Social JusticeDefinition from Oxford Dictionaries

This past week I have been spending a lot of time with some really smart educators from all over the country. While the premise of this convening was the enormous edtech conference, ISTE, I spent less time talking about tech tools and awesome apps and more time talking about equity, school funding, current events and the trajectory of education in the US.

On Monday, I sat on an engrossing panel with some of my colleagues talking about project-based learning (PBL) and my friend, Tom Whitby spoke about how many teachers who are successfully implementing PBL are 6 months ahead of the current conversations in education. For some reason, that comment stuck with me and I began to reflect and think about the attendees at conferences I attend, the people who attend my sessions, the people who organize events I go to and the people who design and sell the flashy tech tools that schools adopt and use.

On both of the panels I was on the conversation moved at some point to specific apps or tools. While we made sure to focus on the whys and the hows that must come before adopting a tool, it seems that, often, people are looking for a tool or a device to be a “silver bullet” (to paraphrase Josh Stumpenhorst’s closing keynote on Wednesday.)

I began to wonder–why is it that some educators are thinking about these bigger ideas and some are not? Amanda Dykes refers to these big thinking educators as “rebels” in her most recent post. Like her, I often find myself in the crowd that asks persistent questions, that offers another side to the argument, that asks the fundamental question of “why” on a regular basis.

I have a couple of thoughts.

Teachers often become teachers because they were good students. Good students sit and listen and follow the rules. Good students trust the adults and the information they are being presented with. Good students ask the right questions, not always the hard questions. Essentially, good students play the game. These good students then enter a system (the teaching profession) that also rewards those who follow the rules and play the game.

From this I conclude that teachers are not often asked to push the envelope, to ask hard questions, to reflect and question their own practices on a regular basis and they may not take that initiative on their own. Specifically, at a conference like ISTE, these teachers often see the potential for tech to enhance, improve, simplify what they are already doing in their classrooms. There are few sessions at ISTE (and I’d argue many other education conferences) that delve into that fundamental question: WHY?

What I have noticed over the last few months as the school year came to a close was a lot of conversation around topics like police brutality, racism and inequality. This has been a Spring full of events that are hard to ignore. They have forced teachers to decide, “Will I address these events with my students? If I choose to, how can I address them without risking backlash from administrators and parents?” Many teachers may not be accustomed to or comfortable with approaching hard topics with their students.

At our Edutopia bloggers summit this past Saturday, we brainstormed future blog post topics and one of the largest groups formed around social justice. Three excellent Ignite presentations on Sunday centered around topics of social justice, including a call to action for all students to be given the opportunity to succeed, for us to listen to our students and for educators to embrace and encourage the diverse students in their classrooms. When asked what the biggest challenges to integrating technology into PBL were I answered, “access.” The sad part is that much of this conversation isn’t new. Back in 1991 Jonathan Kozol’s book Savage Inequalities compared the schools in Camden, NJ with those only a few miles away to show the inequities that existed in public education. Sadly, those inequities still exist more than two decades later.

So what am I getting at here?

Basically, education inequalities have not changed. Teachers tend to keep their head down and stick to the game plan. Current events involving police brutality, racism, terrorism, marriage equality, the Confederate flag, and a continuing lack of diversity in the huge tech companies that permeate our lives are hard to ignore. It’s easy to just plow through our day, business as usual. It’s harder to take a step back and reflect, to find our place in the world, to face our own prejudices and privilege, to decide where we stand on these issues and events. Once we’ve done that hard work, we must decide how we will ask our students to so. If you know where you stand and you have acknowledged your own shortcomings, misunderstandings and worked through them, then you are ready to lead your students through that same process. You are ready to ask that fundamental question: “Why?”

So why do we need to do this hard work?

When we put technology into the hands of our students we say that we are preparing them for life outside of school, that the world they live in is filled with technology and they need to know how to leverage it. The world they live in now and the world they will live in is also filled with hate, injustice, greed, and violence. How are we preparing our students for that world? More importantly, how can technology be leveraged to make the world a better place?

I have always grappled with activism and the teaching profession. While I believe that it is a teacher’s job to open the world to his or her students and to help students better understand the world, I don’t believe it is my job to judge a student’s beliefs and tell them to change. It is my job, however, to ask hard questions and to guide my students down a reflective path to make their own decisions and form their own opinions based on research and dialogue, not assumptions and hearsay.

A teacher as activist helps students grapple with their own experiences and emotions, to take a stand, to stand up for what they believe in, and to act. As Dr Robert Dillon says in his Ignite presentation, “We have to break the cycle of being shocked, having sympathy and then returning to the privilege that we all experience in our lives.” Schools are often stuck in this cycle. Once the shock has worn off, there are tests to take, units to plan, papers to grade…..

I am still exploring these hard questions for myself. I look at my son, a middle class white male and know that he will be awarded opportunities based on those three qualifiers alone. How will I address privilege with my son? Having taught in Philadelphia public schools for over 10 years I am not blind to the inequities that exist across this city, where zip codes define socio-economic status. How will I avoid accepting the status quo and how will I impart that on my students?

Jose Vilson asked during the bloggers summit about how he can incorporate Social Justice into his Math classes. We should all be asking that question about our own classes. It is becoming more apparent that teachers are seeking resources and avenues to address the issues our students face and see on TV every day. At an edtech conference of over 10,000 people these quests may have flown under the radar. But maybe it’s because we failed to ask the right question: “Why?”

Some social justice resources

Edudemic Social Justice Lessons

Teaching Tolerance website

Open data and Social justice (information justice)

Pernille Ripp— student voice – processing recent events in the classroom

Dr. Robert Dillon — what’s really important? How do we use shiny tools to make big waves?

Rafranz Davis  — where is the diversity in EdTech?



Facebook Diversity Report



It has been almost a year since my last post here. What a year it has been….

NoahAs many of you know, I had a son in July. Since then, my whole world has revolved around him and managing being a mom and a teacher. Anyone who is a teacher or knows a teacher, knows that a teacher’s job is never done. Before school, around 5:30 am, I am double-checking my lesson plans, answering emails and eating my breakfast while watching the baby monitor and the clock on my computer as I try to cram as much stuff in before Noah wakes up around 6:00 am.

During the day I am teacher, advisor, friend, colleague, sounding board, problem solver, technology guru and many other roles. When I get home, I try very hard to put those roles aside so I can be Mom to my son and wife to my husband. However, my evening is often filled with emails from staff and students, sometimes texts from advisees and, of course, the inevitable assignments to grade and lessons to prepare for the next day. Most nights, I am up until 11:00 pm making sure that I am all caught up for the next day. Up at 5:00 am, asleep by 11:00 pm, repeat.

I was always told that becoming a mother would change me as a teacher. That I would be a different kind of teacher because now, I had a kid of my own.

I’m not sure that I have become a different teacher, but I can say that I have a much deeper understanding of the families I work with.

In general, I have always believed that every parent wants the best for their child. I have seen a variety of parenting styles and I have worked with a diverse range of parents across the city in my decade of teaching here in Philadelphia. Being a mom has, if anything, given me insight into these families in a way that may not play out in the classroom, but that plays out in the relationships I have and build with families.

Parenthood is hard.


Some days I don’t know how I survive. I work full time during the week, and my husband stays home with Noah and works full time on the weekends. We rarely get to spend time together as a family and we both work very hard. We have less income than we did before Noah came and yet our expenses have gone up.  I often text with other “mommy friends” of mine about struggling with naps, with night time wakings, with whether we should be feeding our kids X, Y or Z, whether they are crawling yet, have teeth, or are hitting other developmental phases.

But then I have to give pause and remember….

We don’t have the cost or the logistical burden of sending our kid to daycare. I am lucky enough that when Noah wakes up, once he is fed and clothed, I can pass him to my husband as I finish getting ready for the day. I have a job that pays me a salary, gives me sick leave, personal days and health insurance for my entire family. I own my house. My husband and I both have cars. Our son has everything he needs (and more) and he is safe and secure at home. I have chosen to breastfeed, which means we have saved hundreds of dollars on his food. My Mother in Law comes over every Friday to watch him, giving John a chance to go to work and me a chance to schedule things like haircuts and even birthday dinners.

I try to remember to count my blessings. This helps me put my struggles in context of the struggles that many families in our city go through, many of which I will never experience. I have a new found respect for mothers who work full-time and raise their children without the help of a spouse or who support their family through a job that pays hourly wages and/or does not offer health insurance.

Motherhood is hard. Fatherhood is hard. Keep this in mind every time a parent cannot make a report card conference or needs to reschedule or when a child is struggling and it seems like the parent is not responding adequately. We need to hold our parents and families accountable, yes, but we also need to understand the real life struggles that individual families go through every day.

The only way to truly understand these struggles and to meet families where they are is build relationships with families. Every family is unique. Get to know your students’ family. Get to know their idiosyncrasies, talk about their children, about their hopes, their dreams. Work with them to support their child.

Parenthood is hard. Teaching is hard. Collaboration is key if we want our students to be successful and happy.


SLA Beeber front It was 3:00pm on June 20th, the last day of school. The inaugural staff of SLA@Beeber sat around the huge conference table in the main office going over highlights and areas for growth for next year. We picked apart processes, events, successes, failures and made suggestions for next year. We discussed our capacity as a staff, the way our kids had grown so much since September, the way we stuck together as a staff and made some really hard decisions together. We expressed our gratitude for each other’s professionalism and integrity. We also pointed out where things went really wrong and places where we came up short, acknowledging our errors and making plans for addressing them.

Then, our principal (he would kick me for calling him that), stopped us and reminded us of something we had failed to mention for the last 30-45 minutes. “We started a school, guys,” he said. We smiled. In all of the day’s conversations about pedagogy, technology integration, processes and procedures, organizational capacity and more, it was easy to forget the simplest fact: We started a school this year.

Not only did we start a school, but we finished out a fairly successful school year in some challenging conditions. We had 9 full time staff members, including our secretary, principal and program coordinator for 125 students. We had a part time NTA for the morning, but no one at lunch to monitor students (no school police officer or lunch time support staff). We had a nurse once every 3 weeks, a counselor once a week, a part time Special Education teacher and a school psychologist once a month. Add to that the fact that two or three days before school started, we didn’t have enough chairs for all of our students, we had no furniture in the main office, only a handful of cafeteria tables for 125 students, and pretty much no school supplies whatsoever. After picking apart every little nuance of the school year and reflecting on our successes and our failures, we failed to remember that, in the end, we came together and built a school. This year was, by no means, perfect, and we have a lot of space to grow, but I am thrilled to have been a part of the team that started SLA Beeber, and I am even more thrilled to see it expand next year and watch our 9th graders advance to 10th grade and to welcome our new, incoming freshmen and our new staff members, my new colleagues on this journey.

I have never had a more rewarSuccess babyding, frustrating, demanding, celebratory year of teaching in my 10 years of teaching in Philadelphia. Thanks, Chris, Marina, Luke, Dave, Leroy, Max, Karthik and Matt as well as Jeremy, Katie, Tishna and Pat for making this year shine!


Today was an exciting day for the Edcamp Foundation and for edcampers all over the US. At around 7:00 am, a small group of educators walked across C Street and entered the Department of Education for a day of sharing and learning at Edcamp US DOE. Schedule DOE

After 4 years and thousands of hours of free, participant-driven professional development across the globe, Edcamp entered the halls that drive education policy in the US. After building the schedule and chatting with new and old acquaintances, along with a surprise visit from Arne Duncan, we moved right into sessions. The topics ranged from policy discussions to discussions about teaching and learning in the classroom to discussions about Arne Edcamp DOEbeing digital leaders and connected educators. Members of the DOE were scattered throughout the sessions, listening and asking questions. Even through some tough policy conversations, there was no animosity and the tone of the conversation always remained civil and professional, and thanks to teacher ambassador and host, Emily Davis, and the positive and professional attendees and DOE members, conversations also stayed solutions-oriented and focused on action.

If anything comes of today’s gathering of great minds and ideas, I hope that the Department of Education sees the power of organic conversation among educators as well as the many faces of teacher leadership within individual school buildings, districts and beyond. I hope that more events like this happen at the DOE and that policy makers see value in bringing educators together to discuss education policies and larger issues in education here in the US. If anything, creating open lines of communication and pathways for matching policies with the needs in classrooms on the front lines of teaching and learning could be a powerful beginning to a new age in educational policy in our country.Edcamp Foundation DOE

It is inspiring to think that only 4 years ago, ten educators, many of whom had never met face to face before, convened at BarCamp Philly, were inspired to create Edcamp Philly, and ignited a movement that has grown exponentially every year and has reached as far as Hong Kong and Dubai.


We are so grateful to the Department of Education, Richard Culatta from the Department of Educational Technology, and, of course, our gracious host, Emily Davis, for a powerful day of conversation and a positive and solutions-centered atmosphere focused on teacher voice.

Me at ASCDReflecting on a busy weekend of conversation and learning at this year’s annual ASCD conference in Los Angeles, a few bright spots stand out for me. I attended ASCD two years ago in Philadelphia and I couldn’t help but notice that while conversations haven’t necessarily shifted too much (school leadership, school transformations, teaching strategies, assessment, Common Core) I found that more and more sessions addressed digital technologies, connected learning and inquiry-based learning. I also got a sense that many attendees craved interactivity within their sessions and were not too shy to engage with complete strangers within their sessions. These are the bright spots that make this year’s conference feel different than the last one I attended.

Social Media and Connected Learning

Saved by TwitterOn Saturday morning, during the “Saved by Twitter” session, I watched complete strangers huddle in groups to discuss social media, their use of Twitter, the challenges involved in using social media and I witnessed a few people send their first tweet or use a hashtag for the first time. This is a huge shift from two years ago when there were very few people tweeting at the conference and Twitter wasn’t widely considered a tool for schools and teachers (and students). Now, it seems, many educators and school leaders realize that they have no choice but to get on board with social media, and they are exploring the tool. Some of the session attendees pondered questions such as, “Should I have two accounts, one personal and one for school?” or, especially if they’d been on Twitter for a few months, “What do I have to add to the conversation? I haven’t really had anything profound to share.” Mixed in were questions about chats, various symbols they saw, what it means to follow someone, what it means to “retweet” someone and others. I’m not sure how many people from that session continued to tweet over the course of the conference, but the eagerness to learn was palpable.
In addition, there were more sessions this year focused around topics like integrating technology, digital citizenship, mobile learners, technology and critical thinking and others. As a frequent attendee of the annual ISTE conference, and a Technology teacher, I found the conference in Philadelphia lacking many sessions dedicated to technology in the classroom. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend one of the technology sessions this year due to schedule conflicts, but just the amount of sessions discussing technology in the classroom gave me hope.

Student-Centered, Project Based Learning

Another bright spot was the increased number of sessions referring to project or problem-based learning. More and more conversations that I heard while sitting on a couch in the networking lounge or walking between sessions seemed more focused on student-centered learning and while many still touted the Common Core, and while I could not visit every session to see if what was being discussed was truly PBL, this shift gives me hope that more schools are moving toward student-centered classrooms.
I was lucky enough to have a brief conversation in the press room with some of the staff from Washington Montessori School, this year’s winner of the Vision in Action Award. The staff described the culture shift for staff, students and families when the school, which had been labeled as a “Priority School” with only 50% of its students reading at grade level, transitioned into a magnet Montessori school. They described the independence they foster in their Pre-K through 5th grade students, 78% of whom qualify for free/reduced lunch. The work they have done to develop a truly inquiry-based environment is inspiring. The fact that this kind of work is being done to turn schools around rather than some of the models I currently see in Philadelphia gives me hope.
I also spoke with a teacher who works in an urban district outside of Chicago who described the positive changes her school has gone through, the focus they have been putting on supporting kids and families, the vision and dedication that new leadership has brought to the school and the way that staff have stepped up to get the necessary hard work done to turn the school around.
These are the stories that we need to hear, and the fact that people are telling these stories and that ASCD was able to shine a light on the transformation of Washington Montessori also gives me hope.

Go Ahead, Talk to Each Other

Edcamp at ASCDThe final bright spot that really stood out for me this year was the increased amount of engagement between session attendees in sessions. It always pains me that almost all large conferences that I have attended (not just ASCD) set the rooms up like a classroom from the 19th Century with a sea of chairs all hooked together and facing front. I had a conversation with some Emerging Leader colleagues where we reflected on the fact that the best practices that we tout for children we rarely provide for teachers. I attended the Edcamp session and watched as attendees unhooked chairs and created discussion circles and then proceeded to generate discussion topics and hold discussions around topics of their choice. After the attendees regrouped, I could hear people telling their colleagues about the discussion they had just had. There was an energy in the room. It was awesome.
I also sat in on the “What Keeps You Up At Night” panel, and while about half of the time was spent like a traditional panel with a moderator, the attendees were given cards on which to write a question for the panel and the second half of the session was focused on the questions of the people in the room. This gave the session attendees a chance to interact both with the panel and with each other.
ASCD also had a new space this year called the #ASCDEdSpace. This was a space for informal conversation around topics chosen by attendees. This shows a huge shift in how large organizations like ASCD think about engaging their attendees and I think it is a step in the right direction. While this year’s space may not have been totally successful, I believe that were the space moved to the networking lounge rather than a back hallway, there would be a large number of people engaged in conversation about sessions, the keynote speakers and their own experiences. Myself and two other emerging leaders, Bethany Bernasconi and Dawn Chan decided to move our #ASCDEdSpace session to the networking lounge. We plopped ourselves down with complete strangers and struck up a conversation. No one balked at talking to a stranger, and the space was perfect for debriefing the day. If we had not moved to the lounge, I would not have met Tiffany, the teacher from the urban district outside of Chicago that I mentioned above.
I also overheard conversations at social events and while traversing the conference center that hinted at a desire for more interactivity in sessions. “I hate when they just stand up there and talk at you,” I overheard one attendee say. These experiences give me hope that professional development for teachers can begin to mirror the best practices that we use to design meaningful learning experiences for our students.
I’m sure that we will see the landscape shift even more as schools begin to move away from focusing on The Test as the sole assessment, as more and more schools adopt digital learning tools and as more and more school leaders realize the potential of their staff to learn together and from each other.
Despite what many would say about “education these days,” the bright spots I saw this weekend make me believe that that there is hope and that it will take all of us making big strides forward to enact the changes that will make schools more student-centered and focused on the learning process, not just the outcome.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a report card conference with one of my advisees discussing his classes, his school work and some struggles he’d been having. At one point he said, “I think I’m taking advantage of the freedom I have.” It was a powerful statement and a one that really stuck with me.
We give our students at SLA Beeber a lot of freedoms. They are allowed to have cell phones in school, they have their own  laptop that they take home, along with an email account, and they are allowed to use Google Chat, Hangouts and Google+ to communicate with their peers (and teachers). They don’t have a strict dress code to follow and there are no metal detectors at the entrance of the school. They are also assigned long term projects that tie into their personal interests & incorporate choice rather than end of unit tests and lunch is an hour long to accommodate the amount of time they may need to work on projects or meet with teachers.
This may sound like a dream to many high school students, but it is very hard to navigate for a young person. With no one breathing down your neck telling you what to wear, when your cell phone could be confiscated if seen, when your social interactions with peers are controlled by adults, when you only have one way to show what you have learned, and when you are forced to gobble down lunch in 20 minutes, you don’t have much to navigate.
Having freedom is hard.
Decisions must be made, new habits must be formed and, often, students must grapple with their poor decisions, like hanging out with friends instead of working on a project, or not using the tools at one’s fingertips to contact teachers when they need help. Students also need to manage the freedom of having the world’s best distraction tool at their fingertips throughout the school day, and they have the responsibility to care for that device. They also have the responsibility to navigate appropriate use of their cell phone throughout the school day (and not lose that either.)
Many students come from environments where it was easy to know what was due and when because it was a worksheet, or a reading in a text book, or all of the Math problems on page 125. With the freedom to work on a project that incorporates their own choice & interests comes the hard work of managing deadlines, planning and collaborating with peers.
It has been an amazing experience watching our 9th graders work through this freedom, sometimes succeeding beyond their own expectations and sometimes becoming paralyzed by managing it all.
The young man from the conference has made a huge shift in taking responsibility for his work & we meet regularly to check in on his assignments. It makes me, as his “school mom” very proud but it has also opened my eyes to why giving kids freedom matters. This student has made a huge shift in his mindset that could not have happened otherwise. I can’t help but think about the expansion of “no excuses” schools or urban charter networks that focus on managing & regulating every aspect of students’ lives at school. We are setting our students up for failure if they don’t have a chance to falter & rebound and to navigate the freedoms that life outside of school provides.

As 2013 comes to a close, it is time to reflect on the past year. 2013 proved to be quite a transformative one. Considering that this is my first post since September, it has also proven to be a busy one. Here are some of my thoughts on the past year.

Spring 2013

2013 began with the honor of being named PAECT‘s Teacher of the Year in February. Being recognized with the award was quite a surprise and due to my limited ability to miss days at work, I was not able to be present for the presentation of the award, which I regret. PAECT is a wonderful organization that connects educators involved in educational technology across the state of Pennsylvania. I have met some amazing educators through my involvement with the organization.

March brought another momentous occasion. John, my boyfriend of over 8 years, and I decided to get married. On July 13th. I never was one of those girls who dreamed of her wedding day, so planning a wedding in less than 4 months was quite an experience, but more on that later. In March, two of my students won 1st place in the Programming category at the District Computer Fair, which was very exciting as I had been on my own journey learning about coding.

In May, I was elated to learn that I had been selected to be in the 2013 class of ASCD’s Emerging Leaders. This would give me an opportunity to make a difference in educational leadership outside of the educational technology realm I was used to inhabiting. I also connected with a number of Pennsylvania educators in the class and we have been collaborating with the Pennsylvania affiliate of ASCD (PASCD), which has been an exciting endeavor. This work will continue through 2014. I am also excited to attend ASCD’s annual conference in Los Angeles in March to connect face to face with many of the Emerging Leaders and participate in ASCD’s first “unconference.” May also brought the 3rd annual Edcamp Philly unconference, which I helped organize.

End of the School Year/Summer 2013

In June, I made a huge decision to leave my school of the previous three years to join the inaugural team of the Science Leadership Academy’s new Beeber campus. I had to quickly make sure that I was leaving my school in a good position to continue the technology program we had been working on for three years. This meant organizing paperwork and getting it to the right people, triple checking our inventory, leaving curricular materials with the instructional director. I also had to begin the process of returning to the School District of Philadelphia, which included doctor’s appointments, visits to the District’s main offices and many phone calls. At the same time, I was dress shopping, seeking out a venue, putting together a guest list, choosing a caterer, designing invitations and all of the other nitty gritty details that go along with planning a wedding. I spent hours on the phone with my mother, hours on Pinterest getting ideas and hours hot gluing and putting together the table signs and escort cards for our guests. Thinking back, it’s amazing I made it through the month of June at all.

Tech Girlz Summer CampJune was also exciting as it was my first year working with TechGirlz Summer Camp, an amazing week of entrepreneurship for teenage girls in the Philadelphia area. We had an amazing group of girls who came up with some really great companies and did some inspiring presentations. They worked with local developers and entrepreneurs to develop their products and companies throughout the week before presenting their companies to their families and a panel of “investors.”



Puna Night Market

John & MB WeddingAfter the blur of the wedding, we were off to Hawaii for 10 days. No work emails, no blogging, limited tweeting, and no one telling us what to do and where to be. It was blissful.

As soon as we returned in late July, reality came crashing down as worked a week teaching a Space and Aeronautics course that I designed and wrote before the summer began. It was a ton of fun. After that was a week spent with my new colleagues at SLA at Beeber. We spent an intense week breaking down project based learning and the ins and outs of life at SLA. It was exhausting and energizing at the same time. A week later, we spent a week getting to know our new students during Summer Institute. My exploration group spent a rainy afternoon exploring Paine’s Skate Park and I had some time to get to know my advisees, with whom I will be spending the entire four years of their high school careers.


Moving SLA@B


The fun didn’t stop there. Opening a new school is not for the faint of heart. We spent hours cleaning the third floor of Beeber Middle School that we would inhabit. We moved furniture, including desks, chairs, bookcases and cafeteria tables. We set up the office and the cafeteria ourselves, completing the last of the cafeteria tables and chairs the day before the first day of school, a day that most teachers had off from work. It was a heroic effort.




Fall 2013

We hit the ground running on Day One, welcoming students to the new school. The last few months have been a whirlwind. I often SLA@B Tech Classuse the metaphor of building the plane while flying it. There are so many day-to-day decisions to make, procedures to rethink, pedagogical ideas to explore, problems to be solved, along with the every day complexity of teaching 120 fifteen year olds with all of the joys that come along with raging hormones, identity exploration and with no upperclassmen to help guide them. We also provide students with a lot more agency and freedoms than many of them are used to. It’s been fascinating to watch them navigate these new freedoms and energizing to support them along the way. I have also really enjoyed the advisory program, through which I have gotten to know 19 students very well and have enjoyed discussing various issues as a group, traveling outside of the building together on trips and having individual conversations with each of them. I have also enjoyed teaching ninth graders for the first time. It has been insightful hearing their thoughts, opinions and reflections on Digital Citizenship and using technology. It’s also been an incredible journey transitioning from a lab (yuck!) to a classroom where every student has his or her own device. I look forward to supporting my colleagues with creating opportunities for students to use their devices effectively and creatively throughout the rest of the year.

Winter 2013

One of the exciting events to end 2013 was the Philly EdTech Meetup‘s holiday demo night in December, which brought one of our largest groups of attendees and truly reflected the community that my co-organizer, Donna Murdoch, and I have been working hard to build since we joined forces in 2012.

Photo courtesy of Travis Morgan on Flickr


Obviously, this year has been fast-paced and transformative. The school year has been busy, sometimes stressful and always energizing. One of the toughest parts of the school year is November to December, when we have our narrative report cards due and hold report card conferences and also work multiple weekends interviewing students for next year. It was also at this time that my husband and I were hit with the surprising and exciting news that we would be welcoming a new addition to our family in July 2014. This has created an entirely new kind of reflection. Over the last year, I have spent more time focusing on home and married life, and the time commitment of opening a new school has taken away from time I had spent in the past running around to conferences and other events, blogging and tweeting. My exhaustion over the last few months due to first trimester woes has also slowed me down.

This news will force me to rethink my lifestyle overall. I have spent most of the last 4 years engaging with educators around the globe, tweeting, blogging, traveling, presenting and focusing, well, on me and my career. At times, this has affected my relationship with my husband, though he has always been supportive. I don’t need to change my engagement with community of educators I have connected with over the years. It doesn’t mean that I need to stop blogging or even stop presenting or traveling. I do know, however, that my focus will undoubtedly change. There have been times when I have been working so hard that I haven’t seen my husband for days. 2014 will no doubt require me to change those habits. I already know that I want to refocus and reflect on what parts of my professional life I will be able to keep up with once this new addition arrives.

It looks like 2014 may rival 2013 for life changing events! I am thankful for all of the support and positivity that has come my way this past year from colleagues, friends, acquaintances and strangers. I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2014!


To start off the year, I decided to make sure that all of my 9th graders understand what the Internet really is and how it works before they get their Internet-ready laptops in a few weeks.

When they came in, they had the first five minutes of class to “draw the Internet.” I got a lot of quizzical looks. “What do you mean?” “You can’t draw the Internet!” I said, “If someone asked you what the Internet looked like, what would you draw?”

A few of the Internet drawings.

A few of the Internet drawings.

There were a variety of concepts including connected dots, a globe, drawings of homepages and Internet logos. A few students drew computers, one drew a phone. A few got their phones out and sketched a browser page on their phone.

I explained that while preparing for the lesson, I had been searching for a diagram of how the Internet works to show them and that all I found were pictures of computers connected to a grey cloud that said, “Internet.” I did find a fairly useful, short video that I showed them instead. Many people, I explained, that use the Internet, don’t really even understand what it is.

After watching the video, I asked them who their ISP was and they named Comcast, Verizon and Clear. We then reviewed the concept of IP addresses and the fact that all computers have them. We also discussed how IP addresses are changed into website names. It was, I admit, a lot to swallow and will require follow up lessons, but it was a crash course nonetheless.

After sharing their drawings with each other and comparing and contrasting them, I had the students count off into groups. They were then tasked with creating a chart that included at least one idea from everyone in the group. On the chart had to be two columns. One that said, “I use the Internet to…” and one that said, “I wish I used the Internet to….” They recorded their thoughts on the chart paper. After about 10 minutes of working, I then had each group walk from table to table to see what the other groups had written. We then debriefed and

Students brainstormed ways they use and ways they wish they used the Internet & then did a gallery walk.

Students brainstormed ways they use and ways they wish they used the Internet & then did a gallery walk.

talked about what we saw. I told them that they are in the position to make the things in their “wish” column a reality. I told them that most people use the internet for all of things the students said they did (social media, pictures, music..), but very few people actually make stuff for the Internet. I told them I want them to be makers and builders. I think they dug the idea.

Another fun part about the activity was walking around and listening to them talk to each other. “I wish I could talk to my computer.” “But you can, you can use Siri!” “Siri sucks. It’s not really talking to you.” I also overheard conversations about what they use the Internet to do and discovering common ground. Overall, I think it was a great start to the year and I look forward to digging deeper into conversations about Digital Citizenship and the rights and responsibilities that coming with going online.




Some ways they use and wish they used the Internet:

Internet Chart 2

Internet chart 1


Morning grade-wide meeting in the cafeteria this morning.

Morning grade-wide meeting in the cafeteria this morning.

I am so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes awake, but it’s a good kind of tired. After weeks of team building, inquiry into our own pedagogical practices, building units, discussing and working out details on school operations from scheduling the first day to student flow through the building, loading up UHaul trucks with furniture and carrying a conference table up three flights of stairs, today was the ultimate truth. The kids arrived.

I couldn’t have wished for a better first day.

There were smiles, nervous looks, timid questions and laughter. We had hiccups (including me being locked out of my classroom for 45 minutes), but it was humbling to see how all of the hard work that each member of our team has done pulled together today. There’s something unique about creating a plan and seeing it through until the end. I’ve never opened a school year with such ownership over the process.

I know that this year will not be perfect. I know that there will be times when we will not always agree on how things are done. I know that we will make mistakes….and learn from them. I also know that we are dedicated to doing great things for kids and that is the underlying force behind everything we do. I have complete confidence and trust in the team that has worked so hard to get to this day.

I am sure that the best is yet to come….

Thanks to the awesome SLA@Beeber folks:

Chris J, Diana, Dave, Luke, Karthik, Matt, Max, Marina and Leroy!


Overflow crowd from the August 15, 2013 SRC meeting.

Overflow crowd from the August 15, 2013 SRC meeting.

As I reflected on the events of today, I began to think of my journey as a teacher here in Philadelphia. I began to think of all of the red flags that have gone up over the last ten years before getting to this point. Here is a run-down:


The State takes over the School District of Philadelphia and puts in an appointed board to run the District called the School Reform Commission (SRC), which is made up of appointees chosen mostly by the Governor and some by the Mayor of Philadelphia.

August 2002

I move to Philadelphia immediately after graduating from college. I really want to be a teacher, but am not certified.


I apply to be a “Literacy Intern” with the Philadelphia School District. I am called in November and am placed at an elementary school in Southwest Philadelphia. My role is to support classroom teachers whose classrooms have gone over the legal limit. Basically, rather than hire certified teachers and make class sizes smaller, the District hired teachers with Emergency Certifications to “reduce class size” by pushing in a few hours every day.  I worked in a Kindergarten room with 34 students. The teacher only had my help for about 2 hours a day. My official teaching career in Philadelphia begins.


I complete my student teaching in an unruly 1st grade classroom with a first-year teacher because my principal placed me there and learn quickly the steel and flexibility it takes to be a teacher Philadelphia. I learn that many teachers who were “vocal” in the school had been “written out of the budget” in previous years. That year, at least 4 of my colleague transfer out or quit because of the school administration.


I go to the District office to pick my first official “solo” teaching job and am told that there are no more positions available in the District.  I am offered my choice of school from a list of a schools with a “high teacher turnover rate.” I look quickly at a map and pick a school.

When I arrive at my new school in West Philadelphia, I find out that the school lost 50% of their teachers from the previous year because the school was slated to enter the new (and short-lived) Corrective Action Region. With 3 positions still unfilled 3 days before school starts, I sign up to be the Science Teacher. We start the year with first-year teachers making up about 30% of the staff. During my second year, a first year teacher walks out and never comes back and never officially resigns. Myself and the other specialist teachers take turns covering the class for months.


Our school community inhabits a crumbling building with mold that causes asthma in some staff and a malfunctioning heating system that causes 2nd degree burns on a student who leans back on a hot radiator pipe. We survive a poor school climate with fights breaking out regularly and many unruly classrooms. We are designated an Empowerment School by the District, which means we are held under tighter scrutiny and must implement specific programs.

February 2009

Our school community goes into turmoil when we are told that our building is being demolished and that we are being relocated and have 3 1/2 months to pack up a 100 year old building. Teachers are expected to teach and pack their rooms at the same time.

September 2009 – June 2009

My students are uprooted from their neighborhood and their school to be bused from the area of 58th and Media Streets to 59th Street and Baltimore Ave. They survive being forced into many hours a week of scripted Corrective Reading and Connected Math instruction whether the program works for them or not. Teachers are told that if the students aren’t learning what they are supposed to, it’s because the teacher did not stick to the script.

Students make do as Kindergarteners are forced to use bathrooms built for middle schoolers, as 4 busses running two routes bring 600 students to school and home every day, and as elementary age kids eat lunch in a cafeteria that can seat over 500 students. Students share the building with a “no excuses” charter school and find that their former classmates are not even allowed to say hi to them if they see each other in the hallway.

As the school year progresses, student behavior deteriorates and teachers have little to no support in a huge building with which they are not familiar.

January 23, 2010

The District teachers survive the shady approval of the new PFT contract, which sells the teachers out for Race to the Top money and brings in the era of Renaissance Schools.

January 28, 2010

We are alerted through a District letter in our school mailboxes that our school is on the list of possible Renaissance Schools and could be shut down and reorganized.

March 2010

Our school community barely holds it together when our school’s name appears on the final list of Renaissance Schools. We aren’t even really sure what it means yet. There are a number of models presented to us. We eventually find out that we will be converted to a charter and will all be force transferred and have to re-apply for our positions if we decide to apply to the charter operator.

March-May 2010

Our school’s parents barely survive the convoluted process of forming a School Advisory Committee and the marketing pitches by a variety of charter operators. We do not know who will be running the school, who will be teaching our students or whether the new building would be done in time. We will never get to teach in the new building as it will be turned over to the charter operator for the following school year.

June 2010

My colleagues and I survive a number of meetings with various District staff who have no answers about the future of our jobs or our school community. We begin to pack up the building once again with no idea what the future holds.

Despite interviewing within the District, I make the hard decision to leave the District so I can keep doing what I love– teaching kids with computers. I take a 5 year Charter School Leave of Absence.

September 2010 – June 2013

While I have 3 great years of teaching, I also survive teaching with no contract as an “at-will” employee in a school staffed with a huge percentage of teachers under the age of 30 with very little teaching experience. I watch as my SDP colleagues continue to struggle with the new programs and requirements imposed upon schools and teachers by Superintendent Ackerman. I watch irate parents speak out about school closings. I watch students walk out of their classrooms in protest. I watch as the Renaissance School movement, a child of Washington, D.C.-style reform, turns more and more District schools over to “no excuses” charters. I watch as communities are torn apart by school closings and as some neighborhoods are left without a neighborhood school for their child to attend.  I empathize with their fears and frustrations and I am glued to The Notebook everyday. I watch as Arlene Ackerman is removed by the SRC and walks away with a huge severance package, leaving a huge leadership hole. I watch with hope as William Hite is announced as the new Superintendent. I watch as Ackerman’s plans continue as planned and meetings about school closings are held at schools all over the City.

June 2013

I ecstatically accept a position at the Science Leadership Academy’s new Beeber campus and am actually thrilled to come back to the District.

August 15, 2013

I attend the last minute meeting of the SRC, announced only 24 hours ahead of time, during which the SRC suspends entire sections of the Pennsylvania School Code and gives themselves all the power they need to break the union. I listen to community members and teachers tell the SRC that we can’t give our children the bare minimum, that this is a manufactured crisis and anyone who was paying attention knew we would end up here. They say that it’s unconscionable for students and their families and teachers to bare the brunt of the mistakes of others. I watch the SRC sit, stone-faced, until everyone had spoken and then proceed, without fanfare, to pass all but one of the resolutions to suspend parts of the school code. I knew, as I did in the 2010 contract approval, that the decision had already been made and nothing we said or did would stop it.

So why the trip down memory lane?

The point is, teachers, students, their families and entire communities here in Philadelphia have been on a rollercoaster of education reform for over a decade ever since the State took over in 2001 and put in the School Reform Commission. Teachers and community members have spoken out when they’ve seen problems.  We discuss them in the teacher’s lounge or in our classrooms with colleagues or with our families at home. The problems with funding and managing the District have been in plain sight as long as I have worked in it. We are not at this point solely because of students, teachers, parents or community members. We are here because the people entrusted with the financial and educational well-being of Philadelphia’s children dropped the ball in a big way. Now, teachers have been made out to be the villains for sticking up for not what is in their contracts, but language that is written in the sections of the PA School Code that were just suspended. At the same time, students have been promised the bare minimum for their education and, in turn, their futures.

My question is, can the systems in place here in Philadelphia survive another 10 years of this?

I don’t have a lot of answers. I had to write this all down just to get my head straight after all of these years. One thing is for sure, this governing body that State put in place has not done its job. The people of Philadelphia feel helpless when it comes to the education of their children. We have thousands of young professionals who have made the choice to live in the City, to have children and buy homes here. Without a safe and strong public school to send their child to, we will watch these new neighbors flee in droves. Our city depends on strong public neighborhood schools. Let us elect our own school board and take back our City schools.

I recommend you check out the post, The Crisis in Philadelphia Schools…or Not by Chris Angelini for some great ideas and thoughts on this, too.

© 2015 Philly Teacher Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha