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.
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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.
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#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.

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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.
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About Leelah

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.

3 of Us

I wasn’t selected to present at #CUERockStar

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.
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On Being A #Unicorn

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.

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The Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program

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.

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Professional Development: Books that matter

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.

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A Call to Arms: Mentors & Coaches

With @MrsStevensonSS
With @MrsStevensonSS

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.

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Professional Learning Networks: 300 vs 3000

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?”

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Parents & edcamps

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 ( for more on #edcamps, or this TEDx talk 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.

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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

When ISIL Comes to America

The war in Iraq and Syria, being fought between Sunnis and the Shia backed governments there, is at risk for spilling over into the broader region. Americans fear that it’s going to come home to US soil, in the form of either terrorist attacks or the war itself coming to American soil.

OK, let’s talk about this.
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Schools, weather, science

One secret wish of mine is that every elementary, middle and high school would have the hardware necessary to run its own weather station.

I don’t mean the little $30 kind of weather station that you find on the shelf at the discount store, with a temperature sensor you put outside under an overhang. I mean a full blown package, complete with the tools necessary to measure current conditions and predict hyperlocal weather conditions at the school, in real time.

I realize this is a very nerdy this. But hear me out.

Teachers have decisions to be make that involve the weather. Sometimes it broad, applicable to all of the kids, but sometimes its specified, tied to the individual requirements of just one kids. Heat and cold, as I’ve learned in my lovely Army career, involves a lot more than just the stagnant temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius. Humidity, wind, UV index – there are other factors that go into a decision “Is it too hot…” or “Is it too cold…” More information, in a usable manner, can lead to better decision making – that’s actually been the basis of my Army career. But up and running, and integrated with other stations in the region through, say, the website to aggregate data, it’ll be unstoppable.

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Rebuilding iTunes

I have had a lifelong love/hate relationship with iTunes. I would like to tell you that it dates to when I was in the womb, but it’s not that tragic of a tale.

My music tastes aren’t simple. I have no one “thing” that I am into, really. My brother, in his brilliance, exposed me to the classics of the sixties and the seventies, and instilled in me a great love for all things classic rock, from the Who to Led Zep.

On my own, I found punk and fell hard for it; I still worship at the altar of the only band that matters, the Clash, and could get lost in the sounds of my high school and college days, with bands as diverse as the Squeeze and Jam and Cure, and as far flung as KLF and Bow Wow Wow and the one hit wonders of Modern English.

And over a dozen years ago, thanks to a small sidebar article about freelance Hellraiser and a little ditty called A Stroke of Genie-us, I found and embraced mash-ups, which can either be considered a genre of their own or prove that today, music defies genres.

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Hiking Shenandoah: Jones Mountain Cabin

Summary: Hidden away along the eastern edge of the middle section of the park, the Staunton River Trail hike to Jones Mountain Cabin is one of the hidden treasures of the Shenandoah National Park. In 1500 feet, the trail ascends along a nice, well maintained route along the picturesque babbling brook before heading up the ridge to the cabin.

The Good: At 7 miles, and as a not very strenuous hike, most folks should be able to make it out to the cabin and back in 4 hours or under. It’s walking — no scrambling over rocks, no trying to pick a path through some challenge, this is just a nice walk. And this trail features shade, shade and more shade in the afternoon, which will be nice on a hot afternoon. And if you’re up for the adventure, the cabin is operated by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, through whom you can arrange to stay there. The area is quiet, and lesser traveled than other parts of the national park — an ideal place to get away and enjoy the quiet peace of the forest.

Jones Mountain Cabin 003

The Bad: In the winter, that same shade can come back to bite you in the ass. On a cold, cold day, that shade will be a game changer, though the hike would be no less enjoyable for those who are prepared. Oh, and there’s little to no cell phone coverage in the area.

The Ugly: No, there’s not really anything ugly about this hike.

Jones Mountain Cabin 084

Type of route: Meandering path.
Good to hike in the rain? Absolutely.

Length: 7 miles each way.

Jones Mountain Cabin 009

Options for the route: Instead of turning left to follow Staunton River Trail, keep going straight (North) along the Rapidan River for another 1.5 miles, to Rapidan Road. There are two other options farther up Staunton River Trail — keep following the river and skip the cabin, which will take you to The Sag (great name); or start to head to the cabin, but turn to follow the ridge up to Bear Church Rock. Going to The Sag is about a 5.5 mile hike, one way; Bear Church Rock, likewise, is about a 3.75 mile hike each way. it is very possible to hike to The Sag, and then come back down via Bear Church Rock as well.

Elevation change: 1500 feet.
Water used: 2 liters.

Jones Mountain Cabin 036

Where to start: At the end of State Route 622. The trailhead is at the end of the circle there.
Where to park: Same.
Point your car’s GPS towards: If your GPS can handle it, point it to State Route 622. Or 38°26’13.74″N 78°22’1.57″W. Most realisticly, you’ll need to point it to Rapidan Ranch, Madison, VA 22727.

My Google Earth file: here
My Garmin file: here

Jones Mountain Cabin 049

Water? Pull from Staunton River anywhere you want; you’ll want to purify as you go.
Toilets? At the cabin, there’s an outhouse. Nothing at the trailhead.
Medical care? No.
Ranger / park folks? No.
Picnic areas? At the cabin only.
A place to change afterwards? No.

Jones Mountain Cabin 075

Rewards in the area: Not much. There’s either something like Culpeper and Luigi’s or Baby Jim’s, or you’re hitting El Agave in Ruckersville. None of these are bad choices, but none of these are near the trailhead.

You’ll hike this route when…. Skyline Drive is closed, or it’s going to be a zoo. Or when you’re worried about biting off more than you can chew, and you’d rather start with a climb instead of a descent.

Jones Mountain Cabin 073

My rating: 7

Music: Mash-Up Your Bootz Party – Best Of 2009 Mix (mixed into a single track by DJ Morgoth)

Jones Mountain Cabin 038

Weather / Trail warnings / Permits: Shenandoah National Park

More reading: here and here and here. Park Info: here