A conversation with Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Photo by Dan Callahan

It was a privilege to spend my time at ASCD as a member of the press. On Sunday at an author’s luncheon, I had the chance to speak with Heidi Hayes Jacobs along with several members of my PLN. I read her book, Curriculum 21, shortly after its publication, and also enjoyed Jacobs’s TedxNYED talk. She asks all educators to consider, “What year are you preparing your students for?” and the content and ideas she shares cause you to reflect deeply about your school’s current practices and how shifts in curriculum, organization, professional development, and the types of learning in which our students engage are imperative. Joining in the discussion were Mary Beth HertzJosh Stumpenhorst, and Jason Flom among others, all passionate educators looking to lead this shift in their schools.

 “We need a new type of pedagogy and a new type of teacher.”

Jacobs shared her views on the varied pedagogies, including “antiquated pedagogy” (“drive-by” teaching, when there is no relationship between teacher and student); classical pedagogy (teachers are sensitive to their students and know how to engage with them, when to talk, and when to be silent; classical pedagogies are timeless), and the new pedagogy, where teachers realize they’re going to need to shift their roles. She referenced David Langford who referred to the student-teacher relationship as “colleague-colleague” relationships. We’re all colleagues… we’re all learners here.

Teachers (and administrators) need to be learners.  They need to be literate in digital media, and they need to be globally literate. These two characteristics are interconnected, but different. Mary Beth shared that she’s working to establish the colleague-colleague/learner-learner relationship with her students as many of us are, and Jacobs mentioned that the latest in value-added teacher evaluation methods tied to high-stakes testing are “irrational” and will do little to support new pedagogies.

She applauded those educators who are using digital tools to establish an online presence to reflect upon their learning and for use with students, and she said it’s difficult for teachers to get started with this without knowing what “quality” looks like in this area. When she first began blogging, she looked to Mike Fisher for inspiration. We need to show teachers examples of quality digital learning and share with one another. Mary Beth described trying to explain the power of connected learning to non-connected educators as “trying to imagine a sunset in a room with no windows.”

Jacobs raved about the global forum they presented at an opening session of ASCD, where schools, students, and teachers from China, Mexico, and New Zealand came together via Skype and other digital platforms to engage in powerful learning with one another.

As for professional development, it is essential in bringing about school-wide improvement, but it must be differentiated. She reminded us to “declare our century” and shared her disappointment in examining standardized tests from the 70s whose questions mirrored those from the 90s. Where is the progress? She urged us to look at our school websites. “Does it look like you’re selling car insurance?”

A focus of Jacobs’s work has always been mapping and standards, and she shared with us her current ventures working with Common Core 360 to create the LiveBook and LivePlanner, professional development platforms for teachers. She spoke excitedly of the capabilities of the highly customizable platform, an “interactive ebook experience that gives educators the theory, research, and case studies behind curriculum integration.” She described it as a “new type of reading experience.”

The conversation shifted to ebooks and textbooks and what our kids need educational  materials to be. Jacobs believe “every kid should have an annotated clearinghouse” that they, themselves, develop. We need to help children become curators and develop digital literacy skills.

I asked how school leaders can get this process started. What must every educational leader understand in order to help their schools progress? She believes every admin and teacher needs to commit to “upgrading.” Look at what you’re doing now, and make a change to at least one aspect of your leadership. When she and her team work with administrators, they spend the day forcing a culture of sharing- getting them using the tools, opening their eyes to the opportunities for globalization. She encourages admin to “get rid of meetings” and connect virtually. In regards to professional development, we discussed the #edcamp model, and how an autonomous learning model such as those provided in #edcamp settings would address the needs of a variety of adult learners. Jacobs helped us visualize a quadrant that organizes adult learning needs.

  • High Curriculum, High Tech Competencies – These teachers need autonomous learning, feedback, modeling, and the opportunities to share
  • High Curriculum, Low Tech Competencies – Need 1:1 support with the tools to help make ties to their strong curricular knowledge base
  • Low Curriculum, High Tech Competencies – Workshop model can be successful to reach these teachers
  • Low Curriculum, Low Tech Competencies – These teachers “need a career change” or “a lot of support.” (That honesty was refreshing.)

“The biggest mistake you can make is selling something in education,” she said. When administrators are working with their teams to decide how to proceed with instruction, curriculum, schedules, anything – imagine there is a student sitting at the table with your team. The guiding rule of the discussion is that any idea or concern that is raised has to be in the child’s best interest. While all team members won’t always agree, it will always be a good conversation if the child remains the focus. According to Jacobs, it’s a “no brainer” that we need to use technology in our schools. We have to prove it’s NOT good for kids before we should say it shouldn’t be used in schools, but ultimately, the first issue should not be ADULT comfort with the technology. “It’s not whether we use technology, it’s how.” Technology purchasing decisions are another great challenge today’s school administrators face. Today’s high school juniors have very different technology needs than our incoming kindergarteners do. How do administrators best manage to prioritize, purchase, manage, provide professional development for, and support learning with a large variety of tools?

Jacobs is an optimist in that she believes that many times, people are willing to change, they just don’t know how. We want our children to be able to live and learn independently of us, and frankly we’ve done students a disservice by creating such dependencies on the adults in the classrooms.

Jason keenly stated, “I want to be obsolete by the end of the year.”

Jacobs emphatically replied, “Yes!”


Relationships, passion, and the pursuit of learning.

What did I learn on the first day of this year’s ASCD conference in Philadelphia?

  • Relationships rule.
  • Without passion, learning suffers.
  • Educators who connect have unlimited access to support systems, resources, and inspiration.

I know other bloggers have echoed these sentiments in their reflections, but it’s because they all ring true. It only took a few moments listening to ASCD 2012 Outstanding Young Educators Liliana Aguas and Matt McClure to recognize some of this.

Liliana, a 2nd grade teacher from Berkeley, California, explained how a passion for science led her to develop inquiry-based, hands-on learning projects that she and her colleagues shared at a local elementary school while they were working in a lab. She found that she loved watching students “discover.” The principal of the building said that she should become a teacher. She replied, “I work in a lab! I don’t teach!” Nevertheless, she was offered a fifth grade position, and she accepted. As a US immigrant, she began to contemplate the role of language and its influence on how we learn, and now works in a dual immersion classroom where she continues to stress the importance of discovery and inquiry on a daily basis.

Matt McClure, Superintendent of Cross County Schools in Cherry Valley, AK, spoke to his work with groups of constituents in his district. He asked teachers, “What skills do our kids need?” and then together they worked to prepare students for their futures. He said, “Knowledge is cheap. Everyone can be an expert.” What does this type of access to information mean for our students today? As McClure said, “It’s what you do with it that matters.” He stressed building relationships and trust with parents and community to allow for innovative practices and risk-taking.

Want your teachers to be more passionate about professional development? Consider hosting an edcamp-style PD day at your school and sending your teachers to your nearby edcamp offerings in the future. Kristen Swanson, Ann Leaness, and Chrissi Miles led a great conversation about how to better empower teachers and place them in command of their own learning through the “unconference,” edcamp model. While this may be intimidating for some, and a definite departure from typical PD models, I can speak from experience that the days when we allow teachers to direct their own learning and share with colleagues have been the most rewarding days of learning for staff. This is evident in the feedback they provide to us. They’re hungry for more of these days. They know that together, they’re better. The ideas flow freely, the growth is organic. They inspire one another, push each other, and ask the hard questions. If you’re an administrator who is looking to involve your teachers in this type of day, please contact me any time with questions, and/or check out these additional resources from the edcamp session herehere, and visit the Edcamp wiki. My next edcamp? Edcamp Philly, May 19. Join us!

After the sessions ended, it was time to meet up with friends, both old and new, at the Tweetup hosted by ASCD. These are always fun events, because you have the chance to meet face-to-face those educators who provide you with a wealth of resources, ideas, and support each and every day. Each time you meet someone new, you further develop your PLN. There’s nothing better than receiving a heartfelt paper tweet from Jerry, conversing with Joe and Antony about the sheer joys of the principalship :), meeting Josh’s adorable spawns, talking with Spike and his colleagues and looking forward to their future visit, meeting Jason and Bill for the first time, and engaging in genuine conversations with so many passionate educators.

I know we continue to say this, but being a connected educator enhances the work that we do with students on a daily basis. And, let’s face it, that’s intense work. So it’s time to sift through the jargon, look past the big claims made by companies touting the “latest and greatest,” and get back to relationships, sharing with one another, admitting we all have a lot to learn, and helping each other do just that.

Lessons on leadership.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user woodleywonderworks

With every turn of the page or scroll through a Reader feed, someone, somewhere, is giving advice on what leaders ought to be. Consider this recent post from passionate teacher Megan Allen who describes for us the qualities she feels “amazing” administrators possess. Or Erin Paytner’s latest post, 29 Things I’ve Learned as an Administrator…So far… I found many of those lessons to ring true for me, now in my fourth year as principal, as did Jeff Delp’s post regarding productivity, priorities, and the challenges school leaders face.

So the articles, blog posts, and books on leadership will keep on coming, because the role of leadership is ever-evolving and increasingly complex with each passing day. (And with each passing mandate.) I enjoy reading the work of leaders in fields outside of education, too. While not every lesson can be translated to the work we do with students, many can, and should, be considered. In a recent issue of Entrepreneur magazine, a piece entitled “The masters” by Christopher Hann highlights the successes of leaders who’ve managed to stay at the head of their games, and the philosophies they live by to do so.

Consider Mark Leslie, the CEO of Veritas. One of his top priorities is transparency – making sure that everyone in the organization knows as much information as he does, to squash secrecy and avoid uneven shifts in power. He stresses the importance of trust.

“I believe if you want to be trusted, you have to trust first,” he says. “If you do that, you will be betrayed sometimes. But the value of engendering trust is greater than the cost of being betrayed sometimes. People believed we were going to tell them the truth, be straight, honest, and didn’t think we were going to screw them.”

Further, Leslie makes developing a strong working environment a priority.

“It’s not about command and control. You attract the best and the brightest and people and create an environment where they can use their intelligence and judgment to act autonomously.”

For all of us charged with leading organizations of learning, we know that successful schools are built around a strong, shared culture and community. Clint Smith, the CEO of a marketing firm in Tennessee, shared ideas for how to develop and sustain the often illusive, but always desired, workplace culture. He began by examining the physical environment and ensuring his workplace was one where employees could be productive and feel happy in their work. William Smith, founder of IT company Euclid Elements, highlighted the need for leaders to develop awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses. This requires continual self-examination from individuals as well as the team as a whole.

“We want to get better at designing and developing products. That requires a real self-awareness as a team, and that’s an extremely important part of the culture we want to create- being aware of what we do well and what we don’t do so well.”

One of my takeaways from Educon each year is the way in which principal Chris Lehmann has built a shared culture for learning with all teachers, students, and the community, and it is both highly apparent and intoxicating. So while bringing the best team on board is an important part of a leader’s role, how the team is managed is equally as important. So agrees Leslie.

“You have to get great people to come in,” Leslie says. “You have to respect them, give them freedom. You have to provide the mission and the vision: Who are we and where are we going?”

Other leaders featured in the article stressed the importance of having fun with your teams;  weeding out employees who don’t want to be team players or don’t treat colleagues with respect; empowering and allowing team members to shine and reap the rewards of their hard work; and building an organization that is sustainable over time. With all of these philosophies and strategies shared, consider the quote featured in the center of the article:

“Creating a system that enables employees to achieve great things often comes down to the work of a single leader.”

No pressure, eh?

Leslie’s closing words touched upon the realities of leadership, which can be isolating and solitary.

“It’s an old cliche: It’s lonely at the top. It truly is. There’s no one to talk to. It’s a journey of discovery, a journey alone. And you actually have to be comfortable enough with yourself to do that.”

For school leaders such as those I’ve come to know through Connected Principals and other groups in my PLN, I think we have an advantage in that while we do embark on many solitary journeys each and every day, we know we have a strong foundation of colleagues and experienced voices to support us along the way.


Read the article online in its entirety here: Leadership Lessons from the Top of the Org Chart, by Christopher Hann.

Questions and Elemeducon.

Shared by CarbonNYC on Flickr

I left Educon 2.4 with questions. I think that’s the point. For every new “a-ha” moment, a handful of extending questions surfaced in my brain. Some energized me, some exhausted me.

“What if?” This was the first question I was asked to ponder at Educon. David Jakes led a session that caused us to truly expound on our thinking about topics ranging from hallways in our schools to shopping cart design. Design Thinking for Educators is a resource that I’ve referenced in the past but would like to explore in depth. I see tremendous power in this process, yet could also see how many of us were extended past our comfort levels in thinking about change. Our experiences tell us that the ideation process should typically have limits. The design thinking process says, “No, it doesn’t.” We need to start asking, “What if?”

“Social media-fueled PD: is it making a difference?” Lots of chatter here. Jon Becker, Meredith Stewart, and Bud Hunt asked us to consider whether the time we spend engaged in learning through Twitter and unconventional methods. The #edchat and #edcamp folks amassed in this session, I believe, to stand firm and defend their methods of learning through social media. I don’t think the facilitators questioned the value we find in these methods so much as they wished for us to consider how we would defend the impact of this learning to parents, administrators, etc. A few months ago a conversation on Twitter emerged about how we measure the effectiveness of this PD. What actual difference is it making in our schools? How is that impact measured? And should it be? My take-away comment from this session came from Shelly Blake-Plock, who essentially declared that this type of learning “ruined his life,” in so much as it turned his life upside down; changed his way of thinking; caused him to relocate, change jobs, and devote himself to working with at-risk students. I’d imagine his students are quite thankful for this transformation.

“How do we ask the right questions?” Zac Chase’s session asked us to consider our inquiry-based practices in schools. What questions are we asked our students? Teachers? Why? He opened with a story about a young boy and his mother in the airport. The mother seeking to keep her son distracted from through a proposed “game” involving the arrivals/departure board; the son asking to change the “rules” of the game in order to better meet his needs.  So when we allow the learner to change the rules- if it gets us to the same goal, does it matter? Perhaps more importantly, are the questions we’re asking leading to the right goals?

“So you’re connected… now what?” Team Couros & Larkin again hosted a session to discuss the administrator’s role in propelling learning organizations forward through immersion with connected learning. This follow-up session also sought to define and describe real ways in which connected learning are influencing students. Not surprising, the topics of administrative fear, apprehension, and skepticism were raised. Many administrators are still uncomfortable with the ideas of connecting themselves, their teachers, and their students. Are you an administrator? Or do you know one? Send them to Connected Principals. Get them connected with one of us. It starts with tough conversations, but it has to start somewhere.

“How can we rethink learning spaces?” Michael Wacker and Glenn Moses kicked off their conversation by asking us to consider, “What is the most meaningful PD you’ve ever had?” Many mentioned Twitter (I stand in my position that Twitter in itself is not PD – the conversations and connections with other learners through that vehicle could constitute development, but Twitter is merely a tool), #edcamps, and the like. I remember when I taught 5th grade, one of my colleagues ran a PD session as a requirement for one of her master’s courses. It was the first time information was formally presented to me by a colleague. As I think back on that now, I found that session to be very engaging and informative, and I believe it was that much more meaningful since the ideas being shared were from someone I worked with on a daily basis. It was personal and real, as all PD should be, no matter if the learning space is physical or virtual.

Elemeducon. I proposed my conversation because in past years, I felt there hasn’t been much of an elementary focus in the conversations at Educon. I think that’s now changing, as there were several sessions this year with an elementary focus. My hope is that we can continue the discussion raised in our energizing elementary innovation session on the final day of the event. We asked a lot of questions. I’m working on a separate space to share our thoughts from the session, to create a place where the many passionate elementary educators in our world can share ideas and support one another through this journey.

Do you have ideas for what you would like to see in this space? Format? Must-haves? Essential components? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Stay tuned! 

Battling skepticism.

“Skepticism has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.”

Source: Wikipedia

Yesterday in a conversation with an elementary principal colleague, I allowed myself to become irritated.

I wasn’t irritated with Bill. He seems to be a genuinely great person who works hard to bring the best learning opportunities to his school. I’ve never actually met him, although I imagine I will engage in a face-to-face conversation at some point in the future, since his school is in a neighboring county in Pennsylvania. P.S. Bill is working to develop his PLN, so visit his profile and say hello! 

Principal networking was the topic of our conversation. In our county, there are planned elementary principals’ meetings at our IU about once every two months or so. Turnout is low- maybe 12-15. Considering how many elementary principals there are in our county, it’s not an impressive gathering. They do their best to accommodate our schedules by beginning at 7:30 and striving to return us to our buildings by 9:30 to avoid interruptions to our day, which we all appreciate. They offer topics that are interesting and informative. There are robust conversations. We end up leaving with packets of paper. Not my favorite.

But I wonder – what about the two months between meetings? Surely we have topics to discuss, questions to ask, and may be in need of support during the “off” time? Why limit our network capabilities in this way? Resources are sometimes shared via a listserv (I didn’t even know to spell listserv), so needless to say there isn’t a lot of sharing and communication that is ongoing and/or powerful.

Bill shared that elementary principals in his county met for the first time using Elluminate. Wow! I was impressed to hear that they utilized that format to streamline the meeting process. Sadly, attendance was low. I believe he said there were about 2 or 3 participants.

2 or 3. Out of a county of 9 districts, one of which is a large urban district with 15 elementary schools. Imagine the power of bringing all of those principals together- each with unique skill sets, ideas, questions, concerns, and resources to share.

“If you build it, they will come.” Not always. Because, as we know, to delve into working with new technologies and interacting with social media in new ways requires a foundation of trust. In one another, in the systems, in the ideologies.

It takes courage and an open mind, too.

Here’s my irritation: A participant in Bill’s session voiced his concern about Twitter, in that you’re not able to trust who you follow online because they might not be who they say they are. Really? As building administrators, that’s the level of awareness we have about social media? I worry for our teachers and students in our schools if that is the case.

Could you possibly encounter someone online who is portraying themselves as an elementary principal but who really isn’t? I suppose. (And I could think of about a billion more glamorous personas to assume!) But a misconception that Twitter profiles are fluff comes from someone who has only encountered the portrayal of what social media could be. He has yet to experience this type of networking for himself. It comes from a need to learn more about digital literacies. And if he hasn’t experienced it, he surely isn’t modeling it for his school community.

So, as school leaders who find benefit in this type of networking, we need to do a better job of demonstrating how and why it makes a difference. Many of us share our ideas on our blogs, at conferences, in publications…. and I think we’re really getting somewhere with school administrators as a whole.

I know it is not the only way to network, and I appreciate face-to-face opportunities for learning. But I know the demands of this role become more incredible every day.  And I know that we all experience the strain and stress this job can bring, and that having a network I can turn to is sometimes my saving grace on the rare occasion when I steer towards my wit’s end. They always have answers, and they always provide support.

So what I’m looking for in the comments section below are ways that administrators who are new to social media and professional learning networks can get started. Help their fears subside… help them battle the skepticism and preconceived notions they may have about the tools and the connections made. By sharing one real example of how social media has added to your learning, and/or by listing resources such as Connected Principals where administrators can go to gain a sense of community, or book titles such as Communicating and Connecting with Social Mediawe can help grow our collective.

Please add to the conversation! 

CC licensed image shared by Flickr user heyjudegallery

Emotions available upon request.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Darwin Bell

For the past two days another elementary principal and I have hosted a variety of teacher candidates in my office for round after round of interviews for long-term substitute teaching positions. These positions are for extended periods of time in order to serve during family leave absences.

That being said, while there is no contract attached to the positions, I would expect as much out of a LTS candidate as I would for a full-time, contracted teacher.

Know this.

A bit about the process:
a) candidates submit complete applications in order to pass the first level of screening- we use the service PA Educator to screen electronic apps according to criteria we set
b) out of the hundreds (yes, hundreds, for one elementary position) that pass the screening, our assistant superintendent reviews apps and sends to the principals for review apps that may be a “good fit” for the open positions
c) principals review paper copies of the candidate’s documentation: resumes, cover letters, reference letters, transcripts; we then narrow the stack and schedule interested candidates for interviews. (Note: I have an incredibly hard time discerning qualities of candidates on paper. GPAs are similar. Canned reference letters are abundant. Extracurriculars are the same. Somehow, work to make yourself shine on paper. Proofread. Twelve times.)
d) at least two admin run the interviews; depending upon length and type of position offered, central office personnel are also involved, and there may be multiple interviews

I didn’t want this post to be about the process. A lot of schools use similar methods to narrow the field of candidates. I wanted this post to be about the quality of responses I received from candidates in our interviews.

Since I was the host, I selected the questions. A few years ago our administrative team read James Stronge and Jennifer Hindman’s The Teacher Quality Index: A Protocol for Teacher Selection and worked together to develop an interview protocol for our district, including sample questions for five domains: The Teacher as a Person, Classroom Management and Organization, Planning for Instruction, Implementing Instruction, and Monitoring Student Progress and Potential. Each question’s intent is outlined, with ideal responses summarized, and rubrics guide “scoring” of candidate responses. There is a writing sample included in the protocol, as well as providing the candidate with a “prerequisites of effective teaching score.” This pertains to how experienced the candidate is, the level of professionalism exhibited, etc.

Not surprisingly, the majority of my questions came from the “Teacher as a Person” category.

That’s what I’m looking for. Genuine people.

Here are some highlights and lowlights. If you are a teacher candidate, please, read and reflect upon your current preparedness to impress your interviewers. If you are someone who works with pre-service teachers, I implore you to pass along my sentiments. Not every administrator and school is looking for the same thing. I understand that. But even my colleague and I, who have very different building climates and who were seeking different qualities in our new hires, could agree on the strengths and needs of those before us.

The Highs

  • When asked about ideal physical space for a classroom, nearly all candidates indicated the desire for students to be grouped in order to facilitate collaboration, communication, and teamwork. One candidate mentioned that group work helps students “build knowledge together.” I loved that. Many mentions of cozy spaces where kids can enjoy independent reading and learning.
  • Positive reinforcements shone through as ways to “manage” a classroom. There was not a lot of talk about elaborate systems for classroom management, or discipline.
  • Many mentions of the importance of building community and getting to know students on a personal level in order to be successful.

The Lows

  • Lack of elaboration with responses. Please provide concrete examples of how this looks in your classroom, or how it would look. Paint me a picture. Even if I don’t get time to look through your portfolio, ask if I want to see it. One of the candidates actually left her portfolio with us, and included a self-addressed, stamped envelope for us to return it to her. Genius- although, better yet, give me the link to your online portfolio.
  • Too many buzzwords, some of which included: differentiation (I throw up in my mouth a little when I hear that, UNLESS you proceed to tell me what that looks like and why you would use such a word in the first place); think-pair-share, guided reading, manipulatives, blah blah.
  • A general “Technology is so important for kids today” notion, but not being able to articulate meaningful uses for technology in the classroom.
  • When the opportunity arises to ask the interviewers questions, don’t ask anything you can find on the website or principal’s blog. I enjoyed this question: “How would you describe your school community in one or two sentences?” Happy to do so.
  • A disheartening observation: When asked to describe an instance when the candidate had difficulty with a particular child’s behavior and how it was approached, within seconds of beginning the response, there was a mention of the child’s diagnosis: ADHD, ES, Asperger’s, etc. Guess what? I don’t care what the diagnosis is. I want to learn how you responded to the needs of the child and best supported her as demonstrated by her behaviors. Done.
  • Since I’m me, I asked: “Outside of taking formal courses through college or graduate programs, what are some things you do to help you grow and stay current as a professional?” Typical responses: I read professional books. I read articles. I listen in the faculty room when other teachers are discussing education. (I am quite skeptical of the quality of those discussions 🙂 Since I sub, I get to learn about a lot of different programs and methods. Okay. So now what? Who are you going to talk to about the things you’re learning? There were zero responses that indicated any level of professional connectedness. One person mentioned going online to find ideas – but not to connect with others. We need to get our teachers connected.
  • A general lack of passion. Can some of that be attributed to nerves? Meh, maybe. Practice your responses. Talk to yourself in the mirror. This will help the nerves subside.

For the love of God, be emotional with me. Show me you want to be with my kids. Tell me. Tell me all about the activities you’ll do together. Give me details. Share your ideas with me. I won’t think you’re crazy. Be passionate in your responses. If I have to wonder, for one second, if you love kids? You’re not going to be offered a position. I can teach you programs. I can develop your content knowledge. I probably can’t transform you into a human being who loves being a teacher if you don’t inherently love doing so.

Passion is necessary. Don’t make me request your emotions -provide them, in every word, every response, every example of why you want to teach in my school.

‘Tis the season.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user rust man

Awards mean a lot, but they don’t say it all. The people in baseball mean more to me than statistics. – Ernie Banks

The people responsible for the words on the page -er, the screen – are (hopefully) the reasons many of us take the time to nominate our favorite reads for Edublog awards. It is why I wish to share with you my nominations, with the sincere desire that you stumble upon a perspective you perhaps did not before consider.

Best Group Blog: Cooperative Catalyst 

The writers who contribute to Cooperative Catalyst push my thinking in every post. They passionately and intelligently challenge their readers to consider the questions and possible solutions that drive educational reform. Some of my favorite individual bloggers (John T. Spencer, for one) contribute to Cooperative Catalyst, and it’s a must-read for all educators, in my opinion.

(P.S. My heart belongs to Connected Principals and Voices from the Learning Revolution, however I am affiliated with both of those group blogs, so cannot nominate them.)

Best School Administrator Blog: Jeff Delp, Molehills out of Mountains
Jeff Delp’s blogging reflections always leave a lasting impression on me. He writes about topics of high interest to this administrator, including honest and self-critical reflections of his own practice. As someone who is new to the role of principal, I’d say Jeff’s wisdom and insight into the position rivals some of the more seasoned veteran administrators I know. Thanks, Jeff, for making me want to be a better principal.

Best Teacher Blog: Shelley Wright, Wright’s Room
But what does it look like? I think in theory we’d all agree that an inquiry learning environment is what we want most for our students. But it’s difficult to envision what the shifted classroom looks like – what is the teacher’s role? What are her students doing? Inquiry learning comes to life through the eloquent, honest, real-life-looks-and-feels-like-this posts of high school teacher Shelley Wright. She isn’t afraid to express her hopes, fears, failures, and successes through her writing, and I appreciate her transparent learning in this space. Thank you, Shelley!


Best Individual Blog: Bill Ferriter, The Tempered Radical
Bill blogs about PLCs. He blogs about leadership. He blogs about technology integration. He blogs about learning with and from his students and school community members. He shares what he’s reading. I appreciate the ways he challenges assumptions and has made me feel uncomfortable in my role as an educational administrator on more than one occasion. If I could hand pick my child’s teachers, he would be one of them. Thanks, pal!


Best Twitter Hashtag: #cpchat
I again nominate #cpchat, born out of the brains behind Connected Principals, although it’s blossomed into quite a comprehensive tag where anything related to educational leadership and learning can be found.


Best Ed tech/Resource Sharing blog: Jeff Utecht, The Thinking Stick
Jeff is quite knowledgeable about the ins and outs of everything ed tech from WordPress and blogging to Google Apps for educators (who wouldn’t want to learn how to be a Google Apps Ninja?!), and he’s also a fantastic person willing to take the time out of his busy day to respond to a principal’s email query. Thanks, Jeff!


Best Librarian/Library Blog: A Year of Reading 
One of the things I miss most about the classroom is that I feel out of touch with the latest and greatest children’s and YA book releases. Thankfully there are blogs like A Year of Reading, where contributors Franki and Mary Lee (a full-time school librarian and fourth grade teacher) share delightful reviews of newly released books and poetry. Well worth the visit. Thank you, A Year of Reading!


Best open PD/unconference/webinar series: Teacher Learning Community/Simple K-12 Webinars 
The free webinars offered by the Teacher Learning Community vary greatly in topics presented and intended audience, so there really is “something for everyone.” As an administrator always on the lookout for alternatives to costly, time-intensive PD for teachers, Simple K-12’s webinars offer quality learning experiences for individuals looking to enhance their professional practice. Thanks!

I dislike that I can’t nominate more than one blog per category, and I regret that I cannot personally recognize every member of my network whose ideas spark in me a desire to become a stronger educator, to do things differently- to fearlessly explore the unexplored, take risks and make mistakes, and approach conversations with courage. I have compiled some of my favorite blog reads in this bundle (also in the sidebar of this blog), and I hope you take some time to peruse and subscribe to it, if so moved.

While I know not everyone will take the time to submit Edublog award nominations, I hope you find the way to recognize someone who has positively influenced your learning.

‘Tis the season.

Are you a writer? Show them.

Nate shares his Storybird about friendship with his class.

For the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend multiple days in many of our classrooms. Last year I wrote this post about my “principal’s visit” days and how enjoyable it was to spend quality time with students and staff.

These visits not only serve as an escape from the drudgery of office tasks, they allow me to see instructional strategies at work; how we address curriculum; the engagement of students in a variety of learning scenarios; how resources are being allocated; teacher-student relationships and peer interactions; whether schedules are appropriate; types of assessment being used; and planning processes.

There’s no better feeling than the jubilation of seeing a child excel at a task or when a teacher’s heart and love for kids lead her work with students each day. On the flip side, it’s possible for an administrator to develop a certain “gut feeling” when something doesn’t seem quite right in the classroom.

So far this year, I’ve had the chance to read interactive stories with kindergarten; facilitate small reading groups, review time concepts, and introduce Little Bird Tales in Grade 2; spend the entire day with Grade 6 inWashington, D.C.; help students create their first Prezis and collaborate using Google docs in grade 4; explore point of view through reading different versions of The Three Little Pigs (with one of my favorite tales, The True Story of the Three Little Pigswith some of our young English language learners; help students in our Life Skills classes interact with math activities on the iPad and explore phonics patterns; and analyze text structure and write collaboratively, complete small group math activities, and discuss the writing process in Grade 5. I am looking forward to time in grades 1, 3, and our special classes in the weeks ahead!

A month or so ago, Dean Shareski wrote a post entitled It’s not 1985, about the need for us to ensure our students become fluent in digital literacy, particularly in writing. That, if we continue to teach writing as we always have, we are doing a disservice to our students. I agree wholeheartedly, and one of the reasons why I so enjoyed my visit with grade 5 writing classes is because I had the chance to discuss with them my journey as a writer.

Had I taught this “lesson” a few years ago, there would have been no mention of blogs. Or digital footprints. Or comments and interactions with others. ClustrMaps. Blog analytics. Storybirds. iPhones. Facebook. Or authentic audiences.

It went a little something like this:

I have always loved writing. I filled spiral-bound notebooks with story after story. Then, when I was in middle school, my family got its first computer: an Apple II GS. And suddenly, I learned how to type. I became more prolific in my writing and could edit with ease. I learned how to cut, copy, and paste text. My pieces were more polished. So, as technology changed, so did my platforms for writing.

I showed them my blog. We talked about purpose and audience. I told them what a “digital footprint” was, and how it is shaped by everything we do online. Every photo we post or tag, every word we write. I emphasized that it is important that they control their digital footprint and make it a positive, lasting impression of which they can be proud. We talked about how I use embedded hyperlinked text, videos and images to lead my readers to other resources. I showed them my ClustrMap and Feedjit stream. They wanted to know how dots appeared in the middle of the oceans! I shared comments with them, and many of them understood the importance of quality commenting from their work with Kidblog in fourth grade. Then, I walked through the process of how I wrote my first Storybird, which I shared with them at our opening assembly. I had the idea while I was driving in my car. I didn’t have access to paper or pencil. I use my iPhone to record my ideas. Ramblings, really. I told them how my brainstorming paragraph was riddled with errors and that, when I started using Storybird, I was inspired by the amazing illustrations so much that I revised a lot of my original text. My story took on a life of its own when I engaged with the Storybird format. I shared how I shared it with my primary audience – our students and staff at an assembly, but also published it on my blog and shared with my virtual community as well.

Using my repetitive writing pattern as a model, grade 5 students have begun writing their own stories. I had the opportunity to read several of their stories, and they are beautiful. I am looking forward to working with their teacher so she can embed them on her webpage to share with families.

Do I think this conversation was meaningful for my students? Yes. I received a lovely thank you email from the teacher expressing her gratitude for taking the time to share my “story.” And isn’t that what we should be striving to do at every opportunity? Share our stories with students?

My “gut feeling” is that when we teach students to write, we do so too methodically. We sometimes allow adherence to form trump creativity. We assess according to state-issued rubrics that call for a certain structure to be followed. We “score” students on their abilities to be focused, include enough content, stay traditionally organized, use proper grammar and spelling, and use “style.” We neglect audience. We’re churning out writer-robots who spit back the format they think we want to see. We graphic-organizer-them to exhaustion.

Yes, we need to help them learn structures of writing. But we can’t stop there. We can’t repeat the same lessons year after year and expect them to produce the same types of writing over and over again. Snooze.

In a #cpchat conversation recently, we pondered, How do we know that our use of technology is improving learning opportunities for students? And we talked about the typical measures that schools/states/nations are using to determine if students are “proficient” in academic areas. Historically, our school has been high-performing on the state writing assessment. Last year we were in the top quintile of performance for schools in the state. What does that mean? That our students can write in response to a prompt, demonstrating they have control over conventions, organization, style, content, and focus?

(Incidentally, I hear many teachers state with great exasperation, Style is just so hard to teach! when we ponder over students’ lower scores in this area. Perhaps… if we allowed students’ creativity to flourish, and make it a priority… style would take care of itself? The students whose Storybirds I read were able to embrace style like they never would have on a paper-pencil assessment.)

But how would students’ command of writing on traditional state assessments translate to proficiency in digital literacy? According to the NCTE, what do 21st century readers and writers need to know and be able to do?

Today, the NCTE definition of 21st century literacies makes it clear that further evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary.

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.

These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
• Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

Administrators and teachers, consider the influence you could have on your teachers and students; on instructional methods and curricular choices; on developing your students’ 21st century literacy skills. If you are an administrator who has discovered the importance of ensuring your students are fluent digital readers and writers, how are you modeling this in your learning organization? How are you sharing with your students?

The 3Ls of #Edscape

Yesterday was a very enjoyable day at New Milford High School, where principal Eric Sheninger hosted The #Edscape Conference. My takeaways:


Chris Lehmann‘s travel woes detained him in Chicago, so he was unable to open the conference, but to our great pleasure, Diana Laufenberg stepped up to the plate. Opening with the need to transform learning due to the shift from an information-deficit environment (students went to school to get information from their teachers) to a world where information-overload is the norm, it becomes necessary to embrace a “Less us, more them,” perspective in the classroom. At Science Leadership Academy, students and teachers explore, “How do we learn? What can we create? What does it mean to lead?” through the core values of  inquiry, research, presentation, reflection, and collaboration. Diana’s enthusiasm for empowering her students was evident. “We teach kids, not subjects.” She shared with us examples of inquiry-driven student learning experiences. It was powerful to hear how her students spend countless hours (outside of school) ensuring they submit high quality projects and assignments, because they “just don’t want to put crap on the Internet anymore.” Students need meaningful tasks and an authentic audience. They must ask questions, research, share ideas, and be reflective in public spaces. She spoke of the need for transparency and relevance, as well as developing collaborative learning environments that embrace risk-taking and support failure. “If you want innovation and creativity, create a space that allows failure in the learning process.”

Here’s Diana’s TED talk if you have not yet had the opportunity to hear her speak about 3 surprising things she has learned from teaching, including learning from mistakes:


Teq helped sponsor the event and offered a variety of Smartboard-related sessions, which I heard were well-attended. Too often schools outfit their classrooms with a specific type of technology, yet fail to provide adequate support and professional development for teachers in order to help the tool be used in order to truly impact learning. I am sure the Smartboard sessions were useful for many. During the first session, I had the pleasure of facilitating a Skype-enabled conversation led by Patrick Larkin and Andy Marcinek from Burlington High School, who shared their experiences implementing a 1:1 initiative with iPads, and also shared strategies for developing ePubs for student and teacher use. They shared a Google doc chock-full of resources: Building a Collaborative ePub.

Over breakfast, Tom Whitby, Adam Bellow and I had a great conversation about how presenters are often fearful they’re sharing the same ideas over and over again, and what if no one learns anything new from what we have to share? I think each of us felt a certain pressure to provide new (or at least tweaked) material at the next conference/workshop/meeting. Then Tom brought up a great point about the amount of educators there are in this world (he threw out the number 7.2 million?) yet, when you stopped to consider the group of teachers & educators that are “connected,” we guesstimated anywhere from 200,000-500,000. So, chances are good that as more people become connected, any ideas you have to share will be new and beneficial to someone just embarking on the connected learning journey.

For that reason, I so appreciated the many folks who stopped by my session. It was wonderful engaging in conversation about the need for educators to share, ideas on how to become a more connected educator, tools to try, and ways that my teachers and students have become connected learners. Afterwards I enjoyed talking to a few attendees with some follow-up questions about Google docs, Wikispaces, and Twitter. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to touch base with other educators in face-to-face learning environments! Later in the evening I received a tweet from Katelyn, who attended my session and decided to give Twitter a try. She’s a 5th grade teacher – reach out and connect with her! And that’s why I love sharing what I do.

Another great element during my session was the amount of open dialogue. First Aaron Eyler interrupted me (mid-sentence) by broaching the subject of the “virtual high-fiving” in certain Twitter communities. He cautioned the group not to get swept up in retweeting things just because someone who is “high profile” sends it out. He encouraged everyone to read for themselves and determine the value of ideas before freely sharing them. This was an excellent point, and I’m glad he raised it. We discussed that as relationships build via Twitter exchanges, commenting on blogs, etc., it’s important to respectfully push others in their thinking.

Here are my session slides:

and here’s a link to related resources.

In session 3, Brian always-dressed-to-kill Nichols led a conversation about leadership in the age of mobile learning. He shared examples of student work, admitted freely that he was the kid that always got in trouble in school, and he shared some great apps for mobile learning. Check out his Twitter stream for the great resources he always shares.

I ended the day in a session about innovative teaching and learning. I struggled a bit with the use of the word “innovative” to describe some of the resources shared, and I’m not certain it’s necessary to decipher the differences between technology integration and technology infusion, but I think the fact that these conversations are starting to happen across our schools is an important first step. My final comment to the group during that session is that we have to stop focusing on the tool, and that we have to stop insisting teachers become the experts with technology. We have to focus on pedagogy. Teachers need to be partners in learning. We have to get tools in kids’ hands. We have to help students ask questions, dig deeper, work together to solve problems, and create evidence of learning. And we have to get out of their way.

Due to some scheduling conflicts I was disappointed I didn’t get to hear Paul Bogush or Shelly Blake-Plock speak, as they are two educators whose blogs I read regularly and whose ideas I respect greatly. I regret not having the chance to say hello to Paul, but it was great meeting Shelly for the first time. I missed out hearing David Timony, which was sad, because I always leave his sessions thinking that my brain really is out to get me. (That’s a good thing.) I know there are others I missed…


This was a day filled with positive energy. I was able to share some virtual laughs with Patrick and Andy before their session started. Aaron and Brian kept me on my toes all day, and our post-conference debriefing with Aaron, Adam, Dave Zirkle, Dr. Timony, and Mike Ritzius was full of good cheer. I love these days because I can honestly say some of the most enjoyable times I’ve experienced over the past few years have been in the company of those in my PLN. I’m one lucky learner.

Thanks, Eric, NMHS & students, sponsors, and attendees for an excellent day!

Learning together.

CC licensed photo shared by A. Forgrave via Flickr

Today a team of my school’s teachers attended a workshop at our local IU called Improving Reading Comprehension (K-3), and I decided to tag along. There were several knowledgeable researchers/educators that presented ideas from the field of early literacy, and, even now just halfway through the day, I feel our team benefited from attending.

In fact, I feel we benefited more than any other team in the room.

And here’s why.

I visit the conference center many times throughout the year. I always wonder, Will I be allowed to use my laptop today? Given the history of being told to put electronic devices “away,” only to be used during formal breaks and lunch, I tweeted my angst this morning:

This directive physically aggravates and nauseates me, and one time I did go head-to-head with a presenter who asked me to leave a session on Day 2 because I used my computer too much (therefore I clearly wasn’t invested in the learning) on Day 1. Seriously?!

However, I was glad that when I arrived, most of my team of teachers were already using their laptops, ready to go for the day. Would this have been the case a few years ago? Probably not. But we’ve been working hard on trying to develop a collaborative learning environment, one where I encourage teachers to go out and find resources for use, reflect on their learning, and to share resources via Diigo or Twitter or any means necessary… so seeing this made me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Having the technology/tools available is one thing. Using them is another.

I opened Evernote to begin to take notes but realized most of my teachers don’t use this tool. Instead, I started and shared a Google doc through our school Google Apps and invited each teacher. Very quickly, we populated the doc with an outline of the day, the main components we’d be learning about, and then I sent a jovial chat to another teacher to wake her up at this early hour. The chat box quickly became a backchannel where we started a) offering critical feedback on the presentation and b) sharing ideas with one another.

Then this gem: 

In the words of Chris Wejr: “BOOM!” So we inserted a table into the doc and the resources and links spilled in as the day went on.

And it just continued in this fashion. Kelly got the ball rolling. Steffany made connections with reciprocal teaching. Margaret wanted to learn how these comprehension strategies would fit into our Daily 5 work (and was frankly a little bummed she didn’t bring her laptop today. She was always peeking over Kelly’s shoulder to read the backchannel chat!) Jena and Julie raised conversational topics in the chat box and populated the table. (Although I think maybe Julie was off-task all morning getting acquainted with her new WordPress class blog. It’s addicting! Just kidding, Julie! 🙂

Possible to get this kind of collegial interaction without social media use? Perhaps. But it would require more time…. far more time. We would have had to research resources on our own time, compile them all together using some sort of antiquated method which may or may not have included paper. Shudder. Then we would have needed to find a meeting time that suited everyone’s schedules. Sitting around a table, probably disgruntled we could be using this time for something else, we would have tried to recall the session components and bring it all together in some sort of cohesive conversation.

No thanks.

This morning I shared this piece I found through Zite involving the use of social media to enhance professional learning communities. The author shares:

A professional learning community is based upon respect, responsibility and collaboration. It reflects the need for all members of the community to view themselves as learners. This creates flexibility, openness to change and adaptability, which are definitely requirements for successfully managing the fast paced, continually changing context education exists within.

This is what we want for our teachers in our schools. How does social media facilitate the learning process among a group of learners? Social media provides

1. Time to collaborate

2. Leadership support

3. Information 

4. Ready access to colleagues

Our team’s use of a simple collaborative tool today certainly provided us with all of the above. If you’re interested in our Google doc, I can share it when we’re finished with our day. Right now it’s contained within our Google Apps domain and can’t be shared w/outside users. (Don’t get me started on that one.) Our plan is to share the doc with our colleagues following the session and then have the teachers that attended serve as resources for further discussions and learning.

Every year, schools send out pockets of teachers to workshops, to be involved in graduate programs, to engage in book study groups, etc. to enhance professional practice. If we continue to allow teachers to keep their learning to themselves, and if we are charged with leading learning initiatives and do not plan for and facilitate the vital element of social learning, we’re doing a disservice to the organization as a whole, and therefore, a disservice to our students.