Monday, December 28, 2015

An Open Letter to Our Leaders

To: Our Principals, Administrators, and Leaders
From: Your creative, caring, energetic, and innovative Educators

On Tuesday, December 22, more than a dozen dedicated teachers got together during the #2PencilChat to discuss what they wanted to make theirs a better job. Teachers exist, of course, where ideology meets execution. We all have ideals, goals, beliefs, and principles, but it’s in the classroom where these things get put into practice. Ideals are wonderful on paper and in our hearts, but it takes great work to make them effective in person.

Those gathered were asked the question, “Your Principal has asked that every teacher submit a wishlist. What's on yours?” I’ve distilled the answers to a handful of big ideas, that I think are important to share. If you’re reading this, you’re probably on board with a lot of the concerns of your teachers. Even so, I think that crucial for leadership. If you keep marching forward without checking on your followers, you may be leading, or you may be walking on your own, far away from your team.
When I started sorting answers from the chat, three realms of thinking were covered by your teachers’ wishes. Each of these involve a price of some kind, and we all understand that. When there are costs, we don’t always get everything we want. If we work together, though, perhaps we can move in directions of betterment.
The first realm that I isolated was one of attitude. The Creative Educator is looking for supportive leadership. She is looking for the opportunity to be innovative. He is looking for positivity in the school environment. These sound inexpensive. Sure, focusing on positivity doesn’t cost money. Being supportive of your teachers’ goals and practices doesn’t come out of your budget. There is a cost, though. There’s a definite fear when you take risks (they wouldn’t be called risks otherwise, right?). What if we screw it up? What if our scores go down? What if our ideas don’t work the way we hoped? As tough as these things can be for a principal to shoulder, they can be terrifying, to young teachers, to new teachers, and to teachers who’ve had the poor chance to be saddled with bad leadership in the past. Support your teachers. Listen to their goals. Help them to implement their ideas, and to reflect on successes and struggles. Without that support, without that net, you aren’t going to have teachers who stretch, who grow, and who surprise everyone with their results. Shout out the positive things that are happening in your school. Your teachers look to you. When they don’t hear from you, they lose confidence. Be your school’s cheerleader, its clarion, make the good news heard, and you will supply your teachers with bravery and feedback to do great things in their classrooms. From there, you will see the innovation grow.
The second area that our Creative Educators had more to do with budget. And listen, we know that’s a tough issue. Your teachers desperately want money for more books, art and writing supplies, iPads and Chromebooks, podcasting and filmmaking supplies, robots, Maker Space supplies, Lego, larger classrooms, furniture for innovative classroom seating, and to attend conferences like FETC and ISTE. They understand that you aren’t rich, and sitting on a big well of money that you’re too greedy to spend, but that doesn’t make these things any less of a priority to the Creative Educator. Maybe your budget is tighter than they can imagine. I’m going to ask you to do something for your teachers. Ask them what they want. Ask them what areas they would feel would be best to spend money. Let them know - you don’t necessarily have any more resources to get those things, but if you’re commonly aware of big goals, you can work together to achieve them. Maybe you can set a grant writing team on your teachers’ wishlists, maybe you can have a team that works to creatively find resources. When I was looking for furniture for alternative seating in my classroom, I used a lot of different resources to help me. Find out what they want, and then work as a team to help them get it. Sure, if your teachers got everything they wanted, you’d be over budget by October. If you attack it as a team, though, with you as leader, everyone can be on the same page. And one of the best things about this, is that this type of transparency is the kind that doesn’t leave your teachers thinking, “Oh, there’s money, Admin just doesn’t wanna spend it.”
I saved the easiest for last. There are some procedural things that drive your teachers nuts. Announcements over the PA get ignored. If you put a student team with a staff advisor on the job of making a news broadcast, attention goes up, and you have great opportunities to put kids on TV and highlight the positive (check out that callback from earlier) in your school. The big thing you can do to make the school experience better, though is meeting focused, and here, I’m going to use words from the chat more directly than I have so far. Meetings for meetings sake are a huge problem in your teachers’ eyes. If you need to disseminate information, emails are much more effective. Use your meetings to give your teachers the types of learning that they feel they need. Listen to them. Dump some meetings, and build in collaborative time for groups of teachers to learn, or hey, to work on challenges that your school is facing. When you do have meetings, make sure that they’re for, as principal Mark French says, “collaborating, learning and sharing.”
So that’s it, it’s not too much is it? Listen, no one gets everything on their wishlist, but if you don’t know what people want, maybe they’d get nothing. These are the things that we wanted, the educators of the #2PencilChat. Doubtless, some of these things will overlap your own teachers’ desires. Talk to them. You are so important in the education of so many people, make sure you know what your team needs.
In the meantime, if you’re a classroom teacher and you’re reading this, you’re your students’ admin. Listen to them. Whoever you are, take into account your populations’ wants and needs, and your team’s successes will stand out!
If you felt that anything here has been useful for your reflection, share it with a principal that you know. Maybe they’re your boss, maybe they’re a colleague at another school. We’re all in this together. Let’s make this a better world.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Global School Play Day, Are You In?

Last year, I saw something about Global School Play Day in my Twitter feed. I don't remember who posted it, but my initial thought was, "This is for me and my kids." I wasn't wrong.

I introduced GSPD to my students this way: "This Wednesday, we're going to have a day for you to play. There are only a couple of rules. First, I'm staying out of it unless someone does something dangerous or hurtful. Secondly, we're not using electronic devices. Other than that it's your day. Think of it like one of those days where Dad's watching you, but he's busy, and doesn't want to be bothered." I answered a few questions as I was telling the kids about it, and by the time we were done, you could see on their faces that I'd blown their minds.

When the day came, I busied myself playing with a project that I wanted to help some other teachers with, and the kids played. They had games, action figures, puppet shows, Lego, and some took apart old electronics that we had in the class for that purpose. Only a few times did students come to my desk. Mostly they came to see what I was doing. I showed them and said politely, "Now I should really get back to work, go play!" One boy had more trouble though. "Tim" was upset because some other boys didn't want to play the way he wanted to play. Later, he didn't like the rules they'd made up. Both times I said to him, "Well, you'll need to figure it out peacefully, or if you can't, you could always find another place to go play." He sat and pouted for a while, and I wanted to go fix things, but I knew that he'd learn more if he figured it out for himself. And he did. There were no other real complications on the day.

Afterward, I had several students write glowing editorials about the day, and realized how much we're missing if play is relegated to one day a year. In October, I was at EdCamp Tampa Bay, in a session led by Bryan Miller, with the topic of play in the classroom. We discussed the reasons for play in school - play decreases stress, & increases social skills and class culture, play is a natural form of learning, play makes our learning memorable - and teachers' reluctance to play in school. At the end, Bryan laid out a challenge - schedule in 10 minutes of play each day. When you see the good that it does for your students, share it with other teachers at your school, share it with your principal, start a movement.

I did just that, and it's been fantastic. I've seen my students creativity come out, and I've learned more about their interests and tastes. It's allowed me to teach to the people I have, rather than trying to mold them to what I want to say. My classroom's climate is better, as well. There is less stress, and less irritability.

The Play train goes on, we discussed it in the #2PencilChat, and went whole hog with Play as learning at Teacher Play Date. So when the notices started up for Global School Play Day, I want to wave the banner from the top of the school. "Return childhood to our children!" I want to yell, "Bring PLAY back to your classrooms!"

So if you haven't signed up yet, hop over to the Global School Play Day website and sign your classroom up today! Let's do what's right for education, let's do what's right for our kids.


Lastly, I wanted to share a blog post on the subject from one of my students. As you read it, you can see her passion. 

Global School Play Day by Kayla

Hi guys, Kayla here today I’m going to tell you about this AWESOME event it’s called global school play day!.   So what you do is you PLAY ALL DAY!!!  Of course I’m not crazy about the outdoors but you can go outside it’s on February 4th our class is doing it. So I’m really glad I could do this because I’m going on a cruise on February 5th so yeah. I plan on bringing all my monster high / ever after high dolls so I’m super exited.  And this is just another reason my teacher is AWESOME no offence other teachers. So I’m really happy that were able to do this now. Not many other teachers are doing this it’s an AWESOME event so I would really like it if more teachers did this because after working a lot kid deserve to play for a day. So if you see this please convince your teacher to do it. And share the idea because I know it’s going to be AWESOME. But I want to share a few more things I really would recommend it and keep being Awesome students. – KAYLA AT HEART 

Origin Story Part Two - Teacher Play Date 2015

The #2PencilChat started off with a joke. Teacher Play Date started more conventionally - with a couple of Instagram comments at five in the morning, and then a flurry of texts over the next hour.

I was in Orlando for ECET2 Florida. If you haven't heard of it, it's worth looking up, I've enjoyed the ECET2 events almost as much as EdCamps. Anyway, I was there, Friday night, just before bed, thumbing through my Instagram feed. And I see that my pal (the amazing, energetic, and incredibly yes-centric) Jen Williams is in Orlando, too, having dinner with some mutual friends. Well darn! If I'd known, it would've been fun to meet up with them. I commented, and went to sleep soon after. 

Waking up far too early the next morning, I grabbed my phone to check notifications, and see there's a comment on Instagram. Jen had gone home. I replied, and got a text a couple of minutes later:

First: The fact that we are up at
5:30 am on a sat is crazy haha!!!!
Text message 5:29 AM

After a little bit of back and forth about where we were, next came:

We need a fun event before 
FETC!!!! Any thoughts?
Text message 5:32 AM

January is too far away!
Text message 5:32 AM

Um let's create a micro event
that's somewhere in central
Florida in late Nov/early Dec
Text message 5:34 AM

Okay let's do that!!!
Text message 5:34 AM

Perfect idea!
Text message 5:35 AM

Text message 5:35 AM

From there, we texted relentless positivity, each of us tossing out ideas and yesses. Teacher Toy Fair? YES!!! Crayola Experience? YES!!! Teacher Play Date? YES!!! Jen and I kept the ideas coming, and half of the time we were texting the same thing at the same moment. It was a beautiful hour of flow and synchronicity all starting because we'd both woken up at a ridiculous hour. 

By the end of the day, I was tweeting a place holder image online. We'd picked a time and date. Early the next week, Jen had convinced Crayola to lend us space in their cafeteria and free admission for anyone on our guest list and set up the registration on Eventbrite. We both shared the logo I designed, our signup, and our mission relentlessly online. 

The sign ups came FAST. In a very short amount of time, we had a nice guest list, filled with creative educators. More importantly, it was filled with people who know that we all need time to PLAY in our learning process. Teachers need to play to develop the lessons and the systems that keep learning awesome for their students. Students need to play to learn, it's such a sticky, effective way to learn!

The thing about putting this event together is that it seemed so easy, and while I know that it's repeatable, I think the thing about it is that you have two people who love ideas, two yes people, two people with energy and excitement. Whenever Jen would tell me what she'd been doing, I wondered how I got so lucky to work with someone so awesome, but then I'd get texts from her and she was feeling the same excitement and joy.

So my wish to you is that you find collaborators. Hang out with people who are fun. Inspiration comes at some weird times! 


I wanted to share a little about the event itself, this was the story of the origin, but the actual night was so amazing. It was so simple, the teachers present were asked to share something that they did or used to make school more fun. We had robots (Sphero was there, the Ozobots accidentally fell out of the bag at home), Marbotic iPad letters,  a Makey Makey, student crafts, Google Cardboard, Quivervision augmented reality coloring sheets, homemade playdough (colored with spices and food!), text speech Shakespeare (Yolo, Juliet) and more. It was awesome, and the response afterward has been so positive!

Going forward from here, Jen and I want to help others put on Teacher Play Date events in their towns, and hopefully develop a way to help us attend these events and collaborate with the best teachers in the country! In the meantime, we're planning to hold a #TeachPlayFETC meetup, a #TeachPlayStAug event in February, and more!

I'd like to thank everyone who attended. Scroll through the Storify article below. You'll see happy pictures of amazing teachers having fun!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Origin Story Part One, The #2PencilChat

Saturday, September 19, 2015

My pal Kristin and I left oh so early in the morning to leave for EdCamp Citrus. It was the site of my first EdCamp a year before, and I was excited to return. The thing was, though, I was beat. Between the new school year and a new apartment, I'd been burning candles at all sorts of ends. I unsigned myself up for leading a discussion, and I was just not in good spirits for most of the morning. Lunch helped. Good conversation helped, and by the afternoon, I was my usual happy self.

For me, though, the best part of the day was in the parking lot before leaving. I was chatting with friends about the sheer number of Twitter chats out there. My pal Tammy said, "I mean what's next? The #2PencilChat?" We all laughed. And then it popped in my head, "Tammy, that's genius! It's already got a hashtag." As I wrapped my brain around that sentence, I thought it could be a chat that talks about the tech that we've had for ages.

When you get a bunch of teachers together, especially the connected ones - the bloggers, the Twitterers, the conference goers - you have a lot of talk about digital tech. Gadgets, apps, websites, gamification platforms - the flashy stuff gets a lot of mention. But when we do that we're sending a message that a new app is the way to get that illusive Innovative (or whatever scale point your district uses) on your evaluation. And it's not the apps, it's the teaching, it's the mindset, it's ways that keep your students engaged. And it's not just the digital. Don't get me wrong here. I'm writing this on my laptop, and within my reach, are a ton of digital devices that I love so much. You don't throw your stove away when you buy a microwave, though, and you don't toss out your screwdrivers when you buy a cordless drill. That's what the #2PencilChat could be about.

After that weekend, I talked with people, they seemed to love the idea. I made posters and posted them to Twitter. I picked a date (about a month later), and hustled to get people on board. The first chat happened on October 27, and from that date, the chat has quickly grown to be a weekly meeting of some of the most creative people I know. We've shared ideas about using different materials(Sharpies, cardboard), techniques (sketchnoting), and concepts (play, gratitude).

Since then, Tuesdays have been more special to me! There are so many people that have helped to make it great, but I want to thank a few for specific reasons. Stacey Lindes has archived the chat each week on Storify for us, even when she's not able to make it in time. Amber McCormick and Dianne Doersch have both done a lovely job designing our question cards. And there are so many more people - it would be insulting to just list a few, so I invite you to check out the Archives of the #2PencilChat. In it, you'll see brilliant ideas from so many people!

So that's it, it started with a road trip with one of my favorite people, and a joke from another of my favorite people. What it's spawned, for me, is new friendships and great conversations with a whole new pile of favorite people. If you're at all like me, quit worrying about if it will work, and go out and start something based on a joke. If it doesn't work, you learn and you'll start something better next time. If it does, though, you'll hold magic for a while! And you'll learn, and you'll still go on to start something awesome next time.

Speaking of next time, soon, I'll share the origin of Teacher Playdate!
In the meantime, visit the #2PencilChat website, or tune in on Twitter, every Tuesday at 7pm est!