I’d Rather

…eat a pizza prepared by Geoffrey Zakarian wielding an Easy Bake oven, than one prepared by, uhhh… damn near anyone else using a $1000 oven.

Just saying.

Maybe that’s important, maybe it’s not. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what business this post has on my blog. Perhaps nothing. I’m open to that.






*For “Home Made Mini Pizza, Cooked” by Yortw on Flickr Via CC, & for…
*Allowing me to ask questions… even when they don’t carry a question mark. According to Michael Wesch, this is something only a human can do.
*For the clarity to write my shortest-ever blog post.

Principals as Teachers

Defining a title

In my neck of the woods, we have a state & foundation-funded organization (Parents as Teachers) that supports parents in their quest to educate children during those crucial first three formative years.  Far too much data suggests that being significantly behind by age four can all too accurately predict failure in our current school systems.  I don’t need to tell you that.  Decide for yourself what that says about our educational system vs. the biological importance of learning as an infant/toddler.

That said, here’s my personal take of the program’s mission:  support parents during these years.  It’s not that we don’t inherently know that parents are a child’s most influential teacher — particularly when young.  But, we do know that many parents can use the support at this critical juncture.  From what I’ve seen personally, folks associated with this program work within the very homes of the community they serve, not to tell parents what to do, but rather to provide powerful support for them as they undertake one of the most important roles of a parent.

our girls reading

In this case, the name of the initiative is as succinct as it gets.  Parents as Teachers. What I would like to entertain in this post is the idea of allowing principals to once again be teachers.  At least in my neck of the woods, principals are teachers…  and importantly, still hold certification to directly do so within a classroom.

The carryover

So what about this role principals currently have as school leaders?  Again, I can safely say that in my world, school leaders have been well vetted as of late as true instructional leaders.  Likening that to the mission of Parents as Teachers, our principals have a rather similar role in many respects.  Our school leaders really do support instructional growth.  They do this not only through the classical “Performance Based Teacher Evaluation” system, but also through direct development and implementation of professional development in both formal and very informal settings.  Our principals wear far…  far more than just the “manager” hat of old.  I’m sure that’s true in other places as well.  It may or may not be the norm just yet.

Principals still aren’t typically labeled as “teachers” any more than parents are. However, their roles are similar in that they both actively promote and support learning.  In my opinion, the main thing both can do to promote learning is to help shape the environment so that learning can take place.

Our district, like many in 2010, is actively engaged in learning about shifts in culture and communications, and yes…  a significant element of that is the role modern technology plays in supporting learning goals and environments.  With Will Richardson’s direct input and facilitation, together we will be exploring the role technology plays in the shifting of our school and societal culture as we embark on new school improvement plans for the future.

If you can safely say that principals are strong instructional leaders and self-reflective learners in your system, then what I’m able to pitch won’t seem such a stretch…

Doing leads to deep understanding

Our leaders are sound leaders in the methods of classroom instruction.  They also have the benefit of instructional coaches who provide direct, in-classroom support for teachers and their professional development goals.   During the past few years, each of our principals has also teamed with curriculum coordinators to plan and facilitate content-based professional development for all of our secondary schools.  Our curricular goals are problem-based, they are inquiry-oriented and they are of the workshop model.  That means that if you’re a TPACK fan, we’re getting 2/3 of the way to a really sweet spot at the center of teaching and learning today.  We need the other 1/3.  We are ready to turn a focus toward gaining the understanding and skills we need to foster deep technological understanding within our teaching force.

In a nutshell, just as pedagogy and content weigh heavily in our support of teachers and administrators, technology must also receive its due.  It’s high time, and locally…  I think we’re ready to roll.


The third integral puzzle piece

We choose good teacher leaders to ultimately lead schools because, well…  it just makes sense.  Many of my colleagues have moved on to administrative roles, and their current roles now arguably have a wider influence.  And really, to take it to the most basic level…  principals evaluate teaching.  We want that evaluator to possess an intimate awareness of an effective classroom.  Thus drives the move of a teacher-leader out of the classroom and into the world of Administration.  As teachers we have often seen the direct and immediate short-term loss of value for our students when good teachers move out of the classroom.  There is nothing like the face to face interaction with students in classroom.  Ask an effective administrator if he/she doesn’t often miss classroom interaction with students.

Missing it certainly doesn’t equate to having time for it in a terribly strenuous schedule.  I’d venture a guess that in this world of hyper-accountability by federally-mandated exams…  few school systems allow for their administrators to retain at least one classroom with kids.  I personally can’t imagine asking a building administrator to do “one more thing.”  But yet…  what if the tools existed that might allow a principal a small role again working directly as teacher, or co-teacher, to a group of students?  If the situation could be made feasible, would principals find value in returning to the role of a teacher in a small but new capacity?

The virtual classroom

There is no doubt that a significant sector of the educational world has moved to an online venue… for better or worse.  I, for one, have never viewed fully-online courses as anything but a necessity in certain cases.  I’ve taken a few in grad school.  Frankly, those went over like a tray of turds at a cocktail party.  I have personally been an aggressive adopter of online tools into my classroom as a way to extend conversations and to empower students as independent learners.  There is too often a palpable difference between “online course” and “online learning.”  All too often the overlap of the two is inadequate in the world of online education.

That said, it appears that as a nation, we’re ultimately going there in some fashion.  I think it is too easy to see the future of this.  Without outlining all of the pros & cons, it is clear that online options would allow more student choice and flexibility.  The cons are pretty simple in my opinion…  there just aren’t many folks out there right now who can do this well.  Essentially:  just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you can do it well.  If my district is to embrace fully-online learning environments (or even blended courses- interesting commentary on that in this post) at some point in the future, you can bet that we’ll do so after careful consideration and study.  Again-  I’m pretty sure this is a quality control issue that no one wants to fail.  However, I doubt it is any more of a serious quality control issue than it is in purely face to face classrooms.  Perceptions of strange new things tend to be far scarier than the familiar.

Here’s one thing I know, as a district we can sit the bench and ultimately swallow the future options that arise from the state level or worse…  or we can get really smart and make our own breaks on the local level.  The way I see it, we’re on a pretty steep peak when it comes to things like this.  Moving a certain amount of “schooling” into completely online formats will either be a really powerful thing, or a really big fail.  I doubt there will be much room for “meh.”  When new ventures begin with such a strong level of skepticism, it’s easy for folks to call for scrubbing the mission before the messiest parts have even subsided.  And when the futures of children are at stake, it is tough to be skeptical of the skeptics.

Enter the principal

We’ll form a committee.  We’ll develop action plans.  We’ll create a vision for what we would want out of something like this before it ever starts in earnest.  But here’s what we need on that committee…  a wide and diverse set of stakeholders with varying levels of experience in such matters.  Crowds of decision makers can be smart, but according to James Surowiecki, they must be diverse and capable of independent input.  It has also been shown that all members of such a decision-making group need not be experts.  However, it is crucial that some are.  How do we gain experts?  We support our people and allow the environment to grow expertise.  In this venue, I would define experts as those folks who have ground-level experience fostering student learning through online environments. Frankly, this “expert” input should be diverse as well.  It cannot be just one or two teachers.

I would argue that we also need representation from the administrative set.  Those folks directly involved with designing and developing professional development need to be in that room.  Those folks charged with assessing and evaluating the performance of teachers in the classroom need to be in that room.  They need to be in that room-  and they need to have their hands dirty with experience.  These won’t be “your grandfather’s” classrooms.  How do you evaluate something you’ve never done?  We are fairly comfortable allowing former teacher standouts to move into administrative roles and assess teacher performance.  We know they have “walked the walk” themselves.  This is a different case.  This digital shift will be a profound one.  It is one that will affect nearly everything from curriculum to pedagogy to…  well, if done well, it might just challenge the sacred Carnegie unit.

How do students measure up?

Just imagine for a moment, principals empowered to take on at least a share of a for-credit online course in your local district.  Imagine this being done solo, or co-taught with another principal in a neighboring building, an instructional coach, or any other teacher for that matter.  It’s easy to allow the “yeah buts” to come rushing in.  It’s natural for that to happen.  But once you’ve had time to allow that to settle, think of the potential positives in your learning communities.  Think about the “cost vs. benefit ratio” if you’re so inclined to such language.  Aside from building tech-savvy assessors & consultants, I can think of a solid list of purposeful fringe benefits that might also be true in our district.  Might these be true in yours?

  • Administrators would have a small way back onto the ground floor of teaching and learning.  Asynchronous digital tools can help a busy principal.
  • In the building where a principal is also a teacher, skeptical teachers or students might more readily see the instructional leader as just that.  Enhanced credibility.
  • Deep, positive relationships with the students of your building… the sort of relationships you sometimes lose when moving into administration.  Good for the passionate soul.
  • An ability to intimately explore new PD initiatives alongside staff on a more “level playing field.”  Credibility and empathy.
  • Allow more freedom of choice in student course selections during a jam-packed master-schedule during the day.  The economy is rough.  Student choices are down.
  • Foster potentially powerful relationships amongst leaders across content and school lines.  The walls need a few bricks removed in my corner of the world.  Yours too, huh?

Take an hour, a day, or a week to let this bounce around.  After that time, come back and let me know what you think.  Sure-  bring the noise on the things that would hold back such an initiative.  But also, bring your creativity.  What have I missed?  Who or what would someone going down this path want to know, read or listen to?  I’d love to see our leaders afforded this opportunity.  I’d also love to see the benefits our kids would get from such an endeavor as well.  It’s a strong hunch.  I’m not married to the idea, but let’s just say, “we’ve been seeing each other pretty seriously as of late.”

End of Part I

Come back tomorrow for Part II where we’ll read a few of the early thoughts on such an initiative through the eyes of several of my colleagues who happen to be current principals.  You might just be surprised…

National Tree Day


*”our girls reading”, yep…  my girls…  photographer:  me.
*TPACK framework diagram, Drs. Punya Mishra & Matt Koehler, MSU
*”How do students measure up?” by Krissy Venosdale on Flickr
*”National Tree Day” by Powerhouse Museum on Flickr


Push the button

Beginning with the end

There…  glad I got that out of the way.  There ended the longest blogless period I’ve had in about three years.  Not that I’ve ever been that prolific.  In fact, I’m pretty satisfied if I get time to write one post a week.  I use Twitter for the smalltalk.  Blogging, for me, is about really exploring ideas from one perspective or another.  However, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that my last post was April 17th.  All that being said, it’s time to get back to the synthesis of thought that I only find through this approach.

For the handful of folks who read this blog, you won’t likely find much to chew on after this one, but at least I’ll get a few things off my chest and get back in the game.  I’ve been in a bit of a transitional period at school (yeah- both technically and mentally).  It might help to toss out a little historical perspective on my responsibilities since I became an educator.

Here’s my career timeline in a really small nutshell:

  • 1992: teacher: 7th grade science & odyssey (multidisciplinary gifted program)  also assistant wrestling coach
  • 1995: teacher: 9-12 general biology, honors zoology, honors botany, science investigations (independent research program under gifted ed.)
  • 1999: started Marine Biology program for upperclassmen in all three public schools.
  • 2004: moved to another SJSD high school to take head wrestling position with superstar brother as assistant.
  • 2007: began life as the generalist instructional coach for my building.  taught one period of Honors Zoology concurrently.
  • 2009: @erinlynnnash took the reigns of Zoology so I could switch to a Dual-Credit course with MWSU called Principles of Biology.  also moved toward a focus of technology integration within my building… a natural fit for me within our IC model.  (my 18th & last year as a wrestling coach)
  • 2011: move to a new district-level position, “Academic Technology Instructional Specialist” within the Curriculum & Instruction office of the SJSD.  this is a smart re-framing of resources for the future.  I will also continue as instructor of our Marine Biology program.

That makes it pretty apparent that next year will be my first year unattached to an actual building.  While I’m a bit misty-eyed at that prospect,  I’m also looking forward to the possibilities within this switch.  The pool of smart, energetic professionals I get to collaborate with just went from from about 70 to around 900.  Fear meet Excitement.  I think you’ll enjoy one another.


This little blogging project began as one small part of my firsthand attempts at understanding the wider ecosystem of the participatory web.  Specifically, what might this realm offer the student (or teacher) in seeking understanding and making sense of the world in which they are faced?  Because really…  at its heart, this is what education at this level should be.  Of course this is my opinion, but making sense of a very complex and changing world is what education in 2010 should be.  No?  I knew what I had been doing within my own classroom.  As an instructional coach, I got to see firsthand what was going on in other classrooms.  However, if I were going to help lead a school toward change in this direction, I had better get a broader view.


In this time, I have explored more cutting edge tools than I could ever highlight on this blog.  I immersed myself in the participatory web as much as seemed humanly possible.  I have made more national and even global connections than I ever thought possible.  Within the past year, I have begun to shake things down to what really works for me, all the while trying to stay abreast of the rest.  If we all learned the same way, this wouldn’t even be a challenge, right?

During the past few years, I sat side-by-side with colleagues as they willingly dove head-first into the realm of anytime, anywhere learning via digital technology. I have led professional development events at my school to bring all teachers into the fray.  I have led classrooms that, bless their hearts, have embraced the still-experimental nature of these tools of communication.  In chatting with my wife and teaching partner about the past few years, the role of reflective and authentic learning instantly came to the forefront of her mind.  Those two elements have truly been our focus.  I always wonder how that would have worked without such a prior grounding in instructional practice & action research.  Probably far less famously I suspect.  Of course, any time I ponder the convergence of the elements of pedagogy, content, and technology, I think of Dr. Punya Mishra and the TPACK framework he lined out with Dr. Matt Koehler at MSU.  I no longer make educational decisions of any sort without without running them through this filter.


As a baby step in engaging the whole of our local educational community, Dr. Jaime Dial and I created the Saint Joseph Digital Express as an adaptable structure for communication into the future.  Check it out.  This network was largely tossed out this past year as a potential learning sphere and will likely serve us well as we move into a more focused future on this front.  I’m also excited to have Will Richardson as a consultant and PD facilitator for the coming year.  He was my suggestion for getting things started and kick-starting the conversation.  Will will be working with local administrators, instructional coaches, and curriculum coaches to help us hone a mission for 21st Century instruction.  Will sets the tone well and sees the big picture of many of these current shifts that have potential to impact the world of education.  From my experience, he is an excellent facilitator and does a really super job framing tough issues and leading large groups in thought concerning these issues.  This work will certainly be translated down to the building level of the SJSD in various ways within the following year and as we move forward.

Might individual buildings move in different ways toward these new ideas?  You better believe it.  As our Curriculum & Instruction department in the SJSD believes, each child moves toward learning in different ways, so we believe in different learning communities moving in subtly different ways to tackle the issues of 2010 and beyond.  We have powerful instructional leaders in our building principals who will take this new learning and apply it as it fits to our schools.  Through our school improvement process and commitment to focused professional development in support of these plans, we all have made serious moves in positive directions in the past five years.


It’s hard to be perfectly patient and excitedly enlivened all at the same time.  Perhaps more than ever I’m happy to be a part of this district at this time. I’m happy to be a part of a public school district that keeps its eye on the ball with regard to instruction…  all the while fueling the innovation needed to stay relevant and authentic for today and into the future.

To my knowledge, in our district the word “technology” has never been included in any job title to date outside of our own Troester Media Center.  TMC is the physical brain of our Internet nervous system with all the associated services.  We have long enjoyed a powerful IT infrastructure with the foresight to deliver potential to each classroom and to deliver it fast.  We have owned our own gigabit fiber optic network joining more than 20 buildings since 1995.  Yes, I said it… fiber.  I’ve had nothing to do with any of those moves.  You can look above to see what I was busy with at that time.  And yet, I was always thankful for each new thing I was allowed to do during that time because of this technology.

Many changes have taken place regarding the world of digital communications since 1995.  Shoot-  many things have changed in the past year.  We are a district currently possessing more kit than 90% of public or private schools I have seen.  We have a K-12 instructional model that increasingly gives credence to a constructivist approach.  What we need now is to connect our gear with our mission.  We’ve had “T” in one silo and the “P” and “C” in another across town.  I believe we are well ready to aim toward true TPACK integration.  For so many years technology was used in large part to facilitate management and operations as well as a rather teacher-directed approach to learning.


Integration vs. transformation

However, in 2010, and for some time now, we’ve needed more.  Our kids need more.  They deserve to emerge from their school experiences tech-savvy and ready to take on the world like modern learners.  Delivering that requires a bridge connecting smart people who’ve been wanting the best for our kids for some time-  while speaking significantly different languages.  To do that we need well-supported tech-savvy teachers.  I’m looking forward to doing what I can to fulfill at least some small part of this effort into the future, for these challenges are certainly worthy. Sliding the title “technology” into any position within C & I is a significant move.  Significant in that it recognizes the importance of modern technology in making learning authentic in a world where information and communication comes increasingly digitally-flavored.  I would love to establish myself as a strong link between the world of slick gadgets and the world of differentiated, student-owned learning.  Instructionally, we are in a really good place-  particularly for a public school system.  Technologically, we have some of the best of the best.  The time is ripe for a marriage made in TPACK heaven.

While I’m leaving day-to-day contact with some really smart friends and colleagues…  I’m looking forward to working with another set of really smart colleagues and increasing friends.  One final thing is for sure-  I’m certainly glad I’ve spent the effort to cultivate a rich and varied personal learning network over the past few years.  Of course I’m going to need it.  I cannot imagine consulting on such a broad range of topics without all of you.  You might want to keep Skype running…



*”Push the button” by INoxKrow on Flickr
*”Moar Cute Duck Bum” by Duncan Rawlinson
*”Integration” by certified su on Flickr
*”go” by A_of_DooM on Flickr.

Growing a Tree of Professional Development

Arboreal aspirations?

During a time of the year when perhaps sugarplums should be dancing in my head, I seem to be conjuring trees.  More precisely-  massive, skyward-reaching, luxurious and well-rooted trees.  I can’t seem to keep from dwelling in the metaphor of a tree as it relates to a professional development plan.  My school, and most recently my district, have been hurtling down the path of a 1:1 laptop implementation in the near future.  As an instructional coach in the school that is essentially leading the way down that path, I have spent a great deal of time spearheading ground-level professional development for this project.  In addition, I have spent countless hours reflecting and planning…  and planning and reflecting…  on our progress.

I currently feel that professional development approaches can be split into one of three types.  I will also argue that these three types can and sometimes should be done in tandem.  In this post I will attempt to outline my belief that professional development -particularly in the edtech world- needs to at least somehow include the strategies depicted in this image:

PD tree - nashworld

If you could create a metaphor for a smart and effective professional development plan, what would it look like?  How would you explain the elements within?  It seems that I never get full clarity of thought until I can develop a clear visual metaphor that seeks to simplify that which is complex.  This one is slightly mixed, but it is where my mind is right now.  Like most of the rambling on this blog, these assertions are also mixed with a request for input.  Don’t hold back- I look forward to your reactions.


We began this quest last year from what was pretty well near ground zero in terms of educational technology integration.  We were a school blessed with the structural “stuff” of educational technology (powerful districtwide network, good saturation of laptop carts, projectors, clickers, data probes, etc.).  What we lacked were untethered computers assigned to staff, and a strong attention to “student-sided” uses of technology for learning.  It’s tough to imagine students using computers to learn if we do not do so ourselves, right?

Last year a volunteer group of twenty teachers spent extra time at our school as members of “Edtech Cohort One” in our building.  In this first baby step of the pilot, we had two goals:  1) to experiment with hands-on approaches to edtech professional development, and  2) to build a core of 20 teachers who could help serve as leaders the following year when our entire staff entered the world of purposeful edtech integration.  That “following year” is now.  Throughout this school year (which began with entire faculty PD events this summer) I have been watching closely for how to tweak this implementation if and when it is scaled up at the district level.  As it turns out, if is yes and when is now.  Allow me to explain this three-pointed approach.


You can’t move water up to the top of a tree without a good strong push from the roots.  If this were a science blog, I’d spend some time referring to how the roots of plants accomplish this primary pressure even though they have no vacuum power.  It’s pretty compelling stuff I assure you, but I don’t want to lose anyone.  I think I’ll play it safe and stick to PD for now.

03/365 Splishy Splashy

The “initiation” phase of edtech professional development in my corner of the world revolved heavily around “technology operations and concepts”  -to use a NETS standard to describe it.  The problem here is that in 2009, this is no longer a NETS standard for teachers… it is bottom of six standards for our students.  And yet-  we’re playing catch-up.  Let’s face it, catch-up is never as inspiring as forging a new path.  However, if this need is real, the entire mission will collapse without paying attention to it.  To put it quite simply, shove a MacBook Pro into the hands of a teacher who doesn’t already have a computer, nor even Internet access at home…  and you had better pay attention to operation skills.  That example wasn’t exactly the norm in my school, but it was certainly a real factor to consider.  When looking at minimal expectations, you have to honor all learners at their individual entry point.  Don’t we believe in this for our students?  Can you imagine ever effecting inspiring changes in curriculum and instruction with a lack of simple technology operational skills?

In this “initiation” phase, we focused first on care & feeding of the new hardware, followed closely with a push beyond the “default settings” in order to become comfortable with the parameters of all of the stuff.  Our aim is most certainly here, but you can’t even hold the gun steady without a firm foundation.


However, I believe it is important to not only push up from the roots of initiation, but also to exert a gentle tug of inspiration from the top.  Water would never reach the highest leaves of a tree without the slight pull of transpiration into the atmosphere.  Likewise, I believe most people will mobilize if shown a compelling impetus for change.  In my mind you really need a two-pronged approach at this level.  Tapping keys and clicking trackpads isn’t in and of itself very motivational to most people.  Teachers are rather overburdened folks as it is.  Achieving success in the role of lead learner in the classrooms of today requires a terribly broad skill set coupled with a relentless work ethic.  There simply isn’t much more time left in the day.


Therefore, I would argue that no successful teacher is going to be open to instructional reform without being shown a bit of the view from the top.  What I mean by this is that along the way, even in the beginning, we need to provide glimpses of model uses of our most effective tools.  We need to sponsor innovation and experimentation with new approaches, and encourage the adaptation and repurposing of the ubiquitous tools for communications that now surround us.  Many of these tools are finally allowing teachers to bring about the kind of collaborative, constructivist-leaning environment for learning they were shown in theory some time ago.  I believe it is smart practice to sprinkle in highlights of rich models where this type of environment is already in place.  We also need to outline some of the shifts present in today’s world that no doubt impact the generational divide between most teachers and their students.

From day one, we have tried to build in job-embedded time to both learn the operations and take a look at the potential for a more student-led environment.  We seek the type of environment where students are compelled to take advantage of the opportunities to seek knowledge and skills from other sources rather than their teachers and textbooks alone.  Along with the keytaps and mouseclicks, we have looked for inspiration in projects and tools that allow regional, national, or even global collaboration.  So assuming a solid base of operational learning and open minds toward instructional transformation…  what’s left?


Much is publicized about the importance of technology integration.  This publicity is usually accompanied by examples of our nation’s inadequate movement in this direction.  It is even rather routinely touted in the echochamber of many edtech social media networks to be the single greatest challenge we face in education today.  I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to assert that educational technology integration is not the holy grail we are after.  I want more for our kids.  A quick glance back up to our tree model shows where I see integration in the big picture.  I see actual integration as a branching out toward content specificity where teachers in a given subject soak up the pertinent applications and processes…  and then skillfully weave them into the quest for understanding.  In a nutshell, this would be a solid move inward on Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK framework:


Integration at this level is a pretty lofty goal-  no doubt.  However, I hate aiming at what is the acceptable level by most standards.  Just using the latest tools to get the job done isn’t what TPACK is about, and it sure isn’t my cup of tea.  Instead, I favor drawing a bead on the transformation of our classroom experiences toward an end that features the teacher as learning coach in an open environment.  Now that goal…  that goal requires inspiration.


So let’s assume for now that our first two years forward with this implementation are a success.  I have no reason now to think that our teachers will not all possess a minimal level of tech savvy.  So where where might we go next in terms of staff development?  At this point, I have considered many options aimed at the best-case scenario for next year.  I would love the diverse input of my readers to help me nail down a more crystal focus for next year’s professional development.

I’m currently thinking that with a solid year behind us as a complete staff, we will now have the comfort level required to aim high and create more individualized  -and voluntary-  PD experiences that are aimed at content integration.  I have seen two basic models of edtech PD for high school faculties.  One model asserts that the aim should be to bring every teacher along to the same level of integration.  I think this might even be possible if it were the only element of change in the lives of educators.  However, another popular viewpoint is that PD for “all” is wasted on those that are resistant to change.  In this approach, more attention is paid to voluntary PD for those “ready to run.”


I would have to say that in December of 0-nine I am still of the opinion that a hybrid approach is best.  And yet-  I am thinking that the goal going into next year is to provide future PD around a more voluntary model for those ready to roll toward a deeper transformation of the classroom.  In short:  require a certain level of tech savvy of all teachers… followed by enriched opportunities for those most ready… to roll into the future. It takes three processes to move water from the roots to the tip of a tree.  This includes a push upward from the roots.  Also crucial is the pull from above, and don’t forget the attractive forces throughout the entire journey upward.

More concretely, I am often reminded of the model MICDS employed in their second year of 1:1 implementation.  Having strong peers just across the state is a valuable resource to say the least.  I was lucky to be a guest of several of the workshops spearheaded by Elizabeth Helfant at the MICDS Summer Teacher Institute.  Anyone with an ear to the current edtech landscape would tell you that this is a shining model of a professional development series-  at even a global level.  I can’t help but be influenced by such an inspired plan.  Creating a voluntary development series in the summer of this caliber is something that seems both realistic and smart at this juncture.  I’m now wondering how much of this model could realistically be implemented closer to home.  After a quick glance, do you blame me?

Now it’s your turn.  I need feedback.  We need feedback.  Feed our roots with your diverse wisdom.


*”PD TREE”:  my adaptation of “small tree on white” from stock.xchng.
*03/365 Splishy Splashy by Rachel Carter on Flickr.
*sunflowers by Marco Magrini on Flickr.
*TPACK framework by Punya Mishra & Matt Koehler.
*Oh. by Brendan Landis on Flickr.

Spheres of Influence

How fun is this?

Three years ago I moved into a position of instructional coach for my building.  The majority of my days are now spent as a content-generalist coach focused on helping teachers improve pedagogical skills.  Our opt-in model keeps the conversation focused on one thing:  pedagogy as opposed to content.  This is a very smart model for honing in on the “P” sphere of Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK framework.  However, perhaps even smarter is the fact that I am not completely removed from being behind the wheel of my own classroom.  Teaching my own class is a way to assure my attachment to at least most of the day to day experiences of our folks in “the trenches.”  My opinions on instructional practice and concrete strategies are only as good as my ability to pull them off in my own classroom.  I say this for perhaps a different reason that you might think.  The core of my role as a coach is to question, to advise, to consult, encourage, and inspire my colleagues toward better and better things.  It really isn’t about “me.”

TPACK framework diagram

That said, my ability to move down any strategic path toward best practices in instruction with a teacher is directly tied to both my familiarity and comfort level with that mode of learning.  Put simply:  you can’t talk the talk without walking the walk.  So during the day, I teach Principles of Biology during period three as well as Marine Biology.  Marine Biology is a special case across the board.  The program was created in 1999 and and includes night classes from 7 to 9pm on Mondays, a roster made up of students from our three local high schools, and a week-long field study on the coral reefs of the Bahamas each April.  Did I mention yet that my district respects and fosters solid innovation?  For that, my students and I are terribly lucky.

To my original point

Seriously.  Blogging is such a reflective act for me.  So often I start down a simple path and quickly realize there is far more under the hood to discuss.  So with that out of the way, allow me to introduce you to two of my newest colleagues:  Jennifer Toalson and Alex Paolillo.  Interestingly, between the two, they teach quite a range of subjects: General Biology, Environmental Science, Microbiology and Genetics.  More interestingly, they were (somewhat recently) Marine Biology students of mine.  Our department has a total of less than seven FTE’s.  Therefore, here are two-sevenths of my immediate world.  Jennifer was a member of the 2002 Marine Biology class and Alex was a 2004 member.

Alex & Jennifer discuss the finer points of pipetting.

Jennifer joined the Benton Science Department last year and was an immediate success.  As the oldest of seven, she is a natural at building relationships and getting the most out of younger folk.  Jennifer’s Dad is also a teacher of industrial arts at a high school across town.  Alex, who will begin his teaching career this fall, also comes equipped with a teacher’s pedigree.  Alex is actually the son of two teachers and his father was at one time the Director of Secondary Education in our city.  And yes…  in my prized image below, you’ll see Alex attempting to feed bread crumbs to seagulls from his bare chest in The Bahamas.  Tell me this isn’t going to be fun.

How many of you have been lucky enough to have two former students as direct departmental colleagues?  How fun is that?

I can’t tell you how excited this makes me.  Again….. I am now only a really a small part of the science department at my high school.  However, with a wife who is the Department Chair, it is even more exciting to see our immediate world become so infused with young, enthusiastic blood.  One thing I can say for sure about Alex and Jennifer:  they really want to make a difference in the lives of young people.  With that, anything they want to work hard for in this profession will come to them.  Not only do I remember their high school days as fun-filled, I now have spent time with them as colleagues.  The following pics will give you a glimpse of them in their (recently) younger days as Marine Biology students.  One might wonder if perhaps holding a sea urchin or encouraging sea gulls to feed from your belly makes one a likely candidate for biology educator in later years.  I am staring to believe so.  (funny now to see them so young again here in the next two images)

Jennifer in HS

I recently thought about doing a quick and dirty post that mentioned these two coming on board as biology teachers.  (as biology teachers, biology teachers in my hometown, and as biology teachers in my current school)  The day it hit me was a few weeks ago when Erin, Jennifer, Alex, and I spent the day at a biotechnology workshop in Kansas City…  (many thanks to Erin for organizing the day’s events.)  Overall, we had a great summer day of re-connecting to the past and teambuilding for the future.

Alex and the seagulls

In closing

Since Marine Biology began in 2000, some of my former students are undergrad marine biology students.  A few are even PhD candidates.  People frequently ask about those.  However, the demographic that isn’t often inquired about might just be those who have lived their entire lives in the center of the continent…  who love biology…  love the energy of youth…  but cannot find a better reason to move that far away from a strong family/friends network.  I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this as of late.

See what this does?  I start out with an idea to post a simple image from a recent workshop and I end up tacking it on to personal connections, people-to-people connections, coaching, and the TPACK framework.  When I began blogging a just over a year ago in April-  it was done as a “proof of concept” exercise.  That has blossomed into the mess you now see.  The bottom line is:  You cannot imagine the effect blogging will have on your future learning unless you are actually doing it.  This truly is a new genre of writing.  It is more than empowering for the everyman who embarks upon it.  Give it a try.  What are you waiting for?  And while you’re at it…  give my two new colleagues a shout out from the masses.  They will soon be getting an earful from yours truly about establishing their “digital footprint” and getting connected as a professional.  I am excited about being a leader in the “T” (in TPACK) revolution in the Saint Joseph School District.

Stay tuned…


*TPACK framework courtesy of Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler
*The rest…  me.