Digital Learning Day — My “new thing” is Ustream

Digital Learning Day is February 1 and my challenge to my staff (who are quite techy to begin with) was to try something new in terms of technology and collaboration for DLD. Was trying to think of what my own “new thing” was going to be and then got a good idea from Terri Harrings who just began to use Ustream to do video announcements at her school. Just signed up for an account tonight and will see how it goes tomorrow. In case you wanted to watch the magic (carnage?) happen, here is our school’s Ustream channel:

UPDATE: All went will with no issues other than some audio echo in a few classrooms. We didn’t shift any paradigms or discover new technological frontiers, but the kids (anchors and audience) were so excited and engaged to try this new approach to communicating our news and announcements. Within minutes of doing the broadcast, I had two teachers ask, “I wonder how I might use this with my students?” I love how new learning tools can lead one to good questions, regardless of what the answers may be.

Live broadcasting by Ustream

Educators, keep using your brain, don’t eat it

I was at church this morning and our pastor shared with us the life of a tunicate called the sea squirt. The sea squirt is an ocean creature that survives as an adult by pumping water through its body and filtering out plankton and other little bits of stuff. Before they are in their adult stage, they are a tailed larva that thrashes around to move and find a permanent place to live out the rest of their life. They settle to the bottom of the ocean and attach themselves to the floor and get ready to enjoy life. But before they enter their golden years of squirtdom, their body undergoes some last changes. They absorb the parts of their body that they no longer use–their tail, gills, and then their primitive brain. Yes, now that they have arrived at their goal of the sea floor and no longer need movement coordinated by their brain, their body eats it. The sea squirt just mindlessly sucks water through its body, straining out the stew they need to survive. I’ve arrived baby, so let’s get rid of this brain!

You’ve likely sniffed out my analogy by now, but the sea squirt makes me think about educators (not just teachers here, everyone who is employed to work with kids) and how much they use their brains throughout the life of their careers. I’ve led or been part of hundreds of interviews and with almost every candidate, they are fun to interact with because of their excitement. Those who are recent graduates are eager to share what they know, what they want to learn, and what they want to do while working with our students and alongside the current staff members. Veteran candidates are also animated in sharing their experience and how they will be an asset to students, fellow staff members, and the community. A common topic we discuss during interviews is the candidate’s professional reading and professional development activities. Almost all of the candidates talk about their desire to be life-long learners, keep current on professional reading, and share their want to attend workshops in their particular education area. So connecting my analogy back to the sea squirt, there is a lot of purposeful thrashing about in the interview to help the candidate land in a comfortable spot in our district. This same scenario likely plays out in every district. Almost everyone looks their absolute best on interview day.

What I wish didn’t occur anywhere are those educators who become sea squirts–the productive thrashing is over, brains are eaten, and then they resign to mindlessly suck sea water for the rest of their careers. You probably know a few squirts–the teacher who has given up on learning any new approaches to instruction and just keeps using the same old tired practice that likely wasn’t that great when they first started using it. You also see the administrator who tired of being in the classroom and now patrols the hallways and hunkers in the office, just trying to manage the status quo. No thrashing at all, just mindless sea sucking.

So what do we do? First, don’t become one yourself. At least once a year, read the letters of recommendation written for you that helped land the job you have. How do you compare to the candidate described in those letters? Hopefully you still have the same enthusiasm, but now have more experience and knowledge. If not, remember that passion you had for the profession and then do something to regain it. Read the latest ed journal in your field. Go visit the classroom of someone who is doing good work. Attend a conference and learn something new to try. Even if you do compare favorably to your letters of rec, these previous items still will help you and your students.

What about those educators who have no idea or simply don’t care how they compare to their previous selves? These folks are never easy to turn around, but remember that very very few educators got into the profession with the intention of landing a job and then sliding into mediocrity and below. Form/keep relationships with these people and offer help when it is asked for and when you see it is needed. Mindlessly sucking sea stew on the ocean floor is likely a very lonely existence, and help from someone they trust is just what they need. For those who are beyond saving, well that’s another post for another day.

Read along with me on — Education Nation by Milton Chen

A group of my grad students read and presented a variety of different ed tech books and from them I learned about the site,, and also the book Education Nation by Milton Chen. Linoit is a great site to collect notes and thoughts on a particular theme and then organize them as you go along on your project. It is a virtual bulletin board that allows you to post stickies, links, photos, videos, etc. The link below will take you to my Linoit canvas (their term for page or board) for the book Education Nation. There are many ways to use Linoit (I’m a newbie myself, just learning as I go) but you can see how I’m storing thoughts and resources related to the Chen book. The settings on this particular canvas are such that I’m the only editor of the canvas, but you can change the settings to allow others to contribute to it.

Here is the link for my Linoit canvas on Education Nation.

Linoit is a very useful site and Education Nation is a good read for those of you interested in big picture education reform. Please investigate them both.

One of those days

Sometimes being a school principal is stressful and it feels like the whole world is spinning way too fast. Sometimes a fourth grader dares you to let loose while making a video announcement. The latter happens a lot more frequently.

It is the right time to talk about school time

Across the country, there is a push in many school districts for a longer school day and more days in the yearly school calendar in the hopes of a corresponding increase in student achievement. There is a perception that kids in other countries are spending a lot more time in school and that is why their scores on international tests are better than those in the United States. (The number of American school hours is a hard number to pin down as there is considerable variety among the 50 states when looking at school day and school year requirements.)  A recent report by The Center for Public Education contradicts this notion that other countries have more school time than we do in the US. The point that the US is not drastically behind (if at all) when it comes to the clock hours kids are in school leads to an opportunity to reflect on what happens “between the bells” when kids are in school.  It could be that higher-achieving countries are making better use of time in school.

Questions that come to mind:

  • Are students engaged in what is being taught? A teacher could be working really hard to present lessons to kids, but if the material isn’t interesting or relevant to the student, is that time well spent by either the teacher or the students?
  • Do teachers have the ability to use a variety of instructional techniques to help students understand skills and concepts? Lectures work for some students, but others may benefit from more active learning. Teachers need to know their students as well as they know their content in order to help the former understand the latter.
  • Is our focus spent on the right subject matter? Schools have taken on many responsibilities (some mandated, some by choice) over the past hundred years and a lot of it isn’t strictly related to academic knowledge and skill. (Education advocate Jamie Vollmer summarizes this well.) Schools are great at adding more to their curriculum, but what should we give up?
  • Are school day schedules arranged in an optimal way? Schools are seeing good results with moving away from a traditional 8 period day toward block scheduling. Longer class periods allow for more effective and meaningful instructional practices.

Tweaking schedules and calendars is not the quick fix to education reform as we have to acknowledge that learning time is NOT the same thing as school time.  Important and powerful learning takes place when students are away from school, and I’m not just talking about time spent on homework.  A child’s first teacher is truly a parent.  Just like school teachers, some parents are exceptional educators and some are downright detrimental to learning.  Most parents (again, just like teachers) have the best of intentions for their children, but not all of them have the time or ability to meet the learning needs of their children.  Most of our kids don’t need a parent to reteach an algebra lesson between supper and bed; they might just need positive conversation during supper or in the car. Showing an interest in what happens at school is a powerful message to a child.   A weekend trip to the library or a chat about money while at the grocery store won’t be included in the school time calculation, but they are impactful.

There is no silver bullet when it comes to creating the ideal school day schedule or school year calendar, but we have to admit that a uniform schedule won’t meet the needs of all kids, teachers, families, and communities.  Right now we treat time as a variable in the learning formula, when we should be treating learning as the constant and time as a variable to meet those learning needs.  It’s time to do away with the one size fits all school day and calendar.  Not all kids need a longer school day or calendar as there are other resources in their lives that help them be successful students in school.  Employee contracts should allow for more flexibility (daily and yearly) to meet student needs.  State requirements should also allow flexibility to schools and districts to meet the needs of the students and families in their communities.  [Quick side rant:  In this era of the need for research-based school practices, where is there research that says Wisconsin students do best when their school year begins on September 1?]

American education (beyond just what happens in schools) received a lot of attention in 2011, and I’m glad it did. We’ve seen a lot that deserves praise, and we’ve found just as much that needs serious reconsideration.  Time spent learning and time spent in schools should be at the top of that list.

Hats off to Ryan Bretag for getting me thinking about this topic. Read his fine thoughts here.

This is cross-posted at




Double rainbow guy and assessment data

The Double Rainbow guy is one of my YouTube favorites. Love how he goes from euphoria quickly to deep introspective wonder. We used this vid today during our staff meeting as a humorous intro to the topic of discussing all the assessment data we harvest. We have all this data and it’s very interesting, but what does it all mean? The whole video is very funny, but we only used the first 1:20 to make our point.

To make the segue from Double Rainbow guy to actual school application, my friend and 2nd grade teacher, Chris, acted out the scene below. Credit to him, he did this in one take! After watching these two videos, we then looked at all of our assessment data and brainstormed various ways to look at it and make good decisions about how to help individual kids, in addition to looking at our universal instructional practices.

This post was originally put up on January 4, 2012, but on September 19, 2013 I got the following tweet from Bear Vazquez who is the creator of the original Double Rainbow video. I love the internet.

Good humorous videos for staff meetings

Need a great short video to start a meeting or workshop? I’ve seen or used all of these and still get a kick out of watching them. If you have other videos, please leave a comment or find me at Twitter and I’ll put them in another post.

[Since I originally posted this, I’ve added several other videos in another post. Find those here.]

(If YouTube is blocked at your meeting site, or you are worried about a slow internet connection, download these videos by using

Introducing the book: This clip is great for breaking the ice when talking about change or about tech issues.

Everything’s amazing and no one’s happy: Louis CK talks about how people aren’t necessarily appreciative of all that we have in the world. Great lesson for just feeling satisfied with the present.

German Coast Guard: Love this one for making a point about good communication.

Leadership lessons from dancing guy: This is a perfect way to talk about leaders and the importance of first followers. Your staff will be talking about “lone nuts” for a long time.

Stuck on an escalator: Perfect to use when getting ready to try and solve a problem that is yours alone to fix.

Thanks to @mwaiksnis for the reminder on Seinfeld teaching history.