Are you stuck?

Can’t help write about the new book I’m reading Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant.  I’ve only just begun reading this great book but what’s sticking so far is the study on what makes one happy or original in terms of the work they do.  What it takes to “unlock our mindsets” or get unstuck is how we perceive our jobs.  Are our jobs “flexible building blocks” or “static sculptures”?  What does it mean when one perceives their own job as a “flexible building block”?  According to Grant, people become “architects of their own jobs”. They begin to look at their familiar jobs in an unfamiliar way.  As my childhood minister once said to our congregation, “to many of us settle for a familiar prison, than risk an unfamiliar freedom”.  There is freedom and happiness when we begin to realize that the limits of our happiness in our work and relationships often times and can be of our own making.  We can choose with some degree how we want our jobs to be.  Rethinking our roles so that they can better align with our passion, interests, skills, and values can help us get “unstuck”. There is always the gap between insight and action on that insight.  I wrestle with this daily, but books like Originals can help remind us how to own our lives more, get unstuck, and begin to move the world as non-conformists do.  It’s worth reading and talking about.

If you want to learn more about Adam Grant, check out his wonderful podcast with Gayle Allen here.


“Bursts” of Learning

At #frsd we like to think differently about learning; how and what we learn but maybe most importantly why?

Tomorrow our teachers will be “bursting” with learning anything and everything Google Apps.

Different from our the hour teacher-led learning sessions lduring the November 4 PD Flemington Learning Academy Day, on February 12 #frsd will be offering “bursts” throughout the day. Since our District is going 1:1 next year, we want to use this day as an opportunity to learn and share the ways we have been using #Google Apps for Education the past year or so. While many of us think what we do is “no big deal”, there are lots of “little nuggets” of information out there each of us possess that could help one another if we only had the time to share and show, “here’s what I do”. Thus, the “burst” is our time to do this.

A “burst” is a quick 10 to 20 minute learning opportunity. The expectation for the “burst” teacher-leader is to share something they do or use that helps them and/or their students. They can be any of the things listed below or other items that may make a difference in our learning environments. The “burst” time allows us to share something and discuss it with colleagues.

  • manage and organize workflow using tech such as Google Classroom
  • communicate and collaborate with teachers and/or students using technology such as Google Apps
  • engage and assists students in learning or research
  • innovate work, instruction, or learning using technology such as Google Apps, Add-ons, Extensions
  • anything that helps you assess students either formatively or in summative assessments
  • anything that helps with students being better digital citizens
  • anything that helps with management and effective leveraging of Chromebooks

Research shows that teacher-led PD is the most effective form of professional development. Furthermore, this PD is not unlimited choice.  Unlimited choice is not the best form of PD. Everything we are learning is tied to our District learning goals and designed to meet those goals and continue our growth and learning in those areas.

Lastly, what you notice on the schedule of AM and PM “Burst” sessions is our “Fearless Leader” time. Every other “burst” session will provide time for any teacher to meet in our media center and simply say, “they want to learn…….”.  There  will be a minimum of one teacher “Fearless Leader” there ready to assist all the teachers with whatever their learning needs are as it applies to our learning goals on this particular day.

What are you doing to better meet the learning of teachers in your district?

Here is our AM “Burst” session

Here is our PM “Burst” session


Inside Out, Eli Manning, and Barack Obama: Real Men Cry

“Are you crying again Dad?”  My daughters run up to me and hug me saying its ok and the movie is not real. But it feels so real to me in ways that they can’t possibly understand; at least not yet.  Not until they become parents will they understand what it’s like to gaze into the eyes of their newborn child or feel the pain when some of the harsh realities of life crush the spirits of their children. Living and studying in Japan for many years made one thing become very clear to me; the unique cultural trait that the unreal portrays the real better than the real does.  This aspect of the Japanese culture rings true for me in Disney’s Inside Out, which was my favorite movie of the year and quite possibly my favorite Disney movie ever. It’s also the movie I’m talking about here that is making me cry after watching it for the fifth time and counting. 

To be honest, I cry in movies all the time. I wonder if it’s the music or the story but really, who cares?  I cry and cry often.   There is something about the internal struggles we all face in life felt in movies like Inside Out or Hoosiers or Field of Dreams that hit the heart hard.  But its not just movies that hit me hard.  Real life moves me too.

As a Giant fan, I was moved to tears watching Tom Coughlin talk to Eli Manning in his farewell address as a father would talk to his son.  As Coach Coughlin told Eli that his departure was not Eli’s fault, Eli swelled up with emotion, his chin and mouth were quivering and it looked to me that it took all he had to not let go at that moment. Watching his final address to all of us reminded me of what a great man he is and what is truly most important and it’s not winning.  Its the higher ground, the greater purpose of team.  It’s the lessons, principles and life skills needed in the world that matter most.  Equipping men with the virtues that last a lifetime is the goal of a great coach not just winning. Virtues of honesty, trust, responsibility, respect, service, and integrity make us all winners in life.  How does this great coach’s final address reminding us of what it really means to be a winner not make one cry and swell up with emotion?

The other day, our President was moved to tears when talking about the 5 and 6 year olds who were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut.  It was powerful for me to see the world’s arguably most powerful leader moved to tears.  He showed a side to us that made him more real, more human. He reminded us that it is okay to cry.

Real men cry.  Don’t let anyone else tell you different or mock those who do let their emotions surface.  Sadness is an emotion that exists in all of us and if you saw Inside Out, you learned how denying one’s sadness and the emotion that comes with sadness, denies us the chance to experience joy and all other emotions in our beautiful lives to their fullest.

Innovation at #FRSD


On December 14, there was a Board of Education meeting at JP Case Middle School in Flemington, NJ.  This was not your ordinary meeting but the first of many where #FRSD students and teachers will be showcasing the innovation happening in our district.

First up was @joeagabiti2013‘s design class from JP Case.  A little more than month ago, I had the opportunity to visit Mr. Agabiti’s class and watched happening what the Board of Education and many members of our community witnessed Monday night; student agency and innovation. Recognizing where we often are in education and where we want to be impels us to shine the light on what is working for students.  This is why the students in his class were such a wonderful way to kick off our December meeting.

As I witnessed that day in his classroom, the #FRSD community too saw students showcasing the designs they created to change the world.  Two students designed and programmed robots to play music and rescue broken robots in a Mars simulation.

Enzo 2

Mars Robot 1

Two other students designed and programmed robots to work and operate like the Ozobot robots, sensing lines and moving along those lines in order to not fall off the board where it was moving.

Go by lines

Go By Lines 2

Two other students were showing the coding of the Sphero they created which made the Sphero able to navigate through a maze changing colors as it went through the different colored sections of the maze.

Sphero 1

Also, in the Sphero exhibition was perhaps the most creative use of a Sphero I have seen.  Students programmed the Sphero to paint a picture on a canvas.  You can see this in action here.

Sphero Art

Two other students took legos and created a three dimensional depiction of the periodic table.  The purpose being to allow students to use legos to depict compounds such as water.


Two other students created an interactive Snowboard game that allowed our Superintendent to ride the snowboard using Makey Makey.


Two other students created a Dance Dance Revolution game that allowed our Superintendent to dance also using Makey Makey.


Lastly, one student, who was truly changing the world for his fellow students shared with me his design which was created to help a family member who is autistic and his fellow students who also have autism.

This design created together reinforced key design principles and allowed the students to create a working toy.

What amazed me the most was not just the passion and desire to create but to share and teach the adults there.  Adults were the “students” at this meeting and when you think about what we want learning to be and compare it with what it is at times in education, you realize that creating the space for students to own their learning and sharing it with others needs to happen more in our profession.  These students weren’t learning to code on its own, but rather, they were learning to code because they needed coding knowledge and skill to create designs.  It happened because they were driven by purpose that meant something to them; designs that changed the world. They weren’t worried about grades, making mistakes, or failing.  To finish the evening, a gift was presented to each Board of Education member by our amazing students; a 3D printed name tag to use at their future meetings.

In an era of education that often feels overly focused on state-imposed standards, high-stakes testing, and other questionable mandates, Monday night was an example for all of us of what learning can look like in our schools.  You can see more of what goes on in Mr. Agabiti’s design class from JP Case by visiting his classroom YouTube page here and following him on Twitter.


The Familiar Prison

As a high school teacher of Japanese for 14 years, I would begin each new school year with my Japanese 1 class, consisting mostly of of nervous but excited freshman, with several days of activities and discussions that had more to do about “learning” than learning Japanese. I did this because I wanted students to know that my class was first and foremost about learning more than just the Japanese language and culture. It was learning how to think, question, challenge, laugh, have fun, and embracing your “inner dorkdom”, among other things. Learning Japanese is extremely difficult and if the right culture were not in place, learning would be even more difficult.

One of the things we would discuss were comfort zones.  A quote that exemplifies what the comfort zone is all about, for me a least, was a quote I remember from Tom Tewell, the minister at my church growing up that I would share with them.

He once said, “Too many of us would rather settle for a familiar prison, then risk an unfamiliar freedom.” I can’t count how many times that quote pops up in my mind. It has impacted me in both my personal and professional life.  It has stuck with me for over thirty years now and helped shape the culture of my Japanese class as well as how I lead as Supervisor of Educational Technology for a K-8 district in New Jersey.

Am I doing what I am doing because it is comfortable? Am I challenging myself enough to learn, grow, etc.?  Am I living fully in how I connect and interact with those I love and care about?  Do they know that and experience that from me?  The list of questions go on and on when one digs deep.

It’s really easy to be hard on one’s self, and I have learned that over the course of my life for the past twenty years.  Nevertheless, asking one’s self these questions doesn’t mean to judge one’s self. It’s not about being overly hard on one’s self.  Rather it is simply asking for one to step into the unfamiliar, whatever that is for you.  There is great discomfort in the unfamiliar, yet in that unfamiliarity, there is freedom, freedom to grow and learn.  It sounds simple, right? We all do this, right?  To really ask one’s self if they are settling for a familiar prison than risking the unfamiliar freedom is in and of itself an exercise in discomfort, if you are being honest in your self reflection.

I’m not sure what the answer to all this is because the answer is kind of like a Zen koan, no true answer for all, just a deep visceral understanding that is clear to just you when you are honest with your self.  It is a personal thing at times but does it not have relevance for our profession as well?

What is our comfort zone in education?  Is our PLN our comfort zone?  Is our school like a comfortable prison?  Do we create environments that allow students to step out and flourish? What kind of experience do our students have if we remain in our comfort zones as teachers and administrators?  Can they continue to grow and learn when we model comfort?  Isn’t comfort really just about preventing fear?  I think you could go really deep here and I’d love to have that conversation with any of you out there.  But for now, I hope you can see the value in that quote, whether it be your personal or professional life and honestly reflect on it.  It’s a good thing to ask one’s self.  It continues to serve me…every day.

Comfort Zone

How about Differentiating Ed Reform?

There is a lot of change going on in education today.  There is lot of information I read daily on Twitter, blogs, Google +, and in newspapers regarding the state of education.  Some of it is spot on, some of it is filled with hyperbole, and some of it is so wrong I can feel the collective minds of passionate educators exploding across the country.  Whatever the case, anyone who follows education these days knows there is a lot of controversy about if what we are doing is right for students, teachers, schools, communities, and our nation.  One thing for sure is that the change we are seeing is something ALL public schools are going through no matter what state, county, or town.  I’d rather not get into the why of this but more the result of this kind of ed reform.  You see, anyone in education knows some of the bigger focuses today in schools are personalized learning and differentiated instruction for our students. Schools are expected to personalize and differentiate their instruction because this can truly maximize the learning for all students.  I believe in this.  While it is a huge challenge to do so and American teachers spend far too much time teaching leaving them with less planning time than most nations in the world, personalizing and differentiating instruction is best for our students.  With that being said, it strikes me as ironic that the ed reform we see across our country is the EXACT opposite of what we are expected to do as effective educators.  Ed reform is one size fits all.  Whether you are at an inner city school, a suburban district, or a school in a rural area, we all bound by the same policies mandated by the government.  While some of these policies may come with the best of intentions, they are fundamentally flawed.  Ed reform and the policies we see as a result of this ed reform, should be held to the same expectation we as educators are held to; it must be personalized and differentiated.  To think that every district in New Jersey has the same needs and needs the same ed reform is only something that can imagined by people who aren’t in the education profession.  But I guess that does make sense because those who are writing the ed reform policies aren’t educators. What we do and how we do what we do isn’t on their radar. Otherwise, we might see ed reform that looks different than what we are dealing with today. How about listening to those in this profession? How about working with us to personalize and differentiate effective and meaningful ed reform so we can see the changes I believe we all want for our students and children?  Isn’t it time for differentiating ed reform?

Control the Narrative

Who tells the story of Google?  Who tells the story of Apple?  Most companies and organizations have public relations departments who work with their marketing departments to create and shape their brand.  A brand that tells their story.  To understand this better, just close your eyes and see what you comes to your mind when you think about Disney World.  For most parents, long lines, stress, and empty wallets come to your minds, but for the vast majority of people, things like family, Mickey Mouse, Epcot, rides, Frozen, among so many other positive images, come to your mind when you think about Disney. That is their brand and it’s one of the best brands that exists in the whole world.  Disney controls their narrative, their story, and it’s a great one.

Now, close your eyes and think about public education.  What comes to your mind? Is it positive?  Does what you are thinking about, the story you hear, come from educators or is it coming from those outside the profession?  I ask this question to the teachers in my district regularly.  They know their story and the story of other educators is not being heard.  The great work, creativity, innovation, and learning happening in their schools, in their classrooms, are not seen or heard by the public at large. They know they have lost the narrative, and their story, for the most part, is being told by media, politicians, philanthropists, corporations, and other organizations and individuals.  Many in education feel this story does not depict the reality of what they do, the challenges they face, and the great learning and innovation happening in classrooms across the country.

Nothing is stopping us from telling our story except ourselves and there is a lot to share and learn from one another.  For the past few months, I have written about this after attending the National Writing Project at Rutgers University.  More than writing, I have taken action at my school, encouraging the teachers to “control the narrative.”

スクリーンショット 2014-11-25 午後10.07.34

Here is what I have done with many of the other passionate and committed educators who want to begin to “control the narrative” in our profession.  We have held several connected educator learning opportunities for teachers showing them how to get on Twitter and embed their Twitter feed on SchoolWires.  We have had our teachers who are piloting iPads and Chromebooks share their learnings on Google Plus and the Google Plus communities we created for these initiatives.  We have begun to “flip the classrooms” at the middle school to differentiate instruction for students and share these lessons on YouTube.

I’ve shown teachers how to download Twitter to their iPads and showed them how to take pictures of and tweet about the learning they see happening in their classrooms.  Many are beginning to use our district hashtag, so we can curate on Twitter the great learning going on in our classrooms.  It is beginning to really take off.

World Language teachers are creating how-to videos using Show Me and tweeting them, which wind up right on their district website Twitter feed without having to log into SchoolWires.  Check that out here!

Other teachers tweet about the learning going on in their classrooms and take pictures of students, the work they do and/or create.  Check out Mrs. Moore’s Twitter feed here!  See how she is telling a story, a story that a local parent and friend of mine, Brad Currie, has noticed and blogged about here.

The middle school principal in our district, Bob Castellano, started a school YouTube channel that provides learning and instructional videos from science to home economics.  These videos help students better understand concepts as well as how to make and create things. You can see some of that below.

How to Measure – Cooking Class

How to Knot Thread – Home Economics

Systems of Inequalities

There still is a lot to learn for many of us in education, but teachers, in my district, are inspired and motivated and want to start telling their story of learning, innovation and technology integration.  They are beginning to “control the narrative” and letting the stakeholders in our community as well as the larger communities that exist in social media and on the internet see and hear a story that they don’t usually hear.  This story provides a window to the classrooms and the learning happening in schools today.  It’s positive, exciting and reflects the growth and learning happening that we do not hear about.  At the end of the day, educators from all over must understand that if they don’t start telling their story, someone else will tell it for them.  Control the narrative, know and promote your brand and celebrate the success we all see daily.