Game Changer!

mirrorFor whatever reason, during the last week I have been inundated with messages about items or ideas that are touted as the “real” game-changers for education. I guess it is human nature to look for the “magic” bullet that makes everything “right” (whatever that is). I have seen the be-all-to-end-all game changers masqueraded as devices, curriculum implementation strategies, applications bought from a cloud based store, conferences, professional development strategies, and test preparation programs (ugh!). The purpose of this little reflection is not to be cynical. I guess it is mainly a self reminder to look first in the image on the left of this short piece of…well, wisdom? I am sure many of the things that have me thinking do have value, but none of them have any real value without people who are willing to change, learn, take risks, and….FAIL! The real game changer is what you see when you look in the mirror.

Saturday Morning Musings 2/2/2013


Groundhog’s Day.  Officially, according to the famous Pennsylvania rodent, spring will be early this year!  Maybe we can get through another school year with no snow days?




I have decided to revive using a hashtag on Twitter to cultivate information and articles that I think deserve consideration by staff and the school community.  For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter and hashtags, no worry, I plan to publish a link to the cultivated content on this blog as well as our school Facebook page.  I spend up to three to four hours a week reading education based articles and blogs shared on Twitter by colleagues across the nation (actually the world).  Reading the thoughts and ideas of others about education and related issues keeps me informed about trends and key developments in our quest to make our school the best it can be for our students.

A couple of articles from the #phsread stream that have me thinking:  (link to blogpost) “On Task” is not a waypoint on the route to engagement. By Gerald W. Aungst.   My thoughts after reading:

Engagement, as a condition that exists in the classroom, is not always easily defined.  To steal a quote from Justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it.” There is a certain energy in a classroom of engaged students.  There is movement, chatter, discussion, disagreement, and no one person is the center of attention.  We can say all we want about student centered learning, but until we realize that students want to be in charge of their own learning, we are going to have a hard time engaging them.  Do not get me wrong, we have to guide, persuade, sell, and curate their direction, but learners want to be actively involved in the lesson.  So many times I walk down the halls at PHS and notice the varied degrees of active student learning.  When students are not passively listening or completing deskwork, they are much more involved….engaged.  I can watch the same student in various classes and see the difference an active classroom has.  The engaged class is not waiting for the bell to ring, they are disappointed that it does.  The challenge for teachers is to make the content available in an active exercise.  In an engaging classroom students interact with information, resources, each other, and perhaps the world at large instead of being dependent on a text or the teacher for their learning.


After reading a little bit more on the subject of engagement, I came across this post on NPR’s Mind/Shift Blog:  7 Essential Principles of Innovative Learning  By Katrina Schwartz.  My thoughts after reading:

This is an account of a study that endeavors to identify those classroom qualities that create student engagement. It is easy to talk about engagement and quality learning environments without really saying much of anything.  Schwart’s post was helpful because it used some research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and a book they published about innovative learning environments,  The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice. Their top indicators of innovative and engaging learning environments:

1.Learners have to be at the center of what happens in the classroom with activities focused on their cognition and growth.

2. Learning is a social practice and can’t happen alone.

3. Emotions are an integral part of learning.

4. Learners are different and innovative learning environments reflect the various experiences and prior knowledge that each student brings to class.

5. Students need to be stretched, but not too much.

6. Assessment should be for learning, not of learning.

7. Learning needs to be connected across disciplines and reach out into the real world.

I really want to encourage staff to get out and watch other classrooms during your preparation time.  It does not have to be often.  We have some teachers who are really doing a great job of finding ways of doing these exact things in their classrooms and it is very  obvious that students are engaged therein!

17082816997Book Study Teaching With Poverty In Mind by Eric Jensen


I missed both discussions this week (Tuesday at noon and Thursday after school)but I was very encouraged by this email from the book study leader Nathan Ogle:

We had a great conversation yesterday. We spent a lot of time talking about the concept of students losing ground over summer vacation. We spent some time discussing the challenges of moving to a balanced schedule. Then, having decided that at least for now that isn’t a realistic solution, we came up with the idea of a summer enrichment program. The study being cited said that the problem with summer break is when that time is not “academically oriented”. So many of our at risk students aren’t spending their summer breaks going to the library, museums, the zoo, or anything else that would help their minds stay focused on learning. We all got pretty excited about the idea of having a summer program designed to give that experience. We envisioned a program that contained a book club and a few field trips. It wouldn’t be prescribed like summer school, but would be open to any student who is interested. For those on free and reduced lunch, we could maybe get community support to not only help fund the program, but also to waive any fees for those students. For those who are able to pay their own way, we could come up with a fee similar to that of summer school. We could even make it more appealing by awarding some elective credit for satisfactory participation.

Our challenge will be how to fund it, but we have to try find a way!

If you have read this far….thank you! (Mom) Until next week, let’s continue to make a difference in every student’s life.


1:1 I Want to Know Your Story

Dear Fellow Educators,

I work with a group of educators in a school that is not flush with resources (imagine that). Money has to be spent very strategically and I am determined not to make the same mistakes we have made in the past.  Twenty years ago we put TV’s and VCR’s in every room because teachers and students needed to access the video that could be provided.  After studying the use pattern, very little changed in the way of pedagogy and student learning.  Five years ago we put interactive white boards in all but a few rooms.  Some teachers have learned to use them very well, but for many it is simply a digital white board.  I am not blaming teachers.  I am blaming short sighted decision making and lack of support provided by administration (read….me, although the tv’s came while I was teaching).  One to one computing gets a lot of attention now days.  I have visited a few buildings where every student has a computer.  I have not spent enough time in any one classroom to see if there has been a transformational change in student learning opportunities.  To be honest, the classrooms where I have seen 1:1 computing,  the activities there still seemed to be very teacher centered. (disclaimer: again, I have not spent enough time in any one classroom or school to make any kind of enlightened conclusion).  What I would like to know from those who are working in schools that have implemented 1:1 initiatives is:

  • 1. What did your district/school do to prepare both students and teachers for learning in a 1:1 environment?
  • 2. How has student learning activity changed in your room/building?
  • 3. How has teacher practice changed?
  •  4. What would you do different if you had it to do over again?

 Picture courtesy of Joe Wilcox’s photostream on Flickr

So, it is all over but the…plane ride (ISTE11)

I have spent the last four days immersed in one of the best learning environments I have ever been exposed to.  The ideas and concepts have been eye-opening to say the least.  I have asked many of my colleagues, no make that friends, what the one thing they learned that stood out while here at ISTE 11.  Every person responded that the most meaningful takeaway has not come from the formal sessions, but from the informal meet-ups that occurred in many places.  People from all across this continent and beyond came together and shared stories, traded ideas, and debated points of view.  I am so much the richer for having made the effort to be involved.  My network may not be bigger from having attended ISTE, but it is certainly richer.  I am amazed at how smart so many of these educators are and I know that my having participated in this event will make things better for the students of my school.  I sit here for my last afternoon in the ISTE Blogger cafe longing to be home because I have missed one too many baseball and softball games and I really miss my family.  After all, the relationships that we value always rise to the top of our list of importance.  I guess that is my biggest takeaway from this conference is that it is the relationships and connections that matter most.  We can connect all we want with social media, yet we will always crave “being together”.  It is that “being together” environment we have to create in our schools whether we are using the digital tools or not.

So We’re Live From the Bloggers’ Cafe at ISTE 11

This morning as I sat in a session, I happened to catch a tweet coming out of Will Richardson’s session that was going on concurrently.  The tweet was about how we need to teach our students (and ourselves) to talk to strangers.  I found it ironic reading that while sitting in a city where I have never been, with people I have never met, yet feeling very connected.  Although I had never met any of these people in person before this conference, their expertise, support, ideas, and resources have been at my fingertips for several years.  I really do not have to have all the answers or know how to do everything because someone I am connected with can help me.  Our charge when we leave here is to do everything we can to connect our fellow educators with one another.  Can you imagine how smart we could be?

Sit N’ Get

Now that you have decided to read this because you think this is going to be an assault on teacher directed instruction, or one size fits all professional development,  I am actually going to propose that we do some sittin’ n’ gettin to improve our practice. Now, this is not your sit and listen to an expert tell you how it is.  I think to improve instruction, we need to have teachers spend time in each other’s classrooms. They need to see how students are attending to classroom instruction and activities.  I have been amazed by some of the data I have collected while doing classroom walkthroughs this year.  Students actually do pay attention to a lecture done right.  Cooperative learning only works if the teacher actively coaches instead of passively sitting on the sideline.  Teacher proximity makes a huge difference.  Questioning techniques can make or break a lesson.  Every effective lesson includes some sort of informal assessment.  Teachers who take the time to greet students at the door have better discipline.  A personal story from the teacher often makes the students stop everything and listen.  These are things I never noticed until I started visiting classrooms to watch what was going on.  One of the most powerful experiences I ever had as a classroom teacher was some feedback from a fellow teacher after she watched me teach.  I had no idea that 90% of my questions were asked at the knowledge based level.  I also had no idea that I always allowed the same five or six student to answer the questions because I never directed my questions directly to students.  For some reason we have failed to harness the power of these teacher to teacher visits.  Are you willing to improve your practice by watching students in another class?  You might really enjoy watching how great your neighbor is in the next room….. Go out and take advantage of Sit N’ Get!

Picture credit–> Me, and I made the sand tv as well!

Can We Use Cognitive Suplus to Improve Our Practice?

Can we use these same principles highlighted by Shirkey to spread quality, personalized professional development by sharing ideas and practices between schools?  I think we can have teachers share “cognitive surplus” for the benefit of our students.  A simple idea, shared between educators can become the engine to help us improve our schools!

This links back to my previous post, “Are You Willing to Connect?”  I really think that out of our network and the time we spend sharing, we can focus some of our hours on specific items and ideas that will allow us to really improve our practice.  What do y0u think?  Will you join us?  What do you have to lose?