Pop the Champagne!

IMG_0707There are many reasons to pop the champagne if you are an educator; you’ve either crossed the finish line or are about to! While I hope every educator will take the time to relax and recharge this summer, some will still have the 2017-18 school year on their mind. Many will be spending time exploring projects, ideas, and technology at their leisure.  If you are feeling overwhelmed already,  below is a great 2-minute-flick on how you can take charge of your own PD this summer and in the future. Now, get off my blog and enjoy the beautiful sun!

https://spark.adobe.com/video/sRN2ryeYhYCti/embed

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.

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which guy?

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image credit: newgrounds.com
So… here we are again…another summer that flies by, another school year ready to kick off, and another few weeks of thoughts swirling in my head about what exactly to say to the hundreds of staff members who wait for my every last breathYou know the last sentence was sarcasm, right?  I used to despise listening to administrators giving speeches to begin the school year.  As a teacher, I already had so much to do, a classroom to set up, curriculum and IEP’s to look over, etc. The last thing I wanted to do was be herded in like cattle to sit and listen to some know-it-all administrator tell me how I’m going to do my job and how wonderful I am, even though he had never met me.

 

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image credit: shamelessmag.com

And now I am “that guy.”   I don’t like being “that guy.”  You know… “That guy” who cuts in front of you in the lunch line, “’that guy” who just has to have the last word, “that guy”’ who has been the gift to education since he stepped into a classroom and knows absolutely everything.

I don’t like the labels “good guy” or “bad guy” either.  My job isn’t a movie plot or a professional wrestling storyline.  However, some will correlate good guy and bad guy, because that’s what was always done.

Some people will call me a good guy, some a bad guy, or, even worse, “that guy.”  While I don’t think I fit any of these personas, I’ll tell you what I think I am. I am the guy.

  • I’m the guy who was appointed by the Board of Education to lead a school district down numerous avenues, sometimes even trailblazing.
  • I’m the guy who is charged with leading principals, supervisors, managers, teachers, and all employees in any and all school interactions, as I have oversight of, either directly or indirectly, every district employee, all school programs, and all facilities.
  • I’m the guy who signs the checks, approves the bills, and makes sure we are getting the best that money can buy.
  • I’m the guy who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Board of Education and am responsible for the administration and supervision of the school district in accordance with Board policies and New Jersey Statutes.
  • I’m the guy who will inspire, lead, guide and direct every member of the administrative, instructional, and support services team in setting and achieving the highest standards of excellence, so that each individual student enrolled in our district may be provided with a completely valuable, meaningful and personally rewarding education.
  • I’m the guy who is an ex-officio member of the Board of Education and serves on every committee, like it or not.
  • I’m the guy who advises the Board on the need for new or revised policy and prepares drafts for Policy Committee review.
  • I’m the guy who supervises the effective implementation of all constitutional or statutory laws, state regulations, and Board policies. Some love that, and some loathe it.
  •  I’m the guy who recommends for promotion, appointment, or employment all employees of the Board and assigns, transfers and recommends for dismissal any and all employees of the Board.
  • I’m the guy who assumes ultimate administrative responsibility for the health, safety, welfare, discipline, assignment, promotion and retention of all students.
  • I’m the guy who will report to the Board of Education on the conditions and needs of the school system and effectiveness of the policies and regulations under which the system is operating.
  • I’m the guy who supervises the physical operation of the school plant and its facilities and makes appropriate recommendations.
  • I’m the guy who is responsible for the general supervision of the instructional programs as well as the one who supervises research essential to the efficient operation of the school system and the improvement of instruction.
  • I’m the guy who makes recommendations to the Board of Education for its adoption of all courses for students as well as the purchase of textbooks, instructional supplies, and equipment.
  • I’m the guy who schedules meetings and professional development for school staff as necessary for the improvement and welfare of the school district.
  • I’m the guy who makes the call for the opening or closing of school during emergency situations.
  • I’m the guy who has to enforce Board policies and implement Board goals whether I like them or not.

I could go on and on for another 8 gazillion bullets, but, hopefully, you get the point.  Bottom line: If it has to deal with school, from a broken pipe to a broken link on the website, I have something to do with it at some point.

You can love me, you can loathe me, or anything in between and outside of the scope of that, but know that this guy is here for your kids.  Kids first! Always!

I think I just finished by back-to-school address.  Here goes nothing.  If it hits home to one person, awesome.  If not, I have Dave Burgess to fall back on this year! 😉

Here’s to all having a great back-to-school year!

Chicagoland: science, STEAM, and sheer awe

The following was published on the BAM radio network and on the AASA website:

In late July, I had the opportunity to participate in the AASA digital consortium summer meet up. The consortium visited two superb districts (Leyden High School District 212 and Deerfield Public School District 109) as well as one Titan in its own class (the Chicago office of Google).

 

The symposium started with an overview of the Leyden school district. A diverse, blue collar town, Leyden has a little bit of everything to offer. What was most impressive was the fact that Leyden truly understood the necessity to prepare young adults to be adults in the workforce.  Not that they weren’t preparing for college prep too, but it’s always fantastic to see what schools are doing for the student going into the workforce. 

Tours like this always start with “the nickel tour” (tour of the building),  which was immaculate. The building itself was over 70 years old, but you would never think it. I later found out that the entire maintenance team are non-outsourced employees, which we all know leads to high quality work and investment in work. When I say immaculate, I could have eaten my lunch off of the floor.


We then saw two specific programs that were essentially turnkeying students for the workforce. One program focused on CNC machinery (tool & dye) and the other was computer repair. You may think CNC machinery as odd, but there is a large CNC plant in town, and the district collaborates with the plant in creating and maintaining the program. The epitome of win-win.


The computer repair program was a variety of mini-stations: a student-lead technology help desk, a chromebook repair station, and a coding station. All stations were oversaw by a teacher, but all work was being completed by students. From diagnosing computer problems to 3D printing parts for said computer problems, it was a well-oiled machine. 

The next day was spent at Google’s Chicago office, where Superintendents from around the country gathered to brainstorm and work through problems. This was all done in one of many conference rooms that Google has. And yes, before you even think about it, he offices were amazing. Part IKEA, part arcade, part diner, and part cubicle, the offices were amazing. All of the things about the Google office that I heard were correct, including:

  • Funky furniture
  • A manicure/pedicure and massage office
  • Fully stocked kitchens on every floor
  • Nap pods
  • Ping pong
  • Some of the most creative minds I will ever come across.

The third day was focusing on another Chicago suburb school district, Deerfield. The district, the almost polar opposite of Leyden, is a K-8 district focusing on preparing students for college prep classes in high school. Most impressive was the newly built science wing, which took three years to build after scads of tinkering to perfection. To be honest, words can’t really begin to describe the detail and quality of these science rooms. The pictures below speak for themselves. Every single aspect of the room was focused on; no stone was left unturned. Highlights of the wing include:

  • Floors that had scientific Equations embedded in them, as well as state of the art seating

  • Monitors all around the room are are connected to one camera in front of the teachers station, so the teacher can model as students partake in labs

  • Rain collection stations for fully functioning aquaponic workstations, along with camera equipped bird houses
  • A hallway designed with RGBOYV for studying purposes, along with monitors that are reporting outdoor temperatures and scientific data

The tour also included a new STEAM lab and was loaded with students talking about their daily experiences. 

In all, three amazing days this summer. Superintendents need to see this – it shows all of us that work needs to be done in our home districts, and also shows us that all of the dreams and thoughts that run through our head everyday are indeed fully capable of becoming student reality.


I’m looking forward to the next collaborative venture. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

The Educators Lead Podcast is amazing!

I was recently featured on the Educators Lead podcast talking about how I worked my way up to become a Superintendent here in New Jersey. I always find it a little odd to listen to yourself, and I say the sound “uhhh” way too much, but overall, it was a great conversation with Jay Willis.

Check it out!

iTunes Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/educators-lead-jay-willis/id1068590753

Stitcher Link: http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=79340&refid=stpr

Google Play Link: http://www.educatorslead.com/googleplay

 

My next book purchase  = The Classroom Chef

Want to read some brilliance? Check out the next book coming out from the amazing folks at Dave Burgess Publishing; it’s going to knock some off of their feet.  The following was written by Dave Burgess himself:

Fast food joints and chain restaurants are ubiquitous on our landscape. New ones pop up all the time, others shut down, and we barely notice.

Why is that?

Because they are dime a dozen, they are the cookie cutters of the restaurant industry, and they are the old-school factory model in an age that increasingly appreciates personalization.

I travel a TON right now…I have a truly crazy schedule. But I also know that I can walk into any (insert the name of any chain restaurant) and get the exact same meal as I did last week in a completely different part of the country. Heck…even in ANOTHER country! Even in their storefront at the airport for god’s sake! They have placed the highest value on consistency and the ability to duplicate and scale their businesses. They have a formula… a recipe to follow…that allows anyone to buy a franchise, plug in the formula, and voilà…instant business. It’s easy! Even the menus and the way the food is prepared have been simplified to the point where you can hire a new cook and easily train them to crank out the same meals as the person they are replacing.

There is a comfort in consistency. A rigid recipe can be reassuring. A formula may not be fun…but sure is easy!

But when is the last time you left a fast food joint raving about how special the meal was that particular time? When was the last time you just had to know who prepared your chain restaurant meal because it was so exquisite? Have you ever heard a story about a short-order cook leaving one establishment to go to another and the customer base moved with him/her? No way!

This happens all the time in the restaurant world, though! What’s the difference?

Simple. There is a huge difference between a short-order cook and a CHEF.

Chefs bring a unique talent, style, flair…a panache to their work. They have a perspective. They have an agenda. They understand the significance of presentation and how to provide just the right balance of everything to create an extraordinary culinary experience to their clients. The menu is more likely to change to reflect growth, newly acquired dishes, and customer feedback. You can’t expect, nor would you likely be happy with, the same meal served and prepared exactly the same each time. There are specialty items that may be available only tonight…just because the chef decided to do something new and different. Tonight is unique.

For far too long we have been serving fast food education to our students.

Cookie cutter, scripted lesson plans (Gag reflex)

Worksheet packets of drivel

Assignments out of textbooks that are so old they have to be dusted off each year

Pre-packaged programs and ready-made curriculum from giant publishing companies that know as much about engaging kids as I do about craft beer. (That’s right, the pirate captain has never had a sip of alcohol in his entire life! #oddfactsaboutDaveBurgess)

We need more educational chefs! Thank goodness John Stevens (@Jstevens009) and Matt Vaudrey (@mrvaudrey) have come to the rescue with one of our newest releases, The Classroom Chef: Sharpen Your Lessons, Season your Classes, Make Math Meaningful.

Let’s get your first question out of way right now: “Is this a math book, then?”

Yes and no.

Is Teach Like a Pirate a U.S. History book? Nope! Every single example in TLAP is drawn from my class but the applications are meant for, and used in, classes of ALL subjects and ALL levels from pre-K to adult ed.

Same thing is true of The Classroom Chef. This is a book about becoming a more engaging and effective teacher. This is a book about powerful pedagogy. It is about the trials, tribulations, and ultimately successes that come from taking risks and seeking something more than short-order recipes in the classroom.

That being said, every single example in the book is drawn from actual math lessons and from multiple levels. Many are straight out of Matt’s and John’s classes giving them the authenticity we all look for…this stuff works! They send MAJOR shout outs to the power of collaboration with their #MTBoS community and there is even a KILLER math lesson about a cookie-eating monster that was contributed by first grade teacher, Jamie Duncan (@jamiedunc3).

There is NO OTHER SUBJECT that I get more questions and comments about as I travel and talk about Teach Like a PIRATE than math. “What does this look like in math?” “I see how this could be applied in social studies and English…but I teach math. My subject is too dry, objective, and skill based for this stuff.”

Bullsh%&!!!

The Classroom Chef is what it looks like in math!!

Too dry?

How about teaching math with mullets, dropping barbies off high places with bungee cords, running action figures and dolls down epic ziplines, discussing GIGANTIC sharks, delivering life-altering lessons on 9/11, and arguing heatedly about toilet paper…all while delivering curriculum and having students master mathematical concepts.

How about starting a math fight? Get them so wound up about which side they have committed to in masterfully designed scenarios that they are desperate to prove they are right. Uh oh!!! The only way they can win is by understanding and using math! Stevens and Vaudrey are pretty tricky!!!

The book is cleverly organized into chef-themed sections: preparing the kitchen, setting the table, appetizers, entrees, side dishes, desserts, and paying the bill.

Appetizers: Ways to creatively hook students at the beginning of class

Entrees: FULL lessons…with a powerful section after the examples about how to prepare your own entrées.

Side Dishes: Taking lessons from good to great to amazing by adding engaging elements.

Dessert: Thoughts on Assessment

The Bill: A plea for courage and risk-taking in your practice.

There is even a “take-out food” section of resources and links for you to be able to find additional ideas and on-going support as you learn to prepare and season your lessons!

Oh! And please don’t skip the footnotes! Hilarious and one of my favorite parts!

Matt and John also deliver KILLER workshops, so feel free to contact us about that, as well. OF COURSE, they come dressed in their fine white chef outfits with striking, tall, white chef hats to inspire and work with your colleagues.

Pick up the Classroom Chef right here on Amazon:

http://goo.gl/ibR9hy

Or here on Barnes & Noble online:

http://goo.gl/Lva8Ey

Be a chef! Prepare tasty lessons that your students will LOVE!