Smart Phone

20-Blade_Runner_AtariThe world imagined by 1982’s Blade Runner does not exist. Beautiful little details, like the neon advertisements for Atari and Pan Am, which added such verisimilitude to the movie proved to be anything but prophetic; Atari went under before the movie was ten years old and Pan Am followed suit in 1991.

Predicting the future is an inexact science, fun in the hands of creative writers, but often good for little more than a retrospective chuckle. HAL in 2001? I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid we can’t (yet) do that.

So without an accurate crystal ball, how should we as educators think about the digital world our students will grow into?

Theirs is already a life enmeshed in technology in ways that make our own childhood (folks like me, anyway, old enough to have taken a typewriter to college*) seem quaint. Mine is the generation who got tangled up in the cord when talking to potential dates on the phone mounted to the kitchen wall.

As technology changed around me, I entertained the truth of that Philip K. Dick quotation:

There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually it will be ‘My phone is spying on me.’”

Maybe, though any fears of sentient machines have (so far) proven unfounded.

So too, I think, are some of the fears we educators have of students and technology, particularly social media. Certainly dangers lurk online, as they have lurked at malls and in the places young people have always congregated.

Educating students to become digital citizens (or whatever the most current term might be for navigating a life online) is in many ways an extension to helping them understand how to live in the brick and mortar world we all share no matter what kind of cell phone is in our pocket.

There are lots of resources out there to help educators do this, some better than others, but it seems to me to boil down to a few simple ideas:

Present the best you. The one that doesn’t swear or show off tattoos. The one that doesn’t make that face that says: “Never hire me, trust me with your children, or let me go to your university.”

Don’t share too much. Share the right amount of information to show the world that “best you” that you want to be your introduction, the first impression before you make your first impression.

Think before you talk. If you wouldn’t blurt it out in class or at the dinner table, or if you shouldn’t, then don’t online.

Be nice. Be nice.

Know the rules and follow them. …and know the etiquette too. Learning how to be a positive contributor to an online community isn’t dramatically different than being a positive contributor to your school or in your neighborhood.

Don’t live in fear. Cautious, sure; fearful, no. You look both ways before you cross the street, but you do eventually cross it. Being safe online means being online, and bringing common sense with you just makes sense. Should I say “yes” to this friend request? Would you invite that person to meet your parents in person?

Be smart. Be as smart as you can be. We all make mistakes, and digital goofs can last forever, but thinking twice before posting and keeping the long view of things can help a lot.

Do we need to include digital literacy as part of our school curriculum? I think so. At the same time we need to show students that we believe they can make the right choices. This means showing them how to curate their own digital footprint and not blocking access to the tools they use to create that footprint.

mannySchools use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms to tell their stories, and the best schools do so to great effect. Students should have the opportunity to do the same.

Educating students about technology means showing them how to use it effectively, not shielding them from it at all costs.

Sure, students are on their phones …a lot, but then again, many of you are reading this post from a similar rectangle of plastic and glass. I know this. Your phone told me.

*For any younger readers, a typewriter is a machine that allowed users to print words, letter by letter, by pounding on keys and hoping not to make a mistake. Don’t even get me started on whiteout.

When Surrounded by Stormtroopers

I looked up from a cup of tea in the easy chair by my fireplace to realize that I was surrounded by stormtroopers. Scores of the little plastic menaces looked up at me from the hearth, an end table, and where they lay scattered across the rug like a scene from the battle of Agincourt.

photo 5Busy, distracted, or focused on other things, I hadn’t noticed the steady infiltration of white helmeted soldiers. Yet here they were.

It’s like that sometimes with change, the lobster boiled as the water in the pot goes from cold to hot. We don’t always notice how different things are until we blink hard in surprise at what we see around us.

In education I’ve seen this myself with regard to technology, professional growth, and even the culture of pressure that looks to overwhelm our campuses. I haven’t always been the first to notice changes, though I do work to wake up to the changed world around me.

That technology changes comes as no surprise; at one point technological advancement was a lice infested Viking pointing and grunting: “Hey, Thor made a spoon!” What can sneak up on us, however, are the new uses of technology, which sometimes come on ninja feet to scare us with their suddenness. Waking up to the potential of technology, or seeing others use technology in new ways, challenges us to make changes ourselves. We may be late to the party, I was with regard to Twitter, for instance, but we can move beyond our familiarity and expectations and see the advancements as a way to transform what we do.

The SAMR model articulates this well, urging that we not simply do the same things without paper, but do different things. This can be more difficult to put into practice than understand. I’m a principal now, but on the occasions that I have to develop lessons and teach classes, I find that it’s easier to use technology to support my preconceived ideas than it is to act on the potential of technology to unshackle me to try something entirely new. “Mind forged manacles,” Blake would call them. Stormtroopers.

photo 4 (2)As transformative as technology is, it accounts for just some of the difference in the professional lives of educators. Many have written more eloquently than I about the changes in culture that have brought teachers out of their isolated classrooms and into greater collaboration. For some this is PLCs, for others the emergence of Twitter and other online professional communities. I was never a teacher in the interconnected world of social media, but as a principal (who came to Twitter just a few years ago, late to the party, really) I’m continually amazed at the inspiration and information available around the clock.

Not only has blogging and using Twitter allowed me to access other points of view, it has also led to meaningful connections with educators around the country and around the world that make my practice richer.

If I were isolated now, it would be by choice, and not a very good choice. It’s being aware the world of education looks different than it did five or ten years ago, and that if I changed to embrace it I would have opportunities I couldn’t have had before, that has made a huge difference in who I am as an educator. No teacher or administrator has to think she is alone. We can find support, kindred spirits, and ongoing inspiration at the click of a mouse.

But not every change leads to greater connections and reassurance. About three years ago I looked up and realized just how much the pressure my students face has increased with regard to college admissions and academic success. Discussions about “too many AP classes” and the “Honors or no honors” debate aren’t new, but I realized that while I’d been busy with building a career and dealing with the day to day business of running a high school the world my students lived in had transformed into something very unlike the high school I knew as a kid.

Parents and students feel the pressure to succeed, and respond with good intentions and sometimes disastrous results. Defining where the pressure comes from is a tricky job, and one that may not have a certain answer, but what I did realize was that as a site administrator I needed to pay attention, take inventory of the true lay of the land, and get about the work of trying to help.

That I wasn’t on the forefront of technology, social media, or recognizing trends in adolescence wasn’t a damning failure, but could have been had I not recognized that I needed to adjust to new reality.

It’s okay to come out of our caves and look around. No one worth listening to will judge us for blinking in the light of the new day and trying to catch up with a world different than the one we grew up in.

If it is a little scary –the kids all have phones and they expect to use them in class, and on top of that my principal seems okay with it– there is no reason to panic.

photo 1 (9)The stormtroopers never win, at least not until they take off their helmets, hijack a TIE fighter, and try something unexpected, dangerous, and different.


It’s a reality full of potential, full of opportunity, and no more alarming than we let it be.

When you realize that you’re surrounded by stormtroopers, try something different.

Match. Flame.

Because there is still magic, even as the robots march steadily forward…

robotWhen I was young and foolish and filled with the unfettered exuberance of a first year teacher, I worked in a classroom without exterior windows. I found that utter darkness could be achieved by covering up the one slim rectangle of glass that led out to the hallway, and that even after the time it took to listen to a recording of a long poem by Poe no one’s eyes could adjust enough to see.

I stretched the time once, silencing my class, killing the lights, and playing “The Last Question,” a short story by Isaac Asimov. Familiar with my space, I walked the perimeter of the room, listening. It was so quiet I could hear breathing; nobody talked. As the story reached its end, our eyes still useless in the pitch black, I took a box of wooden matches from my pocket, struck one in a dramatic arc, and held it to a candle quietly placed on the table of a student in the front row. His face and mine, lit only by the orange and yellow glow, looked at each other as the final words of the story filled the air: “Let there be light.”

Robots can’t do that.

Last week, a teacher I respect gave me an article titled “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher” by Michael Godsey, a contributor to The Atlantic and English teacher in California. With wit and a well researched point of view, Godsey discusses the changes in the expectations of teachers, changes he sees rushing at us with the determination of Cylons chasing Starbuck and Apollo in a 1978 episode of Battlestar Galactica.

Godsey recalls describing the future of teaching as “a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The “virtual class” will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a “super-teacher”), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.”


In all seriousness, what Godsey describes feels more than a little plausible. As he notes later in the piece, “teachers like me are uploading onto the web tens of thousands of lesson plans and videos that are then being consolidated and curated by various organizations. In other words, the intellectual property that once belonged to teachers is now openly available on the Internet.”

As a fellow who started his teaching career during the Clinton administration, I’m equally astounded by these changes. The internet has taken the sharing of resources, including teaching resources, to a level undreamed of in the 1990s or before. The rugged metal filing cabinets of teaching lore, filled with worksheets and mimeographed handouts, are increasingly losing ground to Google Docs and websites. Some call this progress.

The challenge of this increased information, for teachers in the context of lesson planning and humans in the context of …everything, is being able to discern wheat and chaff.

Godsey does a nice job of cataloging resources that purport to do just that, and he strikes the right tone of angst when quoting a principal who told him that “we’re at the point where the Internet pretty much supplies everything we need. We don’t really need teachers in the same way anymore. I mean, sure, my daughter gets some help from her teachers, but basically everything she learns—from math to band—she can get from her computer better than her teachers.”

And it’s here that he began to lose me.

As a principal myself, and teacher of thirteen years, I recognize that the world in which we teach is profoundly different than it was a decade or more ago. I also honestly believe that we need teachers, and not just facilitators, more than ever, and we need them in the “same way.”

Where that way is the same may be where Godsey and I begin to diverge.

Before students had technology that allowed them instant access to information -conveniently located on a device they could use to text their friends- a part of what teachers did was help provide specific information about a particular topic. Gradually, this aspect of education lessened and the ability to evaluate the validity of information students acquire on their own has increased. Acknowledging that, I’d argue that an even more important part of education, from 1990 to 1960 to 1930 has been to connect and inspire.

This is better done in person than any other way, and by people passionate not only about teaching, but also about the particular subject they are teaching to students.

Godsey provides an accurate juxtaposition when he explains: “I measured myself against these websites and Internet companies. It seems clear that they already have a distinct advantage over me as an individual teacher. They have more resources, more money, an entire staff of professionals, and they get to concentrate on producing their specialized content, while the teacher is—almost by default—inherently encouraged to transform into a facilitator.”

Yes, and I’d add: But teachers have the kids.

Students learn online, they learn from peers, they learn from videos and books and articles. Sometimes those resources can inspire them, just as sometimes we as adults draw inspiration from sources that are not teachers. And…

The inspiration that comes from a teacher, and the interaction between a student and a teacher, is unique. It happens in classrooms and art studios and science labs. It happens in the gym and the theater and the auto shop. It happens in those thousand human moments that make up a school.

I certainly don’t want to discount the truth that learning takes place outside of a classroom, with or without a teacher, and I think Godsey is right when he notes that “There is a profound difference between a local expert teacher using the Internet and all its resources to supplement and improve his or her lessons, and a teacher facilitating the educational plans of massive organizations.”

I’d also add that there is a profound difference between a video of a teacher lighting a match after twenty minutes of darkness and a teacher surprising a class in person with that theatrical demonstration.

I don’t worry that technology will transform public education; I accept it, smilingly. I also maintain that while there are certainly times that teachers are freed from the obligation to lecture on facts, and while students are increasingly given opportunities to collaborate and solve problems of complexity and relevance, the magic that is teaching (and by that I mean connecting, provoking, and inspiring) is as strong, and as necessary, now as ever.

robot matchI believe teachers do this best when freed to engage their own creativity, using all the resources available, to light that fire with students.

I loved that Godsey’s article made me think, and that it prompted some fantastic conversations with teachers, parents, and students at my school.

The only folks I didn’t talk with were the robots.

“Inspiration” for the #SDUHSDchat October 13, 2015, 8:00-8:30PM

UntitledI’m excited to be moderating my district’s Twitter chat next week. I’ve had co-hosting duties with some amazing educators from the San Dieguito Union High School District for more than a year now, and #SDUHSDchat is an event I look forward to.

With wit and occasional wisdom, educators from across my district (as well as a few others who know it’s a safe place to make a point, learn a bit, or crack wise) gather to share ideas and inspiration, and to know that we’re not alone in our classrooms or offices; we’re part of a dynamic community whose purpose is to educate kids.

With an eye toward highlighting those connections, my topic on the 13th is “Inspiration! Where do you draw online  inspiration (and information)?

I’ve got four questions for the half hour chat, and if you’re reading this I’d encourage you to take a look and see if you’d be willing to join the conversation. The questions:

  • Q1 You’re here on Twitter right now. Who are two educators you follow and why?
  • Q2 What is the most valuable content you find online? Where do you regularly find it?
  • Q3 Is there a blogger or a particular post that you would recommend to a colleague? What? Why?
  • Q4 How often are you interactive on social media? Is it as valuable to “lurk” or is it important to engage?”

It’s not cheating to start ahead of time. Writing out answers and saving them (with the hashtag SDUHSDchat) is totally okay! I love it when I can get a head start, knowing that my main answers are set and I can put more energy into the responses I can offer to what other folks have to say.

The risk is low; the reward is high.

I’m not sure what will happen on the 13th. Part of the fun of a Twitter chat is the unexpected. But I do hope that when it’s all said and done, we’ll all walk away with the names of a few folks to seek out online, a blog to follow, a couple of Twitter handles that might provide some inspiration. Heck, I’m optimistic that we might even leave inspired to add our own voices to the greater conversation.

See you on Tuesday at eight o’clock!


The next #SDUHSDchat takes place on October 13, 2015 from 8:00-8:30 PM. Come on by and sit a spell. 


I find that more and more my professional development comes via Twitter. The professional educators I follow (as well as some folks not technically in the education business, but who write about thinking and doing) are amazing identifiers of meaningful content. From their feeds I see links to articles and blogs that provide me insight, inspiration, and ideas. Among those I follow, there are a few whose blog posts I always look forward to reading. My top three include a teacher in my district, a ToSA just up the road, and a daring librarian across the country.

karneyDiegueño Middle School teacher Jacquelyn Karney’s blog never ceases to make me smile. A great example of a passionate teacher’s foray into online communication, it is part celebration, part confessional, and part handbook for new teachers. My favorite line of all time came from a post on school projects, when she said “What really gets my goat is that teachers say to use things you have around the house for the aforementioned projects.  We have lots of dog hair, leftover lasagna, and dirty laundry around the house.  We do not have a Costco sized case of sugar cubes, we do not have pipe cleaners, we do not have clay, we do not have lion figurines.” Wit and wisdom in equal measure.

kfWit, wisdom, and technology find a home at my district’s edtech blog, managed by Teacher on Special Assignment Kevin Fairchild. Collected here are smart posts on everything from “Cell Phones in the Classroom” to the folly of “Locking Down the Browser” during tests. Go back a bit on this blog and you’ll find some thoughtful entries from teachers from around our district. Keep up with it, and you’re sure to come away with something you can use.

For inspiration and good humor, I turn to whose blog is consistantly delightful and provides me with both hope and perspecitve. Writing from a middle school in Maryland, her take on schools and schooling pushes me as a principal to think, see others’ points of view, and celebrate the great things happening on my own campus.

daringI wish I could make two of her posts required reading: “How to Train Your (New) Principal” captures the spirit of a new principal coming to a school. As a fellow who has done this twice in the past two years, I can say from experience that I’ve always been thankful for the teachers and staff who have brought to life the advice she provides.

Her post “The Art of the Follow” is a marvelous primer for any educator thinking about her digital footprint. It’s one I wish I’d happened upon earlier in my Twittering life, but things happen as they should, so maybe it’s simply my job to spread the word that this is a great resource for up and coming Twitterbugs out there!

Taken together, these three bloggers provide a great example of what’s right in education today. Honest, passionate, and clever too, these voices for hope make my professional life richer every week and inspire me to add my voice to the greater conversation.

Resistance is Futile …and that’s okay.

Yeah, I’m a Star Trek fan. Among other adolescent tastes (Moon Knight, baseball, atomic fireball jawbreakers) I’ll confess that getting my seven year old hooked on Kirk and Picard is a goal for the year. So when this week’s #YourEdustory prompt asked about how those of us interested in changing education cope with others resistant to change my first thought went to that metallic Borg cube, and the creepy catchphrase: “Resistance is futile.”

borg posterIt was certainly true for me. If I’d wanted to avoid changing what I did as  young educator I’d have had trouble.

When I started teaching a hundred years ago or so, I had a chalkboard, took attendance on a scantron bubble sheet that I clipped to my door, and had to go to the English office to use a computer. A teacher computer. The kids didn’t touch technology unless we took a walk to a computer lab.

The changes facing education today are at least as great as the shift from blackboards to Blackboard, from mimeographs to Google Classrooms. With the rise of social media in schools, increasingly ubiquitous technology, and a shift to an information rich world, we as educators are in the enviable position of rebuilding our ship at sea.

Yes, enviable.

Sure it’s challenging, but in the end, what possibilities!

As a principal, it seems to me that there are two ways of approaching this change, and the reality of resistance. The first is to call on fear, rattling the futurist’s sabre of the challenges our students will face, and hoping that teachers will feel anxious enough to give in to the inevitability of change. The trouble with this approach is that it runs the risk of paralyzing folks, and it robs them of the beautiful opportunity to come up with solutions to the questions of why, what, and how we change what we do to prepare kids for an ever changing world.

The second approach is to embrace that change, do my best to articulate it, and put things in perspective. This means conversations, lots of conversations, and working with others to identify what we can do to truly prepare our students for the lives ahead of them.

It means looking back as well as forward. For my teacher’s first day back I’m collecting a few short videos that can be running at lunch. Some are inspirational, some look toward the changes ahead, and one is about one room school houses. To know our future, we should know our past.

borg cozyI’m not saying that this makes change cozy, but striving to take the fear out of it, focusing instead on the possibilities, and the importance of addressing those possibilities together, can help us recognize the opportunities as well as the challenges.

Half a decade ago Star Trek imagined a future of change, filled with technology, equality, and hope. Resistance to those ideas is futile; as imperfectly as our society progresses, it does progress. As teachers and learners, we are in the position to shape this progress, and we will. Together. Purposefully. With or without robots.

A Well Placed Semicolon


Tell the world about the good things happening at your school, and engage in the conversation about this grand adventure, education.

Your school needs you to tell its story. If not you, then who are you ceding your narrative to? Newspapers? Parents at the dog park? These voices matter too, but as an educator, you have the best perspective to talk about your school.

Writing about what you do influences what you do. It’s like the observer effect in science, and in this case it’s a benefit to both you as an educator and your school.

Benefits to your school and self, however, aren’t the end of the story. Increasingly educators find support, inspiration, and information online, and your voice, your perspective, might just be the one someone needs.

Some brilliant educators I know, people I go to when I need good advice or to bounce an idea off, hesitate when it comes to blogging. “I’m no writer.” I hear. “My posts wouldn’t be pretty.” And I want to say: “Truth isn’t about being pretty. I don’t read any education bloggers because of their ability to employ a well placed semicolon; I read education blogs for content, not elements of style.”

Some of my favorite posts are written very simply, but the truth they contain changes what I do and how I look at my work. There are even more folks out there, from Gaston to Bullaburra, who I’d like to learn from.

So why not give it a try? Think about joining a supportive group like #YourEdustory (where each week you can see other educators share their own stories). If you’re reading this post, you’re already halfway there, dipping your toe in the great lake of education discussion online. Next, it’s your turn. Share your story. Celebrate your school. Come on in, the water’s fine.

How Lincoln Learned to Tweet

photo (4)One of my favorite stories about learning in Daniel Wolff’s book How Lincoln Learned to Read comes in the section on Henry Ford. A ten year old Ford, working with a handful of other boys his age, built a turbine engine out of a ten gallon can and some other odds and ends. Wolff quotes Ford, who wrote: “the boiler finally blew up and scalded three of us, and I carry a scar on my cheeks today.” And then Wolff brings home the example with four beautiful words: “That’s how he learned.”

I’m not advocating uncontained explosions as the best science education, but I do see the benefits of spectacular failures like Ford’s, if they’re coupled with an attitude of exploration and true growth mindset. Ford’s story, like so many in Wolff’s collection of descriptions of a dozen American’s educations, shows the importance of determination, curiosity, and the ability to see failure as part of learning.

With that spirit in mind, I’m looking forward to trying something different for this month’s Diegueño Book Club. It might be marvelous, it could be odd, or there’s a chance of it ending up like Henry Ford’s turbine …a learning experience.

We’re going to try to blend a book club and Twitter chat.



Like Ford, an intrepid ToSA, Kevin, and I are looking to build something we can sort of imagine, but haven’t seen before.

We see the benefits of bringing teachers and parents together to talk about education and ideas, as we have already earlier in the school year at Diegueño. We also see how cool it can be for educators to connect through our district’s #SDUHSDchat. Both encourage conversation, both ask meaningful questions about ideas, and both have the potential to make us more reflective about how we work with kids, and participate in this amazing enterprise, education.

So what will it look like on March 10th at 5PM (PST)? Well, we’ve got some ideas…

Diegueño’s library has great technology, including dual screens we might use to project #SDUHSDchat as the folks in the room talked about Wolff’s book. Kevin is thinking to capture some of the comments our the in person discussion and use them to compliment the chat online while I stay focused on the people with copies of the book out in front of them.

With the chat projected, those who are interested in plucking ideas and comments from the feed could use the greater mind of #SDUHSDchat to enhance the discussion we’re having around the table. If the smartest person in the room is the room, and the room has no walls…

We’re working on some questions that we might ask online that compliment the topics we’ll be talking about around the table in the library. For those who haven’t read the book, or all of the book, we want to make sure to provide enough to welcome ideas more general to education.

One of best parts of our last Diegueño Book Club was the wide variety of opinions and great diversity of perspectives. Wolff’s book encourages personal connections to the stories, and invites conversation about current education. In so many ways, those two ends are shared by #SDUHSDchat, and that convinces me to imagine that this pairing might even work.

photo (5)Maybe.

So whether we’re looking at the next New Coke or the next Godfather II, we’re approaching #DiegueñoBookChat with open minds, creative hearts, and growth mindsets. And if things go like Henry Ford’s explosive boiler, well, that’s one way we learn.



The next Diegueño Book Club, discussing How Lincoln Learned to Read by Daniel Wolff, will be on March 10th from 5:00-6:30 in the Diegueño Media Center.  If you can’t make it to campus, check it out at #SDUHSDchat on Twitter!


After the Pizza is Gone

photo 1 (28)Last week more than a dozen smart and funny educators gathered here at Diegueño for pizza and conversation. In an effort to promote our district’s weekly Twitter chat (#SDUHSDchat), we invited in anyone who wanted to learn more about Twitter, how to participate in a chat, and how to build their personal learning network (PLN). It was a ball.

We chose a conference room for the gathering, rather than a larger space like the library, and by the time we got started the room was bursting at the seams. With laughter drifting out into the rest of the admin building, some gifted teachers led the room through a series of silly questions, helping folks understand hashtags and Twitter conversations, not by reading about them or by being shown, but by doing.

The teachers and administrators who came were able to experience a chat with the support of other pizza stuffed, smiling colleagues. When someone made a good point, the room responded; when someone made a good joke, the room laughed. Wit filled the conference room as if it were Jillys and Sinatra was holding court with the rest of the Rat Pack.

photo 3 (21)By the time people left, I hope they understood some of the great things about a Twitter chat. They’d seen teachers and administrators who were not on site join the chat from other schools, and had a blueprint for how to participate. The question lurking in the back of my mind, however, was: “Would they come back?”

Would those smart and interesting folks who engaged with each other over pizza be game to log on from home after the pizza was gone and join the next #SDUHSDchat?

I’ll be honest, I have a vested interest: I’m moderating.

And so with high hopes of an evening of great professional connections, I asked myself what I could do to make it easy to participate on Tuesday 1/20.

A brief reminder of some of those Twitter basics seems like a good start, and a website that was given to me that did just that is: Mom, This is How Twitter Works.

Choosing an accessible topic was important, so I started with a question that every educator I know can answer with a smile: “Who was your favorite teacher?”

Knowing the questions ahead of time is another nice support, so here they are, at least in DRAFT form:

photo 4 (15)—> Q1: Who was your favorite teacher and what did she/he do that made her/him stand out for you?

—> Q2: What are some of the things you currently do that you learned from a favorite teacher?

—> Q3: What are some ways you (and your approach) are different from your favorite teacher?

—> Q4: Do you have a colleague who has inspired you? What did she/he do to motivate you to do something new or different?

So if you’re reading this and feel like participating, I’d love to see you at #SDUHSDchat on Tuesday, January 20th, from 8:00-8:30 PM (PST). It’s a low risk, high reward, and fun way to connect with other educators, even if you’re not eating pizza.

#SDUHSDchat is on 1/20/15, from 8:00-8:30 pm (PST). This week’s topic: “Inspiration, imitation, and amazing teachers!”

Davy Crockett

It’s not about me.

I should have kept that in mind when I ordered my son what I thought was going to be the highlight of the holiday giving season. I’d had one when I was a kid and loved it. That was a long time ago.

It’s a trap we sometimes fall into in education: imagining that students will love something because we did. Sometimes it pays off: I loved Jack London when I was young and my students seemed to dig his writing too. Sometimes it doesn’t: it took me two years to realize that I simply needed to stop trying to teach The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Simply stop. The kids hated it.

Occasionally it happens in disciplines other than English. I’ve had history teachers talk with me about how they’ve changed their practice to better reach kids, providing more choice to students and opportunities for them to engage in meaningful ways, wrestling with primary texts. It’s not that these teachers wouldn’t have loved to do those things when they were in school, but many were never given the chance, and it takes a risk, a suspension of disbelief, to change what they’ve known.

This year, with a move to an integrated math approach, math teachers at my school have had many opportunities to move beyond the tried and (sometimes) true ways of approaching curriculum, and the results have been positive.

It can be a struggle to give up an established way of doing things, but (sometimes) that’s just what kids need to learn both material and approaches that will help them prepare for the world that they’ll face. It can be that way for technology too. Loving our birch bark canoe doesn’t mean that the kids don’t need a hydrofoil.

I saw a quotation from Douglas Adams’ book A Salmon of Doubt:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

How true this can be (said the guy who still listens to CDs).

I’ve seen some great educators older than thirty-five who have overcome this Adamsism by focusing on the question: “What do I want my students to be able to do?” and taking that question to colleagues, administrators, and ToSAs (teachers on special assignment). We are at our best when we connect with others and share collective wisdom (which can erase individual fears).

As educators it is important that we are mindful of how and what we teach. That thoughtful reflection is something I should have thought about before I ordered what turned out to be an itchy gift for my six year old son.

capIt can be a challenge to see beyond our own experience, but we benefit kids when we push ourselves to do just that. A little discomfort with the unexpected nature of what we’re doing is as important as an acknowledgement that what was perfect for us might not be exactly what our students need today.

Our intentions may be golden, and our motivations honorable, but the results, if we stick to a text, or technology, or a methodology that we loved, might just fit like a coonskin cap.