The Book Group We’ve Been Waiting For

#wellrED logo

You and anyone you care to invite are invited to join the new book group on GoodReads – #wellrED.

Jose Vilson and I have started the group, and our first book study will start March 19 when we dive into Lisa Delpit’s inaugural work Other People’s Children. The book is scheduled to last 5 weeks, with a second book starting not long after that.

I anticipate online discussion forums, hangouts, and twitter chats will be on the schedule as we move forward.

More than all that, though, is my excitement over the conversations we’ll be having. For me, it’s been a jarring experience heading to Colorado after being on the East Coast for 5 years. Here, there is little-to-no practical conversation about race, class, privilege, and all of the other difficult conversations that should come up when we consider what it means for people of all backgrounds to come together for a joint educational enterprise.

I’ll let Jose explain his hopes for the group, and I’d like to think this is a continuation of his EduCon conversation with Audrey Watters – “The Privileged Voices in Education.”

I don’t expect the conversations to be easy. I expect some folks will be uncomfortable. That’s how growth and change usually work. I also expect that it’s an important conversation we’re not having enough of in our schools, in our district’s, and in our country.

Join us.

PD: Ask teachers to teach their passions

Pete Rodrigues’s recent post on building capacity inspired me to comment. As is often the case, my thinking didn’t cease with the posting of the comment.

Here’s the comment:

I’ve started wondering about the different approaches to determining the topics of PD.

I get that the current model runs on the idea of either running sessions on the newest fad or those areas of need identified within the educational setting.

What about this? What if you went to your teachers and said, “I’ll give you an hour to develop a PD session around something about which you’re passionate.”

Of course, they’d have to keep in mind the need for differentiation.

Still, think of the untapped energy that could come from such a question.

I haven’t stopped thinking about that energy.

What if, for an hour, your school’s art teacher led a lesson on painting, your choir teacher took an hour to teach the importance of harmony, your anatomy teacher helped the faculty through a dissection.

This wouldn’t be teaching about teaching, but actually teaching. Literally teachers as students.

This need not be limited to classroom passions. If an algebra teacher wants to teach on the beauties of pop music or social activism or Chopin, so be it.

Pete’s reply raises the important factors of culture shift and compensation. I see them as difficulties, but not impossible ones.

Start small with lunch groups. PD leaders can model by switching up and teaching a session on what they’re passionate about. Ask students to model and their passions around video games or texting or reading or music or sports or whatever those crazy kids are doing these days.

More than requiring a culture shift, I’m thinking passion-based PD would act as a catalyst for a culture shift.

Things I Know 31 of 365: Silliness is golden

I love to laugh.

– Uncle Albert, Mary Poppins

You know what made Captain Kirk great?

Not the countless rescues of the planet(s) cum galaxies cum universe((s)?).

Not his rainbow of romantic conquests.


James Tiberius Kirk was great because he could have fun. The guy heeded Mary Poppins’s advice, and took a spoonful of sugar on each mission.

Almost every episode ended with Jim, Bones and Spock on the bridge ribbing each other as though they’d forgotten thwarting death once again.

Lately, it strikes me the fun is neglected more often than not when we talk about teaching.

I’m not talking learning.

I’m talking teaching.

It’s fun.


My best days in the classroom are those in which I do one hundred silly things before lunch. If I’ve taken my work seriously, but not myself, I’ve done alright.

I don’t get the feeling programs like KIPP put too much stock in silly.

That might be the real danger.

If we’re truly facing some of the most complex challenges of the modern or any era, building classrooms of Borg is not the answer.

Success should include an element of silly.

Saturday, Diana, Ros and I led a session at EduCon on interdisciplinarity. The ideas were flying, and nearly 50 educators from all over the country joined us.

We spoke of supports and obstacles. We shared resources and we networked. We deliberated on the existence of common ground between scripted and project-based curricula. Many pieces of the conversation challenged my thinking.

The most tweeted moment from the session?

A joke I made.

No profession should ever be this starved for funny.

Yes, times are hard. Yes, the policy debate looks like it was designed on the island of Dr. Moreau. Yes, budgets are drying up faster than Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career.

And, we’ll get all of that sorted out.

First and always, let’s have a little levity.

It will save us.

When Mike Myers faced off with James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio, Myers commented on the most important lessons he’d learned while growing up poor.

His parents taught him the value of free fun and of silly.

I’ll buy that.

When I hear about the incredibly high burnout rates of new teachers, I cannot help but think their professors taught them how to teach, but not how to have fun doing it.

And, it’s too much work not to have fun doing it.

I love teaching because teaching the whole child requires me to be my whole self. Every day, I access my passion for learning and asking questions – all the while looking for the funny.

Seriousness of mission and purpose need not mean seriousness in execution.

#EduConText Session 3: The Great Prohibition: Using Cell Phones Outside the Ban

The Great Prohibition: Using Cell Phones Outside the Ban

When: Session Three: Saturday 2:30pm–4:00pm Where: Room 313 Who: Lisa Nielsen, George Engel

Affiliation: The Innovative Educator Blog, Conversational Focus/Audience: High School, Middle School

I’ve attended several conference presentations about the role of cell phones in learning. Generally, the conversation tends toward, “Yes, they’re important in learning,” and then moves to a discussion of tools.

While I see the possibility for that here, I’m also hopeful for a discussion of pedagogy and the thought processes surrounding building lessons utilizing these devices. I’m hopeful the conversation will include consideration of standard lesson plans and how mobile technologies an be transformative to the learning outcomes of those plans.

My questions heading into the conversation are:

  • How do you know if you’re using mobile technologies simply because they’re shiny rather than using them because they’re the ideal tool?
  • What are the best approaches to designing lessons that allow for students without access to mobile technologies that don’t water down the assignments?
  • How can we better harness the communication power of the technologies along with the creative power?
  • Are teachers using their mobile devices in the same way they’re asking their students to use those same devices?
  • What are the implications of mobile technologies in how we approach reading, writing and research instruction? More simply, how, if at all, does the incorporation of mobile technologies require us to teach differently?
  • What are the inherent properties of the devices that can assist learning apart from additional apps?
  • What’s the scholarship around mobile devices in education?

I’m glad Lisa and George are leading this conversation, and I look forward to hearing what the other folks in the room have to say. I’m hopeful, as the title suggestions, we’ll be able to move past the bans and focus on the pedagogical implications.

Where will you be conversing during Session 3? How are you starting to build your context for the conversation?

What is EduConText?

Things I Know 23 of 365: Bars are better than pedestals

The time to make up your mind about people is never.

– Katherine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story

Someone mentioned to me the other day that I’d set the bar high.

I like that.

Alex is a former G8 student of mine who pole vaulted when he moved on to high school. I went to cheer him on once. Never having seen pole vaulting before, I was struck with the concept of it.

Kids were competing against two people – whoever cleared the highest measurement and their own highest vault.

The day I watched Alex compete, he didn’t place. The other athletes were of a different caliber. When he came over to talk to us following the event, though, Alex didn’t mention how he’d measured up to the others. Instead, he was frustrated with his own performance compared to what he knew he was capable of.

He’d vaulted his best for the day, but knew he could do better.

In Alex’s mind, his bar was higher.

A friend of mine had to call a student’s parents the other day. Not for the best of reasons. The student was terrified.

Her parents were pedestal people.

Their daughter could do no wrong. She was an A student. She was a star athlete. If she joined an organization, that group would be foolish not to have her as its president.

The phone call was to alert her parents that the student’s homework was off of late. As a result, her grade was slipping, and the teacher wanted to soften the blow.

The pedestal was shaking.

When bars are set, they give us something to shoot for – a reason to aim higher the next time. We know we’ve been there and want to go a little bit higher.

When we’re placed on pedestals, we’ve nothing to do but fear falling.

Bars are better.

Friday marks the start of SLA’s fourth iteration of EduCon. Watching the Interwebs, it is clear many are looking for a pedestal experience.


Education policy in the U.S. at the moment is built around pedestal experiences. We ask this year’s students to crawl up the the pedestal of last year’s students while we arbitrarily move it a bit higher. I never understood the purpose of King of the Mountain.

Set a bar instead.

Hell, set many bars.

For those returning to EduCon, consider your experience last year, what you took home, how it shifted your practice. Then, think what you can do this year to own the experience a little more, to ask a little more of yourself. Move the bar.

For those attending EduCon for the first time, decide what you want to learn, ask what assumptions you want to question, and how you want to inform your own practice. Then, do that. Set a bar.

EduCon is no more some sort of educational Mecca than my English class is a literary Jerusalem.

If you want to get the most from EduCon, approach it the same way I’ll be approaching teaching tomorrow – mindful of the best days and thoughtful of what I must do to be a little bit better than that.

EduConText Session 1: Meaningful Student Voice: What happens when student work goes public (and digital)?

Meaningful Student Voice: What happens when student work goes public (and digital)?

When: Session One: Saturday 10:00am–11:30am, Where: Room 301, Who: Meenoo Rami, Abby Baker, Ted Domers, Chuck Poole & Trey Smith, Affiliation: Franklin Learning Center and Philadelphia Writing Project

Conversational Focus/Audience: All School Levels

Student voice informing practice has become that subconscious and integral piece of my own practice. From sensing the stress brought about by their other classes and moving deadlines to refining assignments on the fly when what I was certain would work has turned to a smoldering pile of crap.

This session piques my curiosity in a couple ways.

The description implies a choice in whether or not students take their work public. Most frequently taking student work public is about compulsory publishing. I’m interested in a pedagogical discussion of how we can help our students decide what is worthy of publishing with the same vim we throw into telling them what isn’t worthy of publishing.

I’m also curious about the feedback processes others are establishing with publishing of student work. I’d like to hear how they’re keeping work from languishing in online ghost towns.

In considering the elements outside the control of the Rami, Baker, Domers, Poole and Smith, I’ve one major hope from my fellow conversationalists – teach in subjects other than English.

One of the professional conversations around published student work that’s proven most valuable to me this year was with a math teacher at SLA. Our views on the purpose behind publishing differed. Those differences led to some interesting reflection on my part. I hope more than English teachers show up to add their approaches to the conversation.

To prep my thinking for the conversation, here are the questions I’ll be considering about my own practice:

  • What determines which student work is published in my classes?
  • How authentic is the publishing experience?
  • What happens to published student work?
  • How am I modeling the creation of publishable/ed work?

My questions for the conversation:

  • How do I establish feedback processes that move toward the continued refinement of student work?
  • When publishing student work, how can I work in concert with teachers in other disciplines who might be operating with different goals?
  • How do we determine what student work should be published (because of content or quality)?
  • What approaches are others taking for the curation of published spaces?
  • Where are others drumming up audiences for published student work?
  • How do students and other teachers interpret the value of readership within the school environment compared with outside that environment?

It looks as though the presenters are constructing a conversation that will lead participants to thoughtful consideration of their own pedagogical beliefs around student voice and publishing. It also looks as though we’re moving past making the argument for the importance of student publishing and transitioning to understanding the best ways to approach the practice.

What are you thinking?

What is EduConText?