Monday, April 27, 2015

#EDnado: The Breakfast Club?

This past Saturday I attended #EDnado at Middletown High School South in Central New Jersey. Here is the description of the event from their website: "Ednado is about promoting innovation and inspiring educators to try new things in their classrooms.  At Ednado, educators from Monmouth County and beyond will be able to learn and share what WORKS in their schools." A unique characteristic of #EDnado was the inclusion of parents and students.

This was a wonderful event! I was not intending to go until a friend, @nataliefranzi, mentioned it to me and "volunteered" me to be a part of an administrators panel discussion on the topic of innovation.  I am so glad that I went because I am a huge proponent of #edcamp, so much so that I have been on the organizing team for #edcampNJ for the past 4 years. This was a chance to be a part of a Saturday professional development opportunity that was different than the traditional unconference model.

One thing is very clear to me... Educators who choose to use a Saturday to participate in professional development without pay or compensation are some of the finest educators out there. It is so
Universal Pictures (1985)
interesting to me to think that when I was in High School, it was quite a stigma to get assigned to Saturday School detention and something to be avoided at all cost.  However, now I eagerly seek out school on Saturday!  I feel like we've developed a new Breakfast Club.  Just like those characters (a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal) we are all different and bring our varied experiences and points of view to these days of learning. Additionally, we too, are misunderstood. Some in our schools and districts can't fathom "giving up" a Saturday to go to a conference; but we know better. We've found something that is too valuable to pass up. The connections that we make on these days can't be quantified. Whether it is connecting with people from Twitter, Google+, etc. who are in our PLNs or meeting colleagues for the first time, we share a common desire to continually improve our craft.

#EDnado is another fine example of one of these opportunities for connections. I connected with many familiar faces on Saturday and met some new ones. I learned about Classroom Blogging for beginners from Stephany Hesslein (@MissHesslein) and Marla Weinstein (@Miss_Weinstein). Their excitement and enthusiasm regarding blogging, and something I had never heard of called "quadblogging," was contagious!  Their presentation can be found here.  This was a wonderful way to start the day.  There were participants in the room who had classroom blogs and those who had never blogged before. It was clear at the end when the presenters took a pulse of the room that most were eager and ready to dip their toes in the blogging waters.

After this session, I was part of an administrator group that discussed innovation in education. This session was led by Middletown Superintendent, Dr. William George (@DrGeorge_MTPS). Once again, this was a room filled with positive people who wanted to learn from one another about how to move schools and districts forward. I encourage everyone to take a look at the crowd-source notes document from this session. There are great resources and people listed there.  If you are in a district that is resistant to innovation, I encourage you to contact any of the people in this session for advice. 

#EDnado offered two lunch sessions so that people could choose to eat when they wished and go to
sessions when they wished. In fact, the lunch even offered some choices for learning. Of course, there was the opportunity to connect and talk with other educators. There was also a "Student Tech Team" set up at a table in the cafeteria.  Each student had a sign by their laptop indicating a tech tool that they could teach.  All you had to do was sit down and the students were eager to demonstrate and explain! This was a fantastic way to get students involved in the event. There was also a makerspace set up in the cafeteria that offered opportunities for educators to engage with the concept, see a 3d printer at work, and discuss ways of setting up such a space in schools/classrooms back home.

After a learning lunch, I attended a session run by Dan Alston (@dalston411) and Natalie Franzi (@NatalieFranzi) on Google Extensions for Efficient Administrators. You must look at the notes document from this session. There are so many extensions for Google that I never knew existed.  I am excited to try them out. Don't be fooled by the title; you do not need to be an administrator to find helpful and time-saving tools on the list.

I culminated my day of learning in a session conducted by Melissa Luell (@bayview_luell) entitled "The Power of Podcasts." This is an area that I have often thought about, but never actually tried. After this session, it is very possible that you may find a podcast or two on The PrincipalArc in the future.  You can check out the notes here

I cannot stress enough how important these days of learning are for me. They remind me that my school, my district, my county, and even my state are artificial boundaries that don't really exist when it comes to personal learning. Connecting with educators is universal and if you have not done so, do it soon! Here is a link to the schedule for the day. If you see a session title that you like, click on it to see the notes from that session.

"So, you may see us in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a principal...and a third grade teacher...and a superintendent...and a math teacher...and a parent...and a student.  Does that answer your question?"

Thank you to the #EDnado Organizing Team!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NJASCD/MSU New Teacher Bootcamp Presentation

Below are my slides from the NJASCD North/Montclair State University New Teacher Bootcamp Keynote.  It was a wonderful morning and the prospective teachers at MSU were a great audience with some thought provoking questions.  I truly enjoyed my visit.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Leading - The Power of Why

This TedTalk is about 6 years old and many of you have probably seen it before; however, it is one of those talks that I go back to periodically and re-watch because of its powerful message.  It is absolutely worth the 18.5 minutes.  Please take some time to watch it.

I am generally very skeptical of relating to education, books or talks that are business oriented.  This is one of those talks that I connect with as an educator.  Simon Sinek lays out for us the power of "WHY?"  He demonstrates how leaders who are successful understand and use that power to their benefit while those who don't, fail or simply get by.

If you are in a position of leadership or aspire to be, I encourage you to think about why you do what you do and how you share those ideas, as opposed to focusing simply on what you want to do and how you want to do it.

I find this notion very powerful. What are your thoughts?

Monday, April 6, 2015


I have always been a proponent of the philosophy, "change is good."  Having said that, I was much
more open to change in my own life and career when I was younger.  I pursued my Masters in Educational Leadership in my twenties and willingly sought out and took on the challenges of leadership positions.  It was exciting and new and fresh.

For the past 11+ years I have been the principal and lead learner of Bear Tavern Elementary School, a wonderful community that is dedicated to education.  Recently, I had the opportunity to make a change.  It was frightening to contemplate.  My superintendent and I discussed the need for assistance on some of the district's critical technology related projects.  With my passion for technology and its appropriate use for teaching and learning, I was intrigued.  But, how could I move on from my position as principal to work in a role that is so different and may or may not be there in the future?  That took some real reflection.

After considering the options, I came to the conclusion that I needed to take a risk. I thought back to those early years in my career when I was eager for a new challenge and willing to take those leaps.  I decided to go for it.  So now, my title is "Principal on Assignment."  I am working on projects including implementation of PARCC assessments district-wide, development of a plan for the district to transition to a new student information system, and supporting and actualizing the expansion of our 8th grade 1:1 Chromebook initiative to grades 9 and 7. Those are some of the major responsibilities among other things.

I was unsure if I would be comfortable working out of our central office and not being based in a school; however, this position has afforded me the opportunity to interact with teachers and students in all six of our schools from preschool through 12th grade. Every day is something new and different. Additionally, I am involved in educating students (and teachers) in an entirely different way.

So, I guess the point of my post is more of a personal revelation. I have been professing the virtues of change to the teachers and students with whom I have worked over the years, but while doing so, I slipped into a position that provided me with the opportunity to engage in what I can only describe as "comfortable change." I firmly believe that the work we have done at Bear Tavern during my time there was positive, good for children, and affirms the reasons that I went into education all those years ago.  But, now I have taken one of those leaps into something less defined and less secure.  It is exciting and invigorating!

What does the future hold?  Who knows?  I am ready for it. I feel like I am truly living the advice I have given others so often over the years.

What changes do you need to make?  It is worth some thought.

Monday, July 7, 2014

An Inspirational Student!

I have been to 11 graduation ceremonies at Hopewell Valley Central High School since 2003. It took 7 years before I started to see students walk across the stage who were my students at Bear Tavern Elementary School. It took until this year for me to tear up at a graduation ceremony. Please take a moment to see why and watch the video below of former BT student and CHS graduating senior, Andrew Niederer. It will touch and inspire you.

Video courtesy of HV-TV

If you ever need a reminder of why we do what we do, this is it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

#ISTE2014 Newbie: With A Little Help From My Friends

image from
I just attended my first ISTE Conference & Expo!  Did you hear me? I just attended my first ISTE Conference & Expo! Sorry, I'm just very excited and energized after my time in Atlanta. So much so that I wrote this post in the airport as I waited for my flight home and on the plane. If it rambles a little, bear with me.

Over the past few years, since I started building a PLN via Twitter, I have been watching the stream of tweets with the #ISTE conference hashtag as my school year would come to an end.  As I read all of the tweets going by with links to amazing resources and nuggets from thoughtful sessions, I knew that eventually I would have to go myself. This year, I was able to attend in Atlanta and it was an exhausting, rewarding, learning, connecting, type of experience.

image courtesy of
Fortunately, I got by with a little help from my friends. I was able to hook up with members of my PLN from the moment I got there and they helped show me the ropes. A big thanks to Billy Krakower (@wkrakower), Kyle Calderwood (@kcalderw), Liz Calderwood (@liz1544), Kate Baker (@KtBkr4), and, of course, Jerry Blumengarten(@cybraryman1).  There were many people that I met and had the opportunity to talk with because the folks above took me under their wing and mentored me during my time at #ISTE2014.

Everyone told me that the informal conversations are as valuable as the sessions themselves and I truly understand what they meant now. The learning and connecting can take many forms; a brief chat with Nathan Stevens (@nathan_stevens) and Jenny Grabiac (@techgirljenny) at a social event, a conversation with Jessica Allen (@jessievaz12) over dinner, a dialogue about a project from one of the poster session presenters (they are GREAT) in the Galleria, a warm, wonderful hug and words of encouragement in the Blogger's Cafe from Paula Naugle (@plnaugle), a
me and Paula Naugle
great opportunity to go to lunch with Jerry, Billy, and Kathy Bloomfield from Readworks, or a quick conversation in the conference hallway with Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) to remind that "You Matter!"  These real life connections are part of what make the virtual connections via social media so valuable. 

#ISTE2014 was also filled with fantastic sessions. The biggest problem was deciding which ones to choose because there were often several sessions of interest to me at the same time. I came away with some great ideas from Kyle Pace (@kylepace) and Michelle Baldwin's (@michellek107) session "Full STEAM ahead: Cultivating connections with the arts." I learned that I can start a maker space in my school and classrooms and I don't have to break the bank from the folks at Digital Harbor Foundation's (@DHFBaltimore) session: "Classroom Makerspace: Your Guidebook to Inexpensive Making in the Classroom". I was inspired by the session
Levar Burton speaking to a packed room.
with Levar Burton (@levarburton) whose Reading Rainbow has helped so many children over the past decades. That barely scratches the surface of what I have learned (fodder for more posts).

You never know what opportunities will present themselves at #ISTE2014. I arrived on Saturday and that evening received a message asking if I would help out in a session as a Twitter Mentor. So my first professional development opportunity at the convention was actually working with Elana Leoni (@elanaleoni) from Edutopia and Kyle Calderwood in their session "Saved by Twitter: 10 ways to use Twitter to Connect" (#savedbytwitter) as they worked with a room of 150 new Twitter users to show the power of the social media platform for connecting and professional development. Awesome! The next night I went in to support Jerry Blumengarten and Susan Bearden (@s_bearden) in their session "Twitter 101: Build Your Personal Learning Network" and was asked to do something similar. 

I'm going to stop now because now that I have my initial thoughts down I need to process them a bit more. I am sure there are more posts coming when I collect my thoughts.  Stay tuned...

So, a few takeaways from this post....

1. Go to #ISTE2015 in Philadelphia if you can

While there:
2. Talk to people, they will talk back
3. Take a risk and leave your comfort zone
4. Take the time to explore the Expo floor. There are some wonderful things there and a great deal to learn (I didn't even mention that above!)

But, Right now:
4. Get on Twitter and start to connect with the amazing folks out in our education community.
5. Follow all of the people I mention in this post, you won't regret it!
6. Leave a comment and let's start a conversation here or on Twitter

P.S. Thanks to all of the educators with whom I've interacted during the last several days. It has been wonderful.
Me, Nathan, Kate, Aaron, Liz, & Kyle

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Learner Appreciation Week?

May 5th through May 9th is Teacher Appreciation Week, with May 6th being Teacher Appreciation Day. As a school leader, my thinking on Teacher Appreciation Week has evolved over time. Don't get me wrong the teachers with whom I work are dedicated, amazing professionals who should be recognized for their important work during this week (and every week). However, I feel as though the focus may be slightly askew.

I have found that Bear Tavern Elementary School's teachers are some of the most voracious and excited learners that I have ever met. During this school year our teachers have inundated me with conversations, comments, tweets, emails, and observations that demonstrate a dedication to learning, changing, improving, and never being satisfied. This is what makes them a truly special group of professionals.

Our Kindergarten through Second Grade teachers embarked on a journey to relearn how they teach Reading and Writing through the Workshop model. As a district, we did it correctly by providing continuous professional development and our teachers responded by taking the leap, trying new things, collaborating with one another constantly, and understanding the power of making an attempt and tweaking lessons (continuously). At the beginning of the year, the entire LA block was turned upside down and the teachers had to trust that these changes would benefit the children. Nine months later (yesterday), I stood in the cafeteria with members of the first grade team who were marveling at how far their students have come and the quality of the writing that they are producing. AND... the joy with which the students have embraced this work. Similar conversations are happening in Kindergarten and Second Grade. Why? Because our teachers have embraced the idea of learning a new curriculum and new strategies. I believe the best teachers are avid learners and it is clear that I work with many of those. I look forward to rolling this up to third grade next year!

Our entire school has embarked on developing a true understanding of "transfer of learning." Particularly in our 3rd grade through 5th grade (the testing grades), this has become a theme for the year. Last January I wrote a post after we had a faculty meeting with Grant Wiggins (read it here).  Here is an excerpt from that post:
It seems simple to say that we want our students to understand what we teach; however, our discussion of this topic was truly enlightening.  We explored the things that "a student who understands" can do and the things that "one who knows a lot, but doesn't understand" can do.  Take a step back and think about that for a moment.  It is a powerful distinction.  The examples that Grant Wiggins provided and the vibrant discussion of the staff helped to flesh out this concept.  I have to say that the level of interest, thought, and participation on the part of the faculty was inspiring; especially after teaching a full day!
This led to a discussion of the importance of transfer and what that means for children and assessment.  It is one thing to make sure things get covered and standards get checked off, but it is another to have proof that students understand what has been taught and can transfer that understanding to a variety of situations.  In particular, it is important to ensure that they can do this without the supports provided by the teacher or the scaffolding of a question that provides all of the information to answer the question.

This meeting sparked a discussion about how we design instruction to assist children in transferring their learning from the skills and concepts we teach, to application in a "real world" or at least more realistic environment. The work that our PLCs have done this year is reflective of a collaborative culture that has truly made inroads with this concept. Students are better able to understand their learning in a greater context. I mentioned that these are the testing grades earlier because often it becomes tempting to teach to the test; however, a teaching for transfer mindset is more likely to produce real learning that will ALSO be reflected on the test rather than narrow learning that is MAINLY reflected on the test.

Again, this work in the upper elementary grades is reflective of a culture of learning that consistently gives me a sense of pride to be a part of this community of learners. Additionally, the entire staff has done this while learning a very involved new teacher evaluation system throughout the year AND working to integrate our technology resources into the classroom AND working to share our story with the community via social media and other avenues AND...

I guess the point of this post is to recognize the importance of teachers as learners. The only way to continually improve and be the best at what we do is to continue to learn! I feel as though the highest compliment that I can pay the teachers with whom I work during the upcoming Teacher Appreciation Week is that I am honored to be a part of such an active community of learners.


Happy Learner Appreciation Week!
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