Sunday, November 9, 2014

Don't Forget to Dance

I think the tough conversations are important. I want to talk about the big issues. I like to plan for the future. Vision and mission drive me. I could talk about these things all day long.

Today, though, I was reminded that none of this stuff matters if you don't take time to dance. Laughing really hard is important too.

When was the last time you took a dance break? Might be time, huh?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Let's Make Something Beautiful Together

What is beauty? Where does it live and how is it created? At one time in my life, I would have rattled off a list of commercial ideas that I believed constituted the idea of what made something beautiful. Now, I know better. Now, I understand something far greater about beauty. This is a beauty grounded in collaboration and connection.

In the last month, I have grown to understand yet a new definition of community. This is a space where people hold your hand and jump into the unknown with you. This is a group of people that are willing to take your own passion and energy and make it their own. The community I have experienced is one that I have felt in other parts of my life, but recently this drive for a common mission is stronger and more focused on students.

Great connections are born from simple ideas. That's My Cube is no exception. A passing idea turned challenge, turned discussion, turned passion. This is where possibly lives.

That's My Cube is a project that allows educators and students to share their collective stories. By designing a cube and crafting a story, this 3D printed cube can be added to a ever changing art structure. This fluid structure changes as cubes and stories are added. This art piece is owned by no one and belongs to everyone. This piece of art is ours.

That's My Cube is about building beautiful things together. It is a project based on the foundation that when we are connecting and creating in a collaborative space we embrace the beautiful possibilities of our collective selves.

So, please, join us. We want to welcome you into this community. We want this project to include your stories and belong to your students.

Want to read more about That's My Cube and the impact it is having on learning? You got it.

Krissy Venosdale (@venspired)- Don’t Just Think Outside the Box, Recreate ItBrad Gustafson (@GustafsonBrad)- Sharing Your Story in 3D

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


It was a dark morning. Cold and wet outside. Probably the darkest morning so far that school year.

"Good morning, Paul. How are you feeling this morning?" she said in a tone that juxtaposed the weather.

"I am tired," he answered.

"Yeah, where do you feel tired?" 

"In all of my bones," he solemnly replied.

There was a pause. Then there was the honesty. "Me too, Paul. Me too."

She turned away. She knew the truth about October had just been spoken.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Noticing is Not Enough

Everyday, we are bombarded with information. Emails, texts, articles, images, tweets. If this isn't enough, we are exposed to many splintered conversations, interruptions, and distractions. Our lives move quickly, and we are pushed along when we aren't moving fast enough. Rare are the moments we take time to notice deeply and engage in a way that allows the humanity of our space to seep in below the surface.

Do not underestimate the power this space.

Today,  colleague of mine stopped in my room after school. He approached my desk and I greet him without pausing my furiously rushed email responding. He began to speak and I looked up from my computer screen, but the typing continued.

"I just wanted to stop in and ask you how you are doing. Recently, I have noticed you seem really sad."

Typing stops. Time stops. Focus narrows.

The fact of the matter is that noticing is not enough. In one of the fastest shifts that has ever taken place for me, I realized that noticing means very little unless we are brave enough to address our observations head-on with honesty, care, and grace. My colleague could have continued to notice with great detail some of the struggles I am experiencing this year; no action required. In a beautiful display of compassion, he decided that what he noticed was worth addressing. A simple conversation. Some kind words. A few pieces of advice. A ton of care.

Reminding people why we need them to be great is never a bad idea.

As part of team, we must be willing to notice one another at our absolute best and brilliant, and to have the insight to know each person's potential. In moments of struggle, regression, or change, noticing is not enough. When we are able to remind people in these moments of their most raw passion and ability, and the great importance they play in our tribe, we call them back to their best selves. We each fall from our best. It is when those around us coax us back to our full potential by reminding us of how much our community needs us, that is when the true shifts can take place. Allowing people to find their way back is easier when they know the arms are openly awaiting their greatness to return.

Slow. Notice. Stop. Act. Love. Repeat.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Go out sea
(Photo shared by Tuan Anh T)

Over the past week, I have been immersed in real, deep, and meaningful connections. I have spent time with some of the smartest and most talented leaders in education at the BrightBytes Summit. We got to host Sam Davidson at our school and got the pleasure of hearing him talk about leadership with our kids.  Most intensely, I worked with my staff to help continue developing our curriculum. Along the way, I had a few great dinners and a lot of heart-felt conversations.

In all of these interactions and experiences, I have felt, for maybe the first time in my career, a consistent confidence that is not rooted in a situation or a conversational topic but that rests in my core being. An assurance in myself that I can only describe as something deeply felt in sternum. I wondered, as I felt this, how many other people feel this way about their experience and what efforts are made to cultivate this sense of self.

"I am so curious to see where you end up next. Maybe you're not done here, but this won't be your last stop," a gentle comment was mused in my direction. For the first time in a long time, I can honestly say that I don't know what is next. I know what is unfinished in front of me, but I can also see the expiration date and conclusion of that work.

Interestingly enough, I am just as curious about where I am going as the others, and if I am to be honest, my only real hope is that wherever I end up next allows for a complete disruption of everything I currently know.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Falling Into Place

In just twenty-five days of this school year it is becoming extremely obvious that the idea of transformation is starting to take shape as a very real theme in my life. Transformation of curriculum and pedagogy are in full swing as our humanities teachers enter new territory with a learning plan that we invested all summer in crafting. Transformation of practice has begun as we learn how to shift learning in a technology-rich environment, having more 1:1 learning environments than ever in our school's history. Our staff is navigating changes, personally and professionally, that bend us in new ways and require different levels of support and guidance. Things are different this year, and I can only hope that this foundation of change allows us to have enough energy and grace to sustain each other in transformational ways.

This week I took some time to listen to the TED Radio Hour on NPR. The topic? Transformation. If you haven't listened to this installment of the show, I would suggest you stop reading this and spend the rest of that time listening. Each story is chilling. Each is also truly beautiful. They made me pause and reflect upon my own story of change and struggle, but really on the magnificence that is allowed to take place when we embrace the new and the unknown. There is great depth when we are determined to turn tragedy in triumph.

In this moment of listening bliss, I could not help but also think to the kids I know every day. These kids, as adolescents, are going through one of the largest natural transformations we experience as human beings. This time is heartbreaking, confusing, and filled with excitement. Too often I forget the triumph that comes from the pain of growing, as our kids leave before the developmental shifts really start to level.

In this wandering of thoughts, I wondered if my journey this year is that much different from my own students' personal transformation. In more ways than ever before I am searching for a true happiness and purpose in my daily life. I'll explain this not as a search for something new, but for a deeper understanding of that which currently exists. With this search has come a flood of emotions, sadness, joy, and lots of confusion. With this search has come some of the most painful questions I have ever asked, and the budding acceptance around how fuzzy the answers are.

There are tons of smaller opportunities for transformations to happen every single day. Take time this month, as you connect and are hopefully connected to by others, to reflect on how these relationships and perspectives push your thinking, make you kinder, or allow for greater happiness. Take a minute to transform the facial expression of a student, making them smile with eyes instead of lips. Allow your behavior to surprise someone with your unexpected love or thoughtfulness.

In transforming others, we truly change our own self.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Connected Responsibility

(Photo shared by Phil Armstrong)

For much of my blogging life this has been a public place that has served a private need. I write, I reflect, I post. That is that. Sometimes people comment (not often), and once in a while someone will mention my blog in a tweet. It always makes me feel good and connected to my PLN, but it is usually just a fleeting moment. I move on to the next blog post whenever the mood strikes and all is well in my blogging life.

Today, a colleague of mine passed me in the hallway. We exchanged good mornings and pleasantries. As we parted, he said, "You know, you haven't blogged in a while..."

I was speechless. In my real-life world, I talk a lot about social media and connecting, but I don't share the social media space and digital connections with very many people in my school. The fact that a person that shares my daily space was actually aware of my blogging habits really made me stop and think about my responsibility of being a connected educator.

As a connected educator, I try to weave my daily teaching experience with that of like-minded people around the world. In thinking locally and acting globally, I am able to bring the story of our learning, my school, and Baltimore to so many that would otherwise never know what exists in our classrooms. In return, my students gain perspectives and ideas that greatly outweigh the single-focus I provide them.

This comment today made me reflect on a different responsibility of connected leaders. There are people that rely on us to tell the story of our kids and our learning. We must remain a constant force in empowering others to be voices in this story, but we have made that commitment to share. If we stop sharing, people notice. In some cases, pieces of their own voice get lost.

So for me, I must begin to realize that the story I tell is not singular, but a collective story we all own. It is selfish to only share when it feels good or when I want to. If I am to truly be connected to others, it must be a consistent effort that rises above some of the individual difficulties I experience with inspiration, time, and effort, in order to ensure that the community I am helping to connect is able to share their voice.

Share big. Share freely. Share now. You never know who is missing your voice.

Monday, August 18, 2014

We Can't Do This Alone

(Photo shared by Yasin Hassan)

We all have ideas. Most of us have some really great ideas. I am constantly running through scenarios and plans in my head and I would be foolish to think that this wasn't the norm for most people. Recently, I have been reflecting upon why collaboration is so important. Important for both adults and students.

What happens when we are vulnerable enough to share our ideas with another person, or even scarier, a group of people? What happens for you during this collaborative process of laying all these messy, unfinished, half ideas out for others to view and mold? For me, the emotions range from frustration to enlightenment. There is a delicate balance of flushing out ideas and protecting things that I have grown inside my soul. This process is both exhilarating and infuriating.

While I have an ego that tells me to protect ownership of ideas and plans, I know I am only one voice. My thinking is but a small fraction of what is amazing in this world. When paired with the magnitude of thinkers and dreamers around me, that is when the magic happens. This process can be hard for me because I am a know-it-all. I want to have greatest thoughts and be the biggest thinker. The truth is that I would never be where I am or have accomplished what I have without the collaborative power of those brilliant minds that surround me everyday.

I am reminded by my colleagues, my friends, and my husband that I am better when I open myself up to critique and new ideas. This is scary. This requires vulnerability. This demands humility. This is was is beautiful about being part of a community.

As the new year rolls out in front of me, I am reminded that not only must a share openly, but I must also create safe spacing for vulnerability. These spaces must pillow others in the care necessary to be free with their mind and feelings. We must value one another, respect the craziness of big visions, and be willing to ask for clarity. Maybe most importantly, we must remember to thank those that push our thinking and dream alongside us.

Collaboration is built on a foundation of trust. If we can get to this point, anything is possible.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Just Start

This week has been one of the most emotional weeks I have experienced in a very long time. I have cried in my car on the way to work every day this week. I have sobbed as I travelled home in each day. It has been a week of watching events unfold that I have no idea how to process. Often, I have to tap into where I feel, not necessarily what I feel. This week, my emotions have settled in my throat and behind my eyes. There is not one emotion, but instead more like a handful of them have been put in a blender and pureed.

Every time I have engaged in conversations about Michael Brown and the events unfolding in Ferguson, MO I have wept. Today, I reached to ask for help with this. Tonight, I was honest about my comfort level in having these conversations. I want to be courageous. I want to embrace the confusion and fear my kids are experiencing and I want to be a pillar of strength for them. I want to feel like my humanity, my love, and my care are enough to carry that conversation. But I have doubts of my own. I have fears that my experience limits my perspective. I am worried that my own story is so drastically different that I am grossly under qualified to lead such a conversation.

In my classroom, I want to forever honor the human spirit. I want my students to feel safe in learning, in listening, in talking, in crying, in laughing, and in being honest. I want our space to be one where students know we can have the tough conversations that we don't know how to have. I have been watching as teachers have stepped up to make sure we do what is right with our kids by not ignoring what is happening here and providing space to explore what is happening and a space to process.

I am lucky because even with an overwhelming sense of fear, I am driven further by the courage of those around me. Sometimes, we don't have to be the loudest voice, but we can start with a whisper. This year, I make a commitment to start with a whisper. I will not be silent, and I will not be embarrassed to reveal the honesty of my emotions to my students and peers. I will, however, be embarrassed if I don't engage. So I urge you, I plead with you, to not be silent about the issue of injustice, the importance of our humanity, or right we have to be fearful in tough situations. Sometimes, all you can do is just start.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What's So Special About Edcamp Baltimore?

This was originally posted on the SimpleK12 Blog

What’s your initial response to your district’s or school’s professional development options? For most of us, we usually don't experience emotions of excitement, curiosity, and pure anticipation when we hear about the hours of required “professional development” each year. In Baltimore, and around the country, teachers have begun to take matters into their own hands. These are educators that believe in authentic learning not just for their own students but for themselves as well. These are educators that refuse to have the life sucked out of their learning.

On September 27th, Baltimore will host its third annual Edcamp. Since 2012, teachers have traveled from all over Maryland to attend this participant-driven unconference. Topics, all chosen by the educators in attendance the morning of the conference, range from technology integration and tools, to innovative pedagogical strategies, passion-based learning, and much more. This is a time for teachers to connect with other like-minded educators, build partnerships, and talk about the issues that really matter in their classrooms and schools.

What’s so special about Edcamp? In short, this learning experience is all about meeting the participant’s needs. This conference is fertile ground for planting deep seeds of learning and growth, as it allows the voices of our own teachers to drive the direction of the day. It is a space where teachers are truly valued as the experts and their experience is the foundation of the sessions and conversations. Sometimes teaching can feel like a lonely place. Educators must continue to reach out and connect with our local community and allies; Edcamp Baltimore is here to provide that space.

If you would like more information please visit the Edcamp Baltimore website We are anxiously awaiting your unique expertise and energy this year, so please join us!

Want to find out more about the Edcamp movement? Check out these blog posts:

#Edcamp Advice: What to expect at your first Edcamp

Ten things to know to help your day run smoothly Saturday

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Obvious Growth: An #ISTE2014 Reflection

In the summer of 2012, I attended my very first ISTE conference. This prompted the creation of this blog, my first public writing, and my journey into EdTech. This conference and the people that I attended with laid the foundation for the honest reflection I had to do about how I was teaching and what I really wanted for my students. This was both exciting and extremely frightening.

ISTE is a hustle. The days are filled with learning and teaching, conversations, new ideas, sharing and pushing our thought-process to be different. The nights are long with friends and networking and celebrations. It is a late night and early morning space where many of us don't stop moving until we step back home. I heard it described by many as exhausting, draining, and emotional. With so much to take in, allowing the brain and body time to rest and reflect is vitally important in the processing of this experience.

As I rest on my plane ride home, I think back to 2012 and how different my personal and professional lives are today.  This year I had the privilege of bringing two of my colleagues to ISTE for the first time. Our school recently receive a substantial grant that will allow us to propel our 1:1 Chromebook program forward and develop our curriculum and teachers in a way that deeply supports the rich learning we crave for our kids. We have a team of people that I love and trust and that push me to be better each day.

Today I love teaching. Today, I am braver than I have ever been. Today, I feel like I make a difference.

In this travel home, I think about how different I am as a teacher. It is sometimes tough to look back on who I used to be, but a worthwhile exercise. As we push forward, it is important for me to remember this moment. In another two years, I want this same experience. I want to look back and be different. I want to be braver. I want to think some of the things I did and said were silly and misguided. I want the growth to be obvious because that will be it is deep and real.

As I gain strength and let the experience of ISTE marinate in a calmer space, I will push myself and my team to take what we have seen, heard, and learned and push ourselves and our kids to have tougher conversations. I want us to feel safe to explore what we did not learn at this conference, what did not meet our needs, what still needs tweeking. I will remember that all good change comes in a time of acceptance and raw emotion, so I will try to be gentle with myself and others as we jump into the work ahead of us. I will keep in mind the reverse vision of growth I hope to see when I look upon this self in the future, and I will work to make sure that change is obvious.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Destination (not completely) Unknown

Photo by Richard Shaw
Recently I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of school leaders while interviewing for new opportunities within my district. At each table, I have been asked, in some form, about my long term goals. "Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?" This is such a crazy question to me. I am caught off guard each time, even when I prepare and expect someone to throw this inquiry onto the table. 

All my professional life I have been a planner. I like to think big and dream wide. I like action. I seek results. I crave achievement. That being said, I never end up exactly where I think I am going. The path always shifts and detours pop-up, forcing me to rethink the journey, make new decisions, and adjust accordingly. This is one of my favorite things about life: having a plan with the potential for it to shape and shift as I grow and move forward. I have learned that being rigid and fighting for goals to remain stagnant is painful. Jumping on the off-ramp of new opportunity fuels me. 

While my destination is not completely unknown, my goals aren't as neat and clear cut as most might hope for when they ask this question. In truth, my goal is to make change. Big change. Sustainable change. Change that leaves a legacy of doing things in a new way and setting a path for continued growth no matter where I am in relation to that space. I want kids' lives to be better because I challenged the status quo. I want lives to change because they found strength to carry a counter narrative into a place where that story was once silent. 

My goals are bigger than a job title. They are messier than a direct route. There will be moments when I get lost. At times, the road will get rocky and feel impossible. I will probably change course, sometimes with ease and other times kicking and screaming. It will be hard, and exhilarating, and exhausting, and soul-filling, and draining. It is important for me to remember that so many others are traveling this road alongside me. Their journey running parallel to mine. Our destination different, yet very much the same- unknown yet purposeful as we drive forward.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Tough Stuff

Photo by Richard Shaw

It is so hard to say goodbye. This word carries with it an emotional anchor that can sink us at a startling pace. Whether we are physically moving on to a new space, closing a chapter of our lives, or dealing with the passing of a loved one, goodbyes are tough on our hearts. This year, I am watching a group of students take a huge leap into adulthood, spreading their wings to fly away from our school and into the unknown territory of high school. Some of these kids have been at our school since kindergarten. It is scary. It is exciting. It is emotional. 

For a lot of us, summer is a space of freedom, renewed energy, and soul-cleansing relaxation. There is time to do all those things we love but pushed aside during the school year. I know I breathe a little deeper in the warmth of the summer. But as we say our goodbyes, the view of that break can look cloudy and scary. That fear sometimes causes us to act in unpredictable ways, usually in a space where emotions are already sensitive. It is easy to forget that so much of what our kids feel is rooted in fear that may never truly be revealed to us. 

I was reminded recently of this in my own life. With the passing of a family member, I have watched the process of saying goodbye take on many different forms and emotions. Grief has so many confusing faces and much of that process I will never understand. It has been important for me to remember that love trumps all, kindness is vital, and the space needed to say goodbye may or may not include my presence. When words fail, grace succeeds. 

These lessons of life don't necessarily make me better at saying goodbye or help me know how to make that transition easier for anyone, including my students. It does, however, provide me moments for reflection and deeper compassion for how tricky these life changes are for all of us.

Going into our last week of school, I will try to provide opportunities for our kids to embrace their emotions, explore their feelings, and honestly share my own experiences without expecting anything in return.  I will try to better tend to their hearts, even when mine is tired. I will remember that reactions are not emotions, and my response will set the course for important situational outcomes. I will remember to laugh a little more, offer hugs to those that are smiling, and listen carefully to the silent moments. I will remember that it is always better when we don't have to walk through the tough stuff alone. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Making A Mess

Sometimes we have to make a decision to make a mess. Other times, we have to do things that upset people. There will be moments where we know the majority will not understand our actions, or maybe not have the ability to listen to the whole story, and they will judge us. Fear of any of these things will completely stunt change. 

If we want to make sustainable change in the educational landscape, we have to be willing to demo some of the existing structures. We must be willing to push our vision forward and uproot ineffective, stale, and stagnant systems. Breaking down these pieces cause the dust and dirt to stir and it makes our space cloudy. But if we aren't brave enough to knock pieces down, we can never truly transform anything.

This makes people uncomfortable. This is not tidy and it is hard to explain a big vision while standing in the midst of the rubble. The thing is, there is beauty in this space too. As grimy as it can feel, the story of change can be transferred from heart to heart and soul to soul. That doesn't make it any neater or easier to see, but it can build compassion and trust.

In a world where we cannot guarantee equality, we can strive towards change, and we can start constructing something different than we had before. This does not mean we all get the same thing, this means we get the change we work for, and the differences we invest in and steadily nurture. 

It means you have to get your hands dirty, while also trying to get others to see something magnificent beyond the mess. If you can eventually get others to roll up their sleeves too, then you know you are on the right path.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Whole Teacher Approach

Photo by Ben Andreas Harding

What do teachers really need? This is a hotly contested subject. Do we need more autonomy? Better PD? Higher salaries? More praise?

In short: Yes.

Of course it is much more complex than that. Recently, I have had the pleasure of trying to dissect this topic with one of my teaching and thought partners, Amber Johnson. Our multiple platform and somewhat ongoing conversation has wrapped around to a different way of reaching teachers. It isn't revolutionary. It is actually exactly what we believe is best for the kids we teach, just applied to teachers.

What if we focus on the whole teacher? How might our schools be different if we focused on personal passion, healthy lifestyle, and intellectual growth as much as the "professional development" we assign to teachers? This goes beyond listening to teachers and hearing what they need. This is the next step of helping to develop our teachers into more complete, happier, deeply fulfilled human beings. This is a level of care and love that I don't often hear explored in faculty meetings and staff development sessions.

Let's try this on for size...

The Whole Child Tenants (altered to apply to teachers):
  • Each teacher enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Each teacher learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Each teacher is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Each teacher has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Each teacher is challenged academically and prepared for success in further study and participation in a global environment.

Teachers are stretched. We are stressed. We are doing incredible things with kids and sacrificing so much of our personal selves to make these gains, to increase the opportunities of our future generations. I think Bill Ferriter put it best when he wrote Teaching is a Grind.  

What happens when we tap into who teachers are and provide them chances to grow in their hearts and souls, not just in practice and skills? How would this alter our stamina, our drive, our overall health and well being?

I don't know exactly what this looks like in everyday practice, and I am not sure how we make this happen. Luckily, I work with people I really care about and I can't imagine not providing moments for us to explore growth on every level. I begin thinking about how I can dedicate at least a few minutes each meeting, each gathering, each opportunity, formal and informal, to grow together with this group in a different way. Or at least provide space to see what happens when you make personal happiness and heart-strength a priority equal to that of professional practice.

I can't think of any good reason not to at least try.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Thank a Teacher Day: The #Dreamteam

PPPCS Middle School Team

As we move into the last quarter of the school year, I naturally drift into a reflective state. For me, endings always bring a hyper-sensitivity, which causes me to take a step back and a look back at how I arrive where I am. The reflection of my current situation has not been as centered on my students though, but that of the people on my team and the relationships I have built over the past three years at my school.

As a professional, I have worked at three different schools in Baltimore City. My current school is the longest placement I have had thus far. For the most part, our middle school team has remained pretty consistent over those three years. Some teachers have come and gone, but the cement of our team's foundation has began to really take form this year. 

This is an incredible team of educators. This is a team of people that go above and beyond every single day to make kids' lives better than they were yesterday. These people are smart, loving, patient, and forever courageous. These people have sat with me in moments of laughter and in times of tears. We have yelled in both anger and excitement at what was going on around us. And together we have pushed ourselves and one another to grow into better teachers, and different people, than who we were when we started the year. 

This year, there has been tremendous trust and love. This year, these people moved from colleagues to people that hold a really important piece of my heart. They have held that piece, shaped it to be different, and handed it back to me so I can be better. They show me more patience, trust, grace, and love than I truly deserved. They believe in one another and together we have thrived in so many ways. 

What have I learned from this team, these relationships, this opportunity for deep and internal growth? I have learned that I am only as good as the people I surround myself with, yet we are only as good as our willingness to grow and change. I have learned that it is okay to let people make mistakes, and it is even better to let them figure out how to fix it, but the best is loving them through that process. I will forever remember what is feels like to be wrapped in support and care with a group moving towards a common goal. I will carry this body-memory of success with me into my future experiences. I will be a better teacher and leader because of our work together.

I want to take a minute to thank each of the incredible educators I am lucky enough have on my team. 

Amber Johnson - Thank you never failing to be your true, unapologetic self. Your spirit, energy, and love radiate through your drive to make everyone around you better. Thank you for listening carefully and catching the stories of our team and our students. Thank you for caring about me as a person,  as someone that has messy feelings and crazy ideas.

Jes Pegorsch -  Thank you for teaching us all how to tap into our artistic selves. Your honesty about who you are and how you feel pushes me to be braver and to feel more deeply. You have empowered our students to call themselves artists and to find their own path in self-expression.  Every single day I am learning from you and from the art you create with our students.

Adam Bradbury - Thank you for your amazing paternal nature, your kindness, and for your support of every single kid and adult that is in your space. You make us smile and yet always have your eye on the prize, pushing each of us to be a better part of a stronger whole. You model this strength every day, and we follow your lead.

Mike Hendrick - Thank you for your calm wisdom. You bring a history to our space that allows us to tap into the foundation of our school and our community. Your voice is always pragmatic and your spirit is always nurturing. In my opinion, you are by far the most interesting person on our team.

Tom Consroe - Thank you for being a quiet leader. You have an ability to push our kids to be better without them even knowing they are growing. You show us what it looks like to be compassionate and kind, even in the most frustrating moments.

Rob Glotfelty - Thank you for your dedication and drive for growth and change. I have watched you transform our students into young adults that are curious and passionate about science. You share your deep passion for the universe with us all, and it creates a space of wonder and awe. 

Ricardo Horna - Thank you for teaching us how to love what is special and unique about ourselves. Your natural passion for understanding how to inspire people oozes from your teaching. You push all of us to be proud of who we are and what we have to offer, and then you create a space where we can be courageous enough to showcase ourselves in this vulnerable way.

Greg Heid - Thank you for sharing your passion for math and challenging me to adopt a different language around your beloved subject. You have allowed me to explore what makes math beautiful and how I can appreciate math's role in art, nature, and the natural order of our universe. Thank you for helping to change perspectives. And, as always, thanks for balancing my tiger-approach with the calmness of a turtle.

These people represent the PPPCS #dreamteam. I appreciate each one of you for making me a better educator and a better person.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Professional vs. Personal Development

learning to grow.
Photo by Casey Muir-Taylor
Over the last few years we have seen a huge shift in how we develop our teachers. It is no surprise that districts and organizations are beginning to move away from systemic, mass-produced professional development, as the one-size fits all model is neither particularly engaging or effective. With this has come a transformation of PD, with Edcamps and PLCs moving in to take the place of how we traditionally thought about growing teachers.

If you ask teachers, you will probably find that the majority of them are extremely grateful for this change. Teachers need autonomy in how they grow, explore passions, and we also need to build a network of allies that are invested in growing in the same direction as us.

It is becoming more and more apparent to me, as I finish my sixth year of teaching, that being a connected education and having this network of people stretches far beyond my professional growth. This network of people have become far more than colleagues, but true friends that are invested in caring about me as a whole person, not just the piece of me that is an educator. They are people that I connect with over social media, explore educational philosophy and pedagogical struggles with, but it doesn't stop there. I watch them post pictures of their children, celebrate birthdays, and send words of encouragement when hardship and sadness falls. I get messages of encouragement when I am moving into new territory, we share a funny video or new song, and I send a quick note when I haven't heard from someone in a while.

This is a network of people growing the whole educator, caring about the hearts of people.

Last week, I was lucky enough to explore this very topic with a group of educators at Common Ground, the Maryland Society of Technology in Education conference. Andrew Sharos, from Leyden High School in Chicago, was my partner in leading in that session. Andrew and I have worked to connect our classes in various ways this school year and have explored ways to grow as educators. It has been one of the most rewarding and fruitful relationships I have ever had professionally. What I didn't talk about during our presentation were a few of the moments that were more important to me as a person, those points in life when your heart gets a little bigger and your soul a little stronger.

Like getting see Andrew's son for the time.

Or getting to share how our kids at Patterson Park Public Charter School have #leydenpride.

These moments are possible because of being a connected educator, but more than that these experiences have been nurtured by a group of people that encourage educators to take professional development personally. They have become my family in learning and growing and living. 

As we push administrators, districts, and our colleagues to rethink how we grow educators, I will push them to grow the hearts of those around us. When you start with the heart, we all find ways to grow in the direction of love. And when we center that movement in nurturing a community of people that care, it doesn't matter what standards you are nailed to, what curriculum you teach, or what your kids look like, because what you have to give those kids transcends everything external and moves to building internally. These communities allow exceptional personal growth, and that benefits everyone professionally. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Landscape of New and Unknown

Photo by Richard Shaw

How do you know that you are ready to change? At what point does the reward of the risk outweigh the risk of staying the same? Does this happen over a series of days or weeks, or is it a momentary shift that takes place without much notice? Maybe it is just a feeling in the heart that grows strong enough for courage to take over fear.

Recently, I read a blog post by Sam Davidson. The post is a total of twenty-six words. And one image. It could not be a simpler post. Yet, the complexity of the message made it hard for me to breathe. I read it about a month ago and I have thought about the message every single day since then.

If you want to grow, you may need to leave where you are.

But where do you go? Can growth really occur from just changing your environment, or are other factors at play here? Is simply wandering into new spaces, finding new perspectives and meeting new people enough to spur the kind of growth I crave? And if so, then why is it so amazingly frightening?

When I think about my experience in the classroom and as a teacher, every change and risk I have taken have allowed for incredible growth, personally and professionally. Making these changes have shaped my love for kids and deepened my conviction for excellence. At the same time, fear and sadness have always been a part of change for me. Leaving one space, moving on, journeying into unknown territory, all these risks must happen upon a foundation of incredible courage. Courage that sometimes takes time to build stronger than any fear associated with the change itself.

As we move into spring, the whole environment is changing, leaving behind a landscape of winter and exploding into growth and rebirth. Let us take some time to watch the flawlessness of our earth as it transforms so effortlessly. Let us grab strength from this natural phenomenon and use it as a metaphor for our own lives. 

Where can we be brave enough to not just grow, but to completely shift into something beautifully new and different? Who around us is emerging into our space and how can we nurture their journey? How are we building our own courage and strength to traverse the landscape of new and unknown?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Marching On

March is a hard month. The month of testing. The month of spring weather teasing us and winter coldness creeping back to remind us that summer is still very far away. March is the month of not yets, almosts, and not quites. We plug along but everyone seems a little more tired, a little less engaged, and emotions tend to live a little closer to the surface.

In my world, March is that part of my story when things get rough. This is the part of the plot where things get confusing. Tears are always close and sleep is hard to find. This is the part of the story when feelings get hurt and hearts get sad.

March is a month of stamina. March will not last forever. April will be here soon. Energy will increase with the temperature and we will all be reminded of growth and rebirth.

As we march on this month, I am reminded that we all need grace.  My eyes become more open to my own defects of characters. My voice must find the words to ask for forgiveness when it is not easily offered. I am reminded that, as I live out the month of March, for some it lasts much longer than thirty-one days.

In this month, how are we supporting the kids and adults that live in a world of constant Marches? Are we a supportive presence? Is there a space we can listen a little more closely, look a little more carefully, and offer love a little deeper? How often do we stop to assess the struggle behind the blame, bad attitude, negativity, or ask what fear is driving undesirable behavior? How can we help one another better our true selves so we can move more harmoniously, with a deeper purpose and greater passion? 

Let's strive to find that path to march together.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lessons in Leadership

This week I learned a few things about leadership. 

1. Tend to the heart first. Solutions will follow. 

2. When you see struggle, stop and listen. Really listen. Then listen some more. Only then will you understand how to proceed. 

3. You don't have to fix everything. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Legacy Story

Photo by Richard Shaw

Our voices are important. We use them to tell our story, to advocate, to relate, and to empathize. Our voices have the ability to be strong and commanding, and in the next moment they can whisper and soothe. Together, our voices can join and create powerful change. Often, our voices collide in uncomfortable spaces that allow for internal reflection and growth. 

But what happens to our voices once we leave our current space? Does our voice remain or is there only a silent void where songs of life used to exist?

With these questions come the pondering of legacy. Telling our story and empowering the stories of our community are vital and at the heart of what I do as educator. I have turned a corner, though, to start assessing what will actually be changed and left behind. Am I just telling a story, or am I building a legacy to carry that story forward?

The plot of growth and progress are cemented in the stories that remain. Our students and colleagues need to be empowered to not only find their voices, but to work together to create a story that lasts and leads the way for the future. 

What are we leaving behind, and how are we teaching the next generation of kids to leave the notes of their story in the composition of our space?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pleasant Surprise

Photo by Miss Kels

Something incredible happened in Baltimore this weekend. Something I was bit skeptical about at first. Something that I really wasn't sure would work out too great. It was something I have been hoping and dreaming about for teachers in Baltimore for a long time, and on Saturday, pieces of that dream came true.

EdSurge brought to Baltimore the EdTech for Schools Summit. This event was unique in the fact that it was not a conference, there were no sessions, and it was vendor based. You might be thinking what I was thinking at first: Where will the real learning take place? Won't companies just bombard us with products and we will leave feeling a little empty?

I can assure you that this couldn't have been farther from what happened.

Anyone that has ever been to a conference and experienced the vendor hall knows that this is basically a ridiculous, capitalist space. Companies want to sell you something and they are peddling their product to every person that walks by. There are usually so many vendors that it is near-impossible to walk away with new discoveries, as the overload is too much for any one person to process. Vendor halls sell stuff, they don't change minds and they don't create change.

So EdSurge decided to change this a bit. They took away all the noise. A panel of smart people, deeply embedded in education, rated and selected a hand-full of companies that were worth having teachers explore. Around this, a space was created for teachers to dive deep into what these companies offered, the main purpose being feedback. Teachers told the real story to these companies about what they thought of their products.

Now, this is all well and good. Innovative companies and products, teachers, feedback, and it didn't hurt that the event was at the Four Seasons. For me though, the best part was the freedom in this space. There was no set agenda. No formal sessions. Nothing I felt like I was missing. This encouraged conversations. This enabled teachers to sit and talk and share. 

The energy of this day was unlike any event I have attended before, and I would be willing to bet it was because the teachers were allowed to talk. There were not hours blocked off where we were expected to listen, to be passive. This day was active by nature, and it bred a contagious energy of movement. Paradoxically, it also caused people to slow down and talk, think, and reflect.

In addition to feeding off this collective energy, I also reconnected with a few of my dearest friends. In a space with over 700 educators gathered together, you are bound to run into a few people you know. I was lucky enough to get some time with a very old friend that I had not seen in years. Evan Parker, a teacher in Baltimore County, is someone I have known since I was 17 years-old, yet we haven't seen each other in over five years. We were brought together at this event through our common love for Edtech and our excitement for education. We were given a day without boundaries and I we were able to take advantage of this special permission to have free discussion.

For hours we discussed our visions, our dreams, and our families. We talked about struggles we had faced, watched videos of one anothers students, and dug into thoughts around balancing risk-taking with the need for personal responsibility. We asked each other, "What if..." and then we answered the questions. We pushed one another and questioned. We laughed and smiled because we knew something larger, something with greater potential, was building and growing and forming. Something maybe even larger than both us understood.

What happened this weekend was that I (and many others) were invited into a space that was blurred for our benefit. There was strong purpose in the event, yes, but there was an openness can only end in big possibilities and changing hearts. EdSurge brought teachers together and encouraged them to connect. This summit was an event that empowered teachers to take control of their expertise, their knowledge, and the power we have when we come together and think outside the box of normal possibilities.

As a I move forward away from this event, I will ask myself how can I share with reflective exposure? How can I be honest and open with myself through the connections and bonds I build with those around me? What am I doing to carry this energy forward into new spaces? How can this exposure of my thoughts, ideas, and my flaws help inspire others around me? 

From this event, I make two promises. I promise to risk big and I promise to break the rules while doing it. I honestly have no idea what that will look like, what form it will take, or what that journey will look like as it unfolds. I'll let you know as I am figuring it out.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Once Upon a Time...

Once upon a time, I decided to become an educator.

This is how my story starts. Simple and true, six years ago I could have never guessed the twists and turns my career would hold for me or how this story would unfold. Coming off a week of learning, first at the Science Leadership Academy for Educon and then in Florida for FETC, I am pushed to reflect on where I started in education, how I have grown into my role as a teacher, and what I will work towards in learning and changing for the future of our kids.

My story is messy. It is complex. It is full of peaks and valleys, and there are even some pieces of this journey that I will choose to never share publicly. It is a story of my heart growing through the kids I teach and the support of amazing mentors and professional friends. There is both joy and pain in this story, and I anticipate that as I continue to travel this path as an educator I will only add to both of these pieces along the way.

I had the privilege to share a piece of my story this week at FETC. Working alongside some wonderful people, I participated in a presentation surrounding Visual Literacy, with a focus on storytelling. I watched the people in our session listen, smile, laugh, and open their hearts to share pieces of their own story with complete strangers. It was fun, there was music, and we even sang (Happy Birthday Bob!). 

Six years ago I could have never anticipated I would be in a position to share so much of myself with such a gifted group of educators. Three years ago I would have never believed I would love teaching as much as I do this year. Last year, I would have never had the confidence to lead a session at a state-wide conference in front of people with so much experience and talent. Today, all of these are pieces of my story.

It seems, though, that's how story goes. We can guide our stories, make our decisions and plan our actions, but in the end our stories begin to take on a life of their own. They, in a sense, craft themselves into something bigger than any of us could hope to be in this present moment. Our stories are unfolding around us, in front of us, within us, and trailing behind us. The professional and personal stories we share build bonds and open our hearts to secure the allies we need to walk this road in education, the road that ensures the most wonderful future for our kids. These stories break down the walls, expose our flaws, and allow grace to enter in a very big way. Our stories begin to thread together to build powerful communities, deep missions for growth, and perseverance through collective strength. 

In a world where so many silly things about ourselves can be known and accessed, it can be scary to share the more fragile pieces of who we are. Still, we must ensure we are sharing the deepest parts of our story. What we love, our vision for a better future, and our hopes and dreams are not to shielded away. It is only when we are vulnerable enough to share these pieces of ourselves do we open the floodgates of truth and opportinuty that tend to flow naturally from this level of exposure. We have a responsibility to model sharing our own story while creating safe spaces to catch the stories of others. Together we have to love enough to listen for the story.

We must engage our learning community in hopes of reaching truth rather than simply waiting for them to get to the point. We must push one another to find strength in their stories as it builds upon what makes us human. At our core, each person in this world shares a connection with another person. Are we looking for that connection or is the focus on own motives or gains? When we begin to shift our thinking to finding that connection, our hearts grow a little bigger, kindness flows a little deeper, and our capacity for grace expands little wider. And in a world filled with confusion and pain, we could all just a slight expanse of the heart.

In the craziness of months ahead, the throws of testing and stress of bleak winter days, I will seek to catch the stories of both kids and adults. I will be brave enough to share deeply with those around me, moving from the surface story to the real story that lies in my heart and speaks from my soul. I will listen a little more closely, with tender ears that don't judge but remain memorized by the connections we can make with one another. I will help the people around me find power and comfort in their own voice and strength in their own story. I will embrace the uncertainty that comes with exposure and vulnerability in the space of sharing myself, trusting the compassion I know can exist in each one of us, while practicing being gracious when that does not come as a natural first response.

What is your story? Where does it start and how are you sharing the uniqueness of your journey? Are you able to risk enough pride and vulnerability to share these pieces of yourself with your community? At the end of the day, who really knows you, the deepest pieces of your heart? Let's all strive to connect deeper, reaching for that honesty that exists in the story of who we are. Let us trust that in stepping toward this experience we lay the foundation for our individual story, modeling the way for a stronger collective narrative to be crafted and nurtured in this same space.