Yes! You can, and are

by ,

Education is changing, laws are changing, technology is changing them both.  As a result we all have more to do and the same amount of time in which to do them and let’s be honest, this is not about to change, it is the new norm.  In my now 16 years in the education profession (and I am not quite halfway through my career) I have observed from the classroom, and from behind the curtain (the “district office”) many things.  And the number one thing that I am convinced of is that teachers need to begin to step up and be leaders!  

Why would I say this?  Is it because I want to make administrators mad, or drive some subversive agenda, certainly not, and quite frankly the opposite.  I am convinced that our admins are under more and and more pressure every year to do more, be more, and still have it all together mostly while doing it alone, or with a very small team.  So why would talented teachers not step up and lend a hand, a brain, some time, some extraordinary talent, all for the greater goal of improving the learning potential of students?  And really isn’t this what we are all about in education? Learning.

So listen up teachers!  Your admins need you, badly.  They need you to use your uniqueness to help create opportunities.  They do things you may never know about, or care to know about, and as a result may be lamenting the fact that they simply don’t have the time to {insert something amazing here}. Maybe if they had a 100 hour day they could do it all, but the reality is that no matter how amazing your admin is, he/she most likely has some unfulfilled educator dreams that you could help them make a reality.

In a very real sense term Educational Leader has been misrepresented.  A leader is someone who seeks to empower and grow, others, self, the system, the organization, and STUDENTS! Pick one, or all of them.  And having an administrative credential is not what makes or allows anyone to be a leader.  Being an administrator does not require one to be a leader, and being a leader does not require an admin credential.  Are some admins leaders?  Absolutely, but the truth is that these two things are not always linked.

And this is where this post comes from.  I am a fan and supporter of not only teachers but administrators too.  Both are so valuable to the process of developing students.  And BOTH can and should be leaders.  Imagine a world where teachers empower admins and admins empower teachers in a symbiotic relationship.  Where admins are not threatened by teachers leading and teachers are not afraid of reprisals for trying practices that are ‘too new, or too out there’.  There is a respectful balance that we can attain if we just realize that we are all better when we are part of the same team!  The idea that the teachers are the players and the admins are the coaches is a bit of a misnomer.  The way I see it the admins are more the quarterbacks or pitchers.  They are the high profile players but still players nonetheless.  Teachers make up the rest of the field, they may be high profile, but must really shine and be allowed to be as well known.  But it takes a special sort of teamwork, and a special culture of team to make it work.

Teachers, look within yourself, somewhere in there you are a leader.  Allow yourself to see it and own it.  Your school, your students, your admins need your leadership.  Admins, look within yourself, are you fostering or even allowing an environment where teachers can lead?  If not you may be making your own life that much more difficult.  We are all on the same team, and in most cases we are all striving toward the same goal.

Let’s lead together!  We will all be better for it.

5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending

by ,

This weekend @jaygreenlinger issued a challenge to myself and several other people in his PLN.  On its face it seemed like a really simple challenge, “I challenge the following educators to share their list of 5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending in Education” to help #makeschooldifferent, and I was one of those challenged.  My first thought is that this should be easy.  But the reality is that I ended up with quite a list of things that we really are kidding ourselves about.

If you live in a world that loves to play “buzzword bingo” you know what I mean, and this is the world that I live in.  But this little exercise has given me some time to reflect on these very important things.  So without further ado here is my list.


We have to stop pretending:

1. Technology is the solution to all of education’s ills.
2. Collaboration has to happen in a face to face meeting.
3. Students should not be held accountable, only the school should.
4. “Once and Done” training is effective.
5. Professional development that is one size fits all is really professional development.

Here is Jay’s original post.  Now, I challenge the following educators to post their list and share it on Twitter using the hashtag  #makeschooldifferent

@dennert, @rhochy06, @vollmert805, @adambellow, @gcouros

PD Conferences vs. Unconferences

by ,

This year I have had the incredible fortune to take a lead role on planning 3 separate PD experiences.  Two were un-conference style conferences for the roughly 900 teachers in the Simi Valley Unified School District where I work.   We called these CoreConnections, and were able to use some of our state supplied Common Core funding to put on.  The other was #edcampVC, the first ever edcamp in Ventura County, California.  Edcamps are free and supported through the generous donations of local businesses and mostly tech companies.

EdcampVC logo trans   vs. Copy of cc2k14-site-header

I should begin by saying that I love and have no limit of respect for both of the teams that I worked with to make these events happen. My Core Connections team of @snodgrass_j @docmess99 @bradtorti & @justjulie44 is an incredible group of teachers who believed in what at first mention is a half baked idea.  To have a full day training where the only presenters are the teachers within our district, who volunteer to present for 2 one hour sessions.  Oh, and we are going to ask them to present without compensation of any kind because we believe that they are just that awesome and because it is the right thing to do!

My edcampVC team of @coffeenancy @ajay460 @rhochy06 @jaygreenlinger @teachingalina @vollmert805 & @ginger_shea is an equally incredible group of educators who believe in the vision and goals of the un-conference and worked tirelessly to make it happen.   We met together once or twice and did all of the rest of our planning through a Google+ Community, Google Hangouts and Twitter.  It was an incredibly empowering and freeing medium for planning (until the end, when we wondered, “Is it all done, is it ready?).  And in the end the event was great. I can honestly and confidently say that all of these events were wildly successful. EdcampVC logo trans IMG_3438

EdcampVC was so incredibly powerful mostly because of the participants that came ready to be active learners.  To participate by presenting, or sharing or discussing.  Teachers, admins and other educational professionals came together to create something wonderful.  They demonstrated an obvious passion for educating kids, a desire to learn about new tools and new pedagogy to make learning relevant to today’s learners.  In short is was a microcosm of classroom leadership!  There was no complaining that I am here on a Saturday, simply the opposite, “This is such a needed experience.”, “If only we could share this with more teachers.”, “We need every teacher in our district to come to something like this.”  These are only a few of the many comments that I received from participants at the end of the day. Edcamp is an incredible movement that I don’t see slowing down in the very near future.  It is small, and intimate, and filled with enough passion to send a rocket to Mars, and beyond.  It is a place where you can meet a bonafide superstar of the education world like @lindayollis and realize that they are mere mortals that want to learn new things that you have to share too!  It is a place where you will learn new things, you will learn that PD is more powerful when you meet the people that make up your PLN, but perhaps the most valuable thing about edcamp to me is that there is an unspoken prerequisite that all edcampers come with, an open mind, and a willingness to learn!


If you have attended  an edcamp, either a physical edcamp near you or on online edcamp like #edcampHOME or #edcampUSA you may have realized that these events are put on by regular folks, and that there are some bumps in the road during the event.  BUT, and yes I mean BUT, I have never heard a disparaging remark about the actual day, or the learning.  My first edcamp presentation happened at #edcampPS (Palm Springs) in the fall of 2013, and by all reasonable accounts could be viewed as a dismal failure.  Including me there were 5 people in the room, and we really fumbled our way through the hour.  But at the end, people learned something, and were thankful for my efforts!  And I would guess that many other edcampers that have presented have had similar experiences. People that attend edcamps look at their brains as half-full, and that they are there to get more juice.  They understand that learning is organic and messy, and that failure is really another tool for learning, and this is what makes edcamp so powerful!  NOT that it is free, NOT that you meet incredible people, NOT that you are learning things that are incredibly powerful for your students, although these are incredible benefits.   The true power of edcamp is that you are changing your mind into a tool that will be open to the possibilities that there is always something that we can learn to better educate students! Copy of cc2k14-site-header Core Connections was a very different beast.  In the fall of the 2013/2014 school year I had the pleasure to be part of a team of teachers on special assignment that was very concerned with Professional Development.  We sat down and discussed PD as it exists within the confines of schools, and school districts, and we all decided that for the most part PD should stand for “Pain Device”, because that is really what school PD has been for a long time. So we talked about what we can do to change things.  We decided that in our situation there are 3 main things that must change for school supplied PD to become something that is seens as positive and valuable.

  1. There must be teacher choice.  Choice says to teachers, “You are a professional, and as such we are letting you decide what you need to learn about and take back to your students.”
  2. There must be a significant amount of things to choose from to make number one viable.  So we decided that there is a LOT of talent in our district that is never recognized as such.  And we continued thinking, “maybe if we ask they will be willing to step up and be a part of something new and different?”
  3. We must get all levels of teachers K-12 together in one place, and allow them to talk with each other, and learn together.  There is power in knowing what others are doing, especially if it may play a role in the students I may get down the road.

So, with these three guiding principles we set out to get speakers and create an event that would serve our teachers.  We asked teachers to come along and try something different, and they did.  We treated them like professionals and they (almost universally) responded with “Thank You.”  We got everyone together and secondary was amazed at what elementary was doing, and vice versa.  It was an incredible experience. Teachers that were apprehensive or simply terrified to present the first time realized that they could do it, and were empowered as the professionals that they are.  Others realized that they could present too, and volunteered to do so on our second date.


BUT, for some, District PD is still just that, District PD.  It has such a stigma, and some are not willing to give even something completely new a chance.  And this has been the challenge of Core Connections.  While there is choice, and we value their participation as participants or presenters, and tell them over and over that this happens because of them, it is still a mandatory PD day.  You have to be there or you get in “trouble” with your administrator. The motivation for the great multitude is extrinsic!  And this is not nearly as powerful a motivator as an intrinsic attitude of, “I am here because I want to be here.”  This is the challenge that must be met, “How do we make something that is mandatory for all, excellent enough that we begin to change the brains of 1000 teachers.  PD can be a good thing, and you will learn something if you come willing to learn.


This audience is looking for things that are a problem, and make no bones about telling anyone what the problem is.  But as organizers of such events we need to listen keenly to these comments and vet them for the kernel of truth within them, even if this means listening beyond the actual words.  We can always do a better job and provide a better experience, and we should. At the end of this season of planning both an edcamp and two behemoth beasts called Core Connections I know two things, both of which are totally subjective.

  1. I love edcamp, and edcampers!  This is where teachers of the year come from, this is where they thrive and share and learn new things, and are free to be the obvious rebels they are.  And edcamp is so incredibly vital to education for children all over the world.  It will make us all better!
  2. I think the Core Connections model of District supplied PD is more important than edcamp!

WHAT?  How can you say that?  Edcamp is like Porsche, or Ferrari, or some other “thing” that does not hope to be the biggest, but is preoccupied with being the very best.  Even though edcamp is a grass roots movement, the quality of people and the simplicity of the experience is “Incredible.”  It is that good!

BUT, these are generally not the educators that need great PD, they will 9 times out of 10 make it for themselves, and then share it as far and wide as they can.  It is that teacher that comes to school to do what they can, and gets so involved with the day to day that they don’t even know what else is out there that need this style of eye-opening PD.  They need to know that they are valued, and valuable and are doing great work, but that there is something more, that they can do, and should do.  And when it comes from a colleague it is empowering, and transformative.  So yes, while I love edcamp, District PD can generally reach more people, and do more good for students, if we will simply be honest with ourselves.  And as an added bonus, these types of District PD will help to grow the edcamp movement too.

Reflections on Global Learning

by ,

Global-Education-ConferenceOver the last year I have been working on my masters degree in education technology.  I chose to attend my alma matter, Azusa Pacific University.  The program has been nothing less than phenomenal, and it has been 100% online.

This program has at its core Global Learning.  Learning about it, participating in it, and creating a global learning project.  Throughout this program I have been struggling to understand what exactly global learning is.  It is much more complicated that it appears at first glance.  It is more than merely connecting with someone else and sharing information. Global learning seeks to accomplish something significant through these interactions.

If I was to have my students have a video chat with another class and only ask simple knowledge questions my students and the collaborating class would have had a great time, but would the learning have been significant and life affirming, or greater still life changing?  Doubtful.  But that is the aim of global learning.

A true global learning experience would have at its core the idea that some cultural awareness, or cultural action was the central aim.  For students to have a moving experience that leads them to reflect on their own self, and culture and really think about the similarities and differences that they have with this other person somewhere else in the world.  It is not about changing anyone else, but instead it is about the kind of self reflection that prompts one to change their opinions about another culture or place or even person, and perhaps, just perhaps provoke some positive action in their lives!

As you can see this is a huge undertaking, and it is not an easy task in any sense.  Global learning is fraught with pitfalls and difficulties.  As I made my way through this experience I realized that there are so many obstacles to eliciting this ‘holy grail’ type of response.  First among them is that the project that is created, or even chosen to participate in needs to be attractive to possible participants.  The first project that I decided to participate in with my students was about food.  My students voted to do this because they like, okay, love food!  But once we got going we realized that there was almost no contact with others in this project.  It was cold and really was just a create a class cookbook project, not really global at all with the exception that we posted our recipes to the project.  There was no reflection, and certainly no call to action.

2013-10-22_20-02-20The next problem I encountered was, how do I know what students around the world would like?  I chose to create my project around play!  I figured that everyone likes to play , and perhaps students might like to share with one another the kind of play they like.  I thought that using a universal topic might persuade students to make connections and then have genuine discussions about why they play what they play, and that some kind of cultural awareness would happen.  Guess what!  Play proved to be not very popular, NO PARTICIPANTS!  I chose poorly!

In the end I realize that global learning is really like a genie in a bottle.  You may have the very designed the world’s best learning experience, but if the would be participants don’t know what they are looking at, or worse yet don’t know how to rub the lamp nothing is ever going to happen.

As I move forward with global learning I am going to take my time and start with concrete steps.  I am going to experiment with making connections with others around the world.  Simple, understandable connections, and then move on using those connections to deepen the experience by developing experiences that are tailor made for specific groups of students.  Then I will be able to tweak things here and there and take the learning deeper a bit at a time.

I bit off more than I could chew, in every sense of the phrase!  But I learned a lot from the experience.  In fact I feel that I learned enough to help other teachers (those more talented than I) to begin to take these same steps, and to be much more successful than I was in global learning.



by ,

I have officially attended my first #edcamp and the experience was amazing!  I am one of the very few that I know that can say that I attended an unconference, and did it without ever leaving the comfort of my own home!


First I want to give an enormous thanks to the event organizers David Theriault (@davidtedu), Karl Lindgren-Streicher (@Karl_LS), Kelly Kermode (@coachk), Shawn White (@swpax).  This dream team of teachers made putting together something very intricate and difficult into an amazing experience for a very  large group of teachers on a Saturday morning!  And along with this group there seemed to be a group of near 100 moderators and facilitators volunteering their time to make each session work the way it should.

The day started with the 4 organizers in a Google Hangout On Air where they presented the day, gave clear directions, instructed those attendees like myself to go to the session brainstorm board (a lino board) and post a sticky note of a topic that we would be interested in participating in.  Within moments the board began to fill and the sessions board was madly filled in by the organizers.

When the incredible show of democratic learning engagement was finished there were many sessions to choose from and the participants were asked to paste their GooglePlus ID’s into the Google Sheet so that the moderators and facilitators could start the GHO’s and start the session!  My first session was called Mystery Skype (or Mystery Location Calls) and was Moderated by Robert Hochberg (@robertahochberg) and facilitated by Jo-Ann Fox (@AppEducationFox).  This was my first ever edcamp session and I was not disappointed!  It was so great to be interacting (although I didn’t interact all that much during this session) and learning with other interested, invested and excellent educators.  One of the neat parts about this is that you can see our session, right now, right here!

This is the way professional development should be, and needs to become!


My next session was called Teacher PD: Models that work, and this was the session that I really wanted to be a part of more than any others.  I really feel that Teacher PD is something that I can contribute to and make into something better than it is!  This session was moderated by Tiffany Freeman (@TiffanyFreeman) and facilitated by Melissa Lim (@actionhero).  I cannot believe how many great ideas and people I met during this session.  There is much take-away for me from this session that will inform how my PD progresses and how I use it with my teachers in the coming months!

EdcampHOME was a great way for me to break into the world of the unconference, and if you have never heard of, or thought about attending such a thing, I would give a loud and enthusiastic, “just go!”  You will thank yourself for it!