Sunday, December 29, 2013

You're Fired!

My mother used to tell me I was "very persistent" growing up. "You didn't take no for an answer," she often said. One of her favorite examples of this was when I was fired from a summer camp job and managed to get rehired for the following summer. (I was 22).

I  made a lot of mistakes that first summer working as a head counselor, most of them because of pride and immaturity: being afraid to ask questions when unsure, not actively listening to the children and assistant counselors in my group (I was real good at telling them what to do), and not utilizing problem solving strategies prior to making decisions.

When I wasn't rehired I was surprised: didn't most of the kids like me? So, I had a few parental complaints. Don't we all? Yes, the Camp Director had to speak to me privately once or twice. Isn't that an initiation rite? (It wasn't).

The camp let me know by letter that I would not be rehired for the following summer. The administration cited my "inconsistency in relating to staff, campers and their families. on a regular basis." I really liked working at the camp, liked the kids, and enjoyed the staff. The atmosphere was warm and inviting. However, the place I liked didn't think I'd be a good fit in the culture and climate they created.

I needed to be honest with myself if I was going to grow and put forth a better me: introspect, digest what the camp administration stated to me during our "one-to-one conversations" over the summer and in the letter, then share with the Camp Director and Camp Owner that I'd learned from my failures. 

So, I wrote my own letter. To them. I stated that I understood I had made some poor decisions when interacting with some of my younger counselors and campers. My role was to model how to behave in a recreational atmosphere, build on the positive environment they'd created, and send the children home wanting to come back the next day. Campers needed to have fun playing sports while feel safe and appreciated. Their parents needed to feel that the environment was nurturing. I hadn't fulfilled my end of the bargain, and if the administration hadn't fired me, they wouldn't have done their job.

However, my job description was now to show them I listened to them, that I took the time to have an honest conversation with myself, and I wanted an opportunity to show them I used my failures as learning opportunities. I asked the Camp Owner and Camp Director for two things in my letter to them: to meet with me so I could apologize personally, and if they were open to it, to hire me back on a contingent basis. Week to week, day to day, unpaid, didn't matter to me. I wanted to be there. I wanted to make a difference.

The Camp Owner and Camp Director met with me. They were honest with me, sharing what got them to the point where firing me was the best option. I reciprocated their honesty, explaining my thought process during different incidents, what I learned from each experience, and all I asked for was an opportunity to continue to learn in an environment I truly enjoyed. We could figure out the money situation later.

I was hired back. I'd like to say I was a a new man, but I wasn't. I still made errors in decision making as I continued to learn. But, I grew. Rapidly. I made less mistakes. I shared my stories with new counselors and counselors in training who I saw making similar decisions early in their career. I made fun of myself, and said, "Don't pull a Barry." For some of them it stuck, and we remain friends to this day. For some, they weren't ready to hear the message, weren't rehired, and made a choice to seek future employment and guidance elsewhere.

I stayed at the camp for seven more years, until an opportunity to direct a summer camp came my way. My mom references this camp story as an example of me "being persistent, of not hearing no. I still can't believe you got that job back." I view it in a different lens now: I was taught that having grit, perseverance, and a willingness to take risks were worthwhile. I didn't like being fired, so I asked myself what I could do to change the situation. When I made mistakes during my following years at camp, my administration took the time to ask me questions instead of making snap decisions: explain what happened? What was your thought process? Why did you chose to solve the problem that way? Upon reflection, what can you do differently next time? How do we know this experience will make you better?

I keep these questions and this story in mind when I work with students and teachers. No one comes in fully-formed. (Exhibit A: me). We all have room to grow, and it's incumbent upon me to teach others how to think (not what to think), identify mistakes and learn from them, as my camp administrators did for me.

I wouldn't honor them if I did not pay it forward, and remember their lessons when I need to tap into my own perseverance and grit. Because, each opportunity in my work with teachers and students is another chance to reinforce to the Camp Director and Owner who rehired me that their investment in me taught me something, and made a difference in my life.  And if I'm lucky, a student I've taught, a child I've worked with in the Before and Aftercare program, or a teacher I've mentored will internalize and model what I've shared so they "Don't pull a Barry" too.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tagged By Jill 'The Thrill' Thompson

I met Jill Thompson this past summer at ASCD's Leader to Leader Institute in Virginia. Jill was an Emerging Leader, identified by ASCD as someone with a strong education skill set, with a passion to channel it for what's best for kids. Me, I was a newbie, a neophyte. I didn't know anyone but my NJ Edubrethren, recently having joined NJASCD, attending a few State Executive Board meetings, and going to a few events. As I tried to get my bearings in a new environment where I was a big fish in a school of MUCH bigger fish, I met Jill. She was kind, helpful, and made me feel at ease. Probably what she does when working with teachers and students daily, and just one of many reasons she represents what ASCD stands for.

With that being said, it was an honor to be tagged by Jill for this meme. Not so much for the fact that she thought of me as one of eleven to learn more about, but because I'm interesting enough to her that she reads my blog. So, Jill, and the people I will tag in this post, here are 11 random facts about me you may not know:

1. I really appreciate the opportunities to talk to people in the education field and hear their points of view. I like knowing what they do, what their background is, and what their experience has been like in education (from being a student who sat at a desk to one who is in the front of the room). These experiences root our approach and interpretation of our pedagogy, and I like knowing what motivates people.

2. I learned a lot from Harvey Silver at a presentation he gave. I reference this PD at least once a week, somehow. He was entertaining, engaging, and his presentation was something I was able to turnkey in my classroom the next day. Of course, I lesson planned for it later.

3. I've done Weight Watchers three separate times. One of these days, it will click.

4. On the flip side, I trained for a powerlifting competition while in college. I trimmed down to 5% body fat, 155ish pounds, and tore abdominal muscles. I think I'd rather be chubby.

5. Rutgers was my dream college of choice coming out of high school. When I applied to the New Brunswick campus, not only did they reject me there, but they passed on my application to the Newark campus (without me asking), but then rejected me there, too. Good times!

6. I love to read. I read every night before bed, and cannot go to sleep until I have read something, no matter how tired I am. It was something cultivated in me from an early age by my third grade teacher, who was also my fourth and fifth grade teacher. I kept going, she kept looping. Every Friday we read for an hour independently. There was no formative or summative assessment, it was just read, read, read, and I loved it. @mattrenwick talks about the power of pure independent reading in his blog, and I believe it. Now, how to market it to the powers that be...

7. I find people interesting. I take something away from each person I meet. It may not be a "good" takeaway, but there's always something to learn from someone, if you listen well enough.

8. My wife is NOT into sports. At all. The best line I ever heard her say about baseball was: "I like the Yankees. They have good french fries." Upon many people laughing, her response: "What? Why is that funny?"

9. To piggy back off of that, my wife's explanation of football: "One team has the ball, the other team wants the ball. One guy runs with the ball The other guy runs into him, they crash, and then do it again 3 seconds later." Well, she's not wrong, but I like to think there's more to the game, mainly because it's my favorite seasonal sport.

10. Best thing a student ever told me, that no one ever finds funny but me: when I taught third grade, a student came up to me and said, "Mr. Saide, I eat my boogers. They're really NOT that bad." My response, "Bud, never tell anyone we had this conversation. Do not tell anyone else about this. You will thank me one day."

11. Before I want to ASCD L2L, I hadn't written anything in almost 20 years. I was motivated to write about my L2L experience from my conversations with @alinadavis and @beckcikelly. Now I'm tagging them, and they will need to take a turn. My way of paying forward and saying thanks.

Jill's Eleven Questions for Me:
1. If I could give my younger self some advice, I would tell myself to start being me sooner. Don't worry about what other people think, your own thoughts are challenging enough.

2. If I could go anywhere in the world it would be to Texas. Sounds silly, but everything is supposedly bigger there, and I want to see HOW big that is. I also love BBQ, and I wonder how well we get it here in the tri-state area.

3. I pay it forward everyday somehow. I listen, learn, and leverage others. I enjoy the moments, and I help others to do the same. That's what living is.

4. I haven't lived in too many states: just NJ, PA for college, and VA for an internship.

5. My favorite device is whatever the newest thing I don't own is. Currently any Apple products, especially Mac stuff and iPads.

6. The title of my first book will be: Dudes Can be Maternal: Life Lessons from a Male Elementary School Teacher.

7. My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. There's no connotations, no gift exchange, just let's hang out, eat a lot, and watch football. That, and I get to sleep on the couch and it' okay.

8. A goal of 2014 is to get to the gym three times a week, and be consistent with it. I actually like the gym, I just need to get there.

9. My favorite teacher was Mrs. Pace, who taught me in third - fifth grade. She made me think, appreciated all her students, and didn't try to change any of us. She's my first reference on who I want to be.

10. I'm not a reality TV show fan. Actually, I really dislike it, mainly because it's not reality, it's scripted, cut, and by the time it gets on air, it doesn't remotely resemble what happened during the taping. With that precursor having annoyed others, I think I would enjoy being a judge on Chopped. I think I'd be campy about it, and be a caricature of the 'serious judge.'

11. My last meal on earth would be sushi. Eel sushi. A lot of it. With avacodo.

Here is my list of 11 bloggers: (in no order)
1. Michelle Lampien

2. Manan Shah

3. Suzy Brooks

4. Jim Cordery

5. Eric Sheninger

6. Alina Davis

7. Becki Kelly

8. Anthony Fitzpatrick

9. Scott Totten

10. Scott Taylor

11. Michael Parent

My Eleven Questions:
1. What are you currently reading right now?

2. What do you usually eat for breakfast and where do you eat it?

3. Describe one incident of road rage you were involved in.

4. One non-educational dream you have that is recurring.

5. From 1 - 5, one being least, five being most, how much of a fan of The Walking Dead are you?

6. What was one conversation you had that changed you?

7. What was one time you helped someone, but it will never be recognized?

8. Name one disturbing thing you saw in person.

9. Does your significant other tell you to order a different meal when going out to eat if you both want the same thing? (or is it just me?)

10. Favorite dive bar where it feels like everyone knows your name.

11. Something someone once said that blew your mind. (think inconceivable!)

Thanks for reading and asking me to do this Jill, it was a pleasure. To those I nominated, I enjoy interacting with you and reading your tweets and/or blogs. You inspire me daily to be better than I currently am. Keep fighting the good fight, and love like no one's ever felt.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Culberhouse Meme

David Culberhouse nominated me as one of 11 bloggers he reads and wanted to complete this meme. David is someone I look up to. He models through his thoughts and actions what service learning is. His openness to better understand himself through his blogging drives me to be more open, transparent, and vulnerable with my thinking. It is a honor that he reads and responds to my work, much less that he wants to know more about me. So, with humility and pride, I will now share 11 random facts about myself that readers of my blog probably don't know about me...
1. I was in the Guinness Book of World Records for a little over a year: I was born four full months premature. In 1973, no baby born at my term lived. I was in an incubator for a year, as my newly formed skull couldn't handle the air pressure in the outside world. At one point my weight dropped to 870 grams. After five months in the incubator, the nurses told my mom I could go either way. I lived. And, the doctor who delivered me called me on my birthday until I turned 21. I guess he thought I was too old then. Too bad, I would've bought him a beer legally.
2. I didn't come out alone: I was born a twin. My twin's name was Ryan. When the nurse told my mom that I could go either way, she meant me and my brother. I made it. He didn't. I wonder sometimes what it would have been like to have been a twin. Then, I realize life was tough enough with one of me. We were all probably better off.
3. I have a learning disability: I think this makes me more sensitive to those who learn and think differently, have a lot of personality, or have a challenging background. I like quirkiness and I find that endearing. I like people who are puzzles. They're the most fun to solve. No one is easy to figure out.
4. I collected comic books and baseball cards up through my senior year of high school. I was drawn into the world of the X-Men, Daredevil, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. I liked Wolverine before Wolverine was on a t-shirt and a key chain.
5. I coached basketball for four years, despite having never played it, even recreationally: someone I played on a summer softball team with asked me if I would coach her co-ed basketball team. I told her I didn't really know basketball. Her rationale was that since I was a captain of the softball team and people listened to me when I spoke, that I would make a good basketball coach. Needless to say we were awful that first year. 
6. The fourth year I took a team in the same league to the finals. 
7. I went 15 years between hits in a baseball game: I loved the sport growing up. I went to camps, played on teams, and played for three years of high school. A friend of mine played in an adult baseball league an asked me if I would play. We went to the cages, I hit a few balls, and he said if I could hit at that speed, I would be fine. I got my first hit during the third game. 
8. I don't want to  be famous, I just want to be better tomorrow than the day before. I can go through my whole life anonymously. As long as I have my wife, two kids, and a career that makes me feel like I make a difference, I'm all good.
9. The best job I ever had growing up was working in a gas station: I made $5 an hour, under the table. I worked all summer for the local Exxon in town. Pumped gas, talked to people, and felt rich. I mean, $5 an hour cash in 1992 was good money for an 18-19 year-old.
10. I voluntarily did 4 years of high school in 5: I graduated public high school and realized I wasn't ready to go away. I needed a year to understand HOW to be away from home: learn to have a roommate, eat at designated times, make classes on my schedule, do my own laundry, sleep in a foreign bed, and study. My guidance counselor recommended I go to prep school for a year, and it was the best decision I could have made.
11. In my basement is a "man cave." I have a fully stocked bar, mounted flat screen TV, three custom made poker tables, framed movie posters and signed athletic memorabilia on the walls. I host a monthly game, welcome to all who like to play and socialize. Anyone is welcome. If you're not nice, you're no longer welcome.
My second task were to answer the 11 questions David asked me:
1. What is your all-time favorite book? 
My favorite book is Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bizzinger. I have bought it five times because I lent it out four times. Never again.
2. What is a favorite quote that best represents you? 
I have two: "Never let anyone take away your excellence," by Jimmy Casas. The second one is: "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody," by Bill Cosby. I try to live by those two every day, especially when things get uncomfortable.
3. What accomplishment is the most meaningful to you? 
Most meaningful is each year when I start the year with a group of students who are not ready for fifth grade, and when they leave they are more than ready for sixth. I take pride in being part of creating an atmosphere that allows students to enjoy the learning process and push the envelope when learning. 
4. When its all said and done, what is the one thing you want to make sure you have tried or accomplished? 
I want to do a tough mudder. I don't know why. I don't like to run, nor do I like live wires hanging over water. But, the idea of being a warrior for a day, running, getting muddy, completing all these obstacles like a contestant in American Gladiators, that just sounds cool.
5. What was the best part of your school experience as a child? 
Having a teacher that understood me, cared about the students she taught, had high expectations, and made sure that each day was a little bit different. It made me want to come back each day. I guess she was the first PIRATE.
6. What was the worst part of your school experience as a child? 
Being bullied. I know the teachers saw it. And, no one did anything. I will never allow that to happen to any students. No one deserves that.
7. If you could play in any band, which band would it be…and what instrument would you play? 
I would play in the original Guns N' Roses, before all the changes. I would be the drummer. Definitely. I have to play Rocket Queen on the drums.
8. What is your favorite thing to do outside of your work? 
Spend time with my two boys (3 and 15 months) and my wife. I used to love to sleep, but that's over.
9. Who has or does inspire you to go beyond what you thought you could do or be? 
All the people I meet on Twitter, the friends I have made at EdCamps, NJASCD and ASCD, and my children. I want to leave a legacy for them: that the educational system is better for them because their dad was in it and made it his mission to leave it in a better place than when he came in.
10. What is your favorite childhood memory? 
Playing kickball, baseball, whiffle ball, football, and any other sport we could play in the street until it got too dark out. I miss those days and can't wait to do them with my own kids.
11. If you could live anywhere, where would that be and why? 
Wherever the weather is nice year-round, near a beach, somewhere where the pace is slow, the barbecue is good, and the bar is open late.
My third task is to generate a list of 11 questions for 11 other bloggers to answer:
1. What keeps you positive?
2. What did you think when you heard Twinkies were gone forever?
3. What makes someone easy to be around?
4. Favorite movie line?
5. Best food to eat on the grill?
6. If you could master one of the martial arts, which would it be and why?
7. Favorite Star Wars movie quote?
8. Have you ever hit someone on purpose?
9. What scared you most?
10. Favorite non-mainstream cartoon you liked as a kid?
11. Do you ever wish you could still ride a big wheel and why?
My last task is to nominate 11 bloggers that I want to see join the More Homework Meme: (in no order)
1. Glenn Robbins
2. Kevin Kelly
3. Tom Murray
4. Phil Huggins
5. Rich Kiker
6. Jimmy Casas
7. Andre Meadows
8. Walter McKenzie
9. Kevin Scott
10. Rebecca McLelland - Crawley
11. Ross LeBrun
11. +1 Cory Radisch
Here's how it works:
1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4. List 11 bloggers after you write this.  
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated.  Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
Go on, you have homework to do.
All the best.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Moment on the Couch

I remember the moment clearly when my mindset changed. I was sitting on the couch with my three-year-old two weeks ago. We were both happy. Him watching Toy Story 2. Me sitting next to him. He reached out and grabbed my hand. For the next 3 minutes he held it. We didn't say a word. We didn't need to. We just shared a blanket, enjoyed each other's company, and what was on TV.

As an often nervous parent, I am prone to overanalyzing situations involving my children. (I hear others are prone to this). I run through a litany of questions, chief among them: are my boys happy? Are they safe? Am I doing the right thing as a parent? These, and a multitude of other questions often blind me to what's in front of me -- two healthy, happy little boys, eager to experiment with the world and all the things within it. It is my neurosis that gets in their way.

As Jake held my hand and we watched the movie, the whispers I often hear did not creep into my consciousness. I didn't think: is he watching too much TV? Am I just being a lazy parent? Instead my thoughts kept drifting back to one feeling, that I was truly content. I didn't want to be anywhere else.  And, neither did my son. It was a simple moment, and it was beautiful. I wondered, how can I hold on to this? Recreate it for others?

All people should have the feeling I did, especially when it relates to being in school. Too often I hear of friends who have had less than positive experiences as former students. That saddens me. Everyone should have an opportunity to learn in a positive environment, to enjoy the learning process, and feel comfortable and content within it. To think to themselves, as I did when watching TV, that this is a perfect moment and I don't want to be anywhere else. 

So, now I ask myself each day: how can I capture this moment and keep it with me wherever I go? How can I use this as the driving force within my teaching, so no matter how challenging it gets professionally, I can always come from this place of contentment, of love? And, how can I share this with my students, their families, and my peers so they identify their own moments, their own love, and utilize their own 'moments on the couch' to drive them forward? Because if I don't, I've wasted the moment Jake and I shared on the couch. That would be sad, too.

A friend of mine who is not an educator told me recently that he felt badly for me. He cited the usual challenges I hear (students, parents, expectations, government, etc). My reply was quick, "I've never been more positive about my field and my role in it." I think he thought I was full of it. And he'd be right, I was full of it: full of joy and happiness, all because of one moment on the couch.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Education Selfies

A friend of mine's daughter took a picture of herself using his phone. She is 18 months old. He should be glad she didn't do something else with it. He captioned it, "Caden's first selfie." We call these pictures "selfies" because it's a picture taken of yourself, by ... yourself. I thought his daughter looked adorable with her big smile. I am not a fan of my own selfies because I think they bring out my worst qualities (too many to list).

As I thought about education today, I reflected on how selfies apply to education. We all know "education selfies." Education selfies have personal agendas. They may promote good learning and teaching strategies, and even have great ideas and concepts. But, the strategies and concepts they offer come at a price. The cost may be as little as an "atta boy," or personal recognition by a respected peer in their school district. Or it may cost more, like a solve-all education program they're peddling. In the end, education selfies are not team players. They may be on a team, but they're rooting for themselves to succeed. If their students do well, it's an opportunity for them to leverage this for their own benefit.

I also thought about those I know who are "education selfless." They share whatever resources they have and don't ask for anything in return. They don't keep score. Selfless educators give their time to those who need it: students who need help but can only come before school or during lunch, novice teachers in crisis mode, and parents who need reassurance. They're too focused on changing the world one student at a time to worry about putting themselves out there for personal gain. If they can make a student feel better about coming to school each day, support a peer, or help a parent reflect on their child's growth, then they've done their job.

Selfless educators put themselves out there in an opposite way. They share success stories, learn from the failures, and laugh at their follies. They are purposeful and model that. Their refrain is simple: "I want to help students and their families. I became an educator to make a difference and be a positive change agent." As Matt Hall, my school's science and technology supervisor says, "It's never about me. It's all about moving the rock. I just want to move the rock."

Matt is one of many educators I've met and learned from. My friend and New Jersey ASCD North Region Codirector Bill Krakower is another. When I think of who I want to be, who I strive to emulate, and who helps me "move the rock," Bill and Matt are just two of the people I think of. Everyone works with a Bill or Matt, too, just as we work with an education selfie. The best thing we can do is appreciate educators like Matt and Bill who will only take a selfie of their family, entire class, students' parents, peers, and more are in the picture. Because it's not about the selfie. It's about the selfless.

The Technological 5K

The first time I ran a 5K race was two years ago. It was on my bucket list, but that’s not why I did it. I did it for the pizza.

Every summer my in-laws’ hometown sponsors a 5K. Anyone who runs, walks, or limps over the finish line gets as much free pizza as they can eat. As if I needed any more motivation.
Now, I’m not a total neophyte to jogging; I run every summer. Then school kicks in, and I really don’t run until the next summer comes. Over the course of each summer, I build up my stamina and lose some weight. But taking the plunge to run a 5K race? That was stepping up competition. I run more like a tortoise than a hare. What if I finished last? Someone has to.

My fears about running in an official race, as opposed to just jogging to work out, are very similar to the fears teachers have with technology. It’s one thing to try something in the comfort of your own classroom or office; it’s another to do this where others can see you. What if everyone finds out you’re not familiar with the technology you’re expected to use? The questions mount. The fears multiply. That’s why it’s easier to run on a treadmill or on a track when you’re alone. No one knows when you started or how far you’ve gone.

In order to ease some of my fears about running the “pizza race,” I enlisted a coach. My sister-in-law had run a marathon, so she talked to me about the mental process of 5K training. I also went to a nearby running store, where the salesperson chose a few sneakers for me and watched my stride as I ran on the store treadmill (yes, they had one, and it was cool). I even found a dog-walking club and walked long distances with them and our dogs to build up my endurance.

In the end, I ran the entire five kilometers. I didn’t come in last. I felt good about myself. And I crossed something off my bucket list. I didn’t become a runner overnight; it took time. I still struggle with getting outside or on the treadmill to run. I set small goals for myself, celebrate those wins, share them with anyone who will listen, and set new ones.
Your mentality towards technology can be the same thing as training for a 5K:
  • Set a technological goal that is manageable, clear, and makes sense for your current role.
  • Accept that it may not work perfectly all the time, just as there are days I can’t fit in a run.
  • Learn from it, as you teach your students to do when they fail. And grow from it, as we are all lifelong learners.
  • Be creative about how you choose to learn about technology. Try to make it something that you can enjoy.
  • Find a coach or a team that you’re comfortable with openly discussing your knowledge of technology (or lack thereof).
Teachers and administrators, at their core, are helpful people. Nothing makes us feel better about ourselves than when we leverage the learning of our students, scaffold their knowledge, and move them through their zone of proximal development. You can be that teacher. Or that student. You’re never too old to learn new technology.
The current oldest 5K runner, Fauja Singh, is 101 years old. He completed a recent 5K in 40 minutes. He wasn’t the last to finish, either.

Are You a Technophile or a Technophobe?

One of my favorite TV shows of all time is the American version of The Office (before it jumped the shark). I find it clever, funny, and endearing. The show follows the fictitious characters of a Scranton, Pennsylvania, paper company. Many of these characters are interesting and entertaining because I can relate to them. A few episodes in season four focused on technology. The Office staff was a combination of older and younger members, but the prevailing thread within them was their lack of technological proficiency. As an educator who is still learning his way around technology, I can relate to that.

As an example of The Office staff’s lack of technological know-how, Michael Scott, the branch manager, would post a stick-on note on his BlackBerry smartphone screen and then ask his secretary to hand it to the person that the message was for. In one memorable episode, Michael was supposed to give a presentation to his staff on PowerPoint use. Ryan Howard, his corporate boss, was in the audience. Michael, who didn’t prepare, fumbled around the home screen and was prompted to register and update PowerPoint. At that point, Ryan became angry:

Ryan: Is this the first time you ever opened PowerPoint?
Michael: Why?
Ryan: You didn’t prepare a presentation at all, did you?
Michael: OK. Honestly, it was unlikely I was going to figure this out anyways.

I think Michael’s response rings true for a lot of educators. Michael dismisses the idea that he can figure out PowerPoint and doesn’t solicit help to try and better understand the program. Instead, Michael is overwhelmed because technology seems hard, the terminology is foreign, and his boss, who asked him to showcase technology, is already proficient. Technophiles, like Ryan Howard, have prior knowledge which allows them to continue to construct, make meaning, and further their technological understanding. Technophobes, like Michael Scott, have prior fear and slim prior knowledge (if any) that impedes their ability to learn, thereby turning them off to the learning process.

The fact that technology hardware today is ever-changing does not help a technophobe. Computers are now the size of a marble composition book or a two-pocket folder. You can write on it with a computer pen (called a stylus) and save what you wrote. You can see and talk with someone halfway around the world, stream movies, and draw on the person’s face you’re talking to and on the movie you’re streaming (and your computer will save both). I can see how an educator would be intimidated when someone takes out a wafer-thin flat screen monitor, connects it to a wafer-thin keyboard, and when he’s done using his computer, takes it apart and puts it in his wafer-thin tote bag. This is LEGO blocks on steroids.

So, how do we assist people like Michael Scott without making them feel uncomfortable, as Ryan Howard did? I would suggest we focus on their soft skills: perseverance, grit, determination, and an understanding that failure is just a first attempt in learning. These are the skills we expect our students to embody, and we create classroom climates where this belief system can occur. Technophobes need to remind themselves that they already have the soft skills necessary to comprehend technology. It is just a new language. And, it takes years to master a language. Technophiles, on the other hand, need to demonstrate the skills necessary to be successful as members of a group: patience, collaboration, active listening, and understanding. To truly differentiate and meet the technological needs of all our educational lead learners, we will need to meet somewhere in the middle and go slow in order to get there. Otherwise, we’ll have too many more exchanges like the one Michael Scott and Ryan Howard had. And that didn’t end well.

Confessions of An Unconfident Mind

I joined my ASCD state level executive board this past April. I hadn't planned on it. When I made the decision to pursue administrative openings, I thought I needed to take outside professional development. Make sure my mindset was globally relevant. Make certain my educational philosophy meshed with the current research on best practice. Maybe talk to educators outside my district, gain a different perspective, perhaps make a friend or two.

What I found from the two April professional development workshops I went to were people like me: looking to learn, passionate about education, and freely sharing their knowledge. There was no competition to get ahead, no elitism, just a common thread: let's learn together, share our thoughts, and then turnkey it back from whence we came. I needed more of this.

I reached out to the Executive Director of our state affiliate and was invited to attend the next executive board meeting. ASCD L2L was highlighted as an important way for us to continue to learn from other ASCD members, as well as share what we're doing (plus, they pay for your room and feed you a lot). I asked to attend, and my invitation was accepted. I didn't know what I was getting into.

Ben Shuldiner and Amy Brennan interacting with the audience.

I entered the hotel thinking, 'oh they have a 24 hour gym', and left two days later with my brain doing mental gymnastics and my workout clothes untouched. In between it seemed each person I met was highly credentialed, doing great work in education, and humble while discussing it (they were also likable, darn it). I thought to myself, 'big fish, big pond. Am I out of my element?' I met +Benjamin Shuldiner, the youngest principal ever in New York State, who dodged bullets in Crown Heights to visit each student's home, and created such buy-in during his 9 years there that his graduation rate (23%) and gang involvement (98%) flipped. I laughed with @BernsteinUSC about all ASCDL2L's sleeping in nearby 'unrooms' on whatever floor you happened to be in for the spirit of the unconference. I later found out Eric had a doctorate from Penn AND a law degree from UCONN, was a former principal, and a current faculty member at USC. Even my mentor and self-appointed guide, +Matthew Mingle, while reserved, was quietly driven: finishing his doctorate, about to move into a director of curriculum position, and highlighted by ASCD Executive Director, Gene R. Carter, in his keynote speech to all ASCD L2L attendees. I thought, 'why am I here?'

At two points in the conference I was able to answer that question. During our unconference brainstorming session, +Walter McKenzie, asked the attendees what were some essential questions to explore based on our morning learning session and our focus on whole child advocacy. After listening to others and channeling my anxiety, I shared my passion within education - soft skills. I asked Walter if we could consider that if the Common Core State Standards were the pinnacle, with the goal of preparing students to be successful in life as well as college and career ready, shouldn't we focus on the 1st level of that: being able to work as a member of a team, possessing a collaborative mindset, perseverance, grit, ability to learn from failure, etc.? I didn't see much reaction from my peers in the room when I shared this comment, so when Walter asked us to break into groups based on our essential questions, I didn't even go to my question group. I envisioned myself standing in an empty spot, me, next to my question posted on chart paper, just hanging out with each other. So, I hooked on with +Fred Ende and Jill Thompson, who had an interesting idea about reflecting on hiring practices for the future.

What a learning experience it was working with Fred AND not believing in my essential question. I engaged with the other members of the group on Fred's topic. We brainstormed together, and I found my voice. There were times when my thoughts were echoed, validated, or extended by others. Other times, disagreed with and explained why. I finally felt in my comfort zone, sitting around a round table, sharing out ideas with other passionate educators. Yeah, my resume wasn't as pretty, but that didn't matter to my peers at the table. They looked at me when they spoke, addressed what I said, and could care less about what stock I came from. They only cared if I had something to say, and probably were fine with me even if I didn't. So, why should it matter to me?

Meanwhile, my essential question group formed. They were the largest group of educators. They later presented an impassioned speech about what attendees would learn if we stopped by their unconference. I first thought to myself, 'Wow, that would have been a cool group to join, too!' I then thought, 'I guess I can trust my instincts as a future leader like I can as a current classroom teacher.'

What an empowering moment this was for me. My voice was heard and accepted. My essential question was validated by another group of ASCD educators I had never even met. And when we presented, my idea for us to share our brainstorm in a larger round table discussion when we had an iPad sound glitch was embraced and enacted beautifully by Ben and @amyrbrennan. When the presentations were over, all attendees clapped for one another. I clapped, too. Not just for what everyone had accomplished, but for my new friends, and the opportunities they gave me to feel a part of something bigger.

When we were asked to reflect on what we learned from the ASCDL2L Conference, I will remember one thing most of all: as I posed for a picture with the group of educators I had previously been in awe of and uncomfortable with, I realized I had reached a new level of learning: acceptance of self and others, willingness to show vulnerability, and a deeper ability to work as a collaborative member of a group. I had increased MY soft skills. And, I had made a group of friends I was determined to stay in touch with -- until the next L2L, when I could see them again.


Why I Teach, Why I Lead.

Why I Teach, Why I Lead: The Repeating Line #SAVMP


I teach because I know I make a difference.

I teach because I feel good about what I do each day.

I teach because I feel what I do is honorable, and that is more important than money.

I teach because I carry fond memories of all the students and parents I've helped. That's rewarding.

I teach because I know I make a difference.

I teach because I know I make a difference.

I teach because I get to still be a kid: I make my lunch each day for the next day, lay out the clothes I am going to wear, and go to school. This makes sense to me.

I teach because I went to the real world, had a job there, and they weren't nice. Obviously, they weren't taught well. I needed to go back and fix their future selves.

I teach because I form an easy, quick, trusting rapport with children and their parents. They know where I am coming from, with no agenda, and what's best for kids.

I teach because I know I make a difference.

I teach because I know I make a difference.

I teach because it is important to me to help each student feel good about themselves by finding something positive about them and drawing attention to that, so they know their positives, too.

I teach because I want to help others, no matter their age. I actively listen and reinforce to teachers that what they're going through is normal, and I've been there.

I teach because I have the opportunity to affect change in the way my peers teach each time I listen and offer advice.

I teach because I know I make a difference.


I teach because I know I make a difference.

I teach because I challenge myself as a thinker each time I write curriculum collaboratively with peers.

I teach because I enjoy passing on my knowledge to my peers when leading staff development.

I teach because there is a chance I can form lifetime relationships with each person (no matter their age) that I come into contact with.

I teach because I know I make a difference.

I want to lead so I can leverage what I've learned and pass it on to others.

I want to lead so I can consistently ask the thoughtful questions embedded in the Willy Wonka movie, like @davidculberhouse did

I want to lead so I can teach people practical ways to lead, like @toddwhitaker does in his writings.

I want to lead so I can retain the passion @tomwhitby has by tweeting about it during an Edcamp.

I want to lead so I can leverage what I've learned and pass it on to others.

I want to lead so I can leverage what I've learned and pass it on to others.

I want to lead so I can call someone I don't know and talk to them for an hour, like @jimmycasas did for me.

I want to lead so I can serve others and be vulnerable, as @mitchellsensei did at a conference this week.

I want to lead so I can help others grow when they don't know how, like @Rebeccakelly does

I want to lead so I can leverage what I've learned and pass it on to others.

I want to lead so one day, I can create the new School Admininisatrive Virtual Mentorship Program.

Learnings From a Two-Year-Old

My older son is two years-old. He will be three in November. We call him a "boy boy," which is code for him being very physical. He likes to run and wrestle. He likes to explore, try new things, and finds the world interesting. Sometimes, most times, it's an amazing quality. He learns colloquialisms quickly and utilizes them appropriately, has a keen sense of humor, and smiles a lot. He is a giggler, much like his dad. As much as I am trying to teach him, he teaches me, too. Today, he taught me an important lesson.

Often I make mistakes as a father. I give him too many directions, not enough directions, or set him up for failure with unrealistic expectations. Today I made a combination of all of those decisions when I took him with me for what I thought would be a quick haircut. It wasn't.

My son, Jake, was getting tired. I could see it when we drove up to the haircut place. His eyes had fluttered open and closed, and his head had begun to sag forward a bit in his car seat, clear indicators that he was close to napping. I should have heeded the warnings signs. Instead, I tried to maximize my time and jam in the haircut, too. Not one of my better ideas.

We walked in. I saw there was no wait. 'Score! We'll be in and out,' I thought. I'd been to this particular place before. They specialize in quick, affordable haircuts. The stylists save the haircut settings in the computer, so whoever cuts your hair the next time knows your preferences. I was called right away. I'm feeling good.

I held Jake's hand and he walked with me to my seat. The stylists idea to keep him occupied was to put a child chair ten feet from my seat and tell him to sit. She was young, she didn't know better. I'm not young, and I do. I know my two year-old doesn't sit in a seat unless a cartoon is on, he's eating french fries, or he's strapped in. I thought, 'he can do this,' even though there was no evidence supporting he could. He'd never sat in a seat for any length of time without a distraction. Why should he do it now? I hadn't brought in food for him, his favorite book, a toy, or the iPad. I had unrealistic expectations for him, and he behaved how he was supposed to -- like a normal two year-old. And, that became the problem.

As I got my haircut, Jake sat in his seat and looked around. He brought over a magazine and turned the pages. Within 30 seconds he was ready for something more stimulating. He surveyed the room and saw the hair care products. I cringed on the inside, as Jake approached them and proceeded to reorder some of them. Gels, sprays, other things I don't know what they're used for, they all were moved, touched, slapped together, and played with. He went to a hair dryer and tried to take it. He took some of the hair products and moved them to the other side of the room. He seemed pleased with himself. He'd taken the initiative to take a bunch of objects that looked shiny, colorful, with interesting shapes, and made something new with them. Don't I give him free reign to explore with similar looking objects in his playroom? As far as he was concerned, he'd follow the inherent rules established at home. If they were different, I needed to tell him that in advance, and guide him through as he made mistakes so he could learn from them.

Instead, I was tongue tied. I wasn't sure how much to say, or what not to say. I excused myself from the chair and caught Jake mid-run. I explained to him that we needed to respect the property and everything in it. I needed him to sit in the chair for 2 minutes and look at the magazines, perhaps play with my phone. Then, we would go, and I would get him home and to bed.

He settled down compared to how he was prior, but he was still over-stimulated. There was a lot to see, and he wanted to see it. His curiosity had been piqued, tempered, but still there. I apologized for Jake's decision making.

"This is my mistake," I stated. "I didn't bring any toys or food for him. I am sorry for this."

The hairstylist didn't respond. She continued to cut my hair and stare at it as she lopped parts off.

"I am sorry," I tried again. "I was not prepared for this, and should have explained to him what the expectations were."

Again, silence. No response.

'Ok,' I thought, 'she's just trying to get through this, just like me.' Had I been her I might have accepted the apology, tried to empathize, or just dismiss what was said with a quick, 'no big deal.' I've been around the block, worked with a lot of different types of personalities as an educator, and don't take things personally. I find it personal to them. The hair stylist, for whatever reason, was taking this highly personal.

When the haircut was finished, the hairstylist usually asks if I want any gel in my hair. Instead, she said, "you're done," and walked to the cash register. I paid her, tipped her, and tried one last time. "Thank you," I said, making eye contact. She looked at me and walked away. The two hair stylists behind her looked at me. I looked at them. They smiled sheepishly. They were embaressed for everyone. They didn't want to be in that spot right now.

"Does he want a lollipop?" one offered.

"I think a nap would be better," I replied.

Jake is home sleeping now, and I am reflecting. What did I learn from the 'Haircut Doomsday Experience,' and how can I relate it to my teaching and leading practice? First, keep in mind what's realistic and practical. If someone isn't in the right frame of mind to accept something new or different, like Jake was, I need to trust my instinctual read and choose another time to connect with them. Second, if I do make a decision and it's incorrect, recognize it, admit it, and change it. When I saw that Jake wasn't going to behave appropriately during my haircut because I hadn't made the prior preparations, I needed to excuse myself, take him home to his mom, and return to finish my haircut. Third, make it right. I should have asked to speak with her privately and made it clear I appreciated her efforts during 'Jake-gate', take ownership of my role in what occurred, and asked her what I could do to help her. She's not an educator or parent, and did the best she could with her skill set. Additionally, I needed to tell Jake I messed up and shouldn't have brought him there, instead of hustling him to the car as if we were leaving the scene of a crime. Last, I should let the owners of the haircut place know that their staff did the best they could, but perhaps having child-centered materials available (the chain bills itself as a family haircut place) and staff training on how to handle different types of children would be beneficial.

Or, I could just be mortified and never go there again. But, how would anyone grow from this experience if I do?

Taking the Parents Back to School

           For the past 12 Back to School Nights, I've presented in a very prescribed way. I introduce myself, my years in education, my in-district accomplishments, and my organizational affiliates. I focus on the textbooks we use, the subject matter we cover, and the goals of being a student in whichever grade I was teaching at the time.

            It was a dry, easy sell, and did not reflect the social curriculum I've tried to embed into everything we do as students and people in the classroom. I've always felt it was hard to explain to parents who were raised in an academically driven culture, who have attended big name schools of higher learning and have impressive job titles, that the research shows that a child needs to feel a sense of belonging, significance, and fun in order to do their best learning. That a handshake greeting from a peer and teacher each day may be the validating experience that drives their child to take a risk and apply a new strategy when approaching a multi-step math problem. That when we create the environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes (because that's how people learn), then true learning will occur. I always wondered if parents would think I was 'soft' for this philosophical belief.

            So my ultimate goal of creating lifelong learners beginning in the elementary grades, who were driven not by the letter grade, but by the learning itself, was kept under wraps. We held daily Morning Meetings, infused Energizers during transition times, and met as a class during Closing Circle. These opportunities for collaborative and cooperative learning eliminated a lot of the little cliques I used to see form among students. The faces or body language students would use when I grouped them with other students they didn't connect with were slim and none. Students treated each other respectfully, fairly, and in many cases, patiently. These approaches to learning drove our academics, and allowed us to learn at a more rapid rate. The consistent reflections we conducted at the end of each lesson (what did you learn from working with Jake? what did Sam say during your conversation on the Civil War?) enabled us to see one another as peers, not people who happened to be in the same class.

            Parents, during conference time, would say to me, "Fred really likes those Morning Meetings," or, "Hillary can't stop talking about that 'Just Like Me' energizer." I would nod my head, smile, and simply state we do 'team building exercises.'

            However, this past Back to School Night was different. Perhaps it was the fact that I lost my PowerPoint presentation two hours before I was supposed to present. Or, maybe I was ready to model what I've told my students to believe about risk taking: you will learn more from the mistakes you make and the failures you have, than any success you achieve. Fail means a first attempt in learning, and if we're really open to new ideas, willing to think creatively, and trust our ability, we need to try new things and embrace our instincts.

            So, at Back to School Night I took the risk and left myself vulnerable. I presented a bare bones PowerPoint that focused on the philosophy, theory, and research behind how our classroom was organized and run. We modeled social skills because they aren't inherent. That my mini-lessons were no more than 15 minutes, because it wasn't about me as a 'sage on a stage', but as 'guide on the side'. Students would learn more from each other than they would ever learn from me. After all, there was only one me, and 20+ of them. That research in the business world proves that more people lose their job, not because of a lack of knowledge, but an inability to work with others. So, it was incumbent upon me as the children's teacher, to create a comfortable environment where soft skills like collaboration, cooperation, problem solving, perseverance, failure, and grit were celebrated as successes. Mistakes were looked at as learning opportunities. And students took ownership for their work, even when the grade wasn't what they wanted.

            An amazing thing happened as I got halfway through my presentation: parents began to nod their heads in agreement. Some wrote down notes. Others stared at me without yawning. And at the end, I made it clear we were all in this together. That our classroom community extended outside the classroom to their homes. We were only as strong as each other, and we were all 'pulling on the same rope, in the same direction, for the same thing' -- what was best for their children.  And, if they didn't understand something I did, call or e-mail me. I wouldn't take offense to it. If anything, I would appreciate their sharing their concerns, and we could work together to figure out solutions when issues arose. I just asked for the benefit of the doubt, as I would give them, so we adults could also best model the behavior and soft skills we were working on in the classroom.

            I shared my last slide, thanked parents for coming, and then ended stopped talking. Some parents came up to me and said hello. Others had a couple academic questions, or a general "How's my son doing in class?"

            As one parent walked out though, she turned around and said to me, "You should really have some kind of regular meeting with parents. Talk about topics in education. I felt like I needed to learn so much more." I told her it was a good idea and I'd think about it. First, I needed to digest what I just did.

            And learn from it.

Learn. Teach. Lead. This Time with Passion.

  In order for me to lead effectively in my classroom, I needed to make sure I was teaching the right things. Otherwise, what were students learning? And, why were they learning it?
           Students need to be personally invested in their learning in order for them to be most successful. What’s taught needs to be relevant to them. The curriculum can be rigorous to the 10th power, but if it isn’t taught in a way that is engaging and fun, students will not produce work that is reflective, vulnerable, risky, and potentially full of mistakes.

            Mistakes help us to grow when we acknowledge them and are willing to identify what we did versus what we should do the next time. As I sat down to preplan my year as a fifth grade teacher, I needed to reflect on where I was as a learner: what was I doing well? What could I improve on? What was hard for me? And, what were my goals for the year?

            What I’ve mentioned are all things I ask of my students: take risks, invest in yourself, advocate, and be open to new ideas because, good learning is messy before it looks good. As I tell my students, if you have truly waded through the mess to construct new meaning and have learned the material, you can teach it to someone else. This is the highest level of learning, and this is how we create leaders. As a leader in my classroom, I need to embody and model these soft skills I ask of my students. Otherwise, I am a hollow leader. And, I felt hollow as I preplanned my year.

            When I meet with each one of my students at six week intervals to discuss how they are doing in meeting their hope and goal for the school year, I ask them to answer the questions I posted above so we can have an authentic, meaningful conversation. We get to know each other and ourselves better, thereby deepening our trust in one another. When a student is struggling, we work through it, so both of us have a deepening understanding of why they feel the way they do. Once identified, we can figure out a potential solution to the problem. The challenge is in the identifying. I needed to do the same thing I asked of my students: reflect, ask questions, and identify the genesis for my hollowness As I thought through each question, the same refrain kept repeating: ‘I do the same things every year, but why do I do them?’ I needed to become relevant again, things needed to make sense, and I needed to have fun in order to meet the needs of my learners, and myself.

            During the school year, peers will stop in my room for something and comment on student behavior, or on our practice. We hear a lot of “you’re very nice to each other,” “there’s a good vibe in here,” and “you all seem to be really having fun.” All these things are true in the moment. But, have I grown during this time, too? Or, am I just regurgitating the same lesson plans each year? Yes, we do Morning Meeting, Energizers, and Closing Circle. We incorporate cooperative learning and team-building skills into all learning experiences. But, I realized that I was leaning too much on prior lesson plans and prior knowledge. As a teacher, I know that prior knowledge should springboard to deeper understanding, not serve as a final resting spot for learning. When that happens, I am not growing. If I am not maxing out my potential each day, I am definitely not doing that for my students. I needed to model the expectations I had for my students. Otherwise, I was doing them, and myself, a disservice. And, education should never be that.

            I went back to the theorists and books on my shelf. I pulled out Jensen’s Brain Based Learning, Denton and Kriete’s First Six Weeks of School, and Kriete’s Morning Meeting Book. I reread pieces of each, took notes, reworked ideas in my head, wrote lesson plans from scratch, and fought with my computer. Half-written pieces on pieces of paper, manila file folders, and books surrounded me. As my wife reminded me of the mess I was making it all made sense: I needed to set the purpose for my learning, teaching, and leading through a hope and goal I shared with others. And, I could do that at Back to School Night. How more accountable could I be then? Every parent of every child I was teaching this year would be there. They would hold me accountable for my hope and goal. I needed to think through my message to them. What did I want to say? What was most important? What did they need to know? How could I weave that into a hope and goal that they could see directly impacted my teaching and would positively influence their child on a day to day basis.

            I decided my hope and goal would focus on three key ideals: learn, teach, and lead. I needed to learn each student’s needs, connect it back to what the research shared as best practice, weave these best practices into my teaching, and create a group of young future leaders. I would be modeling the highest level of understanding through my leadership. With my hope and goal cemented, and my lesson plans formulated, I began to learn, teach, and lead again. With passion. When I lost my PowerPoint slideshow the day of Back to School Night, I dug up an old one for window dressing. I spoke without the notes I prepared. I focused on the key aspects of our classroom organization: social – emotional growth, learning risk – taking in our learning, questioning to stimulate deeper understanding, and enjoyment of the learning process. With that would come the academic stamina and perseverance parents could point to as growth occurring.

            The rest is yet to be written. Back to School Night went well. I shared the connection between the social curriculum and its impact on the academic curriculum. My passion and vulnerability was visible in my hope and goal for our fifth grade students. And, I learned something. Now, I’ll go teach and lead.

It's All About the Charging Station

This past weekend, I attended an education conference with some of the preeminent minds in the field. The focus was on educational technology: its importance, how to integrate it relevantly, and how to market it to staff members who might be resistant. Presenters came from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and even Arkansas. (Sorry, had to). Well known connected educators dotted the audience, among them Tom Whitby, the “Godfather” of Twitter #edu chats. There were a lot of brilliant minds talking about moving education forward in an engaging manner for students. What was I focused on? The charging stations, of course.

The location for the conference was at New Milford High School, in New Jersey. It’s an older building, but the infrastructure for wireless connectivity was unbelievable. There were over 400 registrants at the conference using wireless devices (many more than one), and there was no online lag time. Additionally, Eric Shenninger, the Principal of New Milford High School, mentioned at the end of the keynote address that there were charging stations for wireless devices located all throughout the building.

What a brilliant idea, I thought. Imagine the hidden message to all who enter this building each day: you will use technology daily. We understand that in order for you to be successful in the future, you will need to be intuitive with technology today. Think of the secondary expectation embedded in the charging stations: we trust you. We trust that you will use technology for its intended use. You can charge your device whenever you’re low on batter power, and it will be here when you return.

A common theme among the presenters at the conference was that technology is a tool grounded in the human element. It is a way to bring people together, to form connections, extend knowledge in a different modality, and another way to synergize good teaching with good tools. Technology isn’t meant to replace educators, it is meant to enhance them. As the lead learner, teachers still plan, organize, present, and guide. Technology is there to support the infrastructure educators put in place in their classrooms.

The infrastructure of charging stations and strong wireless broadband connectivity embeds the message of trust we try to build with our students. In order for learning to occur at its optimal level, humans must feel comfortable in their environment. They must feel secure in it, supported by it, and able to grow within it. Making clear to students that they’re in an environment where they’ll be prepared for a technologically driven future, in an environment where the infrastructure can handle it makes it clear that we care about them. The secondary embedded message that your technology is safe in here, you can leave it, and it will be here when you return, speaks to the climate and culture created by the administrative team at New Milford High School.

As people moved from presentation to presentation, I kept looking at all the charging stations. I heard high school students giving directions, connecting with conference attendees, and answering questions. A couple students were presented with a question they were unsure how to answer. “We’ll ask Eric,” they said. They asked him the question, got the answer, and moved on – using his first name when talking to him. This happened repeatedly during the day, conversations between Eric and his students, all on a first name basis.

Another embedded message of trust on display: we will provide you with all the technological opportunities we can to make you successful, but we know that your success still depends on the communication and connections we model and form during our conversations with you. We will do that by respecting each other and calling one another by our first name, as we are one unified community learning and growing together.

What a message.