Navigating, apps, and bandwidth

Having driving across America west twice this summer, and as someone who likes to drive because I like to go to twisty roads, I am someone who relies on maps and, these days, my iPhone and iPad for navigation more and more.

But not all navigation apps are the same, and at all times, using data isn’t always necessary.

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Back to School: Engaging Parents

A few weeks ago, I was faculty at the CUE Rockstar event in Crescent City. Last week, I attended the #edcamp here in Portland, #edcampPDX. At both places, I talked with teachers about better ways to engage parents, based on the techniques we use in the Army, but I also talked about tools teachers can use in better engaging parents.

And since school has actually started in many places, to include our own school district, I should probably share some of those ideas here as well. Here they are: Some tools to consider, when changing how you engage parents during this coming school year.

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Before You Separate from the Army, Fix Your Records

I retired from the Army this spring.

I didn’t want to. I had more years of service to the national left in me, more cans of whoop-ass, more things I could and wanted to do for the nation, for the Army, for the Soldiers with whom I was having the honor of serving.

It wasn’t my choice. The Army said it was time.

It’s also that time now when more of my peers are being told the same thing. Thanks, but it’s time to retire.

Here are things I learned during my process, things they can and should considering doing as they prepare to retire, so as to smooth some of the transition out of the Army, into things like the Veterans Administration, and into civilian life. I hope my experiences can help others made better decisions, and have less angst about what’s on the other side of the retirement finish line.

Continue reading Before You Separate from the Army, Fix Your Records

Worf reflects on his time at Cue Rockstar Crescent City

Yes, I am opening with a Star Trek joke. Worf – you know, the 1st Klingon to become an officer in the Star Fleet. I have felt like that for some time now, since being asked to be the first parent to be a member of the faculty at a CUE Rockstar event. He and I are indeed strangers in our own strange lands, with mine being Crescent City.

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Continue reading Worf reflects on his time at Cue Rockstar Crescent City

2015 CUE Rock Star Crescent City

My dad use to caution us, be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.

Yesterday, Jon Corippo (Twitter) called me and asked if I was available to come be a faculty member at the CUE Rock Star camp in Crescent City, CA, during 12-14 August. Yes, in just two weeks. I told him yes.

Jon and I have an interesting history. Our friendship started late last year when applications were for due for folks wanting to be faculty at any of the 2015 CUE Rock Star camps. I have more than a few friends that have been faculty in recent years, from Doug Robertson to Travis Phelps to Josh Gauthier, and many more whom I really respect from across the education field, like Trisha Sanchez and Brian Briggs. I was openly joking on Twitter that I should apply, that what the world and CUE needs is someone outside the box – way outside the box – to step up and volunteer, and and to really help shape things up. Jon heard about this, learned of my background, and told me I had to apply.

And so I did. Friends helped me put together what I considered to be a serious a legitimate application, worthy of consideration, and then I waited. And waited.

Word finally came. I wasn’t selected, for any of the CUE Rock Star camps. It was a bit crushing – I blogged about it here – but I knew going in that I was anything but a normal applicant, and anything but what they were use to seeing. I heard through back channels that I was definitely a square peg to all of their round holes. I was that guy.

But Jon and I talked a lot. In fact, a lot of people associated with CUE, from current and former faculty, and folks who had been to CUE events, reached out to talk with me about my willingness to raise my hand and volunteer. It didn’t go unnoticed that I had made the offer.

And then yesterday, Jon calls me. They’ve had someone cancel for Crescent City – which is a hair south of the California-Oregon border. Could I put together something in two weeks, and would I be willing to come be faculty. Of course I can, and after checking the calendar, of course I will.

This is new territory – and not just for me. The first time a non-teacher is going to be faculty at a CUE Rock Star event.  They didn’t even make me promise to call of the drone army.

So, that’ the news. Now, what does this mean, actually? OK, Mom, let me explain.

The camp itself is a three day event. There might be, oh, 60 to 70 teachers who show up for this thing. Every day, each of the faculty will have one session that they do, and they will do it once before and once again after lunch.  And the faculty will do a different session each of the three days. Every morning, the faculty get up in front of the 70 or so attendees for what is called the shred session – it’s their chance to explain what their session is about, in a brief amount of time. Yes, it’s the sell. Attending teachers then chose what they want to do. Some sessions might have 20 people, some might have 1 or 2. Small groups matter, when it comes to these events; they build the faculty on a 1-10 ratio.

It’s also very hands on. Thankfully, no one is going to have to sit and listen to me drone on and on about anything for two hours.  The sessions are about doing things. I’m not even sure I can capture the sense of how excited this makes me. It’s doing stuff, yo.

And then on top of all this good stuff, there’s plenty of time built in for networking, collaboration, and team-building. It’s a huge bonus that CUE sees value in this, and programs in time before, during and after everything, to ensure that the common experience everyone is going through is reinforced by giving everyone there – to include the faculty – time to talk about and share the experiences as its happening, and relate events and resources from outside the camp.

So, there you have it. This may be brilliant, or it may be the end of the world as we know it. People coming to CUE Rock Star in Crescent City this year, wow, you’re in for something special, and a surprise. I really hope this works. You can follow along here some, but certainly, follow along on twitter – my twitter is @artlaflamme.

Five PLN Hacks for Educators

The summer is coming to a close, and all of my teacher friends are starting to realize that the school year is just around the corner. Which means there’s a chance that I might have their attention now, in offering five not-so-simple hacks that they can do to better leverage what they call their Professional Learning Network (PLN).

Continue reading Five PLN Hacks for Educators

Teachers & Mentors

One of my most rewarding experiences in the Army was the time I spent both as a mentor and as a protege. I am proud to say that many of those relationships continue on today, just as I am proud to say that I learned much about both being a mentor and protege, and about the art of the relationship, during my time in the service. It truly is a valuable tool to have and use during the course of any profession or career.

But one of the things that drives me batty, in talking with teachers and others in the education world, is their different use or even misuse of mentoring – different from the great experiences I had while serving in the Army. And much of it boils down to two things: mentoring relationships should be based on differences in experiences, and mentoring relationships should be voluntary.

In education, I often hear about “having a mentor assigned…” especially with regard to junior and especially with regard to first year teachers. Someone other than the junior / first year teachers makes a decision for them, and assigns someone to work with them, in some capacity. And it often involves checklists – a district checklist, a union-developed checklist, some kind of checklist of things that these teachers can or should be able to do at different stages during this critical initial stage of their teaching career. The idea is that this assigned senior teacher will check to see that the junior teacher can and is doing these things, and if they are not, will provide them with the coaching – showing them the skills necessary to ensure they are then able to do it – needed to bring them up to some pre-determined standard.

Clipboards, checklists – it sounds more like baseball camp for 8 year old kids than it does professional development.

Imagine this situation. A new teacher has one of these assigned “mentors.” The mentors checks to see if the new teacher has and is keeping a grade book; the teacher isn’t, or isn’t doing it well. The mentor teacher takes time to show the new teacher how to keep a grade book, and later follows up to ensure that the new teacher really did learn the skill. If yes, the skill has been transferred and the little box can be checked off as complete.

It’s like a damn flow chart.

But finding an actual mentor and entering into a mentoring relationship with someone isn’t built about skills like this, but about differences in experiences.

Imagine a junior teacher who has come to the realization that, very likely, they will want or need to go back to school for an advanced degree in the near to mid term. That most certainly is not going to be on some new-teacher checklist, right? How to find someone with whom to discuss this, so as to make the best decision possible at the right time? That’s a great example of when a mentor could play a great role in helping someone make a decision for themself.

Using this same analogy, finding a mentoring to helping with this decision would likely mean finding someone who already has a degree in the same kind of grad program the protege is considering. Or maybe someone who is working in the area or field, whether they have the degree or not.

Which is why the second element – voluntary, and selected by the protege – matters the most. Mentors are about needs, and finding solutions for them – as defined and validated by the people who have them, which in these cases are always the protege. An outsider can’t say to someone, what you need for a protege is xxxxx. It has to come from the individual with the void, who is seeking others whose experiences will help them to ultimately make choices and decisions in their own life.

Teachers and educators who are on twitters and social media can have some advantages in finding mentors, or even in being mentors, if they are talking with people about more than shallow education topics and are also talking about themselves, their upcoming decisions in life, and / or their own experiences.

One of the interesting thing about being a mentor – and a coach, for that matter – is that it can be from any part of your life. Someone who is an a teacher and an avid gardener can and should serve as a coach for other teachers looking to do project based learning that involved gardening, even if gardening isn’t something that would be on their CV.

I should mention one last thing about mentoring, which is the things that bosses are often expected to do with their employees that are mentoring in nature. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that a good leader, and a good boss, will ask after their subordinates, to see if their are things in their lives with which they need help, for which a mentor would be appropriate. And a good leader and boss would either help to try to find someone or some candidates for consideration to be the mentor or, barring the person finding a mentor, try to help out as best they can. That, though, is leadership, and not mentoring.

Teaching as a Profession – or not

I spend a lot of time talking with teachers and other educators, and invariably, in the course of doing so, we end up comparing and contrasting elements of my world – that of a former military officer and former career intelligence guy – with their world, that as teachers and educators.  And one thing that comes up, often, is the debate over whether teaching or even just educating is a profession.

Continue reading Teaching as a Profession – or not

The Mixtape Project

This summer, I will drive west across America twice. The first time will be in early May, when I head to Portland (probably via Los Angeles) in order to spend 4-6 weeks setting up the new house and some job hunting. The second time will be in late July, when the family drive to Portland for good.

Driving across America is a long, long drive. There’s no other way to put it. It’s pretty, there’s a lot to see and do, but damn, it’s a long drive.

So, help me (and us) out – make us a mix tape.
Continue reading The Mixtape Project

Moby Dick, edcamps, and workshops

As you know, I’m a parent and not a teacher. I’m also a recently retired Army officer, having spent a lot of my career as a member of various staffs, supporting commanders facing tough problems, trying to make life less dangerous for our units while we were in combat, and turning the unknown into the known or at least the understood. And as a parent, I am someone who is active in the discussions about education and education reform, but I am and will always most definitely be an outsider.

But I am right there with you, in understanding things like the need to seek out an individual path for personal and professional development – so much so that I’ve made it to four #edcamps in three states over these last five months. I’m drawn to them for the same reason you are – great and like minds gather to grow and develop, and to talk about things that are really, really important, either from an intensely personal perspective or with regard to the health and future of the entire profession.

And while, no, I am not there because I need PD hours, I am there because there is a pattern of to the sessions that call out to me. Not exactly Lorelei, the siren that lured sailors and ships to their watery death. But for as many times as there is a session on Twitter 101 session, or the basics in how to flip your classroom, there’s a session because someone has asked about:

— how to define the line of acceptability for talking about race and racism in a school or educational setting, and what actions teachers can take steer these topics and address them when they get out of hand;

— the characteristics of an ideal faculty / administration relationship, and actions either can take to move towards achieving such an idea;

— the characteristics of an ideal faculty / parents or even teacher / parents relationship, and actions teachers or faulty or the administration can take to achieve this;

— what are we doing wrong about PD, which invariably ends up being about what can we do to deal with the obstacles we face in getting the personal and professional development that we know we need, or what values should we hold in developing a personal and professional development plan or program for our (school / district / whatever) for the next academic year.

I call those examples of Moby Dick questions, because we all come at them from different places in life, they swim deep in the sea, they drive us mad and blind as they did Captain Ahab, and if we’re not careful, they can kill is.

And as with Ahab, every time I’ve put to to sea at an #edcamp, some of these questions have come up. People come to #edcamps with things that are important to them, for their own personal and professional development, and that includes these big, ugly, hairy questions for which there are no single answers. They are topics for which we can only hope to make progress, and by we, it’s sometime an individual quest, something we do with a few others (i.e. a mentor), or something we do with our organization, as Ahab did (although, we should strive to be more successful and not suffer his fate.)

Yet every time, every #edcamp, every education conference I’ve been to, these sessions on these Moby Dick topics have not gone well. The hour or 90 minute discussion, often in a moderator or loosely-moderator format, wander all over the place, offering people a chance to provide their input and their feedback, and a chance to vent on the topic – about which they have strong feelings, convictions, concerns, and in many cases, needs. Because, like I said, these big, hairy ugly topics are like that, and I’ve seen – every single time – these topics provoke this response from people.

The end result is an hour of talk. Discussion. There may be some notes in the shared Google Doc that always goes with the types of events, but there may not be. And the hour always produces frustration. I saw it best at #educon in Philadelphia this year, at a discussion on race and privilege and integrating social issues into the classroom, when a junior teacher implored to the group and specifically the moderators, that she needed tangible, actionable things to take from this session back to her life and her classroom, things with which she could work with her administrator and her mentor in order to incorporate this idea as soon as this next Monday.

But her pleas fell on deaf ears, as #edcamps and the educational conference formats, with these loosely moderated 60 or 90 minutes sessions, are not designed to work towards those types of outputs. #edcamps and education conference do have workshops on other topics – maker space and the like – but they don’t make or devote time and space for these Moby Dick like topics that are, time and again, brought forth. And I have no idea why.

Here’s what it would take:

1. Make a long block of time for it. These questions aren’t an hour long discussion, they are a 3 hour workshop. No, not everyone is going to want to come to it, and no, this isn’t going to derail your #edcamp or educational conference. If people choose to do it, they choose to do so, knowing they are going to miss the other sessions happening at the same time. And in choosing to do so, they will want to push to have their preferred sessions put into the other time slots, so they can make it to those. This is 20 to maybe 40 people, in a single room, with enough space to work. Moby Dick needs room to swim.

2. Plan on having an actual facilitator. #edcamp sessions rely on whomever nominates topics to also step up and moderate them – we all know this because we’ve all seen the same Edcamp 101 video on YouTube. This won’t work with a workshop like this. This is going to require someone who has experience at least, training if possible as a facilitator. I got mine first in the US Army, as a typical staffer but then advanced training at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, before continuing my training post-Army as a ToP facilitator with ICA. Ask around; this is a workshop, and an actual facilitator is key.

3. Pick a topic ahead of time, and focus both on the question(s) to ask and the desired outcome. It isn’t “Let’s have a workshop on mentoring and coaching” but determining the one, two or three parts, and how they will fit together. An example would be,

Part 1. What are the characteristics of a high-quality, career-long mentor or coach

Part 2. What actions can we take to establish a coaching and mentoring program to develop junior teachers?

You’ll see that both of these are abstract, that the results of the workshop will vary as much as the membership of the workshop, and that the strength of the output will come from the experience, openness and participation of the members. Also, because this is consensus based, the outputs are foundational that can be used by any of the participants, as they move forward in converting the abstract to their action plans in their daily lives.

What do you want them to experience during the session? What do you want for them to learn and take away from the session? Those are two different learning objectives, and are things to consider and decide ahead of time, no different than any other lesson plan teachers do for their own students. (I don’t know why we would do it differently for ourselves, as adults.)

And in picking topics or ideas, it can be something that leadership does on their own, something they request from participants, or something they survey ahead of time. I would recommend working with their facilitator to determine when they need to decide on the topic; some facilitators will want or need more time to prepare their workshop, than others, as some topics will have greater requirements than others.

4. Go with it. Show up. Be open, be honest, be all in. Focus on the process, not later and how you’d apply things. That’s how these things work. And when it’s done, share the results with the participants and with others that have an interest in the results. Talk about it, blog about it, Vox about it, take over #SatChat about it. If it really was a Moby Dick of a topic, people will walk away feeling like they just went after a whale and feel like they emerged as some sort of Aquaman.

There is one other thing. Leaders – administrators, principals, superintendents – don’t need to wait for someone else’s #edcamp to chase after their own white whales. I wholeheartedly think they should invest some time and effort to identify what it is that they face, what troubles them the most, and do something like this on their own. Do it for their school, for their district – gather up their faculty, but be smart and bring in others from outside, too, since so much can and should be gained by having the right people in the room to be a part of this workshop process. Maybe not throw the doors wide open, but work with your facilitator to ID the right number of people, and then find the right people to augment your own team.

I say this, because schools need to take hard looks at topic like how to grow and develop junior teachers. At topics like digital citizenry and what it means for faculty and admins to model social media use. A half a day invested isn’t a waste, if a school is going to do a critical 1:1 fielding, or make a huge policy shift like allow or even suddenly flip to encourage BYOD. And for those truly Moby Dick topics – what actions can we take to reduce our rate of student suspensions? – well, those are things that shouldn’t wait another month, another week, maybe even another day, because for as important as those things are, and for as much emphasis as we can and should be putting into them, we should be putting them much effort into them, too.

Starting right now.

@artlaflamme

On @Tritonkory

Today is the birthday of my Twitter peep, Kory Graham. To a lot of the world, and especially the Twitter-verse, she’s just TritonKory – named for her school.

She’s a kindergarten teacher in Dodge Center, Minnesota, and has been a teacher now for, oh, about 20 years I guess. It’s a funny story, how she left New Jersey for college and adventure and fame and fortune, and found this awesome life in what she calls her tiny little town, where she is – in her eyes – a rock star to the 5 and 6 year old kids in her class who are just starting their journey into formal education.

From all outward appearances, she’s a super-trooper of a teacher, and incredible engaged with her students and their learning. One of the things I love, love, love about Kory is that she’s truly committed to the totality of educating her students, not just caught up in some race to get to some test score. I say that because as a parent, I worry about just two humans, our own, and our efforts to transform them from small little humans into bigger humans who are productive and contributing members of society – which are values I see Kory act out every day.

And it is so comforting to see that in teachers. Teaching is hard; I get that. There’s a million thing on a teacher’s plate, I know. Yet, through it all, Kory clearly doesn’t lose sight on this long term, oh so important goal.

But, Kory is also a great member of her profession. She cares about teaching. She cares about other teachers. She cares where education is going, and what is needed for education reform. She gets that life is like a stream, in that it’s not stagnant, and that her profession is the same. She’s always investing in her own personal and professional development, as a part of this, but she’s also always investing in that of others. She’ll tell you that she is a hypewoman for other teachers, but it’s a lot more than that – she’s standing ready to bring to bear her experiences, to help coach or mentor others, there in her tiny little town in Minnesota or elsewhere as needed, because it boils down to Kory just being a giving person in that way. She understands and places value on giving back to her profession, to others.

So, happy birthday Kory. You’re a damn fine role model. I’m not even a teacher, and you’re a damn fine role model and mentor.

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A Way to Improve Education Conferences

Saturday was my 4th #edcamp in 5 months. And I’m not even a teacher – I’m a parent.

One trend that I have seen, at each and every one of these events, is something akin to the pee-pee dance kindergartners do: teachers desperately looking for jobs, and principals and admins desperately hoping any of these awesome educators would consider coming to their school to help affect change.

Why is this? Because for a lot of teachers, starting the search for a new job isn’t done openly, it’s done under the shadow of secrecy. I know and have met, at places like #edcamps, a lot of teachers who aren’t willing to publicly discuss their passive or active job search. But get them to an #edcamp or other education conference, to a place where they find like-minded teachers and especially like-minded administrators, and they become more willing to talk about it – within the limits of that setting.

And the same can be said for admins and principals. Some arrive with open positions for which they are actively trying to hire, but some are passively scouting for people they want to bring to their team, because they have teachers they hope will leave or teachers they are counting on leaving.

Within this reality, events like #edcamp can play an important role, through a simple act like setting aside a room at lunch for people to meet to talk about who is looking and who is hiring. Or setting up a job board, much like the one used at the start of the day to pick sessions.

These aren’t big things to do – #edcamps can do them, CUERockstar camps can do them, #educon can do it. It’s good for the profession.

19 years, 7 months, 28 days

That’s it. Today was my last day on active duty in the United States Army. Today is also the 20 year anniversary of the day I signed my enlistment contract, and twenty years and a day after Kristin agreed that we should marry.

I think this is where and when I am suppose to wax-nostalgic and blubber on about these twenty years, but today is only a milestone. Things aren’t stopping. There’s still shit to do.

We still have great kids to raise. My amazing wife is still by my side, and we have many more adventures ahead of us. Yes, the Army is breaking up with us, yes, my aches and pains are far more pronounced than they use to be, but they are what they are. It’s not like we’re going to slow down.

I am thankful for these years, for this chance to serve. I will always look back fondly on every day in which I put on the uniform, laced up the boots, and did my part in service to the republic. But I knew, 20 years ago, that this day would come. And it has. So be it.

I am incredibly thankful for the love and support of the great woman who has been with me through all of this, and the great kids we are together raising (they are turning into fine humans). I am thankful for the support we have had from our families and friends, not just while we have lived this Army live but as we have done it almost entirely overseas, and done it while I’ve spent a lot of time away from Kristin and the kids on maneuvers or on deployments.

And I am thankful for the men and women (and canines) with whom I have served. 1995-2015 was a period dominated by America military operations abroad, from Eastern Europe to Southwest and Central Asia, and while history is going to be the final judge of those administration decision, I know that’s it’s been the men and women and four-legged creatures serving on the battlefield with me that have been it worthwhile.

I may not be ready to retire to the front porch and a comfy chair every day, so I can spend my afternoons smoking a fat blunt and eating Doritos, but I am excited to not get up at oh dark thirty. Portland lies ahead of us, and getting our kids through their college years. So is more time on the couch, watching TV while snuggling under a quilt or five, with no prospects of Staff Duty calling, the President needing me, or some balloon going up and my needing to rush for my A Bag.

Somebody else has got it. I can quit my post; I have been properly relieved.

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A 20 Year Beer

Journeymen Teachers Need Room to Grow

As I leave the Army after a successful 20 year run, and make preparations to turn my efforts full time to education, it’s only natural that I see similarities and differences between the two fields. One area I have noticed a great many differences and similarities is in how both junior teachers and junior officers are brought into the fold. And until today, I had been happy to say that I thought that Army did a better job in being more forgiving with regard to performance of junior officers and masking – or hiding – their evaluations once they’ve moved on in their careers.
Continue reading Journeymen Teachers Need Room to Grow

Professional Development – It’s Not All About the Kids

My series on education, The Educationalist Papers, is looking at a series of interconnected topics that relate to leadership, personal and professional development, and coaching and mentoring within the education profession. Drawing on my time in the Army and my active engagement within the profession, I am working with teachers and educators to examine the strengths and challenges faced in education today, and what is needed in education reform.

When talking with educators about professional development, one common sentiment I hear is that professional development is aimed at making you a better educator of kids, and that this is measured and assessed through the kids themselves somehow. After 20 years in the Army and a great career rich with great mentors and in being a mentor, I want to share that professional development should be more than just about developing skills, but should be about developing teachers as professionals, ready to take on their lives and careers.
Continue reading Professional Development – It’s Not All About the Kids

#educon and a bed of roses

I had a great weekend at #educon in Philadelphia this weekend, but I also had a 5 hour drive home afterwards. That’s a lot of time to think, and a lot of time to catch up on Voxer. There are some very big, philosophical ideas rolling around in my head post-#educon.

Continue reading #educon and a bed of roses

On PTSD

Megan has an interesting and awesome blog post here, about being a teacher, being an alcoholic, and being public with her addiction. It’s a short but worthwhile read. She talks of the strength of AA, but the fear of being an alcoholic and what the exposure would mean – until now, when she publicly blogs about it.

And I totally get it. I have PTSD. I have had it, for coming up on a dozen years. It’s been, for too long, something we don’t talk about. Except – I’ve always talked about mine. And that was deliberate.
Continue reading On PTSD