Getting lost at MACUL15 – a personal reflection

Last week I attended my 4th Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning conference at Cobo Hall in Detroit where I enjoyed the experience of getting lost. I felt like my ADHD student with so much energy, excitement walking in wanting to be everywhere but with little focus.

I arrived around noon on Thursday March 18 having worked in my classroom during the morning. Walking down Washington Avenue in the sunshine, I felt excited and ready for a great day of learning. I had missed the inspiring George Couros‘ Keynote, but I felt like I was there reading the tweet stream as I approached Cobo Hall. Walking in I was greeted by the wonderful #michED community: seeing familiar avatar faces in person. I could not make it 10 feet without saying hello to a member of my #PLN who I chat with weekly. Soon I found a seat to converse with friends. As the clock ticked towards the start of the next session, our group dispersed slowly heading to many different sessions. Being connected I struggled where to go, to a #PLN friends session? Check out new people? or see the out of town “PRO” Presenters? I scanned the program and slowly walked towards the presentation rooms, I ran into Dave Goodrich in the hallway as I was about to go into a session on Google Classroom. He suggested I go into Erin Mastin’s session next door. Being friends with Erin (and presenting with her on Friday) I wandered in to see her sharing HOW she gets her first grade students engaged and collaborating. After the informative session, I took a moment to chat with Erin. Headed off to the to another two sessions before heading to dinner with friends and the Shift Mich Idea Slam. (Idea Slam should be subject of a later post)

With day 1 in the books, day 2 had tons of potential. A maker space designed by #michED friends. Presentations by many of my friends: Todd Beard, Melody Arabo and Rebecca Wildman and the list could go on and on. Moderating a panel presentation on why educators should connect. I wanted to attend everything, and I got lost in the Maker Space. Seeing all the wonderful hands on activities where students could express themselves and show learning! Every time I got ready to leave I ran into a conversation with engaging educators. I was finally pulled away to attend Melody’s presentation on Teacherpreneurs session. If you ever get a chance hear Melody speak, she is genuine, telling her story, it will inspire you.

Rushing out at the end to set up for our panel discussion:

Our session had a small but passionate audience, and was well received. When it was over I was tired and hungry. I realized I missed as many session I had planned to see than attended. I left wanting more. The most valuable part of MACUL15 was losing myself in learning! It is good to be lost sometimes, it helps you see their are other paths to a common goal.

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Dear Press Balanced Coverage Please

Dear Michigan Press:

Could you please cover education like you cover all other news sectors? Please have a more balanced focus. The stories that always make the news seem to be negative. “A teacher … ” “Bomb threat at ….” “Students behaved ….” The headlines sensationalize rare events in our educational world. Sure negative events happen in all sectors of our lives: Government, Business, Education and Entertainment. It seems these other areas get more well rounded coverage. For every negative story about GM’s recall there is a positive about their fund raising or the car show. The Entertainment sector seems to be loaded with positive stories to offset the occasional blunder by a star. Why is it that a single educator blunder makes the top of the news cycle while all the thousands of positive stories garner little or no coverage?

I always see live coverage of the great positive stories around metro Detroit: Auto Show, Woodward Dream Cruise, Winter Blast, Boat Show, Autorama, etc. Did you know there are two great event coming up about education? MACUL (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) will bring over 5,000 educators to COBO center in Detroit March 18-20. This would be an ideal time to do a live broadcast. The news teams could talk to educators from all over the state to hear about the latest and greatest practices going on in the classrooms. Ideas from Flipped learning, I-Books for education, to Twitter Chats for connecting teachers all will be discussed. The public needs to hear about what educators do to grow professionally. It might be more entertaining than the standard live remotes to cover March Madness that occur around this time of year.

If an educational convention is not deemed news worthy enough, check out ShiftMich Idea Slam March 19 7:30-11:00 pm at the Detroit Beer Company.  The Idea Slam is a fast paced “pitch fest” and networking event for educators. Selected projects will be presented and attendees will vote on their favorite ideas. Winning projects will receive up to $1,000 towards their innovative educational idea. The rest of the evening is an informal meet-up with fun conversations and delicious offerings from the Detroit Beer Company. The concept of the Idea Slam was inspired by the Detroit Soup and TED Conference formats.

Be balanced in your coverage! Hope to see your coverage of these up coming events!

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MACUL 2015- Governor Please stop by ….


Dear Governor Snyder and State Legislative Bodies-

Education is high on your agenda this year. You speak of it often. Education should be a priority in the state of Michigan. Many educators in the state of Michigan feel that our jobs have been used as a political football by both parties passed around to gain votes and attention. Do you want to see and hear REAL educators, who are passionate about teaching and student learning? Educators who are making the best of the limited resources they have and being true innovators? I know the answer is yes. SO mark you calendar and come down to Cobo Hall in Detroit, March 18-20 to the MACUL conference (Michigan Association For Computer Users in Learning). This is Michigan’s Largest Teacher Conference with over 4,000 attendees.

If you choose to attend, You will hear incredible stories about students. You will have the opportunity to talk to teachers first hand and ask them HOW you can improve education? You can ask which of your policies work and what policies need to be changed. By attending MACUL 2015 you will bring attention to all that is great in Michigan Education.  I know you were just here in Detroit for the Governors Education (and Economic) Summit, but that was for the leaders of our schools and businesses, MACUL is a conference for teachers from ALL levels from all over the state. You will gain great insight into what is going on in our schools. When you attend make sure you look for sessions lead by Michigan Teachers for there are many to choose. If you need help picking sessions I am sure that the last 2 Michigan Teachers of the Year can help. Luckily Gary Abud Jr. and Melody Arabo will be presenting and I am sure they will gladly make suggestions for you.

I can’t wait to see you at MACUL 2015. Thank you for your time.


#MichED Teachers

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A Teacher’s Day

During a recent “Cold day” off from school, I meet a college friend for lunch. While walking in he said “Must be nice, to have a day off!” Yes, a day where I am not required to go into work and be in front of students is a welcome break. Everyone no matter what type of job needs a break from the norm to be refreshed and rejuvenated, As we conversed about our work and caught up on our lives, the comment began to sink in and make we reflect.

A teachers day is like no others. Having worked in the business world prior to going into teaching I understand this but doubt few who have never taught can imagine just how different a teachers day is to that in any other industry.

A teacher’s day starts like anyone else’s, Arrive at work but this is where the similarities diverge. Teachers arrive often arrive early to work (or stay late) because when the school bell rings to start the day, there is not time to gather materials, make copies or plan out the day, it all has to be done ahead of time. As the bell rings teachers are perched at their doors welcoming students to class for the day, smiling and giving gentle reminders: “Do you have a pencil? Did you finish your homework?” as 28-35 students file into a classroom.

As a middle school teacher, I teach 6 classes in a day. First hour is advisory to focus on student relationships. Then 4 hours of science and 1 hour of a technology elective. Each class is like a 56 minute sales presentation in front of 30+ customers all with different needs, questions and interest levels. For comparison when I worked in sales, I averaged 5 to 6 sales calls in a day with 1-5 customers in the meeting all with similar interest and knowledge levels. Most of these calls lasted around 30 minutes. As a teacher I have to closely follow up with each students with formative assessments. In sales I had to follow up too but 5 to 6 formative assessments were simple compared to the 150+ I have to do daily now.

In sales, I had time between meeting to reflect and perfect my craft. Having conversations with co-workers, updating the presentation. In the classroom, I have a 3 minute break to get a drink of water and use the bathroom, then on to the next educational pitch. When in the business world, I could often take the customer out to lunch to discuss ideas further. In the classroom, I have to invite students to return for 30 minutes of remediation. Customers were glad to enjoy the lunch, students often like the break from the cafeteria but have difficulty focusing on their learning needs. In the business world I often had hour or longer lunches (unless I wanted to rush), now I am often scarfing down food as I try to teach or prepare lessons. Many teachers (and administrators) go without eating due to time constraints of the busy job.

I am a lucky teachers, having a 56 minute preparation period. This time is often filled with meetings. Meeting with co-workers, administrators and parents. Yes, this time is similar to many other jobs. Our “break” time is like many people’s work. When I am lucky and don’t have meetings, I am busy planning, grading, updating website or making copies. Many teachers on the elementary level DON”T have preparation time every day often being limited to around 225 (or less) paid prep minutes per week. Imagine having to prepare the majority of your work on your time! Most teachers spend at least 2- 3 hours daily preparing for work on top of their daily teaching time.

Yes, the cold/snow days are a luxury. Teachers days are full of work unlike most others. Remember this before you are quick to judge. Teachers, I challenge you to share about your work day to let society know HOW much work we do in a day!

Below is Tony Danza’s message after spending time as a teacher:

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The Need for an Education Week in Every City!

Cities have Restaurant Weeks, Beer Weeks and even Museum Weeks, so WHY not Education Weeks?

It would be epic: Have the city host ALL state conferences for a week. Schools could host community events to showcase all the awesomeness that is going on. Businesses could observe the educational process and open their wallets to offer assistance in areas of need. It would be a festival of all things education! Teachers would pitch their ideas to crowds of people who would readily help make the ideas turn into reality.

SO WHY isn’t this happening?

Education always is a main pillar of all political platforms. Businesses desire to locate themselves in areas with educated populations. The idea behind the “theme” weeks is to drum up business for the city. Typically these weeks are placed on the calendar during “down” times to help promote business and allow capitol to flow. An Education week would cost that valuable capitol. Sadly, most in the community feel their tax dollars are enough to support it.

Education needs to be celebrated in the same way as restaurants, beer, museums or anything else in our society. DO we have Education City USA? No but we have a beer city USA! What does this show about our societies values?

There is a dire need for society to CELEBRATE and VALUE education, instead of it being the running joke on the late night talk shows. (We have all seen the guy on the street asking questions to adults that 5th graders can answer but adults can’t.) The time has come to show our values and hold them up, not complain.

Teachers are doing their jobs! Society is not holding up their end. Education shouldn’t be a complain. Companies that see weaknesses in our current system should be offering up funds to fill the gaps and create equity. Instead they complain and say: “We have jobs but nobody educated to fill them!” That is a sad statement: Most of these jobs the have weren’t around 5 to 10 years ago so HOW could our education system create employees for them? What have companies done to fix this? (Besides lobbying for laws that ruin ed?)

Our educational leaders need to step up, GO OUT and show the great stuff we are doing in schools. Offer businesses avenues to assist in creating equity in our schools. THE TIME IS NOW, IF NOT YOU, WHO?

First step: WE need a Ed Week in major cities to start the ball rolling!

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Random Thoughts of a Reflective Educator

My mind has been going a mile a minute this past week. So many ideas passing in and out of my conscience. I am going to through a few down here to allow myself to sleep, hopefully some will grow into their own blog posts at a later time.

1. Critics of education are hard for me to comprehend. Maybe it is because I am a teacher and send so much time in education. “Fire more teachers” they say, “Recruit better teachers and make the standards higher”.  It seems these comments happen every week. “America is slipping!” “School are failing the students!”

Well um, NO!! NO to all of it. First: To be a teacher you don’t have to be better at school! In fact most of the GREAT teachers I know struggled at some point in school! Struggling and over coming the struggle to reach success is a quality we should desire in all of our teachers. Great teachers love KIDS and working in the classroom! The system that is in place NOW devalues teachers, makes us feel like a cog in a wheel that can be thrown away when worn out and replaced. WELL great teachers are hard to replace. Teachers don’t have to be fired because those that can’t cut the mustard QUIT!! Look at the stats roughly half of those that go into teaching quit in the first 5 years, what other career has a stat like that? America is not slipping we have been staying the same for a very long time, the rest of the world is catching up! Look at the data, and if while you are looking, POVERTY is the issue in America, when you take it out of the equation USA rocks in Education!!

IF teaching is SO important, which I feel it is,recruiting would be easy if TEACHER were paid as CEOs or Athletes or even Wall Street Executes! Let them live on their salaries and take all their combined bonuses to help fund education!!

2. Education Charities and Grants. I read about them all the time. I have received solicitations to apply for grants and fund charities. Even been a recipient of grants to help fund projects in my classroom. Are they promoting equity? I struggle with this question. Teachers that need the funding MOST don’t have the time to fill out paper work and jump through the hoops to gain the funding. Charities seem to pick the highest profile locations to help or are active in their “backyard” to get the must publicity. (Are charities for the publicity or for helping others?) Can states set up a one stop shop to help with equity? Collect donations, grants etc and then distribute based on NEED not on the media attention the grant can create.

3. Education Conferences: I love conferences, always wanting to attend. I get the most out of the personal connections I make at conferences, taking the big ideas and classroom practices that were shared then having SMALL conversations about them. These conversations frame the ideas in ways that I can use them back in my classroom. BUT I struggle when away from the classroom. How are my students doing? I leave quality lesson plans but are they followed? It leaves me wondering how many times can I miss school to attend a conference? IF these are important educational conferences why aren’t they during breaks? (YES some are but not all!) Can we as educators create a system where our valued educational learning does not interfere with our teaching?

Please help me in my thinking and respond to any and all ideas in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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Feedback its not just for students

Teachers continually have been trained that feedback is vital for the learning process. Educators know that feedback is more than just a grade. Training programs stress that feedback needs to be timely and specific to be effective. Giving feedback has a daily occurrence in classrooms. Since feedback is valuable for growth, TEACHERS (and Administrators) need to be receiving it too.

Teachers need to gather feedback from many sources to make sure they are staying sharp at their craft. Teachers need to be observed by administrators who are trained in giving feedback. This should not only come as an observation for evaluation but as a regular check up to stay true to their teaching craft. In a transparent, trusting environment teachers should have regular conference sessions with administrators to discuss how they are growing in their craft. If time doesn’t permit for administrators to give this feedback, then peers should observe each other providing feedback for growth.

Too often this is not what happens. Trust doesn’t exist in buildings. Staff do not want to show their weaknesses to each other. Administrators have very little time to spend doing growth observations with all mandatory evaluation observations. With the raised anxiety of an evaluation, teachers put on “dog and pony” shows to highlight strengths avoiding any areas that need improvement. Any feedback gained from these observations is not very valuable. How can this be changed? How can a system be created where teachers desire more feedback?

Teachers also need to seek feedback from students. Before, during and after lessons teachers should be asking students about their learning experience. Before lessons teachers should focus on feedback about how to deliver the lesson. Does the lesson need hands on activities? How can we move about our learning space? What type of writing products can we produce to show learning? During the lesson teachers have to look to feedback about the activities. Is the material too easy? too hard? DO directions need to be explained more? After the lesson teachers need to ask about the experience. What worked? What did not work? What could be added to make it better? How might it have been changed? Many times teachers forget to digest this feedback and use it to adapt their lessons. Why? Often due to time or plans. It is easier to stay on course than respond to the feedback even if the course takes the ship off target.

Teachers need to examine their practice. Value feedback. Grow in their craft!

Administrators need to focus on growing their staff more less on evaluating!

Students share your voice, give feedback that the teachers can hear and use to grow.

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