Let Me...

Let me surround you with learning. Not in the way that the cacophony of sound surrounds us at a concert or in the way that the humidity surrounds us in the summer heat, but in the way that a nest surrounds and protects and in the way that our covers surrounds us in the night.

Let me capture you with learning. Not in the way that a fugitive is caught by a marshal or the way that allows us to win at capture the flag, but in the way that an image captures our heart and in the way the ideas capture our minds.

Let me help you get lost in learning. Not in the way that has us take the wrong trail or in the way that poor decisions let us lose ourselves, but in the way that allows flow to seep into more of our life so that time stands still and in the way in which we embrace the uncertainty of the next step that potentially holds moments of being both lost and found.

Feeling Resiliency

I've had the pleasure of helping to facilitate a cybercamp this week. It is a free opportunity for our middle school students to think about the essence of cybersecurity and cybersafety in a fun, relaxed environment. We are hosting the event in partnership with the Midwest Cyber Center and Scott Air Force Base. 

It has been incredible to see some amazing airmen who serve our country each day sit side-by-side with silly, funny, energetic middle schoolers working and thinking together solving problems. I didn't realize how amazing that this week would be.

Beyond the learning experience, we are seeing some amazing things. We are seeing serviceman tell their stories about their role in the military. We are seeing kids grow in their resiliency as they work on hard programs on the computers. We are seeing the joy of working together. We are seeing amazing learning emerge because we created the space for it to happen. 

Amazing to see so many kids focused on cybersafety and problem solving. 

Amazing to see so many kids focused on cybersafety and problem solving. 

A great set of learners. 

A great set of learners. 

Ending Professional Development

I'm excited about an event that I'll be participating in this July with ten amazing educators from throughout the country. Just as the edcamp movement changed the way that learning happening, I think that the "Write Now" process of bringing together educator/writers to share their best ideas, concepts, and thoughts so as to release trapped wisdom about topics in the field could do the same. I can see weekend "Write Now" projects happening everywhere that innovative educators are gathering.

Our event this July is a three day retreat called Education Write Now with the goal of writing a book during our time together. In this book, we will focus on important issues facing educators right now. If all goes as planned, we will continue working on it after our retreat with a target print date of December 2017. We could not host this education forum without the support of our sponsor, Routledge who will ultimately publish the collected writings of the team in a single volume.

The idea that I'll be bringing to the table based on hundred of conversations around the country is how do we END professional development as we know it. It is a dead model, and in most cases, not something in which we can be proud. I'll also be sharing the following story about how I've worked to shift this work in the district where I serve. 

Throughout last school year, I've been working to shift thinking around professional learning. The district had built a robust learning delivery model based on face-to-face moments between the "experts" and the learners. The learners were waiting for information, ideas, and resources because it was with what they received that they would forge a new learning path for their students. 

This was a broken model both on the simple level, waiting to be taught what is essential isn't a natural human model and on a deep level, the need to redefine the concept of experts, resources, and ideas is clearly upon us. 

As a way to keep from perpetuating the traditional professional development model, we crafted a new set of learning guidelines and norms.

  • We know that being an expert on a topic is relative and passing in nature. 
  • We know that learning only when it is scheduled on the calendar isn't robust in nature.
  • We know most of the answers are already in the field in some form.
  • We know that experiencing and doing are good adult learning.
  • We know that most meetings for learning lack the nuance that we need for excellence. 
  • We know that modern learning is a dynamic, network-based activity.

These ideas led to the end of technology professional development. They led to no days being scheduled on how to use devices, tools, and resources. They led to no meetings. They also led to discomfort and some confusion which would eventually be a good thing as well.

Shifts and emotions like those described above are rarely possible when we are trying to fix a system, but all of these things are possible when we are ending the system as we know it. Old systems are difficult to massage into new results. 

Instead of the old model, we started some new things for us. (Certainly, these things are happening in other places, but we have our flavor of these concepts.)

  • Build partners with experts that already have a loads of learning content. (Atomic Learning, Bloomboard, Capella University)
  • Release trapped wisdom into the system. We encouraged additional sharing of resources and ideas in job alike groups on Google Classroom.
  • Meet when needed for as short as possible as close to the time of the idea or issue. 
  • Connect technology tools and instructional design every time.
  • Encourage teachers to visit (at least virtually) others already doing the work.
  • Flood the learning spaces with ideas, resources, and supports.

This work has broken a cycle of dependence. It allows the best information to get to the innovative moments in real time. It has created new energy for passion-based, real-time learning. 

For next year, we are exploring a model that allows any teacher to get as much professional learning as they request based on the norms above and the new model described. Professionals take advantage of learning, but they don't take advantage of a system that truly supports what they need. 

Your System

There are lots of overlapping systems that impact learning. Many of these systems are complex and require the nuanced decision making of a seasoned education professional to maximize their positive impact on students.

Other systems though lie beyond the control of most of the educators in the country, and too often, it is these systems that inhibit the grow of the systems that we can control on a daily basis. 

When we focus on the frustration of macrosystems that lie beyond our spheres of influence, we grow frustrated and use an incredible amount of energy pushing back and struggling to make them right. Many of these battles warrant our energy, but they can't overwhelm the energy that we need to orchestrate the systems that we can control. 

Each teacher, each principal, and honestly every student has a system that they can positively influence in their school or district. These are the systems that move in a positive way when hard work is applied to their care. These are the systems that bring joy, celebration, and success to schools. These are the systems that allow individual teachers, teacher collaborative, and students to make their mark on the larger system. 

It is in the success of smaller systems that bigger systems bend to upward pressure to change. It is a rarity that the energy that we apply to changing systems that we have little control will result in the changes that are possible when we maximize, amplify, and grow to fruition the systems in which we have the most control. 

Find your system. Focus on your system. Executive in your system. It is here that the momentum begins. 


I forgive my teacher that made me clean the erasers as my enrichment activity. I understand now that she didn't know the power of differentiation.

I forgive my teacher that forced me to create a poetry book after originally telling us that we had a choice on the project. I understand now that she didn't know the importance of real choice. 

I forgive my calculus teacher that turned off his hearing aides and stopping teaching as a classroom management tool. I understand now that he didn't realize the power of orchestrating a classroom isn't about coercion.

I forgive my teacher that gave me tests on topics that he didn't cover on purpose because it was the test that he create many years ago. I understand now that he didn't know the importance of crafting assessment that was authentic.

I hope that my students can forgive me as I grew in my craft.