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I’m just going to dub myself a poor man’s version of Cult of Pedagogy.


The question came my way today from the High School ELA site concerning what electives go well with English/Language Arts. Some of the ‘same ol’ felt tired, such as Creative Writing or Speech/Debate.

Well, let’s see.

This year I’m developing the Computer Technology Essentials curriculum for 7th and 8th-grade classes, which is also under the auspices of Career and Technology Education. Whatever it is, it’s under the Business codes in the grade book. It’s something I can do, and do well, but not my first love. /shrug Love is overrated.

Trying to reconstruct my work process is oddly difficult. “Back in the day”, I created a Traffic/Project Manager position for myself at a small marketing company. I had folders and two-hole punches and a beautiful signature/sign-off system as I planned and passed around projects, meeting deadlines. These years, I sit and create plans and mind maps, and then fill in with details.

We’re adjusting as we go, of course, with the help of four integral colleagues: two teach the course and two help me problem solve for students and staff alike. I wish everyone could have the professional collaborators I know. It makes a world of difference.

Here is one calendar sketch I created:

And it is now a hot mess.

There were approximately 9-11 units of study: Basics, Documents, Curating Content, Presentation Power, Creating Content, Critical Thinking Skills, Movies/Multimedia Production, and Global Connections.

My principal’s intent allows me to support all the content area teachers; since my knowledge is first and foremost in ELA/SS, helping those content area teachers use the technology to create powerful lessons with the tools is my first order.


I asked the teachers in the building to give me some idea of their scope/sequence at the beginning of the year.


It was too much at the beginning of the year without further support from administration (they have enough on their plates), so I found my allies and we’ve been meeting weekly and coming up with what I dubbed “TechTip Tuesdays” a few years ago, and providing just-in-time information to the staff.


Not being an ELA teacher this year I’m out of the loop for many of the current curriculum. (No one has time to meet, so there is a work-around.)


Talking with folks one to one helps me support them. For example, one teacher wanted a way to use Actively Learn better, and I made this quick tutorial:

Some teachers offer driven students the chance to post to the Reading Road Trips blog.

All of our CTE students are posting to the Digital Dogs blog.

Next steps:

  • Adjust the curriculum: where did students get genuinely confused? What lessons did they have the most questions about, and which ones engaged them the most?
  • Create a central location for staff to find those ‘just in time’ resources.
  • Have students create more of the instructional how-to media; when we go into the second semester there will be a higher level of tech acuity so perhaps we can make this adjustment.

Some resources:

Computer literacy is heavily explanatory text based thinking: currently, we’re working with our students to closely read instructions.

This ties in with mind or story mapping tools:

I made this for a colleague:

Postscript: What do I really do? Nag district into getting cool software. Canvas trainings. Scream at the poor user interface and UX design of most apps and software. Complain to my husband about my log-in and sign up fatigue. Make new passwords. Help students remember their passwords. Try to find multiple language apps. Get bored. Get excited. Look at the new shiny. Wonder where the time has gone. Worry that I’ll lose my ELA chops while I’m doing this other thing. Feel insecure. Feel confident. Feel overly confident and then slightly insecure again. Help someone. Laugh at Gerry Brooks videos. Save a ton of links and ideas. Answer 3,241 questions a day about something. Rage at my bad cables that make my Smartnotebook pink. Drink a Fresca once in a while. That’s about it.

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We need a new story.

alba book

This past week we spent three solid, enlightening, and inspiring days at the PLC Institute. I have many practical ‘put it to use immediately’ ideas, as well as a boost on the emotional side of teaching. It takes this level of inspiration and a lot of cantaloupe fruit trays to take three days from summer break and make it seem like a vacation–it was wonderful.

But then the last day, during Mike Mattos‘s keynote speech, we heard the speech from John Kennedy and going to the moon.

That speech is older than I am.

And I’m left asking:

Why don’t we have new stories?

Please don’t misunderstand me: the Apollo missions launched my childhood: civil rights, feminism, space, science, accomplishment. I, or anyone I knew, could do anything, including children of color: we were Americans, and we were smart and awesome. We had just saved the world from the most evil man in history, after all.

There is an inherent ageism in teacher conversations about change, mindset, etc. Referring to a ‘veteran’ teachers is often code for “old.” The truth is many of the same tired and over-used standbys come from younger teachers who were perhaps raised in traditional households, who took hold of some practice, and now don’t remember why. It’s that old ‘bacon in the pan’ story. They were taught how to teach a certain way, and then only listen to the presenter elders when told to mix it up. An older colleague doesn’t always carry the same veneration.

And why should it?

What have we done since we landed on the moon? Why aren’t we not only watching Kennedy challenging the nation, but Obama inspiring us with our Mars colonies? Or our cures for cancer, or diabetes? In listening to a doctor speak to cures about Parkinson’s he noted the stem cell research was halted by non-scientists. We all know someone who “doesn’t believe” in climate change as if it’s a religion and they are free to believe as they wish. Those people may even be in our close families. We have done great things, to be sure, but it all feels so singular, individualistic, and narcissistic. We create for our own emotional stages, and don’t wait to listen for applause in the silenced theatre.

There is not one damn thing to do about it, either. We live in an age where we are not only polarized politically, but the never-ending tug-of-war of ideologies and entrenched concepts mire all of us in the present tense. We all want to be right. We think the other is stupid, wrong, and even dangerously ignorant.

Cult of Pedagogy posted on Facebook a blog post she found inspirational: Of Leaders, Followers and the Self by Sherri Spelic. If I take anything away from the PLC summit, it’s that teamwork is hard, but the most important thing of all, including in our grander scale of families, friendships, and nation.

Spelic writes:

In my classes as well as in my meetings, I want to work with group members who

  • manage to listen and think before speaking,
  •  extend the respect and consideration they also hope to receive,
  • can stay open to ideas which are not their own,
  • are present with positive purpose and intentions,
  • can respect and adhere to constructive group norms,
  • can admit mistakes as well as celebrate successes.

As a teacher, these are my objectives: the skills and competencies I want to develop in my students as we go about the business of learning all things PE. My kids are great at giving me the answers they think I want in response to the question: “What made you successful as a group?”


Not everyone can be the leader. But let’s start with the hard conversation about what makes a good leader, and more importantly, what makes a good follower. It’s the shift toward member. It’s the nuance of ego and efficacy. It’s okay to have beliefs and biases as long as those don’t become an obstacle.

When I am in a reflective place, as I am now, I smirk to myself at other administrators or colleagues who have mocked me for wanting “assume good intentions” as a norm long before I read this was a good thing. It was intuitive to me. It came from a place of life experience, intelligence, and personality. But because I wasn’t offering it from a place of power, it didn’t hold value. I would challenge all collegial conversations to check your perceived value biases at the door. The brand new teacher will have something amazing to offer if you’re quiet for a moment. So might the veteran. So might anyone for that matter — the custodian, the parent, the office secretary. Each member offers insights that cannot be manufactured or crafted. That is truthful authenticity to doing, and accomplishing, anything hard.

Ready when you are.


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#ISTE2016 Unpacked, Unplugged, and Overshared


As my cutie-patootie fictional night-elf-turned-demon says, Illidan Stormrage says, YOU ARE NOT PREPARED! And if only I had listened to him when it came to ISTE. But, purpleman, I learned a lot, and had a blast. Now is the time to share the booty and swag I plundered.

Well, one word I heard over at ISTE that I adore is “medium agnostic,” which I’ve been a fan of for a long time. It’s one of those phrases that frames “I knew what I wanted but I didn’t know the name of it” idea. That is good news that our district is turning more medium agnostic — the work is more important than who makes the tools. In that light, KQUE/Mindshift posted this article this morning:

15 Tech Tool Favorites from ISTE:

15 Tech Tool Favorites From ISTE 2016

Google is all over the place. We’re not a “Google” district, but perhaps that’ll shift.

There are great links in this article, like this Google App poster link.

I missed a lot of the convention, but traded it for spending time with friends I hadn’t seen in years. I had hoped to meet up some folks from the district offices, but missed texts, etc. and it didn’t work out. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share later this summer. I’ve put the invitation out there, so we’ll see. We all manage our to-do lists and idea files differently. This blog is my way of trying to collect those ideas and ‘let’s try this’ stuff. Need to start using my tags better. Put that on to-do list.

Some of my gems and confirmed tech love affairs:


I wish our district would get thinglink for staff and students. It’s interactive: the process of putting one together is engaging and well, cool. I made a point to talk to the Thinglink rep. I tried to get the special 360 deal, but it was being weird. When I have time I’ll write to the company to say I tried to order it with the ISTE code, but it was being buggy. Now that’ll have to wait for next payday, too.

I want to get more involved in 360 stuff.


How cool that I saw Leslie Fisher speak at the Kahoot booth, and show us all new and fancy tricks?

@lesliefisher speaking for Kahoot



We were introduced to Mackinvia a few years ago by a former librarian, and it seems to have some new features. I am going to ask our new librarian about it.
Brainpop and Girls/Coding

Sigh. Okay. One thing. When I tweeted about ‘both genders’ (boy/girl) being discussed at the Coding/Girl Brainpop information, a Twitterbot informed me that perhaps I meant “all genders.” I appreciated the information, to be sure, and it forced to me to think. However, the information presented was binary: boy v girl. And then this was reported this morning:


The Keynote Speakers

Michio Kaku: Overall, it was pretty good. I think he’s great. Some of the information was a bit outdated for this audience, though.

Ruha Benjamin. I don’t know why I missed her talk, but was greatly disappointed.

Michelle Cordy: I missed her keynote address because I was too busy eating breakfast burritos at a restaurant with my friend. Although the burritos were delicious, wish I could have been two places at once.

Hacking The Classroom with Michelle Cordy, aka, “Teacher on an Urgent Quest” from Connected Learning Alliance on Vimeo.

How To Sit at a Table By Yourself, Introvert Edition

Two ladies spilled a coke before I sat down.

How to eat by yourself like a boss.
How to eat by yourself like a boss.

The Artifact App

So flipping cool. 




I have been playing with Twittercasting, but am not sure I love it. This ‘real time’ live feed video stuff is scary.  I could see its application, or ones like it, being used for weekly communication between students and parents. No more “I don’t have any homework.” I don’t give much homework, but usually a continuation of a project that doesn’t require WiFi/internet. When parents ask if their child has homework, the answer is a dodgy no. No more. A quick live-feed cast would have the students sharing with parents what they did that week. Along with Remind, communicating with busy parents may be a lot easier. The goal is to have students take ownership and use metacognition.

I bought a book

Digital Citizenship in Schools, Third Edition, by Mike Ribble. Time for some reading and making.

I also bought this poster.


Other awesomeness:

I tried to meet up with Shelly Sanchez, too, an important part of my #pln, but alas, two ships and all that.

And met the amazing Pernille Ripp!

Since I looked tired, I replaced my normal beautiful face with a bear's face, courtesy of Animal Face.
Since I looked tired, I replaced my normal beautiful face with a bear’s face, courtesy of Animal Face.

Would I go to ISTE again? I’m not sure. Yearly membership is over $300, registering for the conference close to $400, and the airfare, etc. around $450. Am I glad I went? Sure! Next year’s is in San Antonio, and that’s close to my folks! So yes, maybe I will. I’ll certainly be more prepared, and curate with greater efficiency what booths I want to go to, presentations, and who on my PLN list I want to see. One lingering question I have is how did those educators get to the other side of the podiums? How do I better serve my students who are creating amazing things and show what they know? Maybe some of these apps and tools will support their thinking. Besides, it is my job to prepare them, night elf demons notwithstanding.

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My baby, she wrote me a letter.

Thank goodness Principal Brooks has tackled this touchy subject: emails. For months now I’ve been thinking that some of the most urgently needed PD are business communication skills: I realize we educators like to think of ourselves as being superlative communicators, but alas, this is simply not the case, present company included.

Not a Superman changing room. Not a Dr. Who tardis. Just a phone.

Remember, I’m old. I’ve been in other careers before teaching, and in such was a digital pioneer with faxing, e-mails, Windows, Macs, etc. We still used Voice Mail then, and instead of cell phones, and now the beep-beep-boop Smartphones, we utilized pagers! And we ran to payphones to check in! AND–true story–had phone cards so we could make long distance calls from said payphones. I mean, the word ‘payphones’ is coming up as incorrect in Grammarly!! NO GRAMMARLY I AM NOT SPELLING PAYPHONES WRONG.

Yes, it was stressful.

Speaking of all caps: that was one of the first things we learned when using e-mail. The handling, or mishandling, of typography, stood in proxy of our voices. All caps means yelling. Everyone’s worked with someone who uses all caps, and they can change. I’ve seen it.

But aside from the obvious faux pas of all caps, there are much more subtle ways e-mails are awkward. Here are some do’s, don’ts, and some ideas in between:

Pro tips:

  1. Just like Principal Brooks says, if it’s truly for the good of the group, send all staff/reply all. (Note to self: don’t overdo this.)
  2. If you need to send an all-staff email, make sure to preface which group you’re intending the information for, and that others may like it, too.
    • It’s okay to send a personal event to the whole staff: you don’t know who might want to see your dressage event (I think that’s pretty cool!) or if there’s a new baby or grandbaby in the house (yes, please).
    • It’s okay to hit the delete key and not get panties in a wad over an all-staff, too.
  3. Keep them short. You’re not being rude, you’re being efficient.
  4. Don’t keep them so short you don’t answer the questions, though. I’ve gotten a few emails that only half-answer my question.
  5. Exclamation marks aren’t necessary: I’ve noticed a trend that unless you use an exclamation mark you’re not showing the appropriate level of enthusiasm. This is actually a thing. (It’s a hard habit to break, though.)

Don’t feed the trolls.

If an email is used for any other purpose than (clear) communication, then maybe think before hitting send. And this is difficult to admit, but there are staff trolls, just like they’re trolls hiding under Internet bridges and gutters. They’re difficult to detect, and I believe very rare, but in this day and age, it seems that tone/voice trumps good manners, meaning one’s charisma or saying “it’s just the way I am” is an excuse for being rude. If email communication is used to make another colleague seem incompetent that’s not just bad manners, but possibly a human resource issue of creating a hostile work environment.

Please edit, or don’t send at all, if:

  1. The email names or outs another colleague that may be incorrect, untruthful, or damaging.
  2. The email includes asks for advice or help, make sure to thank everyone who weighs in: do not single out one response that is “wrong.” That’s trolling.
  3. The sage advice: don’t hit send when angry. Draft it. Let it sit.
  4. Finally: would this be better in person? If a colleague has trolled to the point of creating tears, document it, and take it up the chain.

Keep your sense of humor, though

Some misfired emails are funny, and unless you’re Secretary of State and a Russian hacker finds purchase in your email mountain, you probably don’t have much to worry about. Delete at will. Set up rules so that your admins’ emails go straight to the top. And always click on the baby picture links.

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Teachers complain about discuss the quality and quantity of professional development (PD) constantly: they seek for differentiation, wish it was more teacher-led as opposed to ‘sit and soak’ and other poor pedagogical methods, there’s no time for PD, there’s too much time taken up with PD, too hot, too cold, sun’s in my eyes, etc. We have instructional coaches, TOSAs, continuing credits, clock-hours (do other states have this concept?), team leaders, curriculum or department heads, district supervisors, outside resources; all manner of talent and authoritative voices providing a spectrum of instruction for the instructors.

But when teachers are given the opportunity to learn something new and they flat-out refuse to participate, what happens then?

Two examples came my way recently, (not naming names to protect the innocent, and not so innocent): in one district, the teachers work their daily shift and feel resentful when any professional development is offered (even with extra pay) off-hours. The district leader tried to bring a reading guru in for elementary school teachers, and the attendance was extremely poor. The second anecdote happened when a good friend tried to share an amazing lesson from a PSWP/NWP teacher/consultant. The morning of her share-out her allotted timeslot came after someone shared charts from Pinterest so they could track growth. The focus was simply tracking growth, no instruction. A huge component of teaching writing is showing and modeling to students a writing life, and how to craft this ‘writing life’ — which means–you write. The teachers wouldn’t write, huffed and puffed, and were as recalcitrant as many of their students.

What a shame.


Most of the teachers were so focused on the tracking of data they’ve lost complete sight about what good instruction is so they CAN GET THE GOOD DATA THEY WANT. Dang, did I just hit the all caps button–okay, okay– calm down. I’m fine. Deep breaths. Deeeeeep breaths…

I recently had the opportunity to share some solid, cross-curricular vocabulary instructional strategies with the staff (another reason I think my new admin rocks). I saw a need, asked my principal, and she green-lit my presentation. Now: timing. That’s the thing. It couldn’t be during a staff meeting because the necessary focus (and very useful and organized) needed for veterans and new staff trained for testing. This proved another opportunity for the veterans to share tips and knowledge about testing, so that was empowering. Since I wouldn’t have a (trapped) audience, I offered the staff two options: an afternoon session and a morning one. My principal sent out an email, too, and offered extra pay for those who attended. During the afternoon session, I had one colleague show up, but because it was just the two of us, we got a chance to explore further. The morning session an ELL paraeducator and a science teacher attended, and that also proved beneficial: the three staff members who attended clearly wanted to expand their knowledge, and the conversations were collaborative and we all learned from one another. They wanted to be there and took away vocabulary strategies for their content areas.

So what goes awry with PD? There may be multiple issues at play:

My friend and I were marveling at one of our mutual mentors, and how she calmly controls a room full of unruly teachers, gains their engagement and curiosity, and gives practical, real-time instructional powerhouses of lessons. I find that PD that I’ve paid for, planned for, etc., also holds more value than some of the sweeping, generalized PD I’ve received ‘for free.’

And just as the issues for ‘bad PD’ are complex, the solutions are as well. Let me rethink that: maybe not. Go through the issues list and when planning for PD, if you can reflectively and honestly respond to those PD pitfalls, you’ve most likely done a pretty good job of coming up with something that folks want. I have found I can lessen the ‘shoot the messenger’ pain when I’m honest with my colleagues. Be honest with the PD–treat your colleagues and staff with respect, don’t ‘talk down to’ or treat them like students, even if you think they’re ‘acting that way.’ It’s tough to grow mindsets when the soil is toxic.*


Nod to Laura Randazzo who created one of the vocabulary strategies.

Here’s a ‘how to’ Sparkol I created based on some lesson I saw somewhere -

There’s No “I” in Teacher: 8 Tips for Collaborative Planning

Managing Conflict in School Leadership Teams

Are you a bad teacher?

*An example of toxic versus non-toxic:

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