What I Want To Be When I Grow Up:

A misfit. A rebel. A troublemaker. A round peg in a square hole. Someone who sees things differently.  Not fond of rules. No respect for the status quo.


Not really….or at least I don’t quite want to be quite most of those things…  I already am seen as many of them, but it’s because I think differently than most people.  And, most of you probably recognize that from the “Think Different” Apple ads of the 90’s. I have some of those posters, given to me by a dear friend, Marianne Jolley, who used to be our sales rep. I’m in the process of hanging them in our school, and wanted to send a link out to the staff, so I googled them and found the wikipedia article on them. What I found surprised me.

Not only did the wikipedia article describe the ads, pictures and share the text of the message (which I have always loved!), but it also shared part of an interview with Steve Jobs from 1994.


Steve Jobs in interview for PBS‘ ‘One Last Thing’ documentary, 1994
When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.


I’ve written sometimes here and on the Cooperative Catalyst blog about how my thinking, my ideas, my sharing, my work has gotten me  in hot waters….but I persevere to do what’s right for kids and I continue to strive to interest and engage them each and every day in meaningful, real ways. Some folks can’t handle that constant thinking and are threatened by it….those are narrow minded folks I try to avoid.  Because I want to, as the text says, “push the human race forward.”


I am so lucky that I grew up in a household where it was verbalized that I could do or be anything I wanted to do or be. I heard that all my life growing up and it has always impacted me–so I ask why when I am told no.  I ask why not when someone says something can’t be done. I keep my eyes out for opportunities and don’t hesitate to ask when I see one of those…and more often than not I am told yes.

I grow from those yesses more than I grow from the nos.  I learn from the yesses more than I learn when told no.  I learn from the responses when I ask why and why not, and  get a thoughtful, thought-provoking reason.

Steve’s response really spoke to me when I found it yesterday–we need to instill this belief in every kid we teach. We need to honor and celebrate their strengths and not beat them up with their weaknesses. When we have kids doubting themselves because of grades on a report card, or believing they are incompetent because we only harp on what they cannot do, we do them a tremendous dis-service. It’s only when they have confidence, when they believe in themselves, when they feel comfortable with their own strengths and weaknesses that they will begin to be one of these who will

“change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.”

I see my goal as one which will support my students to  do as Steve says, “shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.”

I have made a mark upon this world, however small.  I want my kids to make bigger ones. So I’ll continue to show them I believe in them with all of my heart and soul.

When Kids Write Because They Want To…

The last few months I have been thinking about writing a LOT! I’ve been doing that partially because I’ve been having problems myself blogging the past year (time, motivation, hesitations, whatever) and I have been watching kids through a different lens. You see, I have a 5th grade literacy group this year, but early on, the 5th grade teachers made writing a separate time in their schedule. I can’t teach anything without writing, so it’s been integrated as I would have done anyway. I believe kids need to be reflective in writing as they read, discuss and think about literacy. I don’t believe writing and reading are separate entities, and so my kids write in math and in my literacy time with them. I regularly share my kids’ writing online, and last year, when these kids were fourth graders and I shared a particular blog, one response from my Superintendent was, “She sure doesn’t need “Being a Writer” lessons (our adopted program), does she?”

Did that mean she didn’t need teaching? Of course not. Did that mean she didn’t need to work with grammar and spelling and punctuation or work with literary conventions and learn new vocabulary and be exposed to new ways of writing? Of course not. But I believe she certainly didn’t need to spend the amount of time she has this year writing a weekly prompt to practice for the state writing test–which is what most of her writing has consisted of this year.

It’s consisted of that because she’s quit blogging. She’s quit writing for herself and is quite vocal about being angry that the only feedback she gets on the writing she does at someone else’s demands is about her grammar or her spelling. She says she gets no comments about her content or her thinking. She gets no questions about her stories or thoughts, as she is choosing not to share those–she writes a formulaic five paragraph essay to a predetermined prompt. Her passionate, funny, creative storytelling has been squelched. And that makes me incredibly sad. The fact that she’s not the only one angry at the incessant prompt writing makes me even sadder. Kids have had to do a prompt a week for several months, according to them.

When given the opportunity, kids WILL write.

When they know what they write is not just for a grade, they write.

When they know that someone cares to listen and respond, they write.

When they know they are respected as writers and people believe they have something worthy to share, they write.

When they know their writing is for a real audience, they write.

When they know they can write to learn, to figure something out, to remember,  to connect, to persuade, to reflect, to question, to share, to think, to have fun, they write.

So why do we keep the scaffold of writing prompts when kids no longer need them? Why do we prompt real writers to the point they won’t write for themselves any more? Why do we think kids need practice writing to a prompt well after they have shown they can do that kind of writing?

In a writing workshop I did at VSTE in December, I heard this story from many teachers–“We don’t have time for real writing because we have to practice the prompts.”  “We can’t access wikis and blogs like you can in your county– and besides, our students have required prompts from our school system.” Well, so do we in my system–at the end of each quarter, I believe. But we, as professionals, need to remember what’s really required and what we perceive to be required.  Often, we make ourselves do things when we don’t have to, because we think it’s the required thing to do–but in my system, at least, teachers have a lot of latitude to use their professional judgement.

When I had an octagonal window put in my house, the scaffold was there until the carpenter no longer needed it. He had clearly shown his skill–he could cut an appropriate hole in my wall, put in a window, and caulk and seal up the edges so that it looked beautiful.Once he no longer needed the scaffold, it went away.  If he had left the scaffold there, I might have grown to hate that window–having to climb around the scaffold to do what I needed to do, having to go around it the way HE had determined was best for me to climb around it, having to move through the area HIS way.

But he took it away when the job was done, and I love my window. I love the light it lets in  and the sun shining through it in the daytime. I love the moon sparkling on the steps at night. I love seeing the top of my pine tree through it in all seasons.

I believe our state does kids a great disservice when they require kids to show they can write to a prompt year after year after year. While our kids are only tested on it in 5th and 8th grades (and maybe 11th?), every grade before and between requires kids to practice that–over and over and over again. The scaffold isn’t removed when proficiency is shown–instead, the state provides more practice prompts and we teachers use them. Our adopted program has prompt after prompt after prompt in them. When kids study persuasive writing, they have a persuasive writing prompt. When they study fictional writing, they have a fictional writing prompt.  When they study personal narratives, they have to write to that prompt.

One of my kids asked the other day, “Why can’t the state just look at what we do?”

I couldn’t answer that. My kids have blogs. My kids have wikis. My kids respond to other kids’ blogs. My kids create wikis to address environmental concerns.  They write and summarize on Today’s Meet during classroom discussions. They add book reviews to their blogs and wikis and sometimes even web 2.0 sites like LibraryThing and Shelfari. They respond to each other’s blog posts and wiki polls. They write blogs to persuade others to join them in a cause. They review each other’s blogs and wikis and post those online. They write stories and poems and reflective pieces…ALL ON THEIR OWN. My kids use web 2.0 tools all the time for real purposes…so why can’t the state just look at what they do?

They become writers and have faith in their ability to write…until our state writing prompt and many of us, as well-intentioned teachers, create “write-icide” and kill their enjoyment of it. We, too, could look at their wikis and blogs and say, “yep, that’s persuasive writing,” or “Well, that’s a personal narrative, but I see you could use some help with word choice, or the conclusion” (or whatever skill is actually needed.)  We could all do a better job of integrating these tools into instruction instead of seeing those writing prompts as the only way to show the skills.  We should model to the state that indeed, there are other, more realistic ways to help kids become better writers than keeping a scaffold in place longer than necessary. And then we could ask with conviction,

Why can’t the state just look at what they do?

Life’s Curve Balls

Ya never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball and cement a belief, or make you forever look at it differently.

So, one weekend in October, a long time ago when I was teaching Kindergarten, my teaching assistant  (TA) called me at my campground to let me know she thought one of our kids had been involved in a very serious accident–where a car had hit some pedestrians, and she thought a girl in our class was one of them. I went home thinking it wasn’t her, but the next day I found out it was–she and her mother, brother and grandmother were out walking down a country road after dinner and a car had come along and struck all of them. Grandmother died at the scene, brother had a broken kneecap, mother was in serious condition, in a coma, and Annie had severe head trauma and also was in a coma. My 5 year olds wanted to know what was going on and so my TA, Debbie, and I decided to go see her right after school and find out.

When we got to the hospital, we found out she was in intensive care, in a coma. No one was in the room with her–Dad was sitting with Mom in her intensive care room at the moment, and the family was, needless to say, in a state of shock, losing grandma and trying to care for brother and deal with their own losses. When we walked into the room, I was blown away–there was a HUGE bandage around her head, she was hooked up to multiple machines and she looked incredibly vulnerable lying there. The nurse stayed in the room for a few minutes, checking Debbie and me out, I am sure, to make sure we were okay to be with Annie.

Unresponsive and asleep, neither Debbie or I were quite sure what to do, so we began telling her about our day at school, citing what kids had told us to tell her, and who had missed her and what we read for read aloud (one of her favorite times of the day), and how much we hoped she’d get well soon and be back. The nurse observed us and then stepped out until we were about ready to go. She met us at the door and we asked how Annie was doing. She told us she’d been very critical, but that while we were talking to her, the pressure in her brain had come down to normal limits for the first time since the accident. (This was Monday, the accident happened Saturday.) I rode home thinking about the implications of that–that a teacher and teaching assistant could have that effect on a child’s brain in pain. I was hooked.

For the next 4 months, I went every night to the hospital to sit with Annie for a while. Sometimes I ran into Dad and the brother, but more often I didn’t–they had been with her or Mom much of the day, or right after school for the brother, and I generally visited after dinner. I read her books, played tapes we made at school of the kids talking to her (and left them with the nurses so they could replay them during the day) and just talked to her about what we had done. I kept her alive to her classmates by sharing with them the progress she was making as she moved from intensive care to a room, to the rehab center, relearning to talk and walk as she re-entered the world of the living. I rejoiced with her the day she got to see her Mom who was also coming out of her coma, and then cried with her when her mother died. No one was more nervous than me the day she returned to school in March, almost 5 months after her accident. I had lived with her the shakiness of her limbs as she tried to regain use of them, had seen the helmet she would be bringing to school with her to protect her head as she simply walked around, in case she fell, and I knew how much she had come to rely on me for support in the months we had spent together in the evenings.

I knew her strength and determination, but also the fear this little five year old girl felt coming back where she wasn’t sure she would remember everyone, or where she didn’t remember the routine and knew it would be far different from her rehab routine. I met her in the office and the grip she had on my hand as we walked the length of the hall to our room was so tight. Debbie had the kids at the door to see her as soon as they could, and she also was controlling their excitement, as Annie was really sensitive to loud noises (and we were somewhat afraid they would give a huge cheer and scare her.)

Annie came back to our class, and our lives–none of us–were untouched by the miracle of that child fighting the battle to re-enter her life. We watched as she got stronger and settled right back in our community. She wasn’t without differences, without struggles, without changes in what she could do and learn–but she was still Annie and the kids were amazing as they tenderly and kindly helped her relearn things. They supported her and she grew with us because we were a community–a group of people who had lived and learned and loved together since we had been thrown together by fate in August as we began that year of Kindergarten.

I tell this story because I know how I handled this situation was different from how a lot of teachers would have–I had support to take care of my own kids in the evenings. I had a teaching assistant who knew how powerful our support was, and who took extra time to help kids make Annie’s tapes or drawings or who took dictation each and every time a kid said, “I want to write Annie.”  I had support, but I also had an amazing experience that let me see how powerful an impact we can have on someone without knowing it much of the time. When Debbie and I first went to see Annie, we had worked with her only about 8 weeks–but our voices calmed her and she obviously recognized them, even in a coma. Think how critical that was to her, since it wasn’t possible for her to hear her grandmother’s or her Mother’s voice.

Our brains are amazing. Kids’ brains are amazing. It is up to us–as adults, as teachers, as admins, as keepers of the human future–to make sure all kids have a chance to stretch their brains and grow as much as they can, and to believe in the growth mindset that Carol Dweck talks about in her book Mindset. Annie’s recovery was truly a miracle, one that my class of students lived through and saw for themselves. I believe each of those children learned something about themselves that year as they supported Annie, and I know my belief in the  ability of the brain to grow beyond what  was expected was cemented forever.  As the song goes, I do believe that children are our future and that if we teach them well, they will lead the way.

Ya never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball and cement a belief, or make you forever look at it differently.



Beyond the Assessment Institute…

This is cross posted at the Cooperative Catalyst.

I do think words matter. (See a previous post here.) I think how we define words matter and it’s important to have common definitions, language and belief systems when working together and sharing kids.

Joe Bower ended his post today with a quote from Socrates about the beginning of wisdom and defined, “…assessment as a process where the teacher and student work together to nurture a desire to go on learning…” That made me wonder…Is that how I would define assessment?  Is that how YOU would define assessment?

I KNOW it’s not how many teachers would define assessment. This summer, I’m going to participate in a professional development opportunity in my county, one we call the CAI (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction) Institute and the topic is assessment.    Two of the outcomes are supposed to be:

  • A shared model for a process of assessment among stakeholders
  • Develop knowledge and skills for participants in assessment:
    • process
    • task and item creation
    • leadership

So, clearly the leaders of this work see assessment as a process.  But, is it a process “where the teacher and student work together to nurture a desire to go on learning” as Joe says?  Is it a process to find out what is known and unknown?  Is it a process to define future steps for learning and evaluate past actions? Is it all of those and more–or less?

Will teachers leave after three days with new skills in assessing? Will we have an opportunity to define assessment and come to a common understanding of the purpose of assessment? Or will we simply go back to our schools and continue to do weekly multiple choice tests to see what kids have learned in math, or drill kids with online programs like Spelling City and Accelerated Reader to define what they know and don’t know?

In looking at this year’s purpose of the CAI Institute, will we change our practice and how will we know whether it has made a difference? Will the representative teachers chosen to go then return to their schools and share what they learned to make changes in more teaching practices? Will we see language shifts in talking about student learning?  Will “item” mean a multiple choice question and “task” mean a real world one? Will we spend time on developing common language and exploring beliefs and building on current understandings to deepen knowledge and experience? Will there be opportunities to really delve into the work of creating high quality assessments that will make a difference in classrooms and in students’ lives? Will students see a difference in how they are asked to show their learning, or will worksheets still abound?  Will principals allow that to occur or will they be the leaders who set guidelines that drive a change to deeper ways of assessing?

HOW will the Institute be set up to forge common beliefs, to change the language we use in describing student learning and to refine assessment literacy to move beyond traditional methods to ones that make sense to the learner?  How would you set up a workshop like that?

What advice would you give the people who are setting up this opportunity, and how would YOU structure my day to have the biggest impact on students when we return to our schools to share what we’ve done?  How would you ensure that this three day institute would actually change what teachers and students do in school?

Holy Cow!

This post was begun in early November, 2010 and finished in late December.

I’m a smart person. I come from a smart family. I have always gotten clear messages from my family that intelligence and learning is valued. I was told by my mother that I could be anything or do anything I wanted to in life if I simply put my mind to it, and I believe that mostly. I enjoy challenges, brainteasers, puzzles and conundrums.  I like asking hard questions and fiddling around with possibilities.  I look for patterns and relationships in my world and love the big picture conversations that come my way.

BUT. . . . when I became a gifted teacher–or more accurately, a teacher of gifted students–I began to question just how smart I was.  My kids are so much smarter than me, and the parents of some of my students blow me away.  Just two examples:

I have a parent who is incredibly smart and he and I enjoy talking and sharing ideas and thoughts about his two very talented kids–and we always move on to big picture kinds of things, the world in general, education in particular, and lots of just general stuff that intrigues one or the other of us. The other day I was showing him a game we have done in math so he could play it with his son, and the minute I finished sharing the instructions, he said something that showed he had a deep understanding of the math behind this game intuitively and immediately. The quickness of his grasp of the big ideas and the depth of understanding in the minute details of the math was simply mind-blowing.  I sincerely was bowled over by the fact he got so quickly what I had taught and only come to through playing the game I had taught my kids.

Then, today, I was teaching divisibility rules to my 4th and 5th graders. I taught the rules for figuring out if a number was divisible by 2 and then by 3, and then showed them how easy it was to figure out whether a number was divisible by 6 from knowing the rules for 2 and 3. We then talked about how to tell if  number was divisible by 5 (it ends in  a 0 or 5) and  someone asked, what about 4?  I honestly drew a blank, so I told them I couldn’t remember and asked them to try to figure it out while I googled it. By the time I had done that and printed out a copy (so I could review the rest before tomorrow’s lesson), I had many kids with very reasonable hypotheses.  However, one kid had it down. . .she said (in words, with no lists, no drawings, no numbers written down) that in any 2 digit number if the first number was odd, then the ones place had to be a 2 or a 6, for the number to be divisible by 4.  Furthermore, if the 10’s digit was even, then the ones digit had to be 0, 4 or 8 for the number to be divisible by 4. (She’s 11.)

I had to write it down to see her pattern.  I chose to use a stem and leaf plot so the kids could begin to see real uses for it (It WILL be on the state test after all.) As I wrote it on the board for all to see, I realized the brilliance of her response. I realized she had seen a pattern in about as quick a moment as had the adult earlier in the day. Class was almost over, so we didn’t have time to talk about it much–but I left it up so we can tomorrow. The thing that really got me, though, was the fact that after school I called two of the three fifth grade teachers in to see her thinking and one didn’t get it, and the other was blown away–“Holy Cow!” were her exact words…

And “Holy Cow” is right…I have MANY students who think like that girl and that Dad…yet for the majority of their day they sit in  regular classroom and do exactly what everyone else does, being given the same directions. Yet the one that worries me is the teacher who didn’t even understand what the kid was doing and thinking. . .how can she recognize when the kid needs extension and some other work than the regular classroom work? This speaks to the need for gifted kids being in classrooms with teachers who have either had some support knowing how to work with gifted kids, or who are simply smart as heck themselves–because smart people can recognize the different kinds of thinking gifted kids do.

How do we restructure our classes, our schools, indeed, our very world so that the talents of our children do not get wasted?  How do we set up life experiences for all children so that they are constantly growing and thinking and being challenged instead of marking seat time until they can do what they want to do? How do I help my classroom teachers see the need for something else for children who learn faster than the speed of light, who think differently and who need more than marking seat time?

Holy Cow, we have a lot of work to do–the system as it exists doesn’t work for so many–so what will you do to change it where you are?

Why Don’t Schools Have Innovation As An Expectation?

Dear God,

I love my PLN. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to learn from some of the smartest people I could ever imagine (besides my brother, Rod, and my friend Becky, of course).  And thank you for helping me be smart enough to follow the links all of these smart people tweet and read the stuff they write.


The other morning I saw Mike Gras‘ tweet:  Coffee

I think he does this every day–but I’m not up that early and on Twitter every day to know for sure.  I just know that when I see it, a part of me feels like I’m watching a friend settle in to “hatch” with his coffee. You see, I know Mike drinks coffee and he tweets it as he’s joining the Twitterverse. I also know he’s a hunter and he taught me what a wild boar looks like about a year ago.  I know he still hunts the darn things and that I had no idea you could still do something like that in Texas-or even in the United States! He’s got great hunting stories to tell and he’s shared some of them online. He loves to grill/barbeque/smoke meat and sometimes shows pictures of what he has cooked or what he has found in a restaurant.  He also enjoys sharing good food finds with friends.

Mike is also modest.  He tweets things like: “It’s a funny world. So much of what I do I owe to bloggers that know little of their impact.” How true that is for all of us, I think.  Tonight someone tweeted a link to something Mike wrote. I clicked on it and found this gem from him:

One of Wikipedia’s definitions is “Innovation – a change in the thought process for doing something…” If  that is not done daily in the world of techies, I don’t know techies. Notice the definition does not include arguments for good or evil. That is up to the individuals involved. But the converse of that change is also true as it is instinctual in technology to solve a problem by jumping on a Web site and seeing what others have done. Ten years ago, this was copying. Now that same behavior has standing as “the integration of innovation.” The copier is the innovator. Something feels quite unnatural about that conclusion, but it is the way it is. What reputation I’ve gained as an innovator has been acquired by doing nothing more than presenting an environment where the classroom innovators can find expression for their own innovations and that of the charges they are to educate.

Not only does Mike abdicate any responsibility for the amazing things happening in his district, but he also gives others credit for his reputation. As I said, he’s modest. And Mike, here’s a blog that I hope tells you what an impact YOUR writing has on at least one other. Thanks for sharing your thoughts online!

“Innovation – a change in the thought process for doing something…”  A change in the THOUGHT PROCESS…

Recently I’ve been retweeting Scott Mcleod’s comment, “Our mental models are the biggest barrier to moving schools forward into a digital, global era.” Then I read Mike’s “the copier is the innovator” and that behavior is “the integration of innovation”.

I think back to when our county held monthly conversations among early childhood teachers and how that changed the daily practice in many classrooms. I remember when our central office folks organized visits between classrooms and then facilitated conversations among the observed and the observers to talk about the craft of teaching. I remember that many times what someone said triggered a thought in me that changed what I did the very next day. I remember learning from the genius of the and.

Innovation as a change in the thought process…

Where does creation fall into innovation and into our schools and classrooms? When are we to implement innovative practices and beliefs?  Where do we get the opportunities to talk to others and share ideas and thoughts that could lead to that “copying” and innovative thoughts/actions?

Teaching IS an isolated activity for many. Even when one is active online, the day is filled with isolationist practices. . . working with children gives a teacher no time to engage with colleagues around practices of any kind, much less time for the deep conversations that innovative practices would generate. There’s simply no time to talk about the craft of teaching.

Michael Josefowicz tweeted me last night and  suggested, “Suppose school districts allowed the great teachers to train…David Berliner says, in his work on levels of expertise, that the most expert practitioners are often NOT the best teachers of the craft, as they do many things intuitively and so can’t explain or describe why they do certain things.

The fact of the matter is that we KNOW what works for learners to learn. We know what behaviors of teachers work for learners to learn. Teaching is a craft, it is an art, it is a science.  So why, simply, don’t we do those things in the classrooms?  Why do we teach to low level multiple choice tests?  Why do we organize our classrooms around learning simple factoids that rely on memory alone?  Why do we watch group after group of students leave our classroom with no passion for learning and no care, pride or joy in the work they do in school?

Is it because we have no mental models for innovative ways to teach and learn?  Is it because we are so resistant to change that we can’t imagine any other way than what we have always done?  Is it because it is hard work and that takes more time than we have to give? Why is it that we don’t follow our hearts, our intuition and our philosophical beliefs in our classrooms and treat our learners and our own learning with respect, sharing autonomy and collaboration, continuity and change, conservatism and progressiveness, stability and revolution, predictability and chaos, heritage and renewal, fundamentals and craziness. (The green words are Jim Collins’.)

Why don’t we, as Jim Collins says, “Preserve the core and stimulate progress”–because we DO know how to teach. We just often get caught up in NOT teaching well, but teaching to the low level multiple choice tests. Our kids deserve the best we have to offer them, so why do we get caught up in other stuff?  Why do we not, as Mike Gras says, “present an environment where the classroom innovators can find expression for their own innovations?”

Michael Gras serves as technology coordinator for White Oak ISD in Texas.

Framing Your Environment

A while back someone asked this question on Twitter:

How do you frame your environment with resources to help students learn? Is it an enabling environment? What does it enable students to do?

Other times, I have seen people asking:

How do we arrange our classrooms or what kind of physical spaces do learners of today need?

In thinking about the optimal environment for learning, I am not sure we need to be thinking physical spaces. In fact, Will Richardson states, in the blog, A New Era Of Learning.

In networked, global classrooms, we learn in ways that physical-space classrooms can’t offer. We’re self-directed, inquiry- and passion-based learners who are finding our own teachers and classmates, writing our own curriculum, and learning anytime, anywhere, with anyone. It’s a learning environment that looks little like what happens in physical space classrooms

I’m thinking we need to be talking and working with the emotional environment–about the trust and support we seek out and provide ourselves for our own learning opportunities, and how we do that.

Look at these two examples from adults about the power of the people with whom they interact and what they count on in those interactions:

The Follis Files–space for a newish teacher to collect and reflect and, Tania Sheko’s Brave New World.

Will has recently been writing and sharing about Allan Collins’ and Richard Halverson’s new book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology. He describes how they note that access to technology has the potential to change education as we know it.

They frame a compelling case that we are entering a third era of learning, one of lifelong learning that is replacing universal schooling, which replaced apprenticeship. And they argue that the “seeds of a new education system” are already taking root, one that builds on the potential of technology that will ultimately leave schools with a “narrower role” in learning.

Will goes on to cite Collins and Halverson as suggesting that

despite the growth of access to technology in classrooms over the last 10 years, schools rarely allow technology’s transformative potential out of the box. In general, schools either condemn the technology, focusing on risks rather than rewards, or they co-opt it, using it in ways that leave fundamental curriculum and pedagogy unchanged, or, finally, they marginalize it, allowing teachers to create “boutique” programs but never changing “the very fabric of education.”

I agree. I think we have so underutilized the potential of the technology in our classrooms–sometimes because we simply can’t think out of the box, sometimes because we don’t know what will happen and perhaps are afraid (or unwilling) to lose that control, sometimes because the network or computer isn’t set up to be user friendly, and part of it may be that people don’t have a picture in their minds as to how it could work or could look. Not only have we not used technology to transform education,I think many of us haven’t opened up our schools, our classrooms and our own minds to transformational learning in any kind of structured way, so that we can begin painting those pictures for ourselves and others. We have absolutely got to start having the open conversations mentioned here, and open our minds to transformational learning for ourselves, sharing how we go about that–then think how we can support our students in building those experiences.

Perhaps all teachers should experience unfettered learning…perhaps all teachers should decide upon something to learn and design their own assessment and develop their own path instead of following the “one size fits all” PD lemmings.  How well would this go over with your teachers, principals, and school boards?  If we don’t have confidence our adults can do this AND our adults don’t have experience doing it, how can we possibly move in that direction with students? Teachers have been conditioned to rely on someone else (principal or district) to provide PD when, in reality, we should and could provide our own.  Maybe it’s less about a “digital divide” and more about a “learning divide.”

Will speaks to that equity issue in his blog post as well, citing,

older students will be more and more able to carve out their own educational experiences, whether these are online classes, games, technical certification programs, or something else. Halverson and Collins warn that this raises huge concerns around equity and social behavior.

How are you framing YOUR learning environment? How do you do it for your students?  is it equitable?  is it equitable in a transformative way?

Learning, Mistakes and Being Smart

Carol Tomlinson is one of my educational heroes.  She has always advocated for differentiating in the classroom, and she has always said that great differentiation is simply great teaching.

It is meeting the needs of each child, no matter where they begin and helping them move as fast and as deeply as they can. It is not assuming anything about the child, but basing instruction and offering learning opportunities that can scaffold the child to grow, make choices, own their behaviors and support and thrive in the classroom learning community.

This week she gained even more of my respect, if that is possible.  Carol spoke at the Women’s Educational Leaders in Virginia conference (  Valued colleagues, my Superintendent(@pammoran) and a county administrator (@england in va)  tweeted some of her remarks, and it is clear she is speaking to the power of democracy.

Here is her speech through tweets:

Should classes be tidy & filtered by ability, background, etc or should they reflect world?

Differentiation is a civil right and remediation is not a learning propulsion system.

Teachers often teach as tho all students are the same. Like bowling we roll the ball down the middle & hope that we hit the students.

Every “kid” has the right to excellence in learning.

We will never make students better by teaching down to them

C Tomlinson shares her long-term data:pre-post differentiation change efforts. schls where she’s worked-floor comes up-ceiling rises (To see her data/research on differentiation

Differentiation raises the ceiling as well as the floor. Decreases discipline issues.  Rigor of curriculum increases. Higher college attendance, more AP class sections, less discipline, oh & better test scores

What would you accept as evidence that the full range of students are succeeding as learners in your school?

Differentiation looks eyeball2eyeball w/reality that kids differ,most effective  tchrs do whatever it takes 2 hook whole range of kids on learning

Goal of having kids achieve a learning outcome – just getting them there in different ways.

All teachers say they differentiate instruction. Tomlinson calls most of it reactionary & improvisational instead of planned.

Research says teachers do reactive differentiation-start w/same lesson 4 all-then react when kids don’t learn

Some Tchrs say they differentiate by tweaking grades or giving same assignment- but grading “smart” kids harder

Only retain, apply, transfer that which you understand-embed knowledge/skills in big ideas-a must for every kid- teach up!

Core of differentiation is flexibility. Space, time, supplies, management, groupings, etc.  Can teachers give up control?

Students say if teacher creates challenging material but gives me an easier choice – i will most often choose the easier.

Research base:gender, culture ,intelligence, style shapes how we learn-another defining element is predictive power of mindset

Fixed view of smart- success comes from genetics/environment- teachers can’t really override students’ profile -but there’s an alternative quoting Carol Dweck – fluid view of smart- success comes from effort -teacher &learner effort- teachers w/ fluid mindset have the high efficacy

Teachers who see kids through fluid mindset about smart can over-ride a child’s belief about self as not smart Just cause some kids can learn it faster doesn’t mean that other kids cant learn it’s our job to help those kids learn.

kids learn early smart doesn’t make mistakes   kids think if you are smart you don’t have to try by age 3

“smart” kids have fixed belief about their intellect,they fear imperfection-it sends message of not smart-more likely 2 cheat If “smart” is fixed then why try to teach?

Effort begets success! We need to emphasize importance of effort as well as results.

Analogy of Capt. Sullenberger’s experience with today’s Ed challenges. showing 60 Minutes interview. Sullenberger said he knew he had to take control and get them out of the situation. He was the pilot & took responsibility.

When we attempt to push teachers into scripted teaching- we can hang up their capability to teach intelligently

When teacher says to resource teachers, you fix them, the principal needs to be the heat source to change that mindset

We should change the mindset to rigor = hard= necessary for successful life

Student on Differentiated Instruction- it didn’t make me feel smart or dumb, it made me feel important!

To Lead for Differentiation- you must understand, explain, model, support, require, stick with it  for info about Carol Tomlinson

Carol is one of the reasons I do things like this:


Don’t we wish all of us, especially us adults, understood what those kids do?

Being Connected in Jammies

I spent the weekend in my jammies.  I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t cook.  I ate out of the fridge. I went to bed early and slept late. I didn’t watch much TV–even the Olympics. I talked to hardly anyone on the phone. I played hermit, basically.

A hermit with connections. . .

Because you see, I also:

  • joined a new collaborative blog, Cooperative Catalyst, that went live today with a welcome message (first posts tomorrow)
  • co-wrote the vision and mission for Cooperative Catalyst on a google doc with two folks I’ve never met f2f and one I have
  • Skyped on Saturday with the people collaborating with me on this new blog (Chad Sansing, Adam Burk and Aaron Eyler.  I have decided each is brilliant in his own way and I am absolutely honored to be able to listen to them think.
  • Created a Jog on for my parent workshop Tuesday night
  • Talked to at least half of my kids on wikimail
  • Spent an hour or so wordsmithing the welcome post for the new blog Cooperative Catalyst with another of the contributors, Adam Burk. I loved doing that, as working together to make the words say JUST exactly what we wanted them to stretched my way of looking at writing and using words
  • Shared my first post for Cooperative Catalyst with my collaborators and got to read theirs before they are posted.  We all took the same topic and yet each of our posts is so very different.
  • Worked on the eTeacher course I am taking with others in my county, posting to the forums and responding to others’ posts
  • Skyped on Sunday with Mike Fisher and Becky Fisher to finalize our plans for our ASCD presentation this coming weekend
  • Used email to plan Monday morning’s math class with the second grade teacher
  • Skyped on Sunday with one of Dean Shareski’s students who is working with my students this semester on their wikis.
  • Worked with Glen Bull and others at UVA to plan for several of my 5th graders to visit a UVA class Monday afternoon to see Hod Lipson from Cornell demonstrate a variation on the digital fabrication lab that I have in my classroom.
  • Worked with the same group to plan a field trip for Thursday for fifth graders to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony of UVA’s Children’s Engineering Lab
  • Tweeted with several folks and caught up with some friends I haven’t seen online for a while
  • Started a new personal blog where my goal is to be brief  If…Then
  • Collaborated with several teachers from my county to create a new wiki, Diigo Does IT, for us to become competent at and share our uses of Diigo together, and finally,
  • Blogged here

So while the first paragraph may have sounded like I had a lazy weekend, I had an incredibly cerebral one that was full of connections, learning, sharing and meaning making.

I realized how very connected I am and how much I want to support my kids making connections and learning from others all over the world as well.

How very different my life is from even five years ago, now that I have a PLN online. I appreciate you all.

Sparks of Learning

Recently I have read a series of other people’s posts and websites that have helped me realize  that we, as teachers, often sit down, roll over and play dead when we should be questioning, expressing our opinions, trying new ways in our classrooms and sharing with our peers. WE are the experts in our jobs and we should be educating parents, students and our administrators NOT to expect the same thing we have always seen or done in schools.

I have NEVER had a parent say  to me, “I don’t want my child learning the topics s/he is interested  in and learning to read and write in real contexts.”

I have NEVER had a parent say  to me, “I don’t believe you can see what my child knows and doesn’t know about reading and writing by looking at their writing (blog, wiki, etc.)  as they read and write in real ways.”

I have NEVER had a principal say to me, “Your students are so animated and alive with excitement about learning every time I come into your room. PLEASE STOP MAKING THEM  FEEL THAT WAY!”

You see, I began as a primary teacher.  I became a primary teacher because a saleslady discriminated against me as a child, and when it happened, I decided right then and there I would grow up and work with children and NEVER treat them the way that  saleslady treated me. I am not the only one who has had a childhood experience shape their views about education.

As  a primary teacher, one constantly has to be teaching social skills and showing students HOW to learn. In the primary grades, it is all about processes–learning to read using many strategies, looking for patterns and relationships in math and numbers in our world, doing science as scientists do,  studying history through stories and books, and writing about what we were studying.

I am NOT a cog.

I NEVER believed in being a widget myself.  I have never believed in producing my students as widgets. I refuse to believe that teachers are SUPPOSED to be widgets or create them.  (Read The Widget Effect for more info.)

I recently had a friend share that her son had told her he believed “teachers were people who were unable to get jobs as dictators.”

I am not a dictator, either.

I believe, instead, we DO need to be cheerleaders at times and that we need to also be important to our students–which means we need to cultivate a caring, respectful relationship.

I believe we know what is best for our students and that we buckle under to pressure NOT to do that, in the name of standardized tests, raising state test scores, time  issues, access problems,  and a myriad of other things that interfere with us following OUR passions.

I’m not going to roll over and play dead anymore. I am not going to sit by quietly while my Board of Supervisors and school board make budget cuts that will kill some of the best parts of our world class school system.  I am not going to watch programs be decimated by the economy without a fight.

I am going to become a gladiator for my kids, for my colleagues and for myself.

I am going make sure EVERYTHING  I do looks, feels and sounds like who I am as an educator–an advocate for the children.  I am going to do so with all of my heart and in ways that impact upon others’ hearts, so that they too will feel the call of leading the learning in ways that matter in our division and in our world.

I am going to share my kids’ passions with our school board–with our money guardians–and with my students’ parents.  I am also going to share their words  and their ideas as they share them with the world as to what they want THEIR school to look like and be.

Will you join me and follow your heart in your classroom, your school, your interactions with students?  Will you plan a lesson or series of interactions for tomorrow that will light a fire in some reluctant student and help them want to come back?  Then, will you share that lesson, that idea, that spark with a colleague to ignite them as well?

Let’s BE the experts and begin to lead from the heart, from the classroom, from the base as we build a quality way of doing business that does NOT kill curiosity, wonder and willingness to problem solve and figure things out. Let’s build that love of  learning we all dreamed about when we first began OUR trek into the world of school.  Let’s make sure the people who make the decisions that impact our very essence understand the effect their decisions have upon our future. . and our students’ future.