Share Your Story

You have a story inside you that you need to tell. More importantly, you have a story inside of you that is meaningful and will help people. It’s true for you and it is true for your students & co-workers as well. I’m begging you to be brave and share it.

As a teacher I realized that depositing a story inside the brain of a student is nowhere near as powerful as allowing students to tell their own. It may take a while to give them the confidence, and it may take a while for them to feel that people will listen to the story that they share, but once they do, it transforms the classroom. Once they have a story to share, they need way to get it out to the world, to construct a process to connect them to their audience.

How students choose to connect varies a lot. Some make movies. Some want to write children’s books. In recent years I saw a rise in the number of students who wanted to create songs to tell their stories. It all depends on their intended audience and how they can best be reached.

For the past decade or so, the way I share my story, and hear other people’s stories is through blogs. (And twitter and Instagram, but that’s a different post.)

If you look closely you can tell how long a person has been blogging by what platform they are using. Each blogging platform has had its day. New platforms come, new platforms go and they each have their day.

7 or eight years ago Blogger was a very popular choice. That’s where my first attempts attempts at professional writing began. At the same time, I regularly used “Posterous Spaces” for class projects. I learned a valuable lesson when Posterous Spaces and their innovative posting and sharing abilities, died a horrible death. I lost quite a bit of my best work as a teacher, including the EPIC “Assessing Holocaust Responsibility” project that started my collaboration with Greg Kulowiec.

Ultimately I moved on to WordPress, a site that I felt was more powerful in sharing and connecting my writing to the world. It is still the main landing pad for my writing. But that said, new products arise and my eyes wander. Lately I am infatuated with Medium for the simplicity of the service and the wide range of writing that is published there. For a moment, just a moment, I considered packing up and moving my blog to Medium.

Fortunately, I found a great tool that allows me to use both of these services, maintaining the tools, followers and connections that I built in WordPress with all of the things that I love about simple, qualities of Medium.

When my students began blogging in class, someone would inevitably lose their work when writing directly into the website. As a rule, I told my classes to do their writing into a Google Doc. It allowed them to proofread and prevented students from prematurely clicking publish before they had a product they were proud of. I still follow that advice. (Especially since when I hit publish, my writing is automatically shared to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin.)

Using the WordPress.com for Google Docs add on in Google Docs, I can quickly upload my finished writing from a Doc to WordPress where it is saved as a draft. Then after looking it over, simply hit publish to share it with the world. It transfers formatting flawlessly and works well with embedded images.

Once an article is posted to WordPress, (or any other blogging portal), I use the simple Medium Import Tool to bring the work over to my Medium account.

This is another efficient tool, that in addition to bringing in links and photos, also credits the site where your work was originally published.

I am writing in a comfortable space that is efficient and protects my work, then publishing to a hub location that is prepared to share the finished product to an audience across social media and leveraging tools that streamline and simplify that process.

So how are you telling your story? Where can I go to hear it? What tools are you using to share it? Your story is too important to keep to yourself. Share your story.

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Get Out of Your Own Way

Looking back on 25 years of classroom teaching, I can say that the greatest changes that I made to my classroom practice began in 2006, when I had a principal that pulled me aside and told me that I should really push the limits and rethink my classroom. What she actually told me was, “Some teachers I feel need me to guide them to change. I think I can help you best by getting out of your way.”  I had a green light, blank check, clearance from the tower.

But in retrospect, at this point where I had the institutional barriers to change removed, I built my own.

I was teaching full inclusion Special Ed US history in a room where ⅓ of the students had IEP, ED, BD plans. I had confidently volunteered to teach the class, saying that I knew exactly what I would do. Which was a combination of wishful thinking and bravado. My cooperating SPED teacher (who was amazing) and I were eager to try new things and started of the year by rethinking homework, due dates and tests. We implemented test retakes and test corrections. I read books, talked to my principal regularly and had a clear vision of what I wanted to do.

But in every instance, I created obstacles and limits on these changes that prevented my classroom from moving forward.

I limited who could do test corrections and how often any one person could do them. (If these processes are learning, why would I limit their chances to continue to learn?)

I was flexible on turning in work, but I limited how often I was flexible and I still imposed harsh penalties for timeliness. (If I identify a hard working student, capable of learning but who needs more time to do so, why would I make time a key continuing factor in their grades?)

I changed classroom activities to be more student centered, but I still maintained dominion over what those activities were. In the back of my head, my current mantra “Choose the destination, not the path” was forming but I was still creating narrow, singular paths to the learning objective. (So long as they arrive at the objective, how concerned am I really about the path that gets them there?)

In hindsight I think there were many reasons for holding back. I was certainly concerned about other teachers. It was my first year at a brand new school.

I was very aware of how parents saw what I was doing, and concerned about helping them to understand and see value in what I was doing. I felt an uneasiness each time we used cell phones in class, secretly set up a wifi network, or threw away the textbook.

Now I see that these were excuses that I made, because there we little to no actual instances where any of these fears were made real.

If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice knowing what I know today, it would be “Get out of your own way.” I knew what I wanted, I was on the right path, yet I kept building roadblocks. Often, (but certainly not always) institutional roadblocks were perceived, but disappeared as my resolve to change grew stronger. What really held me back was me and my perception of how big of a leap I could take.

What are the changes that you believe you need to make? How are you limiting your own ability to achieve them? What personal roadblocks could you remove today?

Get out of your own way.

Building the New

On my busiest and most stressful days I like to remind myself that my life is a compilation of my past choices.  You don’t make choices in your life just once. You choose and then with each and every day that passes you choose again and again the things that matter, make you happy, and are worthy of your time.  So I remind myself that I get to choose EVERY DAY. The alternative to this (for me) is seeing only the obligations and requirements before you. When I get in this mindset, I tend to get frustrated by all of the immediate WANTS that I can’t have because of all of the MUSTS on my to-do list.

Last year at about this time I decided it was time for a new challenge. I’d been offered several jobs over the previous year that while interesting, were not the right fit for me or my family, or weren’t the direction I wanted to go.   So I sat down with my wife and we talked about what the right job would look like. I was really worried (afraid even) about how a move would unsettle the many pieces of my life that were in balance; being present for my wife & kids, teaching and the classroom, traveling and presenting at conferences, my consulting work, writing and publishing, all of the pieces of life that go together to give each day meaning.

Shortly thereafter I applied and was hired to be a Social Studies Department Chair.  This year has been about adapting to that role, getting to know the people in my department, getting to know the school and community and working to reconstruct a strong classroom and course curriculum.  Surprisingly the hardest part of this was rebuilding my classroom because I had so many ideas about what I wanted that new experience to be like for my students.  You have to surrender the comfort of habit to build something new and ambitious.

The upside to the change has been the growth that comes with challenging yourself and the opportunity to help others grow as teachers. That is what I have loved about twitter from the very start (back in the wonderful early days of #sschat) and my favorite part about working with teachers across the country. There is no better feeling than hearing what passionate teachers or students want to accomplish and then helping them to get there.   Despite the challenges, actually more BECAUSE of the challenges,  I’m loving the job, and I’m glad I made the leap for all that I have learned.  I have gained so much and I feel i’m in a place where I have much to offer.

While the actual jobs skills are important, the most important things that I learned were about what is and is not important to me.  Crisis makes you prioritize and clarify.  I have an idea of where I want to go now, and what I have to do to get there. My vision for the next few years is taking shape.  That is exciting, and it is what led me to make the change in the first place.

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One of the things that I put aside in order to find balance was writing, both articles and for this blog. In hindsight I think that was a mistake.  The time I spend writing has always helped me to sharpen my thoughts and serves as an outlet, something that I now see would have been welcome this semester. Rather than taking my time, I think it would have been a welcome opportunity for expression.

I feel I’m in a better place, with a better vision of my future and where I’m g(r)o(w)ing.