May 24, 2022

The Wretched Zero

Is there a more divisive and combative conversation to have with a staff than the zero? Just ask the question, What should a student receive when they don’t submit their work? Let’s clarify, we’re talking about the zero on a traditional 100-point scale. For the purpose of this post, we’ll assume the traditional 10-point intervals in the 100-point scale. I am aware this varies wildly if you check schools, districts, or even states across the US.

I’ll begin by saying that many schools and districts have attempted to have this conversation, but some have back-pedaled when the explosion of deep emotions erupted across the school or district. The enemy here is not the zero. The enemy is the 100-point scale, and I’ll do my best to explain.

A zero on a 100-point scale is mathematically inequitable. The entire scale is too heavily weighted on the side of failure. When giving a 0, we actually give a student a score that is worse than failure.

K is for “kill grade”

If you look at the images above, you can see equal intervals between the other letter grades, but there’s this huge gap when we get to F. We could argue over what an A means, what a B means, or what a C means, but let’s hold that for another post. Whatever your descriptors are, F has to mean failure. In the traditional 100-point scale, it would appear there are degrees of failure. Take these humble descriptors as an example:

The zero has an undue deflationary effect on a student’s overall average, the same way the scale would have an undue inflationary effect if we flipped it.

I’ve never seen a teacher give a student a 140 on a test. I imagine they would look at me sideways if I asked them why. Of course, a 140 would be an inaccurate score that would inflate the average of the grade. The zero on a 100-point scale is just as inaccurate and just as deflating to that average score. Let’s do an experiment.

As you see above, the student received a zero and after 11 additional 85s in the gradebook, the student still had not raised the grade back to a B. This is an example of the hole a zero places students in, and it represents the deflationary effect a zero has on the average. The student who received a zero has little motivation moving forward because their grade has been falsified by the impact of the zero.

Let’s compare the effect of the zero versus establishing a floor of 50. Some schools or districts choose to use a 50 to represent missing work because the 50 maintains the equal intervals 100-90, 89-80, 79-70, 69-60, 59-50.

I appreciate the work of so many educators who influenced my thinking on this topic several years ago. Alexis Tamony created a wonderful YouTube video where she displays and discusses this very topic and I appreciate her influence on this post. Despite the evidence presented, I’m not naive. This is still a hard philosophical pill to swallow. I recommend schools and districts seriously consider moving to a scale where a zero makes sense. We use a 4-point scale to calculate GPA, for example. An A is worth a 4, B is a 3, C is a 2, D is a 1, and F is a 0. In this scale, educators could use zeroes that make sense. There are plenty of conversion charts out there if you feel the need to convert these to percentages. The use of percentages are primarily used to rank and sort students. Are there additional advantages to using a smaller scale? Yes! Inter-rater reliability increases dramatically when using a smaller scale. Think about it, can a human really discern learning to 101 different levels (0-100)? No. Can you really communicate the difference between a 78 and an 82?

There also seems to be this fear among some educators that if we establish a floor of 50, some students might do nothing until the end of the grading period where they turn in 2-3 assignments and suddenly they have a passing grade. Here’s an example:

The student had ten scores during the grading period and seven of those were a 50 for missing or deficient work. You see the student submitted three assignments and scored an 85 on those three, which has raised the average to a 60.5, barely a passing score (D) on the traditional 10-point intervals. This leads us to my final consideration. Measuring and communicating learning is very much a human act requiring professional judgment. Educators dismiss this act far too often by allowing computers and phony math to place the final declaration of learning on a student’s grade. As professionals, we should be using professional judgment anytime we place a grade. What would you do in this situation?

March 27, 2020

The MOST Valuable Time

I found myself considering recently, in reflection about this journey into distance learning that we’re experiencing right now, what is the most valuable portion of the learning cycle? If you’re reading this, you are most certainly aware that many teachers are video conferencing with their students using a number of possible solutions available to educators right now. I began to consider how unrealistic it might be for a secondary educator to video conference with his/her students everyday. Not that I’m trying to indict anyone who may be doing so, but I tried to consider the nightmare of scheduling such times with secondary students who have 6-7 additional classes on their schedule. So in reflection, I thought of all the time in a learning cycle, what portions might be considered the most valuable time? This is a question I’ve proposed during blended learning trainings I’ve facilitated before, and I believe it can serve us even now. Let’s lay out a typical, albeit generic, learning cycle for students.

  • Teacher provides some instruction.
  • Students complete a learning experience related to the previous instruction.
  • Teacher reviews the student work, provides feedback, diagnoses misunderstandings, offers remediation.
  • Cycle repeats.

This is certainly a very general framework and is not intended to represent all classrooms at all. But in general, I imagine most classrooms loosely follow a repetition of a very similar cycle that often concludes with a test or exam of some sort before everything starts over.

I believe education will experience some tremendous changes once school does resume again. Perhaps we won’t see the fruit of those changes until the ’20-21 school year begins, but I believe we will no longer see the schools many walked out of just a few weeks ago. One consideration I believe all secondary teachers will begin to make is this: If my instruction has been outsourced to Google, Youtube, etc. where does that leave me? I would propose that the most valuable portion of teachers’ time, especially during distance learning, might be the portion of the learning cycle where teachers review student work, look at data, provide feedback, diagnose misunderstandings, and offer remediation and enrichment. This isn’t rocket science and many may read this and say “I’ve always felt that way, Derek.” I would propose that if you’re engaging your students in video conferencing, leave the instruction to Google, Youtube, your online textbook, etc. I believe we’re in the midst of a shift from Masters of Content to Managers of Learning.

Two of my favorite tools are Nearpod and Desmos Activities. I love the platforms both of these education companies utilize and I think they can provide a lot of merit for distance learning. Given the proposal I made in the last paragraph, how could teachers utilize tools like these to provide instruction, offer a learning experience, and review student work, give feedback, diagnose student thinking, etc.? When considering when to engage my students in a video conference where we might have real conversation that is tougher to manifest digitally, I would suggest letting your video recordings, your own screencasts, Google, Youtube, or Khan Academy provide the instruction necessary. Lay out the learning experience for your students. Then engage in a video conference to offer the component of learning that I believe is most human and most valuable. Engage your students in real conversation, through a video conference, to review student work samples you’ve previously collected, share data revealed by your learning platforms, diagnose misconceptions, correct mistakes, highlight divergent thinking, and have thought-provoking questions on hand that allow you some insight into your students’ thinking.

May 15, 2017

The World According to Larry

Back in February of 2015 I read an amazing blog post by Jimmy Casas.  Jimmy wrote about a particularly moving experience he had with the driver of a shuttle van while at a conference in Atlanta.  The blog post struck me to the core, and I had only read about this man named Rodd.  I am nearing the completion of my first year in administration.  For some time now, my perspective and view of school leadership has been shaped and driven by the work of guys like Jimmy and the rest of the WGEDD crew: Joe Sanfelippo, Jeff Zoul, and Todd Whitaker.  I got to meet these guys for the first time at WGEDD in Wheeling, West Virginia back in December.  I knew right away the things I had read weren’t just words but they were action.  Jimmy greeted conference attendees with a high five as they signed in at the registration table.  Jimmy walked around and spoke to everyone, no doubt, making a point to make some kind of contact with each and every attendee.  I watched, with purpose.  As other speakers took the stage and presented, Jimmy didn’t disappear as if he were bigger than what was being shared.  Jimmy didn’t talk to his buddies in the back, browse social media from his phone, or read the newspaper.  Jimmy stood in the doorway during Todd Whitaker’s keynote and soaked it in just like the rest of us.  I imagine there may have been opportunities he missed, but to my keen eye, Jimmy didn’t miss many opportunities to lift up someone else.  His efforts weren’t lost on me, not at all.

I study, read, and even listen to what others have to say about the service of people.  I subscribe to the notion that my primary job as assistant principal or principal of the school is to serve.  I believe trust is the oxygen that all educators breathe and that trust is earned through genuine action to build and nurture relationships.  Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess, authors of Lead Like A Pirate published this image last year and it’s been the single response I give when someone asks me what I do.  

Tuning in and living an outwardly focused life isn’t easy for me.  I don’t believe it’s in my nature to look to others first.  I can admit that’s an area of weakness and one that I have to be intentional about improving.  Mark Batterson’s book The Grave Robber recently reminded me of the famous study where viewers were asked to watch a 1 minute clip of people standing in a circle passing a basketball.  Viewers were asked to count the number of passes made by people wearing white shirts.  About 30 seconds into the clip, a woman wearing a full gorilla suit walks into the frame, beats her chest a few times, then walks out.  After the clip ends, viewers were asked if they saw a gorilla.  About 50% of the viewers said they did not see a gorilla.  The researchers concluded that inattentional blindness explains why some viewers didn’t see a gorilla that walked right in front of them.  I concluded that I’m afflicted with inattentional blindness far too often, missing opportunities to serve and lift up others, even when they are right in front of my face.

This past Thursday and Friday I chaperoned a senior trip to Washington DC.  The driver of our charter bus was named Larry.  I greeted Larry as soon as he picked us up at 1:30am Thursday morning.  Larry and I were packing duffle bags and suit cases in the bottom storage when I introduced myself.  I sat in the front seat of the bus and my wife, Julie, sat right behind Larry.  Larry struck up some conversation with Julie and I, as well as the rest of the chaperones seated near us.  It’s funny now, but I remember several chaperones and I remarking about how incredible Larry’s hearing must have been because he chimed in on conversations even when we thought he couldn’t hear us or wasn’t listening.  It was apparent Larry was a great listener.  My wife, Julie, is pregnant and due in August.  Needless to say, walking 10+ miles in the rain Thursday touring DC was taxing on my body and I’m not carrying an extra!  Larry was always quick to ask about Julie as she got back in the bus each time, often calling her super-mom!  Larry asked about our daughter Miley.  He asked how old she was (5 years old) and if she was ready for the new baby.  Larry laughed at the stories we told and he even shared some stories of his grandkids.  Before the bus arrived back at my school at 1:00am Saturday morning, Larry asked if he could speak to my wife and I before we got off the bus.  Julie and I waited up front as our students exited one by one.  Larry proceeded to offer to pray for us and remarked about how friendly we were to him during the trip.  Larry said the most thoughtful prayer, even considering to pray for my daughter Miley as she would have to adjust to the newborn baby entering our family.  We thanked Larry over and over, overwhelmed by his kindness at the time.  Immediately, the memories of Larry’s small actions flooded my mind in that moment as I began to realize all the selfless, outwardly focused actions I had witnessed from Larry during our trip.  I was impacted, to the core, by Larry’s kindness and his genuine service of other people.  I have never driven a charter bus.  In fact, I’ve not been behind the wheel of any motor vehicle of that size.  As we drove through Thursday morning traffic getting into DC, it was easy for me to imagine how focused a charter bus driver must be in order to safely navigate such a large vehicle.  I noticed Larry used a Garmin GPS and his cell phone to plug in destinations in order to aid his directions.  The Garmin GPS provided a trucker’s route, avoiding bridges that don’t meet capacity, low overhangs, and other obstacles the average driver never considers.  I can’t fathom the effort required to drive a 55 passenger charter bus in the middle of DC traffic.  My point is, Larry had every reason to be focused and tuned in to driving that bus, yet he still managed to connect and serve those in his seats.  In my opinion, Larry is a man with great vision, overcoming inattentional blindness and truly tuning in to the opportunities around him to serve and connect with others.

March 22, 2016

That Next Mountain

I just completed my coursework for my leadership certificate.  Of course I’ve got a few small hoops that consist of paperwork, but I’m relieved that I’ve summited that mountain.  However, this summit just provides me a better view of the next one.

Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

I’m reminded of the people who served a role in getting me on my current path.  I had no interest in becoming a school leader until I connected via Twitter.  Before Twitter, I could count on one hand the number of school leaders I knew with an unusual passion for improving schools and empowering those around them.  Thankfully, I got the opportunity right after college in 2009 to work for and develop a lasting relationship with one of those school leaders.  I left a job last summer that required a five minute drive and accepted a position in a school that requires a fifty minute drive one way.  I took that position so I could work for another local school leader from whom I knew I could learn and grow.  Through Twitter, I was introduced to a network of school leaders who all share an unusual passion for what they do.  That lead to some irreplaceable relationships developed across social media and face to face through Edcamps.

As I pursue this next chapter in my career, I’m also reminded of the local educators who I’ve connected with that share an unusual passion for driving change in our state.  I intentionally go to extraordinary measures to tell my story and as a result of frequenting as many areas of social media as I possibly can, and attending as many conference events that I can, I’ve been able to seek out other passionate educators who share a moonshot vision for change.  The more I read and listen to leaders like Seth Godin, the more I’m convinced that if you want to bring true value to your organization, be someone who brings people together.  The people in our society who are linchpins, irreplaceable people in organizations, don’t become linchpins alone.  A fundamental function of the internet is to bring people together.  Think about it.  Name something successful on the internet that has not brought people together.  I fear that educators, in general, have ignored the internet over the last twenty years and neglected to leverage the power of connection to other people.  Wonder why Weight Watchers is so successful?  It brings people together.  Dieting alone has failed millions of times.  Try dieting with a group or network of other people who share the same passion.  Weight Watchers hasn’t stumbled upon any revolutionary science, they just brought people together.  I am thankful for those local linchpins I’ve met in the last three years that continue to inspire and motivate me to pursue that next mountain.  I am convinced that if true change is to occur in our state, it will start with us.

Finally, I want to thank my wife that has always provided our home and our relationship with the right soil that allows me to grow and pursue those next mountains.  She, too, is a linchpin.  I highly recommend future educators seek out a lifelong companion that shares similar passions 🙂

January 27, 2015

Are you in or out?

Embedded image permalink

In my corner of public education it’s very much the norm to remain inside your comfort zone.  In order to utter anything related to best practices or school improvement, you must have the right title in front of your name.  comfort zone

Being vulnerable enough to share what’s going on inside your classroom, your grading practices, your instructional techniques, and your engagement strategies is often seen as bragging or gloating.  This attitude that educators must not challenge themselves and certainly not challenge each other doesn’t seem to align with what we’re asking our students to do.  What teacher wouldn’t want a classroom full of students who are vulnerable and eagerly seeking to strengthen their weaknesses, persevere, and learn something new?


I hope this post challenges educators to consider whether or not they are in our out.

  • Administrators, what opportunities do you provide your staff to be vulnerable?  What opportunities do you provide those who talk easily in front of others?  What about those educators who are uncomfortable sharing in front of others?  How are you modeling being outside of your comfort zone?  How are you modeling vulnerability?  What challenges do you provide your teachers?  Can you name 3-5 administrators who challenge you and push you to do better for your school?
  • Teachers, can you name 3-5 educators who challenge you and push you to do better for your students?  What have you shared with others lately in an attempt to be more vulnerable and step outside your comfort zone?  If your school provides few opportunities to grow, how do you leverage digital connections to learn, share, communicate, and grow?

sharing is not bragging

December 17, 2014

When All Else Fails…


I’ve recently went through a stretch where being an educator has become a real struggle.  I’ve been a connected educator engaged in blogging and on-demand anytime learning for almost two years.  My classroom has been an area of frustration recently and I’ve been carrying the feelings of inadequacy for long enough.  My eighth grade students recently took a field trip to the county tech center for a tour.  We also took part in a career fair held at a different location during the same trip.  Included in the round trip was a 20 minute bus ride.  As if you can’t already tell, a day like this was much appreciated by this struggling teacher.  It was an opportunity for me to relax and connect with my students.  We had an awesome time!  I always try to capture experiences like this on camera, so I took several pictures of the students during the career fair.  I posted some of those pictures on Twitter in an attempt to share some of the great experiences students had that day.  A couple days later I received a tweet from a parent saying “I love that you love our kids!”  It provided an immediate reminder that I desperately needed.  When all else seems to be failing, just love your kids.  Talk to them, show them, express it in your actions, and weave it into the very fabric of your classroom, your communication, your discipline, and your management.  If need be, put everything else on hold a day or two and just show your students that you love them.

In addition to my experiences above, I want to remind myself and all educators that Christmas time isn’t a season of joy for all students.  For some students, it’s a week away from a guaranteed meal, the safety of the school building, validation and respect from a teacher, and a listening ear.  I am encouraged by the commitment of my teammates to look more closely at the lives our students lead outside of the school walls.  Practicing more tolerance and awareness may rarely result in a solution for those students but it radiates life changing love.  I hope this post finds another educator in need of restoration.  I hope your parents can say “I love that you love our kids!”

Picture from: 

August 21, 2014

Family-Community Engagement From the Classroom

This post was inspired by a recent #PTchat, the weekly parent chat on Twitter every Wednesday at 9pm est.  That particular chat helped me gather a lot of ideas, including events that occur over the summer to events during the first week of the school year.  I was in awe of some of the amazing things schools and classrooms are doing to engage families and build community support.  Many of my thoughts were about things I could try as a school leader, something I aspire to be one day.  After the chat, I tried to narrow my focus to what impact I could make on FCE (Family-Community Engagement) from my classroom.

My school hosts an orientation night every year a couple days before school starts.  During this particular orientation I set up a table with two papers to hand out to parents.  One was a flyer of FAQs and instructions for signing up to my text message based service: Celly.  It looks as if all of my teammates will also attempt to use the service this year, though we haven’t actually got off the ground with it yet.  Nonetheless, I handed out that form as all of my families entered the school.  The second paper I gave out was a 5 item survey for parents including an email address, phone number, and permission to take pictures/videos and post them on my webpage, Twitter, Edmodo, or the school webpage.  During the session of orientation for 8th grade students and parents, I was provided time to display the Celly registration and invite families to sign up right then using their cell phones.  It was important that I was given time to do this as it provided a more quality “face to face” interaction for me to walk everyone through the sign up procedures.  It’s also important for me to leverage this time because our orientation nights are typically well attended.  However, after orientation, it’s extremely difficult to get anyone to come back to the school for an event aimed at FCE.

Getting families connected to me and my classroom via a quick text message provides tremendous potential for me (as it does for any school as well).  In the past, more traditional modes of communication have proven too unsuccessful or broken to really initiate quality FCE.  This year, I made an effort to maximize my message to parents using Celly.  The message I’ve attempted to convey is not unique.  “I think you are a vital part of your child’s education.  I want you to be invested in what’s going on in my classroom and I need your help for your child to succeed.”  During #PTchat, it was very clear that everyone involved is attempting to convey that message using a variety of efforts.  So during the first week of school I hammered my students and parents with communication including pictures of what I was doing in class and links to activities I created for the first week of school.  I even sent a message one morning asking for suggestions on airplane-themed music I could play as my students entered my room each period.  I wanted my message to be sent loud and clear and according to responses, the message has been received.

1st Week pics




Celly responses 1



Celly responses 2


Celly responses 3



There is so much room for improvement in FCE at my school.  I wanted this post to reflect some of the efforts that I’ve put forth this year to increase FCE at the classroom level.  What can you share about how your class or your school engages families and communities?  What are your goals?  How will you know if those goals are met?


March 2, 2014

Edcamp Columbus Reflection: Derek

It’s going to be tough to keep this one short.  Sorry.

My wife, Julie, and I attended our first Edcamp this weekend at Clark Hall, Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio.  Edcamp Columbus was awesome!  It was everything we thought it would be and more.  It began with some wifi issues and I admit, I was fearing my engagement throughout the day would severely decrease as a result of no wifi.  I was looking forward to peeking in on other sessions through #edcampcbus on Twitter.  I also had intended to keep regular posts on Facebook as more of my colleagues back home are active on Facebook, rather than Twitter.  Thankfully, Julie and I were able to get both of our devices logged on successfully.

Clark Hall is an incredible learning space!  I could tell immediately this school was a place I would like to teach.  EdcampCbus decided to put their session board on a Google spreadsheet.  I actually like this idea!  It makes it so much easier to share the session board with others that were unable to attend.  It also makes it easy to refer back to the board while in the middle of a session.  I found myself pulling out my phone often just to see if anything new had been added to the board, or if I was trying to decide what session to attend next.  Without the Google spreadsheet, I would have been making trips back and forth to the session board all day.

Though I did want to facilitate a discussion myself, I didn’t add anything to the board because each hour had something I was really excited to see.  Julie and I are hosting our own Edcamp in Parkersburg, WV on April 5 so we really wanted to absorb as much of the experience from Columbus as possible.  It was their 4th Edcamp so we were sitting among several veteran Edcampers.  The first session I attended was titled “Design your own school”.  The facilitator began the discussion by introducing himself.  @mrmacraild isn’t an administrator and he didn’t appear to be starting his own school, but the discussion was one that was extremely necessary and led to many points of view being shared.  I shared on Facebook that the discussion included at least 1 attendee from almost every corner of public education.  Administrators and teachers of all kinds engaged in a discussion about designing schools in such a way that would produce the best possible thinkers.  One of my favorite parts of the discussion was when teachers began discussing ways to allow students to take control of their own learning.  A high school chemistry teacher shared that he may have spoke a total of 5 minutes in his classes Friday.  The theme was get out of the way and allow our students to do the sharing, the presenting, the teaching, and the doing.

Session one went so well for me that for session two I attended a session titled “Redesigning the school day: Successes and lessons learned.”  This session was created by a teacher who appeared to be in his mid-20s.  He introduced himself and stated that he didn’t really have anything to share, he just suggested the topic in hopes that he could learn some innovative ideas that were being used in other schools.  His school was attempting to carve out more time for teachers to collaborate and learn from one another but adjusting the schedule of the day was becoming difficult.  The discussion immediately took off with an attendee sharing research that suggests students retain new information much better when that information can be revisited within 3 hours of it’s initial activation.  We all began brainstorming ways for students to engage in new information in a math class, for example, but then be able to revisit that topic/concept before the school day ended.  I wonder, how effective could that be?  During this session I met some awesome young educators from Hilliard City Schools in Franklin County, Ohio.  They shared for several minutes how their school had carved out time to allow teachers to observe each other and share resources and best practices.  As I sat listening, it appeared that what was going on in their school daily was the type of learning I could only engage in during Twitter chats of an evening.  It was so neat to hear them talk passionately about how their school learns from each other, respects one another’s practices, reflects honestly about what works and what doesn’t work.  Never did they mention test scores, data, or assessments, though I’m sure those methods are used at their school.  I spoke up and asked them to share a bit about the culture at their school and how they were able to sustain such an innovative learning environment for their teachers.  Their response was not surprising to me.  It all starts with an administrator who modeled all those behaviors prior to asking the staff to engage in them.  Even when other educators spoke up, it seemed they all had administrators who were willing to lead their staff into these reforms because they were already connecting to other great administrators outside their school and district, they were already reflecting on their own practice, they were already implementing tools and resources that were proven in other places.  It seemed easy for these educators to follow a lead like that.  As I was walking out of this session, the educators from Hilliard stopped me to encourage me to continue being the change in my school and my district.  They were excited to hear of the opportunities I had been given in #wvedchat and Edcamp Parkersburg.  They asked if I had my administration certificate and encouraged me to invest into gaining that certificate.  Before we left, they invited me to join them on Tuesday nights for their district’s chat on Twitter.  Before Julie and I met in the common area, an administrator from a small, rural k-6 elementary school in Ohio introduced herself to me and encouraged me just as the Hilliard folks did.  These couple experiences were worth the hotel stay and travel to Edcamp Columbus.  Julie and I came because of the conversations and that was affirmed during those first two sessions.  It was so encouraging meeting other educators that were passionate about their students and their schools.

We walked into the restaurant for lunch and were waved over to a nearby table by what would have been a total stranger prior to Edcamp.  Our new friend, Ryan Macraild invited us over to his spot and we ended up sitting with two tech integrators from school districts nearby.  Even lunch involved conversations that have never occurred in our schools.  We sat at the same table with Bobby Dodd, principal at New Lexington High School.  Bobby was there with a few teachers from his school.  If I didn’t recognize him from Twitter, I wouldn’t have been able to tell who was the principal and who were the teachers.  Edcamp really levels the playing field and removes all titles.  Everyone present is there to engage in the same quality learning experiences to transform their classrooms and schools.

Edcamp Columbus ended with a “Smackdown”.  The smackdown was awesome because it allowed any participant the chance to share a brief statement or two about how they were impacted as a result of coming to Edcamp.  You got to hear all the innovative ideas and changes that educators were going to implement as a result of the day.  Before we left, we were able to connect with some educators from Shelby City Schools who want to bring a van-load to our Edcamp on April 5.

*Edit:  I intentionally did not write about all 4 of the sessions I attended.  That was an effort to keep the post shorter.  However, my final session was led by @mrwheeler and it was extremely enlightening for me.  Sean spoke mostly about he gets his students to solve real problems.  He’s an ELA teacher, but he spoke about attending city council meetings and asking them to share some the city’s problems.  His thought was a simple one: why aren’t we using public schools to solve more problems?  In fact, one of the attendees said “public schools should be a think-tank for communities.  I began to think of all the problems I, a math teacher, ask my students to solve throughout the school year.  Are any of them related to our community in any way?  Will any of the problems my students solve have a lasting impact?  Sean also got the attendees thinking about WHO our students submit their work to.  One statement he made impacted me: “tell a 3rd grader they’re going to be on Youtube and see what happens.”  He’s absolutely right!  My students aren’t currently sharing anything globally.  In fact, I’m not sure I could classify my students as risk-takers, not afraid to fail, learners, and doers.  I left that session wondering, if more teachers in my building, starting with me, started providing students with real problems, started connecting them to their community, started giving them an audience, started giving them a voice… What type of students would we be sending to the high school?

October 22, 2013

My Connected Learning Post

See my updated about me page.

This month is Connected Educator Month and I’ve been reading some really incredible posts from educators reflecting on becoming connected. See It’s not a must to be connected – but it helpsl or PD roadblocks control complainace and permission posts about transforming Professional Development with collaborative learners.  Tom is probably my favorite blogger of all things related to The connected educator culture.  The link will take you to his post about the connected educator culture.  The post he made after that one is about having patience with the unconnected.  I sure needed to read that one myself!

This blog has become way more than what I originally intended when I started building it over the summer.  I never imagined my blog would make it to places like India, Australia, British Columbia and many places across the United States.  I want to share my feelings on becoming a connected educator and hope to shed some encouragement to those who are curious enough to entertain the idea.  First, a connected educator is one who leverages today’s technology to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create in an effort to improve their practice.  All of this sharing can be done in a variety of venues, such as Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and more.  This post is about me, so I’ll share my experience.

I connected via Twitter last spring, 2013.  I decided to dive into Twitter after realizing that was the social media haven where most of my students resided.  I originally thought I would just offer my students another method of contact in hopes that I could also build relationships, make connections with students/parents, find out what’s going on in their lives, and use Twitter as a way to provide positive feedback, inform students about upcoming assignments/projects, etc.  I had read of many schools leveraging the power of social media.  My favorite example would be New Milford High School where principal Eric Sheninger has become an expert on leveraging the power of social media in schools.  See Eric Sheninger’s posts about the use social media in schools.

Before I knew it, I was following a collection of educators who consistently shared tweets, links, and resources on educational technology, Google apps for education, increasing communication with homes, standards-based grading, blended learning, and flipped classrooms.  The power of Twitter, for me, was in whom I was following.  I was definitely more of a “lurker” than a participator.  My personality doesn’t allow me to lurk for long, however.  I wanted to engage and start communicating back and forth, even if it was 140-character conversations.  My first chat I participated in was #edtechchat.  It was really fast, but I learned about Google Forms that evening.  You’ll find some parent communication forms on my blog were made as a direct result of that chat.  I have since shared Google Forms with my wife, an English teacher, and she’s put them to use in her classroom as well.

Soon my passion for learning more about improvements I could make in my classroom was creeping into my typical evening routine.  Over the summer, my wife and I would typically try to relax of an evening, but instead of watching a show, I could be found with my nose in Twitter chasing links and saving resources in my Evernote portfolio.  Evernote was also a direct result of becoming connected.  I started my Evernote and began sorting links, PDF’s, blogs, etc. into categories in Evernote.  I can now easily search by tags I created, such as connectededucators, SBG, math, googleapps, edtech, and more.  It didn’t take long until my connectedness had become streamlined.  One would think I was consumed and spent the majority of my day on my phone or staring at a laptop.  This is not true.  I still had a family and I still had a very active 18 month old.  My family even decided to sell our house and move 40 minutes away at the beginning of this school year.  Talk about busy!  I had taught myself to use the power of Tweetdeck, Evernote, and Google Chrome to sift through the constant stream and read, save, and share items that I could find in a short amount of time.   Becoming connected had changed me into a self-directed learner and I wanted to help my students become self-directed learners as well.

I would like to share some ideas I’d like to see come to fruition in my district.  These are all ideas to increase connectedness, collaboration, sharing, and self-directed learning.  At the risk of challenging traditional powers of administration, I’d like to help make these ideas a reality.

  • Groups of educators, either by department, school, grade-level, etc. interacting via Edmodo.  I see a need to start small, so I’d like to involve other schools so that the educators who have a desire or are at least curious enough to get involved can.  I imagine the power of becoming connected will take over and others will eventually become involved.
  • More schools leveraging the power of social media.  There is an extreme potential being missed by teachers and schools that still put the lock-down on social media.
  • Monthly or weekly Twitter chats, again, by department, grade-levels, elementary vs secondary, or by school.  The idea of carving out more time to meet face to face is becoming antiquated, ask any principal.  There simply is no more time.  However, the digital environment lends itself to more friendly collaboration.  Not to mention it can be done at your own convenience, often from home.  Twitter is built for this, though Google+ or Hangouts could be used as well.  Edmodo is the simplest to use and friendly to those who are already familiar with Facebook.  Hashtags could be created for easy access to prior chats, discussions, etc.  Perhaps #woodcoedchat could be used for a district-wide chat weekly or monthly.  And more specific audiences could collaborate via #resavmathchat or something similar.  These are just ideas.

All of these ideas require the involvement of educators willing to think outside the box.  It also means the traditional style of professional development, herding teachers to the library or auditorium and lecturing to them for an hour, has got to change.  Current methods of professional development have created a generation of teachers who are no longer self-directed learners.  It really is not the teachers’ fault that they require 1:1 spoon-fed treatment to gauge effective professional development.  How many students do you have that require spoon-feeding in order to learn?  How many students do you have that are self-directed learners who would prefer to try things themselves instead of listening to the teacher force-feed information to them?  Have you ever wondered why?  Or who created such a generation of learners?  It’s no more the teachers’ fault that they refuse to use the power of connections to learn new tools themselves, than it is the students fault that they require a steady dose of spoon-feeding in order to learn new concepts/skills.  Professional development can and should be personalized.  No longer should professional development be documented by seat-time, rather work samples, portfolios, and evidence should be treated as proof of professional development.

In closing, I hope this doesn’t intimidate anyone.  I fear that I’ve done that in the past and that is definitely something I want to avoid.  Connections can be made in a variety of ways.  My experience thus far has mostly occurred via Twitter, but there are other ways to become connected.  Choose the one that fits you and start learning.  If you’ve only got one connection, use them.  Connected educators are the most giving group of educators.  The very definition of the term infers a responsibility to share freely, give advice, receive criticism, etc.  Thank you for reading as I didn’t intend for this to be so long.


October 18, 2013

Real and Practical Classroom Management

I read this somewhere, someone may comment on its origin, “Will what I’m about to say bring me closer or push me away from the person with whom I’m communicating?”  I try to keep that thought in the front of my mind all day at school.  My wife and 2 year old daughter would say it tends to leave my mind on my way home!  Either way, I like to think that’s my classroom management theme.

My teammates at school would say I’m ultra practical.  I really am.  It’s tough for me to buy into something that isn’t practical.  For example, why should students come to my room first and ask to get a drink from the fountain, when they walk right by the fountain on their way to my room?  Even little situations like that could become unnecessary situations if more teachers exercised some practicality in their classrooms.  Just recently, I was asked why I don’t meet 1:1 with my students to discuss their end-of-the-year state-wide test results.  The numbers don’t make sense to my students.  They aren’t practical.  If a student is 12 points away from the mastery level, what do 12 points really say?  No one seems to know.  That isn’t practical to me.  Why discuss a student’s test score when neither he/she or I know what that score really means.  I can discuss strengths and weaknesses with a student, but they probably already know those as well.  Providing an opportunity to build on those strengths and weaknesses is what I’d like to talk about.  Back on topic Mr. Oldfield!

Harry K. Wong emphasizes that classroom management is much more than discipline.  Unfortunately, a lot of teachers think of effective classroom management as effective discipline.  CM goes beyond discipline, it should be something that positively affects the entire classroom and everyone in it.  When classroom problems arise, consider what you have done to prevent such a problem from arising?  That’s a loaded question that requires reflection on the activity, assignment, instructional method, seating arrangement, location of the teacher and location of the student.  Sometimes there just isn’t anything that could have been done to prevent it.  When that’s the case, what did your reaction convey?  Was your reaction one in which your students could clearly interpret?  Did your reaction support the correct behavior?

Thoughts to consider when assessing effective classroom management:
Are you building relationships with the student and how?  Are you building a relationship with the home and how?
Are you communicating purpose in what you’re asking your students to do?  Is your classroom relevant?  Is it rigorous?  Is learning clearly defined?
Have you built credibility with your students?  I think that’s overlooked by teachers who say “well I went to school for 4-5 years, isn’t that enough credibility?”  Students still need to see that you’re asking them to perform x, y, z, because it’s in their best interests, and you do know what you’re doing.
How much do you know about a students home life?  How can you apply effective classroom management if you aren’t aware of some of the burdens your students bring to your classroom?
A Tale of Two Classrooms