#ProTips From A Year On The Road

It has been a long, long time since I’ve posted to this blog. Far too long.

In taking on a new role as a team member with Advanced Learning Partnerships over this past year, I have been doing a lot of partnering, a lot of advancing, and, of course, a lot of learning. So much learning in fact that most of my reflection has been of the total internal variety– lots of light coming in, and much of it has been absorbed so as to advance my own understanding instead of reflected in order to advance us all.

That internal reflection stops today. It’s time to  get it out.

As the year comes to a close, it seemed fitting to share some stories through a list of #ProTips, an inside joke we have in our profession for the comment made just before a small but extremely useful piece of information is shared (usually one that has been right in front of you all along).

The audience I had in mind is my former and forever teammates, the Lead Coach crew in Albemarle County to whom I wrote my last post last year. I have a slide deck that I’ll finish and share with them (and you) someday, but for now these #ProTips seemed ready to get out of my head and into ours.

#ProTips from a Year on the Road

Drive carefully. You’ve never seen humidity until you’ve seen it near the gulf in Houston. Seriously- sometimes it’s like swimming where you walk. One night during a fog advisory I couldn’t see the traffic lights until they were right in front of me.

Get there early. If you want to get barbecue in Austin before they run out of the supply for the day, you’d better get there early. And surprisingly enough, they don’t really do coleslaw.

It’s a long way to Childersburg. Talladega Superspeedway isn’t the only mega-sized road in the county of the same name. In a district with 17 schools and 7500 students, the 760-square-mile span makes a drive to Yancey feel like a hop, skip, and a jump away. And if your plane happens to get grounded in Birmingham, a 10-hour drive home can feel both endless and freeing at the same time.

There are perks of being a traveler. If you’re going to be on the road a lot, find your brands of choice and stick to them. The points add up, and the perks are generally worth it. And if a hotel has morning breakfast and evening socials built into the cost of the room, go back there the next time you visit.

It’s either my fault, their fault, or God’s fault. It turns out there are three reasons for travel delays when it comes to missed airline connections. Until the writing of this post, I’d had several instances of two of the three. Well, now I’ve had all three. Turns out you probably shouldn’t try to rest your eyes outside the gate of your flight if it’s a redeye leaving at 11pm Pacific time, as it just may well leave without you. Man, sleeping overnight in airports sucks.

Kids are kids, no matter where you go. Kindergartners in South Texas talk with no filter, hug your leg without thinking about it, and give you funny nicknames like Mr. Glasses. Even in Phoenix’s 100-degree “dry” heat, 6th graders come to class smiling and drenched in sweat from running around way too much during PE. And like so many, high schoolers in Chicago are way too cool for school- unless of course you tell them you remembered meeting them in one of their classes and noticed the incredible work they were doing, and then they brim with pride. Kids are kids, and they’re why we do what we do in service of their learning and their future.

Teachers are teachers, no matter where you go. While they may use different words, teachers everywhere have the same stressors, the same sources of excitement, the same motivations for growth. There are incredible educators all over this country dedicated to pushing themselves in order to affect the lives of young people- they remind me of the dedicated teachers I strived to serve alongside with you in Albemarle each day.

Leaders are leaders, no matter where you go. They have way too much on their plates, often because they don’t want to burden others with it. They have the same competing concerns for people and for production, the degree of each of which drives their approach to leading. And above all, they desperately want to do a good job on behalf of the communities they serve. I feel blessed to be able to try to do a small part to help them keep the main thing the main thing.

Teams makes all the difference. I had forgotten about the Forming and Storming we did all those years ago as a seminal Lead Coach team before we started our Norming and Performing together. The successes we experienced lulled me into believing that things had always run so smoothly. My new team has undergone various moments of growing pains over the year, each of which takes me back to those early days when we as a Lead Coach team didn’t yet know how each other worked, let alone how we worked as one entity. On the flip side, my new team members and I have hit more than our fair share of strides that remind me to time spent running with each of you. Hope things are progressing in your new team endeavors as well- definitely miss the times around the table and in the circle together, though also loving my new team very much.

There really is no place like home. This one needs no story- it pretty much says it all. I try to make every new city I visit feel a little bit more like home by the time I leave, though it is never a substitute for the real thing.

Here’s to a ton more #ProTips in the weeks and months to come. Thanks for learning with me.


#Oneword at #sunchat: Top Tweet for January 2015

Reflection is a powerful tool- one that goes unwielded so often in the flurry of planning and doing that generally fills our busy days. I noticed that if I wanted to spend time harnessing that power, I would need to develop purposeful structures that would help to cause it to happen. To that end, I’m experimenting with this “Top Tweets” series.

Following the reflection gained by looking back at a year’s worth of tweets in 2014, I thought it might be interesting and helpful to increase the frequency of those reflections, to go back on a monthly basis and expanding on the ideas of the “top tweets” of each month. While the depth of “A Year In Review” can resurrect powerful ideas, I think I’d much prefer keeping these ideas at the forefront of my mind much more frequently.

Here is January’s top tweet:

#oneword Tagxedo for #sunchat – 1/4/15

Most every Sunday morning at 9AM ET, a group of passionate educators come together for #sunchat, a free-form educational chat moderated by New York educator Starr Sackstein. Ultimately inspired by the book One Word To Change Your Life (though more likely by the twitter zeitgeist, which was #oneword-ing all over the place at the time), Starr challenged each of us to choose and commit to one word that we hoped would embody the year to come, and to share it during the first #sunchat on 1/4/15 along with the hashtag #oneword:

I find these types of chats to be extremely energizing- especially those focused on springing forward into a new year. In the hour that followed, educators from around the world inspired me with their drive and enthusiasm around the practice of teaching and learning. By the end, I didn’t want it to stop, though I knew that it would have to if we were ever going to make our #oneword become reality.

Seeing the collection of tweets, I remembered a couple of different approaches to using word cloud generators as an artifact of learning, which I thought might be interesting to capture our #oneword posts. Thankfully, #sunchat is always full of motivational energy:

And so, the Tagxedo image of our #oneword discussion on #sunchat was born. PS If you’ve not used Tagxedo before, I’d recommend it- a word cloud generator similar in nature to Wordle, but with the added functionality of allowing you to customize more of the features (including the shape).

Side note: The #oneword strategy itself has been a rejuvenating one, both for me and for those with whom I work. My #oneword during this #sunchat was “reawaken,” which helps me remind myself that each day is a gift I need to embrace, and that there is a larger world outside of the short-term goals that govern my day-to-day life that I need to see. When I shared it, one chatter asked, “Have you been asleep?” My response: “In a metaphorical sense, I think maybe I have been.” Here’s to waking up in 2015!

Row, Row, Row Your Boats


This week, teachers and staff in my school division took a breath from the daily grind for Making Connections, the annual home-grown professional development conference where we come together to learn with and from each other. As this news story highlights, a quarter of our district’s teachers put together over 200 unique learning opportunities where our community of learners could continue to grow.

The conference itself could not come at a better time of year. While the graph below refers specifically to a beginning teacher’s well-chronicled experience during her first year on the job, in many ways it reflects each of us as educators on our yearly journey.


The end of October has signaled the end of the 1st quarter, the end of the first laps on the long race that is our school year. Like many distance swimmers, we likely put a lot of energy into those first laps. As well as things have turned out up to now, there are still three times as many laps left to go. Where will we get the energy to finish the race?

I am reminded of a quote from a colleague I overheard several years ago, and think about every year at this time:

I used to hate the idea of countywide conference days as they approached. I always felt like I had so much I needed to do instead. But once I got there, I would see my friends from other schools and connect with them about things I was trying to figure out. By the end, I always had a great time: It gave me a chance to breathe.

The fact is, if the graph above holds true, many educators may be drowning (figuratively speaking) as the quarter comes to a close. Times like Making Connections become an opportunity to row your folks ashore. These development opportunities and similarly large chunks of time and resources are “rescue boats” that a school district can row out into the surf, getting close enough so that those who are struggling to stay afloat can grab hold. Of course, there is only so much room around the boat’s edge for people to grasp – the only way that we can all make it to safety is to connect to each other while those closest to the boat hold tight.

I appreciated the opportunity to make connections today. I thank those who were willing to reach out with the stories of their learning, and I look forward to many more reconnections over the next laps of the race. I am especially thankful to be part of a school division who recognizes the importance of rowing out the boats, right on time.

Rising above the mess of RSS

(Note: I read about this method of organization on a blog someone tweeted out several months ago, and have only recently begun to try it out.  If this story sounds familiar to anyone reading, and you have a source site where you read about it before, please share it in the comments, as I truly want to give credit where credit is due.  Thanks!)

A few months ago, I started using RSS feeds (aggregated through Google Reader) to subscribe to blogs and news feeds that I want to know about on a frequent basis.  Prior to that time, I relied on my twitter PLN to tweet out interesting posts (which I still do, though it has its limitations).  That method of relying on tweets left a lot to chance- if I happened to catch the right spot in the stream, I received all sorts of ‘goodies.’  At this point in time, however, as one colleague put it the other day, “I need information to seek out and find me, not the other way around.”  Hence the RSS subscriptions.

My path in navigating this data stream has been similar to many others, I’m sure- after finding myself reading certain blogs on a frequent basis, I would decide to subscribe via RSS.  Once I got up to a dozen sites or so, I would feel the urge to organize those subscriptions, and started by putting blogs together based on similar content (e.g. EdTech, SBAR, Leadership, Music, Sports, etc).  While it ‘cleaned up’ my reader feed, those folders ultimately did not help me to read through the mass of information- I simply found folders full of dozens of unread posts.  As the numbers of unread blogs continued to increase, I tended to put off trying to read them.  (Human psychology at its best, right?)  I needed a new way.

Thankfully, I ran across a blog post that has changed my RSS life.  The author’s advice?  Don’t organize your feeds by their content, organize them by the day of the week you will read them.


Suddenly, I have been able to get over the information paralysis.  When I logged on to Google Reader this morning, I didn’t feel the need to read every post- only the ones in the Friday folder.  I no longer ask myself, “What am I interested in reading?” as it’s a given that I am interested in all of it.  (After all, I was the one who willfully chose to subscribe to these feeds in the first place.)  Instead, I now ask the question, “What day is it?”  This question is much easier to answer (most of the time).  So long as I am comfortable not having seen these posts at the nanosecond of their publication (which, in all honesty, is not a concern for me), I now have a method of keeping up with the posts.  What’s great is, I do still use some level of content organization on the daily feeds…now, I just happen to read them all, too!

In honor of 4/8’s #followfriday, I’ll list a few of the blogs in my “Days of the Week” folders here (along with Twitter contact info, in case you’re interested in following these brilliant folks as well).  Happy reading!

Sunday PM: Ed Leadership – Starting tomorrow’s work today

Monday: A Mix of Perspectives Around Teaching & Learning

Tuesday: Tech Tuesday!

Wednesday: Book Learnin’ & Leadin’
Thursday: From the STEM & SBAR Classroom
Friday: Instructional Coaching (Looking for more…suggestions?)
Saturday AM: The Sports Blogroll – Golf tips & Fantasy Sports info

Saturday PM: The Music Blogroll – Pitchfork Media, SPIN, & all things Radiohead

Sunday AM: A place for politics – Factcheck.org, Politifact.com, local OpEds 

If you have any suggestions of feeds to follow related to these topics, please share them in the comments sections.  Also, mad props to anyone who can share with me other places where they have seen this idea…I really want to track down the impetus for this process and give credit where it is most certainly due.

Finally, thanks to all of you teachers, authors, bloggers and tweeters mentioned above.  By making your thoughts & practice public, you help me to learn and grow as a leader, as an educator, and most importantly as a human walking his path.


Editor’s Note @ 6:14pm: Since posting this message earlier today, I have made some great connections w/new blogs: Lyn Hilt’s The Principal’s Posts, Connected Principals, TEDucation, Engaging Educators, The Nerdy Teacher, and Full-On Learning, among others.  Thanks everyone for sharing the feeds you love to read & write!

What’s Working? Making Practice Public!

As a response to the MSNBC Teacher Town Hall on September 26, 2010, ACPS teacher Paula White (@paulawhite) suggested that we all go write a blog about what’s working in education, and share our stories with the hashtag #educationnation. Here’s mine:

What’s working right now for me in my practice as an educator is the unprecedented access I have to discuss teaching and learning (within my school division, nationwide, and across the globe), and the growth opportunities that this level of public practice presents to me every day.

I have colleagues that open their classrooms to me in my school.  During lunch, my former teammate and I would talk about our upcoming plans for classes, and would often discuss a new practice we were planning to do with our students.  When I asked if I could watch and see how it worked out in his class, he welcomed me in.  The trust paid off, and I grew as a result – seeing his classroom sparked ideas for me related to the little nuances of our craft…ideas I may never have had without the opportunity to see him practice.  I like to think that he grew as well – in our follow-up conversations, he would talk about his impressions of the class and ask for my thoughts and feedback, which led to adjustments in his future class periods.  If something I said sparked a curiosity in him, he would come by to see my class as well, and the cycle of growth continued.

I have colleagues that open their classrooms to me across my division.  As a group of instructional coaches in our county, we seek to replicate the opportunities for these reflective partnerships that promote professional growth.  Since the beginning of the school year, I have started several new connections with teachers who have e-mailed looking for a reflective partner in practices as diverse as starting experimental design projects, gauging student progress, or planning learning opportunities during a field trip.  With each opportunity, I help the teacher see their practice through a new set of eyes, usually finding ways to connect them with other teachers.  Some of those teachers are wrestling with these same topics, while others have found a way that works for them (but are looking for ideas just as well).  When we make our practice public, we can learn from the connections that follow.

I have colleagues that open their classrooms to me across the world.  Just this week, I have read new blog posts written by educators who are inviting me into their classroom practice.  Their thoughts spark ideas in me, and their questions inspire me to seek new answers. I learned from two teachers in Iowa in Riley Lark’s (@rileylark) practice of standards-based grading, and Shawn Cornally’s (@ThinkThankThunk) continued goal to promote truly student-centered learning.  John Sowash (@jrsowash) pushed my practice from Cincinnati by sharing his lessons learned from “flipping his classroom,” while stories from Kansas’ Jim Knight (@jimknight99) about recognizing the fear inherent to professional growth helped me to recognize how the fear vs growth relationship applies to my own work.  I even had a chance to help, responding to Brooklyn’s Sam Shah (@samjshah) in his desire to find ways to get his kids to think about graphs differently, all because he had both the trust and the desire to tell everyone about it.  By sharing his practice with me, both he and I have grown in our profession.

Like any art, skill or science, I grow when I see and hear about the practice of others.  As I continue to grow as an educator, I will seek out more opportunities to make my practice public, and I hope to inspire others to do the same – that is what is working for me right now!

Planning for Engagement

(Inspired by today’s ACPS Tech Plan conversation w/the DART Advisory Committee.)

As a teacher, anytime I ran into reluctant learners in the classroom, I started to think: “Did I plan for engagement?  Did I strategically include engaging qualities in my plan for their learning?”  Similarly, I’m drawn to the same qualities when thinking about those teachers who may be reluctant to try out new technology tools in meeting their students’ needs.

Below are those 8 qualities that our county uses as ‘look-fors’ in work that promotes student engagement.  Next to those qualities, I’ve written a few questions related to a teacher’s perspective in learning something new that leaders might consider so as to “plan for engagement:”

  • Personal Response – Do teachers have their own voice in the learning process?
  • Clear/Modeled Expectations – Do teachers know what their leaders, colleagues and students expect of me in terms of their learning?  Do they really know what it looks like to use this tool well?  Have they seen it?
  • Emotional/Intellectual Safety – Are teachers in an environment where they feel safe to try something new, to take a risk without feeling as if failure in that attempt will cause them harm?
  • Affiliation – Do teachers have opportunities to learn collaboratively with others?
  • Sense of Audience – Are teachers expected to share evidence of their learning with others outside of the classroom?  Outside of the school?
  • Choice – Are teachers able to choose what it is that they are interested in learning, or how, when, and/or with whom they are interested in learning it?  Are teachers able to choose how to show that they have learned it?
  • Novelty & Variety – Is the process of learning this tool set up in an interesting, unexpected or unusual way?
  • Authenticity – Are teachers learning this new tool in a way that mirrors what it will look like to use it with my students?

What’s going around in my head is: in answering any of these questions above related to tech learning opportunities, how many of those “reluctant learners” teachers would respond, “No”? How many would say things like: “I don’t have a voice.” “I’m not allowed to choose.” “It’s not safe to try something new.” “I don’t know what’s expected of me.” In leading the work, have we planned for engagement? If not, how about we get started now?