EdCampers Must Be Leaders – My #EdCampUSA Reflection

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(NEW 1 Minute Voxer Preview)

When I got the email stating I would be able to participate in Washington, DC in early June, I was pretty ecstatic. You see, the EdCamp experience has been arguably the best thing I’ve seen come out of education since I started my career. At any given #EdCamp, you have the opportunity to meet face to face with your personal learning network (PLN), learn about topics that you are passionate about and/or have an area of personal weakness. These people inspire you virtually on a daily basis, and now you get to connect profile pics with real faces. You do all of this in a safe space, which is why IMO Edcamp is so successful. I’m excited that Arne Duncan felt the event was successful enough to be planning next year’s event already. While this is good news, I’ve spent the last 45 days since #EdCampUSA thinking about how the DOE and other EdCampers across the United States can truly move the collective needles in the area of embracing the EdCamp experience:

  1. I encourage every experienced EdCamper to lead a planning team within their own school/district to make it happen locally. Even if the first attempt is small, make it happen. If you get shot down, ask again. Bringing colleagues and school leaders to an upcoming area EdCamp oftentimes helps. YOU must be the CHANGE you want to see in your own organization.
  2. Follow the Twitterfeed of other EdCamps happening, and tag colleagues, school leaders, parents on tweets that relate to your school goals. Your next chance occurs on Monday, August 4, 2014 in Philadelphia where #EdCampLdr will take place. School and teacher leaders from 8 states will travel into town to participate in this all day un-conference hosted at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.
  3. Talk to your PTA/PTO/Home & School about planning a ParentCamp. Use the website parentcamp.org to think through what this experience means for your school and community. There have been 6 Parentcamps to date, and more planned for the 14-15 school year. The un-conference experiences really speaks to the 4 Core Beliefs at the root2015 Nat'l FCE of Beyond the Bakesale (2007). The Institute for Educational Leadership (@IELconnects) are planning to embed the ParentCamp experience in the 2015 National Family-Community Engagement Conference in Chicago, IL (June 22-25 in Chicago, IL) See image —–>
  4. Participation in EdCamps /ParentCamps must “count” for school leader and educator state credits. Educators are spending their Saturdays learning with other exemplary educators, parents and school leaders, oftentimes traveling over 2 hours to get to the venue. The comments we hear on the way out the door at the end of a full day of learning range from “Best PD I’ve ever experienced” to “This was like a vacation day of learning.” We as school leaders, policy-makers must listen, assess this professional learning taking place, and evolve our expectations so that our teachers have a choice to participate in un-conferences throughout the year, and that that they are supported and encouraged at the local and state level (In PA I’m speaking of Act 45/48 credits).
  5. Ed-Entrepreneurs must be at EdCamps learning from educators. This is a great opportunity to get involved in raw discussion of what’s best for kids. Future apps, websites and tools can truly speak to the needs of educators, parents and school leaders. The opportunity exists with every EdCamp to have discourse around these evolving needs. Finally, no EdCamp should have to beg for sponsorships. Today’s web 2.0 tools should be lining up to fund EdCamps everywhere. The exposure is global, the learning never ends and the relationships built truly matter – Need an example? Check out Remind’s Clara Galan as she reaches out daily to her PLN and interacts during conferences and un-conferences – all the while learning how their tool can better meet the changing needs of today’s educators, students and parents.

So if you’ve been to an EdCamp and experienced the wow factor and PLN-focused learning environment, I challenge you to step up and lead your own organization down this path of meaningful PD. It’s now been over 5 years since the first EdCamp took place in Philadelphia. It’s time to get serious about moving these conversations along in our local districts. Who else but you as an experienced EdCamper can articulate what it means to be connected, collaborative, transparent and always learning? I believe the EdCamp movement will gradually continue to flourish (especially now with national support), but it is YOU who will need to carry the torch in your local districts where so many K-12 leadership teams haven’t yet experienced “EdCamp.” Sitting here in July/August is a great time to make an appointment with school leadership and/or draft the email that gets it on the radar.

Below, have a listen to my sit down conversation with Arne Duncan at the National PTA Convention (June 2014). Topics discussed: EdCampUSA, ParentCamp & Parent Leadership (that week’s #ptchat topic).


Other great #EdCampUSA posts I’ve read  since the experience:

If I missed yours, please add it to the comment section below. If you were there but haven’t written about it, what are you waiting for?

You’re not as bad as you think

il_340x270.496335635_3h4jThink with me as I transition a 4th of July experience into our work as adults (whether at home or at school) working for kids.

Fourth of July weekend was a great opportunity to unplug, spend time with family and friends, introduce our son to the annual fireworks show and enjoy our favorite backyard game – “bags” (depending on where you live, you may call it Bags, Baggo or Cornhole). When explaining the game to new players, I often use the term “21st Century horseshoes” without the need for a divot tool or new sod for your lawn. I started playing bags when I lived in Chicago in the early 2000s at a Bears’ tailgate, and have been hooked ever since.

After 14 years of playing this social game during BBQs, family gatherings and tailgates, you start to identify yourself into the category of a “veteran player” meaning you’ve got a good deal of experience playing, have a personal style of toss and come to expect a certain level of play from yourself vs. close friends, family members, and in my case – my father-in-law.

So as the title of this post might hint at, my father-in-law beat me five full games (up to 21 points each) in a row on July 4th. And he didn’t just beat me, he won handedly every game, and left me feeling like I had forgotten how to play the social game I’ve come to love. Over the next 24 hours he made a bunch of playful jokes at my expense which, of course I expected from him.

Taking off the bean-bag playing lens and putting on an students, educator, parent lens - we all (now matter how much experience and expertise we have) have days where we lose 5 games in a row in our own right. Maybe a conversation didn’t go the way we had hoped. Maybe we failed to articulate in a way that was easy for another to understand. Maybe a lesson fell flat on its face. Maybe we forgot to pick our kids up from an event! Regardless of what it was, disappointment happens daily as a part of life. We are human beings, and now matter how hard we try, we’re bound to miss the mark at times. However, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to today’s youth to set our sights on honing our skills by working not only harder but smarter, facing our fears and trying new things even if for the first time. We as adults are role models, whether we assume the role formally (as a teacher/parent or not), someone is always watching, learning, planning, mimicking based on how we respond to adversity. In making the time to reflect on our successes and shortcomings daily, we can hit the reset button and face our challenges in new ways. In this world, adults need to understand, embrace and model resilience for today’s youth.

The next day, on Saturday, July 5, 2014, I got the bean bags and boxes back out. I set them up, asked my father-in-law to play me again and we got to it. Two hours later, I had completely turned the tables, and beat him six times in a row, which immediately got me thinking deeper about this experience. I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was. This thought was not just about bean bags, but of a constant spirit to be better at what I do from one day to the next.

Below are 5 considerations (not excuses) on why we’re not as bad as we think:

  1. Each day brings different variables (We must take into account sleep, events, exercise, season, weather etc)
  2. Level of experience with task (First timer, veteran, knowing audience)
  3. State of yourself (YOU are constantly changing, interpersonally, coming to grips with your own emotional intelligence)
  4. Policy changes (Every year policies changes in some way. How we embrace/combat them affects our work in navigating our challenges)
  5. Who are your role models? (Who inspires you daily? Who do you find yourself hanging out with when you have time to yourself? Do you find yourself with positive peers or negaholics? What do I know about these people? Have I shared enough of myself to truly know these people and have them know me?) This fifth idea has been an evolving one for me. Just recently, I’ve begun learning from 100 new people around the world during #ptcamp using Voxer, Twitter, blogs and ApprenNet. This experience has gotten me out of my comfort zone, and has opened the doors for me to learn more about a topic I am passionate about from others with unique and important perspectives in supporting my growth. Refreshing the people I learn from daily is very important to me, and ensures the perspectives I need to grow will continue to evolve around me.

There are certainly more variables than the five I have listed. I encourage you to think about times during your life and career that you fell flat on your face. How did you approach it? How helped you? What did you learn about yourself during the experience? Please comment below on where this idea tok you.



Off to Alaska For #HETL14

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Tomorrow our team of PennGSE doctoral students & alumni heads off to Anchorage, Alaska to present at the annual International Higher Ed Teaching & Learning Conference (#HETL14). Three out of the nine of us who spent a week in Finland in March 2013 will physically make the trip, while others will join our presentation LIVE Sunday (12PM EDT) via a Google Hangouts stream.

Our presentation will focus less on what we learned in Finland about teaching and learning, but shed more light on “how” our team used social media to explore, connect and build relationships well beyond our visits to schools and the community. We’ll offer ideas on how today’s higher education programs around the world can create glass walls to the world around their classroom now matter where the brick and mortar of their institution is grounded. To learn more about our Finland trip, check out the full archive of our trip found on this Edutopia post: Penn Finn Learnings 2013 – A Wealth of Resources. You can also find resources on the #pennfinn13 hashtag we used before, during & after the trip.

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Official #HETL14 Conference Session Abstract:

“Learning across Platforms & Landscapes: Using Social Media as a Tool to Explore the Finnish Ed System”
Presenters: Dr. Michael Johanek, Dr. Susan Feibelman, Dr. Brandon Wiley, Dr. Martha Richmond, Dr. Joe Mazza, Jennifer Botzojourns, Verone Kennedy, Paul Solarz and Kavan Yee – University of Pennsylvania’s Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Ed Leadership (@MCDPEL), USA

How does a hashtag serve as the nexus of a global learning community that invites educators to bring their questions and perspectives to universal inquiry about preparing learners for the demands of an increasingly connected world? Extending place-based practitioner research in U.S. public, charter and independent schools, a team of doctoral students, alumni and faculty from the University of Pennsylvania planned, facilitated and continue to reflect upon a week- long study of innovative education models in Helsinki, Finland (see pennfinn13.wordpress.com). Using multiple lenses, which included instructional innovation, teacher leadership, and home- school partnerships, the team employed social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Skype, YouTube and Google Hangouts to engage fellow U.S. and Finnish educators in a ubiquitous dialogue. Site visits were extended through real-time and virtual conversations with educators from K-12 and higher ed institutions. This preliminary exploration has served as a catalyst for partnerships with Finnish educators and serves as a launching pad for further university work. The PennFinn research team will take you inside the synchronistic conversations that emerged through the research trip and sustains the conversation. This initial investigation provides models for today’s university by stepping outside the brick and mortar of classrooms in order to maximize resources (human, virtual, experiential, text-based, etc.) to expand the capacity for collective investigation. *Official Penn-Finn Learnings website: http://pennfinn13.wordpress.com/

HETL Social Media Lounge

Outside of our presentation on Sunday, our PennGSE team will facilitate the HETL Social Media Lounge, encouraging connectivity across the globe using the #HETL14 hashtag, building capacity with anyone who has an interest. For a full rundown of the sessions, see the Conference Program and follow the hashtag over at Twubs.com/hetl14. We’ve also set up a digital directory for educators at the conference to share their contact information here.

Alaska and Youth Suicide

Following the conference, our team plans to visit with educators and leaders around Anchorage working to reduce Alaska’s highest per capita rate of suicide of any state. We’re specifically interested in how the state is working to proactively work with young males, as male Alaskan natives ages 15-24, have the highest suicide rate of any demographic group in the country. We’ll be sharing our learning via blogs, podcasts, Youtube and Twitter.  Please connect during this trip to add to our learning.




Create Your Own Personalized Podcast Using Voxer

Voxer I recently started “voxing” with 9 other educators around the country. If you’re unfamiliar, voxing is when you use the free mobile app “Voxer” to participate in a “walkie-talkie-like” conversation with your friends and colleagues, only it’s more like a group text on your phone. The conversation is chronological, archived inside the app, allows you not only to use your voice, but to send pics and text where you choose
. The video below is taken from the Voxer Youtube page, and gives you an idea of how the app operates.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Twitter over the last 3+ years developing a personal learning network, and as I look across my timeline today, many of those profile pictures are much more than an image that spits out great resources and ideas each day – these people are friends, colleagues and folks I have built real relationships with. Truthfully, I consider my PLN an extension of my staff and my family. I find myself doing a lot less DMing (direct messaging) on Twitter and more voxing as of late. Being able to use my own words (beyond 140) and hear the tone, empathy, and extended articulation in the voices of others around the world helps me connect on a deeper level on a wide range of topics. The best part about it is that I can participate whenever is convenient for me, but can always go back and see what I missed.

Just in the last month, our Voxer group of edus have discussed 1:1, blended learning, school assemblies, homework, science fairs, cursive, discipline issues, graduation requirements, common core, teacher/leader burnout, social media to engage families and the community and probably 50 other areas of our daily work with students, staff & families. The truth is, voxing with those in your PLN is like creating, in real-time, your own personal podcast that you can decide who is involved, when you listen/respond and what topics you cover. For me, I do most of my voxing safely in the car on my morning and afternoon commute. I can see a lot of potential for school leadership teams, grade level teams, HSA-PTA-PTO teams and other educators trying to collaborate and communicate on a given topic while trying to respect everyone’s busy schedules.  Emergency situations where you wish you had your walkie-talkie - another great spot to use Voxer to connect with colleagues who need to be aware. What if your principal provided you a verbal “vox” when walking out of your classrooms in lieu of waiting until the feedback form was provided to you. That verbal tone might mean a great deal to a teacher looking for immediate feedback from his or her lesson. One more quick idea: there are so many great education chats that occur weekly. Our #PTchat team of mods now “vox” during the week to discuss the upcoming chat and ideas for future chats. How does your moderating team communicate from week to week? How might we deepen these rich conversations beyond 140 characters?

Below, listen to a 10 minute vox from some of my colleagues around the country on how they are using Voxer in their own learning organizations as teachers, school principals and superintendents. The vox was used to kick off last week’s EdCamp Philly session that Billy Krakower and I led on “DM to Voxer.”

As easy as the tool has been to learn from others in education, I now use Voxer with my wife during the day, and other family members as it’s just nice to cut down on texting and hear the actual voice of those I care about. In the comments below, I invite you to share other ways you can see parents, teachers, students, school leaders using Voxer to communicate, collaborate, learn and share.  Already voxing? Be sure to add your name to the growing #eduvoxers gDoc.

Special thanks to the original Voxer group of PLN pals who got me started on Voxer: Tom Whitford, Aaron Becker, Ben Gilpin, Jeff Zoul, Jimmy Casas, Joe Sanfelippo, Tom Murray, Curt Rees & Tony Sinanis.

*Also see Educators Use Voxer to Share Challenges & Victories Daily and Can Voxer Be A Viable Tool in the Classroom?

What’s this “Connected Teaching, Learning & Leadership” all about?

For the past 4 months, I’ve been working in a new role in my school district building capacity across 2500 teachers, 100 administrators and 13,000 students for connected teaching, learning & leadership. If you recall, I took a Leap of Faith from my lead learner position at Knapp Elementary back in October to pursue work to aligns directly with my passions in leveraging today’s social media tools to build relationships, develop collaborative spaces and meet stakeholders where they are using high & low tech, research-based strategies.

Yesterday I spent some time with Larry Jacobs of BlogTalkRadio and Chris Piehler of T.H.E. Journal as this month’s Ed-Innovator of the Month. Below is the 42 minute conversation we had on connected teaching, learning & leadership where I highlight more of what I do on a daily basis, as well as how our schools need to possess the same culture of selfless sharing that the Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) offer.

For more on this work, find the link to this month’s T.H.E. Journal article where I’ve highlighted 6 ideas for school leaders to consider in embedding connectivity into their learning organizations:Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 12.35.08 PM

  • Tools for transparency
  • Do as they do
  • Making connections
  • Casting a wider network
  • Passing the screen test
  • 3 tips on creating a connected learning environment



Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 1.29.39 PMFREE WORKSHOP –> Finally, I’ll be presenting Connected Teaching, Learning & Leadership during a free and open EdWeb webinar on Monday, April 28th at 4PM EDT. You can pre-register and set a reminder for yourself by following this link.


I’d be anxious to hear your own thoughts on the state of connected teaching, learning & leadership in your learning organization. Who is helping you and your colleagues develop these connected capacities? Please use the comment section below to share you thoughts and insights.