20 November 2010

Vasarely: The Visionary

I'm helping my daughter with a little research on Victor Vasarely, "the father of Op-Art." We came across the following quote from Vasarely from 1960. Quite a statement and prediction of our reality from half a century ago.

The individual will never be capable of knowing it all. Therefore, electronics will always help us more and more to hem in the contours of this vast heap of knowledge, to locate the ones in relation to the others, and obtain an intuition of synthesis. No artistic creation of value is any longer conceivable without this global idea of the living world. We must therefore completely rethink the reasons of the creative step and its effect on fellow men. We now know that through the successive levels of the processes of complication of the unit-particle-wave we arrive at the human phenomenon. Art can no longer have a divine explanation, just a beautiful and very materialistic one.

Image by Váradi Zsolt from the Wikipedia Commons.

11 November 2010

PLCs: The Secret to My "Success"

Here in ZPS, we've been having a great discussion about the need for and the benefits of PLCs. As we look to integration of PLCs within the structure of ZPS, I thought I'd share some of my experiences with PLCs and how they've helped me to grow as an educator.

I made a huge career shift when I moved from teaching middle school (primarily 8th grade math and science) to 4th grade back in 2006. That first year in 4th grade was rough. I saw the clock hit midnight in my classroom more times than I'd care to admit and I certainly felt like a first-year teacher all over again (it was year 10, in actuality). That first year I tried to do it all myself: learn new curriculum, figure out how to relate and connect with 9 year olds, and learn to teach reading (thankfully Shari was there to help!).

The second year a major shift began to happen. I began to realize that I couldn't do it all myself and I asked my colleagues for help. Of course, they were willing to share their years of insight and resources. But I had to be willing to ask for and accept help (and accept that I didn't know it all myself). Ironically, that same year, I was introduced to blog A Year of Reading through a Choice Literacy article and my PLN was born and started to grow. But that's a topic for another post.

As I've begun to reflect upon the role of PLCs in my professional life, I realize that I have many different PLCs for many different reasons. My 5th grade team at Roosevelt is a PLC. I'm still a part of my 4th grade team PLC. A group of colleagues formed a PLC around the topic of inquiry last year. Last spring, Lisa, Marcia and I began discussing a Seth Godin video via email and the Visionaries PLC was born. Kim and I have a PLC that meets once a week on the upper elementary playground when we have recess duty. Shari, our literacy coach, weaves in and out all of these PLCs as she finds resources that will support us in the classroom. Plus, there are so many others that I learn from on a regular basis because I am willing to share with them and they share with me (insert plug for Dean Shareski's K12 Online keynote: Sharing, The Moral Imperative).

Yet, these PLCs do so much more than just share lesson ideas and resources. My colleagues in these PLCs share their reading, their reflections, and their personal learning. My PLCs challenge me, inspire me, and help me to make me a better teacher, and often a better person. These PLCs are full of people who have a tremendous amount of passion for learning and for helping kids to learn.

As I've tried to tell many people over the past few years, I'm not as wise as I appear to be (said with a big smile on my face). I simply surround myself with people, both in my PLCs and my PLN, that are wiser than I am. I guess I learned Seth Godin's rule of the Linchpin: "The only way I know of to become a successful linchpin is to build a support team of fellow linchpins."

Thank you, fellow linchpins.

04 November 2010

A Vision for Professional Learning in ZPS

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a training/discussion about coaching, specifically tech coaching. While there are lots of reflections I could share, the conversation that I find myself engaging in with a variety of folks is centered on developing professional learning communities (PLCs) in ZPS. Sandy & Shari started this conversation this summer when they began talking about creating PLCs in ZPS prior to presenting at the administrative retreat.

At our tech coach discussion, Steve began by having us view this video by Sheryl Nussbaum Beach of Powerful Learning Practice, a group that facilitates professional development through a "cohort model [that] offers a unique approach to introducing educators to the transformative online technologies that are challenging the traditional view of teaching and learning." Our purpose for watching was to understand the difference between PLCs and PLNs, and then look at how our vision for instructional/tech coaches fits with the two and other existing structures within ZPS.

As my group began to discuss and illustrate our thoughts on chart paper, a drawing similar to the one pictured below began to emerge. Groups then had a chance to share out. The drawing below represents my synthesis of the thinking that was shared that day (in other words, these are not my own thoughts). I am hoping that other ZPS staff who were not present at the coaching meeting will be willing to view and edit the following drawing in Google Docs so we can create a vision for professional learning communities in ZPS as we make the transition to "transformative" learning in conjunction with our roll-out of 1:1 technologies.

27 October 2010

Practicing Empathy

In a recent post, Will Richardson shared a video of a discussion between himself and Lisa Brady, the superintendent of the district he was formerly employed by and where his kids now attend school. It was a great discussion about the challenges and successes of going 1:1 and the realities of introducing social networking. As Will writes, "I think it’s great opportunity to hear a school leader in the midst of shifting a traditional school to a inquiry-based curriculum grounded in technology and online social learning tools talk about some of her thinking around making those changes."

I highly recommend viewing it.

As I've been thinking about the big shift that is occurring and talking about it with colleagues, I'll admit that I don't always remember to practice empathy and put myself in their shoes. In a comment on the same post from Will, Susan Davis wrote the following:

I am struck by your (our) frequent use of the word “shift.” To many, I think it feels more like a quake. Even as a quake, the earth moving under our feet — the change in the way learning is happening in the world — can make us feel excited (hey, that’s cool, I wonder what that shaking means…) or it can feel pretty scary (hey, my house is falling down around me).

This conversation reminds me to feel a little more empathy for those whose educational houses are falling down around them.

When Lisa Brady asks, as if for those scared and shaken folks, “Where’s my entry point?” we can imagine how they are seeing a world where the doors are moving side to side so fast they can’t see beyond them. Still, there is some urgency, the ground is shaking, and they need to get through one of those passages and safely to the other side.

It was a good reminder to me to practice empathy with my colleagues "whose educational houses are falling down around them."

Reflections from TLC 10

[This post has been adapted from an email I sent to our Technology Plan Implementation Team, a group responsible for overseeing our technology plan which includes the move to 1:1 for students in grades 3-12. I'm posting it here because it explains a lot of the thinking going on inside my head and will give some background to future posts.]

Last Friday I attended the Teaching and Learning in the Cloud Conference
. I left the conference with my head spinning and I’ve spent time this weekend trying to figure out why and putting words to what I am feeling.

I went in to the conference with the unanswered question of the week (which device for students - netbooks or a pad/tablet?) on my brain, as I felt the question of the professional development for staff had been answered. Starting with the opening keynote by Wes Fryer, I was quickly reminded that the technology itself will never change learning, only by changing the teaching can we change the learning. As he wrapped up his keynote, he challenged us to look at the web 2.0 tools that were being presented as either accommodating (doing the same thing with a new tool -- ex. typing the same essay in class on a netbook) or transformative (changing the way students learn -- ex. students collaborating to create a unique product that they can share with a global audience). I’ll get back to this point later.

After that session, a colleague had the opportunity to talk with two local ed tech leaders. I started off first asking what device they would choose if they were in our shoes and both of them replied that it isn’t about the device and wanted to know about our goals for the technology. One of them said that he would take whatever funds he had and devote 25% of them to professional development.

Later on, I had the chance to ask the tech director of a local district, about the expectations they have for teachers and 1:1 and how they hold them accountable. He said there some common expectations (i.e. everyone uses Moodle), but they use it to varying degrees. He explained that tech coaches and administrators work together to help set individual goals for staff and staff have quarterly tech goal meetings to discuss the technology they are using. He explained that while they are doing lots of great things, there are cases where parents will call and ask “why is ___ grade at ____ school using more technology than the same grade at another school?” or parents of a high school student calling wondering why their student only plays games on his laptop at night as his teachers don't require use of technology for learning. Once again, the message to me was the tool isn’t important, it is how it is used to transform learning.

During my last session of the day, I had a chance to ask Ben Rimes, a tech specialist, about his district’s plan to go 1:1 next fall. They have an interesting plan for how to train staff that I’ll share later, but here’s what stuck with me. While we were chatting, another person who teaches at a charter school explained that they had been 1:1, but administration found it too difficult to keep everyone invested and are allowing the initiative to die away. I’m sure that school has more issues than just investment in technology, but the key thing that has stuck with me is that staff need to be invested and trained well.

All of these interactions and conversations through the day left me feeling that even with our tech plan outlining 7 instructional/tech coaches, six 1/2 day training sessions, inspirational speakers, etc. is it enough?

Late last week, the Science Leadership Academy, a public magnet school in Philadelphia, considered by many to be a model for tech integration and transformative learning, was featured on the Apple Education website. I mention it here, not because of the tools they are using, but because of the way they continually train staff. Here’s a paragraph from the article:

Although most new teachers arrive at the school already familiar with its learning approach, they participate in a weeklong boot camp that covers curriculum and technology. During the school year, faculty members meet for two hours of professional development each week to examine their own practices and share insights from the classroom. Staff development continues on the school’s website, where teachers discuss tools and resources in forums and blogs and post unit plans that are shared across disciplines.

If I were to synthesize all of my thinking down to one point, it would be this: the shift to transformative learning using technology is huge, for both teachers and students, and much larger than I've imagined. As I try to look at the process with our End Goals in mind, I see that there are so many layers to the professional development piece: learning the tool, integrating curriculum, learning to collaborate digitally, changing instructional practices, to name just a few.
I do believe that I have entered the Valley of Insight. This is going to be quite an adventure....

19 September 2010

Thinking "Ish-ly"

Last Tuesday, my fifth grade students and I shared a reading of Peter Reynolds' Ish. The book tells the tale of Ramon who loves to draw, but, after his older brother Leon makes fun of his drawings, begins to believe that he can't draw well. Thankfully, Ramon's younger sister, Marisol, helps him to see his drawings differently and he begins to see the "ish-ness" in everything around him.

My students had heard Ish last year when my fourth grade colleagues and I read it at the beginning of the year as a part of our community building. That fact didn't deter their enthusiasm of sharing their thoughts while I read it, or in discussing what working "ish-ly" in our class would look like and how we would need to support one another in order to work "ish-ly."

Some of you may know that I moved from teaching fourth grade to fifth grade this year. Our building went from three sections of fourth grade to two, so someone had to make the switch. I didn't think it would be a big switch. I am in the same classroom, have a third of my same students, and felt like we could just pick up where we left off last year. In many respects, I was correct. My students from last year jumped right into the same routines and have helped those who are new to my classroom. Yet, my standard line from the past week is that "I severely underestimated the amount of work that goes into switching grades."

To summarize the state of my being early last week, I would simply say I was stressed. Nothing seemed to be working, I seemed to be falling behind in everything, and I felt like I had lost the art of teaching. Then on Wednesday, it hit me. I was like Ramon. I felt like I had Leon looking over my shoulder all day, making comments about what was happening in my classroom. I couldn't think clearly because my brain was in a state of panic wondering how I was going to ever recover from this switch.

So, I began to think "ish-ly." I gave myself permission to not know every little detail of 5th grade curriculum at the present time, permission to take things step-by-step, permission to make a pile of items to get back to at another time. Suddenly, everything fell into place. Looking back, I'm sure everything was going along fine before my thinking "ish-ly." All of those "seemed" and "felt" emotions from the previous paragraph were simply in my head. Yet, it took a little book to remind me to stop being a perfectionist and to look around and see the "ish-ness" in my students and my work.

If you're in the world of education, I hope that this finds you well in the new school year. If you happen to be feeling swamped by it all, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Ish. Maybe with a little "ish-ful" thinking you'll find you're doing quite well.

21 July 2010

Secrets of Being a Linchpin

There are many characteristics of a linchpin that I can relate to, but I'll spare you my self-analysis. Instead I'll let you in on two secrets on being a linchpin courtesy of Seth Godin.
"The law of linchpin leverage: The more value you create in your job, the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating that value. In other words, most of the time, you're not being brilliant. Most of the time, you do stuff that ordinary people could do."

"The only way I know of to become a successful linchpin is to build a support team of fellow linchpins."

19 July 2010


I picked up a copy of Linchpin by Seth Godin at the library a few months ago after I noticed several others reading it and mentioning it. I've only read through a few chapters whose titles grabbed my attention, but what I've read has been thought-provoking, challenging, and inspiring. With it being summer much of my reading has been in small chunks in many different locations (several different states) and I've lost track of a lot of my thoughts that I wanted to post. So, you'll just have to read it yourself. :>) I'd recommend "Becoming the Linchpin" for starters. "The Culture of Connection" is great as well with a confirmation of all of the collaborative work that we do.

I guess what has struck me the most in my reading is both how necessary it is for me to be a linchpin in my role as an educator and how my own kids and my students will need to be linchpins to succeed in the changing world of work.

If anyone else is reading or has read Linchpin, I'd love to discuss it with you.

The contagious "I can" bug

In the following TED Talk, Kiran Bir Sethi talks about how wonderful it is that the "I can" bug can be contagious. She describes becoming infected when she was 17, but wishes she was infected at age 7. So she started the Riverside School on the premise of "children being the change."

It is interesting how the student process she described corresponds to what we learned from Comprehension and Collaboration last year. Students use inquiry to dig deep into the content/problem/issue, they work on solutions, and then they take it to the community.

Lots of inspiration packed into a short presentation.

[Thanks to Aaron for sharing this Presentation Zen post in his Reader.]

01 May 2010

Searching for artistic inspiration

[A few weeks ago, I gave myself permission to post random, incomplete thoughts. This looks to be one of those.]

Over Spring Break, C. (my wife) and I browsed through a local gallery and talked about the idea of incorporating more art into the life of our family. We discussed the idea of a making a place for our kids to create art that we could use alongside them.

Along with having a place for art, I talked about the idea of finding sources of artistic inspiration. I set out to find a few blogs that may provide a little daily inspiration. Thanks to a friend and colleague of C.'s (who is also an amazing photographer), I began following the Herman Miller Lifework blog. In the past month I have enjoyed being exposed to talented artists and inspiring workspaces.

One of my colleagues frequently mentions the work of Daniel Pink so last weekend I checked out A Whole New Mind (AWNM) from the library. I was captivated from the first page. I have since jumped ahead to his chapter on Design. In it, he offers suggestions for exploring and experimenting with design. Great resources - highly recommended.

Ironically, at the same time I was reading AWNM, C. was having fun in NYC with her mom and aunt for six days. She, too, had art and design on her mind as she explored many of the amazing stores in the city. When she brought back souvenirs for the family, the kids received Central Park t-shirts and I received a copy of simple home: calm spaces for comfortable living which she purchased at Ochre. Now I'm inspired to repaint our home's interior and get rid of half of what we own.

These are a few places I've found inspiration over the past month. Where do you find inspiration for your own creative pursuits?

26 April 2010

Now forming: Curriculum 21 Book Club

Hey ZPS folks,

Interested in taking a closer look at "upgrading" your curriculum (assessments, content, etc.) to better prepare your students for the work of the future? Join us (three teachers, one adminstrator - so far) in reading and discussing Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World.

Shoot me an email if you're interested.

19 April 2010


When I launched my classroom blog last September I named it Cairns. I liked the idea of the posts marking my students' learning trail through the year. Then, reality sunk in and I realized that I needed balance more than anything this school year. So, my classroom blog became a low-priority item (as did this blog).

This weekend my brother was in town for a short visit. One of the many things we talked about was the desire to blog on a more regular basis (to be honest, I have missed blogging quite a bit the past three months). To that end, my goal is to make this a place to share the little things my brain is working on each week. I am giving myself permission to post incomplete thoughts, wonderings, and the little "ah-has" -- items that I had previously felt "unworthy" to be blog material. The hope is that, in the end, they'll mark the way along a path to new learning.

[Photo courtesy of my brother, Jed Anderson, from his collection of images captured on a recent trip to Thailand.]