My Summer Leadership PD, 2015

As a person who was a life long learner before I knew it was a good thing, I have always spent my time and personal monies to increase my understanding of my work, regardless of whether it was in education or my previous career in finance.

To that end, I recently signed up as a member of NJPSA’s Leadership Cohort 6.  As with all things, I’m never really sure whether I will learn anything really meaningful when I spend $700, but I must write that I was pleasantly surprised.  
The first of the cohort’s five meetings on August 6, was led by Dr. John Bormann, Superintendent of Rumson School District, NJ.  As I write this, I struggle to express how refreshing it was to have an instructional leader speaking to aspiring administrators and first/second year administrators without the educational babble. He gave us real roadmaps for implementing PLCs for unpacking standards to tighten the vertical alignment of our curricula; how to implement Webb’s Depth of Knowledge  (DOK) work that leads to construction of common assessments that result in meaningful grade-wide and school-wide data leading to real instructional change. 
The hours I spent in this professional development have added a new dimension to my ability to implement meaningful educational change
Don’t misunderstand. Teaching is a second career for me.  In my previous career, I was hired for my ability to implement corporate visions and bring new ideas to teams of people who needed to adjust to the merger/acquisition that brought in new leadership. My job was to expand our community and bring new people together into new and stronger teams.
This is not unlike accepting a new administrative position.  I know how to bring someone’s vision to light.  I know how to bring teams together. I know how to add value by being a critical thinking member of the team to make the implementation successful while supporting the mission and vision.
But the roadmap for implementing PLCs in an educational environment was something I didn’t  know how to do.
Before August 6, I didn’t understand how to lay the groundwork to successfully implement common assessments. I couldn’t really understand why department chairs can’t just ‘command’ that common assessments be constructed because I didn’t know why having a tight curriculum was a critical component of that process.  Or how important it is that each grade level completely understand the standards at their grade level as well as before and after their grade level.  I didn’t know how to teach teachers how to modify their instruction to bring their students’ critical thinking levels to new heights and depths.

As I reflect on my decision to be part of this cohort, I feel more and more sure that it will be time really well spent.   I also think it reveals why leadership doesn’t end at your own front door.  Leadership should go on so the talents that took leaders to the top don’t remain locked away with them.  Leaders who are able to make meaningful educational change should be willing to step forward so others can benefit from and build upon their learnings.  I am grateful Dr. Bormann chose to do so.

Video of Dr. Norman Webb explaining his new model for learning.
(YouTube, July 1, 2014)

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:

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

Of course I had to click on the link ( 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.

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?

Technology Integration: Are the incoming teachers really as adept as we think?

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First started on 9/8/2013:

As you may know, I am a high school teacher.  With the new school year and new rosters of students comes the NJACHIEVE initiative for teacher evaluations, integration of the Core Curriculum Standards, Student Growth Outcomes, new technology… Some would even say technology is the new frontier where incoming freshman teachers are supposed to have an advantage.   Being a teacher in today’s schools requires as much dedication, (some might say more dedication) than ever before; especially with the level of technology integration required within the Core Curriculum Standards.

I attended CCA 2013, Core Content Academy 2013, held at Rutgers New Brunswick this summer with the co-sponsorship of the NJDOE.  About three hundred of my colleagues from around the state spent 7 hours a day for a week delving into the standards, what they meant, where they were going.

What we discovered was that technology is the integral vine growing and weaving its way deep into each subject, each standard, at every grade level. Discussing, sharing, learning how we can, as a state, get up to speed to close the achievement gap and truly bring our 21st Century work to our students in our classrooms.  We listened with rapt attention ( no lie…) as the speakers inspired us to meet this challenge head on.  Workshop presenters brought us new ways to look at our teaching methods.  No book selling.  No publishing handouts.  Pure education.  Seasoned teachers thirsty to extend their skills and truly become master teachers of their craft. Gallery walks to examine others’ work.  We came away each day tired but looking forward to bringing it all home to our classrooms.

I grant you that the incoming teachers have a handle on their technology skills.  Well… they know how to text, and they know how to email, and Instagram, and Facebook.  But quite frankly, I haven’t seen any evidence of them being any more skilled at integrating technology into their teaching.

We all want technology integrated into our classrooms.  But integrating technology into an 90 minute block with adept facilitation is no small task.  (Imagine when the blocks are smaller!)  Integrating technology into a classroom of kindergarteners without succumbing to chaos… Quite frankly, you aren’t going to convince me that until my current student body (those graduating in 2013 and beyond) come into the workforce are we  going to see staff that really understand technology’s integrative capacity well enough to use from Day One.  That will be really cool!

Not only will the new staff come to us with pedagogy thoroughly and expertly infused with the proper technology at the the proper time, but the students we teach will flourish in an environment in which they have immersed themselves since… they could swipe an iPad as a toddler.

Which brings me to my friend Barry Saide.  In his blog, Barry posted, ” Technophile or Technophobe: Which Are You? ” Barry adeptly writes about the impact our subtle or mindless actions can have on our colleagues.  His writing brings to us the idea that we can mow down or motivate our colleagues and our students with a look, an intonation, or reaction.

I love when anyone takes the risk to try something new.  How cool is it when any teacher takes the risk of experimenting with a technology?  Some districts are still acquiring projectors while other districts have moved to using iPads, tablets, and phones.

I think it is very cool when teachers (regardless of their years of experience) take the risk to master the skills needed to truly bring technology into their learning environment. I also think we should be willing to understand that while our new hires grew up with microwaves, iPads, Smartphones, and GPS, we should be mindful that these tools, used skillfully from the consumer end, bring an entirely new challenge to the integration into classroom instruction.  Administrative and professional support is still needed to assist all teachers with the level of integration required by the Core Curriculum Standards.

This integration will take time, supported by resilient teachers and supportive workplaces that bring all staff members to a common pedagogical goal.

What do you think?