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.

An Open or Closed Porch?

My husband and I recently updated the front of our house.  We’d had a closed in porch that I loved from the inside.  It gave us shelter from the winter winds, kept us dry from the summer thunder storms, and gave us some spare ‘kid’ space whenever we needed an extra play room.

But from the outside, it was uninviting. We knew 25 years ago when we married and moved into this house that the porch needed… redoing.

Over those 25 years, my husband and I often discussed what we’d like to do when we changed and updated the porch.  I, of course, wanted a closed in porch. Not because an open porch was a bad idea, I just thought that giving up the extra 150 square feet wasn’t a good idea.  Our family is still growing and when we need it, it’s a great play space.  Add on the fact that I liked the shelter it provided from our southern exposure during bad weather, and I thought it was a no brainer.

He, of course, wanted the porch open.  As many times as we had discussed it over those years, I didn’t find out until the porch was actually finished why his heart was so set on an open porch.  As it turns out, he wanted to be able to see outside without screens or windows.  He wanted to be immersed in the peacefulness of the street on which we live.

Ultimately, we  decided on an open porch with two rocking chairs. While I begrudgingly acquiesced to the open concept, once I truly heard his heart, I was glad I had caved.   As it turns out, we really love it.

The Open Porch

I have made a surprising discovery.  The porch has given us the opportunity to have wonderful conversations.  We drink our morning and evening coffee there.  Together. We talk about stuff. And it makes me feel more connected to him.


Are people like porches?

As I thought about how our conversations made me feel more connected to my husband, I wondered about how great it would be if I could have those kind of conversations with my students. You know, conversations about ‘stuff’. I wondered what kind of things I would learn about them.  What kind of stuff is happening that really makes them smile? What keeps them from doing their very best?  How can I help them do better?  As a teacher, I wondered about my most challenging students.  The ones that I like despite their determination to sit inside a closed porch. The ones who work hardest to make themselves unapproachable.  I wondered if my students knew I was an open porch with an empty rocker just waiting for them to sit down so I could listen and connect to their heart.

Leaders should be like an open porch.

Leadership means modeling the behaviors that will bring your staff to the best they can be.  In “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader” John Maxwell lists listening at number eleven.  Maxwell says, “leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. That’s the Law of Connection. But before a leader can touch a person’s heart, he has to know what’s in it. He learns that by listening” (p.41). Many school administrators wall themselves into their office, accessible to only those in the the golden circle. They are missing so much.

According to My Future, people work because they like to be productive and to contribute to society.  People also work to feel a sense of well being and accomplishment and to meet and interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures. Work provides a social life and makes us feel good about ourselves.

Administrators who do not freely flow among their personnel miss making the connections that bring meaning to the staff’s work as well as, quite frankly, their own. The people in his/her building have many great ideas swirling around it.  Making time to chat to all members of the staff opens this administrator to the lives of the staff.  Perhaps someone is dealing with a dying husband. Perhaps another has had her son hospitalized.  Perhaps others have heard news of a new baby or a new house. They call this relationship building.

As I continue my journey toward leading a school, I reflect back on graduate school where we discussed that one of the first qualities that distinguishes a leader is his/her ability to move people toward a joint vision.

John Maxwell says that before you can ask for a hand, leaders need to touch people’s  heart.

I’m thinking that have a rocking chair mentality just might be the first step a new administrator should bring with them.

Musings on Co-Teaching Assignments

As we tend to do in education, my first thoughts as I assembled this post were to find out what the research community’s thoughts were about teacher assignments and teacher efficacy related to teaching assignments. As educators,  I think this is where we go for corroboration (or not) of our thoughts.

I went first, of course, to Google Scholar where I found an article by Rori Ross-Hill (Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, Vol 9-3 2009 188-198), who examined the exceptional student services of East Baton Rouge Parish system, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Although some of us would not agree with her opening remarks about the good fortune we had when then Secretary of Education T.H. Bell (1981) recognized, with the help of President Ronald Reagan, that the US education system was at risk, we may ultimately agree that one of the benefits of an outcome directly related to this event was the 2001 NCLB (NCLB United States Department of Education, 2001) policy that required students with disabilities to be granted access to the regular education curriculum.  Ross-Hill (2009, p1) says that it is “evident that the legislature align both acts, the NCLB (2001) and the IDEIA (2004) to ensure the success of the laws’ requirements”. Ross-Hill’s (2009, p1) article examines the idea that the ultimate success of the laws lies on the knowledge and attitude that teachers portray in the inclusive classroom.

Not willing to pay $35 to read the entire text, I drilled into the databases at Rutgers’, The State University of New Jersey Library, where I was able to read the entire text. Ross-Hill (2009) says that regular education teachers’ attitudes towards the implementation of inclusion in elementary and secondary classrooms is being studied. (Good to know, except her article was the only one that turned up in my scholarly searches related to teacher attitudes toward coteaching and teacher efficacy….hmm…this is 2015…) Further, researchers Bender, Vail & Scott (Ross-Hill, 2009) say that inclusion students cannot be successful without the proper attitude of the general education teacher. (Any inclusion teacher learns that week #1 on the job.)  As educators, administrators, and supervisors, we know that there are many possible factors that could contribute to the challenges faced by the general education teacher and the inclusion teacher: curriculum deficiencies, legal implications, social implications, and of course, standardized testing.  But, additionally, the attitudes toward the inclusion student and the presence of an inclusion teacher set forth additional burdens which can weigh heavily on the inclusion teacher. In many cases, the inclusion teacher works around the general education teacher, particularly in the lecture based, teacher-centered classrooms, where power struggles and teaching styles may conflict. ( A topic for another day….)   IDEA (2004)  required school systems to complete an individualized educational plan, detailing the extent to which the student will/will not participate in the inclusive classroom including which types of services the student will receive. (Ross-Hill, 2009).  IDEIA (2004) raised the degree of regulation and compliance from the inclusion practices being the sole responsibility of the inclusion teacher to now include the general education teacher, too, as a responsible party.  (This is not lost on the inclusion teacher; this can also create an unspoken blame-game between the two teachers.  More stress…)

Ross-Hill (2009) was clearly written a few years ago and the work of inclusion has moved, to some degree, forward.  However, I am here today to say that having been placed in a particular inclusion class assignment for the last 5 months and, this week, being given a new assignment for reasons unrelated to my work, has given me a new lease on life.

I write this on a beautiful Saturday morning.  I woke up (thank goodness!) and met my husband in the kitchen with dancing and singing. The real Chris Duane is back in the universe! As my husband would readily attest, this assignment weighed on me 24/7.  No longer in the assignment,  I feel as if a massive weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  For many reasons that I cannot speak to here, this assignment was, without doubt, the most stressful assignment I’ve had in my 20 years of teaching. (Yikes! 20 years! And I’m still trying to change the world…)  But my experience is a testament to the importance that lies at the foot of individuals when making inclusion placements and pairings.  It would be naive of me to say that there aren’t times we just have to take the assignment and do the very best we can.  It is also a testament to the stress some of those assignments put on us as individuals who absolutely go to work every day to do what’s best for kids… even when it’s just not what’s good for us.


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!