I taught a class tonight and made it home just in time for bedtime. I’d been looking forward to stories – and expected my daughters to be on their way up to bed. But what I found instead was that Ani was already in bed and tucked in. She wasn’t feeling super well and had retired early.
Without packing her lunch. Which meant it was going to be my job.
But I found out that the lunch wasn’t made because I caught Teagan, her younger sister, already in the process of packing two lunches. Without any prompting or complaining, she was helping out. Just to be nice.
That, though, wasn’t what floored me. I watched Teagan grab a Sharpie and begin to mark up the sandwich bag she had just filled full of sliced peppers, a staple vegetable in our school lunches. Immediately, I told her that she needed to show her mother what she had done.
I can’t tell you how proud I was. But I can tell you that I never told her, explicitly, that the way you help someone feel better is to write them a note. That was something we modeled for her by slipping notes her way from time to time.
You can’t teach love, so much, by way of demanding it or requiring it or lecturing on its finer points. You’ve got to model it. You’ve got to live it, or at least try to, and let the lesson come through a little bit on its own, as we trust that our children, or students, or colleagues, pay attention.
Tonight’s scribbled notes2 were a fine reminder that, even when an example isn’t perfect, plenty of times the message still gets across.
And I wonder where and how I could be modeling love better, myself.3
It’s maybe a bit hard to read – but it says “I love yuo (sic) Ani! (Heart) Teagan”. [↩]
She wrote a similar message on the pizza in another sandwich bag, too. [↩]
Later, Teagan chose Peter Reynolds’ The Dot as her story for the night. Love notes to sisters and that book were the one-two punch of love for me tonight. If you haven’t read that book, oh, you really should. [↩]
I’ve been in several conversations lately where publishers and vendors have taken an awful casual approach to identity and student data management. The front end of their new “digital textbook” looks great. HTML5 and everything. Plays nicely with an iPad, or a Chromebook or any other screen on any other device. As they should. I get excited.
And then I get a look at the user database or authentication tools they provide for managing accounts and student data for the product. And again and again and again, I get a little sick to my stomach. No way to authenticate against our identity databases. No way to actively manage and/or sync data from our databases to theirs. Duplicate accounts. Terrible data management. Shockingly disappointing attention to issues of privacy or student ownership of the work they do.
The worst part isn’t that they don’t get it – educational software and publishers are often a little behind cutting edge when it comes to enterprise level technology. I get it. Many school districts are behind on this, too. It’s when we raise questions and express our concern that I get upset. Because we get one of two types of responses:
1. This is “the first time anyone’s ever asked these questions,” we’re told. As if we should be excited that we ask new questions that no one else is asking. That’s scary.
2. “Well, we understand your concerns, but other school districts don’t want these things, and we don’t feel the need to develop them,” I hear. That’s worse.
I can’t fathom why publishers and vendors are so willing to play fast and loose with precious data – student personal info, their schoolwork and creations, etc. But it’s not okay. And worst thing is when, in spite of our concerns, we hear things like this:
“Well, the front end is so beautiful and high quality. Would you really allow your concerns over this other stuff to prevent you from giving these amazing resources to your teachers and students to use?”
My answer to that question is always going to be yes. A pretty thing on the other side of a glass wall of awfulness will keep me walking right on through the universe of options. I’ll pick the resource that’s not as good if I know I can keep my students safe and our data reasonable to manage and protect. The “it’s only one more account” for a student to learn or use argument is no good when there’re only five or ten or more accounts for folks to actually have to learn in order to do their jobs.
2014 begins with me, as I do every year, reevaluating a bit of what I’ve been up to, a bit of what I’m planning to do, and a bit of what I’d like to do. And I’m a lucky guy, as I’ve never had a longer list of all three types of things when I sat down to start a year.
As I write my way into 2014, I’m stuck by all the things I could choose to do. How will I spend the minutes of this year? My brain of late is rushing with all the different things that I could be doing. Here, in no particular order, is what flashed through my mind just now:
Explore the possibilities available in Longmont and the surrounding area for partnering with Spanish speakers to offer additional family-focused technical assistance in our new 1:1 initiative.
Wondering about and thinking through how our 1:1 initiative is also a family digital literacy initiative, to some degree, and wondering about how to support student learning through the lens of family learning1
Declutter and rethink my home office.
Explore the possibilities of moving from physical book collections in our secondary schools and building digital libraries for students and staff to access via our iPad 1:1.
Date my wife more.
Helping schools to think through how to repurpose no longer necessary lab spaces by rethinking the use of space in those rooms. This might be looking at the Third Teacher and similar resources to create learning commons, or collaboration spaces. It might mean building “iPad writing labs” by purchasing some wired keyboards. It might look like something I haven’t imagined.
Build robots with my children.
Rethinking how we do professional development in my school district as the district has decided that we should not be utilizing substitutes to free teachers up during the school day, but rather that we should fit professional learning for adults into nights, weekends, and summers.
Play more music. Maybe even write and record some.
Redeveloping and redefining my digital and paper workflows – collections of notes, active projects, and lengthy lists of to dos – in order to improve my efficiency and focus on any and all of these tasks.
Finally replace those shrubs in the front yard. Determine if they are, indeed, dead, or just resting.
Wondering about my long-term career goals and whether or not I’m working towards them in my current work.
Diving deeply into how my children interact with technology, each other, and the world.
Helping teachers to rethink analog habits at a time of digital change and the eventual 1:1 move. Wondering about how to help teachers both bring along the practices that they value and abandon the practices that they do not, either analog, digital, or some combination thereof.
Train for longer races as a runner who’s certainly 10K capable, but somewhat intimidated by half-marathons.
Thinking about family history, family archives, and the long term digital legacies I’d like to create, manage, and leave behind.
Again, these are just a few of the many things I’m wondering about wondering about as the year begins. And the more I think about it, this is only a small fraction of a very large list. I know that I can’t do all of these things, or at least do them all well. I know that I am a very lucky person, as I have the opportunity to have my thumb in all sorts of projects and wonderings and dreaming about these and other things. But I’m also struck by, when I take the time to map some of these ideas out, the idea that sometimes, it’s easy to see all of the things I could do and get stuck by the sheer “bigness” of it all. I can get paralyzed by all of the possibilities and avoid moving in any one direction as I know that movement one way certainly closes doors on the other ways I could’ve gone.
In microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources. Assuming the best choice is made, it is the “cost” incurred by not enjoying the benefit that would be had by taking the second best choice available.
I get stuck too often in wondering which thing to do at the cost of not getting anything done. So If I’m making a resolution this year, and, hey, it’s never too late, or a bad time of year, for a resolution, it’s this: I pledge to recognize that I can’t do everything I’d like to do, but I’ve got to pick some things to focus on, otherwise, I’ll never get anything accomplished. As I age, I discover that I have less and less time available, and saying no to some things is the only way to say yes to others.
Deep breath. Let’s dig in.
Is a school district responsible for students only, or do we have a larger mission to support learning of all types for all folks? [↩]
Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard the phrase that is the title of this post used as a badge of honor. I’ve also heard it said this way: “There’s nothing we do with paper and pencil.” Folks have sworn that they never use, would never use, or would never have students use, pen and paper to further their learning, as if pen and paper were cancer-causing or habit forming.1 What’s creepy is watching other people nod their heads and smile when a speaker says that. Those folks should challenge the speaker. Sometimes, we’re just entirely too polite.
The last time I heard this phrase and saw the head nod/smile response was during the Champions for Change event. My notes are below. My, ahem, paper notes. I hope the video of the conversation is posted soon.
Too many proponents of digital tools get stuck in the false either/or dichotomy that suggests that we must abandon paper to embrace the digital. That’s silly. Paper is good for lots of things. Scribbling on a tablet isn’t yet the best way to get thoughts down in a hurry. Paper is easily sharable and postable in ways that notes on a tablet or laptop aren’t.
And anyway, the important piece of tool selection is picking the right tool for the right job. That it’s digital or analog really doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is that you are making something.2
I never leave my house without a notebook, or, more and more, a tablet computer. But if I’m only taking one, I’m taking the notebook. It’s where I scribble and wonder and draft and note-take. When I’m using a pen to do so.
I wouldn’t even mention this troubling phrase except that I’ve met many teachers turned off by digital things precisely because the people touting them say things like “I never use a pen and paper.” That phrase rubs lots of people, pen and paper-loving people, the wrong way. There’s an implied sense that they have to give up what works in order to embrace digital tools. That’s just wrong.
To those teachers, I’d say don’t drop anything that’s working for you, and don’t be too quick to pick up anything new unless you see that it might have some value. Us geeks get into our technologies sometimes, but that doesn’t make us right.
To the rest of us – let’s use better language, particularly if we’re trying to encourage better habits in others and ourselves. As my school district is beginning our work with our iPad 1:1, I’ve been encouraging people to think about going “paperless.” My team realized quickly that “paperless” isn’t what we’re after. We’re after folks choosing the best tool in a bigger toolbox for the job they’re trying to get done. So instead of “paperless,” we’re starting to say “digital friendly.” It’s not yet the right phrase, but it is an attempt to break our use of language that characterizes paper as a bad thing.
How, I wonder, does the language you use get in the way of the thing you’re trying to accomplish? Let me know in the comments.
Actually, pen and paper ARE habit forming, but writing is a fine habit that we should all encourage more of. [↩]
Other than just the decision about what tool to use, that is. [↩]
Technology is often seen as an addition to the learning experience. In the 21st century, in a time of Common Core State Standards, that is no longer the case. Change is hard. Doing right by our students and each other is hard. Playing with the newest toys is easy, and can feel like change. But it often is not and good instructional practices, like all good habits, take time and effort to develop. The work of connected educators, then involves helping learners to make connections to good tools and habits, and to break connections to the bad ones.
They did some editing.1 See if you can find the extra spaces and commas.2
But take a peek at the posts. Some good stuff in there.
Lengthened short sentences, fiddled with some of my preposition placement, and got rid of a couple of contractions. It’s cool. Their website, their rules. By way of comparison, here’s the paragraph from above as I submitted it. I find the edits fascinating. I couldn’t resist changing a couple of things back in the excerpt above, too. Take a peek at the original. [↩]
And where you would’ve linked to things. I sent them a text with seven embedded links. One remained. Huh. [↩]
We’re reading Unmistakable Impact by Jim Knight together as a large team at work. This is the third post in my series on that reading and reflection.
This month’s chapter is on coaching, both the role of the coach and the practices and habits an instructional coach can use to make a difference in his or her work. As someone who’s often in a coaching role, I found the broad strokes of the chapter useful, both as reminder and as a bit of a challenge for thinking through.
What are instructional coaches, according to Knight? Well, they’re folks who “partner with teachers to help them incorporate research-based practices into their teaching.” Also, the “partner with teachers to help them incorporate instructional practices into their teaching.” (Kindle location 1837)
The thread of choice was woven through the chapter for me, too. Here’re some choice1 quotes:
If a coach and teacher come together as equal partners, the teacher must have choices. Partners don’t do the choosing for each other. In coaching, this means, most fundamentally, that teachers have a choice about whether or not they want to work with a coach. . . . choice does not mean that teachers can choose to not participate in professional meaning. No professional can choose to be unprofessional. (1872)
When professionals are told what to do and when and how to do it, with no room for their individual thoughts, that is a spiritual death experience.(1900)
And this, though not directly about choice, seems particularly relevant to my thinking about coaching and the choices that coaches should make:
When coaches focus on capacity building, there are tasks they do not do. Usually coaches do not sub when teachers are away, do administrivia, or work directly with students except in the service of the larger goal of promoting teacher growth. Certainly, there are occasions when these general guidelines are ignored. Just as a principal may be forced to sub if there in no other alternative, so might a coach. However, this should occur very rarely. (1978)
A little later in the chapter, Knight points to some data that suggests that the coaches he has studied often report that they spend only between 10 and 25 percent of their time as “coaches” instead of the fill in tasks he describes above. That’s troubling to me because either instructional coaches are making pretty terrible choices about how to spend their time, or (and I think this is much more likely) they are not in the place to choose how to spend that time to begin with. While they should be advocates for choice for the teachers they work with, their own choices are quite limited.
That leads me to my larger reflection on this chapter, which is that I find that the role of an instructional coach and the role of a classroom teacher are really quite similar, or should be. The job of a teacher shouldn’t be to force change on a student, nor a coach to force change on a teacher. It’s a partnership. The whole endeavor of learning, as I see it, should be the development of agency in the individual. And perhaps the problem of instructional leaders choosing to put their coaches in places of fill in is one of a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a teacher/coach. And that fundamental misunderstanding isn’t simply a misunderstanding in the mind of the leader – it’s a deeply cultural mess that we’re in because what we think “teaching” looks like isn’t really what good teaching looks like.
When a teacher is “teaching,”2 what is happening? Does “teaching” mean the teacher is speaking? I bet for most of us, that’s the first thought that pops into our heads. But it shouldn’t be. What about when a teacher is “listening?” Or “pausing?” Or waiting patiently while monitoring a classroom writing assignment3? I think much of what we consider “best practice” in teaching and what we think of when we think of a teacher “teaching” just don’t line up in our heads and hearts as they should.
And so sometimes we make serious errors in judgment about what a teacher is or isn’t doing.
I think about all of my friends and colleagues who are wicked nervous about new evaluations in Colorado and other places, and I understand some of their dilemma. Whenever a principal came into my room to observe, I wanted to be doing something awesome so that they “saw me teaching.” The problem is, no one learns much in a room when I’m doing all the talking. The real learning happens when I turn students loose on a concept or problem or task. But me monitoring a roomful of excited and engaged students isn’t what I wanted my principal to see – because it wasn’t “awesome teaching.” Except that it was.
Other teachers I know reschedule their thoughtfully planned lessons and timelines around evaluations so that the principal sees them “in action.” That’s a problem, because the thoughtful planning and scheduling was done intentionally, for good reason. And the change is for a crummy, “observing a thing changes it” sort of reason.
This is a ramble, and only a little bit about coaching now, but that said, let me return to my role as an instructional coach for a second. Sometimes, the best way I can be helpful to a teacher is to say nothing. To do nothing. To sit very quietly and let the words that just were spoken roll back over the speaker. Choosing to respond is a choice. It’s often what “good teaching” looks like. But choosing not to respond is also a choice, and should be honored more often.
Because that’s better teaching, and better coaching, too.
After the announcement last week, and carrying on into today, I’ve gotten such nice messages from people, many I know, several I do not, saying the nicest things about me. It’s been pretty nice. Really nice. Wonderfully . . . you get the idea.
I wonder why we don’t always take the time to say nice things to other folks whenever we feel them, rather than waiting for a social cue like a big announcement or award or life event.
And then I saw this video, and realized that he said what I want to say pretty well:
It’s Thanksgiving Eve here in these United States. Thanksgiving is certainly a time for being grateful and remembering to honor the people we are thankful for. So would you do something for me this weekend? Won’t take but five minutes, tops. Take a second to think about someone for whom you are thankful, or proud of, or excited to know, and write them a short note, email, tweet, status update, or any other message, and let them know. Be sincere, and be specific, but take the moment.
It’s so worth doing. And so easy to forget to do. Go ahead. I’ll save this corn dog for you for when you get done.
I’m still decompressing from the blur of the last several days and, in some ways, couple of weeks. I’m now safely home from Washington, D.C., where I went with my best friend to be honored for my work by the White House. And the President. As I was processing the events of last Thursday with my wife, she and I realized that this was one of those experiences that will become family lore, that will be passed on by my daughters and, hopefully, grandchildren as “something that Daddy did.” So I thought it’d be a good idea to try to get some of my recollections down as a piece of my own family history. That said, I suspect my recollections and reflections will trickle out over the next few weeks as I have some time to further process them.
Earlier this fall, a friend and colleague contacted me to let me know she had nominated me as a White House Champion of Change. I provided her with some of my resume, per her request, so that she could complete her nomination, and then I promptly forgot about it, as I has suggested others to nominate, and I was certain that others would and should receive this recognition. Then, in early November, I was contacted by the White House and asked to provide some contact information so that they could complete a standard security check. At that point, I hasn’t received an award, I was just in the running.
It was a couple of weeks later when I was notified that I had been selected, and then things started to happen very quickly. For a short moment, I considered whether or not it was worth it to bother traveling to Washington, D.C., to be honored. I asked my wife if she would consider joining me, and by the end of the day, had booked a flight. How many times does someone like me get to go to the White House? There were photos to take, as the White House needed a good headshot for their website, and some additional writing to do, as they wanted to add a blog post from me to their collection of stories from other Champions. And, of course, I needed a new suit. My last suit was one I purchased several years ago, and, well, I’d lost fifty pounds since that suit was acquired. It didn’t really do the job I needed it to do. Many travel arrangements were made, and my mother graciously agreed to watch our children so that Tiffany and I could travel together to experience the award ceremony. Quickly, things came together and we were off to Washington, D.C., and the White House.
On the day we flew to Washington, D.C., I made it to the gym for a run before the flight. While I was running, I caught the footage of a special event – the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to several notable Americans. Oprah Winfrey, President Bill Clinton, and Ben Bradlee were three of the award recipients who were honored in a ceremony in the East Room with President Obama. I remember thinking that their accomplishments were pretty amazing, and I thought that perhaps I was be so lucky as to catch a glimpse of the President, but that he would be too busy to visit with us during our time. We had been prepared that, although the President really liked to attend the Champions of Change events, that he was often too busy with the work of the day to stop by.
Thursday, November 21st, 2013
The day began with a trip to the White House for a public tour organized by the Office of Communications. This was the standard public tour, available to anyone who obtained a pass from their Congressional office.1 But in this case, we didn’t have to go through any waiting period – we were basically moved to the front of the line. Tiffany and I walked up to the White House and passed through several checkpoints. Our IDs were taken. And taken. And taken. A dog sniffed us for what I imagine was traces of explosives or weapons – we passed – and then we were inside the East Wing. While we couldn’t take photos inside, both Tiffany and I did manage to check in via Foursquare and Facebook to document that we were, in fact, inside the White House.
As we walked the hallways and made our way into rooms with so much history, I realized that we had entered a large room that seemed familiar. It struck me that I was in the same room I had watched the day before while running at my gym. We were in the East Room, where the day before, I watched Steven Spielberg wave across to his friend Oprah as the Presidents looked on. Whoa. We soaked in as much as we could, asking questions and exploring places I had read about and seen on television, but was now standing inside. We took our fill and emerged outside where it was once again safe to take pictures. Here’s one:
We then toured the grounds and took a few shots of the exterior that was so familiar. I discovered later that this was the entrance used by many dignitaries who visited the White House. To walk that same ground – wow.
It was then time to return to the hotel to prepare for the ceremony. As we made our way back, I took a quick scan of the President’s public schedule, something I’d begun doing once I knew when and where we would intersect with the Commander in Chief. And there was a new entry on the day’s events at 2pm:
The President would, indeed, be attending. Deep breath.
We changed for the ceremony and headed to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, or the EEOB as those in the know refer to it.2 After more security checks, we entered the labyrinth of checkered tiles that was the EEOB and headed for the auditorium where the event would take place.
Then we started waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We were told there was a special surprise or two in store, and we began to be posed for a photo. The photo, though, kept getting delayed. Unbeknownst to us, the reason for the delay, I would find out later, was that the President, our “surprise” guest, was delayed because he needed to speak to the press regarding the Senate rules change that had just taken place. But we were to delay for the President, because he really wanted to attend and visit with us.
No problem. I didn’t mind waiting for the President. Not one bit. While we waited, our picture was taken with Gene Sperling. And Valerie Jarrett came by to say hello. And the nerves built up. Lots of them.
Eventually, he did arrive, and we began. The opening of the event looked like this:
When the President came on stage, the first thought in my head was that the fellow on stage really looked like the President – but it couldn’t actually BE him. My brain had not yet processed that this was, in fact, the President. Of course it was. We were invited up to the stage to shake hands. I did my best to remain calm, as you’ll see in the video. But what you won’t see is that it took a great deal of work on my part to not jump the stage to shake his hand. I’m pretty proud of myself that I waited patiently, so patiently, as my heart beat a hole in my chest. I calmly, and firmly, shook the President’s hand and introduced myself. I remember distinctly that it was a perfect handshake – good hand placement, and firm squeeze and appropriate amount of pump. My father would have been so proud.
And then we moved into the rest of the event, with each of us taking a turn on stage in a panel conversation about education and technology. For the next two hours, I was alternatively pinching myself about what I was experiencing while also wishing for a more substantive conversation. That’s not a dig on the event, which was perfect, it was just my desire, in the middle of a group of educators who are on their game, to get into the weeds a bit and go deeper than surface level conversations about our work. I took some notes about what I wish we had talked about, and a couple of points that I’ll expand upon in a future post.
At the end of the event, the crowd cleared pretty quickly. I said hello to a couple of folks I knew who were in the room, and met a few more. Then the auditorium was empty and it was time to leave. With a deep breath, I stepped out of the EEOB, returned my visitor’s pass, and went through the gate.
The evening was a trip to the Lincoln Memorial. We had promised Ani, my oldest daughter, that we would try to take a picture of it for her if we could. And boy, did we.
After the visit, we stepped into a gift shop or two to find the right souvenirs for our daughters. Of course, the souvenir I want them most to remember and share is perhaps this one:
Or, better yet, this:
The perfect end to a magical experience was dinner after with Tiffany. We enjoyed a great meal, but more important, time to talk through and decompress on the day that had just happened. As I mentioned, I’m still processing and will share my thoughts here as I can compile them.
What an honor to represent all of my teachers and colleagues and the folks who helped me to become who I am at the White House. I stood with the President not for what I have accomplished, but because of what they have done with and for and through me. Thank you to all the folks who made this such an experience, and a special thank you to all of you who might read this who have been my teachers. You did your jobs well, and I am forever better because of you. I’ll have more to say about being grateful in another post, but know that I am, indeed, grateful. I hope that my daughters have teachers like you to guide them and help them discover and chase after their dreams.
Many of the pictures I’ve shared here, as well as several more, are now online in a Flickr set, if you’ve an interest in seeing them.
I wasn’t familiar with that location, but did remember the frequent references to the OEOB from the West Wing. Turns out that the building was renamed by President George W. Bush. Same place. My inner TV geek was elated. [↩]
I’m writing this morning from Washington, D.C., where later today, they’ll be honoring the Connected Educator Champions for Change in a ceremony at the White House complex1.
If you’d like to watch the event, they’ll be streaming it on the White House streaming site. Please join us at 2pm Eastern, noon Mountain, today and learn along with me. The hashtag the White House prefers, if you’re going to be tweeting along, is #WHChamps. I’m not yet sure what my connectivity will be in the room, but you can bet that if I can get to an Internet connection during that time, I most certainly will.
While you wait, head over to the Champions for Change website where you can learn more about the Connected Educator Champions for Change and what they’re up to in their work.
The “complex” is code for “At the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door.” But I’m off for a White House tour this morning, so I’m certainly getting the full experience. [↩]