B discovers the snow

To My Son’s Future Teacher

B discovers the snow

This blog, published on The Huffington Post,  is part of the Smart Parents series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information about the project, see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning.

My son saw his first snow last winter. He stuck his little face straight up in the air and squealed with delight when he felt the cold, soft flakes against his skin. The white, feathery bits swirled around and then slowly floated down towards his outreached hands against the backdrop of deep grey, Texas skies. His eyes filled with pure wonder at the sights, sounds, touch, and taste of it all.

There in that moment I thought about you, his future teacher. I thought about all the pressures, requirements, and agendas you are bombarded with. I thought about the big tests and the consuming reality of preparing for these snapshots of my child’s supposed learning. I thought about how you might even be told to ignore what you (and brain research) know(s) about how my son learns best.

I thought about the precious and fragile gifts I see in my child today: pure wonder, joy, and curiosity. And I’d like to tell you from my perspective, as a parent, as a former teacher, and current learner, what I think really matters.

beyond what you can see

1. Believe in my child, beyond what you can see

Believe my child can do more than remember the order of the planets and recite the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Believe that he can think in new ways, even if you haven’t seen it yet. Believe he can grow and not be defined by last year’s teachers’ notes or those darn pink and blue cards that sum up a year of behavior with numbers or stickers or pluses and minuses. I want you to be a downright crazy idealist when it comes to what my child can do. You might be surprised when he rises to the challenge.

beyond what you think you can learn

2. Believe in yourself, beyond what you think you can learn

Believe in your ability to meet his needs. Learn new strategies when something just isn’t working. I’m not sure where we internalized the lie that teachers should know everything, but it is just that-a lie. I’d much rather you realize and model the value of on-going curiosity and growth in your own life, and watch the beautiful overflow of passionate learning spill into your interactions with my son and his peers.

stop playing school

3. Stop playing school

Have you ever thought about the fact that my son’s birthdate, an arbitrary number on the calendar, determines when he is deemed ready for multiplication or solving chemical equations? I want you to question everything: Does my son need to sit in a desk in a row? Does he need to raise his hand to respond? Is this whole thing really working? If the answer to that last one is no, then stand up and change it. I’ve got your back.

curiosity over compliance

Unless my child is playing with fire of course.

4. Value curiosity over compliance

Learning is messy. Learning doesn’t always look civilized. Curiosity and student interest don’t usually fit inside a pre-packaged curriculum.

What do your actions show my son that you value most? Are you so busy telling him to be quiet, or get in line, or hurry up, that you miss the caterpillar he is crouched around, trying to help it across the sidewalk?

Please don’t show my son that school is a place for compliance over curiosity. It isn’t about coloring inside the lines. And here is a-not-so-secret-secret, my son’s future employers agree. Our world needs more creatives than cogs.

Do we want well-behaved students or world-changing students?

Process Over Product

5. Value process over product

I know it is a lot more work to get out the rice bins, water table, and gallon containers to let him explore capacity for himself. I know water might spill and those grains of rice are killer to clean up when they overflow and find their way into every nook and cranny. But I really care about the experience and so does he.

My son needs to touch and feel and shake and sort and measure. My son needs to stomp and jump and run and fall and dust his knees off. My son needs to ask questions and read about things he loves and write about moments he treasures. He needs to persevere through a challenging problem and experience the satisfaction of finding an answer not because the answer is the point, but because of the learning he is constructing along the way.

So, let my son create without a bunch of rules and a model product. I know it feels like everyone else has the perfect cookie cutter wall displays. I know it feels like all the other classrooms look Pinterest-perfect. But does his model flower need to look exactly like all the others? What does this prove my child can do anyway? Follow directions, conform, copy. I want more for him. I think you do too.

If they all look the same, then you’ve got a recipe, not creativity.

Adopt a Posture of Experimentation

6. Adopt a posture of experimentation

If my son can’t try something and fail at school then where can he?

Nurture a culture of thinking where my son can develop the thinking dispositions of a scientist and an entrepreneur as he explores and experiments and figures things out. You can be a model of this every day as you innovate, iterate, and learn alongside him. I don’t want him to be afraid. Maybe he won’t take on the same fear of failure most of us adults have because all he knows is that failure is part of the learning process.

Make Room in the Curriculum

7. Make room for him in the curriculum

Right now it is the color red and giraffes. Next week it might be dinosaurs and things with wheels. Help my son see himself in the curriculum. Talk to him about what he is interested in, what he wonders, what he wants to find out. Design learning that takes him into account and makes information accessible. Take the time to respond to his questions, or provide a place for him to explore them on his own. Show him that learning isn’t confined to the time and space of the classroom or the scope and sequence-and guide him where to go when he is hungry for more.

Right now it is easy to see with fresh eyes as he explores the world around him. Everything is new, everything is a first. Everything is a surprise. He is never bored, because the world is incredible and it is his to discover. Maybe that is part of why he is such an exceptional learner right now.

With your help we will see the same look of wonder when he devours a good story, writes a killer poem, comes up with a new way to solve a problem, or combines two chemicals. I need you to partner with me and protect the precious, fragile gift of wonder because it is the key to learning and it is really hard to get back once it is lost.

This is my favorite video to share on the power of a child-like imagination.

SliceofISTE Pano

How Might We Give at ISTE 2015?

Make an Impact at ISTE

This blog was originally published for Getting Smart.

In less than 30 days over 15,000 edupeople will descend upon the City of Brotherly Love for ISTE 2015. With more than 900 sessions, three keynotes, and over 500 companies involved, it is pretty important to do some thinking about how you want to spend your time at this behemoth of a conference.

And, that is usually my mindset too–How can I make the most of (insert conference name)? I mean the majority of us in the eduspace are on pretty tight budgets and already carefully weigh the costs and benefits of each event. We work booths for company friends, sign up to teach summer school, write grants and blog posts and letters to our principals, and save up so we don’t miss out. As a result, we want to squeeze every last drop: filling our bellies with all the free cheesesteaks (there will be free cheesesteaks right?), our conference bags with all that swag, and our minds with as many sessions and ideas as possible.

This year I am looking at things a little differently–thanks to a little help from my friends.

Instead of thinking about what we can get from the ISTE conference, we started thinking about what we can give. And not just at the conference itself, but what about the surrounding community of Philadelphia? 15,000 is a whole lot of people, what could a small mind shift do?

Slice of ISTE

From these conversations, and Sara Boucher’s love of pizza, #sliceofISTE was born. The hope is to have ISTE attendees flood the local business, Rosa’s Pizza, which donates free slices of pizza to area folks in need of a meal.

Buying a slice of pizza is a simple choice, at a small price, but there is a more important underlying shift in thinking we are hoping for. We want to be aware of the needs around us and look for other ways to serve the local community while in Philadelphia. It is about a posture of service instead of being served.  It is about a shift from being a consumer to a creator, a doer.

SliceofISTE Pano

Speaking of doing, here are five additional ways we can give during ISTE 2015:

  • Be Inclusive. Remember the middle school lunch room? I’d rather not; that was horrible. Let’s make lunches and dinners and evening festivities as inclusive as possible. Make new friends, expand your horizons, and get out of the echo chamber.
  • Be Observant. Notice someone who looks completely lost or overwhelmed or lonely? Talk to them, ask them: if you can help them find their way, if they want to tag along with you, or need a recommendation for a session to attend.
  • Be Encouraging. Sometimes adults forget to be digital leaders themselves. I am all for free speech, but let’s be cheerleaders instead of trolls on the Twitters and in person. A heartfelt look in the eye and, “you will do great,” can be more powerful for a first time presenter than you realize.
  • Be Generous. Leave room in your schedule to be generous. Share your ideas, your resources, your experience, and your time with others who are potentially in a different stage of learning this whole EdTech thing.
  • Be Humble. We love you and your ideas and want them to spread too. But keep it classy and build up others. It is not always about you.

So whether you are team #ISTE15 or #ISTE2015, whether this is your first ISTE or fifteenth, let’s all take a moment and think about the potential for positive impact in the communities where we go to learn.

SliceofISTE You Matter

How might we give?

Extra Toppings. And one more question: What if conferences had committees, strands of service learning, or organized opportunities for groups to volunteer together at conferences?

For more information on the #sliceofISTE movement, read Scott Bedley’s blog post, check out the Smore, and join us at Rosa’s.

Active Learning with TPACK Modell

10 Things Your Professional Learning Partners Should Want to Tell You

Active Learning with TPACK Modell

This post was originally published for Getting Smart here.

I have been thinking about the way things are in the world of professional development. Thinking about all those things I have learned to say. Thinking about the questions I have learned to ask. Thinking about the assumptions I have learned can not be assumed. Thinking about the realities of planning, implementing, and improving professional learning for educators.

As we all work together to do better for students, educators are establishing professional learning relationships with partners to hold each other to high standards. Here are 10 things your professional learning partners should want to tell you:

1. We want professional learning to look like what we hope to see in our classrooms.

So, why does professional learning not look more like what we hope to see in the classroom? Why do we often find an expert on pedagogy standing at the front of the room, between a dimly lit projector and screen, trying to disseminate information to participants from a poorly designed, often outdated PowerPoint?

We want professional learning to reflect the strategies, practices, and tools we hope to incorporate into teaching and learning. So, give us time and space to explore a framework like TPACK and teachers will quite literally become active models of the TPACK venn diagram as they discuss their experiences with the intersection of technology, pedagogy, and content.

Learning is messy. We need space, we need to change around the room and stack chairs and… wait for it….we need to laugh and play.

Hexagonal Thinking in action during Professional Learning

2. We want to give educators voice and choice when it comes to their learning.

What if we ask educators what they are interested in learning? Then, we must listen to the answer and support educators with whatever they need to pursue that learning. What if every teacher had their own IEP? What if we pair what teachers want to know (interest) with what they needed to know (metrics)?

Professional Learning Give Educators Voice & Choice

What if we developed a culture where learning and growth was not only expected and encouraged, but passionately pursued by everyone on campus? Can you imagine teachers beating down the door to buy tickets to a PD session? Why is that such a funny image? Instead, the most mentally taxing moments of a PD day may be spent fantasizing about all the places they would rather be.

Let’s start by letting go of some control, loosening the reins, and treating educators like professionals.

3. The details really do matter.

It is 2015 my friends. Wifi is not optional. Relevant sites should not be blocked.. Surveys should not take ten steps to get to. Please don’t piss off my participants right before they do the survey; you are messing with my data. And holy guacamole, please don’t make my teachers sit in chairs that are  not proportioned adequately for the adult derriere. The learning space should be reflective of the expectations and value placed on interaction and thinking. Say no to rows!

How about a moment to decompress before after school PD? While we are at it, can we all agree to avoid PD right before spring break? Right after a big standardized test (as in the afternoon after actively monitoring a high stakes test)? I know, I didn’t think I had to voice that as a request either, but that one is a true story.

Professional Learning Metacognition and Collaboration

4. We want the administrators to stay and be a part of the learning.

We know you are quite busy, but we really do wish you would stay and model the dispositions of a mindful learner for your staff.

It is more than your proximity, although that can be helpful for determined distractors. We want your mind. We want you to model, as Ron Ritchhart says, “Who you are as a thinker.” Your actions, your participation, your questions will either encourage or impede the culture of thinking on your campus. Back us up (if we deserve to be backed up), provide context for why you brought us in, make connections, and set the expectations for the rest of the group to make the most of our time together.

Visible Thinking in action during co-teach

5. We want to show this is more than theory.

Research shows that we typically lose people at the implementation stage, although I think many times it is even sooner (if people are grading papers and cutting lamination during your session). There must be an intentional balance between the comprehension (I get it) and implementation (I can do it) of pedagogical theory in the learning design.

So, please give us an opportunity to show this really works within your specific context: your students (yes even that one), your infrastructure, your curriculum. Let us into your classrooms where the rubber really meets the road. Let’s co-teach, model, coach, right there and work out all the little kinks along the way. Let’s build in time for reflection and planning the next steps so we keep moving forward.

And, I’ll go you one further: Let’s involve students and ask them what works and what does not. Lots of tools, resources, and strategies hyperbolically promise engagement. Let’s ask the students what is engaging and allow them to become part of the lesson building and professional learning ecosystem.

Professional Learning Building Capacity

6. We would rather build capacity than dependence.

We want to be an extension of your team, your thought partners, your collaborators, but primarily we want to support the growth of your team. We are driven by impact and we want to make lots of it. When we focus on empowering you and your team we know at some point we may work ourselves out of a job in your district, but shouldn’t that be a goal on some level? Help us look for opportunities to develop capacities over focusing on deficits.

7. We want your honest opinion.

Life’s too short to be passive aggressive and to gossip. If something isn’t working, just tell us. Let’s make it better. Tell us what you think, from the start. Let’s model the type of open communication we hope to see with our teachers, administrators, students and parents and keep the drama level down. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Let’s design the feedback loop with everyone in the loop and plan for regular check points to reflect on progress. We believe in the growth mindset. We want to change. We know there is always room to improve.

8. We want learning to be about creation not consumption.Professional Learning Creation over Consumption

I am still at a loss for why so many learning opportunities for educators are designed to be sit and get. We know better. People learn by creating, doing, playing, struggling, persevering. Period.

We talk about the dangers of spoon feeding students information, assistance, and answers—what about educators? Why is it suddenly acceptable to spoon feed them information, a scripted curriculum in a can, and mandated execution of whatever pet projects the powers that be deem necessary (all to be uprooted the next year before their effects could even be analyzed)? Take away the creativity and agency from teaching that should provide intellectual stimulation and fulfillment and we might end up losing anyone who craves that.

9. We want to play the long game when it comes to involvement and impact.

It is easy to conduct what Greg Garner calls Seagull PD: Just swoop in, disseminate information, and swoop out, leaving some rather unfortunate remains behind. It is harder to do the intentional thinking, problem solving, and strategic planning required to be a part of the long term plan.

One size does not fit all, and just changing that title slide does not count as customization. Sometimes you do have to reinvent the wheel, when the vehicle requires it. Business folks may ask how we can scale such customization. We are more interested in teacher development and inspiration than a perfectly replicable business model.

10. We want to try new things.

Just because your district always has two PD days a year in the cafeteria with the whole staff does not mean it needs to stay that way. Should two days a year be the only time to plan for the growth of our teachers and other leaders anyway? PD should not be about just putting a check in the checkbox.

Hexagonal Thinking & Sketchnoting During Keynote Session

We believe in a posture of experimentation. What if administrators became the substitute teachers once a month (or more) so teachers could have a day to plan, collaborate, share best practices, and learn?  What effective learning might take place for administrators too, facing the challenges of the classroom head on? What if common planning time was a priority in the schedule, not an afterthought? A posture of experimentation allows us the freedom to create.

Posture of Experimentation in Professional Learning  Fishing for Cause & EffectWhere can we find those little bits of time and opportunities to build up our educators? Help us model the posture of experimentation by both encouraging and supporting our desire to try new things. We will not stumble upon innovation if we just keep doing the same things. Let’s fight the status quo, design professional learning where teachers don’t even think of bringing papers to grade and laminate to cut, learning where teachers can explore, create, and find meaning that impacts their students and ignites their desire to grow.

So, may we all be brave. May we say the things that need to be said. May we hold each other to the highest standards. And may we diligently set each other up for success, because the outcomes of professional learning ultimately impact more than the hours they take up. It’s really all about our kids.

SXSWEdu Reflections Part II

Creating Session Boards EdCampATX

Photo by Stephanie Cerda 

Check out Part I of SXSWEdu Reflections here

The A in STEAM

I started out volunteering at the EdCampATX session. In other words, since I wasn’t presenting this year I needed to feel valued and productive, so I asked Stephanie and Adam if I could be of service. They directed me towards the session boards. Yess!!!

There is a sort of odd intellectual stimulation that comes from creating the EdCamp session boards. I love the craft of making connections from the seemingly disparate ideas on little stickies and coming up with titles that encompass the ideas with as much authenticity as possible. I get great pleasure from deciphering handwriting and acronyms I don’t know. I love trying to find a home for every single sticky in hopes that every idea can be discussed, valued, and heard. Adding to my delight, Moss Pike, jumped in on the fun as we sorted, rearranged, debated, and ultimately settled upon the sessions that would make up the next couple hours of discussion.

One of the categories which Adam Holman aptly named, The A in STEAM, brought together creative minds interested in everything from creativity in the classroom, to teaching educators the art of improv. This was one of my favorite conversations of the conference, not only because it resulted in some impromptu collaborative sketchnoting, but also because by the end of the conference some of these folks had become legitimate friends and thought partners (more on that later).

A in STEAM Discussion at EdCampATX session

Photo by Stephanie Cerda

I am also glad I shared about how sketchnoting was impacting my thinking which opened up some discussion about why and how it could have a place in the classroom. Then Chris Davis asked if he could interview me and share my sketchnote book right there at our EdCamp session table as the second session began. With no question prep? My lizard brain wanted to say no, but I am glad I didn’t. He made my stream of consciousness comments and messy sketchnotes into a beautiful little glimpse of the conversation that happened that day around the table.

EdTechWomen Networking Mixer

EdTechWomen SXSWEdu Mixer

Still working on the whole needing to feel valued and productive, I sped-walked over to the Capital Factory to help the EdTechWomen folks (Sehreen & Margaret) with set up and check in for the 100 women (and one brave man) who would descend upon the Capital Factory kitchen for a facilitated networking experience.

It was here, amongst this group of incredible women doing all sorts of extraordinary things, that I had conflicting emotions again. On the one hand it was hard to discuss the messy parts of my startup journey and not feel some sense of loss and failure around the experience. On the other hand, the very lessons I learned (and continue to learn) from that journey were valuable in several conversations with women who were where I was last year, in the middle of making decisions that could chart the course of their entrepreneurial journey.

I reflected back on my decision to listen and learn and added a verb–to share. I chose to share the behind the scenes experiences when I thought it my be helpful for others. I chose to say hey why don’t we all stop pretending like we have it all together and share the mess, so others might not have to go through that same thing. Let’s share the mess, so our successes don’t seem unattainable. Let’s share the mess, so we don’t have to clean it up and put ourselves back together alone.

I said some sort of rant like this at the event, women’s heads nodded in response–either from agreement or group think.

Visual Literacy Bootcamp

Visual Literacy Bootcamp SXSWEdu 

I have a confession on this one. I am a Brad Ovenell-Carter fan girl. I follow Brad on Twitter, Instagram, Paper-Mix, and simply can’t get enough of his ideas, sketchnotes, and the work he does with students. My digital sketchnotes have been greatly influenced by his style and Paper tips and he has pushed my thinking regarding the possibilities for sketchnotes and other visual mediums for student learning opportunities. Needless to say I was pretty pumped about attending his session and meeting him face to face.

The session went even beyond my expectations though, as I got to explore not only digital sketchnotes with Brad, but also photography with Julia Leong and videography with John Woody.

Each chunk had meaningful examples and wrapped up with hands on activities that got everyone involved with experimentation and creation. I tried to get rid of my internal editor, Brad, but I didn’t get my sketchnotes posted until after the session was over.

Sketchnotes Visual Literacy Bootcamp SXSWEdu

 Exploring at the Visual Literacy BootCamp SXSWEdu

Oh and remember my friends from the table at EdCampATX? A bunch of them were at the front table with me during the Visual Literacy Bootcamp….so we headed down to the hotel lounge area and continued the discussion. Sharing sketchnotebooks, drawing stylus’, iPad screens, ideas, and with my kindred spirit, even some relationship advice. 

Intentional Authenticity

I think if I could sum up what made SXSWEdu this year a valuable experience for me. It was my choice to be intentionally authentic in every opportunity possible. I listened, and learned, and shared–even when it didn’t do anything to progress anything I was working on and even when it didn’t make me necessarily look “successful” or whatever other perceptions of myself I was most convinced needed to be upheld. And in that place, with my guard down, and devoid of pretense, I was free to actively listen, deeply engage in learning, and humbly share.

I choose to keep learning

SXSWEDU Reflections Part I: When Your Horse Goes Out to Pasture…

Jessica Ross & Edward Clapp, @AgencybyDesign, presenting on Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning

Jessica Ross & Edward Clapp, @AgencybyDesign, presenting on Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning

SXSWEdu is always a whirlwind and this post sums that constant feeling of FOMO I had no matter what decision I made on how to spend my time. FOMO aside, the thing that makes SXSWEdu powerful is the people. There will forever be a debate if there is the right balance of educators, entrepreneurs, researchers, government folks, nonprofits, and students involved in SXSWEdu. My take on this is that we can always use more educator and student voices at these events, not to mention an authentic increase in diversity of all sorts. But of the educational type conferences I get involved with, it is that mashup of folks from the classroom, startup, government, non-profit, and research lab that, when given the space and time, can challenge perceptions, extend thinking, and even change perspectives–if we let them.

Vantage Points
This year, on the heels of a challenging decision to walk away from a startup I was involved in for the last three years, SXSWEdu was pretty hard. I struggled to find my tribe and get my bearings on where I was headed and what my purpose was. I had no less passion to make positive changes in the education space, but the power-horse through which I had imagined I would make those changes was headed out to pasture. I am sure these feelings weren’t lessened by the prevalence of hip, young startups with wild eyes to make their mark in education and my obsession with events in the Capital Factory space.


Kristie sitting in the chair we made from cardboard, brads, and nails in 20 minutes in the maker session.

Kristie sitting in the chair we made from cardboard, brads, and nails in 20 minutes in the maker session.

Early on during the first day of the conference I made a decision. I would focus on listening and learning. I would engage with those sharing ideas that challenged or extended my thinking, not just those who I knew or who would likely think like I did. I would leave margin to have conversations in the hallway, on rooftop dining establishments, and approach folks I wanted to meet. I had no ulterior motive, I had no intention of creating a company partnership or getting a new customer or getting feedback on my MVP. I would simply focus on taking the good, the vision, the deep desire for positive impact and see where it might take me.

The series of reflections that follow are a little piece of what happened after making this choice…

EdTech Women EduWins Group

Nurturing Authentic Voices

EdTechWomen Austin Planning Session & Pizza

When our EdTechWomen Austin chapter organizers sat down (and by sat down I mean opened our Google Hangout Chat window) to discuss plans for an event at TCEA we all aligned on one point. We wanted to provide opportunities to raise up authentic voices of females and their supporters. We hoped to provide a safe, laid-back environment for women to come together and share the ways they were trying to innovate, ideas they had, their EduWins, and the lessons they were learning along the way.

EdTech Women EduWins Group

Part by design and part by necessity we kept it really simple and each speaker shared a little glimpse into what was going on in their world:

  1. Emily Weerts used the time to practice her pitch deck for Nucleus Learning Network, an organization she co-founded which is focused on connecting, educators, learners and mentors by facilitating sustainable partnerships that will result in high-quality educational experiences. She shared about the ways in which the Nucleus Network is coordinating Affinity Groups where people working on similar issues can connect to enhance cooperation in order to develop and achieve shared goals. The Nucleus Network is also coordinating the Maker Education Village this year at the Austin Mini Maker Faire.Students Working Ann Richards School
  2. Kat Sauter & Ana Jo shared about their journey to develop a MakerSpace at the Ann Richards School and the lessons they learned along the way. They shared how the space is already impacting student learning and providing opportunities for innovative experiences. We especially loved this picture of girls working with power tools to create. For others interested in creating a MakerSpace, their advice was to start by identifying the current resources such as: space, funding, and experts. You can learn more about their innovative space and projects on these two sites: www.arsdesignlab.com & www.projectventura.wordpress.comChallenging Perceptions in STEAM
  3. Jennifer Flood shared about her brainchild event Challenging Perceptions which was initiated last spring to do just that, challenge the perceptions young girls had about the STEAM fields and opportunities through hands on activities, conversations with mentors, and facilitated reflection. The event took place in Bastrop in hopes of providing opportunities for girls on the East Side of Austin to participate, an area Flood feels is often underserved. EdTechWomen Austin plans to support the event again this year and is looking for volunteers and mentors to help make the day a success. Sign up to help here! SXSWEdu even did a piece about last year’s event.
  4. Marcia Hensley: discussed some of the creative possibilities when webtools and extensions are combined in the classroom in her presentation Combined Creativity. Marcia asked the group to talk about how their students create unique learning artifacts with various tools and shared about the power of infographics to encourage student thinking and demonstrate information in a new way.Young Women Who Code
  5. Janet Couvillion: Janet’s energy and passion for her new organization Young Women Who Code was contagious. The organization is committed to providing opportunities for young women, aged 5-12, to learn the fundamentals of computer science. Young Women will experience various plugged and unplugged coding exercises, in addition to having access to a mobile maker space. Janet shared about her journey into the world of technology and her heart for encouraging young women to explore the possibilities of creation with code.
  6. Cori Coburn: I am pretty sure Cori inspired everyone with her talk “On the Move”. She shared about her reignited passion to learn and grow and how this mindset has transformed her life and career. She even received her most recent job opportunity via Twitter! Her advice to the rest of us? Remember your roots and why you do what you do. Establish relationships. Be connected. Jump at opportunities to improve yourself. She is a true embodiment of someone who takes her own advice and I could listen to her stories all day.Heather Russell STEAM night
  7. Heather Russell: motivated others to take the plunge and host a STEAM Night. Heather gave us some ideas and tips from her experience of planning and hosting a STEAM night in her district. She shared stories of parents and students playing and learning together as they explored different materials, activities, and concepts. Her stories and advice definitely had brains marinating on the possibilities back in our own districts and communities.
  8. Karla Koop: shared how she is retiring from her many years in public education in order to pursue her vision to take Maker Spaces to the masses. Her new company, MaKr U will provide MakerCamp opportunities for all ages including DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. They will provide equipment such as 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies in the experience.
  9. Christy Fennewald: shared about the incredible group of students she works with in her Girls Who Code club. These girls constantly blow Christy’s mind with their desire to innovate, create, organize themselves, and make a difference. You can see more at the Westwood Girls Who Code club site. The girls are currently seeking more female instructors and speakers in the industry. Contact Christy if you’re interested.ACC Space
  10. Stacey Guney: shared how the Austin Community College gave new life to the Highland Mall with the largest installation of edtech in the country. She gave us a behind the scenes glimpse of the project and transformation. One new program made possible by the space is called the ACCelerator, which is already having a positive impact providing flexibility and differentiated opportunities for students working to further their education amidst the demands of work and family.

Thank you to all these incredible women and everyone who took part in the event. We look forward to future opportunities to nurture authentic voices, come together, and push one another towards greater innovations and impact.

A Year in Books from Good Reads

A Year in Books 2014

A Year in Books from Good Reads

Looking back on what I read in 2014 was like flipping through a photo album of memories and mindsets. This year my books reflect the challenges I faced, creative outlets I embraced, my desire to lead well, and a totally new life stage.

Below are some notes of the ideas that resonated with me…


Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are HighGetting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In: Both of these helped me to design and initiate some crucial conversations,  view negotiations in a new (less frightening) light, and gain confidence in my ability to work through critical, high stress moments without burning bridges or getting “emotional”.

The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup:  Guide for navigating the tricky waters of startup negotiations and tough topics like equity, founder’s roles, and growth.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: Reminder that none of the big companies are bulletproof and sometimes you can fail precisely because you do everything “right”. There are times when you actually shouldn’t listen to the customer and times when you should pursue smaller markets over larger ones.

David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants: Don’t assume things are always what they appear. Challenge perceptions when things look like they are stacked against the underdog. Adversity can be an advantage.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:  The qualities that matter most in our children have less to do with test scores and IQ and more to do with soft skills such as: grit, curiosity, conscientiousness and optimism. Early trauma in childhood has lasting effects, but adversity can be overcome. Soft skills aren’t fluff–they matter.

Existing character education programs have no statistically relevant impact. Building soft skills and character are not t-shirt campaigns or assembly topics, they must be woven into the culture of the school and the community.

Parents want to protect, but children do need to experience and overcome adversity to develop grit.

Here is a discussion guide to go along with this book.

Creative Outlets

Creativity, Inc: The power of the “brain trust”, empowering employees, and creating a culture where creativity can flourish and we can be our best selves. Anyone in an organization should be able, and encouraged, to talk to anyone. Don’t get so busy trying to avoid errors that you don’t do anything. Managers should make others feel able to take risks. Look for the unseen before leading.

Sketchnote Workbook

The Sketchnote Workbook: I really discovered Sketchnoting this year and have integrated it into almost everything, from my to do list practices, to my meeting synopsis. I have always enjoyed drawing, but now my drawing has an everyday purpose.

Recently I have ventured into applying this concept in the digital workspace and working with students to express their thinking in this way. I even tried it out during a keynote. Looking forward to presenting on this topic at TCEA in February.

HTML & CSS: Design & Build Websites

JavaScript & JQuery: Interactive Front-End  Web Development Jon Duckett produces technical reference books that I actually want to read. Thank you. I am working my way back through these to make sure I understand how these programming building blocks all connect. Looking forward to continued growth in 2015 as I learn to do some front-end type programming in the future.

These are a nice companion to the Skillcrush Courses, Code Academy, and Udemy courses I have been working through.

Austin Kleon at Book People

Show Your Work: Meeting Austin Kleon was definitely a highlight of this year! His deceptively simple concepts have inspired me and become a part of the message I share with others. Finding your scenius. Embrace being an amateur. Share something small every day. Show people what is really going on behind the scenes. Do what you do best and link to the rest.

This little masterpiece is on my desk to remind me of all these bits of wisdom.

Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career & Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind:  I think I started these two last year, but revisited this year. Lots of helpful hints on productivity, workflow, habit creation, creativity, goal setting, and career planning. I also love their size and design–wouldn’t expect anything less from 99u of course.


The Year Without Pants: Unique perspective and lessons learned here on entrepreneurship, what work really looks like (especially at a tech company), building team culture, and communication. The enjoyable narrative and anecdotes made me feel like I was learning right alongside Scott.

Turn the Ship Around: One simple change David Marquet made on the USS Santa Fe that stuck with me was implementing the phrase “I intend to…” This would be another fantastic addition to school leadership’s reading list where a shift from leader follower to leader leader could spark some major cultural changes that are long overdue.

Leaders Eat Last: When leaders are willing to “eat last” they are rewarded with extremely loyal employees who will rally behind their leader and make their vision a reality. The politics, self-interest, and drama of the typical workplace are a far cry from the circle of safety, as Sinek refers to it, which fosters trust and collaboration.

Sketchnotes The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:  Anyone who has tried to kick a bad habit knows, it isn’t as simple as it seems. However, once you know how habits work you can begin to control them. Duhigg explains the habit loop, a the three step process for how our brain deals with and forms habits, made up of cues, routines, and rewards.

Here are 10 Things I Learned From the Power of Habit

Danah Boyd at Book People talking about It's Complicated

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens: I became a true book nerd this year. Not only did I attend Danah’s book talk during SXSW, but I also joined a Voxer group book study of It’s Complicated. The Voxer group was a powerful way to go through the book. My ideas were challenged and I could wrestle with the meat of this topic with smarties from a variety of diverse backgrounds.

I put this under leadership with the thought that educational leaders should really dive into this book, along with parents, teachers, and anyone who interacts with children and young adults today (so pretty much everyone). The title is very fitting.

The Girl’s Guide to Being Boss: Without Being a B****: This one grabbed me at Half Price Books. I fell for the cover and title…like click bait. I was curious, but didn’t have high expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Filled with informative and sometimes amusing stories of female bosses and how to handle leadership with grace.  Finding the balance between pushover and dictator is tricky. Reminded me of some of Tina Fey’s lessons in Bossypants and Sheryl Sandberg’s movement to get rid of the word bossy.

The Advantage: A healthy workplace culture trumps everything. Makes sense. When I think about the stories I hear and the things I have experienced in different work settings, focusing on the organizational health (similar to the concepts in Leader’s Eat Last) will repay employers ten fold with productive, content, and empowered employees. Doesn’t this all start with soft skills?

I even read two fiction ones…

Atlas Shrugged: no comment…not sure why I read this. I guess I felt like I should.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: intriguing mystery novel that I stumbled upon at a library sale.

New Life Stage

Restless | Babywise | The Happiest Baby on the Block | Secrets of The Baby Whisperer

(And a bunch of other ones I skimmed…)

I read a bunch of baby books in preparation for my first kiddo’s arrival this summer. While I am glad I had the information and a couple reference books, nothing could have prepared me for the realities of becoming a parent for the first time.

Spoiler alert–there is nothing like it!

Baby Brady

A Beautiful Facade: Debunking the Myth of the Pinterest Perfect Life

A Beautiful Facade: Debunking the Myth of a Pinterest Perfect Life

A Beautiful Facade: Debunking the Myth of the Pinterest Perfect Life

Around one am last night…eh… this morning, I woke up to tend to our five month old. At some point during the feeding and soothing process, I stumbled down the social media rabbit hole. I read some fantastic blog posts, explored some new tools, learned who was leading training sessions where or keynoting what event, who had made beautiful loaves of freshly baked bread, who had hand-drawn wedding cards, and even how many new followers or unfollowers people had. As the light dimmed on my device and I put the little one back in his crib, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I suddenly felt I needed to do.

Why haven’t you:

  • written that post
    • or that one
    • or that one….
  • curated those resources
  • created that graphic
  • re-written that training to account for (insert new fad)
  • mastered HMTL, CSS, & JavaScript
  • followed up on that idea
    • see someone else already did it… and it was awesome!
  • planned that event
  • sent that newsletter
  • written that ebook
  • ugg expense reports
  • followed up with that friend
  • created sensory activities for the baby
  • printed baby pictures
  • purchased and wrapped the Christmas presents
  • finished that painting
  • read that book
  • made bread from scratch
  • mastered digital sketchnoting
  • just done more!

Wow…no wonder I couldn’t go back to sleep for a bit.

Graphic: “This is an attempt to create a beautiful facade to my imperfect and sometimes ugly life. Enjoy at your discretion.”

A friend of a friend has this as his Instagram profile description:

“This is an attempt to create a beautiful facade to my imperfect and sometimes ugly life. Enjoy at your discretion.”

I think we all need a reality check. Or at least I do.

Graphic quote: We compare our 24 hours worth of accomplishments with a steady stream of 24 to the 99bigydigibillionth power of the work of others.

We compare our 24 hours worth of accomplishments with a steady stream of 24 to the 99bigydigibillionth power of the work of others. This thought helped me put things in perspective. Those hand-drawn wedding cards, yes they are beautiful, but that doesn’t mean my Hallmark one won’t be appreciated. The incredible genius of my friend, Michelle Cordy, can be respected, used for my learning and growth, but I won’t let it become a measuring stick of the minds (which is probably for the best because I know I’ll never out wit her). There will always be a new resource I haven’t played with. Especially with friends like Jon Samuelson, Jake Duncan, and Greg Garner around.

So, let’s use the power of democratized information and sharing for good. Let it build us up, not tear us down. Let it teach us and push us to grow, but let’s also give ourselves a little grace, remember everyone has a behind the scenes, and focus on doing work that matters.

And if you need a reminder that the Pinterest life isn’t reality check this out…

Sketchnotes of Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit

10 Things I Learned About The Power of Habit

Sketchnotes of Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit

Sketchnotes: The ideas that stuck out to me as I read The Power of Habit

I am constantly on the hunt for productivity hacks. A disproportionate number of my books are of the self improvement variety. I have grand ideas and visions of all the things I want to accomplish or change or do better. But there is one key that drives the changes I hope for–the habit. In the book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg demystifies how habits are formed, changed, and maintained. Duhigg explains the neuroscience and logistics behind the successful creation of habits through fascinating stories of human change at the personal, organizational, and societal levels. Here are 10 things I am Learning about The Power of Habit from Duhigg in addition to my own experiments and observations:

1. Habits are not as simple as they appear.

Making changes would be much easier if we could just decide to modify a habit and our brain played along with our request. Deciding to change a habit is only the first step. It takes more than intention and willpower to rewire our brains when it comes to habits. Quote: You cannot extinguish a bad habit

2. You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.

I’m sure all of us have had a New Year’s resolution to stop doing ______. How did that work out for you? Now, at least we can understand why it is so hard. When a new habit forms, the brain stops participating in the decision making process. So, while habits are not our destiny, we do have to actively fight them. Since our brain can’t distinguish between good and bad habits we must play an active role in keeping and developing the good and uprooting the bad. Quote: You can only change it

3. The Habit Loop:

Simply understanding the three step process for how our brain deals with and forms habits makes them easier to control.

  • Cue: a trigger sending our brains into automatic mode and telling which habit to use
  • Routine: the behavior, the habit
  • Reward: helps brain know if the habit is worth remembering

To me these make the most sense in scenarios. One of my favorites from The Power of Habit was the story of Claude Hopkins and how he improved the dental hygiene of the nation (or at least normalized the use of toothpaste) with his Pepsodent habit loop. The cue was the dingy film on people’s teeth, which triggered the habit–routine of brushing teeth–and resulted in the reward of the tingling sensation customers associated with their clean teeth.

4. Habits are powerful but delicate.

Duhigg explains this best:

“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”

We cannot assume people, including ourselves, will be rational in their actions. In fact Dan Ariely highlights stories and research cases where the exact opposite is true in his book, Predictably Irrational.

5. Keystone habits have the power to transform everything.

For many this is a habit, like exercise, not only led to other related positive habits, such as eating healthy, but also things like charging less on credit cards. The keystone habit is like the first domino in a pattern of changes. Based on my own habit conquering quest, I think keystone habits are powerful because once you start to see changes you realize it really works. Change really is possible and that is empowering. Quote: Willpower isn't just a skill. It is a muscle.

6. Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle and it gets tired.

Willpower is a finite resource. This is a key to why morning routines matter so much. Don’t waste your creative juices and willpower on email or other mundane tasks. The limits of willpower also helps explain why reverting to negative habits often occurs when people are under the influence of something or tired. Keep your willpower tank in check and full, especially when you know you will need it.

7. Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things without thinking.

Michael Phelps visualized swimming the perfect race so habitually that winning became a natural extension of his preparation. Tony Dungy built habits so ingrained in his players that they became truly automatic. Players on the other teams couldn’t keep up because they had to think as the ball was snapped, something Dungy’s players were able to bypass once the habit had taken over. I remember a similar point made in Malcolm Gladwell’s, Blink, where seasoned firefighters saved their teams by getting out of situations moments before it would have become deadly. When asked how they knew the circumstances were about to turn, the veteran leaders weren’t even able to pinpoint it themselves–their brains automatically reacted based on experience and habit.

8. Identity and ownership can convert people from followers to self directed leaders.

When it comes to societal change, leaders must “give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.” I see this one at play a lot–classrooms, boardrooms, dining rooms. When leaders are able to nurture the agency of the participants and empower them to take on the cause personally, it becomes sustainable to support the cause on the front lines.

9. Small wins have enormous power.

Each time you respond to the cue with your desired routine you get closer to creating your habit. Eventually your brain doesn’t even have to work to “decide” to respond with the routine at all–you just tie your shoes and go for a run, or floss your teeth, or choose the apple, or read instead of watch TV.

10. There is nothing you can’t do if you get the habits right.

I think this one speaks for itself.

Sketchnotes 7 Characteristics of the 20 Mile March (in Schools)

The 20 Mile March Part II

Check out Part I Here.

Jim Collins brings the characteristics of the 20 Mile March to life through the distinct stories and strategies of the explorers Amundsen and Scott, who each sought to be the first to the South Pole. Through the juxtaposition of their journeys, Collins outlines the important details related to achieving specific, measurable goals, no matter the circumstances.

I began to see positive effects when implementing Collins’ concepts. So, as it often does, my mind went to education and applying the idea there. Almost everyone I talk to can agree we need change in our education system.  Different initiatives, programs, and platforms are started in the eduworld with lots of energy and excitement, only to be abandoned or changed with the passing of each year. Whether it is an individual student goal or a large systemic shift, there is power in planning with the 20 mile march in mind.

Sketchnotes 7 Characteristics of the 20 Mile March (in Schools)

Sketchnotes 7 Characteristics of the 20 Mile March (in Schools)

7 Characteristics of the 20 Mile March in Schools

Collins outlines seven characteristics of the 20 mile march. So I decided to take the concepts from the stories and reflect on them with an education twist.

1. Clear Performance Markers


Amundsen and his team planned to go an average of 15 miles – 20 miles per day on their journey. No matter the conditions. He placed more than enough flags in the snow to mark their path near the supply stations. He did everything possible to know where he and his team were going and when they would arrive. As a result, his team reached the South Pole on December 15, 1911. After planting the Norwegian flag firmly at their destination, they made preparations for the return journey, knowing that success was not simply arriving but also surviving road back home. They arrived at base camp on the exact date Amundsen planned–January 25th.


Scott on the other hand let the conditions drive his pace. He did not lead his team on a strict regimen of travel distance or define daily measures of success for their journey. As a result, his team reached the South Pole more than a month later. On the way back Scott ran out of supplies less than ten miles from their next supply depot.

In Education:

We know it is important to check in and see where our students are in understanding things, but how clear are we about where exactly we want our students to go? What will the evidence of success look like? If we don’t make this clear to both ourselves and our students, how will we know where we/they are and when we/they will arrive? When we have clearly defined measures for success we will know quickly what is working and what isn’t. What will we do when storms come our way and there are challenges to overcome?

One more question: Are we measuring what we hope to see?

2. Self-Imposed Constraints


Ok we know Amundsen went an average of 15-20 miles per day with his team. Amundsen stayed the course even when his team pushed him to go further on days when the conditions were good. He said no, knowing the importance of rest for his team. Amundsen had self-imposed constraints at the upper and lower bounds that kept him on track and his team conditioned for the entire journey.


Scott let the conditions and his emotions rule. When conditions were good he went further, pushing his team to the point of exhaustion, yet retreated to his tent complaining about the weather in his journal on days when the conditions weren’t optimal.

In Education:

There is an important balance to be found and self-imposed constraints may be the key.

When we begin taking away things like recess, art, and music under the misguided impression that more “time” focused on core content will result in a deeper understanding of said content–we have lost the balance. Kids learn through play and need time to explore and make connections to apply the things they are learning to their authentic worlds (adults learn this way too). They need time to rest and relax and refresh before they are expected make sense of more information. We can help our students and teachers create self-imposed strategies to implement so they know when to push and when to rest.

What this looks like in action: I know I could stay at school until 7 pm to get all these things done, but maybe it is better for my students and myself if I just do a little bit each day and not push myself to the limits. Find margin in your life and plan for margin in your school day for your students–we all need breaks.

3. Appropriate to Enterprise(or Individual)


Amundsen did his research. After studying the ways of the Eskimos, Amundsen chose dogs as the main form of transportation for the journey. He also very carefully planned their route, even though it was a path nobody had traveled before. He picked the right methods, routes and details for his team to accomplish their goals, instead of relying on the plans of others.


Scott mimicked many of the decisions of another explorer, Ernest Shackleton, who he traveled with in the past. One of the most regrettable decisions was Scott’s choice to use horses for part of the trek and then to man-haul (exactly what it sounds like) the sleds for much of the journey. I don’t know a lot about arctic travel, but that just sounds like a bad idea.

In Education:

Educators need agency to make decisions for their students. Administrators need autonomy to make decisions for their campuses. In most cases, standardization is ineffective and inappropriate for the individual needs of schools and students. Maybe this is why there is so much push back against standardized testing as the ultimate indicator of success in our classrooms today. The 20 Mile chunks of work we implement to reach our goals must be appropriate at the enterprise and individual level. So how are our goals and practices differentiated for our diverse students? How are we giving teachers the space and resources to support a variety of learners in their daily 20 mile march?

4. Largely Within Your Control


Amundsen was beyond prepared. He knew there were many things that might happen and many things out of his control–like the weather. Amundsen’s average daily distance had to be something achievable on bad weather dates as well as calm sunny days. Supplies could get destroyed, there could be an accident, but he prepared to respond to any of these events with the supplies and plans to overcome the event. When one of his thermometers broke he had another four in his supplies. If they missed a supply depot for any reason, he had enough supplies to go on for miles.


Scott was prepared for the perfect journey. When things outside of his control occurred, he was not ready to respond. Scott had one thermometer and cursed when it broke. He cursed the weather and ranted about his misfortunes in his journal instead of responding and leading his team towards safety. He didn’t have the large quantities of reserves if they missed a supply stop and ultimately this lead directly to the unfortunate end for the team when they ran out of supplies and froze to death ten miles from the next supply station.

In Education:

There are lots of things that are beyond our control when it comes to school. You can’t control the fact that your student’s dog ran away the morning of the big test. You can’t change the fact your student’s parents are incarcerated. You can’t change what students did or didn’t learn the year before or what the writing prompt will be on the end of year assessment.

Focus on what you can control and build your 20 mile marches around these things. You can plan, implement, and reflect on lessons that nurture a love for writing every day. You can give students time to read for enjoyment and model this yourself even if it would be easier to use the time to catch up on grading. Let’s not waste time complaining about the circumstances like Scott, but be more like Amundsen and get down to business to support our students.

5. A Proper Timeframe

Amundsen & Scott: As mentioned throughout this post, Amundsen picked a clear, attainable goal to march daily, while Scott was all over the place in his daily distances and timeframes.

In Education:

A good 20 mile march is not too long but not too short. If the timeframe for reaching your edugoals is too short you may fall prey to circumstances outside your control, pulling you off track without time to make up for it. If the timeframe is too long and the check ins are too far off in the distance the march doesn’t have the power it needs.

The successful businesses (known as the 10X companies) Collins references in Great By Choice found this sweet spot of time set to implement goals. The proper timeframe kept goals tangible and in the forefront of the employees minds without being unreasonable to achieve.

6. Designed and Self-Imposed By Enterprise or Individual

Amundsen & Scott: Amundsen carefully researched and implemented plans based on his research of what would work best for his team’s journey. Scott relied on the experiences of others (as mentioned in point 3) to make his decisions, which turned out to be a detrimental decision.

In Education:

Students should play an active role in their learning and teachers an active role in curriculum and learning design and reflection. Let’s give power to our educators and students to design and implement their own 20 mile marches. What if students took part in developing performance indicators for different standards and concepts?

7. Achieved with high consistency

Amundsen & Scott: Amundsen’s team was resolute in their consistency to travel 15-20 miles each day, even if they traveled through storms and challenging conditions. Scott, in contrast, was swayed by a variety of excuses and conditions to go too far or not far enough. Slow and steady wins the race–is the truth at play here.

In Education:

When our 20 mile march goals are achievable with high consistency we gain confidence, we see progress, we build momentum, and we keep on reaching our goals. When we miss the mark and lack the discipline to correct our path, it is too easy to stop, switch to a new plan (project, curriculum, teaching strategy, superintendent etc.).

Last Thoughts & Some Questions:

The 20 Mile March gives me a mental model to organize my thoughts, plans, and actions as I work towards BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goals) a term from another Collins masterpiece, Built to Last. Since latching on to this concept, I visualize each little, daily, 20 mile chunk of work I need to do that will lead me to the goal I have set my mind on. I even add little flag icons in my to do list and map out the breakdown of the seemingly little stuff that needs consistency to get done. This structure and visualization help me plan reasonable goals, stay on track, and get things done.

How do you see these ideas at play in your school?

How can you incorporate these parameters for goal setting with your students?

What is your 20 mile march?