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!

7 Quick Tips to Surviving the First Month of School

7 Quick Tips To Surviving the First Month of School
By Christine Garner-Duane,
High School In Class Support Math Teacher in New Jersey

I remember my first day of teaching… both times. I started teaching High School Special Education Resource Room Language Arts and Math right out of college. I don’t remember it being anything I didn’t expect. I’d done a lot of student teaching and completed a practicum for each class I’d taken in college; the kids were like the ones I’d spent so much time working with in my college practicums.

Fast forward to 2003 when I re-entered the teaching workforce as a Middle School teacher after many years’ absence running my own financial consulting business. The students were the different but the strategies were still effective.

Tip #1: Get Psyched! It’s very normal to be nervous. We take our jobs very seriously and we understand that we are entrusted with a big responsibility. But that said, we need to come to class with the belief that we are going to rock this class, and these are some of best ways I’ve found to keep a positive attitude:

  • Listen to music: some days you may want to listen to soothing music and other days to want to listen to music that so you can sing your heart out!
  • Self Talks: Every one of us, whether we’ve been in the classroom for 2 or 20 years understands that a positive self talk goes a long way to helping us over our most challenging days. Give yourself permission to have a 5- minute pity party, but then brush yourself off and take the challenge to find out how you can learn from it. You’re in that class because the district believes you have the skill and the heart to get the job done. Failure is only failure when you throw in the towel.   Your students are counting on you— so turn up the music!
  • Eat breakfast and get sleep: It is VERY easy to skip breakfast and stay up late; your mind whirls with ideas and ‘what-if’s when you’re lesson planning. I promise you this… your brain works incredibly better when it is nourished and rested. If you need some proof of this, think back to the last time you saw a parent trying to reason with a tired and hungry child… that should be enough proof for you!
  • Use your learning community to find ideas and support. Help is out there. Don’t be afraid to use it. Consider it your lifeline!  I’ve found Twitter to be a great way to connect with people who will be non-judgmental and so supportive.  Whenever I’m feeling particularly challenged, whether I am overwhelmed or under-inspired, my Twitter communities never fail to pick me up and get me back on my feet again.  I am always grateful.

 Tip #2: Use your organizational skills to ensure that your classroom time is dedicated to student engagement. Sometimes this means over-planning; it’s the tip to making sure that you have lessons and activities in your hip pocket and ready to go. (Some teachers call this their Survival Kit!) One way I’ve accomplished this is by using a technique called the Anchor Activity.   Whether you’re a kindergarten teacher or a high school teacher, having Anchor Activities ready and sitting on the sideline can be the difference between chaos and organized enrichment activities. It’s important that you weave the expectation of this activity into your opening year procedures. It prevents idle hands and can be a constructive activity for those students who complete an assignment early. Anchor Activities are part of a Differentiated Classroom. You can read more about Differentiated Instruction from KDP here:

Other Anchor Activities Links:


Tip #3: Think about Classroom Management. KDP offers many webinars on the ins and outs of classroom management. If you’ve missed these, they are available for review. Here’s the link:             http://www.kdp.org/events/webinars.php#classroom

Here’s an example of some of the webinars available on KDP.org.

  • Classroom management issues are best managed by developing classroom norms; what are the students expected to do every day when they arrive in your classroom? Elementary teachers may want coats and backpacks stowed before retrieving their morning folder of work. High school teachers may want students to follow a routine of completing a Do Now /Warm Up activity while you take attendance. Routines and procedures make for a smoothly running classroom. In fact, establishing routines and procedures are core evaluation points for teachers in each of the New Teacher Evaluation Models like Marzano and Danielson. I think it’s also important to note that a smoothly running classroom is not necessarily one where all students are quietly working at their desk. In fact, classroom procedures are the cornerstone of effective group activities and collaborative assignments. Each student, understanding your expectations, knows their job and what to do if they have a question, problem, or finish early. Here’s a link to an article that may also help you out. http://goo.gl/5T0cq0
  • Remember to act intentionally; your reaction to student behavior cannot be impulsive. I rarely send a student to the principal’s office unless the code of conduct specifically says to. I typically have a 1:1 conversation with the student, refer to the rules we devised at the beginning of the year and ask him/her to reflect on the consequences for his/her behavior. Typically, the behavior doesn’t reoccur.
  • Develop relationships with your students as well between your students. This goes a long way in preventing classroom bullying and cyber-bullying. I’ve found that people rarely hurt others when we know and understand who they are.

Tip #3: Engage your parents and identify your communication methods. What does that mean?

  • Bulletin Boards are used to communicate to the students and classroom visitors. Plan out how you intend to use this space to prevent clutter.
  • Draft a Letter To Parents. As a new teacher, I’d run it past your supervisor or administrator. There’s nothing worse that misstating information, regardless of your positive intention, and having to retract it. For example, you may want to give parents with a clear choice of their preferred method of communication: text, email, newsletter, website or phone. However, you may be working in a district that prohibits the use of Twitter or Facebook pages. This is something you want to know ahead of time. Your school may use a standard form, which could save you a lot of headaches.
  • Set up your classroom and do a run through of how you see your average day unfolding. This will give you an opportunity to determine if you have your resources (and the student resources) in the best locations.


Tip #4: Approach the teacher’s room with caution. I rarely have time to get the teacher’s room for lunch. Some of the lunch rooms were great places and others… well, not so much.  If you’re feeling a bit challenged during this first year,  Moir’s Phases of First Year of Teaching will tell you that disillusionment will set in in good time. No need to surround yourself with anyone who will speed it along. Use the strategies in Tip #1 to give your “get up and go” more “get up and go”!


Tip #5: Make sure you classroom supports various learning styles. Behavior problems stem from many sources, but the one I find that is the biggest instigator is when my students are not engaged in their activity. Students can be disengaged for many reasons: maybe they had a terrible morning, or they didn’t eat, or they don’t feel well… the possibilities are endless. If you’ve given them an activity they don’t enjoy doing, like writing a story, or speaking to the class, or word problems, they can become irritable and ungrounded. But if they know that an activity that is better suited to their learning style is coming up, they can find the way to muster through the first activity to get to the second. I have found that children are incredibly resilient and can sustain themselves through adversity, like a worksheet or other activity, as long as they know it won’t last forever and that it’s not the only kind of work they’ll be doing that day.


Tip #6: Take time to be reflective and make notes on what went well (or not). One of the most helpful practices I still use today is to make notes on what part of the lesson went well and what part of the lesson needed some work. When I teach I keep a copy of the lesson plan on my desk so I can refer to it during the class. This lets me make a quick note on it when I realize that I want to add/subtract something the next time I teach that topic or use a particular strategy. I think it helps me feel like I’m getting ready for the next time ; I can easily reflect on my notes and incorporate the changes for the very next class or next day.


Tip #7: Be kind to yourself. I’m not sure why we think that because we’re teachers we are going to get everything right, every single day. It’s not reality and it’s not fair to us. We plan hard. We research. We want our students to succeed. But we don’t work in a vacuum. We work with children who on any given day can bring challenges to us that we could never foresee.  My PLN encourages us to “Fail Forward”;  we cannot grow if we don’t try new things and if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not taking enough teaching risks!  Be brave!

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!