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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Leelah Alcorn killed herself on Sunday. Her family wouldn’t accept her for her she was. Her suicide note, left on Tumblr, is sad, tragic, pointed, and making a lot of people emotional and judgmental.
I sent to my own two kids this article and told them I wanted to talk about this article after they’d read it. And, separately, I talked with each of them, telling them two things.
1. As parents, we have unconditional love for them. Our job is to help guide them in their journey to become awesome adults and responsible citizens, but is just that – to guide them. We’d love them whether they were gay or straight, male or female, green, blue, purple, winged, horned, walked on two legs or four.
2. Our house is open for their friends and even their schoolmates who may be having a hard time at home, for a couple of hours, an evening, a few days, a few weeks. If they have friends or know other kids who are having a hard time at home, our home is open to them, because of how we feel about kids like Leelah and how we feel about our own two kids.
It would be easy, to see events like Leelah’s suicide and find reason to not want to bring kids into this world. But I am the opposite; I would rather charge head-on into this world, to see how I can change it. I want it better, I want to affect change. And I see that we’re doing that, every time we have these conversations with our kids, every time these situations present themselves. Because parenting is only hard work if you do it.
On 22 December, I was notified that I was not selected as a presented for any of the CUE Rock Star camps scheduled for summer 2015. I had put together what I considered to be a pretty decent proposal, raising my hand to volunteer to come to California to moderate morning and afternoon sessions at one of any of a number of the three day camps. but alas, my services are not going to be needed.
So, let’s talk about this.
Continue reading I wasn’t selected to present at #CUERockStar
I am a parent involved in education reform. I am on twitter (@artlaflamme), and I participate in education chats on twitter, in which I am often the only parent / non-teacher. I’ve been to two edcamps (), and at each one there was one other parent / non-teacher (although one was the head of a PTA.)
People ask me what the hell am I doing, wandering into all of this. I tell them to treat me like they would a unicorn at a buffet: assume the unicorn knows what it’s doing, and go back to your own business. Because it’s true. I might be uncommon, but obviously I’m not in distress or in need of being saved. I’m at least uncommon, at best ahead of my time.
Mr. Holland, er, I mean, SEN Diane Feinstein and the Democrats of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have completed their opus, The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. It’s worth looking at how the mainstream American media is covering it () before reading my thoughts on the release of the report.
Here are things worth saying about the report.
The New York Times has its list out now, and the list includes three books on education. I read a lot, though it’s often online and often things like the BBC, Reuters and al-Jazeera wire service feeds directly. But I do try to find balance in the books that I read, between books that I want to read and books that I should read. These three books are ones that I should read.
This is Erin Stevenson (@MrsStevensonSS). I am suppose to say that she is a fairly typical 2nd year high school social studies teacher, only she’s not. She came to teaching later in life, after trials and tribulations, and finding herself. And I am also suppose to say that she is fairly typical, in that after having had an assigned “mentor” for her first year of teaching, she’s now going it alone during this, her second year in front of students. I would venture to guess that, in this fall semester, she’s focused on not drowning, getting her lesson plans done, and not screwing anything up so badly that she loses her job. I’m guessing that, even after her first year and the benefits of that great “mentor” she had for a year, she’s still barely hanging on and not thinking any farther than the end of this week. I am suppose to say that she is a fairly typical 2nd year teacher.
If you’re not on twitter, or never played on twitter, this post won’t do much for you. I’d recommend you skip it. Really. I’m writing it with the assumption that you know how twitter works, as a user.
The ridiculously funny Justin (@SchleiderJustin), the always thought provoking Rusul (@RusulAlrubail) and I were talking about managing our Twitter feeds, and it has exploded as Justin kicked off his week-long #slowchatPE discussion involving many other people. He asked, “How do you keep your PLN small enough to have personal contact but large enough to learn?”
I acknowledge that I am something of an anomaly. I am a parent who hangs out online with teachers. I am on Twitter, I am in their chat sessions, I read and engage their blogs, I am even with them on Voxer.
I am a parent operating in their comfort zone. I am that wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Last Saturday, I infiltrated the edcamp (http://edcamp.org/ for more on #edcamps, or this TEDx talk http://youtu.be/vVDUIoMavLM) for Portland (#edcampPDX), and this Saturday I did the same in New Jersey for #edcampNJ. In Portland, I think I was the only parent, and in NJ, I was joined by NJ by local parent and PTA leader Gwen Pescatore (@gpescatore25). She and I, though, are only somewhat related; she’s very involved in her school district through her role as the President of @KnappElementary and @PenndaleMS Home and School Association, while I am, well, just a parent.
People ask me regularly why I am online and involved with teachers, on issues related to teaching and education. The answer is simple and it’s easy: education is wildly important, and education reform is critical. I also see great similarities between the teaching profession and that of the military.
But as a parent, well, I am often the odd one out, no matter how interested I am, how will I am to inject. Because when you get right down to it, teachers (and principals and superintendents) gather together to talk about, you know, teacher stuff. They do talk about education topics, but they spend a lot of time talking about the finer points of actually being a teacher. I know nothing about shortcuts for writing lesson plans; I don’t even wish I did. But I am a great outside resource for whom people can ask questions – Hey, does this sound crazy, or, If your kid was in my class and we implemented this…. – but for the most part there’s a truck-ton peer to peer stuff about executing teaching tasks in classrooms.
The other day on twitter, I joked that humor was one of the 5 pillars of our marriage. Erin Stevenson asked about the other 4. So, I named & explained them. I think it’s a decent read, worth preserving.
@MrsStevensonSS OK, so here is the #unionchat – the 5 pillars of happiness in our 25 years together. Should work for all unions, lawsBdamned
@MrsStevensonSS If it’s OK, I’ll use P1, P2 etc for the pillars, since, you know, thats what we use anyway. and the #unionchat is untaken
@MrsStevensonSS P1: Humor. Together, we laugh about everything. Our humor is boundless. I want to share all of the funnies with her. Truly.
@MrsStevensonSS P1 cont. I don’t think there’s anything that we won’t later gather to find humor in. Birth, death, war, grief. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P1 In part because, deep down, we’re both still like 6 y/o. It keeps us positive. Joyous. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P2 is beer / chocolate. It’s in part because we’re still hunters/gatherers, but also because life is sweet. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P2 And both aren’t easy to stumble onto. we make neither. We rely on others. There’s good, bad beer & chocolate. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P2 But the quest for fair to good to great beer, choc makes our travels together wonderful. Hunt, gather in fun #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P2 And with great rewards. Find something, I think first of her as the one with whom i want to share. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P3 is travel & adventure. For us, the world is so small. The river broad, deep, swift. We aren’t stagnant. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P3 travel & adventures have helped keep us close, bonded for all these years, through shared experiences. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P3 Those experiences that have grown to include, in some diff ways, our kids. Not the same ways tho. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P3 The greater number of unique experiences she & I share, the closer we’re tied as humans, unique from others. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P3 No one has, could go, see, do what we have. Our experiences are unparalleled. These makes us, us. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P4 is have your own thing. Or things. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P4 Mine started with work, after our union. I had to leave it at work – you know, laws and stuff. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P4 But she quilts. I later took to running. we each have things that are ours. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P4 This has allowed growth, together, but alone. I love, admire, hear about what she is doing, love. She, same. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS If I had nothing of my own, no room to grow, I would be smothered. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P4 But through these little things, we grow together. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P4 And I want to tell her all about what I am doing of course. She rolls her eyes, naturally. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P5 is learning to cook together. There is something wholly different about preparing food together. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P5 Some say that Americans are losing the art of making food. Maybe. But this grows on the hunt/gather theme. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS Warm fire, different seasonings, spices gathered during travels & adventures – to make great from what little…#unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P5 you had when you started. Learning to cook exotic vegetables, meats, beans, rices. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P5 and learning to make things you both like, but moreso, the things she likes. Because I want to. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS P5 Two cooking in a tiny kitchen is either like close quarters combat, or snuggling on a bear skin rug. #unionchat
@MrsStevensonSS There you have them. Five pillars of our successful union. My wife is amazing, our love grows with every rain. #unionchat