Start Getting Connected during Connected Educator Month

It’s October, which means it is Connected Educator Month, as various networks of teachers and educators come together to showcase and strengthen the ways in which we build on our collective knowledge, share out our expertise, and create rich learning environments for our students.

No Teacher An Island Supporter Art

At the Connected Educator website (which, should be noted, is funded through the US Department of Education and various partners – it’s always good to be aware of who is behind things), there is a calendar of events and resources for the month. (Note: the homepage kept crashing on me this morning.) I’m always interested in ways that we can connect and having a theme of the Connected Educator makes sense to me, particularly if it gives folks a chance to take steps forward.

CEM Starter Kit cover

If you are looking for a place to start, I would suggest the Connected Educator Starter Kit (pdf file), put out by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and colleagues at Powerful Learning Practice. I like how it suggests one simple task per day to begin building out your online connective networks. There is also a blog — Innovations – that you can subscribe to as well as a series of book talks during the month. I, for one, am hoping to get involved in the Invent to Learn book talk.


There’s plenty going on. You just need to connect.

Peace (in the stretch out),



What Teachers Make: Paying it Forward with the Gift of a Book

Before the end of the school year in June, I had read Taylor Mali’s What Teachers Make (in praise of the greatest job in the world) book of essays about education, which is like an extended riff off his very famous poem about teachers. It was one of those books that did not deserve a place in my bookcase. No, it deserved to be in the hands of another teacher. So, I wrote a little note in the inside cover, asking the person who got the book to read it, and pass it along to another teacher. (I think Bud Hunt gave me this idea of passing the book forward. ).

As it turned out, one of the participants in a workshops I gave over the summer around Common Core was the teacher in whose mailbox at school I had put What Teachers Make. She’s a colleague in a grade below me, and I figured she would enjoy Mali. She sure did, gushing about the essays and thanking me for turning her on to Mali, and then I asked her the question that was on my mind: Did you pass it on?

She did, and now I wonder if the book will make its way through various networks in our school district, and as I consider that, I think: that surely was a good investment that takes advantage of the physical network of teachers that I am part of. I love that idea of a book of inspiring essays slowly making the rounds, and I hope the book doesn’t fall into the hands of someone who just files it away. That book is meant to be read, and appreciated, by teachers. And it would be different if our principal or superintendent had given us that for a reading assignment, don’t you think? There is something in the power of grassroots connections among teachers, and we don’t always figure out how to use those connections to our advantage.

Maybe someday, the book will drop in your hands, too. If so, read it and pass it on, won’t you?

Peace (in the story),

PS — here is Taylor Mali, slamming his poem that inspired the book:



Connected Educators: ED Talks with Massachusetts Teachers Association

(This is from an afternoon practice session. Thanks to @massteacher for sharing)


Last night, I joined eight other presenters in an format of presentation built off the model of TED talks. We were each given just seven minutes to make our presentation, and I had to go first. I actually didn’t mind because then, I could just kick back and enjoy the rest of the sharing of thoughtful folks. My presentation was about game design in the classroom as a way to spark inquiry and to shift the agency from the game companies to the young people themselves — by allowing kids to make games.

But as part of this month of the Connected Educator, I wanted to share out some of my distillation of ideas from the other presenters, too. I hope I do them justice. You should know that the presentations were videotaped (mine was done twice because the first time through, we had some technical difficulties) and will be available at the Massachusetts Teachers Association YouTube site at a later date. I will be sure to share that out later.

And now, some sharing of my reactions to presentations from:

Dan Callahan, K-5 instructional technology specialist in Burlington and chairman of the Board of Directors for the Edcamp Foundation, [@dancallahan] who talked about the EdCamp model (best title of presentation yet: Dan Callahan is Ruining Professional Development) which upends the ownership of PD from administrators to participants. I’ve watched EdCamp from the fringes but feel inspired by Dan’s work (as well as my own colleague, Gail, whose passion for EdCamp openness has me thinking). At EdCamp, the day begins with an open slate, and folks bring their expertise into the sessions. I like how Dan jokes that he is part of a “vast conspiracy” to kill off dull professional development.

Lily Huang, public education organizer with Jobs with Justice, spoke of needing to make more connections among labor groups, so that when one population, such as immigrant students targeted by government, is under fire, others can rise to the challenge. Lily noted that teacher union groups need to make themselves more visible as a way to encourage support of the profession, and as a way to protect our classrooms from politics.

Suzy Brooks, a third-grade teacher in Falmouth, tech enthusiast, MassCUE Pathfinder and Girl Scout [@simplysuzy], brought us into the workings of her classroom, encouraging us to encourage engagement with our students through inquiry projects that move beyond the tests and assessments. I loved the project where her students worked on a literacy project focused on encouraging new parents to read to their newborn babies, which culminated in a class trip to the maternity ward at the local hospital.

Diana Marcus, fifth-grade teacher, tech enthusiast and president of the Burlington Educators Association. [@pgroom209], discussed the power of collaboration among teachers, whether it is with a colleague down the hallway (she joked that she had skyped with another class …. just three doors away) or with another educator halfway around the world (in her case, she explored Voicethread with a teacher in England). I liked how Diana acknowledged some of the reasons why collaboration doesn’t always work, and then proceeded to turn those barriers and fears on their heads with suggestions.

Jason Pramas, artist, photojournalist, (non-union adjunct) communication professor and activist, took us on a visual tour of his hometown (@openmediaboston), Peabody, and asked us as teachers to make sure we not only teach local history, but also, that we give the broadest representation of history as possible. In other words, don’t just tell the story of the business community: tell the family histories of the people who have lived through the ups and downs of a community, and bring all perspectives into the story.

Mohamed Zefzaf, Middlesex Community College professor and ESL teacher, told a personal story of growing up in three cultures, and how coming to live in the United States in his early 20’s opened his eyes to possibilities, thanks to the strengths of our educational system. He noted how it took participation in classes here to realize the biases of his former cultures (Moroccan), and he encouraged us to validate the experiences of all of our students, where ever they come from.

Wick Sloane, Inside Higher Ed columnist and Bunker Hill Community College professor, handed out copies of The Bill of Rights and argued that we, teachers, must do more to connect our students with the tenets of the founding of our country, and teach our students how to write, persuade and influence policy makers around education. He suggested using Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing with students as a way to encourage reflection on values.

Chelsea Slater, student and vice president of the Vice President of the LGBT Student Union at Bunker Hill Community College, energized the crowd with a topic that she says we educators have to hear. Her message? Schools are failing their students by putting them into age-grouped classrooms (as opposed to learning-strategy classroom), by orientating curriculum around standardized testing, and by having a college educational system that is outside the financial grasp of most students. Chelsea’s presentation featured her own illustrations of her thinking, which reminded me a lot of Scott McCloud’s work. Her message might have been difficult (no one wants to be reminded that we are failing some of our students) but her participation was vital, I think. Her video presentation will be worth checking out later.

Peace (in the afterwards),


Got Gaming? Preparing my Ed Talk Presentation

video game presentation icon image

Tomorrow, I head out to the Berkshires for the annual conference and professional development event of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Tomorrow night, I am taking part in the MTA’s Ed Talk, which is billed as a local version of TED Talks. I’m really looking forward to being part of the event, but it has been a struggle to create a meaningful presentation in a seven-minute limit. Plus, I am trying to keep in mind some of the things that make TED special: high interest, use of humor, pacing.

I had all sorts of ideas for my topic on video game design in the classroom. I thought it would be cool to come on stage with a massive inflatable game device. I couldn’t find any that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. (but I still have an idea that I am pursuing here.) Then, I thought: I’ll start out by playing one of my student’s games on the big screen. That might have worked (I intended to mutter loudly as I hit obstacles) and I even did a video capture of it, just to time it out. It was way too long, and so, I scrapped that, too.

In the end, I will do my best with injecting some humor and use pacing as best as I can, and hope that my seven minutes generates enough interest in the audience (the Ed Talks will be filmed and shared on YouTube) to spark some thinking of why we need to help our students make the shift from player to creator, and how game design connects nicely with writing process theories.

Here is the announcement info from MTA about the event, which features some very interesting folks and I am sure they are going to be lighting up the stage with some great ideas.

Heading to MTA Summer Conference at Williams? Join us Wednesday, August 8, at 7:30 p.m. for ED Talks.

Come hear 11 new “ideas worth sharing” about education and community presented in the style of TED Talks. Eleven speakers – a student, a vice principal, two community college professors, K-12 educators and a community activist around among them – will offer up their viewpoints in five- and seven-minute presentations.

The presenters are:

  • Suzy Brooks, a third-grade teacher in Falmouth, tech enthusiast, MassCUE Pathfinder and Girl Scout. [@simplysuzy]
  • William Burkhead, assistant high school principal in Plymouth and athletic coach. [@northeagles]
  • Dan Callahan, K-5 instructional technology specialist in Burlington and chairman of the Board of Directors for the Edcamp Foundation. [@dancallahan]
  • Kevin Hodgson, sixth-grade teacher in Southampton and technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. [@dogtrax]
  • Lily Huang, public education organizer with Jobs with Justice.
  • Katrina Kennett, high school English teacher in Plymouth in search of good books and bold ideas. [@katrinakennett]
  • Diana Marcus, fifth-grade teacher, tech enthusiast and president of the Burlington Educators Association. [@pgroom209 and @marcusBEA]
  • Jason Pramas, artist, photojournalist, (non-union adjunct) communication professor and activist.
  • Chelsea Slater, student and vice president of the Vice President of the LGBT Student Union at Bunker Hill Community College.
  • Wick Sloane, Inside Higher Ed columnist and Bunker Hill Community College professor.
  • Mohamed Zefzaf, Massachusetts Bay Community College professor and ESL teacher.

ED Talks will take place in Hopkins Hall 001 (Lower Level). The program is being coordinated by MTA members Camille Napier-Bernstein (Natick) and Monica Poole (MCCC).

ED Talks will be video taped and available for viewing soon on MTA’s YouTube channel.

See you there, if you are there, and if not, see you on YouTube!

Peace (in the game),


Hacking an Image with Tags and Text

Someone shared this site — ThingLink — as part of a Connected Educator activity (head here to see the activity, which involves adding tags and text to an image of an old classroom), and so, I dove in and added text and links to my Connected Me photo. Now, text and links should pop up when you hover over sections of the image.
I guess you can add links and text even if you are not registered and signed in, so that is interesting to consider for classroom use. My Connected Me image is not open to collaborative tagging. (I am not sure if you can moderate, however.) I’m trying to embed it here, to see if the tags and links work as an embed, too.
BUT: here is one that you can try. I “borrowed the image” from the wonderful Visual Writing Prompts site.

Peace (in the connections),


Connected Educator: Networking is Learning

My good friend, Terry Elliot, shared this video within a site that he and I and others have been exploring this summer called Vialogues, which allows you to not only view videos, but also comment on the videos as you move along. It allows for engaged conversations about video as a text. It’s pretty neat. Here, Terry put in a RSA Animate talk about Networking is Learning, from a talk by Manuel Lima.

I invite you not only to watch the video (which is a fascinating examination of the complexities of networks) but also, to join Terry and I in a conversation about what Lima is saying, in relation to our roles as educators. This seems particularly apt during this month celebrating The Connected Educator.

Peace (in the video),


Connected Educator: Has the US Dept of Ed Co-Opted Our Spaces?

The other night, on Teachers Teaching Teachers, host Paul Allison asked a pointed series of questions of Darren Cambridge, one of the organizers behind this month’s Connected Educator events. Allison wondered out loud if Cambridge’s work as a consultant with the US Department of Education to bring more teachers into conversations about connected spaces might also be infringing on what makes those spaces so special to begin with. That is, Allison was wondering what the presence of the DoE does to teachers who, on their own, are making connections that are meaningful and situated with personal inquiry, without the overarching directive from administrators and government agencies.

Let me just say that I like the idea of dedicating time to invite more colleagues into connected spaces and conversations, and Cambridge seems like a smart, thoughtful facilitator of the effort. (The research group that he works for — American Institutes for Research — has been hired as a consultant by the Department of Education to oversee the Connected Educator initiative). I liked how Cambridge talked about the idea of nurturing experiences for connected teachers so that they hopefully bringing those experiences back into the classrooms to impact students, and how the Connected Educator might be a starting place for some teachers not sure of where to begin.

But Paul Allison made an important point about government intrusion, and it is a worry that we need to keep in our minds.

If our spaces and connections are sanctioned and coordinated from a government body (or, even in the case of a school district, by a superintendent or administrative team), doesn’t that take some of the agency out of the teachers who are searching for a space to connect and follow their own paths of inquiry? We even noted how many publishers are now marketing their materials with “blended learning” and other tags that liberally borrow terminology from a real movement in education, and then package it up in expensive programming that is watered-down learning experiences for students (but makes school administrators feel good because they have invested money in technology-infused learning).

Fellow TTT participant Paul Oh likened Paul Allison’s line of questioning to past discussions about blogging in the classroom, and what happens when teachers (as an official voice of adulthood and authority) validate online writing that young people do outside of school by making it a school writing assignment? Does that make the blogging less meaningful for young writers? (I say, yes, but agree with Paul Oh that this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try).

On TTT, after thinking about what Paul Allison was asking, I responded that we should consider this an opportunity to use the networking power of the DoE to showcase ways that teachers can learn from each other. We can use it, as it may be using us, even though that feels uncomfortable. The alternative is that we have a government system that ignores the powerful learning and connections that can transform teaching, and we don’t want that, either, do we?

A larger question in my mind, too, is: Given the Department of Education’s role in Connected Educator, are they gathering data of those connections and sharing of teaching for some larger analysis of teaching culture? My guess is that this is probably the case, given the money they are investing in the effort (see some initial reporting already underway) and the fact that Cambridge’s group is a research organization.

Peace (in the wondering),



Teachers Teaching Teachers: The Connected Educator

Here is the video archive from the other night’s webcast for Teachers Teaching Teachers on the theme of The Connected Educator. I was one of the guests with host Paul Allison as we chatted about the month of activities, and what it means to be a connected teacher. The main guest was Darren Cambridge, who is helping to coordinate the activities under the umbrella of the US Department of Education (his research organization has been hired to help with the coordination).

Peace (in the connections),

Connected Educators: Beyond Physical Space

(the flash version of the comic I shared yesterday)

As we move into Connected Educator Month (see the calendar of amazing opportunities to learn about how to connect with the initiative), I’ve been trying to think through the role of technology and online networking in developing learning communities. At our school, we have grade-level Communities of Practice meetings every week, as part of an initiative by our principal to really expand conversations among teachers and share best practices as well as use data to make curriculum changes, and document those shifts.

I work with a great team of sixth grade teachers. We not only get along well, but we also are open to new ideas, ready to make shifts based on the recommendations of colleagues, and put students at the front of everything. For example, our work for much of the last year has been how to move more writing instruction into the science and social studies classrooms, and together, we have been working on solid curriculum shifts to make that happen. We’ve questioned what we are doing, celebrated the successes and worried about the things that didn’t go the way we wanted.

So, the school-based COP time works. Sort of. Not always.

What doesn’t work is that the professional community is not necessarily organic and natural, and not built on our “opting in” to the discussions. We don’t have a choice. We have a COP time and we have to use it. We need to be there. It works for us on my team because we already had a strong foundation of flexibility and (somewhat) honest discussions. But if you gave me a choice during that time to sit every week with my colleagues, or to have the option to use that time to connect online with a larger, more focused group of ELA/digital media advocates …. I might choose the latter.

Choice is the key in that statement, and also, as many have noted, that “long tail” aspect of the Internet that provides you with entry points with other people you might not otherwise intersect with is a key component of how technology and online social connections make sense. My personal inquiry path becomes my own, not my principal’s (whose ideas around communities of practice are solid, and whose intent to spur difficult discussions makes sense, and who spent a lot of time figuring out how to make COP work in our school schedule).

The problem, as I see it, is that when the PLC/COP becomes digital, it gets harder and harder for teachers to show the work that was done. In other words, I need to spend some time just searching for folks in various online spaces (Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc.), and building my networks, but that kind of work is not necessarily quantifiable to a principal/superintendent and it may not directly impact the student learning in my classroom. For our school-based COP time, we have actionable plans, with results that we can turn to (whether they work out or not). This part of the equation seems to be missing in many online PLC spaces, and if we want our administrators to be able to see the power of the connected educator, it seems to me that we need to make those results more visible.

Ideally, I would love to see a balance of working hand-in-hand with my school-based colleagues, but also have them come with me into shared online spaces for inquiry work that moves us beyond our building, even as it reconnects that online work back into the learning environment and expectations of our students. It can happen. I just need to figure out a good system to make it work.

Peace (in the connections),