It’s the third stool to the Building New Pathways work I’m involved in with the NWP, where I’m co-facilitating a team thinking hard about micro credentials that might be useful for thinking about what experiences people need to have to be a “writing project leader.”
Twelve local writing project sites have received small grants to help them approach the practical problems of reaching new folks in their service areas, and connecting those folks to writing project experiences. They’ll be designing in a big hurry, and the badges team and the knowledge base teams are hoping that we can provide resources and support while getting some on the ground feedback on our pieces of the work. Their designs will be pitched at the NWP Annual Meeting in November, and many of those designs will turn into actual work with teachers not yet in the NWP network.1
Today is all about the twelve teams thinking through the work ahead and learning more about each member of the cohort and their hopes for their designing, prototyping and tinkering.
I’m facilitating some discussion of their plans, moving from proposals to bigger visions for what leadership in the National Writing Project might look like in the future. What an honor to get to dream big with teachers and teachers of teachers who want to create better opportunities for the students and teachers that they serve.
What a responsibility to attempt to steward the network that has done so much for me so that it’s there for the next folks who are coming along to teach my children, and theirs.
I sure hope there’s room in your world to dream big for the teachers and students that you serve. I sure hope there continue to be opportunities to remember that things don’t have to be as they are, and that we can all do better.
Boy, I wish everybody that wanted to be was in the NWP network. The network is better with more voices, and new voices. [↩]
When I left my last job, and the team of great people I got to call friends and colleagues, I left behind a note for them as the best possible way I could say some of what I wanted to end our professional relationship with. Much of that note was for them, and has no place online, but some of the letter, a bit of “last advice,” was as much for me moving into my new position as it was for them staying on to do what I used to. And I don’t want to forget what I said. It was, for me, a challenge to myself.
Transitions are special moments, moments where we seem to be granted a bit of pause, a bit less to do, and the opportunity to think deeply about what’s happened, and what’s yet to be. The yet to be bit here is important. Transitions are also special because there’s no set way to do the new things that are to come. Habits don’t yet exist. So I wanted some words by which to guide the new habit formation I’ve been doing for the last three weeks now, and hope to be fiddling with for the next several months. Here’s what I suggested they remember to do and be, and here’s what I hoped for myself as I moved forward, too:
What follows is a little bit directed at you, but it’s also a reminder for me as I head into my next thing.
Consider this my last request – if a departing colleague gets one. It’s pretty simple, and it’s somebody else’s line, but it’s this:
Be excellent to each other. In all you do.
By “excellent” I mean kind. Fair. Honest. Open. Patient. Gentle. Firm. Hold each other to high standards. Be brave. Take turns being brave. Help each other be brave when you can’t be yourselves. Be tenacious. When something matters, make sure it matters. And when it doesn’t, please let it go, gracefully. Serve one another, in big things and little things. Especially little things – they’re practice for the big ones.
By “each other” I mean, well, each other. But I also mean everyone you come into contact with. Especially the folks we serve. I am guilty of being too quick to judge sometimes. Some ideas won’t have merit. Some products aren’t good for children. But be big enough to be excellent to anyone who offers something your way.
Basically, be the amazing teachers I know you to be. To all people and in all situations. That’s what I wanted from this team when it was just me. And then two. Then three. Now six. And we’ve done pretty good so far. I’ve stumbled. We’ve all stumbled. There are stumbles ahead. But when we’re at our best, we’re excellent to each other. If I’ve such a thing as a legacy here, I’d want it to be that.
I don’t much care, in the grandest scheme of things, about technology chops. Or about spreadsheets, TPS reports, or the odd other deliverables that can and often should get made in the course of one’s work. If the being excellent happens, then the rest will come along.
So my challenge to myself, as I dig deeper into my new work, is to do my best to be excellent to everybody I come across. It’s a mighty challenge, one I’ll fail at often, but one worth taking a big swing at.
And all my new habits, I hope, are aimed in that direction.
There’s more to say about my new role and my new work, and the incredible people I’m serving now, but that’s another post.
Earlier today, I sat in on a meeting of the St. Vrain Blended Libraries Action Research Group. That’s a big name, but the group is a group of teacher librarians, school and district folks, and administrators who are rethinking the role of the library in our 21st Century schools. They’re standing up an action research project and a prototyping and design process around their explorations, and will be sharing their work as they go.
The conversation this morning was infectious. A suggestion about space led to talk about task and inquiry about the way that students will ultimately use the spaces that these dedicated professionals want to design and fiddle with. The excitement was visible.
I was reminded that this work was another generation or iteration of the work that my colleague Michelle and I started together quite a while back as we set out to redefine what it meant to “do instructional technology” in the St. Vrain Valley School District. It felt good to know that our hard work lives on in conversations like this one. I really enjoyed watching a colleague who was once a participant in that professional learning environment shine as a facilitator in the group.
And this meeting seemed the right push for me to tell you about a transition I’m making right now.
On May 1st, pending some logistical and contractual details, I’ll be leaving the St. Vrain Valley School District to become the IT manager of a public library district here in Colorado. I’ll be managing a great team of folks to support the information infrastructures of a wicked progressive library. I’ll also keep my hands in some curriculum projects and some other educational partnerships.
Somebody told me, when I made the announcement to some current co-workers, that I’d really enjoy “switching careers.” I pushed back on that. I’ve been in the learning business for fourteen years now, be it in schools, libraries and community spaces, public, private, or otherwise. Now, as I head to a public library, I’m heading to a new sort of classroom, and students who all have chosen to do some learning.
That should be pretty darn fun.
I’m looking forward to the move. I hope those of you who read my blog, my teachers and co-learners, will continue to follow along. As I said when I left the classroom:
I’m kind of counting on you. This blog and the connections that I’ve made through it are a big reason why I’ve learned enough to be a viable candidate for this job. In some ways, this space is my own personal professional development school. As I get acclimated to my new position, I’ll probably be asking lots of questions and seeking information and guidance.
So here I go again. Here we go again. Let’s go figure out the next great thing.1
If you’re interested in a position as an Instructional Technology Coordinator, there’s one open. Go get it. Great organization. Seriously. [↩]
The goal of the project was to put a face of specific examples from real classrooms on the Connected Learning principles. Again, I’m biased, but I think if you read the text, and follow the links to the projects from Digital Is we focused on, I think you’ll get a sense that real, live teachers and students are engaging in some very dynamic work in classrooms right now. They’re not waiting for someone to show the way. I was particularly pleased to see so many examples of “teacher” and “student” shown in the text. We all take turns with both of these roles. That’s important to remember. Gail, Mike, Adam, and Jenny, the teachers who wrote the examples I showcase in the chapter I worked on, were all my teachers on this project and I’m grateful for their contributions to my learning and this text. You will be, too. So take a look already.
But other teachers, as well as plenty of non-teachers who make big pronouncements about schools and schooling, would benefit, too, from a glimpse of the work we reference. So share this with them, would you?
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. [↩]
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. [↩]