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5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending

child holding up hand
Image by Pezibear via, Public Domain

Today I was challenged by @jaygreenlinger to share my list of 5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending in education to #makeschooldifferent. Challenge accepted.

Right off the bat, I had several ideas but, like Jay, I had to struggle to whittle them down to five six sentences. I’m sure I’ll change my mind as soon as I hit Publish, but here they are.

  1. Today’s students are digital natives and already have all the skills related to safe, appropriate, and ethical technology use. (Corollary: Most teachers are familiar with these skills and can teach them to students.)
  2. Good teachers have no need for an online PLN (personal learning network).
  3. When it comes to staff development, one size fits all.
  4. Having students connect to the world outside the classroom is nice, but is not a necessity.
  5. Giving out grades is the best way to assess student learning.

You can read Jay’s post here. I am passing on the challenge to five educators whose ideas I really respect. I hope that Karl Lindgren-Streicher, David Theriault, Alice Chen, Moss Pike, and Jen Roberts will share their lists of 5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending in Education.

people watching fireworks

The Spark of Connection

people watching fireworks
Image by matt_saywers, via, Public Domain

Bruce Springsteen wrote, “You can’t start a fire without a spark.” As I considered this week’s #youredustory prompt, “What is connected learning and WIIFM (What’s in it for me)?,”  that quote kept coming back to me. To me, being connected means having people to provide the spark if it’s lacking for me, or to fan my spark, help me kindle the flame, and keep my fire going.

Connected learning takes many forms, and they are all based on personal relationships, which I cultivate with care. I make sure people know I am open and willing to share. Thanks to these relationships, I can go in person, text, or call other teachers at my school or  in my district if I have questions or want to bounce ideas off someone. I can also turn to my PLN (personal learning network) on Twitter or Google+.

These connections did not happen accidentally. I participated in Twitter chats, shared on Google+, commented on blog posts, and generally reached out to those I thought could help me light my professional fire. Most people responded very positively. I also went and continue to go to as many conferences and unconferences as I can manage because, although I love the online connectedness, I especially love meeting those people in person. It adds another invaluable dimension to the relationship. I found, too, that as I made more connections, I connected with their connections, and their connections’ connections, and my learning fire grew bigger and brighter.

So, what’s in it for me? Everything. I may have a great idea. By discussing it with others, it can become greater. I may need a great idea. By reaching out, I can find one. People I know may want to bounce an idea off others. By helping them, I am rewarded as they develop their idea and/or I might come up with something of my own. Not to mention that I have lots of new friends whose professional opinions I respect and whose personal company I enjoy. I truly believe that we are all #bettertogether.

Tales of a Connected Educator or What a Difference a Year Makes

I recently returned from my second CUE conference, and my experience could not have been more different than the first had it taken place on Tatooine.


Image by yovanson

CUE is a wonderful organization and resource for educators. Every March, they hold a three day conference in Palm Springs, California. At this conference, there are literally thousands of educators (this year, 5,300) who come together to share their knowledge and learn from each other.

CUE conference logo

Last year (2013) was the first year I had the opportunity to attend the conference, and although I found it a bit overwhelming, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I attended sessions, visited vendor exhibits, was inspired by the keynote speakers (Sir Ken Robinson and Catlin Tucker, what’s not to like?), and shared great meals and terrific conversations with my then-fellow LVUSD employee/roommate, Jennifer Peyrot, who helped me plan my schedule and gave me some tips about making the conference a success. (The best one: Go to one session just because you think it will be fun, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with what you are doing at work. I chose the Google Search Slam, and it was awesome. I even won a prize.) I came back excited, energized, and full of new ideas. I thought I was getting the most out of my conference experience. I was wrong.

It turns out that I was missing a key element of my conference experience. The best part of a CUE conference, or any conference for that matter, I have come to learn, is the connection you can make with the other attendees.

That is not to say that the other parts of a conference are not valuable. The sessions, the vendors, the keynote speakers, they were all just as wonderful this year as last year. What was different for me was that this time I had relationships with many of the other participants.

You see, over the past year, I have become a connected educator. I have developed a PLN (personal learning network) of teachers and others I can turn to when I need help, inspiration, or just someone off of whom to bounce my latest idea, someone who will tell me honestly if I’m crazy… and whether or not that should stop me from pursuing said idea.

Connected Educator
Image by wtbates1 CC-BY-SA-2.0

These connections made my conference experience so much better this year than last, when I knew nobody outside of the few people from my district and only met a handful of others. This year, I began the first day of the conference by having breakfast and sharing ideas with David Theriault, Chris Long, Megan Ellis (whom I met for the first time; such an inspiring person), Linda Yollis, Andrew Schwab, and Mike Vollmert. After breakfast with such amazing people, CUE 2014 was off to an excellent start for me, especially thanks to David’s suggestion that we meet at Espresso Cielo instead of your typical Starbucks. I’m not as much of a coffee snob as the name of this blog might suggest, but I do enjoy a good cup of espresso, and the chocolate croissants at Espresso Cielo were some of the best I have had this side of the pond.

At the conference, I met many people face to face for the first time, although I already knew them from Twitter. They included (in no particular order) Jon Samuelson, Craig Yen, Sam Patterson and Wokka, Victoria Olson, Rushton Hurley, Ed Campos, Karl Lindgren-Streicher, Ryan Archer (who created a set of shared folders for collaborative conference note taking — thank you), and Jon Corippo, among others. I also reconnected with so many people I don’t have room to mention them all here. The hallway conversations were as jam-packed with learning as the conference sessions, and sometimes even more so.

How did I meet these people and become connected? I attribute it to three factors. First, Twitter. I started tweeting at CUE 2013 and engaged with people. I asked questions and shared what I could. I took part in Twitter chats (#caedchat in particular) and went to CoffeeCUEs, Rockstar camps, and edcamp. It wasn’t difficult, but it didn’t happen without a small effort on my part. It was a bit like beginning to ride a bike. At first, you are slow, wobbly, and feel generally awkward, but as your skills improve, you can really fly with just a little bit of pedaling to stay upright.

Training wheels are good
Image by John Young

The second factor is Alice Keeler. Not only has she been a great friend and extremely supportive, she also convinced me to sign up for the Innovative Educator program run by CUE in conjunction with Fresno Pacific University. Through this program, I learned a great deal about innovative teaching and using technology in education (pedagogy first, please), but I also made lasting personal and professional connections with a fabulous group of educators with whom I have enjoyed wonderful, productive, collaborative relationships.

The final factor can be summed up in two words: Why not? This is a major part of my personal philosophy. If I can’t think of a really good reason not to do something, I do it. I would rather regret something I did than something I failed to do. As an educator, I feel that I have to try new things. It isn’t always easy, but worthwhile things rarely are.

If we want our students to learn new skills, we need to experience what it is like and model it for them when we can. In practical terms for me, this has meant that this year I presented at some local conferences and at CUE 2014. I also put on an unconference of my own, PLAYDATE L. A. It wouldn’t have been possible to set up and run this event without the help of my incomparable team of co-organizers, and being at these and other events has led to more and deeper connections with a wide group of dedicated educators.

I am excited to see how things change between now and CUE 2015. In the next few months, I am looking forward to edcampVC, to being on the faculty of CUE Rockstar Manhattan Beach and to running PLAYDATE L. A. 2014 (registration will be open sometime in late April or early May). Who knows what new connections they will bring? I can’t wait to find out.