Three examples.


1. In the first week of December, I hosted what I called a “Tech Potluck” at my school. I invited everyone for an after school get-together to share our favorite tech treasures for any and all purposes. It had an open house feel. People were free to come and go, have a snack, add an idea or two to our list and chat informally about tools they used and liked. About 9 people attended and we generated a list of 24 different apps and products for health and wellness, chat/messaging, language learning, video production & editing, transportation, data filing & management which we then also shared with the community after the event. Our group included teachers, an administrator, and office staff and the enthusiasm for doing it again was frequently voiced. So I will do it again.
2. Over the winter break I got to do a fair amount of reading and browsing. Among the treasures I found, this syllabus for an 8th grade language arts course stood out for me as absolutely phenomenal. Based on 4 central questions posed by W.E.B. DuBois, the course offers a selection of extremely compelling literature which encourages exploration of a variety of identity perspectives in terms of geography, history, class, race, gender and age.
I was so excited by this document that I immediately it had to share it with my colleagues in middle school who teach language arts. The three of us ran into each other on that first day back and had a rich conversation about great books with a social justice theme. One colleague mentioned  TaNahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and offered to loan them to me.
The simple act of sharing what I found sparked a conversation about literature and how it connects to our lives in progress. With very little extra effort, my colleagues and I have set ourselves up for further talk about practice, about reading, about being human. Connected.

3. A couple of weeks before the winter break I ran across a think piece about understanding the teaching of literature as teaching students to re-read. As with the LA syllabus I was intrigued and excited by the ideas presented and chose to share this find with my high school English colleagues who in preparing students for International Baccalaureate (IB) exams are expected to go both wide and deep in their content areas. One colleague found the time to read the article and liked it. In response, he suggested a text he’ll be using in Theory of Knowledge course that I might enjoy.

Easy share, generous response. Connected.

There are certainly other instances of little shares here and there which were appreciated and became a source of deeper connection with my colleagues and friends. These three very recent examples illustrate for me the larger purpose of being ‘out there’ on social media – in order to connect with the folks with whom we share our students. I love being active on Twitter and taking advantage of the multiple opportunities it provides for intellectual, political and cultural exchange. That is my choice. Some of my school colleagues are on other social media channels doing other things and some are not. All good. If I truly want to be worth my salt as a connected educator, then I need to become proficient at sharing with and responding to my immediate community – to the people I see and work with every day.

Being connected has as many iterations as there are communication channels. In our digital euphoria, we need to continue to pay close attention to what is happening and of importance outside of our distinctly digital webs of reference. Our individual follower counts are of little significance if we cannot find ways to invite our local learning communities to share the wealth in small and large ways. This is not about bringing people ‘on board’. Rather, our cause as connected educators may well be to build bridges across various expanses right where we are: subject matter areas, school divisions, school to homes, school to community. We can do this digitally and in person; as experts and novices; as learners and teachers – and in fluid and shifting roles. There is no single right way to live our connectedness, digital or otherwise.

Why It Is Unlikely That I Will Ever Become a Curriculum Guru

Most of the 20+ years that I have taught have been dedicated to elementary Physical Education.  When I am in the gym, scrambling to shift and adjust equipment between classes, playing my eclectic mix of 70’s –  90’s pop, and doing a cartwheel on my way to pick up the next class, then I am in my element.  Once the kids arrive and I’m responding to a series of requests and questions all within the first 30 seconds while I try to get everyone moving as soon as possible, then I reconnect with the gritty reality of how many decisions in a single class period? and remind myself, this is a choice.  Teaching is so familiar to me. I have earned my 10,000 hours of practice and while there’s still so much to learn and certainly to improve, I feel at home in my methods, my philosophy, and in my commitment to doing right by kids.

Down the road and to the left of my day-to-day teaching are those conceptual edifices: curriculum and standards, scope and sequences, benchmarks, exit criteria; essential questions and enduring understandings, and so on. They hold their ground and need constant refurbishing.  Where they stand in relationship to me and my teaching and student learning can confuse me on occasion.  Of course, there need to be  structures for determining what we are teaching, why we are teaching it at all, and how it should be taught.  This makes sense to me. There needs to be *a plan based on students’ needs; a way of deciding how those multiple and varied needs will be met in achieving the desired learning outcomes.  Accepted.

As one would expect, my colleague and I create a road plan of what topics we intend to cover with each grade level every year. We have objectives, a clear time frame in which to fulfill those objectives, and we have a wealth of lesson plans and activities to get us where we believe (and our curriculum says)  our students need to go. Great.

And yet, whenever we sit down and are presented again with fresh standards and their intended outcomes – pages and pages of color-coded charts, loaded with text and cleverly notated with abbreviations like: S1E7 24, well then, I have to admit, my eyes glaze over and I wish I could be doing something, anything else, but this.  Although the conversations my colleagues and I  get into over the categorization and terminology  of our craft are stimulating  and often charged, most of us also struggle with the process of documenting and (ultimately justifying) our inventory.

What’s funny about this situation is that I’m a language lover.  I can formulate and reformulate until the cows come home. Wordsmithing is second nature.  When it comes to curriculum writing and mapping, however,  I would be your girl, if only it excited me enough. And sadly, curriculum design and standards alignment, just do not do it for me. Yet. Participating in the conversations, having the need for the “refurbishing” process explained to me once again, and engaging with the material – these all have value.  Even so, I feel like a very impatient middle-schooler while sitting in that room, folding and unfolding my arms while I try my best to appear focused in front of my peers.

Becoming a connected educator has helped me to appreciate that although this post feels embarrassingly confessional, like I’m telling a dirty little secret, there are probably at least a few folks out there who can empathize. I am connected and therefore not alone. And there may be someone out there who will say, “Hey, I hear you and I can help!”  Perhaps there’s someone out there who can say: “here’s how I learned to make that process work for me.” Because I don’t want to shut out the possibility.  I never used to eat cheese and now I enjoy mozzarella.  I know that I can learn and change.

While it does seem highly unlikely that I will ever become a curriculum guru, I do intend to continue becoming a better teacher.  Being and staying connected with my diverse and highly engaged Personal Learning Network (PLN) means that I have every opportunity to keep working at just that.



*”a plan, based on children’s needs” – maybe that’s where my disconnect originates – I’m not always sure that standards and curriculum are truly developed with kids’ diverse needs in mind. That’s a conversation for another post.

What I Know Now About Twitter and Blogging That I Didn’t Know A Year Ago

393 Tweets in.

78 Blog posts deep.

About a year ago I took the dive into Twitter and also began using my blog to express what I could not manage in under 140 characters. What I know now about Twitter and blogging is much more than what I knew just a short year ago.

In no particular order, here’s my list:

  1. Twitter has become my go-to source for excellent content. And actually it is content that comes to me through excellent links shared by the people I follow.
  2. Those people I follow and who follow me, I understand, comprise what is known as my Professional or Personal Learning Network (PLN).
  3. It often frustrates me to decipher unfamiliar abbreviations found in my twitter feed and so I try to make sure I spell them out once if I have the space before continuing to use them.
  4. I am excited about tapping into the wealth of knowledge and expertise I have found both within my PLN and beyond.
  5. I love the fact that my PLN is growing gradually. This has allowed me to acclimate in manageable steps. I’m still learning how to use lists to help with prioritizing. That may become important down the road.
  6. Surprising fact: Educators make up one of the largest groups of twitter users. I made it to the party and it has been so worth it!
  7. It’s possible to search for stuff on twitter using the right hashtags. What comes up is often more interesting and nuanced than what a typical Google search might yield.
  8. My blog posts get read by many more people if the links are retweeted by an individual or organization with many followers.
  9. If a link is very important to you, it makes sense to tweet it out more than once and address it to people you value, who perhaps have more and different followers than you have and may retweet.
  10. When you read a controversial article or post, read the comments, too, in order to really broaden and clarify your thinking.  I have sometimes found comments that were better formulated and argued than the original post.
  11. There is space for my input. To my surprise, there are people who are interested in hearing and seeing what I choose to contribute. I would have never have known this if I hadn’t taken the risk in the first place.
  12. Thanks to my PLN I have learned new skills and found all kinds of apps, tools and resources to expand my tech repertoire.
  13. I live under the influence of a “variable interval reinforcement schedule.”  This means that all of this digital messaging via twitter and e-mail is impacting my brain circuitry so that yes, I’m a little addicted.  The occasional yet unpredictable reward of finding a like on my blog post, or a new follower, or a retweet, keeps me coming back to check both the twitter feed and my inbox far more regularly than is actually necessary.  I want to wrestle with this a little more in the coming year.
  14. I have never done a #ff. (Friday follow = people you would recommend following) So I’ll do it here as a year’s worth: @RafranzDavis, @tomwhitby, @plugusin, @theJLV, @TeachThought, @Edutopia, @grantlichtman, @artofcoaching1, @gcouros, @AngelaWatson, @TeacherSabrina.
  15. It has only been a year and yet the learning has been rich, deep, exciting, and compelling.  I’m in. Let’s see what the next year brings.

Reading, learning, reading, learning, wrting, reading, learning, repeat.

One of my writing goals for this year is to practice the art of brevity. And while I enjoy the teaser qualities of twitter’s 140 characters, that’s still too brief for me to express most of what I want to say. It happens these days that I wake up with 3 or 4 ideas for blog posts or topics I want to dig into. And then life intervenes: trip to the playground, return home sandy and tired, food manufacture of some sort, negotiation of the next round of screen time, rallying towards bedtime, deep sigh when all is said and done, twitter feed scan until lights out, sleep.

Without further ado, here is some much recommended reading:

1. Principals are People Too blog posts by some mutually supportive school leaders who share the challenges and rewards of being a building principal. (Links to the other posts can be found at the end of his post)

This tied in nicely with my previous post about trying on someone else’s shoes.

2. On Deadlines via The Chronicle of Higher Education. This brief blog post introduces some compelling effects of how we may experience various forms of scarcity (i.e., time, financial, and attention) in the case of dealines and the implications that can have for our performance, both professionally and personally. The most compelling quote for me was this:

A deadline is not just a note on the calendar, or the date on an invoice. It is experienced as part of a much larger network of resources and scarcities that are interconnected in the brain’s responses. Simply recognizing that interconnection can be the start of a compassionate response to your own situation as well as that of others. And, given their findings about cognitive “bandwidth” scarcity as an effect of other kinds of scarcity, seeking support or advice outside your own mind can often reveal alternative solutions to a problem that you wouldn’t think of on your own.

This is why coaching can be so productive and useful: it can offer support that allows you to step out of your own head and create space for alternative viewpoints and potential solutions.

3. This piece by Alain de Botton, a philosopher with a superb sense of humor, Why you – probably – need to go see a therapist, speaks with remarkable clarity and beauty about why therapy should be as routine and high priority as dental visits for most of us really.

Read these gems and reap the benefits. These were just too good not to share widely.

Oh yeah, and Yoga is taking over the NBA.

Still working on the brevity thing…

Taking Control of the Firehose (Or Coping with Twitter Overload)


When I started out on twitter I remember someone likening the experience of information flow to “drinking from a fire hose.” Back then (not quite a year ago), I found it funny. Some 200 tweets later, I take that statement a bit more seriously and wonder if  I would ever willingly choose to literally “drink from a fire hose.”  I suspect not.

So what is my experience of twitter really?  I wonder.

  • I actually like it, use it, value it as a professional and as an individual with a variety of interests.
  • I enjoy the regular stimulus of continually new material: new links to articles, blog posts, photos and videos.  So much novelty, not just every day; every hour of every day. Didn’t think I’d respond to this but the phenomenon clearly has an impact.
  • To my surprise, I have found tremendous evidence of community. Most of the people I follow have some connection to education; many are well known voices in the North American dialogue on K-12 public education. Others have come to my attention through related channels. So politically, professionally and personally I generally feel that I am among colleagues and allies. And understand that I was able to select my way into this network.
  • Numbers don’t mean as much to me as when I took the initial dive. At the outset, I felt a little silly with my following of 1, then 3, then 8. I marveled at some of the folks I followed for both their number of followers (in the thousands) and the number of people and entities they were following (often in the hundreds). Now I can live with “To each his own.”
  • Yet, I ask myself: how does an individual actually follow over 100 sources on twitter? How do you filter all that information and find the stuff that is really relevant to what you want to know right then?  I know there are all kinds of apps and add-ons to help one do this, but still, how much attention can you give to each thing? How much do you gain and how much do you miss?  And at that end of the day, how will you know?
  • The diversity of content, perspective and conversation even within the very tiny slice of the twittersphere which I actually inhabit has felt at once nourishing and broadening.  Because most tweets actually take me somewhere else, I come into contact with authors and topics that I would not have considered or investigated on my own. If I choose, I can delve into the comment section of an article and discover more views (often dissenting ones) which further enhance my picture of the situation and what seems to be at stake. Of all the benefits of my twitter experience so far, ready access to the diversity of content is by far the greatest.

Where I struggle is in coping with a periodic sense of overwhelm. There is so much of interest. So many topics which I would want to unpack and address – and the beat goes on. The twitter stream flows unabated. First responders provoke a discussion which goes on for a short burst of time, only to be quickly subsumed into the next big hashtag thing.  Part of me has learned to let this go, to just scroll on by.  The other part of me stops to write a post that asks: Just what’s going on here?

As much as I appreciate my twitter feed and the familiar faces I have come to associate with great thinking, useful content and quite a bit of genuine feeling, I am learning to set my own parameters for use. They go something like this:

  • Lurk first before you tweet. (Context familiarity matters.)
  • If it moves you and has meaning, take the time to dig a little deeper. And save the link in Evernote.
  • It’s an ongoing party. No one will miss you if you drop out for a few days of fresh air.
  • Even twitter has cycles. If you missed something cool once, you’ll probably get a few more chances to miss it again.

Slowing down and catching up

This week I was pleasantly surprised to read a post by a well connected educator urging us fellow connected to slow down.  I read it and let my shoulders relax for a moment; it felt like a message I had been waiting for.  Over the course of the past year I’ve really gotten into the edutwitter swing for what it’s worth.  My number of tweets has  been steadily climbing and I feel increasingly brave about putting my own views out there for comment.  There’s a part of me that is proud of myself for pursuing the new and unfamiliar, while seeking outlets for my natural inclinations (developing a sense of neigborhood in the twitterverse, for example). There’s another part of me, however, that is still skeptical and questioning: What is this really all about? What’s my ego investment? and who’s actually benefitting from my online engagement?

And then I read a tweet or an article or watch a video.  There is a change. In me. A response is occurring. Whether I tweet it or not, the change has happened. A brief sharing strikes a chord and reminds me of my own situation. I look at a statistical graph showing me earning differences based of levels of educational attainment. When I watch the video that accompanies the data, I reach a more significant understanding.  Most of the people speaking in the video are brown like me: they are the researchers, educators, community advocates, academics all describing the impact that education has on health outcomes. The graph becomes real, relevant, fully human and of genuine concern.

This type of experience necessitates slowing down. It requires digestion, processing, think time.  And yet, the temptation was there to stop at the graph in the twitter feed and say, “yeah, yeah, we know this…” and keep scrolling. In this case, I’m glad I took the time to listen and learn and become aware, once again, of how much I do not know. 

Another experience of comparing notes with a fellow educator about our respective youngsters preparing to start school gave me pause of a different nature. So close to home, that anxiety about my child in school and what his experience will be like.  Although I know a lot about schools and schooling, the bulk  of my own child’s experience in school or day care, is largely unknowable. Acknowledging that reality calls for nearly stopping in my tracks, breathing deeply and granting myself a moment of gratitude for all the moments which allow me to provide my children with an education regardless of how they do in school.

My twitter use has become a both a personal and professional source of community, knowledge and understanding when I consciously take the time it requires to discern, contextualize and think through the messages that induce an internal shift. Matt Miller’s message arrived at just the right time.  It’s definitely time for me to slow down. Catching up in the interim will be mainly with myself.

The Disconnect amid so much Connection

Just recently I willingly labeled myself a “lurker” in order to describe my social media engagement as an educator.  A lurker is someone who reads, follows, observes online conversations and postings and chooses not to publicly engage by producing output.  I adopted the term because I felt that it best captured my own approach to this (for me) relatively new realm of professional and personal learning.

Here’s the thing: As I read more and more posts concerning how to get more educators connected, the best way to initiate the uninitiated and essentially how to get more folks to jump on said bandwagon, I’m getting a little frustrated.  I think it’s the labeling we are using to frame the dialogue: connected vs. unconnected or semi-connected, initiated vs. uninitiated.  After reading these terms I have essentially asked myself: What’s the price of admission?  At what level of output do I get to call myself “connected”?  How many tweets until I become “a really useful educator”?  It seems to me that the purpose embedded in so many labels serves to determine exactly this.  If I make enough of my learning public through particular online forums (of which there are many, many), then I get to officially board the bandwagon and become its latest new ambassador.

While thinking (and getting all worked up) about this topic, I realized how much I long for a different tack in the conversation. As educators our most significant connection is, and remains, to our students. We connect through the care, concern, and respect we show each of our students every day.  We connect when we reach out to parents and communicate our hopes, expectations and desire for partnership in developing our young people.  We connect in the way we share and collaborate with our colleagues across the hall, upstairs, in the next grade level, or even on the other side of town.  We connect with our craft whenever we experiment with new ideas, take risks in our approaches and recognize our weak points.  When we co-opt a term as broad as “connected” to define a fairly narrow range of activities and behaviors, we do ourselves and our colleagues a disservice.  We create the “us and them” divide before we even can begin the conversation.

Tom Whitby argues in his latest post that

Connected educators may be the worst advocates for getting other educators to connect. Too often they are so enthusiastic at how, as well as how much they are learning through being connected, that they tend to overwhelm the uninitiated, inexperienced, and unconnected educator with a deluge of information that both intimidates and literally scares them to death.

He may well be right. I appreciate his recognition that educators new to social media may be hard pressed to comprehend the fervor of some, yet I can’t help but chafe at the insinuation (in this post and others) that the “unconnected” among us represent so much lack in our whole education system. That may not be the intent yet I feel that sentiment come through again and again.

Come on, educators! We can do better than this! We can be enthusiastic about our turbo learning and wear our merit badges of connection and still remember that every time we divide ourselves, we lose more than we gain. Our “unconnected” colleague down the hall is still, first and foremost, our colleague with whom we share kids and a school community.  We need to always be in the business of supporting each other in striving to serve kids and doing our best with what we have. Let’s stay connected and let’s address the core of the topic: how do we help each other achieve our professional best?  Whether in person, on the phone, by e-mail, or online, let our connection, above all, be human, compassionate and genuine.