Archive for the ‘Progress’ Category

Habits of Mind: Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Remaining Open to Continuous Learning: Learn from experiences!  Having humility and pride when admitting we don’t know; resisting complacency.

…I guess it’s a loose interpretation of the word “series” since I haven’t written a Habits of Mind post in over three years, but better late than never, right?

Of all the Habits of Mind, I think this one is probably the most important, as well as the most difficult, for educators to exercise.  I say this because it requires us to remain humble, teachable, and open to new learning despite enormous pressure from multiple sources to appear as “experts”, either in a given content area or in the field of education in general.

That’s certainly not to say we do not achieve respectable levels of expertise throughout our careers.  As I begin my 18th year, I certainly know more than I did in my first, tenth, or even my seventeenth, and I hope to continue that trend well into the foreseeable future.

The rub comes when we start to believe our own hype.  It takes a special degree of self-awareness to balance the knowledge of what one knows with the understanding that there is much yet to learn.  I did not start to achieve that balance until at least several years into my career, having spent the first few keeping up appearances in order to maintain the trust of my students, their families, and my colleagues – at least, that’s what I thought I had to do.

Call it maturity, experience, or something else, but I’m much more comfortable saying “I don’t know” at this stage in the game than I was as a 23-year-old rookie.  I chalk some of that up to the fact that when I don’t know something, my background is deep enough that I usually know where I can go or who I can consult to find the information I need.  The rest of it, I suppose, is that I’m finally over the need to feel I need to prove my knowledge or value in a given moment because I prove my knowledge and value every day in my job.

I’ve had a few “do-overs” in my career so far, starting as a teacher, then moving to a school psychologist, and most recently to an instructional supervisor.  The first year in each position was the roughest, but I took those opportunities to ask a lot of questions, do a lot of listening, and keep my eyes wide open, observing everything I could.  Starting those positions in a place of humility, rather than aggressively trying to prove how much I knew or throw my authority around, was not necessarily easy, but it was worthwhile, as doing so helped me to continue my learning and move forward as more confident and, ultimately, more beneficial to my students and colleagues than if I had just tried to bulldoze my way forward from the word go.


Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).   It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

EdcampNJ Two Weeks Later

EdcampNJ on December 1 kicked off one of the the busiest periods of the school year so far for me, so I haven’t had much time to sit and collect my thoughts on it until now.  Much of what I’ve said before about Edcamps still applies; it was great to flatten the hierarchy of teachers – building admins – district admins, if just for a day, in order to talk about improving our practice.  As I said on Facebook the following morning:

Yesterday I met principals, teachers, nurses, guidance counselors, reading specialists, and librarians, among others. They were all there on their OWN time, on a Saturday, UNPAID, to improve their craft. It’s easy to get beaten down when you work in public ed, especially in NJ, but beyond being good for our professional practice, yesterday was good for the soul. Can’t wait for the next one.

And I think that second-to-last sentence is where I’m spending a lot of time these days, thinking about the role of personal relationships in our professional practice.  When any group of people comes together to plan an Edcamp, they do so under very natural, organic circumstances.  They choose to involve themselves in the process, and although the ultimate goal is professional growth and improvement, the vibe around the process – especially in the week or so leading up to it – is akin to getting ready to leave for summer camp and seeing all your camp friends you haven’t seen since last summer.

I’m sure there’s a more eloquent way to put that, but the blurring of those professional-personal relationships seems to be where a lot of the positive energy surrounding these events comes from.  When I got to Linwood Middle School for EdcampNJ, it was handshakes and hugs all around, just the same as when we put on Edcamp Leadership back in July.  These were not only people I respected on a professional level, but also people I liked hanging out with, and we somehow managed to pull off a thoroughly professional event while learning a lot and having a blast doing it.

As a future school leader, interpersonal relationships are something I think a lot about in terms of the development of school culture.  It would be great if everyone at work just got along well, but that’s not realistic.  This component of the Edcamp experience is (probably?) not scalable to a whole building or district, but it’s very similar to starting a garage band with your buddies or when the neighborhood kids decide, “Hey!  Let’s put on a show right here in the backyard!”  Everyone’s all in from the word “go”, and what happens after that is, at least in part, a direct result of that micro-culture that’s been created by the volunteers.

Yes, we had good conversations about pedagogy, technology, and learning, but like I said above, it was good for the soul just to be in a social learning space with fellow educators.  I’m definitely not one for woo-woo, but metaphorically speaking, the energy surrounding the event felt rejuvenating, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me.  Makes me wonder if and how we can do this more frequently or more pervasively, for students as well as educators.

EdcampNJ Is Almost Here!

Just a quickie post to further publicize an upcoming Edcamp event with which I am involved – EdcampNJ!

If you’re not familiar with Edcamp/ “unconference” events, here’s how I described the event this past summer:

Most of you who read blogs by educators are at least passingly familiar with Edcamp, the participant-driven “unconference”  for educators based on the BarCamp model.  Edcamps typically do not have keynote speakers or even pre-determined workshop schedules; rather, attendees come together first thing in the morning to offer sessions based on their own knowledge, expertise, and experience.  Sessions are typically more conversation-driven than lecture-driven, and those who offer sessions act more as discussion facilitators than presenters.  In other words, the Edcamp folks have taken the most valuable parts of the professional conference – the “coffee pot conversations” held with your colleagues in between sessions and at lunch – and built the entire event around them.

This event will take place this coming Saturday, December 1, 2012, at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, NJ, from 9am – 3pm.  As of last count, we have over 400 educators of all backgrounds and geographic locations (including some from across the pond!) signed up to attend; if even only 50% of those show, it will be one of the best-attended Edcamp events ever.

As always, the cost to attend is free – we just ask that you register so we know how many to expect.

There promises to be something for everyone at this event, and if nothing offered tickles your fancy – run your own session!  You don’t have to be an expert to run a session, you just have to want to hold a conversation.  I will be there, and plan to blog my reflections on the day later in December.

Hope to see you there!

Edcamp Leadership: Nuts & Bolts

Previously, I wrote about my first experience running a session at Edcamp Leadership.  I wasn’t just a participant, however; I was also on the organizational team.  This post will focus more on my reflections from the standpoint of an event organizer.


We were doubtlessly helped by the fact that about half the organizational team had been through this routine before with previous Edcamps, including the original event in Philadelphia last spring.  We used Google tools for our communication and organization during the planning stage, most specifically Google Groups (for mass email communication with group-accessible archive), Google Docs (for drafting agendas, correspondence, and even the day’s session board collaboratively and electronically), and Google+ Hangouts (for video conference calls).  We very easily delegated responsibilities and at no time did personality clashes or egos enter into the equation, at least not from my perspective.  We worked well as a team, both synchronously and asynchronously.

We also had fantastic logistical support from our hosts for the day (and co-sponsor), the NJ Principals & Supervisors Association.  Their FEA Conference Center provided a beautiful location for the day’s discussions.  I would also be remiss if I did not also thank all our sponsors for their contributions of time, funds, and raffle prizes.

I can’t impress enough how easy this job was thanks to NJPSA’s involvement.  Finding a facility to host an Edcamp is one of the biggest challenges in the process, and the fact that they were involved from the get-go removed a huge burden early on and allowed us to focus our attention on more minute, but no less significant, issues.  The facility is gorgeous, it was big enough to accommodate about 200 participants (we had about that many sign up; final confirmed attendance was somewhere around 105), and the staff on hand that day was extremely gracious and helpful.

Location was another consideration.  NJPSA/FEA is located about as centrally as you’re going to get in NJ.  We were about 5 minutes – if that – off the New Jersey Turnpike, making it easy for both local attendees to drive and attendees from farther flung regions (including Canada!) to access easily from Newark Airport.

General Reflections on the Day

All in all, I have very few complaints about the day.  There will always be little glitches along the way when putting together an event like this, so if a few minor inconveniences are all we had to deal with, we’re in very good shape.  Here are my takeaways from the day, both positives and areas to improve for next time:


  • Our conference hashtag, #edcampldr, trended on Twitter’s front page!
  • The quality of conversations, from my perspective, ran deeper than just “apps apps apps”.  People wanted to talk about issues of pedagogy and practice, which at times involved technology, but just as often, did not.
  • Our Wi-Fi access successfully supported 100+ people all trying to access the Internet more or less simultaneously (too bad the same couldn’t be said for Twitter that day!).
  • As with the organizers, there were no issues of ego or pulling rank, at least not that I witnessed.  We flattened the traditional K-12 hierarchy for a few hours to have frank discussions about leadership practice, hearing from teachers, principals, supervisors from both public and private schools, union and non-union folks, and even some folks in higher ed.  The multiplicity of perspectives made the discussions all the richer.
  • It was just FUN!  Strip away the name tags, the food (which was awesome), the raffle prizes, and you had educators coming together to talk about how to make it all better for kids.  Furthermore, we did it all without our benevolent corporate overlords trying to sell us the programs, products, and packages to “fix” what’s wrong.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Areas for Improvement

  • We definitely should have done an audio check prior to Patrick‘s opening remarks.  We couldn’t get the mic working, and so Kevin and Patrick had to fiddle with it while 100+ educators sat politely and quietly and watched. It was probably only a minute, but it felt like an hour, and I wasn’t even up there.
  • One of the rooms was missing a projector, and nobody noticed until the presenter walked in for her session and didn’t have one.  Luckily Mike had a spare, but going forward I’m going to have a checklist (mental or otherwise) as we do a pre-conference sweep of all rooms.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but I did not like having two different sessions held in one big room.  I found paying attention to my session very challenging as I kept picking up bits and pieces of the conversation at the other end of the room.  I’m going to advocate for single rooms per session unless folks are informally meeting in a hallway, atrium, etc.
  • I held my session in a room that was designed to hold 16; we ended up shoe-horning 30 in.  Everyone was a good sport about it, sitting on floors, tables, standing, etc., but in the future I think I will suggest that all meeting spaces be able to accommodate 25-30.  Better to have too much room than too little.

My participation in Edcamp Leadership, both as organizer and participant, has prepared me well for similar roles in the upcoming WilmU LeaderCamp and EdcampNJ.  Although I can’t invite you to the WilmU event (unless you are a current M.Ed./Ed.D. student, faculty member, or alumnus!), I hope that you will consider joining us at EdcampNJ on Saturday, December 1st at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, NJ.

Did you attend Edcamp Leadership?  What were your takeaways from the day?  How will you use what you learned this year?

Edcamp Leadership: Flipping the Faculty Meeting

Edcamp Leadership marked my entrance into the world of Edcamps this month, both as an attendee and an organizer.  I have known most of the key players in the Edcamp Foundation for many years through traveling in the same educational circles in social media, so knowing the kinds of educators they are, it really didn’t surprise me that a) I had a blast, and b) so many attendees enjoyed it as well.

I suppose the true measure of how effective it was or was not will be determined by which of the many ideas discussed actually get implemented and lead to some improvement in the attendee’s schools.  In the meantime, however, what I want to record here are my thoughts on the organizational process, the session I ran that morning, and some general overall takeaways from the day.  This post will focus on my session; a subsequent post will focus more on the nuts and bolts of putting the day together.

Flipping the Faculty Meeting

This session was inspired in equal parts by this blog post by Bill Ferriter and my personal experience of sitting through twelve years of faculty meetings wondering why this information couldn’t have been better summed up in an email.  When I signed up, I picked the smallest room available, figuring that if the room holds 16 and 6-8 showed up, it wouldn’t look quite so empty.  Imagine my surprise when 25-30 people packed the room (srsly, check the visual; I’m on the far left in the green shirt, apparently avoiding eye contact with anyone)!  Clearly, it was something these school leaders wanted to discuss.

Although I specifically asked about obstacles to flipping faculty meetings, most participants only brought them up along with ideas for how to get around them.  In fact, the major stumbling block that some folks kept coming back to was union contract language.  I wished we had the expertise in the room (i.e., someone much more knowledgeable about contracts than I) to explore that further, but unfortunately we did not.

Another issue to consider was how administrators can/should document that faculty members actually received the information in a flipped environment.  I’m of two minds here: on one hand, it demeans us professionally to assume we won’t read some text or watch a 5-minute video as asked, but if that’s what we have to work with, I suggested a simple Google Form (which could be reproduced as needed with a few clicks) with boilerplate fields like, “Name”, “Dept./Grade Level”, “I certify that I have read/viewed X, Y, Z as requested by so-and-so”.  This could be shared with staff via email.  Seems a bit silly, but everyone has their bosses to please, I suppose.

Many leaders sounded just as frustrated with the traditional faculty meeting as most teachers I know, and the conversation took us beyond the idea of “flipping” or directly inverting content consumption/face-to-face time to a broader discussion.  I think it was Marc Seigel who first asked the group, “What is the most effective use of our time together?” (emphasis mine); this was a common theme to which we kept coming back throughout the session.  Bruce Arcurio warned us against the dangers of letting faculty meetings become “3-D memos” and, if I recall correctly, is planning on flipping his very first faculty meeting of the upcoming school year.

Another overarching theme that came out of the discussion was shared leadership (aka distributed leadership in some circles).  In short, by recruiting classroom teachers in their buildings to share and model lessons, teaching strategies, technology, etc., the faculty meeting becomes less about administrivia and more about professional growth and learning.  The leadership task of providing this learning experience – although orchestrated by the principal – comes directly from the ranks of local teachers, and helps to create buy-in from the staff as well as builds leadership capacity and feelings of ownership and investment in the staff (I don’t have a citation, but I swear it’s all in my dissertation lit review).

In addition to the discussion (and boy, was it a true group discussion – I think just about every participant contributed a comment or question, or otherwise helped move the discussion forward at some point), there were some unintended but wholly welcome by-products of the session.  I used TodaysMeet for the session backchannel/”parking lot” for questions, and for some of the administrators in the room, this was their first exposure to the app.  Many of them loved it and are planning to implement it somehow in their meetings this coming year.  Also, principal-turned-assistant superintendent Patrick Larkin must have seen our TodaysMeet chatroom link advertised on Twitter, so he joined us in the backchannel from Massachusetts to contribute to the discussion.

I was beaming from all the folks who came up to me throughout the day to thank me and tell me how much they enjoyed the session and, more importantly, were planning on shifting their practice regarding faculty meetings in some way (which, we theorized in the discussion, would act as modeling for the teachers and thus influence them to think about ways to make their own face-to-face time with students more efficient or effective).  As a former English teacher, conducting group discussions is nothing new to me, but to do it with a room full of school administrators put a slightly different spin on it for me.  As a facilitator, I think I struck the right balance in terms of technology use – we had a backchannel and a note sheet, but even if the power had gone out that morning, we still would have had a productive, powerful discussion.  I walked into the presentation with little more than three or four central questions (and really no answers, which I was honest about from the start), and, in true Edcamp fashion, the room took them and ran with them.

Overall, I was very pleased with the experience, and it has certainly given me the confidence to run sessions at two upcoming events: WilmU LeaderCamp in August (an Edcamp specifically for graduate-level education students at Wilmington University) and EdcampNJ in December.  With Edcamps popping up all over the country (and in quite a few places outside the United States), it is increasingly likely that one will be coming to your area soon – why not run a session of your own?