Champion of Change: Daddy & the #WHChamps

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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

Daddy and the President and the Champions of Change

Or, better yet, this:

Mommy & Daddy at the White HouseThe 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.

  1. You can see much of what we saw here on the White House’s interactive tour website. []
  2. 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. []

#WHChamps of Change

I don’t usually repost press releases here or on the blog or, well, anywhere else. But this time, I’m going to make an exception.

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I’m honored to represent all of my teachers, colleagues, and educator friends at the White House as I meet with the other honorees to discuss the challenges and opportunities of teaching in these exciting times. 

Here’s the rest of the release along with bios of the other honorees.

Smart folks.  I’ll be taking lots of notes.


Making Equity – Saturday, August 10th, 2013

I’m looking forward to this event, coming up in about eight days:

The CSU Writing Project is pleased to invite you to a free and fun day of hands-on activities for students, teachers, and families called “Making Equity.” The event will be held Sat., Aug. 10, 9am-4:30 (registration at 8:30), on the CSU campus. Please see the attached flyer for specific details.

This will be a day of “making” that’s connected to the Saving Our Stories project–a summer program that CSUWP offered to help local ELL kids “save the stories” of the Fort Collins Latino community. Some activities that day will include making cardboard cities, book sculptures, quilts out of foam squares, computer games, Ipad stories, tweets, and more.

In the afternoon there will also be professional development breakout groups to help teachers learn how to incorporate making activities with an equity focus in their classrooms. We will have PD certifications of participation for attending the breakout sessions. National speakers from the National Writing Project (including Bud Hunt), will be facilitating these sessions.

This event is free to all and includes breakfast muffins and pizza and cookies for lunch.

Please help us spread the word, and contact Cindy O’Donnell-Allen ( or Antero Garcia ( if you have further questions.

Hope to see you there!

See you there?  Here’s the flyer (PDF) with more information.  You should come.

making equity


Thank Someone – Writing from the 2012 NWP Annual Meeting #nwpam12

This morning, Tanya Baker asked us to use the writing time we shared together1 during the plenary session to write a note of thanks to a writing, teaching, or other kind of mentor. Below is what I wrote. Not edited or polished, but worth sharing. I hope you’ll take five minutes soon to write about someone you’re thankful for. Better yet – send that writing to those folks.

Being thankful. I have so many people I could thank in these seven minutes of writing together, seven minutes of 1,000 writers writing in a quiet hotel ballroom. Throats clearing. Keyboards clacking. Error blips blipping from unsilenced machines.  But I’ll stick to these NWP people for right now.

I thank Cindy, who brought me to the party. And Richard Sterling, for helping to make it the place it was when I arrived. And Jim Gray, for wondering about doing learning differently, who built the ship in the first place. And Sharon Washington, who inherited a tricky gig, and seems to be rocking right on.

But Cindy again, who made me make the thing happen for other people, made me a part of the best experience of my professional life. She made me work to build those experiences for others. Which shaped everything that came after.

I thank Paul Oh for believing in a young geek and wondering if I might could help build other experiences. And Christina Cantrill, who helped me realize that the most frustrating questions were likely the best ones, the most important ones to be asking. I thank the NWP Tech Liaisons who showed me the ropes, who were taking their risks in their classrooms and sharing them in public. Another Paul. And Chris, and Gail and Patrick, and Andrea and Chad and Kevin and Peter and Meenoo and so many others who learned on purpose in public together. And then there was Troy, who took a chance on presenting with me at my first NWP Annual Meeting.

I thank all the program associates who made sure there were snacks, and rooms, and paper and sticky notes and crayons and scissors and whatever else I needed to do the work – both as participant and as facilitator. And coffee. They made sure there was always coffee. Nicole and Izzy and Kate and Bob and all the others. That’s essential, and probably no one ever says thank you. I thank whoever helped me juggle a cancelled flight into a 90 minute van ride from one airport to another to make sure that I arrived on time.

I thank the office peeps, folks like Tanya and Elyse, who continue to build exciting opportunities and keep inviting folks like me to participate in them. And people like Grant and those folks who published work I and others did.

I thank the NWP who, at a time when so many are closing doors and shutting out teachers and saying no, continue to say, “Yes. We’re here. You matter. Let’s do this thing. Together.”

But I have to thank Cindy again, because she brought me here. She extended the hand of the NWP on behalf gf the NWP, and changed my professional life, and the lives of all the teachers I’ve been privileged to work with.

So many other names that didn’t emerge in this text, but who make me better.

I still don’t know how to do this work well. But I know that I know how to get better at it. I know how to ask good questions, and struggle with them. I know that the struggle won’t end, but that it’s worth doing. And that’s the National Writing Project.

So, thanks, NWP. Let’s keep those invitations going. There’s plenty more to do, and plenty of room here to do it.

  1. Writing Project teachers always write together. Before we do anything. I mean anything. It’s important. []

The Podcast: On Sunsets and Arguments

In today’s podcast, actually recorded yesterday, I respond to a response to a to a piece in The Atlantic that is about writing in school.

Basically, I try to explain that we’ve got some silly false binaries in our heads when it comes to writing instruction.  At the heart of it, writing is about learning how to pay attention.  (At least sometimes.)

Pay attention during the podcast and tell me what you think.

Direct Link to Audio


Talking Teacher Research

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to visit with friends and colleagues over at about some of the thinking and work we’ve been doing to help support teacher research in our school district.  Here’s an archive of the recording of that conversation:

I enjoyed the conversation and left with plenty more thinking and work to do on bringing thoughtful and purposeful inquiry into the teaching and learning worlds I inhabit.  Perhaps you will, too.


#DML2012 – On Love and Infrastructure

I’ve been continually struck at DML with the notions of connectedness and participation.  It makes sense that these would be sticky ideas here, and dominant ones.  The conference opened with the announcement of the Connected Learning Research Network and a talk from John Seely Brown that dealt heavily with notions of participatory culture.

But in our rush to make and play and tinker and connect and engage in learning that matters in institutions that might not, I feel like I’m missing the love.

No, that’s not quite right.  Actually, I’m finding notions of love everywhere I look.  But perhaps that’s because I’m focused on looking for it, and you know how it goes – when you look for something, when you look really hard, you can find it anywhere.

I keep coming back to this interview that Fred Rogers gave to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.  You should watch the entire series, but here, at 5 minutes and 17 seconds into this particular segment, Mr. Rogers give his definition of teaching and talks about what he was trying to do with his television show:

His words here stick hard with me – I cannot divorce his concept of love and teaching from my way of thinking about teaching now.  And the Internet, or a school, or a community center, or a museum, or any institution of and about learning, can and should provide examples of teachers in love with what they love in front of others as a way of communicating that love, and helping students to find and communicate their own.

And I see resonance with that in the talk of the new DML Connected Learning Research Network, especially in Mimi Ito’s description:

In a nutshell, connected learning is learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational and economic opportunity. Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose.

In talking with her briefly the other night about some mentoring work she’s hoping to do, work to connect passionate mentors to interested learners, I wondered more about issues of scale that have been raised at the conference, about what can scale, and what cannot.

And while I’m not sure that love, itself, can scale, I wonder if finding love maybe can.  Certainly people have limited capacity, and can only love so many so deeply, but computers can help us to find each other.  Networks can help us to find each other.  Institutions can help us to find each other.  Then we can .

And finding each other, then looking after each other, is well worth doing1.

In this morning’s panel on technical and social innovation, I saw too much emphasis on systems designed around outputs.  I think that’s a large problem in education – we look heavily at what comes out of a system, but not so much on what we put into it.  I’d argue quite strongly, with anyone who’ll listen, that we need to look quite closely and intentionally on what goes into a system, and on what sorts of inputs are privileged in our infrastructures.  And how we inject love and care and compassion and concern into infrastructure is very, very important.  It’s not considered enough, if at all, and these things rarely show up on measures of output.

So how do you build love and care into your systems and infrastructures and learning environments and experiences?  How are you doing so in a way that doesn’t over simplify the complex backgrounds of the people and communities you’re learning from and with?  How are you looking for ways to increase the love and care in your systems?

What are you loving in front of your students and colleagues?  What would they say gets loved in your spaces?

  1. Certainly, too, it’s worth wondering about people who aren’t getting found, or served, or looked after, by institutions of love and learning.  How do we make sure that we focus on entry points so that those who wish to be found can be, and those who don’t want to be found can do that, too.  I’ll say more on entry points, infrastructure and inputs in a future post. []

Three Things I'm Thinking About Right Now

  1.  Looking forward to attending my first #DML2012 conference.  Should be a fascinating opportunity to learn from and with folks who are thinking about learning.  Also, as I’m mostly facilitating others’ learning lately, it’s nice to attend an event in a primarily learning role1.

  2.  I’m honored to be a participant/facilitator for a session at this conference.  It’s called “Tapping into the Mutiplicity of Composition” and is a panel featuring several teachers who are making interesting things with students in the service of teaching writing and composition.  That should be a fascinating conversation. And, of course, we’ll be writing together.  Never a bad thing to do.

To support the conversation, we’ve built a couple of Pinterest boards as ways of creating galleries that show some of the texts that students are making in the panelists’ classrooms.  A second board focuses on the testimonies of the panelists as a way of providing some background that might not surface during our conversations.  The agenda for that session is taking shape and will be finally finalized soon.  At a time when so much of the “interesting learning” that is taking place for students is taking place beyond the classroom, and sometimes in spite of it, I wonder about the role of schools moving forward into new learning landscapes.  I hope that schools see the potential in other ways of learning that haven’t been privileged in our classrooms.  I wonder how to bring the fringe learning into those spaces.  I know that the has a role to play in these conversations2.

  1.  I’m struggling to write about some of my adventures in building cultures of play and love both in my school district as well as in my classroom.  I hope to get chunks of that thinking out here on the blog over the next few days.  My lens for this conference is basically “How do we promote cultures of learning and playfulness and care and concern for each other?”  Important.
  1. Which isn’t to say that I don’t approach teaching as a learning opportunity – but that sometimes the logistics of facilitation interfere with my ability to process what I’m learning as it’s happening. []
  2. Disclosure – the NWP has supported my attendance at this event.  I’m grateful for that. []

The Podcast: Two Fall Projects

In today’s podcast, I talk about a couple of projects that are keeping me pretty busy this fall – finishing my thesis and building  with some friends from the NWP.  Oddly, they go together.  Which is a good thing.  Keep your fingers crossed.  And, as always, would love to hear your thoughts in response to mine.  This time, I could definitely use the help.

Direct Link to Audio


So I'm Going To Be Teaching This Class. And Could Use Your Help.

I like new frontiers.  That’s why I’m excited to be participating in Karen’s attempt to create a School of Ed at P2P University this fall.  It should be a neat opportunity to fiddle with what it means to do PD.

I couldn’t be more excited to be facilitating a course we’re calling “.”  I pitched the course as “a course on writing to learn for non-English teachers” and that’s almost exactly what I’ll be teaching1.  Better yet – some of my friends from will be helping me to develop the course.

The six week course, which will begin mid-October, is going to begin with a deep look at the Common Core State Standards, and particularly the section of the standards that addresses the role of writing across the curriculum.2 Then,’ we’ll tackle writing in the classroom from two distinct lenses:

  1.  Writing to Learn – the habits and bits of writing that you do to make sense of whatever it is that you’re learning and exploring.

  2. Writing for the Disciplines – the writing that’s specific to content areas other than language arts.  How do historians write for each other?  Scientists?  Mathematicians?  And why does that matter? How can we help our students to write in these ways?

As a final project, participants in the course will use for their own classrooms that should result in some thoughtful writing for and with students.   We should all get some good ideas.

As I’m developing the collection of resources, I know that NWP’s Digital Is will be an important text for the group.  And I’m also reminded of Peter Elbow and Donald Murray and their essential contributions to writing as process and writing as something that teachers just, you know, do.

But I could use your help.

Here’s a Google Doc where I’m beginning to draft a collection of readings and resources for the folks3 who I hope will take this course.

I’d sure be grateful if you’d offer your favorites and help keep me honest by pointing participants to actual examples of the two areas I outlined above.

And of course, this entire experience is, for me, first draft thinking.  I’d be open to your ideas, suggestions, and feedback as I’m working to construct an experience that’s ultimately useful to teachers and results in increased use of writing in their practice.

Thanks in advance.  And perhaps I’ll see you in class?  Sign up opens soon.

  1. Er.  Facilitating.  Teaching.  Guiding.  Whatever.  The participants and I will experience it together.  And we’ll all take turns. []
  2. Yes, technically, this is a rather large section.  Pretty much the entire language arts section.  But we’ll hone in on the specifics of writing for the disciplines other than language arts. []
  3. Remember – a targeted audience of non-language arts teachers. []