Jun 072014

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Community, above everything else, is the goal for which our schools should strive. Every conversation I experienced at #EdcampUSA looped back to the idea that schools need be communities of practice. Having a community focus creates more opportunities for student achievement, better professional learning, and truly progressive and innovative practice because the environment is safe, supportive, and focused upon the needs of the community members. A strong community is resilient against the shocks of individuals leaving and is better equipped to accept and assimilate newcomers.


The first session I attended was facilitated by Susan Bearden entitled How Should Schools be Evaluated. The group spent most of the time, however, defining what schools should value. It was a necessary first step to a huge topic. I honestly wish we had all day to discuss it for both the importance of the idea and because Susan is a great facilitator. As we defined what a school should be and evaluated upon, it became apparent that many of the suggestions were trying to overcome the problems with the way we do education now, but wouldn’t exist if we did it differently. If schools were judged upon their ability to foster community, many of the other concerns – student engagement, staff buy-in, behavioral issues – would fall away naturally. This was supported by a number of personal experiences shared throughout the conversation.


Session two, facilitated by Jared Wastler, was all about innovation in school. What does it look like and how do we foster it? There was a recognition that innovation is scary because it “destroys” as much as it “creates”, especially if it is happening above the classroom level. Innovation renders practices and positions obsolete while creating new opportunities. Again, community is the foundation upon which innovations may be built. The community supports innovators both when they succeed and fail, provides feedback for better outcomes, and mitigates the destructive effects of innovation by finding new roles for people affected in a secondary / tertiary manner. You want innovation? Build a strong community of trust first.


During block 3, I facilitated a session called Scheduling: The Only Technology that Matters. It was a cheeky title aimed at a group that places high value in electronics but, a topic that I feel carries significant truth. The schedule, more than anything else, facilitates or hinders a group’s ability to build a community. The schedule determines who is with whom, where ,and when. Look at a traditional schedule from the people perspective – One teacher, with disparate groups of students for specific periods of time, all day long. It makes collaborating a hassle to be overcome. As a point of comparison, I shared the schedule for a program my colleagues and I built called simply The Learning Community (LC for short, in the link above). Typically in the upper grades, the schedule is organized, with near ubiquity, around content delivery  – Algebra, English, World History, Biology, etc. Everything after that requires serious contortions of the schedule to achieve. Our system, however, focused upon the types of social interactions we wanted to see – inquiry, collaboration, and above all, community. We achieved this through cross curricular team teaching and a daily, community wide, 20% time called Advisory. Through this we achieved a system that is nimble and flexible to meet the needs of all community members. Students have a significant safety net with at least 2 and sometimes as many as 5 adults to lean on at any time. Advisory affords time for peer teaching, small group instruction, and processing time. Having all of the adults together created a level of consistency in methods, curriculum, and expectations that would be impossible to achieve otherwise. The team teaching also created all day opportunities for peer coaching and over 6 hours a week for PLC type activities all within the contracted work day. Community flourished all because we committed to one change – rethinking the schedule.


For the final session, David Timony facilitated a session called Kicking Against the Goads or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rebellion. The premise of this session was to find ways to encourage people to do the right thing even though it may be personally painful or damaging, in other words, to kick back against the piercing goads that are driving us towards malpractice. Let’s be honest, there really is a lot of bad ideas, damaging ideas, coming from legislatures, “advocacy” groups, and various Departments of Education from around country. Rather than push back, many districts choose acquiescence. Individuals who instead, choose to reject these bad practices to protect students, the profession, and in some cases, democracy in general, find themselves alienated within their own districts, maybe even fired. Again, the one thing we kept touching upon was the need for strong community. It provides support and empowers individual to stand against the nonsense that is being imposed around the country.


So, in summary, my big takeaway from Edcamp USDOE is that if we want to move schools forward, then we need to focus on building schools into communities first!

 Posted by at 12:17 pm
Mar 162014



Before the age of Google, influencing others was predicated upon information asymmetry. In those days, the influencer had the advantage. They knew more and could decide if, when, and how to release information to their audience in order to drive behavior. This approach to influence was put to rest in short order with the mobile revolution. Fact checking has never been easier. Information parity has forever changed the game of influence according to Dan Pink.

Pink opened his session with a question – “What percent of your work involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value in exchange for something you can offer?”. The answer, according to research he cited, is 41% on average. Think about that. Nearly half of all working hours are dedicated to convincing, cajoling, and moving people into actions rather than creating, making, or doing. It’s wildly inefficient and has become all the more difficult because one can now so easily call bull$#!%.

In order to move others effectively in this new environment, Pink identifies three important qualities in influencers:

  1. Attuned
  2. Buoyancy
  3. Clarity

Being attuned is the ability of the influencer to see the point of view of others and assimilate multiple points of view into a discussion. The attuned influencer understands the needs of his audience. Buoyancy is one’s ability to persevere in the face of rejection while remaining positive at the same time. Clarity is defined as one’s ability to synthesize disparate information into something meaningful not just for themselves but, for others. Influence, in this context, is now a service. The influencer understands your needs, is not offended by your behavior, and provides you with new insights upon which you can make a decision.

Pink then went on to cite a number of studies that led him to 6 takeaways about influence.

  1. Feeling powerful narrows one’s perspective and point of view. When one is more focused upon their own perspective, attunement is diminished, lessening the ability to understand and attend to the needs of those around the influencer. Reducing the feelings of power, not necessarily power itself, makes one a more effective influencer

  2. Ambiverts are the most influential – Ambiverts bring the qualities of both extroverts and introverts to the table and this diverse skill set allows them to both consider a situation quietly and communicate effectively with the audience. In other words, ambiverts are more attuned to others. Pink stresses that most people fall somewhere in the middle of the introvert / extrovert continuum. Rather than try to be more ambiverted, he stresses that people should just try to be the best versions of themselves.

  3. Interrogative self talk – “Can I do this?” – is more effective than positive, declarative self talk – “I can do this!” at preparing a person to influence others. The interrogative approach drives a one’s self toward an action. There is a need to address the question and in doing so, one is better prepared to address the audience. Being better prepared makes one more buoyant.

  4. Build buoyancy in others by asking 2 irrational questions (motivational interview)

    • On a scale of 1 to 10 – how ready are you?
    • Follow up with – why didn’t you pick a lower number?

In asking these questions, the audience is guided towards listing their strengths which serves as motivation for action. It affirms their abilities and helps them answer the question “Can I do this?” in a positive manner.


  1. Provide clarity by addressing the specific context of an action and then make it easy for people to act. Removing barriers is significantly more effective than assuming / changing perspectives.

  2. Explaining WHY one should do something is more clarifying than explaining HOW one should do something in trying to persuade people to action.

Pink’s presentation raised a number of questions for me. How should school re-organize in a world of information parity? How should leadership structures change? Does institutional authority actually stunt a school’s ability to move forward?

Gears turning, more to come…



 Posted by at 6:43 pm
Mar 162014

Flipped Definition

Searching for “Flipped Classroom” online will render dozens of differing definitions and interpretations. Some teachers and schools are embracing it with great success while others are using the flip in controversial ways. The method is being touted as a panacea for schools where limited time and resources is always a challenge. Most discussions around the flipped classroom focus heavily on tools like Khan Academy, TED-ed, and teacher made videos but, after having lunch with Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, the originators of the flipped classroom, I realized that all of these discussions miss the point.

Jon and Aaron clarified that the flipped model is more philosophy than “thing”. Traditionally, during classroom time, the focus is upon low level thinking – the acquisition of new information, the mimicking of the teacher’s performance, following the recipe – while the higher order learning is relegated to be completed at home, often with little support. Jon and Aaron explained that “the flip” is really an inversion of learning demands. The teachers create resources for acquisitional learning to be delivered online, video or otherwise, which then creates time for more meaning making and transfer to occur in the classroom with the teacher serving as a guide for the students. The underlying purpose of the flip is not delivery of content but, rather to create opportunity for the teacher to better know his/her students and tailor classroom time to meet individual needs. It is the improved ability to form relationships with students that makes the flip effective.

When I asked Jon and Aaron about the explosion of online resources around flips, they acknowledged the quality of the videos and assessment tools being delivered. The superior resource, though, is one devised by the teacher for his/her specific community of learners. Jon pointed me to the four pillars of F-L-I-P: Flexible environment, Learning culture, Intentional content, and Professional Educator. He pointed out that the content, the videos, are just one of the pillars. While the content pillar gets the most attention, the flip does falls short without the three.

Ultimately, Jon and Aaron stressed that flipping the classroom has little to do with tools. It is about building relationships and creating a supportive environment, something for which all educators strive, flipped or not.

Flipped book

 Posted by at 1:17 pm
Oct 202012

Making mistakes is okay. It is part of the learning process. We all know this, yet we are compelled to treat the mistake as something wrong. It’s not. The mistake needs to happen. The learner needs to be made aware, given guidance in working through why, and then given the opportunity to build upon that new knowledge. This is not an easy thing to do, though, in the high stakes world that education has become. Too much is riding on the right answers, leading us to treat mistakes as wrong. Tell kids they are wrong too often,however, and they begin to tune out. “I’m not good at Math”. “Science is boring”. These are phrases we hear regularly. The solution can be simple. Acknowledge the mistake as the right thing, the thing that needed to happen. Saying “I am so glad you did it that way so I can show you x,y,z…” or “Thank you for giving us an opportunity to look at this another way” creates an environment that is safe for the imperfect, aka everyone in the room. No judgments are made. The lesson is learned. The skill is attained. Wrong becomes right and onward we go.

Sometimes the little things have the biggest impact.

Special thanks to my co-teacher, Nick, for teaching me this powerful little lesson

Sep 252012


It is funny watching what happens when people break things. Observations are made, insights are gained, comparisons happen, and lessons are learned. Launching ISP Lite, now called the “Learning Community at CCTS”, (Someone throw some siracha on this name – PLEASE!) has had a similar effect.

In this new system, we  schedule and roster students in a way that allows us to team teach across the curriculum. Generally, math pairs with science and history pairs with language arts but we have the freedom to shuffle these pairings. The experience has been eye-opening.

In just three weeks, we were stunned to discover just how often all four us teach the same skills but use different language and methods to do so. When classes were separate, the results were confusions for students, inefficiency for teachers, and frustration for everyone. Once we put our classes together, however, each lesson fed into the next. My lesson on making quantitative observations using the metric system became a math lesson on proportions and solving for X which became an English lesson on differentiating between summary and reaction. Topics that required a few days each were compressed into single lessons taught cross-curricularly in a more effective manner.

All of this was made possible by “breaking” the schedule and giving teachers the room to act as professionals. It showed that simply aligning the curriculum on paper is not enough. We are doing things differently and it is already making a difference.

Mar 282012

Being Intentional Networkers – Kira Baker-Doyle #ASCD12

What comes to mind when you hear the term “Social Network”? For most people, it is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and dozens of other similar sites. Social Networks, however, are older than Web 2.0 and even the internet. They predate the telephone, the radio, and even the written word. As presenter Kira Baker-Doyle points out in her session, social networks are really a representation of how people interact with each other online or otherwise.

Leveraging social networks well has the potential for a strong, positive impact upon schools. Ms. Baker-Doyle shared the following roles that they play in a teacher’s practice:

  • Coping with change – Mediate understanding and use of new curriculum or pedagogical practices (Coburn, 2005)
  • Retention – Impacts teacher retention and job selection (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wycoff 2003; Thomas 2007)
  • Academic achievement – Impacts student academic outcomes (Leena & Pil 2006; Yasumoto, Uekawa & Bidwell 2010)
  • School reform – Dynamic relationship with district level school reforms (Daly et al. 2010)

Later in the presentation, we were shown case studies of Maria and Michael*. Both were individuals new to the teaching the profession. Both had their networks mapped as they applied to their new positions. The maps were tied to personal accounts of their individual experiences.

Maria had a network containing many educators and she quickly connected with a group of colleagues within the school. While she had many challenges, she felt safe in her environment because members of Maria’s network reassured her that they would not allow her to fail. (Subjects are the center point on each map)

Michael had a much different experience. He attempted to show his ability as a teacher by remaining independent, not asking for help nor accepting any offered. This led to frustration for Michael and a questioning of his career choice. About midway through his first year, he accepted a colleague as mentor. Things improved somewhat but he was still highly frustrated.

Online social networks are simply an extension of normal face-to-face human interactions. They create a broader opportunity to connect with like minded people, to find support, to test ideas. When perceived through the social network as human interaction lens, filtering and blocking no longer makes sense. It becomes hypocritical. Taken to its logical extreme, if a school is filtering these types of sites, why not control other types of interactions – talking in the hallway or faculty room, having lunch with colleagues, and meeting with students after school to provide extra help.

*The opposite of the real Eric Sheninger

Social networks already happen in schools because schools ARE social networks. The online part is simply another way of interacting, just like the conversation in the hallway, an email between colleagues, or a written letter home. Schools that mandate narrow and specific ways for human interaction also narrow their ability to bring the faculty together and form community. It is the school saying “We know what is best for you” rather than allowing individuals to meet their own needs as they see fit. Instead, by helping members of the school community develop meaningful networks, schools will empower members to solve challenges collaboratively. Fostering robust and purposeful social networks means fostering positive relationships. Relationships matter.

**Thanks David and Eric for the pics

 Posted by at 2:45 pm
Mar 262012

Professional Learning Communities are a well documented means of moving schools forward.  Ms. Easton warns us, however, that “The “learning” part of professional learning communities (PLCs) has all but faded as PLCs are required to respond to school, district, state, and federal initiatives”. This puts PLCs at risk of becoming just another initiative that will pass in time and increase cynicism within the faculty. By placing the “L”earning back into into PLC, Ms. Easton assures us that PLCs will remain relevant and vital.

The session began by conducting a KWL with the group, having everyone move and discuss what they know and would like to know about learning. She engaged the group quickly and immediately asked them to begin documenting what they were doing. Ms. Easton subtly demonstrated how PLCs work without overtly stating it. She had groups sharing what they know and asking extending questions, a skill at the heart of PLC work.

“If we don’t define learning within our PLCs first, how do we know if we are meeting our goals?”  

The session then moved to a Reader’s Theater, lasting nearly 30 minutes, modeling effective and ineffective PLC interactions with the audience critiquing each. While I understood the purpose, I feel that the method detracted from the session. It was something that could have been covered with 3 minutes worth of video, giving more opportunity for discussion and interaction. The session finished with a survey and discussion about the difference between PLCs used for learning and those simply used for implementation and the importance of embracing the former.

Ms. Easton stressed that all PLCs need to start with “Why”. Why are we meeting? Why are we here? “Why” leads to “What”. We now know why we are here and need to decide what we are going to do. The “How” takes care of itself.

In many schools, PLCs are at risk of becoming simple bureaucratic structures, especially in this era of tight budgets and reduced faculty and administration. Ms. Easton reminded us that the true intention of PLCs is to maintain the school as an organization of learning. Rather than maximize bus schedules, PLCs need to engage in action research, reflective reading, sharing, and disseminating knowledge throughout the school. When done well, the learning that PLCs engage in will be brought back to classrooms to maximize classroom practice. If the intention is to teach students how to learn, then their teachers need not be extensions of the bureaucracy, but rather effective learners themselves.

 Posted by at 11:38 am
Mar 252012

Project Based Learning, so hot right now. Online PBL? Even hotter.

Thankfully, this is not the approach taken by presenter Andrew Miller as he described how he engages students in his online PBL environment. Mr. Miller shared a number of best practices:

  • Keep projects not just relevant but, relevant right now
  • Tie projects to standards and cluster standards for richer experiences
  • Projects can evolve over time and students still learn when one flops
  • Keep projects valuable by recognizing the effect that other assessments have. Particularly, a summative assessment immediately following a project devalues that project but ongoing formative assessment is important.

Mr. Miller also shared a host of tools that he uses, from moodle, edmodo, and google apps for collaboration, to voicethread and lulu.com for creation of artifacts.

The part that I appreciated most about Mr. Miller’s talk, however, was the emphasis upon relationships. He explained that PBL works because it helps foster positive human relationships through collaboration. School is no longer done to students but with them. He did stress that while there is choice and great opportunity to build upon assets, he, as teacher, still plays a major role in guiding that choice and ensuring that standards are met. I also appreciated his acknowledgement that PBL is not a silver bullet. Just like with everything else, these methods work sometimes, but not always. Project based learning is just part of the teachers tool kit, a big part, but still just a part.

Thank you, Mr. Miller for reaffirming that we need a wide range of skills, to be smart about our tools, and, above all else, that relationships matter.

 Posted by at 9:59 am
Mar 252012

I had a brief but interesting conversation with a gentleman name Mike from New Mexico at the TweetUp last night. (Sorry, Mike, I missed your last name) He is a school turnaround specialist and related a story about attendance. One of the schools with which he is working in a rough neighborhood in Boston was suffering from an attendance problem, nearly 30% absent on a given day. The problem sprang from the fact that students living within 2 miles of the school were not given trans passes. “Sorry, kid. School Policy.” While 2 miles may not seem like much, students and parents alike were concerned about safety. Two miles through a rough neighborhood can feel like an eternity. After much cajoling, Mike managed to get the trans passes for students within the 2 mile mark and attendance shot up to 92% on average. By moving the district from ideology to pragmatism on this one issue, Mike managed to remedy the attendance problem and most likely a host of ancillary problems caused by chronic absence. I wonder what else could be solved with a simple change of perspective.

 Posted by at 6:34 am
Mar 252012

“Moving from Research to Practice to Close the Achievement Gap” by Drs. Boykin and Noguera

The opening session that I attended was like being shot out of a cannon. Dr. Boykin framed the session around the idea that “school improvement often rests upon good intentions rather than evidence.” An information dense session flowed from there. Dr. Noguera went on to describe why the achievement gap persists: expectations – pre-NCLB we never expected all children to achieve, beliefs – a persistent belief that intelligence is innate rather than a thing to be cultivated, and a lack of skills and strategies to change expectations and beliefs. The system is self propagating and focused in the wrong way. Change the focus and the system can work to improve schools.

“ We disproportionately punish the students with the greatest needs, mostly because we do not meet their needs through exclusion” – Dr. Noguera

Dr. Noguera related stories about children who had disciplinary issues due to problems at home. What did the schools do? Suspend them and send them back in to fire. Children who struggle academically are later classified and sequestered in special education programs where they fall further behind. In his observations, many of the students suffered from ABT (Ain’t Been Taught), not real handicaps. English language learners are often perceived as deficient intellectually rather than simply dealing with the language barrier. Instead, schools should be building the capacity of these students to learn. They should be discipling in ways to teach students to do the right thing regardless of whether adults are present rather than simply removing them from the learning environment.

He referred to these issues as the normalization of failure. A school is suffering from this if:

  • The faculty is accustomed to the predictability of outcomes for different groups of students
  • The school points fingers at students, teachers, community for student failure
  • Believe that culture and biology dictate intelligence rather than opportunity and resources
  • No Sense of Urgency

This normalization of failure leads to a progression of disenfranchisement. It begins in the lower grades with task disengagement, progresses to subject disengagement (I’m not good at math), then school disengagement. Ultimately, the progression ends with structural disenfranchisement where the individual is no longer capable of working within the structure of society as a whole. It is the school to prison pipeline.

To overcome these, schools need to focus on peer support for educators and results oriented practices for students rather than compliance and punitive measures. Positive interactions and relationships are lacking for these students, referred to in the presentation as transactional solutions. Transactional solutions focus on the following three areas:

  • Self-efficacy – The confidence to do a task or participate in an activity
  • Self-regulation – The ability to plan, monitor, and self-assess
  • Belief Change – a shift from the belief that intelligence is innate and fixed to the belief that intelligence is incremental and malleable.

Drs. Boykin and Noguera explained that the three points above are best addressed through a constructivist learning environment that focuses on assets (what a student brings to the table and building from there) rather than a didactic approach focused on deficit reduction. Many failing schools are getting this wrong however. In a study by Deborah Stipek in 2004, the strongest predictor of whether a school engages in didactic methods over constructivist is the percentage of African American students present. These students are being given the opposite of what they need and failing because of it.

“There is a disconnect between academic achievement and child development” – Dr. Boykin

Dr. Noguera went on to discuss the paradigm shift that needs to happen in order for our schools to become places where children thrive. The old paradigm sees intelligence as innate, schools as places to sort and measure children, moves resources to the highest performing students, and uses discipline to weed out bad students. The new paradigm sees intelligence as tied to opportunity and resources, schools as places to draw out and cultivate talent, allocates resources equitably, and uses discipline to correct undesirable behavior. To get to this new paradigm, the conditions must be correct, including:

  • Diagnostic assessment
  • Early intervention
  • Quality control of resources (human, structural, strategic)
  • On-site and ongoing professional development
  • Supportive relationships between students and faculty
  • A faculty culture of sharing
  • An attitude of it’s “cool to be be smart”
  • Shared leadership
  • Partnerships with parents and community

The session was one of the most thought provoking I have ever attended and an indictment of the system as whole. They presenters held us all responsible but also gave us the direction in which we need to move. I will be chewing on this for months.