Thursday, March 31, 2011

Forget April Fool’s day. Create your own day.

April Fool’s day is here. Every year someone publishes some crazy story that we wish were true. For a moment we believe the story. We think, “Wow! Great! I love it!” Then we find out we were duped. We are disappointed. But what if we ignore the disappointment and trade it in for something better. What is better? Create your own story. A real story. A story you thought would never be possible. Create something that you were waiting for someone else to do. Forget April Fool’s day. Create your own day.

A short conversation with...Stephen Brander @stephenbrander

Stephen Brander

Stephen Brander is a good friend of mine. I met Stephen in 1987 at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB. He was back then, and is now, one of the most creative people I know. He does not work at a school, nor is he involved with education. It’s very important to get perspectives from people who work outside of education so I decided to ask Stephen to participate in this interview series.

Stephen is the co-founder of Razor Creative ( , a boutique design, branding, advertising and marketing firm located in Moncton, New Brunswick. Stephen, along with co-founder Rich Gould, believe that in today’s cluttered and noisy world, in order to get noticed and connect with the intended eyes, ears, minds and hearts of consumers, you have to Cut through™. That is their mission statement, philosophy, and guiding principle in everything they do.

1. Why did you start your own company?
I had been working at a large agency and felt I had grown about as much as I could within the organization. I was looking for new creative and other challenges in my life. I was tired of the bureaucracy of the organization and felt I could be more creative and do better work out on own own, dealing directly with the customer. The wrong structure can kill creativity.

2. I once described your company as an Ad Agency and you corrected me. You said, “we are in the business of ideas.” Can you expand on that?

Ad agency tends to be a bit of a catch all term that people understand. While we fit the mould somewhat, really clients come to us for the most part for our thinking. You can hire lots of different organizations to design a logo, create a website or write some radio spots, but if you want to truly cut through the media clutter, it requires a deeper understanding and brain power to create something never seen before and that will resonate with the target audience.

3. Can you share a few thoughts on the role creativity should play in public schooling?

I have two young children in the public school system with a third starting in September and I really don’t see much creativity at all. Just the opposite in fact. I think the thing that strikes me is the “good enough” attitude that I see.

That’s “good enough” to pass ... you know the work “good enough” ...the effort put forward is “good enough”. A “good enough” mentality for students and teachers create outcomes that unfortunately are not “good enough”. How does that prepare students for anything?

Students should be encouraged to go beyond expectations and be taught that there is more than one way to solve problems. I think students should be applauded for trying new ways to solve problems... to use more creative thinking. Being able to assess a problem and think of different ways to solve it is way more important a skill than knowing an answer. No one has ever changed the world (or their world) by doing things the way they have always been done.

Creativity in the class room can inspire, motivate and engage students. It seems like young people are wildly creative, but once they go to school it is slowly drained from them. That is sad.

The beauty of creativity is that it does not cost a thing. It can be as simple as thinking about things a little different. Instead of saying “write about the book you just read” ... say: “How would a man from Mars perceive this book”, or “write the review as if you were Justin Bieber, Steve Jobs, Oprah, their mother, a cave man...”

Creativity introduces fun into a process and stretches the mind. There is too much “colouring between” the lines at schools. How about practice your multiplication by talking like a pirate, have students create a code -- and then use that code to answer questions.

Silly? Maybe. Memorable. Absolutely. As a parent I’d love for my children to come home and tell me a creative way they learned something. After all, the best way to learn is not to realize you are being taught.

4. Who has had the biggest influence on you as an “idea man?”

Alfred E. Newman.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

A short conversation with...Alec Couros @courosa

Alec Couros

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching since 1993. While I was initially trained to become a high school English & History teacher, I ended up teaching just about every subject there is from grades 6 through 12. Beyond my high school & middle school experience, I spent several years as a teacher/therapist in a youth correctional centre. I’ve also taught in technical institutes, but I’ve spent the majority of my teaching career as a professor and ICT coordinator in a teacher education program.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

There were so many clich├ęs that I bought into in my early years. Myths like ‘be hard on the kids at first, and then gently let go of the reigns’ - that whole classroom management myth. Or, the idea that the teacher is the expert in the classroom, the person with all of the answers - some sort of superhuman. So much of my philosophy has since been replaced with a focus on student engagement, continuous experimentation, and messiness. If you’ve watched me run one of my open courses, while things may seem very ordered and planned, in reality, it is as spontaneous and chaotic as it gets. While I follow the official syllabus in the course calendar, day-to-day planning gives way to student interests, serendipitous connections, and unplanned generosity.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

In my first year of teaching, I had one of the most difficult Grade 8 classes imaginable. I co-taught this group of students with another teacher who happened to be a First Nations elder. When students got loud, I got louder. When they became angry, I became angrier. I felt I really hadn’t been prepared for anything like this, and I became emotional and ineffectual as a teacher. My colleague taught me how to listen to students. I cannot describe how she taught me this. It may have been the softness of her voice. Her gentle nature. The way students came to her for advice. The love she showed for them, even when they weren’t on their best behaviour. But I do remember how she listened to our students. How she focused on each, looked at them in the eye, and how she made them realize how important their voice was to her. Since then, this has always been the most important to me - focusing on that relationship. Listening, rather than always telling.

Can you share a few thoughts about your TEDx talk experience?

It was a great experience. What I loved the most was that I got to listen to voices that I would normally not have heard. Often, as educators, we listen to mostly other educators, and I feel that in general, we need to be more diverse in our influences. As for my own presentation, I know it could have been much improved. The format is difficult, and I am sure that I didn’t prepare well enough for it. Additionally, there was a technical glitch with the clock so I actually ended up rushing through part of my presentation when in actuality, I had plenty of time. I wish I had a retry. :-)

Overall though, I think it’s a format that we need to focus on with our students (or perhaps something like a shorter Pecha Kucha format). If students can do this format, and do it well, they would be at a great advantage, not only for such presentations, but a whole range of genre, including literary and multimedia forms.

Alec Blogs here.

What does recess look like at your school?

A George Couros @gcouros inspired post:

What does recess look like at your school? Do you see teachers speaking
respectfully to students, interacting, asking questions about a student's day?
Or are the interactions between teacher and student rigid, bossy, threatening?

Where are the teachers? Are they in the staff room during recess leaving the duty to the ones assigned? Or are they interacting in positive ways with students even if not assigned to duty?

I have presented you with different scenarios. Some build relationships, others sever or hinder them. What do you see in your school? What do you do?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A short conversation with...Dave Meister @phsprincipal

Dave Meister

How long have you been teaching?

I have been an educator for 22 years. I began my career by teaching U.S. History, World History, European History and Psychology at the high school level for nine years. During that time I worked as the Social Studies Department chairperson for three years. After leaving the classroom I served for three years as an elementary principal, eight years as a high school principal and as the director of a high school cooperative the last two years.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

The one constant in my teaching philosophy is that I love being around kids. There is nothing better than a little playful banter between myself and a group of students. At the beginning of my teaching career I was very content oriented. I believed that my mission was to promote citizenship and awareness mankind’s story over time. I was very much the sage on the stage and believed I had to “perform” to engage and teach my students. I taught like my favorite history teachers and simply knew of no other way to do it. As I matured as a teacher I began to realize that most students did not gain much from the way I taught, if fact most just practiced memorizing information and writing back to me using the same words I lectured them with. After this epiphany, I began to use more of a project based approach in my classroom. I let the student be responsible for getting the information and during class time we worked together to construct meaning and create new understanding. In short, when I started I believed classroom activity revolved around the teacher, today I believe everything needs to revolve around the learner.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Twitter has become a very important tool for me as an educator. I really have benefited from the constant stream of ideas, resources, and intriguing dialog about teaching and learning. I will state that the use of Twitter has fundamentally changed my practice as an educator in that it is is always there/on, challenging me to think about what I do.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

Be able to look in the mirror and say to yourself “I did the right thing(s) for my students today.”

Dave blogs here.

lnspirational Blue Jays Commercial, "I'm Coming Home."

It's almost opening day. I am a Red Sox fan but this commercial was just too good to pass up for a blog post. Excellent music and scenes. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

When Community Comes Together

On the morning of March 24 at approximately 1:30 AM building 4100 was burning in Iqaluit. The 29 apartments in the building housed approximately 60 residents. Even though the building burned completely, everyone got out safely!

The next day a call went out to the residents of Iqaluit to donate goods to the 60 residents who were left homeless. People were asked to bring donations to the place of my work, Inuksuk High School.

On Thursday, March 24, 2011, after the bell went at 3, I walked down to our cafeteria where donations were being dropped off. What I saw overwhelmed me. I was so impressed by the residents of my community. The amount of goods dropped off for the displaced tenants was staggering. Chills went through my body. It truly is great when people come together to help others in distress. It makes me proud to live in Iqaluit, Nunavut!

Pictures of the burning building courtesy of Aaron Watson. (Thanks Aaron)

Fire starts on the left side of the building.

Fire full force now.

The building is gone, save the foundation. You see its sister building in the background.

The following photos of the donations were taken by me on March 24 and 25.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Are you learning?

I recently asked if what we were doing as teachers was best for creating lifelong learners. After reading my post JoAnn Jacobs @JoAnnJ68 tweeted this to me, “Brian, I like asking tchrs who want life-long learners where are they in their personal life-long process.” That sums it up. If we want our students to be lifelong learners, should we not be lifelong learners too? The answer is obvious. Moreover, if you are learning, are you demonstrating your learning to your students? It might make all the difference to demonstrate this to your students.

Photo courtesy of Mark Brannan

Thursday, March 24, 2011

To create life-long learners

I would say that most schools include this as part of their mission statement: To create life-long learners. Are we creating life-long learners by controlling students through rewards and punishment? By getting temporary compliance through external control? Are we just getting in the way of students full potential using rewards and punishment? Are we giving our students choice to meet outcomes? Or do we have to bribe them or punish them for not doing what we ask? Are we turning them off from school and learning through bribes and punishment? Are we creating life-long learners? It’s extrinsic motivation vs intrinsic motivation. What do you do?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What do you mean by "best practices?"

What do you mean by "best practices?" Do you mean doing something to get more of the same? Is that what you really want? Or do you want something different? If you want something different, should you really be using the term “best practices?”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why won’t you tweet?

I can’t make you tweet, nor should I. I can’t make you share your thoughts, nor should I. I can’t make you share resources, nor should I. I can, however, share with you. I can show you how I learn from my amazing PLN that is Twitter. That’s all I can do. It’s your move now. What will you do? What are you waiting for?

A short conversation with...Alfonso Gonzalez @educatoral

Alfonso Gonzalez

How long have you been teaching?

This is my 20th year as a classroom teacher. I started my career teaching 4th and 5th grade bilingual classes in South Central Los Angeles. Back when I was considering becoming a teacher I tried the traditional college route at Cal State University at Northridge (CSUN) but was disappointed by their teacher certification program. Luckily I found out about a new program the Los Angeles Unified School District was offering to get Spanish speaking teachers into the classroom. They called it an Intern Program. What that meant was that I was put into a classroom after a weekend orientation training with follow up classes every Thursday and Saturday! Now THAT was a learning experience! Currently I teach middle school, mainly 6th and 8th grade, and mainly Science, and in a school that with predominately Caucasian. Quite a change!

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Oh yeah, when I started teaching my goal was to teach kids. That’s it. I thought that all I needed to do was teach them and they would learn. I tried different things, I incorporated lessons I learned through the Los Angeles Unified School District Intern Program. It was a great program and I used everything I learned as soon as I learned it because it was all I had! The trainings were taught by classroom teachers so the courses were low on pedagogy and heavy on how to work with kids! Very helpful.

Every single year since I started teaching back in 1991 I have taken any opportunity that came my way to learn. I attended every training and conference that I could and I was lucky enough to find great ones that were not only free, but they paid me! I appreciated that :)

When I moved to Washington State I began working in middle school. I like that age group. It was in WA where I got my Masters in Teaching. One thing that I had to do was develop my mission as a teacher. Every now and then I read it again and much of it is still true today! Here’s what I wrote years ago. I crossed out the parts that I would change today and added some of my newest philosophies in italics:

“My mission is to help my students become independent, self-directed learners and lifelong learners. I plan to facilitate this process by helping my students enjoy learning. I want my students to feel safe enough to take risks and to be able to use and learn in all four learning styles and using all seven or eight intelligences. My students will be involved in constructivist activities in the form of long-term, research projects where they will have access to the latest technologies. Students will learn how to effectively work in cooperative groups and will be taught strategies for problem solving and getting along. Students will learn to use technology to work on their performance tasks and students will be assessed according to rubrics that they help create often. I will also use other forms of assessment such as paper and pencil tests, essays, and portfolios to help students understand how they are performing, and to show them their growth. My use of assessments will be mostly formative while only summative when necessary. I will not use summative assessments to reduce student learning to a score or letter grade. By using different forms of assessment and learning, all students, including special needs students and highly capable students will be able to learn and succeed. To help students in all these endeavors, parents will be included in all aspects of their child's education. Parent involvement is essential in helping students become self-directed and lifelong learners. I will help educate parents about all that we are doing.

In order to keep myself up to date and effective to fulfill my mission, I will continue to read the current research and to conduct my own research to improve my program. I will collaborate with my colleagues and I will continue to write grants to keep my classroom equipped. I plan to participate in curriculum development in my building so that I can ensure that my classroom remains a 21st century classroom.”

Pretty cool, I think. So it looks like I’ve made my original teaching philosophy more complicated! Maybe so, but those are the things I think I need to keep in my awareness to best meet the needs of all my students. And I’m still learning! I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of how to do my job.

Could you share a few thoughts about how you handle grading in your class?

After 19 and a half years of struggling with grades I learned that there was another way. I mean a way different than all the tweaks I had tried throughout the years. See I was trying to tweak a flawed and useless system. I don’t even know if it ever occurred to me to just do away with the whole thing. Nothing else I did worked and I didn’t know not grading was even possible. But then I started using Twitter. Through Twitter I followed teachers who were doing things that blew my mind. There were teachers who were doing things like going grade-less or using standards-based grading! I didn’t even know that was possible. I started reading Alfie Kohn and knew the change I was looking for was to abolish grades completely. I am fortunate to work for a principal who is progressive enough that when I approached her with my idea, backed with the research I had read and samples of teachers who had paved the way for those of us making the change, her response was, “Sure, sounds like you’re doing something great for our kids.” So on a day to day basis, I do not grade my students at all. I assess them formally and informally but without any grading. No marks, no numbers, no percentages, no letters, no stars, no rewards. I give them feedback about how they are doing. I give them feedback about how they can get to their next step. Sometimes my feedback is verbal as I help different students and sometimes I write their feedback on their blog or a paper. When it comes to reporting for my school I tell students that for learning they will each get a pass for Science. If they want a letter grade I give them a form where they can choose what letter they want and explain to me what they learned to get that grade. I do this for the families who still want a letter grade. A pass does nothing for a GPA and since I’m the only teacher at my school who doesn’t grade I still have students who are obsessed with grades and their GPA.

At my school we are also required to send home progress reports for midterm and end of term. To provide progress reports I have been working with standards-based grading. The grading software Easy Grade Pro is awesome and has a standards-based grading section that makes this a piece of cake. While I list the standards addressed by what my students are learning I don’t use numbers or letters to reduce the information students and parents need. If a student shows understanding of a standard, that it exactly what it says on the progress report. If I don’t have enough evidence of a student’s understanding of a particular standard, that is what it says on the progress report. I’m trying to get my students and parents to see that such information is not as valuable as looking at samples of the child’s work and the child’s explanation of the work and what he or she learned but I still provide the progress report with standards. Anything we look at is just a snap shot of one moment in that kid’s learning and my point of view is only one view. I’d rather the parents see their child’s work and hear their child describe it and what he or she learned from it. In our school all students keep portfolios of their work and every March they do a student-led conference for their families. I love watching those because I have just about no part in it aside from hosting them for my advisory students and observing them. What a great experience. This year most of the work my students have done is available on all of their blogs so we are almost completely paperless. Their blogs are the electronic component of their portfolios at

It’s all still a work in progress and changes depending on the group of students I am working with at the time.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

Never stop learning and always be willing to change and try something new. And remember, you can’t, shouldn't and don’t have to do this alone! One other thing I’ve found useful is, “don’t ask permission, apologize later.”
Alfonso blogs here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One of my favorite Seth Godin posts of all time!

On January 24, 2011 Seth Godin posted the following post on his blog. It would be great if more educators could read this. There is something to be learned here. Setting up a classroom based on collaboration, and not competition is key. Moreover, allow for more student choice. Indeed, if we want our students to be problem solvers and life-long learners the ideas Seth Godin poses here can help. --Brian

Here is the post:

Three ways to help people get things done

A friend sent me a copy of a new book about basketball coach Don Meyer. Don was one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time, apparently. It's quite a sad book—sad because of his tragic accident, but also sad because it's a vivid story about a misguided management technique.

Meyer's belief was that he could become an external compass and taskmaster to his players. By yelling louder, pushing harder and relentlessly riding his players, his plan was to generate excellence by bullying them. The hope was that over time, people would start pushing themselves, incorporating Don's voice inside their head, but in fact, this often turns out to be untrue. People can be pushed, but the minute you stop, they stop. If the habit you've taught is to achieve in order to avoid getting chewed out, once the chewing out stops, so does the achievement.

It might win basketball games, but it doesn't scale and it doesn't last. When Don left the room (or the players graduated), the team stopped winning.

A second way to manage people is to create competition. Pit people against one another and many of them will respond. Post all the grades on a test, with names, and watch people try to outdo each other next time. Promise a group of six managers that one of them will get promoted in six months and watch the energy level rise. Want to see little league players raise their game? Just let them know the playoffs are in two weeks and they're one game out of contention.

Again, there's human nature at work here, and this can work in the short run. The problem, of course, is that in every competition most competitors lose. Some people use that losing to try harder next time, but others merely give up. Worse, it's hard to create the cooperative environment that fosters creativity when everyone in the room knows that someone else is out to defeat them.

Both the first message (the bully with the heart of gold) and the second (creating scarce prizes) are based on a factory model, one of scarcity. It's my factory, my basketball, my gallery and I'm going to manipulate whatever I need to do to get the results I need. If there's only room for one winner, it seems these approaches make sense.

The third method, the one that I prefer, is to open the door. Give people a platform, not a ceiling. Set expectations, not to manipulate but to encourage. And then get out of the way, helping when asked but not yelling from the back of the bus.

When people learn to embrace achievement, they get hooked on it. Take a look at the incredible achievements the alumni of some organizations achieve after they move on. When adults (and kids) see the power of self-direction and realize the benefits of mutual support, they tend to seek it out over and over again.

In a non-factory mindset, one where many people have the opportunity to use the platform (I count the web and most of the arts in this category), there are always achievers eager to take the opportunity. No, most people can't manage themselves well enough to excel in the way you need them to, certainly not immediately. But those that can (or those that can learn to) are able to produce amazing results, far better than we ever could have bullied them into. They turn into linchpins, solving problems you didn't even realize you had. A new generation of leaders is created...

And it lasts a lifetime.

Seth Godin

A short conversation with...Edna Sackson @whatedsaid

Edna Sackson

How long have you been teaching?

30 years. This is my first non-teaching year, in my new role as Teaching and Learning Coordinator and I plan to get back into classrooms as much as possible.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Constantly. For one thing, I used to focus on teaching and now I focus on learning. Articulating our school’s beliefs about learning and then basing the learning experiences on those beliefs has meant a fundamental shift in practice. I often reflect on how my thinking has changed over time. (See this post for examples

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Undoubtedly. I have learned a huge amount through interacting with educators around the world, sharing resources, engaging with new ideas, creating global collaborations... I’ve probably learned more via Twitter in the past couple of years than anywhere else over the preceding years.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

I’d advise new (and old teachers) :
Focus more on learning than on teaching.
Don’t try to be the ‘boss of learning’ in your room, allow the learners to take ownership of their own learning.
Create a culture where learners feel safe to take risks and express their ideas.
Treat your students with respect and they will respect you in return.
Understand that ‘one size not fit all’ and every student learns in a different way.
Encourage your students to think!

Edna blogs here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A short conversation with...Kyle B. Pace @kylepace

Kyle B. Pace

How long have you been teaching?

Next year will be my 12th year in education. I taught 3rd and 4th grades before becoming an Instructional Technology Specialist.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

It’s definitely changed. How could it not? Our whole view of learning is going to have to change to allow students to learn what they’re passionate about and how we assess that learning. I learned to teach the exact same way that teachers taught me when I went through my K-12 schooling. I began my teaching career thinking this was the way to teach. The last few years in particular I have learned so much about teaching. It’s come in so many forms, formal and informal. We have to focus on the learning and meeting students where they are at. From a technology standpoint that means more devices in students’ hands (school owned or not) during the school day, more blended learning opportunities outside of the bell schedule and outside the physical walls of our classrooms and schools. We are doing children a disservice if we don’t begin more of this now.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

I am connected to so many great minds in the education world. Through their tweets, blog posts, webinars, etc. I am able to learn so much. For free! Some of these people are very well known education consultants that travel around the globe speaking to educators. But even more (and this is what makes it more awesome) are teachers like me that know the ins and outs of best practices because they’re with students every single day. It’s these teacher leaders that help me constantly be better at what I do. If I’m helping teachers get blogging going with their students, I can send out a tweet asking for tips and strategies from people like Bill Chamberlain or Becky Goerend who I know have done lots of this with their own students. Twitter allows for a type of networking that was not around when I was just starting (which wasn’t that long ago). I wish I would have had it. We’re better together and Twitter proves that every day.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

The best advice I have ever received as a teacher would probably be the importance of the relationship and trust that must be built with students and parents. No matter if the learning experiences involve tech/social media or not, we need support at home just as much as at school. From an instructional technology standpoint I think the same definitely holds true. We could be talking about allowing students to bring their own devices to use at school (which we should be making more accommodations for) and we have to keep the lines of communication open (frequently) if we want to garner parent support for future improvements and upgrades to what we’re doing now.

Kyle blogs here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Here comes the sun.

This commercial always makes me feel good. I lived in a community for 6 years that lost the sun for 2 months/year. This would have been cool to see. Moreover, the song only adds to the quality of the commercial.

A short conversation with...Cale Birk @birklearns

Cale Birk

How long have you been teaching?

This is my fifteenth year in education. I began teaching in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia at Osoyoos Secondary. I taught Junior Science, Senior Biology, and PE for five years and loved every minute of it! OSS was a great school to start my career, and we had a fantastic Principal who inspired me to get into administration. I then moved to Prince George to become a Vice-Principal for three years, and then became a Principal. After two years of being a Principal in PG, I moved to Kamloops in 2006 to become the Principal of South Kamloops Secondary. I have been there ever since!

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Absolutely. In my first year, I thought the most important thing in a classroom was control. I thought that classroom management came through keeping students busy with piles of trivial work, and through rewards and punishment. I docked marks for late assignments. At parent teacher interviews, I used to say meaningless things like “Your child struggles on tests”. I would give students ridiculous marks like 4% as a final grade.

Fortunately, I had a revelation very early in my teaching career. On the second to last day of that first year, I had a reluctant learner turn in about a dozen assignments. They were all late. They were all of substandard quality. And all I could think was that something inside of this student motivated them do all of this work at the end of the year for my class. How could I not mark it? I also looked critically at the work this student had done, not for what they had done, but for what I had assigned. It was crap, and I was ashamed. From that moment on, I never docked another late mark. And I vowed that I would never assign crap just to keep students busy, but rather that I would try to make my lessons so engaging that students were always busy learning rather than ‘regurgitating’ meaningless minutia like ‘questions 1-4 at the end of the chapter’.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?
I have only been tweeting for a few months, but without equivocation, it is the best perennial Professional Development that I have ever taken part in. I have never felt more invigorated as an administrator to learn, and I make time every day to get on to Twitter and connect with educators all over the planet. It is pleasantly overwhelming to discover all of the great things that others are doing in their schools and districts, and to feel as though you are truly part of a global learning community. My only regret is that I did not get on to Twitter sooner!

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

I think it is important for a teacher to have a sincere and insatiable curiosity about their students. To be curious about what their interests are, where they have come from, what they already know, how they learn, and what experiences they bring to the classroom. By truly being curious about these things, students will know that the teacher cares about them, that they care about making that class meaningful, and that they care about discovering what each student knows. My first Principal told me “Create the class that you would like to learn in, and that you would like your children to learn in.” and I think that still applies today.

Cale's Blog

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A short conversation with...Seth Godin

1.What is the purpose of schools (K-12) in the 21st Century?

To train students to do difficult work and to answer questions that haven't been asked before.

2. What about "if u could change 2-3 things about the education system immediately, what would they be?

a. attendance based
b. regurgitation based
c. do the lectures at night (via world class video) and do homework during the day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A short conversation with...David Wees @davidwees

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

David Wees

How long have you been teaching?

I’m currently in my 9th year teaching. I spent 3 years working in Brooklyn, NY, 2 years in London, England, another 2 years in Bangkok, Thailand, and the last 2 years in Vancouver, Canada.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

I think that my core philosophy has not changed much, but my understanding of this core philosophy has changed quite a bit. I believed initially that if you engage the learner in meaningful and interesting activities, that you can “get them to learn anything.” This is kind of like covering the ugly learning medicine with some sweet honey. It goes down sweet, but still leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Now I’m becoming convinced that this approach is unnecessary. I think you can select activities, especially if you give students choice in the selection, which appeal to the learner and have the ability to inspire and motivate them, and which are themselves interesting learning. Learning doesn’t have to be something you disguise with a sweetener.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Twitter has opened my mind to the field of education in a way that neither of my degrees has done. First, I am exposed to a much wider world of possibilities. I cannot imagine finding the works of Gatto, Holt, Hern, Freire, Meier, and Ravitch without Twitter. I think it could easily have been years before I learned about unschooling, homeschooling, and other forms of alternate education which are so interesting to me now.

I’ve been fascinated by the adoption of technology, and have enjoyed learning about both the phases of technology adoption, and the types of technology out there to use. I’m constantly impressed by the innovative practices I see, while still skeptical of other practices which have been aptly named pseudo-teaching.

I have the opportunity to discuss these ideas, and debate them with people from all over the world. I learn about resources, trouble-shoot, brain-storm, and chat about all sorts of different topics. I’ve met people who are doing amazing things, and am helping to lead some small changes in BC education as well. The ability to get a group of people together and be inspired to try out a completely different professional development model is super cool, and our planning of Edcamp Vancouver has been a terrific learning experience for all of us who have been involved.

The most important lesson I have taken away from Twitter is that I am not alone, there are many other people who think the way I do.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

Try something new in your teaching everyday, and do your best to remember what worked about you tried, and what didn’t work. You cannot become an exceptional educator without a willingness to experiment, and an ability to be reflective and analyze your practice. Most of your initial lessons you create will be awful, you will be lucky to have 1 in 5 work. Recognize this, don’t take it personally, and move onto the next day when you can try something else.

Watch other teachers do what they do. Make sure to go and observe the practices of everyone in your building if you can. During my first 3 years of teaching I made sure to at least informally observe every single teacher in my school.

Watch children while they are learning, regardless of the context. If your objective is to improve as an educator, you must recognize that education is not so much about the procedures you do, as the outcomes of what you start (or support) in your classroom, specifically students learning.

David's Blog

A short conversation with...Chris Kennedy @chrkennedy

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Chris Kennedy

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for fifteen years. I have had the chance to teach in Richmond, Coquitlam and now West Vancouver. I am one of those teachers who has two parents who were also teachers, so it often feels like I have been in public education my entire life.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

In my first year I taught Math 8 and Math 9 as part of my assignment (my background is Social Studies and English). I remember being so concerned about being right and having all the answers. I had a really hard time admitting I didn’t know something. I thought the teacher was the person with all the answers.

I have become much more comfortable with not knowing the answers.

That said, a lot hasn’t changed for me - I still think teaching is more than a job, it is a way of life and is the greatest job in the world.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Absolutely - it helped get me my job -

I am about four years in to using Twitter and was actually an early adopter. I was one of those people who was having conversations about what we were having for lunch. It has been over the last two years that I have really found the power of Twitter. It is absolutely the best professional development. I love how roles and geography don’t matter - it is about ideas. I find I will often go to Twitter before e-mail and I now only check-in on Facebook once or twice a week.

Twitter has exposed me to ideas that have pushed my thinking and helped me stay current. I think my job is absolutely about knowing what is around the corner and Twitter helps me to see what is coming.

I also just love connecting face-to-face and continuing relationships on Twitter, and also with those I have met through Twitter building on these relationships face to face. I am participating in several projects now that are a direct result of Twitter relationships.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

My best advice for new teachers is to not believe the advice that you should just focus on your teaching and not get involved in the school. Getting involved - whether it is running a club, coaching a team, helping with a musical, organizing a talent show or anything else outside the classroom helps you know students in a different way, and helps students know you in a different way and it will create memories for you and them.

Chris Blogs Here

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A few favorite tweets, lately.

Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal: A merit study where teachers were given $15,000 over 3 yrs found no increase in scores via @DianeRavitch #nassp2011

Chris Wejr @mrwejr:@SheilaSpeaking @Nunavut_Teacher responsibility is key. But we don't get responsible people by rewarding them to comply

Chris Wejr @mrwejr: @SheilaSpeaking @Nunavut_Teacher I want students to understand there are natural consequences for their choices. Feedback better than prizes

Chris Wejr @mrwejr: @Nunavut_Teacher @SheilaSpeaking punishments and rewards only create desired outcome when the reward/punishment is present

Brian Barry @nunavut_teacher: BOOM! The real lesson on finance by @d_martin05

Mike @mikekaechele:Just got around to watching @DianeRavitch on the Daily show

Alfonso Gonzalez @educatoral Twitter-It's Not Just What's For Breakfast... @web20classroom

Robert Dewinetz rwd01 RT @alfiekohn: 4 quick responses to “But I have to assign homework! Look at all I have to cover!”:

Pernille Ripp @4thGrdTeach:Slideshow from the massive protest in Madison, WI yesterday #wiunion

A short conversation with...Justin Stortz @newfirewithin

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Justin Stortz

How long have you been teaching?

I’m in my seventh year. I’ve taught Kindergarteners, 1st graders, and now 4th graders.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Good gravy, yes! How could it not? I don’t think anyone teaching with a clear mind and an open heart can have a static educational philosophy.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

I’ve had two major shifts in my thinking. Both were gradual and came about by observing and reflecting on my students.

The first was a shift from equal to fair. College was all about teaching me equality- all children get an equal chance and equal opportunities in education, etc. Some of that thinking began to shape my classroom interactions. In my first years, I wouldn’t let one student do something unless I was prepared to let everyone do it. So if a student finished early and wanted to go to the library, I’d often say no because other students didn’t have an equal opportunity to go. I felt the need treat all children equally. But, experience taught me that equality comes in varying degrees of fairness.

How dare I treat all children equally? What a colossal disservice to the children put in my charge. Some students need more; some students need less. Some don’t need it all.

Now I try to do what’s best for the individual student, and that’s obviously going to look different for each one. I am committed to treating children fairly, though. Each child is a one-of-a-kind unique creation and deserves to be treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else in my class.

The second shift was from a mindset of control to one of release. It’s really the shift from a teacher centered classroom to a student centered classroom. I used to be big on my rules and dishing out the consequences. I used to do the behavior chart, treasure chest on Friday for those good enough, and many other types of rewards and punishments. I felt the need to micro manage student behavior and interactions.

Now I’m much more laid back. I believe students will rise to the responsibility given to them. I’m much more about an open classroom community of trust and respect. We create, we collaborate, we define- together. I’m still the authority figure in the room. That’s part of my responsibility. But, it’s not about me being in control, it’s about releasing and trusting the students to do their very best.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

Never be afraid to apologize. You are a fallible human just like your students. Don’t play it off when you’re wrong or you lose your temper. Students, even very young ones, can smell a fake a mile away. Be real and authentic. You will reap tremendously more than you sow. And forget that “don’t smile until Christmas” junk too. Smile the first day, everyday.

Justin's Blog

Monday, March 14, 2011

A short conversation with...Dwight Carter @Dwight_Carter

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Dwight Carter

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been an educator for 17 years: 3 years as a middle school American History teacher, 5 years teaching 9th grade Global Studies and 11th grade American History, 3 years as a HS Assistant Principal, 3 years and a MS Principal, and now into my 3rd year as HS Principal where I taught and was an Assistant Principal. All my years have been in the same district. Also coached football, MS boys and girls track, and HS girls track before my years in administration.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

My core philosophy has been developed since I began teaching, which is to positively change lives and impact futures. What has changed is how to do that. Establishing positive relationships have always been foundational; however, I have to work much harder at it now as an administrator, especially with the students. My philosophy is focused on serving those I lead, which has challenged me to really focus on people first, programs second. I am not always successful as this yet I have some close colleagues that let me know when I’ve dropped the ball!

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

The best advice I received as I teacher was in my first education class at Wittenberg University in the fall of 1990: “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.”-Dr. James Comer. This was posted on the wall and it immediately resonated with me. I give this same advice to a new teacher, but would also add to stay relevant by taking responsibility for ones own professional development. Use social media to share ideas, find solutions to problems you are facing, and contribute to whatever grade level team, department, or PLC you’re a part of.

Dwight, can you share a few thoughts on your No Office Day experience? Will there be another No Office Day?

My “No Office Day” experience was definitely one of the days I’ve had as an educator! I felt connected to the teachers in my building, I was energized by their passion, expertise, energy, and level of student engagement. I still vividly remember the interactions between the students and teachers. The bottom line is that is was simply FUN! It reminded me of one of the key points of the FISH philosophy, which is to have fun at work. Also, Kevin Carrol (@KevinCarrollKatalyst) reminds us to keep play alive in our lives. For me, the No Office Day was a way to have fun and play while meeting a personal goal to be visible. I have fallen way short of this goal, but I now have a point of reference to rely on and people that hold me accountable to be more visible.

What has struck me is the number of positive feedback I’ve received since the “No Office Day” post. However, what’s sad about this is that it’s the norm for building principals to be chained to our desks. None of us were moved to go into administration to stay in the office. This is something we have to intentionally plan for and follow through on a regular basis. Honestly, I now often ask myself, “When will it be the norm for you to not be in the office so much?”

I do plan to have more “No Office Days” so that I can make more connections, recognize and celebrate the number of great things going on in our building, and be a part of where the front line leaders are: in the classroom with our students. I have one scheduled this Friday!

Be Great,


Dwight's Blog

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is stopping you?

A Seth Godin Inspired Post:

What do you want to do? Do you want to try something new? Do you have new ideas you want to try in your classroom? Do you want to make a change? Have you started a blog? When was the last time you wrote a new post? Is there someone you want to talk to but have been putting it off? Just one last question: What is stopping you?

A short conversation with...Diane Ravitch @DianeRavitch

I would like to thank Dr. Diane Ravitch for taking the time to answer my questions for this interview series. Dr. Ravitch's work has not only influenced me as an educator, but countless other educators as well.

Diane Ravitch

1. The idea that the government can “incentivize” teachers to do a better job by paying more money is held by many. Can you share a few thoughts on Merit Pay, paying teachers based on the performance of their students?

Merit pay has never worked. According to W. Edwards Deming, it doesn't work in the business world either. It destroys teamwork and collaboration. It encourages people to think only of themselves, not of the goals of the organization. It promotes short-term thinking (me!), rather than what's best for everyone. The most rigorous evaluation of merit pay was conducted by the National Center for Performance Incentives and published last fall. It found that merit pay did not produce any effect on student scores. Is it odd, isn't it, to think that students will work harder if their teachers get bonuses? This is the idea that never works and never dies.

2. Given the emphasis on standardized testing for students, can a teacher still conduct a class where creativity can flourish?

Certainly the No Child Left Behind law has put an emphasis on standardized test scores, to the exclusion of everything else. Now, states are passing laws stating that teachers will be evaluated by their students' test scores, and their tenure and salary and job will depend on those scores. Under these circumstances, there is no support or encouragement for creativity, innovation, or imagination. Students who exhibit these characteristics will likely choose the wrong bubble on the test.

3. In some places I’ve noticed that student course choice is becoming more restrictive in order to meet high school graduation requirements. What are your thoughts on further limiting student course selection choice?

My view is that all students should have a rich and balanced curriculum, one that includes the arts, science, history, mathematics, geography, civics, foreign language, and physical education. Any graduation requirements that get in the way of this kind of education should be changed.

Diane Ravitch Blogs here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A short conversation with...Joe Bower @joe_bower

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Joe Bower

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for 10 years. Most of my career has been spent teaching grades 6-8. My current teaching assignment has me teaching in the local hospital where we provide short term crisis stabilization and inpatient assessment to children under the age of 18 who present with a wide range of mental health related difficulties. Essentially it's a one-room school house for students ranging from elementary to high school.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

When I started teaching I was very focused on power and control. I assigned loads of homework, dished out huge penalties for late assignments, assigned punishments for rule breaking behavior and averaged my marks to get a final grade. I did some of these things because I was trained to do so in university. However, most of these teaching strategies were being done mindlessly, and like a lot of teachers, I was simply teaching the way I was taught.

Today, I embrace the idea that learners construct their understanding from the inside while interacting with their environment, rather than by internalizing directly from the outside. I provide learning environments that are in a context and for a purpose, and in doing so, I work with students (rather than doing things to them) so they experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

In November 2004, I was ready to walk away from teaching. I was desperate for something better, and that's when I came across Alfie Kohn's article The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement. After that, I dedicated myself to challenging traditional schooling while exploring more progressive forms of education. For me the change was indeed quite fast; I experienced a pedagogical revolution. The day after I read Kohn's article, I returned my students' essays without a grade. And, as they say, the rest is history. But I do try and share my stories on my blog: for the love of learning.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

My most fundamental pedagogical changes took place in 2004 which was well before joining Twitter in 2009. Initially, I only joined because I saw that Alfie Kohn had joined, and was using Twitter as a way to share. Like a lot of people, I joined Twitter without even realizing what it was good for. I played with it for a few days and quit. Months later, I gave it another shot, and got 'it'.

For me, Twitter has been a way to find like-minded educators. The laws of probability tell us that we have a better chance of finding like-minded professionals when we broaden our search past just those we work with in the physical world. Twitter has provided me with the opportunity to find my tribe.

Joe's Blog

Friday, March 11, 2011

11 reasons why I blog.

1 I blog to discover a deeper understanding of why I feel the way I do about a topic.

2. I blog to challenge the way I feel about a topic.

3. I blog to get feedback from others.

4. I blog to keep thinking and reflecting about education.

5. I blog to fight the resistance- My lizard brain.

6. I blog to be heard.

7. I blog so that I can share with others.

8. I blog to get to know others.

9. I blog to connect with the world.

10. I blog so that I can share posts with students. They get a deeper understanding of why I teach the way I do, why I conduct the class the way I do, why I do what I do.

11. I blog because I can.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A short conversation with...Tom Hierck @UMAKADIFF

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Tom Hierck

How long have you been teaching?

This is my 28th year in a career that started as a high school science teacher and flowed through being a special education instructor, vice-principal, principal, president of the BCPVPA, project manager for the Ministry of Education, and to my current role as Assistant Superintendent. I always think of myself as a teacher but do note that my classroom has changed considerably.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Interesting question as I was reviewing this just recently. Here is part of what I wrote some time ago and that still resonates with me today. My philosophy of education is summarized by this belief: every student is a success story waiting to be told. All of us in the education system have a responsibility to help them tell that story. The role of the school in society is an ever-changing one. We live in a time where change is rapid. Schools are charged with the responsibility to meet the demands of this society. Within the least restrictive environment possible, schools must provide opportunities for all students to enjoy success. Every student who enters our classrooms in September will be different in June. How they change rests, in part, with the experiences they have during the school year. School needs to be a place where students want to go and where they feel they are accomplishing something of value.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

As I said above, it wasn’t so much a change as a reaffirmation. I think I may have lost my way a bit as a teacher when I was building my career and the different vantage point I had moving into an administrative role highlighted for me again the absolute necessity to create positive relationships in order to add educational value to the lives of others.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Late to get started but thoroughly enjoying the insights shared by others. It’s a great tool that augments other aspects of the work I do. As a presenter and authour I’m always looking for others’ reaction to events or changes in our environment. I’ve seen some brilliant things come across the twittersphere in the short time I’ve been a part of the community.

Tom's Blog

Competition in the classroom: "There's only competitor out there, yourself."

I try to ensure my classroom is set up for collaboration, not competition. Most competitions in a class are never fair and stifle collaboration. Moreover, stressing personal best and not THE best is what matters.

I recently discovered these Sportchek commercials that note we should compete against ourselves. Please enjoy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A short conversation with...Justin Tarte @justintarte

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Justin Tarte

How long have you been teaching?

I am in my 6th year of teaching German 2 and German 3. As much as I love teaching and the classroom interactions with kids, I am actively pursuing an administrative position in an effort to positively affect the lives of not just my students, but rather an entire student body.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Yes. When I first started teaching I was very focused on what I was doing as the teacher. I would go home and evaluate the resources I was using in class...I would think about ways I could make better and more effective assessments...I was spending way too much time thinking about what I was doing, rather than focusing on how the students were performing and responding to what I was doing. My educational philosophy has shifted from me, the educator, to the students with whom I am interacting. I am not saying self-reflection is not important, but I have definitely seen an improvement with my instructional practices as I have focused more on what my students are doing, rather than what I am doing.

Additionally, I have really started to empower and encourage my students to take control of their learning. By providing my students the autonomy and the opportunities to explore, discover, and learn on their own, they are able to follow their interests and passions. Similarly to my first point, my focus has shifted from what I want my students to learn, to allowing them to learn what they are interested in.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

This change has been a gradual change, and by no means is the change finished. I am continually evolving as an educator, and I think it is crucial that we are continuously evaluating our philosophy of education. One of my favorite quotes by Bruce Barton says it perfectly; “When you are through changing, you are through.”

If I could narrow this change to one specific event I would say it was when I decided I wanted to be an administrator. Administrators by nature are required to think on a much broader scale, and as such it requires more reflection and more time spent recognizing how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. This bigger picture thinking has enhanced my growth and development as an educator.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Twitter has played a tremendous role in my growth and development as an educator. I am a huge proponent of professional development, and through the use of Twitter I have been able to expand traditional PD from something that happens a few times a year, to something that happens 24/7. Twitter has also connected me with great educators from around the world, which has given me a much broader perspective when it comes to sharing and collaborating with others. In my short 6 years as an educator, Twitter has been the most influential to my growth and development.

Justin's Blog

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A short conversation with...Alfie Kohn @alfiekohn

I would like to thank Alfie Kohn for taking the time to answer my questions for this interview series. Dr. Kohn's work has influenced me the most as an educator. Thank you very much, Dr. Kohn.

Alfie Kohn

1.What would you say to a teacher that says, "rewards work in my

I’d ask two questions: What do you mean by “work”? And at what cost? Rewards, like punishments, can sometimes be effective at eliciting temporary compliance. What they can never do is help people to develop a commitment to whatever behavior they engaged in. You can’t bribe kids into thinking deeply, enjoying the learning itself, or becoming responsible or caring people. In fact, the reliance on rewards -- what one pair of researchers calls “control through seduction” -- is more likely to be counterproductive rather than merely ineffective. It tends to undermine students’ interest in whatever they were rewarded for doing, which means they become less likely to want to read (or to help other people, or whatever) than they were earlier. Treating kids like pets -- giving them the equivalent of a doggie biscuit for doing whatever the person with the power happens to want -- is not only disrespectful; it’s virtually guaranteed to backfire. It’s a way of doing things to kids, and ultimately there’s no substitute for working with kids if we want them to become proficient learners and decent people.

2.Alfie, could you please share a few thoughts on year end awards
ceremonies where only a few are chosen to receive an award?

The problem with awards is twofold: First, they’re extrinsic inducements, so, as I say, they’re likely to reduce kids’ intrinsic motivation to do whatever we’ve recognized them for having accomplished. Second, what distinguishes an award from a reward is that the former is set up as a competition: The recognition is made artificially scarce so that if I get an award, that reduces or even eliminates the chance that you will.

Here’s the dilemma: Either the awards ceremony is a joke to kids, or it's taken seriously. If it's a joke, why do it? But if it's taken seriously, it can do real harm. It's not hard to see how resentful and demoralized the losers often become. (Definition of an awards assembly: an event that instantly turns most people present into losers.) But perceptive people can see that even the winners lose: They come to see themselves as worthy only to the extent they’ve defeated others (a recipe for neurosis), they come to see everyone else as obstacles to their own success (which destroys any possibility of creating a sense of community and caring in the school), and they come to see the learning as just a prerequisite for getting that public pat on the head.

3. Many teachers have been known to say the following, "This class is
not a democracy; it is a dictatorship." How can this attitude hurt
the learning of students?

Dictatorships never benefit anyone other than the dictator. Psychologically speaking, people thrive when they participate in making decisions about the things that affect them. Morally speaking, I believe people have a right to participate to the extent it’s practical to do so -- which is to say, a right not to be subject to unnecessary control. This is even more important in the case of children, since we want them to learn to be responsible decision-makers. And you learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.

That doesn’t mean kids can do whatever they want, or that their status is equivalent to that of the teacher, or that children have the same capacity to choose responsibly at age 6 that they do at age 16. But just because a pure democracy may be impractical in a classroom doesn’t justify a dictatorship; it obliges us to see how close we can get to the democratic end of the continuum. When teachers write this off as “impractical” or “utopian,” they may think they’re telling us about the inability of kids to handle choices but I’d argue they’re really telling us about their own need for control.

Alfie Kohn's Homepage

A short conversation with...Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Josh Stumpenhorst

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching 6th grade Social Science and Language Arts for 8 years. I am still working towards my approval by the Jedi council.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

When I first started teaching I was more concerned with “getting through the day” as I think is very common for new teachers. As I have become more confident in my content I am now more focused and dedicated to finding better ways to engage students and push their learning. My philosophies on grading, homework, and even classroom management have changed.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

A big piece of this change has happened in recent years through conversations with colleagues and attending conferences with other educators. Through these conversations, I have been able to expand my perspective and evolve my perspective on education. It is through this collaboration that I have been exposed to other ideas and have been willing to try new things in my classroom in an effort to constantly improve the learning of my students.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Twitter has accelerated my evolution at a staggering pace. I have only been active on Twitter for about five months now and am blown away daily by the connections I have made and the learning I have experienced. A few examples would be some of the “chats” I have participated in that have changed my philosophies as well as instruction. One specific example was a conversation I had with the #ecosys folks about Dr. Mitra’s Hole in the Wall Theories of education.

Twitter has allowed me to connect with educators that I never even knew existed and would certainly never had contact with. It has given me access to conferences, conversations, and collaborative opportunities that are constantly evolving my teaching and in turn my student’s learning. I now have taken the number of teachers that I can share with and get resources from to an exponential figure.

As I recently tweeted, “Anyone else feel like they took Morpheus’s Red Pill since they started using Twitter and Blogging?” This is so true as it has opened a world of learning and collaboration that I never thought possible nor existed.

Josh's Blog

Monday, March 7, 2011

A short conversation with...Daniel Pink @danielpink

I am delighted to post my interview with Daniel Pink. As many of you know, I am a fan of Mr. Pink's work. A special thanks to Dan for participating in my short conversation series! Enjoy!

Daniel Pink

1. What started your interest in human motivation?

After I wrote A WHOLE NEW MIND -- about the shift from metaphorically "left-brain" abilities to "right-brain" ones -- lots of people asked me about how to motivate people to do this sort of work. I didn't have a clue. So I began looking at what turned out to be an absolute treasure trove of research on human motivation. And the answers I found were surprising. Very surprising.

2. Can you recommend a couple of things teachers could be doing in order to better tap into their students’ motivation?

There are lots of things teachers can do -- and many of them are doing these things already. What's missing is a way for teachers around the world to share best practices. That said, here are a few ideas that come from the research I've done.

First, try a FedEx Day. This idea comes from the Australian company Atlassian. One a quarter on Thursday afternoons, the company tells its software developers to work on whatever they want, so long as it's not part of their regular job, for the next 24 hours. The only requirement is that they have to show what they've created on Friday afternoons in a fun, freewheeling meeting. (They call these FedEx Days because you have to deliver something overnight.) This one day of autonomy has produced a whole array of ideas for new products, improvements on existing products, and so forth that had otherwise never emerged. Schools could do something similar with students or even with teachers.

Second, spend a little more time on why. The research on motivation shows pretty clearly that people do better when they know the purpose of what they're doing. So when doling out homework, for instance, explain why you're assigning this particular homework and how it contributes to students' learning. When beginning a unit, spend a few minutes discussing why you're covering this topic and how it relates to the real world.

Third, let students do their own report cards. At the beginning of a term, ask students to lay out what they want to learn. Then have them self-assess several times along the way to see whether they're making progress. Then at the end of the term, ask them to give themselves a grade. These aren't replacements for traditional report cards, but supplements -- and they can begin to teach the habits of goal-setting and self-assessment that are hugely valuable in high performance in any sphere.

3. Have you noticed a big interest in your work from people involved in education?

Somewhat. I write mostly about business -- but good teachers and administrators always want fresh, smart ideas no matter their source.

Daniel Pink's Blog

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A few of my favorite Seth Godin posts, Part 2.


Quote: "You can't be offbeat in all ways, because then we won't understand you and we'll reject you. Some of the elements you use should be perfectly aligned with what we're used to."

"The others... Not a little off. A lot off."

Demonstrating strength

Quote: "Apologize; Defer to others; Avoid shortcuts; Tell the truth; Offer kindness; Seek alliances."

The forces of mediocrity

Quote: "Remarkable visions and genuine insight are always met with resistance."

Make something happen

Quote: "Make something happen today, before you go home, before the end of the week."

It's easier to teach compliance than initiative

Quote: "Schools like teaching compliance. They're pretty good at it."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A short conversation with...Rob Genaille @rvgenaille

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Rob Genaille

How long have you been teaching?

Including ToC time, I have been a teacher for approximately eight years. One of those years was spent as a First Nations Support Worker, and three were as a classroom teacher at the secondary level.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. I became a teacher because I saw too many Aboriginal youth falling through the cracks and dropping out. My perception was that they were not well- treated in school and that they were very bright individuals that were being tagged under an umbrella category. I thought that, more than anything, coming into the school, I could share my experience and strengths with them, offer the opportunity of seeing someone who had been in the exact same position as they were finding themselves. In addition, I hoped to show non-Aboriginal students that the myths and misconceptions that many in the education system, and society, had about Aboriginal people were wrong. As an educational philosophy, I believe that the education of the child means the whole child, socially, emotionally as well as academically. In this regard, I am not worried if we meet all the Prescribed learning outcomes on a given day, particularly if we need to consider the challenges faced by the child at home, or in school. Sometimes ensuring that the student is feeling safe and secure, respected, is more important than whether he or she finished their homework assignment or understands the connection between Rome’s 12 Tables and the modern Canadian legal system. The learning will come when the student is feeling that he or she can learn.

Has that changed? A little bit, but I try to maintain the need to build a relationship of respect and trust with the student.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

As stated above, I try to maintain it as much as possible but the realities of the modern education system make it difficult to work. Class sizes make it difficult to connect with every student, particularly when you have thirty or more per block, the amount of curriculum expected to be covered, in our provincially examinable senior courses, doesn’t allow you the time to stop and explore an issue that interests you or the students. And then there are students that don’t want to have anything to do with you as a teacher, or the focus on the needs of the student grinds everything to a halt.

The challenge is finding a way to balance the different aspects of the needs of the student, the parent and the education system. Learning to remember that I am their teacher and while I am offering them trust and respect, I am not their friend, and I am responsible for preparing them to face the greater society as adults. It is easier to find that balance in the smaller schools I have worked in, because the one on one aspect of learning and teaching is important in every respect.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

I am still working that part out. I initially went on Twitter to publicize the work I am doing outside of education (you may notice that from time to time), and only came to be a part of an exchange with other educators recently. It has been an excellent starting point to see different avenues and approaches being explored by teachers and seeing the different research being shared, but I have not engaged completely as yet. I joke that Twitter is what forced me to start my blog, and for that I am grateful, as it has allowed me to start to address larger issues in Aboriginal education, or to comment or questions I see arising.

Rob's Blog