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.

Making the Most of TCEA #TCEA17

I’m headed to Austin, TX this week to be part of a huge EdTech conference called TCEA (that’s the Texas Computer Educators Association). Like most excellent education conferences these days, there is no shortage of valuable information to be learned at TCEA. In fact, quite the opposite is the problem. It’s very much the “drinking from a fire hose” experience. So much is great at so many turns that even in the short time I was there last year, I had to stop and put everything on hold one afternoon or risk not retaining everything as I floated in the sea of knowledge that engulfed the Austin Convention Center.

So, I’ve been thinking about my TCEA16 experience as I’m about to begin this year’s event, and there are a few reminders I had for myself. Maybe they’ll help you out, too.

In any case, if you are headed to the event (I hope you are; it’s amazing), I hope your week is packed full of interesting conversations, challenging new ideas, and the perfect mix of tips that will help you impact learning for the better the following week and leave you thinking and rethinking through the way you do your work for months to come.

Without further ado, here’s how I plan to tackle the week (or at least my three days there):

Tip #1 – Reconnect with someone

The best thing about #TCEA16 wasn’t the amazing speakers (who were absolutely awesome), the incredible opportunities to learn from others, or the guilt free time to invest in my own learning away from the day to day stresses that come with being an assistant principal. No, by far, the absolute best thing about being at TCEA last year was being with people there.

There are just so many phenomenal educators innovating across Texas (and the rest of the country and world for that matter) that missing out on this opportunity to find and reconnect with some of those folks is just something we can’t miss.

But not everyone goes into a conference like this expecting to see some familiar faces. That’s ok, and tip #2 will be perfect for you if you find yourself in that situation.

Tip #2 – Connect with someone new

Not only did I have the chance to reconnect with a few folks I’d met previously, but I also had the chance to meet an incredible group of people from my PLN face to face. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I walked into my first session, Angela Maiers was speaking, but three friends were sitting across the room. We saw each other, and although we had never been in the same room, we instantly knew each other. It was nothing short of amazing to be standing there with these people who I knew from our connections online (whether it be Twitter chats, Voxer groups, or their blogs).

In a few years in our connected, I think this will become more and more the norm. But for now, it’s still surprising and sort of incredible to little old introverted me. Needless to say, the kickoff of TCEA16 did not disappoint. I’m really pumped about this year’s event.

Beyond that, those faces that I didn’t know in the crowd soon turned into familiar faces as we worked through some of the same sessions together. Conversations sparked throughout the short time I attended last year, and I’m looking forward to this process continuing this year.

Get to know the people sitting next to you. In our connected world, they’re going to be your allies as you all move back to campus and begin the change process all across our country.

Tip #3 – Hang out in the Playgrounds

I don’t know that I can overstate how overwhelmingly huge TCEA is. When I went last year, it was the first really massive conference I had ever attended. Sure, I had annually attended College Board training (which was invaluable to my survival and success as a high school English teacher), but those events never brought the same size and scale as TCEA (900+ sessions are advertised at this point… That’s a lot of options…).

All those options bring me to tip #3. At some point (really, at many points) you will end up with too many options or shut out of your first few choices. My suggestion is to head to the YOUnited and YOUniverse Playgrounds.

It’s an area on the first floor that can always fit one more standing person, and there are often chairs you can putt up from nearby to join the conversations happening there. If the environment wasn’t enough, the folks who are sharing here are top notch. Kasey Bell, Alice Keeler, Shannon Miller, Todd Nesloney, Eric Sheninger, Adam Bellow, Dean Shareski, and many, many more incredible educators will be setting up shop in these informal environments. Take advantage of the unique opportunities that seemed to come up regularly here last year. If all else fails, head to the playground. You won’t be disappointed.

Tip #4 – Tweet your learning to the #TCEA17 hashtag

When you get into those sessions, start tweeting out your learning. It’s imperative that we get the word out about what will make a difference for students, and there’s no easier way to do that than by Tweeting it out. If you include the #TCEA17 hashtag, you’ll add to the collective knowledge that’s being shared out by the entire conference (or at least by those who are doing it right).

When you do that, not only are you sharing your learning with others, but you are also taking notes for yourself. I love that I can head over to Twitter and search for my username and last year’s hashtag and come up with all this information documented for me to revisit any time I like. It’s not something I need to reference all the time, but every now and then I’ll be looking for a quotation from the conference or a link to an article or a Google Drive folder and there it all is.

Bonus tip: If you come across great nuggets that you want to get noticed a little more, create a few images to Tweet out. Here’s a post that chronicles a few of the sticky ideas I came across last year.

Tip #5 -Recap your learning often 

Going through the process of taking notes is good. Sharing those highlight ideas as Tweets is even better. But leaving all that raw material on the page or on social media will only take you so far.

At the end of each day (or sometimes even at a mid day break), you have to take time to brain dump all that learning down into some useable nuggets. Think of it this way: What’s going to fall on your to do list for next week, before spring break, this spring semester, or by next fall? Plan things out. Categorize them. Put reminders in your calendar so your phone will remind you of those great end of year ideas or that brilliant concept for something at the beginning of next year.

I failed to do this last year at TCEA, and I’m sure I missed out on opportunities to equip teachers in the process. I fixed that at a summer conference, and I’ve committed to doing this faithfully at each conference I’ve attended since then. It’s made a profound difference.

Tip #6 – Blog your learning

Don’t skip past this. The next one’s not any easier.

Once you’ve got that set of notes or Tweets and you’ve arranged your thoughts into a manageable timeline of implementation, take time to blog your ideas out.

Yes, I know that all the excuses are there:

  • I don’t have anything to say
  • I’m not a good writer
  • Other people will be sharing about this already
  • Will anyone read what I have to say?
  • What if someone doesn’t like what I have to say?
  • But I’ve never blogged before

Honestly, we could go on for a while with others, but the reality is that although blogging is scary, this sort of reflection is vital to your growth as an educator. John Dewey says that, “We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience.” If we believe that (and I do), then it’s no enough to simply take notes and make a plan. If we want to learn (and why would we be at a conference like this if we didn’t?), we need to get busy doing this and doing it well. Here’s a link to the only blog reflection I really did from TCEA last year.

It doesn’t have to be great at first. Just write down where you’re at, what you’re learning, and what you’re trying. That’s it. You don’t have to do anything other than to share what you are learning. If you can do that (and, yes, you can do that), you are a blogger.

When you become a blogger, your risks go more public, but so does your learning. With the accountability that’s included of having yourself our there, you are more likely to get more done, and, in the process, others are going to learn from seeing your reflections. I highly recommend it.

If you’re still not confident you can make this happen, join me on Thursday morning in Room 13AB from 8:00-9:00am. My session, “How Blogging Improved My Practice,” is really not about me much at all. Instead, it’s about setting you and others like you up to confidently share your learning online for your benefit and that of others. Whether you join me for that hour or not, take time to blog your learning. You will not regret it!

Tip #7 – Become an expert at something useful

Finally, leave with an expertise you didn’t arrive at TCEA with. None of this experience is cheap in terms of time, energy, or cost incurred. Have something to show for it when you return home (and not just great personal learning for yourself). Go into TCEA knowing what those you serve need and with a plan to find it and package it well for them when you return. You get the chance to be the hero to them. Make it happen!


I hope you have a blast at the conference, and as odd as it seems, I hope to maybe run into someone who’s read this. It’ll help us both accomplish a goal and get better as educators in the process. Isn’t that what we’re all psyched up about doing this week anyway?

Why Do We Do That?

why-do-we-do-that

I’ve got a little story for you.

It’s Christmas, and it’s the first time the family is having dinner away from the home they grew up in. The cook (not the matriarch of the family) is preparing the roast to cook, and the first thing he does is cut off the ends. He puts it in the pan, it cooks, it’s prepared to be served, and then comes the question. His mom asks, “Why did you cut off the ends?”

A little unsettled, he replies, “That’s what you always did when you cooked it, mom.”

She laughs, and he begins to get a little worried. After her laughter subsides, she shares why: “We only cut the ends off because we didn’t have a pan big enough to fit the whole roast.”

And just like that, the dreaded TTWADDI has reared his head.

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Credit goes to Amy Mayer (friEdTechnology) for this memorable image!

ANY SIGHTINGS AT YOUR SCHOOL?

Now think about your school. Why do we do things the way that we do them?

With some things, there are good reasons.

Maybe we do things that way because it’s best for kids or because it keeps people safe at school.

But with other things, I imagine that we don’t always have a great reason for what we’re doing. With many things, probably more than we’d like to admit, we’ve never even thought about why we’re doing what we’re doing.

I think it’s time that we start thinking seriously about what we’ve not thought about before.

Typically I’m not one to make suggestions without offering solutions, but my goal is a bit different here. I want us to think of what we haven’t been thinking of. I want us to spend a bit of time exploring the gaps in conversations. Yes, eventually it’s important that we come to some conclusions, and I’m invested in that conversation as well. But I think it’s worth taking a step back from time to time and sharing a few ideas about what school could actually look like if we shook off the force of habit that has a strong hold on many of our practices.

So here are a few ideas I’m trying to rethink. I have some thoughts on solutions, but I’ll save those for another day.

Ideas I’m trying to rethink:

  • If we want our teachers to develop best instructional practices, why do we depend so heavily on whole group instruction for professional development?
  • If time out isn’t a good option for discipline in the classroom, why is ISS such a common consequence for behavior?
  • Why are we so hesitant to share our ideas with other educators? Why not connect more with others? Why not try to do that in new ways?
  • If we know that learning is often a messy, non-linear process, why is learning so often divided up into 6 or 7 or 8 period days?
  • If we know that learning happens at varying rates for various students, why are six weeks grading periods so commonly followed?

What are YOU going to rethink? What do we need to reconsider in education? What have we done the same way for too long?

Share your ideas in the comments!

Leading with an Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC

leading-with-an-innovators-mindset

One of my goals this year is to help create a culture of innovation and risk taking on the campus I serve. My last post highlights why that’s so valuable to me, so I won’t retread that conversation here.

Innovation, creativity, and change are not ushered in through announcements. Most of what is worthwhile in education just isn’t brought about that way. But that’s left me wondering this: In my role as an assistant principal, what do I need to do to make our campus a place where innovation and risk taking are embraced?

My first answer is that I need to practice what I preach (meaning I better be taking some risks myself if I want them to).

I wrote recently about how we often position ourselves in the safest positions in education. What do I mean by that? We find all the symbolism and then lead the discussion. We work all the problems and then share them with the class. We find all the pitfalls and then carefully avoid them as we lead instruction.

While it’s good to provide solid examples, I think it promotes an “I have it all together” attitude and persona that is really detrimental to a growth and innovator’s mindset.

So I think it’s worth our time to look at ourselves as learners in light of these eight characteristics that George Couros claims are essential to an Innovator’s Mindset. Here’s a great graphic from Sylvia Duckworth that outlines the eight characteristics.

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I’m a big believer in the idea that models accelerate learning. But although modeling well is crucial for our success and the success of others (especially as innovators), I think we’re fooling ourselves if we believe that being a model is enough to lead widespread innovative change on any significant scale.

For me, the problem is that I feel really comfortable reading a book like The Innovator’s Mindset, determining what I need to do to grow and innovate, and letting that be my method for bringing about change. In the long run, I think it will bring about some change, and it’s certainly better than letting the status quo roll forward for another year. But I think we can do better.

Realizing that modeling alone cannot be my answer, I kept coming back to this question, “What can leaders do to cultivate an Innovator’s Mindset in both themselves & among those they lead?”

Not surprisingly, that’s not a quick question to answer.

I tried to tackle it as a big question, but I just couldn’t. Innovation is so intricately layered and multi faceted in many ways that I couldn’t manage it as one big, huge question. So my answer to the question above is broken down into the 25 questions below. Each is tied to a particular element of Couros’ 8 Characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset.

innovators mindsetWhat follows is really a reframing of chapter 3 in George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. Where his recommendations (at least upon my reading) are for teachers setting up innovative learning spaces for students, I’ve tried to draw out what will challenge me to be a better leader on my campus. It’s not a linear list; don’t try to do all this in one PD day. But as you plan for your year and ask your teachers to be innovative, remember to hold yourself to the same standard.

25 Questions for Creating an Innovative Campus Culture

  1. Empathetic
    • What did I want from my leaders when I was in the classroom?
    • In what ways am I the leader who frustrated me?
    • Do I lead PD that I would want to attend?  Do I offer any PD that I could sell tickets for? (With special thanks to Dave Burgess for inspiration…)
  2. Problem finders
    • Where have I asked for a linear solution to a messy, complicated problem?
    • How can I provide structures that validate messy, non-linear professional learning?
    • Where am I providing too many answers and robbing teachers of the opportunity to become problem finders?
    • How will I develop a clear understanding of teacher needs?
  3. Risk-Takers
    • What are the best opportunities for growth you are doing for teachers on your campus? Compare what were you doing two years ago with what’s new this year. Consider opportunities for innovation.
    • Where are the areas in greatest need on innovative change on campus? (And don’t just ask yourself. Ask your teachers this, too.)
    • What are you doing as you lead professional learning that was happening 10 years ago? There’s probably an opportunity to innovate on your list. What will you change first?
  4. Networked
    • How are you learning about the awesome things that are happening in classrooms and on campuses across your campus? Your district? Your country?
    • How are you using connections to other educators online to improve professional development on your campus?
    • If collaboration is important to you, how are you creating time for it to happen during scheduled professional development?
  5. Observant
    • Dream big–What would it look like for your school to become a model of innovation for your community, even to those outside the education world?
    • Where do you get your inspiration from inside the education world? What about outside sources?
    • How are you giving teachers the necessary autonomy for innovation to occur on your campus? Is this the model you want teachers to follow for students?
  6. Creators
    • If “learning is creation, not consumption,” how do your PD sessions allow for teachers to create as they learn?
    • What could teachers create during PD to show their learning?
    • What have you flipped in your professional development? How might this be beneficial to professional learning?
  7. Resilient
    • Change is uncomfortable for many. What pushback should innovative leaders anticipate?
    • What barriers can you take down for teachers who want to be innovative on your campus?
    • As you move through the change process, how will you invite and provide space for teacher feedback?
  8. Reflective
    • How will you inspire others to be more reflective about their professional learning?
    • Reflection will draw out failures, and failure is scary. How will you recognize the role of failure and welcome it into the larger conversation about innovation?
    • Leading well is tough. How will you be innovative about your support system as you lead others toward innovative change?

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.

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.

Embrace Challenges

Growing up, I can remember my dad going to exactly one movie: Apollo 13.

As a Mechanical Engineer, how could he resist the pull of a movie where the engineers are the heroes of the day?

This is the scene he came home telling me about:

I love the way they approach this.

They’re faced with an impossible challenge and asked to be creative. Engineers who’ve precisely crafted aircraft for particular purposes with years of testing (to keep a mistake like this from happening), and they’re the ones tasked with developing a “creative” solution.

While it’s certainly impressive that they accomplish this feat–very square peg into very round hole–the way they go about out it leaves me with a lot to think about.

After the problem was defined, their first reaction was to say, “Let’s get it organized. Let’s build a filter. Gotta get some coffee going.”

I love that their first instinct was to be positive and proactive. There’s no complaining, no frustration, no negativity. Instead, in the space where those less than productive reactions could live, ingenuity and creativity win the day. Even though it seems insignificant, I like third line, too. They’ve got the coffee brewing, and after some of the most strenuous work of their lives, they’re ready to put in the necessary time to fix this problem within the timeline using none of the parts and pieces they would request if creating a design on their own.

The cast of characters is wonderful here. They’re clearly a team, and they put forth a wonderful product that’s a clear solution to the challenge at hand. But I don’t recognize any of them. And I like that. I really like that. I’ve seen the movie dozens of times, and these guys, though they get their moment here, they’re just a group who came together quickly, solved a problem, and saved people in the process. (OK, I’ll concede that they were probably brilliant NASA scientists among the most capable in the world, but they’re still the guys who weren’t the face of anything. They’re working in what seems to be a basement of some kind; not exactly glamorous.)

In our work as educators, the parallels here are clear. Regardless of the seemingly impossible nature of the challenge, we have to remember to respond to problems proactively, be invested for the long haul, and trust that teams of invested experts can make the impossible reality.

Unshared Ideas

I’ve really been enjoying reading Walter Isaacson’s recent book, The Innovators. It’s a history of the computer and the Internet that also explores what made the groups and individuals such visionary leaders and entrepreneurs when their respective innovations took off.

Reading through an early section recently, I felt like the story of John Vincent Atanasoff’s experience with innovation really connected to where I’m at right now. Here’s part of it.

In 1937, Atanasoff was driving along a country road when the idea came to him for an electronic computing device. He quickly began to work toward construction of his version of an early computer and made considerable progress. Impressively, while working largely in isolation at Iowa State University, he managed to develop a computing machine that was, at least in some respects, on par with the work that teams of engineers and mathematicians were developing collaboratively at Bell Labs. As you might expect, in the long run, collaboration won the day and the computing device being crafted at Bell Labs worked better, faster.

But that’s not what caught my eye.

Isaacson says that progress on Atanasoff’s project came to a near stand still when a programming issue came up and “there were no teams of machinists and engineers at Iowa State he could turn to for help” (60). That was astonishnig to me. He was on the verge of finishing up one of the first computing devices ever created and his work came to a stand still because he didn’t have a team with whom he could solve the problem.

As a result, “the almost working machine,” an idea that was just as viable as the one being researched at Bell Labs, ended up being “put into storage in the basement of the physics building at Iowa State, and a few years later no one seemed to remember what it did” (61).

Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “How much would anyone (much less academics) forget such an important invention?”

Here’s how much: In 1948, not even 10 years after it was in working order, a grad student disassembled Atanasoff’s nearly complete computer to be able to use the space it occupied. He didn’t recognize what the computer was even for.

Enlightened trial and error succeeds (1)

All of this started me thinking about how I react when I have the start of a great idea that’s not totally there yet. Too often I choose to sit on the idea instead of sharing it.

“Don’t share that now,” I’ll tell myself. “It’s too confusing right now. And what about problem X that you haven’t solved yet? And who exactly has extra time to be working on this anyway?”

I know that I err on the side of wanting to look like I have it together when I share my ideas, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Reading through Atanasoff’s story, though, I worry that I have developed a habit of tucking good ideas away because I either didn’t want to ask for help or didn’t know who to ask.

All of this is happening in the midst of the easiest time ever for educators to be connected to one another.

I love that we don’t have to be in the same places today to “visit the lab” where the experts are, and I love that the increased communication has flattened much of the hierarchy that could have existed there in the past.

There’s almost no reason that Atanasoff’s issue should come up again, right? We (connected educators) are a powerful enough voice that people who are looking for help shouldn’t find themselves on the outside looking in. However, I’ll be the first to admit that this doesn’t just happen naturally. It takes a little initiative.

Here’s my encouragement and my challenge: Wherever you are as an educator, you need to be learning from others and sharing with others. Even those ideas that aren’t “presentation ready” yet, even the one you’re almost sure can’t work. Share them. You never know who you will inspire or who might see a creative solution to your linchpin roadblock.

Isaacson concludes his chapter on the invention of the earliest computers by saying:

Innovation is usually a group effort, involving collaboration between visionaries and engineers, and […] creativity comes from drawing on many sources. Only in storybooks do inventions come like a thunderbolt, or a lightbulb popping out of the head of a lone individual in a basement or garage.

I couldn’t agree more.

If you can’t figure everything out on your own, you’re not inept; you’re normal.

If you think your ideas aren’t ready to be shared yet, you’re probably right. Go ahead and share them; that’s how they’ll get better.

If you’re a well connected educator, be willing to listen to a myriad of trusted and new voices.

Sitting on our ideas risks delaying innovation that could profoundly impact our students’ learning experiences. Admittedly, every idea won’t be as influential as developing the next computer (and they don’t need to be).

The real risk is in leaving ideas sitting covered up, collecting dust.

Only in storybooks do inventions come

I Feel Like a Fake

Confession time–I feel like a fake.

Earlier this week I decided to take on a new challenge: sketchnoting. I saw a tweet that pointed me to some resources and provided a few manageable first steps.

That afternoon, I found a copy of Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Workbook in town and bought a stylus to help me out (because, let’s be honest, I need all the help and confidence I can get). I got to work, and to make a long story short, here’s what I was able to put together by the end of the night:

IMG_0440Since I was pretty proud of how much I had accomplished, I shared my work with the world.

That looks great, right? I’m no artist, and that looks like I’m at least competent (if you disagree, you’re probably right… but no need to crush my dreams here). It looks great to see that eight hours after first considering the idea I’m taking care of business with a halfway decent sketchnote that’s ready to be shared on Twitter, right? But there’s a problem with this.

The problem is that if you look at where I actually started, it looks something more like this:

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The actual first attempt–practicing writing my letters (and not doing a great job)

I wasn’t about to share that. That’s what I work on with my 3 year old; it’s not what I need help with.

Except that it is.

It’s exactly where I needed to start. I needed the basics, and I  needed the eraser end of that stylus more than anything.

It didn’t take long for me to realize (1) that it was good for me to be working on something I enjoyed that stretched me and (2) that I needed to be more honest about my weaknesses and limitations

There’s no place for shame in learning. (tweet this)


There’s a lot of talk about the value of risk in education right now. It’s hard to spend much time reading online without coming across something–a new study, a new TED talk, a new insight in a tweet–that doesn’t touch on the value of trying something new.

But my experience hiding my first steps that I wasn’t proud of made me begin to wonder this:

At what point does an educator’s talk about risk become a safe place for him to hide? (tweet this)

We like safety, but I think we’ve done a good job of bringing the value of risk into our conversations. Still, I think we have room to grow in living out the implications of those conversations.

The frustrating thing to me is that I’ve been sitting on this “there’s value in risk/you can learn through failure” idea for far too long.

In the classroom, J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address on the importance of imagination and the benefits of failure served as a point of departure for this conversation with students. Before I had every heard of Carol Dweck, I knew these ideas were important for people to consider. I don’t share that to say that I’ve been talking about this forever and it’s old hat for me. I share it to say that I’ve had this idea right in front of me since 2009, and I’ve done less with it than I should have.

Today is the last day of my contract for 2014-2015. We’re taking off on a little vacation for the better part of next week, but after we return, I am trying to set goals for professional growth that are fun and challenging. One of those is to get sketchnoting developed into a useful skill, but the bigger goal is to do what we so often ask teachers and students: try something new and learn through your failures.

I encourage you to do the same.

Books Worth Reading: Creativity and Innovation

BooksWorthReadingIt’s the last week of school in my district, and my to be read pile is calling my name. In case you don’t have your summer reading list finalized, I thought I would share the titles I’ve learned a great deal from recently. Each day this week, I’ll share a five books that I think are worth a look.

Today’s post focuses on five titles that could fan the flames of creativity and innovation on your campus and for you as a professional!

inquiryA.J. Juliani’s Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom is a great place to start the conversation about making changes for the better for students. If you’re looking for fresh ideas on 20% time, genius hour, and PBL, this is for you. It also serves as a great intro to each idea if you’re looking for a primer on any of the topics.

20timeIf you find that 20% time or genius hour is something you’d like to learn more about, Kevin Brookhouser’s The 20time Project is worth investigating. Brookhouser explores why (because “we need wicked problem-solvers”) in the first half of his book before concluding with how to pull that off both in the classroom and across a campus.

creative confidenceCreative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley challenges readers to reimagine their previous conception of creativity. If you think you might be a creative person, but you’re not creative in the conventional sense of the word, this book will help you see where you (and others) truly are creative.

learning by choiceA.J. Juliani’s most recent publication, Learning by Choice, is required reading for anyone looking to include more student choice in the classroom. (And, let’s be honest, who couldn’t benefit from hearing more about choice in the classroom, right?) This has heavily influenced my beliefs about choice in professional development as well. I wish I had read it while in the classroom. Highly recommended!

creative schoolsFinally, Ken Robinson’s recent book, Creative Schools, offers readers an overview of creativity in schools with Robinson’s trademark wisdom and wit. His text is both readable and challenging, encouraging and motivational. It’s an easy read with big ideas for the reader to consider.

Tomorrow’s post will feature five books that deal with school culture. Hope you enjoy some time reading this summer!

Your classroom is not a cooking show

There’s something really powerful about demystifying learning in front of students. If we’re serious about the power of ideas like grit and growth mindset, this demystification process is a prerequisite for increased student success. But how do we do that?

Planning is an incredibly important part of teaching, but in hindsight, I think I often spent too much time planning in the wrong direction. As a teacher, especially as a young teacher, I thought I was successful if I could make my students think that I knew the answer to every question imaginable and that it was easy for me (undoubtedly baggage from growing up thinking that I was smart, not that I worked hard to be smart). As a teacher, I spent a lot of time in the name of “preparing” that was really me investing in protecting myself and finding my identity in places I shouldn’t have been looking for it.

Whether you take this as far as I did or not, I think many educators value this idea of having everything together so much that it may be hurting our chances with students.

We all know that learning is messy. If we’re failing to show our students this part of the learning process, we’re failing them.

Maybe teachers are scared off by this because of the vulnerability required. That could definitely be the case. I think what deters more teachers might be this fear of the unknown. What’s going to happen when I get into showing my students how I learn? What if I get stuck revising a passage in front of 5th graders? What if I can’t conjure up the right phrasing for a particular sentence in front of freshmen in high school?

Not far behind those questions is this: What will they think?

I don’t mean to ignore that question (it’s a huge one and one worth investigating more at another time). Still, does what students (or the teacher down the hall or the admin who’s a little more in the box than necessary) think matter more than the fact that students are learning how to think? For some reason, this wins out more than it should. Why?

Why do we let what people might think get in the way of helping our students think?

Maybe we’ve never looked at the upside of bringing students alongside the expert in the room (or giving ourselves freedom from the exhaustion associated with feeling like you should be the expert in every room we enter). Because we like to control things in life, most of us don’t immediately think of the positives associated with risks as we see them coming. It’s not our default, and the benefits can be so easy to doubt away at times. For many, we’ve just never thought about what’s the best that could happen if we made a change.

Maybe better than anything I can tell you, these two videos help drive home my point. The first shows the power of bringing in someone who might be a disruption and discovering he has impressive talent. The second demonstrates the power of joining in as a participant with students.

If your classroom looks more like a cooking show (you know, with each step perfectly measured out in impossible to replicate steps for your audience), it’s time to consider embracing a little vulnerability with your students. If you want to help students struggle through their learning, you’re going to have to show them a model of a learner struggling through something with a little grit.

Teachers–if students need to struggle through the writing process, you’d better be struggling through the writing process in front of them.

Administrators–if your teachers need to be using best practices, you’d better be using them in you professional development.

Get in there and struggle alongside the other learners on your campus!