Ed Camp


Today I participated in my first “Ed Camp.”  Johnston County Schools, where I work, sponsored their first ever Ed Camp.  I really didn’t know what to expect because from what I knew, these events  are billed as “the un-conference.”

A great video explaining the concept of Ed Camp can be found HERE from edcamp.org.   The event does not have pre-planned sessions.  The organizers set up the logistics (location, session rooms, times for sessions) but the topics for the sessions come organically from the participants.   At the beginning of the day there is a time where participants gather and list potential topics (on stickies or note cards) they would like to discuss or learn more about. Then the organizers take stickies/cards and see which types of topics are requested the most.  The sessions are then “named” and given a location to meet.  Anyone who is interested in that topic can go to that room.  Our agenda was created electronically by the organizers and shared so we could then see which sessions were offered, the times and where.

Once in the room, the magic begins.  Since there is not anyone “in charge” of the session, there is no planned presentation or facilitator.  After everyone gets into the room, people just start asking questions pertaining to the topic.  As they do, others share resources and what works/does not work for them.

I think the best part of it is that the people there, WANT TO BE THERE.  Because of this, they are engaged and are talking about topics that are of interest to them.  Because its on a Saturday, people are giving up their own time and you know that everyone wants to be there.  Everyone is intrinsically motivated to become better at their craft.  Everyone there is a life-long-learner.

What’s also great is that you get to connect with awesome educators from all over.  Twitter handles, emails and blogs are shared so the learning and the connections continue long after the event occurs.  

This is educational collaboration at its best.  We are truly learning from one another, and the strength is that everyone brings their own bit of knowledge and genius to the table. Think if other professions did this!  What learning could occur!!

Although today was my first Ed Camp, it definitely will not be my last!!  Thanks to the team that organized #edcampjoco!

Blog Party!

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Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags. (like “education,” “connected educator,” “education blog,” ……)

  5. Share this post on social media.

Thanks to DreamBigDreamOften for teaching me how to network with bloggers!


Compliance vs. Engagement

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Compliance versus engagement…… that is a conversation that I am having frequently in my educational circles these days.  For me, compliance means students doing what we ask them to do.  They listen, follow directions, take notes, complete tasks, follow procedures set forth by the teacher.  They are…. compliant.  They are “on task.”    They look alert.  Heads are not down, sleeping.

But does that mean they are engaged?  Students can be working on a worksheet and filling in answers, but is that engagement or compliance?  Have you ever sat in a meeting, passively listening and “looked” like you were intently listening, but actually you were day dreaming, planning your grocery list, or doing your next work task in your mind?  This happens to me often.

To me, “Engagement” means your full mind is working.  You are present in that moment – not multitasking.  All other thoughts are shut out because your brain in engulfed in the ideas, thoughts, solutions that are revolving around the current idea.  When students are engaged, we never have to worry about discipline issues.  These issues happen when minds are wondering – even if students “look” like they are being compliant.

There’s also the issue of how we define “compliant” and “engaged” at different levels of education.  At elementary school, engagement is easy to define and see.  Students are actively participating and excited.  They are contributing to the lesson at hand.  However, the water gets muddier in middle and high school.  In some schools, teachers and administrators are ecstatic if all heads are off desks and awake.  They consider this a success.  And yes, this is a vital first step, but it should not stop there.  Being awake is still just being compliant.  Eyes can be open and looking the correct way, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s home.  I challenge that engagement involves a certain “buzz” of excitement.  It’s hard to define – at least for me – but this means students are doing what they are assigned, but that they are thinking, analyzing, hypothesizing information.  To be truly engaged, students have to do more than memorize and regurgitate information.  They must process and synthesize information.  They must analyze this information and use it to create new information or represent the information in a new way.

This is difficult to create in the classroom – especially if a teacher is used to creating traditional lesson plans.  We have been conditioned to be passive participants in our learning, rather than actively engaged in the learning process.  I see this in adult learning as well.  Many adults expect to go into meetings and professional development sessions and sit and learn.  To “sit and get.”  Most of them will tell you that they don’t learn this way and would prefer a more engaging format.  However, when meetings are planned where adults are expected to be active participants, there is a certain undercurrent of resistance.  It’s breaking the mold.  Many adults know what to expect in these “sit and get” sessions – they can passively listen, check emails, read Twitter,  check the weather, etc…  However, if the teaching model is changed to where they must be actively engaged, these options are eliminated.  Some people even seem a little annoyed by it – we are taking their “down” time away.

However, when the session is over, adults almost always realize that they got more out of the session than one conducted in a traditional manner.  I blame culture for this.  We have created a culture where it is acceptable to be a passive gatherer of information and to multitask various things at the same time.  That culture needs to be crushed.  If we are taking the time to attend meetings or training sessions, we should devote our FULL attention, and demand that that the “teachers/trainers” relay information in an engaging, active way.

This is what we want for students, right?  We want them to be present in their learning – not texting, checking email, on Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram, while in class.  However, many teachers design lessons that allow for these options.  We teach kids in passive ways.  When you design lessons that do not truly engage the whole brain, attention wonders.  Brains want to be working, so when the teacher is not working and challenging their full brains, students find other things to fill in the gaps – like social media and creating discipline issues.  That’s one of the reasons students love hands-on learning so much.  It engages their body and minds at the same time.  There’s no room or time for them to be doing other things.

Although I know I do not have the exact answer for how to create engagement over compliance, the graphic below is a great start.  I am excited that in education we are at least to the point of deeply considering this question and making learning more worthwhile for our students.  Even small steps in the right direction are steps!

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Meet and Greet: 1/28/17

Dream Big, Dream Often


It’s the Meet and Greet weekend everyone!!  Strap on your party shoes and join the fun!  

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags.
  4. Feel free to leave your link multiple times!  It is okay to update your link for more exposure every day if you want.  It is up to you!

  5. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new blogs to follow.

See ya on Monday!!

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Capacity for Failure


Failure is not something we really like to think about – or embrace for that matter.  Failure sounds like a dirty word.  Something embarrassing.  We don’t want others to know about our failures.  We usually want to hide them.  How many people do you know who openly talk about their failures?  Not many that I know.

However, I think we are doing each other and our children a disservice by NOT talking about our failures.  If you have not failed, you have not succeeded.  If you take a chance, you usually don’t reach your goal the first time you try.  How many of us just got on a bike and could ride perfectly that first time?  No one I know.

By creating a veil of secrecy around our failures, we are creating an illusion for our children and setting them up for unreal expectations.  If children grow up not seeing or knowing about failure, they will expect themselves to be perfect.  Impossible.  When they don’t achieve that perfection, they feel miserable.  Worthless.

As adults, we have all failed at something – a job we didn’t get, a school we weren’t accepted to, a failed marriage, we fluked a course, we were arrested…..  The list could go on.  Of course we are not proud of failures, but they teach us something – if we choose to reflect and learn.  The majority of successful people have failed.  Not failed once, but MULTIPLE times.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

I love the Michael Jordan story (who can resist, especially if you’re a Tarheel).  He is arguably the most successful basketball player of all time.  However, he didn’t make the basketball team the first time he tried out in high school.  That’s like cutting Tiger Woods from the golf team, or Alex Rodriguez from the high school baseball team.  What?!  Jordan had the choice to allow himself to be crushed by the failure, or use it as a learning and growing opportunity.  He chose to use this experience to motivate him.  And…..you know the rest of the story.  

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I love that Jordan has been open about his failures.  It motivates me.  There are many examples of people we consider to be experts in their field that have faced tremendous failures along the way.  Just a few examples of famous failures can be found in this article.  

In my experience in education, many students are completely knocked over by failure.  I don’t mean actually failing a class – but not coming up with the “right” answer.  In traditional school, students learn to “play school.” – they know the expectations of the teacher and work to give the right answer and get the approval of the teacher.  However, when we challenge students to step outside that box to create and invent as a part of their learning, they will inevitably face failures along the way.  That’s part of the learning process.  The high-achievers are the ones who usually get the most freaked out by this because they have ALWAYS known the right answers.

However, as students experiment and try new things they will fail.  But we need to be deliberate about talking with students about the power of failure.  The opportunities that it brings.  Failure happens for a reason – we didn’t try something in the right order, we left out a key element, etc…  The key to failure is to LEARN from failure.

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho

As educators and parents, we need to be open about failures in our life and how we have learned from them.  We need to model failure.  This will give our children permission to fail.  It will show them that failure is not the end – it’s an opportunity to learn and change.  It’s a new beginning.

If we want to create students who can be truly successful in life, we need to create in them the capacity for failure – the ability to work through failures, learn from them and try again.  We need to teach them to be tough enough to weather failures.  We need them to expect some failures along the way and help them understand these and work through them.  Their egos cannot be so fragile that they can’t withstand failures.  We, as adults, must model failures as growth opportunities for our children.

“The phoenix must burn to emerge.” – Janet Fitch

There are so many inspiring stories about how people have face failures, weathered the storm and come out better for it.  I often look back on some of these when I am facing difficult times and am reminded that I can push through a situation and learn from it.  Failure is never truly failing unless you give up.  I want more of our students to understand this.  In order to achieve a dream, you may fail at the first, second, third……. attempt.  But eventually, if you persevere, the dream is achievable.  

“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” – J.K. Rowling

How Adults are Personalizing Learning

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What is Personalized Learning?  That is a term that comes up a lot these days in the education field.  Many teachers and districts want to make learning more personalized for students, but what does that actually look like?  When you start searching for the answer, there are so many resources that you can easily get lost and overwhelmed.

I think the most basic definition, and example, of Personalized Learning is what we, as adults, do to grow in our professions.  In today’s world, no matter what your profession, you MUST continue to grow and learn.  Doctors learn new surgical techniques, new therapies, new medicines.  I certainly don’t want to go to a doctor that has never done any type of professional learning since graduating from medical school.  Lawyers stay abreast of new laws and current rulings that could affect their practices.  Civil Engineers must stay current on changing laws, new technologies, etc….

In short, if you want to continue to succeed in your profession, you must continue to learn.  But HOW do we learn?  As adults we have a choice as to how we learn.  Some of us attend conferences or face-to-face trainings.  Some read books, journals, or online articles.  Some watch YouTube videos.  Some participate in Twitter Chats or write blogs where they interact with readers.  There are so many resources in today’s world that knowledge is at our fingertips.

I think this is personalization at its best!  I continue to grow in my field in a variety of ways: professional/leadership books, conferences, Twitter, blogs, articles, videos, podcasts.  The great thing about this is, I direct my own learning.  I choose what I want to learn, when I want to learn it and how I want to learn.  When I needed to rewire a lamp, I went to YouTube and quickly found a video that walked me through the steps.  When I wanted to see what flexible seating looked like in a classroom, I found videos and articles.  When I want to see what the hot topics are in my field, I go to Twitter and participate in a Twitter Chat.  In short, I have personalized my learning.

If adults have choice in learning and this keeps us motivated and growing in our field, how would students respond to this type of freedom?  How can we personalize learning for them?  Of course there are specific standards that students must master, but there are no rules for HOW students learn these skills.

Think about multiplication tables for example.  We all had to learn them.  Some of us memorized the equations, some used flash cards, some memorized a song, some had a method using hands/fingers, some used acronyms, some wrote them out.  We all have ways that we learn best and students can usually tell you what works for them.  For instance, I know that I have to see something to internalize it – a graph, reading, chart, photo, etc.  I cannot simply hear information and comprehend it well.

So how do we personalize learning for students?  First and foremost, we have to know our students.  If we don’t know them, there is no way we can personalize instruction.  Each student has a variety of ways that they learn best.  They also have a variety of ways to demonstrate that learning.  Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m not a good test taker?”  The truth is that some people do not demonstrate their learning that way.  But that same student may be able to orally answer questions to demonstrate proficiency.  Or they may be able to create a product that demonstrates mastery: a song, blog post, online presentation, website, etc…..  Do we hold them back because they do not demonstrate mastery on a traditional test?

So how do we begin to tackle this?  There is not an easy answer.  There are choice boards, playlists, and pathways that some educators use.  But just as each child is different, their learning needs are different as well.  How many of us would have gladly learned Main Idea in reading if we had our choice of topics to read: duck hunting, soccer, art, ballet….. ?  There are no rules saying exactly what type of texts must be used….

How do we personalize?  There are a variety of different ways.  The key is to find what works for the student and make that happen.  Our students are worth it!

How do you personalize your learning and/or the learning of your students?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Image credit: http://teachingexcellenceatefsc.com/2016/01/06/public-university-group-expands-personalized-learning-efforts/