Night and Day

Since I’ve spent all of two and a half weeks in my new role as building administrator, I feel I am now imminently qualified (insert sarcastic tone) to post my thoughts about how different my new role is compared to my life as a teacher/coach.  By no means is this a complete list, as much as it is a quick observation of just how much my life has taken a new and interesting turn.


Difference #1 – Go with the flow.  I fully admit that I am a Type A-anal retentive-super organized-to do list-planner.  There should be a support group for people like me.  That served me well for my career in the classroom.  Every lesson of every day was planned, rehearsed, and organized.  I knew what my kids would be doing from the minute they walked in to the minute they left.

That kind of planning does me absolutely no good in my job now.  Oh sure, I go to work with an idea of things I want to get done that day. I may even have a meeting on my calendar.  But most days, the “plan” should only take me about an hour to get done.  My first few days I had the dreadful feeling of I only have 2 things on my to-do list, what am I going to do all day?  I soon realized I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to fill my time at work.  I just had to realize I couldn’t plan for it ahead of time.

Difference #2 – Where does the time go? On my first full day of school with all of the students and teachers there, I had something on my to-do list that normally would have taken me about 20 minutes to do.  I sat down in my office at 8:30 to get started. Then the rush started: phone calls, student discipline, questions from teachers, hallway supervision, lunch duty, “help, I can’t open my locker” problems, emails from colleagues, more phone calls, classroom emergencies, job-embedded PD with teachers, a visit from the school SRO…and the next thing I knew, the clock said 2:00 pm.

This type of day is becoming my new normal. I’ve asked myself the question, what was I doing? more times in the last two weeks than I ever have in my life. There is always something that needs to be done right away.  There is always someplace in the school I should be (and would rather be) than my office.  There is always someone who needs my attention.  Which means, there is never enough time in the day to get it all done.

Difference #3 – My Weekend.  For the past 15 years as a classroom teacher and football coach, my fall weekends looked something like this: Friday night get home around midnight from the football game while everyone in my house is asleep; wake up Saturday morning for film study while everyone is still asleep; get home around noon in a cranky mood (regardless of whether we won or lost); spend from noon Saturday to noon Sunday with “family time” (which consisted of me being drug around running errands while all my body wanted to do was nap); Sunday afternoons were spent grading papers OR watching film OR lesson planning for Monday OR creating a game plan for our next opponent OR …  Even when I was home physically, I wasn’t home mentally.  We always joked that my wife was a “football widow”.  I realize now she wasn’t joking.

My first weekend as a building administrator consisted of taking my daughter to her first Chiefs preseason game on Friday night, fixing breakfast for my kids on Saturday morning, going for a run/bike ride with the family, having a BBQ, teaching my son to catch a football, and basically being the husband and father I always thought I was being.  Sunday afternoons were the biggest difference.  It was tough to shake the I’m forgetting to do something feeling because I was so used to preparing for Monday.  Now, this is not meant to mean that life as an administrator is easier than life as a teacher/coach.  Far from it.  The hours definitely aren’t any shorter.  They’re just different; way different.

As different as these first few weeks have been for me, I can say that I absolutely love every minute of it.  My time in the classroom and on the football field was a very special time in my life that I will always hold close to my heart.  But I’m learning that change is good and there has never been a bigger change in my life than what I’ve experienced over the first month on the job as a building administrator.


Something’s Gotta Give by Cyron on Flickr

Untitled by gregw on Flickr

Spy vs Spy. by digitalpimp. on Flickr

EdWeek SJSD Day 5

On Thursday, Dean Shareski led me to believe that if I attended all 5 days of EdWeek SJSD 2012 that I would be entered into a drawing for a free cruise.  Sadly, I didn’t win a cruise, but the consolation prize was pretty cool, too…spending a day in the life as a student in Diana Laufenderg’s social studies class at SLA.

After 4 great previous days of teacher PD at Ed Week, it was a unique experience to have the tables turned and become the student and watch a master teacher like Diana take us through a typical unit in her class.

The lesson started with Diana asking the class to throw out some current events we’ve been noticing in the news.  This is how she starts every class.  What a great way to build relevance with her students!  Let the students throw out things they are seeing on TV, social media, internet and use that as the starting point for the lesson.  We discussed such topics as the Sandusky trial, the bullied bus monitor, and the protests in Egypt.  For each topic, Diana took the time to find primary source documents that discussed what was happening.  She also facilitated a discussion that always brought the current event back to a similar historical event to show its relevance to her class.

Diana structures her class around thematic units instead of your typical chronological social studies class.  This way, no matter what current even is brought up, it usually has a tie into something they are covering in class.  After all, history repeats itself, right?

Our first assignment was a test!!!  We students took a 10-question citizenship test to see how much we knew.  Sadly, after many years of schooling, I wouldn’t have passed the test to become a US citizen.  Most of the “students” in the class scored very similar to me.  This was a great way to illustrate the need for the content she was going to be teaching us.  Another great way to hook students into buying in to the curriculum by showing them how much they don’t know and how much they need to learn.

We then completed a collaborative assignment where we had to describe America using 10 adjectives.  We all submitted our 10 adjectives to Diana who compiled them into a wordle graphic.  This showed us the most common reoccurring words the students in the class picked.  (ours is pictured below) A follow-up discussion led by Diana let the class share some views about why those words kept reoccurring with everyone.  She also showed us some examples from her past classes so we could see we weren’t much different than them.

Next, we did a unique riff on the 6-word story idea called Picturing America.  Diana challenged us to find a picture that depicted our view of America.  However, instead of writing our own 6-word story for that picture, we had to let other people do it.  We used a class protocol that Diana affectionately called speed-learning.  Similar to speed-dating , we sat across the table from each other and rotated partners every 3 minutes.  While we were seated with our partner, we had to show each other our picture and let the other person write the 6-word story for our picture. This was a very cool spin on the project that also created some amazing discussions about perspective and how our own views are not the views of our peers in the room.  This would have many applications in a class of just about any discipline.

After our turn as students was over, Diana spent some time with us looking at some of the projects her students at SLA have created over the years.  We had some great discussions about how to scaffold assignment projects in a class so that you allow students to create projects that fit your curriculum goals but also leave room for creative student expression.  Diana stressed the importance of provoking student thought and problem-solving instead of giving them the right answer, which is the game many students have learned to play.

As an example of the types of learners we hope to be inspiring, we watched one of the greatest YouTube videos I’ve seen in a long time.  If you’ve never seen it, treat yourself to the next 4:06 and watch Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap and it’ll brighten your day.

We ended our day by having a great discussion about the importance of reflection in the classroom.  There were lots of great ideas shared within my small group and also within the whole group about how to make reflection impactful for kids.  Being able to have an honest discussion about what you’re learning, how you’re learning, your struggles, and your successes is vitally important for student growth.

As I write my final blog post about the week, I’m also struck by how important reflection has been for me this week to digest all the amazing PD I gained from attending all 5 days of EdWeek SJSD 2012.

EdWeek SJSD Day 4

“The need to know the capital of Florida died when my phone learned the answer.” This quote by a high school student was one of many quotes from Dean Shareski‘s day of PD.

And really, that statement couldn’t be any more true.  Whether we want it or not, we live in a world where information and technology happens so fast that it can be hard to keep up.  Many teachers have a hard time letting go of the fact that teaching today is not what is was when they were students…or even 10 years ago…or even 5 years ago.  The quote that summed that up was by Griff Niblack, “If you’re yearning for the good old days, just turn off the air conditioning.”

But just using technology isn’t innovative or transformative.  Something that Sylvia talked about on Tuesday, as well.  Another quote (yes, I love quotes) that Dean shared that brought that home was, “technology is not interesting except for where it intersects with real life.”  Technology has to be relevant and authentic in our lives or else it can just seem like a toy we are using today that really has no impact on our life.

Dean then turned us loose to work on a project to combine looking at some educational beliefs with our own metaphor for how we visualized it.  We started by looking at one article from Seth Godin.  There were many articles to choose from and we each had to pick one that spoke to us.  Then we had to find a picture that we thought represented that topic.  Dean then asked us to take one quote from that article and lay it on top of the picture we chose as our metaphor.  Then everyone contributed to a community slide show that summarized our work.  It was very cool to see what everyone is the room came up with.  My part of the assignment is below:

I chose the topic of Neoteny, which basically means “to retain childlike qualities into adulthood”.  I thought the quote from the article about how we lose that playful attitude as adults by choice, not be genetics, was very meaningful.  We still retain that playful attitude inside of us but as we get older and focus on our work, we lose that playfulness.  Hopefully, those of you that know me personally, know that neoteny is a quality that I still possess.  I can’t imagine going through a day and not laughing.  If I walk out of my building at the end of the day and I haven’t made someone else smile, laugh, or just brighten their day, then it was a wasted day.  Even serious jobs have room for play.  I think back to my grad school class where we read the book Fish!.  Many of the same lessons from that book came back to me while doing this project.

Our last task before lunch was to choose a project from the DS106 website.  This is a college course taught by the University of Mary Washington.  Even if you are not a student of the college, it’s still a great website to go to for some cool project ideas.  They post a project of the day called The Daily Create.  We had to pick one of their projects and complete it before lunch.  Then we submitted it via email to our EdWeekSJSD Posterous site. All the projects were compiled together here.  My project of choice was called Tweet A Film.  I had to summarize an entire movie in 140 characters or less.  I chose one of my all-time favorites.  I’m sure many of you might be able to guess the movie title.


After lunch, it was time to PLAY.  Dean referenced the Google 20% policy.  If you’ve never heard of that policy, it basically is Google’s belief that their employees should spend 20% of their time playing.  Some of the best inventions Google has come up with, like Gmail and Google Earth, have come out of that 20%.  This is when their employees are the most creative.  So Dean gave us a list of fun websites and apps that we could play around with and encouraged us to be silly.  I played around with website Big Huge Labs to create a fake motivational poster (see below).  Jaime was NOT impressed.

Then I took a few pictures of some of the “fellas” in the room and messed around with JibJab.  This video is for all of you ladies in the audience…enjoy: Ed Week Chippendales video

It never fails that every time I enjoy a PD session with Dean, whether it’s an hour or an entire day, I always feel so much better about my profession.  I also leave with some cool ideas for projects for students (or teachers during JEPD).  But more importantly, I leave Dean’s session having laughed a lot and wearing a big smile on my  face.  In other words, my own little neoteny on a hot Thursday in June.


I believe I can fly by James Jordan on flickr

Ed Week SJSD Day 3

“Canada is a country whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts”. – Pierre Trudeau

Clearly, Mr. Trudeau has never spent a day of PD with Darren Kuropatwa.

Darren’s theme for our PD today was centered around a very powerful quote from Mary Catherine Bateson, “the human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.”  To illustrate this point, Darren (a math teacher by trait) told a story about Pythagoras to show how you can get a kid’s attention to make them want to learn about math.  The fact he threw in some bathroom humor in the story had me hooked immediately (shocking, I know).

Darren stressed that “if we can attach ideas to a powerful narrative, we can find ways to make content more ‘sticky'”. This teaching model would be the catalyst for the rest of our PD for the day.  Darren really focused on having teachers think about how to teach their curriculum by telling stories and using metaphors.  As a warmup activity, Darren taught a little photo lesson before turning us loose to take our own photos.  He focused on the 5 rules of taking good pictures; Rule of 3rds, Fill the Frame, Framing, Lines, & Forced Perspective.  Our assignment was to take a picture of geometrical shapes in the world around us (using great photo techniques).










These are two photos that I took.  The first picture is an example of using Fill The Frame and Rule of 3rds to take a picture of some spheres I found in the bottom of the urinal at TMC.  The second picture is an example of using Framing to take a picture of rectangles that were part of the skylight at TMC.  As someone who does not have a “math brain” this kind of activity would have made math much more relative to my world.  I struggled in math because I never saw the real world value.  This example really brought it home for someone like me…and I imagine it would for most of our students.

As someone who is becoming a building leader for the first time, Darren’s next activity was a huge ah ha moment for me.  He talked about having people express their ideas in a mix of images and words, rather than just text.  He gave everyone in the room the starting prompt of “Learning is…”  We each were challenged to create a single Keynote slide that finished that sentence.  On our Keynote slide, we had to find an image using pretty common photo-sharing websites such as Compfight. We also had to put a small amount of text that finished that sentence.  Darren stressed the importance of the picture on the slide being a metaphor for the text we chose.  We then submitted our slides to Darren using DropItToMe.  Darren compiled the slides into a larger Keynote that we shared with the class.  When our slide popped up on the screen, we had exactly 20 seconds (Darren timed the slides) to “own it”; meaning we needed to explain aloud why we chose that picture, that metaphor, and why we believed that statement.  Talk about a powerful presentation! (which you can see by clicking on the link below) I’ve already thought about how I can transform this type of activity for the teachers in my building this year during our JEPD time.

“Learning is…” Keynote from the Ed Week SJSD 2012 Group.

After lunch, Darren focused on ways to get students to share their work.  Wikis, blogs, etc take kids work and put it out for all to see.  You may be asking, why is it important for students’ work to be shared for everyone to see?  Darren’s answer was one of the best I’ve ever heard.  He said, simply, “when kids do work for a teacher is has to be good enough.  When they do work for the world to see, it has to be good.”  Let that quote marinate around in your brain if you begin to think about how using technology doesn’t enhance student achievement.

Darren shared some great examples from his own students’ work in his classes to give everyone in the room a glimpse into some possibilities into how powerful this type of learning can be.  We looked at 4 lenses of how we teach : Learner-Centered,  Knowledge-Centered, Assessment-Centered, Community-Centered.  Each of these four lenses can be great vehicles for learning on their own, but they become even more powerful when we blend them together in our classrooms to make student learning amplify (to steal a term from Sylvia’s session).

At the end of the day, Darren gave everyone time to actually jump in and start a project they’ve been dreaming of doing.  Since I’m no longer a classroom teacher, I spent my time working with other teachers in the room to help them develop their ideas.  I was able to see so many amazing projects that our SJSD teachers were working on.  The conversations about teaching, learning, and technology made me proud of my colleagues and almost made me wish I could go back to school and be a student in those classes.  Well, if it wasn’t for the acne, puberty, and living with my parents again.


EdWeek SJSD Day 2

AMPLIFY your teaching and learning!


That was the challenge presented to us by Sylvia Tolisano at Day 2 of EdWeek SJSD 2012.

Transforming Teaching and Learning

Sylvia’s challenge was a great message, but more importantly, she did a great job of helping everyone in the room find ways of amplifying their teaching and learning.  Since not everyone is comfortable with the same tools, Sylvia spent the morning part of the day going through various channels that teachers can use to share their own ideas.  Before we knew it, within an hour we had a backchannel Twitter stream going using the hashtag #edweeksjsd.  We also had a live discussion on Today’sMeet. We also had a third discussion going on using a Google Doc. Sylvia also brought up a great instruction model by assigning someone in the room to be the “moderator” of each backchannel.  Sylvia talked about how within the classroom structure, those are great ways to involve kids who may not be the most outgoing or vocal.  Teachers can assign a kid the job of being the class blog “moderator”, or someone to “clean up” a Google Doc discussion thread, or simply post questions on a discussion thread on Twitter.  What a great way to get kids involved.


Documenting, Sharing, Connecting

One of the other challenges that Sylvia issued to the group came from a blog topic written by Edna Sackson at her blog What Ed Said.  To paraphrase both Edna and Sylvia, the challenge was: it’s okay if you don’t use Twitter, blogging etc to share with other educators but it’s NOT okay to not be sharing.  So…if you don’t use Twitter, blogs, etc, then how do you share your ideas with other educators? It’s a great question.  Many of us are good about getting our ideas and thoughts written down somewhere.  Whether it’s handwritten notes, word documents, old lesson plan idea, etc, we all write down our thoughts.  The next challenge, though, is how do you share those ideas?  More importantly, do we have a responsibility to share those ideas? For some great thoughts on that question, I’ll refer to my colleague Sean Nash who wrote an excellent blog post on that topic.

Another great point that Sylvia brought up was the difference between Automating and Transforming (otherwise known as the SAMR model)Automating is just using technology to do a task you would have done manually.  Taking notes on an iPad instead of a spiral notebook is automating a task.  While there is nothing wrong with automating, how do we move to transforming our teaching?  In other words, using technology to do something we could not have done manually.

What a great springboard to our afternoon discussion of using iPads in classrooms…

Are you using a device for Consumption? Creation? Discovery?

Sylvia showed a short video of the Orion iPad Pilot Project.  It was a short video that showed a teacher in a classroom using iPads.  The question arose, though, about whether what we saw in the video was Automating or Transforming?  The same question was used as we watched a video that Sylvia shot at a school in Wuhan, China.  Both videos were a great opportunity to see how iPads could be used in varying degrees of instruction.

Now it was time to turn the students (teachers) loose to play with iPads.  Sylvia challenges the teachers to see how they could take something they already teach in their classroom but make it transformative by using the iPad.  She took the group through a tour of several iPad apps that allowed for transformative teaching in the classroom.  The teachers then had a variety of projects to choose from to work on transforming a lesson from their world.

I played around with using a couple of apps.  I will admit that I was looking at these apps in my iPad from the lens of a parent of two elementary-age children.  My 8 year old daughter would love the app Book Creator.  This app was a very easy-to-us tool that students can use to create their own books.  Great for school projects or simply the budding young author in the family (that’s my daughter).

I also explored using the app DoInk (pronounced “Do – Ink”, not “Doink”).  This app allows kids to create custom animation with their own drawings.  Think the old-school flipbook drawings where you drew a new, slightly different, picture on each page and then flipped the pages of the book really fast to create “animation” .  I went back to my childhood and created an animation of a stick figure dunking a basketball.  It took me about 5 minutes to create but easily took me back 25 years to my elementary school days of doodling in class instead of whatever else I was supposed to have been doing.

When everyone was done trying out the ideas, we shared them with Sylvia who posted them on our Wiki space for all to see (and mock).

Overall, what a great day of discussion, learning, collaborating, and exploration.  And really, for a day of free PD, how can you aks for anything more.



AmplifyNeuralNetwork by MikeBlog on flickr