Technical difficulties.

cartoon computer

How does your district/school handle IT? How does it introduce new software, push out changes, or communicate a change of protocols or access? My district is huge, and its tech department world-class. The idea of the IT folks sitting in a cluttered, coffee-stained office is out of date, although it still makes me giggle:

My own encounters with tech support have been mostly, by my own account, completely humble and respectful. These are the women and men who get things DONE, and it’s best not to  display any emotion less than humility. I confess, however, my instructional strategies have been a bit frazzled of late, because cornerstones of my teaching have had changes in registration protocols that I was unaware of, and cause some loss of instructional time, and instructional planning time. Loss of any time is a teaching sin. (These are superlative reading sites, and I urge you to take a look for yourself: Actively Learn and NewsELA.) I know things will be fixed (they weren’t broken in the first place, but now that they are, will be right again–soon I hope).

The issue came about when three programs: NewsELA, Actively Learn, and a pilot program of Canvas (but this is a separate issue) went in control of my district. Supposedly they always were in control, but I had access via my own email accounts, etc.) I spent hours creating and setting up classes, and then those classes ‘disappeared’ the other day. Of course they didn’t really disappear, because with computers there is no ghost in the machine, only humans, doing human things. I contacted customer service/IT about Actively Learn first, and after a week’s worth of e-mails, and going up the chain of command, the mystery was solved: they didn’t have my correct e-mail (even though it’s accessible via my district), and once they registered me, took away all of my original classes, reloaded them (or whatever the technical term is–glowing button?) into my roster sets. The only issue now is my roster sets are not the same as my actual class rosters, so I’ll have to do a work-around every time I assign reading.

My doggedness is driven by the fact I LOVE these programs, especially Actively Learn. NewsELA is also fantastic for Lexile-leveled informational and timely news articles, perfect for pairing with fictional texts. Students can read at their Lexile level, and push up the level when they, or you, think they need to step just outside of that zone…you know…that zone of proximal development we hear so much about (even though it’s about 100 years old–just because something is ‘old’ doesn’t mean it’s bad).

The Canvas pilot will also be fixed too–as it stands, I and another teacher share our rosters on closed sites, meaning, if she ‘publishes’ her Cavans class the announcement and access will go to my students, too, and at this point if I confuse the little chipmunks anymore with log-ins and class codes they will surely have a much-deserved meltdown. She is so enthusiastic about Canvas, I can feel my metaphorical arms getting shaky by trying to reign her in.

We are a Microsoft-based campus, and going to Google Classroom is not an option. The choice of products and services isn’t one I have a voice in, nor do I have a voice in sharing what I’m a master in with technology: digital writing and publishing. However, I have an idea of how to present this to my colleagues during PLCs, so our little enclave will bounce ideas back and forth on how to share writing/text ideas. I am fortunate to have a new colleague in my PLC group who completely gets me when it comes to my love of engaging technology–we may be PC and Mac, but we’re still friends:



He was the one who showed me the new powers of what PDFs can do after a Google Docs fiasco. (It shall forever be known as the Great Emoji Purple Pen Hack of ’15.)

So: onward! I’d like to know who are your ‘go-to’s’ when it comes to tech support–not just at a district level, but your own local PLNs, your friend down the hall, or colleague cross town. I hope folks consider me a go-to, too. I know where the glowing button is.

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Not as wise as I think, perhaps…


This post sits in my Drafts folder, mocking irony that I lack the…what is it, the word? You know, when you have drive and motivation? Oh yeah. Ambition. This question of ambition and professional growth stalks my thoughts, and has for some time now. A convergence of colleagues who have gone onto do great things haunts my thoughts before I sleep, and a cadre of new colleagues who bring a wide range of experience and personalities have me feeling squarely middle. Not a comfortable spot for the oldest sibling, first to do, first to go, fight, trail blaze, etc. Occasionally, I feel like I should be doing more.

What seems to be the problem, ma’am?

Identifying the areas of discomfort and symptoms: when a colleague is touted as the “it” person or the “rock star,” and I’ve been asked if I know this person–yes. When I ask a mentor if I can present great lessons, she skillfully evades the question, so much so I am feeling ‘swiped right.’ (Or is it ‘swipe left?’ Not familiar with Tinder and kids these days and their fandoogled dating apps, you know.) Neither fish nor fowl these days, I have no title, no deeds, no lands. Second-guessing my professional path, I wonder did I get my National Boards too soon? Peak too early? Should I have taken that job?* Why didn’t that group choose me?! 

Don’t put that on a resume…

Perhaps coming into the teaching profession after working in other careers and capacities affects one’s perspective. We all carry the unwritten life resume, our true curricula vitae of our accomplishments and skills: do people know who turned me away that once a woman believed in me so much, not only did she send me to Hamburg to complete the construction and shipping of an important client’s trade-show materials, but I managed to communicate with kindness and diplomacy to workers who didn’t understand English, nor (to my shame) their German? Do they know about the time I stood up for myself after the birth of my first son to allegations of misusing my one month of unpaid maternity leave? (Yes, one month. Yes, he was a twelve-pound baby. Yes, I cried but stated my case.) Or how about the time when I was a busgirl at a Mongolian Grill at 13, and spilled hot tea water on myself but calmly went from the patrons back to the wait-station, ran cold water on my arm and went back to work?

No, they don’t, but they don’t need to. The thing I’m learning the hard way is the teaching profession doesn’t have a lot of options that aren’t linear: 1. Stay teaching 2. Become (or try to) an instructional coach 3. Go into administration. All of these are admirable and worthy–but are they enough?

But I can’t be the only one who has ever felt this way. There must be others who feel cramped in their current positions/roles, and take stock of the ‘what’s next?’ question with gusto. For some it must seem ordained, for others, a scrappy can-do attitude. (I’m more of the latter: roll-up-shirt-sleeves-and-create!) And perhaps it is my creativity and powers of reflection that sustain me, just as they sustain many teachers.

But shine a little light: the moment came during Open House a few weeks ago: my projector’s software was still buggy and frizzed out on me, so for some groups of parents I had to improvise, big time. And I always speak from both my mind and my heart, and shared with the parents my philosophy, that I never lose sight that their child is someone’s baby. And in that moment they knew I loved their children, which I do, and want the best for them, just as for my own sons. I do have purpose, and this is as big of an honor as I could ever ask for.

Sign up. Show up. 

We (women quite often) feel multiple pressure points: from our spouses, children, and our own creative lives. Those voices, those dang voices: Did you plan dinner? Finish grading? Plan that lesson? Write your novel? Everything feels equal and urgent. Our identities are often wrapped up in so many other roles, that when we feel untethered by one of our responsibilities shifting we lose stability, and then fill the void with that seemingly unanswerable question of “What’s next?”

Well, for me: always learning. Trying a new approach. Keeping an open mind. And yes, perhaps writing that novel. If the slots of power are filled, that’s okay, and has always been okay. The artisan still finds a space to create and think–if I am incapable of that, then perhaps a position of leadership isn’t meant for me at this time. Would I like to help train new teachers? Yes, of course. I believe I have something to offer, many things. But as I know for our students, the software avails itself to the great equalizer of opportunity: write, create, and share. Then you’re welcome to come to my table.

So, my menu for this weekend:

  • Voices from the Grave – historical fiction writing unit
  • Its counterpart, Box of Destiny – role playing unit
  • CCSS Reading Literary Text: how does understanding literary devices/terms help inform our understanding?
  • Who is here first, who comes after: how it matters and why?

Some professional resources I am exploring:

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education: I am planning going to the June conference if at all possible.

TpT: Teachers Pay Teachers: May throw some lessons on there and see if anyone else needs/wants them.

Ph.D: I want to be Dr. Love. There. I said it.

I always give myself goals, too, my own little life units. Coincidentally, John Spencer wrote something about that today. This season’s goal is to master Canvas, once my district gets the bugs out of it. Funny –right about 1986 I was ‘mastering canvases’ when getting my Fine Arts degree. Things come around.

*Postscript: No –I am one lucky teacher at the moment.

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Shopping for hope.

My public funding.
My public funding.

A few weeks ago when charter schools in Washington State were deemed unconstitutional because of funding, a parent on KUOW spoke about her disappointment for her child:

One Family Reacts To Supreme Court Charter School Decision

In the interview, the mom Deanne Kilburn struck me as genuine and sincere. The public schools had not challenged her son, and nor continued the promise of providing the breadth and scope of what is demanded for 21st century children, and their futures.

But this is what hit home:

“He’s gone from being an angry, frustrated boy to a wonderful, responsible young man. And I know that that’s always been in him, but the poor teachers at our old school couldn’t nurture those qualities because their hands were always so full with so many other disciplinary problems.”

We teachers see this every day: kids who come to school with far more than milk money, or lack thereof. Parents don’t want their children exposed to this trauma, and potentially danger. (We are under new leadership, and it’s refreshing. The school feels much more safe now, for everyone.) But fear often drives decisions, and it’s difficult to undo a stance taken with one’s amygdala.

The separation of funds will create more inequality, less opportunity, and the cycle may continue. And this mom doesn’t want her son to be caught in the whirlpool. Neither would I.

Before I became a teacher, now ten years, I would have felt the same way had we lived somewhere where the public schools weren’t as excellent as the ones my sons have gone to. Intentionally, we raised our sons K-12 in the same area. That was not something I grew up with: we moved often, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. There are always trade-offs in life, and we tried to give our sons experiences of travel outside of our little berg. We’re lucky, and have a lot of family support, and sacrifice what we can. We are interested in experiences, not things.

And why can’t every child have this? 

I read some of my friends’ Facebook posts fighting to get funding back for their private/charter schools. They have opted to send their children to fundamentally Christian schools, and cannot fathom why public funds shouldn’t pay for their child’s charter private education. Our playing and spinning of word choices are dangerous: ‘charter’ sounds like a beautiful ship, white sails billowing in the winds of change, headed off to grand adventures. “Private” means something secretive, exclusive, perhaps even conspiratorial. No wonder why parents who support charter schools don’t call them what they really are.

This past summer, I met many wonderful teachers from private schools, and they marveled at what we public school teachers dealt with. But it’s important work, and needs to be met head-on.

There is a charter school in my public school’s backyard, too. I hesitate to link it, because I don’t want to seem like I’m promoting it for free. I’m sure it’s perfectly fine, with the best of intentions. One rumor I heard about its creation included the fact that the local schools don’t offer ‘high cap’ programs after elementary, so students who wanted to be academically challenged in an honors environment started to look elsewhere. And I have to say I understand parents’ motivations to support charter schools: everyone wants the best for their child, but ‘best’ is elusive. In my own school, our enrollment in music programs is down, and I wonder if the private/charter school provided those options. We don’t have honors at our school, and for nervous parents I can see how that might be an issue. This isn’t about race or class at my school — we are 75% free and reduced lunch and the diversity is vast and wonderful. So no pretenses: this is about fear, control: and it must shift to partnerships.

But let’s talk about best:

Look into your child’s school: do most of the teachers have a masters, or are National Board Certified Teachers? (Most of our NBCT teachers left last year, leaving me and one other teacher, but that was due to much bigger issues outside of the charter school one.) Does it offer support for special education, knowledgeable staff about inclusion, how honors students find their voice in the classroom, and how does group and collaboration work? There are many unwritten questions to ask teachers, administration, and your child. Does their teacher make them feel capable of learning? How are mistakes handled by students and staff alike?

Perhaps “best” is the ability to know your child is prepared not only academically, but socially to meet the demands of a world environment that struggles, conflicts, and ultimately listens and hopes. We public school teachers do this every day.

Related story:

What happens when a neighborhood school goes away? 


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Care and Feeding of the Introvert


Color me ambivert. Granted, ‘ambivert’ is most likely one of those made-up pop-psychology names for those of us who scribble outside the lines. When give a choice between a tree and forest, I am a shrub. I am a personality ambassador. A party?! Yes! But I usually go home before the glass slippers drops. But most of us operate this way, on this beautiful spectrum.

But this isn’t about me. This is about love and support for my introverted colleagues and more importantly, introverted students. Those who reside closer to the violet of that spectrum, and avoid the red.

Overheard in the teacher’s staff lounge this week, someone musing about how h/she couldn’t understand why anyone who is an introvert would become a teacher, that (paraphrasing here) basically an incongruent choice. Lesson learned? Well, I tried the staff lounge this year, and since nothing has changed but a hefty serving of toxic soup with microwaved meanness, I guess I can’t eat lunch with the cool kids anymore. I was grateful my sister-in-law wasn’t in the room, she would have been mortified. She’s an introvert, and has worked so hard to work her way into the teaching profession. I can’t imagine more lucky kids than the ones she teaches.She is kind, loving, smart, and caring. She just had to get past angry, caustic adults.

Clearly this is not a representative of how most extroverts feel about introverts, at least I hope not. I’ve never heard an extrovert so clearly express such disdain for introverts, and like the king’s guard, I wisely kept my proverbial sword sheathed, and decided to use my power of contemplation and writing to sort this out. BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL! Or something like that. It made me think that maybe the issue of extrovert versus introvert wasn’t as simple as just being understanding of personality types, but maybe some folks don’t think it’s worth the time to understand. Fair enough. I never thought about this as a zero-sum game.

So, most of us have seen Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts. It’s worth watching again: it honors our inner lives, and closest relationships.

And on the blog, What I Learned, a teacher named Jessica gives introverted teachers a few tips, “How to Survive As An Introverted Teacher.” There is really nothing in this list I think particularly resides in the Camp Introvert, because truly, all teachers need time to recharge. Unless you’re a Broadway star doing six shows a week plus matinees it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to be on stage repeatedly per day, per week, per year. And in my experience, it’s not the students that deplete personality resources, but dealing with peers who are less than sensitive. Blaring music at a staff meeting, or a parent letting their amygdala rule the hour, or untrained, interruptive folks, dismissive of ideas and insight. But that’s the world–we all learn how to work together, and if our goals are to make progress and help students, there is nothing that a few personality quirks can harm. Point of fact, we can use these quirks to empower our teaching and our students’ lives.


Because we educators mirror the world to our students as ‘this is one way grown ups may behave,’ then we need to take care and create safe places for all our students, extroverts, ambiverts, and introverts alike.

Embracing Introversion: Way to Stimulate Reserved Students in the Classroom

How to Teach A Young Introvert –companion piece to Susan Cain’s TED talk

Introversion: The Often Forgotten Factor Impacting the Gifted

And we teachers are those grown-ups, living examples of how adults may interact in our students’ futures. The benefits of having a cadre of personality types as teachers help all kinds of students. Students of all personalities and learning styles learn so much about the world with different kinds of teachers. Ultimately, that’s the beauty and the benefit. I think of extroverted teachers that the more introverted students adore, because they see qualities and bravery they admire. I think of introverted teachers who have shown the more extroverted students a path to contemplation and peace those students desperately craved. It’s spellbinding.

quiet people

How do you approach students with different personality types than your own? How about colleagues? I’m interested to hear ideas about ways to work with all kinds of folks.


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It’s working.

What I think of when I see the new hall pass vest...
What I think of when I see the new hall pass vest…

If you live in my part of the country you are experiencing a glorious day today. It’s Labor Day, 69 degrees F, 57% humidity, 5MPH wind. It’s beautiful. Clear blue skies, a hint, a soucent of apple-crispness and promises of an effervescent fall to follow. Ah, lovely…

It’s mellowed me out when I think of my first week back to school, not that I needed much mellowing in truth: it was a wonderful week. We have new admin, new support staff, and new rules that make a lot of sense for students and teachers. The only ones that threw me off were when students can get into the building, which of course I made sure to send out an (incorrect) all-staff email and was summarily and kindly corrected. (It was concerning when students can get into the building, which is a good change –I always just made a pass for the student ahead of time, but this way there will be more flexibility.) The other change that threw me off was the whole-school hall passes: we have a safety vest for ALL THINGS PASSING, and I kid you not, in the first fifteen minutes of class a kid was called to the office and another had a nose bleed. The nose bleed won, and got blood on the vest. (Biohazards are part of the job.)

hall passI am hoping our new principal allows us to manage two passes: the vest for bathrooms, water fountains, and lockers, and one pass for nurse/office. We’ll see. Her philosophy includes ‘no stupid rules,’ and I’m sure she will support us supporting our students.

And I have to say, I am noticing the shifts, and not just with new admin, but with teaching practices in the elementary grades. When asked to ‘turn and talk,’ students in my class did so with ease and honesty. They really did TURN AND TALK – ! — so perhaps some of these pedagogical practices are taking root. There are so many good ideas out there, so much I want to share and discuss, it’s exciting. And once again I am reminded of the nature of the middle school child: when discussing dress code, got in a lively and engaging debate with one 7th grade girl about our culture of shaming, etc. while other students (mostly boys) looked around wondering what the heck was going on. The disparity in development, awareness, and social cues are vast, but that’s what makes middle school kids awesome. But think about it–what if some teacher said, “Hey, I have a great idea! What if we let kids talk about their ideas!” and other teachers said “What, are you crazy?! Kids can’t be trusted to talk.” Nothing would progress.

And there are a few metaphorical grubs and vermin under the rock. As excited as I am to try and share new ideas, and refine some solid ones (I feel very pioneering when I think of my Burning Questions unit, for example, and other original units I created). I was told in a meeting when I asked about starting a “genius hour” that “We can’t do that” by a colleague. Not sure why, or what her reasoning is, just a “no.” But hey, some folks are the proverbial “not the boss of me,” my students are, so I’m going to try it anyway. Cult of Pedagogy just reminded me of this, and so I’m going to think about its implementation when the year gets chugging along. 

But how to go about this? Well, I guess I’m using my 20% time to figure it out! One thing, it’s not a ‘free for all’ time:

JG: Is there a “wrong” way to do 20 percent time?

AJ: The worst thing you can do is assign this project and then sit back and say, Alright, it’s on you guys, 20 percent time, learn what you want! I’m here if you need me! That’s the worst way you can do it. It doesn’t work out. The teacher has to be more active in this learning experience than anything else. Because students need coaching. They need to be connected to the right resources, to the right people. They need help on their projects. There are going to be pitfalls and failures, and they need someone there to kind of say that’s okay, that’s what it’s all about.

I’m not sure how to structure this at first, or when. This LiveBinder is a great place to start, as this bread-crumb starter of an Edutopia article. I am really liking the idea of “pitching” a project as my starting place for them.

My students are chomping at the bit, happy, and engaged–I don’t want to mess this up. I don’t want negativity to undermine them. I can’t help the watchdog in me. I am hoping I can get some support from other staff members, but if not that’s okay. I’ve got the Internet and my PLN, and my students have me. It’ll all work out.

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