Reflections on Teacher Leadership Summit

Spent the weekend at the Teacher Leadership summit in NJ … intensive and thought-provoking sessions filled with meaningful conversation.

My reflections:

  • teacher leadership is a worthy goal that has potential to positively impact student learning experiences
  • it will be challenging to cultivate teacher leaders without significant collegial collaboration

My concerns:

  • leadership is a mindset, not a job description
  • law, regulations, and policy do not cultivate the necessary mindset

Follow TeachLeadNJ progress here.

Rethinking Teacher Leadership

Just finished the first night at the NJ Teacher Leadership Summit. Setting the right tone immediately: to reimagine the role of teacher leadership, we must be willing to depart from traditional approaches. Tomorrow we’ll spend the day hosting conversations that matter in that middle ground between chaos and order and see what emerges. Follow along on the TeachLeadNJ blog.


Star Wars Guide to Professional Learning

How can we resist professional learning based on Star Wars philosophy? My favorite is lesson 3, Collaborate and Connect:

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” — Obi-Wan Kenobi

Read the rest of Star Wars-based PL on Learning Forward’s site here.

Great Resource from NY Public Library

In my early days as a designer in NYC — long before I thought about becoming a teacher — I was a photo researcher for Doubleday publishing. I happily haunted the NY Public Library picture archives, searching for just the right image tucked away in the miles of shelves in their midtown location.

I’m thrilled to be able to access the digitized version of those musty shelves. This is a treasure trove of unique images, free to use with no restrictions, high-res downloads available. Check out the collection here, recently updated, now with over 180,000 public domain images.


Under Pressure

Vicke Abeles writes:

Expectations surrounding education have spun out of control. On top of a seven-hour school day, our kids march through hours of nightly homework, daily sports practices and band rehearsals, and weekend-consuming assignments and tournaments. Each activity is seen as a step on the ladder to a top college, an enviable job and a successful life…

Yet instead of empowering them to thrive, this drive for success is eroding children’s health and undermining their potential. Modern education is actually making them sick.

Nearly one in three teenagers told the American Psychological Association that stress drove them to sadness or depression — and their single biggest source of stress was school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vast majority of American teenagers get at least two hours less sleep each night than recommended — and research shows the more homework they do, the fewer hours they sleep. At the university level, 94 percent of college counseling directors in a survey from last year said they were seeing rising numbers of students with severe psychological problems.

Read the entire NY Times op-ed piece here.

Connecting Kids Now More Important Than Ever

Yesterday I rode a yellow school bus to Newark airport to meet students and teachers visiting from Konstanz. This marks the 12th year since Gary and I began running student exchange programs between a US middle school and schools in the UK and Germany. We had considered ourselves “retired” from this enterprise, but were convinced to host one more exchange this year to stave off many disappointed young travelers.

It’s a challenge — working with nervous school boards, negotiating the least expensive airfare, handling paperwork, making reservations — Gary and I have noted that there’s a reason we leave this to younger teachers nowadays! But seeing 50 ecstatic exchange partners greet each other last night for the first leg of their exchange visit reminds me why we do this: it’s an experience most students never forget and a critical foundation to cultural understanding.

In light of recent events, it’s more important than ever to help our kids feel connected to other cultures.

First US experience -- riding the big yellow school bus!

First US experience — riding the big yellow school bus!


Change Story

I am currently working on a MOOC through MIT: U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self. It’s been an incredible learning journey that I am determined to focus on, despite the craziness of my fall work and travel schedule.

Today in week 4, Otto Scharmer shared a change story about a time in his life when his family home burned to the ground. While I can’t point to such a dramatic even in my own life, I can remember a similar moment when I realized that I needed to take a leap forward without safety nets in place.

I had the good fortune to work at ACS Cobham in England as the deputy head of a preK-12 school. It was an amazing experience but for various reasons I could not move my family across the ocean with me. Sadly, I resigned myself to returning home, leaving a job I loved and with no work prospects ahead of me.

Shortly before I left England I had the pleasure of meeting Clay Shirky for coffee. We were discussing changes in educational systems as a result of technology and the internet. After a while, he asked for my story.

I told him my tale of woe and mentioned my nervousness about returning to the US without a job. His response has stayed with me ever since that conversation 6 years ago over coffee in Paddington Station. “Listen,” he told me, “everybody’s deck is being reshuffled over the next few years. Look at all the cards you’re dealt and something will emerge.”

Easy for you, I thought. Clay Shirky is an internationally-acclaimed speaker and professor at NYU. But he was right. I returned to the US and began to consult with K-12 schools across the country and around the world. Now I work with schools on all sorts of topics, ultimately all focusing on how we can make learning better for students. Not a bad hand to be dealt.

The Ultimate License Plate Game

An 8th grader was sharing during social studies class that her family has spent the last few years playing the License Plate Game, attempting to find all 50 states. “So a few months ago, we were down to 10 states,” she explained, “and my dad said that whatever state was the last one, we would go visit over spring break.”

“Last month it was down to two states: Hawaii and South Dakota. We got really excited because we figured that there was no way we’d see a Hawaii plate.”

“So …” asked the teacher, “what happened?”

“So in March, we’re visiting South Dakota.”




Over the past 6 months, I’ve had the opportunity to co-facilitate a truly great professional learning program. It’s a partnership between the NJEA (teacher’s association) and NJPSA (principal’s association) to offer a series of collaborative opportunities for teachers and administrators to work together to refine evaluation practices. Too often, evaluation systems pit educators against each other: teachers vs principals. When true collaboration occurs, the system is refined, made productive, and ultimately reaches the intended goal: improving instruction for students.

We’re building on the idea shared by Randy Nelson: that collaboration is not just souped-up cooperation, but something altogether different. True collaboration amplifies the abilities of those involved, resulting in a better product than individuals can accomplish alone.

Last Monday, the first cohort came together to consider their current practices, unpack their expectations and belief, and commit to changes both teachers and supervisors can make to improve the system. They will meet again in December to review their work and continue planning. The second cohort is scheduled to meet at the end of October and begin their journey.


Based on the success of the first session, additional cohorts will be added for next year. If you are a NJ educator, you’ll want to check this out and consider signing up a team from your district: Collaborating to Strengthen Your Educator Evaluation System.