Lessons From Ferguson: Bias, community engagement and privilege

By way of various media, research reports and opening up dialogue to family, friends and colleagues on Facebook, I’ve been constantly engaged in gathering perspectives on the #FergusonDecision as a white, middle-class Philadelphian. I’ve followed the events of Mike Brown’s death since August, but when the decision not to indict was made last week, I became glued to the TV, and of course the #Ferguson & #FergusonSyllabus hashtags on Twitter. My Facebook wall has become a place where every opinion you could ever imagine is shared in the most unorganized and sometimes visceral way. I’ve really gotten to know much more about the unique sense of “privilege” my family and friends carry with them as I read each post. Some comments are quite disturbing, but offer a window into the real-life perspectives WE ALL HAVE in our communities that educators need to be prepared to engage. I’ve struggled to make sense of where I stand in many places, as it’s hard to have a definitive line in the sand with so many details absent. I can say that this particular situation has encouraged me to be even more transparent about the white privilege I’ve been fortunate to have with me my whole life.

Last night CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts. Batts speaking on his leadership of the BPD immediately caused me to reflect back on the work of today’s school leaders. As you listen, what themes strike you as you during the three-minute clip below?

Cooper asked Batts two questions that could have been answered in a similar fashion by a school superintendent and/or principal.

AC: Can training really be effective in reducing the impact of bias? 

AB: Absolutely and shares the following keys in his experiences as the leader of three large urban police departments:

  • Bias-based policing
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Tactical proficiency
  • Embracing that every human being has bias
  • We need to move beyond our bias based on scenarios
  • We have opportunities to back away from situations, call for back up, in effect take the bias out of the situation

AC: How important is it that the police force resemble the community they are policing? 


AB: There is a need to have diversity in the workforce – not only in race, but in gender and ethnicity.

  • Police force must understand what its like to live in the unique community.
  • New officers should come out of the Academy away from theory and get into the community to get them to know the people they serve.
  • There is culture, norms and issues going on in community. It’s more important to have the pulse of these things than to have a workforce that mirrors the community.

I also watched Batts’ introduction speech as new BPD Commissioner in November, 2012. At the 6:50 mark, he talks about community engagement. From an educator lens, there are many parallels to our work inside the school with students and out in the community with families. We need to build trust, get to know the norms, culture and issues they are challenged with to best serve them when they are in our care.

What have you learned from the Ferguson movement? Please detail your own takeaways as it relate to your work in the comments below.

Looking for support in the classroom? Tonight’s #PTchat (via @IELconnects) features special guest, Georgetown Professor Marcia Catelain (@DrMChatelain), as she details the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus, she first used in August after Mike Brown was killed by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. The one hour conversation will be about supporting healthy dialogue in the classroom with students on these and other issues involving sensitive topics.

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Innovating within Twitterchats through Leadership Simulations

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I’ve been a participant and a facilitator in Twitter chats for over four years now. I’ve learned so much and connected with some really inspiring and hard-working people and organizations. The majority of these chats out there follow the format of Q1, Q2, Q3 followed by A1, A2, A3. There’s an awful lot of “group think” going on where agreement and praise is a great core value of the conversation. I think this is a real area of concern as social media conversations around educational issues evolve and it’s up to chat moderators to encourage a rich conversation that digs deeper, doesn’t shy away from the tough conversations and works toward actual strategies and solutions that can be taken into school conversations the following day.

Tonight, my colleagues at PennGSE will join #PAESSPchat to host a LIVE online Leadership Simulation using the PELS program. Instead of the chat being based on six or seven questions, participants will experience a real-life scenario supported by audio and video from a school principal. You can check out the Penn Ed Leadership Simulations “sim” we’ll be using here that is open for the duration of the chat thanks to Ken Spero, Eric Bernstein and Mike Johanek.

My message here is that many organizations have fallen into habits of “group think” and steer away from critical conversations that could yield positive results for all stakeholders. By offering a variety of leadership scenarios based on actual issues school leaders face, we can provide hands-on PD opportunities for school leaders in an admin meeting to break down in a collaborative manner, forcing us to tackle a myriad of issues that will undoubtably come up.

Below the SIM Screenshot is the 11/20/14 #PAESSPchat (Pennsylvania Association of Elementary & Secondary School Principals Chat) where we walked school leaders on Twitter through the following SIM:

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Embracing Vulnerability

So I have a tumor in my head. There I said it. I struggled to write this, so please bear with me as I reflect a bit on why I’ve put social media on the back burner as of late.

I’ve been working to find some answers that started with a prolonged stiff neck back in July. Traveling back and forth to the hospital for check-ups is getting old. Every week more blood tests, ultrasounds, MRIs. I think I spent more money on co-pays this past month than on the mortgage. It’s been the hardest secret to keep from those around me, because honestly, you’re thinking, talking, focusing differently than you normally do each day. I literally waited to tell my parents and brother yesterday because I didn’t want to worry them – that was wrong and I shouldn’t have tried to go at this without them.

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I’m blogging about this news because I now have a greater responsibility to role model three things as I begin teaching graduate-level courses to current and future school leaders: 1) Acknowledge the day’s challenges head on; and 2) Allow those around you to lend support in the best way that they know how. 3) Stay positive because there’s always someone in your school going through something much more difficult whether that be a student, teacher or parent in your class.

I’ve written previously about Everyone Is Always Going Through Something after my black lab passed last year, but this is little different. The fact that something only 4.5mm long in the front of my brain is causing me headaches and has the potential to change my life in every way imaginable scares the crap out of me, and it’s hard to hide that – even for someone who is used to downplaying fears, taking pride in picking friends up and embracing the rock of the family role.

The fact that I’m going through something that (I hope is a whole lot of stress for nothing) is significant, and I can’t fulfill my role as a father, husband and educator without facing my fears and understanding that life is unpredictable and its challenges are imminent. How we attack them speaks to who we are and who we are striving to be as an example for our own kids. As much as I’d like to be superman and ignore things happening in my personal life when I’m in a professional setting, I’m human. I have real relationships with my local and global colleagues, and there is no pay-off for me to keep things like this from them. So to those I haven’t connected with as of late, I’m sorry. That was me trying to get my head around what do to with all this.

Now that that’s out of the way

Last weekend I began teaching my very first graduate course in the Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at PennGSE. The new and exciting course I’m teaching, Digital Instructional Leadership, is for second year doctoral students and features a brand new syllabus filled with on/offline transparency, anytime/anywhere professional development including EdCamps, a taste of relationship-based and collaborative social media tools for school leaders, all with PLN-infused learning experiences as a integral part of each class session. For those that know me, it is as much as a dream come true as it sounds. I absolutely loved the first class session with @MCDPEL Cohort 12 students, and left feeling invigorated and that the Leap of Faith I took last September was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself personally and professionally. I’ve really missed teaching since I left the classroom back in 2004 to start my administrative career, and now I have the opportunity to create engaging and PLN-based experiences within the same doctoral program I graduated from.

We started the course focusing on all things NOT related to technology. I wanted to frame very clearly, that as educators and school leaders, if we’re not transparent people offline, how can we even begin to think about online transparency? We spent the first class discussing offline transparency with the help of lead learners Dr. Sheilah Jefferson (NY) and Theresa Stager (MI), as well as connected superintendent Dr. Joe Sanfelippo (WI), who graciously Skyped into our classroom. Sanfelippo actually co-authored a new book with our 3rd year MCDPEL student / Cantiague Elementary School lead learner Tony Sinanis. We are reading all eight books in the new Corwin Connected Educator Series as our main discussion resource, as I’ve learned the majority of students in our program (and others across the country) do not feel they are prepared to confidently face the age of social media and connectivity we currently find ourselves in. I’m blessed to work within a school leadership program and under a Program Director (@MikeJohanek) that embraces educational innovation as a core value in teaching, learning and leadership.

Moving forward, I need to embrace the support of my family and friends. Anyone of us going through anything needs family, friends and colleagues to help them be their best on any given day. Whether it’s a text, phone call, post, vox, tweet, DM, quick visit – it matters to check in. It’s nice to have people in your life that let you know they care about you in a genuine way. These are the things that people who value relationships just do. People will choose to support you in the way that they feel they are helping. Sometimes what they say comes out sounding different than they probably imagined. Sometimes they do something that you wonder what they were trying to accomplish. I’m humbled that they even made an attempt. It matters.

So there. I offer some pellucidity on the latest challenges life has thrown my way. I have, however, nothing to complain about. I have everything I need in life. I live each day without any regrets. I’m blessed with a great family and friends near and far. It’s my favorite season – football season. I have a two-year old son who, when he smiles, erases every stress I have ever had. Whatever life has for me to deal with, bring it. I’m ready to roll.

*This post is dedicated to a good friend of mine who just began kicking leukemia’s rear end.

Where you invest your love, you invest your life – Mumford & Sons.

Update 10/27/14 – I got the phone call from the doctor this morning. It’s benign! Will keep an eye on it but incredibly happy with this news. Thanks for all of your thoughts and prayers of support. It means the world to me. — jm


On Expanding #EdCampLdr



On Monday, August 4th, our program hosted the annual EdCamp Leadership experience. For those who haven’t attended over the past since years of its existence, Edcamp Leadership (@EdCampLdr) is a free un-conference devoted to K-12 education issues and ideas. The goal of the day is to assemble forward-thinking school administrators, board of education members, classroom teacher leaders, parents/community members and anyone interested in K-12 education for a day of conversation, reflection and inspiration. The official website cn be found at edcampleadership.org

The experience brought together over 250 educational leaders from nine states for a free all-day conference. (Free thanks to the Program and supporting sponsors) Many, however, left many who attended wondering why we do not have more events like this in other parts of the country. There have been over 500 EdCamps around the world since the first event in 2009 here in Philadelphia. One of the goals of experiences like EdCamp or EdCamp Leadership is to motivate and inspire attendees to go back into their local learning organizations and create more participant (teacher) driven, relationship-based professional development experiences. 


Below are all 32 sessions held during EdCamp Leadership this year. Most are linked with a Google Doc of session notes (completed by participants) to give you a window into the discussion happening in each room.

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Five #ALSicebucketchallenge Takeaways For Educators

Today I completed my own #ALSicebucketchallenge with my toddler son. Special thanks to Tom Murray for nominating me, and for my family for helping it all happen. The full video is below if you care to watch us take 3 bags of ice and 5 gallons of water for ALS. (I nominated 35 of my former 3rd grade students I taught at Hubbard Woods School in Illinois).


Participating in this experience has me thinking about what students, teachers and parents can take away from the extremely high level of engagement this “challenge” has sparked around the country since it began. Pat Quinn, of Yonkers, NY, has been recognized for sparking the campaign that has thousands around the country dumping buckets of freezing water on their heads. Quinn became an ambassador for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, shortly after being diagnosed with the devastating neurological disease last year. He says the only way to do that is to get people learning about ALS and then get them to start taking some action.

Since the social media campaign began through today (August 16), more than $11.4 million dollars have been raised for ALS. During the same time period last year, and without social media’s support, only about $1.7 million dollars had been raised – This all according to the ALS website. People of all ages, including celebrities, athletes, musicians, teachers, politicians — you name it — have jumped in. It is really exciting to see something we can all be proud of go viral. ALS is a nasty disease and the more we can do to raise money, build support and find a cure the better.

So aside from raising money, supporting a great cause and role modeling for kids a good use of social media, what can today’s teachers learn from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge experience?  Below are five ideas to consider.

  1. Teachers: Don’t be afraid to challenge your students to do something absolutely crazy and use social media to capture it, celebrate it and share it with your parents and the community. Students often have much better ideas than we adults do at coming up with these challenges. 
  2. Teachers: Get connected on social media to share your school’s story. Tweet. Post YouTube videos. Use Facebook to house the challenge. Create a class student voice podcast. Connect your class with another from a different timezone, country even language! Use Voxer or blogs to create anytime, anywhere experiences that don’t force a LIVE interaction which is so hard to pull off while you’re trying to maximize instructional time.
  3. School principals, superintendents and other “typically formal school leaders: Bring a sense of humor to the role when it comes to communicating and encouraging stakeholders. Create a snow day video recording. Work from the roof. Shave your head. Get in the dunk tank. Swim with sharks at the aquarium. Jump out of an airplane if you so dare. What will you do to engage your students at a deeper level?
  4. Students: We need your voice now more than ever. Tell your teachers you want to use social media to learn, produce content, complete assignments, capture and share your learning. Teach them how it works if they are reluctant. We know you’re using it to survive outside of school hours in 2014. We know school will be so much more engaging, interactive and relationship-based if you don’t have to step back into device-free 1955 every September.
  5. Finally, educators around the world – Continue to set the very best example of digital citizenship, safety and responsibility when using social media to learn personally and professionally. The PLN (personal learning network) is a special place of selfless sharing, connecting and inspiring. It is up to each of us to keep it that way, and to give more than you take each day. In the words of my first principal (as a teacher) Maureen Cheever, “Be Crazy, Be Magnificent this year.”

Wishing all of you your best school year yet. JM