Sunday, April 26, 2015

Where the Wild Things Are #leadwild

Wild first grade writing 
Deep conversation. On a Sunday. Questions. 
This question.
Are we really leading
if we are talking about
we could have done
20 years ago?
Is it technology?
Is that what makes us

Is it just-right pedagogy?
The art and science of teaching and learning.
Is it creativity and collaboration?
Or inspiration?

What if the most powerful learning I see in a day
is written in pencil
in a notebook
on the floor and under a table by a 7 year-old?

Or on sentence strips
written in marker with the word
spelled wrong
by a first grade zoologist.

Old school tools for future ready schools.

Whether learning or leading
where the wild things are really
are in the connections,
the ideas
that spread like wildfire
fueled by technology.

Technology that allows a Bee-bot dance 
coded by two fourth grade girls
in California
to be shared
in the


What was old is new
Kagan and Calkins and
brain-based strategies are now
remixed with rich academic language
and content
for a digital world.

New is the audience.
Shining a spotlight
on the work of kids and teachers.
Twitter and Voxer.
Storytellers of our time.

New are the leaders willing to connect with
a souped up walkie-talkie
to ask questions
to listen
to learn
to be inspired to try out an amazing idea the next

New are the leaders who learn first
Fearless and thoughtful.
Reflecting in a public space
sharing struggles
and celebrations
in blog posts or a tweets or in stories of
only 7 

Radical? In a way. 
Revolutionary? Maybe.
Yes. Leading wild means digging in and digging deep.
It means never giving up.
It means saying I don’t know
but I’ll try.

Learning has no destination.
We may never arrive, but we are on a journey.
Traveling a path where strangers are friends
and impossible is nothing.

Lead wild.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The power of a post.

This past week I read a post about Kyle Schwartz, a third grade teacher from Colorado who asked her third grade students to write about what they wished their teacher knew. The assignment, started by the teacher as an attempt to get to know her students better, has sparked intense conversations and disagreement. When I first read the post, the message really hit home. It made me think immediately of students I know or have taught over the years who struggled with making friends, or who have experienced loss or trauma.

It made me think of a particular student who got in so much trouble one day at school-- the day everyone dressed up as a famous person from the past-- and he didn't. Not because he didn't want to, but because he just didn't have anything that would have worked. From the moment he arrived at school that day, he was angry. 

My heart broke for him that day. He wasn't in my class, but I had taught him the year before and knew that most evenings he spent with high school kids who lived in his apartment complex. He was eight. He ended up spending most of that day in the office after starting fights and disrupting class. I'll never forget him or that day, and I always wondered if that day would have gone differently if the project would have been something he could have completed at school. Did we as educators set him up for success? That day is one of the reasons that I stopped at-home projects that required adult help to complete. That day changed my practice. 

And so, when I read the post about Kyle's students, I shared it. We need to know the stories of our students, their hopes, fears, and struggles. I think Kyle's question was a good one.

And then I read Rafranz Davis' post this morning and it stopped me in my tracks. 
Rafranz asks tough questions as she discusses student voice, trust, and privacy. She raises important issues I hadn't considered when I read the post about the third graders in Colorado. When I read the post, I thought of kids. Not those kids exactly, but the kids I've known over the years. The kids who my hearts breaks for and that keep me up at night.

But Rafranz is right. 

If I write about the first grade teaching team at my school without naming them, it would take no longer than a second to Google them. They are easily identifiable. Every time I write about my school I know the audience is potentially the world, which includes their friends and family. Do they read my posts? I don't know.

But they could. 

I've learned a lot from these posts. And honestly, I think that's kind of the point. The REAL power in blogging is in sharing our reflections, our thinking, and struggles. It's about putting ideas out their and hoping someone learns something valuable from my post- even if I make a mistake.

So what did I learn? 

I learned that when I post (Twitter, blog, Facebook, anywhere!) I need to consider the audience. Is there anyone out there who might be harmed by my writing? Is there anything I'm sharing that is confidential? When I write, I always write thinking the world is my audience, and I need to be okay with anyone reading it. I don't want to hurt anyone or cause someone to lose trust in me. 

I learned that Kyle Schwartz asked a great question. What do you want your teacher to know? I think this is a GREAT question. So now I'm thinking about how this question could be asked but the responses shared differently. What if the whole school had been asked and the responses collected in a Google form and compiled in a word cloud generator to see what words show up the most? 

The information gathered is powerful, and yet probably could have been shared in a better way that didn't potentially identify the students or their families. I don't know them, but someone does. I would recognize my child's writing if it were posted. Or maybe the answers don't need to be shared publicly at all, but rather used to generate questions about what we can do differently, as educators and as people.

Kyle's post has an important message for us all. Knowing our students as individuals needs to be a priority for every educator. We need to ask tough questions. We need to know the answers no matter how heartbreaking. I believe Kyle had her students interests and needs in mind. That she wanted to know more so she could make a difference.

But I also think that both Kyle and Rafranz have highlighted the real power of blogging. By writing in a public space, we invite conversation, reflection, and change. We can learn from each other. 

Purpose. Audience. Message. So much power in every post. 

What can we learn together?


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Learning. Leading change.

I’ll never forget the day I first saw this Playing for Change video in 2009. It gave me chills. It moved me. I was participating in a training about how to collaborate effectively, and how to move schools from good to great. This video is still one of my favorites, and I think it really speaks to what we are trying to do as far as change in education. These musicians are playing together, collaborating, connected by technology. Sure, they are singing the same song, but each brings their own passion and creativity to the piece. How can we lead for change? What components do schools need to have in place to inspire this feeling for kids and teachers? At Star Academy we’ve taken our inspiration from a variety of places and I am so excited about the level of innovation and inspiration at our school. What have I learned? Here are are a few “instruments” for inspiring change in your school.

Get out of your office

If there is one thing school leaders can do to change the culture of schools, it’s to get out of the office! I’m in classrooms every day, and almost every Monday I’m in classrooms with teachers and kids all day-- with no meetings! In EdWeek’s “No Office Day” post, Adam Welcome says,

“There's no denying a Principal has administrative 'office' duties, I get it. There's just no other way to feel the pulse of your school without constantly being on campus and in classrooms. My first year as Assistant Principal and Principal, I was in each classroom, every day, for the first one-hundred days! You can't feel the pulse or set the tone of your school in an office.”

So, get out of your office. Next year, I’m hoping to schedule one “office day” and be out and about the rest of the week.

Create a culture that celebrates risk taking and innovation

Ramsey Musallum Ted Talk: Three Rules to Spark Learning
Watch this video. It says it all.

  1. Curiosity comes first
  2. Embrace the mess
  3. Practice reflection
#Embracethemess has become an unwritten hashtag for our school.

Start with the standards. Start with the “why”.

Why did we shift to the Common Core anyways? Common core IS NOT all about having a new boxed curriculum to follow in a lockstep fashion. Remember, we teach KIDS, not programs. My K-5 school doesn’t even have textbooks except for math. Teachers create their own curriculum, starting with the standards, infusing the 4 C’s, student interests and needs. Common Core IS all about getting kids college and career ready, ready for the future. We don’t know what the future looks like but we definitely know that jobs will involve technology and collaboration. The jobs we are preparing students for may not even exist yet.

Teachers and parents often ask us why we have first graders using email, blogging, and writing with Google docs. Aren’t they too young? Besides the fact that they LOVE it and they can totally do it, the standards also explicitly state what kids are expected to do. Starting in KINDERGARTEN.
image credit
We keep this standard in mind all the time, and felt it was so important that we added it to the report card in all grade levels.

Digital writing in the common core is being rolled out in different ways in schools, but what I hear emphasized the most is the typing requirement. Yes, being able to use a keyboard is important. Digital writing is all about creating, having an authentic purpose and audience, and about interacting with others. Connecting. Collaborating. Success should not be measured by how fast you can type. Having said that, putting this standard out there leaves teachers and leaders with tons of questions. But what does this standard look like?

Model. Model. Model. Provide mentor texts.

We need models. Real examples. Teachers and school leaders struggle with this. They can tell you the 4 C’s but often can’t articulate what it looks like in a classroom with real kids? Teachers wonder, “Where do I start? What if I fail? Do you really want a messy, noisy classroom?” As school leaders we need to tell teachers what we want to see, model it when we lead staff meetings, and celebrate it-- even if it fails or doesn’t go as planned.

Teachers work hard, and I believe that at the end of the day they are trying to do in their classrooms what they think their administrators want to see. I’ve heard teachers say that their teacher prep programs or site administrators have said explicitly that classrooms should be quiet and orderly, and that success is measured by time on task. And now, with Common Core, they are hearing “and add the 4 C’s!” It’s a mixed message at best when teachers try to figure out how to incorporate collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication into their current classroom model. And then we see things like kids doing worksheets in cooperative table groups.

At our school, we’ve spent a ton of time on this. What does digital writing look like for 5 year olds who may not write well yet? And how can we connect our classrooms with the world?

Blogging rocks this standard! There are three roles kids can have-- reading, writing, or commenting on posts. All of our teachers have classroom blogs, and the kids are more often than not the authors, writing about things they are learning about and that they care about. Classmates, families and friends comment on their posts and all of a sudden our students are creating content and engaging with the world and each other. You can check out our classroom blogs here. Check out this third grader’s student of the week post and comments from almost every one of her classmates, or this first grader’s Power Ranger inspired post with 25 comments from teachers, friends, and family near and far. Even our parents are blogging! Check out this post by guest bloggers AJ and his mom on our school blog! Our classroom blogs are all different, some with video posts, some pictures, some authored by students, and some by the teacher. And although every blog is unique, we all started with inspiration from Linda Yollis and her 3rd grade classroom blog. Just having kids comment on posts is a great place to start, and we were inspired by watching this video! We also looked at tons of blogs by classroom teachers to get ideas before starting.

Inspire change.

People always ask me if I require teachers to have blogs, and I don’t. What I do have is an expectation that teachers communicate with families. This happens in lots of ways, through our blogs, Google sites, teachers tweeting, and email. Does it take time? Yes. Do our families know what is happening in classrooms? Totally. The best thing about blogs is that the pictures help the kids be part of the conversation. Can you tell from this post what these first graders have been learning about? More importantly, could a first grader tell the story of his/her classroom by looking at this post?

The challenge is to inspire change without having to require it. Do I require things? Sure. I require teachers to leave thorough sub plans when they are gone. But the inspiration to change doesn’t necessarily come from me. Amazing things happen when teachers get inspired. It could be anything from a Kahoot game to a blog post to a video of images with music. So many things have taken off school wide because our teachers were trying things and sharing the awesome things happening in their classrooms! I don’t need to require things because our school has become a place where teachers raise the bar for each other. They embrace the mess and try things with no guarantee of success. Every day.

Say yes. 

I want to say yes. When a teacher asks me to try something new, I try to say yes. I want to provide what they need. I also say yes, and… “How can I help?” “What do you need?” Tina Fey’s four rules of innovation (you can read the entire post here) can inspire a lot of the work we do in schools and in life:

Rule 1. The first rule of improvisation is to AGREE. Saying “no” grinds invention, innovation (and improv) to a screeching halt. Obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with what everyone says. But saying YES reminds you to respect what your partner has created and to start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

Rule 2. The second rule of improv is to not only say YES, say YES, AND. In improv, you agree and then add something of your own. If your partner starts with, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say “Yeah…” the skit has stalled. But if you respond with, “What did you expect? We’re in hell!” things keep moving forward.

Rule 3. The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. Don’t respond with questions. Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. Speaking Valley Girl (ending every statement with a “?”) does not work, either. Instead of saying, “Where are we?” make a statement like “Here we are in Spain, Dracula.” This may be a terrible start, but it leads us to the best rule:

Rule 4. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES only OPPORTUNITIES. The next big laugh is just around the corner, as well as beautiful happy accidents. Many of the world’s great discoveries have been an accident. Bad glue created sticky notes (Post-It® Notes).

Be patient.

Change takes time-- years possibly. Just be brave and start somewhere. The best advice I can share is to be a lead learner and get messy and embrace change with your teachers and students. After I left the classroom two years ago, I started this blog partially because I wanted our teachers and students to blog. I wanted to model being a digital writer. I really felt that if I wanted teachers to embrace anything that I needed to be willing to do it myself. This blog also provides me with a space to reflect on the amazing job I get to do every day. Do I succeed every day? No way. Do I learn every day? Absolutely! 
image credit


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring Break reflection #roadtrip

Lola and Carter
I love Spring Break. And I'm lucky to have two weeks off -- to rest, recharge, and reflect.  Spring Break means sleeping in, (until 6:15 am- see crazy dogs above who are my alarm clock every day) no makeup most days, and time to write and catch up on reading. Spring Break definitely feels like vacation, but I also know that learning and inspiration continue for me regardless of whether school is in session. This break started with a trip down the California coast starting with a stop for BBQ in Pacifica! Super yummy, even though the brisket and pulled pork sold out just as we went to order...

One of the things I love about taking road trips is taking pictures- every day is a photo walk! Here is the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on Highway 1.

A lighthouse and a new photo app
And... The Mystery Spot! 
Santa Cruz
an afternoon walk
Every vacation, I try to make a trip to the ocean. I love listening to it, watching it, everything. Sadly, vacations always end, but I still had over a week of break left! I decided to take a few road trips to visit schools-- to connect with my friends, to learn, and to be inspired! I do consider myself to be a connected educator, and I love learning from passionate educators via Twitter and Voxer. Being a connected educator means a lot of different things, as Pernille Ripp explains in her post here. As she shares, it's not just about being connected to people via social media. It's also about face-to-face connections, and with this in mind I hit the road! First stop? Corte Madera and The Cove School in the beautiful Bay Area. I was interested in this school for a few reasons: their school is brand new with some amazing learning spaces and I'm still on the hunt for design ideas for our new campus which is slated to start construction in June. This school also has Cove in Motion, which means they start every day with exercise and fun as a whole school! Petra Luhrsen and I headed out at 5:30 am so we could get there before school started to meet Amy Fadeji. Principal Michelle Walker met with us first thing and shared the guiding principles and signature practices of Cove. Then she set  us loose in the school! A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a little tour for you! 

Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?
Mrs. Fadeji in motion
A great way to start the day!
This kindergartner explains her daily schedule
Project GLAD meets mindfulness

Love these chairs!
The reading tent 
Flexible tables- no assigned seats

"Could you clarify that for me?" says this 2nd grader

cafe tables

musical fun

We HAD to test out the web!

Next stop... Hall Middle School, home of the amazing Eric Saibel. This middle school has 5th graders, for this year anyways, and we were excited to check out Eric's school.

Staff feedback posted in the lounge
 You can read more about this feedback, and how it was gathered by this school's leaders and shared to help improve school culture in Eric's post here.

What do current students value at Hall?
We found something sparkly!
Learning walls
Today I headed out with Trisha Sanchez and Petra Luhrsen to check out Stoneridge Elementary School in Roseville. Stoneridge is a STEAM powered school with an awesome principal Brandon Blom!

This patio gets a makeover this summer
These will decorate the patio!
Three little pigs STEM experiment
iPad charging station
Erin Dealey inspired art!
Love this idea- kids work in the library!
Project Lead the Way in 5th grade

4th grade STEM- building "modules" to keep the egg safe!
Love this office art!
Stoneridge selfie 
Whether it was a trip to the ocean or a school visit, this Spring Break has me feeling rested and energized and ready to head back to school in a few days. It's been great to relax and connect face to face for sure. But being a connected educator really never takes a break - each day I have the opportunity to listen and learn via Voxer and Twitter. I've been really thinking about how to incorporate a Maker Space in my school and what that looks like. I've also been thinking about where to store all of our STEAM gear- Spheros, Bee-Bots, Makey-Makeys and more currently live in my office. I recalled Brad Gustafson talking about a mobile cart for this maker stuff and threw out a question about where to get it. Not too much later came this:

This link is more than just a LINK. Brad wrote a whole blog post! All about Maker Spaces and the amazing mobile cart you see below. AMAZING. You can read the whole post here.

Monday I'll return to school relaxed and recharged. And I'm also heading back with tons of ideas and inspiration for our school. On your next break, where might you go? Take a road trip and learn something awesome!