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

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WHAT

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. 

CONTENT

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).

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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

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.