Knowing What Resonates

Although I have always been an enthusiastic reader, the variety, pace and range of reading that I do now astounds me. After one year of full intellectual contact with online media, I see distinct patterns emerging that determine which content will likely earn a favorite star or be retweeted to my co-learners/explorers.  Five distinct characteristics stand out:

1. I value authors who show their humanity in a palatable and potentially endearing way. No strip tease or outrageous confessions, just individuals who can describe their struggles and victories with a degree of humility, grace and often humor. Pernille Ripp does this extremely well whether she’s writing about her classroom or her living room, it’s all very real and reflective without being creepy. John Spencer (@edrethink) also has knack for thoughtful sharing that is personal and often professionally relevant.

2. System skeptics will inherit the earth even though it’s not really what they wanted in the first place. My heart beats for these perpetual disrupters; the folks who shake their heads, fists or both at the prevailing order and write, write, write, making others uncomfortable with their unforgiving questioning.  Divergent thinking, floating alternatives, and leaving nothing sacred are the hallmarks of this unquiet riot. One of my favorite education system skeptics is Terry Heick. His posts at TeachThought often require 2 or 3 read-throughs in order for me to take in the full depth of his arguments. Raising questions like “What is quality?” or “What’s Best for Kids?” demands a capacity for big picture thinking coupled with an appreciation for the supporting details that make it all go. Grant Lichtman is another agitator for change who has mapped out some very real options for alternative routes in his book, EdJourney.

3. The polemicists.  These authors take debatable positions and in doing so invite discussion with and among readers.  Although I am not a fan of formal debate, when I read an article or blog post that touches a nerve, then I also read a number of comments to get a sense of how others have responded. This practice has truly invigorated my reading in unexpected ways. Having a window into other people’s thinking about the same text has touched off some tremendous learning on my part. And it has allowed me to discover my own comment voice. Tom Whitby of edu fame tends to take strong positions especially with regard to educators and their need to get connected in order to remain relevant.  I agree with him on many points and  I have also disagreed with an idea or two. What is new is that I now take the liberty of speaking up, either in the comment section or even in a separate blog post.  And that experience of daring to hold and also publicly share a dissenting opinion has been both liberating and empowering. Learning to disagree without becoming disagreeable has broadened and sharpened my thinking.  Also check out Jose Vilson for his powerful arguments and the way he addresses opposing views; business and art in the same post.

4. Clarity of purpose and encouragement as a professional mission will get me every time. Two experts who emulate this  are Elena Aguilar and Angela Watson. Both are authors in the educational realm and  each offers unique means to help educators find their inner resources to sustain and grow their practice.  Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) also does an amazing job of appreciating and acknowledging his school community even as he spreads that positive
impact around the world. He is clear about his purpose and it shows. I think he must have one of the highest good news quotients on twitter. Worth following.  And sometimes I just stop by cult of pedagogy because Jennifer Gonzales is so remarkably  gracious and personable in all her communications even as she offers tons of resources to make the teaching life better and better.

5. Beauty
When I catch beautiful writing in its tracks, I try to admire it for longer but it always slips away. That’s why it’s such an intense encounter when it happens, like a sudden kiss. Beauty can be funny, come-as-you-are, full of surprise, wearing a hint of mystery – the point is, I never know where beauty will appear – in which post, on which platform, from which author. A short story like this can change my day with the laughter it unleashes.  Sometimes, it’s a picture or a short video, just something that reminds me how amazing this whole “inhabiting the planet earth” narrative is day after day, hour by hour.

What’s Missing in This Picture?

Digging deeper pays off.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about so much of what I’ve learned through Twitter and blogging. One of the points I made was about reading the comments made in response to particularly controversial, or even any article or post. Comments often contain points and arguments which can stretch your thinking and expand your perspective on a topic. Well, now I’ve learned something else.

If a post or article offers a link to another article or post and happens to be based on that link, go read the link. Yes, it involves more time and perhaps an extra click or two and it means you may get much closer to seeing the whole picture rather than just a piece. Here’s my tale:

I read Tom Whitby’s recent post which asks “Does Tech Hold Educators Back?” Right at the outset he offers a link to the blog post from which he quotes an unconnected educator describing his Edcamp experience. Initially I did not read the link. Rather, I read the post and became irritated about something in it but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I reread the post the following day and came up with the following:
Near the end of the post, Tom Whitby makes this claim:

Again, to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators. Edcamps do just that, and most will be dominated by technology discussions, because that is the very discussion educators need to engage in to maintain relevance.

While I agree that enhancing teachers’ learning is key to enhancing students’ learning, the assumption that most Edcamps will be dominated by tech discussions and that these technology discussions are “the very discussion educators need to engage in to maintain relevance” rubbed me the wrong way. It sounds (in the context of the whole post, I remind you) as if educators who question a heavy tech emphasis are somehow seeking to avoid improving their practice. In my thinking, any educator who attends an Edcamp and returns as enthused by the experience as the quoted teacher is relevant and is making attempts to stay relevant. And that ought to be the point of acknowledgement rather than judging the individual’s nerve to question the heavy emphasis on tech tools and tips.

So I began working this whole argument out in my mind, preparing this counter-argumentative blog post and I re-read Tom Whitby’s post again (3 times the charm). And this time I actually opened the link to the original post by Tony Sinanis, “#Edcamp, What’s the Point?”. And imagine what I found: A perspective which echoed many of my own thoughts.

On the one hand, Tony Sinanis raises the question:
“are #EdCamps just about sharing tech tips and tools? Has the experience become about technology?” and then goes on to conclude that:

Although there was a relatively “heavy” tech focus at #EdCampLdr that wasn’t what most people will remember from that day – it is definitely not what I will remember that day. What I remember is that I was in a room with hundreds of like-minded, passionate and enthusiastic educators who excitedly self-organized to share, connect and enhance their craft. I remember the exchanges, discussions and conversations. The conversations generally revolved around learning and teaching; around thinking and inquiry; around innovation and a different way of doing things; around passions and interests.

Aha! That’s what I wanted to hear more about. That’s what I was missing in Tom Whitby’s post: an appreciation for a voice and perspective which calls our assumed practices into question. Rather than diagnosing the deficit in the observer’s view, we all need to continue to be curious about both our individual and collective learning. We need to ask such observers more questions: what were you missing at this learning event? What would you like to see more of? In what ways would you consider contributing in the future?

And I would have missed this whole part of the story if I had stopped at the first or second reading of Tom Whitby’s post and skipped reading the whole of Tony Sinanis’s post.

We need to recognize the layers of reading that these relatively new forms of publishing require. We can hardly claim to prepare our students to become critical thinkers if we ourselves are not prepared to do the necessary digging, surfacing and reasoning. That’s my lesson learned this time around.

My 10 best online discoveries of 2013

Once in a while, it’s worthwhile to look back before forging ahead. Here are 10 online discoveries that rocked, changed or otherwise shook up my lifelong learning curve:

1. Twitter -Joined in July, never looked back. Proved to be an extremely powerful and fascinating tool for expanding both my horizons and my reach. Still working with it on a fairly rudimentary level. Look forward to learning more, reaping more benefits.

2. Rafranz Davis – I stumbled onto an article of hers via twitter and my engagement with the aforementioned medium has never been the same.  Follow her and you will gain access to a huge number of diverse voices within education and at the same time feel encouraged to make your own mark at your own pace in your own very distinctive way. What I so admire and respect about Rafranz is her capacity to remain extremely real (and therefore vulnerable) in her interactions as she hosts an audience of thousands. (I know, it’s not about the numbers, but still…) Thanks, Rafranz! (I’m thinking fierce…)
3. Terry Heick and Teach Thought – again another twitter discovery of great significance; A welcome source of reason and insight. Already invited this group to join my first ever “What if” Summit: .
4. Elena Aguilar – Education’s “Coach of the Decade” in my book. Speaking of, buy and read her book, The Art of Coaching to really grasp the depth and weight of what she brings to the conversation on school transformation. She has also provided me with ample encouragement as I have ventured to find and express my voice online.
5. Tom Whitby consistently offers plenty of food for thought on a range of topics in education both through his own blog posts and countless valuable links through tweets. It was in response to a blog post of his about the wisdom of the “college for all” assumption in US education that I wrote my first comment way back in July.
6. Knoword – This is just a great vocabulary game that it has been fun to share and even more fun to play. If you enjoy literacy on any level, get this game:
7. On similar note, a link to this literacy challenge offered by substantial surprise and amusement:
8. My oldest son, James, is a producer and DJ of electronic music. Thanks to his input I have become acquainted with platforms for storing and sharing music, primarily and It is by far one of the coolest things to plug into one of his mixes while preparing stuff for work and know that “Wow, that’s my boy!” Have a listen:

9. – talk about intellectual nourishment! My best buddy Cathleen turned me onto this daily feast of literary, artistic and humanist nuggets. Looking for ongoing mental and emotional sustenance? Add Brainpickings to your twitter feed and be edified.

10. Evernote – I’m still growing into this app. It has enormous capabilities and features that may well change the way I work – once I get around to playing with it and really discovering what could happen if I truly chose to get organized. Hmm…..

So that’s my top 10 online discoveries for 2013: some great individual contributors, some tools, games, and above all, plenty of fuel for learning. Who knows what’s in the pipeline for 2014?
Happy New Year, by the way!

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.



Lurking, listening and proud of it

This post is a shout out to a fellow educator whose thoughtful insights on what it means to be “connected” helped me put my own professional/personal online activities into context.  I first encountered an article by Rafranz Davis in the following way:

A twitter link posted by Tom Whitby on Oct. 2nd led me to a blog post celebrating CEM (Connected Educator Month)  by Stephanie Sandifer which lists a number of articles written by prominent and perhaps not so prominent connected educators (  That’s where I found Rafranz’s article on edSurge: “Connected, Lurking, and Listening”

In this eloquent article she describes those educators who read, follow,  take in and experiement with what social media forums such as twitter and the many related chat groups offer but who do not yet actively contribute. These folks are termed: “lurkers.”  Her point is that educators who are not out there tweeting and blogging to beat the band can and do benefit from the myriad possibilities to seek out new perspectives, special expertise and the comfort of shared stories, even if they themselves are not yet joining the conversation or creating output.  And here the emphasis is on “yet.”  Rafranz offers readers insight into her own path to full connectedness and also illustrates how many of her colleagues discovered their own paths in learning to make use of their online learning for the benefit of students.

This post spoke to me so directly because it captures where I see myself: I am a social media lurker when it come to topics educational. My twitter feed has become a genuine fountain of ideas and worthy perspectives which I enjoy sharing per e-mail with colleagues and friends as the situation fits.  Occasionally I will retweet something out to my 4 (!) followers but that doesn’t have the same priority.  My own blog posts show up in my twitter feed but if anyone arrives there I think it is largely by accident.  And all of that is completely OK.  I didn’t enter the twitter stream to become a big fish.  I wanted to find out what all the positive fuss was about.  Now at least I have a good inkling and I look forward to making the most of my lurker/listener existence.  Am I a connected educator? Sure.  And I am happy to say for the time being I feel connected enough.

I also want to add that the notion of being connected enough is one I have been wrestling with based on some of the more prominent voices in the educational twitterverse.  In some cases I felt discouraged because I wasn’t tweeting up a storm and widening my online reach, although that aspect of online presence still does not interest me.  This is yet another reason that Rafranz’s voice arrived at just the right time to remind us all that there are many roads to learning and expanding our professional repertoire.  And good, deep listening is a piece of the communication puzzle that is so often left to chance and allowed to founder.  Lurker/listeners have a significant role to play in the educational commons were create daily.  I am proud to be among them.

Thank you, Rafranz, for the words of encouragement and boost of confidence.

A Few Thank Yous

THANK YOU: Two words that have changed my life and helped me find my better self when I most needed to.

About a decade ago, I made saying “Thank you” a genuine habit a of mind.  While I had certainly used Thank you, please and you’re welcome often enough in the past, what changed was when I found myself able to say it when it felt most difficult to do so: When I was hearing criticism, when I felt defensive, when I was otherwise at a loss for words.  Saying “Thank you” in those situations allowed me to pause, recognize some of what was going on inside me and be open for the other’s full message. As a habit of mind, Thank you becomes my ever present reminder that I did not get here on my own. I have had much help, support and encouragement along the way.

With respect to this blog, I have some initial Thank Yous to share: for encouragement and attention, for inspiration and material, for providing impetus to keep going. First to my friend and colleague, Jalene, who kindly and simply invited me to join twitter this summer.  A simple invitation in my inbox: all I had to do was click on it and start my journey.  So it began.

To one of the premier gateway voices on twitter who has sparked my interest and learning again and again: Tom Whitby.  It didn’t take many links to find Tom’s outspoken blog on matters educational and once I began following him on twitter, my field of vision was widened immesurably. For that I am extremely grateful.  It was also on Tom’s blog that I found material which necessitated a response: I replied and used one of those responses to relaunch this blog.

Through Edutopia Edutopia and Tom, I have been introduced to another host of educator voices whose contributions have inspired and fascinated me: Joe Bower , Bill Ferriter and Elena Aguilar , to name but a few.

To my cohort colleagues and the leadership team of The Klingenstein Center, I owe many thanks for the ongoing encouragement and willingness to take and share my enthusiastic suggestions for great reads and worthwhile initiatives.  In many ways, they formed my first online audience and their influence runs deep.

cburke2012 was the first follower of this blog since its relaunch and I want to say thanks for opening my eyes to this avenue of connection and reciprocity.

Thank YOU for taking the time to read this.  To whom would you say “Thank you?”

Back in

After a long hiatus, I’m back.
This summer I joined twitter and imagine this: I was pleasantly surprised. Pay no attention to the mindless chatter of celebrities, there’s a wonderful world of exciting contributions to all dialogues educational. I don’t follow many and am not sure how I feel about being followed, yet I have made some excellent discoveries and come across too many great resources to count.

And still I find myself returning to my central belief: it’s the people who count. All the technology in the world will not save us if we fail to respect and appreciate the wonders and weaknesses of being human.
Below is a response I wrote to Tom Whitby regarding his post: Flipping Connectedness to Circumvent Resistance.

Thank you for this thought-provoking post among many others I have been able to read here. Like Jill and TMVine, I am new to twitter and PLNs and have been delighted to cull so much wisdom from a variety of sources. I appreciate your idea here that maybe our students can lead the way and perhaps many already are – whether we as educators acknowledge it or not.
I understand your frustration about essentially “preaching to the converted.” What finally got me to join twitter was an invitation from a trusted colleague. Which leads me to believe that the key to relevance of PLNs is an emphasis on personal. When colleagues reach out to other colleagues, the critical elements of empathy, compassion and care are ultimately what make the difference between genuine connection and potential disconnect. Connecting people takes much more than technology and even as we widen our perspectives to further our learning, may we remain mindful of the human elements we all need to best serve our students and our societies.

I am grateful to Tom and those like him who invest substantial time and energy into making education better for kids now by adding their voices to the conversation. To my own surprise, I find that I, too, have a few words to share.