Perception is Reality

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”Open-minded school with a very advanced teaching method”

“The diversity and acceptance.  Every child is important at Gator Run.”

“I love how innovative the school is.  Children are allowed to explore and investigate to find out new information.”

“I like the school culture…The high standards and the emphasis of learning in creative ways.”

“My child is not a number at school, everyone knows him and looks after him.”

     Four years ago when I started as Principal of Gator Run Elementary, I made a few promises to my new family.  I told everyone that we would be considered the leader in innovation in our school district.  I stated that we would continue with the high standards previously established at the school while also instituting creative ways to reach our students.  I promised that each child would feel like they are the most important child.  I said that our school would be one filled with love, both of learning and for each member of our school family.

The statements listed at the top of this post come from our most recent customer satisfaction survey.  These comments and so many more like them tell me that we are on the right track to making my vision come true.  That the word is out that our school is a destination for learning and love.  That we are building a culture of constant learning and improving.

But we aren’t there yet.  Nor we will ever have fully arrived.  I am never going to be a leader who feels like we have done all we can do and there isn’t anything left to give.  In addition to the positives, there were many parent comments that also told stories of dissatisfaction with some of our procedures and policies.  I appreciate feedback that can help us continue to grow and evolve.  There was one area though that stuck out to me from the survey comments.  That area is related to my belief about school culture.

I recently posted this message on Twitter: “No matter how great you think your school culture is, know that student and parent experience will depend on the quality of individual teachers.”  One of the comments from our parents hit this truth home for me: “I feel the experience is very different depending on the teacher. I have two children at the school and the experience this year is quite inconsistent. One teacher offers a great learning environment, little but relevant homework and open communication with parents. The other teacher, complete opposite. A lot of homework that we cannot see how value is added, communication with parents. The other teacher, complete opposite: a lot of homework that we cannot see how value is added, communication with parents could be improved as well.”  Students and parents, our customers, can have totally different views about our school.  A school held in high regard.  A school that many parents offered amazing, poignant comments about.

So I shared these comments with my staff and I highlighted the particular one detailing the differing experiences.  I wanted to thank those that have helped us achieve what we have so far; those who are the reason we have received so much praise.  I want nothing more than for every student in my school to have the experience of the students in my best teachers’ classrooms.  I will never stop until this is the reality.  It drives me.

I also shared these comments because I needed to challenge those who are providing an alternate experience.  Continuous self-reflection is vital for all educators.  So let’s reflect this summer.  How can we create the scenario where every child is with a teacher who is passionate about education and relentless in doing whatever is possible to reach our students?  Then when we return for the next school year, let’s learn and share from each other.  Find colleagues who excel with communication.  Seek out those who build trust and collaboration in their classrooms.  You have your challenge – what if we could ensure that every student has an amazing experience each and every year?  It’s never too late to change how you will be remembered.

“The fact that the teachers are in constant communication with us, the parents, such openness allows me as a parent to be more proactive in my child’s education.”

“I love that our school believes in the ‘whole child’ approach to teaching, where kids are not only valued for their grades but for who they are, their skills and their interests while recognizing and helping children.”

“Warm and personal feeling I get when I enter the school. My kid matters.”

 

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Thank You – A Message to My Students

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“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – A.A. Milne

The following was my message to my outgoing 5th grade students at our promotion ceremonies this week:

The longer you know someone the harder it is to say goodbye.  But I know that this isn’t goodbye, this is ‘see you soon’ because I know you will visit through the years.  I hope that we have you prepared for the next steps in your life.  I know that some people want us to make sure that you are prepared for middle school but that’s not our goal.  That is shortsighted.  We are preparing you for life.  Our goal is to help you become lifelong learners.  In this world in which we live in, learning doesn’t only take place within the walls of a school.  Learning can happen at any time or any place that you choose.  Don’t stop learning.  I hope that you discover your passion.  To find something that you want to do every day because it makes you happy.   Find something that is uniquely you that you can’t wait to share with the world.  There are too many people in the world who are unhappy in their lives because they aren’t doing what they are supposed to do with their lives.  I hope that when you think back about your time here, you remember that Gator Run was more than a school.  That we are family.

You are about to have more independence.  You will have your own schedule and get to walk to classes without a teacher to bring you along.  And independence is an amazing gift.  Don’t take it lightly.  I know that you have good values, both from your families and from those of us here at Gator Run.  Because there are going to be times when you will have to make decisions about whether to follow the crowd, whether to follow your own friends, to do something that you know isn’t right.  My hope is that you will choose to do the right thing, the good thing.

Because at some point you will be in a situation where people near you or with you are mocking someone, ridiculing them because of the way they look, or for who they are, or for their beliefs.  And you are going to have to choose whether to join in, or whether to just stand there and not say anything, or whether you have the strength to stand up to those doing the mocking and tell them that what they are saying, what they are doing isn’t right.

There will be a time when people you know will lead you down a path to do something that is wrong, might even be illegal.  You will have to decide whether to join in because you don’t want to seem uncool.  But let me tell you, there is nothing cool about keeping yourself safe, keeping yourself out of doing something that you might regret.

Speaking about reputation, we need to talk about social media.  I need you to think before you post.  We utilize social media at school with the hope that we are modeling the right way to use it for you.  There will be a time when you might be tempted to say or to post something on social media that you know in your heart isn’t the right thing to post.  And you will have to make the decision not to do it.  Because you will know that it isn’t the right thing.  Because you don’t want to ruin your life or another person’s life.

 There will be a time when you will see someone who needs a friend, someone who is in crisis.  Be that friend.  There might even be a time when you are feeling like that person who needs a friend, who feels like there isn’t anyone who cares about you.  Please don’t ever let yourself feel that way.  Don’t hold in your sadness.  It is a part of life to be unhappy at times.  But know that it won’t last.  Find someone to talk to, whether it’s a parent, or a friend, or a teacher.  And if you can’t find someone to talk to, come back to see me and I will remind you of how awesome you are.

When I first started in education, I used to ask students what they wanted to be when they grew up.  But that was a mistake.  My heart was in the right place because I wanted my students to be forward thinking, but truthfully most of you have no idea what you want to be when you grow up.  And that’s OK.  Be a kid!  Enjoy this time of your life.  Appreciate each day.  The world will be pushing you to grow up soon enough.  Don’t let it happen.  You only have a short time to be a kid.

What I really want for each of you is that when someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, your answer will be “happy”.   Find something that makes you happy to do each day.  Decide for yourself what your happiness is.  Maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s singing, maybe it’s acting, creating, reading, coding, or any number of things.  But that is what I truly want for each of you.

Lastly, always know that you have a family here at Gator Run who believes in you.  We will be here cheering you on in whatever you choose to do.  My goal in education has always been to help make kids’ lives better.  But the real secret is that while we having been trying to make your lives’ better, the love and energy that you send back to us is immense.  But I want to thank each and every one of you for making my life better.  You have filled our school with love and joy.  You are amazing individuals and I love you all very much.

What I Would Have Said

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Recently I was nominated as one of the six finalists for Broward County Public Schools’ Principal of the Year.  It is a great honor just to be nominated and even though I didn’t win, the love and support from my family and school community was so strong that I left feeling like a winner.  My main motivation leading up to the ceremony was to make the following speech from the stage.  I really wanted the chance to thank my parents from the stage (how often do we get to do something as cool as that in education?).  I also wanted to make a statement about the importance of innovation in education and how standardized testing is limiting the likelihood that innovating ideas can spread throughout all schools.  

Thank you…

This is truly an honor. It was an honor just to be nominated along with my five distinguished colleagues. This is listed as an individual award but anyone in my position knows that one person cannot do it alone. You have to have support from all those around you. I am blessed to be a part of the awesome Gator Run community with teachers and staff who go above and beyond each and every day for our kids. With kids who bring their energy and excitement and who are literally banging on the doors to get into school like Black Friday at Macy’s. With the most appreciative and supportive parents and community who want what’s best for kids and who will fight to make even the craziest ideas from me happen.

I am also blessed with an amazing family. My wife, Susie, and our kids, Taylor, Maddox and Jagger. My in-laws, Norma and Jay. And my parents who are the direct reason I am here tonight. My dad, Jeff, who taught me the value of hard work and the importance of “Family First”. My mom, Bonnie, who saw a directionless 20-something and asked the question that forever changed my life – “Keith, you are so good with kids, why don’t you become a teacher?”. I owe you both so much.

Wayne Gretzky was considered the best hockey player of all time – his nickname is “The Great One”. But Gretzky wasn’t the fastest player, or the strongest, and he didn’t have the best shot. But what he did have was an ability to see the ice better than anyone else; he could see plays happen before they did. Wayne has a quote that I think we can relate to education: “To be a good player, go to where the puck is; to be a great player, go to where the puck is going to be.” We can apply that to our classrooms and schools. Sure we can be good teachers and schools and keep doing what we’ve always done. Or we can choose to be great and seek out better ways to reach our kids. You see, the world is changing so rapidly but sometimes education cannot keep up. We need to innovate in our schools. Our kids deserve new ideas and strategies.  There are many new ideas that teachers and schools are implementing right now to incorporate what I feel are the two most important elements we need in our classroom today – student voice and choice.

In order to make innovation in schools happen, we need more self-reflection and collaboration. I urge you to reflect on your current practices and seek out those who are trying new ideas. Because if school is just about giving out packets of worksheets or going page by page in our math books or giving hours of homework, then we aren’t doing anywhere near enough for our kids.

Unfortunately the biggest barrier to innovation in schools is standardized testing. Those of us within education know this and we hope that those outside will recognize it too and help us make a change. Schools should be about passion and creativity but we are sometimes limited because of the fear of standardized testing results. Too much emphasis is placed on these results that can put a ceiling on our potential as schools, teachers and students. Let’s keep speaking out and not become defined by results. Because our schools are more than a letter grade! Our teachers are more than an evaluation score!  Our kids, my kids, are more than a test score!

Peter Drucker was considered a guru in the business world. He would often ask “the Naïve Question” to businesses. The Naïve Question is “If you were going to start over again, would you do it this way?” I ask that we apply this question to our schools. If we were going to start ‘school’ over again, would we do it this way? Or are there better ways? My guiding mission statement is to “make kids’ lives better”. Let’s go back to our schools, reflect on our current practices, collaborate with each other and share our best practices.

I promise to use this honor to speak out and collaborate with all who will listen (and some who won’t) to help make education better for our students and for those of you who want nothing more than to simply try to make kids lives’ better.

 

 

#Whatifwecould Live Like Jose?

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Last weekend our area lost a local hero as Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez passed away in a tragic boating accident. I don’t normally get caught up in the death of a ‘celebrity’ but Jose’s passing really hit me hard. I think it’s because of his story and the battle that he fought to leave Cuba and defect to America. Jose attempted to leave four times before he was successful and went on to become an unbelievably bright star both for the Marlins and for baseball overall. From all accounts even before his death, Jose lived his life in a joyous manner, with his manager, Don Mattingly, saying this “Thinking of Jose it’s gonna be thinking of that little kid. I see such a little boy in him … with the way he played. That’s the joy that Jose played with. The passion he felt about playing, that’s what I think about.”Often after a tragedy we are left to wonder about how this could happen to someone so young (24 years old) and what the rest of us could possibly learn from it. You see, Jose was more than a baseball player. To so many in the Hispanic community, specifically the Cuban community, he was a hero, an idol, someone who dreamed a dream, chased it and grabbed it full force.

So this week I ask #whatifwecould live each day filled with joy and passion?

I hope that we all can live life as joyously as Jose did. Feel the passion about what we do here at schools and in our own lives just as he did about baseball. Recall the energy and exuberance that we had as kids. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.

#whatifwecould

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I cannot state how excited I am for the start of this school year.  There is something magical in the air at Gator Run Elementary that is telling me that this will be the best school year ever.  I rolled out my opening day Faculty Focus to my teachers on Monday morning.  The energy that I receive from my staff on a regular basis is invigorating and this week that has multiplied.

My theme for this year and beyond is “What if We Could?”.  In the past I have always asked “what if” questions to my staff to cause outside and inside the box thinking.  I am always questioning past practices in education not just because I like to be a rebel (well, maybe a little), but because we should always question if what we are doing can be done in a better way.  I liked asking “what if” questions but never really felt like all the changes that we need were being put into practice.

So this year I changed my message to “What if We Could?” because to me the addition of “We Could..” puts the emphasis on action.  That we can make happen what we dream, what we wish, and what we hope.  And that’s what we need to do in education.  It’s time to stop wishing for change and to start making it happen right now.  We don’t need to wait for anyone outside of our profession, outside of our schools, to make necessary changes.  We need to be the ones to make the change.  When you have ideas on how to innovate to help make kids’ lives better, than ask yourself and your colleagues, “What if We Could?”.  Because you have the power to do so.  We have this power.  “What if We Could?” – We can!  We must!  We will!

So where do we start?  How about with Day 1?

  • What if we could…build amazing relationships with our students?
    • Know their names (and how to pronounce them!).  Please read this amazing post by Jennifer Gonzalez, @cultofpedagogy – Gift of Pronunciation
    • Present your best lesson on Day 1; worry about rules and procedures later.  Make students want to come back for more!
    • Make every child feel like your favorite.
    • We have to change the world moment by moment – take advantage of this power and change each child’s life for the better.
  • What if we could…build amazing relationships with each other and learn from one another?
    • Be kind to one another each and every day.  Love your colleagues!
    • Visit each other’s classrooms – the Pineapple Chart hack from the book, Hacking Education, is an amazing idea that should be implemented in all schools.  Visit each others’ classrooms and open your own for your colleagues.  We are not teaching in isolation anymore.  I recommend having your school team read Hacking Education by the aforementioned Jennifer Gonzalez and Mark Barnes, @markbarnes19.
  • What if we could…continue to share the awesome with our families and the world?
    • If we don’t share the amazing things happening in our schools, there is a chance that no one will.
    • What if…each teacher Tweeted one thing from their classroom every day using a school hashtag and spent 5 minutes reading other posts?  Thanks to George Couros, @gcouros, for this one.
  • What if we could…start with the standards, focus on learning, and not get caught up on ‘cute’?
    • Love this quote from the Kids Deserve It book –“We can’t get caught up in how much fun something looks if learning doesn’t also take place.”  Thanks to Todd Nesloney, @techninjatodd, and Adam Welcome, @awelcome, for an inspiring read!
    • We need to move away from copying from the board and filling in the blanks. If the end result of your activity is that all students have the exact same product, you taught a recipe, not a lesson. If you want cute, have the students create the cute rather than purchasing it for them.
  • What if we could…ensure that each of our students is excited to come to school every day?
    • Our goal must be to move from consumption to creation, with and without technology. A digital worksheet is still just a worksheet.
  • What if we could…provide our students the opportunity to discover their passions?
    • Genius Hour and Makerspaces must be in all schools so that we can offer voice and choice to our students.
  • What if we could…lift up our profession?
    • Promote the awesome – #trendthepositive and #CelebrateMonday.  Kudos to my friend Sean Gaillard, @smgaillard, for creating and sharing these amazing hashtags.
  • What if we could…have every teacher identify areas where they wanted to grow and worked with an administrator or coach to improve?
    • The message in all schools for students and adults must be – Feedback, Support and Growth
  • What if we could…get all of our students to Launch?
    • Provide students with opportunities to Launch – to create something that they can share with the world?  If you haven’t read Launch by AJ Juliani, @ajjuliani, and Jon Spencer, @spencerideas, go get it now and start reading!
    • Our students are creating and performing every day outside of school.  How are we leveraging that and allowing them those types of opportunities at school?
  • What if we could…be the school that changes what ‘school’ is?
    • Repeat after me – “We can, we must, we will!”

Somebody’s Favorite

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The following post was written by my Assistant Principal, Cyndi Felton.  I am happy to share her story of the importance of relationships and making every child feel loved.  

“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” I’ve heard James Comer’s words so many times and each time I nod my head in agreement. But I had an experience this summer that brought these nine words to life for me. I had the opportunity to serve as the administrator of a summer school program for 115 third graders that were all enrolled because they were unable to demonstrate proficiency on the state reading assessment. On my first day with the students I was struck by the fact that very few seemed upset about being in summer school. Although the grade level material was a struggle for them, most were on-task and putting forth the needed effort. However, I also had a handful of students who were regularly tardy and often fell asleep during class, as well as students who were sitting outside the school an hour before the doors opened because their parents left for work and no one was home.

One particular student, we’ll call him Kenny, arrived late each day and frequently remained at the school well after pick up time. I bonded with Kenny on my second day at the school. I would walk him to class when he arrived late, spending time with him at lunch in the cafeteria, and talking with him while waiting for someone to pick him up. We called the house multiple times to express concern and asked his mom to get him to school on time and have him picked up on time. He began trying to get to school earlier and would ask me each day how many minutes late he was. I believe he was doing all he could to improve his punctuality in an effort to please me. One day Kenny shared he had already been retained in first grade. However, he constantly tried to deflect away from the fact he had great difficulty reading and low self-esteem. Kenny was loud, always making jokes, and putting on a show for all. I noticed that there was always someone on him regarding his behavior and/or lack of attentiveness, including teachers, cafeteria staff, office staff, and other school personnel. It seemed that when he was told to be quiet, “zip your mouth” or even “shut it,” he only talked more, with a smile on his face. Kenny was desperately looking for attention and any attention would do.  

I was only at the summer site for a couple weeks before I needed to return to my home school in preparation for the coming year. On my last day, I spent time saying goodbye to students, praising their hard work, and letting them know just how much I would miss them. Kenny let me know he wasn’t happy about me going and asked me where my school was. I explained it was about a 25-30 minute drive from his school. Kenny proceeded to tell me he didn’t care, he was still going to go there next year. Grinning, I asked “Oh really? You want to come to my school?” and he answered, “Yeah, I’ve never been someone’s favorite before”. Stunned, I just hugged him and tried not to cry.

How can a child who has been in school for five years feel this way? Shouldn’t every child believe they are the teacher’s favorite? The difficult students are often the children who already lack relationships with caring, attentive, engaged adults. Student-teacher relationships can truly affect both their academic and social development. Research tells us that a student who feels a strong personal connection to their teacher, one with genuine interest and concern, is more likely to demonstrate increased engagement, higher levels of academic achievement, and improved behavior in class. But academics and classroom behavior aside, kids deserve to feel valued everyday. If that isn’t our highest priority, are we really in the right field?

 

 

We’ve Got it All Wrong

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Let me start by saying that I know that some educators out there will say “This is easy for you to say.  You’re in an “A-rated” school and you’re in an affluent community.”

And those people would be correct.  It is easy for me to say.  That’s the point.

Because it is easy for me to say, I need to say that school grades based on a single test measure do not and will never accurately portray the true value of a school.  There have been many opponents to standardized testing in the past but those of us who have benefitted from these assessments and the subsequent school ratings have to stand up for our colleagues in the education field.  Because while my school staff and community will be celebrating how well we performed, there are friends of mine throughout education who are crushed right now.  Devastated because the perception of their school will change because of a single letter grade.

This is wrong on so many levels.

Florida released school grades a few days ago.  This time the scores are based on the two-year comparison of the FSA (Florida Standards Assessments) that was first implemented last year.  These school grades are the first “official” grade to be given with our new assessments.  The school grades that were released for the previous year were termed “Informational Baseline” with the preposed caveat that there were no consequences for those grades (I will get back to that in a moment).

So the grades came out and my school is “A-rated” once again.  But what does that mean? I honestly don’t feel that this tells anywhere near the complete story of what my school is.  Walk through our halls, talk to our students and staff, ask the community.  I believe you will hear about a school filled with love, happiness, a desire to help all students, and individuals seeking to innovate so that our students are always exposed to the best possible practices, strategies and technologies that help make their lives better.

And I believe that most schools are filled with the same love and happiness, the same desire to do whatever it takes for kids.  But, unfortunately, so many schools are living under the fear of the almighty school grade.  Numerous schools are forced to deliver curriculum and strategies designed specifically to raise test scores.  And yes they are forced, because there is always a consequence for school grades, whether the State says so or not.  The biggest consequence is public perception.  We are so conditioned to believe in school grades based off of a test that only measures how well students do on the FSA in English Language Arts, Math, and Science (for elementary schools).  Schools that don’t perform well on these accountability measures aren’t always afforded the opportunities to innovate and try new ideas like those of us who do perform well.

I have been talking to educator friends of mine, both teachers and principals, from different schools these past few days.  Some are so distraught because their school grade “dropped”.  One of my friends, who is one of the best teachers that I have ever met, said “Does this really mean that from last year to this year we just sat around and did nothing to educate our kids?  We still have the same passionate and dedicated teachers.”  All of our schools are filled with caring, compassionate educators who are relentless in their pursuit of helping make kids’ lives better.  All of our schools have students who deserve the best each day.

This madness needs to stop.  We need the general public to wake up and realize that we are demoralizing entire school communities and reducing their efforts to nothing by placing a grade on them.  While some of us have freedom and are highly regarded because of these grades, there are so many more educators who don’t have that opportunity.  We need everyone to talk about this and spread the word.  Our schools are so much more than a letter grade.

 

 

 

 

Grasping at Time

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I have been contemplating a lot about life recently and how fleeting time can be.  I often wish I can grab time and hold it still but I constantly feel it slipping through my fingers.  Music is a big part of my life and I often get swept up in the emotions and my connection to the lyrics and the sound.  Two songs that have haunted me since my childhood have come into my mind recently.  Our school family was shattered this year as we lost several individuals connected to our school due to car accidents, including two little girls who were students here.  These tragedies make you question why something like this can happen to those who are so young.  There is a line in Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World that always hits home to me when I hear it:

“There’s one more kid that will never go to school.  Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool.”  

I always get choked up when Neil sings this because of the lost opportunities for a child who will never get to experience so much of life.  We can never make sense of losing young people.  All we can do is hug each other a little bit tighter and love each other a little bit more.

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“When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son 
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

I can’t really explain how the lyrics to Harry Chapin’s Cats in the Cradle have affected me for pretty much my whole life.  I mean, how is it possible that I internalized the meaning to that song and held it within me even at a very young age?  But I can promise you that I cannot listen to that song without tears welling up in my eyes.  I can’t even read the lyrics without getting emotional.  As long as I can remember, I made a silent promise to myself that I would never be the Dad in the song, the one who is too busy for his son and then watches his son become exactly like him, too busy for family, too consumed with work.

My wife and I were walking to the park with our two boys the other day.  Along the path to the playground, each of the boys took turns doing a different stunt, whether it be climbing on monkey bars or simply walking along the edge of the path.  Throughout the walk, Maddox and Jagger went back and forth calling for my attention.

“Daddy, watch this!”

“Did you see that Dad?”

If I tell you they said these things about twenty times in a minute, I would be lying.  It would be so easy to get frustrated and exhausted with always having to see what the boys are doing.  Luckily though, I caught myself and remembered that these moments don’t last for long.  I can remember when Maddox wouldn’t do anything on the baseball field without first looking to make sure that I was watching.  But those times aren’t as frequent anymore.  They won’t always call for me to watch them so I want to see everything they want to show me.

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I connect these stories and songs because I feel compelled to promote the messages of “be here now” and “now is good” at every available opportunity.  Our families, our students, and our colleagues need us to appreciate and to be fully present in those moments that we are together.  While what we do in education is important, we must also remember that our families are more important.  Give of yourselves each day while at school but then go home and engage with your families.  They are the motivation to keep on giving.  They deserve your undivided attention.

I think this message that a parent emailed me at the end of the school year says it all:

“The years move too fast.  I’m still trying to find a way to slow it all down,                                   because it’s so good and so much fun.”

What if we could…appreciate each moment; not worry about the past or the future, but simply treasure the present?

So I Went to an EdTech Conference…Reflections from ISTE 2016

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ISTE 2016 was my first experience with this amazing conference event.  I went to Denver hoping to learn about some new ideas and strategies that will help make my students’ lives better while also meeting educators in person that I have connected with on Twitter.  I left fully satisfied at having met my goal and more.  The following are some reflections from an awesome week:

  • What a difference it is attending a conference now than even five years ago.  In the past you would never really look at your fellow attendees, let alone check out their ID badges.  But now, through the connectedness of Twitter, we search the crowd for familiar faces, names and Twitter handles.  The world has changed and at least for relationship-building, it has changed for the better.
  • We really need education celebrities or “educelebrities”.  We truly do.  In other fields there are stars who shine who can help build up an entire profession.  We need these people in education as well.  Those who can speak up for what we attempt to do each day in our classrooms and schools.  Those who can speak out against the forces that seem bent on destroying our profession.  Those who can highlight the awesome and inspire us to become the best version of ourselves.
  • I was amazed at the number of people who attended but weren’t on Twitter.  I kept asking my colleague, Russ Schwartz, “how did they even learn about this conference?”.  A few presenters asked the room how many were on and sometimes it was less than half.  Shocking to me at an educational technology conference.  It’s not a bad thing per se, just surprising considering the environment.
  • I was so frustrated by a few people who I bumped into who were in Denver with us but who weren’t really “with us”.  They went to a few sessions but then took the opportunity to visit the local restaurants and shops instead of the learning and the connections.  Don’t get me wrong, our group fully enjoyed the food and atmosphere of our surroundings, but we never lost sight of our purpose in being there – to learn and to grow with like-minded individuals.
  • There were a few times during the conference that I marveled at how amazing it was to be surrounded by others who felt the same passion for not only instilling technology into education but also to do whatever is necessary to help make kids’ lives better.  I got choked up during Michelle Cordy’s closing keynote when she spoke about the power of the tribe of people who come together at ISTE.  It was truly special to be with fellow educators who “get” what I’m getting.
  • Michelle phrased something else in her keynote that articulates what I have been feeling recently.  She said “Recommit to that place in education where you can make your greatest contribution and refuse to leave.”  What a powerful statement that is resonating with me today.
  • But the biggest takeaway of all is that I went to an edtech conference and left having built deeper relationships, both with my travel companions and with the amazing educators that we crossed paths with.  And that is more than anyone could ask for.  After all, you can have all the greatest technology in the world, but what do you have if you don’t have solid relationships?

We Don’t Need to Know Right Now

#edchat, collaboration, connected educator, education, ISTE, Passion, schools, Twitter

Full disclaimer to this post – I read the articles mentioned and took the attached picture using my cell phone.  You will see why I pointed this out as you read.  

ISTE 2016 was an amazing experience, from the learning and connections, to the food and culture of Denver itself.  There are so many great moments that stand out for me, but one in particular has been on my mind for the past few days.  This revelation took place at Red Rocks, the historic concert venue carved into the Colorado mountains.  My fellow travelers and I decided that we would add to our ISTE adventure by taking in a concert at this site.  Lucky for us that Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals were in town and played one of the most amazing concert sets that I have ever seen live.  The music, venue and the ominous skies with lightning flashing in the distance all came together to create a truly special evening.  But it was something that Rachel King, one of my teachers, noticed that really hit home for me.  She pointed out during the concert that fewer than 10 people at a time had their cellphones out.  We really couldn’t believe it as we have all been to shows where almost the entire crowd was taking video and pictures throughout.  What a shame that we would be shocked by this.  But there we were taking in this amazing music set, surrounded by beautiful nature, and encircled by a crowd that was simply interested in enjoying the moment as it happened, not worried about recording it to be viewed at a later date.  Nor was this crowd concerned with answering texts or checking their social media pages.

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A few days later as we were waiting at the Denver airport for our flight home, I read a post that was sent to me that aligned even more with this thought.  The post contained photos from a series entitled “Removed”, by photographer Eric Pickersgill.  Pickersgill’s photos show real life with cell phones taken out of the pictures.  He is attempting to highlight our dangerous addiction to our phones and to being constantly connected.  You can see more of his photos and the philosophy behind them at his site – Removed.

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This gets me to wondering about this insatiable need that we have developed where we need to know right now.  We need to have answers immediately.  We need to answer that text right away.  We need to scroll through our social media feeds on such a regular basis that we often miss out on the connections and conversations of those that are present with us.  My fear is that as we become more connected to each other online, we are further pushing ourselves away from each other in person.  A recent post by CNN states that  Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time, and growing.  Scary stuff indeed.  I just watched a TED Talk by Pico Iyer entitled, The art of stillness.  Pico has been a traveler for most of his life and has been to some amazing places.  But he states in his Talk that he can gain more from just sitting still because doing so allows him to appreciate where he has been and gets him to wrap his head around the impact that his visits have on his life.

My biggest takeaways from ISTE were the connections that I made in person with the educators I had already met via Twitter.  So I believe that we can utilize social media and screen time in a positive way, especially if we use it to enhance our lives and build additional relationships.  However, we need to move away from this sense of urgency with immediately connecting.  We have to remind ourselves that the answers don’t have to be learned right away.  I believe that we can.  We live in an amazing time – the world is right there at our fingertips.  Take advantage of that.  Connect with those who you might not have met if it were not for social media.  But then put your phone down.  Take time to be in the moment.  Be present to those in the same space as you.  And most important of all, please remember that you don’t need to know right now.