The Last Two Weeks: Getting it onto the Page

It’s been an interesting three weeks in which I’ve had the opportunity to learn from several “edulebrities,” and my head is just about full.  It came to a boiling point today during Diana Laufenberg’s “Embracing Failure” session at the NJECC Conference when I realized that some of the ideas we were sharing had appeared in several of the other experiences over the last three weeks.

So what follows below are a few ideas that I’ve decided to put out here in raw form.  The three conferences I was able to attend, NJASCD Annual Conference, TeachMeetNJ, and the NJECC Conference, all pushed me to think deeply and collaboratively, as all the notes were taken with groups of people.

TeachMeet NJ

Harkness Method.

This was shared by David Korfhage who teachers History at Montclair Kimberley Academy.  I had heard of the Harkness Method, but David did a wonderful job explaining how he employs it.  It reminded me of Socratic Seminars, but less structured.
•    arranged desks in a circle (ideally a big table).
•    once the discussion is going is to let the students drive the discussion (at least 80%).
•    teachers need to be comfortable with silence.

Lyn Hilt.  Lyn, who is someone I have followed on twitter for a while, really impressed me with her stories about changing professional development within her building.  She described how she employed Atlassian’s idea of “FedEx Days” at her school during one of the scheduled Professional Development Days.  If you’re not familiar with this idea, essentially she gave her staff the day to work on whatever they wanted to, but at the end of the day, they had to present their idea and the work they did to their colleagues.


From Linda Darling-Hammond:
On Testing culture and the cult of one right answer:

  • “There’s a lot of scrimmages, but not a lot of games.”  This is due to feedback.
  • Feedback needs to be given not only the “scorable” aspects of learning, but also on how to problem solve.
  • Kids never become habitual in their capacity to become competent–meaning that they don’t see themselves as able to solve things well.
  • once kids take on ownership of the bad side “I’m not good at…” then it is very difficult to remove them.
  • It’s less threatening to not do their homework, than to do it and get it wrong for fixed mindset.

ON Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset:

  • is intelligence fixed?  Or is it elastic?
  • Two types of kids get trapped by a fixed mindset:
    • GT kids.
    • kids that figure things out quickly early on.
  • There is no correlation between when your kid learns to read and how well they read later on.
  • Great teachers move kids out of a fixed mindset into a growth mindset.

PDA: Professional Development Academy

  • to ready teachers to lead and ensure the success of a professional learning community.

The district created an academy focused on keeping a cohort of teachers together for one year, and provided them with resources, time, and consistent support outside of the classroom.  Interesting piece they did to establish the continuity between the program: long-term subs were matched with teachers so that they began to understand the functions of the individual classrooms.


Diana Laufenberg keynoted the conference and really struck a chord with me regarding her use of improvisation with students and her desire to put them in real spaces and let them do meaningful work.  Diana has a unique ability to trust that the students she teaches will rise to the challenges she gives to them without smothering their thinking or tainting it with her own ideas.

  • Diana is talking about change as meaning incompetence in what we already did.  I love framing it this way
  • I really like how she used the term “mourn the loss,” when referring to asking teachers to change what they do.  They must first mourn the loss of the old.
  • School trains them to be less curious.  Let’s flip that around.  We are natural explorers.
  • The idea of teaching improvisation as a skill
  • We need to change our classrooms into spaces that are less us more them, where there voices are heard and honored.
  • Another great piece from SLA: their LMS designed for reflection was outstanding.  Each space allows kids to not only turn in assignments, but also reflect on them in public.
  • Let’s teach failure.  Not how to do it, but rather, what to do once it happens.

Wherever you go, there you are.

I may have missed the boat with a TEDxNYED reflection being that it is going on Wednesday and several others have already gushed about the day.  If you had paid attention to the stream of one-liners that was flying from stage to twitter during the day, you would have heard some gems like these:

Now we could donate more than just money, we could donate our skills.  Location did not matter anymore.  It is  “The Death of Distance” (Andy Carvin)

Volunteerism has been redefined and we are the ones redefining it. (Andy Carvin)

Media are not just tools, they mediate relationships.  When media changes, relationships change, and thus we change as a society. (Michael Wesch)

Teachers who are most successfully are the ones who share most successfully with the most people. (David Wiley)

A parade of rainbow sparkle ponies. (David Wiley)

The role of new media should be to increase our capacity to be generous and open.  Let’s get away from static artifacts of learning, and more towards openness and discourse and discussion. (David Wiley)

And that was before lunch had been served.  It was a day where it was easy to get caught up in the gravity of what was being spoken about, or to take what you heard and scream out an “Amen” or two.  For the last few weeks, I had been looking to this as the one big change in thinking I was needing.

It wasn’t.

The event was so well-planned, and so well-thought out by the organizers.  The speakers were right on and I took a ton out of each of them, and it would have seemed that the stars were aligned for a truly transformative event for me.  I’d built it up to that in my mind, and was really trying to make it happen as the day unfolded, but I got to a point where I just stopped it and let go.  It was at that point to that two things happened.

First, I ran into George Mayo, who I hadn’t seen in two years, and whose solid work with students has had a great impact on my thinking over the last few years.  George and I met three years ago at SLA during one of Steve Hargadon’s pre-Classroom 2.0 learning sessions.  Will Richardson spoke for about the necessity to open our own learning and the learning our colleagues and students.  Looking back, that day, meeting those people (Chris Lehmann, Robin Ellis, Cory Pepler, and Christian Long were all in attendance), it’s clear that it changed the course of my career.  From that point, the metamorphosis that’s occurred in my beliefs, my energy, and my learning has been truly astounding.  So seeing George was a clear reminder of that journey, and that was welcome.

Second, I relaxed and let the day come to me instead of placing it on a pedestal and putting immense pressure on it.  It didn’t have to be a milestone day like that day back in 2007 was, and expecting a day like that would surely ruin whatever it was I was going to take from the experience.  Yes, there were some amazing thinkers and doers in the room, but one can’t expect osmotic learning to occur.  The ideas were flying around and I was doing my best to capture them in my notes and in my thoughts; however, it’s what comes next that will prove to be the biggest difference from TEDxNYED: the changes I bring about.

Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype: Focusing on What Really Matters

A few months back, I got an email from the organizers of Tech Forum Northeast asking me if I wanted to participate in a panel discussion at their upcoming conference.  The panel, they said, would include Ryan Bretag, David Jakes, and David Warlick.  I emailed back a quick “are you sure this is the right email you wanted to send that too?” message, and found out it was me indeed they wanted on that panel.

Whoa.  What a great opportunity for some serious thinking and dialogue.  And again, whoa.  Who am I?  So before they could reconsider, I accepted.  Our panel called Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype: Focusing on What Really Matters, went on at 9:30 and I wanted to thank Lisa Thumann for recording it.

I wanted to thank Judy Salpeter for inviting me and making the arrangements, and to the other panelists, David, David, and Ryan, for pushing my thinking.  It was a blast, and I was thankful that David gave us some of the questions beforehand. The audience asked some great questions and made some salient points, but I think it was Ryan’s point about asking us what we really define an educated person as that will drive my thinking for a while.

What do we expect our students to be when they leave us?  What is our goal as educators?  I heard Zac Chase in my afternoon session on School Leadership state it in a way that I immediately gravitate towards: ethical, responsible, citizens.  The elements that define those three descriptors still need to be determined, but I think it’s an excellent place to start building backwards from.

The video is below.

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Educational Heroes

I pulled this image from Ben Wilkoff’s Academy of Discovery Wiki, and he attributes it to the folks as Science Leadership Academy, but is something I think everyone involved in education should examine.

Let’s take a look at some of the words that are used to describe and “Educational Hero” in this picture:

  • Provocative: the first on the list, and for good reason. What is someone in education if not provocative. By nature, information is meant to incite in us something that lay dormant or underutilized. Giving our students access to such provocation is an act that we need to do often.
  • Risk-Takers: We teach our students to take compositional risks, to make cognitive leaps, and to attempt to connect several disparate ideas into one usable and coherent whole. Why should we as teachers not be doing the same? By nature, our approach should be daring, and variable based on “teachable moments.”
  • Balance-Freedom-Guidance: I like the inclusion of these words, and of “nurturing,” because if nothing else, our students need to feel valuable and safe before they can take the risks that they need to. These words, these actions are what makes it easier for learners to reach from the solid ground of what they know towards that which is shaky, unknown, yet incredibly valuable.
  • Humble: When I work with teachers who are trying to shift away from being the sole arbiters of information in the classroom, I always stress humility over the stress of trying to know everything. Being grounded, centered and comfortable with the idea that you do not have all the answers, and that these students can help you continue to learn, makes it all beautiful, doesn’t it?
  • Want to be like them: Perhaps the highest compliment anyone in education can receive. With the omnipresent stream of role models of ill-repute, being someone that learners want to be “when they grow up” is no small feat. I remember the moments that some of my past teachers did something amazing, showed us a door that we didn’t know existed, and then thinking back to it years later as I was doing the same thing to a group of students. It is high praise indeed.

Value-based learning

This was taken in one of the science labs at SLA last week and it reminded me of a few things, the most prescient being that I love the idea of a school organized around a few wonderful, core ideas. Chris Lehmann has this school humming from what we could see, and I have to think that these ideas are essential to his early success.

In a school here in New Jersey where I used to teach, we had similar organizing principles, called the Quality Standards, by which the students were held accountable for the richness of their work. These here are more geared to the high school level and the methodologies that SLA is employing to reach those goals. Ours were more centered around the middle school mentality and establishing habits in the type of work students produced. They looked something like this:

  • Following Directions- the ability to perform the tasks asked of you
  • Presentation- how your work appeared to others when finished
  • Supporting Details- was your work substantiated
  • Connections- were you able to make a meaningful connection from your research to something outside of the scope of the project
  • Higher Level Thinking- the ability to synthesize and evaluate in your work
  • Evaluation and Revision- your work showed that you had spent time in thought evaluating your finished product

From looking at the SLA model in comparison, I can see that the focus has shifted in education to reflect a new skill set. We want our students to be able to competently show us their abilities in some form–it’s the creative component that we keep hearing so much about through people like Dan Pink.

Having been to SLA, but not really having spoken to Chris about these values, here is how I have come to interpret them:

  • Inquiry- what questions are you asking, and what makes you ask them
  • Research- use every attainable and relevant resource available to you to answer these questions
  • Collaboration- can you use the technology available to you to create meaning with others
  • Presentation- showing an audience what you have uncovered and the medium in which you choose is paramount in order to convey your message
  • Reflection- you must be the first one to evaluate the merits of your own research and thought process.

The last paragraph of the Mission and Vision section of their website is what really separates this place from most other secondary institutions at the moment:

At the SLA, learning will not be just something that happens from 8:30am to 3:00pm, but a continuous process that expands beyond the four walls of the classroom into every facet of our lives.

This is where I think we need to move to.