#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.

 

Thank You For Learning With Me

Below is a combination of emails and letters sent to Albemarle County teammates over the past month around a new and exciting professional change over the horizon this year for me. While directed at ACPS staff members, the message really applies to all of those with whom I’ve had the privilege to connect while serving various roles in the division over these past 13 years. The overall message reminds me of a post that marked the most recent previous change from classroom teacher to district administrator, and it felt important to commemorate here on the Learning to Lead Learning Blog (if nothing else than for posterity’s sake).

Teammates-

I wanted you to let you know that starting July 1st, I am taking a year’s leave from ACPS for the 2015-16 school year. It will certainly be strange not to be a direct member of the community that’s served as home over the past 13 years, but I have come across an opportunity to explore a position with another organization that feels professionally like a good fit.

There’s obviously way more to say in this kind of circumstance than any asynchronous mass media tool would allow for, so I will simply say: Thank you for learning with me. I notice that we as professionals are at our best when we engage our curious nature and allow it to drive us forward to develop new understanding about our practice, our students, and ourselves. Thank you for the time you have spent alongside me engaged in that learning process. In so many different contexts, I have learned so much from so many, and I only hope that I have been able to share at least a fraction of that energy back into our community in the work we have done together.

As far as the new opportunity goes, I will be working with Advanced Learning Partnerships, an educational consulting firm partnering with school districts engaging in a variety of different instructional initiatives. While based out of Chapel Hill, NC, the work itself will be in a variety of different districts around the country, working with leadership teams to lay out strategic roll-out plans and then implementing the job-embedded professional learning opportunities that help to bring the initiative to life. It should be pretty exciting work- certainly a change of pace, and lots of learning on all sides- though it’ll be very different from being “home” with ACPS.

All in all, the fit feels very closely aligned to my own personal mission statement as an educator on a mission to create communities of learning by connecting people, bringing shape to ideas, and seeking to understand. That’s a mission that this community of learners has helped to shape, for which I will be forever grateful.

I will still be living in the greater Charlottesville area so those locally will still have ways of touching base, though I know it  won’t necessarily be in the context of the work we might normally get into. Thank you again for the opportunity to serve you and your teammates in this capacity, and for being my teammate within the larger Albemarle community.

See you soon-

–Tony

#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!

Year In Review: My Most Popular Storifys of 2014

Inspired by Patrick Larkin‘s reminder from the “Blogger’s Rulebook” about the annual requirement to highlight the most-viewed posts of the year, it seemed appropriate to do the same here on Learning to Lead Learning. Sometimes there’s nothing better than looking back and reminding yourself of where you’ve been in order to figure out exactly where it is you might be going.

Earlier this month, I shared my 14 most retweeted and faved tweets of 2014 (as well as a post that shares how you can make your own list), and I’ll likely do a Year In Review post of the most-read posts of 2014 sometime later this week. For now though, I’ll focus on Storify.

2014’s Most Viewed Storifys

2014 might as well be known as “The Year of the Storify” for me, as it quickly became my go-to digital curation tool. If you haven’t used it, it’s a pretty powerful resource for collecting content from diverse media – twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Getty images, Flickr, and Instagram, among others. I tend to use the site whenever I’m collecting a variety of content sources, as I find its searchable drag-and-drop interface to be pretty easy to use.

Without further ado, here are the 10 most-viewed Storifys I created in 2014:

1) #EdLeader21 4th Annual Event – Atlanta 2014 (October) – This year’s EdLeader21 event focused on student voice, empathy in design thinking, learning spaces, and performance assessment as levers toward promoting the 4Cs. I’ll remember it fondly as a great reconnection with colleagues from across the USA, a valued “bi-coastal” collaborative presentation with teammates, and the time I almost won $5 from Steve Saunders for taking a selfie with 5 Seconds Of Summer.

2) More Important: Questions or Answers? (January) – A collection of contexts (predominantly from January 19th’s #sunchat) in which I asked educators to agree or disagree with the following statement: As teachers, having the right questions is more important than having the right answers. Seeing this post reminds me of the need to ask this question in more contexts, as well as the need to ask more questions.

An image from #ACPSCAI14 displaying the importance of focusing on both what students know and what they can do.

3) #PowerofPLN: The Power of a Personal Learning Network (published in July, most recently updated in November) – A collection of “Why Connect?” responses based on a serendipitously-timed trio of PD sessions. On July 9, 2014, Chad Smith in Gastonia NC, Kerri Williams at #EVSCREV14 in Evansville, IN, and I were all leading PD sessions around the power of professional learning networks, and engaging our PLNs in the session. This PD session was a reinvigorating one in many ways, and I still have many “next steps” to tend to based on what I learned from facilitating these sessions.

4) #ACPSCAI14: Changing Our Perspective When Assessing Student Work (June) – A collection of tweets, links, and posts shared during Albemarle County’s Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction (CAI) Institute, in which interdisciplinary teams across multiple grade levels collaboratively assessed student work as evidence of relative mastery of lifelong learning competencies. I promise: it was a LOT more fun than it may sound!

5) #PubPriBridge: The Inaugural Chat (January) – The archive of the inaugural #PubPriBridge chat, a connection of public & private school educators connecting to make a difference for the benefit of learners everywhere. Moderated by Peter Gow, it was a connection with Chris Thinnes from 2013’s EdLeader21 event that brought me to the discussion.

#ACPS selfie: MESA representatives cheesing with Del. David Toscano

6) AHS’s MESA at VMSC’s Programs That Work reception (January) – Director Jeff Prillaman and recent alum Eric Hahn represented Albemarle High School’s Math, Engineering, and Science Academy (MESA) as recipients of Virginia Math & Science Coalition’s Programs That Work award in Richmond, VA. So many of my favorite pictures are in here, including this selfie of all of us with Delegate David Toscano, and this painstakingly staged “physicsy” pic of the award.

7) #AVIDchat: Summer WICOR HW (June) – The archive of the June 25th #AVIDchat where educators came together to focus on ways of incorporating WICOR into their summer professional learning. The conversation was inspired by this post by Craig McKinney on AVID’s Adventures in College and Career Readiness blog.

8) 14 for ’14: My Top Tweets from 2014 (December) – The aforementioned reflection on “the year that’s been” by looking back through my most favorited & retweeted tweets of 2014. This post is a great collection of people & ideas focused on leadership, teaching, and learning.

9) #AVIDchat: Valuing WICOR process skills (February) – An archive of the February 5th #AVIDchat, inspired by @alyssa_ruther’s question: How do we help students value the WICOR process skills that they develop in the AVID elective?

10) My First Graphic Recording (August) – Tweets around the creation of a graphic recording of ACPS Superintendent Pam Moran‘s welcome message to Albemarle County Public School’s new teachers at New Teacher Academy 2014. This Storify includes tips on #graphicrecording from members of the #sketchnotes community like verbaltovisual’s Doug Neill, Sketchnotes Handbook author Mike Rohde, and noted graphic facilitator Rachel Smith.

That’s the year in a nutshell – thanks for everyone who has been a part of it!

How To: Curate a List of Your Year’s Top Tweets

Every year around the winter break, I seek to stop and pause, reflecting on a year that seems to have flown by even faster than the last. This year, I decided to do so by looking back at tweets. So much of the power of twitter is its “right now” immediacy that it’s easy to forget how looking at past tweets can remind us of what we have learned over the course of the year.

So I went back and remembered, collecting the tweets along with the memories around them in this Storify of my Top 14 Tweets of 2014. And with just a few easy steps, you can make a list of your own! There are probably easier automated ways to accomplish a similar task, but I prefer a certain level of customization in the process, or else for me it’s not quite reflection.

Here’s how I made mine:

1. Make the place where you will curate your list. I used Storify because of the ease with which it integrates tweets, links, and various other media from around the web. It’s pretty easy to use- click “New Story” and you’re ready to get started!

2. Find your top tweets. I used favstar‘s “Best Of” feature to find my most faved & retweeted tweets. While there are several other tools that do something similar, I found the favstar’s quick clicking when showing Favs & Retweets the easiest to use for this specific purpose. (Note: I’d recommend opening a new tab in your browser, with Storify in one tab and Favstar in another. This will make the process of curating tweets much easier.)

Screenshot 2014-12-24 09.25.123. Find the URLs of those tweets. I did so by copying and pasting key strings of words from the tweets shown on favstar into the twitter search engine. Finding the original tweets helped me remember the context of each of these tweets, which was a fun trip down memory lane. More importantly, clicking on “Details” also brought up the specific URL of each tweet, which is important for the next step.

Screenshot 2014-12-24 09.48.114. Add the tweet to your list. By copying and pasting the URL of the tweet into the “Embed URL” option on Storify’s wide array of media options, you will be given the option of embedding each of these tweets into your curated list of top tweets. It’s a little bit counter-intuitive, but the Embed URL option works much better in this instance than the Embed Tweet option because in my experience the twitter search engine on Storify only looks back 1 week into the past.

From there, add any flourishes, additional context, or memories that will help you remember the context of your learning long after 2014 has passed.

5. Publish and publicize your list. Once you’ve completed your list of top tweets, click Publish and it will be accessible to anyone on the web. What’s more, when connected with twitter you’re given the option to publicize the story on your tweet stream. I found that Notifying all of those who have been mentioned in these top tweets helped me to reconnect with some “tweeps” I hadn’t talked with in a while. Hopefully, they saw the shout-out as the “Thank You” it was intended to be.

So, to recap:

  1. Make a new post using Storify.
  2. Find a list of your top tweets using favstar.
  3. Get the URL for each of your top tweets on twitter.
  4. Embed the URL for each tweet into your Storify.
  5. Publish and publicize your list using Storify’s connection to twitter.

I hope you find as much benefit to the reflective pause that comes from looking back at your year that I did. Happy holidays to everyone out there in the PLN that makes learning together so rewarding. Here’s to the great learning opportunities that 2015 will provide!