Why we need to support our #NJED

I was recently sent this badge to embed on my blog. Sure, I could easily have put it on my sidebar, but I really wanted everyone to know how important this issue is to us here in New Jersey. Our shore towns were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and there are many who are still without power. In addition to the shore line, there are folks in other parts of the the state who are waiting 3 to 4 hours in line for gasoline because the power is out. Schools in some parts of the state are serving as shelters for the evacuees. At times, it seems that there is no end in sight, but we all know that we must work together to help support each other.


Please help me in forwarding this badge, and more importantly the message that we need everyone’s thoughts, prayers and eventually donations to help our state.


Want to embed this on your blog? Just copy the link below and show your support for the #NJED!

<a title=”NJED Hurricane Relief Spreadsheet” href=”http://teachercast.net/hurricanesandy/” target=”_blank”><img title=”NJED Hurricane Relief” src=”http://teachercast.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/NJED-Hurricane-Relief.png” alt=”” width=”200″ height=”200″ /></a>


For more information, check out this link  http://teachercast.net/hurricanesandy/


Back in the Saddle Again

I’m back in the saddle again, Out where a friend is a friend, Where the longhorn cattle feed On the lowly gypsum weed, Back in the saddle again ~Gene Autry 1939

One of “my” classes

Yesterday I had the opportunity to get back in the saddle again. The idea came to me as I read about No Office Days, You Matter, and the importance of being a Lead Learner. So, thank you to Patrick Larkin, Jessica Johnson, Angela Maiers, and Joe Mazza for your inspiration for me to get back in the saddle! 

Basically, this monthly program is designed to recognize teachers, and allow them to spend a day collaborating with their peers while I teach their classes! Its a win, win, win! Free Professional Development for teachers. Free time to collaborate with other teachers in the building or explore online learning. And here is the kicker – I get to teach again.


I arrived at my assignment a few minutes late (Cut me some slack, I was trying to get the building started). Once I arrived at the classroom I took on the persona of a guest teacher. I started from scratch and gave myself a pre-test. How many names did I really know? In my first class, a paltry 6 out 16. Yikes. As I went through the math lesson with the students, I was able to shake off the cobwebs and get down to some real teaching, and learning.


Here is what I learned:

– First day jitters never go away

– After about 10 minutes, the kids forgot I was the principal

– Before teaching the subject, you have to take time learning about the learners

– Interruptions require flexibility – I still had to take a few calls, speak with teachers all while teaching

– I needed coverage for a bathroom break

– I did get a walkthrough by our Fine and Performing Arts Supervisor, and I really want to know what he thought

– My Assistant Superintendent, upon hearing what I was doing said, “Your crazy, but I still love you!”

– Slate drills elicit participation, but the markers smell, so I had to keep the windows open

– Technology aides such as SMART boards, videos from EnVision math, ipods, and computer centers assist with application of learned math skills

– Since I missed recess duty, the other 4th grade teachers said I owe them 15 minutes

– The art teacher, when I handed “my” class off to her, wondered when I am going to choose a special area teacher for this program

– Teaching is still the best job, bar none

– My random songs, which used to be a lot better when I taught full time, still make kids smile

– I still have it (well, at least I think I do)


I am sure you are wondering how my assessments went through the rest of the day. In the middle of the first class I gave myself another, and I scored 10 out 16. At the conclusion of that same class, with the kids clapping and cheering, I earned a 16 out of 16! In my second class, my pre-test was 10 out of 19. I scored a perfect 19 on both the middle and the post test. Once again, the kids were cheering and clapping. What fun!


Most importantly, the 4th grade teacher who spent the day collaborating with other teachers came to me at the end of the day, beaming! He was able to get into about 8 classrooms throughout the day. He team taught, facilitated centers, and assisted teachers with any questions they had regarding math. It was so obvious that he really grew as a professional! And, he loved it!


So what is next? Well, I have a 3rd grade class later this month and a Kindergarten class next month. I can’t wait to get back in the saddle again!

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

source hotel images – google

Picture this- you walk into your child’s school and are greeted by a concierge, not a security guard. This person knows everything about the who, what, where, and why of the school. As you gaze around the walls and the floors everything is in tip top condition. Mirrors are clean, the floor is immaculate, and the artwork on the wall symbolically represents the culture and climate of the school. Not to mention there is  fresh water and you can see the mint leaves, and orange slices at the top of the jug. Ahhh, and its fresh!

Your concierge takes you to your destination, and for this day you need to pick up your child. By the time you get to the office, your child is patiently waiting, chatting with the receptionist about her day (Somehow it was communicated that you were there and to get your child from class – no waiting). You swipe your license and you are able to take your child. But, we are talking about kids, so she tells you that she forgot something, and you both venture to her class to get it.

As you walk to her classroom there is a staff member in the hallway who greets you with a smile and asks if there is anything they can help you with. While your daughter is getting her work, the  staff member talks to you about the school, and seems very informed on the educational goals and objectives of the school. She even can share an anecdote with you about how your daughter helped her clean up spilled milk the other day in the restaurant (cafeteria).

Then, as luck would have it you need to use the restroom, so the staff member personally takes you to the restroom and makes sure the students aren’t in there. You look around at this “student” bathroom and the fixtures are all polished, there is artwork on the walls, everything is clean, and smelling fresh. As you wash your hands with the automatic sink, the smell of cucumber soap waifs through the air. This is a student bathroom, you think.

In the hallway, there is another person waiting for you with your daughter and the three of you walk to the exit. On your way out of the door, the staff member reminds you to scan the QR code. You remember hearing something about this at back to school night, but you haven’t tried it yet. The  staff member scans the QR code for you and on her phone she shows you how to access the days events, the teachers blogs and a 15 second tout from the assembly earlier that day. She then helps you scan it and laughs, “Just don’t drive and watch the tout because we don’t want you driving off the road. Off you go to the doctor’s appointment, knowing that your daughter is getting the 5 Star treatment at school!e

How Cool is Cool? @coolcatteacher’s keynote

The Coolest Gal in School!

I know why her students gave her the name that would become the twitter handle @coolcatteacher… because Vicki Davis is a cool gal. I had the pleasure of listening to her Keynote at Edscape 2012, and then having lunch with her later on that afternoon. It was a great day! It was really cool!




courtesy of Dana Sirotiak

Vicki began her keynote by discussing transition into becoming a connected educator. Her story, which is similar to most, began with overcoming a mindset that social media was somehow “negative” or even “detrimental” to education. Once over that mindset, and at the behest of her students, Vicki jumped in with two feet to the connected world. She began to take her classroom to places they had never seen or imagined they would know. Through social media she took them on a world tour. Like I said, she is cool!


Courtesy of Dana Sirotiak

She then talked about her recent research that focuses from her book “Flatting Classrooms Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time”  She presented charts and graphs that illustrated how important connectivity, engagement, and application of knowledge is so important to the learner. She pointed out the limits that certain districts or schools may be facing, but she also kept showing a slide over and over again that simply read “ME.” Ultimately, she had us repeat, we can’t change anyone but herself. Cool.

At lunch, Tom Whitby asked me if I ever met Vicki before, and I said I had not. Well, in his Tom Whitby fashion, he said, “You are going to have lunch with her.” He made sure she sat directly across from me. After we exchanged pleasantries, and in her southern belle draw she asked me, “So what do you do, Spike?” She had me there!


We talked about everything from the proper pronunciation of pecans (pee-cens as she said or pea-khans as I say), school, family, finance, and #you matter. I told her of my communication with Angela Maiers and the work our RM Bacon has done to show our community that they matter. I was able to show her the red carpet video, and she asked me to send her my blogs so she could post them on her site. So, cool!

Courtesy of Dana Sirotiak

There is no mystery as to why Vicki has become one of the most sought after speakers in education. As a mother, teacher, wife, Christian, teacher, learner, writer, presenter, as well as avid runner and fisherwoman, Vicki embodies all that is positive about education. She cares about her kids, your kids, my kids…. OUR kids. That is why she does what she does.

That is what she is cool.

You can do what you want, the result will be the same. However…

…You can influence the result by grabbing the opportunity when it knocks at your door. Kersi Porbunderwalla

Kersi and I after the interview

This morning, while at breakfast, I met Kersi Porbunderwalla. He is the Client Service Director for Resources Global Professionals. He was in Dallas, TX at a conference for his company. Originally from Mumbai, Kersi recently gave a lecture on Corporate Governance at the Govt. Law College in Thrissur, Kerala. He was intrigued by what he saw.

As we enjoyed the amazing food at the hotel, Kersi and I talked about everything. When we talked about education, he beamed with excitement. He told me of his daughter and how well she was doing at the University in Copenhagen. He is so proud of her! We talked about Sugata Mitra and child-driven education. Have you watched Sugata’s Ted Talk? You won’t be disappointed!

I asked Kersi why so many people of Indian descent do so well with education, especially math and science… and he replied, “Well, this isn’t a scientific or research-based thought, but I think it has to do with our language. All Indian languages require the learners to anticipate and calculate sentences as they read. In a country with over  75% literacy rate,  Kerala maintains a literacy rate of 99%. I feel this is because of the time they spend on reading and studying their language. This seems like a daunting task, but they do it, and I think that is why we are so math/science focused.” I was amazed. How can we get our kids to do this I thought? 99% sounds great.


He went on to discuss the amount of time Indian students spend on their studies. He felt that most Indian kids (even those who are in the United States) are studying 2 to 3 hours per night, not to mention the amount of time spent in the summer. Education is so valued in the Indian household that it trumps interest in sports, video games, or any of the other leisure activities of a typical American child. Could you imagine your students spending 10 to 15 EXTRA hours a week on learning more about what you are teaching?


Kerala, India

He went on to discuss how motivation is in the culture of the people of India, specifically the state of Kerala, where he is from. This state in India has always been important because of the spices, and trade. It required the residents to be aware of  other languages and globalization. Kersi felt that all of these factors contributed to high literacy rate not only with the the various Indian dialects, but the rest of the world languages too. Sure enough I went on You Tube and looked this up, and I found this clip:

As my interview came to a close, I asked him what the key to success in education was… he said, “Do your best. It’s a competitive world. Things can change in a second. Grab the moment, and seize the opportunity. You can do what you want, the result will be the same…however…You can influence the result by grabbing the opportunity when it knocks at your door.”


The rest is up to you!

I want to be your Felix!

Dr. Gentile and Dr. Moore, (My Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent)

Source: thefoxisblack.com

Last week I am sure you saw my email to the staff titled, “Teachable Moment.” In the email, I encouraged the teachers to show the historic sky jump of Felix Baumgartner. Unfortunately, the jump was unable to happen that day.

Today, as I was eating lunch in Dallas, TX I watched Felix make the historic jump. I was amazed at the whole production: five years of training, corporate sponsors, innovation, data, and family support. This jump really struck  a chord with me. I want to be your Felix!

If you are looking for something to challenge the status quo, to be innovative, or even different, I am your guy! I know that I learned a lot from the jump and I can’t wait to see the documentary on this epic journey. There are so many parallels to what we are trying in our school district. I my humble opinion, he was able to make this jump for the following reasons:

– Ultimately he was researching product advancement such as space suits, technology, etc.

– Someone had to do it, so he worked with a team of individuals who helped him accomplish the task.

– The information collected will help the space industry.

– His team believed in him, and supported his “calculated” epic jump.

– No one told him “no” or it cost too much or it was “impossible.”

– There were many process checks along the way to ensure safety.

So, next time there is something you want to try, or something I want to try, let’s work together and break a record, or two. I will be the one that jumps! I will be your Felix!


Go West, young educator, for just 10 minutes a day

Go West, young man, and grow up with the country” Horace Greeley

The quote that lead to this post refers to going “West” to find new adventures, getting away from the tried and true, and ensuring that you grow up with your new found information.


For me the “West” is the 21st century learning environment, and I really want to grow up with it. Well, not just me, but my teachers, students, parents, and other administrators.


How do you go “West” nowadays? The list is endless (twitter, facebook, pintrest, google+, linkedin) and fortunately there are people there willing to help you.


Here is one map for your trip “West” young educator

1. Sign up for a twitter account (here is a video)

2. Follow Kelly Tenkley, Eric Sheninger, George Couros, Cool Cat Teacher and Erin Klein (they will lead you to more people)

3. Familiarize yourself with these hashtags (#edchat, #cpchat, and #edtech) (here is a video on hashtags)

4. Lurk and learn for 10 minutes a day, three days a week, for 1 month.

5. Subscribe (via email) to one of these clearing houses for information (TeacherCast, Edutopia, or Connected Principals)

6. Track your data for the month. How many articles, and blogs did you read? How many videos did you watch? How many podcasts did you listen to?

7. Then come back to this post and let me know what you found out “West” young educator!



Why I keep blogging

It takes a lot of work to blog. You have to be committed (or you might become committed). I would say the most important thing you need to be committed to is the why. Just like organizations, teaching, administration or even golf, if you know why you are doing something (think mission/vision driven) it makes things a lot easier. For me, it is all about my insights into learning. Simple as that!


Sometimes blogging can be lonely. For me, it is a commitment of time that I could be doing something else. I let my family know I am going blogging, put headphones on, and get to work. Sometimes it takes a few minutes, other times it can take an hour. Sometimes I hit post, and other times I just hit delete. Its all part of the process.


Recently, I had two encounters that reaffirmed  I am not the only one benefiting from this blog.


It was a Friday afternoon and a parent came in to pick up her daughter. She is a teacher who works in a neighboring school. When I came out of my office, I was immediately greeted by this parent. She said, “You! (she pointed at me, smiling) yeah you. I have been waiting to tell you this since Back To School night. You are such an inspiration. The best principal I have ever seen. Tell me to jump off of a bridge, and I will only ask you which one!” I walked over to her, and asked her for a hug. I told her I was humbled by her statement, and that I appreciated her feedback. Wow, I thought, a bridge?


That same weekend I attended a wedding for my wife’s friend’s son. My wife and her friend worked together for 10 years, and they were a supportive network for each other. We really enjoy spending time with her and her family! As we were leaving the reception, on one of the most important days in her life, she took the time to tell me this, “I love reading your stuff. I get so inspired. Keep going. Don’t stop!” Gulp, someone is actually inspired.


I am thankful to have a supportive network that allows me to grow as a blogger, and as a person. Whether it is my family, staff, central administration team, other bloggers, friends or readers, I appreciate the support.


But I know that at the end of the day, it comes down to the why.


This is why I keep blogging!


Why do #youmatter?

Why do you matter?

A few weeks ago I watched the you matter TED talk by Angela Maiers. I was amazed. I knew right away that I was ready to sign up to help Angela with this worthwhile cause. I mattered! I wanted to make sure that everyone else around me knew that they mattered. If you haven’t seen the TED talk by Angela, I highly recommend it.

When I was thinking about how to welcome back my staff I went back and watched the video again. I knew that the you matter theme would guide my staff welcome back.

I went shopping at a local store and tried to find symbolic items that I could place in a brown paper bag. Once I bought the supplies, my wife and I set everything out on our table, and began the process of stuffing the bags.


Preparing the bags and the symbolic supplies


All bags filled and ready to go


The message on all of the bags


At our first staff meeting I showed the staff this video (a shortened version of the TED talk).

Then I had the staff fill out 2 you matter cards. (I just made the you matter cards on Microsoft Word, and cut out 4 per sheet. At the top it read: you matter followed by 5 to 6 lines for the person to write. Very simple). They were given the opportunity to share in front of the staff, or wait until later. There were about 5 or 6 staff members who publicly gave the you matter cards to someone who mattered to them. I gave my cards to the Head Custodian, Wayne Parr, and my secretary, Dina Klaudi. After we gave out all of the you matter cards, I handed the you matter bags to each staff member. Reflecting back on this opening, it was just what we all needed! We also put extra cards in the front office for people to use throughout the year.

One of the staff members, Leigh Simpson, came to me with an idea that was inspired by the you matter theme.  She asked me, “Why don’t we show the parents and students on the first day of school that they matter? Let’s get a red carpet! It will tie in with the ongoing imovie trailers we are doing, and it will show them how much they matter to us!” We rolled out the red carpet, and made an imovie trailer (in real time) to symbolically show everyone just how much they mattered to us!

You Matter at #RMBACON! Just the beginning

Slowly but surely, I began to get you matter cards in my mailbox, and I in turn sent out you matter cards to other staff members. One teacher, Bobby Drewnowski, integrated this into his classes, and made a bulletin board charting the you matter progress with the students.Just the other day I had a conference with a staff member who was having trouble understanding their role in the school. At one point of the discussion, the person said that they felt like no one cared about them. I was taken aback, and thought about the you matter theme. I apologized to them if they actually felt they came to work, and they didn’t feel that they mattered. I learned a lot about the power of you matter through that conference. We all need to feel that we matter.

And the bulletin board grows ….

Dr. Dave Gentile, Angela Maiers, and Jeff Bradbury at the Bammy Awards

I was fortunate to meet Angela Maiers in person when I was at the Bammy Awards last week. I told her all of the things we were doing with the you matter theme. She was so supportive, and took the time to listen to me. I could tell she honestly thought I mattered. She encouraged me to blog about this experience.So I did. What’s next? I encourage anyone to take these ideas and implement them in their school during a faculty meeting, or even a class lesson. Use this blog, the pictures, the videos for anything you feel could continue to spread the message that you matter, because you do, and so do your students, parents, and staff members!

Thanks Angela!

For more information on you matter, please vist Angela Maiers’s website.

And the BAMMY goes to….


Courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

The Academy of Education Arts and Sciences held its inaugural gala event last night. Known as the Bammys, the purpose of the night was to create an atmosphere similar to other award shows, but the honorees, and award winners were all educators. I applaud the Academy for having the determination to roll out the red carpet for the people who are most dedicated to the future of society – educators!

I was able to attend the event as one of the Twitterati (a combination of a micro and macro-blogger). There were about 50 of us in attendance, and the top 20 were recognized on stage. Honestly, these folks who were recognized on stage were the absolute elite in the twitter and blogging world. It was a real tweet (I mean treat) meeting them in person!

In addition to the twitterari, the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences recognized the outstanding educators in categories as diverse as school nursing to maintenance director to teacher and principal. I was touched at the stories told about the nominees, and by the award winners. The Bammy statue that was distributed to the winners was quite magnificent. I was lucky enough to hold one at the after party, and it was very heavy!

In between awards, the attendees were treated to comedian and former teacher Jimmy Burns, author Taylor Mali and the the Washington Metropolitan Youth Orchestra.

Diane Ravitch being interviewed by @teachercast (Jeff Bradbury): Courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

At the conclusion of the event, Linda Darling-Hammond, John Merrow and Diane Ravitch received special honors for their distinguished lifetime achievements. Each lifetime achievement award winner gave a powerful acceptance speech on behalf of all of the students, teachers, and parents that make a difference in education everyday. John Merrow had one of the best lines of the night when he said, “Ask students how are you intelligent, not how intelligent are you?” They are all such inspiring educators, and I can only hope that one day I could grade the stage with such eloquence.

Eric Sheninger: courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

As a member of twitterati, I have to give special thanks to Eric Sheninger for his tireless commitment to assemble the largest gathering of education bloggers to date.


Want more information? Pictures? Podcasts? Check out Kevin Jarrett’s flickr site for pictures, and Jeff Bradbury’s teachercast site for live podcasting from the evening.


I also want to thank  all of the those from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences, Council of Peers, and the sponsors who did a phenomenal job in coordinating the event.

And last, but certainly not least, you!