Why Schools Should Use Social Media to Reach Millennial Parents

One of the characteristics of millennial parents is that they want to have ready access to information. Grades, attendance, upcoming events, announcements, celebrations, etc.

According to a Pew Research study, 95% of adults aged 18-49 are regularly online. That’s 95% of parents of school aged children.

Millennials expect information to be easily accessible at any time. According to this Crowdtap article from January, 2016, 90% of millennial parents believe that social media is a useful way to get information. A year later, this number has likely increased. This is why monthly paper newsletters are going by the wayside (or should, at least). Consistent use of social media is the most effective way to reach today’s parents.

If your school or district is not yet reaching parents via social media, it’s time to get started.





How A Family Trip to the Aquarium Helped Me Think About Instruction

Over the Winter Break, our family took a trip to the Long Beach Aquarium. This trip was part of a birthday celebration for our twins, Jackson and Siena, who just turned 8. We knew we were in for a fun, interesting day seeing aquatic animals and learning about humans’ impact on the ocean. I hoped that my 4 kids would have fun, learn about a few animals, and gain some idea about their connection to the ocean. img_1438

What I didn’t expect to get was an insight into lesson design.

I won’t go into details about our day; it was wonderfully long and we hit every spot of the aquarium at least once. There was- uncharacteristically- very little whining and a whole lot of smiles. It was a great family day.

My takeaway as an educator, however, happened a few days after the trip.  It was a rare day that I had just one kid in the car with me, and I wanted to start a conversation with him, so I asked, “What was the best part about the aquarium?” Without hesitation, my 8 y/o son answered, “Touching the jelly fish.” The rest of the conversation went like this:

Me: “Ok….what was the next best thing?” IMG_1421.JPG

Son: “Touching the rays and sharks.”

Me: “OK…..what was third best?”

Son: “Touching the horseshoe crabs.”

After 5+ hours, seeing 1000’s of animals, watching videos, listening to marine experts, and the ‘best’ things were the touch tanks. Over the next few days, I held the same conversations with my other three kids.  The only variation in their answers was the order of their favored touch tanks. After 4 of these conversations I came to a realization.

My 4 kids could not be any different in the way they act and learn. They are great examples of varied learning styles. Regardless, their favorite, lasting memory of the trip was getting to touch the animals.  Interacting, touching, feeling. Wet, slimy, rough.

What does this mean for instruction? It indicates to me that DOING will always trump SEEING, READING, or HEARING. Our classrooms must be places that create memories and excitement.  I want my own kids coming home from school excited about their learning. They won’t come home excited about a video.  They won’t come home excited about a lecture.  They WILL come home excited about things they make. What we can touch, we can learn.

My hope everyday is that the 4,600ish students in our District come home excited about what they have done and learned.  As we move forward, making sure that our teaching and learning have opportunities to touch, hold, and make.



One Word for 2017

My one word for 2017 is CARE. This word has meaning for me at home, at work, and in the community.

its-all-about-relationshipsAt home, it is easy to allow life to take over.  Work, sports, activities, school, family commitments….they can take up all of the waking hours not otherwise taken by my job.  I will focus my time this year on enhancing relationships with my wife, children, and parents. When in the car with kids, I will turn down the radio and ask questions.  When i run out of questions, I’ll ask more. I’ll tell them about my day; my successes and struggles.  This small effort will help make sure that the little time I have with my kids is spent enhancing our relationships. After the kids have gone to bed- the time I have with my wife- can easily be spent in silence or looking at a screen (phone, computer, tv). Instead, I’ll do the same thing I do with the kids- ask questions, listen, and pay attention. It will demonstrate that I care about them.

I started a new job in Oak Park USD this past July. Although I spent the first 6 years of my career in OPUSD, some of the people have changed, and I certainly have a different role than I did the first time around. What that means is that I know a lot of people, and a lot of people know me. However, we know each other from 2009. My goal for this year is to build deep and meaningful relationships with admin, teachers, support staff, and students. By building on my existing relationships, I will be better able to help our district change and adapt. It will demonstrate that I care about them.

I don’t have a lot of time to give to my community; I spend so much of my time working and doing family things. However, I do serve on the board of our city’s softball league.  I cant take on a major role in the organization, but I do what I can as a board member and coach to help improve the league and make it a valuable community resource for families in Moorpark. This year, I will focus on building relationships with other board members and the parents of my players.  Taking an extra minute at the end of a board meeting to connect with another board member, or sticking around after a practice to learn more about a player and their family.  These little things will help me build relationships with the people in my life.  It will demonstrate that I care about them.

Learning at the Top

So….I’m on Twitter a lot.  I spend a lot of my time looking at what others are doing in their classrooms.  I spend a lot of time sharing what PVSD teachers are doing in their classrooms. One of our favorite areas of learning right now is the use of coding, robots, and drones to teach students such skills as computer science basics, coding, sequencing, problem solving, iterative processes, etc.

I also see a host of companies, educational organizations, and non-profits sharing their excitement and support of such activities.  I see Ozobot, Dot and Dash, Sphero, Tickle, Google CSFirst, ScratchCode.org, and countless others sharing the excitement students have over this kind of learning.

One thing I didn’t see a lot of was this type of sharing coming from leadership, such as principals, cabinet level leaders, and others that make important decisions about teaching and learning. Now, in all fairness, I am sure there were a lot of principals and leaders sharing these things.  I’m sure there were people from within my organization doing so…I just didn’t see what I thought was enough at the time I decided to write this post.

It’s hard for a principal to know about EVERY activity, resource, or instructional strategy, and we tend to share the types of things that are in our own wheel house. I wanted to give our leaders the chance to experience the fun and challenge of coding, so I devised a plan to host the Inaugural PVSD Sphero Golf Tournament.  IMG_7398

Our next Technology Leadership meeting was going to be hands on. I work better with a great team, so I called upon my dynamic TOSAs (Michelle Sciarillo, Jamie Alvarez, Shaun Blumfield, Shirleen Oplustic, and Carolyn Alexander).  Take a minute and click on their names, and follow them on Twitter…….

We grabbed some cardboard and a bunch of blue painters tape. We created a 6 hole Sphero Golf Course that would require our school leaders to work together to code Sphero drones to complete the holes in as few attempts as possible.


As the district leaders arrived, we welcomed them, explained the rules of our golf course, and gave them a crash course in the Tickle App. Each team received an iPad and a Sphero rolling drone. Each team was given 6  minutes to get used to their Sphero.  Some teams immediately started to practice their first hole (this tournament was a scramble- where every team starts on a different hole, as opposed to everyone starting on Hole 1). Other teams began to use more advanced planning, measuring the distance their Sphero travelled per second, at certain percentages, etc.

The fun and learning began immediately.  A sense of friendly competition was sparked. Our school leaders worked together, discussed coding strategies, and used their varied learning strategies to conquer each hole. One team, having completed a fairly simple hole, started augmenting their recently completed hole. After a minute it became clear what they were doing; they were constructing the next, more difficult hole. They didn’t wait around for the next assignment or challenge.  They began working ahead of schedule so that they were prepared for the next task.  Now tell me you don’t want your students challenging themselves to learn ahead of schedule.

After an hour, each team was quite proficient with the Tickle App.  When the end of the Tournament was announced, there was a vacuum of disappointment. The results from this activity include camaraderie, enthusiasm, and most importantly- an understanding of the way that coding, robots, and drones are much more than toys or add-ons. Within 2 days, 3 schools placed orders for Spheros. Our TOSAs visited two schools to lead teachers in a short golf experience, and the results were nothing short of positive.

As we move forward with the intentional integration of technology, it’s critical that school and district leaders are given the chance to use these technologies so that they can become advocates and ambassadors for the strategies and tools.

Big thanks to Sam Patterson (@SamPatue) for providing the #BlueTapeCertified inspiration!


Keeping Track of the Conversation

In the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations about the way the classroom is changing, and how this change is based on the way that the teacher now interacts with his students. One of the most important changes is based on the move away from whole class instruction/lecture towards collaborative thinking and working.  In the classroom of old, it was fairly easy for the teacher to manage the conversations taking place and thus hear what students discussed. As the classroom moves away from a single speaker environment, how do teachers keep track of the conversations taking place in their classrooms; online and face to face?


The first conversation I had about keeping track of conversations was with a vendor. We were discussing the challenges faced by the teacher in a 1:1 classroom. When the expectation is that students are working collaboratively, sometimes asynchronously, how can a teacher keep track of the conversations between students?  It’s in these conversations that a teacher can glean a great deal of information about student understanding.  With a view of these conversations,  teachers can intervene and reteach or clarify.  The teacher can see the direction of student work and offer guidance or point out resources.  However, most teachers do not have a tool to track these conversations, and the important insight into student learning is lost. What teachers need is a quick, searchable, savable, and integrated forum for students to chat and hold discussions. Otherwise, a vast majority of student thought is lost to the ether.

The second impact of the changing classroom on a teacher’s ability to track conversations is in the “new” classroom, where centers and small group instruction are gaining an ever greater role. As the teacher instructs small groups in one corner of the room, how does hear the “read to others” in a Daily 5 class, or hear one student give feedback to another on a piece of writing? In a STEM lab or makerspace, how does the teacher hear conversations without altering those conversations with her presence? Thinking about this pair, would you want to interrupt whatever is going on? No! You want to hear what they are discussing, and examine the source of their wonder.  What you DON’T want to do is stop their work.


The physical limitations of the human ear require the teacher to get out of her seat- thus disrupting the small group instruction- and move around the classroom, thereby interrupting whatever learning is taking place in the other areas of the classroom. Even the best managed classroom and the most honed teaching strategies can’t help a teacher hear conversations from across the room. In a loud, collaborative classroom, teachers need a way to hear all of the conversations taking place in a way that does not influence the content of the conversations.

A question for you: How do you keep track of student learning as demonstrated by student conversations?



Beyond Student Engagement

Every few years, a new buzzword tops the charts as the newest educational pinnacle to be reached.  When I started teaching, it was “differentiation.” Since that time, the word that has taken over educational conversations is “student engagement.”

The dictionary tells me that “engagement” means (after definitions related to an agreement to be married) “a promise to be present at a particular place and time.” Tell me that your goal for instruction is to have students “present” and I’ll show you the door.

A simple search of the etymology of this word shows that “engagement” is not the bar we should be shooting for. Its origin is the word “to pledge” or to “hold to an obligation.” Again….if your goal is for students to feel obligated to be there, or to just be there….

In our district, the Pleasant Valley School District (@PVSDCamarillo) we are focusing on some ideas that are not unique to us: STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics), PBL (Project Based Learning), and the maker movement. Earlier today, I led a tour of two of our makerspaces, at Tierra Linda Elementary (@TLSHawks) and Camarillo Heights STEM Academy (@CamHeightsSTEM). We welcomed about 15 teachers and administrators from the Hueneme School District, Rio School District, and Ventura Unified School District. They were interested in what our makerspaces looked like, what we had in them, what we did in them…you get the idea.

We stood by as 2nd and 5th grade “buddy classes” worked on a stop motion movie using Legos and an iPad.  The students were telling a story through the use of these tools (Creativity and Communication).  The Big Buddies had already learned how to use the app in a previous lesson, so they were to coach the Little Buddies on the how to make a movie (Collaboration).  Students were not limited to the Legos for inclusion in their movies, and some turned to the supply cabinets to aid in their production.  One group wanted to film a plan taking off, and discovered there was string available to them (Critical Thinking). BAM! In less than 5 minutes, all 4 Cs were in use. It was exciting to watch.  Here is a snippet of what it was like to be in the room of about 60 kids.  Believe me, the students weren’t just “present.”


After about 30 minutes of working together, most groups had created a 10-20 second video.  While not quite ready for an IMAX showing, the students clearly understood the incremental work that needs to be done to animate or create stop motion.  Here is an example of one:

Cute, right? The best part is that this group of boys planned on going home and working on one for longer, so that it could be “perfect.” Again, that’s way more than being “present” or “obligated” to do this work.

Next, we went to Camarillo Heights STEM academy, where we saw 2nd graders using the Design Process to create catapults using soda cans, popsicle sticks, and tape. Beyond the building of the catapults, students had to test their design for RAP:
Range (How far can my catapult shoot something?)
Accuracy (Can I hit a target using my catapult?)
Power (Can my catapult shoot something hard enough to knock over another object?)

Students were testing their designs throughout the room, using classroom developed measuring tools like this to measure Range:
IMG_6511 (1)

Students measured accuracy by shooting those little plastic counting bears into a pyramid of plastic cups.

We spent another 30 or so minutes watching students work in groups, record each other’s data, share ideas on how to improve each other’s design.  Again, do you hear the 4 Cs? It was an electric place to be.  Throughout the day, I was mindlessly snapping photos of everything. Afterwards, I was perusing all of the pictures and videos that I had taken, and I saw it: THE picture that sums it all up.

So far, this post is abut 660 words, and this picture adds at least 1,000- as the saying goes.  This picture shows the look that I long to see on my own children’s faces when they are at school.  This is the look that provides the “Why” for me as an educator.  It is more than “engagement.”  It is WONDER. It is EXCITEMENT. It is PURPOSE.

IMG_6508 (1)

Now those three words are buzzwords I can get behind.

Improvement is NOT a Circular Process

Since I can remember, leadership books have always shown the iterative improvement process as a cycle.

Perhaps you’ve seen some of these, or something like them:

I don’t disagree that the improvement process entails the steps of Plan, Do, Assess, Plan, Do, Assess, etc.

The issue I take with all of these images is their circular nature.  What they portray is that the work we do always has us ending up in the same spot. I would hate to think that the substance of our professional careers has us ending up in the same place we started. Don’t get me wrong, I know from Modest Mouse that “The universe is shaped exactly like the Earth: If you go straight long enough you’ll end up where you were.” This isn’t a discussion of astrophysics.

It’s a discussion of the iterative process of planning, doing, assessing, etc.

I’ve spent the last few days at CUE Rockstar Admin at Skywalker Ranch (yeah, I’m pretty lucky). In one of our sessions, Eric Saibel led us in a conversation about the Inclusion process; including those affected by the change. For me, this includes the teachers in our 1:1 Learning classrooms and all teachers who are working toward the integration of the Maker movement into their instruction. At the end of the conversation, we were asked to put our thoughts into some kind of imagery.

I started to think about the way we plan, work, get feedback, and adjust. In my head, I saw a back and forth between District Leadership and the sites, a back and forth that was reminiscent of a skier going down the slalom.

Each “cycle” should move us forward.  With each set of feedback, we move the entire process forward, inching ever closer to our constantly evolving goals.  Played out over time, we can never reach ‘the end’ of the process, similar to the circular diagrams above. However, in a more linear fashion, we continue to move forward, seeking a goal that is ever moving. I visualized it this way:

Copy of IterativeFeedback

We cannot rest on our laurels, we cannot shy away from the challenge. We must keep moving, though there may be resistance, though there may be unforeseen challenges. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald,

“tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The Great Gatsby

Are You a Pump or a Filter?

I recently had a great conversation with John Puglisi and Mike Vollmert, from the Rio School District.  We are both K-8 districts, neighbor each other, and face many of the same challenges to moving our instructional programs into the next phase of 21st Century teaching and learning.  Our students feed into the same high schools, so it behooves the students if we can work together to provide Rio and PVSD students the best possible instructional program.  We met because, as silos, our districts are not capitalizing on the collective knowledge and skills each of our districts possesses. We expect teachers to open their doors to other teachers at their school site, and we expect schools within our district to collaborate, share, and build each other up.

Why, then, don’t we expect the same of ourselves and other school districts?

This first meeting felt like a first date of sorts: each of us trying to figure out what the other one has in mind for our future together. How much should we share right away? Are there things we don’t want to necessarily share right away because they might indicate some imperfection?

As the conversation began to flow, we were ruminating on the critical role of the school principal.  There are many studies that indicate that the Principal is the linchpin for instructional growth.  Take the Wallace Foundation study, or Marzano’s seminal work on leadership, School Leadership That Works….both point to the immensely important role that principals play. District leaders can have the most amazing ideas and plans, and the principal decides- through their leadership- whether those ideas and plans die on the vine, or are turned into fruit bearing actions.

We spoke about the way that a principal can take an overarching theme or idea (i.e. make formative assessment an aspect of EVERY lesson) and magnify that idea by providing teachers the resources to try new forms of formative assessment. Mike referred to this in the conversation as “a pump.” We all know that pumps take something (usually a liquid) and moves the liquid from one place to another, usually with great force.

Conversely, the principal can choose not to emphasize the big idea.  Whether it’s through intentional ignorance or a lack of ability to understand and promote the idea, the principal is key.  Either way, this idea is moving toward a school, and either loses momentum, or is completely stopped before entering the school.  At this point, I said, “Like a filter.” An idea can be moving with great momentum, then be slowed or stopped.

There was a pause….a recognition that we had just characterized the role of the principal in a new way that made sense to us.  Having all been principals in the past, we recognize the absolute importance of the role. The principal can be what stands between a school and its forward momentum, or what stands behind gracefully pumping growth.


Working Together vs. Thinking Together

The idea that group projects are “project based learning” is untrue. Students have to THINK together in order for collaboration to take place. Students have to disagree, argue, negotiate, and agree in order for collaboration to take place.  Group work refers to hard skills, such as “who will type this part up,” or “who can put pictures in the presentation.”  Collaboration is a soft skill, which includes the ability to articulate ideas, discuss content, with the division of labor coming naturally from the higher order skills. Group work is the “dessert”- there are a few choices and it comes at the end of the main dish (i.e. after instruction).   On the other hand,  collaboration is the “buffet” (i.e. there are many choices to be made serves as the main source of learning).

I recently reflected on the importance not just of problem “solving” but also of problem “recognition.” To simply instruct students to solve a problem we have identified is not authentic. In your job, do you find yourself more apt to work hard on a problem that’s been assigned to you, or do you prefer to have ownership over the work you do? Do you think students are any different?

I think this presents a barrier to most teachers, who were trained and have practiced their craft in an age of prescriptive curriculum. Allowing students to work on a project that has never been done before requires the teacher to let go of some control; a very scary idea for some. Most teachers are comfortable with creating an project, and assigning the students to groups, and then asking them to ‘work together.’ This is not enough…students need the authentic practice of thinking together to identify a problem and generate a solution.

let it go

Problem Solving is Not Enough

I recently began the Leading Edge Administrator Certification through TICAL.  It’s been 2 years since I completed my doctoral program, and I was hesitant to once again be a student.  After just two weeks of being in Leading Edge, I am so glad that I took this step. While I have always maintained pretty voracious reading habits, the program is asking me to reflect on my ideas and goals.

A recent assignment asked us to formulate a vision statement for the year 2020- how do we want our organization to function in the future? As someone “in the trenches” it’s easy to get caught up in the immediacy of projects and problems.  By asking me to think ahead and dream big, I came to a particular realization. I was reflecting on how project based learning helps students become “independent problem solvers.”  There was something about this idea that felt incomplete.

It’s not enough to teach students the skills to SOLVE problems.  In order to be meaningful contributors to society, students need to be able to IDENTIFY problems on their own.  While problem solving is a worthy educational focus, we are not serving tomorrow if students depend on someone else to tell them what the problems are that need to be solved. How can we say we are developing innovators if we are not ensuring that students have the capacity to analyze a situation enough to recognize that there is a problem to be solved?