2013 was pretty much the best year of my life yet, both personally and professionally. Check out all of the places I got to go:
I started off the year going to San Francisco! I love this city.
While there, I visited Alcatraz.
I was in town for the amazing Intersection Event. I visited Intel, Google, and Apple HQs while I was there.
I went for the 5th year in a row to EduCon. I took a bunch of people on a tour of the great city of Philadelphia. We went to Ben Franklin’s Privy! These are the kinds of things you only get on my tour of Philly, people!
For February vacation this year, I got a really sweet Groupon, so my wife and I flew out to Dublin for five days. It was pretty great.
I once again was fortunate to co-organize Edcamp Boston, and this year I brought some of my totally amazing 5th graders with me. They blew people away.
I made the annual pilgrimage to Fenway Park.
For the first time ever, I attended and presented at ISTE. There were a lot of people, but only one Moby.
I spent some time on Cape Cod. My favorite town on Massachusetts’s muscular arm is Provincetown.
My wife and I saved up our pennies so that we could go to Europe! First we went to Barcelona, which is now one of my favorite places in the world. This is a city I could live in.
Then we took the train/rollercoaster over the Pyrenees to Paris.
The we flew to Rome. Which is mind-blowing.
While there, of course, we had to go to the Vatican.
Back in the states, I drove out to Williamstown, MA to present at the Massachusetts Teachers Association Summer Conference. This is one of my favorite conferences of the year. It’s way more relaxed than most other events.
Beth and I took my brother and his girlfriend (now fiancee! Yes!) to the Big E. We saw tiny pigs racing. They were adorable.
I went to a town hall meeting in Medford where I got to meet Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Educators Assocation. Here I am telling him that Interactive Whiteboards are a giant waste of money.
I flew on down to Washington, DC, to accept a Bammy Award with these well-dressed members of the Edcamp Foundation.
And I closed out the crazy conference year by presenting at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference with my favorite Librarian about our awesome Library & Technology Program.
But the best place that I went this year was the hospital, so my wife and I could welcome these two amazing human beings to the world.
I’m glad to announce that starting today, I’m working part time as a Community Facilitator for Edutopia.
I’ll be spending a few hours a week on the site commenting on blogposts and doing my best to answer people’s questions. As a part of this work, I may sometimes reach out to people in my network with links to Edutopia articles and discussion threads.
I’ve updated my disclosure policy to reflect this.
UPDATE: AVAILABLE NOW FOR $2.99! Green Screen by Do Ink for iPad on the App Store on iTunes.
I’ve been very pleased to have the chance to beta test the upcoming DoInk Green Screen app for the iPad.
It’s in a word, phenomenal.
It’s the best of what makes technology so delightful. It just works, and produces great results with very little effort. I think people are going to love it to pieces.
I might do more of a full-scale run-through/preview when the app gets released in the app store (sometime in the next week or two, Apple willing).
As a preview of coming attractions, though, here’s the test video I made last week:
Process: Shot video of myself in the green screen app, layered on top of a video drawing I made in Explain Everything, layered on top of a picture I took in San Francisco in January.
It’s going to be $2.99, and totally worth it. It fills a major piece of missing video capabilities for iPads.
Updated disclosure 11/9/2013: DoInk today provided me with a small iTunes Gift Card as thanks for beta testing the app.
Some of the best teachers I know are frustrated.
These are the teachers most willing to experiment.
They’re trying out new models of class structure.
They’re introducing technology in incredibly powerful ways.
These are also the teachers that are asking the most important questions about teaching and learning.
They’re looking to have serious conversations about our goals for our students.
They want to talk about how we teach in order to meet those goals.
They want to know whether or not we can actually tell if our students are learning.
And they’re feeling like roadblocks are being thrown in their way at every turn.
Sometimes the roadblocks come from on high.
Administrators make decisions without consulting teachers.
Politicians create policies that make it harder to do the job.
Society blames teachers for not solving all the problems.
I’m used to that.
I get it.
I still worry.
But I don’t understand the teachers.
Teachers tearing others down for sharing.
Teachers getting upset when somebody suggests trying something new.
Teachers denying the very obvious problems in front of them.
Teachers playing a game of oneupmanship instead of collaborating for the benefit of all students.
Teachers clinging to things that have been done in the past even when it no longer makes sense.
I’ve talked with too many excellent teachers facing these obstacles.
And I worry.
I don’t know how you were diverted/You were perverted too/I don’t know how you were inverted/No one alerted you
Whoa! We’re into the middle of October, which means that the next six weeks or so are going to be in. sane. Here’s where I plan to be until I go on lockdown for the babies’ arrival! Join me!
Whew! Hope to see you at one of these great events!
While in conversation today with a fellow blogger, I realized that since I moved my blog here to Remix Teaching, I haven’t posted a disclosure policy. In the interests of complete transparency, I believe that it’s very important that all bloggers disclose when their opinions might in some way be compromised. Since the last time I did this, I’ve built up an increasing web of schools that have hired me to do private consultation, conferences that have provided me with financial benefits and/or free entrance to events, and developers who have offered me free access to apps and services. While I have not nor do I ever plan to accept money or free things in exchange for changing the content of this blog or placing advertising on it, my work online has contributed in many ways big and small to my ability to attend conferences, evaluate apps and services, and increase my income. While I don’t believe any of these things affects the content of this blog, I will do my best to be forthright about any potential entanglements.
If you’re a blogger, how are you disclosing relationships that may influence your writing? Have you ever really thought about the ways in which you’ve received money and services and how those might influence your work?
Administrators, do you want to unlock the true potential of your staff? Do you want them to blow you away with the amazing quality of their work? Then I have a simple solution for you:
Give them permission to fail.
Three years ago, when I was interviewing for my current job, the one thing I insisted that I was looking for was a set of administrators who would allow me to fail. I knew even then that if I were in a an environment where failure would be tolerated to some degree, I wouldn’t just succeed, I would thrive.
Three years later, here I am. I have had some stumbles along the way. I’ve made mistakes and the kids have made plenty as well under my watch. But as I sit here now for the second time in my career just mere days away from obtaining tenure, I can tell you right now that I have grown more as a teacher in the past three years than I did in the previous seven.
That’s not to say that I go looking to fail. That would be ridiculous. But I’m not going to let a chance that something will fail stop me from trying something exciting.
One of my favorite things about my current principal is how he actively encourages our teachers to try new things. When a teacher has an idea for some way of teaching a unit that’s a bit outside of the box, he is perfectly willing to trust them as professionals to try it, assess how it’s working, and adjust if needed.
That’s what giving your teachers permission to fail is really all about. Do you trust your teachers to do the right thing by their students? If you do, then get out of their way.
Now, especially with all these crazy new evaluation systems coming down the pipeline, many teachers may not try to rock the boat. This is where you come in. You need to give them permission to fail. Whether working with teachers or students, I find that many people need to explicitly be told that it’s ok to try something and not have it succeed. Treat failure as a part of the learning experience, not an embarrassing end of the learning journey.
So why permission to fail? Because it frees people. In a school or classroom where nobody has the ability to fail, you end up with stuff that might end up being good. But it’s a uniform, everything’s cookie-cutter sort of good.
You will never end up with great, though.
Great needs room to breathe.
Great needs to always push the envelope.
Great needs to try new things, see if they work, then tinker with them until they do.
Great needs permission to fail.
I aspire to greatness.
In doing my part to make things a little bit easier for Edcamp organizers, here’s my slide deck that I use to kickoff an event. Please feel free to copy and remix to suit your own Edcamp.
Laura Thomas at Edcamp Keene asked one of my absolutely favorite questions of the whole thing during her Becoming Badass session (coming soon to a bookshelf near you!): Who are your fictional role models? What are the things they do that help you become a better teacher?
The very first name that came to my mind was Batman. While I think Spider-Man’s morality (“With great power must come…great responsibility!”) has always spoken to me, and he’s always been the most relatable superhero because of his essential humanity (amazing that I would identify with a nerd hiding something amazing, isn’t it?), he still has superpowers that I can never duplicate. If you can help me with that, call me!
Batman, however, was just a guy.
A rich guy, yes.
A strong guy, granted.
A smart guy, you bet.
But he couldn’t fly.
In a world of gods and legends, Batman, a normal guy, stands up and is counted in a way that many heroes with powers aren’t.
Given that, how can we teach like Batman?
One of my favorite things about Batman is his origin story. No, not the death of his parents, but, in the parlance of the times, “how he came to be!” After the death of his parents and he took the sacred oath over their graves, Bruce Wayne dedicated himself to his war on crime by traveling all around the world and studying with the greatest teachers he could find. Martial arts? Check. Detective work? Check. Technological wizardry? Check. Driving? Check. Batman is always looking to learn from the best teachers around him and will study a new task until he’s mastered it.
As teachers, we too should be life-long learners, seeking out the best, most experienced master teachers we know, and learning everything we can from them. We should learn about things outside of teaching and see how we can bring those things back to our classrooms. We should strive every day for mastery in our work.
Batman is the man with the plan. Before taking on a situation, Batman thinks through his options and chooses what he thinks the best plan of attack is. Should he he enter by the front door or by the skylight? Which is the most to his advantage? Can he set up the Batmobile so it can come crashing into the building at a crucial moment? Teachers, of course, know the value of a well-planned lesson. But Batman always takes things a step further. He has contingency plans for almost any scenario. If he gets knocked out, his mask will zap you if you try to remove it. If Superman goes crazy, Batman is probably the person who’s going to take him down.
Do you have contingency plans? I’m not just talking emergency lesson plans if you’re out sick, but have you thought through how you’re going to handle it if something goes wrong with your perfectly planned lesson? Batman has.
Batman has the most amazing gadgets to help him handle any of the situations before him. Of course, he has all the flashy vehicles, but the best thing Batman has is his utility belt, filled with stuff that he can use to help him save the day. Whether it’s smoke pellets, a grappling gun, batarangs, or access to an amazing supercomputer, Batman uses any and all available resources in his mission.
Are you as a teacher taking advantage of all of the tools at your disposal? Like Batman, you should be constantly looking at everything you have and asking yourself how you can best use it, whether it’s a single computer or a 1:1 program.
Batman got his start in Detective Comics, and one of my favorite things about him is how much he uses the power of his mind to solve mysteries, whether it’s the Riddler’s clues or a mysterious footprint that he figures out where its soil came from. Batman doesn’t just jump from finding out a person was kidnapped to immediately rescuing them, but has to solve the puzzle of the crime first.
Good teachers are constantly being detectives. If a student makes a mistake in a math problem, it’s your job to figure out why they made the mistake so that you can then guide them toward the right answers. If a student is having a hard time behaving in class, do a Functional Behavior Assessment to get at the root of the issue and help them overcome it.
Batman doesn’t join any team. He’s on the Justice League, the team of the most powerful, most noble beings in the DC Universe. He’s the best, so he stands with the best. He also constantly proves that he belongs there. He’s also a mentor to some great people with lots of potential like Robin and Batgirl.
What kind of team are you working with at your school? If you’re a connected teacher, who are you connected to? Work at surrounding yourself with the best people you can find, and don’t waste your time on the people who are constantly complaining and not trying to solve real problems. Make sure you’re working as hard as everybody else and proving your worth. You also need to remember to help newer teachers grow and learn so they can also become great teachers.
Do you teach like Batman? Or do you take fictional inspiration elsewhere?