Mar 232012

 Cross-posted at

Traditional, distributed, flat, top-down, bottom-up, organic, grassroots, PLC’s, classroom-based – leadership in the modern age takes many forms. Being a school leader is no longer exclusive to the person at the top of the organization chart, but rather takes the form of the innovator, the instigator, the connector, or networker, regardless of official title. The ability to recognize and leverage these new types of leadership is what will help our schools be successful institutions capable of meeting the needs of the communities they serve.

Edcamp Leadership is planned as a day of conversations around leadership in schools – what does leadership look like in the 21st century, what skills are necessary for success, how does a schools empower its members to lead, and how do leaders navigate the modern educational landscape? Attendees of Edcamp Leadership will have the opportunity to share their projects and ideas in ways not afforded at the traditional conference. The learning is intense. The engagement is deep. The inspiration is limitless.

As with all edcamps, Edcamp Leadership is open to all who wish to attend, from administrators and teachers to parents and students. Save the date and come prepared to share.

See you on July 26th!

 Posted by at 8:00 am
Mar 172012

School Schedules by Justin Vail

ISP Lite Conversation on Google Plus

Things That Suck by Bill Selak

 Posted by at 10:56 am
Mar 152012

Evers' Project 365 Blog

Splish, Splash, Swim - Evers' Project 365 Blog

When my colleagues and I built the Integrated Studies Program (ISP) three years ago, our intention was to create a program that removed major hurdles to student learning and meet our core mission as a vocational school. By rethinking the schedule and integrating the curriculum, we were able to create a program that is adaptable to student needs and more tightly tied to their chosen trades. Students rarely ask “Why do I need to know this” because they are given the opportunity to apply their learning to their engineering, IT, or performing arts career areas immediately. All of this is made possible by leveraging technology to add asynchronous components to the learning environment, allowing students to move more quickly than their peers or receive additional help from members of the learning community.

The changes worked beautifully (Slide 10)….but not for everyone. For a minority of students, ISP was culture shock. They craved more structure but they also needed the opportunities afforded by the open schedule. Because of this , ISP has an attrition rate of about 20%. These students move back to traditional classes with a rigid schedule.This is often due to comfort with the “game of school” – grading for compliance rather than learning, being told exactly what to produce rather creating true original work, checklist learning, etc. My colleagues and I found the situation to be disheartening and needed to address it.

Enter ISP Lite (we do not have an official name yet)- an amalgam of traditionally organized classes and the fully open schedule of the original Integrated Studies Program. In building ISP Lite, we preserved the aspects of ISP that are obviously beneficial – Teacher-student advisors and advisory time, all teachers having common students, and asynchronous learning components. We did however, bring back aspects of the rigid schedule to give students (and some teachers) the structure that they felt was lacking in ISP.

To preserve the flexibility in the schedule, we incorporated a daily 20% time  period called Advisory. During this time, students and teachers can engage in cross-curricular projects, perform independent work, get extra help, or do whatever is necessary to meet their individual needs. ISP Lite will be offered only to freshman next year with the hope that 20% time will eventually morph into 100% time in subsequent years as students learn how to work in a self-guided learning environment.

The 2012 – 2013 school year is shaping up to be an interesting one with traditional, ISP, and ISP Lite all being offered to  students. By providing 3 different types of learning environments, we are that much closer to meeting the needs of 100% of our students 100% of the time.

Mar 112012

Edcamp Philly will be celebrating its 2nd anniversary on May 19th at the University of Pennsylvania. Please join us for a great day of sharing and learning.


 Posted by at 9:57 pm
Nov 302011

Edcamp inspires a full range of emotions. Proponents talk about personal engagement, inspiration, and having agency over their learning, to which the other side responds “So what?! Where is the substance?” Opponents dismiss the movement as a bunch of technophiles and inexperienced (ie naive) educators attempting to affect change for change’s sake when they should be “learning to hone their teaching of basic – and not-so-basic – skills and knowledge”. The typical edcamper response is that this type of professional development does not meet their needs as learners. Both sides have a point to make while at the same time overlook the big picture – that traditional PD and edcamp are complimentary to one another.

Resolving this debate begins with the acknowledgement that both forms of PD have their uses and that the criticisms stem from the fact that either the attendees come  with expectations that are incongruent with the purpose of a particular PD offering or the format is misapplied. With the edcamp model still in its infancy, incongruence is to be expected and will be addressed as people become more familiar with the model (hence this post). A person who attends an edcamp expecting specific explicit knowledge to be conveyed by someone who is an expert in that area will be sorely disappointed. Where the traditional PD model performs this function well, the free-form nature of an unconference makes this highly unlikely. Instead, edcamp is about building difficult to define, tacit knowledge of teaching as a whole. Audience members are an integral part of every presentation and the format is meant to promote learning as much as the content of each individual session. The learning is personal; it attempts to fulfill the unique needs of individuals by allowing a high degree of control over how each engages with presenters and one another.

When it comes to the delivery of the majority of PD, the common approach, regardless of the goal, is direct instruction coupled with PowerPoint and handouts. This type of PD works when the priority is to introduce a new topic to a group, a specific need must be addressed, or when the organization needs all members to know the same thing. Traditional PD is meant for the conveyance of explicit knowledge. When direct instruction methods are used to teach more complicated concepts, traditional PD falls flat.  The point I would like to make here is best illustrated by an example. This past summer I attended a two day workshop on student engagement – a broad topic encompassing many esoteric ideas. One hundred thirty seven slides later, I could not even tell you the presenter’s name. By choosing a direct instruction format, the presenter attempted to provide a “paint by numbers” method of student engagement. If only it were so easy. The misapplied format could not convey many of the subtleties of student engagement, made assumptions that disregarded the audience’s prior knowledge on the subject, and looked at a multifaceted concept from only a narrow perspective. If the format had been more like that of edcamp, the attendees would have learned engagement by experiencing it directly. The content of each session does not really matter in this example; the methodologies do. It is the conversations, the meandering nature of sessions, the very unstructuredness that allows this to happen. Attendees differentiate the learning for themselves, their prior knowledge becomes an integral part of sessions, and they are given multiple opportunities to confront and wrestle with their own ideas. This is how tacit knowledge is built. A picture is worth a thousand words, an experience – exponentially more.

When planning professional development, edcamp and traditional models should be seen as points on a continuum rather than an either / or proposition. The goals of the PD offering should determine the format. Explicit knowledge – traditional is more effective, tacit knowledge – edcamp is more effective, continuity of message – traditional, continuity of practice – edcamp, introducing an initiative – traditional, bringing an initiative to maturity – edcamp. Both edcamp and traditional methods have merits, but pair them together and truly effective professional development will be achieved.

Oct 232011

New evaluation methods are being tested that could have a significant impact upon tenure, pay, and seniority rights here in New Jersey where I teach. The pilot program embraces many of the ideas in vogue right now. Up to half of the evaluation would be based on “student performance” aka proficiency on standardized testing. Merit payis also a possibility.The new methods are well rooted in the Waiting for Superman school of thought; that an effective teacher is the most important factor, maybe the only factor that matters, in a child’s success in school.

“When you see a great teacher, you are seeing a work of art “ – Geoffrey Canada

The Superman mindset is a seductive one. Who doesn’t want superhuman beings to just walk in and be able to fix any situation because they are, well, just super? It places all of the burden for a child’s success squarely in the lap of the classroom teachers while absolving all decision makers of responsibility. This mentality makes it possible to slash school budgets, to remove resources, to cause class sizes to balloon while at the same time allowing schools to stagnate
without any repercussions. For those expected to be super, it is all accountability with little autonomy. Why should we change anything? You’re super, deal with it.

Never mind that Superman is from another planet. I guess none of us are qualified to teach under this paradigm.

As a model for education, maybe we should look to a superhero that could actually exist – Ironman. Where Superman’s abilities are innate, Ironman’s are cultivated through a combination of creativity, imagination, and resources. The Ironman mindset is one where challenges are identified and solutions are engineered. If parental involvement is a problem, adopt systems that actually make them part of the learning process rather than simple recipients of information. If collaboration and consistency are issues, rethink how students are rostered to teachers. If attendance is a problem, find ways to make common time and place less important.Where the Superman mindset places blame, the Ironman mindset requires work. It places responsibility upon the keepers of the system. It requires initiative and a will to change.  It requires significant investments in time and effort from all stakeholders. It is a commitment to ongoing improvement, of identifying challenges and building systems to overcome them, and taking personal responsibility. Ultimately, however, it is a mindset that will reap rewards because anybody can be an Ironman.

Getting back to the new evaluation pilots, there is little to do with the organization’s responsibility to build capacity. It focuses almost completely upon teaching “better, faster, more”. The only systems that are being revamped serve as sticks to punish poor performance. It tells teachers to play it safe lest they risk loosing their jobs. It is a BE super mindset. There is little to build that capacity to improve.
Superman is an alien who was super. Ironman created the capacity to be super. Who are we really waiting for?
Sep 052011

21st Century Educator

Questions about Edcamp & professional development – Perspectives

Jul 282011

Which better represents the organization of your school?

“You Need…”


“I need…”

Perspective is everything here.


May 242011

As I said in my previous edcamp post, the movement elicits a lot of emotions and with those emotions come opinions, many positive and some not so. A common criticism is that “Edcamp sessions never bring me to the point of mastery of a topic” or as Bud Hunt puts it:

While Bud asserts that he was merely asking a question, his statement above is also an indictment of the Edcamp model, essentially that Edcamps are vacuous pursuits, devoid of substance. The implication here is that mastery learning does occur at other conferences but not Edcamps.

I’m calling shenanigans! That’s right! Shenanigans!

I find these statements to be either superficial or, to some degree, disingenuous because the dirty little secret of most conferences is that they have very little to do with learning something while attending. In general, conferences are really about networking, sharing ideas, fostering future collaborations. We go to specific sessions to determine whether we would like to follow a particular person’s work more closely, form a collaboration with them, or find ideas to explore further. Any learning that occurs can hardly be called mastery. (See References Below) The Edcamp model is honest about this. It recognizes that conferences are really about finding and planting the seeds of learning, finding individuals to serve as informal mentors, foment future collaborations, or test our own ideas.

To base judgements on Twitter twaddle or the lack of artifacts of mastery learning is to miss the the point. The real meat of an Edcamp, just like any other conference, is people, not content. The big difference is that the egalitarian nature of Edcamp shifts the focus from the presenters to the audience because they are one in the same. It is no longer a one way relationship. For many educators, Edcamp is the first PD experience where they matter and that’s your sizzle.

*I recognize that conferences sometimes have workshops attached to them where content and learning is the focus. It is completely reasonable to expect mastery learning to occur here. I have not included them in this post because these workshops cost an additional amount and are not open to general conference attendees


1. Berry, B., Daughtrey, A., & Wieder, A., (2010). Preparing to lead an effective classroom: The role of teacher training and professional development programs. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, Center for Teaching Quality, Retrieved from ERIC database.

Research has found that when educators possess self-awareness and engage in a professional network, they are more likely to deepen their pedagogical expertise and closely monitor student learning (Berry, Daughtrey, & Wieder, 2010, p. 6; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, and Yoon, 2001, p. 920).

2. Boyle, B., While, D., & Boyle, T. (2004). A longitudinal study of teacher change: What makes professional development effective?. Curriculum Journal, 15(1), 45-68. doi:10.1080/0958517042000189470.

A body of literature has emerged focusing on descriptions of, and definitions for, ‘effective’ professional development for teachers. The international literature indicates that traditional approaches to professional development, such as workshops or conference attendance, do foster teachers’ awareness or interest in deepening their knowledge and skills. However, these approaches to professional development appear insufficient to foster learning, which fundamentally alters what teachers teach or how they teach. (p. 47)

Thank you to Chrissi Miles for providing the research. It is nice having a smart lil’ sis.

May 232011

Edcamp elicits lots of emotions. For me, I love meeting members of my PLN in a casual setting. I have made personal and professional connections and even genuine friendships. Like so many others, I come away from an Edcamp day feeling energized and invigorated. I also have the added layer of pride seeing something that I helped to create grow at an almost exponential rate.

Map of Edcamps To Date

Map of Edcamps To Date

The thing that I really enjoyed about Edcamp Philly 2 was seeing how the topics have matured. I participated in a presentation by Brian Jeans, a trainer from Comcast, where he discussed how the company prepares its army of 100,000 technicians to install and troubleshoot equipment in a timely manner. Where trainers once adopted a top down, trainer driven, transference of knowledge approach, they now build peer-to-peer learning networks. Brian explained that does this because the trainer driven model did very little to prepare the technicians for the unique situations presented by each home that they entered. It gave me insight to how things are done in the private sector and re-assured me that what I had done with the Integrated Studies Program was the right thing to do. (Whew, I am not crazy!)

I then presented Integrated Studies to a group of about 20 folks. They asked tough questions. They made me defend my ideas and actions. They made me a better educator for it. I hope that I inspired some of them to take the leap into progressive education. At the very least, I made a number of connections and hope to the continue the conversation.

At the grand finale of Things That Suck, Dan Callahan facilitated a large group discussion centered upon sensitive school issues. We blew off steam, we commiserated, we challenged each others perceptions all in an open and respectful manner. Even though Dan has retired his series of Things That Suck, I hope that it becomes a staple of edcamps much like smackdowns.

I caught the tail end of David Timony’s talk on resident scholars. He discussed the need for schools to diversify the learning experience by providing space for outside experts to work on the campus while in exchange for working with the students. The example that I have heard him discuss in the past is the collaboration between Miro Dance Company and Girard College. It is a fantastic way for students to truly explore passions and also breaks the echo chamber that many schools become.

Finally, I listened to Kim Sivick share her amazing experiences in global learning through her collaborations with a small village in Uganda. She talked of the struggles, the conditions, and the strong community ties that people experience there. She told us about her one contact to whom she sends funds so that he may climb half way up a mountain for a few minutes of internet service to have conversations with her classroom. Her story is truly touching.

All and all, Edcamp Philly 2 was even better than the first. The conversations, connections, potential for future learning, and inspiring work of the attendees all give me hope for the future of schools. We have a long way to go but there are people pushing in the right direction. If you are considering attending an edcamp, DO IT! Go, bring a friend, and share your ideas. Put yourself out there. You won’t regret it.

My Edcamp Reflections Part 2 – Dirty Little Secrets coming shortly.