Passionate Choices

I taught English,  Language Arts, Reading to 7th- 12th graders for almost 20 years.   What I loved most was literature study and teaching writing about literature.  I always encouraged my students to be intellectual risk takers, to propose and defend whatever idea struck them when reading a piece of lit.  In fact, I always emphasized to my students that my evaluation would never be based on whether I agreed with my students or not, but rather how well the argument was phrased, presented, supported, and defended. 

In the course of my evolution as a teacher, I also learned that kids can always smell a fake and that teachers who were teaching something they didn’t feel passionately about, were not connecting with their students.

I decided a few years back when I had the opportunity (albeit a burden at the time ) to teach all 130 8th graders, to only teach my favorite titles.  Further, I decided to offer 2-4 titles for each unit so kids could choose their own title. 

I was thrilled with the excitement that came from my students not only because they had a choice, but also because I could share my passion for the titles with them.

When I moved into admin roles, I extended this practice to my guidance and support of my teachers.  My message was simple: pick titles, topics, concepts that  get you excited, that percolate your passion, that will create a climate and culture of learning in the classroom. 

I had questions like:

What about covering XYZ?

Don’t worry if the experience is great

What about the level of the text?

Don’t worry, the depth and engagement are more important. 

Basically, my message has since been that sharing content with passion will pull students in as the passion is contagious.   Engagement, depth, the ensuing rapport and making memorable moments in the classroom are the most important endeavors. 

When a teacher asks a curricular question about this or that, I always respond with a simple question:

What will get you excited in the classroom? What content do you love?

Ultimately, it is about creating rich, meaningful, infectious experiences for our students where we share our passion for learning via content that excites us enroute to helping students find content that excites them and ignited their passion for learning.

Dangerous Tools in the Classroom

So here at #Edcamp Fayetteville, I was prepping to share some ideas about Padlet with some fellow edcampers when the organizers here were adjusting their firewall settings to accommodate my use of YouTube and Twitter.   I was thinking about the blocking of these tools- a practice more common than not.  When I think about how powerful these tools have been in my processes as a learner and as an educator, I couldn’t help think, like many of my colleagues, that we are missing the boat on how we handle the “dangers” of these and other technology tools.

In a session today, Things that Suck, the topic of cell phones in the classroom was hotly debated.  The fear of the danger of students having cell phones, social media access, etc. has paralyzed many educators.

I couldn’t help but think of what it was like when the technological advancement in education led to the implementation of the use of the sharpened lead pencil to replace the chalk and slate method that was trusted, tried, and true for many years.  What horror, what fear, what paralysis as the dangerous possibilities this advancement must have evoked from educators.   My goodness, students could use them as weapons, they might jab, stab, sword fight with these tools that, really, it was highly debatable how much better would they make education.

Well I am sure there have been many an incident with pencils.  I have seen some myself.  But for the most part, students are very responsible about how they use them.


Because we taught them how to be responsible, we held them accountable for being so, and corrected them when they weren’t.  Are there instances where there are still incident? Sure.  Are there incidents that are tricky because the teacher doesn’t see the occurrence? Yep.  But they are very few, and very far between.

I suspect that before too long, the same will hold true with the use of cell phones, Twitter, Youtube, and whatever else is coming down the pike.

The message is that banning, sheltering, hiding, blocking, firewalling etc won’t work, and quite frankly we are wasting time and money trying to do so.   Let’s put the time and resources into getting the kids ready to use these tools to benefit their learning and growth in positive ways,  hold them accountable for their use, and correct them when they stray.

When I was in my sessions today, I saw many IPads, smart phones, and educators using pens & pencils to take notes.  Not one was using the chalk and slate.  Happy to report- there were no stabbings with pencils.

Twitter Research

During Alan November’s presentation at ISTE this month, he shared a really important strategy for teaching students to use Twitter as a professional networking and learning tool.  He indicated that while following the top people, organizations, schools etc in a particular field was a good idea, researching who those people/groups follow represents a potentially higher-level exposure.

I couldn’t help think in that moment that there  may be no better Peer-Reviewed Research database in the world than Twitter.  I went back to my own account and looked at the list of people I follow.  Essentially, they are the people who are at the top of the education field, highly respected authorities in a variety of areas, and most important, easily accessible to me (and anyone for that matter).

I have written and spoken many times about how teaching research has changed.  I always taught my students that regardless of era, tool, process, or objective, the research process starts with three steps:

1) Navigation

2) Determination

3) Validation


Navigation is about finding our way around.  When I was in school, navigation was about getting to the library, and finding my way around the stacks,  using the card-catalog, then the computers to find my sources.  Sometimes they were micro-fiche (remember those), other times in books; but the navigation process didn’t end there.

Once I had a source, I had to navigate the pages to find what I needed. This step incorporate a the second step: determination.

While one must certainly be determined as an integral intangible for successful research, this use of the word refers to determining a) what parts are use-able and b) how to use them.

Finally, validation refers to the validity or credibility of the source. Was it produced by an expert, published in peer reviewed literature, or created by someone with lots of alphabet soup after her name.

In ancient times, the first two steps could be laborious. But we were almost always rest – assured that the third step was a given.

Digital research has often been considered “easier” than prehistoric methods. I disagree in some ways.

While I can do a Google search and hit a button that returns 1 million hits in .307 seconds, there is actually more navigation involved that finding three books from the card catalog.

While we can better target for determination of use, the validation step in significantly more complex and ambiguous.

Which is where twitter comes in. I know I am idealizing here, and that at the current moment there does not exist the field specific variety and depth that Google scholar and traditional methods boast, but I can go on twitter, navigate with #hashtags, determine in 140 characters, and evaluate validity according to the sharer of information.

My PLN is a peer reviewed network of the top educators in the world. When they share, I am rest assured that the information has enough validity to consider credible.

When Alan November referred students interested in business to the PLN that the HBR follows, he was likewise navigating the students towards a valid, credible source who produces sources that are easily navigable, determinable, and credible.

Catharsis #ISTE2014

Here at ISTE, the best sessions I have attended have had one thing in common- they all had a powerful cathartic effect on me which ultimately, in the process of cleansing me, also enriched me with energy, knowledge, and the warmth of connection.

The best moments have been centered around the magical story-telling of George Couros, Alan November, Angela Maiers, Refranz Davis and others who touched us with tales of humor, sorrow, resilience, courage, adventure, and triumph while maintaining such a transparent humility in doing so- despite their celebrity rock star status amongst their world-wide peers.

George Couros had me with the warm-up dancing videos- he connected with me, and likely most everyone in the room, through these videos. I am pretty sure that he didn’t need to study neuroscience to understand that music is a powerful connection tool. Whether it is the connection between people, or one that I make as I hear a song that sparks memories of parts of my life when I first listened to that song. Or maybe the connection I make when I lean to the person next to me to ask “That’s Jamiroquoi, right?” and we talk- connected by music.

Isn’t that where the magic happens in the classroom? In the connection between the student and the teachers, amongst all the students- even if the classroom in this case was a huge auditorium with hundreds of people in it.  I felt like George was talking to me because everything he said was relevant to me.  I know many of my peers felt the same way.

Angela talking about her passion for inspiring all of to embrace mattering- not just for kids to know they matter, but for all of us. Refranz talking about Braedon and in only 5 ignited minutes, setting ISTE on its ear and setting a high standard for everyone who followed her.

And what a better way to fill my bucket at 8:30 on the final day than with Alan November embedding really powerful teaching tools in a session that went by way too fast- even thought he was on stage, I felt as if we were sitting in the cafe laughing and learning together.

All of these passionate educators artistically navigated our journey through so many emotions providing such a refreshing catharsis as we unwaveringly followed them and fearlessly felt the emotions necessary to really experience the moment in those rooms.

How many times did we laugh so hard we wanted to cry, and then feel so strongly that we held back the tears? How many times did the end of the session come and we were not ready to say good-bye not necessarily to the person up front, but to how that person was making us feel (insert Maya Angelou quote here…)?

Since Friday, we have been going non-stop here at ISTE.  If not for the emotional energy that these people have given us, we never would have made it. Not only have we made it, but we are cleansed, enriched, and growing stronger.

Kristen Swanson so beautifully and accurately wrote today that the main learning components of these events are 50% connections, 40% conversations, and 10% content.

For me and for all learners, if the connection isn’t there, the other 50% won’t happen.

Many thanks to everyone who connected in the name of making a contribution through education.


Write to Reflect vs. Writing Reflections

Ah the beauty of a Twitter chat to pull out of me something that I practice often, but have rarely been consciously aware of in my process.  As I started to write, I was reminded of what Pope famously said:

True wit is nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d,
Something, whose truth convinc’d at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.

Now I don’t claim to be better at expressing than others, but for my most critical audience- me, I abashedly feel  a warm catharsis at the discovery of  the connection between my process and one I once used with my students.

Last night as I responded to a #COLchat question about reflection, I shared that I more often write to reflect as opposed to writing my reflections.  What I meant is that more often than otherwise, I have an idea that starts the process, then I see where the idea takes me as I write.  I start a journey without a destination merely for the purpose of taking the journey, as I know that invariably, the journey is one that manifests new ideas, and thus growth, or perhaps revitalizes old ideas and dusts them off.  On the most adventurous of journeys, a series of explosive connections occurs bringing new, old, and the synthesized creation resulting from the mixture of both.

Rarely when I blog do I have a fully developed idea that is ready to be drafted and shared (as in right now- I only thought to share the Pope passage when I wrote the word expressed in my first sentence- a word I took out after sharing the passage to avoid repetition).  As a result, my writing is the reflection in its purest, rawest, neophytic form.  Sometimes, it works out beautifully, others the writing goes in my draft pile for later thought, consideration, and perhaps even revision.  This process reminds me of something I use to do with my students called writing to learn.

  • Writing to Learn (WTL): Rejecting the notion that writing serves primarily to translate what is known onto the page, advocates of writing to learn suggest teachers use writing to help students discover new knowledge—to sort through previous understandings, draw connections, and uncover new ideas as they write. From “Because Writing Matters” (NWP & Nagin, 2003).

It was only in response to a great question from Rodney Heatherton during the chat last night that I was able to think about the NWP writing concept- which led to my first words today-then the Pope verse- and how my own process is connected to both.  So while the idea that I write to reflect, the unlocking of the reflection was direct result of the powerful catalyst that was a great, open-ended, thought provoking question in an environment where trust, respect, and liberation exist- despite the fact that most of us only know each other in the twitter-sphere. So my writing (as with my students’ composition) is my learning happening in real-time, not a record of what has been previously learned.

Usually, this type of reflection would find its way to the save for later pile.  It is all over the place. I jump around, I lose focus, I ponitificate, and I am fighting the urge to go back to make wholesale changes. But I will not make the changes, and I will share this, because that is the point- this piece is a un-mapped reflection. It started with a 140 character response.


When Did Warm and Fuzzy Become a Bad Thing?

So here I am, adrenalized by the exciting environs here at ISTE 2014. 40, 000 people are engaging on the #ISTE2014 hashtag.  The banquet caterer here at the GWCC is likely experiencing challenges beyond all belief trying to feed tens of thousands of hungry educators.  As I fill my bucket with each passing moment, whether it is from a cool tweet I read, a new blog I find, a great panel I hear- I am truly a seedling in a hotbed of tropic intensity.

But with all this passionate, positive energy around me, I was struck this morning by a concept that is really troubling me.  It is blatantly obvious that the term “warm and fuzzy” has become a taboo dirty word in our world.

When did this shift happen and my goodness, why?  When I hear someone say that something is warm and fuzzy, there is a snarling distaste with which the words are spoken.

For most of my early years in education, these two words were rarely used to describe me- abrasive and tough were more likely to be used.  But I have certainly warmed up, and I am proud to be this way.  As most excellent educators know, strong relationships are at the center of anything successful in our world.  Warmth, empathy, and genuity are qualities that breed success and help us overcome struggle, failure, and conflict in all areas of our lives. In fact, isn’t our first and most powerful instinct as neophytes to seek warmth, connection, and the touch of our parents?

So I wonder if people who growl the term warm and fuzzy either lack these qualities and speak the words with disdain due to resentment or do people really believe that learning, achievement, growth, and success are diametrically opposed to warmth and fuzziness in the classroom? Do people think that we can’t have rigor and learning if there is too much warmth, too close a rapport, too much focus on the children as human beings who needs to feel love, safety, comfort, and connection?

Sitting in the room with Angela Maiers, Drew Minock, Brad Waid, Todd Nesloney and Steve Mesler today during the #YouMatter panel discussion, at a table with 4 of my new colleagues at Davis Academy who are passionate, student-centered, relationship-oriented talented educators, and reflecting on the best educators I have ever been around- I fully affirm that great learning never happens without warmth and fuzziness.  Warmth is comfort- fuziness makes us smile from the tickled feeling we experience when touched by it.

I encourage all who read this to embrace the warm fuzziness in your process and unabashedly share it with your students, colleagues, administrators, parents, and community members.

And the next time someone uses the term with a negatively charged tone, grab them, give them a hug, tell them they matter for something very specific and significant.  Watch them smile- then ask them if being warm and fuzzy is such a bad thing.



Parables of Zero

Once upon a time, in a vibrant city far, far away, there lived a man named Svenson.  Svenson was a skilled technologist who thrived when he was called on by his boss to work on building applications for IPads.  Nothing got Svenson out of bed in the morning quicker than a reminder from his IPhone calendar that on that particular day, he would be creating such applications.   While he was equally skilled in all other areas of technology, his motivation to work in those other areas was far less than the application building process.

One day, Svenson told his boss that he didn’t want to work on projects other than the apps, and that it would be okay for his boss to not pay him- to give him zero dollars, on the days he didn’t show up to work, but that he would show up on app building days, for which he would be paid according to the merit his work deserved- usually very high merit- top of his field even.

Across the world, professional basketball player Grant, a towering 7’2 inside presence on the court, after dominating all season in his league, where he is the biggest player, decided that he didn’t want to play in games where the other team had a player his size to contend with him.  He enjoyed the success of dominating smaller players, and didn’t really want to have to grow his game and learn to play against other big athletes.  So he arranged with his coach that he would get paid when he plays, and again, it would all be merit pay, but on games he took off, he would get zero dollars.  If he played in a game, but decided he didn’t want to finish at half-time, the team would pay him 50% of his salary for that game.

Finally, up in New York, Ashley was getting ready to star in her first Broadway play.  She was very excited because it allowed her to sing and dance jazz style, which was her preference.  But she also really enjoyed playing tennis, so she told her director that she would only do 1 or 2 shows a week. She was fine with not getting paid on those days- taking zero dollars, and getting paid only when she reported to work and performed in the play.   If she decided to leave after the first half of the play, she would only get 50% of her pay.

Of course, none of these scenarios would ever last very long, so why do we continue to allow students to “take the zero” on work/ assignments that they merely don’t want to do, don’t feel comfortable with, or would prefer doing something else instead? Why do we give them 50% on work for which they only attempt to complete half of what is required?

If we would rarely tolerate even the most gifted people in a particular field to work this way, why do we send a message to kids that it is okay by giving them the opt out of taking the zero or half credit?