Saturday, January 30, 2016

Play, Baby, PLAY!

The second half of the month has been very much about Global School Play Day(it's on February 3, sign up here!) for me. As a hype man (my designation) for the big-hearted project, I've been participating in chats about the importance of play in the classroom. I'm not about to change course here. We could muddy our hands complaining about all of the things that keep us from letting our kids be kids, but we'd be here all day.

We need play for discovery. We build understanding, relationships, social skills, and so many other things through play. We also need play as a release valve. Whether we're pushing our students to listen, take notes, engage, create, or just regurgitate (I say, "I hope not," but we all know that it still happens too much!), all work and no play makes Jack into a jerk. Or a mess. And what if Jack or Jill are one of those magical sponge kids who soaks up whatever you toss at 'em? We love those kids, and they get it. They love learning, they get the growth mindset. They know that the effort grows their skill. They deserve that release most of all. Because, because, because we kinda sneer at recreation these days. Sure, we love it, but during work time, we don't throw our respect at our laid back friends. We throw it at the hard workers. Split off the prefix with a hyphen, and re-look at the word:


Isn't learning about breaking down old misunderstandings, and re-creating our view of the world in a more powerful, more correct, more understanding way?

GSPD is important as a kick start. Sure, it's a nice break if you've been working your students until their fingertips are raw. And you can leave it there. You don't have to be a big picture thinker. But know that's all it will ever be is a break, unless you look at it not as the moment but the movement (apologies to Lin Manuel Miranda). Infuse Play into your classroom. Playful lessons are nice, but if your kids give you forty five minutes of real attention, engagement, or work, give them fifteen minutes to their own energy, creativity, or whatever their recharge is. Some will need to bounce around like idiots, some will need to talktalktalktalktalkt, some will need to find a quiet corner and retreat. Let them. You will all be better for it. 

And now the extension...

Because HECK, if we're working our kids too hard, if we're asking a lot more of them at younger ages, if we're wondering why so many keep blowing it on assignments and tests, shouldn't we be asking that about the whole system? I've often taken the lead from my principal in relation to my students. The ways my best principals have worked with my colleagues and me as an educational team have taught me so much about organizational structure. And through my career, I've applied that learning to my students. It's an analogous relationship. In the best schools, a principal is a caring and interested manager who wants to empower her/his teachers. Shouldn't that be true of teachers, too? I think so.

And now, I'm proposing that the relationship works under the commutative property. It works backward and forward. All of this play is so incredibly important for our students, and guess what? It's so incredibly true for teachers, too. With all of the pressure (to say nothing of the pay) of this career, play and recreation are crucial to us as well. Covey would have us sharpen our saws. He's right. Again, recreation is re-creation. We can't be innovative, big-hearted, gorgeous souls leading children to greatness if we're mentally and emotionally swamped. 

My pal Jennifer Williams and I have put on one Teacher Play Date event to bring play and learning together for teachers. We have plans for more because there aren't enough people operating the release valve on this profession. We (this is the bigger we, not just Jen and me) need to infuse this profession with Play, fun, and re-creation at every level, from kindergarten, to high school, to the teacher's lounge, to the office, to the school board. For the power to truly work, it needs to be surrounding the whole dang game. It needs to be done on the reg, not just on special occasions. 

So let's do it. The work of learning is crucial to our country, to our world. But if we're doing it joylessly, doing it without silliness, fun, play, and re-creation, maybe we're just building a factory world. That's not the world I want to live in. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Hug Project

Last Friday, I wrote a bit about my hug project at FETC.

Like I said before, this started out being silly, felt really embarrassing along the way, and eventually led to me feeling so much love and connection with amazing teachers and edtech professionals. It really is a dumb thing to walk around with a sign bearing your name saying, "I hugged ________". It feels a little (a lot) self centered, narcissistic, you name it. And again, it's embarrassing asking people if they'll hug you and take the picture.

It was easier asking a stranger or a new friend to take the picture than a long time friend. As the week went on, however, the act of taking the picture was downright celebratory.

In the end, it's really changed my thoughts on hugging and human contact. I've always been a hugger, but I realize now, how much power there is in a squeeze. Going forward from here, I'm aiming to hug my way through ST4T and ISTE, both in June, and see where this can take me. I've got 38 photos in this set, should have more like 60 based on the people I saw at FETC. I wish I had gotten them all, and won't make the mistake of not asking in the future.

And as I think of this project, my novelty brain starts going. Does this turn into a writing project? A podcast? I'm not sure, but I know that I don't want the connection to time out, and that means I need to keep hugging.

Friday, January 15, 2016

In Which I Meet an Astronaut and Devolve into Self-Parody...

Good morning, and hello, Adventurekateers!

Since I last wrote, FETC has been an exciting, inspiring, tiring whirlwind.

When I arrived yesterday, I was looking to get together with my friend Jen Williams to talk about ideas and recharge my daily energy stores. I get my recharge from talking, from excitement, and from novelty. For a person like me, Jen is an amazing connection. I don't know if I know anyone more positive, more enthusiastic, more "yes" about ideas and awesomeness than Jen.

But my goals changed when I got to the Press Room. I wanted to check in, hit the floor, and find Jen, my emotional cup of coffee this week. The first person I ran into, though was my pal Shauna, who reminded me that astronaut Leland Melvin was doing a Q&A in about fifteen minutes. The little kid in me was shouting, "What? A real astronaut? Maaaaaaan!" I've been rewatching 30 Rock lately as a palate cleanser after Making a Murderer, and all I could think was, "I'm gonna get to meet Astronaut Mike Dexter. Take that, Liz Lemon!"

And then Mr. Melvin took to the podium, and I loved his message. He spoke out in favor of  STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics) over STEM, which clearly doesn't prioritize the Arts. He made the point that we need to make sure that students need to have a strong foundation in reading and math skills. Speaking a common language of words and numbers is necessary to work and problem solve as a community. But what I loved most is what happened next.

One questioner asked him about how we save African American boys, as they are struggling (I can't remember the exact words, this is a paraphrase). I'm sure Mr. Melvin has received tone deaf questions like that before, because he was so unflinching in shutting down the premise. He said (again, please note the lack of quotation marks, I was not recording) that the question wasn't the right one. A goal-less future is not just a problem for America's black boys, but for any child who lives in disenfranchisement. Whether we're talking about the urban poor, or kids in a rural environment, if you're a child who doesn't see inspiration, who doesn't have high standards, who goes to school in a building that is an oppressive environment, you're going to have problems reaching for greater goals.

As the same gentleman asked a follow up, Mr. Melvin pointed out that the idea of "putting a man on the moon," left out half of the population. We live in a (needlessly) male dominated world, and leaving women and girls out of our goals is unfair to them, and unfair to us as a world. He went on to thank teachers as the inspiration leaders of their students, and all I could think was, it's so much easier to work to inspire students when we have inspiration leaders of our own.

As he was leaving, I asked to shake his hand, and he offered to stand for a selfie as well. I don't know what it is about shaking hands with, and hugging inspiring people, but I do know that we talk about connection and connectedness a lot in the online teaching world. This week, I've come to realize how important it is to have that physical connection with people that are important to us.

On Tuesday, I half-jokingly made a sign that said, "I hugged @MagicPantsJones at #FETC!" Shauna took a look at it, and told me she'd make a nicer one for me. I took a couple of photos with it, but overall, I was embarrassed of myself for what? Was this too self-promote-y? Probably. Was it too silly? Maybe. as it missing the point of being at FETC? Perhaps. I didn't take the photo with everyone, though, because I felt kind of dumb. Then I got a tweet from my friend Bonnie Olson asking me why she didn't get to take a picture after hugging. And then I felt dumb. What's my word for the year? Yeah, Lean-In. In my case, that's being my ridiculous self. I told her we'd do it when I see her next (I hope you're still here, Bonnie!).

But I was still awkward about it until the fantastic #FLedChat session hosted by #FLedChat moderators. Early on, Jerry Swiatek called me out, "I've seen you every day, how come you haven't taken a hug photo with me, Sean?" And the floodgates opened. As I write this, I'm realizing how much - again - physically connecting with people is important to me. Am I going to become the Leo Buscaglia of EdTech? There are worse fates. And for the rest of the day, it was hugging! Old friends, new friends, perfect strangers, how energized I felt after each hug.

My #FETC Hugging Project has been ridiculous, a little embarrassing, and most of all, incredible. I have friends who are new to FETC, and they're soaking up classroom ideas, techniques, and tools. I have other friends who are nailing the swag game on the Expo floor. These are things I've done in the past, and they're so awesome when you're doing them. But for me, this year, FETC has been about connection, and it's been the best year for me yet! (Look out ISTE, I'm coming for my hugs).

And I'll leave you with a picture of one of the most powerful huggers I know, one of my first PLN hugs ever, Tammy Neil and I, post hug.

Guiding Prinicples

This is not all that's needed
It doesn't happen enough.
Needs to be scalable.
IE Kids, Teachers, Admin? yes, especially!

Tech, yes, please.
Old school play? Heck yeah.
Roots & wings, baby,

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Road to FETC 2016

My weekend prepping for FETC was supposed to be easy. There was some sub planning, some session picking, and hopefully an epic trail ride with a buddy on our mountain bikes. Well. There was an epic trail ride. Planning? Not so much, instead, my head was wrapped around car issues. Then on Monday, it was teaching while getting rides and favors from friends, doing sub plans, and dealing with the (arguably evil) service department at the dealership. Still under warranty doesn’t matter if you have a sleazy dealership.

Anyway: By the time six o’clock rolled around, everything I needed to be done was done, and I was at the curb waiting for friends, waiting for my ride to FETC. And that’s how the whole day went. That’s how everything that worked went. So many of the things that I used for my sub plans were based on work shared by my coworkers. I got rides through the day from four separate people - friends and family. The fact that I have a press pass came from the encouragement of my friend Tammy, who said I should be writing, and that I should apply for credentials.

And I before I write a single word about George Couros’ keynote at the Executive Summit (I’m lying, here’s one word: YES), or talk about how awesome it is to hang out with pals from far away (Hey! to the awesome Shauna Pollock), or before I say much about the Student Publishing workshop led by Stephen Veliz (pretty cool - I’m looking at you,…), I have one big idea that is resonating with me today. I’ll get to the excitement tomorrow, and there’s so much of it. I’ll talk about connections, and toys, and all sorts of new tomorrow. Today, I have one main idea.

For me, the big idea, and the thing that got me here is connection. Local, personal, gorgeous, lovely friends and family (and please, I don’t mean that my circle is made up of models, it’s just that if you look at the realm of possibilities in the universe, happy, sweet, healthy human beings are beautiful) people supported me in so many ways, and do every day. Then, there’s my Twitter friends, my connected educators, an amazing group of empowerers. Without them, my attempts at greatness would be so much smaller! Without these local and global connections, would I be here? No. It’s the people in my life, the relationships, they make me possible. I think this is important as we embark on a week of talking about technology and software - those are the tools, and they’re nice when you need them. But if you really want to innovate, it’s the relationships that are where we need to focus.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Lean In

I was going to write about last year. That's a common New Year's Day blog post, right? Or maybe a resolutions post. But you know what, I can't. I try, but but but looking back bores the heck out of me. I mean, yeah, I can look back a little and assess how something went. But writing about it? Put me to sleep. And the resolutions? Nope. Can't do 'em. More boring. I hate being pigeon-holed, I end up feeling blocked in. There are times I wish that's how my brain worked, but for the most part, I like being novelty driven, and constantly focused on possibilities. I was trying to think of following the #OneWord trend and set a guiding word for the year, and I think I can kind of get on board.
Kind of.
Does a phrase count? Because if a phrase counts, I'm going with "lean-in." And by "lean-in," I mean this: there are a lot of times in any week of teaching that I don't feel like I know what I'm doing (even at seventeen years of teaching). I watch teachers doing things, and I'm not always sure why, and I'm always sure I want to know why. And saying this is not to disparage what other teachers do. It's just to say that as a teacher, I don't always fit in with how we're "supposed to" be teachers.  I also don't think this is a bad thing, and so I'm gonna lean into it.
Got an interest? Lean in. Got a passion? Lean in. Don't just be you. Be YOU. Follow the things that make you you, lean in to your tastes, proclivities, and ideals. Dive down rabbit holes, explore the things that you love most. Yes, there are things that you don't do well that you could be working on, but then again, you probably have some pals (either at your school, in your district, or in your online PLN) that you can lean on for help. And meanwhile, when you go deep on the things that matter to you, you have more to share, as well.
Finally, I believe that things that work for teachers generally apply to students as well. I know that we often feel pressure to have all students succeed, and it often feels like we need to have them all be  successful at everything. But I think that lean-in applies here, too. It's nota that all students need to succeed at everything, it's that they all need to be successful in ways that enrich their lives. Of course, kids all need to have the basics to get by in life, be decent human beings, good citizens, etc. Moreso, they, too, need to lean in, find what makes them them, and push hard in that direction.
Lean in. You don't stand out by doing what everyone else does. You stand out, you make yourself crucial by being the you-est you.