Oh, the Humanity

Professional learning that dehumanizes its participants carries the seeds of its own failure. When a select few do the thinking for others, when people are forced to comply with outside pressure with little or no input, when teachers asking genuine questions are labeled resistors, when leaders act without a true understanding of teachers’ day-to-day classroom experiences, those dehumanizing practices severely damage teacher morale. And when teachers feel disillusioned by the professional learning they experience, their disappointment, hurt, and unhappiness surface in the classroom and inevitably damage the very children they are there to educate and inspire. – Jim Knight, Unmistakable Impact, Kindle location 385

In the first chapter of the book that some of my colleagues and I are reading together, quoted above, Jim Knight lays out the idea that one of the core concepts for a truly great school is that we must build schools that are human, and that respect the humanity of the people serving them and served by them. A discussion question we’re talking about in our book group this week asks us to consider how we move closer to learning communities that empower teachers to online indian pharmacy embrace proven teaching methods. While I’m hesitant to take a stance, just this minute, on “proven teaching methods,” I feel like I want to advocate right now for a stance in a learning community, professional or otherwise, that focuses on the humanity of all involved.

A humane learning community takes time to explore ideas before rushing to move forward. This takes, well, time, but it’s time well spent. You can move fast, with shared purpose, when time has been taken to ensure purposeful conversation has been a part of the community building.

A humane learning community is one where questions are honored and taken at face value, where the presupposition of positive intent is absolute and intentional by all in community together.

And a humane learning community is one where learning is modeled by all in the community, especially the leadership.

These things are difficult to do, to take time to learn, or to honor questions, or to explore purpose together. Modeling learning, in my experience, seems most difficult. But they matter. And they carry messages, whether done or undone, that will impact the efficacy of the community.

I’m looking forward to being in conversation with my colleagues about this text. If you’ve read the book, I’d be curious to know what you thought of it.


"What Apps Should I Buy?"

It sure seems like, whenever I tell someone what it is I do, that somebody wants to tell me about the tablet they just bought. Then I’m immediately asked this question:

“What apps should I buy?”

And I guess I understand why. Once you’ve got a piece of hardware, then certainly you need to put software on it. And there are plenty of “Top 100 Apps for X” posts out there, getting passed along and around like the candy that they really, in almost all cases, are not. It’s pretty easy to think that apps are everything.

But the advice I usually give goes something like this:

I really don’t have a clue about what apps you should put on your tablet, because I don’t know why you bought it. I don’t know what it is that you want the tablet to do. So let me ask you a question back: “What is it you want to get done with the thing?” Then we can have a conversation about what software to buy.

I’ve found there are two common scenarios when it comes to how people put apps on tablets. The first is the app junkie. Constantly on the lookout for the new stuff, they’ve downloaded dozens, and in many cases, hundreds of apps to their tablet devices. They might have spent time organizing them into folders or screens. And they don’t use any of those apps, but they sure do have a bunch of them. Their home screen is like the bookshelf in the house of someone who wants to impress you with his or her reading habits. Plenty of books. Few of them read.

The other common scenario I find is the one I want more people to embrace. This one involves folks who, when they realize they have a particular thing they want to get done, or a purpose in mind, approach their respective app store and search for apps that do the thing they’d like to do. They read reviews. They ask friends. And when they pull the trigger on an app or two, they poke at that app once they’ve installed it, seeking to see if it’s really the thing for them. They don’t have a ton of software, but what they have gets used.

You should be the second type of person.


Don't Make It About the (Digital) Tools When You Want It To Be About the Learning

I was sitting in a meeting today with some administrators, and we were discussing what we were looking for when we were looking for the thoughtful use of technology to support learning. What, we wondered, does the thoughtful use of digital tools for learning look like?

And that’s a good question to spend some generic propecia online time on. It was a good conversation.

But why do we always wonder about “digital” tools?1 What about the analog ones?

What does the thoughtful use of pens and pencils to support learning look like? How about the thoughtful use of sticky notes and index cards? What does/can/should that look like?

Seems to me the push to understand and separate digital tools from the analog ones can often confuse the real issue, the meaty question that is really the point of talking about iDevices, or tablets, or touchpads or whatever.

And perhaps exploring more familiar tools can help us get to the bottom of that in a better way.

That question is, of course, “What does learning look like?”

How do you know?

Defend your answer.

  1. Certainly, in the particular conversation I was in today, it was specifically about some new digital stuff. It made sense for us to focus on the digital. At least a little. But I’m wondering more broadly here. []

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 (cindyoa@mail.colostate.edu) or Antero Garcia (antero.garcia@colostate.edu) 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


What Socrates Would Call Wisdom

It seems, more and more, that there’s more and more to experience in the world of the Interwebs. But I suspect that this continued experience that there’s more to experience is, in fact, a continuation of my growing awareness of just how big the world is.

And that’s a gradual experience – meaning that, as one begins to notice more of the world, he or she recognizes how much of the world is left to experience, and just how limited one’s experiences actually are.


So, the more I know, the more I realize that I actually know much less than there is to know, you know?

And, if that’s the case, then how do we help people to realize that what they know is, you know, not all there is to know.

You know?


Stomping on Sandcastles


Last week, my family and I made our annual pilgrimage to the ocean to visit with family and reconnect with all that is good and true and beautiful about the beaches like the ones I visited as a child. My children have begun to appreciate the beauty of the ocean and the creative canvas that is the sand on the beach. Most mornings of our trip, we hauled our buckets, shovels, rakes and other tools and toys from the house to the beach to play and dig and make and tinker around.

My children being children, we didn’t make the greatest castles. Their creations were often abandoned mid-creation as they noticed a new tide pool or an enticing wave that drew them away from the sand. But our little bits of towers and tunnels were strewn about the beach every day, awaiting either a little more attention or the daily scrubbing from the tide as it rolled in. One great thing about a beach is that it’s a fresh canvas every day.

One afternoon, my wife and I were sitting by the ocean, making plans and dreaming dreams and having all the conversations you can have when freed from the daily grind of work/home stress. Mostly, we were just being in the moment of sitting together in the presence of something delightful, watching waves and smelling salt air. As we talked, I was people watching, one of my favorite past times, and I was paying particular attention to how walkers, runners, and the motley crew of assorted beachcombers were navigating the sand creations strewn around the shore – both “ours” – the ones my children and nephews made, and also the ones made by other folks who shared the beach with us that day.

The tide was coming in, and it was clear that the time for the castles was short. They’d be gone within an hour or two. But most folks didn’t think about that. They worked their way around the castles and trenches, giving them as wide a berth as they could, taking care not to trod upon the things that other people made. I remember when I was a child on the beaches of North Carolina, and coming across others’ castles when we made it to the ocean. Sometimes, we’d find an exceptional one, and look for ways to make it better, or we’d finish up a section that clearly was incomplete, decorating towers and moats with bits of shell and driftwood washed up the previous day. I spent an especially memorable day helping a kid I’d never met before – and haven’t seen since – digging out an elaborate underground fort, complete with plywood walls and sand steps down while my father and his father looked on and surf fished closer to the water.

It’s always been my thing to make better the stuff I see, or to admire the beauty that others had left behind as their day took them away from their labors of love1.

But back to this particular day.

There was a group of folks walking down the shore who came across a small series of towers my nephews has made that day, already beginning to be kissed by the approaching tide. What others had avoided, these folks stomped on, knocking each one down as they passed. On their walk back from where they started, they again stomped across the towers, reducing each one to a damp lump of sand.

And I wondered why anyone would do that.

I’m sure they didn’t think about it as they passed, about the time and attention a five year old gave to making sure the lines and angles and compactness of the sand was just right, about the care an eight year old gave to ensuring the towers all matched once finished, about the tide licking its way across the castles. These castles were doomed, certainly, and abandoned by the children, but did they have to end like that?

I’m sure those folks didn’t think about what they were doing while they did it. They were in the moment and enjoying their friends. And they didn’t do anything wrong, really. I just thought it was odd.

And I wonder as I write what it is that pushes some of us to admire and add to the beauty that we find, and what pushes others of us to stomp on it. In the public spaces we all share, how do we ensure that we’re inviting appreciation and contribution, making sure the canvas is refreshed and available, while keeping the stomping to a minimum.

My moment on the beach was a good reminder to me of the types of spaces I want to promote and build and perpetuate. And maybe a reminder about the type of guy I want to be when I’m walking through a gallery of other people’s stuff, wherever I might happen to come across it.

Certainly, the castles and creations that many of us will make aren’t always very good. But I hope you’re helping to make them better, and not stomping on the ones you come across. And I hope, too, that you’re working to build spaces where we can encourage things getting made and made better, rather than just stomped down as they pop up.

  1. At least, I try to make that my thing. But I fall short. Lots. We all do. []

The Podcast: Howdy from #campipad

Camp ipad paperwork

On this episode of the podcast, I give a little background on this week’s Camp iPad, a week of exploration and tinkering around our forthcoming future technology exploits in the district, masterfully facilitated by Kyle and Michelle, with me along for color commentary.  Would love to know what you’re up to in creating thoughtful spaces for us pharmacy and lasix wondering and deep learning – let me know in the comments.

Links Mentioned in the Podcast

Direct Link to Audio


Our Future In/With/Of/Beyond Instructional Technology

I left the classroom to become an instructional technology coordinator six years ago this month. When I left, I went to work to try to make sure that the infrastructure that could support the types of learning and learning environments that I wanted as a teacher would exist and be available to anyone in my organization who wanted it. I believed that we had a great deal of work to do to create a 21st Century learning environment. And in that time, we’ve made a great deal of progress.

This last semester, I think we took another huge leap forward. Through the thoughtfulness of the voters of the St. Vrain Valley School District, we were able to pass a mill levy last November that provided for the next generation of technology in our district, and because of that financial support, we had the opportunity to begin to think very differently about the technology landscape of our students. I was lucky to have the chance, with my colleagues Michelle Bourgeois and Kyle Addington, to facilitate a large community input process to consider what the next five years of instructional technology in our district should look like. The funding stream approved by voters was a lifeline – it would have allowed for us to maintain our current technology offerings as a sustainable and renewable resource.

But, we wondered, was sustaining what we had the best way to move forward as a learning organization? Might we begin to think differently about computing and computers and technology in our schools? The answer, our committee helped us to see, was yes.

And so I’m pleased to tell you that over the next four years, we’ll be moving in a new direction in St. Vrain, one that changes the way that we deploy learning technologies and moves the focus of our work from supporting classrooms to better supporting, I hope, learners, teachers and learning.

The broad strokes of the plan, which you can read more about here, are these:
1. An iPad mini 1:1 for all students in 6th through 12th grades
2. A shift to classroom computers that support teachers to create and distribute learning resources for student devices.
3. iPad minis for teachers to support their adoption and use of the iOS platform for teaching and learning
4. The continued support of our school computer labs for use as “going deeper” computing spaces as well as the spaces where our new state assessments will be administered
5. Additional resources and devices in the elementary and middle schools to support the shift away from technology as an event and as a habit of learning at all levels.

The biggest shift, as I see it, is the idea that our students require a dedicated learning device as their tool for managing their own learning. As of today, that device is an iPad mini1. That’s the right device right now, according to our community process. It was a deliberate and thoughtful process. As the landscape of devices and options continues to evolve, we may see fit to anoint another device down the road. But the larger point is this – learning today requires access. And that access standard should be set at a much higher minimum than it has been set in the past. I hope we take full advantage of the possibilities of this shift. I also hope that we continue to stay focused on this technology deployment not as a device initiative, but as a learning initiative.

Our plan isn’t perfect. No plan is. But it’s an exciting next step.

Tonight, we’ll be briefing our school board on the plan and our next steps for implementation. It is my hope and strong desire that we can use the next school year as a readiness year as we prepare for our deployment. While I’d love to move faster and immediately to deploy thousands of personal learning devices in St. Vrain, I’d rather move more slowly, thoughtfully and deliberately as we work to create the next generation of learning experiences in the district. There are implications in this work for new ways of sharing curricular resources, and of shifting instruction into more thoughtful spaces. The realities of the other shifts on the horizon – shifts in curriculum, in resources to support that curriculum, and when and where learning can and should occur – mean that there’s plenty more change ahead. I hope we can thoughtfully and carefully manage that change and all the associated details and operational issues that result as these shifts occur. That’s going to be hard, but worth doing.

At a recent training event for our teachers on the implications of teaching and learning in a time of Common Core State Standards, our director of curriculum, Kahle Charles, shared this slide as a way of thinking about what our classrooms could and should look like:


I really appreciated this instructional and classroom vision, and think our work with technology deployment can only serve to strengthen this vision. But it will require lots of work in our classrooms and with our staff to ensure that we create new opportunities for innovation and collaboration rather than a new set of rules of compliance. I am excited to move forward to making these new visions a reality, and I believe this process and the thoughtful recommendations of our ITAC committee will help move us forward.

There is much change ahead. Change can be scary. But it can also be delightful and fun and engaging and chock full of wonder. I’m hopeful that this is a new starting point for my work for the next five years. I’m nervous about the ambitiousness of the plan, but am excited to be working here and trying to create the next generation of learning environments in my school district.

We’ve come a long way as a learning organization in the six years since I left my classroom to work on infrastructure and learning environments. Another shift ahead for me is that, come July 1st, I’ll no longer be working in our district’s technology department. The district has seen fit to transfer my team of instructional technology coordinators, now growing from three people to six, to work under our soon to be Assistant Superintendent of Assessment/Curriculum. This is another change that I’m both nervous and excited about, as I see the potential in this new structure, but am concerned about the possibility that we will lose some of our momentum in making the shifts from a technology perspective. I will miss working with my colleagues and friends in our technology department, but will still be operating out of their facility, so hope that those relationships will continue to stay strong as we move to our new organizational home.

Fingers crossed. Deep breath. Let’s do this thing.

  1. And our target audience for 1:1 begins in middle school. While many in our group felt that we should consider 1:1 at an earlier age, it wasn’t feasible. Yet. But there’s room for improvement there, perhaps. []

Defining Success in Learning, or, So I’m a Runner Now

Last Fall, I began a new learning adventure, one that many of my friends and family have been on for far longer, and with more success, than I. I started running.

I began with a series of training exercises that took me from no distance to being able to run a 5K (3.1 mile) distance. I ran my first 3.1 mile run on a treadmill in December. That was, for me, a pretty big deal.

But it was nothing compared with the first time I strapped on a bib number and ran in my first road race, a 4 mile event in Loveland on Valentine’s Day with Ms. the Teacher. Crossing that finish line was a real achievement. And it set me up for my next goal – running in my first 10K, the Bolder Boulder, here at the end of May.


That’s me and Ms. the Teacher after the race. I can’t tell you how good it felt to run that race in, for me, the amazing time of an hour and seven minutes. That’s not fast, by any universal human standard, but it was, for me, a pretty big deal.

And as I’ve become a runner – one who runs habitually and regularly, one who chooses to run as opposed to doing something else – I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I’m learning about myself and goal setting and learning. I’ve often thought about the connections between my developing habits of running and the arena of my work life – education.

Now, I’m pretty sure that it’s both obligatory and cliched that I’m writing about how my running experiences connect to my work as an educator, but bear with me.

Runners are folks who set goals for themselves and then work to achieve them. They use clocks and other gadgets to track their progress over time and to set and track goals. I use a little app called Runkeeper that helps me to track my runs and my time. When I run on a road, the app uses GPS to map out where I went and how long it took me to get there. I do many of my runs on a treadmill, and track those slightly differently, but still am able to see my progress over time. I’ve built a little data dashboard for myself via that app and my data tracking. It’s similar to how I track my weight, eating habits and activity using my Fitbit pedometer.

When runners run road races, I’m learning, there’s a shared purpose – we’re all trying to get from point A to point B – but we each have our own goals and plans for how to get there. How fast we’ll go. What pace we’ll keep. Which parts of the road we’ll use. Stuff like that. While we’re all at that same place at roughly the same time, and we’re all doing the same thing, we each have our own plan for how we’re going to get there.

School, it seems to me, should feel like that.

Learners are folks who wonder about things and set goals for themselves to help them get better at wondering. Learners at school should be aiming to get from point A – unknowing – to point B – mastery of a concept or concepts. More broadly, seeking a degree or a diploma or the completion of a course or grade level. But we should be setting our own goals perhaps on how to get there. And while we’re all at the same event – school – we’re each running our own race, or should be. We should be tracking our progress in some way, and working to improve as we’re able to, but we shouldn’t be so obsessed about all getting to the finish line at the exact same time. Seems to me that there’s plenty of pressure on students and teachers and anyone learning anything that we’re supposed to all arrive at the finish line together.

But what is success in learning supposed to be like? As a runner, I’m successful if I meet my goal to cross the finish line in roughly the time I’ve set for myself, but if I finish slower or faster, I still cross that line. Am I unsuccessful if I finish slower than I meant to? Faster? Ms. the Teacher, who ran the Bolder Boulder with me, had a goal of finishing in under an hour. She blew past that goal, finishing in 54 minutes. I finished almost fifteen minutes slower than she did. Were we both successful? I’d argue yes, we were. She’s been running for longer than I have, and she has successfully completed many more road races, and far longer ones, than I ever have. But we are both successful runners, participants in a culture about shared activities and individual goals. If my standard of success were the elite runners that run 10Ks in half the time I took, then I’m a failure.

But I’m not. I’m a successful runner so far, and judging by the number of folks standing on the sidelines and rooting for me and all the other huffing and puffing folks with me in the road, plenty of people recognize that I didn’t fail.

My success was judged, not by some outside observer, a third party off in the distance, but by me.

So I wonder about cultures of learning that could look more like cultures of running. Learners are all on the same trail, or at least similar ones, but we make it down the trail at different speeds, with different plans for how to get there. And our schools and learning cultures should be helping us to get better, to improve, without too often requiring that our success be defined by how the elites in our culture perform. And I wonder how we can build tools and resources that can help us to set, track, and achieve our goals more than the goals of the elites in our midst. As a runner, I’m comparing my today self against my yesterday self, and aiming for my future self to be in a better place than the today self I’ve got right now. So long as I move along a trajectory of improvement, one set both by me and by the folks organizing the races – plotting the starting and finish lines, making sure the cars stay out of the course, and ensuring there are plenty of resources and water stations along the way – then I’m moving towards success.

I want “learner” to be a mantle that people choose to take up and work at. I want learning culture to be about that.