Back To School Night for Teachers: All Smiles

To My Teacher Friends:

The calendar may read that September ends next Tuesday, but for me, September ends with Back to School Night.  Back to School Night, the last of the Opening of School rituals.  The last rite of passage before the school year sails into normalcy or at least as normal as a school year can be.  At quarter of nine on Thursday night, maybe a little longer, after the lot clears, Back to School season is over.  Let’s welcome “ordinary time” and its regular rituals and routines.

On Back to School night, for a few precious minutes, the stage may be ours, but the star of the show is the student. Parents attend this meeting to ascertain how their child, the student, will fit in the environment. All they care about is their child and to ensure that they are set up for nothing less than success.  I don’t blame them.

So, give them what they want.  Embrace it.  Be clear about your expectations for your classroom and what their child needs to do to succeed.  Above all, be positive.  This is another “set the tone” moment.  I guarantee that a dour beginning will drag on and on all year, and, eventually, inevitably, on a dreary April day, one parent will declare to me, “I knew this was doomed from Back to School Night and you refused to move my son to another class.”

Thank you, Nostradamus.  I did not see that one coming.

This is not a call to sell out.  This is a call to smile.  This a call to create a mindset of success and partner with parents to bring their children across the finish line.  After all, at the end of the day, we all believe the same mantra: All students can succeed in our classroom.  We are here for their child, for every child.  We are teachers, with Christ as our model.  When we say it with a smile, even after we worked all day, when we say it with belief, who can argue that?

Governor Romney and President Obama: Our Children Are Watching

      Almost eight months ago, my 10 year old daughter and I journeyed to New Hampshire the weekend before the Republican Primary.  My purpose at the time, aside from spending time with my daughter, was to immerse her in the political process.  To let her experience democracy in action, real retail, personalized politics.  I wanted her to see the politics is about the people and not just the personalities.  I wanted her to see civilty triumph.

We experienced just that.  In addition to meeting the good people of New Hampshire, we attended a Mitt Romney rally, sat in the front row of round table discussion featuring Rick Santorum, and were trampled by the media at a Jon Huntsman diner appearance.  We even happened by an Occupy New Hampshire commune and watched Ron Paul’s patriots parade on horseback through downtown Manchester.  It certainly was a learning experience.

As Mitt Romney prepares to accept his party’s nomination tonight, I think back to his rally at Pinkerton Academy in Derry.  At the time, I tweeted about the “inevitability” of his nomination so his ascension is not of surprise (I didn’t exactly go out on a limb with this tweet, of course).  I also think back to my wish for my daughter.  As this campaign moves forward, this is not just a wish for my daughter, it is also a wish for my students.

My wish for my daughter, all three of my daughters actually, and for my students, is for this campaign to be a true exercise in democracy, a true campaign for the people.  Is it too much to ask for this campaign to be about real issues?  Is it too much to ask for this campaign to be about the people?  Is it too much to ask for politics to be a noble profession and the discourse it produces be civil?

I fear I know the answer already and I fear for the future.  A future generation of America’s leaders is watching this exercise in democracy and is not seeing our nation’s leaders at their best.  The issues are too great and the dialogue too destructive.  Chasm replaces compromise.  Big money muddies the waters.  The Republicans are wrapping up their sideshow this evening and the Democrats will run out their dog and pony show next week.  Neither charade will do any good for our nation.

Maybe as the balloons deflate and the confetti is swept away, the dialogue will improve.  Maybe as the leaves fall, civility will triumph.  I hope so.  Our children are watching.


If You Build It…

The one constant through all the years … has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past… It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. –Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

With no disrespect to the Mariners or the Athletics or to the Marlins or the Cardinals, but today is Opening Day.  Baseball season begins anew today.  When baseball season opens, fans across the country as filled with hope because just like the outfield grass or the chalk line down the base paths, everything is fresh.  Everything is new.  For these fans, there are no wins and losses, there’s only hope and dreams left to fulfill.  There’s promise.

The disappointments of seasons past are distant memories because every season starts with a blank slate.  Baseball, not just season to season, but from its nineteenth century origins has reinvented itself time and again, just like Mann’s “blackboard.”

This, of course, got me thinking about schools.

Like baseball, our concept of school is rooted in the nineteenth century, back to the days of the one room schoolhouse.  Students sitting in rows, eyes trained on the teacher who is firmly entrenched at the front of the room.  The teacher, master of content, disseminating information to eager students. The classroom begins and ends at the classroom door.  Baseball has been “rebuilt and erased again.”  Can schools?

Of course, they can.  I am hopeful because I believe in schools, I believe in teachers and I believe in students.  I believe schools can reinvent themselves to meet the challenge of our changing times.

In schools and districts, all over the country this reinvention, this shift, this revolution is happening.   Is it happening fast enough?  We live in a new and ever-changing world where the teacher no longer needs to control and disseminate information.  We live in a world where the classroom does not end at the door but rather at the limits of our students’ grasp and imagination. The information is out there for our students to harness its power.

Our schools can truly be “fields of dreams.”  Students and teachers are practicing skills needed for the twenty-first century.   Schools are fostering programs that allow students to be creative and to collaborate, to think critically to and solve problems.  These skills are not about technology, they’re about learning.

It’s not enough to through an iPad or a laptop at a student and claim that our students are twenty-first century grand slam hitters.  These high-tech tools must enhance learning while promoting these twenty-first century skills.  Whether students are using Google Docs to collaborate or blogging to be creative or Tweeting out their critical thoughts or connecting with minds around the world to solve problems, our schools are getting there.

Getting there quickly enough?  Well, that’s another matter.  After all, the twenty-first century is already into its twelfth year, so let’s keep building.  There’s promise, so much promise.

Play ball!

A Happy Accident

As a lifelong student of history, I am well-aware that the world is full of examples of well-intentioned folks searching for one thing initially and then uncovering something entirely different,  though impactful, nonetheless.

Whether it was Christopher Columbus or Alexander Fleming or Jamie Link, these potential misadventures have changed the world forever.

When I ventured into my Connected Coaching journey nine weeks ago, for me, it was all about the “coaching” piece.  I wanted to learn all I could about improving my coaching skills.  I knew that investment of time for coaching would be a challenge and I wanted to conquer that mountain.  Right away, I embraced with enthusiasm important concepts like appreciative inquiry and empathy, questioning and mindfulness.  I enjoyed many “wanderings” along the way.  I even managed to do some meaningful reflection.  I felt like I was well on my way to becoming a successful coach.

Victory.  But there was more…

As I took my first steps along my journey, I never gave “connected” a second thought.

Heck, I was already “connected.”

After all, I had a Twitter account.  I use Web 2.0 tools in my classroom all the time. I’ve dabbled in Diigo and Delicious.  I am a PLP Peep.  I have over 400 Facebook friends.  I use my Google Reader.  I place Skype calls.  I know how to smile at someone on Elluminate.  I have had meaningful conversations, both online and face-to-face, with the captains of connectivity, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and Will Richardson. I read The Connected Educator by Sheryl (yes, I call her Sheryl because I’m “connected”) and Lani Ritter Hall. I attended EduCon.  Three times.  Once in a while, I even post on my blog, and, yes, it’s a pro account.

How much more connected can I get?

Much more, in fact.

Being connected goes beyond using the tools.  Being connected is also about relationships.  It’s about leveraging these relationships to enhance your learning and your deep reflections.  It’s about a baseball fan in Minnesota livingin China who gives who you an “a-ha” moment that makes you sit up straight in your bed in the middle of the night.  It’s about “happy grams” from Virginia and affirmations from Kansas.  It’s about celebrating successful students in Alabama.  It’s about garnering pearls of
wisdom from Texas to Norway to Denmark and points in between.  It’s about hearing the familiar echoes of parenting emanating from Canada.  It’s about a compassionate educator from Ohio who shared the tragedy that beset her community school and made you feel the hope in the healing.  It’s being stretched to places in your mind you never knew you could reach by supportive colleagues from across the globe.  It’s about knowing that your next Tuesday night will be drastically different than the nine that preceded it.

So, to my Tuesday night colleagues, thanks for sharing this journey with me.  Thanks for making mestretch, allowing me to grow, and allowing me to aspire toward this “happy accident” of connectivity.  You have changed my world forever.


I do not wish to offend, but I’m a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies fan.  I count their World Series win in 2008 as one of the most memorable events of my life.  For me, it was more than just winning.  It was about a town, a team, and a title, but it was also about family and friends.  It was about sitting at a World Series game with not only your father and brother, but also with your daughter, and across generations.   We were together, all sharing the same wonderful experience.

Leading up to their recent success under current manager Charlie Manuel, the Phillies organization fired manager Larry Bowa in the final days of the 2004 season.  Bowa, as a shortstop for the Phillies, won a World Series ring in 1980, played in all star games, and was awarded multiple Gold Gloves for his fielding prowess.  The success Bowa had as a player never really translated to success as a manager.  At the time of his dismissal, it was said that the hard nose Bowa wore on his players.  It was said that their performance did not match the standards he had for himself when he was a player.  It was said that he did not understand his players.  It was said that he did not listen to his players.

An essential part of coaching is trust and understanding who you are coaching.  This is where Bowa went wrong.  Trust between the coach and the team is essential.  It breaks down barriers and allows both the coach and the team to grow and learn together.  To establish trust the coach has to listen and ask the right questions.  Through these questions, the coach will learn important information about the team.  This essential information will build bridges for collaboration.  Chances are, the coach will learn that the team may not always learn like the coach used to learn or that the team has its own style.  Acceptance of these differences, embracing these differences, trusting in each other, will grow a successful product.

In the online setting, face-to-face is not always possible on the road to grow a successful product.  Working with text in these spaces can be effective but can also cumbersome and difficult to manage.  Images are helpful when team members can see image as a representation of what they are experiencing, feeling, and sharing.  Essentially, activities that are interactive and engaging will help teams build trust.  Trust bolsters relationships.

Not every great player will be a great coach.  Also, not every great coach was a great player.  Great coaches listen, build trust, foster relationships, and have expectations that are reasonable.  Coaches need to be patient and flexible, because, at the end of the day, things don’t always go according to plan.  And that’s ok.  One more thing… go Phillies!

In Philadelphia, Schools to Remain a Place for Children

Kristen Graham and Tony Graham of report that forty-eight public schools in Philadelphia will remain open on nights and weekends to accommodate programs and athletic events for thousands of Philadelphia young people through March 17.  According to Graham, this eleventh-hour deal saw the city put up $175,000 to not shut the schools down on nights and weekends.

It’s nice to see that cooler heads prevailed and that adults in charge remembered our children first.  Sadly, this is not the last difficulty our kids are in due to the fiscal crisis in our schools.  Maybe these same problem solvers can work to solve the District’s budget crunch so our kids are no longer trapped in the middle.    Our schools are for our children, after all.  Even after the dismissal bell rings.

In Philly, Schools are Not For Kids… At Least Not on Nights and Weekends

I once heard a janitor say that the school would be clean “if it weren’t for all those darned kids.”

Effective on February 11, Philadelphia public schools will be quiet on weekends and evenings.

According to Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the School District of Philadelphia  “will cancel all weekend programs and shut school buildings an hour early during the week in order to save $2.8 million.”  The move is designed to help close “a $61 million budget gap by June.”  This move comes on the heels of layoffs to school police, teachers, school nurses and school psychologists.  Budget gap aside, the move today shutters school to those who need it most: our children.  None of whom drove the Distict into financial disarray.

For thousands of our children in Philadelphia, schools are the only refuge for our kids.  Schools are the only place where they can play safely and well, just be kids.  Inside the walls of our schools, our kids can take refuge from the outside ills of the world.  Our kids who are involved in evening and weekend City of Department Recreation activities will be impacted.  In my own family, my three daughters play indoor soccer and basketball in public school buildings on nights and weekends.  It was not easy to explain to my seven year old daughter why next Saturday may be her last basketball game of the season, ending a month early.  She didn’t understand.  Neither do I.

I am not going to bury my head in the sand and deny that the District does not have financial difficulties.  Is this the way to solve it?  Closing our buildings to our kids?  Maybe the District will reconsider and remember who it needs to keep in its mind first and foremost: our kids.

Predictions for 2012

Everyone else seems to post their prediction for 2012, so I might as well, too.  I hope January 2 is not too late for predictions.  I’m not sure if I really went out on a limb, but, oh well.  I avoided education predictions because I have hopes for education that I will share later.  This time next year, all six of my readers can take me to task for my incorrect choices.

Iowa caucus winner:  Rick Santorum

New Hampshire primary winner:  Mitt Romney

Republican presidential nominee:  Mitt Romney

Republican vice presidential nominee:  Marco Rubio

Does Joe Biden remain on the Democratic ticket?  Yes

Does Donald Trump run for president as a minor party candidate?  No

Is “America Elects” a factor in the presidential race?  Not this year

Presidential Election Winner:  Barack Obama, in a squeaker

Who wins the House?  Republicans

Who wins the Senate?  A tie

Biggest International Troublemaker for US:  Iran

Academy Award, Best Picture:  War Horse

Academy Award, Best Actress:  Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Academy Award, Best Actor:  George Clooney, The Descendants

Professional Sports Champions:  Saints (NFL),  Canucks (NHL),  Heat (NBA), Phillies (MLB)

NCAA National Champions: Alabama (football), Kentucky (basketball – men), Baylor (basketball – women; because my wife and daughter are going to the Final Four in Denver)

Biggest Tech Disappointment:  iPad 3

Newest Talk Show Host: Herman Cain

And one more thing… The Mayans are wrong.

Educon 2.3: A Letter to My Daughter

hows educon? what do u do? is it just a bunch of smart people meeting and talking or is it something different?

The text message above was sent to me by twelve year old daughter as I sat in the second session of EduCon 2.3 this afternoon. To me, her text encapsulated the very idea of EduCon.

Here’s my response:

Dear Anna,
     Thanks for your text. EduCon is great, thanks. It’s more than just “smart people meeting and talking.” It’s about smart and passionate people not only talking, but listening as well. The key to EduCon is the conversation.
     Well-meaning, passionate people, who are driven to improve education gather at this outstanding little school, this exciting family under the banner of Science Leadership Academy. Here, the conversation either starts or continues, and that fire is taken back into schools across the country, to ideally, inspire change.
     Actually, honey, Educon is about you, your sisters, and the millions of students just like you. These adults, meeting, talking, and listening, truly care about you and your future. These adults truly care about you finding your passion, connecting in a digital world, and personalizing your learning. This is why I missed your soccer game today. Congrats on your goal, by the way. This is why I am here. I care about your present and your future, as does everyone gathered here. This was some text, eh? I love you. gtg.