January 14, 2014

The Best List of Twitter Lists Ever

So I just finished up reading an interesting blog post from a great Tweep that I respect, like and follow on Twitter and his blog.  Tom Whitby is one of the many educators I respect on Twitter and after following him on Twitter and on his blog and even watching interviews of him on You Tube, I have gotten to know him and his sense of humor while also respecting his knowledge, experience and passion for education and educators.  As a matter of fact I was lucky enough to meet him this past year at the ASCD National Conference in Chicago.  The other night he was taking a bit of a beating over a list he either created or had shared via Twitter.  I would know which is the case, but I really don't pay much attention to Twitter lists anymore.  

Apparently some people were offended that they weren't on the list or they were offended for some of their friends that weren't on the list.  Maybe they just have deep rooted hatred for lists.  I blame their parents, or the fact that their elementary teachers made them create lists when teaching that all important skill.  The thing is, it seemed like an innocent list that was shared, and it was just one of thousands of lists I see shared on Twitter every day.  These same lists helped me a great deal when I was getting started on Twitter.  I didn't know who to follow.  Not at all.  I started typing in names I knew, but many of those educators weren't on Twitter.  I'm glad to say that is changing, but there is still a huge percentage of educators that aren't connected yet. But these lists helped me connect with some of the big players in the "Connected Educator" game and by following them, those educators helped me connect with even more.  

Do I think the lists sometimes exclude people that should be on there?  Do I think they miss other great Tweeps to connect with?  YES!! Mostly because they usually don't include me.  Just kidding, but yeah sure they miss folks.  No one wants to read my list of 2,600 people to follow on Twitter.  Honestly, I could probably narrow that down to 1,000 but it wouldn't be easy.  If I really checked my feed and was very reflective about who I really connect with and chat with often....... I could probably knock it down to 200 or so, but when I think about it, I would have a hard time saying that I don't get a little something from every one of them, and I still find myself finding new folks to connect with all the time on various chats.

So here is the thing, if you don't like lists, don't check them.  If you think they exclude people, well you are probably right, but then don't be a hypocrite......instead you better start following everyone out there.  I mean it, follow every educator you see on Twitter and help them to feel included.  I haven't cried about not being nominated for greatest new blogger with blonde hair that is slowly turning gray if it doesn't fall out first.  I didn't even get a little hurt for not getting nominated for a Bammy (like the one for really large guy that uses Twitter quite a bit). Instead I chose to celebrate those that did, and I sure as heck made sure I was following them on Twitter so I could glean a little knowledge from them.  Twitter should be about learning and connecting. It should be about sharing with the amazing educators in your network and feeling fortunate when others choose to follow you and you discover another educator you can learn from.

So here is my list of lists to follow on Twitter:

All of them.

Get on, and follow everyone you can.
Read all that you can. 

Check out all the lists, articles, blogs and other Social Media connections you can make.  

Eventually you will get to the point that you will see that you don't need to follow every person anymore. You will see that you don't need to bother checking out every list anymore. You will see that you're not that concerned about who was the Digital Leader of the Year, The Elementary Principal of the Year, The Bammy Winner, or The Greatest Blogger that has poor Grammar.  Instead you will just feel honored that you know that person, feel good for them being honored and begin to hope that you can just connect with them and learn something from them.  Because if it begins to become about finding your name on a list, or one of your friends names on the list, then you just need to start writing your own lists, so someone else can contact you and say, hey you didn't include me or my good buddy.  Hey Ya'll.....we're all good. Good at something.  We all have something to offer, and we all have something to learn.  So as I said, follow everyone you can, read everything you can, join in as much as you can...........and enjoy the ride.........because when you don't anymore.........well, then it's time to take a break.......but don't waste a night critiquing everyone else's list.

January 12, 2014

I thought we decided that

Had a great conversation with some fellow administrators this weekend.  We were reflecting on how sometimes people have trouble accepting a change in practice.  While I have shared posts before on how to go about making changes in practice or procedures to create buy-in from staff, the discussion we had was geared toward what to do about staff that have not seemed to embrace the change and keep bringing it up in a negative manner.  It's funny, depending on your perspective of course, how the little things can seem to be such a large distraction to your day as a building leader.  The change in practice, one of my Tweeps shared, was a small practice that had taken place in the past, but it was one of those procedural things that shared information about student and was now easily handled through technology with the use of the Student Information System the district uses.  However, staff members were used to having this information delivered to them daily.  I know, many may say this seems to be a first world problem, but as a building leader it becomes more than that.

Technology has made our jobs easier and more efficient in many ways, but some people are still reluctant to use it, or even attempt to learn to use it.  But this post isn't about tech, it's about the reaction of staff members that did not want to change a practice that actually effects them in a minor way, if at all, and actually the information they desired was there in front of them the whole time. But this simple change in practice was continually being brought up by just a few staff members, and they wanted another staff member to go back to doing a time consuming task just so they could have it as before.

I know many administrators have faced a similar situation to this, and I know I have before as well.  It is frustrating, it's annoying, and addressing it repeatedly can be time consuming.  Nobody just says it as they walk by you in a hallway, they tend to send e-mails, take valuable time in staff meetings, or as you are working on one of the many managerial tasks that also come with the job.  While your initial thought may be to snap at them, or to look at them with a that disgusted teenager look of, "didn't we discuss this already," you really need to dig deep and keep calm. The fact the role as building leader, comes with the duty of making changes to the system to make things run smoother and ensure that everyone is working efficiently and effectively.  That of course is just one of the many duties, but it sure is important, as this one duty makes everyone better. But since this duty includes a change, then it includes changing something that may have been embraced by someone.  How do we help them see that this change is beneficial and that it can help the building as a whole?

While I am an advocate for relationships, coaching and giving time for staff to grow and change, I am also a firm believer in a strong majority and that culture can conquer many things.  I also believe that a negative attitude can be a virus that can grow to affect others. There is a difference between a little cognitive dissonance or beating up an idea to ensure that all aspects have been thought out, as compared to the practice of complaining about a change that has been implemented and some just cannot let go of.  

After a decision has been made it is time to get on board.  Don't become an anchor to the team on the ship.  I will always try to pull the anchor on board and make them part of the team, but if they refuse to accept the change, if they struggle against the team so they can go in another direction from the ship, then I will cut loose the anchor so I can find a sail.  I may be willing to help the anchor find another ship, but it certainly appears they don't want to be on ours.  This ship is moving on, because we decided that already, and I'm not wasting time going over it again.

January 8, 2014

Are You Taking Advantage of the Third Teacher


I was doing a little image searching the other day for a recent post and I discovered some amazing classroom designs.  Now I can say that I don't have a single classroom that looks like any of these.  I have seen a few schools that look like these, but they are few and far between. But I think it is a growing trend.  More and more schools are beginning to take advantage of the Third Teacher.  

Have we begun to take advantage of of our classroom spaces as part of the learning environment?  Not just bringing technology into them, but actually creating a space that encourages collaboration and creativity. Spaces that encourage critical thinking and creation of products.  While I would love to have a building that was designed for these purposes, I also believe there are ways to create these spaces and integrate these practices into our current environments.  I love some of the recent renovations I have seen, where architects have simply taken down walls and created open learning environments by eliminating hallways.

 These new spaces will allow students to move away from desks in rows, facing chalkboards or even interactive white boards while staring only mildly interested or not at all, as we deliver instruction as we always have.  Or with students using the latest tablet to complete a digital worksheet that stretches their creativity no further than the paper version.  These new spaces will allow kids to be hands on learners more often.  To engage in projects in truly collaborative ways and to access information in a free flowing form.

I believe it is time to let these spaces take over, but
more importantly that we begin to embrace the this new approach to instruction.  Let hands on learning take over.  Let maker spaces be busy with learning and creation. Lets have kids forget what worksheets look like and have them create, collaborate and grow.

January 7, 2014

Teaching to the Edges

This video has been out on You Tube for a while now, so it may not be new to any of you.  But as I took the time to listen to it the other day, it really resonated with me.  If you haven't seen it, take 18 minutes to enjoy it and absorb the message.  The message isn't profoundly new, but I love the way he relates the difficulties found by fighter pilots to the difficulties students face in today's classrooms.  Fighter pilots were being forced to use a cockpit that was designed for the average pilot.  A predetermined height, width, arm length, etc.  What a researcher discovered was that no pilot, none, was actually the dimensions that the cockpit was designed for, thus the myth of average.  The air force discovered that they would need to create jets that were adjustable, especially since some of their best pilots were no where near the average dimensions.

Then Todd makes the leap.  He connects this story to classrooms in America, and he does it with a photo of a typical classroom.  Does that photo show the story of adaptability?  Does it say flexible learning environment?  To me it looks sterile, rigid, and the same as it has for over 100 years.  It appears that sit and listen is the main instructional method in use, and that information comes from the teacher in front, the textbook on your desk or the problems written on the board.  He goes on to share how textbooks are designed to meet the average. How they are designed to be age appropriate for the students.  The question is, are all the students in your classrooms at the same age appropriate level?  Even if you are an elementary teacher with leveled texts are we really being flexible with our students and their interests and passions?  Does it push their vocabulary strength, their knowledge level, or is it just their reading level?

The question is, are we teaching to the edges?  Are we flexible enough in our approach that we are meeting our students where they are, and are we pushing them to grow in all areas?  Students have a jagged learning profile (as shown above).  They all do.  They have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others.  And they all have different interests.  Can a consistent dose of stand up front and lecture, or sit in a small group and read, or even can a single textbook or set of leveled readers, meet our students varied needs?  Don't we need to fundamentally change our approach to instruction and the tools we use to facilitate learning?

I think we all know that different people have different strengths.  But are we focused on fixing weaknesses? Does the system set us up to make that our focus?  Even if that is true (and I believe it is), is it possible to develop weaknesses by focusing on strengths?  I believe if we let students pursue passions/interests and we let them use their strengths to learn about those things, then they will slowly develop their weaknesses as they passionately pursue knowledge of their interests.

So how do you set up your classroom?  What tools do you use to allow students to engage with their interests?  Are you willing to break the mold?  Willing to move away from the factory model we all grew up with?  If you are a teacher, will you allow this kind of student choice and voice into your classroom?  If you already desire it, will you become the impassioned voice for it?  Will you be willing to be the experimenter?  Can you ride it out, even when it doesn't always go perfectly?  If you are an administrator, will you advocate for it, even if your supervisor or the school board doesn't see the benefits? Can you advocate for it when everyone else is focused on quick ways to raise test scores?  Can you be the voice that says we need to prepare all kids for the global workforce, the ever advancing technology growth, the flat-world economy, and the creativity and solutions focused skills that jobs now demand?

Our students need and deserve a hands on education that involves little sitting and filling out worksheets.  They want to engage in the activity, collaborate with their peers, work on things together and get into the mess of learning. Even as adults we know how we learn and interact as team members, and we certainly know how we prefer to learn. There is a great graphic below that shows how we learn best.  The question is, when will we learn to step away from the textbook and let learning happen through life-like experiences?  When will you be ready to step away from comfort, embrace change and the uncertain, and let kids learn in a way that fits them?

Are you ready to teach to the edges, or will you stick with the safety of averages that really fits none?

January 6, 2014

Resolutions for 2014

So I decided I was going to make just 3 resolutions this year. Granted I think these 3 cover a lot of important things and they are broad enough that if I follow through with them they will make a big difference to many people, not just myself. They are:

Resolution #1 - take care of myself. A healthier, happier me will benefit my family, my students, my staff, and my admin team.  This means more than just get physically fit, it also means mentally pushing and stretching myself.   spiritually.

Resolution #2 - have a renewed focus on students and their enjoyment of school.  Let student voice be more prevalent in our decision making process.  Goal, make school more fun.

Resolution #3 - Take care of my PLN. They've provided so much for me as a leader, learner and friend, that I need to be cognizant of giving back.

So there they are.  Simple, but important. They include myself and what I can do to make things better for others. But today I saw a Kid President video by SoulPancake that made me think.....Maybe I could have just made one resolution.  Watch this video and then reflect on your resolutions.  Were they superficial?  Would they help just you?  If so, consider adding just this one.......or maybe just go with this one resolution.  It's a really good one.

Have a happy new year and best of luck on your resolutions!

January 3, 2014

Reform, It's Not as Easy as You Think

I saw this video a few weeks back and as I scrolled through my You Tube favorites again today it caught my eye again and had to watch and listen to the lyrics again.  Take the time to check it out now.....it's not long.

I love the song by Kevin Honeycutt and the video that was created to go along with it.  It shapes an important message of how we need to change school and not only does it resonate with me, but I also think we need to start making those changes.  However, I often become concerned with the criticism that teachers, administrators and schools in general seem to take for not making all these changes immediately.  Don't get me wrong, these changes need to take place, and the sooner the better.  But the public school system is a massive institution and it has far too many leaders, officials, and businesses pulling at the puppet strings.  There should be no wonder at why change can move slow in public schools.  Granted some changes come a little too quickly like those forced down by state governments.  The Common Core Standards, Teacher Evaluation Systems, School Report Cards, Teacher Report Cards, New Standardized Testing programs and more are all initiatives with good intent but the pace of the changes has done nothing to improve things, but it has greatly increased stress for teachers.

So what is the reaction in a situation like this?  Do staff quickly move to a completely new way of teaching?  Do they increase student voice and choice?  Do administrators quickly move to a life skills/job skills curriculum and instructional practices to match?  Or do they stay with what is safe?  Do they tend to stick with practices they are comfortable with while they learn the new standards or the new technology?  Do they play it safe when their administrators talk about school report cards and accountability?  We all need to excuse ourselves a little as we prepare for the changes that need to take place, and accept that not everyone changes at the same pace. We need to be a united front as we attempt to create a better system for students, better instructional practices, and let them have some control of their learning, but we also need to make sure that the puppet masters hear this message too.  We need to bring them on board and to stop letting them steer this ship from a distance. What are your thoughts on the reform efforts being made?  Do you feel the pressure to change, but are confused about how to move forward? 

January 2, 2014

Check Yourself!!!

I had an interesting experience today.  I was on my way back home to see my family and I decided to stop in this nice little town and have a sit down lunch (as I restart my paleo-diet it is much easier to do when I avoid fast food joints).  As I sat down to wait for my order I overheard a couple of people at a nearby table discussing school.  While I should mind my own business I am afraid it was all to easy to overhear the conversation.  

As this person sat there and complained of students in their school, I was concerned that he or she was discussing concerns and issues that many of us feel at times, but this person was sharing these things out loud in a restaurant.  I would love to tell you that I was the only other customer, but apparently it is a good restaurant (and it was) so there were plenty of locals to overhear the conversation as well.   My concern heightened when I began to hear them talk about special education students.

While I have the benefit of coming home and doing a little venting with my wife, and since she is also a building leader we are quite accustomed to not sharing names.  I also believe it is good to discuss things as it often helps me to reflect and hear another perspective.  But, I have great concerns about teachers, administrators or even support staff discussing students in public spaces.  For that matter I even have concerns with staff members discussing their grievances with admin, the state or other staff members in public.  No, I'm not trying to limit free speech, but there is a certain etiquette we should follow when venting.  I think everyone in every type of job has days when they are frustrated or upset and they just want to get things off their chest, but is out in public the place.  Imagine if you were at a restaurant and the waitresses or waiters were serving food and complaining about their boss, or even the cooks.  If they started complaining about co-workers or even the customers that they have had before.  Does it inspire hunger?  Does it make you want to leave a nice tip?  Does it make you want to return?  If you were a parent in that restaurant do you want your child in that teacher's classroom?

Beyond the confidentiality issue that this type of behavior also entails, just think of the message you are sending to the public.  The customers of our schools.  Everyone has feelings like those, experiences that upset them or co-workers that made poor choices, but we must think about where is the proper place to share and vent about our bad day. Sometimes we just need to stop and think about where we are and what is appropriate to share there.  Can this wait until later?  Is my volume a little too loud?  Sometimes you just need to stop and check yourself.

January 1, 2014

Blogging Challenge, Sunshine Award, Homework Meme or whatever else it is called

So I have been asked by many to participate in the PLN Blogging Challenge, Homework Meme, or Sunshine Award which entailed writing a blog post about yourself and then encouraging others to participate.  I have had a difficult time getting back into my blogging since I have begun my new position as the Instructional Leader for 3 elementary buildings.  I have been busy yes, but not so much that I couldn't find the time to share my experiences, questions or thoughts.  This challenge or meme was the push I needed to get me kick-started at blogging again.  I have been requested to particpate or share by numerous folks and the names I can recall at the moment are Ben Gilpin, Aaron Becker, Cory Radisch, Jim Cordery, Hercules Nikolaou, Rosa Isiah, Joy Kirr and most recently by good friend and mentor Jessica Johnson.  Sorry to those that I delayed on.  It was Winter Break and I tried to enjoy it, but I also struggle when I sit down to write about myself.

Here are the rules of the challenge:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
11 random facts about me:
1. I have three kids. Ages 21, 13 & 11.  I also have a cat, but I liked our Dog better.  
2. I played football in college and appear to have escaped with little mental damage....at least the kind that is visible.  Physically the damage is quite visible and I can only blame the training table and my lack of will power to take up running.
3. I am from Wisconsin but went to school in Iowa, student taught in Minnesota, began my teaching career in Illinois, married a gorgeous woman from Indiana, and after being a building administrator for 4 years in Illinois, had the opportunity to move back to Wisconsin and be near my family.
4. I worked with the most amazing elementary teacher I have ever met or seen.  She was incredible to see in the classroom.  She became my best friend, then she honored me by becoming my wife and the mother of my children.  She continues to make me a better person every day.
5. I am a foodie.  I love it, and the better it is the more I enjoy it.  While I need to find a way to conquer its control over me, I will always love good food and the fellowship of good friends enjoying it with me (that does not include when Jimmy Casas takes it off my plate though).  :-)
6. I am a fisherman.  I love getting out on the lakes and facing the challenge of catching bass.  What will they bite on today?  Where will they be hiding today?  Do I move the bait slow or fast?  Every trip out is an experiment.  I can't lie, I often enjoy the serenity and solitude of the outdoors as well, but now that my daughter likes using lures instead of worms and she is willing to take the fish off the hook by herself, well......she is fun to take along as well.
7. I was told by my high school guidance counselor that I should consider a community college or vocational school.  My grades weren't the best.  My high school principal believed in me and wrote me a wonderful letter of recommendation, that and a pretty decent ACT score were enough to get me a chance.  I owe him so much.  His letter and belief in me changed my life in ways I will never fully know, but I know it is my job to repay the gesture provided to me and I look forward to the opportunity.
8. I am a movie buff.  I love watching movies.  I love where they take me, the stories they tell and the visual escape it can be.  I love the story in the books even more, but sometimes my eyes need to feast on the magic that movies share.
9. I love poetry.  I love the rhyme, meter and the beauty of the vocabulary.  Words can be magical.  I wrote a poem to my wife for our wedding.  Apparently she liked it because she said yes and she had it framed.
10. While I played football in college, I am actually a bigger basketball fan.  I was probably a better basketball player than I was at football, but my body build was definitely made for football.  I love coaching and teaching basketball.  I coached during my student teaching experience (football & basketball actually) and I have helped coach my daughters youth league team.  Football is fun, but basketball is my passion.
11. I am an Apple guy.  This is funny because I have not yet been in a district that is an Apple district.  I had an old purple Mac G3 in one district for a short time, but it was my first iPod that convinced me.  Since then I have purchased the original iPad, an iPad2, a iPod for my son, an iPhone, a Macbook Pro, and a whole new set of iPhone 5's for my wife, my oldest son and myself.  Other machines, Microsoft, android are all just fine, but when it comes to preferences, I am an Apple guy.
Now to answer the other 11 questions from the challenge (I was asked different questions from many people, so I decided to use a couple from some of those sent to me and borrow some great ones shared by Jessica......that and I am too lazy to look them all up).
1. What is your favorite tv show? This is tough.  Hard to narrow it to just one.  I have recently been hooked on Downton Abbey, but I also love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cheers, Seinfeld, and Archer.  But if I had to narrow it down to just one, I would currently have to go with The Big Bang Theory.
2. What is one app or resource you’ve learned about on Twitter that has been a game changer for you at work? My favorite apps are still the apps I use for connecting with my PLN.  I love the relationships that have blossomed from connecting with others on Voxer.  I am also a big fan of Pinterest and Google+.
3. What is your typical bedtime? I prefer to hit the sack after the evening news.  Sometimes, when I am completely wiped out I will go to bed at 9pm, and on the nights when my mind can't stop turning I may not conk out until 1pm or so.  I'm afraid when you are a building leader, you sleep when you can.
4. Best book you’ve read in 2013? I am a huge fan of YA books & Dystopian stories. Some of my recent favorites are The Fault in Our Stars, Wonder, Out of My Mind, the Divergent Series, and The Hunger Games.  But when it comes to my favorite books of all time, it is undoubtedly The Harry Potter Series.
5. Favorite Twitter Chat: I find it impossible to narrow this down & small minded to even consider.  Why would I want to learn about just one area of education?  Why would I want to limit the range of people I connect with?  I try to join or lurk into as many as I can.
6. Best place you’ve vacationed? My family (my mother, my brother's family and my sister and her daughter) has been renting a beach house in the Outer Banks for the past 10 years.  Not only is the Outer Banks wonderful, the weather warm, the beach amazing, the houses we've rented beautiful, but the time relaxing and enjoying family has been priceless, memorable and absolutely loaded with laughs and smiles.
7. How has your PLN impacted you? I cannot even begin to count the ways.  They have given me courage, knowledge, support, advise, and friendship.  They have helped me to find joy in challenging times, and kept me focused on what is truly important in education - What's Best for Kids.  This is why it is important to me and a resolution for the new year to make sure I am giving back as much as I receive from my PLN.
8. What motivates you each day to be an educator?  Kids.......and thoughts about their future.
9. What is one of your favorite Leadership quotes?  I use this one often and you can find it on my Twitter profile.  I borrowed it from my mentor Jimmy Casas.  "Be the change you want to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi
10. If you had a whole day to do just what you wanted, what would it be? I would go out to dinner with some of the amazing friends I have made on Twitter.  I would need a huge table and everyone would need a microphone connected to my hearing aid, but the conversations I have the incredible members of my PLN are truly some of the most enjoyable memories I have.
11. What are two things on your bucket list that you would like to do yet? I would like to travel through Europe.  My wife and I long to see Ireland, England, Scotland, Norway, Finland, Germany, Spain, Italy and France.  The other place I would like to travel to is Fiji.  I think I saw pictures of the beautiful island when I was young and the dream has stuck with me ever since.

My questions for the following bloggers that I’d like to see complete this challenge:
1.  Chicago Style or New York Style Pizza?
2.  I know it should be pizza, but what is your favorite food?
3.  What is the best Leadership book you have ever read?
4.  What is your favorite fiction book that is a series (at least 3 books)?
5.  What is the ONE National Conference you would most like to attend?
6.  What is the funniest thing you can recall seeing on Twitter?
7.  What or who makes you laugh the most often?
8.  Who, besides your spouse, children or parents, made a huge impact on your life?
9.  Share a challenge you overcame that has made you a better person/teacher/leader.
10.  What are you going to do with the $250 million you win in the Lottery?
11.  What one change would you make in education?

My Bloggers:  (I know some of you may have participated already, I'm always the last)

1. Michelle Baldwin ( @michellek107 )
2. Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks)
3. Chris Stogdill (@ChrisStogdill)
4. Sisyphus (@Sisyphus38)
5. Mike Nitzel (@MikeNitzel)
6. Allison Jackson (@azajacks)
7. Craig Yen (@craigyen)
8. Shannon Clark (@shannonclark7)
9. Ryan Bretag (@ryanbretag)
10. Rik Rowe  (@WHSRowe)
11. Bill Deno  (@Disciplinarian)