Walk the Walk

The following post is cross posted from NCS Writing Project.

We tell students writing is important.  They (will) need to write to communicate, to process, to take tests, to fill out job applications.  We tell them they will need to write “when they grow up”, that this is a very important skill.  Yet how often do we model writing, especially writing that other people read?  If we really believe in the importance of writing wouldn’t it make sense to model it?  When I look back at my first blog post, I wrote about blogging for self-reflection, keeping a record, sharing, and conversation, but I never thought about modeling writing.   Looking back, I think modeling is one of the most important aspects of blogging because it involves all the others.  It also models the risk-taking involved (at least for many of us) in making our thoughts and words public.

David Cutler puts it well in his post To Teach Effective Writing, Model Effective Writing:  To teach effective writing, we must be effective writers ourselves. We can’t teach what we don’t know, and when it comes to writing, it’s important to continue honing our craft. If you haven’t engaged in much formal writing since college, you will remain a less effective writing teacher. No matter what subject you teach, try starting a blog, writing articles, or developing short stories — all terrific ways to engage the mind and keep your skills sharp.

I’d love to see folks make a commitment to contribute a blog post to our NCS Writing Project sometime during this semester.  If you’re not sure what to write about, here are some suggestions:

  • Was there a teacher who inspired you?  Why?
  • What’s the most important lesson you learned in school?
  • Why is  writing important?
  • What’s one thing you’re going to do differently this year?
  • How did you continue your professional learning over the summer? (travel, conferences, etc)
  • Do you have a lesson or activity that other teachers might benefit from hearing about?
  • Is there a book, article, other blog post that you’d like to offer commentary on?
  • Other?

The Role of the Leader is to Model the Model

“The role of the leader is to model the model.” 

This is one thing that really stuck with me from Steve Barkley‘s presentation at the WFL Leadership Academy.  My interpretation of it is that school leaders should be modeling what they want teachers to model for their students. What sets this comment apart for me is that it directly addresses the multiple layers of people involved.  From my perspective as both staff developer and classroom teacher, there is often a disconnect between how we, as leaders teach (or plan professional learning), and how we expect teachers to teach.

When Steve asked,  “What do we do to create opportunities for kids to be passionate about learning?”  I would take out the word “kids” and replace it with “teachers”.  How often do we think about creating opportunities for teachers to be passionate about learning? Especially those who don’t naturally seek out opportunities?  If we as leaders aren’t modeling this, how can we expect teachers to implement it?  What makes this so difficult for all of us is that we have to provide “a very different kind of education than most of us have had.” (Steve Barkley)

Imagine a footbridge connecting State Ed to students with evenly spaced boards between State Ed, District Office, principals, teachers, and students.  When it’s OK to teach the same way we’ve been taught, everything is fine.  However, when we have to begin teaching in a way that’s inconsistent with our own experience, suddenly it’s like there are boards missing which makes continuing down the path more difficult.  In the way things are often done, the gap created by the missing boards ends up right in front of teachers, so we have to make the leap between how we we’re taught and how we are expected to be teaching.  However, if more of our professional learning time was focused on modeling that “very different kind of education”, then all of the burden of translation wouldn’t fall on the teacher.  The missing boards would be spread throughout the bridge, making it much easier to cross.


Educon Magic

Magic is a word that comes up often in our house these days.  It explains everything from how Santa gets down the chimney to how a tiny seed grows into a huge plant.  Since magic gets brought to my attention so often, maybe it’s not surprising that it comes to mind when I try to sum up Educon.  The definition I like best is “any extraordinary or mystical influence“.

The conference was great, the school is amazing, the structured conversations were fascinating, but the most magical part of going to Educon was the conversation with my own colleagues.  Somehow, Educon spurred a level of conversation we don’t often experience at home.   It is these conversations that will stay with me the longest.

It’s hard to explain this conference to people who haven’t been there. At a time when people are thinking about cabin fever and depressing State of the State addresses,  Educon brings energy, excitement, hope, and inspiration. Each year this conference pulls me out of my own little bubble and challenges me to try new ideas.  This year my challenge to myself is to think more about agency, both in my classroom and in my tech integration work. It gets tricky because there always seems to be a tension between what has to get done or has to get covered and how much a student or teacher can be empowered in that process.

Thank you Educon and SLA for another great conference and especially thanks to my colleagues for all the stimulating discussions, lively disagreements, and great laughs!

Thinking About Coding

As I watched Mitch Resnick’s TED Talk on teaching kids to code, I was struck by the analogies he made to language.  First he took issue with the term digital natives, saying that while kids know how to consume new technologies, they often don’t know how to create with them. He said this is like knowing how to read, but not knowing how to write. Then he compared “learning to read and reading to learn “to “learning to code and coding to learn “.  At the end he said we learn to write because it’s a useful skill, not because we are all going to become professional writers. In the same way, coding is a very useful skill that we can learn without having to become professional coders.

These analogies resonate with me right now as I am jumping in to the somewhat intimidating new world (for me) of teaching kids to code.  It makes me wonder, should coding be a part of the curriculum for all students? If I think it’s important for my own children, should I advocate its importance for all kids?  How do we take the step from the easy-to-use Hour of Code package, to something deeper and more creative?

Reaction to Pam Moran Post “On Patience and Empathy”

First of all, thank you Pam Moran for writing such an inspirational post.  It’s a great reminder to keep focused on the humanity of our jobs and our lives.

Two quotes stand out to me as both a teacher and a parent.

“…connections help us find the empathy we need to remember that children need us to care first and teach second.”

“Patience reminds us to put a child first and the rules second.”

These quotes remind me to try not to respond to children (or anyone) with emotional reactions of frustration, anger, or blame.  Instead of jumping to immediate conclusions (that come through in the tone of my reactions), I’m reminded to take the time to ask questions first. Asking first helps me understand people and situations better, and it also strengthens and builds the connections instead of breaking them down.

There are questions too, though.  I feel like sometimes empathy and the ideas in the above mentioned quotes are seen as being too “soft” on kids.  Is there some tension between empathy and high expectations? While I don’t think they are mutually exclusive, they don’t always walk hand-in-hand either.   Does having empathy lead us to change our expectations? Is this OK?

Is it more important to model empathy then to model rule-following?  When I think about this on a personal level, the answer is yes.  I would rather my daughters learn to be caring, emotionally connected people than to blindly follow rules.




NYSCATE14 Reflections

Thinking back on conversations and sessions at NYSCATE 2014, I’m struck by the impact this conference has had on our school’s use of technology over the years. Though we can all read about the latest and greatest on Twitter or blogs, there is something about the vitality of the gathering and the power of face-to-face conversations that is (ironically) energizing.  Last year, I knew other schools were leveraging social media, but it wasn’t until someone presented a structure at a NYSCATE session that I was able to get my head around how our district could do this.  A year later, #naplescsd is widely used in our district.  I’m hoping that my big takeaway for implementation this year will be coding.  It’s been nagging at the back of my mind, and the session  @rickweinberg and @LearnStuff22 offered on this topic gave me some great ideas and resources in addition to highlighting the importance of learning to code.

One area I wish NYSCATE could have a stronger influence on schools is modeling how to use technology to make classrooms more student centered.  For me, one of the biggest appeals of technology integration is that students can be actively involved in their learning instead of “sitting and getting” information.  Moving from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” is not an easy transition for teachers.  Since so many of us learn by doing, it can be difficult to experience our learning in a “sage on the stage” manner, and then transition to teaching that is “guide on the side”.   However, if we were able to experience our own learning in a more student-centered way, then it would be easier to go back to our home districts and teach (children and adults) as “guides on the side”.

Since NYSCATE has so much influence in educational technology, I wonder what the impact  would be if next year there was a whole strand of sessions that modeled active participant engagement?  What if the rooms were set up in circles or groups instead of front-facing rows?  What if we had to be as fully engaged as we expect our students to be?  Would we learn more or less?  Would it be more or less comfortable?  Would it help our schools, our teaching, and our students?

Having 1:1 Devices is a Gamechanger

I’ve had a shared class set of iPads in my room for two years.  This year each of my students has his/her own iPad and the devices are carried from class to class.  I didn’t think it would be much different from how I was teaching before, but it is.  What makes it different?

  • Now, they have their device (no time spent passing them out)
  • They are logged into everything and do not need to log out (huge time saver, especially b/c they don’t have to remember passwords)
  • They can send/receive emails seamlessly b/c their email is now integrated
  • They have much greater fluency, so less time is wasted, less support needed, and they are capable of more
  • They have a sense of ownership over the devices

Yesterday I taught the Columbian Exchange.  Normally I show and explain a map, have the students read a paragraph in the textbook, and do some small/large group discussion.  On a whim, I scrapped all that and instead put this up on the screen:


I said nothing else to the class and I gave them 20 minutes.  While they were working, Googling information and images,  I walked around, looked over shoulders, and offered comments where appropriate.


At the end of my first class, I told them how I usually teach this topic.  Then I asked which style they preferred, which style they learned more from.  Their answer was unanimous – in favor of the new way.  But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.  They might like the new way, but will they learn from it?  Today’s quiz had a question about the Columbian Exchange.  91.3% of my students in this class got it right, as compared to 84.21% last year.  And, by the way, their quiz grades and answer key were emailed to them during class, so they got timely and specific feedback.


“The Brain Is Like a Muscle” via Larry Ferlazzo

This year we did our paper blogging activity after completing Larry Ferlazzo’s brain plasticity lesson.  I don’t usual follow scripted lessons, but this one was awesome.  (It can be found in the book Helping Students Motivate Themselves.)  Students read an article titled “You Can Grow Your Intelligence”.  It was broken up in a that made it manageable for all reading abilities in my 7th grade classroom.  I loved that there was explicit instruction on reading skills built right in to the lesson: reading, highlighting, summarizing, questioning, visualizing, and evaluating.  The students used the drawing they made during the visualization stage and the evaluative writing piece to make their paper blogs.  We talked a little bit about how to comment on someone else’s work and then the students circulated throughout the room commenting on the paper blogs.  I find that this activity really sets the stage for “regular” digital blogging.  At the end of class, I asked them use the sentence starters, “I like”, “I wonder”, and “What if” to give me feedback on my lesson on commenting.  My biggest takeaway from the student feedback was that next time, they need more time to comment.  Many of them also anticipated the next step with the questions like, “What if we did this online?”


photo (4)

Is Working Hard More Important Than Getting Good Grades?

I put this statement on the screen:  Working hard is more important than getting good grades.  Then I used a great activity I learned from the book , Total Participation Techniques (Himmele) called Debate Team Carousel.  Students work in groups (ideally groups of 4).  Each student folds a piece of paper into quarters and numbers the boxes.  In box 1 students write their own opinion and explain it.  The paper then gets passed to the next student who adds a supporting argument in box 2 (whether or not they actually agree).  The third student must write an opposing argument in the 3rd box.  Then the paper gets passed back to the 1st person who can add their own two cents.

I like this activity because it forces students to see different perspectives and push themselves beyond their own bubble.  It also engages them in writing and reading because they know that their peers will be looking at it.

Here are a couple examples:

photo (3) photo (2)

How do we teach work ethic?

I think about this question often, both as a parent and as a teacher.  It comes up at school all the time.  We all get frustrated when students don’t work as hard as we’d like them to.  This summer, as I was reading Larry Ferlazzo’s Helping Students Motivate Themselves, it hit me.  I’ve never talked to my students about work ethic – what it is, what it looks like, or why it’s important.  I’ve just assumed they should “have it”.  So how do they “get it” and if they “have it”, how do we make sure they apply it in school?  I don’t really have answers to these questions, but I am going to try something new this year and have some explicit conversations about work ethic.  One thing I want to ask students to discuss is this statement: “Working hard is more important than getting good grades.”  What’s your take?