Monday, December 28, 2015

Will Organizing My Day Fix My Lack of Motivation?

I often use this space to share self realizations.

I have often said I write when I can't not write. I have never written on a schedule. I have not, since my student days, had to write consistently with deadlines. I cringe at the very thought. This is why I have never written anything long outside of a class assignment. I don't want to commit that much time or mental capacity.

I have found myself having these same thoughts when it comes to other things in my life; teaching adjunct classes, moderating Twitter chats, even going to church. I find that the daily/weekly schedule has become more of a grind than something I like to do. This does not mean I don't enjoy doing things that are regularly done, it just means that I often dread the fact that I have to do them at that particular time.

I also have found that I am apt to sit in my chair at home and do very little except whatever flight of fancy crosses my mind. In short, I am not getting anything done, or what I am getting done isn't being done well. So, how do I solve this problem? Well, I discovered Bullet Journaling.

Bullet Journal Website

What I need to do to become more productive is to become more organized using a system that I will follow. I found bullet journaling through my learning about the Midori Traveller's Notebook system on Youtube. I enjoyed watching as others explain how they use the system to get organized. I also like the fact (actually I think I need this) that checking boxes gives me a sense of accomplishment. If I list things to do I am much more likely to do them!

So, how do I marry having trouble with being scheduled (and over scheduled) with creating a daily planning schedule? I don't know yet, but I am going to give it a try. What I am doing now doesn't work so any change is worth a chance. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Teaching Has Taught Me About My Faith

There are plenty of posts by teachers that talk about how they share/don't share their faith in the classroom. For this post I want to talk about how being in a classroom has taught me more about my faith.

I am quite honest about my problem with a real lack of empathy. I have always struggled with the idea that I could somehow be emotionally effected because of someone else's emotional condition. I do have sympathy, although I don't think it is particularly well developed. I can identify with someone's grief if I have lived through a similar situation. The reality is that unless I can personalize it, I can't really feel it.

I believe the purpose of Christianity is to love one another. Love is a difficult emotion to explain (not that love is only an emotion.) I am pretty sure that empathy is required for love though. I do love, and have loved but it always comes through an emotional bond. Therefor, if I can't empathize or sympathize with someone, I probably don't/can't(?) love them

In the classroom we try to get to know our students as quickly as possible. This usually means getting to know their name, important people in their circle, pets, interests and stuff like that. For many this creates a temporary emotional bond, from which they can get can develop a fondness for students if not love. This, you can imagine, doesn't work so well for me.

Over the last few years though, as I have had the same students over a prolonged period of time I have come to realize that I am developing some feelings of love for them. I have empathized with them over the loss of a parent. I have sympathized with them over the loss of a pet. The signs of love are pretty evident.

I believe that I have been called to be a teacher. I have a peace about being in the classroom I never felt in another position. I used to think that I was placed in the classroom to be a good model for students, specifically a positive male role model for those who don't have one at home. But now I know I was wrong.

I believe God put me in the classroom to teach me how to love others who I have not, nor ever will develop that close emotional bond to. I believe that I am not here to teach my students, but instead God placed me in the classroom so they could teach me. For that I am both grateful and humbled. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Teaching is Like Riding a Bike: Part 2 of at Least a 2 Part Series on Using Metaphors Because #Education


I went out for a bike ride today. I was inspired by my RunVoxRun group (who runs while I bike because I am almost always that guy) and an article I read in Bicycle Magazine both of whom reminded me of the joy of riding, not just doing it for pre-defined purpose. As I was finishing my ride I realized that several of the things I experienced on the road compared to things I experience as a teacher.

The Scary Highway 

I decided to ride out through a scenic but rather dangerous stretch of highway. As I pedaled along at about 10 miles per hour, don't judge me, I was passed by a steady stream of traffic headed the same direction. We were all headed the same way, just at different speeds. At some point, if we don't have an accident, we would all arrive at the same destination.

Imagine your slower students who are pedaling at the safest speed they can muster being passed by their classmates. There has to be a point when they realize they are not like most of the others, they learn/read/process more slowly than average. That has to be a difficult and potentially scary realization. What are you doing as their teacher to reassure them they will arrive at the same place the others are headed to, just not at the same time?

The Soccer Match Surprise

As I pedaled along I noticed cars at the park and could see people playing soccer so I decided to wander down and check it out. When I arrived I noticed the two teams were made up of Somali and Hispanic players. For the ten minutes I watched they ran up and down the field, kicking the ball and yelling at each other. I am not sure how much they understood from each other, but I didn't catch any of it. The game didn't need a common language to be played successfully.

In your classroom you have several groups of students, and regardless of the language they know, speak a very different language than others. The kids that can't sit still, the ones that have problems at home, those who are way too caught up in their boyfriend/girlfriend than they should be. They aren't really communicating with each other using the same language, but they still create a community where they want to find success, and hopefully help the others in the community find success too. How are you helping those students who 'speak a different language' find commonality they can share so they too care about each other's success?

The Chasing Chihuahuas

Just down the road from my home lives an old friend. He owns a cattle farm and as most cattle farmers do, he has several dogs. (He claims the small, annoying ones are his wife's.) Every time I ride my bike by his house the chihuahuas try to chase me. They have a pretty quick burst of speed but with their overly large heads (with funny eyes sticking out sideways) and little legs they cannot keep up with my super pedal power (averaging 10 miles per hour!) Soon they fall away and all I hear is their yippy barks in the background.

 There are educators who IRL or through SM will lie in wait until you happen to cross the path of their particular pet peeve and as soon as you do they pounce. They yip and snarl and bite at your heels. They will try to make you turn your course or completely give up the journey all together. They don't thrive on the joys of the long ride, they instead revel in the time trial of blame and finger-pointing. Just remember, they can't keep up because of their overly large head, bug eyes and extremely short legs. Who do you have to turn to when waylaid by the chasing chihuahuas? Who will help you pedal past their lairs?

The End of the Ride

Ok, this is kind of a poor title because we know the ride never ends. We just keep pedaling. We have goals for ourselves and our students and we are constantly moving toward them. Sometimes we ride in groups, sometimes alone. Just remember, the end goal is less important than the stops on the way. 


Monday, August 10, 2015

Twitter is a Street Corner

Tonight I used a metaphor comparing Twitter to a street corner. At some point the nice, safe and fun place to hang out started to become a more dangerous place. At first it was fun, after all who doesn't like the idea of a little danger?  


At some point the fun, slightly dangerous corner was overtaken by hooligans. The corner is much more dangerous, threats are shouted at passers by. Graffiti started to appear all over. It went from a little fun and slightly dangerous to a place you don't want to be in alone.


Plenty of people still drive by the corner without noticing any difference. Others who tend to be more observant become a little less comfortable at the stoplight. Soon they find other routes to travel. Eventually even the least observant will notice, but by then the road will be as empty as the sidewalks.


So, the question is are you going to allow the street corner to be a place where hooligans feel comfortable? Are you going to help clean the graffiti or just ignore it as you drive by oblivious of the changes happening? Are you going to leave? Can it even be saved at this point?

Twitter is our street corner.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Quotes in Pics

I have a love/hate relationship with quotes in pics. They can be a lot of fun and also send a pretty pointed message. I use imrflip.com which allows me to use my own pics.  

The strange thing is my Twitter feed seems to be inundated with the pics. They draw my attention (which can be good or bad), but they rarely lead to conversations. Basically, they act like billboards which is a one-way communication tool. That hardly meets the social aspect of social media. 

I guess I would argue that we should use them sparingly, and hopefully as part of a conversation we are having. One tweet stands are so empty. 









Saturday, August 8, 2015

Hard Questions 5: A New School Year Edition



This is the fifth set of hard questions. You can search my blog for the others using the search box on the right toolbar.

1) Do you spend more time the week school starts worrying about how your room looks or how you will create a learning climate?

2) Are you using last year's lesson plans? If so, have you changed them to be more effective?

3) Have you already created your first month's lesson plans? How can they be effective when you haven't even met your students?

4) During open house, will you make small talk to the parents or have conversations about the educational experiences you are going to create for your students?

5) Are you intentionally, thoughtfully setting up your rules/policies to maximize student learning or to make you day go by more smoothly?

6) Have you offered to lead a professional book chat or other informal professional learning opportunities for the teachers in your building or will you wait and see if anyone else picks up the slack?

Comments are always appreciated.

I Sing the Principal Electric

I sing the principal electric,
The classes of those he loves engirth him and he engirths them,
They will not let him off till he goes with them, responds to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

In the school, there is no more important person than the principal. He or she is charged
with making sure every child is safe, loved and has the best possible chance for learning. No
one has a bigger influence on the students, teachers and support staff. Please take some time
this year to show your appreciation for your principal.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Classroom Hack: Bulldog Clips

So here is a little hack that I do in my classroom and hallway. One year I moved into a retiring teacher's room and she left me with an inordinate amount of bulldog clips. After thinking about what to do with them I came up with an idea, hot glue them to the wall. 


In the above picture, you can see I use the bulldog clip to keep the electric chord from lying on the floor. If you run a series of them six to eight inches above the floor they are much less likely to get accidentally knocked off by students shoes. 


In this picture, you can see the hallway wall outside of my classroom. Soon the clips will be holding student work. The clips will allow me to much more easily move work around or replace older work with new throughout the year. This is much better than taping or gluing the work directly.

Very rarely do the clips take paint with them when they are removed. In fact, I have had much more trouble removing things that have been directly hot glued to the walls than the bulldog clips. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Art Should Create an Emotional Reaction

I really miss Amy Winehouse. I ran into this video today and it really hit me.




Monday I took daughters number 3 and 4 to the Crystal Bridges Museum. I was completely fascinated with the painting Summer Day by Frank Weston Benton, an artist who I was not familiar with but I am now a huge fan. I am going back Friday to stare at it again.

When I saw the painting it stopped me in my tracks. I literally stopped and gaped. Then I walked up and examined the brush strokes carefully, marveling at how what can be perceived as sloppy work up close makes such a striking, beautiful picture after stepping back a few feet. This painting makes me understand art theft. 

I wrote about a song that really speaks to me and one moment in time in the post Powerful, Indelible, Perfect Memories from Music.  How amazing is it that just a few notes can transport me back to a (probably very romanticized) memory when I was a teen. 

I am constantly referring to, thinking about and being emotionally stripped by Robert Frost's Mending Wall. It is a driving force in my thoughts and conversations around the idea of extended networks and extended family. It also has influenced my thoughts on the problem with nationalism. 

Here are some questions I ask you to ponder:
  1. What art (music, painting, poetry, literature, etc) has created an emotional reaction in you?
  2. Since emotions are tied closely to learning, what can you learn from that art?
  3. Do you create opportunities for students to find or share art they have emotional reactions to?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

One Song: A Collaborative Spotify Playlist

I had an idea for a playlist. What if we made one that contained the one song that we most want to share with others. This isn't necessarily your favorite or the most popular song, but one you feel compelled to share. A song that everyone should hear at least once. The song that you go back to during emotional times. That song. 

I am not sure, but I suspect you have to have a Spotify account to add a song to the playlist. If so you can probably do the free account. Let me know in the comments if you can't along with your song choice and I will add it myself if necessary. 

If you would like, feel free to share why you chose your song in the comments below. I picked The Smiths 'Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want' because the song haunts me. I can often identify the yearning to have the freedom to do what I want without the need to examine how it will affect my family. 

Here is the link to the playlist, below is the playlist. I hope it soon has more than one song. 

Hard Question: Do You Go to EdCamps for Swag?

As a planning team member of an edcamp, I saw the amount of time and effort that went into the acquisition of giveaways. I realize not all edcamps work hard at getting 'sponsors' but many I have been to have. Considering the amount of mental capacity and man/woman hours that are spent on getting these giveaways, is that time well spent?

So my question to you is: How important is the giveaways at an edcamp? Would you attend an edcamp if you knew there would be no giveaways? Would you go to an edcamp because they are giving away something? 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Do We Need a Consumer Movement?

There are plenty of resources and discussion online about the maker movement: MakerFaire, Newsweek, Time and, of course, there is a #makered hashtag on Twitter for educators.  We are even making a big push for a maker space at EdCampMagic in June. My question is, are we focusing too much on making?

None of us live in a vacuum. We learn constantly by consuming, whether it be through media or just listening and watching. Without consumption, we would have no real place to start making something. I believe that innovation is rare at best (I have even argued it doesn't exist in education at all) and it is more likely that we are not innovators but instead we are modifiers or tweakers of someone else's ideas. When did you see anyone create anything truly new and innovative?

Part of curriculum development is curating the content we want our students to consume. Here are a few questions I think we need to consider:

  • Are we spending less time than necessary to really pick great content because of the amount of time we are spending trying to get kids to be creative?  
  • Are we giving our kids a pass on picking great content to use to create with?  
  • Are we in love with making because it takes less mental capacity (and planning) on our part because the kids are the ones having to do the thinking?
 Let's spend a little more time talking about how important it is to consume, and what content is best consumed by our students.



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Break the Code of Silence (and Give a Public Pat on the Back)


I am not into the idea of personal branding for educators for a lot of reasons. What I am into is educators telling our stories and the stories of others. I love the opportunity to share what amazing things my kids do, and sometimes I share the struggles we have as well.

The truth is, some of our stories get shared by others. We don't have control over what others choose to share (and I think that may be a good thing.) That doesn't mean we abdicate our responsibility to share our stories, or the stories of others that need to be shared as well. 

Although many educators find awards distasteful, I argue that nominating educators who do good things is my way of giving them a public pat on the back. I share much of my life publicly, why shouldn't I share my appreciation publicly too? If you want to thank someone publicly, consider doing it with a Bammy nomination

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Is Your Search for Personal Professional Development Keeping You from Becoming a Better Teacher?

My new discipline procedure courtesy of Kids in the Hall.

As I peruse Twitter, which is happening much less these days, I am looking for big picture ideas. I want to know where my network is shifting. I want to know what the NBT, next big thing, is going to be.

What I am noticing is that there are a lot of scattered paths going off into lots of different directions: those who are tweeting tool excitement, those who are flailing wildly at the season of high stakes tests, those who are stuck on if schools need to be blown up or just tweaked. What I don't see is a lot of conversations centered around becoming a better teacher and improving our practice. It is there, but I usually have to dig.

So, if you are using Twitter as part of your professional development, is it helping you become a better teacher or is it getting in your way?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Call for Attending More Small EdCamps


Yesterday I attended #EdCampJoplin with my wife and met up with a few other attendees who go to several edcamps a year. Since this was the first year for this particular edcamp, I wasn't surprised to see it had a small group show up. This seems to be the norm for most first edcamps.

What did surprise me was that I had a really good time. I was able to meet several educators that were new to me and have some really great conversations. There was no pressure to 'keep moving' in the overcrowded hallways because they weren't overcrowded. There were no huge tables of swag with crowds hovering around. Even though the welcome was done with a microphone, it surely wasn't needed. As a person who has lots of trouble being comfortable in large crowds, I felt really comfortable.

I discovered that one of the major (percieved) negatives of a small edcamp, the much fewer number of sessions to choose from, was actually a real positive. It was much easier to choose a session to attend and the one time there wasn't a session I really wanted to attend I picked one anyway (a session on applications which I would almost never go to) and was able to share a few really great apps, as well as hear the teachers talk about how they used their apps with their students. There is real value in hearing that.

I have attended many large edcamps over the last few years including #EdCampStL which had over 500 attendees. While I will still continue to go to them, they are a great place to meet up with my friends, I will honestly be looking at attended more of the smaller edcamps. I think maybe you should too. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Grammarly Grammar Checker

A couple weeks ago I was approached by Grammarly to review their software and write about my experiences. I was given a premium account and have been using it for the last week. I haven't used every feature of the software yet, and I am approaching this review as I do everything with classroom use in mind.

I don't usually worry too much about my grammar (or spelling for that matter) because I am much more interested in getting my ideas across than I am in being perfect with grammar. To be fair, I don't like to misspell words, but when I am writing on social media I don't worry too much about it. For example, I have sworn off changing my teh's to the's on Twitter because it slows me down too much (and it makes me look a little like a digital gangster ;) The one exception is when I write comments on students' posts. Below is a series of pictures of Grammarly helping me out with a comment on a student post.




As you can see from the pictures, Grammarly was pretty useful to me. It helped me quickly identify some problems I had with my comment and suggested how to correct them with just a click. Pretty handy, eh?

There are a couple ways you can use Grammarly, the most useful is as an extension, or plug-in, on the browser. I use Chrome and the set-up was quick and easy. If you look at the picture below you can see how many errors I corrected in the last week; and to be fair, I haven't written much over that time period. I have learned a few things about my writing; the most obvious to me is that I have no idea when it is appropriate to use a semicolon. 



So, the question is: Would I recommend the premium version for classroom use with students? I can see a real use case for this application if you want students to be less worried about getting the grammar, punctuation and spelling right as they compose at the keyboard. I also think that the best time for students to learn about grammar, spelling and punctuation is when they are using them to write with and this software makes it easy to identify mistakes (or in my case a series of the same type of mistake) which can be addressed naturally during the writing/editing process.

If I were using this software with my students, I would have them write their posts and then record their errors (perhaps using a Google form) to help students identify their weaknesses. I know that for the last week I have become much more cognizant of my poor use of semicolons and I am being much more careful because of that. I can really see how beneficial that would be to them, because it has been beneficial to me.

There is a lot more to Grammarly than just things I have addressed here in the post. For more information go to http://www.grammarly.com/grammar-check to check out the other services. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Don't Call Twitter a Community

Beth Still recently wrote a blog post, Special #FF Request, where she asked her network to add teachers from Beth's district she was trying to get more involved in Twitter. In the post she writes:
'Now for my special request. Please make some room in your PLN to connect with my colleagues. Follow them. Tweet them. Encourage them. And please be patient and forgive them if they don't reply right away. A few of them are Twitter pros but others are just getting started. It takes a while to get Twitter and that the more we interact the more likely we are to realize the power of Twitter. Please help me give this fantastic group of educators a reason to stick around.' 
I saw the tweet yesterday but didn't have the time to read the post so I read the post this morning and went through and followed her suggestions. I noticed many didn't have a lot of followers, many only in the teens. Then I checked their followers and mostly it was the others from the list. I didn't see any of Beth's Twitter network following any of them.

This is the difference between a network and a community. A network loosely follows and interacts. They often only engage when it is something that benefits them. On the other hand, a community is different. A community realized their responsibilities to each other and, as I often explain to my students, being part of a community sometimes means doing things you don't really want to do because it is best for the community and not ourselves.

Am I calling you out? Maybe, only you know where you stand with your use of Twitter. Just don't call it a community if you use it like a network.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Classroom Full of Individuals


I have to admit, when it comes to one on one conversations with students about the hows and whys of learning, I fall incredibly short. I think I do a great job doing whole class questioning, pushing students to think more deeply but that doesn't transfer to the individual.

What if we spent 30 seconds each day asking our students questions such as:

  • What do you think this question means?
  • What do you know about this question before you research it?
  • Why did you choose that to be your answer?
  • Have you ever had any experience with this before today?
  • Where could I go to learn more about this information?
  • Where is the information you used to answer this question?
Notice these are process questions and not content questions. They could apply to any discipline at any time throughout the lesson. While content is important, I know that honing the way my students learn is much more important than the information itself.