The Lives We Touch


Our Intervention Specialist and I had to do some home visits recently to check in on students we were pretty sure enrolled in our school this year but we haven’t heard from them, for one reason or another. We had several students to check on. Our conversation became speculative about some of the students we knew from the last year regarding why they haven’t been at school – whether it was moved, vacation, parents planning to start after Labor Day and other possibilities.

While we have have no allusions about how some of our families are struggling and dealing with on a daily basis, it was still heart-breaking to come across this posting on one of the doors of a family we had to make several visits for last year.

I don’t write this post to this post to say we should all make a point to visit families of students we know are struggling or students who give us a tough time at school to get to know the families [even though we should]. I’m definitely not writing this for us to feel sorry for students and families. There is a difference in feeling sorry for someone and and being empathetic and determined.

I write this to say as much as we pour into being instructional designers and innovators, we must dedicate time to knowing and caring for and loving the lives we spend most of our days with.


Draw strength from one another to be a difference in our kids lives.

Conditioned to Kink

Two recent conversations have come together for create a profound insight for me and my role as an educator and school leader.

First three good friends, Glenn Robbins, Winston Sakurai and Bill Ziegler recommended a book, Leadership Isn’t for Cowards, in a great Voxer chat. This is a book to fire up anyone working with groups of people. Of the many resonating points in the book, one that led to some great conversation with my admin team was about a leader’s role in ‘unkinking the hose’, removing barriers so colleagues can do their their job effectively, efficiently and innovatively.  Think of all the pinch points [kinks in hoses] in your school that prevent progress and forward thinking. How could removing these organizational kinks dramatically change learning and teaching and growth in your school?

Second, last week James Pittman, @wrmstech shared an article with me about the communication philosophy and goals of Elon Musk for the employees at Tesla. The next day he and I had a great follow up discussion about how much a flattened organization structure is needed but there can be organizational barriers that prohibit it.

But what happens when these kinks are not just organizational?

What happened if we bring the kinks?

Our job as educators is design learning and teaching experiences for students that allow them to productively struggle for answers, search for solutions and achieve goals set for students [ideally with students].  Our own learning experiences as K-16 learners can serve as a kink for designing next level learning experiences is we hold traditional learning as the penultimate for experiences.

Holding onto a traditional thinking of failure, win or lose, is a kink that prevents us from building mastery learning experiences in our learners. We were brought up in a system of A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and F’s; where turning in late assignments was could only be punished not coached. We taught in a system where teachers were given a thumbs up or down and were labelled as good or bad. It is a real barrier for school leaders today who have to embrace their role as coaches.

I’ve reflected on other kinks we bring to the table:

  • A need to respect and fear the boss that keeps us from appreciating the leadership or strengths of others that can help us grow;
  • ‘Winning at all costs’ attitude that prohibits us from celebrating our colleagues growth and struggles;
  • A fear of failure that keeps us from trying new things our learners should experience;
  • Learning stops if we aren’t in class or school;
  • Defining ourselves as an expert;
  • Valuing immediate praise over hard work;


Its important to ask what kinks we are preprogrammed with but its just as important to look at what kinks our grade levels, departments, teachers, counselors, administrators have. We need to look at what kinks we have inherited and ones we can let go with a decision and a conversation. And after you’ve identified personal/organizational kinks, do you have an accountability partner to help you along the way.

Students win when we unkink hoses.

Conscious Efforts

I am going to make conscious efforts to..,

  • Replace the word ‘students’ with LEARNERS;
  • Replace the word ‘teacher’ with ‘Facilitator’, ‘Designer’ or ‘Inspiration’;
  • Replace ‘school’ and ‘classroom’ with ‘Learning Environment’, or ‘Home’ or ‘Community’;
  • Give the gift of ‘Yet’ more often’;
  • Let people know its about learners;
  • Reflect on conversations, plans and results intently;
  • Model the best of what we have and where we need to go;
  • Drop what isn’t benefitting facilitators and learners;
  • Help others find joy in serving students LEARNERS,;
  • Replace ‘classroom management’ and ‘expectations’ with ‘Understandings’;
  • Ask ‘Why’ and ‘What if’ daily;
  • Get my 15000 steps in by being all about my school;
  • Embrace the value and hard work of learner-centered > teacher-centered;
  • Commit to genuine conversations;
  • Listen a lot more;
  • Ask learners what made their day great and what we can do to make it better.

Upcoming Virtual Learning Day

Last month, I proudly posted that our Board of Education approved West Rowan Middle to pilot Virtual Learning on Inclement Weather days [here – Teach from Home]. Our B.O.E. created an option for teachers to work at home on snow days by making them optional teacher workdays. We extended that thinking and proposed, and they approved, to allow West Rowan Middle to continue learning, instruction and creating, while teachers were at home and students potentially never got out of bed. Our teachers, students and community were all over-excited to be able to participate in this and not have to make up instructional days at the end of the year or lose any work days.

55b5bf6117cb4721980afbc6cd0b72b8But no one could know that this would be one of the hottest Februarys in recorded history!
We use more AC than space heaters this winter.


Instead of embracing missed opportunities and what could have been, our visionary leader, Dr Lynn Moody, helped create an opportunity for our school to put in place the preparation for virtual learning we’ve been planning for these past couple of months and the overall next level instructional practices we have been engaged in since our 1:1 iPad dive 3 years ago.

March 17th is an early release day for the district. Students are already scheduled to be released 2 hours early making this the perfect day for virtual learning, teaching and learning from home. As soon as we got approval for it, we began communicating with parents, teachers and students about our plans for March 17th. With about a 3 week heads up, we made it an imperative to share our goals for the day and what we are planning on students to stay home to receive instruction and support from teachers through virtual means.


This will be a move more and more school districts begin to experiment and implement. Edtech integration has been an priority for districts and schools for years but with the proliferation of 1:1 deployments, create more options for educators. Just this week, Minnesota lawmakers are discussing this possibility with H.F. 1421. This is current proposed legislation that will give LEAs the option to hold ‘school’ for  up to 5 days on snow days. It requires advanced notification at the beginning of the year and when the snow day begins. [Read more of it here- Session Daily Article].

To my knowledge, we are the first school in North Carolina to try this. Given more districts are moving 1:1, including some of our larger districts, this will likely be shift many. The North Carolina Legislature controls the calendar of LEAs and this restriction significantly affects what we can and can’t do if we need to make up days. This is a great step in being able to save professional development days reserved for our teachers that they likely lose when a measure like this isn’t available.

Some Big Ideas

  • The Best of Blended Learning – Since our 1:1 deployment, our district has made a concerted effort to help educators and parents understand how technology integration can enhance learning and blended learning is a core concept of ongoing talks. Several of our schools have become models of blended learning and the growing efficacy is evident district-wide. There will be a modification given for this day but we have been talking to teachers about the critical role blended learning will have that day in delivery and connecting with students at different levels and needs. We have done a good job this year with blended learning support and continued training. We were fortunate to have hired a blended learning coach from a nearby district to serve as our assistant principal. Bill Brown [I’m working on his Twitter profile] has done a lot to enhance talks and capabilities in our school. His next level PD talks have helped fill in gaps in understandings and enhance skills our teachers need for blended learning in our brick-and-mortar setting and in this new venture;
  • Dispelling Notions of Disconnectedness – Our school board, and many parents, have a legitimate concern that technology does not inhibit connecting with students. Our ongoing work is to show and assure that technology enhances, not replaces, the relationship in the classroom. In school, we use it as a critical part in our guided instruction. For this virtual learning, it will be used to connect with groups of students or one-on-ones, to provide support or differentiate instructional efforts. We cannot and will not sacrifice relationships for technology;
  • Communication – There is always advance notice for snow days, its only a question of how much notice. Whether its two hours or one day, this is critical opportunity to communicate with families our work and goals for the day. When I first communicated this with the community, I personally invited every parent to call me directly with concerns and questions. With almost a week past, I have had less than 10 calls, emails and messages about what to expect that. I’m proud and glad that parents have had questions and not complaints – to me, this illustrates that our parents get it. They understand this is a new day in learning and education – we can do more so we should do more. One message from a parent was only to communicate how in favor she was of this move. This shows the power of the positive messages from our school and district these past years;
  • Overcoming Access Limitations – We are the most rural middle in our district. Some of our students are on the bus for the full 90 minute state limited bus ride set by North Carolina. Living in remote areas there are sometimes problems with households not being able to secure reliable wifi and/or sporadic cellular service. This is a common problem with #ruraled schools. Our workaround is the opportunity for advance notice. On any given inclement weather day, teachers will have some time to prepare and send work assignments to students. The assignments, design and delivery, is not the real work or concern [relatively speaking]. The real work comes in creating opportunities to connect with students, answer questions, fill in gaps, feel out their frustrations and coach them through immediate obstacles. This will be the challenge we will have conversations about with staff as the day approaches.

What’s been most interesting to me is the conversations with students. Overall, this is not a big deal. On our previous inclement weather days, they have used that time to catch up on work or even connect with teachers to get a head start on upcoming work. This is a digital native norm. More support has to go to the adults who have to unlearn and relearn skills and understandings to function in a changed education landscape.

#Edcucon 2017

I had the pleasure of serving on a panel discussion at Educon 2017 on Sustainability in Education. The other panelists were Samuel Abrams [author and researcher/truth teller], Renee Moore [teacher activist and truthteller] and the legendary Deborah Meier. Below is an embed of the panel discussion [thanks to Educon, Chris Lehmann and the student production team for sharing]

I attended a session hosted by Samuel Abrams. If you aren’t connected with him, you should. We didn’t have much time to talk but in several minutes he showed a deep passion and investment in studying the field of education, motivations for businesses wanting to privatize education and trends for resourcing education. I went all fanboy and bought the book.

Later I attended Jose Vilson’s session on The Privileged Voices in Education. I should call this more of an open talk and sharing. This was a packed house and the contributions were all real and raw and needed. Because of the executive order signed pertaining to the travel ban, a valuable voice was missing from the room. Speaking of Rusul‘s absence further added to the urgency for our schools to be aware of the cultural differences in our schools and making sure students are seen and heard. I went all fanboy and bought Jose’s book. [I’m a creature of habit]

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I can’t thank Chris Lehmann enough for the invitation. This event was about learning, change and the conversation needed to serve kids.

Reflecting on FETC

My first FETC was last week and it was an incredible experience. I love attending conferences where there are plenty of opportunities for genuine networking and sharing and meeting up with friends, old and new!

Its always an honor to present/share at conferences and this time I presented at two presentations, a workshop and co-presented at a workshop with a new friend, Kerry Gallagher @kerryhawk02. I’ve created a mini-mashup of the presentation decks from last week below.


Creating a Culture of Teacher LeadersCo-presentation with Kerry Gallagher

Kerry and I led an activities-based talk on what teacher leadership is, how we can grow and develop growth cultures, barriers and strategies to mitigate barriers. Lots of fun and sharing this afternoon.

Digital Tools for Digital Leaders: Ideas for Your Leadership Toolkit

This is always a favorite! I’ve always loved edtech integration and using tools to enhance my practice. Over the years, my talk has evolved from just to the tools to involve more emphasis on  culture building, creating and driving vision, monitoring learning efforts, and coaching/growing teachers.

“No excuses. No limits.” Motivate Students by Integrating Tech into Learning

This was a great session to wrap up FETC. A culminating sharing of efforts I’ve led or have had a big part in to create new experiences of learning for students and changing how they can access information and rethinking how they can demonstrate new learnings and understandings. We touched on how our school environment has had to change to reflect our new approaches.

A New Day: Building Capacity in Underserved Schools

This was a solo workshop. Like some of the other presentations, this topic is a personal passion of mine. All my teaching experience, and most of my administrative experience, has been in struggling, impoverished schools with significant needs on multiple levels. This workshop became an absolute discussion and roundtable talk on multiple needs, viewpoints, strategies and look-fors in our different schools. We got off-book but opened a great new one! The diverse group made this talk more personalized for everyone. All schools are needy – we teach kids, so we have to be responsive and what our schools need and be willing to ask tough questions and dream big.

Links to FETC Pres
Links to FETC Presentations

I need to thank my friend Daisy Dyer Duerr for bridging a connection with Jennifer Womble, a program coordinator at FETC! This wouldn’t have happened without them. And of course meeting and co-presenting with a new #eduhero Kerry Gallagher was a real highlight!

Take a look at the #fetc hashtag to see learning and sharing from last week! I encourage you to attend next year. No matter where you are in your #edtech  journey, there is #nextlevel learning here for everyone.

Teach from Home

I often talk about the great things our school system engages in. Like a lot of educators who work for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, I am proud to be a part of the innovative endeavors our school system leads. Its great to work for a place that values innovation and change to better the lives of students and teachers.

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-8-24-47-amI recently wrote a post about our school system approving the opportunity for educators to work from home, giving them credit for the work they did at home, planning and collaborating, on inclement weather days [Work from Home post]. This is a great move in valuing and trusting teachers and respecting the work that everyone does for the school system. When Dr Moody, our superintendent, brought up ‘Work from Home’ at a recent principal meeting, the conversation of Teaching from Home came up [guilty]. As a 1:1 school district in our 3rd year of deployment, our school district has been working hard to increase our competencies and capabilities with digital teaching and learning. I’m particularly proud of the hard work our school commits to in creating personalized learning experiences that challenge students to create and demonstrate what they know. This was the thought for proposing virtual learning on inclement weather days. Our immersion and commitment to digital learning has yielded some great success – now is a great time to demonstrate that learning can extend beyond the walls and schedule of the brick and mortar school.

We had to present this to our school board. Accompanying me was one of our assistant principals, Tricia Hester, and one of our parents. Our parent was my hero for the night. I asked her to speak from the heart about her daughter’s experience working from home on the last snow day. Even though it was not required work, most of our teachers posted assignments for our students to complete. Mrs Arnez spoke eloquently and plainly that her daughter and other children she knew completed the work with the expectation that this was expected and a new norm. This testimony carried significant weight with the board. They were able to hear that the resources and expectations set by our school district have changed mindsets and capabilities and that this next step is a natural step.

elearningAfter some good, critical questions about our goals and design, our Board ultimately approved our recommendation for piloting a year of virtual learning on inclement weather days for the remainder of the year. Their detailed questions showed a commitment to innovative practices that accelerate learning and teaching [change to improve and not change for the sake of change]

Our plan was approved!

The main concerns of the night about lack of access for some of our students. West Rowan Middle is the most rural school in Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Some of our students have 75+ minute bus rides to part that have little to no wifi at home. This is a main reason why West Rowan Middle is a great trial candidate – if we can make it work, it can work anywhere. Our instructional leadership team and our Executive Director of Middle Grades, Tina Mashburn, get major props for setting the vision, resource matrix and expectations for teachers and students and parents for developing the Virtual Learning Plan we developed and presented to the board. Creativity and practicality helped more than anything. Without going into all the resources involved the major focus and area of our plan centers on teachers being well trained and more than proficient with the digital tools we plan to use and fully capitalizing on any advanced notice we can take advantage of and prepare resources for students with limited access at home.

Our major goal is to not interrupt instructional plans created by teachers. As I assured the board, if teachers have planned to teach activities for the next week, we want to see those activities fully delivered or with whatever modification needed to make it happen. To my knowledge, we are the only school in North Carolina to try this [if I’m wrong, please let me know] but I do know very few schools or districts across our nation have tried this. #deepdivers

I have to give several shout outs for this:

  • Dr Lynn Moody – I constantly share her vision and innovativeness regularly whenever I can. This is a superintendent who gets it [if you are inclined to do so, you should visit]
  • Rowan-Salisbury School Board – They asked great, reflective questions. Travis Allen one of the board members used the analogy of the hockey puck not always coming to you – you have to go where it is – this is where learning and teaching is going. We should be there;
  • West Rowan Middle Instructional Leadership Team and Tina Mashburn – awesome plan and foresight! You guys rock!
  • The Great Teachers at West Rowan Middle – Nothing happens without great teachers, NOTHING! When I presented this to them, they jumped at this hard! They are ready for this endeavor!

At the board meeting while I was walking out, someone said ‘Let’s hope we don’t have to find out how well it works [meaning let’s hope we don’t have anymore snow days]!’ I quickly replied, ‘Naw, let’s hope we do!’ Our purpose for this isn’t to embrace change for the sake of change – our purpose is to replace a outmoded notion, make up days, with a relevant learning experience utilizing tools we already embrace and by doing so, eliminating the need for make up days. That’s right, as we continue to be improve on this and capability, our students families and teachers bewp-1485263977021.jpgnefit by not having to make up days at the end of the school year of dipping into holidays. #worthit

We’re looking forward to this. I really applaud my teachers for embracing this as doable and continuing their work into digital teaching and learning. This is a great next step for changing our understanding of learning and education.