Jan 052016

01052016 Tea with Teachers

I was honored today to take part in the first “Tea with Teachers” round table discussion of 2016 focused around teacher retention. While Acting Secretary John King was the host, he mostly listened and asked questions. With only an hour to discuss such an important issue in education, it felt as though a lot was left unsaid. However, I was glad to share my stories of SLA Beeber’s model of teacher leadership, empowerment and ethics of care and to hear about treating teachers as professionals, about offering meaningful, purposeful and teacher-led professional development, and about teacher preparation and school culture.

Before the conversation, we were sent materials about teacher retention policy and research that really didn’t offer anything new or game changing. In fact some of it was just plain nonsense (increase the number of students excellent teachers teach, have them lead other teachers in teaching exactly like them in other classrooms to “replicate” good teaching methods).

There was no mention in any of the materials we were sent of how to retain teachers of color and while there was the typical rhetoric of rewarding excellent teachers and firing the bad ones, there was no mention of how to grow teachers and how to help average teachers become great ones. Also, as NYC educator Brian Jones stated, the research focused on retaining the “best teachers,” but not just retaining teachers, period. This focus on the “best” teachers also brings the conversation back to over quantifying teaching and does nothing to eliminate the constraints that endless data put on excellent teaching.

Department of Education

I don’t think attracting and retaining good teachers is brain surgery. It’s similar to how many companies retain their top talent: Know their strengths, give them opportunities to shine, celebrate successes, offer opportunities for collaborating and learning with peers, provide top notch, just-in-time training, and compensate them adequately for the work they do.

So many of these factors, however, are not going to be solved by top-down policy from the Federal government. The Department of Education can set up systems and policies that support these factors, but in the end, this hard work must be done at the local level. We teachers must speak out and be vocal about what keeps us in the classroom, we need to feel safe voicing our concerns within our buildings, and just as students deserve strong, compassionate leadership in the classroom, teachers should also have the same guidance and support from their leaders (and school-based leaders also deserve strong, compassionate guidance from their district or state-level leaders!)

Just as our schools of education often fall short in preparing the next generation of teachers, educational leadership preparation programs are also failing to properly prepare administrators for the hard work of leading a staff of empowered and professional teachers. Teachers are often unprepared for the work of teaching ELL learners or students whose culture and experiences differ than their own, and administrators are often unequipped for leading teachers through this work. This enhances the gaping holes in our ability to support and set up these students for success and it leads to teacher “burnout” when that work feels impossible.

I hope to see the DOE hold up examples of schools and districts that embody compassionate leadership, cultural sensitivity, and teacher leadership and empowerment as well as strong academics. While policy may not be an option, using its microphone to broadcast what is working outside of test scores and data can still make a powerful impact and remind all of us about what really matters. I also believe that the continued support and advocacy for Edcamp-style professional development will fundamentally change how teachers connect, learn and collaborate within their schools and across districts and across the country and it will help change the culture of schools to one that trusts teachers, empowers them and taps into the shared expertise within a building.


Jun 072014

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.

Jul 082012

I recently attended the annual ISTE conference in San Diego to participate on a panel about new teacher mentoring using technology moderated by my colleague, Lisa Dabbs. As I considered my responses to some of the panelist questions, I remembered a conversation I had at the Sunday night networking event for the conference with a new teacher who gushed about her experience at an edcamp. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the event and talking with so many people I can’t seem to pull the name of the edcamp from my memory. She spoke about the amazing conversations and dialogue that she experienced. As I reflected on the conversation, I thought about how powerful an edcamp can be for a new teacher. When I think back to my first few years of teaching, I remember feeling nervous about asking questions, about appearing like I didn’t know what I was doing, about understanding exactly what it was I supposed to be teaching and how best to do it. I never had a new teacher coach, I’ve never had a mentor. If I could have attended an event like an edcamp and listened to veteran teachers ask questions, discuss pedagogy and openly admit that they are struggling, I think that my first few years would have been a lot easier. On top of these conversations, I would have been able to build a network that could have served as my mentor or my coach when I didn’t have one.

Photo courtesy of speaker4td on Flickr

There have been a few New Teacher Camps  specifically for new teachers. However, I’m not sure it’s completely necessary for events to be specifically created just for new teachers. If  each of us who have experienced edcamp to recruit at least one new teacher to bring with us to the next edcamp we attend, we can bring the edcamp experience to new teachers. The more new teachers who can be exposed to professional conversations, learn how to ask questions and share ideas with their peers and build a positive network for personal growth, the more new teachers that will feel successful and the more new teachers who will stay in the career they have chosen and be the best they can be for their students.

Make your mission for your next edcamp to “bring a new teacher to edcamp!”

Getting Excited for Edcamp Philly!

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May 182012

It feels like forever since I have been to an edcamp, though I have virtually attended a few through following hashtags and the opportunity to Skype into edcampMKE with some of my colleagues.

I have been more and more energized by conversations around teacher leadership, meaningful professional development. The edcamp movement has been growing, with our 100th event being held on Saturday, May 12th in Milwaukee and a successful event in Dubai on the same date.

I am looking forward to seeing old faces and new faces and to conversations with dedicated, smart and passionate educators from the Philadelphia area.

To edcamp and beyond!

Nov 292011


I attended Edcamp Harrisburg a while back but haven’t had a chance to share my reflections, so here-goes. One of my favorite sessions was run by my friend, Chris Champion and was entitled Doing Things Differently vs Doing Different Things. It was an important conversation about how and why we use technology in our classrooms.

Chris did a great job moderating the conversation, too. It was conversational and while Chris led the discussion, he also laid back (in true edcamp style!) and let the participants discuss and share ideas.

Here is a gist of the conversation. Basically, we proposed how technology allows us to do things differently and then challenged each other to come up with ways that we could do different things with the same technology.

It is vital that those educators who are passionate about brining technology into our classrooms evaluate whether that technology is actually helping us do different things in our classrooms rather than just making what we’ve always done easier or just a bit different.

These are the notes from the session discussion, though I would argue that there is a lot here to examine further. What would you add?

Doing Things Differently Doing Different Things
  • Word Processing
  • Collaborative writing in real time
  • “Blogging” reflections (just for teacher or w/out community
  • Students comment/real audience
  • Online Quiz with immediate feedback
  • Adaptive questions/testing
  • Interactive Whiteboards
  • Manipulative, simulations that require student interaction
  • Interactive video responses
  • Flipped Classroom model
  • driving differentiated instruction and also completing a project or interactive assignment at home w/support for what you didn’t get while you’re at school
  • Presentations
  • immediate feedback (polls/clickers), webinars with chat, microphones and break out rooms
  • Videoconferencing
  • Backchannel