Seek Less Permission

Over the weekend, I read Dan’s post. I thought it was the right thing to say, and a good way to think about moving a networkish kind of community-esque thing into a better place in a time of networked publicness1 .

Stephen’s take is a good reminder of one of my Internet teacher pet peeves:

And it’s funny how passive people are – why would you need permission to use a hashtag? Nobody can own a hashtag, not even if they set up a Twitter identity and lay claim to it.

I wish more folks would quit trying to claim territory and focus instead on doing interesting things in ways that invite other folks to see/help/share/experience.

  1. Yeah, I know that’s a ridiculous phrase – but it’s more accurate than something like “the community.” On the Internet, there’s no such thing. Just the illusion of one. []
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Just Read, Dammit.

A couple of small things intersected in a timely fashion in my Twitter feeds yesterday.1

The first was this piece in the Washington Post about a district administrator in Florida who has banned all homework in elementary school – save for reading twenty minutes a night:

Elementary school students in one Florida school district are going to find a welcome new — but controversial — policy when they return to school for the 2017-2018 school year next month: no traditional homework.

They are being asked to do one thing to help them academically: Read for 20 minutes a night.

Heidi Maier, the new superintendent of the 42,000-student Marion County public school district in Florida, said in an interview that she made the decision based on solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students.

What a wonderful reminder of the power of reading AND the importance of taking a break from school. And, for that matter, the importance of actually incorporating data into teaching and learning. And, heck, while we’re at it – the significant power in NOT doing something. Not doing the wrong thing is a wonderful way to get better. It gives you room to try something else.

The second item was a collection of tweets I saw in passing during an EdSurge2 twitter chat. The gist of my noticing is summed up here:

If teachers don’t understand the the value in reading is less about WHAT gets read than the fact that READING BECOMES A HABIT for a learner, then there’s work for us to do.

Reading3 is essential to lifelong learning. It’s worth doing and it’s worth doing promisciuously, at least some times.  It’s also more important that most of what’s ever been foisted on children as “further practice” or “homework.”

While you’re reading big and broad this summer, you might want to pick up a copy of Daniel Pennac’s Better than Life, a delightful meditation on what it means to read and be a reader. Be sure to pay special attention to his Reader’s Bill of Rights, and consider how you’ll make the shift towards allowing those rights to be present in the reading lives of your students.

In the meantime, as you’re out and about this summer, please grab a text, be it an old favorite novel, or a trashy magazine, or a vampire romance, or a graphic novel, or the newest mystery, or a scholarly chapter, or back issues of your favorite newspaper, and please do me this:

Just read, dammit. And help others do the same.

  1. I’m learning again to watch for these, the moments when my writer sense tingles. []
  2. The fact that EdSurge itself is an infomercial is irrelevant to this particular post, but probably worth talking about at some future point. If EdSurge is your go to source for information on Ed Tech/edtech/edutech, you’re definitely doing it wrong. []
  3. In multiple modes, yes. Audiobooks count. []
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Custodians of Magic & Wonder

I’ve been working for a little more than two years as a library administrator, and am awful lot of my work of late has been planning for the future of the Clearview Library District, my workplace home.

We’re dreaming hard and big right now about what we want the future of our library community to look like. Specifically, we’re planning to build a new library.

It’s important work. Not just because you want to get the details right. (But we do.) It’s that when we’re dreaming about the spaces we want to build, and to ask the public to support, I wanna make sure we’re dreaming about the right sort of stuff.

Here’s the thing. Libraries aren’t just warehouses for books. But that’s a part of what they are. Libraries aren’t just quiet reading rooms. But that a piece of it. Libraries aren’t just civic spaces where people can gather. But they’re that, too.

Libraries are also places for events and experiences that help all folks learn and dream and wonder and hope and explore and be curious. That’s important. Essential.

Our library’s mission is to:

Cultivate curiosity. Enlighten the mind. Strengthen the community. 

At the library, we’re in the business of magic and wonder. We are the stewards of the experiences visitors will tell their grandchildren about. And we are the space in the community where anyone can wonder about most anything they want to. Our library is a curiosity and serendipity engine.

My job is to help make sure these things happen for all the people who might interact with the public library, as well as to engage anyone in the district as to the fact that we’re here, we’re open, and we’re eager to be that civic curiosity and wonder space for all. And that means we have to get the building right, yes. But that’s not enough. We have to make the culture work, both  for our staff as well as our patrons. It has to feel right and good and open and safe.

I used to teach high school to students who didn’t like school. Now, I help run a school that no one is required to attend. We call it the library, and the curriculum is mostly whatever you’re curious about when you walk through the door.

I take this responsibility very seriously. I’m helping, in some small way, to keep a tradition alive that’s American and right and good, in all the best ways about those words.

Magic. That’s what we do.

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Badges. They’re Still Not What I Thought They Were.

I’ve been working lately on some resources related to telling stories about the work that the Badges Team of the New Pathways Initiative has inspired and/or been influenced by. I’ve written some about the team and our work – but not enough. I need to do that more. But what I want to capture right now is a little thing, one thing that I’ve been missing in some of my work on badging.

I spent an hour yesterday listening to Deanna and Liz and Vickie talk about the work they’ve done at the Morehead Writing Project to build an online Summer Institute.  It’s modeled after their traditional Invitational Summer Institute, a multi week summer experience for teachers focusing on writing and teaching and classroom inquiry. Now in its eighth year, the Online SI is chugging right along as a healthy online experience. But Deanna also mentioned that she uses badges as a way of helping the community of a class develop. In a way, she uses them as props or lubricant to help the classes she facilitates pay attention to each other. They give gratitude via badges. They point out things they might otherwise not notice. She’s written an awful lot about badges and how she uses them. Here’s a good place to start if you want to read more.

Yet another reminder to me that the value in badges has very little to do with the credentials, sometimes, and an awful lot to do with the behavior they help describe and make visible.

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On Turning 39

I’m writing tonight from a room at the National Writing Project’s Resource Development Retreat in Denver. I’ve been here the last couple of days, working to build some resources and support some other folks to get things made. Several of the NWP’s initiatives and projects are represented here, and there’re folks working on making assignments better, sharing how they’re doing things, and reaching for a little more dissemination of the work that’s going on in classrooms around the country.

Oh, and today?  It’s my 39th birthday.

I can think of few places I’d rather be on my birthday than with the folks and the organization that has done so much for me and my students across my varied career as a teacher, a consultant, an IT professional, a library administrator, and a writer and speaker about technology. Tonight, we’re gathered together to encourage each other to get some writing done. So we’re sitting around conference rounds typing away as fast as we can. Writing alone. Together1.

This blog’s getting old, and so am I.  It’s been more than twelve years since I adopted, mostly by accident, the online identity of “Bud the Teacher.” And I’ve switched careers a couple of times since then. I wondered if it was time to drop this space, to say so long and start fresh somewhere else. I’ve made new spaces a couple of times, but they never stuck.

I’m still a teacher, even if the folks I’m teaching might not consider themselves “students.” I think I always will be. And I still am nowhere close to being done learning, which is what a teacher does, right up there in front of everybody2

So Bud the Teacher is still who I am, even if he was someone I never quite meant to be.

On this, the start of my 39th year, I want to write a bit about what I’m thinking about lately, what’s keeping me busy, and what I want to spend the last year of this decade and the first year of the next on. I want to try to push through the awkwardness of not knowing how to write in this space so much lately.

I’m going to learn how to blog again. Again.

I don’t blog like I used to. I don’t like that. I’d like this next year to see a little more of me.

I’ve been writing, certainly, and will never stop, but lots of my writing of late has gone into envelopes and mailboxes, as I’ve tried to work on being a better corresponder with friends and family. I just haven’t been writing here. Again, I’m hoping to change that.

The next couple of posts will be snapshots from my world right now.

  1. There are also silly hats. I do not understand this, but it seems to be working, so I’m going with it. []
  2. Though more and more now, I teach and love to learn through budgets and proposals and coaching infrastructure. Frequently from the back of the room. []
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Tying My Shoes

Late last week, I relearned how to tie my shoes.

I’m not kidding.

Every Friday in my office, my team and I sit together for a weekly team meeting. It’s our chance to be together at the end of a long week, catch each other on what’s been happening and what we’ve been up to, and to build our sense of our team a little better.

One way we do that is that we take turns sharing TED talks with each other, and talking about how the ideas the speakers share might relate to our work together, or to libraries in general.1

Last week, as a teammate was in a hurry, she suggested a short video. And it was one that messed with my head a little bit.

Just watch it. It’s only three minutes long.  Here it is:

All this time, and I’ve been doing it wrong. All my work shoes make their way loose throughout the course of a day. This way of tying them? Once they’re done, they’re done.

So I’m relearning how to do something that’s been muscle memory for me for almost my entire life. It’s slow going.

Change is hard. And it starts with small moves for good reasons. One member of my team said that she doesn’t need to learn to tie her shows differently, because her laces don’t come loose. She’s right – if the goals don’t line up, then you shouldn’t change. You should only bother to make a change for yourself or for someone else when it makes sense to, when your plan needs, or maybe even requires, that you align yourself differently and you work to change some habits.

But if your habits aren’t the problem, if they’re helping you get stuff done, then you’d better not change them. They’re the right habits to have.

The habits of my first thirteen years of work and professional career stuff aren’t all serving me well at this stage of my work. And while it’s taking me a long time, I’m starting to figure that out.

Part of what’s helping is remembering to think about the stuff that I do without thinking about.

I hope you’re doing that, too.

  1. This was not my original plan. I was hoping that the team would read things together. But we’re busy, and there’s an awful lot of good TED talks out there that are gateways into interesting ideas. So someone suggested we do that, and it’s working pretty well. []
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On Not Solving Problems

I’m writing today at the tail end of a National Writing Project Building New Pathways for teacher Leadership Convening in New Orleans.  For the last year, I’ve been working with a smart team of NWPeeps to think about the role of badging and micro credentials in supporting new pathways for teacher leaders in the National Writing Project network.  It’s been powerful work for me as I’ve been trying to understand how best to help the network help local sites to create new and strong pathways to bring people into the network.

New people. In new ways. It’s been about asking ourselves and each other what it is that has made the traditional pathway into NWP leadership – the Invitational Summer Institute – work so well. In asking that question, the work has also been framed around how to create new opportunities and experiences for folks who should be in the network to be in it.

But asking that question can be scary – because in a way it’s saying that there will be writing project people who are in the network who didn’t come in the same way that others did.

Of course, nobody came to the NWP in the same way. It just feels like maybe we did.

The last couple of paragraphs probably won’t make much sense to anyone who isn’t familiar with the way that NWP, a national network of near 200 sites, works. Local sites are university-school partnerships that stand up opportunities for writing together, asking hard questions, and developing teachers to become better teachers of writing.

And the role of the National Writing Project is slippery, though not in a bad way. It’s slippery in the same way any governing organization of organizations is. Loose ties and local contexts mean different ways forward. I regularly forget that.

And as I was listening to teachers and professors share their experiences of trying to “create the magic” of their writing project site for new audiences, in new ways, using some new tools, I heard a couple of phrases I want to remember.

One was my friend Tanya sharing that there are a couple of ways to think about what it means to be a resource to others1. It might be that you look out into the world and see a group of folks and say, “Hey. I can fix you. I can make you better.  You need what we’ve got.”  Think traditional PD. We know what you need. Come and get it.

But there’s a second way to think about it. “Hey,” you might say as you look out into the world and at yourselves and see that there’s a group or perspective missing from your organization, or that there’s an audience that’s new that you might should be in conversation with, “That’s a group that is interesting and isn’t here.”

What you might say next then, is, this: “We need you. We’d be better if you were here and we were there a little bit.”

That’s a better way. I don’t know what you need, but maybe I need you. Let’s get better together.

Another piece I want to remember from this week, and likely keep learning and forgetting as I work again and again with the National Writing Project. As I look back from when I entered the network as an early career teacher, and as I look ahead now as someone doing work as a representative of the NWP in multiple ways, this is the thing I forget.

It’s not that my work at the national level is to make you like me. It’s not my work to solve your problem. My work is to help you remember what’s important and special and true about our shared experiences and work. My work is to help you remember just enough of that, and to help you explore how you can solve your problem yourself. Because it turns out you can.

And then you need to help me solve mine, and to remember all the stuff I worked to help you do. Because I’m going to need your help to help me do the same thing.

The work of the NWP isn’t transactional. It’s not measured in deliverables.  It’s generative. It creates the opportinity and capacity for you to solve the next challenge, and to head out on a new path, and to help the next group of folks solve their next series of challenges. Then rinse and repeat.

We’ll never be done, but we can sure make things better. I forget that in new projects and rush to get into problem solving mode. That’s not quite the right way to do it, and I’m always frustrated for myself for forgetting and grateful for the network for the reminder.

One last takeaway from this meeting for me. When I came to the badging work, I got really excited to make some badges, and build out some pathways. That was, it turns out, the wrong way forward. The better way, which it took us a while to figure out, was to instead ask the network a very hard question. Rather than making badges, we needed to ask the network was with important, what wasn’t, and how we tell the difference.

The answer to that question has turned out to be far more useful than any badge I could’ve made. Our team will spend the next year planning out how to continue to educate the network about itself. What a neat thing to get to do.

  1. She didn’t say it quite like I’m about to – the good ideas are hers, and I’ll likely screw it up a bit – but know that she’d say it better. []
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Losing My Pigeon

I’ve been quiet in this space these last several months. I’m still finding my space and place as a consultant and library person. It’s a great transition – but there are many moments of my work of late that aren’t bloggable, and I’ve remembered that it’s easier, often, to keep quiet than to thread the needle of privacy and transparency when working to tell my stories of learning that involve others. 

There’s work to do to recover my blogging self, but my private writing self has been thriving. I want to push a little to regain some of my blogging ground, though. And I’m reading some incredible things lately.

So here’s a quick push to get you to read this incredible piece by a friend and fellow believer in people in a time of technology. Audrey said this a few weeks back, and you should read the rest:

I want to suggest that what we need instead of a discipline called “education technology” is an undisciplining. We need criticism at the center of our work. We need to recognize and sit with complexity; we need to demand and stand – or kneel – for justice. We also need care – desperately – the kind of care that has compassion about anxiety and insecurity and that works to alleviate their causes not just suppress the symptoms. We need speculative fictions and counter-narratives that are not interested in reproducing education technology’s legacies or reifying its futures. We need radical disloyalty, blasphemy.

From later in the same talk:

Care is largely absent from education technology, which instead promises rigorous and efficient training. Care is too often completely absent from education, let’s be honest; our institutions do not value the affective labor of teaching and learning.

I’ve taken her words slightly out of context, but attention to care and concern for others must be an essential piece of the work of teaching and learning, with or without technology, in the 21st Century. As I’m at work on pieces of technology right now that are meant to teach people, I want to declare that I’m aware of technology’s power to dehumanize. I reject that and want to do better. I’m willing to fight to lose my pigeon. 

You’re on your own to discover why Audrey believes that the pigeon is a worthy character in the struggle. But she’s right, and it’s a compelling story, beautifully composed. 

Go read it already.

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Mozilla’s Curriculum Workshop – Summer Learning

Last week, I had the honor of sitting in on an episode of Mozilla’s Curriculum Workshop, a regular webinar where folks talk but also (and more importantly) do a little prototyping to begin building things that might be useful to helping folks make and learn with the Web.

The active format is great, and I’m a fan of the hosts, so it was cool to join in to talk and iterate a bit around summer learning opportunities. The format reminded of the old EdTechTalk Barn Raising sessions. I wish more conversations were framed as participatory and with a making focus.

I continue to be deeply concerned that the time when professional educators are “allowed” to spend time in deep learning is summertime. If the job of a learning organization is to promote learning, it sure seems to me that avoiding learning until down time or off time is unhealthy and a terrible model for sustainability. At best, it’s just poor modeling for schools to tell children that learning is so important, teachers are too busy to do so until after their “work” is done.

But editorializing aside, it was fun to visit and build some. Here’s a recap of the webinar, and the video is below.

I sure hope you’re making and learning on something good this summer. I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

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Do We Want To Design Rides, or Do We Want to Create Imagineers?

Zipper ride at night

Had a check in call with my friends in the Compose Our World project recently. That’s the 9th grade curriculum project I’m working on, and not writing about enough. After our first year of exploring PBL and SEL as concepts to guide and shape 9th grade language arts curriculum, we’re beginning to decide what we want our curriculum for students and teachers to maybe look like.1

As we’re struggling with how to put the pieces together, we’re also slogging through some really big questions about what we want for the learners and the teachers in this project.

Do we want to create really incredible learning experiences, ones that teachers can bring their students to year after year and find success with? At some level, yes, it’s great to make things that are powerful learning tools or experiences, and that can be used more than once by teachers in their classrooms. But maybe creating better tools for learners to rely on isn’t the best thing we could do in this work.

Maybe instead we should be helping people to build their own really powerful learning experiences.

Because Antero is involved in this work, and he’s always thinking about games, and he’s always sending me really interesting resources on how gamers design experiences, Imagineers got brought into the conversation.

When designing curriculum, do we want to be Imagineers, or do we want to be developing Imagineers? That’s the question. And it’s never as simple as either, or2 , but I suspect long time readers of this blog will know which way I want things to lean towards.

How about you?

  1. Before we iterate through another round and change most everything. That’s how design works. []
  2. Nor are rides always the best metaphor for learning experiences – because frequently the best learning happens on detours, or when we take the experience off the tracks. []
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