Archive for May, 2010

Not For Sale

Before about 20 minutes ago, I’d never heard of Kevin O’Keefe.  My introduction to him came via this blog post, which came up when I Googled an excerpt from an email I received earlier this week.  Based solely on that one blogpost, the only evaluation of Mr. O’Keefe I can give you is about his jib.

I like the cut of it.

Y’see, Kevin and I each received the exact same email, he about a month before I.  You can read the exact transcript at the linked post above (aside from some minor syntactical differences in the first paragraph, the content is identical), but the gist is that he and I are “power Twitter users”, and we’re being invited to leverage our power-user-hood to (wait for it) make money on teh Internets by incorporating advertisements into our regularly scheduled programming Tweets.

My jib-admiring stems from Kevin’s explanation of why he finds this distasteful, which very closely mirrors my own thinking.  I get flak for my advocacy of Twitter as a networking tool for educators, but I’ve found it to be a fantastic way to make connections in the nearly three years I’ve actively used the service.  The tool itself, however, is secondary at best in importance to the people who live in my computer on the other end of all those other Twitter accounts who share ideas, information, opinions, and resources.  Twitter and services like it have the potential to help people make connections that:

  • overcome geographical boundaries
  • overcome many issues of ability and disability
  • are established on the basis of trust and transparency

Of course, this doesn’t apply if you use Twitter to auto-follow everyone in a hashtag search plus your favorite celebrities, but it does appear to apply to a large number of educators who use Twitter as a part-social, part-professional online water cooler.  Everyone uses Twitter differently: personally, I like to cast a wide net, and I try to follow back every individual (not company) who follows me, as long as we seem to have some mutual interests.  Obviously, I don’t have a tight working relationship with all 1100-some-odd people I follow, but I do take in a lot of what comes across my feed (and I appreciate it all), and I engage in discussions and relationships with a smaller cross-section of that number.  Of the people with whom I have established relationships, I would hate to a) spam them with ads, and b) have them think I’m spamming them when I’m recommending a product or service I legitimately enjoy or find useful.

In the post linked above, Kevin O’Keefe says, “If I like a restaurant, I’ll share word of it with people who trust me.  The restaurant needn’t pay me.”  At just about every professional development workshop I’ve given, I have always been self-conscious enough about my own authenticity that I have disclaimed any professional relationships with the services I demonstrate (e.g., Wikispaces, TodaysMeet, Google Apps) other than as a very satisfied end-user.  To me, it’s important that I not be seen as a shill because, rightly or wrongly, the question of who is paying my paycheck can very easily distract from more important questions, like “How can we use this to improve teaching” and “How might my students benefit from this?”

I’m not against anyone getting paid for what they do, especially if they do it well, and I understand that businesses have to advertise.  I just really don’t like the pseudo-social approach that this company wants to take – it feels sneaky to me.  I admit that may be an unfair characterization, but that’s how it feels in my gut, and I don’t want to be a part of it.  If I were to punctuate all my IRL conversations with frequent pitches for Amway or Avon (“You sure you don’t need any more bisque?  We’re having a sale this month, and–hey, where are you going?”), I’d quite rightly be ostracized by colleagues, friends, and family.  Similarly, I’d rather keep Twitter a space for me to communicate freely with other educators.  Whether I am discussing personal, professional, weighty, or silly topics, the content is original and genuine – it’s all me, for better or for worse.  I have gained and given trust in establishing ties with these folks, and I’ve gained much, not only in terms of professional knowledge and resources, but I’d also like to think I’ve established some good personal relationships and friendships via the medium, as well.  I would hate to taint that by feeding my friends and acquaintances ads every so often, even if they are ads I can hand-pick, as stated in the email.

I’ve managed pretty well for myself for three years without the burden of sponsorship – I think I’ll keep it that way.

Progress Report: One Year Later

Last July I described how I used online mindmapping program MindMeister to organize my then-overwhelming mishmosh of personal and professional goals neatly into academic years.  Now that the 2009-2010 academic year is drawing to a close, I thought I’d publicly review (because I’m nothing if not accountable) whether or not I achieved each of my goals.

Conduct county/state PD workshops: Sort of.  I applied, but ultimately was not chosen, to run some county-level PD workshops this year.  I was, however, asked to run two sessions at the New Jersey Education Association’s Technology Integration Conferences this spring.  Prior obligations prevented me from attending both, but I was able to make it to Trenton a few weeks ago to speak with a group of teachers about Google Sites.  I’m told it went well. 🙂  And in that vein…

Present at NJEA 2009: Yes!  Every November, the New Jersey Education Association hosts its annual convention in Atlantic City over two days.  Last summer, I submitted two proposals for the convention’s “High Tech Hall”, hedging my bets that one would be accepted and the other, not.  To my surprise, not only were both accepted (meaning I was “on stage” for eight straight hours the first day of the convention!), but I was also asked to come back the second day to do a one-hour workshop on wikis in the classroom.  It was a phenomenal experience (I wrote about it here and here), and I’ve already submitted more proposals for Convention 2010.

Attend two psychology conferences: Achievement unlocked!  I attended a presentation in King of Prussia, PA in September on Asperger Syndrome and the New Jersey Association of School Psychologists Winter Conference in Jamesburg, NJ in December.  While I mostly write here about educational technology, I am still a school psychologist for several hours out of the week, and I find far fewer online PD resources in this arena than I do for general ed classroom teachers.  One notable exception to this is the National Association of School Psychologists, who has an entire hub of online resources, including RSS feeds of info, blogs, and online webinars and presentations for which I can receive continuing education credit hours towards my national school psychologist re-certification (thanks, NASP!).  Beyond them, however, I haven’t found much (but am open to suggestions if you have any!).

In a related vein, I also had the privilege of attending a talk by renowned education law guru Perry Zirkel, who came to my school to address an audience of special education teachers and Child Study Team members from Hunterdon County.  An unexpected PD bonus, to be sure!

Get an iPhone: (OK, so they can’t all be lofty goals.) I’d lusted over the iPhone since the day it came out, but in the weeks leading up to my current contract expiring, Sprint introduced a new Android phone, the HTC Hero.  I ended up sticking with Sprint and purchasing the Hero shortly after it came out – the Android market is easily competitive with the iPhone App Store, and my monthly payment is still significantly less than what it would be with AT&T.  I love my Android phone, and can’t see myself going back now.  I didn’t technically achieve this goal, but I’m quite satisfied with how it turned out nonetheless.

Get published:
Yes and no.  At the time of goal-setting, I had envisioned writing an article and having it published in an academic journal.  That hasn’t happened YET (but watch this space in the next year), but I am proud to announce that I will have two short stories published in upcoming anthologies by Kaplan Publishing.  The Teachable Moment is available from June 1, 2010, and includes my story “Alleviating Shakes-Fear”, about my experiences teaching Shakespeare’s works to high school students.  My second story, “The Ick Factor”, will appear in One Size Does Not Fit All (available from June 29, 2010), and presents my feelings on the importance of a visible GLBT presence in school curriculum.  As noted in the agreement I signed with Kaplan, I retain the copyright to my stories, and will be publishing them here as well over the next month or so.

Attend EduCon: Did it.  I only live an hour’s train ride away from Chris Lehmann’s Science Leadership Academy, so now that I’m done with grad school (for now) and my kids aren’t babies any more, I really had nothing preventing me from going.  I had wanted to attend since the first EduCon in 2008, but circumstances were such that I wasn’t able to make it until the 2010 event this past January.  I only attended one of the three days, and you can read my thoughts on my time there hereDeven Black and I also recorded an episode of EdTechClassroom with Karen Chichester & Burt Lo in which we discussed our respective experiences at SLA (check it out here!).

There are two other goals on that list of a more personal nature that I can’t go into here, but I will say that one is in process and the other one has been intentionally deferred until next summer.

These certainly aren’t the only things I’ve done in the past year, but these were the major goals I wanted to make absolutely sure I hit (or at least made progress on) since last summer.  Would I have achieved them had I not recorded them and periodically referred to the mindmap?  Perhaps; it’s impossible to say, really.  All I know is I did write them down and I did achieve almost all of them… and yes, I’ve already started looking at my list of 2010-2011 goals and working hard to make those dreams realities, too.

We’re always setting short- and long-term goals for our students, but are you doing it for yourself?  We all have ideas of what we’d like to do, but have you taken the time to think 6-12 months into the future, put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard!), and make those intentions a little more concrete?  Perhaps most importantly (and terrifying), are you sharing those goals with anyone else?

Meeting Horace

When Dr. Ted Sizer passed away this past October, I must admit I had never heard of him; however, for weeks following the sad news, Twitter was abuzz with educators extolling the virtues of Dr. Sizer’s contributions to education reform, specifically the books he authored known as the Horace trilogy: Horace’s Compromise, Horace’s School, and Horace’s Hope.

My interest piqued, I looked for these works in my school’s library.  The only book that was available was the last in the trilogy, Horace’s Hope: What Works for the American High School.  Going into it, I feared that reading this first would be a bit like watching Return of the Jedi before the other Star Wars films, but as I read on, I found the book stood just fine on its own as a series of case studies of school systems that have bucked traditional models of what the American public education system has been and developed more progressive, student-centered communities of learners.  Re-reading that, I realize that sounds very tree-huggy and hippy-dippy, but the schools Sizer describes are not theoretical models of what could be – they are concrete examples of what has been done, and with great success.

The books of the Horace trilogy were published over a 12-year period from 1984 to 1996, and it genuinely shames me to say that it took me until now to discover them, as I think they would have been so beneficial to me when I was teaching high school English, especially early on in my career (which didn’t even begin until four years after Horace’s Hope was published) – they would have provided me significant insight and lessons I eventually had to learn the hard way (which isn’t necessarily bad for me, but for the sake of my students…).

I’m not going to write a book report here, but I do want to highlight a section of the book that impacted me so greatly that I actually made sure to jot down the information for personal future reference.  Sizer noted 13 conclusions to which he came after a decade of working with schools through his reform advocacy group, the Coalition for Essential Schools (these are different from the nine common principles of the CES).  Sizer annotates this list heavily in his book (so go read it!), but I will simply reproduce the list here:

  1. The leap from traditional school practice to commonsense reform is for most Americans a heroic one.
  2. Focus and Exhibitions are important.
  3. If students are to understand deeply, less is more.
  4. The students have to do the work.  We learn when we engage, the more intensely the better.
  5. Human-scale places are critical.
  6. Practice caring rigor and rigorous caring.
  7. Adults must be interesting and confident.
  8. Control, autonomy, and choice are essential.
  9. Attempting too little is a recipe for failure.
  10. Start as early as possible.
  11. The relationship between the top and bottom of the educational hierarchy must be fundamentally rethought.
  12. Clusters of schools proceed more effectively than schools alone.
  13. Respect the persistent tortoise.

(Sizer, 1996, pp. 80-104)

I imagine most folks who read this blog have already started making mental comparisons between Sizer’s list and their own practice (yup, yup… nope, uh-uh…); I know I certainly did.  I also thought about how the schools at which I’ve worked have measured up as systems against Sizer’s conclusions; after all, much of what CES advocates for favors cultural (in the sense of school & community culture) implementati0n over pockets of innovation in this classroom and that.

My recollection of reading this passage for the first time involves me laying on my couch, reading silently to myself, and occasionally nodding.  Then the nodding grew more vigorous, punctuated with “mm-hmm”s.  By the time I hit 11 or 12, I was upright and saying “Yes!” out loud to nobody in particular.

Whenever I read books about education, I find myself doing so through a very critical and skeptical lens, but my experience reading Horace’s Hope has been somewhat profound (and decidedly out of character for me).  In Sizer, I believe I have found a posthumous mentor – someone who has already researched, articulated, and expounded upon the flittering, semi-formed ideas I have had about education, but done it far better than I could hope to.  I’m looking forward to learning a lot more from his body of work and the ongoing work of the Coalition of Essential Schools, and perhaps one day earning the honor of contributing in some way to his legacy in education.


Sizer, T.  (1996).  Horace’s hope: what works for the American high school. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.