into the educator I am trying to be today. Most of those people aren’t on Twitter. They don’t blog. They don’t have Facebook accounts, can’t get into Google+ no matter how many invites they receive (thanks for nothing, Google), and they surely were not at ISTE. But their influence, care, compassion, and support have forever changed me. They’re the people that demand I put the phone away when we’re out to dinner. Or at an administrative retreat. (I was taking notes, I swear!)

You know who you are.

Tonight I was all set to compose my post-ISTE reflection post, and it seems as though I am now going to combine both my reflections of that event with my ramblings about online popularity. They’re weirdly related.

Cliques. Clusters. Cadres. Cohorts. Cavorting. Cackling. Keynotes. Abuse of alliteration. Cafes. Conversations. Contempt for Comic Sans. Connected Principals. Some sort of fancy dance. All of this and more, at ISTE 11! Many of the ISTE reflection posts have focused on the power of relationships, the importance of conversations, and the jr.-high-esque social mentalities that can ensue when you bring a whole bunch of people together. #sigh

I’d like to highlight two of my favorite memories from ISTE. First, this: Kids displaying their awesomeness. Like this sharp-dressed young man:

who eloquently explained how his school’s project involved using technology to improve our Earth’s ecology. I listened to his podcast using ear buds that probably 100 other people placed in their ears. And I didn’t really care. He shared his thoughts in carefully dictated English, his second language, mind you. This group had it made. They sent out recruiters – pint-sized bits of adorableness- into the crowds to ask attendees, “Do you want to hear our presentation about technology and ecology?” Heck yes, I do. And then they led me to the booth. Gold.

To the kids who inspire me every day, from those in my first sixth grade class to the children I only briefly interacted with at ISTE: You are amazing. You know who you are.

My second favorite memory of ISTE is Irene from the Newbie Lounge. I wish I had taken a photo of  Irene. She was truly awesome. By no means in her first years on the job (or her first twenty years), Irene sat on the couch with her iPad 2 and called out, “Can you help me with this?” as I walked by, with just a few minutes to go before our Connected Principals panel session. (Thanks, by the way, to everyone who attended. It was slightly overwhelming.) I wanted a bottled water desperately. I glanced at the mile-long concessions line longingly and then thought, What the hell am I thinking? This person needs me. So I sat with Irene for about twenty minutes and walked her through the process of bookmarking a website on her Safari browser. She was truly astounded that whenever she wanted to visit that wiki filled with resources from the last session she attended, she could just go to her bookmarks and … poof! There it was. She was so happy. I was so happy.

Irene, thank you for centering me and helping me realize how much I love being a teacher. I will agree with others that the shared conversations in hallways, cafes, museums, sidewalks, and #Edubros venues were certainly well worth the price of admission. I became a tad bit emotional having to say goodbye to some very good friends on my last day there. Yes, I said it, friends. Real live avatar-people that turned into friends. Shocking! Thank you to the presenters and attendees, young and old, who inspired me at ISTE.

You know who you are.

I guess, that in the end, that’s all that really matters. That you know the positive influences you have on the work and lives of others. I agree with Kristina that many of us felt as though something was missing before we developed this supportive network of professionals via Twitter, blogging, and other media. The connections have certainly added value to our lives.

Yet in a way I also disagree. I am not so sure that something was missing so much as it was lost. Lost inside of each of us. After experiencing powerful learning, working to positively influence others, and doing the right things for kids, every one of us should be able to examine our personal accomplishments and be proud. Be very, very proud. We will make mistakes, falter, and lose our way. We will share ideas and then take too long to act on them. Just pick yourself up, put a plan in place, do something, and continue to be awesome. No list can define our ability to do so. Only you can make that happen.

You know who you are.

Three simple steps on a never-ending journey.

If it is one-of-those-days (weeks, months), and you are in need of inspiration, please watch Sarah Kay’s TED talk, If I should have a daughter.

Sarah is a spoken word poet and a gifted storyteller. She shares some very meaningful lessons with us through her talk, lessons that while simple in design, require commitment to achieve. She detailed three steps to embark on the journey of achieving life’s goals:

Step 1: “I can.”

Step 2: “I will.”

Step 3: Infuse the work you’re doing with the specific things that make you you, even when those things are always changing.

She challenged the audience to list three things they knew to be true, and explained that in leading this exercise with her Project V.O.I.C.E. students, participants realize that they often share items on the list; they have very very different items on the list; there are things listed that some participants have never before encountered; and there are list items that a participant thought they knew everything about before seeing the concept through another’s perspective. She stressed the importance of using experiences you have collected to help you dive into things you don’t know, and I was so moved by her sentiment, I try to walk through life with palms open, so when beautiful amazing things fall out of the sky, I’m ready to catch them.

Educators have the ability to help students realize they can. We possess the determination to help students act- they will. We owe it to our children to ensure they’re able to infuse their passions into life and learning experiences, because, as Sarah tells us, Step 3 never ends.

What do you know to be true? What do your students know to be true? Is your school a place where your students and teachers can discover, un-discover, and rediscover the things they know to be true and meaningful in their lives?

Crossing the finish line.


CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user iman Khalili

It’s not whether you win or lose… it’s how you run the race.

Jonathan Martin provided us with a detailed summary of his reflections after viewing Race to Nowhere, a documentary film that highlights the lives of high school students, parents and families, and teachers and administrators, all in the context of a system that is broken and failing our children. As Jonathan stated, it is “emotionally manipulative,” and the first sentence of the About the Film description on its website indicates that it indeed features “the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids.”

I didn’t know what to expect from the film, and I actually wasn’t prepared to take notes, but about 20 minutes in, I knew that I needed to write a reflection on the film’s contents. I covered the fronts and backs of scrap pieces of paper I had in my purse with seemingly incoherent scribblings. (I had owned my iPhone for about 1 hour prior to attending the screening, so, unlike Jonathan, was not yet skilled at taking notes on my phone in the dark. 🙂 The quotes below are my reflections as I remember them and may be paraphrased.

These are my take-aways:

On happiness:

  • Children are trying to balance lives that few adults would be comfortable balancing. Something that resounded with me was a student explaining how people always want to know from her, Aaand… “I’m a member of the student council.” And? “I have straight A’s.” And? “I play sports.” And? Why aren’t you doing any community service??!
  • We are basing students’ successes not on how happy they are, but rather on a systemic assumption that they need to get into a good college and make a lot of money, which will lead to happiness.
  • Why cant happiness be a metric used to determine the success of our schools? Why just reading and math scores? Focusing on academics alone does not respect the child.

On accountability:

  • We have a “tremendous preoccupation with performance.”
  • Our educational system is an inch deep and a mile wide. What is important is NOT “knowing a whole bunch of things.”
  • We’re always preparing kids for “what’s next.” Think about it: “In middle school, you will have to do X, so in sixth grade, we’re going to make you do X to prepare you.” “In fourth grade, your teachers will expect you to write in cursive, so in third grade, we’re going to learn cursive.”
  • Due to the pressures of No Child Left Behind, we teach students formulaically so they can pass a test, but if they encounter something unlike that which is on the test, they fall apart. The tremendous pressure to produce leaves out time for critical processing. Cheating has become “like another course.”
  • Kids want to know exactly what’s on the test and not go beyond it. We give them study guides! We base our teachings off of those guides!
  • Teachers feel like “yes men” doing what the district, state, or government wants, even if it’s not best for kids. One teacher cited the example, “like teaching them what a semicolon does.” She went on to explain the need for us to teach students critical thinking, problem solving, and how to work in groups. This passionate teacher explained that she wants for her students to be learners. She stressed that if you’re not teaching what you love, you can’t do this job. “I’m a mother to my students. I see them more than they see their families.” This teacher’s frustrations with the system and feelings of helplessness eventually caused her to resign.
  • The tutoring industry has exploded because we are treating all kids like they need to be in the top 2 percent academically. Children are nervous about upsetting and disappointing their teachers if they don’t perform. And that they may “lose recess” for incomplete work.

On homework:

  • “At what point did it become okay for school to dictate how a child will spend time outside of school?” It’s not about learning anymore.
  • There is no correlation between homework completion and academic achievement in elementary school. (This was my absolute favorite line of the movie.) In middle school, there is a slight correlation, but past 1 hour of homework, it lessens. Past 2 hrs of homework time in high school, the effect lessens. Reference made to Sara Bennett’s and Nancy Kalish’s work, The Case Against Homework.
  • We all need to educate ourselves about the effects of homework. Why do we insist upon assigning it? Teachers think it’s necessary to cover content. Parents expect it.

On passion-based learning:

  • Our kids have grown up in a “world of training wheels” and have been coached from a very young age. They don’t realize they can fall off the bike and pick themselves up.
  • Instead of taking 5 classes, think, here are 3 classes I’m really interested in taking. One student expressed his belief that college is going to be a place where I “start to learn.” What does that say for his high school experience?
  • “Smart” has so many different meanings. The system is ignoring a great group of kids that is talented artistically, visually-spatially, etc. “Absolutely no appreciation for that kind of talent, or thinking.”
  • What creates the opportunity to be innovative? What does it take to create a creative human being? Children need time, so we must provide that downtime. Play is children’s work. It’s a tool to figure out how the world works. They’re not able to figure out what they love to do or find their passions without that freedom.

I was surrounded by a very emotional audience at the screening I attended. The movie was shown in the high school auditorium of a neighboring school district, one whose name is synonymous with wealth and high academic achievement. We have often looked to this district for ideas about how to implement programs and structure schedules due to their documented successes. The parents in the audience were likely those of high school students, and it was clear, from only 30 minutes into the film, that they would start to reconsider the types of discussions they would have with their children about learning and achievement. I wonder how this movie’s message made them view their roles differently?

There was a member of the audience with whom I’ve interacted on several occasions in her role as consultant. She has spent hours with our administrative team, reviewing the RtII framework, discussing data at great lengths, and yet, her best intentions noted, not once did we mention a child by name, or discuss actual, meaningful learning. I wonder how this movie’s message made her view her role differently?

The president of my parent-teacher organization approached me about the film and asked if I thought it would be beneficial for her to view. I agreed it would be, and she is taking a group of our parents to see the film in a few weeks. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?

One of my colleague principals had a chance to view the film, and I feel it’s important for us to share our thoughts with the rest of our administrative team. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?

I’m actually overwhelmed composing this post, as I decipher my notes to try to articulate just exactly what I’m feeling about this film’s message. I agree with the conclusions shared at the end of the movie that we need to rethink how we “do schooling.” What do we want to invest in? What matters most? The quality of teaching is what matters most.

We have to start asking ourselves how films like this, articles we read, success stories we hear, problems we encounter, and convictions we hold cause us to think differently. And then we have to do something about it.

There is no easy fix to the flaws in the system, because the inherent problems are so complex. But there is so much that we are doing right in schools across the nation and beyond. What I’d love to do is create a Race to Nowhere-esque documentary that captures and celebrates the extraordinary learning that’s going on within and outside of our classrooms each day. (Many of us do this with our blogs. But is it enough?) We need to share our successes with a wider audience. We need to inspire each other and start to build a collective body of knowledge that can help lead us in the direction of a finish line worth crossing.

Knowledge candy

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Sidereel

A few weeks ago I was having lunch with some of my uber-talented sixth grade students. We were talking about school life (amidst the music and occasional ping pong game and mini-dance party) and they also began blogging their thoughts about what their ideal school would look like. Common themes: more social time, less structure, more freedoms, more interest-specific explorations.

One thing that struck me as interesting was a response when I asked, “How do you think your teacher decides what to teach you?”

Very thoughtfully, the student replied, “I never really thought about that! I don’t think she decides. I think it comes from the higher-ups. It’s not like teachers have the freedom to say, Okay, we’re going to learn about candy today!”

So. Do our students indeed view the teacher as the imparter-of-knowledge? Or do they view the teacher as a mechanism through which someone else decides what’s important for children to learn?

I followed up. “Do you think teachers should ask you what you want to learn about?”

“I think some people wouldn’t take it seriously and would just be joking about it.”

“But if that was the norm. If, every day, you came into class knowing you could explore the topics that most interested you. How would that go?”

With that thought in mind, she began describing how she’d center her daily learning experiences around theatrics and drama…there would be role-playing, acting, performing, and creation. Because, in her words, she was going to be “the world’s greatest actress.”

What can we do to promote this passion-driven learning in our schools? How can we, as administrators, help children find that which they love and involve them in their learning experiences that promote, celebrate, and honor those passions?

Not many of us can resist reaching into a bowl of sugary sweet candy goodness. Let’s work to make our children’s learning experiences just as irresistible.