Finding My Way Back to My WHY

It has been a tough start to the year. Some of my friends have shared that they feel like they are in the same boat.  Tough getting things going this year.  I feel like I’ve been knee deep in a miry pit of tech failure.  Instead of thinking about great new things I can do, I’ve been reduced to hoping that things just work for the classes that will come in on a day to day basis.  I realized just recently that my WHY has been stripped away from my day-to-day work and replaced with HOW.  I quickly lost hold of my WHY because the HOW overwhelmed me.  It’s easy to lose grip on our WHY when external influences push us to focus on things that distract us.  Things are improving in the tech working area of my days, so how do I get back to my WHY?

Last week I found a pile of student’s shoes outside of one of our third grade classrooms.  It made my heart jump because I know that the teacher is creating a flexible learning environment for children.  He has read articles, had conversations with others and his students to make their room a comfortable learning space for everyone.  The shoes showed me a snippet of my why.  So I decided to start taking pictures of things that are part of my why. I needed to refocus from the negative things happening around me to the positive, the outcomes, the evidence of WHY.  I need to make them louder in my head so the negative is drowned out.  As I was looking through my first seven days of black and white photos, I realized that tell the story of more than just my WHY, but of our Mission and Vision at our school.  

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Refocusing and digging in now that I feel like I can breathe.  Makes me wonder how many of our students need a refocus each day.  It’s easy to lose focus.

How are you doing with your WHY? How do you keep yourself focused with all the external influences that might try to take you off course?


Changing Learning Spaces to Match the Learning

I’ll never forget my first classroom.  Walking into a first grade class as “the teacher” fresh out of college and wondering, “What am I going to do with these little children?”  One of the first things I noticed was how uncomfortable they looked during Reading Workshop.  Students were sitting precariously on chairs, knees up against their desks and or fidgeting around hardly focused on the books in front of them.

That night I went to Walmart and bought some bean bags, a few husband pillows and some long body pillows.  My goal was to make the room feel more like a dorm room (my point of expertise at the time) and less like a classroom. The next day, Reading Workshop seemed to last forever for those little first graders.  They snuggled, got comfortable and were able to focus on their stories that they picked out (more on that topic later).

I struggled for years to get my room to match the type of instruction and learning that was happening inside.  It was always about finding a work around.  I had asked to have my teacher desk removed when I moved to a new school.  The idea of ditching that desk made me giddy with delight.  That desk was a thorn in my side for years.  When I presented my idea to not put the desk in my room, it was met with disbelief, why would I ever want to get rid of my desk? How would I work? Every room needs to look the same.  So I shoved that desk off into a corner and let things collect on it, cleared it off, let children sit at it to work and never really used it as a “teacher desk”.  I was over the teacher desk before I was 25.  It just didn’t ever work for me or the way I worked in my classroom or the way I wanted my students to be able to work.  I was trying to make it look less like a classroom and more like a space for children.

Every year, as I had new groups of students, I found new ways that worked for them to find comfort as they worked.  I was always looking for ways to make it feel less like a classroom and more like a home.  I was working hard to build a little community of learners who respected, card and loved each other.  The best I could do for them was make their physical environment match that idea.  I created, as many comfy nooks in the room, even small “cave” like areas for children to crawl into and work.  I remember one of my second graders struggled to write one full sentence.  He tried standing up, working at the counter, my big teacher desk, but nothing seemed to work.  After a short conversation about where he thought he could work well, he asked to crawl under a little desk I had set up for the bathroom sign out.  It had a pretty blue and peach tablecloth draped over it. It was small.  It seemed claustrophobic to me! But I thought, give it a shot! That little second grader emerged with sentences! Beautiful, wordy, long sentences! It was a new day and that was the new spot for focused writing.  That little second grader would grab a clipboard and dive under that desk for Writing Workshop and create stories that had voice and description.  All because of the workspace!

When I first moved to a computer lab, I went to my principal and laid out a plan to create a more Starbucks-ish, Third Space room for students to work.  My idea was shot down because there was no money in the budget to create it.  OK, so I tried to work around it and make the computer lab look less like a computer lab and more like a interactive, collaborative workspace. I struggled with the rows of tables and giant desktop computers.  The amazing IT at my school assisted me in moving tables and wires till I could at least get a few tables moved around to create a more interactive setting for students so they could talk across the table and with people around them.  The day I found out I was getting laptops, those huge tables were out the door and I found some small trapezoid tables that we could move around and reconfigure in various ways to match the work we were doing.

Progress was made, but my dream was still not quite fulfilled.  I really wanted a space that gave even more flexibility to match the tools we use and the work we do together. Over the course of a few years, I have collected some chairs, a sofa and a sectional.  Tables have moved been moved aside to make room for rugs, pillows, and a scoop chair.  I love that my students can come in and relax, share, talk and learn in a peaceful environment.  We can move everything out of the way and have a large space to program robots and create catapults to shoot characters across the room.

Now I finally feel like my students have a place to work that fits what they are doing.  It’s not finished but I love where we are and I think they do too!

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Sometimes it’s so easy to reflect on my work, on the learning environment I’m setting up for my students and the experiences I want to guide them into. But so far this year it’s been difficult. I have been in crisis mode since my first class of the year and the realization that things were not working the way they should be. Lots of troubleshooting and Tech tickets later, I realize that one thing I’ve been failing to do everyday is find one thing to be thankful for. I’ve been missing gratitude in the midst of what feels like chaos.

I reread a blog post by Tom Murray (@thomascmurry) “The Obsolete Tech Director“, one that resonated with me when I first read it. Frustrated with lack of leadership five years ago, I decided that I would do my best to fulfill those ten qualities Tom wrote about to the best of my ability and within reason of what I could influence. I wasn’t a tech director, just a tech teacher and at the time also a coach. So I reread that post three times today. How do I continue to move forward when I feel so stuck? I need to get back to pushing, leading and being innovative despite the setbacks.

The other day I read a tweet from Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) about meaningful outcomes are not necessarily measurable but they are impactful. (I may be paraphrasing big time there but it’s what struck me.)

These two separate moments of reflection have gotten me to this place tonight thinking that maybe trying to not be obsolete has nothing to do with being able to do my job each day but it’s how students feel when they enter and leave my room. It’s the meaningful stuff that may not be measurable by a Professional Learning Goal or a SLO or Danielson’s framework. I want students to leave my room happier, more excited about learning and looking forward to what’s next. If the tech fails us, I still want them to feel that the time in my room was well spent on things that matter to them.

Which brings me to the gratitude part.

I’m so thankful for my students who come in inspired and mostly unfazed by failures.

I’m grateful for my PLN on Twitter. You may not know me in person but reading about your days keeps me sane! Thank you for opening up your work and your world to me.

I’m grateful for a principal who listens to my rants of frustration, let’s me vent it all and doesn’t judge. (At least not outwardly.)

I love that I have colleagues that laugh with me at lunch and share the burden of what we do each day.

And I’m so grateful to have a home and family to retreat too after a day that makes my eye twitch and my head spin.

As they say, “This too shall pass.” Hanging out till it happens looking for gratitude in my everyday.

Lead with Why

I’ve been thinking a lot about Simon Senik’s Golden Circle the past few days as we kick off another school year. That and the deficit learning model. These ideas are running through my thoughts as I’m preparing for students to walk through my door. And I’m seeing connections between them. Here’s where my thoughts are taking me…as leaders, we need to know our why, our passion, and lead with it.

Why is so enticing and inviting. It piques peoples curiosity and interest. Why leads people to two questions: how? And what? So have your how and what tucked in your back pocket for that moment the why takes hold.

Instead of “this is how we will do” and “this is what we will use”, flip the script and share the why. Start with the passion that drives you every day. Let others catch that passion. And then as those questions come, work through the how and the what. The how is logistics. The what is tools. Last time I check no movement started with people rallying around logistics and tools, but correct me if I’m wrong.

If you give me a why, a rallying point, if I buy in, I will figure out the how and what without any coercing or bribing. I will dig in and ask questions. Students will do that too

So that brings me to our students. Build their work around the why. If you ignite their passion for learning something or digging deeper, the how and the what will come and the logistics and tools will be invaluable necessities for those students to get through the why. So often students are doing this outside our school walls and we turn a blind eye because we have to get through our curriculum checklist.

Instead of deficit learning models where student weaknesses are focused on and revisited day after day, flip to a why that draws then in where their passions and interests are the focus and the weaknesses are strengthen through real work.

I always picture this one student in my school sitting at a table every morning with an aide working on math problems. He was disinterested, disengaged and dismissive. The aide was frustrated. Every.Day. No kidding. If someone focused everyday on something I was bad at doing I’d be disinterested, disengaged and dismissive too! And I imagine whomever would be grilling me would not be too thrilled.

So why do we do this day after day, year after year? Stop already. Learn about your learners to lead them with a why. Ignite their natural curiosity and desire to learn.

This all really works the same no matter the age or town we come from because the bottom line is we are all human. Let’s treat each other that way.

Looking at it from the other side, if you lead with the what or the how, good luck. It will be a battle of wills and the stronger will will win. If you’re leading with what, I’d question the strength of your will. Good luck convincing those who you might want following your lead to keep in line.

Lead with why.

You are Not Alone

This summer my family and I traveled north for a bit of fun in Maine and Massachusetts. As we drove and traveled through little towns and bigger cities my thoughts would go to all the children there and all the schools, the classrooms, the assemblies, the books, the failures and the beautiful successes. And then there are the teachers. How many teachers live in these communities and are vacationing and enjoying their families and sunshine? And how many are preparing excitedly or begrudgingly or full of angst for a new school year.

You are not alone.  Thousands of other teachers are spending precious sunlight hours to get ready for a new year.

I meet other teachers at conferences and on twitter. I wonder about all of the students impacted by each of us. If you really think about it, it’s thousands of students.  Our impact as teachers is huge.  Students come to us, many, ready to learn eagerly, internally motivated. And then we all have students that we struggle to connect with, struggle to engage, motivate, inspire.

You are not alone.  Thousands of other teachers are prepping and planning for all of their students.  The ones easy to balance on the bike of learning and those who struggle.

I hear conversations among teacher, “we need more time”, “there’s not enough time”, “if there were more time”.  All this talk of time, as though we could summon a time machine to take us back and give us more.  How can we unschedule school? How to have more time in our classes, our schedules, our day?  But what if the time issue really boils down to the fact that we all take the time and invest our time in what we believe to be most important.  We spend our time on things we truly value.

You are not alone.  Thousands of other teachers struggle to balance what they know to be undeniably valuable to their students and learning and what they feel is required.

I hear about mandates that say everyone needs to be on the same topic at the same time and stay together.  Keep up with the curriculum guides.  Siloed curriculums that would make better sense taught interconnected.  Curriculum guides that make sweeping generalizations of the students in your classroom.  But what if each teacher taught to his/her students instead of to the calendar? What if learner needs were put before curriculum guide uniformity?  What if our classrooms were more about learning and less about compliance for all inside?

I hear teachers talk about “the test” and how we need to prepare students for “the test”.  All this prepping for and taking of “the test” eats away at our aforementioned precious time.  Test prep as part of this requirement from…but we are not really sure where the pressure is coming from.  What if teaching our children to be thinkers and problem solvers, we could avoid the test prep?  What if we taught them to think before we taught them the trick test questions?  What if our students went into any test taking scenario confident that they could solve problems on their own because of the way they have always been learning?

I hope I am not alone in thinking that we can change the way students experience learning in school.  Thousands of us all working toward the same goal: teaching learning, not school. Pushing back against the pressures we feel  The pressures we know are not good for our children and their learning environments.

Classrooms are Like Kitchens

I am not a huge fan of cooking but when I do get into cooking or baking I know I need to have the right tools to get the job done. Typically, if I am in the kitchen there is a trail of mess behind me as I make delectable delights.

My favorite bowls to use when I’m baking are my antique Pyrex bowls that are bright colors. They remind me of baking  with my grandmother when I was little.  Lucky for me Pyrex seems to last forever so I can continue to use them with my children now.

When I making breakfast I have a favorite pan for cooking my eggs and a favorite griddle and spatula for flipping pancakes. I wouldn’t be able to use my Pyrex bowls to cook my pancakes or my favorite little egg pan to create wonderful baked goods. The tools would not fit the job.

Our classrooms are the same way maybe a little messy as we go and in need of the right tools to get the job done.  I do not believe that there is only one tool that works for what we ask students to do on a daily basis. When I went my students to create videos movies anything that shows their understanding and their own voice our go to tool is an iPad. An iPad offers lots of apps that give children the opportunity to create and share in a very easy, streamlined way. They can create, Airdrop to me or upload to their Google Drive and share.

When students need to get into the mess of research and organizing their research I tend to lean to start them on a laptop. Having the keyboard, a mouse, being able to manipulate information quickly with a quick copy/paste makes the laptop seems to be a much better tool.

There are times we have dueling devices in the lab where students get both devices out so we can compare the way they work and what we like better for the job we are doing. Some students end up liking to do everything on their iPads from research to creation. They are comfortable and use it without any issues. Other students appreciate having the precision of a mouse and the ability to type with a keyboard on the laptop. Some start on a laptop and then take their learning to the iPad for creating a final product.

As we consider tools for our classroom I think we need to keep in mind that there’s no one device that is going to make everything perfect. We need to have multiple tools for children to use. If you’re considering no iPads in her upper grades, middle school, high school, why? Are those children are not creating with video and voice? The iPad is a perfect tool for that. Are we not putting keyboard devices in lower grades, why? It gives excellent opportunity for children to learn about precision at a young age. There’s nothing wrong with that.  I think we need to get away from this idea of one size fits all for some age or grade level.  Or that one device is going to be the savior of all education.

In my room I have a Mac  and a Dell Desktop, a Mac and a Dell Laptop, 8 iPod Touches, 30 iPads and 30 Laptops.  It’s a kitchen of sorts and I’m the manager.

Authentic Work

I challenge myself to do the work I asked my students to do. If it doesn’t feel authentic to me why would they buy in and feel it’s authentic to them.

  • Booksnaps – I first started sharing what I was reading when I began reading Innovator’s Mindset.  I was engrossed in my reading and the words on the page jumped off the pages and moved me.  As I was reading I felt like I was reading thoughts in my mind on the pages before me.  I could not help but share my thinking in tweets as I was reading.   It was later, in the fall, that I learned about #booksnaps from  and started thinking more about how I could share my thinking around the pages I shared. Once I started learning about real #booksnaps, I knew it was a real way for students to share their thinking about their reading.  So this week we are book snapping in classes.  (More to come on this topic!)

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  • Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 11.12.08 PMFlipgrid – Last week I learned about #flipgrid in a Twitter Chat about #ditchbook.  I was pretty excited how easily I could add my thoughts to the conversation even after the chat time was over.  So now I am considering how I can use #flipgrid with my students and get teachers excited about this amazing tool.  I am planning on trying it out starting tomorrow with my 4th grade students.  I’m still thinking about the topic, since I only get one for starters.



  • Presentations – I am always making presentations.  Since I started in my Technology Teacher/Coach position 9 years ago I have made presentations for students and for teachers.  Just this past February, I was able to go to PETE & C and present to educators from all over PA.  I don’t know if anyone noticed my digital designs, but I worked hard to make my presentations interesting and less wordy.  When I am in a meeting/session, the last thing I want is for the presenter to read their slides to me.  I teach my students digital design and presentation skills.  It’s a very real lesson for me because I am using it all the time.  There is authenticity in me being able to use my work as examples for my students.
  • iMovie – We make News from the Nest every week.  I have learned a lot about iMovie for the iPad and for the Mac.  I’m always learning more and encourage my students to do the same.  Writing, producing, and editing video is a very real job and it is happening daily in my classroom.  My students create for their classmates, their parents and their community.  Their audience is real.
  • Homework – I am reading, posting, engaging, testing and reflecting.  My work at home is more about what is next for my students and how can I get them there.  I read other’s work, post about my own and engage in conversations.  I’m testing new tools and reflecting on how things are going.  Sometimes it’s simple and doesn’t take much time.  Sometimes I stay up way past my bedtime because I have so much to process, read, share.  But my work is real and matters to me and ultimately to my students.

I want to always have my students doing authentic work.  I will not ask them to do anything that I would not do in response to reading or in learning.  What would be the point?

Let’s make it a point to do the work we ask our students to do and make sure it is real work, not just busywork.

Being True to Your Beliefs

If there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s wishy washiness.  (Is that a word? I made it one a few years ago.) When we are working on changing education, we cannot say we want openness one day and then shut down our openness the next. There are many things that are deal breakers for me in education today.  These are my MUSTS I would include if I’m starting a school from scratch or just trying to right the ship I’m on. (Not in any particular order.)recite-10h3jcn

  1. Communication. A two way street of communication for all stakeholders.  Not just a top-down approach.  Using the same language. “Yes, and” conversations instead of “Yes, but”. “I noticed, I wonder, What if” as reflection and as the point of moving forward.  Timely.
  2. Openness.  Open wifi to all participants in the learning environment. Open minds to new ideas.  Open spaces to accommodate learning.
  3. Devices in the hands of all learners.  Not just one device, but different devices for different jobs.
  4. Agency for all learners.  Not just the ones in the “seats”.  Also the ones guiding those “seats”.
  5. Curriculum that guides learning, not scripts it. Don’t put learning in boxes.  Allow the learners to navigate their way to and through the learning. ISTE standards as the foundation.  Project Based Learning and Design Thinking Process embedded in everything that learners do. Teaching learners to think for themselves.
  6. A mixture of right brain, left brained educators who are passionate about teaching and learning!  We need the dreamers to “dream big or go home” and we need the logical brains to help us put the dreams in motion. Those who are on the side of the learners, not the system. In fact, I’d get rid of the system and the game of school altogether.
  7. Play!  Kids need to play. Play board games, outdoor games, video games, make believe.  Play is not a bad word, it’s necessary for social, emotional and academic wellbeing.
  8. Flexible work environment for all.  Spaces that can transform into whatever learners need at the moment. Spaces for small group, individuals and large groups.  Space that is beautiful and inspires.  Space that is learner-created.
  9. Sustainability. Everyone one on board with creating sustainable practices both in and out of the brick and mortar school.
  10. Core Values that thread every decision and every experience together.  Buy in from all stakeholder to those core values.

What it means to be innovative in my world view

Another reflection from Educon 2.9. This one is short and sweet.

Innovation is not just about technology. It is the space we create and the climate we nurture. It is seeing the potential we are afforded by the devices available to us, alongside the needs and motives of our students. Some of us don’t choose to be innovative, we just are. Innovation is an idea that we create into something bigger for our students and ourselves. Innovation is asking questions and challenging the status quo.  It’s messy.  Sometimes it is seen as too “out there”.  It is pushing the thinking of us as learners.

A Post 2 Years in the Making

*I first wrote these thoughts after attending Educon 2.7 in 2015.  I love reflecting on my thoughts and seeing where things are actually shifting!  It’s amazing how thoughts come back around and are solidified through conversation and learning. The last few sentences have different color text of what I’m seeing today.

Culture Shift-How do we make it happen?

Friday at Educon 2.7 was a great day.  I arrived at Science Leadership Academy, checked my coat and bags and proceeded to explore the school.  It amazes me how they do school there.  Is it just staged for us as Educon attendees or is this real life everyday for these students and teachers? Students engaged in learning in all classrooms, teachers brilliantly bring the real world to high school.  A highlight for me was visiting Marci Hull’s tech class where they were discussing privacy issues.  Marci was reading from a book with real life stories about digital boundaries that were broken and having them connect to their lives.  Transparent conversation from the students ensued.  You can see and feel the culture of learning in conversations, classrooms and walls. *This culture of learning is still going strong and noticeable at SLA

So how do I bring that to my suburb district? I have been working hard for 8 years to change the culture of my building.  I’d say we are partially there, but much more work to be done.  *The work is happening. Over the past year and a half, I have seen teachers go out of their comfort zone and try new things.  Shifts are taking place in both our physical and digital learning environments.

What can we do to be more relevant and prevalent in schools?

How can we reach out to classroom teachers to help them be more comfortable with integration?

We all see the deficiencies. From neighboring teachers, coaches, to administrators.. change is not happening, there is reluctance to change teaching habits, excuses as to why integration cannot happen. What can we do as an organization to help fill some of these deficiencies?  *Baby steps and patience.  Finding one or two people who are ready is a key to moving forward with new thoughts and habits. 

There are companies that do PD to sell their product.  What if we did PL to sell an idea or a culture shift in a grade level, school, admin, district?  *Working on this.  I really want to see teachers doing the same work in their professional learning as we want our students working in their student learning, open to new ideas and how to do Professional Learning vs. Professional Development.  Stop doing to our learners and start setting up opportunities for learners.