Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflections on another leg of the journey

For the past two days I have been reading a bunch of year end blogs and articles...I have decided to not jump onto the bandwagon...because I am not calling this the yearly wrap up...just a resting spot on the journey.....semantics are our friend.

As I look back, one thought keeps clubbing me over the head.....I am blessed. I have shared many of these thoughts in different posts, but will combine a few tonight. My last blog post shared my journey with FableVision and that has been more of a blessing than I think I deserve, but I won't dwell on that again.

Blessed...I have a wonderful wife who is my best supporter and friend.

Blessed...Through Facebook, I have reconnected with a bunch of former students and that has been SO rewarding for me. It's an amazing and heady thing to be a temporary fixture in a child's life. It's beyond belief for remnants of that experience to last for 23+ years. I love my students and I love the part of my job that involves students (I could never go to another meeting and be a very happy person). The fact that a few of those students I devoted so much time and, yes, love to have granted me the greatest joy of keeping me in their lives. I promise I smile every time one of those special people pops into my timeline. Every one of them owns a special place in my heart. Another thrill is to watch the previously mentioned students grow up and have families and real jobs and successful lives. Not that I have ever doubted it would happen, but because it is absolutely a thrill to watch.

Blessed...One thing I don't think I ever saw coming was that I would also have a tiny place in the lives of my wife's students. Though they weren't MY students, there is a special place in my heart for them also. Hearing of their successes in life is a joy. I also have heard that one current student reads this blog from time to time. Though I can't imagine why, it is very sweet. I think that student knows how very special they are.

Blessed...My online friends are also a great source of joy and kindness. I have had the pleasure of meeting a few in real life and have never been disappointed. It's interesting to be able to read the musings of other educators and knowing that some of the feelings I have are shared around the country. I have found a few brothers and sisters in spirit and that has been very rewarding.

Blessed...OK, I admit that I misled you earlier. I do have to mention my Fable friends again. . . Despite my best efforts to let the last blog post be the final part of the story, there is so much more. Small people like to say to me, "It's all in who you know" in response to some amazing thing that has happened because of my Fable connections. Well, I disagree with that. It's really all in the HEART of the people you know. There is a story that involves the amazing Janet Reynolds (manager of Dedham Blue Bunny) that absolutely blew me away. I don't want to share the story because I am afraid some of the people involved might be inundated with requests, but I can tell you that the act of love and kindness on the behalf of a kid that no one in Boston knew, brought tears to my eyes and to this day warms my heart. Knowing good people makes you blessed every day. By the way, it's Janet's birthday as I am writing this...If you read this, Happy Birthday, Janet!

Blessed...Current students! I am positive they will never read this, but they make my job worth having. It was a rough start to the year, but soon, the kids stepped up and have made it a joyful year.

Blessed in so many ways. This part of the journey has been blessed...thanks for sharing it with me!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My FableVision Journey

It seems like I am frequently telling old friends about my journey with FableVision and so I thought I would put the story on my long-neglected blog for all to read. If you know me, you know I never find the easy or most direct path to anything, so it is quite a story. You will notice there were some powerful forces at work during this story and many paths leading to one place.

It all started at the Iowa Technology Conference. I am not sure the year. I went to a session on the "Dana" which was an Alphasmart device that allowed the user to type into an inexpensive laptop-ish device and it would transfer into 'any' word processing software. The presenter was Arlene Steele, who at that time worked for AlphaSmart. She showed that the Dana could indeed transfer into any word processing software, including a program called, "Stationery Studio." Well, I sadly didn't win the software at the end of session drawing. I spent the next few hours stalking Arlene and trying to get the information about Stationery Studio. I eventually tracked her down and got the website.


I called FableVision the very next day and was SO fortunate to land the amazing Bill Norris on the phone. Bill would send me the software. I now know I couldn't have possible reached a better person on the phone. Bill knows absolutely everyone and is a marvel in my life. When I have worked at conferences with Bill, I notice that he not only remembers every single name, he knows the persons 'story' and what is going on in their life. I love that about him. But, back to the story.

So, what was it about Stationery Studio that made me want to have it and share it? It's amazing K-5 writing software that immediately gave me ideas for how I could use it in MY classroom (music). It was designed by Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns (whom I had no knowledge of) and the art was by Peter H. Reynolds (also no knowledge). It was simply the best software I had seen. It was very cool looking, but it also had a ton of features I hadn't seen in other products. For example, you can change the wonderful artwork to great looking black-and-white with one click. No more ugly gray scale prints. It was amazing. Also, every design can be printed with two on a page, four on a page, and other choices, again with just one click. I showed it to my lower elementary teachers and they purchased it the next day.

A few months later, I got a letter in the mail from Aziza who was a very sweet person at FableVision. She asked if I wanted to be an "Ambassador"? Well, I already was! I had been telling everyone who even talked about software about this amazing discovery. So, I agreed. Later, I had more phone calls with Bill and suggested that he try to get Peter Reynolds to come to the Iowa Conference. In the mean time, I ordered the book "The Dot" and "The North Star".

I received a Christmas card from FableVision and it had the most wonderful little drawing on it by Peter Reynolds. A few months later, some very wonderful ladies gave the music department of my school ten thousand dollars. We decided to build a small composing lab and purchase keyboards. When dreaming of the mini-lab, I wanted a small logo I could put on the creations that developed from the lab. I remembered back to that Christmas card and that great little drawing. I called Bill and asked if it was possible....to my pleasant surprise, it was. At that time, I had NO idea the incredible amount of work that Peter does and would never have dreamed of imposing if I knew, but I blissfully waited for the time when it would arrive. Truth be told, I probably drove Bill nuts asking if it was going to happen....but I was SO excited when it came....and it was beautiful!


The books came and I was blown away. "The Dot" is the single best book for children and teachers to read....EVER! I think it should be required reading for future teachers. It is packed with valuable perspective and is wonderful. It speaks to the spirit of teaching. I soon found out that Peter H. Reynolds would be the keynote at the Iowa Technology Conference.

This is the part where you might shake your head in disgust at me....I researched Mr. Reynolds like crazy and found out that he had illustrated "Judy Moody" books and had his own website. I read and read every single page I could find. The overwhelming thought??? This guy can't be for real. In my time in education, I had grown a bit jaded. Well, ALL of those thoughts disappeared when Bill Norris and Peter H. Reynolds came to Iowa! They are both exactly who they say they are. They want to help all kids reach their true potential. The days were absolute magic and I was definitely under the spell. FableVision was going to be an important part of my life because it matched my view of kids and education....filled with hope and promise.

The next big event was being asked to go to Atlanta and work with the FableVision crew. I worked at the booth with the amazing Dawn (who has changed jobs, but is still a dear friend). I got to meet two more of the Reynolds family, Peter's twin brother Paul and sister, Jane. Both were so wonderful to me and treated me like a member of the team and family. I also met some wonderous people from Promethean, like Kathleen Tan, who would become very strong advocates for me. The big thrill of that trip was meeting Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns. Peggy, as you might recall, was the designer of "Stationery Studio." What a thrill!! Peggy is the sweetest and kindest person I know. She is a brilliant designer and I have been able to check out her other programs and they are all amazing. Oh, and after the session with Peggy, I got reacquainted with Arlene Steele!!! The person who introduced me to Stationery Studio.

While we were driving across town in a cab, Jane Reynolds was telling me about some software that was in development and was getting my reactions to it. A few months later, I was privileged to be on the Beta-testing team for "Animation-Ish". Even better than that, over Christmas break, I was asked to write some lesson plans. I could write five or ten....I was so thrilled and inspired, I wrote fifteen! Animation-Ish is a K-12 animation program that I have literally done with kids of all ages. It is easy enough for the little kids, yet powerful enough for high school kids (and adults! I love it!)


The next year the conference was in San Antonio and there was a slightly different crew. We were joined by the lovely Julia Young who is a very talented person and works in the Dedham office. I also had the wonderful thrill of being a guest in Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns' session. Wow! What a fun time that was! Animation-Ish was released just prior to this conference and it was an immediate hit! While packing up from the conference, Bill asked if I might be interested in leading the Ambassador group.... Wow, what a question! YES!

In early November I was named "Lead Ambassador" which meant I got to run the very program I had been a member of, which was a thrill. I have the extreme joy of working with the absolute best educators from around the country. I truly know nothing about sales, I only get to support the mission.

One of the greatest things I get to do is be on the team for new Stationery Studio add-on packs. FableVision is so great that when people suggest a new design pack, they research it and sometimes create them. "Sports and Exercise" and "Fairy Tales and Folktales" both were from teacher recommendations! They will truly give kids a reason to write!

The last national conference was in Washington D.C. and I again got to present with the amazing Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns and this time, Glen Bull. I worked in the booth with the amazing Bill and Julia and two mission sales specialists, Nicole and Ryan. An amazing team. I got to meet in person with a ton of wonderful people I have met online and it was great fun.

So, what are the big messages??
*If you have ever wondered why I spend so much time promoting FableVision and Peter Reynolds, you now have a glimpse.
*"The Dot" and "Ish" should be required reading for all teachers, students, and humans. "The North Star" is guaranteed to change your life.
*"Stationery Studio" is the best program you can get for K-5 writing and writers.
*Peter H. Reynolds is the real deal. There is NO better advocate for kids and education.
*If YOU haven't heard of Peggy Healy Stearns software, check it out.

**When you love something, get into it.....really into it. There is no greater joy than to do work that matches your heart.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Perspective....We All Need Perspective

Today, as I was outside raking the 6-10 inches of leaves, I had a thought...It was only a few days ago that I was driving down the street and enjoying the beauty of the colorful leaves. When it became the time to clean up the piles in my back yard, I wasn't exactly enjoying the beauty of the leaves. I was wishing I didn't have trees, and grumbling under my breath. Same leaves, but now ugly and unwanted.

Then I started to think back to last week at school. Working with a student who is struggling and can't see the vast future that is ahead. So many choices that now look like dead ends. I wonder what happens to some parents. Everyone is happy to have children, right? It seems like that glow fades pretty fast for some. Seems like there are far too many kids that come on my radar that have no one at home pushing them (or loving them for that matter) But, I have very little time to make judgments, I need to get to work showing and proving that there are ALWAYS options for the future. As I mentioned in a previous post, my saying is that 'YOU choose who you become.'

Back to the trees....after the tree endures the winter, the payoff is huge. Buds on the trees and eventually green and healthy leaves. I believe it might be the most important thing that educators can do...help kids see possibilities. Choose your own words, but help kids see what lies ahead for them and that the world is full of possibilities.

The reason that "The North Star," by my friend Peter H. Reynolds, is one of my favorites is that 'the boy' on his journey doesn't have an easy time of it...and there are lots of twists and turns in the story (and false directions) before the boy realizes that it has all been a part of the journey. It's truly all about the journey and we, as teachers, are such an important part of it. So, what happens with the kids who are stuck in a room with a teacher who stares at the computer and occasionally barks out orders....or worse, the one who knows that the kid is struggling and says nothing.

I know I am not the best music or computer teacher in the world....But I know that I try every day to make connections and to love the heck out of kids that come across my path. I am sure I fail many....but I will spend the rest of my days in the classroom trying to get kids back on the path. Take a few minutes today and reread "The North Star." Show kids stars that light the path....and dream big.

And, speaking of perspective....working with the kid last week.....Once I knew more about the challenges, the behaviors we all saw were MUCH easier to understand. I didn't say excuse, I said understand. It's important to gain some perspective before judging and handing out consequences. Perhaps we all need to learn what got the kid off the path, before we can nudge them back along.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Teachers That Influence -- Who Do Kids Listen To?

I have been thinking about this for a while and decided to ask my high school chorus for their thoughts. I phrased it this way, "Two teachers can give exactly the same directions. One is listened to and one is ignored. What are the qualities of the teacher that kids listen to?"

One response sums up the opinion of many: "Respected and respectful, they easily relate things to the life of the student, allow the students to express their own opinions and views, is laid back yet strict when they need to be, and is fun to be in class with."

Here are some other responses:
"They're likeable they got a rep with other students. The teachers are involved so students aren't necessarily always in a classroom atmosphere with them."
"Need to be able to discipline students when needed. Always appear in absolute control"
"Allows enjoyable times yet when it's time to focus, they enforce it. They have earned respect from the students due to in class and out of class relationships. WIll ask for a 1 on 1 conversation if someone is acting up or grades and slipping before going straight to punishment."
"Shows confidence in leadership, lays down the law, has fun with students, listens to their opinions"
"Needs to at least act enthused with the curriculum they're representing. Relate to students (get them to ask why)"
"The teacher that is listened to has more of a 'backbone.' Meaning they give an appearance of authority."
"If students don't think that the teacher has authority (because they show none) then the students won't take them seriously and do what the teacher says."
"Making it fair for the students"
"How creative they make the assignments"
"Their way of speaking if it has authority behind it. The respect the teacher demands from the student. Also, the teacher is way to talk to like a friend, but not so that the students they they can get away with whatever they want."
"Doesn't talk down to students, talks to them"
"Applies topic to situation of life (e.g. how the class could help students in real life"
"They change their lessons up a lot. They have a good balance between fun and being productive."
"Makes learning fun, easy to talk to, listens to students' opinions and takes action with some."
"They don't ramble on and on. They get you involved in that they are saying. They make what they're talking about seem important and aren't boring about it. They have fun with whatever they are talking about."
"They must make a class interesting and make a good atmosphere"
"They will always pull you aside and talk to you, or maybe you know that they will have a consequence if you don't to what you're asked to do."
"Have a connection with the students. Don't rush to teach, make them understand."

What always amazes me about this is that younger teachers frequently try to be friends with students...You read it here, kids want to be friendly, but they want boundaries.

The amazing thing about this experience for me is that I have recently chewed on a few of these students for various reasons. No resentment shows in their writing. They KNOW I care about them and they KNOW I want what is best for them.

I LOVE doing things like this....not because it makes me feel good, because it often doesn't. Sometimes there responses point to something they perceive about ME...but I LOVE to hear how they think. I want to know what they care about.

So, do you want to be a better teacher?? How about asking YOUR students what that looks like to them. Your methods might be validated...or you might find a way to connect. The students will feel like you care.

If you are a high school student reading this....or one of my former students on Facebook, drop a comment in about your thoughts. I will love to read them also!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Doreen Cronin Likes My Status

During the last college class for future teachers, I asked how many people were Facebook members. One person near the front made a face...a judgmental face. I asked, "Is there something wrong with Facebook." The face-maker nodded with pursed lips. I explained to the students assembled, that I have some author friends on Facebook. From now on, I intend on saying, "Doreen Cronin likes my status." Yes, THAT Doreen Cronin. Author of amazing cihldren's books like "Diary of a Worm" (which, by the way, makes me laugh EVERY time), "Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type", and many others.

You probably already know that I am extremely fortunate to call Peter H. Reynolds a friend (and I work part-time for FableVision Learning -- greatest children's software and media company on earth). But, I also get to be 'friends' with literary luminaries like Sharon Creech (Love that Dog -- AWESOME book), Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Burned, etc), Jeff Kinney (Wimpy Kid), Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak  -- the book that started me reading YA in the first place), Linda Fairstein (Alexandra Cooper series), Deborah Wiles (author of my wife's favorite book, "Aurora County All-Stars) and I am positive I am missing some.

So, what does it mean to be 'friends' with all these amazing people?? I don't have them over for dinner, nor do I call them when I am having a bad day....But I do get an amazing look at the life of an author and get a glimpse of the writing process. I have actually responded to a few things, but mostly, I read what they write and feel great about having this inside look at the world of writers.

Life is good, friends....life is good.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11

A lot of buzz online today is about remember eight years ago. Two things come blazing back into my mind. First, a student, Brett, came into my office and said we probably shouldn't have chorus because the country was under attack. I laughed, as the trying to get out of chorus is an age-old joke, and then turned on the TV. Soon after, one of the most annoying students said, "Bet it was Osama Bin Laden". WAY before anyone on TV had made that guess.

The other thing I remember was going to my wife's school Homecoming game which came at the end of that fateful week. There was much talk around the state as to whether there would even be football games on Friday. . . But, it was Homecoming and the world had been encouraged to get back to normal (though all of us who lived through that have been forever changed). During the pre-game, the school had arranged for fireworks to go off during the National Anthem. I have to admit, I had a serious case of goosebumps when the first set of fireworks blazed through the sky as the band played, "and the rockets red glare."

What was most amazing was that after the game, there was another set of fireworks. The sound system was blaring music and, near the end, the song "God Bless the USA" played. Well, if you know me, you know I am not much into the country music or the twangy voices, but all around me, kids were singing along. There was lots of hugging and standing arm-in-arm and it seemed that the majority of the crowd was swept up in the moment.

Tonight is Homecoming at my wife's school....September 11.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

President Obama's Speech


"But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life - what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home - that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying. 


Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future. 
That's what young people like you are doing every day, all across America."
President Obama


This blog is intended to highlight the best of education....what CAN be. Today might just have been one of the darkest days in education. A few vocal people, who lack education and intelligence, have stopped school children from watching a great speech by our President (regardless of what side you are on). In their mission of hatred, they have snuffed out a message of hope.

Share a message of hope with kids near you....They so desperately need it. Many of them can't see a way out of where they are...and you and I both know there is always a way.

Thanks, Mr. President, for caring enough about the young people of the country to speak to them and challenge them to be better.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

September 15 is "The Dot Day"



According to the Amazon book store, "The Dot" is about to have a sixth birthday. It's original publication date was September 15, 2003. So, using all the power invested in me by FableVision Learning and the 'Twinspiration', Peter and Paul, I am proclaiming September 15, "The Dot Day."

Here is how you can take part. On or around September 15, read the book "The Dot" to some kids or adult kids. Then have them paint dots. Huge dots, little dots, dots without painting dots, you know how it goes. Take pictures and/or video of the dot creation (or the final project) and email them to me (terry@fablevisionlearning.com).

Even if you aren’t in a classroom, never fear....You can do this with your family, a group of friends or paint your own happy, creative, joyful dot! Frame the final project and join in the fun!!!



Oh, be SURE to "Sign it"

Monday, August 31, 2009

Every Kid Deserves a Ms. Kaune

You can't hang out too long with me before you hear stories of my great nephew, whom I call Superman. Last year, Superman was in Kindergarten and he had a very special teacher, Ms. Kaune. The thing that amazed me about his teacher was the reverence with which he spoke of her. Every time I was with him and the subject of school came up, he would ask whomever was in the conversation with him if they knew Ms. Kaune. Just a few weeks ago (nearing the end of summer vacation) we were at a park and another slightly older boy came and started playing with us. Soon, the kid mentioned school, without hesitation, Superman said, "Do you know Ms. Kaune?"

Well, it might be good to know more about her, only I don't know much.  I know her impact on the life of that little boy was immeasurable. . I went to Kindergarten graduation and watched Ms. Kaune present her class with their diplomas. Kid after kid beamed as they walked across the stage and were presented their diploma by Ms. Kaune....and she was beaming too. Here is the thing about young children.....they know who the sincere people are, there is no faking that sort of happiness. Ms. Kaune obviously has genuine affection for her students and they return that.

Here is some information that I didn't see myself... I know when Superman missed school that Ms. Kaune made phone calls and sent emails inquiring where he was. Seemingly not in a punitive way, but out of genuine concern. She even called during the summer to ask how he was doing. She doesn't even have him anymore and he won't be in the same school. What an amazing educator and person! I have been a teacher for twenty-three years and her level of concern for students goes way above and beyond.

I arranged a very small token of appreciation for her...it was the least I could do. She took care of a most precious possession....and did more than the job required. She cared more than the minimum. She smiled a genuine smile and she apparently has a heart of gold.

So, when I was thinking about this, I determined that EVERY kid should have a Ms. Kaune. As I send my university class out in to the world of education, I always challenge them to be amazing. You see, I firmly believe that NO ONE launches into the world of education determined to treat kids with disrespect, or bore them to death with yellow handouts, or demean and demoralize them...  Every teacher, while they were sitting in a college class, knew they wanted to be good at what they did. The sad reality, which you know to be true, is that not everyone is a great teacher...in fact, there are some really bad ones. How did they get that way?

I doubt Ms. Kaune will ever read this...though I am going to send her a link to it. Because, we need to be appreciating the people who make a profound difference in the life of a child. We need to hold them up as an example. Heck, I would be willing to throw a parade! If your kid has a 'Ms. Kaune', send them a note...let them know they are appreciated. You and I both know they are VERY rare.

I believe it is easy to be lazy, complacent, and bad. In fact, being bad at teaching is a heck of a lot easier than be amazing. I bet Ms. Kaune falls into bed exhausted every night. BUT, aren't the kids worth our very best? Doesn't every kid deserve a Ms. Kaune?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's the Same Thing Only Different

This year things are very different. Same school, same office, same chairs....but something is different. You see, the last few posts have been about the students who misbehave...This post is about the kids who become attached to my heart.

For the last few years, the chairs in the picture above have been overfilled every morning with kids who hang out before school starts. My favorite kids. Wait, did you just read that a teacher is admitting to having favorites? Yep, I said it. Before class starts and after class is over I have a LOT of favorites. They are bound by the same rules during class as everyone else. They are required to have the same punishment as anyone else  (  and sometimes actually held to a MUCH higher standard), but they are my favorites. The thing is, any kid has an equal chance to be on the inside..to be a favorite. They just need to show their warmth and caring (or be very funny) or just BE in my presence longer than just the class period.

So, what's new this year? The chairs sit empty much of the time. Their usual inhabitants have moved on to better things (college) and while that is wonderful and important and I am VERY happy about that, it makes things different for me. History has shown that, while there will NEVER be anyone as special to me as those that have gone before, there will be kids that will be very special. It's sort of the circle of life for a teacher. In my case, since I used to teach K-12, I have been with these same kids forever...so I guess it is normal to feel a little loss when they leave.

So, the word bittersweet comes to mind. I think about ALL the kids that have come before...the very special ones that make teaching a joy. While I am honored to have been part of their journey, I get a little sad. If you have asked me how the year is going, I have probably responded that it has been a struggle...and this is why. Just finding my new place...finding my next set of favorites...Wondering how the most recent set of favorites are doing in college....wondering if they think back to the blue chairs, and the warmth of this little office? Transitions are hard.

So, TJ is definitely on a journey this year.....but, I don't think it hurts to everyone once in a while, to take a look back and remember the people who have made the journey worthwhile. Really, in what other job can you have a student from ten years ago call you dad? Where else would you get random text message throughout the year that say, "I am thinking about you." Where else would you have Facebook chats that are so funny, you wipe your eyes from laughing? My wife (who has a big heart) has the same sort of relationships with special kids...I often say, "once you have been loved by a Shay, it's forever." So, yeah, I am SO lucky...so very lucky. So, this year it's the same....only different.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tess's Tree



A tender story of a girl, a tree, and a community hits the shelves today. Hop out and get "Tess's Tree" written by Jess M. Brallier and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.  It's a beautiful story that you will want to read over and over.

You can also check it out online here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What's Missing is The Big Picture

The last time I posted, I wrote about seeing a kid and not only their behavior. At some point during this week, I was talking to a colleague and she mentioned someone not seeing the 'big picture' and it struck me that the ideas are related.

I have long been a fan of Ruby Payne's "Framework for Understanding Poverty." I read that book and felt like my teaching life had been changed. Although there are people who go on and on about how Dr. Payne uses a 'deficit' type model for poverty, I don't really care about that. What the book helped me to see is part of 'the big picture' of kids. I haven't jammed anyone into a pigeon hole, but I have learned that some of their behaviors are present because of a system that was designed to keep them where they are. As I read the book, I instantly saw pictures in my mind of some kids.

Want to know why a kid is acting the way they are??? Ask them. No, seriously, ask them. Dare to find out a part of the big picture. Find out a little about their life outside of school. Get some information about what motivates them. While you are at it, take an interest in the things that motivate them. I have resolved a lot of student misbehavior by just knowing a little about them and taking an interest.

Well, since I have spent three days in the classroom last week, I can admit it.....There are some kids that test my normally pleasant demeanor. In fact, in one instance this week, I was chanting inside my head, "follow your own words, bucko, it's the BEHAVIOR you are looking at....not the kid." Once, I almost laughed out loud...thinking that some of you might have sent that kid to test me, to see what I am really made of as a teacher. Fortunately, the calmer voice inside prevailed.

So, what is the 'big picture' of those kids you may or may not have sent to test me? The truth is, I don't know. Their story has not unfolded. A few kids, in my twenty-three years, have left a mystery. Then, you have to let go...once you have done everything you can, you let them fly.

One warning...you are bound to get hurt. I have already been bruised a few times this year, and it's only been three days. Some kids I have spent tons of time with have dropped out of my program or have said rude things. But here is the thing, when you see the big picture, you understand that it's not about me...it rarely is. Kids sometimes lash out at the people who care the most about them...It's all a part of the cycle. However, I shall keep trying. I have to. I am a teacher and that is what we do. We look at the big pictures.....and we take "the whole package."

Making connections with kids is exhausting and challenging.....But, so rewarding and life-changing....your life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Two Thoughts Before School Starts

Tomorrow I begin my nineteenth year in the same school and my twenty-third year in all. A few thoughts have been rattling around in my head this week and I wanted to get them out. If I do not, you might not hear from me in a while.

This first part is for my pal, GL.... Teachers, please try your best to see the student and not just their behavior. I know this is a tough one sometimes. It seems like there is always THAT kid who can't sit still, who can't be quiet, who rubs you the wrong way. Sometimes you might think his/her very mission in life might just be to ruin your life. But, think back to one of those tough students...It's the BEHAVIOR you don't like, not the student. That knowledge, in the heat of the moment, probably is of little consolation. But, try taking a step back and just let it soak in...Since it's about their behavior, we can work on that together. Being mean or talking to kids in a demoralizing way contributes to the problem, not solves it.

One thing I do often is ask the kid semi-privately 'what's going on.' You would be AMAZED at how many times they have an answer to the question. What would amaze you even more is what the trouble is. Even if they can't put things into words, you will eventually build a relationship. I also honestly believe that some kids can NOT control themselves in certain situations. Perhaps some compassion and trying to put kids in situations where they can be successful might be something to try.

I am positive I have made this comment before in this blog......but I always TRY to think that if I had lived the same life as the child has and had the same experiences, I would behave in the same way....How would I want to be treated?

The second major theme bouncing around in my head today is about change...and love. Two people that I have profound admiration are changing jobs. Two very sweet personal emails announced the changes. I replied to both with a heartfelt pleasure at their new journeys and sadness at the personal loss. I believe both people knew how much I appreciated the role they have played in my life...which made me MORE committed to my new personal mission of letting people know how much they mean to me. I have been working on it for a few years, but I am redoubling my efforts and ramping it up.

I try to let special people know that I care about them and love them. I think it's important. I think I neglect my family a little in that, but I hope they feel it. It's a big and crazy world and all we truly have is each other. So, hug everyone a little tighter....tell them your feelings....hold on to a few hands... and let's enjoy this amazing journey together. Put yourself out there...make the world a better place.

I read a Facebook update by a new online friend, Patti Digh that said she was intending on writing a thank you note every day for the rest of her life. While that is a little ambitious for me, I want to try to be much more grateful for the awesome people in my life. If you haven't checked out Patti's blog, 37 days, you need to. Be sure to read the story behind the blog.

Speaking of that.... thanks for reading this! I am not quite sure why anyone would want to read my ramblings, but I am grateful that you do.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Birthdays, Bread, and Buddies....and Burn Out

On Thursday, I celebrated a birthday. I am now officially, "half of 90 years old" as my wife so sweetly puts it. I did not mention my birthday to anyone and was intending on keeping it a quiet occasion...it didn't quite work that way. My niece put a note on my Facebook wall, and I made a smart comment back.... five phone calls and many messages later, it was a birthday!

Today, as I was reading an article that was referenced in many blogs about a teacher who taught for four years and is leaving the profession, citing "Burn out." The author discusses many things that do lead to new teachers being tested to their limits. Administrators are always adding more work load and there are students who can't read. While she makes many good points, she misses the most important reason to NOT leave the classroom.....students. I remember a quote from several years ago and I apologize to the source, "Teachers who are burned out have probably never been on fire."

Back to my birthday.... Things that day started to take a sour turn. A present I had bought my great niece (and birthday buddy) was defective and, after a nasty phone call to customer disservice, I returned it to the store and purchased a different brand. Then a wonderful experience changed the increasingly bad tone the day was starting to take... One of my wife's students brought me over a birthday gift. It was a surprise and it's like that amazing girl knew me very well....A freshly baked loaf of bread. My favorite thing in all the world. The bread was still warm and, let me tell you, the best bread I have had in a very long time. But what was really incredible was that there was a gift at all. The student had been on a trip and brought back some special souvenirs for my wife also. Such an unexpected and wonderful surprise...

You know, teaching is a tough...SO many demands and SO little time. High expectations and low time contributions and concern from parents. Leaders who do not lead. A broken system that uneducated (in how schools work) legislators try to fix by increasing demands and enforcing bizarre testing rules. So, yeah, I get it, teaching is hard. But, you know what? It's dang rewarding.

YES, I get stressed out and tired and worn out... Yes, I even lose my temper and get disheartened. But, I wouldn't trade a loaf of bread from a great kid for anything in the world. That is why I keep doing what I do. I have had the privilege of working with some amazing students...and so has my wife. It really makes it all worth while.

SO, maybe sometimes we need to take a step back. Appreciate the AMAZING people we get to work with and enjoy our profession. If you are waiting around for other adults to 'get it', you will be disillusioned and sad. Kids get it. When you care about them, they return that. It's a pretty good way to spend your life.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Peter H. Reynolds is Amazing!

video
Using a picture of my car that I have on Facebook, the amazing Peter H. Reynolds created this animation. It made my WEEK ( and maybe month and year )!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

O Ponto/The Dot ".. porque a imaginação não tem limites !"

A very strange thing happened the other night. I had some free time and I was surfing YouTube. I was hoping to find some cool FableVision things to put on the FableVision Learning Blog. I stumbled across this video from Portugal. I didn't even know the language that the YouTube description was written in, but the magic in the video transcends the language barrier.

The source of the video was this blog www.palavrasmenores.blogspot.com. The kids in the video making the dots with paint, hands, bodies was a heartwarming lift. All inspired by the book "The Dot" by Peter H. Reynolds. I HAD to know what this was about...So, I went to BabelFish and translated the page from Portuguese to English. I learned that the school had won a contest sponsored by the book publisher. The scene in the end, with the hands sticking through the dots was the winning photo.

I was moved so much by this video. I emailed everyone at FableVision that I could think of. I marveled at the creativity and the passion. "The Dot" was my first favorite Peter H. Reynolds. Watching this video unfold was magical.

My favorite quote from the blog......

".. porque a imaginação não tem limites !"
"Because the imagination does not have limits."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Interactive Whiteboards

There has been much discussion lately on the use of Interactive Whiteboards in classrooms and I feel the need to say one thing. Feel free to quote me.

The only thing more misguided than a person who doesn't see the value of an interactive whiteboard in a classroom is the person who thinks they belong in every classroom.

As I have blogged about in the past, I have an interactive whiteboard in my classroom and I feel it has transformed my teaching. I have heard the opponents say that it is just another way to have the 'sage on the stage' and, as I have said before, I am rarely in front of the board. I typically have the students at the board and I sit between some disruptive students with my portable slate. If you go back to educational theory, you will find that kinesthetic and visual kids will find a comfortable adaptation to learning with an IWB. I can't imagine going back to teaching without the board.

One thing I keep reading and hearing about administrators who make a major purchase to buy one for every classroom. Misguided is the best thing I can say. Anyone adept in education understands that not all students learn the same way. In addition, all teachers are prepared to teach in that way. The boards should be carefully purchased and dramatically infused into classrooms and curriculum.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reflections

Online friend, Paul Bogush has noticed I haven't written the obligatory follow-up to my experiences at NECC....Well, here they are, just for you, Paul.

I have already responded via comment to one post about NECC on Lee's blog. But that was sort of a negative slant. Here, I want to talk about the other side of my experiences...The all-consuming positive side.

After an unexplained one hour delay at the Detroit airport, we arrived at the Baltimore airport about 4 p.m. We hopped in a cab bound for downtown D.C. Forty harrowing minutes later, we arrived at our destination, The historic Mayflower hotel. The cab driver broke the handle on my luggage while yanking it out of the minivan and I was not in the best frame of mind after having to brace myself against the front seat as we hurtled from 75 mph to 0 at one point. However, the rest of the trip was nearly magic.

As everyone undoubtedly knows, I work very part-time for FableVision. The company and the people who work there are so close to my heart, it's like we are all very best friends even from the first minutes of meeting. I run a program for educators who believe in the work FableVision does...which is almost everyone who comes in contact with them. I am not a salesperson...nor do I want to be. I just enjoy sharing the experiences my students have had. The first night, pure bliss...A dinner with the amazing software designer and dear friend Peggy Healy Stearns, Julia Young, and the newly formed sales team and my wonderful wife.

On Sunday, I was the FableVision representative at the Contructivist Consortium Celebration. If you haven't been to the celebration, you must give it a try. It is honestly the best of what education can be. TRUE Professional Development. Here is how it works. The morning launches with a talk by Gary Stager and Melinda Kolk (Tech-4-Learning)...stirring the crowd. Then, the educators present devour some of the best Constructivist software out there. Working with peers, talking, dreaming, imagining, creating...Watching teacher being given the most valuable commodity (time) is a rare treat. As my school is filled with distrust and derision, it is spirit renewing to watch people do exactly what they are charged to do....create! The day ended with a talk by my friend, Peter H. Reynolds. The funny thing for me was watching the people who did not know him...To see the spark that has motivated so many...The inspired talk and the information that we all knew at one point, but maybe forgot.... It is KIDS at the center of all we do. It will never be tests that motivate us ...or the kids for that matter. It's the genuine love and connection that gets us out of bed every morning.

Joining me in the Constructivist Celebration was a phenomenal force of energy, Cristine Goldberg from Georgia and Peggy Healy Stearns. The true wonder of this experience for me was meeting some online friends. Andrea Hernandez, Lee Kolbert, Anna Adam, and Cheryl Woolwine. ALL gentle wonderful human beings that I felt an instant connection to. What a glorious feeling. (My apologies if I forgot someone)

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were spent in the FableVision booth. An amazing time as I watched the company I have represented so many times become "the" place to be. It was a non-stop stream of positive and wonderful people stopping by to chat and get the full experience. I was again able to meet LOTS of people I have met online.....TOO many to name individually. It seems that many people now see what I have always known...it's a company with heart and a mission.

Nights were spent with my Fablebuddies and frequently we wound up back at the hotel to hang out with Peter H. Reynolds or the Twinspiration (Peter and Paul Reynolds). GREAT TIMES! When have you ever sat at a table and, instead of meaningless chitchat, been asked what book you are going to write? That's what it's like to hang with FableVision!

So, the big learning of the week.... Well, people are pretty much the same in person as online. OK, that was a bit of a shocker. The guy who I thought was completely full of himself...so much that I had to stop reading the blog, was, indeed full of himself (I am not naming names).

Everyone who comes across online as kind/sweet/generous, was exactly that. Only one sort of surprise...Sherry from South Dakota, Lee Kolbert, Andrea Hernandez, Shannon Smith and Cheryl Woolwine are sweet online and actually MORE sweet in person (hard to believe). Hanging out with the five of them (separately) was amazing. I was glad I could introduce a few of them to Peter H. Reynolds because I could tell their spirits collide in a positive way.

My final thoughts on NECC 2009.....Life changing. I miss my NECC friends more than any other time. The relationships grow deeper and it is harder to think about going back five weeks from now to a place where I have a few friends and am not appreciated by adults whatsoever. So, I shall savor my memories and dream of a better place and a better spirit that shall sail me through the bad times.... For I am truly on a journey-- a wonderfully bumpy journey. Sometimes my suitcase gets broken and I get delayed, but I always have hope....and in my constellation, I have some of the greatest people the World has ever known.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

NECC-- Feeling Lucky?

In nine days I will fly to Washington, D.C. to be with some of the greatest minds and hearts in the country. To say I am looking forward to the trip would be an understatement. Where else can you be around so much energy, excitement, and hope?

Here will be some highlights for me:
I get to hang out with my FableVision friends! I have spent a great deal of time on the phone with my FableVision friends and I will get to be in the same room with them!! I get to meet Nicole, Paulette, Ryan, and hang out with Julia and Bill.... Lucky me!

On Sunday, I will be at the Constructivist Consortium. What a fun day and one that represents every teacher's dream...Great ideas and time to check them out! Perfect! Add a bunch of great friends, you have a dream day. Lucky me!

On Monday, I will make a guest appearance in the session of my dear friend, Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns. Glen Bull will also make an appearance

Get Real! Personal Connections Make Learning Motivating, Meaningful, and Memorable
Add to Planner
[Formal Session: Lecture]
Peggy Healy Stearns, Independent
Monday, 6/29/2009, 12:30pm–1:30pm WWCC 145 B

Explore cross-curricular projects that link learning to students’ past and present while promoting the skills of the future.

Probably one of the best stories from the last few years, which I have told many times, is that I got to know FableVision through a great piece of software called, "Stationery Studio," I never dreamed at that time I would know the person whose name appears on the front cover. In D.C. I will be making my second appearance as a guest in Dr. Peggy's session and the third year I have been able to spend time with her... I also have been on the early preview team of some of the new Stationery Studio add-ins. But, best of all, I am so fortunate to call Peggy a friend. With the exception of my wife, Peggy might very well be my biggest cheerleader. . . Lucky lucky me.

Through out the time I am in DC, I will be meeting with FableVision Ambassadors....SUPER amazing educators who inspire me daily!!! You can't imagine the joy I get hearing stories from around the country about people who are impacting kids and education and moving the world to a MUCH better place. Very soon, you will see exactly what I am talking about.... Details soon! Inspired and Lucky and I.

Another great experience for me will be spending more time with the amazing and inspirational, Peter H. Reynolds and his twin brother Paul. Both men are a wonder to me. So giving and kind...So supportive... So on a two hundred year journey to help all kids reach their true potential....And, I also believe, helping a music teacher from Iowa reach his true potential. Double lucky.

Best of all after the long days of standing and talking and being moved and inspired...I get to hang out with my lovely wife...Who is also an amazing person.

Friday, June 5, 2009

School Could Be Like Golf


On Monday, I was enjoying my first golf outing of the summer and a thought occurred to me. You might have to work at following me here, but I think I have made an important connection between two of my favorite activities... Golf and getting kids to learn.

Any golfer will tell you that the game can be very frustrating. I was on the fourth green (which I had overshot two times) and I was wondering what it was about this game that kept me coming back for more? I stepped into the tee area of the fifth hole and hit the absolute most beautiful shot I had ever seen. It popped off the tee just right, it had a beautiful arch, and it landed very near the green. Then, wham---it hit me, that was the reason that people continue to golf. A person might make 200 terrible shots, but then the one amazingly beautiful hit blows wind back into your sails and you are hooked. HOPE and a little talent charts the course.

As I walked to the green to get a close up look at that beautifully hit ball, I thought 'what if school was like this for kids?' I know it is a strange thought, but it is how my mind works.  What if kids had a chance at some real success. What if the teacher found out what it was that made the kid tick and then found ways for the kid to show how smart they are in a way that works for the kid? An activity/project/event that inspires success. This can not be a fake experience or a cake-walk type project. It wouldn't inspire me to keep golfing if someone stood around and falsely cheered me on...nor would it work to go toss the ball on the green and say I had been amazing. The learning event must be real and honest.

My mind goes immediately to an activity in my school when we were trying out Animation-Ish.  The history teacher assigned students one of the assignments I created for the Animation-Ish Educator Guide -- the Political Cartoon.   The 'Talented and Gifted" kids made some great animations that demonstrated their vast knowledge of the topic in history. But, equally as amazing, some of the 'lower' kids also created amazing animations. The kids who are firmly in the 'at-risk' designation had shown their grasp of the the content by animating their assignment. So, my thought is....if we can provide these stunningly beautiful drives off the tee, maybe we can fill the sails of the "off the path" learners. HOPE!

For a few years I lead a committee in my school and I worked with kids who were struggling in school. I learned SO much about how kids interact with school. To a student who has multiple F's, grades are NOT motivating. Maybe part of the problem is that their experience is doing poorly...they are used to that. What if we rethink some assignments and give them some new experiences that are motivating and lead to hope...and success?

What do you think???  Did I spend too much time in the sun, or am I on to something? 
 Teach - Hope! 



Graphic above is from the new Stationery Studio Add-On Pack called Sports and Exercise.  Stationery Studio is from my friends at FableVision and the program was designed by the amazing Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns and with Peter H. Reynolds' artwork. As I have mentioned several times, I work for FableVision, but not in sales. If you want to get K-5 students excited about writing, check out this program!!


Sunday, May 24, 2009

World Problem Solvers Agency



Two students who attend the school where I work created an amazing Public Service Announcement in their Contemporary Affairs class. The class is taught by history teacher, Brent Thoren.

The entire project was part of a new initiative by my pal, Peter H. Reynolds, called World Problem Solvers Agency. Students are encouraged to write a sixty second PSA on how to move the world to a better place.

I think this video is great and I will have another to share soon.

What would our world be like if everyone was looking for ways to make it better?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds

One of the most influential books in my life has been "The North Star" by my pal, Peter H. Reynolds. I was absolutely in love with the original book and today, I saw the brand new edition.  Though I admit I was nervous about a new edition (because I loved the old one so much) I was pleasantly surprised by the new and beautiful artwork.  

If you have never read the book, RUN don't walk to your local bookseller and pick it up.  If you want a special treat, order it from "The Dedham Blue Bunny," the Reynolds' family bookstore and it will come signed by Peter H. Reynolds.  The bookstore is managed by amazingly friendly, Janet Reynolds (Paul's wife), who will take very good care of you!  

If you are an educator, you might also want to check out "The North Star Musical Journey" and "The North Star Classroom Resource Guide" available from FableVision Learning.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I work part-time for FableVision, but not in sales. Contact me if you would like a salesperson to call you about purchasing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

April Reflections and What Happened to W2C2?

I am a reflective person.... about my personal life and especially, my professional life. So, I have been looking back lately and thinking about this year. I won't bore you with the personal life, but I have come to some great knowledge in my professional life.

I have noticed a change in some of my "tough to reach" students. Mostly talking elementary students at this time.  There have been several kids who have driven me crazy for YEARS. They have been sent to the principal, kept in for recess, lectured, scolded, and -- rather infrequently -- talked to with a raised voice. Yep, I admit it, sometimes I raise my voice (though with older kids I have always known it is the very quietest voice that gets their attention -- more on that another day).

This year, a few of the tough kids have made complete changes... Well, that is not totally true. The one who did the changing was me at first....then them.  It started with the addition of the Promethean board. Wait, before all the whiteboard bashers quit reading, I need to explain. One of the amazing things I received with the whiteboard was the Activslate, which allows me to sit WITH the kids while I am instructing and interacting with the class. And, as my friend Anna from Promethean can attest, I plop myself right between the naughtiest kids when I teach with that board.  For about three kids, there was a complete change. Why? Because they had my attention and I was among them, not the 'authority' in the front of the room. We could have little QUIET corrections without stopping the entire class. So, three naughty kids down, a dozen to go.

In other classes, I made one significant change....after a particularly horrific experience with the 'leadership' of the school, I started notifying parents when there was an issue in class. I explained I would be doing that in the beginning of a few classes (check off two more naughty kids from my problem list).  Then, I followed through on the threat (check off a few more).  A few parents are not parenting....yeah, we knew that....But the inconvenience of having to respond to the teacher was enough to light a fire under a few.  Other people who do expend the energy to be a parent were supportive and worked with their child at home to create change (don't you love it when the parental connection with the teacher works for good instead of evil)

OK, so I am now living the ideal teacher life, right?? Well, no, perhaps you miscounted, I have a few hold outs. So, what changed those couple of kids? Well, for most of them, it was again a change in me. I summoned up everything I know about kids and tried to treat them as if we had an empty slate. I made no reference to the dozens of discipline referrals (which obviously weren't making any sort of change) and started talking about the present and what sort of student I could be seeing. I worked at keeping an even temper (hard for me) and tried to LIKE them and SHOW THEM that I liked them.  It's harder than it seems.  But, you know, it worked for some of the remainders. I still have a few that can push all the wrong buttons in me, but that number is greatly reduced this year.  

So, what happened to my mantra from a few blog posts ago...  We Will Create Change?  W2C2?  Well, you just got done reading my efforts to create change. I have to change ME first and then I shall work on the rest of the world. So, once again I ask, Who's with me??  W2C2

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Selections from "The North Star Musical Journey"

My fourth grade students singing selections from "The North Star Musical Journey." Based on the book by Peter H. Reynolds with music by Tim Beckman. Available from my friends at FableVision!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It's All About the Journey

This blog post has been rattling around in my mind for a while and I am hoping it makes sense...

Have you ever noticed when a word is brought into your radar in meaningful way you hear it everywhere? For example, last night, in the college class I teach for future educators, someone remarked, "Ever since you told us about Twitter, it's everywhere!"  I smiled to myself because Twitter has been there for a long time and it has been everywhere....but it wasn't connected to meaning and grounded in reality for those students.  I have been on Twitter for almost a year and I think I was late to jump on the bandwagon.  So, what brought that strange word Twitter to life for the college students is that I talked about it and demonstrated the power it held in education.

Another example is the word, "Journey."  Sure, I had heard it my entire life....perhaps hundreds of times.  But, when I read the book, "The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds, it was life changing. I realized that the book had a very deep meaning in my life and we truly were all on a Journey.  It impacted me so much, that I named this blog TJ on a Journey! So, what's the point here??  Well, after reading that book, which contained all words I had heard and read a million times, the word Journey was forever changed.  The word contained a deeper meaning for me and I started noticing it EVERYWHERE!  It is used in books, commercials, TV shows, movies and 'real' life. Now, the word jumps off the page if I am reading.  The word held a significant and powerful meaning for me and I noticed it a lot more.

All of this led me to look at the big picture in education.... What words are we leading kids to connect to outside of our classrooms???  It can be a heady or scary thought....  What concepts could we teach better if we could get kids to connect on an emotional level? What dreams could we lift up or shut down? What JOURNEY could we send them on?

I certainly don't have the answers to any of those questions.... but I am going to spend the rest of my days trying to find ways to help my students see the big, beautiful world that being passionate about learning and creativity can open. I might just read "The North Star" to them again to help launch them on a wonderful Journey.  Maybe they will start looking at their own journey and perhaps make choices that lead them on an a more rewarding path.

This blog post is not meant as a commercial, but, by the way, "The North Star" is being rereleased on its tenth anniversary. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. It was life changing for me and it just might be for you.  After all, it's all about the journey....     

If you get motivated to purchase the book, use code  AMBSHAY at www.fablevision.com for 10% off.  


Sunday, March 29, 2009

R.I.P. Digital Native/Immigrant Tags

I have been thinking about this for a while and have discussed it with a few people, including the amazingly wise Sylvia Martinez. In fact, Sylvia has a great blog post here on this very subject. My favorite line is this, "“digital immigrant' creates the same problem in reverse by providing a convenient excuse for teachers who don’t want to learn something new."

I would like to never hear the digital native/immigrant titles again. They are not accurate and they might even create some problems.

First, let me make my case for the elimination of the "native" tag. Earlier this year, I watched the high school media master help a kid do a search. The kid was required by the teacher to research his own family name. The media specialist recommended that he search for 'heritage' and his last name. I could tell the new freshman was getting very frustrated. I went over to see if I might give him some additional help. I noticed that he was typing his last name into the address bar. When I suggested that he start with Google, I noticed that he had typed www.google.com/(lastname)hairtage [sic]. That explained why he wasn't getting results. I sat with him and suggested put genealogy and origin in the search box with his last name and....bingo. This same scene is portrayed all the time with different players and subjects...results are the same. My wife, who is a high school English teacher can attest that no matter how much we think the kids are technologically savvy, they lack some very important skills in searching and evaluating.

So, who is hurt by the label?? In the past, I have recommended to teachers that WE ALL are responsible for teaching kids good information and Internet skills. A response I have heard several times, "The kids know more that we do anyway." No, they don't. They are not afraid of technology and they USE technology, but oddly, we prohibit their familiar tools (like cell phones and social networks) when they get inside the school building. But this post is not about that. 

I am comfortable with the title Social Navigation Experts, but I don't think that really helps us out a lot. We can not assume that the kids know more than us or that they have superior knowledge. In fact, I have read lot of studies and observations that kids (and college students) never go past the first page of a Google search. Others have said that students don't scroll at all. If we just assume their vast knowledge, we may miss a great opportunity to teach ethical use of technology.

I wholeheartedly agree with Sylvia's assertion that calling adults Digital immigrants is 'providing a convenient excuse for teachers who don’t want to learn something new.' I have noticed it is with a bit of relief that teachers use the 'kids know more than us anyway' line. Even if you believe that the kids have far superior knowledge, it is a necessity to teach kids to be more responsible and better ways of doing educational endeavors.

We are educators...We must not hide behind cliches as excuses. We have studied pedagogy and we must use it to best instruct our students.  

We Will Create Change!  So long trite titles that allow bad teachers to climb under excuses and bury their heads.... Hello students, we are your teachers and we will teach you.




Tuesday, March 24, 2009

W2C2 - The beginning of something big...

I am on FIRE!  It started with a blog post here and these words, "Sometimes I get tired. I never imagined that convincing educators about the educational value of technology would be so difficult." Well, this hits me right where I live... I could add about three sentences on about other things that I never imagined about education.  It is tiring!

In my comment to the aforementioned blog, I came up with a group of like-minded educators banding together for change... I called it W2C2 -- We Will Create Change! I MEAN IT! If a group of caring educators can band together and support each other, We Will Create Change. I didn't know exactly what it would all mean to me. I Plurked about it and got some humorous (Will there be a secret handshake) and thoughtful questions.... (What is the mission of the group). Wow, forced me to cool down for a few seconds (it's hard when I am on fire) and formulate some thoughts.  Maybe a little background...

Everyone who reads this blog on a regular basis (I love all 12 of you), knows that I LOVE FableVision. Long before I worked with the Ambassador group, I loved what the company and the people were about.  If you have read the blog from the beginning, last May, you probably have pieced together what blows wind on the flames...  It is really very simple, at the core of the company and the people, they want to make the world a better place by producing things that get kids to be creative. Yeah, well, just look at the website and you get that. But, they also do that mission in REAL LIFE!  It isn't just a mission statement on the website. I teach in Iowa, but I can hear cheers from Boston.

You see, when I get down and tired from fighting the good fight, I have the most amazing set of cheerleaders that a person can imagine. I have Peter H. and Paul Reynolds -- who send wonderful notes and keep me on track. I have Peggy Healy Stearns and Bill, who believe in what I can do and what I can accomplish. Even if adults in my own building don't believe it, they believe I have a voice and worth. I have wonderful FableVision Ambassador friends, like Julie, who chat or send emails that encourage me to keep going. The list could go on and on....

What could you accomplish if you had such a stellar cheering section??  Well, as I mentioned, I teach in a tiny town in Iowa. In the last year, I have been published in a national ed tech magazine, I have presented at NECC with the most amazing software designer (Peggy Healy Stearns), I have started a blog that has been read by people around the world....  Yeah, but this isn't about me, is it?  Just proving a point. If you would have told me 18 months ago that this would have happened, I would have laughed....a lot.

So, here it is..... W2C2!  WE Will Create Change ...  We will cheer each other on during those down days.  We will make a change, starting with each other, and moving through the World. You know, I believe from the bottom of my soul that our kids deserve this. They will have tons of teachers who talk at them...How many will they have that care about them and want to do whatever is necessary to help them learn and be great people. 

 Who is with me?

Monday, March 16, 2009

We Are Our Actions and We Choose Those

"It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." 
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I have been working with a kid at school who is going through a challenging time in life.  By working with, I mean listening and trying to find ways to help.  My message to the student, in response to information about how the family behaves is, "You get to choose who you become." 

As adults, we all know that is a fact (don't we?). We choose, through our actions, who we become and who we are. We can't choose the things that happen to us, but we can choose how we react. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons we can teach kids is that they can be who they want to be.  No kid is stagnant, they are 'not done yet.'  

So, maybe part of our job is to show kids a variety of ways to be and model the positive side of life.  My thought of the day is....are we doing that?  With everyone???  Do our actions show kids everything our words portray?  


When I asked the student how I could help them through the terrible times, the response was, "Keep helping me see that I can choose who I become."  Yep, that's my job.



Thursday, February 26, 2009

Six Things That Make Me Happy

I have been tagged by 'The Great One" Diane Cordell (@dmcordell on Twitter and Plurk) to participate in the “6 Things That Make You Happy” meme. She was tagged Twitter friend and fellow librarian Buffy Hamilton.

Here are the rules for this meme:
Link to the person who tagged you.
Post six things that make you happy along with these rules.
Then tag six others (letting them know, of course).
Let the person who tagged you know when your entry is complete.

SIX Things that Make Me Happy:

Little notes....as mentioned in this blog post. I love to send little notes that might cheer someone's day and LOVE when I get a little text message, email, or actual written note...It TOTALLY makes my day! It's probably one of the reasons I have taken to Facebook so much....Little 'Wall' notes are awesome!

Call me a sappy old guy, but hanging out with my wife makes me really happy.

Watching kids be TOTALLY consumed in a project makes me very happy. Watching their eyes light up as something lights the fire inside...watching the light bulb go off... It's all good.

Listening to someone's personal story. What has happened in their life to get them to today? What makes them passionate? I love it!

Laughing about silly things with friends. Tonight at Linkconferences, we have a very special activity planned and there no doubt be MUCH laughter.

One of the highlights of my day is when students drop in just to talk for a few minutes. It is a great feeling that they care enough just to stop in and say hello. As I have mentioned a million times, I am in this job because of students....I am SO lucky to have such great ones.

I Tag:

Sharon Elin
Linda Bilak Lattimer
Paul Bogush
Andrea Hernandez
Julie Everett

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Five Changes to Education--A new Meme

I am going to try my hand at starting a Meme. I am hoping that this will create some thoughtful discourse on the state of education.  There is much finger pointing, some of it deserved (I have done my share)...But let's dream of a world that we get to make decisions and where the learning and the kids are FIRST and all the real world of budgets and excuses are last.

List FIVE changes you would like to see in the educational system.  Your responses should represent your perspective and your passion for learning and students.  

Here is my list:

1.  The path to becoming an administrator would be changed.  People who intend to become administrators should be nominated from a pool of the best teachers in the school.  I have had the opportunity to meet some educators online who are passionate about education...But my experience in real life has shown that the motivation for many to get an administrative endorsement is financial more than spiritual. It is vital that the leadership has the same desire to impact students through solid education that a decent teacher does.

2. The teaching profession needs to be relieved of the burden of employees who do not care about student learning. (You notice I didn't call them teachers!  Teachers - teach. . . Employees collect a paycheck and give no concern to if the students in their care learn anything.) Your merit should be judged on the atmosphere of the classroom and on students' respect. We can all agree that social promotion is wrong....so should the practice of retaining an employee because they have a contract and belong to a union.  Of course the union protects people blindly because of the fear of a 'witch hunt' by administration. SO, if (as in #1) we have administrators that value good teaching above all else, then we can trust them to make good decisions about who is effective (because THEY were effective as a teacher)

3. Homework is getting obnoxious. What once was 'practice of skills' has become a sort of litmus test for who is a good student. Homework should be used carefully and thoughtfully and not just a ritual. My favorite quote from last year was from Bill Page, "The fact that a student gets their homework done may only demonstrate they know who to sit with at lunch." If there is homework, which I don't think is mandatory for all classes....Equal student time must be spent on appreciating the things around them. It must include dancing, singing, smelling something great and time demonstrating a passion for creating or reading.  Maybe we would create better citizens of the world if we sanctioned more time for being a part of it.

4. Buh Bye to meetings! In my twenty-three years of teaching, nothing has been accomplished in a meeting that couldn't have been handled in an email. Save that precious together time with colleagues for planning and dreaming and imagining and creating...and maybe recovering from the stress of the days. (No complaining allowed! That's why you have dear friends)

5. Professional Development must be both  professional and development. I have spent FAR too many days that are a complete waste of time. Because I am a professional educator, I KNOW things that I could do to make my classroom better--I just need the time to do them. I also have a good support system for finding ideas and nurturing the experience of others. If I want to learn something new to try, the WORLD is available for me. (For the administrators in the crowd who are now thinking, "Oh and everyone will be working toward making their classroom better? See number TWO! I got rid of the dead weight).

I tag the following people... All from a variety of perspectives. If you have been tagged, tag as many people as you choose, but try for a variety.

Paul Bogush @Blogush     (Teacher) Link
PrincipalsPage @principalspage  (Principal) Link
Diane Cordell  @dmcordell   (Experienced Teacher)  Link
Sylvia Martinez @smartinez   (Education Change Agent) Link
Karen Janowski @karenjan  (Special Education Advocate and Expert) Link
Kelly Christopherson @kwhobbes (Principal/Teacher) Link
Sherry Crofut @SDSherry  (Teacher/Principal Candidate/Grad Student) Link
Pat Hensley @loonyhiker (Retired Teacher / Special Education Guru) Link

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Beautiful Thought For Today

Found this on a print today in Galena, Ill. Things have been sort of crazy lately and my wife and I needed to get away.... The time away was needed....so was this print.

"people ask, "why do you work so hard for your students?" there are so many things i could say but the answer must be - because of one child. i swim through seas of papers with colored pens as paddles - seeking to improve without dispiriting, to point a better way without losing their enthusiasm. because of one child i seek my own reserves and provide opportunities which would otherwise be lost. because of one child i will spend my time generously - as if i had a lifetime of such days. i will see the whole of the world from a small hill and will believe against convention in "impossible" results. at the end of the teaching day i leave the classroom but i am still and shall ever be, a teacher. time ago i was that child for whom such commitment made a difference. i will dedicate my days confident my efforts matter... because of one child."
Mary Anne Radmacher


Check out more here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Little Notes with Big Meaning

Do you have an idea how much little notes might mean to someone??

My wife and I frequently leave little notes for each other. When we were first married, I would put notes in her lunch every day (she no longer has time for lunch). It was fun. She would put notes in my school bag (which, because of the messiness of the bag, I might not find for a while).

I have grown very attached to getting and sending little notes to people who are important to me. A little thought and a few words can lead to a BIG feeling!

From one former student, I received a text message this week that said, "Just talking about you to one of my friends and made me think of you. I miss you." Wow...Two years into college and thinking about and taking the time to share a note with a former teacher.  Made me get misty. Last week was one of the roughest ones in a long time. This single note helped me to stay on track. 

Sometimes I get a few words from pal, Peter H. Reynolds... A little message pops up like, "you rock."  I can't tell you how much they lift my day!  One of the busiest people I know takes time to send a message. . . Total day improvement!  

One former student texts 'life updates' like, "We are adopting a dog." Nice that in those joyous moments, I came to mind for a few seconds. I also get to share in that happiness...even from a distance.

I am a very lucky man! I have a lot of very special cheerleaders for my journey! I have been fortunate to have built some relationships in my school with amazing students that last after graduation. I have had the privilege of making friends all over the world and knowing truly decent and warm people. 

I also like to send or text silly and/or loving notes. I try to return the favor and send my love out. Who doesn't like to know that someone is thinking of them? At first, I will admit, it felt a little odd to send "I miss you" notes. . . But not for long. The benefits far outweigh the moments of feeling odd.

I have said it many times, but I resisted Facebook at first. Now, the 'little notes' appear more often and I love the feeling of being connected!

So, as you can see, a little note which can take seconds to write can brighten the day and strengthen the spirit. Let's face it...sometimes the journey is rough.... Sometimes, it's really rough.  So, let's all support each other....if you have time to send a great big email to a friend, let them fly.  If you have time for a little three word note...go for it! The thought of you taking the time and sending the love will transcend the space. The length of the note doesn't matter....the amount of love in it is what counts.


Addendum: I might add that another little note this week was a comment to my blog....which was very touching.... (thanks, Paul).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Life Lessons For This Week!

Recent events have given me a lot of opportunity to reflect. Here are my insights:

Hope is our greatest natural resource. 

Life is precious. Hold on tight to the people you love. 

You bring light and love, hope and care to people, if you choose to. So choose words and actions carefully.

Think about what kind of person you want to be and ACT like that person...I didn't do a great job of that this week.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to be a Writer -- My Facebook Commercial

If you are a reader, you will know I was reluctant to get a Facebook account. I can tell you that as of today, I am sold.

I read that the author, Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Burned) had created an update that said, "interested by the turn my book just took. I love surprises." I made the comment, "So, I assume from your comment that you don't have a plan before you start? Or is it that you let the plan change as you go?"

You see, I am fascinated by skills that I don't have. I struggle to write, which might seem funny since this blog now has 124 posts. I have a basic idea what I want to say, but I have trouble keeping the train on the tracks, so to speak. I start with a great motivation and then stumble to trying to get the words 'just right.'

The most amazing thing happened after I responded on Facebook, she responded. She wrote, "My MO is fairly inefficient, but it works for me, and for some other authors I've talked to. I build characters first. Know the theme and about where I want the book to end. Then I let my characters talk to me. I do know what I need to accomplish in sections of the book, but how I get there is often a mystery to me. Other authors need to plot and outline ahead. But if I try to force characters into a plot line I conceive up front, I always get into trouble because they tell me "I wouldn't do THAT!""

I sat and stared at the screen and was amazed at how this creative process unfolds. Since my wife is an English teacher, I immediately forwarded this message for her to share with her high school students. Then, it hit me that I have made some really great connections through Facebook. I am currently 'friends' with Susan Patron (who wrote one of my favorite YA books, The Higher Power of Lucky) and have actually received email from Deborah Wiles (author of another favorite book, Aurora County All-Stars). What a great venue for communication.

I think everyone in the world knows that I admire Peter H. Reynolds (The Dot, Ish, and the illustrator of the Judy Moody books). I have sat and watched him create artwork and marveled at his skill at crafting a story. I have also learned a lot about story writing from him. The day I met Peter which was at the Iowa Technology and Education Connection Conference, I was sitting in a restaurant and heard this great piece of advice... Give your characters a great name, it helps to develop their character. Now, I work part-time for FableVision Education and I feel SO lucky to be a part of such a motivating and creative company.

Ultimately, if I can't be a great writer--I can study great writers and become a little better.

So, I rarely give advice to people over 18, but if you are on Facebook, find people that interest you. Ask questions. Learn from everyone you can. Then, let me know how it goes.