Let’s Keep Learning

I’ve never been (and I hope never to be) one of those countdown teachers. You know the type. They came back from Christmas and started the countdown: 98 Days to Summer. However, as the calendar rolls over to April, I’m more aware every day that I only have a few short weeks left to invest in the 6th graders who will soon end their time on my campus and move to the nearby middle school.

The last few weeks of the semester can often feel like a sprint to the finish, but I think it’s important for us to remember that if we expect our students to continue their learning, it only makes sense that we should lead in that way as well.

That’s easier said than done (for both students and for educators), but it’s a worthwhile goal nonetheless.

I’m inspired by a group of teachers on my campus who have started a book study on Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a PIRATE last week. Hearing their passion for engaging students and the excitement around pushing themselves to grow through these last two months of school is nothing short of inspiring.

It’s the opposite of what I’m used to hearing as we move into April. When that last marking period rolls around, most people aren’t thinking, How can I stretch myself? How can I grow? How can I get better?

But the reality is that if we are asking students to push through to the end of the year (through state testing no less), we need to be pushing ourselves to learn and grow through this time as well.

Goals like this don’t just happen, though. If we want to look back on the next two months and be able to say we thrived during this time rather than that we simply survived the time between our breaks, we need a plan.

Reading is something that has really helped me slow down when the pace of life feels too fast (I’m not the only one who feels like that during the end of the school year, right?). Finding that time away, that white space or margin in life, is the difference in taking on this time of the year intentionally or letting it be something that happens to us.

We’ll let busy schedules push to the margins until we forget we ever thought it. Below is a list of eight titles that might help you find that book that will push you to continue your learning between now and the end of the school year.


The Hyperdoc Handbook by Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis is a great resources for educators who are looking to do something new and different. For those looking to use technology in the classroom in authentic, innovative ways, this book is for you. It’s filled with practical ways to push your class further into the blended learning environment that you may have waded into already. Hyperdocs increase collaboration between educators on your campus and in their interactions with those at home.

Kids Deserve It is the single book you need to read to motivate you to make the most of every moment you have with your students the rest of the year. Authors Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome share stories of taking on worthwhile challenges to do right by the kids they serve. You cannot read this book and fail to be motivated to meet the needs of the students on your campus. Read this book when you’re struggling for motivation, read this book when you’re already firing on all cylinders. Whatever you do, read this book.

Design Your Day is the book I wish I had found a few years ago. Claire Dias-Ortiz offers so much insight into the simple ways we can actively structure our time to actually meet goals we care deeply about. In this slim volume, she wastes no words delivering her simple, impactful message. If you every feel cluttered, unfocused, unproductive, or uninspired (or even if you just want to improve in these areas), check out Design Your Day.

The Growth Mindset Coach by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley takes all the conversation that’s out there happening on the subject and puts it into manageable, regimented questions, topics, and conversations that will help you bring the growth mindset message into your school or classroom in greater depth. It’s structured in a way that promotes great conversation. Time invested into exploring how to create a growth mindset in our students and in educators is always well spent. This book is a great resource for those who are familiar with the subject and those who are just beginning their exploration of growth mindset alike.

Renegade Leadership by Brad Gustafson is a must read for school leaders (titled and otherwise). Gustafson does a great job challenging leaders to push innovation in both technology and pedagogy. Beyond what the book has to offer, the Renegade Leadership website is packed with valuable resources that are sure to keep you challenged and supported. Every school leader knows the value of these conversations. Don’t miss the opportunity to engage with Renegade Leadership.

Together is Better is the book for the reader who doesn’t have a lot of time to carve out. Simon Sinek’s latest book is a quick read that left a lasting impact on me. I love the title’s message, the artwork, and even the scent that’s unique to the book. If you’re familiar with Sinek’s other books or his TED talk, you’ll see some familiar ideas here, but the reminders are worth hearing again.

Lead Like a PIRATE will challenge you to be the leader who inspires others to create the schools that students are beating down the doors to get into. Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf share stories that will push your thinking and build your confidence as a leader in any role on your campus. Full of practical ideas that actually help create change, Lead Like a PIRATE is for every school leader who wants to get excited about making school amazing for students and teachers.

8 Big Ideas From #TCEA17

I made it back home from TCEA. As is often the case after a great conference full of amazing sessions and incredible educators, I’m just drowning in good ideas. Last year, I posted 10 Big Ideas From #TCEA16 after returning home, and I’m bringing back that style of post here.

I could probably go into a separate blog post on each of these ideas (and I very well may at some point), but for now, this is all about capturing and documenting my learning from the past three days (and sharing it out in case it’s beneficial for you). I hope the ideas challenge you and support you in your growth as you make your way through the spring semester.

While TCEA is a huge tech conference, these ideas aren’t dripping with EdTech implications. More than anything, they challenge me to make manageable changes and convict me where I haven’t done enough work to rethink “the way we’ve always done it” in our schools.

Without further ado, here are 8 sticky ideas from this year’s TCEA conference.


You cannot keep up with it all. But if you are connected, you have a much better chance of keeping up with much more. – Amber Teamann

Learning and fun are not antonyms. – Adam Bellow

When we do things, we do what’s best for kids. If you can tell me why it’s not best for kids, we won’t do it. Otherwise, we do it. – Todd Nesloney

‪If parents only know what’s going on in class because of our homework, we need to do better. – Alice Keeler

Being a workaholic is not a virtue. – Alice Keeler

If you want to teach students responsibility, give them a responsibility in class. Homework doesn’t teach that. – Alice Keeler

‪If you weren’t allowed to assign homework, how would you redesign your class? – Matt Miller

Giving people a chance to contribute is powerful. – Dean Shareski


It’s likely that you probably agree with some of these ideas and want to push back on some of the others. That’s great. The more we think critically about what it is we should be doing as educators, the better off we will be. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have come across so many educators who are doing so much to serve the students in their care as best they know how.

Ninja Warrior

My boys love watching American Ninja Warrior. They’re fascinated by the athletes and the seemingly impossible obstacles and adversity that are overcome each and every show. I am, too. They know the names of their favorite ninjas, and they spend an inordinate amount of time jumping off of stuff around our home after watching each episode.

In case you’re not familiar with American Ninja Warrior, here’s a quick example of what the show is like:

In no uncertain terms, what they do is amazing. Absolutely incredible.

As much as I don’t love some of the side effects (mostly how everything in my house has the tendency to end up pushed a few inches from where it previously rested as my boys jump from “obstacle” to “obstacle” imitating their favorite ninjas), there is a lot that I really like about my boys watching American Ninja Warrior.

Here’s a bit of what I like most:

Unpredictable challenges
On American Ninja Warrior, the courses always offer unique challenges. No two courses are exactly alike. One course might rely heavily on upper body challenges, while another forces athletes to overcome obstacles that require intense upper body strength. The obstacles are unique and provide a reasonable (even if they initially seem insurmountable) challenge to stretch the ninja warriors to do more than they thought they could before.

Learning from each other
Nearly every successful ninja who shares his or her story includes the team that is vital to their success. The hours of preparation, the practice to develop the strength and skills that these athletes need to do the seemingly impossible is rooted in a community of folks who are dedicated to doing the little things to develop those qualities that will allow each ninja to perform under pressure.

Shared success
Watching the event is unlike any other sporting event I’ve come across. In most instances, there is a clear cut winner and loser. That’s not the case here. Certainly it’s clear who accomplishes the most in the competition, but the camaraderie between the ninjas and the genuine excitement they share for each other with each passing obstacle is something unique to this show. The greatest excitement is in seeing who can conquer the most obstacles, who can do what’s never been done before.

Everybody falls
This is probably my favorite part about American Ninja Warrior. The show not a contest where you can outlast your opponent. You can’t strategize and run out the clock. It’s just you, the obstacles, and all the people who want to want to see you succeed. Still, everyone ends up in the water. If you conquer all the challenges on one night, more await you. They’re welcomed. Even sought after. Because that’s the point. The show exists to help athletes push themselves to do what they thought impossible.

As we watched the show together, though, I began to realize that not only do I want these qualities developed in my kids, I also want a deeper understanding and a greater display of these qualities in myself.

It’s kind of a requirement for us to be successful in our roles in schools, right?

Think about it: When have you not had a week that came without unforeseen obstacles? When have you not spent time watching other educators in their element and not come away better for it? How often have you heard a story of success in another classroom and been energized to go and do likewise in yours?

Maybe there’s a tiny bit of room for debate on the other qualities, I am sure about this. Every single last one of us has known failure. And the nature of our work means that those are not experiences that are had in private. They’re as public as watching an athlete falling into the water after an attempt at doing something amazing.

So, hardworking educator who feels like the obstacles keep coming:

You are not alone.

Learn from those around you.

Watch for those educators who will inspire you.

Share the stories of your successes.

Be honest about the reality of setbacks faced, but use them as the springboard toward your next success story.

And don’t forget: When we’re pushing ourselves to do amazing things, everybody falls. Keep tackling those obstacles, no matter what they may look like.

4 Videos That Inspire Perseverance

4-videosGrit. Perseverance. Tenacity. Growth Mindset.

We all know we need these qualities. We all know that students need them, too.

Admittedly, each term has its own nuances to it, but when I look at them, they seem to be in the same family of characteristics that I want students (and myself) to have.

But for as much as we talk about these in our schools, it sure can seem like it’s hard to find them at times.

In some educational conversations, I grow tired of the same, well worn paths being covered over and over, but not with these. Even the repetition of these ideas doesn’t bother me. In fact, it’s probably what I need most.

What I need to do is remember the things that are too easy to forget.

Things like Angela Duckworth’s reminder that, “Grit is living life like a marathon, not like a sprint.” Things like the value of a growth mindset. Stuff that’s really simple, but when lived out causes a profound impact.

More than just being told about these things we’ve all heard a bit about, stories help drive home the importance of these qualities when I begin to forget. Here are a few of my favorite videos from ESPN that remind me of the rewards for getting this right.

ew_e_brown_b1_800x450Spirit to Soar is about Charlotte Brown, a Texas high school pole vaulter whose vision has deteriorated to the point that she is legally blind. Yep. You read that right. She’s a blind pole vaulter. Undaunted in the face of what many would consider insurmountable challenge, Brown’s story is pretty incredible. It’s a great one to share with students as they approach the end of a semester, and part of the story really lends itself to conversation about what we listen to and what we allow to distract us. I think those are always conversations worth having.

472725060_1280x720Longshot tells the story of Stephen Curry before he became STEPH CURRY, NBA champion, league MVP, able to make half court shots look routine, king of the basketball world (at least for a time, for some). He’s great now, but what I love about the video is the way that it focuses on Steph’s struggles as a young athlete. I have two favorite sections: one about breaking down his shot as a young shooter and one about what his coach at Davidson saw in him. I love the idea that the thing Curry is most famous for now was once his weakness. That’s a powerful message for students (and for adults) to hear. I also love the way Curry’s coach talks about what he saw in Curry’s game; it’s a powerful reminder of the power we posses as educators to build others up, even when some don’t see potential in students.

dm_141120_misc_e60_catchingkaylaCatching Kayla is another track and field story, but this one focuses more on the power of relationships and the ways we can support students as educators. Kayla excels as an athlete, but she does that in the face of medical conditions that allow her to continue to compete, but prevent her from even having the strength to stand after finishing her races. It’s a great reminder of the power of giving it our all and the importance of knowing our limits. I think it’s a great reminder of the value of having someone who is there to help when we have given all we have. A great lesson for students and educators alike.

maxresdefaultDrive tells the story of Richie Parker. He’s not an athlete, but he does work for Hendrick Motorsports. What makes Richie unique is his drive to let nothing stop him from doing what others can do. Also, he was born with no arms. This video is great to put me in my place when I start to think that life is hard. Certainly there is a time for that, but it’s not a place where I want to dwell. Parker’s story, attitude, and grit push me to be better for myself and others.


It’s worth mentioning that we can really pigeonhole the whole conversation by exclusively likening it to these sorts of “athlete who overcomes” stories, but I think there’s some real value to having these stories out there. They resonate deeply, and they’re a great entry point into the conversation or into a deeper version of it.

So I hope these are useful for you or your colleagues or your students. Really I hope they are useful for all of those groups. We’ve all given a lot up until this point, but our students deserve the best as we finish out the semester.

How can you use these videos in your classroom or on your campus? What are the other videos that are worth including alongside these? What will you do to help students and teachers finish the semester strong over the next few weeks?

12 Can’t Miss Blog Posts

12-cant-miss-blog-posts

It’s no overstatement to say that blogging has had an incredible impact on my life over the past two years. I’ve written about the impact getting connected has had on me recently (here’s the link if you’re interested), and a great deal of the growth has come through reading and writing blogs.

I’ve come across so much that’s great this year that I wanted to share a few great posts from 2016.

As we return to school, we have but a short few weeks to make an impact on those we serve. The ideas I came across in these posts challenged me and stuck with me, and I want to pass them along your way in case you’re up for the challenge, too.

I’ll go ahead and say this because it applies to each of these posts: I love the post, the blog is a must follow, and the educators who are putting this down are beyond remarkable. They’re inspirational. They’re not perfect, but they’re doing what’s right by kids. That’s all that we can ask of anyone, right?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the posts. Share some of the memorable posts you’ve come across in the comments. I’d love to see the posts that were memorable to you this year!


Blogging is Your Job by George Couros was just the right mix of challenge and affirmation that I needed. I keep reposting it because I often forget the importance of it. Couros writes about the vital role that reflection plays in our own growth and makes it pretty plain that we cannot afford to treat things like blogging as anything other than crucial to our success.

Graduating with Empathy by Ryan Jackson challenged me to not only value empathy but also think about how we are instilling this virtue in our students each and every day. I thought about it in the spring for the high school students I served, and I think about it frequently for the 5th and 6th graders I serve this year. As a leader, getting empathy right is of great importance to me, and I’m thankful for Jackson’s words on the subject here.

Growing as Professionals by Jeff Mann is a great reminder of the need to be constantly pushing ourselves forward. Mann calls us to be thinking about what needs rethinking and to make sure we’re taking time to reflect on that individually and collectively.

Why Duct Tape and Cardboard Might Be Better a Better Option Than a 3D Printer by John Spencer pushes us past the glitz and glamour of all the new toys that dominate much of the innovation and makerspace conversation into the reality that we all need to exist in: It doesn’t have to be flashy to be innovative and what’s best for students. His fresh perspective encouraged me to keep asking how we can accomplish great things without depending on having every great tool.

Shifting the Grading Mindset Starts With Our Words by Starr Sackstein is the blog post that has started pushed me into countless conversations on grades, assessment, homework, and learning. While many are quick to start the conversation about what they dislike, Starr’s post here (as is her habit) focuses not on what we need to ditch but on appropriate replacements for our standard vocabulary surrounding grades. Whether you’re new to the conversation or quite comfortable, the post will push you in the right direction.

Know Your Place and Be Intentional by Jeremy Stewart is a post by a good friend of mine about a mutual friend of ours who passed away in the spring. I could go on about it, but I like his words better.

Coffee Talk by Chad Lehrmann is all about Chad’s first steps into redesigning his classroom and all the thoughts that accompany a change of that magnitude. Chad is doing incredible things in his classroom, and I could have pulled any number of posts to highlight here.

#Booksnaps – Snapping for Learning by Tara Martin still freaks me out. I’m not on Snap Chat (well, I’m on there to claim my name, but that’s it), but Tara Martin is doing amazing things using the app for good. I often think I look at things in an innovative way, but jumping into a new medium to start learning like this seems scary. Check out what all she is doing with #BookSnaps at the initial link or HERE where she updated the post and shared it on Dave Burgess’ blog.

20 Books By Teachers, For Teachers to Inspire Your Teaching by Matt Miller is a great list of books that’s just what it sounds like. Look through the list, find a new book, dig into it over the break, and get pumped up about a great spring semester.

When They Don’t Drink The Cool Aid by Brent Clarkson challenges us to help others get connected. So many write about the benefits of being connected, but Brent’s challenge is just what we need to help welcome others into this whole connected experience.

The Awkward Beauty of Inverted Leadership by Mark McCord is about the ways we need to rethink our traditional understanding of what exactly we expect a leader to look like and act like. His post asks nothing short of a paradigm shift from us, so beware that there are no quick fixes offered here.

Dinner with a Gentlemen by Todd Nesloney wraps up the list with a bit of inspiration. I won’t spoil it here, but when you’re having an off day, a day when you might wonder “Why am I doing this?” or “Does this work even matter?” to yourself, take time to read the post.

Before you go, don’t forget to take a moment to share a post that’s worth rereading in the comments. Thanks in advance for the great stuff you’ll pass along!

Why Educators Must Innovate #IMMOOC

why-educators-must-innovate-immooc

Take a look at this image.

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Do you know what you’re looking at?

That’s what they were stealing in the first Fast and the Furious movie in 2001.

That’s crazy to me. They could have filled that thing with anything they wanted, any technology imaginable, and they filled it with a bunch of VCRs, TV/VCRs, and camcorders. I remember watching the movie and being totally enthralled. It was entirely believable and absolutely appropriate for them to be chasing down a Semi-Truck full of this stuff, but when you look at it now, it’s laughable.

I mean, really… a 13″ TV/VCR is front and center.

If that’s not enough, check out the storage for the plans they used:

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Obviously a lot can change in 15 years.

We all know this, but these images put that reality into perspective for me. It makes me wonder about things. It make me ask myself, “If that’s what was on the movie of the summer, what was in our classrooms? How much has changed with technology? What about in our classrooms?”

Why innovate?

Here’s my worry: Schools that don’t innovate are going to look like this, and it likely won’t take 15 years to happen. In all likelihood, it’s probably happening more places than we’d like to admit right now.

If we don’t change, we’re going to end up looking like that picture appears to us now–irrelevant, a relic of the past. For some (maybe even many) what we were doing now will be nearly unrecognizable in the not so distant future. In hindsight, some of what we understood as best practice not too long ago seems that way.

We can’t control the fact that our schools will continue to grow, but if we don’t start getting some movement now and gaining momentum today, we’re going to end up so big and so settled in that our own inertia will keep us from moving forward. With each day that passes without innovation, we only make it harder to make change happen in the future.

So what can we do?

I love the simple definition that George Couros shares often of innovation.

It’s not about the tools. Not about the technology. Not about an app or about a device or even necessarily about anything that might be considered forward thinking otherwise.

His definition? It’s innovative if it’s new and better.

I like that. It opens things up for me in a way that’s really helpful and encourages me to consider some ideas I’m trying as a little more innovative than I would have at first glance.

It makes all sorts of things (not just what’s technologically cutting edge) an innovative effort, and the desire to innovate under this definition prompts me to be always looking forward.

I need that push to make sure I’m not getting comfortable. I think we all do.

Because so much is changing so often, educators have a choice to make: change or be changed. I, for one, prefer to take an active role (as much as is possible) in that process.

What are you doing this year to be innovative?


I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. I’ll also share throughout the year as I try to innovate and help others do the same. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education.

An Educator’s Social Media Guide

An Educator's Social Media Guide

There’s a lot of talk these days about how worthwhile it is to be a connected educator. I’m one of those people doing that talking. I’m trying me best to be out there doing what I can to help people get connected. Odds are, you are, too. I might even be a nuisance to some people about it, but there’s good reason for that. Here’s why—There’s nothing that I’ve done that has had a bigger impact on me as a professional than getting connected online.

It’s not hard to find these crusaders for the professional growth online. The “Why get on Twitter?” message is pretty powerful, but the “How to get on Twitter” conversation is often oversimplified (or nearly neglected). Jump on Twitter, find a few educators, and let the magic happen, right?

Well, sometimes it’s not that simple.

The truth is that I jumped on Twitter in 2009 and proceeded to do nothing with it for 5 years.

Nothing.

5 wasted years.

Don’t get me wrong; I learned a ton where I was planted. My story is not one of those where I am the lone educator wanting to reimagine our current reality, struggling against all odds, and so on. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m surrounded by an incredible group of educators in my school district who want to do what’s right for students whether that looks familiar or new. They’re amazing educators and even better people, and they push me to get better all the time.

I know that’s the exception to the rule, and I’m thankful for that each and every day.

In a certain sense, though, part of those 5 years was wasted.

Every educator has his or her own reasons for being on Twitter. For me, the really short version of why I engage in professional conversation on social media is that Twitter is a space where educators reject isolation, celebrate together, and continue professional growth.

When I first jumped into the Twitterverse, I wanted those things (I probably couldn’t have articulated it that way, but I think that was all in there somewhere). But when I got into in, I didn’t know what to do. I looked at tweets from famous people, tweeted 30 something times, and then gave up. For 5 years.

This post is what I wish I would have known then. If someone had stepped in and provided a little direction in any one of these areas (or their 2009 equivalents), I think it’s pretty likely I would have stayed.

I Knew I Should Be On Twitter, But I Didn’t Know What To Do When I Got There

My first issue was that I had no idea what to do once I got to the app. I’d share a bit about something foolish I’d seen or about the Astros or about Texas A&M football, and none of it ever seemed to matter much to me or to anyone else out there—especially educators. Nobody had ever told me there was a better way. What I wish I had known—there were educators gathering together for chats (in growing numbers) to discuss ideas that would push my thinking and challenge me to consider new perspectives as I grew professionally.

Initially this change came from who I followed. My process wasn’t exactly scientific. If I saw people saying something I liked (meaning it was encouraging or challenging), I followed them. I think it really is this simple. Pretty quickly you begin to trust a few voices out there, and when you do, look at who they follow. They might not all be a good fit, but there’s likely to be an educator or an organization that will push you, too.

The other thing to check out is people’s lists.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 1.09.32 AM

I have one that includes a bunch of people who push my own thinking (here’s the link), but there are tons of them out there. You can also find tons of great educators on Fridays by looking at the #FF posts of those you follow and trust.

I also love the advice from Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe at a conference this summer. Whether you’re sharing for your school of for yourself, with each post, do your best to engage, inform, and inspire others. It’s about as succinct a summary as I can find for what we as educators should be about online. If we accomplish that, we’re heading in the right direction.

Once I was following some folks who challenged, encouraged, inspired, and grew me, it didn’t take long to notice that Twitter chats were going to be pivotal in my online learning experience.

A Twitter chat is a conversation that happens around a particular hashtag at an agreed upon time. They often happen weekly, and they’re usually an hour long (though more 30 minute chats are starting up). More than anything, they’re my favorite place to connect with new educators and try on new ideas.

Here’s Cybraryman’s list of more chats than you can hope to every participate in. Check it out. There’s something for everyone. While you’re there, check out Jerry Blumengarten’s other great resources like this page on how to actually engage in a Twitter chat. I also put together a short (really rough) video on how to use TweetDeck when chatting (it’s a must). Check out that video here.

Now that I’ve dumped a good bit of information on you, here’s a bit about my journey into the Twitter chat world.

My first interactions with Twitter chats weren’t really interactions at all. I was there, but I didn’t say anything. An avid twitter chat lurker, I was there looking at the questions, seeing the responses, and—on the rare occasion I was feeling especially bold—marking a few as favorites (now rebranded as “likes”).

I watched what must have been months of #TXeduchat before jumping in. It was great (and a little scary), but mostly great! If you’ve not been in a chat before, this is a great place to shift your online learning into the next gear.

Two pieces of advice here: You have more to say than you likely give yourself credit for, and your work is worth sharing. Nothing sums this up better than this video from Derek Sivers:

I love what Dave Burgess says about this: “If what you know or have can help educators, you have a moral imperative to get good at sharing it.”

When educators share like we’re talking about here, we all get better. The snowball picks up the best sort of momentum as it rolls, and each time we’re online we find new educators to push us as we grow.

Until it starts to feel like too much.

The Blessings and Curses of So Much Good Content

At first, you can read most of what is in your timeline, but soon enough, the great ideas are going to become overwhelming in number.

Twitter isn’t designed to be a “read everything that’s posted” experience. If you try to treat it as such, you’re going to drive yourself a little crazy. Still, there’s all this great content that’s out there that could be just the sort of tweet you need. Maybe it’s the article you’ve been looking for or the blog post that everyone’s reading. You wouldn’t want to miss it, but you can’t read everything. What do you do?

nuzzelEnter Nuzzel.

Nuzzel is an app that aggregates all the blogs and articles shared by the people you are following. It’s like a best of list that’s automatically updated daily with what’s new and notable for you. And it’s awesome.

I use it every signle day. Zero exaggeration. It’s the first place I go when I have a few minutes to engage, especially when I come across a surprise gap in my day (like when you finish up something and have 8 minutes before afternoon duty).

The app is slick, the posts are customized to me, and it’s easy to share what I like right from the app. You can even check out the feeds of other Nuzzel users. I like that opportunity to see what my friends are seeing as well as those who are far away from me.

I promise I’m not getting anything from them; it’s just a great tool to keep in the know when time is at a premium (which is nearly every weekday of the school year, right?).

So Many Tweets, So Little Time

It happened again last week. I got asked if I ever sleep because of my Tweets.

It doesn’t bother me at all. Really it’s a conversation starter.

As I look through my feed, I often came across people who would binge post—you know, post all 25 ideas they had in about a 10 minute time period. While that certainly shares your thoughts, it does so in a way that concentrates all of your contributions to a single time period (and, at times, can annoy some of the people who follow you). You can definitely overdo it on the worrying about what others think of your Twitter posts end (really quickly in fact), but this is where I come back to a previous idea—you have so much good stuff to share that I hate it when little things get in the way of sharing great ideas.

So, take it or leave it, here’s an idea for sharing content at different times of the day. What I, and many others, do is schedule out much of the content (i.e. blog posts, articles, info about upcoming chats) beforehand when I have time. It helps me find time away from my phone and social media while still sharing ideas that stretch and refine me. bufferI use an app called Buffer to do this for me. It integrates seamlessly with Nuzzel, and it allows you to push posts into a queue to be shared at scheduled times in the future. It’s another app I use daily, and it helps me manage being a connected educator while giving me time to be a fully engaged husband, dad, and friend.

My “Internet Friends”

My wife thinks it’s hilarious that I have what she calls “internet friends.” You see, at some point, my connections online reached a point where it was far more appropriate to call these folks my friends than someone I followed on Twitter. Even as I type it, I know it sounds a little ridiculous. The internet isn’t supposed to be a place where you strike up friendships, but I can truly say I have found a group of friends there. I’ve asked their advice, heard their struggles, shared in victories and in hardships, and I’ve even had them and their families over for dinner. It’s great, but none of it would have happened if I only used Twitter.

voxerOne last app suggestion for you—Voxer.

Voxer is a push to talk, walkie talkie app that many educators are using to find deeper connections than communication in 140 characters allows. Even if you could send longer text, there’s something different about hearing the passion in someone’s voice or their heartbreak as they share their heart about how they want to make a difference in the lives of students and teachers. For me, Voxer provides me a space for that. It’s how I start and end each and every day at work. As a result, I’m connected to people across the country and across my district in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

The real value of pursuing professional growth on social media is the people you will meet.

They’re amazing.

They will challenge you, know you, push you, support you, encourage you, and inspire you.

There are educators who will be better after interacting with you, and you will be better after interacting with them.

More than anything, I hope that educators find what they’re looking for and more as they jump online. My challenge to you is to find someone in your building as the year starts to join us as we all get better together! There’s a decent chance they’ve heard they should get online, but they just don’t know how yet. Learn from my mistakes; start sharing today!

Together

Together

My first day in the classroom was terrible.

It wasn’t bad in the “I’m supposed to say I was bad because I can tell I’ve grown since then and I don’t want to boast” sense either. It was bad.

I had first period off (which is great any other day of the year for most people, but especially for this non morning person). On this first day, though, it just left time for the knots in my stomach to tighten themselves into even more knots.

As I was walking back into the main building to get some water, the power went out. I was going to get a day reprieve! We couldn’t have school with the power out, right?

Wrong.

My department head comes walking around the corner, and instead of telling me she would see me the next day, she said in a really positive, supportive manner that they were working on getting everything fixed up as quickly as possible and that I would do a great job and that she was excited to hear about how my first day went.

Awesome.

So I go back to my portable and begin to put on this ridiculous costume that I decided to use during my first minutes of teaching ever. On top of my uncomfortable shirt and tie teacher clothes I put on a rain jacket. On top of that, I’m wearing my graduation robe. The plan was for me to start with the end (graduation) in mind, then point to how I was going to be their guide on the path toward that goal, and then end with the realization that I was the teacher who could get them there. At this point, they would realize how much they were going to love me and this class, but things didn’t exactly go according to plan.

What actually happened was more like this.

I put everything on and began to sweat. Blame it on the first day of school or on it being MY first day of school or on not having any power on August 25th in central Texas or whatever else you want. Regardless of where fault lies, I’m really sweating by the time students arrive. Like beads of sweat I can feel. Not fun and not exactly how I wanted to start the day or my career.

I’ll spare you the details about the rest of the day and offer this summary: I pushed through the entire morning of classes packed with 30 high school juniors in a portable with no power for the video clips and slideshow I prepared or for the music I had carefully chosen to let them know I was someone they could relate to. Also there was no power for the air conditioning.

I remember sitting in the lunchroom thinking about what else I could do with my life. The morning left me embarrassed, frustrated, and pretty intimidated about actually coming back for day 2.

But I came back, and things got better.

My Worst Decision

I made a lot of bad decisions that first day, but the worst decision from my first day didn’t have anything to do with what all was happening or not happening in the classroom.

My worst decision was to sit silently by my peers at lunch while I felt so stressed.

Right there sitting next to me were the people who could help me most, the people who became my friends, the people who taught me how to teach.

And I just sat there and beat myself up. The story ends well, but on that day I felt like I needed to pull this all together myself, like that was what the best of the best did. I had convinced myself that this was how to make it.

The single best thing that happened that day was that a nearby teacher came by, brought me a Coke, and said, “How’s it going?” and talked to with me about how things were, in fact, going. Don’t get me wrong, ditching the outer two layers was clearly an important choice, but engaging instead of retreating was the best thing that happened that day.

Thankful & Restless

I’m incredibly thankful for that teacher and her willingness to sit with me on her first day back which we all know to be exhausting. Even if it’s the best, most welcome sort of exhausting, it is absolutely draining.

That solved my day one problem, but it didn’t address the motivation that drove me so far out of my comfort zone.

You see, I think I believed that I could make the magic happen all in those first 50 minutes. I had thought and over thought what I wanted for my students that I had convinced myself I needed to be someone else to make that happen.

I had convinced myself that somehow I wasn’t the guy for that job.

What a lie.

I felt woefully unprepared for all sorts of things that first day, but I was the one they picked to do the job. Not the best teacher I could remember, not me with more experience, not me with more answers or more confidence or more whatever. Me.

Before the day began, my biggest mistake was to believe not only that I could develop a lasting legacy with my students on the first day, but also that I needed to. That to miss that mark was to fail.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that our legacy as educators is built in community over time. That’s easy to say, but tough to do. Still, that’s our job. If you want to be the teacher who leaves an impact, develop a space where students can learn with you and their peers together. So how do we do that as teachers? How do we take 30 people and an adult and create a place where both students and teachers thrive? How do we get past the barriers that we put up, the things that make us feel safe? How to we press into vulnerability and let others see us for who we really are, not who we want to be seen as?

We do that together.

We have to be real together.

We have to be willing to learn together.

We have to be ready to act now (& probably fail some) together (both of them).

Think about who you can engage when school starts up–maybe even who you need to engage before it starts. Those little interactions–just bringing someone a Coke and filling the space with some peer to peer conversation–they can make all the difference.

And what’s on the line? If we get this right, all of those with whom we interact–our old friends, our new colleagues, and our students who will walk our halls and learn in our classrooms–they can all walk toward success knowing that we are walking through each trial that comes our way together.

4 Invitations for Students

4 invitations for students afhogan

Educators work in a seemingly contradictory space. All at once we are surround by people and secluded from our peers. For the vast majority of the day, we are literally walled off from each other in most schools. This undoubtedly impacts campus culture.

I recently wrote about the power of an invitation, especially in view of this isolated life that educators often live. After reading, Bill Ferriter challenged me to take this treatment that I had originally targeted adults with and extend it to the classroom.

I loved the challenge!

Or at least the idea of it.

The more I reflected on this shift in focus, the more I began to realize that each invitation we might extend to students requires a certain amount of vulnerability. I’ve long been a believer that as the adult in the room, we should be the ones placing ourselves at the most vulnerable place in the conversation, but believing that and living that out are different experiences. The reality is that leading new, risky, “out their” change will almost always involve operating out of a vulnerable posture. Embrace it. (Just so you know, I’m telling myself as much as I’m telling you.)

Here are a few ways we can engage students in an invitation into something more. They start out relatively easy, but the level of vulnerability required feels like it exponentially increases as the invitations continue.

Invite Students To Share Your Story

I love the way that I have heard about other educators inviting students into the process of sharing the school’s story online. Adam Welcome even uses students as social media interns on his campus. There is such tremendous value in telling the story of our school (or of your classroom) online, and I love the idea of inviting students into that space. How great would it be to ask students to pay attention to the ways we celebrate our successes at school and value others by sharing about their accomplishments? I’m going to try this next year with the 5th and 6th graders I serve, and I’m excited to see how this invitation goes.

Invite Students to Teach

Many of us have had this experience: There’s a student in class who you think genuinely might know more about a given topic than you know as the teacher, and you have to “teach” him or her. Why not embrace that, model humility, and invite that student into a place to share his or her expertise? I think it would be great! A little out of the comfort zone for most teachers, but a valuable invitation to validate students and share the stage in your classroom.

Invite Students to Share Their Interests in Your Content

I came across these two tweets recently, and I don’t know if I can capture how much I really like this idea!

What would change if we operated out of this posture? What would we do differently? There would be practices we adopt and practices we shelve (some for the rest of our career). We would learn a great deal about what we’re trying to fish for most of the time–what’s engaging to students. I think it’s worth extending the invitation, but I’ll be the first to admit, it takes a leap of faith to put yourself out there for this sort of input.

Invite Students to Coach You

Alright. Stick with me. Some of the easier suggestions seem risky (at least to me), but this seems pretty out there.

I think it could work though.

You would need some clear scaffolding and some specific structures in place to make it work, but think of the power of inviting a student to speak into your life as a professional. There’s a part of me that thinks this is just too risky. Or too much work. Or just too much to fit into an already busy school year. Or just too scary.

I think the ceiling is pretty high on how beneficial this could be though. Even if you just brought in a former student (which might be even better), I think it would be a powerful invitation that would lead to a remarkable experience for both student and teacher.


Still, this seems like a big risk to take, and I want to acknowledge that here. There are well worn practices that could be overturned here. We could learn that a strength really presents to our audience as a weakness. We could find that our assumptions, in all sorts of directions, were off base.

And that’s hard. Don’t hear me oversimplify this. It’s hard. Really hard. But like most experiences that require us to step into vulnerability, it’s worth it.

I thought that this blog post was done here initially. Turns out it wasn’t. I’m going to share the rest here.

I truly see my role as an assistant principal as a teacher of teachers. Thankfully, I’m quite content to not be the sage on the stage. I sure don’t have all the answers even in the conversations I’m most comfortable engaging, and there are just so much that I defer to the expertise of others. Even if I wanted to, I’m not equipped to be the keeper of knowledge.

So, as I look toward next year, I feel the weight of these invitations in a very real way:

  • Invite teachers to share our school’s story
  • Invite teachers to teach our staff
  • Invite teachers to share their interest in what I have to share
  • Invite teachers to coach me (current or former or both)

All of a sudden, I feel the weight of these suggestions.

As a leader, I feel a great deal of pressure to get this right. After all, if my claim is that students will benefit from the ways their teachers live this out, I think that holds true for the adult learners as well.

I’m certainly not claiming to have all the answers or anything like that, but seeing these invitations in a different light reminds me of how important they each are. I’m glad to be reminded of it. It keeps me from thinking life is as simple as a list on a blog post can seem.

Beyond that, it energizes me to lean into vulnerability required from leaders (titled and untitled) as we do what we know is best for learners in our schools. It makes me excited for the next year, and it motivates me to be my best.

So, in whatever role you find yourself next year, find those invitations that need to be extended to those around you. Best of luck in your invitations! Such great growth awaits!

Make an Impact

Make an Impact

I don’t think anyone gets started in education without the hope of making a difference, but some sure seem to make more of an impact than others.

Why is that?

Even among the well meaning, I see a range of successes.

Like most people, when I think back on the teachers I had, I had good teachers and bad teachers, memorable teachers and forgettable teachers. I spent some time today thinking through what pushed teachers to the positive two extremes for me. Happily, the good, memorable teacher was not terribly elusive to me; still, I think it’s worth the effort to dig into what sets apart those teachers who end up being more memorable than the rest.

This motivated me to do all I could to be the teacher who made a difference.

If I could go back to first year teacher me, I would have a lot to say. These five suggestions would be part of that conversation.

Invest Time In Relationships

This should go without saying, but there are more possibilities for this to go awry than I’d like to leave it up to chance. I think it’s important for students to see teachers as professionals; I really do. Many teachers (especially those early in their experience as educators) err on the side of being the “friend” teacher. Don’t get me wrong–the relationships are key, but I think they are key in a different way. One part of the real power of the relationships comes from having a clear role as the teacher in the class and being someone who will care for the prerequisite needs of students in addition to those explicitly academic needs. These teachers make students feel welcome in class and create an environment that helps students know there will are consequences for failure (but one of those consequences is that we’re going to pick ourselves up and keep learning).

Listen Without Judgment

As a high school English teacher, there were a lot of opportunities for me to explain ideas in an official capacity. As the teacher, the onus was on me to answer questions like “What did the author mean when he did X?” or “What’s the author saying about the state of society today when her characters respond like that?” Rather than answering those questions myself, I tried to model the struggle the authors were often encouraging readers to grapple with and pushed the responsibility for answering the question out to the students. Then, my role shifted from question answerer to conversation facilitator (which I greatly preferred). Like it or not, students found themselves free to sort through their beliefs lived out in the context of the narratives we encountered. I usually saw some who seemed so sure of themselves quickly left stuck really considering the implications of their positions, but more I often was floored by the quiet student who, given the chance, took the opportunity to share his or her brilliance with the class. This doesn’t happen if we’re giving them the answers.

Extend Grace

I’m a firm believer that students benefit from high expectations. But more than sending out individuals capable of meeting and exceeding the highest expectations from life’s next challenges, I hope that we send out young people who are ready to make the human decision when the time calls for it. Learning doesn’t happen in a linear fashion for most students. I certainly can’t draw a linear timeline to tie many of my own learning experiences together. And yet too often, I get the feeling that teachers feel they don’t have permission to yield to their better judgment and extend grace to a student. I don’t mean to say that we have armies of teachers out there waiting to enforce rules simply because they are the rules, but I don’t think we can do any harm by taking the pressure off (because as school progresses, we all know it is most certainly on) some of our students with the opportunity to experience a bit of grace under extenuating circumstances. It makes a huge impact.

Notice When It’s An Off Day

Students rarely enter the room and announce that their day isn’t going well. At least not in as many words, right? It comes in all sorts of other forms. Listing those off isn’t necessary here, but it is important to consider how we respond when we notice it. One day I came back from being out, and a student in my first period told me this: “Mr. Hogan, I was having a bad day, but you weren’t here. You always seem to notice it and make those days better.” As a fairly introverted teacher, I was always just looking for things I could make conversation about. I had no idea the impact I was having. I’ll never forget that.

Admit Your Failures

Somehow part of being a leader has morphed into being (or at least presenting yourself as) flawless. I can’t stand that. Reality is that we all are making plenty of mistakes. Not careless ones–just regular, everyday, accidental mistakes. If we don’t show our students a model for taking ownership of our mistakes, what are we saying to them about how they should handle this in the future. It’s important in all contexts, but it’s a special priority of mine to make sure young men see grown men take ownership of their actions–no matter how big or small they may be–and respond appropriately. So many teachers do a great job of this, but the impact is only increased as more educators step into that place of vulnerability talking about our missteps. It’s not always fun, but it’s always worth it.

These five suggestions aren’t magic. In fact, they’re far from it. If you try these out, it will make your job more complicated, more involved, but it will also make it more rewarding. Your impact as an educator doesn’t happen by accident. What are you doing this summer to make sure you make the impact you want next year? What else should we add to this list?