Wednesday, November 9, 2016

First Day, Post Election 2016

It's been a challenging day... a draining day in education.

Planning a faculty meeting three weeks ago for the first morning post election was a good move. Regardless of the outcome... I figured we needed time to have a discussion prior to students arriving. I certainly did this morning.

I offered the following and then we had an incredible discussion.

We could talk all day about who won, how it happened, why and our personal beliefs about it all.


The messages relayed in this President Elect's campaign draw deep concern in me as a father, husband, and educator... and as a human being.

There's a simple message here...

We want our students to know that we care for them. All of them.

Many students will be apprehensive today. Some will be scared. Some may be brash. Some will be uncertain. Some silent. Some, worse I think... simply won't care.

Many kids, and adults for that matter, don't feel safe as a result of the hateful rhetoric in this election.

In all cases... we need to relay a simple message.

Our students need to know they are safe and supported here. All of them.

We will not accept the hate that took place in this election regarding different ethnicities, sexual orientation, faith, physical disabilities, or the the objectifying and degradation of women.

Discussing it openly is educational. Silence... pretending this doesn't exist is not educational after all. Silence on these matters won't improve our society.

I encourage you to open this up today in class with your students.

Facilitating discussions in class is on this... will be a challenge. I encourage you to open the conversation with kids and see where it goes. Be open to what they need. Be open, honest about your feelings... and make your expectations about ethical and moral guidelines of how we conduct ourselves clear. That's my best advice.

We want all of our students to know that there is no place for bullying, hazing or harassment here.

We want students to know we can help them unpack all these emotions and find a path.

This is not a 'one and done' conversation. Should the campaign promises of this President-Elect hold true, the challenges for kids and adults will be constant. We need to have an ongoing discussion promoting a broader understanding of empathy.

Beyond curriculum coverage and standardized testing goals... it's reinforced yet again that we need to discuss empathy at a much broader level in education... throughout the entire United States.

Your discussions on this today, with kids and peers... can help start moving that important message.

We have a lot of important work to do in education.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

To boldly go...

It's been a busy few months.

July and a large chunk of August flew by with many plates in the air. VT Fest Fall conference prep, two consulting gigs, teaching a grad class, Spring conference development, a very busy Summer baseball season and a consuming post-season tournament, and a lot of research and reading.

Then I was presented with an offer I couldn't refuse... to be the Director at Burlington Technical Center (BTC) in Burlington, Vermont.

I've had a number of offers to enter the admin realm over the years. None of them seemed a good fit... until this one came along.

Helping BTC in a leadership role presented a chance to continue development projects I did with them last year. That work included facility renovations, program relocations, creating new programs, a new website, marketing development, building community connections, and tossing our hat into the CTE Makeover Challenge Grant contest. That grant proposal... the culmination of many years of hard work introducing kids (and adults) to project-based education and developing students personalized learning plans was selected as one of 10 winners Nationwide. WHOOHOO!

It also presented a chance to continue working with Tracy Racicot, former Director at BTC who moved next door (so to speak) to lead Burlington High School, Herb Perez - Assistant Principal, and new comers Mario Macias - Guidance Director, and Noel Green - Assistant Principal. These folks are innovative and team oriented. I am looking forward to working with them on student centered development and systems thinking and innovating.

The Tech Center itself has a great crew as well. This was another reason I signed on. We have a great balance of experience and new faces to build with.

I'll tell you... starting the job two days before in-service was exhilarating and also a challenge. I had two major consulting gigs in tow, was teaching a grad course and working on State conference development for VITA-Learn. But I'm over that bridge finally... and starting to get some sleep again ; )

Personally... finding balance in the months ahead will be key.

With this innovation work and systems focus at BTC... I start a two-year process to gain an official admin license... classes, tests, and building a portfolio. I'll continue to take interesting consulting gigs as I can, presentations, and serve as President of VITA-Learn to continue conference development and expanding PD offerings for teachers and students Statewide.

We'll mix in some baseball too ; )

Here's to it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

BTC chosen as one of 10 CTE Makeover Challenge Grant Winners!

What a privilege to lead a team representing Burlington Technical Center in the CTE Makeover Challenge Grant.

Our proposal was one of ten selected Nationwide as grant winners!

My thanks to the development team, the students, BTC, Burlington School District, for helping build this innovative concept.

Our work builds from a few essential concepts...

  • Collaborative Maker Space where all tech center programs collaborate and help students create individualized learning plans. This design creates cross curricular (program) collaborative learning opportunities.
  • Artist in residence program: Brining in community expertise with stipends to share their innovation and creativity with students and community
  • Community Learning Center: Hosting community events and building explorations to connect the school to innovative people

Here's a caption from the announcement from the CTE Makeover website:

"We are thrilled to share that today the U.S. Department of Education announced the ten prize winners in the CTE Makeover Challenge. Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education, announced the prize winners at the White House Champions of Change for Making event this afternoon. The Challenge launched in March, calling on high schools to design makerspaces that strengthen next-generation career and technical skills. Over 640 schools from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. entered the Challenge. Eligible schools were invited to participate in a 6-week Bootcamp program to further develop their makerspace ideas, and submit their final plans to be considered for prizes. 
Join us in congratulating the prize winners! 
  • Burlington Technical Center, Burlington, VT
  • Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, DC
  • Carl Schurz High School, Chicago, IL
  • Clearwater High School, Piedmont, MO
  • Dominion High School, Sterling, VA
  • John H. Reagan Early College High School, Austin, TX
  • Palisades Charter High School, Pacific Palisades, CA
  • Theodore Roosevelt High School, San Antonio, TX
  • THINC College & Career Academy, Lagrange, GA
  • William B. Travis Early College High School, Austin, TX
The prize winners were recommended by a panel of judges composed of high-profile leaders in maker education, tech, and industry. Each winner will receive $20,000 in cash and a share of in-kind prizes from the $375,000 sponsor prize pool to build or renovate their makerspace. Please check back here later this summer for more information on the prize winners’ makerspace plans."
We're excited to explore the proposals from all participating schools and to work with the array of organizations who've donated expertise and materials to the 10 finalists.

Our thanks to the CTE judges, facilitators, and sponsors for recognizing our work as innovative. We are thrilled to begin collaborative efforts.

Development is underway... along with an array of facility renovations at the Tech Center over the Summer too.

Keep moving forward... indeed. ; )

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Common goals... in Vermont education

I worked with a group of 50-ish great people today in Berlin, VT to dive into what Open Education Resources ( #goOpen ) could mean to Vermont education.

I was tasked with presenting to the group at days end... summarize discussions that took place during the day and cast ideas on how to move forward.

It's a lofty challenge, actually. 

It's not just about #goOpen (Open Education Resources). It's about how to fit many, many gears together. What's preventing something like #goOpen from moving forward?

Here it is, the speech and slides... in all it's oddity ; )

When I think Avengers... I think superheroes.

Many teachers and administrators are superheroes in their schools and districts. There are many superheroes in this room. Innovators. Leaders. People who strive to make things better in education.

But... Superheroes get different priorities. Superheroes have strong opinions. Different perspectives on what's important. And then, in some places comes...

How many initiatives does your school have?

I just did a consulting job with a school that had, at the same time... 23.

Yes... lot's of head shaking going on. Sounds painful, right? People were (are) disillusioned, disenfranchised... and the important 'dis'. Disinfected... people bow out. We've all heard the phrase before... "I just shut the door and teach."

PD gets fractured in many directions. Agendas start competing. People take sides... or don't. And the number of initiatives starts piling up. Fatigue builds... and we lose focus.

This effect also reminds me of...

For those unfamiliar... Game of Thrones is an HBO series... with a huge following. One main theme from the story... different factions throughout the land start fighting and competing against each other.  Everyone is trying to rule. Resources get divided. Energy gets split up. Casualties... well, casualties in Game of Thrones are, um, extreme... but let's focus on the larger picture here ; ) Divided... things start falling apart. We lose sight of the big, important picture.

In both the superhero world, and in Game of Thrones... much energy is wasted in different and fractured agendas... and the big picture, the bigger challenges are lost.

Bigger challenges...?

In the superhero realm... the galactic destroyer, Thanos is coming (upcoming movies will tell this story. He's... well, he's mean. Very mean. The Avengers Infinity War movies, parts I and II will tell that story. The superheroes, and their different initiatives are bickering and this bigger danger is... growing.

In Game of Thrones... Everyones fighting to rule the land... and they are almost oblivious to the fact that... the White Walkers, the Undead are coming. They intend to destroy the world of the living. Yup... that's a big problem. A 'zombie apocalypse' sort of thing.

Superheroes. Divided.

Kingdoms. Divided.

Common challenges... no focus on them.

Hey... it's the end of the day... and I've never been accused of being 'uncreative'!

So Avengers... or Game of Thrones... stand up and move to the side of the room that...

Just kidding! (For those who weren't there... we did some exercises like this to help us explore some important questions, important bias).

In Vermont education we have many, many different priorities and initiatives... and groups.

These groups all do great work! Individually. Some common goals cross over... but sometimes they don't. Initiatives get fractured. The list of priorities builds... and it gets tough for schools to keep the bigger picture in mind. Who do you gravitate toward if you're a school? Everything. Is. Important... and initiative hell in schools grows.

Act 46 is a good example of how, when communication doesn't happen... bad things happen.

(For those who don't know what Act 46 is... legislation came down on schools implementing spending caps that were not in sync with school budget planning cycles. Schools adjusted best they could. Cuts and layoffs took place and many facility improvement plans were cast aside. Emergency meetings. Stress. Then the legislature changed the spending caps. Many town budgets had already been posted and couldn't be adjusted. Some tried. Some succeeded. Some... didn't.)

Summarize all this?

We need a common goal.

Here it is I think.

Act 77.

A personalized learning plan for every student. Time table of implementation that achievable.

An incredible goal, really. Something different than.. business as usual. Incredible potential.

it's State legislation... but it's implementation is all. over. the. place.

Schools are approaching this in Vermont... all over the map. Some well. Some incredibly well. Some... not so well... or barely at all.

Why though?

What does this Act 77 'initiative' mean to many teachers?

Teachers in many schools suffer from this... initiative hell.

I see many people here nodding their heads in agreement. You've heard this before. Lived it! Yet... many people in the room... are still superheroes ; )

Act 77... it's another initiative.

So how do we fix this? What's the root of the problem to make these changes in schools?

Let's try a little David Jakes-esque (it's his slide below) design thinking at this.

If we... discover, in our own schools what are teachers feeling? Students? Administrators? Parents?

Then we define... What are our drivers here? What do we want to do? What's our bigger (unifying) goal?


  • great citizens? 
  • great personalized learning plan systems to allow kids to explore interests at a much deeper level?

What's the constraint here? Why can't this happen? What are the root problems exposed?

I think the answer to that question in MANY school is... 


Well, it's actually, lack thereof.

A couple others... that result from 'time.'

PD time... is too infrequent!

We don't have enough time for initiatives so... we need to focus them to a few.

We need to change how we converse. What is the 'language' of our schools? How do we communicate with each other, with our students? With our communities?

We need an axis for this conversation, a center of gravity.

I'd offer that this is a great one.
This... can provide an axis, a center of gravity, a sense of purpose for these discussion and initiatives.

These (above) are just ideas from what I've heard today and what I've been thinking about.

By 'fix contract language' I mean... what if sharing and collaborating with peers was an expectation? What if every district twas clear about teacher resources being shared with peers, with the school, and perhaps... others like in OER?

If you can leave here today... and start this design thinking process discussion (thanks, David) at your school... you can get the conversation started on 'real' teaching and learning goals. We can start to focus.

Now for our part... VITA-Learn. How can we help?

Here's what we do, currently.

We host regional meetings throughout Vermont. Free PD (and food at all our Regional meetings) at a place near you!

We host two major conferences per year... VT Fest in early November and Dynamic Landscapes in May each year.

We also host a website... which is about to shift from 'information' to storytelling.

We do our best to fire up collaboration and resources via PD on tough issues and promote innovation.

Here's what we can do.

We can call on the leaders of all these organizations in Vermont... and ones not listed (sorry if you're organization isn't listed, I built this from the groups developing thoughts through the day today). We can get them around the table and discuss...

Open Education Resources is a great initiative. Teachers as authors. As publishers. Sharing. Growing. Collaborating. Building... free resources. Free intellectual property.

How do we get to more meaningful implementation of Act 77, OER... of collaborative teaching?

We can run some design thinking processes... to discover, define constraints... and get on to meaningful testing.

It's going to take...

  • a serious discussion about how we handle time in schools, how we value teaching and the goals within it. What changes to we need to make to really get there? How can we actually... make those changes?
  • superheroes... who raise the discussion at schools and show people value
  • each group in #vted (Vermont education)... discovering how we can better work together
  • and a resolve to fight initiative hell. To, as Diana so eloquently put it... "reinvest in the profession of teaching and learning."

My first thought is we do this at Vermont Fest 2016... and also build it into a panel discussion ; )  We'll start bouncing ideas of when and how.


"PLPs (and OER)are not a 'tech' problem. It's a school culture and method problem."

That's another great quote from Diana, too. Diana''s amazing. Pull the lever and out comes another great simple summary of a complex problem.

Hopefully something like Act 46... won't happen again. We can sit, talk, and be informed of school needs. We can define goals and change contract language, change our use of time, and our approach... toward collaborative.

I'll be in touch shortly (after the end of the school year... everyones busy!) and start feeling out a time to get people from each group around the table and begin.

So I'll end with a quote from 1958.... from Edward R. Murrow. This isn't about technology... Naviance, blogs, Google Sites, Amazon Inspire... it's about how we use it.

It just so happens, incredibly.... that Edward R. Murrow's son, Casey, is in the audience here today. Casey is one of our superheroes interested in how we can get this meaningful discussion on OER and it's incredible potential into schools.

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it's nothing but wires and lights in a box.

Edward R. Murrow
RTNDA Speech, 1958

Finding simplicity takes hard work sometimes. It takes clarity of thought.

I see incredible potential in Act 77, and in Open Education Resources. We've got to change some approaches... or it'll all be more adds into a big, big pile.

My thanks to Kristina Peters, Andy Marcinek, Diana Laufenberg, David Jakes and Peter Drescher for inviting VITA-Learn and me into this work... and to be part of this great opportunity.

Everyone in this room can help. Rebecca Holcombe (VT Secretary of Education) too. Dan French... in his new role with St Mike's too... and the leaders of all these great organizations in Vermont Education. 

Like many of you... after three days of the Dynamic Landscapes conference and this event today... I've got some wood chopping to do all about the end of the school year... and then in a week or so I'll be digging into this conversation again.

Keep being superheroes. Let's keep innovating. Let's build this into bigger discussion. let's get people on the same page and get some of these incredible opportunities... less constricted. 

Thanks everybody!

We win!

Note: Apologies to the VT ASCD for not including them in the picture! You'll be called upon though to participate! ; )

Thursday, May 5, 2016

To boldly go... requires a sense of adventure

I was lucky early on in my career in education to work with a lady named Val Gardner, the Principal at the time at Champlain Valley Union High School.

I decided to leave CVU and dive into the unknown as a Network Administrator for South Burlington School District. SB was launching into the networked and Internet world. You know, the shift from dial up internet to the wired and wireless internet and all that went with it.

I was excited but also very nervous about the shift. Val wrote me a card as a parting gift that said...

"To boldly go... requires a sense of adventure."

I still have the card to this day.

I think of that card often and it's message, and speak to it often in my work in education.

The methods of 'same old' or 'add it' are not fiscally responsible or sustainable. They lead to broken systems and burnout... the results you don't want or need.

I'm not talking about 'change for the sake of change' here. I'm talking change that's needed. Change that makes sense.

In visiting and collaborating with so many schools over the years I've found three constants...

1. If you've got problems that needs solving they will not be remedied with the same thinking and a 'business as usual' mentality.

Build on systems that still make sense. Make a list and start moving what doesn't.

In so many schools I work with it's easy for people to identify what doesn't work. But... problems linger year-to-year and often for a decade or longer.

2. Core values. Develop them and make them simple and sensible. Then stick to them. The elegance of simplicity will draw people into the cause and then the complexity of the work behind those goals will have purpose.

3. Time. Shift time in schools to unlock innovation. Promote the use of time toward thoughtfulness and a better sense of pace and purpose... toward collaboration.

People often want to change for the better but are unwilling to make those leaps. See, our patterns provide comfort. Changing systems we're comfortable with and simultaneously bored with is still... unsettling.

Along the way it's easy to get complacent, to get too comfortable, and ultimately to get institutionalized. And as we do... it's easy to get too negative.

It's better to feel the butterflies of risk and innovation and than to feel bored.

"To boldly go... requires a sense of adventure."

Yup. Sure does.

Thanks, Val. I've lived it and keep preaching it.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What does the SBAC data actually tell us?

As schools in Vermont wade through the SBAC test for 11th graders...

I'm still waiting for any compelling evidence on what these tests really show. How do they inform practice in some meaningful way?

Take the test. Get the results a year later and view results that... ?

Evaluate the content of the test related to instructional goals of the school / district, perhaps, and... ?

Use the test as a baseline to... ?

My thanks again to the Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe,  for clarifying Vermont's role.  My hope is that other States will be so lucky.

The SBAC test has certainly interrupted a lot of creative and innovative work. My hope is that we'll all look at the data and check it's value... and determine if the test should continue or just simply be abandoned.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dig deeper on calls for 'grit' in education...


Grit isn't about just about 'doing more' or 'enduring' more work, more homework, more rigor, and at a faster pace...

We send messages like buckle down, work harder, faster... at the expense of higher level conversations.

Defining more clarity of purpose and exploring quality is, um, sort of left out sometimes.

Grit can be ignited best by passion and purpose.

It's important to ask...

Is 'grit' a call for some students and not others? aka is your call to 'have more grit' elitist?

Are schools just asking students to get grit so they can work harder to fit into their system? What if the system doesn't ring true?

Sometimes, yes, grit is about survival and enduring hardship. It doesn't have to be in education.

Focus on building grit as a noun (descriptor 2, in the pic above) instead of a verb (descriptor 1).