Winter Break – a time to relax & reflect

2012.  What a year.

Wait, doesn’t everyone say that every year?  

I think us folks in the Garden State and elsewhere really do mean that this year. Especially these of us in education. While one can argue that every year is a non-stop roller coaster, this year was  different.

New names are etched in stone for many, and not in a nice way.  Sandy. Newtown. Now through in your own school incidents / woes / drama at your school and mix it all up.  There were some rough spots!

Low and behold though, we got through it. We reached a point where everyone can take a breather. A real breather.  I was talking to a friend (not in education) who tried making the argument that when we all were ‘off’ for Sandy it was also a time to recharge.  Really?! I’m thinking it was just the opposite for everyone reading this too. Teachers were thinking how to catch up, Administrators trying to think how to re-schedule and catch up… even the cafeteria workers where I was were trying to figure out where to start!

Enough negative — 2012 was the year of social media for me.  Sure, I had  the typical social media websites and other online fixes that everyone has, and I’ve championed the use of technology in the classroom, but I never really correlated my social media use to my educational growth.  Ironic, because I’ve been always pushing for use of it in every classroom I come across. For me, social media and education was a high point.  I discovered the value of twitter and education, learned that I really can reach thousands of people around the world via this blog, reconnected and made some incredible connections and friendships with amazing educators and administrators from all over NJ and the US, and  even lost 91 pounds this year. Kudos to one of my former coworkers for getting me back to the gym.  Your persistence for exercise and changing eating habits really did pay off.

Winter break is a time to charge up. Sure, party after party, appointments, errands, and all of the little things, but all done at hopefully your pace… and with some leisure mixed within it. As a write this, I can’t believe how quick this week just passed. A week full of fun (despite catching a 24 hour bug on Christmas Eve), relaxing, and even a little daydreaming of sticking my feet in the beautiful sands of my jersey shore.

2012 is about to fade out.  What a year, and yes I really do mean that. See y’all in 2013.  It’s going to be an exciting year 😉

Preaching to the Choir… But naysayers… Take a glance and see the benefits!

Class Tech Tips

I’ve said it before – I love using QR codes in my classroom!


There are a lot of reasons:

  • Takes students directly to a website you have chosen
  • Eliminates frustration of typing in long web addresses (perfect for students in an inclusion class, occupational therapy, etc.)
  • Saves time!

I make QR codes using free QR code generators like Qurify and distribute them to my students as a scavenger hunt. I’ll have questions ready for each website so students are focused as they conduct Internet research. You can post these QR codes around the classroom, create QR stations, or simply give them to your students with their scavenger hunt activity sheet.

Check out my lesson planon using QR Scavenger Hunts in the classroom!

Here’s another lesson plan using QR Scavenger Hunts in the classroom!

One more lesson plan using QR Scavenger Hunts in the classroom!

Here’s a bundle of QR…

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What a great post; I hope all school leaders are heading home.


“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”  -Pope John Paul II

Leadership is demanding.  Complex in its simplicity.  Stressful in its formidable challenges.  It often conspires to reward and frustrate simultaneously.  It can feel like you are pushing a two-ton boulder up a hill.  More often than not, it is two steps forward and one back.  It is just the nature of the work.

Especially deep down, gritty, authentic, servant leadership.  Real leadership.  The kind that makes you believe.  Believe you can do more than you ever imagined.  The kind that makes you feel like you are part of something significant, even life-changing.  Leadership that makes you want to be ‘all in’.

True servant leaders live for those fleeting moments…moments when others rise up with passion and say…”we did it!”  Giving from the core of their being to raise…

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Diane Ravitch's blog

Bob Somerby, taught for many years in the Baltimore public schools. His blog The Daily Howler offers a fearless critique of media coverage of critical events.

His post on the latest international assessments (TIMSS) and the media’s decision tiresome putdown of American students is a classic.

He points out that on the math portions of the TIMSS tests, US students performed about the same as their peers in Finland. On the eighth grade TIMSS math tests, American students in several states outperformed Finland.

This should have been major news, in light of the constant ballyhoo about how poorly U.S. students have been doing for years on international tests. Decrying American student performance is the reformers’ trump card.

But instead of pointing to the real news, most papers told the same old story, which they might as well have written 20 years ago: “US Lags…”

At least a few thoughtful testing…

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If you don’t read Tom Whitby’s stuff, start.

My Island View

I hate the fact that this country has been thrown into this discussion the way that it has. The events leading to this discussion were costly and horrific. As I have stated before we need to discuss the facts and not propaganda or demagogy. We should also examine the facts without emotion which, in light of events and the victims, seems an impossible task. Educators have now been thrust into the discussion as a result of so many schools being victimized. There is also a consideration by some to arm teachers.

In a recent discussion on BAM radio three education groups, a national teacher group, a national principal group, and a national superintendent group were asked about their position on arming teachers. The lens that we use must influence our opinions. The teachers’ group, whose members are closest to kids, was against it. The principals’ group, whose members are closest…

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A great way to spread some holiday cheer. I’m assuming its not a public school though. Regardless, a great tradition with a great message.

Educational Leadership in the 21st Century

This past Saturday morning, as has become the tradition, I decorated our school.  For the last eight years, along with our caretaker, her husband, my wife, and our two daughters we have gone way overboard in creating a Christmas wonderland in and around the gathering area.  Giving up a good part of the weekend is well worth it when you see the many smiling faces as students enter the school on Monday morning and continuously visit the area throughout the week.  This is our way of bringing a bit of Christmas joy to anyone who enters our building.  We’re not the only ones doing this sort of thing.  Schools everywhere spend this week in celebration – holding concerts, planning class parties, and exchanging gifts.  Then, on Friday everyone heads home for the two-week break where celebrations continue with their own families and friends, right?

Well, I’m not so sure about that.  As Christmas break draws near, along with all the fun, it is not…

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Joe Mazza’s letter to use re: Newtown

Below is a letter that was recently shared on Twitter by Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza). It was shared with other administrators purposely and the author encourages you to tweak, cut-n-paste, or use all of it.

Dear [school name] Families:

I’m writing to you tonight to respond to the elementary school shooting that took place in Newtown, Connecticut earlier this morning. My wife and I are tearfully watching on as more horrific details come out over the local and national media on TV and on Twitter.

Our hearts go out to those students, teachers and principals who did not return home from school today and those families and friends related to the Newtown community. We’ve found no words to fully capture the emotions so many of us are feeling right now.

On Monday, parents everywhere will send their students to school. Teachers and principals around the world will return to school with the aim of “business as usual” to provide consistency for our children in a time of great tragedy. I am anticipating that much discussion will occur over the weekend in the homes of our families, but Monday may also bring some further questions and need for dialogue. In the interests of home-school transparency, below I will lay out our carefully carved out plans for Monday, December 17th at [name of] School.

Before School: I will host an all-staff meeting to offer dialogue amongst our teaching staff and review developmentally appropriate conversation structures for our children. We will also complete a full review of our school safety protocol in place. As a staff, we are fully invested in being comprehensive and thorough in our daily approach, and are always looking for new ways to be a better and safer elementary school for all.

During the School Day: Classrooms have the ability to hold “as needed” team meetings to allow students to talk about their feelings in a developmentally appropriate way. Our guidance counselor [name] and I will offer on-demand guidance appointments throughout the day to talk with students who may be having trouble processing information they may have learned at home. If your child is seen by [counselor name] or myself, we will personally call you (parents) to review our conversation in the best interests of our home-school partnership. *Please be advised that the details of the events in Newtown will not be discussed with any students at any time. Details of what students are aware of are solely at the discretion of each individual family.

After the School Day: Personally, today’s tragedy has my wife and I asking ourselves exactly “how safe” the schools are that we will be sending our own children to someday. In an effort to provide our families with as much information as possible on all the ways that students and staff stay safe at [school name], I am personally offering parent walk-in appointments from 12PM-6PM at [school name] on Monday, 12/17/12. At 6PM, I will offer a parents-only discussion forum in our Auditorium as well as a building walk to provide our families with the information needed to confirm our safety procedures and practices, while gathering further ideas on safety from our parent community. If these times do not work for your schedule, please give me a call and we will work out a better time for your family. The meeting is optional of course, but I feel the need to offer this opportunity to speak with you, understand and respond to the anxieties of school-aged parents you hold in the wake of this tragedy. We must work together in the best interests of our children. We are here for our families.

So I can plan for space, if you will join me at 6PM on Monday, please RSVP to [phone number] or [email]

[name and title]

Even in the wake of tragedy, schools continue to be one of the safest places for children to be on a daily basis. Below are some conversational tips from Dr. Michele Borba personally shared on her Twitterfeed today. I trust Michele with my own child’s well-being, and consider her a personal friend and colleague. I hope you find her thoughts helpful.

· Turn off the TV and media on the school shooting when kids are present. Image can negatively impact children regardless of your zip code.
· Talk to the kids tonight or as soon as you see them. Open with “What have you heard?” Kids need the right facts. YOU not their peers provide the best source.
· Kids need to know it’s OK to share their feelings. It’s normal to be upset. Be calm and give only age appropriate information.
· Don’t give more information than the kid is ready to hear. More importantly, let your child know you’re there to listen.
· Don’t expect to help alleviate your kid’s anxiety unless you keep your own in check. Kids are calmer if we are calmer.
· Please don’t think because the child isn’t talking about the events that he/she didn’t hear about it.
· Give the information in small doses. Listen. Watch their response. Kids need processing time. Kids don’t need to know all the details and numbers. End with “I’m here for any questions you may have at anytime.”
· Here’s a great way to curb anxieties: Find proactive ways to alleviate fears about the tragedy. Tonight, offer condolences, draw, write letters to victims as a family.
· Stick to family routines. This soothes the stress and helps kids know that despite tragedy, that the world goes on. The sun will come up tomorrow. Hug!
· Draw kids’ attention to heroism in the tragedy. Use police, teachers, doctors, etc so kids see the goodness in the heartbreak.
· Kids respond to tragic news differently. Let your child know their feelings are normal. Help he/she express them. Follow his/her lead.
· Tonight is the first talk. Keep ongoing dialogue. Don’t explain more than they are ready to hear. Kids process and will want more later.
· T.A.L.K.
o Talk to the kid about the tragedy in an age-appropriate way
o Assess kid coping skills
o Listen, give some information and listen some more
o Kindle hope that the world goes on
· Ask your teen: “What are your pals saying?” Don’t assume they are NOT affected. Ignite their social justice. “What could we do?”
· Plan what you’ll say to your kid about the tragedy to boost their confidence and calmness. It’s OK to say “I don’t know” or “Good question. Let me find out.”

For more information go to

Dealing With Student Death – a time for grief, a time to get even stronger

It’s the day no Administrator wants to see.  It’s the day you hear horror stories about that you hope never comes close to you.  And then it strikes.

On Wednesday, a student where I previously worked lost his battle to cancer.  It was a highly publicized fight; the community continuously came together through spaghetti dinners, casino bus trips,  5K runs, and student-lead fundraising in the school. The community solidified behind him, and nobody ever stopped believing.  

We all know that he’s in a much better place, building on his massive sneaker collection and driving around a yellow Lamborghini (his favorite things – we chatted quite a bit). Now that he is not suffering anymore, how does a school move forward? 

In the midst of holiday festivities, dealing with grief can be especially difficult.   In middle school, this certainty runs the gauntlet – some cry, some vandalize, some take to the arts.  I have found that I’ll let students be students and let staff be staff. If and when they need me, services, resources, or anything else – – I am there for them.

 In any crisis, I get my ducks in a row: I gather resources and have them on-call for staff, I meet with my crisis team, I bring in other counselors from other buildings, and clear my schedule of things that can in the future. 

Some of my resources I use include:

[Thanks to Jerry Blumengarten ( @cybrayman1 ) for providing me additional resources]

In time, a school will transcend to normalcy. The school will also have that new balance of reflecting on the past, and looking towards the future.  A student who dies will never be forgotten by that class, school, or community.  Sure, a school will plant a tree, make a plaque, or something along those lines, but the student’s spirit will live forever.  The students and staff in this building will never forget this, and they will ensure that his legacy will live on.

Cancer is evil.  Everyone knows someone who has had it or has it.  Anyone who has had to deal with head on knows that the family presence is paramount for moving forward. A groundswell of support will flow from your friends, co-workers, and community members.  

My thoughts and prayers go out to the family in this time of need.  I especially am praying for his younger brother; he and I were pretty much lock-step when he was in school.  He has an awesome family at home and school that will tend to his needs.  Stay strong, bud. Mom and Dad need you right now. When you are ready to go back to school, you’ll get whatever you need; your school and community will never stop caring about you. 

::gives fist pound::


Looking Up

Sacred Cow (def’n): Something which cannot be tampered with, or criticized, for fear of public outcry. A person, institution, belief system, etc. which, for no reason other than the demands of established social etiquette or popular opinion, should be accorded respect or reverence, and not touched, handled or examined too closely.

In his paradigm for a new education system, “Stop Stealing Dreams“, Seth Godin mentions the word “industrial” seventy-eight times (creativity only four times and innovation just twice!!). Godin sees industrial thinking as the main problem with our education system.

He asserts that modern schools “…were invented at precisely the same time we were perfecting mass production and interchangeable parts and then mass marketing. ” Modern schools were designed to produce compliant workers and eager consumers for our emerging industrial  economy.

Godin says we’re now living in a “post-industrial age” and need to change our schools for changing…

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Educational Leadership in the 21st Century

For some time now I’ve been preaching to my teachers about the benefits of Twitter. Since opening my own account in May 2011 I would say that I’ve grown more as an educator than in the previous 20 years. The personalized learning offered through a quality PLN is second to none when it comes to relevant professional growth. I know this, but have often wondered if those I work with feel the same way. On more than one occasion in the past, I’ve felt the rolling of eyes while sharing my latest Twitter gold nugget with whoever is ready and willing to listen.

When two teachers approached me a few days back to ask if I would consider hosting an “Introduction to Twitter” supper session, I must say I was a bit reluctant. Hesitant to act on the request, I told them we would probably be the only one’s there, but decided to give it a try, and on February 7th I…

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