What’s a smackdown?

We’re learning how to use twitter as a professional learning tool.  One of the things we’re trying is a 20 Day Twitter Smackdown.  It’s going gangbusters!  We’ve added a whole bunch of educators to the twittersphere.  Our hashtag is #fifeshares.  While we’re not trending internationally, we’re definitely trending in our district!

Here’s our list of twitter prompts!


The first step.

We’ve spent a lot of time recently talking with educators about professional learning. Professional learning that may include reading, thinking, and growing.  The most often voiced concern is lack of time.  We totally get this.  Educators are incredibly busy. Anyone who has ever taught knows the thousands of decisions, questions, answers, and so on that are part and parcel of being a teacher and with which a teacher is challenged every single day.

What, then, is the first step to find the time to read, think, and grow?

Decide it’s important.

That may sound trite and cliche.  It’s not intended to be either.  But it is tough to argue that when one decides it is important to find the time….the time can be found.


Courage and energy.

To examine one’s professional practice and decide to change it, improve it, grow it, takes two things in my opinion: courage and energy.  At points in my educational career, I was satisfied with what I was doing, had done and wasn’t particularly interested in doing anything differently.  In fact, I used to joke that I was full, I couldn’t learn anything else.  I’d learned all I needed to learn. I didn’t see the need to grow.  And that was the fatal flaw in my reasoning.  It wasn’t ever about me.

The needs of students and teachers changed on me.  Not surprising over 30+ years. But there it is.  I needed to exercise courage and find energy. So, with a new professional role, I set out to challenge myself to try new things.  Writing a blog for example.  We don’t learn from experience.  We learn from reflecting on experience.  Writing is a great way to reflect.  Even if no one reads what you write, the intellectual exercise is the point!

Educators should read The Innovator’s Mindset, by George Couros.  Almost every page resonated with me and challenged me.  It’s almost laughable how much of that book I highlighted.  I use Kindle Reader for professional reading.  This allows me to report that I highlighted 203 passages and made 11 different notes.  I’ve read it twice.  And am about to read it again.

George Couros has established a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) based on his book. So with the idea that one should try new things and grow, I signed up.  We’ll be discussing chapters with colleagues around the world.  We have our first prompt.

Why is “innovation” so crucial in education? What impact do you see it having on our students and ourselves long term?

Couros on innovation, “I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative. That means that change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword, as many organizations do, to appear current or relevant.”

And further, “Technology can be crucial in the development of innovative organizations, but innovation is less about tools like computers, tablets, social media, and the Internet, and more about how we use those things.

So innovation being crucial in education?  That’s a big yes.  21st century skills for our students require them to create new knowledge, solve new problems, with new tools. They need to learn how to learn.  Fewer will care about what they know.  More will care about what they can do with what they know.  Our teachers need to have the opportunities to grow learning experiences for their students that allow them to innovate.  Practice 21st century skills. Collaborate.  Create new knowledge.  Share.  Write.  Communicate.

My daughter is a recent college graduate with a degree in Communication.  Her first job is at a shipping distribution center.  A big one with big, well known companies shipping products through the center around the world.  It is entirely safe to say that neither her K-12 experiences or even college did too much to prepare her for her job.  Yet her employers check with her weekly to be sure she’s not planning on going anywhere.  She’s had a raise, a bonus, and a promotion in a year.  What skills does she inherently possess that make her so valuable?  She collaborates with others to solve problems.  She creates new knowledge and solutions.  And she shows up on time, works hard, has a good sense of humor, and is a self-starter.  She is also a cusp kid.  I literally think the game changed while she was a student.  I know that in her previous school district, kids are now having the opportunity to practice the skills that she lucked into having as part of her make up.  This is good. That’s the long term impact of innovation.  Kids need to have opportunities to practice innovative skills.  Teachers need the opportunities to be free to design such opportunities. They also need the opportunities to practice these skills themselves.  We are already seeing examples in our own district of teachers creating these opportunities for kids.  One of our teachers posted on facebook last night, that her 4th grade son was teaching her about ‘growth mindset’ and was doing some work around that idea.  4th grade!  We have veteran teachers trying twitter for the first time as a learning and sharing resource.  We have teachers redesigning their classrooms to create collaboration spaces for students.

We are seeing courage and energy centered on our professional practice and focused on our students.  Creating something new and better.



33rd First Day.

Wrapping up my 33rd first day of school, all in Fife.  Had the chance to start the school year as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and executive director.  The feelings of excitement and nervousness don’t change much.  Just the role.

We visited all of our schools today.  From watching teachers meeting with parents of kindergarten kids to the new high school seniors establishing themselves as the leaders of the high school, it all went so smoothly.  One of the cool things about this particular year, is the number of teachers we’ve hired that have come to us from other districts.  Their quotes about being here are pretty darn clear.

“I am so happy that I have landed here!”

“I loved the 181st day. You all do things differently here”

“The grass is actually greener in Fife.

So excited to be here!”

We welcomed new kindergarten parents and kids.  We welcomed a new senior class.  And everybody in between.  Here are the new sophomores.


Our schools are selecting books to read for a book study.  Fife High School is reading a book called Learning to Choose: Choosing to Learn, by Mike Anderson.  One of his quotes pretty accurately described today.

“Teaching and learning should be joyful.”

Saw this in action today!




New favorite quote.

“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”  Or for professional educators, “When was the last time you did something professionally for the first time?”  This is such a great question to ask and think about, especially for veteran teachers or administrators.  We do a great job learning our jobs.  Do we do a great job growing and learning new things in our jobs?  One of the reasons I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about professional learning vs. professional development.  The difference between those two ideas is significant in my mind.  Probably a topic for a separate blog post!

What are you reading?

Always a great question to anyone.  An adult asks a kid that in the hallway.  Teachers ask each other.  Kids ask each other.  Administrators share.  It’s summer.  A great time to refresh, pause, reflect, and learn.  I’m reading LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer, A.J. Juliani.  It’s pretty good so far.  One of the cool things was the twitter chat today around the book.  Also just found that George Couros is going to do a a MOOC around his book! 



Been thinking about the school year winding down.  Just read and shared a beautiful blog post from Allyson Apsey about tears on the last day.  Shared it with our whole district.  I know it will touch educators’ good hearts.  This made me reflect a little on the words I’ve read and upon which I have reflected all year.  I started reviewing my various notes and resources to cull out impactful quotes.  Ran the list up to 50 pretty darn quickly.  Here are the top 20.  They reflect the arc of my learning over the course of this year.  A few ideas have firmly attached to my thinking and plans of action.  This is good. I’m trying to model what I think teachers need to do.  Continual learning.  Dip your cup in the learning stream.  Enter the stream where you are and learn what you need to learn.  Connect with others.  Learn from others (see number 12!). The book I’m reading now, Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere by Will Richardson is really bringing it home. 

  1. “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get to work.” -Chuck Close
  2. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” -William Butler Yeats
  3. “Why do I teach?  Who do I teach?  How do I teach?”
  4. “We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.” –George Couros
  5. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?  “Would I want to be in a community where I was the principal?” –George Couros
  6. “Today, isolation is a choice educators make. Our connectivity and learning opportunities have changed in recent years, and, thankfully, many teachers are taking advantage of those changes to benefit themselves and, more importantly, their students. We have access to information and, equally valuable, to each other.” –George Couros
  7. “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” –Simon Sinek
  8. When we know better,  we should do better.
  9. “The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.” -Chinese Proverb
  10. The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now. -Chinese Proverb
  11. Once you stop learning, you start dying. -Albert Einstein
  12. “The smartest person in the room is the room.” -David Weinberger
  13. Every strike brings me closer to the next home run. —Babe Ruth
  14. People > Process > Product
  15. “I asked my tenth-grade host, Cindy, if she felt like she made important contributions to class or if, when she was absent, the class missed out on the benefit of her knowledge or contributions, and she laughed and said, ‘No.’” Can you imagine going to a place every day where you felt your voice didn’t matter? -Veteran teacher after shadowing a high school student for two days.
  16. “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” -Clay Shirky
  17. “There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.”
  18. Fifty years ago, relationships were the most important thing in our schools, and fifty years from now, it will be no different. -George Couros
  19. We must assume that there is probably a better way to do most everything.
  20. And my favorite for this year…so far…

    “The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” -Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Can’t wait to see what I learn in an hour.



Uh oh. I may have a problem.

I finished reading  Personalized PD: Flipping Your Professional Development by Jason Bretzmann.  It was great and clarified some more of my thinking about the role a teacher must play in his/her personal professional learning.  I continued on with my day, meeting with principals, talking to teachers, organizing upcoming events and so on.  But something felt off. Something was bugging me. I finally figured out what it was.  And it’s kind of dangerous.  I was missing having something professional to read.  My brain was seeking a reengagement in that learning opportunity.  Yikes. As I’ve said before, I use Kindle Cloud Reader, which is open as a tab in Chrome.  When I have a couple of minutes, I tab over and pick up reading where I left off.  Among emails.  Phone calls.  Face to face meetings.  That feeling of missing being involved in ongoing, sustained professional thinking and learning hadn’t happened in a long time.  I was too busy doing my profession as an administrator and teacher to learn about being better at my profession, learning more about my profession, growing in my profession.  And it was too much work to find stuff to think about.  And way too tough to find people with whom to talk about it.

This reminds me how very difficult it is in our schools for teachers and administrators to read, think, stew, marinate, reflect, and grow.  We need to help educational leaders in the classroom and buildings find the time to read and reflect.  And having written those words, I further realize, we need to highlight the reasons and the methods for reading and finding time.  If the case is made so clearly that educational leaders are just clicks away from learning and growing, in ways that weren’t conceivable earlier in their careers….they’ll find the time.

To scratch the learning itch that I recognized as being dangerous, I am now reading What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, Jimmy Casas.  It’s already excellent and my learning juices are flowing again.  Whew.

Here’s one of the very first quotes from the book,
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
That quote leads to this thought from the authors, “One key learning we took away applies to the quotation that introduces this chapter: the time for educators to start connecting to a larger personal learning network—if you did not already embark upon this 20 years ago—is now. There is simply too much to be gained—and nothing to lose—to not begin connecting with educators around the world who share your passion about this noble profession that is education.”
We can make the case for our busy colleagues that new learning is so close at hand.  Just waiting to be accessed.
Let’s make the time.  It’s fun to be dangerous in our learning and growing.

What I learned at the art show about teacher professional development.

2016 Fife Public Schools Art Show!

I had the pleasure of attending our district’s art show last night.  As always, the talents of our students with the brilliant guidance of their teachers, just rocked me.  The art piece above is from a 5th grade student at one of our elementary schools.  In addition to it being a cool piece of art, the way the student arrived at creating this art is also cool.  The teacher explained to me that the project is based on the Genius Hour concept.  The kids followed 3 steps to make their art happen.  1.  The Big Question.  About what did they want to learn more?  2. Research and create.  3.  Present.  The teacher, Erica Meske, does amazing work with kids.  As she was describing the way kids made this art and how the Genius Hour inspired her, she said, “The sky is the limit.  Anything can be art.”

The sky is the limit.  Anything can be art.

-Erica Meske, Art Teacher

This whole project and her approach struck me in terms of teacher professional learning.

This week, I had the chance to read Aaron Hogan’s article ‘41 Books Worth Reading‘.  This is a great resource (‎@aaron_hogan).  One of the books from the list I immediately started reading.  It’s called Personalized PD: Flipping Your Professional Development by Jason Bretzmann (@jbretzmann, ).  This book is already confirming in my mind where we need to take our professional learning opportunities for teachers.  Some quotes from the book that are shaping my thinking: 

“Personalizing professional development is one of the most transformational shifts in teacher training and school leadership today. The teachers we hire derive from different backgrounds and experiences, and the diversity and knowledge they bring to all of our schools increases the positive power of our school communities. It is a commonly held belief that no two teachers learn the exact same way, yet we have we been providing one-size-fits-all learning for teachers.”

“But we must first show our teachers the respect they deserve and trust them to learn from their experiences.”

“Our teachers should be encouraged to engage in education chats on twitter, attend EdCamps and conferences, make presentations in flipped staff meetings, and seek to participate in joint PD sessions with other schools and districts.”

“The process of Flipped PD seeks to find out where teachers are instead of disregarding it. It asks where you want to go instead of telling you where you should be. We start by asking, “Where are you? Where do you want to go?””

And my favorite quote, so far, “Wherever an individual starts, forward movement is key. Again, we aren’t talking about where teachers should be. We are talking about where they are, and then helping them move forward.”

Big question.  About what does a teacher want to learn more?  Time to research and create. Share.

“These people know what they are doing. It’s why they were hired, and why they are still here. They probably know what they need next. If we approach every professional development opportunity while repeating those three sentences, it will go a long way.”

Sounds good to me.