Educators, We Must Protect our Students: #DreamActNow

I have a very serious and sincere request of you: Please join me and other educators, authors, and illustrators who are demanding a “Clean” Dream Act from Congress in the final weeks of the session.

More than 800,000 children and young adults are at risk of deportation. Of those, an estimated 20,000 are teachers. 800,000 children and young adults who have built a life, gone to school, worked and paid taxes in the United States. With the racist decision to end the DACA program, our children and education colleagues are in danger.

When our students and colleagues are in danger, we, educators, must fight.

Learn how to join us at There you can read our letter, sign on if you’d like, learn about the 3 actions we ask that you take with us and learn about immigrants rights organizations you can support that are fighting on the frontlines.

Watch my video for specifics or read/download a copy of our letter below:


Letter image - Dream for Our Students


We must stand together with the immigrant rights community. Please join our action and spread the word.

Sin Miedo.

Stages of Grief

When my paternal grandmother passed away a few years ago I flew home to Wisconsin.

I always knew her as loving, loud, and goofy in her dramatic bawling-at-greeting-cards and thrift-store-treasures way. What I did not truly understand until after her passing is just how strong she was. For reasons too personal to explain here, many times she found herself a single parent, raising multiple children, on a waitress’ wages. She chose to leave when she had to protect her family, dealt with lose when it arrived suddenly, and then arrived again. Raised children while limiting their sense of the struggle, working for their happiness.

She was a fighter in a way I am sad to say I only better understood while sitting at my parent’s dining room table, with a small box of photos open on the blue table cloth. Holding one of grandma, a now-yellowed black and white, of her in her senior year of high school. Curly-haired, flowered-dressed, sitting on a short fieldstone wall and smiling like the world was hers to take.

When I got home the day before, to Wisconsin, we all hugged and held and cried. The stroke a year or so earlier left her a fighter in a different way.

The pastor from my parent’s church came for a home visit in preparation for the funeral. We gathered in my parent’s family room, arranged on the big beige couches, with boxes of Kleenex (we call it by it’s proper name).

My quiet father cried. We shut up and let him, and cried silently, too.

Then she began, “I want to give you some advice I have learned: Everyone grieves differently after a death. Some will rage, some will cry, some others will never cry and not understand why they can’t make the tears come. Some may even laugh. Others may go about things as if it’s all normal and fine. You may do a bunch of these, too.

“You need to be forgiving of others, right now. Their grief will not look like your grief.

“At times you may find yourself angry with them, ‘why isn’t she crying?’ ‘why doesn’t he listen, doesn’t he know what I’m going through?’ Know that they are grieving, too, even if you don’t understand it. Forgive them for not being their best selves when they are not. Forgive them for not grieving in ways that make sense to you. Forgive them and give them the space they need.

“You also need to be forgiving of yourself. You need to take the time to stop when your body says stop. Excuse yourself for not acting how you think you should. When you mess up with someone, or yourself, try to understand this is how you are grieving right now. It is okay.

“There is no one way to do this. There is no one correct way. All ways are okay. You need to know that and allow that of others.”


This, of course, did not mean we should be dismissive. Being from the midwest, we have a knack for biting sarcasm. This did not mean to think, oh how cute, you’re mad, you’ll get over it.  Instead, it was a reminder that we should continue to work our hardest to empathize, or at least sympathize.

It was also a caution that fights could break out, disagreements could be had, but to recognize that whatever form took place, it showed bodies at work. Bodies grappling with shedding the skin of “let’s go visit grandma” to emerging new in “she is gone.”


Last Wednesday, early morning, waking up to the final deciding polls coming in, was a death.

For me, it was a death of a promise that we are not as damaged as a country as we probably actually are.

A loss of the innocent, privileged notion that we are just so close to being a loving and inclusive nation. Of course, that’s not true, or at least not that close. A summer of police murders of black men and women, after a year of immigrant detention centers, after years of mass incarceration, after decades of bleeding rural towns of resources, after a century of uneven education access, of course we are not close. Yet, the past years also have had streets full of activists, raising of critical conversations, Supreme Court triumphs, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and more, all of these held the hope that even in our evils, we could reject a candidate that so openly rode on them.

That hope died Wednesday morning.

There is real danger now and ahead. It looks as if it will only get worse. People are in real danger. There is no sugar coating that fact. There is no wait and see. Gay families are rushing to adopt the children they have been parents to for years. Children are crying at school under the real threat their parents will be deported. Walls, schools, streets, and online are covered with open hate that is louder and more emboldened. We feel this in my family, in my friends, and in the news.

What I know I need is to find the strength to pick back up and start anew, fight.

But, I will be honest. My grief right now is lethargic defeat. I have not cried, yet, “the tears are right behind my eyes,” as we say in my house. Every news item touches my skin and then reverberates like a foot that has fallen asleep from leaning on it for too long. It echoes hurt against hurt. I can literally feel it pulse across my nerves.

I am not there, yet. It is privileged to not be. I recognize that and, honestly, self-hate that. But it is what it is. For now.

Grief for some is taking to the streets. For some it is breaking and burning. For others it is decrying those actions. For some it is making safety pin illustrations. For some it is challenging them as not enough. For some it is “I told you so.” For some it is “I give up.” For some it is turning off. For some it is turning on. For some it is documenting public hate. For some it is pointing out it has always been here. For some it is calling for coming together. For some, like me, it is rejecting that. Grief for me, in this moment, is writing this. It’s turning my twitter photo black and feeling how silly and pointless that is but doing it anyway because I need that right now.

For millions of others it is millions of other ways. There are as many ways to grieve as there are people, as the saying goes.

Maybe, my grandmother sat in the sun, on that day, in the flower dress, imaging a future for herself. Or maybe not, maybe she was just laughing as she often liked to do. I picture that in the times she did imagine her future it was glamorous, happy, and full of love. Hard for sure, she knew it would be, but decidedly full of promise. I picture that her imagination did not contain the traumas that arose. No one can predict those, no one would write those into their future stories.

I like to think that her vision may have included the hope of the loves she would find, the children she would raise, perhaps the thought that at some distance point she’d have grandchildren who loved her deeply and found her silly and loud.

Her life did not always go the ways she hoped or planned. It went others. Countless others, good and bad and good.

Yet, still, it went.



Why We’re Opting Out of Testing

Our oldest is in third grade in New York. This means Littlest Pet Shop and Shopkins have flooded her bedroom; fractions and division have overtaken number lines and addition; and she is growing faster than her pants can keep up. It is joyful (and for this dad, yes a little bitter-sweet) to watch her grow.

There is one thing in New York State that feels decidedly not third grade, however. Decidedly disrespectful of the eight and nine year olds’ developing minds and of the teachers who are guiding them through another year of transition in their mental, emotional, and social growth.

Third grade, like in many parts of the country, is the start of statewide standardized testing, the kind ushered in under NCBL more than a decade ago. The kind that, left unchallenged, will now be a part of her school year, every year, for the remainder of her schooling.

The kind that takes up well more than the smallish sounding “2% cap” the US Department of Education called for last year. Any teacher in a testing grade knows the additional weeks and months spent on test prep lessons, test prep books, practice tests “for stamina,” “Saturday Academy” for test prep for “struggling” test takers, and after school hours. Some schools make all of March a “Test Sophistication Unit.” Others find themselves in test prep on and off all year. I have even see textbooks and programs that added “bubble in the option” test prep questions starting as early as kindergarten.

This testing is the kind that since Race To The Top has been a primary factor in determining a teacher’s worth. Several years ago NYS released this cheerful, pro-Value Added “Growth Scores,” animated video to explain the then-new system and how it “allows every teacher to have a chance to demonstrate effectiveness.”

Of course, effective teachers already know that you do not “demonstrate effectiveness” with standardized testing. Instead, you find it by witnessing the developing relationships, deep thinking, joyful energy, risk-taking, and love of learning we support in our students.

Do Not Lose Hope: Act

There is a glimmer of hope and one we must grab in this moment. In a dramatic turn in policy, this past December the governing education body of New York State, our “Regents,” voted to temporarily remove test scores from teacher’s evaluations (at least through 2018-19). It was the first significant policy shift against testing or its reach.

Where did this shift come from?

Many sources, including The New York Times, draw the line to one major factor: Parents Opting Out. 2015 was the largest, to date, show of students refusing to sit for the test (this graphic from NYT shows the dramatic explosion across just three short years, 2013-2015).

In the months that followed dramatic actions took place at the highest levels:

Once again: where did these dramatic shifts come from? Voices. Voices standing up for children and the teachers who dedicate their lives to raising them.

So, my family has decided to join that chorus. For this first time we are able, we are joining the Opt Out movement and refusing to have our child take the NYS tests.

The word no made from jigsaw puzzle pieces
Photo Credit: Horia Varlan (under Creative Commons)

How to “Opt Out” of Testing

While not a tough decision for us, it was still one that made us feel nervous. How do we do it? How will the school react? Will they understand our reasoning? Luckily, there are communities of active parents across the country to help.

For example, in New York we turned to the NYS Allies for Public Education. Their website,, contains resources, sample letters, and explanations of how to refuse the test and what to do if you face trouble doing so. I also spoke to other educators, parents, and educators-who-are-parents, for advice. Principals, teachers, and non-educator parents shared the steps they took. Here is what we did:

Steps to Take

  • Set a meeting with your child’s principal. It’s often nice to talk in person about your reasoning and it gives him or her a chance to respond. Be sure to share the ways your decision is intended to support educators and children. We also found it helpful to point out how the school already, without standardized testing, makes us aware of our child’s progress. We feel very clear on both of our kids’ growth because of the many formative assessments teachers give and their continued contact with us.
  • Follow-up with a formal letter detailing your request. This letter not only helps you be clear with your wishes, but in politically-charged districts gives the administrator and teachers “cover.” They can refer back to it if questioned.
  • Check-in shortly before testing. We will follow-up once again a few days before the tests begin and send our child to school with plenty of books to read and activities to do during the hours of testing.
  • Lastly, I would add: be vocal. The movement grows only by the voices of those involved.


The conversation with our child’s principal was terrific. She was open and curious about our perspective, gave us time to discuss our reasoning, she raised NYC Department of Education concerns about a child not testing, and then described for us the accommodations already in place to meet what NYC Department of Education, under Chancellor Carmen Fariña, stipulated in the Parent’s Testing Guide: “If a student is in school and refuses to take a State test, the school will make every effort to arrange for another instructional activity, such as reading or completing another project or assignment.

We left feeling like we were respected and heard, whether she agreed or not, and that we had a partner in raising our children in her and our school community.


In the years since NCLB, and then more dramatically since Race To The Top, our profession has been under fire and the shape of our children’s education dramatically challenged. Few people would question these initiatives if they delivered what they once promised. However, we have years of testing data without real solutions. Like getting a cholesterol check year after year that shows your levels are dangerously high, and then not investing in exercise and a better diet.

I hope that with further action, and more families committing to end harmful testing practices, we can further reduce the effects of testing on our children and colleagues.

Without the fear of evaluations built on the backs of a single test, schools and teachers can feel free to continue to open (or reopen) their curriculum and school day to arts, making, hands-on science, increased time for physical education, curiosity-driven math, and the kinds of reading and writing practices we know change students lives and skills but in many districts (including much of NYC) are pushed aside for textbooks that had promised “test-alignment.”

I also hope you will join me. Join this movement in progress if you have not yet or continue raising your voice if you have. Voices matter. The pioneers that came before us gave my family the strength and faith to take up this cause and action ourselves.

If you live outside of New York and have other resources to share, please feel free to add them in the comments section, or share your stories as a parent and/or teacher.

Thanks for all you do for children, for colleagues, and for this great profession! Together we build the future.


About My Whiteness

I am white.

So are the vast majority of public school educators across the United States.  The National Center for Education Statistics puts us at over 80% of the public school teaching force. While the percentage of projected white public school students has dropped below 50% for the first time, ever.

I grew up in suburban Wisconsin, attended school K-12 with majority white students. I had then and have now diversity within my friends and family, but the majority of my upbringing has been within a suburban white experience.

I began my teaching career in New York City, in a Middle School in the Bronx. One day, during my second year, a name-calling battle broke out amongst my seventh graders. It was more play than fighting.

A few kids starting saying back and forth, “You’re white!”

“No, you’re white!”

“No, you’re white!”

To which I called them all back with an assertive laugh, “Hey, hey, hey. No. Definitely, no. The only white person in this room is me.”

To which, my students almost collectively said, “Wait…. you’re white?”

What seems dangerous is not our hearts. I know a lot of white educators who care a whole damn lot.

What seems dangerous is not our convictions. I know a lot of white educators who work hard to make the world better for everyone.

What seems dangerous is how much we are not aware of. How poorly we listen. How little we see. Even when we think we see the most.

I was reminded of my whiteness over this past month. In the kind of world-shaking way that I have the luxury to not feel if I don’t want to. But I want to. So, I am writing this to you but also as a mile-marker for myself.

The first was shortly after the attacks in Paris.

In a self-righteous way, I noticed the media outcry over the events in Paris compared to the near silence over suicide bombings in Beirut. There was wall to wall coverage of the shaken city in France, but almost none of one father’s act of heroism that likely saved hundreds more in the Middle East.

I was easy for me, at home, on Twitter, to think myself the better person.

Look at this media. They are unaware (or probably not) of their privilege.

But then a brunch happened.

During an impromptu brunch with two of my favorite people, Kristin Ziemke and Sara Ahmed, the topic of Paris came up. Which moved to talk about New York and the United States.

I’ve shared this with Sara’s permission.

Sara spoke of her parents. She said she calls them in situations like this. Here mom and dad are largely loved in their suburban midwest community. A piece of this love is for how outspoken they are about their faith and about all people coming together. They visit churches and speak about being Muslim. They began a mosque with community support. They are great neighbors and many people’s friends.

Sara explained that despite all of this, she worries.

She calls when times like these arise to tell them that she is afraid for them and to ask them to be more vigilant.

In an effort to provide some comfort, one, and in a greater effort to believe the world is better than we fear, I responded to her vulnerability with:

“But you know. After September 11th there was so much hatred against Muslims. But it seems to me, in my limited view, that this time things are different. I’m reading—on Twitter and online and hearing the news and people I talk with—that many are trying to actively separate terrorism from a religion or group. It seems better out here this time. Like things have thankfully evolved.”

She sat for a moment then told Kristin and I the story of the Muslim cab driver in New York who couldn’t pick up passengers for hours after the event in Paris and how his story went viral.

I fumbled through an apology at the time. Blamed my ignorance. Shared my, “I’m so sorry”s. Then, the three of us moved into some other silly, superfluous, unrelated conversation likely about designer rice pudding in New York. (Yes, that is a thing).

That evening I went back to Twitter.

With the cab driver, her family, and Sara’s own experience, in mind, I saw things I had actively missed before.

I stopped looking at who I have chosen to follow and started to look at other conversations and hashtags I was not a part of. Not a part of because my privilege allowed me to decide to ignore them.

The hate was clear. And it was piling on fast. From every day people, to broadcasters, governors, and presidential hopefuls.

I was shaken by my white blindness.

Despite my good heart and good intentions. I was foolish. I was naïve. I was dangerously unaware.

I texted the start of an apology. We began a long conversation that still continues on.

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While I was shaken by my white blindness. I am even more shaken that I can still go blind if I choose to.

Or, perhaps, more accurately, that I am blind. I will never know what it means to be Muslim in a world that questions your motives based on your faith.

I am blind and can continue to be so.

Which scares me more, because there are so many of us that can do the same.


Then, Chicago was next. And forgotten Minneapolis.

Release of dash cam video showing an officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, shortly before the announcement of that officer’s indictment—one year after the killing—led to mass protests in Chicago.

As part of my life is lived on social media, I took to the hashtag. Another black, young man whose upbringing, birthdays, laughter, struggles, regrets, challenges, hopes, and stories ended up as a hashtag of his name, after his murder:



Amidst the activity on Twitter, the video, the outrage, the shots of protests, the outcry;

amidst all of this was another now-too-familiar reality.

What the nation is talking about and what White Educators are talking about.

While evidence of our national legacy of the fear of black, young males reared up in social action on the streets of Chicago and the streets of social media, many of the well-meaning, good hearted educators I follow chatted about technology, books, and Thanksgiving.

Tamara Russell and Jessica Lifshitz drew my attention:

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I flipped off of the hashtag and onto the open feed. I saw what they saw.

What struck me more is that the edtech, turkey, and books, tweets were not from a mass of people I don’t know. Instead, faces of white educators I have eaten with and laughed with and talked about change with.

I was taken back to my conversation over brunch. The danger of not being aware. Not listening.

While some of us may have been opting out of the #LaquanMcDonald conversation. I suspect a great many more were not aware that the conversation was even going on.

Part of the gift of social media, and the current media landscape in general, is that we can hear news that matters to us. This is also the danger. If our “Following” list is limited to only those voices that we most identify with, we run the risk of only hearing what we think we want to hear.

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Again, I found myself somewhat self-righteous. I had not missed this story. I also found myself more understanding. I began to invite others to the unfolding story directly and I retweeted throughout the night.

I felt I had done some small part. I knew there was a limit to what I was able to do, but I felt that I had been a better person that night.

Then, I was reminded.

Over the weekend, prior, thousands of educators spent days in Minneapolis for the NCTE Annual Convention. I was one of them. A miraculous and inspiring weekend of learning and connection. Hours filled with conversations, sessions, and roundtables about issues and ideas in education and the shared belief that we all can do better.

I left exhausted but filled.

It was only later that I learned that there was other news in that city, the one we were in. It took me returning a thousand miles back home to find out that #BlackLivesMatter protests were organized around the death of an unarmed black, young man. Protests and a story not far from the Convention Center.

A story I knew nothing about. I was caught again in my whiteness.

Earlier this week, after my return, those protests that led to white gun fire on the crowd.

Kate Roberts said it best:

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What seems dangerous is how much we are not aware of. How poorly we listen. How little we see. Not because we choose to not listen. Because we do not have to.

Then, Chicago again and Colorado Springs. And a book.

Friday, I took my kids out for breakfast in our neighborhood. We sat in a small diner, with amazing pancakes, under a television screen.

There the story of Tyshawn Lee was on full volume.

That evening, Colorado Springs filled the news.

Each hour I found myself wrapped farther into the layers of contradiction: Officers who solve cases and save lives. Those who take them. Violence between gang members. Gang members living in social constructs the majority white culture have promulgated through red-lining and resource starvation. Politicians who cover-up. Politicians who bring perspective. Activists who march. “Terrorist.” “Thug.” “Lone Wolf.”

It only fills me with a deep sadness.

And what feels worse about this sadness is that may largely be self-indulgent.

I am aware that I do not have to feel this way. None of this has to matter to me. I can turn off the news and watch the Twitter stream I want to.

My whiteness means I do not need to fear in these same ways.


I have felt at times like an outsider. Moving into my first neighborhood in the Bronx. My travels and work in the Middle East and Asia.

I have been called names because of my perceived race and status.

But I also have come to learn the outsider feeling was often more about my fears than those of others. And, ultimately, I also could easily shut the world out with my privilege.

 *    *    *

I have started and stopped versions of this post too many times to count. I began back after that brunch in New York. Then a new version again after the first night of protests in Chicago. Then again I stopped as these past days’ events unfolded.

Each time I couldn’t find the right words because I didn’t know which words were there.

So, I did what I always do when I try to make sense of a world that has no sense. I read.

Many news accounts. A lot of Twitter. And Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

I am not searching for answers. No source offers that. And Coates’ memoir even more so is unapologetic in its honesty.

Instead, I find myself consuming a diet of reminders and challenges because I want to be challenged. I want to wake up from my simple sleep.

My well-meaning heart ache, but my self-indulgent tears feel thankful for the stories shared and my ability to read them.

This passage, from the memoir, struck a chord:

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I have nodded my head at police cameras. I have also allowed them to absolve my role in the need for them.

I needed to be challenged, otherwise I may not know how.


We are dangerous.

These moments, in such a short span, remind me of the danger we hold as white educators.

One that our hearts and hopes and college pennants on the walls and hugs and after school heart-to-hearts cannot solve, alone.

We have the danger of not hearing. Not listening.

We have the danger of trying to tell other people’s stories for them.

We have the danger of assumption.

We have the danger, the greatest danger, of spilling our experience and blinders onto the children we serve.

Whether we teach in a classroom ripe with diversity or one that is unfortunately, characteristically, largely monocultural, we educate not just with our lessons, but with our conversations and our awareness.

There is no Unit of Study on listening in this way.


My largely white schooling and upbringing had glimmers of looking beyond ourselves. I can’t recall them exactly, though.

Maybe they were somewhere in our 3rd grade “Save the Rainforest” paper-cut mural. Maybe they were somewhere in the church mission trip to repair houses in the West Virginia Appalachians. Maybe there are others, there must have been. However, they are not all vivid.

Without those moments, however small, of my mostly white teachers looking beyond our whiteness, I would not be as socially minded and (hopefully, increasingly) willing to fail, but learn, in conversations about race.

From these small steps, I think the majority of my seeking stories beyond my own came post high school, by luck of a liberal University and eventually moving to New York.

The world won’t grow on luck, however.

Listen more.

Last year, when Ferguson, MO was burning, I approached my friend and colleague Dana Stachowiak for advice.

I had big dreams of what The Educator Collaborative could and should do. We should have a virtual Town Hall. We should run a blog series. We should, we should, we should.

Dana is Assistant Professor of Diversity/Multicultural Education Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and I know I can count on her learned and blunt advice.

She told me to stop. And listen.

To paraphrase, her advice was something like: “You’re intentions are good, but this is not your experience or your story to tell. If you insert yourself you run the risk of running over the voices of people directly involved, because of your privilege and status. Instead, amplify the voices of others. Help their stories be heard.”

I wish I could say I took her advice clearly and with a full heart. I did not.

I agreed on the part about amplifying, that I had not thought enough about.

I did, though, argue that I should say something, that is was almost my duty to: “But, I’m part of the problem. Not enough white educators are talking. I have to say something.”

She returned with advice then, that she echoed did just a few days ago:

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I now see this as a critical part of my diet as a white educator.

I have not figured out the best ways to do this, and I keep failing along the way, but I know it is as much my professional development as any.

I am sadly aware that cannot change the world—as much as I want to—because I am a part of a white world that through purpose or accident or both keeps the value of non-white stories suppressed.

We Need Diverse Books. We Need Diverse Teachers. We Need Diverse Politicians. We Need Diverse Schools.

Or perhaps another way to think about this, is that I cannot change the world alone. And we, white educators, certainly cannot do it alone.

I know I need to wrestle with more experiences and stories that help me see beyond my whiteness. More. Many. Often.

The gift of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, in the face of tragedies, is that these stories are in our faces.

As have been the stories of gay rights activists, Muslim activists, and others I know I have yet to connect with.

The stories exist. They always have. I just need to make the point the connect with them.

We are dangerous as white educators because we teach children and young adults.

We can accidentally allow our non-white students to be overlooked in ways we do not intend, but allow to happen; we can allow our white students to be as unaware as we are.

This is my story.

My mile-marker on my journey.

My gratitude for the Sara’s, Tamara’s and Jessica’s, #BlackLivesMatter’s, Kate’s, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s and countless others.

My reminder that I have a lot of work to do.

My mission that the students and teachers I serve cannot wait.

I am white.












#nErDcampLI or How I Caught the Edcamp Bug

This weekend I attended #nErDcampLI. It was my very first Edcamp experience.

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Now, we’re friends here, so I’ll be honest. I was scared.

Edcamps have always seemed to be what the cool kids are doing—and, let’s just say, I was always in corduroys when everyone else was wearing jeans with rolled up cuffs. I don’t know how Edcamps work, I don’t know what to do, I assume I will make a fool out of myself.

I always have admired the twitter buzz around #edcamps, all over the world, and always have pretended I knew exactly what was going on. It was my cocktail party fake out, “Oh yes, yes, those are neat, huh?”

But now it was really happening.

I went for the same reason so many did: JoEllen McCarthy.  Books and awesome learning, too. But first and foremost was JoEllen.

I feel lucky to call JoEllen a colleague at The Educator Collaborative and even more so I’m so lucky to call her a friend. Her inexhaustible joy for teaching and learning is so contagious that anything she says is “worth doing,” you do.

With JoEllen and a terrific team organizing the event, echoing the great work of edcamp and nErDcamp leaders like Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, and the promise of terrific authors and educators all in one place, I decided to take the plunge.

Because walking into a cafeteria alone gives me cold sweats, I brought support: Sara Ahmed and Maggie Beattie Roberts, who came along enthusiastically for the adventure.

And Now I Get It

This is the part in the post where I go from being the unsure outsider to having fully and completely caught the Edcamp bug.

FullSizeRenderI get the “it” that everyone else before me has gotten.

Each session I attended was different in structure but similar in enthusiasm. I love how the “unconference” invitation allows for many different opportunities and styles. About 15 minutes into the first session, in an amazing session, watching the twitter stream spin by, I felt so at home in our profession, so lucky to be in a moment where educators were growing together in a powerful way.

I was able to attend several sessions (and wish those cloning machines I ordered would show up already…).

I sat in on Tony Sinanis, twitter superstar principal (or “Lead Learner” as he refers to himself) and a parent from his district, Lisa Davis, leading a conversation on reaching families. It was great to have both of their voices and be a part of a conversation that grew from their experiences.

I was inspired by how Jo Beth Roberts, a 8-12 librarian, led her session on LGBTQ texts by saying she saw a need to support students and didn’t know how to reach more of them… and then let the room talk through solutions and issues. That was powerful to see and a structure I want to think more about in my own work.

The “Rocks and Sucks” session invited us to pick a side on an issue and then debate across the room. It was exciting, if not scary, to be vulnerable with your opinion. Also fun to watch people switch sides at times.

The day ended with several #TitleTalk sessions on great new books, a whole camp celebration, and then an amazing book signing (here’s the listmy face is there, but I was actually walking around to the other tables instead…).

If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am.



It was a reminder for me of the educator spirit. Of how gifted educators do not need standards or evaluations to be great. They need each other. While the planning team thanked everyone for coming out on a Saturday, that was likely unnecessary. Saturdays out can fuel an overworked soul. But so can Saturdays in with people who think about what you want to think about, who love the things you love, who stand for children the way you stand for children.

Conferences, unconferences, twitter chats, hallway conversations… the more we connect together, the more we grow.

Next year’s #nErDcampLI cannot come fast enough!


Note to readers:

I’ve been shamefully away from my blog for too long. While I hope to remedy this, I also want to invite you to visit The Educator Collaborative’s blog:  If you’d like, you can join TheEdCollab mailing list to receive the posts in your inbox, along with other updates from us.

#Nerdlution15 – More Happy (Less Injury)

Please come with me into a special rocket ship I had built (I know the engineer, old friend) back to the time when we all could actually get all of our goals accomplished and still have time to relax on the beach.

by Joe Schneid, used under Creative Commons

Yea. No. That’s not real and never will be.

Which is why my friends Franki Sibberson, Colby Sharp, Kristi Mraz and I—and tons of you—are in the midst of another #NERDLUTION!

To be clear. I think many of you have already started your nerdultions and have been posting about it.  I, on the other hand, am still waiting for that rocket ship delivery.  

So here is my day to catch up.


For the uninitiated, a “nerdlution” is a resolution that we nerdy educators make to better ourselves, or our community, or each other. Or to just simply do something fun. Or strange. Or really anything at all that you want to commit to.

Here is a post from last year where I explain the birth of the movement and give more specific rules on forming your own nerdlution (hint: there are none).

(And when I say there are none, I mean none. Example: Franki ate apples last year.)

(Well, sort of).

Last year my nerdlution was to do 100 push-ups per day. That lasted for longer than I thought. I felt great. And only led to 3 months of physical therapy for my rotator cuff.  Hahaaaaabutreally.

On to #Nerdlution15!

by Kristi Mraz

This year I am equally workout focused, but in a more controlled and less shoulder failure way.

My goal is to workout at least 3 times per week (but bonus points if I do more) using a new app that I really love, “Strong,” which basically is a 2.0 way to record weight lifted per rep/set.

I see a trainer… sometimes a lot, sometimes a little… and really want to get better at working out on my own so when I see him I don’t embarrass myself.

What I love about the app, aside from it keeping me focused on completing exercises, is that it totals everything at the end of each workout session.  Meaning, even if the amount I lifted each rep was pitiful, at the end I can lie to myself because it says I lifted, for example—true story—SIXTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS.

FullSizeRender 6
Proof. Clearly.

Which I thiiink makes me the strongest man in the world.

No? No? That’s not how it really works?

So my #Nerdlution15 is to keep a steady gym routine using my app.

You Can Too

Just pick something to commit to. Then tweet and blog about it using the hashtag #Nerdlution15.

Or don’t tweet or blog and just do it.

Or invite your whole class to pick something. Anything. And join in.

Reading a great poem everyday, giving a compliment, running, cooking, spending more time with your kids.

If it will make you happy, do it.


Happy #nerdlution15!



cross-posted at


We grieve with families that have lost loved ones to brutality, violence, and fear.

We despair with a system that has made great police officers second guessed and poor ones too quick to pull a trigger.

We stand hopeful with the millions of educators, parents, community members, and children who are looking desperately towards a brighter future. A future where we are less ignorant, more aware of our biases, and more open to connecting across race, class, and ideologies.

Today, we recommend you spend some time looking through the tremendous resources being shared over twitter, using the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.

If nothing else, our history has taught us that galvanizing moments can be turning points—if we so choose them to be.


With a broken heart and hopeful soul,

Christopher Lehman and The Educator Collaborative family




The Ray Rice video is a reminder that many people live with the real threat of domestic violence and that we do not know what happens behind closed doors. Domestic violence can happen to anyone.


Please share this link and phone number widely.  You may help someone escape danger or even save a life.



If you are afraid, it is not okay and it is not your fault.

You can get help.

National Domestic Violence Hotline



From the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

What Does An Abusive Relationship Look Like?

Does your partner ever….

>    Embarrass you with put-downs?
>    Control what you do, who you see or talk to or where you go?
>    Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
>    Push you, slap you, choke you or hit you?
>    Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?
>    Control the money in the relationship? Take your money or Social Security check, make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
>    Make all of the decisions?
>    Tell you that you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away your children?
>    Prevent you from working or attending school?
>    Act like the abuse is no big deal, deny the abuse or tell you it’s your own fault?
>    Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?
>    Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons?
>    Attempt to force you to drop criminal charges?
>    Threaten to commit suicide, or threaten to kill you?

If you answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, you may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. In this section, you’ll find all sorts of information on different forms of abuse. Don’t hesitate to chat or call [The National Domestic Violence Hotline] (1-800-799-SAFE) if anything you read raises a red flag about your own relationship or that of someone you know.

Thanks on This Back-To-School-Eve

For all your end-of-summer blues, “why do I have to set my alarm clock again?” shock, and your endless prepping and planning for this first day of school, know that your efforts matter.


In just our home, you have a soon-to-be second grader and a brand-new kindergartner feeling excited for a new year to begin. They are anxious, yet just can’t wait to get to know their teachers.


When you step into your classroom this year, as some of you already have, you will profoundly and forever impact the lives of children.


You are a hero. Really, truly, we should hold a ticker-tape parade in your honor tomorrow. As the sun rises in the morning we should usher you down your nearest main street in an open top cadillac. We should line the streets, waving signs, celebrating the great gifts you will give this year.


This year

you will be someone’s champion

you will forever change someone’s self-esteem

you will touch a family in a profound way

you will help a colleague more than you will know

you will heal a heart

you will grow a mind

you will change another small part of the world for the better.


Here’s to an amazing school year.

Thank you for the gifts you share, the struggles you surmount, and the belief you hold.


Happy 2014-15!

image in public domain




Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Double Ear Infection

I’m writing to you from the Happiest Place on Earth, Place Where Dreams Come True, Memories To Last a Lifetime’s neighbor: the Double Ear Infection Bed of Sorrows.

used under Creative Commons lic. by Matt Wade

You see, one of my greatest strengths is getting sick either just before or just during a vacation. Twice we’ve been in beautiful and sunny Punta Cana and twice I have been locked in a room with a fever. Family water park vacation in Wisconsin Dells? Flu. Hey, here we are in Paris! Hey, here are the chills!

I do think a part of this is that I seem to never stop working. Then, when I do let my guard down, even ever so slightly, the bugs I have willed to stay away begin to creep up.

So, two days before our trip to the Mouse’s House I was, of course, shivering with fever-chills and slowly losing my hearing to a middle ear blockage. It ’twas only one ear at the time.

The plane ride down here was easy and pain-filled as one ear opened and the other closed up with the help of some sort of demonic fire sorcery taking place in my head.

I was determined, however, to keep going. Sinus decongestant. Tylenol. Antihistamine. Moving my head at odd angles. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin this trip for my family. And I firmly and steadfastly do not like to bother others.

I Got This. No Really. It’s Fine.

I come from a long line of do-this-myself-ers. Partially it is pride, for sure. We feel good when we have accomplished something all by our lonesome. A larger part, though, is that we do not want to make anyone else bother over us. I will more often than not do whatever it is that has to be done just to avoid needing to ask someone else.

I’m often inconvenience-phobic.

I assume that asking puts people out. Annoys them. Takes them away from more important things.

Which is why for the past few days, as pressure ebbed and flowed in my ears, as pain came and went, and as Mickey sounded more and more muffled, I simply took care of things myself.  More decongestant, more yawning, more tilting.

Until 12:30AM last night.

When I bolted out of bed with the feeling of explosions in my eardrums.

Now. I did still do-it-all-by-myself at first. I did fumble-tip-toe to the bathroom, got water, took more of I don’t remember what. But finally, in intense pain, I woke up my wife and we figured out how to go to emergency room.

Asking And Being Asked

What followed was a reminder that none of us are in any of this alone.

Not with a double-ear-infection at Disney World, not in our homes, not in our schools. Person after person was reassuring and helpful. From the front-desk, to our cab driver, to everyone at Celebration Hospital (yes. It is called that.).

I know this sounds like the obvious statement of the year, but:

people like to be asked.

I mean, on reflecting, I like to be asked. And when you ask someone to help, and then they do, you both feel great about it.

We each take pride in our expertise, in our ability to create or change or fix.

Now, I’m not talking about being volun-told (the identity of the educators who taught me that one will remain private) or micromanaged. Instead, I am suggesting that I, and perhaps you, can take more opportunities for learning from others and sharing in their strengths.

It is good to do things alone. Even better to do them together.

Starting the Year With Questions

For so many educators, our roles are often assessed as singular: your test scores, your lesson plans, your teacher evaluation, your classroom. While, sure, there may be a place for individual accounting of strengths, we need to be cautious that we do not retreat too much.

We retreat from the help of others when we assume we know it all or not enough, when we fear bothering others, when we think no one understands us, when we becoming unwilling to change, or when we assume no one else will. We can do this to each other as well, we can avoid fellow teachers, assume people’s strengths or limits.

We change this  when, simply, we ask:

  • “Could you listen to this…”
  • “How did you…”
  • “Can you show me…”
  • “Can you help me…”


Even though I’m only about 6 hours into my antibiotic treatment and my ears still feel like they are stuffed with cotton — I know my hearing is improving and ready to listen a bit differently during this school year.

Thanks for all you do!

image in public domain




What Do We Teach About Ferguson, MO?

I want to thank the brilliant educator and activist Christopher Lehmann (yes we share nearly the same name – he just has one too many Ns…) for the nudge this afternoon to write about my feelings on this topic.  When tragedies like these happen I sometimes find it hard to find the right words, but he reminded me how important it is to share our perspectives, how it matters for the educators we are lucky to call our community and for the children we serve. So thank you, Chris. I needed to be reminded that my voice matters, just like all of our voices matter.


What Do We Teach About Ferguson, MO?

My first draft of this letter was an angry one. Mostly at myself. While the unarmed Mike Brown’s shooting death by the hands of an armed police officer hit me, I also have started to build a pretty hard callus over the part of my heart that aches for young black men dying in our country. It hurts every time, yet I grow bitter that solutions may never come to this national tragedy. I see the lack of government movement, or even care, and feel hopeless.

What I began writing was that I was angry with myself that it took an utterly outrageous scene of mostly white police using excessive force against a mostly black population to snap me back to reality. Shouldn’t I be as outraged over one young black man’s death by an officer as I am over a scene of neighborhoods be covered with tear gas?

Then I came to this: what I know I want to teach about Ferguson.

We do need to talk about what is hopeless. And there is so much to feel hopeless about.

Mike Brown is one of many young black and minority and poor men who die daily in our country from violence–whether from police or from one another. Our prisons are filled with young black, minority, and poor men and our colleges are not. There is so much bad that it is overwhelming. Our national callus grows because to allow oneself to live with the gravity of this reality can feel so hopeless.

We do need to talk about what is hopeless because to not do so is to act as if it is not there.

What I want to teach about Ferguson, though, is not teargas.

What I want to teach about Ferguson is hope. Hope embodied in the people who chose to line up alone the road every day from the day Mike Brown was killed and make themselves seen. There may be reasons yet unknown for why the police violence and journalist blackout spread last night, but one of them most certainly was the desire to silence people who refused to be silenced. Likely even to silence the voices of the black men, women and children and those who stood beside them on those roads. What I want to teach is their story.

Megaphones came out to stop their stories from being told. But they stood.

Then arrests came out to stop their stories from being told. But they stood.

Then riot gear and guns came out to stop their stories from being told. But they stood.

Then teargas and tanks came out to stop their stories from being told. And we all stood.


This to me is an essential lesson. Do not be silenced.


I think we too often feel hopeless because we feel there is little any one of us can say or do to make a difference. So then we stop saying anything at all.

What we must teach our children, and each other, is that standing up to tell the story is the most critical step. Saying the wrong you see or feel is the beginning. When you stand, you invite others to stand, too.

Talk about what feels hopeless. Then, teach towards hope.



Conversations with My Son Regarding the Mike Brown Murder

What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying? #MichaelBrown

When Can We Talk About Race? (Michael + Trayvon + Renisha + …)



With Thanks to Walter Dean Myers

I can remember a time, barely more than a decade ago, where the Young Adult market was full of only books about dead dogs from the 1970s. Or the best my students could read of urban life was trying to understand 1960s jargon in The Outsiders… drive-ins were nowhere in site in the Bronx, you see.

That was until Walter Dean Myers.

Scorpions, Slam!, and Monster became required reading. Not because I required them, because my students couldn’t help but pass them around. Walter Dean Myers sat, at least as far as I can tell, at the cusp of what, thankfully, has become an explosion of thoughtful, well written, deeply introspective, Young Adult writing that is aimed at real kids, with real feelings, and respects their real humanity.

One of my favorite’s is Somewhere in the Darkness. Myers’ book about a son reuniting with his recently-out-of-prison father and the cross-country trip they take together. It’s human, dark, and heart wrenching.

I actually teared up at the news of Walter Dean Myers’ passing. Not only for the loss the literary world must now face, but at the enormity of his gift to children and classrooms. I also feel personally indebted. His work has helped me be a better teacher.

I recall, when I was teaching high school, sitting down next to a tough-as-nails ninth grade girl who wore her attitude as armor over the embarrassment I know she felt for having such a poor academic record. She had written only the little bit, about three paragraphs of what was supposed to be a short story.  She hrumphed next to me as I reread some of the lines and the first thing that popped into my mind was: “Do you know who you write dialogue like? Walter Dean Myers. He has that way of making people sound so real. People spend their lives studying how to write dialogue well, how to make movie scripts sound realistic and novels authentic. The dialogue you wrote here sounds much the same way. It’s real people, really talking. You aren’t hiding them, you aren’t faking them, you are writing as if they are in this room.” We ended that conference and she spent the rest of the period writing without lifting her head.

It’s one of my fondest memories from the classroom, and, as with many of my memories, Walter Dean Myers’ work played a starring role.

While the Young Adult industry has a long way to go to realize a breadth of fully inclusive characters, plots, and authors, our classrooms are still much closer to reflecting a multitude of lives and experiences than ever before. Walter Dean Myers has been a cornerstone of this new world. A prolific author. A quiet visionary.

With condolences to his family, friends, and readers — and overwhelming gratitude.


Applying for 2014-15 Services

Dear friends,

In April I will begin booking services for the 2014-15 school year. If your school or organization is interested in on-site or on-line professional development or speaking engagements please be sure to join the growing wait list before April 1st for your best chance at being added.

For more information or to apply, use the contact form on the bottom of my Services Page.

This school year has been exciting and such a joy teaching and learning inside of classrooms with teams of teachers, speaking at conferences and workshop days around the world, and connecting with educators online in webinars and interactive sessions.  I’m looking forward to 2014-15.

Also, there are some surprises in store (announced soon!), be sure to follow me on twitter or subscribe to this blog to so you don’t miss the big announcement.

Looking forward to continued collaboration, inspiration, and together becoming our best so students can become their best.

Thanks for all you do,


by Camdiluv used under Creative Commons lic

Day After

I know about as much of what to do right now as you do.

We all know that this case, and this verdict, is a deeply private tragedy for the Davis family. A deeply private tragedy for the other boys who “survived” in terms of mortality, but certainly have lost in countless ways.

We also all know that this is one case and one verdict in an endless sea of atrocity.

I recall shortly after the Newtown shooting, commentator Ben Stein had a segment on CBS Sunday Morning where he challenged the national outrage and pressure to tighten gun regulations. He pointed to some set of statistics that said that our large cities have the strictest gun laws and yet the greatest gun violence rates, and therefore people like him out in the mountains shouldn’t have to face the same regulations.

What struck me then and strikes me again now, is not that he was against gun control–I disagree with him, but I was not surprised–instead, it was the feeling that “those people” in “that city over there” are unrelated to “me.”

What I do know is this:

Every act of racism is our act of racism. Every child lost is our child lost. Every family is our family. Every city is our city. Every law is our law.

I also know:

You can’t fix it all. I think that’s where we feel defeated. That’s where we go only so far and then stop.

I also know:

What you can do is a little. That little bit that you do is more than what was done before.

One example of that is the #DangerousBlackKids hashtag that is circulating on twitter today. Through a stroke of genius and inspiration, the tag is people posting photos of black children doing everyday kid stuff. It makes you laugh, cry, and get angry. It hit me. So, I wrote this. That one small act, that’s turned into a twitter trend, is pushing me to not talk about defeat. It is pushing me to talk about the promise our children hold and the promise we as adults must hold for them.

I know this:

While you can’t do it all, you can do some.

You can continue to teach all children, and right now especially our African American boys, that they matter.

You can tutor.

You can mentor.

You can write.

You can talk.

You can reflect.

You can speak up at that innocuous comment you overhear someone say.

You can tell your story, your friend’s stories, your student’s stories, your children’s stories.

You can use the pronoun “our.”

Every bit you do is more than was done yesterday. Use your power.

Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve (and Walls and Actions and)

As I work with schools and districts across the country, I find one question becomes essential above all else:

Is your heart visible?

by Amada44 used under Creative Commons lic

Michael Fullan describes that when organizations and schools falter it is not because there is a resistance to change, but because too many initiatives are taken on all at once with little time to get good at any of them.

The more scattered our focus, the less focused we truly are.

I find the question–is your heart visible–is an important one.  What we make visible in our classrooms, in our schools, even in our lives, shows what we value, what is important, and what we feel and believe.

At my home, for instance, if you walk into my daughter’s bedroom you’ll find mountains of art supplies and in-progress projects of all kinds. Paper, glue, crayons, scissors, pipe cleaners, googly eyes and mountains of little characters she has created. In my son’s room puzzles rule, as well as maps (oh so many maps. Seriously, if anyone needs a globe or map we have extra), and his illustrated dictionary is always open on the floor.

From the time each of us are young, we gather what is important, keep it close at hand, curate it, and sometimes even display it for others to see. In our schools and classrooms, when we make our hearts visible we not only own a deeper sense of our mission, we also invite our students and our community to share it with us.

Show Off Your Love

At New Milford High School, for example Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) and his team display a belief in technology as a tool for collaboration, innovative, and risk-taking.

The first striking feature is that New Milford HS looks like nearly every other building in the US. It’s stately, yet aging, and locker filled hallways lead to linoleum-green classroom floors. The heart is not held up, or held back, by the physical plant. It is in the vision of the staff and students.

Take Laura Fleming‘s Library/Media Center. A MakerBot 3-D printer, lego robotics, a little circuit station, and more. She has devoted part of her space for experimentation.  “No one signs up, they just come when they want to come and try what they want to try. Not just the students, staff come to play around, too,” Laura pointed out during my visit.

It’s easy to be dazzled by the cool stuff. The message is bigger, though. There is a keen sense that learning is about doing, making attempts, rethinking things, trying again.

This is carried throughout the building, students and teachers see learning as a blend of online and off, and as risk-taking. One teacher we ran into in the hallway I said, “I’m not technology phobic like I used to be, because I’ve learned that it’s all about trying something out.”

As the building leader, Eric  believes in making his beliefs visible but then also stepping back to allow his staff to experiment and grow.

At another school, Cantiague Elementary, principal Tony Sinanis wears an incredible love of his community all over everything – his office walls, his blog and my favorite, his twitter account.  He regularly tweets and retweets images of students and teachers at work with captions celebrating their work.

Recently I was able to visit his school, one focused on supporting students’ growth in literacy. His belief in literacy meant he has made room in his budget for a terrific literacy coach and together the school has been spending a good amount of time on best-practices in reading instruction.  As with all things, what you focus on often grows and what you don’t can sometimes stagnate. Together we wondered if students were writing enough each day, to really practice the skills they were learning.

In another example of making your heart visible, his school, in what felt like less than day after my visit, looked at students’ current writing and made a decision to make the time and celebrate the time students would spend writing.


A big shift happened, and so quickly, because a focus was placed on making a school value more visible.

Reflecting on Your Heart

These are two of the many examples of schools and organizations who are striving to unite their communities in the best interest of learners.  In the busy, sometimes scattered, often frantic pace of the school year, it is important to stop at times and reflect. Is your heart visible in your classroom? In your school?

Step back and take a look:

  • When you look around your classroom, what do you see the most of?  Is it what you value?
  • When you look through your students notebook and folders, what does their work say to you? Do you see evidence of why you are an educator? Evidence of why you love what you teach?
  • When you walk through the hallways of your school, what do classrooms and displays have in common? Can you see the heart of your community or is it unclear?
  • If you talk with your colleagues, is your community’s heart visible in conversations?

Sometimes these questions reveal the lack or erosion of a shared belief system, other times they reveal qualities you may have forgotten were there.

The best news is that showing your heart only takes a little bit of bravery–once you begin an incredible path lies before you.

by Gian Cayetano used under Creative Commons lic