Sunday, September 8, 2013

The East-setting Sun...

Close your eyes for five seconds and imagine yourself in Lebanon, Kansas; a seemingly obscure Midwestern town. Lebanon is quite special. This Kansas town holds the distinction for the being the "Geographic Center of the contiguous United States." Now, imagine yourself living in Lebanon and embarking toward the Pacific Coast. Which direction would you point your car, bike, bus, plane? If you said West, then you are correct. Now, let's say you change your mind and you instead want to take off for the more populated Eastern Seaboard, home of the Atlantic Coast. What Cardinal direction would you face for that sojourn? If you said East, then you are correct once more.

Now that we have established that the Pacific Ocean is in the West and the Atlantic Ocean is in the East, here is an additional geographical question: On which Ocean does the Sun set? If you said, the Pacific, then you are incorrect.

It is all a matter of perspective.

If you are still located in the United States, then the answer to the question: "On which Ocean does the Sun set?" would be, in fact, YES! However, the answer changes depending on one's perspective. If you are located in the midsection of the Central American country of Panama, then you would experience the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean and the setting of the sun over the Atlantic. The serpentine of the Panamanian Geography makes this possible.

Now, I understand fully that this way of introducing the "East-setting Sun" is quite controversial and debatable. However, the idea is fascinating and appropriate for the conversation pertaining to the importance of perspective in leadership.

Whether you are the leader of your family, a school, a faith-based organization, a business, a band, or a team; the matter of perspective is important. Whether you work with toddlers, with adults, with teenagers, or with the elderly, it is important to remember that each and every one of us comes into every situation wearing a different lens, with a perspective, with an interpretation, with an understanding of how the world works. Matters are not always cut and dry, black and white. There are times for the color grey/gray.

What do you think? Is it good for leaders to view the world around them as "black and white?" Or, is it better for leaders to view the world around in terms of "grey/gray?"

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How we got 76% of our faculty to use twitter for learning...

No matter where your paradigm is, there is no refuting the fact that technology has changed the world of education. There is no question the landscape of teaching and learning is different today than it was 20 years ago, even 10 and fives years ago. More recently the shifts seem to be exponential in nature and social in context. Specifically, social media in all its platforms have lent themselves to many frustrations and benefits among teachers, students, and parents. In some schools, the millennials, digital natives, the iGeneration who currently walk the halls of our schools have been told to put their devices away only to now be told to bring them out as adults (teachers) become more comfortable with approaches such as BYOT and BYOD. I have seen firsthand the frustrations and benefits of both approaches. Teachers can get upset over a student seemingly distracted by a device in class and therefore telling the student to hand over their mobile technology- this of course, is a cause and a reaction to frustration on the part of both parties. On the contrary, I have witnessed joy on both the part of teacher and learner when mobile technology is used to enhance the learning environment and is not only allowed, but also encouraged. As we continue to see the pendulum swing, I predict more smiles, more learning, more positive interactions among teachers and students, and more excitement.

Two years ago, the pendulum of my organization was so far to one side of the edtech argument, that we only had two professionals who used technology to their advantage in terms of professional use (a PLN). I have been privelged to experience the pendulum swing to the other side and now I have a front row seat watching educators integrate technology into every fiber of the day. Teachers incorporate student owned devices into their lessons weekly if not daily, and most of our teachers are now on twitter- the focus of this post. Today, 76% of my faculty is on twitter: and here is the formula for how we gained this amount of participation and support.

1). Modeling- it is important to me that I model best practices. It is also important to me that I cultivate trust. There is great proof that the increasing popularity of PLN's across the educational landscape has proven to be a best practice as educators who participate receive support, encouragement, resources, links, etc. In my opinion, twitter is currently the most powerful tool for this ambition. Furthermore, if I am going to encourage my teachers to do something, I must be able to do what I am asking. This garners trust. I believe the bulk of my faculty now models best practice with one another and also has the propensity to trust one another further too.

2). Training- I have been intentional in giving one-on-one trainings to many of my teachers who have expressed interest in growing more in terms of edtech. In addition, there have been a handful of faculty wide trainings in which teachers could select areas to grow. Many, not most, teachers have chosen to be trained in the area of twitter in education and the use of a PLN.

3). Patience- The phrase, "turn the ship slowly," has been a contstant reminder for me as I have been a school leader. For the past two years, I have modeled and trained teachers. I have not mandated any teacher to subscribe to twitter. I have not required it. I have not forced it down the throat of anyprofessional. I have only encouraged. I have taught, exhorted, and passionately lived out a growth mindset in the form of a PLN via twitter. This approach points back to the first step in which trust is a factor. We trust those who have our best interest in mind. We do not necesarrily trust those who place their own selfish motives in front of others. I do not seek to grow a faculty of tweeters merely for my name sake. I seek this because I have seen what it can do for professionals and I want my fantastic teachers to experience the same. It appears as though most of them are now experiencing this on a daily basis. This supports the old adage, "good things come to those who wait."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Top 3 Tips for the New School Year

All across the country summer is giving way to autumn, swimming pool fun is being pushed aside to make way for weekend football games. School supplies are being stocked and re-stocked in stores, and the school bell is ringing. It is the start of school!

Some school districts begin in late July and some begin the new year after Labor Day. It does not matter who you are or where you are from... one thing remains, it is a new beginning for us all. If you are teacher, you get a new set of students, a new lesson plan book, and a new calendar. If you are a parent, you get a front row seat in the viewing of your child starting a new year. This could be the year your child "breaks through!" If you are a student, you can forget about your past failures and struggles and start anew. Teachers, Parents, and students ranging from pre-K all the way to adults learners can benefit from these three tips:

1). Get back in touch with the "Why?" for school. We all know "what" for what we are doing: we are going to school... we are teaching, we are supporting, we are completing assignments, grading assignments, etc. We do not need help necesarrily with the "what?"

Most of us have a good grasp on the "how?" for what we are doing. We know how to teach, support, grade, complete an assignment, etc. We need little help with "how" to do what we are doing this year.

Here is where we need more help: with being reminded for "why?" we are doing what we do. TED talker, Simon Sinek eloquently captures this formula in his "Golden Circle" concept.

I believe if we get back to "why" we do what we do, then our school year will be the most amazing school year ever. Why is it that you do what you do? Why is it important? Why should you get up in the morning?

2). Stay focused on your mission and vision. If you want to look back at your school year when you reach the end and think "wow! that was an incredible year of growth, learning, adventure, creativity, risk-taking, and maturity," then keep focused on the mission and vision. Often, you do not have to look any further than your organization's mission and vision statement. However, if you feel as if the organization you are with (a school) does not have a mission or a vision you are aligned with... you know, one that hits your sweet spot, than create one of your own. My wife and I have a vision for our family. And, out of that came my own personal mission statement. I imperfectly set out to accomplish my life's mission each and every day so that I can one day look back and say... "I achieved my vision for my life." Here is a picture of three words that summarize my own mission statement... I keep this posted on a mirror in my house. It helps me remember the "what, how, and why" I do what I do.

3). Stay positive! It is a fact that you will have struggles this upcoming year. You will reach points of stress, distress, frustration, disappointment, and sadness. You will not be able to avoid this. And, you would be wasting your time if you tried to prevent the low points. Keep at it... have courage, be bold, and stay positive. Do not lose sight of the "why," stay focused on your mission and vision for your life, and stay positive. It is the positive individuals who make a difference. It is the positive leaders who are the change agents for the better. You can do it! I cannot wait to look back at the 2013-14 school year and see all the growth, learning, achievements, accomplishments, joys, celebrations, and so much more. Let's have a GREAT year!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Red Light Infatuation and the Disdain for Green

I was recently watching Saturday morning cartoons with my 2 1/2 year old son, when the cartoon "Curious George" came on the television screen and attracted us into the episode like a magnet attracting metal. We were glued to the episode as the infamous monkey began to bounce around the TV screen and get into his typical mischief. This one particular episode attracted my son and I for (what I have to believe is) different reasons. For my son, the colors, the sounds, the musical tunes, and the funny monkey attracted him to the cartoon. For me, I was attracted by this particular episode's message. It was simply invigorating, thought-provoking, and insightful.

You see, this monkey named George, taught me a lesson on this one specific morning. It was a lesson I believe we all need to be reminded. It is the lesson of perspective. Life is all about perspective. 

In this episode, George, as always, was wanting to help others. He wanted to please those around him. He was walking around outside when he noticed a street lined with cars which were stopped at a red light. George was intrigued by all of the drivers who were seemingly enamored by the color red. The silly monkey was also fascinated by all of the commuters who did not appreciate the color green. As you have probably figured out... Curious George thought that because drivers of automobiles stopped at any street light that was red, it must mean this color was liked and enjoyed by all. Conversely, when drivers drove away once the street light turned from red to green, George thought that no one appreciated the leaf-like hue. George, in fact, corrected the street lights (in all directions) to be fixed on the color red. Well... you see, there was a problem with this solution: it caused traffic jams. Instead of drivers being pleased, as Curious George set out to have happen; drivers were furious, upset, and impatient. In turn, George was sad and confused.

This lesson of perspective was particularly enlightening to me for two reasons. The first reason is that life, as mentioned above, is all about perspective. George's perspective was that individuals loved the color red, when instead it was that drivers, all around, really did not like red at all... the driver's were merely trained and conditioned to stop in order to follow the rules of the road and observe safe driving. In fact, the opposite is true for Curious George's green observation: most drivers, if not all, love a green light. They do not have a disdain for it.

The second reason I was enlightened by this one episode of a children's cartoon is that perspective is often dictated by the information we have. The silly monkey did not have all of the information. He was simply going by the information he had: his observations. He was not taught the rules of the road. He was not educated in a driver's school. He was not even a driver himself. He had the best of intention based on the limited amount of information he had. This is not unlike leadership. As a leader I am compelled to remember that those I work with, more often than not, want to do the right thing. Most of us want to help. We want to please. We do this with the information we have.

The next time I am tempted to get upset with someone, I need to ask myself two questions: 1). was this person trying to help? 2). did this person have enough information in order to help?

As a leader, this thought is convicting. It directs all actions back to me. I am responsible for assuring everyone I work with has the needed information to help with the mission and vision of the organization. I need to make sure my wife and children are informed. I need to make sure my students and teachers, and parents have all the information needed to make a difference. If not, then we may not make any progress as we just sit, stopped at a red light staring into frustration at the thought that the red light is actually fascinating, when it simply is not. I want to make sure we are headed in the right direction. The implication of the previous statement is that if we are "headed" anywhere, we MUST go. In order to go, we MUST have the green light. The green light of progress is paved with information.

Are you clearly supplying the needed information to those you work and live with on a daily basis? If not, how can you begin to shape the perspective of others with information that is needed?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Flipped PD Model via Twitter

Social Networking, via the Twitter medium, offers an option for professional development which supports the flipped classroom approach, in that online collegial discussions, research, surveys, and an enriched professional learning approach can be done outside of the traditional faculty meeting time and then the learning that takes place through Twitter can be implemented during the “faculty meeting time.” While some faculties of educators in many schools today operate in the old way of scheduling after-school meetings and gatherings in the library to comply with mandated professional development, other schools and teachers are incorporating the flipped approach by maximizing the capabilities of Twitter and allowing teachers to be entrusted as true professionals to conduct their learning outside of the traditional faculty meeting time and to replace that time with the implementation of the learning. 

            Professional development via twitter and Professional Learning Networks (PLN’s), unlike traditional forms of faculty meeting based or site-based professional development, have resources growing at exponential rates that are available to Twitter users which allows the user to be independent and in control of his or her own professional learning outside of mandatory times and places in which many teachers are used to spending their “professional development”.  For example, with Twitter, one has the ability to follow authors, mentors, researchers, educators, colleagues, etc. based on their own desires, interests, and musings and then be able to grow at their own rates rather than at a set time and place with the “whole faculty.” Other options for faculties using twitter include online discussions using hashtags, such as #edtech, #formativeassessment, #socialstudies, #edudream, #edchat, #satchat and many more, where teachers simply post their own thoughts, questions, and/or links that relate to the topic in the hashtag. Twitter, like online textbooks, allows teachers to investigate relevant and current topics in order to expand their learning in a subject, similar to the way students use their online textbook features.

            In lieu of spending hours on end searching for topics, learning opportunities, and relevant educational trends, Twitter allows users to follow other Twitter users in order to have desired information to be tweeted straight to the follower which saves time and energy.
            Peter Dewitt, praises professional development through Twitter by opining:

“Conversations with peers, whether they are in our building standing next to us, or a password away on the social network, help us make sure we are on the right track. By going to a social network like Twitter we are surrounded by people who are experts in the area of (our interests) and they are a helpful resource as we negotiate our way through this process.”

In addition, college professor, Steve Wheeler, details the importance of creating a professional learning network through the use of a metaphorical graph below. You will see Twitter is in the first quadrant:

“It is worth noting that only the first quadrant of this PLN model is actually performed synchronously, that is, in real time. That may give some a clue as to the latent potential of tools such as Twitter to connect people powerfully and instantly across the globe and to give all of us access to a worldwide network of experts and enthusiasts in any subject for which we have an interest. Everyone should have a PLN, because in today's connected world, without it you are not fully equipped as a professional.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Next Greatest Generation

This week's guest blog is from Dr. Ryan Longnecker, a Metro-Nashville Public School Dean of Students at an urban middle school. His musings here are a charge for us all to reflect upon the current state of public education and see where it is we (each and every one of us) can contribute.

Tom Brokaw originally coined the term "The Greatest Generation" to describe the generation "who grew up in the United States during the deprivation of the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II, as well as those whose productivity within the war's home front made a decisive material contribution to the war effort." This great group of people, who despite their desperate beginnings, came together as a nation to defeat great evils and desperate odds. This is one of the main reasons our country can enjoy the freedoms and successes that it does today.

Now our country faces another great evil and desperate odds....but on a completely different front, and instead of struggling against outside forces that would threaten the freedoms of our nation, we now fight an internal war that is slowly chipping away at the very foundations that make our people and land great.

The current state of education has become a battleground as teachers, students, parents, governments, LEA's, and private businesses all maintain that they know what is best for learning and blame the other parties for the lack of achievement in our schools. Every day brings a new wave of methods, technologies, and learning methods that are promised to raise achievement, growth, and the success of students. And yet, the solution does not lie in trinkets and methods, it sits on our kitchen tables.

To "fix" our education system and put it back on the path towards success will take the efforts of the NEXT "Greatest Generation." It will take an entire generation letting go of the current mindset of "what can I get for myself" and "what can I do to enjoy myself tonight" and getting back to a sense of sacrifice for the greater good. It will take turning off the TV and getting back to the kitchen table. Putting down the iPad and teaching your child how to multiply fractions. Take a moment and read and ask yourself if YOU are making the sacrifices you need to make so that your children will be successful.

What are your thoughts? What did you think about the statistics in the article? Are we living in desperate times? Could this next generation be the NEXT Greatest Generation?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Urban Magic and the Wild Wild West

This week's "Drinkwine at School" blog is a guest post shared by Dr. Ryan Jackson, the Dean of Students at Metro-Nashville Public School's Maplewood High School. Dr. Jackson's passion for serving at-risk students is infectious and his views need to be shared. There is no doubt you will enjoy this post! Feel free to reach out to him with any questions you may have. You also need to follow him and his school on twitter to keep abreast with all of the amazing work going on.
Working as an educator can be a tough yet highly rewarding profession. Working as an urban educator, however, can be a seemingly impossible yet life-changing experience.

To add a bit of clarity, let’s define “urban education” as teaching and learning in an impoverished area, where the local economy barely sustains its citizens let alone supports the public schools charged with preparing students for success after high school. Honestly, I almost hate to call it “urban” because although the school where I work serves students living in the inner city, we at times mirror challenges and barriers faced by our rural brethren. (The issue is really poverty and the lasting effects and severe stressors that come with it.) However, for the sake of semantics and the adage mentioned in the title of this blog, we’ll stick with “urban education.”

For ethos purposes it’s worth noting I work and have worked in urban education for the past six years.  More specifically, I work and have worked at a school that is only five years removed from a near mandatory state-takeover. (A takeover that would have been realized if not for the stopgap efforts of a legendary administrator cajoled out of retirement.) Now, I’ve heard countless professionals refer to working a year in urban education to that of working two years anywhere else, thus spurring the burnout rate and keeping urban schools in a perpetual state of teacher-turnover. Needless to say, though, my only experience with teaching is through the lens of poverty, social stigma, and the harsh realities that come with both.

This purpose has become my niche, my specialty. And I value it greatly.

My journey through urban education has been filled with countless peaks and valleys, and more acutely, daily ebbs and flows. However, the last two years have been somewhat of a metanoia for me. I have actively watched, supported and participated in a complete overhaul of the school I serve, from the proverbial top-to-bottom. New leadership meant a new vision; a new vision correlates to change; change promotes hard conversations; and hard conversations, historically, have been something we have avoided.

This particular blog entry isn’t designed to inform the reader of the specifics surrounding my school’s turnaround, but it’s worth noting that Jensen’s assertion, in his book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, that principals have the greatest impact on student learning in urban schools is – if my school serves as a microcosm – surgeon-like accurate.

Let me simply say, the school I serve is doing better. Much better.  Are we where we need to be, no. Are we satisfied with our efforts, therefore resting on our laurels, of course not? But, we are making progress. I don’t just mean value-added bright spots, either. No, this school is making genuine, hard fought, no-holds-barred progress.  In fact, it’s the school’s progress, or more like the effort that’s supplying this continuous improvement movement, which forced me to write this timely blog.

What’s happening here isn’t magic. It’s certainly not urban magic, whatever that means. No, sir, what’s happening at the school I serve is far removed from any spell, mysticism, hocus-pocus - pick your Harry Potter reference - you get the picture. Frankly, there is nothing-supernatural going on.  Quite the contrary, this school’s turnaround is a direct result of strong leadership, shared vision, moral purpose, and sweat equity. As if all of these attributes weren’t enough, I must still repeat the fact that there is no “magic” happening at this school and to say so, to even imply it, is not only insulting to the students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders who call this school home, but it also undermines the value of goal setting, collaboration, and perseverance.

You can’t change the culture of an organization with magic, and I’m convinced that no matter how many times you scream “Ta-Dah!” the hard conversations will not get any easier. Yet, that’s what we’re doing: changing an entire school cluster’s mindset so that it believes in itself while striving for something better. There’s nothing magic about it, just facts and professionalism.

Furthermore, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to the media’s role in perpetuating a stigma that has left an entire school cluster leveled. Instead of detailing the injustice here, I’m opting to simply showcase that this school has taken the fight to cyberspace’s version of the wild west: Twitter. No longer will we sit back and hope that the media picks-up positive news pieces about our school’s continued success or that our re-branding efforts are enough to catch the eye of a sympathetic editor-in-chief or program director. Instead, once again, we have opted not to wait for magic to happen. We merely empowered ourselves using a platform that serves as the world’s largest jumbotron. Or, as Jay-Z so succinctly put it when thumbing his nose at the archaic Billboard paradigm: #newrules

Now every tweet serves as a mini-commercial, supporting, documenting, and redefining our continuous improvement movement. It’s not magic; we work really hard at it. Follow us @maplewoodMNPS. We’ll show you what we mean.

I’m Dr. Ryan B. Jackson and these thoughts & opinions are my own. Oh, yeah, follow me, too: @ryanbjackson1

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Importance of "Team Learning"

There may not be one facet of organizations more important than team learning. Specifically, team learning plays a massive role in the field of education. All educational organizations must pay close attention to the team learning trend if the organization wants to be relevant in today’s 21st century. In fact, the idea of team learning has a direct correlation to learning. If the goal of our educational organizations is to cultivate environments of learning, where learning not only exists; but it exists in its most authentic and efficient forms, than we must not turn a blind eye to learning that can occur in teams. In addition, “when teams are truly learning…, the individual members are growing more rapidly than could have occurred otherwise” (Senge, 9).
When would team learning be the most appropriate? This question is asked often by educators everywhere. “A team-based work structure makes sense when no one person can accomplish the task and information, distinctive knowledge or expertise, and effort need to be coordinated” (Bell & Kozlowski, 2008). The need to have teams is prevalent in today’s world of work. If educators are charged to prepare students for the workplace, then integrating team learning into the educational organization should not just be a starting point, but instead a way of life. As Bell and Kozlowski suggest, teams are needed when no one person can juggle the needs of a job or organization. Classrooms must mirror those jobs and needs.
All levels of education have the capability to implement team learning. Students starting in pre-k can be placed into learning environments in which team learning is honored. Students in the middle grades and in high school have been observed thriving in team learning environments. This trend in educational organizations does not only pertain to secondary schools. In fact, post-secondary organizations have experienced that “small group learning is considered a best practice in undergraduate education” (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Specifically, teachers in all of these levels of education, use this style of instruction for a simple and “must-have” skill for any educator: classroom management. “Probably the most widely used comprehensive group-based classroom management approach is team learning” (Michaelsen, 1992).
The benefits of team learning are not limited to assisting teachers with classroom management. However, if educators needed to be swayed and persuaded to adopt, implement, and sustain classroom cultures which hold team learning in high esteem, then perhaps they also should pay attention to researchers who suggest that “teaching with Team Learning is simply more fun” (Michaelsen, 1992). If the idea of fun does not do the trick, then perhaps the idea of the urgent need to find a solution to the crisis that today’s educational organizations have found themselves in will sway educators that the trend to adopt team learning is an idea that must be taken seriously. In order to further this point that today’s educational organizations must implement team learning, a Boston University professor of business, details the chasm between what our workplaces need and the sad state of what our schools are producing:

“Educational systems, as opposed to work organizations, traditionally reward individual performance by grading students on products—exams, papers, projects—that they generate by themselves, and reward faculty for courses taught solo and for the well-known "single-authored publications in refereed journals." Especially from the students' perspective, collaboration is frequently a form of cheating; in organizations, however, most people cannot perform their tasks without collaborating with others—designing products together, preparing joint reports, developing marketing, and trouble-shooting strategies together.

Collaboration skills are also deemphasized by faculty members who might otherwise wish to teach them but do not feel equipped to do so. These educators lack the mechanisms to enable group members to reflect on their work together. Such mechanisms comprise a core component of team learning, defined by three components: using student groups in the classroom to produce information, ideas, and products; having group members reflect on their work together, give and receive feedback about performance processes and collaboration skills; and evaluating group members' skills of collaboration, that is, their effectiveness as group members in addition to the quality of their end products.”
Given the immense amount of work dedicated to the endorsement of team learning as well as the sense of belonging serving as a basic human need, why do you think we do not see more of it in our schools today?

Monday, June 24, 2013

GUEST BLOG: "Yesterday, Today, and the Power of Creativity"

This week's guest blog is written by Josh Michael, an email marketing professional who also helped create ESL Basics, a free video learning tool for people learning English. He also wrote a Business English ebook available on Amazon.
My best friend growing up was fidgety. He couldn't sit still through class and focusing on a piece of paper was futile.

School was a trap. Failure was the only option in that environment... even after he popped his prescribed Ritalin pills.

He liked to run, play sports, and be around people. Put this kid on a soccer field and thriving was his only option.

What was my friend missing in the classroom that he was getting on the soccer field? He was missing out on the fun and excitement of working with others and having room to play. In today's educational world, technology is that soccer field.

50 years ago...
You read a textbook about planting basil that someone wrote. You may have a few black and white pictures of the process and contacting the author was totally impossible. So, you go home and put that basil seed or plant in the ground as best you can, cross your fingers and hope for the best.

You search "How to plant basil" and WATCH someone plant basil from start to finish. Beyond that, if you have a question or want to tell the creator of the video how helpful they were, just scroll down and type away. Within minutes, the expert who made the video replies back with their comments.

The constraints of a monotone homeroom teacher are destroyed while the creative and beautiful teachings of an educator in the UK are now right at your fingertips.

All of this is well and good, but the INSANE power comes when students feel empowered to create. The same kid who searched "How to plant basil" improves upon what he learned on YouTube and decides he wants to make his own video. This reinforces the subject matter more effectively and efficiently than memorizing the steps to planting basil and regurgitating it on a test while increasing his chances of retaining the information.
In light of the information age and the technology revolution in the 21st century, do you think today's educational climate should take more of a role in cultivating the creativity of students? 
Please, feel free to contact Josh and link up to Josh's bio:
Twitter at @joshistall:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Imagination: a Father's Day Special

"Under blanket... It's raining."

Those four words (however choppy, babbled and broken) were spoken directly to me recently. The words were uttered by my 2 1/2 year old son on a day in which I was consumed by several tasks on my "to-do" list that needed to be complete. In addition, I was not the most relaxed and well-rested of fathers... I was very tired and my son solicited my attention during the fatigue of the afternoon hours. What did I want to do with my time? I wanted to take a nap-time siesta, or catch up on social media, or watch a ball game, or even veg out by eating some tasty snacks. However, I felt compelled to answer the call of my first firstborn. 

He grabbed my hand and he said, "quick, quick... hurry... hurry- under blanket. It's raining." He then led me by the hand he had clasped onto to the next room from where I was trying to rest and took me straight to a blanket. It did not take long for me to realize he was using and sharpening his imagination. 

I know what you may be thinking: Wow! this guy's house must be in really bad shape. Our 1925 cottage is old, but it is not that old. It does not leak rain into our house when it rains causing us to dive under blankets. And, plus, it was actually a nice sun shiny day on this particular Spring afternoon.

On this nice sun-filled day and despite my afternoon fatigue, I chose to entertain my son's imagination. And... You know what? We had a blast. It was awesome pretending to dive under water drenched cascades, take shelter in a cave from a torrential downpour, and escape the elements of Mother Nature. My son and I made memories that day and I don't regret it one bit. 

Did I WANT to use my time imagining make-believe rainstorms when I was tired and stressed? If I am honest with myself, then the answer is no. Did it take time away from what I wanted to do? Yes. However, was it worth it? Absolutely YES!

How does this tie in with education? I believe we all want to tap into our student's imagination. We want to allow students to navigate their curiosities, but unfortunately something keeps us from allowing this to happen. As educators, we, far too often, allow ourselves to be distracted by the unimportant "urgencies" and this, sadly, stifles the imaginations of our students. We lose out on the rich memories and we develop regrets. We lose and our students lose. 

The next time you feel you "have to" do some district initiative or you "need to" complete some ultimatum in order to be compliant, ask yourself... Will this take away from creating positive memories for my students? Will this inhibit my students imaginations? If you answer yes to those two questions, then I would put those on hold and choose to spend time allowing you and your students to enrich life with curiosity and imagination... After all, do not just take it from me. Take the advice of, perhaps one of the most brilliant minds this world has ever known, when he declared... 

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." -Albert Einstein   

What do you think? Is it difficult to invest time in soliciting, cultivating, and allowing imagination in schools today? If so, why do you believe it is so difficult?


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Autonomy, Vision, and Puzzles... "The Time Starts Now"

With a stopwatch in my hand and 30 anxiously staring doctoral students lined up in the hallway of a private university in Nashville, TN; I made one simple statement: "the time starts now." I then, opened a classroom door and the aforementioned doctoral students began to enter the room. Without any formal directions given, and only a 100 piece puzzle placed on top of eight different tables; a fascinating phenomenon took place. As has happened with all groups with which I have facilitated this same task (7th grade students, 8th grade students, a Middle School faculty of 50, a High School faculty of 80, etc.), again, without any formal directions, these doctoral students were observed doing the following:
1. Placing themselves into teams on their own
2. Beginning on the puzzle on their own
3. Dividing up roles and responsibilities on their own
4. Engaging in the task without reinforcements from me, the facilitator
5. Competing against each other without any promise of a reward from me as the facilitator
These observations lead me to ask the following question... Have you ever wondered what makes a great team?
I believe great teams do not necesarrily have to be managed closely by the leader. In fact, I am not alone... @DanielPink stated, "Management is designed to get compliance. But, to get engagement, the only thing that works is self-direction." 
More often than not, great teams can execute a plan (be self-directed) so as long as the mission and vision are clear. In this case, it was very clear... if we could just get into the heads of some of the participants, it would probably go something like this: "hmmm... boxes with puzzle pieces inside of them must mean I am supposed to complete a puzzle. Oh yeah, it would be better if I had some help... hey, you, get over here and help me put together this puzzle." Phrases like "hold up the front of the box so we can see what we are making," and "lets start with the border pieces," are always familiar phrases when making these observations.
After about seven total minutes of observation, the first group completed their puzzle and without any expected tangible reward, celebrated. Why would they celebrate? It is because, like all great teams and like all of humanity we desire belonging (See Abraham Maslow's work on Human Motivation, 1943). The teams putting together puzzles all belonged on a team, they all had a clear mission and vision for the task at hand and they all wanted to win. This was an innate desire to win and nothing could hold it back. My good friend and colleague @RyanBJackson1 reminds me often of what Sigmund Freud has stated, "Man's innate desire is to compete and win." This belief evolves from the idea that it is humanity's innate desire to survive.  
If Freud is correct, then all we need to do as teachers, leaders, parents, is to create opportunitities for students/children/workers/personnel to see a mission and vision, give them autonomy and let them go. They can do it. No more controlling leadership styles, no more over-protective parenting, no more dictatorships demanding the status quo. When we are allowed to see the goal , we can do amazing things. Just remember, "the time starts now."

***Thanks to Teresa Vazquez-Terry for the video footage as well as the video editing. In addition, thanks to Ryan Jackson, Kevin Armstrong, and Tamara Garvey for their assistance with the video. A good group of people right there!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My perspective on life and the result of dreaming...

Hey gang, it has been six weeks since my last blog post, which is the longest I have gone between posts in a year and a half. Here is why: 1). I just completed and graduated from a doctoral program which has been a dream of mine to complete for quite some time AND 2). My wife and I just gave birth to our new little daughter on April 25th--- another beautiful little dream of mine. I am one blessed guy. And, due to these blessings... I thought a little blog post could wait a little while. The wait has been worth it. Now, that I am back on the blogging scene, I want to share with you my perspective since earning a doctorate and being called daddy.

My perspective:

What’s in a name? Is a name simply a pre-requisite for humanity? Is it something we tag onto the souls of the ones we love at birth only so we can keep up with the mores of society? Do we ever stop and think about our own name? These questions provoke me to think, sometimes these queries aggravate and frustrate and, at other times, inquiries such as these haunt. Sadly, answers to the aforementioned questions rarely are sought out, pursued with vigor, or hunted down with urgency. Could it be that the very existence of mediocrity in our lives, the “settling” that runs rampant in our culture, could stem from the apathetic attitudes and complacency to the very question… “What is in our name?”
Far too often are the names of the ones we meet, the ones we rub elbows against, and the ones we live amongst forgotten. This is inexcusable. However, this sad state of affairs is a profound and poignant reflection of the lack of attention we truly pay to who we really are. At birth, we are adorned with a name, a title, a moniker, a label. These titles are great identifiers into the very essence of our being and, more often than not, tell the preface to our very own unique stories.

My story begins with three words: “to Honor God.” What is in a name is a story. After deep evaluation, I am probed to ask, “Is my story fact or fiction?” Am I merely a double-sided man who only “seems to be” or do I authentically and genuinely uphold the title of my story? Do I honor God? As I walk through life, I discover that nothing is by accident. My name is not by accident. Therefore, the answers to these questions have to be constantly searched. The noteworthy thinker and philosopher, Socrates, said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” By asking questions, questions about my childhood, my parents, my name, my siblings, my motives, my goals, “the why” in life; I am able to examine. Coincidentally, by examining my life, I am able “to be rather than to seem to be: Esse Quam Videri.

I take this self-examination seriously. I, sincerely, consider the meaning of my name, which is linked to my life’s purpose, “to honor God.” I, with great intensity, focus on the examination of my life so that I can more readily and more appropriately honor God. I seek to honor my Creator, God, through every facet and component of my well-intentioned life. Not wanting to “settle,” not wanting to stop at mediocrity’s door; I strive to be my best… to offer myself as “holy and pleasing to God.” Does this mean that I do this with only a portion of my life? I do not think so. I aim to be honorable in every fabric of my being. If honoring God means purifying my physical body, then purify me now. If honoring God means stretching my mind, then stretch away. I, simply, want one thing: to be true to my name, to be true to my story, to be true to myself: “And, to thine own self be true.”

As life trudges on, I want to be one who can examine his own life without fear of what he will discover. I want to learn. I want to learn more. I want to be one who can rest easy at night, laying my head on my pillow, with the assurance that I am “true to thine own self.” However, I am not naïve; I do not perceive to think that this task is effortless, that the story is somehow painless in carrying out, that the name I am given somehow comes with little responsibility. On the contrary, I choose to recognize and embrace such a large commission before me. I see the story as an opportunity to continue writing a legacy, not an epitaph. I see the name as a noble title to uphold, a badge of honor to wear with great pride and care. I see the true meaning of my name and see it for what it is. It is a divine mission that cannot be ignored, cannot be taken lightly, and cannot be underscored with apathy and saddled with mediocre attempts at living. Rather, it must serve as a mission that is held in high esteem, treasured, and purposefully lived out with the utmost diligence and intention. And, the beauty is that, when concluded, this story will wreak, not of mediocrity and apathy, but of hope, authenticity, truth, and above all… honor.

What is your life's perspective? What are passionate about? Share your dreams and thoughts below...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Encouraging Failure

          What does a successful blogger (@jonacuff), a children's book author (@peterhreynolds), and a New York Times bestselling author of leadership books such as The Fifth Discipline (@petersenge) have in common? All three are well-known, inspiring, motivational, credible and all three endorse and encourage failure.
In his first public event (#startnight #startbook on Feb. 7th, 2013) to market and advertise his new book Start, Acuff was seen and heard promoting not only his book, but the idea that one must be willing to take risks and fail if one wants to make an impact and truly achieve their dream. As I followed his book's promotional event on twitter, I quickly discovered it was the number one trending topic on twitter that night and the following picture was prevalent on the twitter stream...
             In addition, Reynolds' children book Ish, has recently highlighted the beauty of encouraging and allowing children to be themselves in their creative artwork without fear of being judged for being "right" or "wrong." What a freeing idea... allowing children to be free to create and not having to worry about living up to other's expectations. Children can create and innovate with permission to fail in order to learn more.
Finally, no section of Senge’s work is more apropos, than his piece titled “Creating Practice Fields.” Senge was basically speaking my language when he wrote about the current state of the traditional classroom with traditional classroom learners. The sad state of affairs is what Senge labels “passive” when he describes the typical classroom learner. The idea of students sitting passively compliant in a classroom is not only bad practice… It should be treated as professional malpractice in today’s 21st century classroom. The alternative Senge suggests is that “practice fields” be introduced as a replacement to the traditional classroom. The “practice field” is a place in which “students are making mistakes, stopping, trying again, talking about what’s working and what isn’t, and gradually developing a greater ability for effective action in the (areas) where results matter” (Senge, 300).
               Unfortunately, students are backed into the corner of right versus wrong answers, the high stakes of standardized testing, and the pressures of passing or failing. Failure should be encouraged and praised according to Acuff, Reynolds, and Senge. I seek to continue to sojourn with the likes of the three aforementionedtrailblazers in changing the way traditional education views the classroom.
Will you join me? Do you agree or disagree with the thought that we need to encourage students to fail in school?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

17 Apps my teachers are using right now...

Below, you will find various resources my faculty of teachers have found helpful with regard to apps for classroom use. Many of these are associated with the teacher who recommends it. If you have questions, feel free to shoot them a Direct Message. They are very helpful!

1). Appitic (Thanks to @amsd2dth)

2). edmodo - Social Networking for the classroom (Thanks to @ams2dth)

3). Prezi - the new way to present

4). Pick Me for iPhone (Thanks to @wcsSSTMSkes)- a techy way to implement "equity sticks' for classroom mangament.

5). Dragon dictation - use this for struggling readers. (Thanks to @wcsSSTMSskd)

6). Too Noisy - a noise level meter for the classroom. Good for classroom management. (Thanks to @wcsSSTMStan)

7). What's the Word - fun word game.

8). Mad Libs - You know you love this childhood game!!! (Thanks to @wcsSSTMSkll)

9). Evernote - a great way to stay organized with reagrd to documents, note-taking, etc.

10). iStudiezlite (free homework app and a sophisticated student planner)

11). Auto Rap - great for review or warm-ups in order to maximize classroom culture. (Thanks to @wcsSSTMSafh and @bandteachergirl

12). These two are for video editing: 1). StoryCreator 2). Animoto

13). Splashtop2 - maximizes your desktop by allowing you to display your desktop computer straight to your tablet (TIP: SplashTop2 for Whiteboards, you will need to download the file to your laptop to get the app to work wiht your iPad and Promethean board.) ***Thanks to @wcsSSTMSbsd and @bsbailey

14). Scratch - great for jotting down notes when on the go

15). Teacherkit -  the ultimate classroom teacher's helpful resource

16). Teach

17). Sock Puppets - great and entertaining way to get student's attention and maintain it. (Thanks to  @wcsSSTMSkll)

What are some other apps you have found helpful? Please, list them below so we can all learn from one another.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Apps for personal and professional growth...

"I've got an app for that." This phrase has been uttered by thousands of people over the last few years.

I have been increasingly amazed over the last three years specifically, since late 2009, when apps (not these kind of apps... but real applications for tablets such as the iPad or kindleFire, smartphones such as android and iPhone, and Google apps) really started to take over the personal and professional landscape for many of us.

In fact, there have even been App Store Wars (based off of STAR WARS) that have even made us more aware of the more competitive side of the tech. industry.

Some of my favorite apps that straddle the line of my personal and professional life; giving way to productivity and/or learning in each phase are listed here:

1. Evernote
2. Twitter
3. Stopwatch
4. QRReader

Some other resources which contain lists of many apps for the #edtech classroom for which I utilize are listed here:

1. All the Good Apps Fit on One Screen
2. The 16 Apps and Tools worth Trying this Year
3. 10 iPad Apps to Enhance Critical Thinking teachers should not Miss
4. 25 Minecraft Creations that will Blow Your Mind

Some apps I have recently discovered that show great potential for the classroom are:

1. Vine
2. Minecraft
3. Whirly Word
4. Ruzzle

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Learning technology is like the Super Bowl

Do you want to laugh? Watch the commercials. Do you want to be entertained? Watch the halftime show. Do you want to cheer? Watch the game.

The largest viewing audience in the history of American television, known as the Super Bowl, comes into living rooms each winter with one thing in mind... to suck you in. To absorb you into the NFL's marketing plan. And... guess what, just like over a third of the United States (over 100 million people nationwide), I am just as guilty. Why? Because I, just like most of us, enjoy being "part of the game." The innovators, the leaders, the movers and shakers jump into the game, into the action, into the conversation.

In schools today, we need these same individuals to jump into the game of technology. We need to become absorbed into the facets of social media, gamification, digital learning, and the fast-moving world that technology has created. Why? Our students are depending on it. Our future depends on it.

I am amazed each time I encourage, teach, tutor my teachers in the form of a new technology. Specifically, I am amazed at the teachers who "jump into the game" and self-teach themselves to tweet, to post, to blog, to search, to create, to discover something new in terms of how to deliver content. These teachers do not allow fear to rule the day. These educators take risks, they "punch fear in the face" and dive in, they leap, they fail only to learn from the failures and mistakes. I love it!

Gone are the days of sit-n-get technology instruction. Technology is coming in the form of user-friendly apps that one just needs to start using. I tell several of my colleagues to just start using... assimilate... that is the best teacher. If you are an educator, I implore you to learn a new technology medium and learn on a frequent basis. I try to choose one technology per month. I am not an expert. However, I refuse to be left behind. My recipe is very simple. The way to learn is easy as 1-2-3. Here is my recommendation:

1). Choose a technology medium (twitter, QR codes, blogging, instagram, prezi, pinterest, Vine, or anything else you see that has potential in the classroom)

2). Now... sign up for the one you choose and start using it. Do not fear it... you will probably mess up a few times, but who is keeping count? Just keep using it. You will get the hang of it.

3). Ask questions. Let down your guard and ask other users of the medium you chose for suggestions, recommendations, or tips. The hundreds, thousands, millions of users can help you out. You'd be amazed at the amount of help that is out there.

Go ahead... try it. What are you waiting for? What is getting in your way?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Twitter as the new petition...

The overthrow of governments. Coup d'états. Revolutions. Coups. Takeovers. Turnovers. Upheavals.

All of the aforementioned events have occurred throughout history in each and every nation state, people group, culture, society. Each has begun with some type of uneasiness, discomfort, displeasure, anger, and even malice on the part of one party toward another. As societies have attempted to become more civilized; we have instituted silent protests, sit-ins, pickets, and even written petitions in the place of violent mutinies. Perhaps, the most used form of peaceful protest in modern society is the petition. I have been approached on a number of occasions over the last 15 years to scribble my "John Hancock" on a piece of paper for one reason or another. Whether it is legal, spiritual, political, or even social… these petitions have a way of expressing solidarity in getting one group’s point across.

However, in recent years, we have seen a more digitalized form of the petition. The “Arab Spring” of 2011 and the “Occupy Wall Street” movement/protests in the fall of the same year each began with individuals who were displeased and started to opine through social media, thus enlisting thousands in the form of an “online petition.” You see, the very term “petition” is defined by Webster as “an urgent request.” In both of the historical instances referenced above, there were groups of people who had urgent requests. The communication of the requests was expedited through social media mediums such as twitter. How does this impact education?

Recently, I had students who wanted to change our dress code for a day. These students began to overflow our school’s twitter feed with mention after mention, requesting for their idea to be considered by me and my fellow administrators. Because of the respectful manner in which our students went about their request, we granted them their wish of rearranging the dress code for a day.

Are we to teach historical protests in school? Are we to impart civics? Are we to instill the principles of the first amendment to the United States constitution?I believe we are to do all three. If you agree, then let’s start with integrating social media into today’s schools. Just as protests have evolved over time and throughout history, the very use of the petition is now evolving before our very eyes. Instead of starting a written petition and waiting until the paper copy of the petition has traveled from door to door, individuals now have the power to instantaneously make an urgent request , share it with others, and have the request spread exponentially. If our students are going to go about petitioning in a respectful and peaceful manner, then we must acknowledge this phenomenon, embrace it, and facilitate it with our digital natives and millenials.

What do you think? Do you agree that the way we petition is changing? What are some ways you see the change of the petition take place? How else is the petition changing?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My 10 Goals/Predictions for 2013


Now that we are 10 days into 2013, (and just for fun) here are 10 goals/predictions (5 of each) for the new year. I will review at this year's end with updates and analysis. Let's go!!!


1. Begin to write a book (thinking of writing a book that appeals to everyone through the lens of the learner--- focusing on the mental, spiritual, psychological, and emotional aspect of our lives).

2. Double my followers on twitter @drizzinkwine , increase number of retweets, and favorites (expand my influence through social media)... at the time of this post, I was at 375 followers.

3. Increase my readership on this blog: "Drinkwine at School" (at the time of this post, my most read post was was read 400X).

4. Speak at one major conference/summit/retreat this year on the topic(s) of education, leadership, technology.

5. To have one date night per month with my wife, my son, or my fast-arriving daughter.


1. This will be the new BIG tech trend of 2013: LEAP Motion. You can follow them on twitter at @leapmotion It is a relatively affordable peripheral too!

2. Social networking and gaming (twitter, blogging, edmodo, gaming) will not only be allowed in schools, but will be recognized as a valuable learning tool and will be utilized regularly in most schools.

3. We will continue to see a decrease in student enrollment in our nation's schools as more students see they can obtain learning through online formats and through social networking. See this video for more:

4. Email, facebook, Skype will all be used less this year as the rise of Direct Messages on twitter, tweets, and face time continue their ascent to the top of the communication food chain.

5. My Vanderbilt Commodores will reach 10 wins for the first time in our football team's history. It will be a landmark year for the Commodores!

***What about you? What are some of your goals and predictions for the year 2013?