Thursday, January 30, 2014

Educon - Teacher Rockstars

I don't know what was said at the Sunday morning panel at Educon, but something prompted me to tweet:
Is it reasonable to believe that every teacher will be as dedicated and passionate as those at #Educon? It would be lovely, but possible?
After that I think I missed a lot of the panel (which I intend to rewatch this weekend) because I was so engaged in conversations about this on Twitter. Sadly I'm not sure I was ever able to truly sort out my question, much less make it clear in 140 characters. That didn't keep me from having some great discussions though.
I am lucky enough to work at a school full of fabulous teachers. A number of years ago, one of my coworkers said, "We're a nitwit-free school." She was right. My own daughters attend my school because they could have any teacher there and be in good hands. 
But most of those teachers don't attend conferences. They aren't on Twitter or blogging or even reading serious educational blogs. Many of them don't know who Arne Duncan or Michelle Rhee or Diane Ravitch are. They are thoughtful, kind, generous, engaging teachers. They know their students and they know their content. They are involved in conversations in our building about how and what to teach and why. They have parent conferences and write happy notes home for children. 
Thinking about these teachers was at least a part of my question. Are they not as dedicated as those at Educon? Are they less good as teachers because of that? (This gets even tougher when I start thinking about teachers who aren't as fabulous as my coworkers but that's a whole other issue.)
People pushed back on my question in ways that helped me evolve.
@jenorr If not us to expect to achieve a community of learners and learning, than who? @BeckyFisher73 #educon
My response was not good enough in the moment. Looking back over these tweets, this one caught me because I firmly believe we should expect to achieve a community of learners and learning. But does that mean teachers have to attend conferences? What does a teacher have to do for us (whoever that might be) to feel they are doing enough professionally to be a community of learners? Not everyone can or will spend their time and money attending conferences. Is that a necessity? 
@jenorr I think it's reasonable--I think most of us started out that way. Too many of us break.
Doyle got me thinking about how expectations should vary. New teachers have a ton on their plates and expecting them to engage in the same way as a teacher with five or more years under their belt seems a bit unfair. Should expectations also vary depending on other circumstances? Should the teacher's financial situation (and what the district will/will not help with) be a factor? Should their family responsibilities play a role? Every teacher is an individual person with a unique set of circumstances. How much do we take that into consideration?
@jenorr we're all here because we're oriented towards growth. How do we spark a growth mindset in others? #EduCon
I loved Aaron's bit about sparking growth. I'd love to think that my excitement, energy, and passion for the conferences I attend and the blogs I read spreads to others. I gain so much from these and I hope that others have the same opportunity. The idea of being oriented towards growth is one I have to think on some more. How do we identify a growth mindset in teachers? At least a growth mindset about their teaching. I'm not sure.
I think, in the end, that's what I believe is critical for a teacher; an interest and drive to continue growing in their profession. However they do so, that's the bar I think I'd set.
Cross-posted from

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Students Sharing

At some point at Educon, and unfortunately I can't remember when, where, or who, someone said something about 'sharing between students bandwidth.' I made a quick note to myself asking, "What is the sharing between students bandwidth where I am?"
I know that my most powerful learning comes out of conversation, be that in person, on Twitter, or elsewhere online. It helps me to talk to others, listen to others, and try to see other perspectives. I think I have a lot of bandwidth for sharing.
I don't know that my students do. There is a significant amount of time in our classroom during which students are talking to each other. The amount of time they spend listening to me is pretty small and the amount of time they have to be quiet is minimal. This is something I have worked hard to achieve over the years. So, that would seem positive.
However, I'm not convinced that most of their talk is powerful. I'm not sure they truly know how to share their learning and discuss it in ways that will help them and their classmates grow. I think they have a lot of bandwidth for sharing, but I don't think they know how to use it.
Having the bandwidth isn't very meaningful if it isn't used well. I wouldn't let them get on our computers and just use them to watch PBS Kids videos or play drill and kill games. Those aren't terrible things to do, just as their talk right now isn't terrible, but both could be a lot better. We need to ensure that we're making good use of our bandwidth. At least most of the time.
Cross-posted from

Monday, January 27, 2014

Educon Overload

Educon was this past weekend and my head is still swimming. I could use a day or two, locked away on my own, to reflect and sort through all this thinking and questioning.
As that won't happen (somehow I'm expected to teach and parent and such no matter how full my brain is), I'm dedicating some time several evenings a week to this space. My girls have gone to bed (not to sleep by any stretch as I can hear the music and chatting quite clearly) so this is the closest to 'me time' as I'm going to get.
Educon is always an amazing event. I think there are several reasons for that. One is how respectfully participants are treated at this conference. Sessions are conversations, not presentations, so everyone can be involved. Some sessions are more participatory than others, but all offer opportunities for active participation. While there are lots of folks at Educon who could be considered EduCelebrities, they are there participating like everyone else. There is a sense of equality.
Another reason I think this conference is so spectacular is the location. It is hosted by Science Leadership Academy, a public, magnet high school in Philadelphia. The people at SLA, principal, teachers, students, parents, even former students, are all highly involved in Educon. The conference simply couldn't work without them and that is important. Parents and students are the ones working behind the scenes (and in the midst of everything) to make Educon run smoothly. They also engage in conversations about education with those of us who are visiting. On Friday they welcome us into their school and for the rest of the weekend they work hard to keep things going while adding important perspectives to our conversations.
Due to the location, the size is relatively small. Philadelphia hosted the ALA (American Library Association) conference this weekend as well. That included 12,000 participants (or so I'm guessing, I have no source for that number). We were between 500 and 600. We didn't like sharing the city with them, they hogged all the cabs. Anyway, as a result, there's a level of intimacy at Educon that is lacking at other national conferences. (And, if you're doubting, Educon is most definitely a national conference, I spoke with folks from Wisconsin, Texas, and Canada that I remember off the top of my head.)
Most of the participants in Educon are on Twitter and/or blog. This weekend is a chance to talk face to face with people we engage with regularly online. There is a sense of coming home as we all gather. It's amusing to hear people say, "Wait, what's your Twitter name? I think I follow you!" or "Oh my gosh, you're ----- on Twitter!" (Those of us who just use our regular names as our Twitter names are not nearly as exciting.)
The tone of the conference is that we are all learners. I'm not certain how that tone was originally set or how it has been maintained so well, although I'm betting is highly deliberate. But it plays a significant role in making Educon so powerful.
I'm sure there are other reasons Educon is my favorite conference of the year, but this sums it up pretty well. (There goes tonight's 'me time' and I haven't even begun unpacking the issues/questions/big ideas from the conference!

Cross-posted from

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Am I living what I value?

For the past month, since I was lucky enough to attend both annual conferences for VASCD and VSTE, I have been thinking about this question. I started a list of things I value and believe. When something strikes me strongly, I try to add it. 
So far, my list of things I value includes:
  • play
  • explaining one's thinking
  • student choice
  • student responsibility
  • reflection (for teachers and students)
Under the idea of things I believe:
  • testing is a lazy way to assess learning
I anticipate adding more to these lists, but for the moment there is plenty to think about. Over the next week I intend to reflect on each of these items and analyze how well I am actually living them in my classroom. Too often I think I get caught up in what I'm told to do, what others are doing, what is easy, or what I've always done, and don't do what I believe is best. That doesn't upset me too much, I'm human, but I do want to take some time to see where I'm going strong and where I want to focus more energy.
(And, to be honest, I want to spend more time writing as I have missed that and think it is important. Hopefully this will help me get back in the groove.)
Original with comments open here.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Making a Major Change

This is my 16th year at my school. In that time I've taught three different grades, looped twice, taught our gifted and talented class, taught students with IEPs and students learning English. I've learned so much about teaching, school, students, and life. I work with the most amazing people. (That's truly not an exaggeration. I don't believe there is another staff as good as this one anywhere.)
In spite of all this, I'm planning to change schools. There are many different reasons for this. I feel that 16 years is a long time at one place and I need to move in order to grow. My oldest daughter is finishing her years at my school so it seems like a good time. And I'm terrified. Oddly enough that is one more reason for me to go, in my mind at least. (There are many more reasons, most of which don't need to be shared.)
This is the only place I've ever taught. Prior to this I substituted quite a bit between gigs on a cruise ship and after I left the ship, including one long-term job in a fifth grade. But this has really been my only school. That makes me a lucky one. I landed at an amazing spot from day one. 
My goal now is to find the next perfect school. I know I want it to be a Title I school. I'd like the school to have Reading Recovery and a well stocked reading room. In addition, I'd like to find a school that believes in the Responsive Classroom philosophy. 
What would you look for in a school? How would you know if you found it?

Cross-posted from new site where comments are open. Please share thoughts!