Not Giving Up…

I feel like giving up.

Maybe my brain has moved out.  

Maybe I’ve been in the game too long.

Maybe the last five years have just done me in. 

I’m tired of failing. I’m tired of getting it wrong.  

I’m tired of teachers who don’t listen and learn.

I want to just throw in the towel.


As I typed those words about my own frustrations with a personal pursuit, I began to think about my students.  I reflected on what I would say to one of them; what I have said to any one of them who has expressed a similar feeling.

I’ve asked them: What could you do differently?  What could I do differently that might make you successful?  In reality, of course, they have had no real idea of how I could help them. They shrug their shoulders and stare at the floor because they’ve failed…again.

I, of course, knew.  I knew that they needed more time.  I knew they ‘saw’ the answers but couldn’t show their work.  What I didn’t know was why? Why were they able to do the algebra in their head and ‘see’ the answer but not be able to write it down? I understand differentiation.  I understand modifications and better strategies. What I was doing wasn’t working.

What was I missing?

As you may know, for the last 5 years I’ve worked as an in-class support teacher for varying levels of high school math.  I have watched as year after year, class after class, for a total of 2,250 class blocks, teacher after teacher, teach Algebra from the logical left-brained sequential step-by-step process.

And year after year I’ve watch student after student, classified or not, fail their way through these classes.

Teachers describe them as lazy; they don’t do their homework but they get solid B’s on their assessments despite the fact they’re doodling on their iPads.  They end up with D’s because they’re missing homework and the plethora of zeros that get put into the grade book, that brings their grades down to almost failing.

I’ve watched as they try to listen to the lecture and they try to write the process down. But their mind wanders.

Teachers complain that they take too long to do their 30 math problems for classwork; that they don’t finish them.

Enter the Right Brain-LeftBrain Thinker.

Quite frankly, this is not a new idea; that some of us are more logical (left-brained) and some of us are more creative (right-brained).  But what is new to me, and I’ve been doing this for 20+ years, is the idea that kids with ADD, ADHD and Autism tend to share a very common thread:  they think… in pictures.

What is a right brained thinker?

We’re whole-to-part thinkers.  Show me the end and I’ll figure out the middle parts.  Step-by-step?  I can’t.  I can’t hold the picture in my head long enough while you go through the minutia for the left-brain thinkers.  I loose it. I move on. You say I’m not paying attention.  I want you to move faster.  Get to the end so I can go back and fill in the middle. I can’t help it.  It’s how I’m wired. I don’t do it to aggravate you.  I look up when I’m telling a story or answering a question because I’m looking at the pictures in my head.  I’m great with faces but awful with names.

I’m not broken.  I’m just wired differently.

I’m not fast at math.  I have to pull up the pictures I’ve stored in my head.  That takes more time than going step-by-step. But I know how to do it.  I just need more time.  I memorize the formulas and then go back and figure out why they work and how they were derived.

I’m not broken. I’m just wired differently.

True Story

GE Teacher: “Time’s up!”
Student:  “I’m not done.  Can I finish during lunch?
GE Teacher: “No, that wouldn’t be fair to the other (left-brained) students.
Student: “But my brain doesn’t work that way.”
GE Teacher: “Maybe if you studied harder; maybe if you didn’t daydream during class you’d be able to finish in the same time as everyone else.”
ICR Teacher:”You can finish during lunch or meet me after school”
GE Teacher to ICR teacher(aside):  “He/She doesn’t have an IEP.  You can’t do that. It’s not fair to the other students.”
ICR Teacher: “He processes slowly. (I didn’t know  at the time was because he thought in images).  I’m actually leveling the playing field so they don’t have an unfair advantage.”
GE Teacher: (silent)

It’s true.  Right-brained people take longer to process.
It’s true.  Right-brained people have a deficiency in organization and linear thinking: executive function.
It’s true.  Right-brained people are highly visual-spatial, non-sequential processors who learn by remembering the way things look and by taking words and math into mental pictures; think Albert Einstein, Temple Grandin, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci.

How do we serve this growing population?

Right-brained people need teachers to teach to them differently. They need teachers who can present information in whole-to-part instruction.  Whole-to-part instruction needs to be added to the differentiation schema. They need alternate assessments and choice boards. They need extra time and fewer problems in math because visual learning literally takes more time to do.

They need to be taught how to speed-read.

Surprised?  Consider that a whole-to-part brain needs to see the big picture and fill in the parts.  Speed-read a chapter for the overview. Go back and scan for the details that fill in the whole.  Different? Yes.  Effective? Very. For right-brained people.

My hurdle isn’t convincing my readers.  My hurdle is convincing math department chairs that going slowly and ‘trying harder’ and not ‘day-dreaming’ isn’t the answer.  My hurdle is not being in a position to make the impact that needs making because 25% of Algebra students, nation wide, are failing algebra. I believe we are failing the students and I want to do something about it.

The answer is in changing the understandings of what’s best for kids to doing what’s best for all kids and teaching the teachers how to get them there. The answer is changing the paradigm of how right-brained students are taught.  It’s the challenge I’m embracing for this new school year.

This blog was inspired by the book, “Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child” by Jeffery Freed  & Laurie Parsons (1997)

Why I Embrace Technology…

I’m sure that I’m like a lot of people.  When the house is quiet, the TV is off, and I’m doing mundane but necessary tasks like putting away laundry or watering my plants, my mind wanders to places I hadn’t visited in a long time.

Like today. I was enjoying my first Saturday of summer break.  The house was quiet and I was unencumbered by the pressures to do other things.  I meandered through the house putting away the things that pile up while I’m working.  In women terms, I believe I’d call it tinkering or puttering.

Nothing ground breaking about putting away laundry or changing the sheets, except that when I try to sing “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Mama Cass Eliot.  I’d heard it recently in a 2014 movie and was surprised because I wondered how many millennials actually knew who she was or what her music did to the music scene back in the day.

So there I am, puttering this morning and I begin to hum… or at least try to hum the song in my head.  Of course I then tried to put the words to it and was grateful that I was alone in the house with no one to hear my crackling voice.

I remembered that there was a day that I had a pretty good voice.  I sang in the Madrigal choir in high school and I loved music and ballet.  But I grew up in large family.  And what I remember most was always feeling invisible.  My parents were busy doing what parents with five girls do: work, cook, clean, delegate.

That’s why I embrace technology

Technology lets everyone be visible to someone.  As my thoughts continued to chain together, I thought about how lucky the children are today.  They never have to feel invisible.  There is always someone just a click or two away with whom they can connect about whatever they’re interested in.  Granted, this idea can be a scary proposition, which is why not all school boards and administrations embrace social media in our schools. But let’s stay positive.

Technology let’s everyone be heard.  Every child can have a voice.  Every child can find a mentor who will help them get to where ever they think they want to go.

Wendy Whelan started her career in Louisville, KY at the age of 3 as a mouse in the Nutcracker Suite, ultimately joining the New York Ballet from which she retired in 2014.  I bring her into this conversation because a statement she made in the documentary I recently watched about her really stuck with me.  She said that someone had said to her, “Wendy, there are people in other places who can help you become the best dancer you can be.  You should go find them.”

There are people in other places…

And that’s why I embrace technology.  Not because it’s got great gizmos.  Not because it’s the lasted craze.

I embrace technology because it truly opens windows to a world we would otherwise not see.

In education, we use the words ‘career and life skills’.

I think what we should say is that we need to embrace all the amazing people and ideas that are speeding about us so we can be inspired to do what we love, even if it seems like a long shot.  We need throw the world of moonshot thinking at our students, particularly our high school students.

There really is a fabulous world out there.  And we do a disservice to our students every minute we restrain them to minuscule work in our classrooms.

Swimming Against The Conformity Current

I started my Saturday morning off as I start many of my Saturday mornings.  I typically wake up (always a good start…) grab some coffee and work my way to my spare bedroom/office and jump into #SATCHAT with my other buddies who share a passion for sharing and learning.

After concluding my chat time and regrouping for my work for the day today (aka, refilling my coffee cup), I went back and reread the posts from the morning’s chat.  A post from Pernille Ripp caught my eye:

@pernilleripp
Thanks go to @PernilleRipp and #SATCHAT (2/7/15)

Of course I had to click on the link (goo.gl/lBKJqk) and I invite you to do the same.  Her words spoke to me as if she were “Killing Me Softly With (Her) Song” .  I don’t often add comments to a post; I’m not much for the Redundancy Chamber.  But given that I’d had the following experience just the previous afternoon, I was compelled to respond.

I wrote on Pernille’s Blog:

(A brief recap: My co-teacher and I designed a unit length project using ExplainEverything using all the electronic materials the students are given (aka handed) on their classroom wiki, in their iBook, and possibly some Internet research (beyond minimal). Their assignment: create an ExplainEverything project using 3-4 slides per unit from their learning goal rubric where they identify and synthesize their understanding of the topics presented. Their first unit had 17 learning goals. Upon presentation of the project to them, they immediately did the math and said…51 to 68 slides!!!??? and under their breath… are they crazy????)

If you went to Pernille’s blog and read my response, which I hope you will take the time to do, you will read a bit more about the question my Gen-Ed HS Biology co-teacher and I were asked:

If doing this kind of work is so important, then why is this class, our class the only one doing it?  Why isn’t every teacher making us do this kind of work, to work so hard, in all of our classes?

The truth is that I ask myself this kind of question every day.  Why aren’t teachers in our high school asking the students perform creative knowledge constructing projects every single day? Why do we ask so very little of our students? 

To be fair, which is a code I live by every day (and some days better than others), some of the teachers in my building are doing incredible work.  But it still begs the question asked to us by our student:  Why isn’t every teacher asking us to work this hard?

As I said in my post to Pernille, I had to hold my tongue.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student what I’ve experienced in my co-teaching classes.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student of the multiple or even many conversations I’ve had with my building colleagues about changing their craft to include projects like the one I created and (to her credit) my co-teacher has supported. (This has been a bumpy journey; bringing a project like this into a classroom for the first time is filled with unforeseen bumps in the road, despite my months of planning. And she has been a terrific co-pilot, pointing out how we can tweak the implementation here and there to make the process less stressful for the students. God bless her…) But I couldn’t possibly tell my student the words I’ve been told In conversation after conversation; the words that strike frustration and disbelief to my heart:

“I don’t have time. I’m too busy with (insert your excuse of choice here) and (insert your other excuse of choice here) to put all that time and energy into changing what I do.”

During this morning’s #SATCHAT as with many other Twitter Chats I follow, someone inevitably goes down the road of ‘providing teachers with professional development…..”.

Which brings me to my question of the day:

What does it take to have/inspire/cause a teacher to swim against the Conformity Current?

I wish I was writing because I knew the answer.  I wish I could say that the tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of dollars my district has spent on iPad training for our staff was the answer. I wish I could say that getting teachers (yes, even new teachers) to swim against the conformity current had an answer I could provide.  But the sad truth is that I don’t.

Before I close, I will share with you where I find the inspiration and courage to fight the good fight, as my friend Courtney Pepe would say (@iPadQueen2012), everyday.

For health reasons, I was home last spring, away from my classroom, and missing my work.  I was using Twitter to stay current on my political addictions and I decided to see what was going on in the educational arena.  Of course, you know the ending to this part of the story; I found my courage and inspiration from the millions of you out there who support and encourage us to do what’s best for kids everyday; to fight the good fight.  And if needed, to swim hard against the Conformity Current.

In swimming against the Conformity Current with the support of my Twitter friends and colleagues, I was no longer alone in the fight but supported by hundreds of others with a greater vision like mine: that kids won’t have to just do worksheets and multiple choice tests, but will have to put their minds to work and create new understandings and possibly change the world in the process.  Now… How Cool Is That?

P.S.  Thank you for choosing to Swim Against The Conformity Current and inspiring me every day.

SpEdcampNJ

As you may know, my involvement with Twitter has led me to find a renewed passion about teaching, leading, engagement of students and teachers, and… the list goes on and on.  (See my article, My Digital Transformation.) As a member of the NJASCD Executive Board and Technology Committee co-chair, I have also had the opportunity to meet and work in a group of incredibly dedicated educators; new, veteran, techie and not.  Each of these individuals have added to the colors on my palette of life experiences that help me be a better me.  A better me in the classroom, in my work, and in my relationships both personal and professional.

I started my amazing journey after I completed my work at Rutgers University Graduate School of Education in 2011 and felt it was time for me to leap into the world of educational leadership.  Along my journey of enlightenment through NJASCD,  I was introduced to board members who were active in a professional trend called EdCampNJ.   I don’t know every member of EdCampNJ, but those with whom I have been fortunate enough to meet and learn from have taught me that the time for personalized learning for students must be translated into personalized learning for teachers, too.  Just as students who sit in our classes everyday have personal tastes in topics and styles of learning, so too do the teachers with whom we also work every day.  The Edcamp process honors, celebrates, and supports the individualized learning of teachers in the very same way we work to honor our students’ personalized learning needs.

So… what exactly is this Edcamp idea?  What could possibly make it such a ground breaking idea?  PD has been around for… a very long time.  What could possibly have changed that it is creating such a stir in the PD circles around the world? (Yes… really… around the world!)

In this month’s Principal Magazine, Meredith Barnett does what I wish I’d thought to do. Meredith has written a wonderful article presenting the Edcamp idea to those many principals who do not know about or who have ever heard of Edcamp before. (I’ve attached the PDF of Meredith’s article here.)   The Edcamp model is fairly well known in the South Jersey/Philly area and the North Jersey/New Brunswick area.  But Central Jersey has yet to get the news: Edcamps are the wave of the future.

As I work to develop a team of teachers who are willing to become part of my leadership team for this annual SpEdcampNJ project, I am frequently asked, “What is Edcamp?”  I am frequently dismayed by the responses I get when I explain that these are workshops that take place on a Saturday. “Saturday?  Who would go to a workshop on a Saturday?  You should consider having it during the week when teachers can be released from their classrooms.  You’d get a much better turnout…”  The thing is that Edcamps have FABULOUS turnouts.  Imagine the energy created  when 300-400 teachers from around the area, sometimes from around the state and neighboring states as well, come together to share ideas… of all things… on a Saturday!  (When I was asked, ‘who would go to a workshop on a Saturday’, I answered, ‘I guess that teachers dedicated to improving their craft and student outcomes come on Saturdays….’  The look on the teachers’ faces when they processed my answer… (‘right… dedicated teachers…I guess you don’t really want everybody  to come… just those who really want to be there…’)  was priceless.

The fact is that not everyone belongs at an Edcamp.  Edcamps are for people who truly want to expand their understandings on things they may have never considered and feel it is important enough to take time away from their personal lives to do so.  The topics and discussions are participant driven and the energy and conversations among like minded individuals is, for me, a priceless experience.  I’ve attached a video of one of the workshops created, designed, and developed completely through a Voxer chat group among six people we’ve never even met face-to-face about bringing music into the classroom.  (The discussion had been framed out with enough room for spontaneous participation from the group.) We had a blast putting it together and the 20+ participants had a blast too!

To be fair, EdCamps happen all the time around the US and are popping up around the globe.  This is a link to the EdCamp Foundation site where more information about the wonderful work being accomplished can be found.

I’ve been able to attend EdcampLeadership in Philly during the summer 2014 and EdcampNJ 2013 & 2014.  I found them to be so inspiring and uplifting that I’ve decided to put start SpEdcampNJ 2015.  I am currently looking for a central Jersey location where my team and I can host special education professionals from around the state to share their energies and practices that will inspire us, bring fun learning to our classroom and raise achievement in our special education classes along the way.  I will keep you posted as we move along our newest journey toward bringing SpEdcampNJ 2015 to fruition.  Stay tuned!

Are gamers perceived as braver teachers?

Some may say that my understanding (or lack thereof) of video games is a generational thing.  No, I’m not a 35 year old gamer who thinks he is the conquerer of the Armageddon of knowledge and inspiration.  I’ve been to a few rodeos in my day and as I’m prone to say to those who doubt my perspective, “I’ve learned to… sip…brandy…”.  Some things really do take time to develop. Using my time to beat a game seems pointless to me.  It seems even more pointless because I don’t see the transfer of focus required of gaming making my students more focused and goal oriented.  But it does beg the question:  Does gaming make for braver teachers?

OK- clearly I’m biased.  My frustration with gaming is this:  as a high school math teacher, I am presented with classrooms of students who need to be told exactly what to do next.  Now this may be an occurrence that is only happening within my own small realm, but I suspect not.  What does this have to do with gaming? When I watch the diligence with which my students pursue success within a game (the research, the collaboration between them, the undefinable self-driven effort they dedicate to beating a game), I wonder where all that energy for learning goes once they hit the classroom.  Why can they muster hours and hours of focus, day after day, to just beating a game? Clearly the answer is to bring gaming into the classroom; #gamification.  This, of course, makes perfect sense because who doesn’t like to do things that are fun?

Again, don’t misunderstand me.  I understand that gaming is fun.  I understand the social side of it.  I really do.  I promise. But as a teacher, as an aspiring administrator, I can’t help but feel immense frustration that as educators, we don’t absolutely embrace this idea of using gaming to provide a platform for exploration within our classrooms.  Many of us continue to take our classes through the same old teacher led drudgery that’s been around since…. I was a kid.  So the question I’ve been asking myself is, Why are some teachers brave?

I have a sense of even greater frustration when I see new teachers who can’t muster the bravery to really tackle this new pedagogy.  Perhaps I’ve always had this innovator streak in me.  My mother could never understand how or why I was always willing to propose a better way to do something.  I have always had the inquisitor gene.  Can we do this better? Is there a tweak that will make this idea pop?  As I wrote in my previous post, given the time, I was able to embrace the brisk and engaging world of Twitter.  Twitter has great classroom applications.  For example, using Twitter to conduct a formative assessment or online discussion.  Or sending reminders or posting a video on your favorite polynomial video. (Sorry… it’s the math in me… 🙂

Perhaps its because being ‘brave’, being willing to bring a new idea to the table requires the disruptor personality factor.  (I can assure you that my parents understood that oh too well!)  More often than not, I was surrounded by non-disruptors.  Same old, same old was fine and why do we need to find a new or better way that takes me away from the same old, same old…

Twitter changed that.  Twitter connects me with other disruptors and encourages me to be brave; it keeps me from giving up when I feel unheard.  Twitter keeps me inspired and makes me look for ways to accomplish things, all sorts of things.  It even connects me to others who think that Minecraft has a place in the math and physics classrooms.  Really, How Cool Is That?

PLNs: My Digital Transformation

As I was perusing the Table of Contents for a purchase of a Kindle edition book this morning, I stopped and fixated my eyes on one particular chapter’s title: Apps and Personal Relationships.  As an aspiring administrator, I, like many others, read an inordinate amount of material covering a wide range of topics; from assessments and proposal writing to leadership and walkthroughs.  But this title put the words ‘Apps’ and ‘Personal Relationships’ in the same sentence.

It was at that moment that I realized my Twitter PLNs had made a drastic change in my perception of digital relationships.  Some of my readers may be surprised to know that I’ve been a tech person long before tech was cool.  I bought an Apple Macintosh computer instead of a PC in 1985 because I couldn’t fathom that the DOS based systems of the PC market could possibly blow away the intuitive operations of the Apple Macintosh.  So much for betting on Gate’s marketing abilities…

My computer obsession had always taken me away from people. I could, then and now, spend countless hours alone at my computer doing any number of things that would probably drive many others crazy.  I’ve taught myself countless programs as a business owner because I couldn’t afford to have a tech come in and handle the process.  Computer literate was a misnomer: I was out in front of almost every business owner I knew.  Few people could understand my consuming obsession with tech.   But even with the advent of the interactive Web 3.0, I was still alone at my computer.  Of course I used email because that is a given communication tool. I used all sorts of programs for marketing, spreadsheets to create cash flows and identify trends.  But much beyond that, I wasn’t really communicating with people outside my normal circle of contacts.  How is it, I wondered, that people can have their faces buried in their phones, chatting and Tweeting to people they’ve never laid eyes on?

Fast forward to my computer time today.  As a result of a needed surgery, I’ve had some time off from the daily grind of work.  I found myself drawn to my computer just as I would have been under normal circumstances.  I’ve had time to read great books like “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times” by Eric Sheninger (2014) and “Teach Like A PIRATE!” by Dave Burgess (2012) to name two.  As engaging as these books were, something was missing. I was tired of the one-way circuit.

I decided to ‘venture’ into the world of Twitter.  I had a Twitter account but, surprise! I only used it to keep up on topics to save me time.  Well, long story short, I dove into the waters, drank the Kool-Aid and have converted from the one-sided world of tech to the two way world of Tweeting!

Now I know to some of you, this will be a ‘Duh…’ moment.  I had dabbled in Tweeting to a parent through a single channel so I could keep her up to date on the progress of her newly placed son in my class.  I ran into some tech issues (like the site being blocked) which soon put an end to my classroom use for the tool.  (When I later mentioned it to a person who was in a place to fix it, Twitter access was restored. Phew!)

Some of you may say that I was reluctant because I am not a millennial. Nothing could be farther from the truth!  To know me is to know that I am not afraid of tackling most anything, least of all a piece of technology!  I guess I just couldn’t wrap my head around why I needed to talk to people I didn’t know…

But, as you can imagine, this story has a happy ending… (Most of my stories do!)… I am a digital convert and discovered the Twitter chat on “Teach Like A PIRATE” (#TLAP) as well as an upcoming Twitter chat/book study on “Digital Leadership”.  I have certain chats logged into my calendar and my husband laughs when I tell him I can’t go to wherever because I have a Twitter chat to get to! I use Tweetdeck and Hootsuite to keep up with the feeds and it is so invigorating that I have trouble resting my brain when we’re off-line!  I often wind up re-reading a section or searching online or writing notes about a great idea.  Sleep often has to take a back seat!

Quite frankly, this has really provided me with a refreshed window of energy.  I’ve met lots of people from around the United States who share my passion for relationship building, engaging instruction and best practices for technology integration. If you haven’t dived into the world of Twitter, absolutely do so.  I have met so many great people, gotten so many great ideas that I just have to say, “How Cool Is That?”  Follow me @chrisduane819 !  See you there!