GO SMALL!

I have shared blog posts from Dave Burgess with you before, but this post is rather important.  Sometimes, changing the littlest thing will bring the biggest result. Read below on how to do it in a school. The original post can be found here: http://daveburgess.com/go-small/ )


Go BIG! Take a leap! Shoot for the moon! Jump in with both feet!

We hear this type of advice all the time, and quite frankly, I’m often somebody who gives it. It can be a motivational and inspirational message for some (hopefully!), and it may be just what they need to hear to make major breakthroughs in their lives and career.

For others, it is perhaps overwhelming.

It’s easy to look at all the amazing and innovative developments in education that have taken place over the last few years and to get a major case of “analysis paralysis.” Where do I start? What do I tackle first? How can I make all of these changes all at once? How can I possibly learn everything I need to know to do this? The year has already started, so how can I change course mid-stream? What if students flounder under all this new freedom and autonomy? Am I qualified to lead my students in this new direction?

The struggle is real! I get it…I really do. We see rockstar teachers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and presenting at conferences who have created UNBELIEVABLY empowering classes for their students, and it is easy to feel as if what we are doing is less than adequate. It’s hard to live up to the Pinterest boards and still keep some sort of balance and sanity. How did they get this awesome?

The answer may surprise you, because they often fail to share the most critical part of the journey. The struggle. These classrooms are the product of what is usually a continuous search for new and better, for a mindset of being willing to make small shifts and adjustments in order to test out and experiment with innovative new practices. You are just looking at the end result and feeling overwhelmed but not seeing that each step along the way, when broken down, is very approachable. All of this stuff is doable!

Makeover shows are wildly popular because they show the before and after…PLUS  the journey to transformation. It is in that journey where the real fun and adventure lie. That’s the part that pulls us in. If only a teacher who has traveled this path of the classroom and pedagogical transformation would share the whole story and break it down and just be fully transparent…

It has happened!

Joy Kirr is an unbelievably amazing 7th-grade teacher from Illinois who has been prolifically sharing her ideas and resources for YEARS! Many people who have wanted to jump into the Genius Hour world, for example, have successfully done so using her curated resources. She has truly empowered her students and has designed a learning environment that is not only highly successful…it is flat-out inspirational to behold.

She is that rock-star teacher we were talking about earlier…except that wasn’t always the case. It was a process of making many very small and gradual shifts, all totally doable, over a period of time. We have convinced Joy to swing open the doors of her classroom…the doors of her career…and openly share these shifts and how they have changed her as an educator and, more importantly, changed the class experience for her kids. We have just released her long-awaited book project, Shift This: How to Implement Gradual Changes for MASSIVE Impact In Your Classroom. This is powerful stuff! Classroom set-up and environment, grading practices, homework, class work, student-directed learning, Genius Hour…it ‘s all here. You will be fascinated by her journey and also inspired to take your own.

You can check out Shift This on Amazon (34% off!) here:
https://goo.gl/B59V3Y

Or Barnes & Noble (34% off!) here:
https://goo.gl/gGmV23

When educators who are connected to Joy on social media found out this project was happening, the response was almost universal. “Yes! I want that! She has helped me many times and deserves more recognition for how long she has selflessly served the community.” I hope you will support this new project.  Follow Joy if you aren’t already and tap into the #ShiftThis hashtag on Twitter to continue the discussion.


 

The Do-Over

Sitting on a plane is typically not my favorite thing to do. However, it’s been a great time for me to catch up on reading. I have no excuses not to; no screaming kids (that are mine), no texts, and I even try to refrain from Netflix. I read a book review of

I read a book review of Do Over by Jon Acuff a few weeks back and couldn’t help but to laugh.  The review spoke about how people dread Mondays, their current job, and how people feel stuck in their Groundhog-Day-like jobs (if you don’t get the reference, you need to watch this). Being that I’m always talking or tweeting about how people should leave their job if they are not happy, I was intrigued.

The book eventually delved into a myriad of issues that deal with relationships, skills, character, and hustle. These four qualities help you shape your entire career and how you will proceed.

Some great quotes and takeaways from the book include:

Relationships get you your first job; your skills get you your second. There’s so much truth to that.  Think of your first career or non-career job.  What did you know? Nothing until you stepped into that job. You got that job because you sold yourself as being the best person for that job.  You really learned how to do it once you started it.  And yes, this includes EVERY job in the education field.

When it comes to career relationships, invest in those that you want to keep. Sure, you think everyone one you work with is wonderful at the lunch table (kidding). Yes, you have a circle of friends you keep around but are they REALLY your friends?  If they are, take the time to really know them. They will be with you on your entire journey, whether it be in the same place or not.

Foes are everywhere but limit your defintion. Chances are, people are not out to kill you. Yes, some will try to make your life miserable, are jealous of you, and even will lie about you so they can succeed.  You can’t obsess over them, and you can’t compare the ones that are online to the ones in real life.  As the author states, “if the internet foes were in person, you’d ignore them.”

Miserable foes love company, and also recruits it. Don’t get sucked into foolishness; come in, do your job, do a good one, and proceed with your life.

Don’t burn every bridge you can. Acuff admits that his hands are soaked in gasoline and has done his fair amount of bridge burning.  In fact, we all have burned a bridge or two. But just because you can, do you have to? The workplace is getting smaller and smaller thanks to the internet; chances are you’ll see someone from a burning incident down the line.

When you ignore someone face to face with your phone or computer, you’ve put that person on pause and have made them feel like they don’t matter. I’m guilty of this and have been told more than once occasion to focus.  I blame ADD, but it’s really me just trying to get everything done. Not cool.  Your relationships are the most important things in life, not technology.

Overall, this was a great read that all employees should check out.  This book applies to all walks of life, not just those in education. Your job is what you make of it.  Speaking of, it’s time for a glass of lemonade, not sour lemons.

@EitnerEDU Launches a New Podcast…from the Hot Tub!

Eitner Education debuts in its’ new podcast called “The Tub”! Each episode will feature a trend in schools, a trending book in education, and something to turnkey into your educational lifestyle. This podcast is for all leaders, teachers, and everyone in between.

My first podcast features Rebecca Coda and Rick Jetter, co-authors of “Escaping the School Leaders Dunk Tank”, which is available on amazon, Barnes & Noble, and classy bookstores everywhere!

I hope you enjoy this; thanks for coming on the journey with me!

About The Authors

Dr.  Rick Jetter  is an Educational Consultant, Speaker & Trainer, and Multi-Genre Author. He was a solid “D+” student in 7th grade and he has a cool dog, named George Jetter. Dr. J. also types faster (with two index fingers) than he talks. Dr. J. is interested in all types of topics–especially the ones that no one wants to truly take on (even though they say they do while their fingers are crossed behind their backs).

For more information about the book, Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank: How to Prevail When Others Want to See You Drown, visit http://www.leadershipdunktank.com

Dr. J. has also successfully worked with other authors on their ideas and creative concepts by offering book concept and writing strategies through his own unique coaching process.

He is the founder of and lead consultant at RJ Consultants.

Rebecca Coda is the founder of the Digital Native Network. http://www.digitalnativenetwork.net She currently serves as a STEM Coach, weekly contributing columnist for School Leader’s Now, and article contributor on LinkedIn. She has over 18 years’ experience in education as a teacher, ELA curriculum and assessment writer, and technology program leader. Rebecca is a National Board Certified Teacher & Arizona K12 Center Master Teacher. She is a Christian and lives each day by faith, hope, and love.

Interested in hopping into the tub? Join me on my podcasting journey!

 

Thank your (BOE) president today!

While Presidents’ Day is reserved for honoring and celebrating our American presidents, I can’t help but think about local board of education presidents today as well. Like any elected officials, some you love, some you loathe, but most deserve credit for the time they put in to make sure the best is being done for students. Most have great working relationships with their superintendent, and most know the role that they play. I do keep saying  most, because, well, there are some that do not. I’ll focus on that a little later. Below are three boards that deserve some credit this Presidents’ Day.

Walt Sheets is a proud member of the Lower Alloways Creek community–a retired worker from the PSEG power plant, an active community member, and most importantly to me, a father of four.  Patriotic, witty, and possessing an infectious laugh, Mr. Sheets always had my back. No doubt we had our disagreements and clashes in certain arenas, but he always acknowledged that the superintendent was in charge and listened to my recommendations. What I still admire about Mr. Sheets was his mantra, “You take care of you first, then us (LAC) second.” I learned so much during my time in the crick and owe much of it to him.

Kevin Blondina is a board president that I ran into (literally) by accident. Both of us were enjoying a cigar, and I asked if I could use his lighter because mine kicked. From that point on, we have had one of the most cordial, real friendships around. Mr. Blondina is a financial planner in Sussex County, NJ, and I was working in Salem County. While geographically far apart, we couldn’t  have more commonalities if we tried to. We always make time to catch up over convention dinners and text on a daily basis about educational issues and how they affect us. Kevin is another who wears his heart on his sleeve and wants nothing but the best for students and staff. His passion is admirable, and his leadership style is envious. I owe much of my newly learned diplomacy to him.

Fran DiRocco is now a retired board member. Spending over 20 years on a  board, a decade of them as the president, Mr. DiRocco has navigated through a sea of educational issues ranging from collective bargaining to switching a sending school district. Mr. DiRocco’s professionalism, despite any internal board conflict, has been nothing but top-notch. I was hired under Mr. DiRocco’s term as president and chose to join the district even when the vote was 5 yes and 4 no. Was I crazy for doing so? Yep. Was it worth it?  Absolutely. Besides being 10 miles from home, I was able to work with a board president who knew what needed to be done and backed me when I needed it most. DiRocco didn’t have some underlying agenda, had nothing to prove to the town, and wasn’t bitter or vindictive when things didn’t go his way. He stayed classy until his term expired in December and now thoroughly enjoys his time volunteering at his church and on the local OEM committee.

Needless to say, I admire these three current and former presidents immensely. They set the bar on what great things can happen when an honest agenda and partnership occur.

Now what about the bad presidents?  Yes,  they are out there, too. Sadly, there are presidents who

  • Run to the soccer field to rile up parents when they don’t get their way
  • Undermine a superintendent with a self-righteous political agenda in order to prove that they are right
  • Turn road bumps into sinkholes by taking quotes and data out of context
  • Fail to recognize national and local student recognition and replace it with canned naysayers and planted questions
  • Use the board president’s chair as a springboard to attempt to get on a municipal government
  • Use the president’s chair as a throne to show they are worthy (i.e. If they weren’t hired in town as teachers)
  • Apply a “past practices” mindset to today’s problems when attempting to lead

And, yes, there are scads of examples of this all over the  internet. You will also have the chance to read about some real whoppers by purchasing one of my quick reads this summer–available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble!


Okay, that was a cheap plug, but it is nice to know about the good presidents in the land.  Enjoy the holiday…and thank a president!

The Tech Conductor

Below is a post that was written by Jeffrey Bradbury.  I have been very proud to call Jeff a colleague and great friend since we met at the first EdCampNJ in 2012.  Since then, Jeff has helped me navigate the educational seas on a myriad of levels, ranging from creating a new district website to offering in-person professional development to support staff. Read his great post below:

The other day, I had a technology coach from a neighboring school district visit my school and shadow me for the day.  It was a fantastic experience and something that I hope to be able to do with other districts this year and beyond.  The teacher and I had a great day of learning from one another, but I couldn’t help but use the day to reflect on many of our common conversation topics.  One of the deep conversations we had was around the simple question: “What is a Tech Coach?

Rather than use this post as an opportunity to dive into what a Tech Coach is, and what a Technology Integration Specialist is, I would like to propose a question to my readers that might shed some light on how I have approached these titles and my current position for the last two years.  The question is one that might sound strange, but those knowing my background might find quite interesting.  Should I consider myself a Tech Coach … or a Tech Conductor?

Let’s dive into this topic …

Everything I Know … I learned From The Podium

It’s no secret that my background is in Music Education.  I have countless memories of rehearsal sessions, and amazing performances of the worlds greatest pieces of music.  About 10 years ago (or more) I decided that I wanted to get up and instead of sitting in the orchestra, I wanted to start down a path that allowed me to stand in front of the orchestra and work along side them to perform sonata’s, symphonies, and operas.

It was during that time that I started taking formal conducting lessons from several amazing teachers.  From there, I learned how to physically stand and present myself to not only an orchestra, but a paying audience, and of course work along side a board of directors to help promote my vision, the orchestras vision, and most importantly, the composers visions.

Of all the things that I learned in the world of conducting, these lessons stand out:

  • The conductor is the only one on stage that doesn’t make noise, yet his actions are what tie the group together
  • The musicians don’t need a conductor to know what to do. A conductors job is simply to start everyone and guide them through transitions.
  • Treat every musician with respect, but understand that different instruments require different needs.

It has been through these lessons that I approach every day as a Tech Coach.  It is through these lessons that I find myself more becoming a Tech Conductor.  Let me try and explain how these lessons can be applied in a school system.

From Podium To Classroom … and Back Again

When you break down everything that happens on the podium, it starts and stops with the simple concept of Respect.  I can honestly say that I have my good days and I have had my bad days as I learn how to be a Tech Coach to over 400 staff members.  As a conductor, you have your good days and bad days too.  You have your rehearsals where everything goes well, and you have those times where someone puts you on the spot in a rehearsal and you simply don’t know the answer.  This happens in the classroom all the time.

What is important is that you come prepared to every rehearsal, meeting, classroom, as prepared as possible.  If you don’t know the answer to a question, you always make sure you have a resource (your PLN) that can help you find the answer quickly.

From early on in my conductor training, I learned that the word Maestro is one that gets placed upon you from day one, but the concept of Maestro, a word that literally translates into Teacher, (or coach) is one that is earned day after day, rehearsal after rehearsal and is earned only through respect.  This is extremely true for Technology Coaches who not only work with everyone in a district at all levels, but must also be walking talking resource centers of technology and pedagogy that are essentially on call 24/7.

You Are The Only One Who Doesn’t Make Any Sound

In an orchestra setting, the violin players, play the violin, the tuba players play the tuba, and the bass players play the bass.  Each of these musicians or groups of musicians has an instrument that they can pick up anytime and practice.  A Conductor on the other hand has the orchestra.  There is no try way to practice late at night with an imaginary group of 50 people.  The preparation for Conductors is mostly mental and requires you to study scores of music and practice “gestures” in the air, sometimes in front of mirrors to make sure that the one single time you are in front of a group you get it right.

As a Tech Coach, it is very much the same.  Teachers have the opportunity to learn from their students every day.  They learn how their classrooms work, act, and interact with each other.  As a Tech Coach, you have just one moment to walk into a classroom and nail your lesson.  When you are given an opportunity to present in front of a building, you are given an opportunity to showcase your self in front of 150 (or more) strangers who are all there to learn from, and support you. They know you are in front of them to help them become better educators, but there might not be the same friendly connection that a teacher and a group of students has, or a principal and a faculty have.

Walking into a building to give PD is very much like bring asked to come into a new orchestra and guest conduct a rehearsal or performance without ever getting to meet the musicians.

Your Teachers … They Don’t Need You

Let’s face the fact that teachers have been teaching for hundreds of years without the need for a “Technology Integration Specialist.”  They don’t need “Tech Coaching.”  But … do they?

One of the first rules of conducting is … Show Up When Needed, and Get Out Of The Way …

There are times when you can simply tell a musician how to play something, times when you can describe a sound, and times where you have to grab an instrument from the violin section and demonstrate for a group.

This couldn’t be more truer as a Tech Coach.  There are times where I have worked with a teacher and my role was simply to answer a question or two and back away.  Other situations have lead me to helping them create a co-teaching lesson where together, we worked with the students on an innovative lesson.

In the classroom, the role of a Tech Coach is to quickly enter and assess a situation and provide whatever the teacher needs when they need it.  Perhaps it’s by simply answering a question and other times it’s by picking up the instrument to demonstrate how something should look or sound.

If you choose the right method of support, the group/teacher will appreciate your help and together the rehearsal/lesson will move forward.  If you choose the wrong method at the wrong time, you are libel to insult someone and create a situation you never intended to have started. As a Conductor and as a Tech Coach, it’s always important to know the personalities you are working with so you can quickly make the right decisions and choices.

Some Teachers Are Section Players … Some Are Soloists

If you really think about it, a school district is very much like an orchestra. To conceptualize this, lets break down the different parts of each.

The Orchestra

Violin SectionThe Strings

In the front of a symphony orchestra lies a massive section known as the Strings.  All together, their instruments are in the “violin family.” Their instruments look similar, they play with a bow, and there could be as many as 24 of the same instrument in each of the 5 distinct sections.  Together, they can be broken down into string quartets, trios, and often, composers write for them as either a full section, or as soli sections. Each of the subsections (violins, viola, cells, bass) are seated by rank (ability level) and there is a section leader who is for conversation sake, “the boss” of that section.

The Winds

The next group of musicians behind the strings is the Woodwinds. This section is composed of your Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets, and Bassoons.  They are your mid range, mid level instruments who are put in the awkward position of sitting behind the massive string section, yet they sit in front of the might brass and percussion sections so it’s often possible that while playing loud and proud they don’t get heard when the entire group is playing together.

Winds and BrassThe Brass, Percussion, etc …

Composed of the Trumpets, Trombones, and Tubas, Drums, Marimbas, Cymbals and all other instruments these musicians are highly specialized and are only in your group because, like the winds, they passed an audition based on their ability to be leaders and soloists.  When addressing these musicians a conductor should simply be able to describe in as few words as possible the sound or quality they wish to hear and it should happen with as little retakes as possible.  These are HIGHLY skilled and trained musicians who spend hours in a practice room learning what is known as “excerpts” or very tiny solo passages just to have the opportunity to audition for the group.

A School District

Elementary Teachers

Elementary Teachers, should be approached as a group. In any building, for example, you have several 4th grade teachers all teaching their own class, but teaching a common curriculum to the classroom next door.  They meet in departments to plan common activities but they often do their lesson plans on their own.  When you work with one and not the others, it is often not looked highly on. Sometimes it’s best to talk about concepts such as blended learning, or SAMR models, but they are also the first to allow a Tech Coach to pick up their instrument (classroom) and come in to demonstrate something new and amazing in the world of Technology.

Elementary teachers often have degrees in general elementary education rather than a specialized degree in a subject area and for that reason it’s often best to show a wide variety of examples and build lessons together.  Elementary Teachers and Buildings should be approached the same way a string section is approached.  It’s always best when you are able to demonstrate the concept as well as describe.

Middle School

Much like the proud woodwinds, Middle School teachers are caught between elementary and high school teachers. They have the hardest job because without them students don’t have a solid direction when they get into the older grades.  Also much like the Woodwinds, Middle School teachers are soloists who often times are remembered the most when a student looks back at their favorite years in school  Their hardest job is that they often have to work with a group of students who came from multiple elementary schools and haven’t yet jelled together as individuals yet … and oh, did we mention those wonderful puberty years.

High School

Much like a conductor should never (unless specialized themselves in the instrument) tell a brass player how to play the trumpet, a good Tech Coach should never (or hardly ever) approach a high school teacher and tell them how to teach their subject. . . Trust me …

High School Teachers are HIGHLY talented, and HIGHLY Specialized educators who command the respect of teenagers every day and for those reasons I love popping my head into classrooms each day, asking if they need anything and moving on.  Often, I find myself sitting down with high school teachers to plan out lessons the same way I would sit down with a soloist to plan out a solo passage in a symphony.  If you show them respect, they will reciprocate and come back time and time again because their only goal each year is to produce the best students and pass them on to college.

Just Keep Swimming

So, for those of you that have kids or grandkids, book makers came up with the brilliant idea of adding sounds to board books. I have come to the conclusion that these books are fun to give but are awful to receive; worse than fruitcake.

My daughter’s love their Finding Dory book, and love tapping all of the sounds even more. The sound I hear over and over and over again: “just keep swimming, just keep swimming“. I think it’s easy to say that I’ve heard this phrase at least 500 times in the past week. Ironically, it applies very well this week.

It’s been one hell of a week on my end. Besides the typical tomfoolery of my job and putting my dog down last weekend, I now have to deal with a mold and dry rot issue in my house! I noticed it over the summer that there was leakage; that turned into mold, which turned into dry rot, and a portion of my roof needs to be replaced, along with walls, and my floor. My house has been taken over by plastic sheets. If you have ever seen the TV show Dexter, each room looks like a scene from when Dexter was ready to get down to work! The joys of homeownership. 

We all have moments on our lives where we are tested. Sometimes, it feels like everything is hitting you at once. What I am going through at home is almost what I go through at work on a daily basis. Issues arise everywhere and anytime. Some issues are small; some issues are huge. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but you need to deal with it. In many ways, you just keep swimming.

On days you have you  have a little, or on days you have a whole lot, just keep swimming. Keep on working out what needs to be worked out, but most importantly, keep abreast of your situation and pace yourself. No person will ever get it all done in one day; don’t try to be the first. Keep your head up, prioritize your list of to-do items, and you’ll be fine.

Just keep swimming; it always works out for the best in the end.

still doin’ that

With the school year going into full swing, so are many of the weekend September festivities:  festivals, football, and fall TV.  For educators, it is also a time for weekend conferences, workshops, and EdCamps.

Ever since becoming a superintendent, I have been faced with the same questions at least once a week.  Below is a simple Q & A for you.

“Why do you still participate in EdCamps, conferences, and  weekend workshops?” 

The simple answer is because I enjoy them.  I enjoy learning at these workshops. I enjoy learning from others and with others.  I enjoy networking.  Mostly, I enjoy seeing how other students are learning and how I can harness their triumphs for my own students and teachers.

Yes, some conferences are the same ol‘ same ol.”   I don’t go to those.

Yes, I often run into many of the same people.  So?  Chances are those people are a part of my PLN (personal learning network), and I learn more from them than from anyone else.

Are those folks that do all of these conferences or tweets in some cult or clique? Eh, some of them.  Just because we are on Twitter or the 18,000,000 other avenues of social media does not mean we all get along  – or should for that matter. Difference is good.  Everyone doing the same thing…. bad.  The movers and the shakers always find each other, not for popularity, but so they can grow together. Anyone who is too cool to say, “Hi,” to you or spends their time spewing slander? Drop ’em like French class.  (Remember that movie?)

Do you feel bad is you miss one?  LOL – no.  There have been many conferences/EdcCamps I have experienced.  Some were great; some were not.  In some cases, I served on the organizing committee.  You do your time, and you move on.  If it truly speaks to you, you stick around.  It is not mandated by any means. There are scads of conferences and EdCamps that I’ve partaken in and don’t partake in now.  It’s not a game changer if I don’t go or help out, and it never should be.  If any EdCamp or conference is built around one person, there’s a big problem.

How do you get the time?  That’s the tricky issue these days.  I have an amazing family at home, and my 18-month-old twins require much time and talent.  Not only that, but  I want to spend as much time with them as possible.  Family first, always.

What if you go alone?  ho cares?  You are going for you.  I work the same way.  I’m here to learn something.  If I don’t learn, it’s a waste of my time.

Seriously, you really enjoy this stuff THAT much?  Hell, yeah!  Education is my passion; it’s what drives me.  I am a fearless workhorse who wants nothing more than to have every available option for my students and staff, so that they can learn as well.  I want our students to be productive members of society.  Those students will be taking care of me down the road.  Why would I not want the best for them?

Until the next conference, EdCamp, or whatever the next big thing will be…