Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Year I'm On a Journey!

Created with one of my favorite software programs, Stationery Studio.

The Last Night.....A Call for Passion!

Tonight was the final night of teaching the "Computers and Instructional Technology" class. If you haven't been following this, it is a course for undergraduates who will be teachers.

I struggled with what to say on the last night and I think I ended up getting a little preachy... That happens when I get fired up, the passion comes pouring out. Yesterday, I watched the video of the Texas student who gave the keynote for the opening convocation of Dallas schools. I read about it on Karen Janowski's Blog. I was so moved by this fifth grade student who spoke in front of 18,000 students with a passion that is unmatched with kids his age. I understand that he was coached as a speaker and the actual speech may have been written by the school district and, to be perfectly honest, absolutely none of that matters to me.

If I had to identify one problem with the generation of kids who are in school now, it is that they lack passion. Yes, that is a generalization.....but it is based on my observation. So, how can we inspire passion in students??? The easy and honest answer is that we can't....or can we?

What I think we can do is share things WE are passionate about. If you have ever seen Peter H. Reynolds speak about his passion for creativity and kids, you can't help but get swept away. I leave each talk with Peter wanting to go out and light fires of creativity. WE can also be the voice that motivates others.

I personally LOVE what I have witnessed watching kids use technology. Watching a kid 'get it' for the first time is an amazing thing....I get very passionate in sharing those stories. I share the stories with my college students....I share them using this blog. We must be determined to not let the people who are not so passionate about kids and teaching to weight us down! We must find people who are equally inspired and feed on each other. One of the greatest parts of Twitter / Plurk is finding a group of people who are equally passionate.

How do you share your passions?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Great Assignment of All Time!

If you want to see how kids think, sometime try giving out an assignment that has no answer. For example, in a few days, I will be having fifth graders decide who was/is "the greatest jazz musician of all time." Think you know the answer??? Not so fast.

Try doing a web search. You might get any number of different results, depending on which search engine you use. The students will be on fire to get the 'right answer,' but the trick is that there isn't a right answer. Then, as the teacher, you go through and have student build a list of criteria that could be useful.

What I do is start out by asking who is the best kid in the class. They come up with a list that might include: looks, grades, money, etc. Then, we brainstorm a list that uses that as a guide. They learn, for example, that looks are subjective and don't make good criteria.

I think, most importantly, the student learns how to break apart an assignment and along with some higher order thinking, come up with a solution that is well-reasoned.

This year, I am hoping to get some schools other places in the world to do the same activity and then Skype video conference between the two classes and compare findings. If you might be interested, email me! My class meets from 1:05-1:35 central time.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hope One Mile Ahead

I have always been propelled by hope. But I never relied as much on hope as I have this year.

This sign is on the way to Minneapolis on Interstate 35. What a great thought..."Hope One Mile Ahead." So, if you lose your way on the journey...if things didn't seem to turn out how you wanted them to...if all seems lost... Hope comes in and saves the day.

So where do you find hope? That's the thing, it's is everywhere.

The laughter of a child.....the promise that in the darkest time, you will laugh again. There is something about being around children and listening to their gleeful laugh. I spent Friday night with me great nephew....I left filled with hope.

The random email from a friend.....brings back a memory a smile and something to hold on to.

The smile from someone who loves know you are not on the journey alone, even if it feels like it.

A book, blog, video, tv show.... yep, hope can be found in the strangest places....if you look for it.

The sweet note or text message from a new friend.

Inside you.....even when you can't feel it or see it, lurking in you is a strong hope. A guiding light. Hope is one mile ahead...if not closer!

And if you have abundant hope, pass it around! Share something you have seen or read that inspired you. Take care of your friends or even a stranger. Share what you have learned and share hope!

"Together, we will journey beyond the darkness. The star of hope will guide the way."
Gerda Weissmann Klein. The quote appears on one of the last scenes in the video of "Wings of Epoh"
If you haven't read "Wings of Epoh," I guarantee you will love it. I have spoken of it a lot on this blog...I framed the story before on this blog with its true intention, it's about a boy who is autism. But, this week, it was about me and it was about hope. You will understand when you watch it or read it. "Epoh" is hope spelled backwards!

You can buy the book and video from my friends at FableVision. Use AMBSHAY for 10 % off..... and while you are there, maybe you want to pick up "The North Star" "The Dot" and "Ish".... Make it an inspirational school year!

Might as well make a disclaimer here for skeptical people. I don't work for FableVision.....I just love what they do and the people they are.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I have now survived two days with kids and four days before that at school. It was so good to see the kids again. I am grateful to some wonderful people in my life who have helped me get my journey back on track. This post is a thank you to everyone who has said nice words, direct messaged about my blog, sent a text message, sent an email, Skype chatted, sent me a video link, or sent sweet Plurks. You have helped me more than you know.

Picture from "The North Star" Mini-Posters, by Peter H. Reynolds

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where Is It You Want To Be?

I have to say the graphic above is one of my FAVORITE from the North Star book! Absolutely a perfect representation of life. The 'signs' we see sometimes point us in different directions. Today was the first day of school. My new schedule is a killer and adding in extra 'first day' activities have left me absolutely exhausted.

There have been many signs lately that have left me questioning if where I am right now is where I should be. The smiles and hugs from students today helped me realize that I am where I belong for this part of the journey. Who knows where the signs will point tomorrow, but for today....I was exactly where I needed to be.

Graphic above from "The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds. Used with gracious permission! Please go read the book online, or better yet, buy a copy. It is a beautiful book that you will look at time and time again!

I don't think I have mentioned this lately, but you can always get 10% of all things FableVision with my code: AMBSHAY

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Journey Begins...

Unless you are new to this blog, you know I am a huge fan of Peter H. Reynolds and all things FableVision... I must admit that my attitude this year has not been great because of scheduling issues, but five things that happened today helped to get me ready for the new school year journey to start tomorrow....

#1 - I got a message from Peter Reynolds recommending a video for me to watch. It was a great video that featured animation and it was great that he shared it. Beyond that, hearing from him reminded me of my time with the Fable group this summer, which I have talked about often...and in the middle of a very stressful day, I smiled. Thinking of FableVision reminded me to leave the struggles of the beginning of this school year behind and focus on what matters.....And what really matters comes bounding in the door tomorrow morning at 8:15 a.m.

#2 - At one of the darker moments of the day, I received an encouraging text message from my special Plurk friend I spoke of two days ago. Wow, that is one amazing person!

#3 - I hosted a viewing of "Wings of Epoh" which is the story of a boy with Autism and a butterfly named, Epoh. It is a beautiful book and video illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds and written by Gerda Weissman Klein that should be required reading/viewing for teachers. A few teachers came to watch it with me. Even though I have read the book many times and watched the video a few times, it was different for me today. It is the story of hope....Today, it was MY story. I felt like it was speaking to me. Not because I have autism, but because it describes the boy being in a very dark place and then being brought out in to a beautiful world.

#4 - Late morning, I received a thoughtful voice mail from my beautiful wife. Just when I needed it!

#5 - During my night class this evening, I was fortunate to bring the amazing Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns into my class virtually. I was honored that she agreed to visit with my students. Sometimes when you meet someone, you know immediately that you have met a truly great person....that is the exact feeling I had the first time I met Peggy.

Tomorrow starts a new page of my teaching journey... I do not have every single thing ready, but my heart and mind are ready. I am now more focused on navigating my journey by watching my guiding stars.... the guiding and wonderful stars. Thank you to all who have made my life richer. I am one very lucky man!

Graphic from "The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds. Read the story here!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Helping Others on Their Journey

The Power of the Personal Learning Network has been discussed in this blog many times. If you are involved in education and you would like to help others on their journey, please fill out the form below. The idea came to me as I was staring at Skype screen and thinking of all the great people I have talked with on the computer.....which branched into the idea of how could we share our expertise with others? You are welcome to join and you will have access to the document so you can find others.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What is Real?? I will tell you....

A while back, I posted here with a long drawn out examination of 'real' friends and online friends. Well, I have to tell you a story that changes everything...and I mean everything.

The other night, I was lamenting my journey back to school. I love the kids there and always will, but parts of the atmosphere have grown unhappy. On Plurk, I received a private message from a wonderful person I have gotten to know. I am going to leave the name out because I don't want to embarrass. The message included a cell phone number and the message included an invitation to text if I needed to.

Can you believe that? What an incredibly wonderful thing to do for someone. What an amazing act of kindness. I can tell you that that bit of magic got me through a really stressful day. Of course my wonderful wife is always there for me, but I sometimes feel like a burden with this seemingly never-changing issue. It was uplifting to know that someone else was there for me. I only ended up sending one message. I should have sent least one should have been a thank you.

Lesson learned! The manner that you meet someone is of little consequence to the strength of the ties! I am truly blessed by great friends! Thanks for the help on the journey.

Graphic from "The North Star" gallery, from the book "The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds. Educators may get their own poster here...for free!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Great Summer!

The summer of 2008 was a really good one. I have been staring at this blank post all day, dreading the second day of in-service tomorrow. I decided while talking to the Julie Everett (@j_everett ) that I would spend a few minutes reflecting about the summer and the great things that happened.

Of course the highlight of the summer was attending NECC in San Antonio. So many great things happened.
Beginning on Friday night, my wife and I were fortunate enough to go out with Jane Reynolds and Peter Wright, the UK contingent of FableVision. The two of them are great fun to hang out with and we had a lovely meal very near the River Walk. While we were walking the River Walk, Peter W. was telling me about his trip to Australia and seeing someone he had went to school with. He described the feeling of 'picking up where they left off' as being "Like seeing someone on Monday after a long weekend." It thought that was one of the most beautiful expressions I had heard (though paraphrased from my memory).

Saturday I had the opportunity to just hang out with my wife. We did some sightseeing and shopping. We had a great time. She bought 'the' shoes which have been mentioned on Twitter and Plurk. She actually took one of them in her purse to the Ambassador dinner to show our dear friend, Peggy Stearns.

Sunday was the Constructivist Celebration. It is always fun to be with creative people and I had the good fortune of working with Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns, Gary Goldberger, and Cristine Goldberg. Super software designer, Peggy Stearns, and I came up with activities for the attendees to accomplish if they wanted some ideas. Gary Goldberger was the Animation-Ish expert and was able to show off the program. Cristine Goldberg is the most energetic person I know and she is a fellow FableVision Ambassador. I got to meet Twitter friend, @dmcordell in person!

On Monday, the actual conference got under way and it was a great time getting to meet a lot of new people and meet people I had 'met' online. There were many highlights that day, but the amazing thing I think back on was that I got to eat a wrap with the wonderful Dr. Stearns out in the hallway and we were joined by Peter H. Reynolds. Peter showed us a book that he had the publisher's proof of. I am not sure if I am allowed to say the title, but it is a remake of a book that I loved (and my wife loved as a child). It was a very important book in its time and the re-release is amazing! It was amazing to me to see something before it was published. I felt very honored.

Monday night was the annual Ambassador get-together. Always a fun time! I was able to meet Julie and Jason Everett and hang out with the wonderful FableVision gang. All are truly great people who are creative and love education. Crazy loud and crazy fun, it is not a night I will forget soon.

Tuesday was the presentation with Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns. Let me tell you it was a wonderful moment when I got to present with one of my heroes! I love the software that Peggy has designed, but more than that, I love the person that she is. Very kind, incredibly supportive and most of all....very humble. It was very kind of her to allow me some time in her presentation to show the things my students have created.

Tuesday night was another great dining experience with my FableFriends! I was lucky to be at the end of the table with Bill and Paul at the beginning of the meal and Peter and Paul at the end. Wow, that is another pile of inspiration! All the FableVision crew have been very supportive of my mission and work, but having the chance to sit and chat with Peter Reynolds, another hero, it doesn't get better than that. Again, Peter is a hero because of the person he is and not only because of the acclaim he as amassed. Truly kind and inspirational.

One truly funny moment at NECC was when I signed my first autograph! Two educators came to talk about Animation-Ish. They asked me a question about the system requirements of Animation-Ish and when I turned the box over, I laughingly said, "Oh, that is me" because the box features a quote by me. As they were leaving, they laughingly asked me to sign an autograph on their catalog. I am pretending that they were really impressed with my vast knowledge of all things Animation-Ish, though.

Since NECC, there was a golf round with a friend from school and a little bike riding...but a lot of relaxing and dreaming. I have been teaching a night class called, "Computers and Instructional Technology" which has been a lot of fun and a learning experience. Adding in Skyped experts has really added a lot of meaning to the class.

All in all a great summer. Now must survive three days of inservice and then the kids come back!!! Can't wait to see them again.

Please share one of your great summer memories!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Attributes of Great Teachers?

A few nights ago, I joined a conversation that was in progress when someone asked, "What do great teachers do?"

I responded with this: Read, Create, Love, Adapt, Grow, Care, Learn, Share, Inspire, Listen, Lead and Follow

Read - A great way to start an intellectual conversation with a kid. Read professional journals and blogs and keep up with the changing landscape of education.

Create - If you want kids to do it, you will want to model it. Create great things that inspire kids to create. If you have to, create weird looking things that will make kids feel safe to create things that aren't perfect. Create lessons that have kids making exciting products.

Love - Yep, I said it. They need it, we have it.

Adapt - Brave new world...brave new teachers. Literally, no one ever learned anything by doing things the same old way. You don't learn, most kids won't learn.

Grow- It is a new world, you will adapt because you have to- which will cause growth. Growing is good!

Care- Teaching is not easy...we all know that. Sometimes I feel like I have given it all. But there is a deep reserve in the teacher's heart. Show you care.

Learn - Yep, the kids are not the only people who will learn in that classroom. The best teachers always learn from their students.

Share - Find something that works? Share it. Find something that doesn't work? Share that too. Maybe someone would have an idea that would help you turn failure to success...or maybe someone will learn from your misstep (which would make it a success!)

Listen - To steal a phrase from a Dr. Phil parody, "It's not about you." Sometimes, your job is just to listen. Ever wonder why something you did worked or didn't work in your classroom? Ask a kid and listen to the answer.

Lead - As I always say, "I was a constructivist before being constructivist was cool." I love the constructivist philosophy...the real one. The original framers suggested a scaffold was laid down before the constructivist activity. No, you don't teach the kids every nuance of the give then enough to be successful. It's very name means that learners construct new meaning from things they already know. Sometimes, you have to lead the learning, thoughts, discussions, to give base information.

Follow - Now that the leading part is out of the way, we need to follow. Watch what the kids are allowed to create when we get out of their way.

Respect - We take the kids where they's our job. It's not their job to come to where we are. It's our job to travel on the same path with a different starting place. We can't change what happened before we got them in our class, but we can respect where they came from and be understanding. Notice I said understanding and not patronizing or excusing.

Inspire - The reading, creating, loving, adapting, growing, caring, learning, sharing, listening, leading, following, and respectful teacher will surely inspire the best from kids (and ourselves).

What did I leave off???? Please add some words!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quotes to start the year...

PI love a good motivational quote.... I thought it would be good to start the school year with some I have stumbled on that made me think!

"This is the time of year when school begins. . . and my thoughts turn to some very special people. The teachers who were such an important part of my life. I think of the way their special attention helped open the gates of learning. They gave so much of themselves. . . with patience and tenderness. And not all the knowledge was of the textbook variety. I also learned about life. Those caring teachers helped me blossom as an individual. . . and gave me a sense of self-worth that. . . even today. . . sees me through trying times. I can't imagine a more precious gift that one individual can give to another."

"[Kids] don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are."
Jim Henson (It's Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider)

“A college degree and a teaching certificate define a person as a teacher, but it takes hard work and dedication to be one.” Paul McClure

“A teacher’s constant task is to take a roomful of live wires and see to it that they’re grounded.” E.C. Mckenzie

“A college degree and a teaching certificate define a person as a teacher, but it takes hard work and dedication to be one.” Paul McClure

“A teacher’s constant task is to take a roomful of live wires and see to it that they’re grounded.” E.C. Mckenzie

"I was at a meeting recently when a colleague told a story of being in India, where an educator there asked her, somewhat skeptically, "In America, you test your students a lot, don't you?" She replied, "Well, indeed, the United States has a national policy that requires testing of all students in certain grades." The Indian educator said, "Here, when we want the elephant to grow, we feed the elephant. We don't weigh the elephant."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

If I Had Wings....

One memory from the classroom will be with me for a long time. It was probably ten years ago when this happened. I thought I would share it will all of you.

When I used to teach Kindergarten, we ended the good days with a song that lets the kids fly, swing, crawl, and hop around the room. On one particular day, a boy came up in the middle of the flying song and said, "if I really had wings, I would fly to heaven and see my grandpa."

This illustrates one thing very clearly....when a kid seems extra needy or clingy, maybe there are things going on that you don't know about.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How High Could We Fly?

If you have been reading lately, you know it has been a reflective time.... Today I was looking at this picture. I took it out the airplane window on the way to San Antonio for NECC. My favorite thing about flying is the view from the window when the plane is above the clouds.

My thoughts about the clouds turned in to the following thought, "what would it take for schools to fly high?" Rising above the turbulence and storms where life is easy going and all kids would be ready to learn and excited. I always say (with a disgusted tone) if everyone would just do their job, school life would be better. If the principal acted like a principal, the teachers taught, the students wanted to be students, and the parents acted like parents, life would be so easy.

Today I wonder just what it would be like in my utopian school? When I started thinking about it, I decided that some of the greatest moments in my career came in the discordant and crazy times. The strongest relationships I have had with kids resulted from the strong tough-love approach I have with them. Some of my best teaching moments came out of complete and absolute failure with the plan for the day. Sometimes I am proud of the job I do merely because I have overcome so much of what is around me.

For sure we could get a lot accomplished if everyone did their job as I have not so graciously asked. There would be clear flying and we could make meteoric strides toward the sky.

But, the human factor, with all its turbulent bumps, is what keeps it exciting. The storms are where we build our strong relationships---way more than the take offs and the landings. There is no final destination on the school trip...Just a layover until there is more learning. It is truly all about the journey.

We will do what we can to make our teaching better and our students more studious. We will get up every day and try all over again to get closer to our dream school. What a view!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Deep Thoughts at TJ On a Journey....

In the car today, I drove by an area that was devastated by tornado and flooding. Thankfully, there weren't any houses nearby this particular area, but it lead me to have some deep thoughts.

Water -- We all need it to survive. We thirst for it on hot days and we play in it. People like me could sit and watch water and dream. At the lake over the weekend, I spent a great many content minutes just staring into the water. My office is filled with sailboat pictures and water themed prints (and a few by Peter H. Reynolds!). Water is the same substance that caused devastating damage to my area just a few months ago. Water can be heaven or hell.

Wind -- I can say for certain that when we were in San Antonio and the temperatures were near 100, the wind felt like heaven. Yet it was wind, in the form of a tornado, that destroyed one third of a town not far from my house.

Kids -- Back when I used to duck into the teachers' "workroom," I was amazed by some of the students that would be discussed. Many times, I would ask if we were thinking of the same kids. Someone would be bashing a kid that had always been really decent to me and I would be amazed at how are views were different. I will be honest and say that I don't always have the best things to say either....and I have received the same incredulous look I have given. How can a kid be totally different for one teacher than for another?

I have a theory about the rain, the wind, and the kid. All of us have healing and restorative powers that sit right along side the destructive and pain-inducing powers. The powers we use are a result of the experiences we have had and the atmosphere we perceive. I remember getting along very well with a student that most teachers weren't successful with. Mostly I got along with her because I held her to very strict rules, but I never got angry. The kid had enough strikes against her, she really didn't need my wrath. If a kid were ever going to make me angry, she would have been the one. But it was important for me to hold her to the rules without overreacting. For me, she was the swift flowing stream that got very near the banks on many occasions. For others, she was like flooding..... 500 year flood. The difference? My attitude and behavior.

OK, before you start thinking I have a high opinion of myself (I would be thinking that if I were reading this).... I have failed many times with kids. I have lost my temper. I have yelled.... But I think I have also learned so much in the last twenty-two years of teaching (I know you are now thinking I am old). My friend Teresa always shares the quote, "What kind of person do I want to be?" I want to be the strong rule keeper who loves the kids and wants what is best for them. I want to bring out the best in kids....because I know there will be plenty of chances for them to show the worst.

How does the atmosphere in your room effect the weather of student behavior? What will you do to bring out the gentle streams and cool breezes?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why Hate???

Have you ever noticed that many technologies and companies are polarizing? Tonight a former college student of mine was asking me a question because he was interested in purchasing a Mac. The teacher of the class before mine jumped into the conversation and gave us a list of all the things she hates in the world of technology (mostly Microsoft). It made me question where all the hate comes from? I see a lot of hate-type speak in Twitter and Plurk.....and a lot of negativity.

This paragraph shall be devoted to an overly simplistic demonstration.... When I was working at changing the pedals on my bicycle today, I had to change wrenches. The first wrench cut into my hand and I wanted to survive my manual labor with all of my blood intact. I did not get mad at the first tool or its manufacturer.... I didn't write blog articles or rude comments on blog articles about bike wrenches...I just switched to something that didn't hurt. Sure, that is a VERY simplistic comparison, but doesn't it illustrate the folly of the tech world? It's what you do with a tool that matters...Your preference for tools is personal.

There is a lot of Microsoft bashing in the Tech world.... Is it because it has become the standard in the workplace? I think most companies also have a Slingline stapler, I don't think that has made them evil. Maybe your school likes free software...fine with me. But why the hate?

Then there is the Mac vs. PC...... Don't even get me started (though I love the commercials from Apple). I prefer fits my style. However, I don't hate PC. I use a PC in my night class. Both have 'skills' that I wish the other had. No reason for hate.

I read with interest a discussion on interactive whiteboards (IWB) on other blogs (here and here). I want a board in the worst way. I have been thinking of selling a kidney or something to try to get one for my classroom. Would having a IWB change the way I teach? Yes..... for the better. I always say "I was constructivist before being constructivist was cool." Would the addition of the board have magical powers and demote me to being the 'sage on the stage?' Of course not. I have deep and rich plans for my imaginary whiteboard...None of them involve me lecturing. However, if one wouldn't work in your classroom, there is no judgment from me.

Now, where I want to see the feelings that rival hate..... I would love it if anger was directed toward the people who give good technology and teaching a bad name. For example, the teacher or principal who puts only page after page of bullets in PowerPoint... (Which I refer to as using a car as a planter....Still serves a purpose, but not exactly using it for the power it has.) Why are these people allowed to go through life without some anger or disrespect? Why does the technology get all that distaste and not the end user?

How about some passionate discourse with the people who don't get their projectors out of the box it came in for seven months -- or the people who purchased that equipment for blindly buying without a purpose? I imagine I could outfit my room with the latest and greatest in educational products if I had 5% of the money that is wasted buying things that don't get used. Or, as Karl Fisch discusses in the world famous blog post, how do people get to be proud they are technologically illiterate?

It seems to me we have a lot of hatred that is misplaced. In my classroom, I want kids to learn in a way that motivates them toward great end products. I want inspiring software that gets kids to think in a different way. I want a classroom that is ALIVE and thrilling. I want kids to be prepared for their future in the world of work and a creative and inspired world outside of work. Let's put the hate behind us and focus on what matters! The brand of the tool matters not - how KIDS use the tool is what matters.

Stop sign from

Saturday, August 9, 2008

How do you know you make a difference?

Most teachers, at least the good ones, got into teaching because they wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. Sure, we all joke about the motivation of those three months off (which by the way has NEVER been three months), but deep down it is the everyday miracles that keep us going. The moments I cherish happen often for me, I guess because I am truly lucky and have great students. But, how do I know that my reach will go beyond the walls of my room?

Well, you see, I am a very lucky man. Early in my career, I had an encounter that helped define my life as an educator. I can think back to one time that I knew my presence had made a difference in the world outside my room.

I was in my fifth year teaching when I had an unexpected knock on the door to my tiny apartment. At the door were two students who had graduated the previous year from the school that I had just left. I lived across the street from my new school and I had visitors fairly frequently, but none from the previous school. At the door were John and Luke (and like Jeff from the previous story, not real names). I asked them in and we had a nice time catching up.

Maybe an hour into the conversation, Luke said, “I tracked you down because I wanted to thank you for saving my life.” I had absolutely no idea what he was referring to. I hadn’t seen him in a year and the tone of seriousness from one of the funniest kids I had ever known really took me by surprise. He said, “One night, a few months ago, I had decided to kill myself. I had just broken up with a girl that I was very serious with and I just didn’t see a reason to live.” I was shocked. I said that it must have really been a bad break up, but I wasn’t sure how I was the one who saved his live, since we hadn’t talked. He said, “I had a gun. I was ready to pull the trigger.” I had some training in leading a peer helping group and I remember the warning signs for suicide. I remember that number one warning sign was if the student had a plan. I thought to myself, “he had a plan.” Then he said, “I thought to myself. Mr. Shay would say this is really stupid and that the problems I was having would pass. So, I put the gun down and I am SO glad that I did. You were right. Now that some time has passed, I know that it was something that did pass. I have a new girlfriend and we are really happy. So I came here to say thank you.”

What an amazing gift I was given. It is amazing to me that this kid would track me down and tell me this amazingly personal story. I didn’t live that close to where the kid was living and it was quite a trip. But the truly amazing thing was that it happened at all. You see, I don’t remember having that conversation. I lead a group of peer helpers and that was one of the topics, but I don’t remember being particularly moving. There was a student who committed suicide in my second year of teaching, which was a defining moment in my career. I knew I couldn’t have saved that kid, but I was going to do whatever I could to make sure that there wasn’t another one like him. I even carried his picture in my wallet for years to remind me to take extra time with kids. So, I guess maybe when we covered that part of the peer helping curriculum, I was extra motivated. Maybe Luke remembered the passionate way I talked about it. Either way, I am so blessed to know that I truly have had a lasting impact.

Please know that even if you haven't had the good fortune to have a student come back and share their profound thanks, you make a difference. Please remember this story as the year passes. On those busy days that seem to never end....when one MORE kid needs a few minutes of your time….Your time and words and passion could impact someone deeply…..maybe even saving a life.

The Lake: View from the deck

Here is the view of the lake from the deck. I am using my birthday present, a Flip Camera!

Friday, August 8, 2008

At the Lake!

My other best friend (my wife is my #1 friend) has graciously offered me the MOST beautiful condo on a lake for the weekend! I am there now. I am so lucky to have such a great friend!
Be back on Sunday.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Life was Changed

Jeff was the most obnoxious student I have ever known. His peers picked on him for his entire upper elementary and junior high career because he wasn’t like them. Tall for his age, with reddish hair, and a quick smile, he had a sweet way about him when talking one-on-one. In groups, he was intolerable. He was always trying to fit in and never satisfied with being an outcast. I am not sure what the turning point was for his behavior, but it was obvious that he was never going to be popular, or even liked. He overcame being disregarded by peers with an insatiable desire for attention, any attention. He was prone to desperate attempts at friendship; ironically, he was probably picked on for being too desperate, too needy. He was desperate for friends, wanting to be included and noticed. If you are a kid like Jeff, being harassed is better than being invisible.

I was ‘fortunate’ enough to have him in my advisee group. Having the opportunity to observe him with his peers made much of the peer behavior understandable. A part of me, as the teacher, wanted to pick on him as well. I am ashamed to admit it, but his constant picking on others was cause of a great deal of restraint on my part. I had to develop a no put-down policy -- just for him. Each student making rude comments would have to place a quarter in a jar. If the year ended with more than twenty dollars, we would donate it to charity. If the year ended with less than twenty, I would make up the difference and then have a party. Odd what lengths I was willing to go to so that I might effect change. This worked well…in my room. Jeff was picked on for his entire career in my school.

Jeff started coming to my room every day during the last ten minutes. We looked at his homework and made sure that it was all going home with him and that he had all the things he would need. In contrast to the other times during the day, I actually enjoyed this time with Jeff. He was kind, appreciative and very calm. He thanked me and was on his way. He was a different and enjoyable kid.

Meeting Jeff’s mother was like meeting the wind. She was scattered and never in the same place at the same time as anyone else. She had huge eyelashes and batted them whenever she thought it would do her some good—it never did with me. She came to parent-teacher conferences to find out what awful things the school was doing to her son. She began the conference with the statement, “Jeff has ADHD.” I began the conference by saying, “Me too. Had there been such a thing when I was a kid, I am sure I would have been diagnosed. I have managed to make a good life for myself, so let’s find a way for Jeff to do the same.” This strategy would not have worked with every parent, but Jeff’s mom must have appreciated the honest discussion. Since I had already put in countless hours with her son, maybe I had purchased her respect.

This conference would be the longest of my teaching career…the longest of anyone’s teaching career. The conference was peppered with visits, mini breaks, from the counselor and the principal, but at least ninety minutes passed from beginning to end. At one point Jeff, who had been drug along to the conference, was weary and lost in another world; lights on, but no one was home. His mother chastised him for not paying attention but within minutes, was seemingly lost in a parallel universe. I wondered to myself if it was the same one Jeff visited.

At the end of his eighth grade year, Jeff’s family moved to another town. I believe the principal and every teacher breathed a sigh of relief. I was among the most relieved. I liked Jeff a great deal from the one-on-one time we had at the end of the day, but I wasn’t going to miss mediating every group situation. I was happy to not have the daily battle over grades and behavior, and I was also relieved for Jeff, who had a chance to leave behind his past and start over in a new school. No need for the outlandish cries for attention because he had no history to overcome. He went to my wife’s school and was fairly successful. He was never popular, but he did find a group of friends and, remarkably, a girlfriend. He stopped in a few times to talk to my wife; awkward discussions. As the years passed, I had a chance meeting or two in the mall, but I hardly saw him.

I was pleased the day I received the graduation announcement, not because I wished to go to the forty-fifth graduation reception, but because he had made it. He was graduating. The kid who I had spent so much time with was going to graduate. In addition, Jeff made a point to stop by my wife’s room and ask us to come. This was a party I would not miss.

The graduation party was very different from some of the others. His mother greeted us in bare feet. We had been to parties with pools and fancy houses but this party was in a very simple house with very minimal decorations. Jeff beamed when he saw my wife and I walking up the driveway. He greeted us and we had that man to boy, “do we hug”, moment. We settled for a handshake. He was stronger than I had remembered and much more mature. He had decided to go to the military. Although we didn’t stay long, it was one at which I felt very welcomed and I received many positive comments about the difference I had made in his life…perhaps something that wouldn’t happen at the houses with pools and fancy decorations because there was no question that those children would be a success; they would make it.

I didn’t see Jeff for a few years. I had a chance meeting at a store near a lake about 200 miles from home. We were staying at our friends’ condo on a different lake and went out late at night for some snacks. I looked down an aisle and thought I saw Jeff. I was sure I was having one of those weird experiences where I think I see someone that I know. However, this aberration was talking to my wife when I went down another aisle. He greeted me with a firm handshake and a solid look in the eyes.

There we were, in a store I hardly go in, and I was thinking of what an odd coincidence it was to run into someone I know, let alone Jeff. The conversation quickly slipped out of the mundane to what had been happening in his life. Jeff told me that he had just come back from Iraq. He had been deployed there for a few months. During the conversation, he told me how he had been airlifted out of Iraq a few times because of injuries. A vest had saved his life. He also told me about a knife fight he had with an Iraqi soldier. He said, “I did what I had to do.” I could tell by the look in his eyes exactly what he meant. He showed me the physical scars and I could feel the tears welling up in my own eyes. Here, in front of me, was a kid who was so lacking in social skills, such an outcast, so messed up, and he was fighting in a strange country…doing ‘what he had to do.’ How could that little boy who used to come to my office every day, be the man who is having knife fights?

Then, the question that had been haunting me through the whole conversation was asked. “What are you doing in here?” Jeff said, “My grandpa has a place here and it is my happy place.” I must have looked at him quizzically, because he went on, “All the time in Iraq and when I was injured and on the helicopter, I thought of this place and it got me through.” My eyes welled again. A mixture of pride and sadness surged through me. I know I did what I could for him, but I know I could have done better. Here he was, a kid who used to drive me crazy, off in a foreign country fighting for our country.

All the time I was working with Jeff, I had hopes that what I was doing would make a difference in his life. I wanted to show him that people could be decent and caring. I wanted him to feel better about life. In the end, Jeff touched my life too. First, at his graduation party, when I could hear about the difference I had made in his life. Then, in the store I realized that my life had been changed.

How You Know When You are TOO Connected

Today is a special day. I might like to forget about it, but my 'friends' have reminded me...
No, no, not the friends at school. No, not my real life, virtual friends, or family...
The companies who have my personal information. It's not that I don't appreciate it, but wow, I am overwhelmed.

The list so far:
Sonic Drive-In (I admit it is my favorite guilty little pleasure -- hey, we don't drink, is it so wrong to love the Limeade?)

Buca di Beppo (Phenomenal restuarant in Minneapolis & I think other places)

Palomino (also an amazing Minneapolis eatery- which we learned about from the concierge at Neiman Marcus on Valentine's Day a few years ago -- maybe a future blog post) ---

Hard to believe we live three hours from Minneapolis and are so heavily courted.

Pepsi (Am I starting to notice a food/drink pattern)

Dairy Queen (yep, there is a pattern)

Vista Print... GREAT! Finally one that doesn't involve food.... Oh, wait, I get those every day.

BlissWorld .. OK, now THIS is something I don't get every day! Darn it, it was based on foot and hand lotion I bought MY WIFE.... She has her own day.

Origins -- Again, stuff for my wife!

Sunglass Hut! Finally, something that is ALL MINE!!!! It's not food! Unfortunately, how many pairs of $100+ pairs of sunglasses does a guy need? I am for sure over my limit.

Borders Rewards

I think there were others..... but, what a list!

Of course my family will do the REAL acknowledgment on the actual day... But, let this be a cautionary tale....

Always have one email account that you give ALL the marketers and stores when they demand one... Then give the rest of the world the real email account!
You don't want to sift through stuff like the Pepsi song.....

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Right Around the Corner

Enough said....

Created with Animation-Ish!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Losing Your Way

From "The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds Clip Art Collection

We all need to remember we are on a journey...sometimes the going is easy and sometimes...

We need hope to pull us through.

Animation created with Animation-Ish.

The Journey in TJ on a Journey is a reference to "The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What Do Future or New Teachers Need to Know about Technology

One of the fun things about teaching a class of undergraduates is to watch their excitement grow when thinking about their future classrooms. One of the challenges is, what do they NEED to know! How can I prepare them for an ever changing classroom and world. Expectations for teachers are always growing and seem to stifle the creativity of students and teachers alike. We are now sitting at Midterm of an eight week session, and I am looking at where we have been and where we are going.

The class is "Computers and Instructional Technology" and it is an undergraduate class for future teachers. So far this term, we have learned about learning theorists, software evaluation, CyberSafety, Assistive Technology, Blogs, and had countless conversations on what constitutes good classrooms. We created an educational video and used Web 2.0.

Here are some fundamentals for me --
1- I didn't 'teach' them Google Docs... I used Google Docs for part of a lesson, the students had to log on and complete a working definition of Constructivist and Behaviorist (which I think some of the blog commenters should perhaps take a refresher from). The students collaboratively came up a working definition and they "learned" how to use GoogleDocs in the process.

2- As has been documented several times, we brought in experts using Skype. In those experiences they learned from the best people in their field....and they also 'learned' Skype and the power of social networks because that is where I found my experts!

3- We evaluated software first using the rubric in the book and then through discussion and expert, Sylvia Martinez. The true power of this assignment came in an unexpected way! Because of a Twitter conversation, Dr. Gary Stager weighed in on my blog post which helped me to review my practice. When I had my students read all the comments, they also reviewed my practice. Honestly, have students reflect on practice is the BEST thing I think I can reinforce.

4- We made an educational movie. Did the students learn how to create professional video? No. What they did learn was the process of brainstorming (using Inspiration). They learned the importance of storyboarding as a means of organization and a MUST for students. Mostly I think they learned that creating visual representations is a very powerful learning tool.

5- Wednesday, my students learned the WebQuest strategy. They learned it by doing one I developed which asks if the Internet should be filtered. Then they are taught the six steps of a WebQuest through direct instruction. In my teaching career, the highest order of thinking skills have been developed through the WebQuest strategy and it is fun to share that.

6. Students created their own media for use in their classroom. It always interesting what students develop!

7- Still to come in the term is a "How to do PowerPoint well" component including a presentation from each student. The main criteria is that the students in the classroom must be engaged. We will try VoiceThread because it comes so highly recommended. We will develop lessons that incorporate technology. There is much more to come, that I won't mention.....

8- My biggest dream and struggle is that I want to create powerful teachers who effectively use technology to reach students. What I want most is to create a hunger for these future teachers to always reach for new strategies and tools to reach students. I want their classrooms to always be a place of discovery and creation! I have an undying passion for learning and I want to share that.

What do future teachers need to know to be successful?

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I am out of I have decided to just share an activity that I really enjoy, photography. Today I am going to post some photos that I have taken.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Source of Inspiration-Darius On a Journey

Yesterday's post was about people in my life who inspire me. Today, I share a video from someone I have never met but who profoundly inspired me and inspired me to action. I learned about the "Darius Goes West" video on Twitter from @karenjan. Watch below and I think you will be inspired. Then, take action and purchase the DVD here. $17.00 of the $20.oo video will go to finding a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Darius and friends are trying to sell one million DVD's in one year. I am not sure what number of the one million I am, but I hope you will join me.

"You must be the change you want to see in the world." Mahatma Ghandi