Archive for February, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

Fair warning: this post has nothing to do with any of the topics I usually write about.  I really just want to brag about my wife, and since it’s my blog, after all…

ANYWAY – just putting it out there that my wife Stephanie was a contestant on the American game show Wheel of Fortune back in November, and her episode is airing this Wednesday, February 27th.  I’m pretty sure it airs on your local ABC affiliate in the evenings (it’s 7:30pm here in eastern Pennsylvania), but if you’re interested in watching my beautiful, talented wife pick consonants and buy vowels, you can check when it airs in your local market here.

Happy viewing!


I’m Damian Bariexca, and This Is How I Internet

I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but five years after joining Facebook, I’m starting to sour on the service.  In my experience, it’s good for a few things like keeping up with people from my past or sharing jokes and kid pictures with friends and colleagues, but beyond that, it just feels like it’s kind of there in my life without any other specific value.

I’m not going to delete my Facebook account; even if I was, I’m not that dramatic that I’d do so with such fanfare.  Much like my telephone or postal address, it provides me with one avenue of connecting with people.  But in his Lifehacker article “Why I’ve Opted for a Piecemeal Social Network over Facebook or Google+”, Adam Pash pretty well addresses at least one of the reasons I’m not so big on Facebook any more: instead of focusing on one or two services and doing them well, it tries to be everything to everyone (e-mail replacement, photo sharing service, location check-in) and only does a so-so job of it.

Of course, the flipside to that coin is that one can choose to use many different services, all of which only serve one or two of Facebook’s many functions.  As Pash notes in his article, the benefit to doing this is that if I become unhappy with any service (remember the Great Instagram TOS Debacle of 2012?), I can feel free to pull the plug entirely on that service without losing EVERYTHING.

In my grand tradition of tech-related navel-gazing self-reflection, I’ve put down a few thoughts about how I use what I use, and why I use it:

Top Tier Services

Twitter: My first social network (I was active there several months before joining Facebook), I use Twitter primarily for professional purposes: connecting with other educators and sharing resources and education-related articles (with occasional silliness!).  To contrast my use of the two, I’d say I use Twitter more for professional connection, and Facebook more for personal.

My blog: This is my personal, public space where I can write and reflect.  Unlike Facebook Notes, this space of mine is open to the world, and as I’ve said before, since I pay for the domain name and webhosting, I feel a greater sense of ownership over it than when I wrote on a free, hosted blog.  Edit, 2/17/13: Just came across this piece by Doug Belshaw that frames the self-hosting argument in light of the recent announcement that Posterous is shutting down.  Greater ownership, but also greater control.

Flickr: After a hiatus, I’ve come back to Flickr for sharing photos.  The Pro accounts are somewhat pricey, but Flickr has a robust community of photographers, and I am more comfortable with the level of control I feel I have over how my photos are used, or if I allow them to be used at all (via Creative Commons licenses).  I deleted my Instagram account amid the aforementioned TOS kerfluffle, and I’m still not entirely comfortable with Facebook’s approach to user photos; as a result I don’t tend to post a whole lot of personal pics on the service.  In addition to Flickr (which is for public sharing), I also keep my family’s digital photo album on Picasa.  It’s not for public consumption, but I can share privately with family members via a specific link so my parents, in-laws, etc., can see them as well.

Aside from Facebook, these are the services I use most often (and most dynamically) for social networking.  Other services I use either much more infrequently or without the same social focus.

Second String Services

Foursquare: I sometimes push my location checkins to Facebook or Twitter if I feel they are share-worthy (most aren’t), but I use it mostly to update the map on my professional portfolio website.

Google+: I’ve tried so hard to get into G+, but I just can’t, at least not now.  Maybe it’s social network overload, but I just can’t.  I push my blog posts to my G+ account, when I remember.

LinkedIn: This one probably makes the most sense to maintain and keep current, which I do.  Right now it’s pretty much just to have a presence there, but it may become more valuable to me in future endeavors.

Goodreads: I enjoy seeing what my friends are reading, and occasionally chat with them on this service.  I use it mostly for my own record keeping about books I’ve read or want to read.

RunKeeper: Same rationale as Goodreads.  Tracking my running stats is incredibly motivating for me; the social piece of this service is secondary.

Diigo: I use this to bookmark sites relevant to special education & school psychology.  I auto-publish my Diigo saves to Twitter via IFTTT, but don’t actively “friend” people on Diigo itself.

Delicious: Same as Diigo, but I use Delicious to maintain an archive of interesting articles I share to Twitter.  This service replaces the long-defunct “Shared Items” function in Google Reader.

Of course, much of what I do on these services gets pushed to Facebook anyway, but that’s primarily because that’s where most of “my people” are.  As with any social network, the real value is in the people, not the tool, and right now, most of the people in my life are on Facebook, which keeps me tethered there to some extent.  It’s why I didn’t leave Twitter for back in 2008, and why I haven’t quit Facebook for Google+.  Still, on the tool side, I’m finding less use for Facebook these days and more for these other services.

How We Flipped Our Faculty Meeting

On January 14, 2013, my school held its first “Flipped Faculty Meeting” (FFM).   Just as the “flipped classroom” model seeks to relegate rote content delivery to non-class time and make more efficient use of face-to-face (F2F) time in class, the idea of the flipped faculty meeting – at least as our school has pursued it thus far – is twofold:

  1. shift rote information delivery to an electronic format (e.g., email) to be consumed outside of the meeting
  2. make our faculty meeting time meaningful for the professional learning of each staff member

That second point is open to wide interpretation, of course, and just like there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, there’s no wrong way to flip a faculty meeting (or at least, there are several right ways).  The option our school went with, at least this time, was to have the Jan. 14 meeting function as a mini-Edcamp, in which teachers could select from a variety of workshops on topics generated by staff and facilitated by our colleagues.

One major difference between our FFM and an Edcamp, of course, is that Edcamps are 6-8 hour events, with self-selecting (read: voluntary) attendees and plenty of time to develop workshop sessions.  We, on the other hand, had just one hour for our FFM, and all faculty members were required to attend.  The time issue especially meant that a lot of pre-planning had to go into this so we could all hit the ground running at 3:45pm and have our experience go as smooth as possible.  Here’s how we did it:


At a faculty meeting in October, our principal asked the faculty to think about what it was we felt we needed PD/training/more time spent on.  Our staff of 150-200 was divided into breakout groups, and each group discussed amongst themselves and put individual topics down on index cards.

Our School Improvement Team (SIT) met at some point since, reviewed the index cards gathered from the faculty, and identified common themes/strands. From there, they turned the common themes into ten areas (which would later become our topics for the FFM).

With this information, I created a survey so attendees could indicate which session they’d like to attend.  It’s worth noting here that the Edcamp ethos of “the rule of two feet” applied here – if attendees did not feel a workshop was meeting their needs, they were free to go to another one; however, we asked people to complete the survey simply so we could get an idea of each session’s attendance beforehand (and if we’d have to split any into smaller groups, as we did for one workshop, or cancel any due to lack of interest, which we also did).

We also created a separate Google Doc for each session, which would be used as a brainstorm/scratchpad for attendees prior to the FFM sessions.  We felt that the development of essential questions beforehand would be instrumental not only in guiding the conversations, but also in getting us off and running as early in the hour as possible.

For the inaugural FFM, SIT members (and I) agreed to facilitate the sessions.  From the time I rolled out the idea of the FFM to the whole faculty some time in December, I have been talking it up and reiterating at every turn that this is not “sit & git”; it is a collaborative conversation and/or workshop environment.

Finally, the SIT created signage that indicated where each session would be held.  There would be no large group meeting to start off the hour; we all just came in from our afternoon duty and got to where we needed to be.  Efficient, no?

On The Day

After bus duty, we all went our separate ways and got to work.  Our principal and the district Director of Instructional Services toured the building and dropped in on all the sessions.  I can’t speak to the quality or direction of all the conversations from first-hand experience, of course (I was facilitating in a computer lab), but the preliminary chatter I overheard in the hallway on the way out was all positive.

We surveyed our faculty members toward the end of the hour, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.  Of 63 respondents, 54 indicated that the format met their needs, 7 said it did not, and 2 said “Yes and no”.  Positive comments generally centered around the following themes:

  • It was great to have time to discuss what we feel is important
  • It was helpful to see what other teachers are doing to inform our own practice
  • The format lent itself to productive discussions in small groups
  • Time to brainstorm with colleagues was beneficial

We also got some good suggestions for future sessions, including:

  • Smartboard training
  • Vertical subject area articulation between grades
  • Reading strategies
  • “Share a Center”

Some constructive criticism revolved around the following themes:

  • Nothing offered pertinent to my subject area
  • Time allotted was insufficient
  • More variety of topics needed
  • We need an “expert” in this area to guide us; not enough expertise in the room to fully develop conversation (primarily in regard to the new Common Core State Standards)

Moving Forward

At this point, it is my understanding that the administration would like to hold another FFM sometime in February.  I’m all for that, as long as that gives us enough time to reflect on the strengths of the format and work on areas in need of improvement.  Personally, I would like to see this model employed for building-level (or – dare I say it – district-level?!) professional development days at some point in the future, perhaps in a way that more closely models an actual Edcamp (multiple sessions throughout the day).  I also think that as people get more comfortable with the format, we may see more volunteering to facilitate conversations – several people indicated on their surveys that they would indeed be interested in doing so next time!

As of now, I still have not sat with the principal, assistant principal, or SIT to do a proper post-mortem on the FFM, but informal conversations with all have been positive.  If nothing else, I hope this post can serve as a model to school leaders who want to make more efficient and productive use of their faculty meetings.  In 13 years as an educator, I have never attended a faculty meeting and received information that couldn’t have been better (or quicker) delivered as an email or a memo.  I’m not saying that it’s never appropriate to share information in that forum, but I don’t think it should be the default function of the meeting.  Let’s use that time together to collaborate, share ideas, and tackle some of the more challenging questions of the day together.  Teaching can be isolating enough as it is, so let’s make better use of that time to interact with each other instead of always just sitting and listening, together, alone.