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).

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Introducing Admins, Teachers and Students to Twitter

I jumped into the #satchat discussion this am and the question popped up again:

"How can I get new teachers and admins using Twitter?"

Here's a few tricks I've used for that group, and for students too.

It's not about 'getting them into the club' so to speak. It's about showing them value. Without showing them value it'll be another thing to do and people will lose interest. It's about community building, connections, awareness... and learning.

Start slow, create meaning, build curiosity.

Inquiry teaching, right? Create questions to get them curious about what's out there.


School / district hashtags

School hashtags are about finding another way to connect with your audience and to share great stories. Of course it can also be used for announcements... but I've found it's best when creative stories are shared. It can help combat that "wow, I had no idea that was going on' factor compartmentalized schools often face. If you don't have a school or district hashtag... create one ; ) Post tweets with your State Ed hashtag and the State tag as well to help spread the word.

Example: Announcement, link, school hashtag, State hashtag, and State Ed hashtag

Right... State Ed hashtags!
Most States now have hashtags dedicated for Ed news. In Vermont it's #vted. Moving out of facilitation mode in school administration and teaching and into storytelling, innovation sharing, and community building, both local and State is a good thing. It's a 'building a PLN' thing, an age old acronym, from a couple years back ; )

Relevant connections with 'their' peers
Share local admins on Twitter with your admins. Share innovative local teachers with teachers in the same subject in your school / district. I've found students are pretty curious what other schools are tweeting out.

Town Hashtags or Town Government
Many towns are posting events and important discussions via Twitter these days. Try to find one in your town.

Community Building
It's pretty cool how many schools have built connections with their local (and State!) community. There's great power in being informed, right? ; )

Bigger discussions on important social issues
There are incredible conversations going on via hashtags. #educolor is one of my favorites. There are many people doing great work here to build a conversation. "A movement, not a moment."

Connect them with innovators making great Ed shifts
There are a ton of folks out there who are posting inspirational material and who are making positive changes.

Find some of those innovators and seeing who they are following always helps too.

Connect them with subject learning via Search
Use Twitter to search for #hashtags in education. Here's a lengthy list of Ed hashtags from

Use search to find other groups discussing subjects. Take a topic in culture, news, tech, history, literature, science, math, business... and give it a try.

Admins, Teachers and Kids as Publishers
Taking the challenge to share your work, build connections, and do so within Twitter limitations is a great learning experience. Encouraging students, admins and teachers to share innovative ideas is a win!

Sounding Board
I've hear many people say that they fear publishing on Twitter. Shift them into the idea that they can ask questions too! Post a question to an Ed or subject hashtag and you'll likely get plenty of responses with great resources or opinions.

Digital Citizenship...
I write often about how schools usually handle this 'digital citizenship' thing poorly. I still find many struggle with one and done conversations - usually over 'good passwords' and predators and then it's back to the regular 'academic' flow. Many are still stepped in reactionary policy and procedure to problems. And... social media restrictions, outright denial of service approaches, still do seem to dominate all too much in the Ed realm.

Getting kids and adults involved in the potential, power, and social activism is a higher goal.

So, Promote...

  • meaningful connections and things will take off
    • peers, community engagement, local and State
    • social activism and awareness
  • a place to publish, search for, and ask questions
  • a place to learn. Find great resources and participate in the conversation when and if you're ready

Twitter has been a great source of PD for me. It's helped me make and maintain some incredible connections locally, Nationally and Internationally... and hey, even in the same building sometimes ; )

Of course... learning to manage information flow is a good lesson we all learn on Twitter too ; )

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The spice of innovating!

It' been a busy couple months since Educon in Philly.

I've been working on:

clearing up a nasty lung infection. Not for the faint of heart! Ok, that's not really 'innovating'... but it's taken up some serious time.

working in Burlington School District in Vermont on many innovative projects

and also this...

I'm helping VITA-Learn (Vermont educator professional development) again to renovate it's conferences, social media approach, and Statewide PD initiatives. Here's the latest entry...

The Dynamic Landscapes 2016 conference in Burlington is shaping up to be one of the best VT conferences to date!

We've added a thread called Immersive Workshops this year. Small workshops are great to explore innovation and gather many ideas, but... what about the idea of working for a half day or full day on one topic... with people from other schools with similar interests? it's something we, in practice, rarely get to do. So... Immersive workshops do just that. Dive in for an extended period of time in a discussion facilitated by some heavy hitters.

We're once again doing Ed Camp sessions, have more affordable housing options, and a new social event. We keep expanding the Maker / Innovation space, advanced Maker classes to build skill... and more. We've added some group pricing as well to make it more affordable to send teams.

Of course, I'm not alone in the planning! Diana Laufenberg, Jess Wilson, Lucie deLaBruere, the VL board, Ed Barry, and Paul Irish are all all part of the organizational team.

Check out all the updates on Dynamic Landscapes 2016 and see for yourself. Every time I look at that Immersive workshop list I smile ; )

We're off and running.  Just getting started!

Hope to see you there!


Friday, January 29, 2016

Tips for attending Educon

Conference in session? At Educon, yes! Photo by Adam Provost, 2013

I'm been very lucky over the years to attend the Educon conference in Philly at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA). This, if memory serves, is my 7th... or 8th... ; )

If you're new, or even if you're a veteran to Educon, here's a few tips that might help you.

Educon Account
Create an account and toss up a profile if you're game. It'll help you connect and meet people. I'd encourage you to check out the profiles of others as well. Many contain links to their work out and about... which leads to some very inspiring stuff.

It's January Philly weather
It's January Philly weather and... Educon never struck me as a 'dress up' conference! If you're walking about Philly (which I'd recommend doing), dress for it or face the consequences of your decision ; )

Take a school tour with SLA students on Friday
Dive in and take a student led tour. Talk with students and parents from the school and visit classes. Do a lot of listening and start soaking in all the things you see.

Talk with the SLA teachers on Friday
The teachers at SLA are collaborators.  I've shared resources with these great folks over the years and have asked for many things from them. They always do their best to help. They are well versed in inquiry and project based ed, empowering student voice, and have great resources and insights.

Don't miss the Friday night panel discussion... and reception
Great speakers explore the conference theme of the year via sharing their experiences and insights. Dr Frederic Bertley from the Franklin Institute is the emcee and does a great job threading things together. The reception after mixes everyone including panel speakers together. Grab some refreshments and mix it up with attendees.

A school as an international conference site
Educon isn't a 'resort' conference. It's a gritty school building and amidst all it's imperfections you can see the reflections of the work they do there. The facility isn't holding them back. Core Value posters, grade level themes, student art curation, and creativity are all on display. SLA is a 'student space' school, a collaborative space. The classrooms and hallways are utilized toward these collaborative goals. They paint, decorate and keep the space flexible. If it's still there this year, try to get a pic of the vending machine that's been commandeered to sell student writing! I always look forward to seeing what's new.

Who's Coming
Check out the Who's Coming Page on the conf website and see who's attending. Those folks who inspire you on Twitter and in and blogs just might be at Educon. Introduce yourself, you know, in person! Find people, shake their hand and let them know how valuable their work is to you.

Check the Meetups Page on the main conf site
You never know what meetups might be inspiring. Give it a look as the conf goes on too. People get inspired and add things as the event unfolds.

Get ready... #Educon is a social media hurricane
The #educon hashtag usually rockets up the charts in the Twittersphere to become one of the most popular in the world over the duration of the conference.

During the panel discussion on Friday and throughout both conference days you'll see people crushing inspiration and insights into Twitter. My advice is to dive in and participate. #educon one of the best social media backchannel discussions in education going. The resources people post throughout the conference and afterward via reflective posts will provide you with ton of great material.

Take the opportunity via the #educon hashtag to follow new people on Twitter... and then try to meet them in person. #educon has expanded my PLN more than I could have hoped for over the years.

Take some time to like and share other people's posts that resonate with you. It all helps the conversations grow.

Core Values and Grade level Themes. It's all on the wall at SLA. Picture from the Educon Flickr collaboration

Get to know the school systems at SLA
SLA has a hybrid block schedule, their advisory program rocks, they live by core values and grade level themes, and they dedicate time to meaningful PD time for teachers via 1/2 day combined with student Capstone projects. Other schools would do well to learn how much positive motion that short list can bring to education. Dig deep and learn what the elegance of simplicity and the hard work behind it are accomplishing.

Students and adults in the school are truly empowered. There are endless examples of this in their system. 

A bit more about advisory...
If you have a chance, dive deeper into how SLA handles advisory. It's really, no joke, the core of the school. Chris Lehmann says often, "we teach students, not subjects."

Not Your Typical Sit and Git Conference (link to 2013 Edutopia Article on Educon)
Each session at Educon holds true to it's stated mission on the home page... Educon is about conversations.  Expect presenters to facilitate a conversations rather than 'present.' It's powerful beyond measure because it builds your thinking in many directions and you build off collective knowledge. The conference is built on everything the school does itself day to day via inquiry and project based education.

Look over the Conversations before hand and map out some ideas of what you want to attend. Likely you'll have a difficult time picking what you want to attend... and that's actually a great problem to have!

Don't be afraid to move around if something isn't resonating with you... or you want to take in two sessions of interest.

Educon has always been a place to unpack ideas on equality, white privilege and social justice. We need to explore these issues openly, frequently, and with kids. Each year the discussions grow and build on these fronts at the conference and I'd encourage you to dive in. I gain each year from people leading these conversations at Educon and it helps me in immeasurable ways. A few names to watch for: @RusulAlrubail, @TheJLV@mdawriter@xianb8. I'm very grateful for their work and resolve to bring this discussion forward. Check out their work and start reading in the #educolor movement. A movement, not a moment.

The #educon hashtag goes on, and on, and...
For weeks after Educon people will be tossing up reflective posts online. It's a great chance to learn more about what's going on in other schools, finding people with like interests and recharging your batteries further. tThis conference will help you find strategies to make meaningful shifts in a small and large scale personally or systemically. Plus... it's a great way to get insight into sessions you didn't attend!

Explore some Philly while you're here
Cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, Congress Hall, and Reading Terminal Market (just to name a few) are all at your fingertips. Like any large city, there's some incredible food here, art, and museums. Use the Yelp app, check websites for 'things to do in Philadelphia,' and do have a chat with the students who are in the EduConcierge role at the school... they've never steered me wrong.

I'd encourage you to jot down your reflections from the conf on a blog during or after it's done and share it with others who follow online and / or attended. Start writing again if you haven't. It'll help you unpack and grow.

So there it is, a few quick tips.

As usual, I can't wait see some new and familiar faces and get inspired. I come to Educon to recharge my batteries. Hasn't failed me yet.