Monday, May 30, 2016

Why Every Educator Should Present at a Conference

Education is a strange business, I know a hundred amazing teachers: these people proudly perform artful demonstrations to the daily delight of school children across the country. They capture the attention and minds of America's youth, they read the wacky and wonderful words of Dr. Seuss as if they were everyday occurrences uttered at the checkout stand. This incredible tribe of Teachers are shameless as they attempt and fail and try again for 180 days a year in front of the future leaders of the world...

However, if you ask these all-stars to speak about themselves? Ask them to describe the craft they have spent years mastering? Ask them to share a system that they have painstakingly developed and for which they should be deemed a master learner? Well, they'd be glad to share...just not typically in front of a room of adults.

So why should we face our greatest fears, set aside our self doubt and share our open resources with rooms filled with willing participants? The easy answer is: it is good for our kids. When we have to explain a process that we use daily with our children, it makes us stop and really analyze the process that we are pitching, it makes us answer the question, "why," and it forces us to document something into a slide deck or website that we have been meaning to write down for longer than we'd like to admit. I'd say, as ed-tech educators go, I am somewhat savvy with things like Google Forms, but I am 10x more confident today using tech than I was before I made my first presentation.

Step 1: Go to Twitter
Step 2: Find a Call for Presenters
Step 3: Make the leap!

If you are anywhere near Sacramento, and you would like to present on October 1, 2016 at the #CueTechfest16:

Click This Link to apply before June 8, 2016!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Universe Rewards Action

When I was just a kid, my dad placed a yellow Post-it note on the refrigerator door, it read, "The Universe Rewards Action." I am not at all sure where my dad got those words of wisdom, and I am not sure the words made all that much sense to the 10 year old version of me. Looking back, I now see that this little yellow square piece of paper stuck to my refrigerator was a Post-it note prophecy. Every success I have celebrated, every badge earned, every scar that lead to a great story around a campfire or cocktail lounge, and certainly every bit of deeply held belief: each came from some leap of faith beginning, not with understanding, but with a simple action.

I wish I were writing this blog post 13 months from now, when I would surely be able to more articulately describe my eventual learning that was born on the day Brian Briggs came to my school. Who has time to wait to see what the future me learned from this experiment. The current me knows this: something great will come from this first step.

Brian Briggs is a Director of Innovation and Other Creative Amazingness (or some such incredible title), here in Northern California. I am super lucky to call him my friend, and have had the opportunity to watch him wow the crowds at many a CUE conference. The Briggs show always has first timers learning to roll robots across the floor with creative coding and the Tickle App. It is not unusual to catch a room full of full-grown educators cheering and screaming in unison while they compete for one of Briggs' 3D Printed prizes. Brian always has teachers flying drones, coding on iPads and thinking creatively in 60 minute ed-tech slam sessions all across the map.

On day I asked Brian if he would ever be able to swing by one of my schools and turn our crowd on to the possibilities of programing with primary kids, and, Briggs said he was game! He pulled into the lot on a Thursday afternoon with a trunk full of toys and took my top 10 tech minded teachers for a buckle-your-seatbelt-wild-ride. As a side note: these were no ordinary teachers - they are Super Stars. No joke, if you can dream it up, and it sounds good for kids, they'll do it. This team rocks 1:1 Chromebooks from 2nd - 8th grade, the likes of which I would put up against any Google-tastic team!

The entire team of ed-tech All-Stars dove right in: Coding Spider Drones to flip before landing, teaching Spheros to run a masking-tape maze designed on the floor and coaching Bee-Bots to solve simple equations on a chart. Each member of the team giggled, learned and turned-on to the idea of coding with kids. If we were this engaged, the kids were going to love these tools! At the end of an hour gig with Briggs, the team was fired up, minds were blown and they were dreaming up ways to bring these tech-tools to life with students.

The Brian Briggs sighting was only a couple weeks ago. Since then we scraped together some end of the year money that had fallen between the sofa cushions of the annual school budget and we ordered our own trunk of toys. The devices haven't even arrived yet but already I have seen 3rd Graders rocking Hour of Code in anticipation of the arrival; 2nd Graders tickling the Tickle App on iPads making whales fly across the screen and middle school teachers prepping lesson plans to include Drones before the end of the year!

I am not sure what we are going to learn from this little experiment. I don't know that we will evolve into a full fledge STEAM focused Code Academy because we noodled with a couple robots...but I don't know that we won't. When it comes to learning, there is really never a last step, so, the most important one is the first. The universe rewards action. We decided to explore something new and I'll check back in to let you know where it leads.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Being Wrong Makes You Smarter

So, here is the cool thing about being wrong - you get to grow. It sounds cliche in an era of Dweckian followers and Growth Mindset marketeers, but the reality is that growth feels good. It is the mojo we are all looking for: remember measuring yourself against the door frame as a kid, marking off in little pencil hashmarks how tall you were? It isn't the first hashmark that feels good, it is looking at the newest mark juxtaposed to all the others that makes our heart skip a beat.

As much fun as we had marking the door as a child, growth doesn’t always come naturally to the grown up. Once we mark success in some area of our life, it seems harder to motivate ourselves to learn something new. Growing takes some struggle and we know that we paid for our current successes with the hard-earned growth of the past. Our present status is built upon mistakes long ago made: ones that left scars and flittering memories of times when we felt inadequate. Why go through all that again? Why venture into the unknown or into the knowingly challenging without some compelling reason to face the struggle?

Go back to the example of the child marking their progress against the door: if she hoped to grow a foot at the changing of each season, she would be sourly disappointed and might just give up after the second measuring. However, if someone were to help this child gain the discipline of simply marking her progress regularly, she would grow to feel the joy of incremental growth. The realization that it is better to struggle in small spurts, to grow one small gain at a time, and to check one's progress regularly, is a far more powerful instrument of self fulfillment than the devastating realization that large gains come less frequently than Hollywood may have us believe.

So, the take away is this: don't be afraid to try something new and fail. Every time we fail we learn something new. When we fail, that is the time to mark ourselves on the door. Every time you stick your neck out there, every time you try something that you were afraid to try, that is when you go to the door and measure your growth. Guaranteed, if you are trying nothing new, if you are paralyzed with fear by the thought of failure, then you will be sadly disappointed when you get to the door.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

#CueRockstar Admin

When I was a kid my dad bought a ski boat; our family had been through some rough patches, my brother and I were just about to launch into puberty, so we all needed to get out of the house before we drove each other nuts. It was just after my brother and I had seen Star Wars for the 13th time in the theater; we came home on our bikes and there it was, the new focal point for our family. My dad went in halfsies with his best friend, so our two families were about to spend a lot of time together. To be honest, I don't know that a single one of us had ever water-skied before my dad bought that boat.

Looking back, I know that I must have spent 1000 hours behind that boat, skipping across the water at the end of a rope, trying to perfect a turn on a slalom ski, diggin deep turns or holding on for dear life while an inner tube took to the air after hitting a rolling wave at 25 MPH. The funny thing is, with all those hours I spent, with all that effort I put in, all the sore muscles and techniques mastered, it wasn't the skiing that made a bit of difference in any of our lives. It was the countless hours around the campfire, the guitar songs and the washing dishes at the spigot because it was the kids' turn to clean. The ski boat was fun, but it was just an excuse to bring like minded people together, a reason to be a tribe of folks who loved to laugh and spend time in community.

Here it is, 30 years later, and I had the opportunity to do something I love in a location that seemed like a dream come true. For the last couple years I have spent countless hours preparing for and presenting at CUE conferences and #CueRockstar events - it is something I love to do and I learn a ton every time I participate. This time however was special: CUE Rockstar Admin - at the Skywalker Ranch in Lucas Valley, California. Wait, what? Seriously? Yes! I got to do what I love to do, in a place that produced something I have loved since I was a child - STAR WARS! Not only did I get to gig with some amazing EduLeaders, which was such an honor, but I got to present in the private screening room at the Skywalker Ranch. Imagine a tiny 20 seat movie theater with surround sound and a huge was as good as you are imagining. Each session was filled with inspiring new friends who had more to share with each other than any presenter could have dreamed to squeeze into even the best slide deck! At one point, I stopped the show and realized:

1. I am in George Lucas' private screening room
2. I have the internet and an Amazon Video account

For $19.95 I bought The Force Awakens and we all sat in awe of what we were watching and where we were watching it.

I have to say, as nice as the digs were, as inspiring as it was to walk the same halls walked by those who created each iconic episode of my favorite film, as honoring as it was to share my ed-tech ideas with administrators from around the country, it turned out it was the community that made the memories and stole the show.  #CueRockstar Admin was an opportunity to circle up a tribe of like minded people who all needed a place in late April to lean on one another, to swap stories of rough patches and make connections for future fellowship.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Be a Learner

The Power of Yet

This is a picture of me standing center stage in the a High School gymnasium in Northern California. Those faces in the stands are 650 of my newest favorite people. I am not going to lie, when you hear about districts like this one, you don't assume it is filled with people willing to stretch their limits, innovate with tech and try something new: you imagine that it is a collection of staff who think, "We are more or less the best district in the Western Hemisphere, why should we waste a minute talking about managing change? Why would we change a thing?" By every measure imaginable, this district is killing it! Academics, athletics, community partnerships, student culture, college and career readiness, you name it, they are knocking it out of the park.

I wandered out to center court and took the mic while a little funky Motown music streamed through my iPhone and into the stadium quality speakers. Motown is my favorite sound for breaking the ice with new friends. It has a beat that makes you want to move and has a little sexy soul to it, but not sexy enough to make even the near retirees feel uncomfortable. The crowd always digs some Stevie Wonder, and I always hope, by association, that they'll dig me.

I came to this gig because a good friend of mine said, "We need a pep-talk. We need a message that fires people up to try something new."

With Stevie in the background, the crowd and I swapped stories. I asked who was new, and who had been their since the dirt was new. By a show of hands I scanned the room and learned who taught the littles, who coached the bigs, and who in the audience was just there to support the teacher - that is always one of my favorite parts: teachers can't help but drop the mic and pop to their feet in celebration of support staff. Authentic or otherwise, it always feels good to see K-12 credentials giving it up for secretaries, custodians and cafeteria crew!

With introductions out of the way, it was time to unveil the ask: Why are we here? I asked the room to come with me down the rabbit hole of change management. I shared that in our industry, if any person in the room isn't currently suffering from the overwhelming pressure of a massive change being thrust upon the industry, then they are probably recovering from a recently managed massive change initiative; finally, for those who don't fit into either of these first two categories, brace yourself - you're next. While this wasn't the message of hope I came to deliver, it was a giggle starter, and an icebreaker to the concept that change is simply another word for learning. When we learn, we change the way we view any given subject. As leaders of learning, we are also change experts and once we recognize that, the more quickly we can embrace any circumstance we encounter.

I spent the rest of the morning talking about stretching ourselves just enough to feel the tension, but not so far that we'd snap. I praised the power of celebration and encouraged the crowd to applaud one another at every opportunity. I lead the audience along the path of using the word Yet as a key to unlock future learning, and finally I demonstrated the acronym SAMR, through which we all can find a starting place that fits our strengths.

It doesn't matter if you are working in the most successful school in America or a start up school located in a portable on the back corner of a blacktop: we all are faced with managing change. Those who embrace this will never stop learning and those who resist it will never stop fighting. My advice: be a learner.