Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Creation vs. Buying?

Today I repurposed a piece of furniture.  Nothing crazy, it was an outdoor bench destined for the trash heap.  I grabbed it, added a few braces to secure it and then stained it to give it a little fresh look.  It is now sitting proudly in my backyard, waiting to be sat in!

Start and finish, nothing big, it was open to be modified how I saw fit!  I also created a mixtape 2 days ago that I can not share with anyone... It is probably no good, but not the point.  Youtube shuts me down constantly because of copyright violations when I share.  I get it! I would not want my hard work shared without compensation, unless I had another revenue source, like my concerts, commercials, spotify, etc.  As principal I have another revenue source, my day job, but I also spent this week planning a 4th grade lesson based on RI 4.6 common core standard.  

Should I put it on Teachers pay Teachers to get money?  I think it is pretty good, and could probably get some money, but how does that look?  "Principal putting lessons on Teachers pay Teachers".  I think there are so many issues with this site.  I know you put some hard work into your "stuff", but ask yourself why you got into this?  If no one posted stuff to the site asking for money, it would go away... Simple supply and demand economics, just saying.    

I also could put it out there in a way that makes people fill out a form, to collect their information, but why would I?  I think sharing should just be done, without needing anything in return, although that is a hard hurdle to get over.  It is the beginning, middle, and end of this lesson, as I will probably never deliver it.  Unless +Mr. Bonavita +Laura Bossert or +Stephanie Cenno-Larson ask me to teach it to their classes, which I would...  #cddolphins 4th grade teachers!

I look forwared to @amazoneducation and their platform to be able to upload and download content.  But until then, I used a Google Site.  Here it is - Link I will link it all over this blog, so just click.  I did make it a to gather data.  I am curious to see how far #OER can travel without a repository?  But that is my own personal geeky data mind working.  I already patted myself on the back for this (self-actualization), as I do not lack self confidence issues.

Why did I create a 4th grade RI 4.6 lesson on spring break that I will probably never deliver?  It is not the perfect lesson, as the text I selected is well above a 4h grade level, but you could insert any text.  I did it for the process and practice, not necessarily to be used, but to learn and do.

There are 2 reasons:

1.  I am presenting on this at #baconbytes Link to Register April 17th in Millville, NJ.  But this was not the driving force, although it is the reason I did it this week!

2.  The driving force was the fact that I can not continue to ask my staff to do something that I have not given my full attention too.  I planned a "weak" blended lesson last year, that I used with staff, but it was "weak".  I needed to go through the process, start to finish with a standard and put in my "2 cents".  It is by no means perfect and does not address so much including, Path and Pace in a Time, Place, Path, Pace model.  But it is blended and starts at the higher level of cognitive rigor in thinking, my original 2 goals, there I am using metacognition again!

We use Schoology? So why did I do it as a Google Site?

I have never used Google Sites before this week, so I needed to learn the tool to deliver the content. That excites me to no end, when I have the time, so often, I do not... So I did learn the tool first and realized it would work for what I wanted to do.  No big conspiracy.  I could insert this in Schoology, no problem, just harder to share globally, which we are working on as a district to make sure all our content is #GoOpen #OER.

Random thought: might help you understand my mindset at times!

P.S. I listened to this song on Youtube as a loop as I wrote this!  Just right click for Microsoft or double click mouse pad on MAC to loop any Youtube video DJ Turn It UP (Warning there are 3 bad words that start with sh... in this song)  Tell me you did not shake your hips or head a bit after listening... Don't Lie!

Back from ADD binge!

I don't want to be a blogger (although I am, and love the self-actualization reflective part! HAHA) or so be a part of so many hashtags, that I will not mention... I just want to "do" the work, I want to "live" with my staff, students, and community.

Principals, join me, in the hard and messy work that is school.  We are not perfect, so prove it by putting out products that will face feedback, when you have time.  Don't just speak from a pedestal about ideas, or show the "peeps" what you are thinking.  Thinking sucks without an example!  Just saying...

I will share this with my staff, not just a global audience!  They will roll their eyes!  I will look frustrated, my vein will pop out, and we will have an understanding.  Growth and movement forward will then occur with their leadership and support.  NOT the other way around!

All the links are to my Google Site, except the Yellow Claw Song!  HAHA Remember, put it on loop and work on your dubstep for the sake of the children!

Take A Risk To Stand Where You Are... What Is The Risk?

The greatest gift you can have as a human is to be self-actualized in your thinking.  If you reach this level you are constantly reflecting, thinking, challenging (yourself), and pushing for growth.  If you are stuck comprehending, analyzing, reasoning, or even in metacognition, you are always still figuring out purpose, pursuit, defending, developing, or setting goals.

Don't get me wrong those are all important skills, but if you can pretty much live in self-actualization and pull from those other cognitive levels when needed to address a situation you will be so much happier.

Now don't misunderstand me, self-actualization is not confidence (although they do travel together), and it is not seeing how many likes you get on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.  That level of thinking is probably a part of all levels, but like an evil side dimension.  I have fallen into this trap a lot, but because I am striving for self-actualization, I am able to recognize it and move on.  Being able to recognize your own faults is part of it, making fun of yourself, not taking yourself too seriously, knowing others have great input, etc.  All of that is important.

I write this as a reflection on my next post and a prelude to organize my own thoughts.  Because I am still trying to figure it out:

What motivates me?
When am I most happy?
What makes me feel this way?
What do I want to do when I grow up? (this is just funny, I figured this one out already!)
How will I make the world a better place?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Thinking - The Next Dimension... Well not really!

RIGOR!!! Just make it harder!!! haha, this is not about that.  This is actually about how to, in some ways, make it easier, although more complex, reflective and yet predictive, pro-active, and re-active, have I confused you yet?

I have been stuck on how we "think" and how "our kids" think for a while.  In my opinion, it is the most important aspect to lesson planning and a classroom.  There have been many posts, movements, and talks about ways students can collaborate, problem solve, be engage, and use technology.  But how are they thinking?  What are we asking them to do?  Solve problems, comprehend a text, or understand a concept?  Should we also try to help them figure out their place in the world with true authentic thoughts based on some of these tasks?  Not quite problem based learning, but internal reflective learning within a context of standards.  Apply technology, and presto! They have a voice and a audience.  It is amazing!

I have spent the year and part of last year talking about how we should attack lessons under an umbrella of cognitive targets (bloom's taxonomy).  I mean how do we start at reasoning, self-actualization, meta-cognition, to move towards comprehension?  Your cognitive ability to pull from your feelings and experiences define your ability to learn, nothing more, nothing less.  In other words, you can not continue to build on your learning without thinking about what you already know and how you feel about it (passion).  (Self-Actualization)

Generally we deliver vocabulary and build first, right?  It might look like this:

"Today class, we are going to go over the concept of _______. Some important things for you to remember are ____, ____, and ____.  Now open your book, watch this video, look at this sheet, tell me what you already know about this topic..."  Then we build on that with more information and we may ask them to summarize, retell, solve, etc. based on new information.

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with this approach, but can we at times do better or at least differently to push their thinking?

Here are my examples in math and reading.


I am not a classroom teacher, although I did teach 5th grade a few years ago.  I have not tested this, but have observed thousands of lessons.  I "think" this will work, but in practice and levels of success is determined by the instructor, not the words on this page.  I just know that I have seen it work, in classes, with teachers that are committed to this process.  We need it to be more regular than something we stumble upon.  

Math: Here is the traditional approach - we break down a problem, model it, show the formula or "tricks" to solve.  Then, deliver problems with repeated practice.  We will write all sorts of multi-step problems that we think are complex, but still only ask students to comprehend.  Here is an elementary example problem I created that is very multi-step to the point of confusing.

Here is the problem we see:

A class has 12 boxes of crayons, there are 36 crayons in each box.  "Oh my" the crayons all fall on the ground.  How many crayons are there total? (1) There are 24 students in the room, each student picks up an equal number of crayons, how many crayons does each student have? (2) The assignment only calls for using blue, yellow, and red, of which there are only one in each box. How many of those colors are there? (3)  How many remaining colors are there that we don't use? (4) (Absurdly multi-step to the point of maybe even being confusing, but all that is asked is comprehension of math)  If they can comprehend the text, they should be able to solve the problem.

First answer = 432
Second answer = 18
Third answer = 36
Fourth answer = 396

This is not a bad problem, but again, all we asked students to do is comprehend mathematics and be able to read and comprehend (which many of them struggle with, admittedly).  Again, these exercises are needed to build reading stamina, but we should not stop here, nor begin here.  This should be a part of the overall landscape, but not the main course, appetizer, drink, and dessert.  Let's offer up a buffet of options.  Here is my idea for this lesson to begin.

What if.... We started with:
  • What is your favorite 3 colors?  Let's graph that...
Let's say the data looked like this:

  • If your teacher said you could only use these 3 crayons to draw a picture of your favorite scene from a book or something you read, how would you feel? Are those enough colors to really draw the picture you want?
  • Talk to someone about why you feel those colors are your choices?  Do you think those will be the most popular colors that others' choose and why? 
  • Why did you choose those 3 colors?
  • If we then dumped just those 72 crayons on the floor, and we put a blindfold on you, what is the likelihood that you would select a Pink crayon?  Put a percentage to that, and be prepared to defend your reasoning.   
  • Then ask them, what would happen if the teacher secretly removed all the red crayons from this mix?  How does the likelihood of selecting a Pink crayon increase or decrease.  Again be prepared to defend your answer.  
  • What might happen if the teacher dumped the remaining 360 crayons in the mix?  What is the likelihood you would select a Red crayon now? The class favorite color. 
Better yet, time permitting, have some of them do this as a class and have a blindfold ready.  See if they can pick the Pink or the percentage of time that someone would pick the Red.  Make a few of them go through this as test subjects to "live" the process.  I bet many would say Red gets picked the most because it is the "favorite".  In this case they don't understand a major math concept, favorites don't predict outcomes in math.  Knowledge gained by you as the teacher.    

Then ask them, "what did you have to do in order to solve this problem?"  They would have to multiply, divide, reason, etc.  Have that conversation afterwards.  Do the math with them at this point in the same fashion asking questions like, "what did you get?" "Anyone disagree..." "Defend your answer..." etc.

In other words look for this: (From earlier)

First answer = 432
Second answer = 18
Third answer = 36
Fourth answer = 396

Reading: I feel this is easier in reading.  Let's say we are working on character perspective or even tone?  This text is a primary source correspondence (letter).  The letter is urging the president (Eisnehower on Sept. 9th 1953) to do something, but I won't spoil it. It is a very short text.

Letter from Mrs. Barnard Cummings to Dwight D. Eisenhower

You chose this text as it is readily available through free searches and copyright free (National Archive Website) and could be interpreted quite differently from an elementary mind.  

Traditionally you might read the correspondence and discuss the tone and perspective of the mother in writing to a president. You might ask:

  • What is the mother asking for?
  • How is this relevant to this time in the history of our country?
  • What is happening in America at this time?
  • What do you notice about the words she uses?
None of these are bad questions... But can we do better?

What if... We started with (before reading the letter):
  • Have you ever felt so desperate that you wanted to write to the president of the United States?
  • Have you ever talk to a friend or loved one that seemed upset or depressed?  What advice did you give them?
  • When is a time that although you felt like you had nothing else to give, you reached down deep and pulled motivation out to move forward?  What was that motivation?
  • What do you do when you feel like there is nothing more of you to give to a situation, how do you cope with that, and recover from that?
This approach works because the students have already grappled with the "feelings" or "tone/perspective" of Mrs. Barnard from their own personal reflection before they begin to apply their thoughts to her situation.  They have already "acted out" how she feels.  They reflected on their learning before they knew what they were going to experience from the letter.  

That is both powerful and a way for you as an educator to allow them to process information in their heads without constraints of new knowledge.  Thinking without biased based on new text is very important to generate original thought.  Then apply biases and watch the creativity, hopefully fly.  This will not happen the first time, as students will be confused, but do it repeatedly and watch them open up with thoughts, ideas, and words. 

Then read the correspondence, help them make connections to their thoughts, and have them live it in the "eyes" of Mrs. Barnard and President Eisenhower.  

Just ideas:  Break the class into sides, one representing Mrs. Barnard and the other President Eisenhower.  If they sat face to face how might they interact? Have them write a return correspondence from Eisenhower and explain how Mrs. Barnard would receive their message. 

In summary:

Go from lessons following this possible trajectory (Retrieval, Comprehending, Analyzing, Reasoning, Creating, Metacognition, Self-Actualization) to the opposite or close to it when possible.

As educators, we feel like we need to build so much pre-requisite content knowledge first, in order to allow students to think, that if we actually flipped that, they would be able to better relate to content when it is delivered.  Remember Comprehension in its "definition" is based on how one "receives" information. Metacognition and Self-Actualization are "lived and experienced".

We need both, but do they have to go in a particular order?  Why not flip it when it makes sense. When you have the time to plan for it.  Make "our kids" think about themselves and their own experiences first as it relates to the content you know you want to deliver.  Do this strategically with reflection or challenge questions that spark debate and conversation.  They will already have had "thoughts" about what they are thinking.  Remember how they "think" is most important because it drives how they understand standards, concepts, and essential questions.  The "transfer" of knowledge we always talk about is also all about how they "self-actualize" and "meta-cognate", so why not start there when you can?

I don't know, makes sense to me... Or at least to my self in my meta-cognitive/self-actualize state!!! 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Blog from the phone

I have wanted to send a blog from my phone for a while. Why? Because I am an addict to my phone. So I feel it only fitting to do the last thing, that I have not done yet from this device. 

I have done everything else, minus hug another human, from this phone. This phone enables me to do things that I only dreamed of 3 years ago, but...  

It also forces me to do things like grab it in the hills of Vermont, when I know there is no signal, but still out of habit, I grab. 

Ugh...! Where is the happy medium, access with limits?  It is different for everyone. I think the question is, Is this tool making your life better or worse? 

With 3 kids at bath time/bed time phone is worse!

Sending out Sunday message to parents or quickly making a flipagram, youtube video, etc. so much better! 

So there is no answer, just don't judge my grammar here, this was done all on two thumbs. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

My thanks continue... To home

I have spent the last 2 blog posts thanking different people, not groups of people, but individual people.  I have however left out the biggest thanks of all. That would be to my wife, who since I was 19 years old has supported me, and just been there every step of the way.  We met in college and it just seemed to feel right, like we were meant for each other.

From those first days in theater tech class (don't ask why 2 elementary ed major were in this class?) to to buying our first house, she has been there.  She would not always stay for the whole game when I played college soccer, and she does not come to every school event, but I know that she is always doing something to make sure my life is a little bit easier.

My job is hard, although not impossible.  Her job is hard and impossible.  Mainly because she now works full time in schools, we have 3 children together, supports a household, and puts up with me!  I know that I can count on her like the sun coming up in the morning.  She never seems to get sick, always stays home when the kids are, and somehow things just get done and end up in the right place because of her.  She is an inspiration and I still get excited every time I see her, like a middle school sort of crush on the girl with the locker down the hall kind of way.  

For allowing me to have to not worry about so many things, I want to thank my wife.  I am pretty easy to live with, at least I think I am, but she is someone I want to live for not with.  She is someone that even after 19 years together, 13 of them married, I can say I both, out kicked my coverage and am grateful for having her in my life.

Thank you Jessi for being there, being kind when needed, harsh when needed, intricate when needed, you always seem to be there in a way that I need!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

I know a Super Hero!

I know a superhero! She is not over imposing in stature, does not yell out things, and she can't even fly!  But she is able to do many things;

For example:

  • Take chicken scratch and turn it into a coherent message.
  • Be yelled something (partial idea or task) from down the hall and turn it into an actionable step.
  • Calm an angry parent with a smile and empathy in seconds.
  • Welcome upset students and make sure they get to class with a smile.
  • Feed the hungry, talk to the needy, get insight on the hard to understand, and convey this all to the relevant stakeholders that need information.
  • She is able to laugh about a mistake, be upset about something serious, and understand a deep concern all within the same minute.

That is a partial list of what my administrative assistant +Terri Kane can do.  She is on Twitter, but will never check this, she is on Google+, but will never see this.  That being said, she is what Twitter or Google+ might call an #eduhero!  She never asks for thanks or to be recognized, but she does more for kids without a degree in education than so many people I have met face to face or online.  

I will email this to her so she knows how much I appreciate her.  I could have waited until April 27th, administrative assistant day, but why wait?  I did not pick that day, although I will get her a gift card to her favorite coffee spot.  I was reminded today about how important she is to me and "our school" and "our kids".  We "celebrate" so many in education.  I propose that my "superhero" is more valuable to "our kids" than any award would justify.    

Simply put... No questions... No way... Could I be who I want/need to be, without Terri.  The answer is no.  I forget, don't think about, don't know, etc. so many things that she covers for me, that her value is "superhero" caliber.  

A great administrative assistant will manage, keep the pulse, know the dirt, massage people, listen, filter, block, have your back, speak for you, etc. so often that you can't begin to understand how that all fits in one head.  For these reasons she allows me to be there for the #cddolphins to help in ways that don't require me to be at my desk, although I know she wishes I lived in my office.  It would be so much easier for her, but she is so unselfish that she understands that we function better as a school when I am "visible" and supporting people in multiple ways.  I do have a radio and 85% of the time I have it on the right way, I again have messed up here quite often.  

Teri forgives, forgets, understands, does, works, sees, loves, jokes, smiles, talks, and is there for everyone. She is the one that keeps the school going.  

I try to push thinking as the conductor of the train.
But she is collecting tickets in the rain.
making sure we are at the right speed. 
Always there for what we need!  

Thank you Terri!   

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What a coach can do for you...

I am blessed... I am a single principal person with no other admins in a very diverse elementary school with 400 students.  I am blessed, because "our kids" also have two coaches.  Thanks to the commitment and vision of +Franklin Read +Dolan Blakey +Lori Duerr +Peter Leida +Jeffrey Menzer as a small building I am afforded not one, but two instructional coaches.  They might call themselves math and ELA coaches, but they aren't.  They are:  +Stephanie Jones +Jessica Hoban

They are problem solvers, brainstormers, support people, opinionated (in a good way) feedback givers (even in music), and so many other things that to pigeonhole them to content experts, would not be fair.  They do have their specialties and passions, but if you have the ability to have coaches, I hope you have two like what I have.  They know more than content, they know strategies, and even better they know how to push me and the building in a positive direction.

Would I love an assistant principal or dean of students (student advisor), absolutely.  But I would not trade a coach for one, even if it would make my job easier.  They keep the focus on instruction, keep me honest as an instructional leader, tell me when I am slacking on observation/feedback, call me out for missing a PLC, and so many other appropriate slaps to the face.  I have soft skin, so they don't hurt that much... haha

I don't need to be told when to call that parent back, or when to deal with that difficult student.  Those things are habit, but to make sure I spend quality time in classes, and talk with staff about instruction, are things that I do need reminders.

No one...

But other principals know the directions you are pulled in on a daily basis, but a strong set of coaches, like I have, keep you honest.  Or at least they should, if not, they are not doing one of their "other responsibilities".  The day my coaches stop "calling me out" is the day I realize they are not paying attention.

I appreciate my coaches for so many things, although I don't often tell them.  They do so much including being a content expert, an observation/feedback person, temperature of building person, leader for PD, etc.. But most importantly to me they are there to make sure our focus and vision is on instruction and not managing a building.  For that I can not thank my district and them for being in the position they are in.  The biggest compliment I can give is that they keep me honest and authentic when I try to fake it...

Friday, March 4, 2016

Why implementation and initiative are dirty words in EDU

I have spent a lot of time talking to people lately about how they implemented a program and started an initiative.  My initial thought used to be, "tell me about it!"  or "that sounds awesome!"  And then I realized that implementation and initiative are bad words in education.

Both words mean that you are basically forcing or gatekeeping something to another group of people.
Don't use "implementation" or "initiative" because to me they mean:


We have a program you are going to love and all we need to do is convince you that if you will agree with us then you will see the proverbial "light" and join us in our excitement.  No need to discuss to much extent, we are just looking for "buy-in"


We have this great idea and if you don't jump on now you are going to miss the boat.  What is wrong with you? This is new and exciting!  We are innovative and we know this is going to be the next thing for the next 3 years!

To me, both are scary in the lack of involvement.  I prefer to go with vision, common language, interest based decision making, inspiration, and movement.  

I will not define all of them, but here is the short and sweet to how these can exist together:

So as a leader you have an idea, or you know that a particular change is good for "our kids".



That immediately becomes implementation and initiative!  


That tells staff that you are not invested yourself, that you are just buying something or someone to do your work. 

You may need outside trainers to help your movement, but the initial grabbing of interest/emotion needs to be done authentically from the leadership or teachers in the building.  Backchannel, flip some of the thoughts, have meetings with school leadership for pulse, but spread the idea grassroots at first, for people to process.  I use Youtube sometimes for this with silly videos.  

Then just develop the common language and movement together.  Tell staff the truth.  This is an open road.  You and they trust that the product that you create within the idea of the Vision, is the best roadmap for where you are going.  You might need a program or outside ideas to help you, but start internal.  It is a simple twist, but to empower, you need people to see ideas, process, and then have the ability to develop the details together.  You also struggle with them, realize you don't have all the answers, but are also able to assist with some things, because you are invested.  

If you just tell people what to do, they won't.  If you just tell people it is awesome without getting consensus, they won't believe you.  Even with this mindset, I have had many ideas that I thought would take off and they did not... I think humble pie may be my favorite dessert now! I thank my staff #cddolphins for dishing it out to me when needed and when I am feeling overly hungry for it! 

Know that not everything will work, but the process is important, live it, don't take shortcuts, and don't live on your status/position to think you will create movement. It won't happen, and you will be left with a population of people that smile at you and then talk about you behind your back. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Planned obsolescence or OER?

I walked past my dryer today and realized the light was on.  I checked my fridge door and it was slightly ajar, but both lights continued to burn.  These are two examples of lights that never seem to burn out.  In contrast I change the lights in my kitchen continuously, planned obsolescence.

Why is it that the light in your dryer and the light in your fridge both never seem to go out?  I would suggest that the manufacturers realize that changing these is hard, difficult work.  Therefore they make them to last and do not plan for obsolescence.

Canned products, textbooks, bought programs, all fall under planned obsolescence.  They are all created with the intention of being replaced, eventually, with a new "better" product.  More sales and more buying for schools.

OER and the #GoOpen movement look to change this.  Open Educational Resources look to create those "lightbulbs" that never seem to go out.  This analogy is a maybe a bit of stretch... but I think the idea of keeping the light on fits well.

Open Educational Resources are inherently created to be modified, adapted, and created for change as the landscape of curriculum and need change.  They are open sourced within a mindset of continuous improvement.  We can curate them, give feedback, and improve.  Textbooks are not created this way.

So why would you not want to adopt a system where the "light" does not go out?

Why not create a system where multiple contributors can adopt, adapt, and modify to make better?

Why not create content that can evolve to always be relevant for "our kids"?

We need to adopt this mindset to allow our students to receive the best possible ideas, thoughts, readings, etc. that fit their needs in the moment.  Just think about planned obsolescence when thinking about your choices in curriculum.

#iniativefatigue occurs when programs are picked that have a shelf life, no pun intended.  Don't buy something that is going to be dated in years or even months.  Do the work, it is hard work, but commit to it in order to bring experiences to "our kids" that make sense to them and meets them where they are.

Be the change that "our kids" need.  Be the one that is willing to do the work to bring them the ideas, thoughts, and lessons that meet them where they are.  It is that important as "our kids" do not learn like we did, now we need to make sure we are there creating experiences that are relevant to them.