About Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 14-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he did time as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example (readingbyexample.com), tweets @ReadByExample and writes for EdTech magazine. His book about digital portfolios will be published by Powerful Learning Press in the coming year.

What does it mean to be “connected”?

What does it mean to be “connected”, as a professional and a learner? I think it is a working definition for many educators, myself included.

Lisa Dabbs from Edutopia attempts to define this concept:

Connected learners develop networks and co-construct knowledge from wherever they live. They collaborate online, use social media to interact with colleagues around the globe, engage in conversations in safe online spaces, and bring what they learn online back to their classrooms, schools, and districts.

That works for me. Just as student learning can become more personalized with technology in the school mix, so to should professional learning. Our level of connectedness is best measured in the depth of our relationships and conversations with others in our social networks.

Volume is great. Having many others who follow you and vice versa on multiple platforms certainly creates a more diverse network of learners at your fingertips. At some point though, we have to develop communities of practice if we expect to engage in deep and meaningful learning experiences.

Harold Jarche, whose blog and professional work were introduced to me by Lyn Hilt, has developed a nice framework for understanding how this progression works (Image source: jarche.com).


Going from right to left, you can see how personal learning networks (PLNs) are only the beginning. My start, like many others, was on Twitter. This channel of knowledge and expertise was essential to helping me become more connected. As a principal, I followed the #cpchat (Connected Principals) hashtag and just started following other administrators. This led to some of them following me back, which led to interactions and sharing of ideas in an open space. Others jumped in when they wanted.

While Twitter was and still is a cornerstone of my professional learning, it is equally important that we develop communities of practice (CoP). Otherwise, our self-directed learning isn’t really self-directed at all; it follows the current of the streams of information that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media feeds provide.

CoPs are generally smaller groups in numbers, typically with a more specific focus.  My favorite tool right now for developing communities of practice is Google+ Communities. You can create private or public groups, develop as many different pages within the group as you like, and control who has access to the conversations. I currently use these groups to continue the conversation about my book. In my school, we also use Google+ Communities to collaborate as staff teams. I am also facilitating a graduate course/book study for district staff with this tool, in between times where we physically meet.

Voxer is a nice tool for this kind of work as well. While it is a little more challenging to share resources like you can in Google+, the advantage Voxer brings is immediacy in the conversations. It works like a walkie talkie, adding audio, text, and images within a chat room. Voxer also requires some moderation, like Google+ Communities. For instance, conversations can go on and on in Voxer. If you are not able to keep up with what everyone has to share, you can feel left behind in the conversation without any more time to catch up.

And then there is Facebook. Of all the tools listed so far for professional learning, this one confounds me the most. I use it for personal reasons only right now. It just hasn’t crept into my personal learning network like it has for other educators. Maybe it is the whole “friending” aspect of it, creating an exclusive mindset for this third space for learning. However, no one can deny the incredible audience that Facebook provides for users.

Tony Sinanis, an elementary principal in New York, shared a novel idea for managing these social media feeds. He uses Instagram as his social media hub for his school. When Tony takes a picture on Instagram, he can then select Facebook and Twitter to also post his image at the same time. This appears to save him a lot of time and reach the widest audience possible.

So going back to my original question: What does it mean to be connected? In my humble opinion, it is what you make of it. Do you want to follow Tony’s example, and create an Instagram account for your school and tap into other social media tools that your school families use? Fine. Embed the feed on your school’s webpage and post away.

Do you want to take advantage of all the professional learning possibilities available through Twitter, blogs, Google+, and Voxer? Also fine! Check out the flyer I made for the Wisconsin State Reading Association’s Digital Learning Lounge for some tips and tricks:

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.59.21 PM

Whatever tool(s) you choose, I suggest keeping your connections manageable, meaningful, and a benefit to both who follow you and who you follow. And have fun!

Graduate Programs Suspended Due to Cuts in Higher Education in Wisconsin

I have been a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, off and on, for the past ten years. I earned my masters in school administration through UW-Superior in 2005. This coming May, I plan on adding a Director of Instruction license to my credentials. In addition, I was considering pursuing my Ed.S. in the same field.

This is why it saddens me to hear that due to more state budget cuts, UW-Superior will be suspending (see: cutting) the Director of Instruction program. Educators still in the program, such as myself, have three years left to complete our remaining coursework. This is but one of several graduate programs in the education department that are being suspended.

In a time when schools and districts need good administrators more than ever, these events come across as short-sighted and ignorant. Mind you, this decision has been made while Assembly Bill 1 is still being debated. This bill would slash an additional $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system. It also opens the door wider for private charter school systems to come in and take over poverty-stricken schools, siphoning off more public dollars to corporations.

I was also disappointed in the response from the University of Wisconsin System leaders. They somehow managed to describe the pros and cons of this legislation, as if it were a balanced plan. Having more autonomy to run your separate institutions only gives leaders more latitude to cut programming and staff that the state government is forcing you to do in the first place. All three perspectives shared were weak and disingenuous.

I have repeatedly invited my representatives to come for a visit to our elementary school. As of today, no one has taken us up on our offer. I will continue to extend these invitations, if for nothing else than to put a name and face with the institutions that they are so carelessly mismanaging. I encourage you to do the same in your school.

Book Review: No More Summer-Reading Loss by Carrie Cahill, Kathy Horvath, Anne McGill-Franzen, and Richard Allington (Heinemann, 2013)

imgresAt only 65 pages, I was surprised at how rich this book was in research and strategies for stemming summer reading loss. Cahill and Horvath start this text by asserting that “the lack of summer reading is actually a reflection of how well we have taught them to be independent readers during the school year” (4). They follow up this provocative statement with why it is just not conducive to try requiring dormant readers to engage in literature without considering their interests. Motivation is the key.

McGill-Franzen and Allington share the research on motivation and engagement in the next chapter. They frequently highlight the power of having choice and access to high-interest books, both during the school year and over the summer. Maybe the most surprising fact to me was, when schools just give kids free books of their choice over summer, the effect is just as powerful as most summer school programs (and at a fraction of the cost).

Cahill and Horvath round out the text with some practical and economic ideas for facilitating summer reading projects. The use of online tools, such as blogs and literacy-focused websites, were especially intriguing to me. While it is only January as I write this, I thought it is well worth my time to have read this text now and prepare for the reading possibilities in the future.

What I Have Been Writing – January 25, 2015

It has been a busy week since last Saturday. Several pieces I had been working on were posted online recently. Here is a round up of what was shared.

unmistakeable-impact-renwickBook Review: Unmistakable Impact by Jim Knight (MiddleWeb, January 22, 2015)

I recommended this book, if for no other reason than the chapter on conducting workshops. That part of the text was very helpful for me, when I was preparing presentations at a recent technology convention.

Upcoming reviews for MiddleWeb include Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker, and Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? by Yong Zhao. Follow @MiddleWeb or subscribe to their site to receive the links to these reviews when published.

Is Facebook the New School Webpage? (EdTech – Focus on K-12, January 20, 2015)


I enjoyed profiling a teacher and my superintendent in this article. Several staff members in our district are using Facebook as a way to quickly communicate school news and student learning with families.

Teacher/Learner and New Literacies (Theory and Practice, January 17 and January 24, 2015)

On my new site, I explored the topics of action research and literacy in the 21st century. I have found that posting summaries and analysis about relevant articles and studies forces me to read more deeply about these topics. The journals I subscribe to don’t just sit on my desk in the off-chance that I will have some free time to read them.

Bonus: The First Theory and Practice Podcast

I am excited to initiate my very first podcast related to my new site. I have three very knowledgable administrators joining me tonight to discuss principal professional development.

principal-pd-2Better yet, anyone can watch the podcast as it is happening tonight. You can either go to this link, or watch it stream live below (I think; this is my first time trying this).

On differentiation: a reply to a rant and a posing of questions

Matt Renwick:

If you are going to read one post this week, I suggest you make it Grant Wiggins’s (reblogged here). The author of Understanding by Design responded to James DeLisle’s commentary for Education Week, titled “Differentiation Doesn’t Work”. Like Grant, I also was surprised that DeLisle’s piece even made it to publication. His commentary cherry picked quotes from other sources, poorly representing those texts on the challenges and benefits of differentiation.

What are your thoughts on differentiation, DeLisle’s commentary, and Wiggins’s response? Please share in the comments.

Originally posted on Granted, and...:

James DeLisle recently wrote a Commentary in Education Week in which he trashed differentiation of learning. In this post, I respond to his utterly invalid arguments. In the next post I speak to the larger issue of teacher vs. school obligation in dealing with heterogeneous classes, and what heterogeneity should and should not demand of teachers. Ed Week has not responded to my submission, so I am publishing this on my own.

To the Editor:

Why in the world did you publish James DeLisle’s one-sided self-serving rant on differentiated instruction (“Differentiation Doesn’t Work,” by James R. Delisle, Education Week)?

First of all, he covers exactly the same ground in the back and forth in Education Week a few years ago between Mike Schmoker (Ed Week Commentary, September 20, 2010) and Carol Ann Tomlinson (Letter November 12, 2010) – and does so far less coherently and persuasively than Schmoker…

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Matt Renwick:

Technology is becoming ubiquitous. With all of this access, how can we start to develop authentic spaces for learning that complement and enhance our in-person learning experiences? I explore different interpretations of blended learning, as well as offer my own thoughts on how to best help learners come together and develop a sense of connectedness with their peers, their subject, and themselves.

Originally posted on Theory and Practice:


Unlearning is more difficult than learning something new, and one of our most important challenges is to let go of existing structures in order to build more effective ones. – Alan November, from his book Who Owns the Learning? Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age (Solution Tree, 2012)

Hybrid Classes Outlearn Traditional Classes by Dian Scaffhauser (T|H|E Journal, December 18, 2014)

Schaffhauser summarizes a 2013-2014 study on the impact of blended learning for over 8,000 Pennsylvannia students. Over 90% of schools that implement hybrid classes saw “higher academic performance on standardized tests compared to traditional classrooms”. These results are based solely on standardized tests.

The organization that facilitated implementation and conducted the study, Hybrid Learning Institute, defines blended learning through six characteristics:

  • The use of a blended classroom system;
  • Students rotate among different learning stations;
  • Instruction is delivered in small groups;
  • Students take frequent digital assessments;

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Examining My Reading Life, January 9, 2015

As a young parent aware of the importance of reading aloud, there is no shortage of books in our house at any one time. We visit our public library at least once a week. Our kids have a lot of latitude about what they want to read. At the same time, we “push” books on them when we see opportunity. Just recently, our family attended the Mary Poppins musical at a local theater. This event was the impetus for reading aloud the novel it was based on, by P.L. Travers. We have fun discovering how the book is different than the musical.


Besides what I read to my kids over break, I also found time to read for myself. One book I recently finished is Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker, about blended learning in schools. I thought it was very informative. However, there was too much corporate influence. Plus, I felt the authors built a false sense of urgency to persuade school leaders to purchase the latest and greatest technology.

I also read The Magicians, the first book in a trilogy by Lev Grossman, about college students attending an institution that teaches magic. Think Harry Potter after Hogwarts. I did enjoy this book, as the dialogue was sharp and the plot was well-paced.


Finally, I read Bird by Bird, a memoir on writing and life by Anne Lamott. This author displayed a wicked sense of humor as she shared her knowledge and wisdom.

I share this with you because of how strongly I believe in the importance of being a lifelong reader. Yes, for our students, but also for all who consider themselves “educated”. No matter how much I read, whether it is the Sunday paper, or the next novel in The Magicians’ series, or reading aloud Mary Poppins to my daughter, I always discover ways to become smarter. This is more than just what I know. It is how I see the world and how to take different people’s perspectives. Reading is as much about building dispositions as it is about skills and understanding.

That is why I gently recommend to you, if you don’t already do so, to share your own reading lives with others. Maybe it is a quiet book club with friends, or a small online community, or even posting your thinking on social media such as Goodreads. Whatever the case, making our reading lives known provides a model for others around us, which helps all of us become better readers.