What to do when you have done everything you can

This has been a rocky week for Wisconsin teachers and administrators. That’s saying something, in the era of Governor Scott Walker and a very polarizing debate around public education. For K-12 schools, teachers may no longer be required to have a degree in education, or even a degree period, to teacher courses in secondary schools. For higher education, our legislators proposed a $250 million dollar cut and opened the doors for the University of Wisconsin system to get rid of tenure. For a solid summary of these happenings, check out Valerie Strauss’s commentary for the Washington Post.

For my part, here is a list of how I have personally advocated for public education recently:

  • I wrote a post on our school blog that provided details about the decisions our lawmakers were considering regarding K-12 education.
  • I personally invited our legislators in our voting district to visit our elementary school.
  • I spoke with parents regarding these cuts to public education, in hopes of them advocating for our students and schools.
  • I submitted an original commentary for the editorial page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which was an adaptation of a post I recently penned.
  • I asked two major software vendors on Twitter, who our district partners with regarding student learning, on where they stand with these cuts to public education.
  • I have encouraged my faculty to contact our legislators personally, not just as teachers, but as community members and as parents concerned about students.

As I read this list, it sounds like a pat on the back. Maybe I needed it. :-)

But with that, I know that I cannot advocate in isolation and expect true change to happen. It has to be a group effort. I thought Senator Elizabeth Warren embodied our feelings perfectly in a recent public interview.

When you come down to it, it is about money as we fight the privatization of public education. This is the kind of fire we need to see from everyone who cares about public education and democracy in general.

For me, I feel like I have advocated quite effectively. What I need to do now is relax and enjoy being with my family over the weekend. I can do this because I have confidence that I am not the only one affecting change. In other words, I am assuming that it is you, the reader, who is also a change agent of a better outcome for our present and future.

Teaching is More Than Just a Degree – It is a Profession

Last night, several members of Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee voted poorly on many issues related to K-12 public education. To me, the most shocking was the decision that “essentially eliminates teacher licensing standards by allowing public and private schools to hire anyone to teach, even those without a bachelor’s degree”.

There are lots of occupations out there that do not demand a bachelor’s degree, including Governor of Wisconsin. But teaching shouldn’t be one of them.

I should know. I was a classroom teacher for eight years, and a school principal for just as long. Teaching is an incredibly complex and challenging craft. In my estimation, it requires an individual to become very good at teaching at least three years of classroom experience beyond their completed college experience. The foundational learning that occurs in undergraduate courses and student teaching is only the beginning. It truly is a profession that one learns as they do it, and the learning never ends.

As an example, I recently observed a primary teacher facilitate a math lesson on arrays (rows and columns of tiles to convey an equation or form a shape). An uneducated bystander without the requisite background knowledge to understand teaching and learning would observe this lesson and probably think it was fine.

But they would have no idea why. With a highly-trained eye, here is what I saw:

  • The intent of the lesson was clearly stated in writing, verbally, and visually.
  • The teacher kept the students active, allowing them to get up every 10 minutes or so between activities. This is pedagogically-sound (I doubt the term “pedagogy” could be accurately defined by several members of our Joint Finance Committee).
  • She used formative assessment, such as observing answers on held whiteboards, to ensure all students with a wide variety of abilities were ready for the next step.
  • Small actions by the teacher avoided bigger problems with the students. For example, she used thoughtful language that focused on the positive of a student’s actions, instead of pointing out his faults and possibly causing a major behavior disruption. One wrong word could have led to ten minutes of lost instruction.
  • Wait time was given for a student who was struggling to process an answer and share it aloud.
  • A clear transition between arrays and formal geometry was conveyed by the teacher only when every student was ready to cognitively make that transition.

This was not the full extent of all the positive work I saw in her classroom today. At our post-observation conference, I started by asking her how she thought she did. “Well, I wish my questions I presented for the students would have been more open-ended. I wanted to help them get to a deeper understanding of the math concept.” Does this sound like someone who is less than a professional?

Teaching is a special vocation, reserved only for the very best and brightest. It takes both intelligence and empathy, a rare combination that exists in our school and in many, many others in the state. To reduce our profession to something that anyone can do clearly shows the ignorance of the policy makers that somehow saw sanity in a decision that had no business being a part of the Joint Finance Committee.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In summary, getting a license to teach in schools, whether public or private, shouldn’t be as easy as staying at a Holiday Inn Express. You don’t just wake up and become a highly-qualified educator. It takes years of study, experience, reflection, and collaboration to get to a point of excellence. Those that attempt to reduce our status as professionals did not succeed. We know better. All they did was to continue to set public schools up for failure in order to ensure privatization of public education gains momentum in Wisconsin. Our students and young families, the future of Wisconsin, are the ones who will suffer. And all because of money. Education is not a market – it is an endeavor to help build better lives.

Two Suggested Screencasting Tools for Communicating Information

May is a busy month. In lieu of my normal weekly newsletters for staff, I have elected to use a few screencasting applications to communicate information. Screencasts are brief video recordings that are uploaded to an online site such as YouTube or Vimeo. Smart educators I am connected with shared these web tools with me.


I use the iPad app. First, I set the tablet up in front of me and start a project. Next, I select images, quotes, and social media feeds through the vApps function. The content I plan on displaying during the recording are sitting on the bottom of the dock. Finally, I press record and away we go. I’ll bring up the media sitting in the dock, which will appear alongside me. I usually have a list of topics to discuss on a piece of paper, but only as a reference point. It is very boring to watch and listen to someone read text verbatim.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 7.55.25 PM

This is a screenshot of what I recorded today. Especially at this time of year, some of my staff are appreciative of watching a short video of information, instead of a newsletter to read. I will send out the video to staff via email along with the links and resources I reference in the Touchcast. I don’t use this tool nearly to its potential. Connect with Curt Rees or Peter Dewitt for expert advice. There are interactive features and green screen capabilities that make Touchcast a powerful tool for communication.


The benefits of this screencasting tool is ease of use. While Touchcast has many bells and whistles, Movenote is pretty straightforward. Add some images to a slideshow, and press record. You move the slides as you speak.

Screen shot of me prepping slides for presentation.

Screen shot of me preparing slides for presentation.

While it is quick and easy to use, Movenote does not seem to be as well received as Touchcast. I find myself speaking longer in these productions, and 4-5 minutes should be the limit for any kind of screencast (attention spans tend to wander after that). Still, Movenote is a nice web tool when you need to convey some information in a pinch.

Do you use either one of these tools or both? If so, which one do you find working better for you over the other? Is there another screencasting tool that you prefer instead Touchcast or Movenote? Please share in the comments.

A website is not a blog (and neither is a journal)

Originally posted on Matt Renwick:

On Friday, I started putting together my weekly round up of article summaries and analysis. This project began in November of last year, as a way to separate my more erudite posts from my regular ramblings on my blog, Reading by Example. This site would also give me a more appropriate platform to promote my formal work. About halfway through the summary writing process, I stopped and asked myself, “Am I enjoying this?” The answer: Not exactly. 6454543031_ea9e13068c

 photo credit: bis zur antwort via photopin(license)

I do like reading widely and responding to what I have read. It has been an effective method of forcing me to read the many journals that sit on my desk at school and home. Also, I believe the process of reading, summarizing, and reflecting has helped me improve as a writer. However, this process was not serving readers. When I stopped in April to work on my…

View original 477 more words

Beyond the Screen: Osmo for the iPad 

We checked this iPad accessory out at our local library. The company describes their product as “a kid’s technology system that brings the physical and digital worlds together.” The kit comes with an iPad stand, reflector, tans, and letter tiles. 

My kids tried out the Words app first. It would display an image and a blank set of letter spaces. You place a tile and it will “speak” with the iPad app. They had to first determine what the item was (lizard, iguana?), and then try to spell it. 


Blank spaces on the top were for incorrect letter guesses. They would take turns offering letters to the front of the iPad, with a little guidance from their dad :-). The game was a digital cross between hangman and Wheel of Fortune. Possible literacy center?

Next, my son started Masterpiece, an app that reflects your drawing on paper to the outline on the screen. Whatever he drew, a virtual hand and pencil drew a line on the app. 

He also enjoyed Newton. This creativity game requires you to draw or create borders in order to get the dropping spheres to hit the targets. They used pencils, drawn lines, and the edge of the paper to complete the levels.

The final of the four Osmo apps is Tangram. It works like the materials you might see in a math kit, except the app provides guidance on shape placement by reflecting what you have created so far. For example, a hand pops up and models for you how to flip or rotate the tan to match the image. Tangram uses math terms accurately.

I looked online and found the Osmo kit for $80. The apps are free. This is definitely technology to consider for primary literacy and numeracy centers in a classroom, as well as for any learner wanting to enhance their drawing and creativity skills.

What one thing should a student know, understand, or be able to do by the time they leave elementary school?

I don't want to know how many other faces have been pushed into this toy.

I don’t want to know how many other faces have been pushed into this toy.

My daughter and I were in a waiting room today, trying to occupy ourselves while my son was with the dentist.

I browsed through the magazines available and saw the most recent edition of Popular Mechanics. The title for the cover article was “42 Things You Should Know How to Do at Every Age”. This question spurred a bigger question with me, which is the title for this post. Our staff is starting to discuss how to make our portfolio assessment process more coherent across the grade levels and more authentic for our students.

I shared the question out on Instagram, Twitter, a Facebook group, and a Google+ Community. I got zero responses from Twitter and Instagram. No surprise; I have found the bigger the pond, the less likely I am to get a bite. However, three members in the Google+ Community I moderate offered insights worth sharing here.

Think critically and be able to support original ideas with evidence. I think it’s important at that age to demonstrate independent thinking and believe in something that they can passionately argue for with conviction and valid evidence. How they do this should be open to individual choice.

Know how to safely search the Internet for information based on keywords, and evaluate the authenticity and bias of the resources found in order to make an informed decision about what they have learned.

How to problem solve….if something doesn’t go their way and they still need to complete an activity, what could they do to solve their own problem.  (ex.  I don’t have a pencil, I forgot what the HW assignment was, I left my book at school, I don’t have a lunch)

Continue reading

Read to Write, Write to Learn

I want to take a moment to relish in the moment. My first draft for my ASCD Arias book is complete. I realize that it is a school night, and that I have started writing this post at 10:10 P.M., Central Standard Time. The mix of satisfaction and adrenaline will get me through the day tomorrow.


So why would I want to write, after I just wrote almost 10,000 words for this project? That number is actually relatively small – about 50 pages, as it is a short-form text. I think one factor is I can now write for mostly me, with a little consideration for my audience (see: You). I’ve written over 250 posts here. I love the comments, the shares, and just the simple idea that what I have to say can be available to anyone in the world. That alone is profound.

But to answer that previous question, I want to write because I love writing. And all of this blogging has come to some kind of a product. I have found with writing that at some point, I have to pull together the best of what I have to share in a concise and streamlined format for others. It may be a thesis, an article, an online contribution, or even a book. Although this is my second text I have written, with my digital book published last fall, I still don’t feel like an author. I’ve never taken a course in writing, and I don’t have an English degree.

Nevertheless, my lack of background has not dissuaded me from pursuing what I truly enjoy doing: Writing about what I am passionate about. The learning has largely come from the writing itself. I will post here, infrequently check out the statistics, and analyze why some writing I have published on my blog received more attention than others. Frankly, what I believe is the best of what I have to offer on my blog has not received the greatest amount of attention, and vice versa. While Five Cool Things You Can Do With Your MacBook Air continues to monopolize my views, it is the posts such as Swimming Without Water and Does Intervention Have to Be a Pull-Out? that did not garner a ton of attention but I continue to come back to as a learner and leader.

I think what this shows is that we have to write if we expect to learn, and we have to write what we want to write, or it will become just one more task to complete. Pulling ideas from different sources and experiences into one cogent piece is the best way I know to show understanding. When we allow ourselves the choice in what we want to write about, that motivates us to stay with the process and finish out the piece.

I am not sure what the point of this post might be, other than to document that I finished a project and I am now celebrating, at least internally. Anyone who has published something might laugh, noting that the first draft is only the beginning. I tend to disagree. What I ship off to the editor is as close as I can come to a finished product. My hope is that any suggestions will be minor in nature and easy to revise. If that is not the case, then I probably did not start with a good proposal in the first place.

If you, the reader, are considering a more substantial writing project, such as published work, I cannot recommend enough the importance of writing a lot for yourself online. Blogging is what has helped me more than any other practice, possibly with the exception of reading really good writing. This includes fiction as well as nonfiction. So read and write, and write to learn. Allow yourself to discover where this process might take you.