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.

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.

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


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!

No Whispers

no whispers

The night before Robinson Cano returned to New York to play against his former team, Jimmy Fallon decided to help him get used to the boos Cano would experience at Yankee Stadium.

He set up a huge cardboard cutout of Cano and let New Yorkers boo at him, you know, to practice for their booing the next evening. Check out how things went:

I love the reaction that people have when they realize he’s there. How quickly did they flip from booing to embracing Cano, some of them literally giving him a hug.

Nobody thought anything of these people yelling at a cardboard image of Robinson Cano because that reaction was expected. But when Cano showed up, they changed their language and their stance.

Hall of Fame 2012 (1)What if we chose to speak about people only in that positive light at school this year? Think about the power there.

What conversations could you commit to starting? What conversations could you commit to ending?

What if we focused on what we trust in each other, or how we saw the best in someone recently? What if we assumed the best about each other and always extended the benefit of the doubt?

What if we decided that we weren’t going to allow others to talk poorly of students or colleagues? What if we only engaged in conversation that brought people together instead of dividing them into parts?

Think about specific conversations that you are part of at your school. What if those went differently?

What if visitors entered and left your campus knowing that they mattered?

What if students knew that they were a valuable part of the school, even as they learn to meet behavior expectations?

What if teachers knew that that risk wouldn’t be misinterpreted?

What if families knew they were invited to participate in a culture of trust with their student on campus?

What if you knew they weren’t whispering about you?

What if there were no whispers on your campus?

(Thanks to my friend @stormyhickman1 for pointing me to this video and getting me thinking about this.)

Mind the Gap

post-4683-0-89462200-1402415014Pernille Ripp published this great challenge for administrators recently in which she addressed the gap that often exists between teachers and administrators head on.

Her entire post is powerful and has stuck with me over the past few days. It has had me thinking about a few changes that could have a profound impact on the trust between administrators and teachers in so many of our schools.

Our words build and destroy trust

Certain conversations have settled in as commonplace in education. In her post, Pernille put it this way:

From the poor jokes about going to the dark side to the hushed conversations behind closed doors discussing the latest admin “screw up,” it seems that there is an invisible mountain between teachers and administration that both sides don’t understand the origin of.

This is a situation where many people will look at that, think to themselves that there must be a better way, and not take the time to decide to do something different. We’re crazy if we think we can keep having those thoughts and conversations and expect something different as a result.

I’ve written before about the great care we should take to build others up with our words. If we want a change in the gap, we need a different story. Instead of thinking of and talking about people “going to the dark side,” we need leaders who will be so committed to bringing light that there’s no room for the previous belief. Administrators—commit to being great teachers of teachers who will support teachers when they need it and who will positively lead the campus with excellence.

In addition, we need teachers who will squelch the old story when it comes up (and it will come up). Replace these tired stories with stories of success. During those times when there just isn’t as much (or anything for you) to be positive about, having those landmarks to go back to will be reassuring.

Communicating our mutual trust

There are some assumptions on both sides that can inhibit trust. This won’t solve all of the problems between administrators and teachers, but if we could only correct one assumption, this would by my suggestion: Assume that people are doing the best that they know how.

This includes the idea that my principal may be showing me trust the best way he/she knows how. Be that as it may, how do we work through the gaps in our mutual understanding? Here’s a couple of ideas.

Administrators–Start the year by asking teachers what they feel good at, what they are working to get better at, and how they prefer praise and your attention. Then, make it your job to get them excited about taking on that new challenge. Get to know your teachers, and know the best ways to show your support for them. It can be both incredibly encouraging to have an administrator’s ear and a little terrifying to think you may have just invited that administrator to the riskiest thing you tried in years in your classroom. Know your audience before you show up on a risky day for teachers. The right support fans the flames of creativity. The wrong support is like a fire blanket for innovative ideas.

If it seems like one of your teachers who you can tell is doing a good job doesn’t know it, go out of your way to fix that. Tell that teacher what you love that you’ve seen and ask him or her what you can do to offer support. Maybe it’s time the teacher needs, maybe it’s a thank you note for the extra hours you see the teacher put in or the way that teacher cares for students; whatever it is, there is something you can do to champion and celebrate that teacher. Do it. I don’t know how isn’t good enough.

My only word for teachers here: If you have very specific expectations for your administrator, you should make those in a very specific way. As an administrator, it’s helpful to know those things, and it gives me a way to know that I’m going to meet that need. I’m just one administrator, but I appreciate it.

Is there anybody out there?

Pernille’s blog got me fired up—but not in a defensive way. It got me excited because I hope that I’m working to be an administrator who interacts with staff in a way that these questions don’t come up. Or maybe if they come up (like by people who are new to the campus or the district), people are reassured by campus veterans that risk taking, transparency, trust, and support are all part of campus culture.

So, to Pernille and to all the other teachers who are exhausting themselves to push students to learn, first of all–thank you. Your work makes schools the place where students love to learn, where they know they feel safe, and where they know they’re loved. There are administrators who want what you want, and I hope they are leading your schools.

To administrators, let’s make this happen. If you agree that change needs to happen, start thinking of what you’re going to do differently to make that change reality. It can happen, and as a labeled leader on your campus, I think it’s your responsibility to start the conversation.

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

If you knew you would succeed, what would you try?

“If you're not prepared to be wrong,Conversation on the topic of innovation in education can be found at every turn. If you Google search it right now, you’ll get more than 350 million results. Articles abound (like this one from Edutopia) on the topic of innovation in education, and in seconds, anyone can find videos (like this that features Bill Gates) or lists of innovative educators worth following (like this one – look on page 15).

There’s something contagious and exciting about innovation. The best educators thrive in the search for serving students well, and that shows today more than ever.

Even with all these voices in the conversation promoting innovation, innovation is still a little intimidating for me.

It’s not that I don’t want to take part in it. I led the charge to change our bell schedule moving into this year to give our teachers opportunities to help students who were tough to catch up with before and after school (probably equal parts “I won’t” and “I can’t” make it in for help outside of school).

Still, these moments, and probably many others, stand in the way of getting a great idea off the ground:

  • The moment when you convince yourself that this isn’t crazy.
  • The moment when you convince yourself that it is, but we’re going to try it anyway.
  • The moment when you first share the idea and someone else is excited with you.
  • The moment when your first (well meaning) critics arise.
  • The moment when the naysayers and yabbuts (you know, the ones who say, “yeah, but” all the time?) enter the conversation.
  • The moment when your idea begins to get traction.
  • The moment when you put your idea out there for a superior (who likely has the power to approve or nix the whole thing)

In many cases, it’s our fear of failure (or fear of being seen as a failure) that limits our willingness to take those risky first steps toward meaningful change and innovation in our schools.

I don’t like to lose. I just don’t like it. And every time I toss an idea out there that doesn’t stick, I feel as if I’ve lost. That’s something I’m working on.

It’s been helpful for me to think about this in view of this question: If you knew you would not fail, what would you try?

That’s my question for you today. Think about where you are, what you’re faced with, and what you’re not pursuing because of what might happen.

What would you do if you knew you would be successful? What would you try? What ideas would you entertain?

Would you be willing to teach a tougher group of students?

Would you be willing to revamp your entire course? A unit? A lesson that’s never been up to par?

Would you be willing to look at students differently? Teach them behavior as well as you teach your academic content?

Would you be willing to admit that you don’t have it all figured out?

What questions would you ask?

What would you most enjoy doing that fear of failure is stopping?

As you think about the risks you could choose to take, consider this question I saw earlier this year from A. J. Juliani (@ajjuliani):

“What if we started asking, ‘What’s the best that could happen,’ rather than ‘What’s the worst that could happen?'”

5 Things We Need to Quit Pretending

I stumbled upon a couple of posts over the weekend highlighting 5 things we need to stop pretending in education. Here’s my contribution (in no particular order).

We need to stop pretending…

1) That the way we talk about incoming students (new to a class or new to a school) has no impact on the way we treat them when they arrive. How we speak of people impacts what we believe about them more than most realize. If you’re not talking about how to welcome the next group in or how to help those students be successful, be wary of talking about them at all.

2) That compliant students are engaged in learning. I’m all for having students who are willing participants in class. Compliance can be a byproduct of engagement or willingness to fail or take on new challenges, but observing compliance doesn’t indicate with any degree of certainty that those good things are happening. We (yes, we, everyone responsible for what’s happening in the classroom) must look for more as we check to see that our students are challenged well during their learning.

3) That behavior doesn’t need to be taught and retaught. We know that brains forget academic content, and most likely, we’re doing things in our classrooms to reteach even basic information like test taking strategies. Don’t believe me? Walk down the halls at your school the day before major tests (state mandated or otherwise) and look at the reviews teachers are leading. We need to use those same practices (teaching with great models, repeated review with variation for novelty, etc.) as we teach our students to be responsible decision makers in life.

4) That you can do your job as an educator well without taking some time to recharge. You need to take some time for yourself. Maybe you don’t need as much time as others on your campus. Maybe work is a lot of fun for you. Maybe learning is part of your relaxation. I’m ok with those lines of logic. But everyone (even you) needs to take some time to recharge. This is especially true as the students get tired. It’s not noble to tough it out; it’s not even what is best for students. Take care of yourself so that the tank isn’t empty when students need you most.

5) That we have it figured out. Anyone who isn’t looking to keep learning needs a wake up call, especially educators. You don’t need to be a 24/7 connected educator with an active PLN and PLC who participates in a book study or blogs every night you aren’t hosting a Twitter chat in order to say that you’re continuing to learn. Find what you’re passionate about, use it to stretch yourself as an educator, and share both the struggles and successes with other learners around you (both students and peers).

If you disagree with me, let me know. I’m happy to talk about my perspective and learn from yours.

I’m challenging @Mann4Edu, @J_Stew314, @stormyhickman1, and @BClarksonTX to share 5 things we need to quit pretending.