Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Is Student Voice Truly Heard in Schools?

Take a moment and ask yourself: Is student voice truly heard in schools?

Many educators claim that they promote student voice into numerous activities at their schools, yet are they "hearing" what the students want?  Throughout many school systems, students have had some voice in teacher assigned projects, infused ideas into student council, lead athletic/academic teams, and so much more. Yet, have we ever embraced the power of their voice in allowing them to tell us what they want to learn?  In the educational community, we constantly hear the terms: school reform, best practices, and model schools. Still, are the ideas from adults truly the way to reach the "whole child" of today? 

When was the last time someone actually asked the students what they wanted to learn, regardless of their age? When was the last time a schedule was designed by a student, instead of a guidance counselors or school administrators? Also, does every student that has an opportunity to select preferred electives, get their top one or two picks? 

Traditional schedules still include bell times, study halls, advisory periods, innovation periods, and other educator driven instruction times. Yes, we tell the students what to learn, when to learn, and how to learn.

We often discuss the need to engage at-risk students, nonetheless, we continue to repeat what we have always done. We offer extra help before or after school, including the weekends, and somehow, we neglect to realize that it doesn't work. Instead, it's "they refuse to get extra help, refuse to do homework, and don't put much effort into their studies." Why, as educators, do we continue to allow this system of failure? 

How can one focus on their studies when they are possibly taking care of a sibling or working a job to help with the bills? Perhaps, homework can not be completed because their parents don't even know how to help them on subjects that they never had? In reality, our world continues to change, yet schools don’t.  

Curriculum, standards, data collection and administrator pushed programs come first, then relationships. How can relationships between students and educators blossom, when systems remain the same. Where is the empathy that so many educators stress?

Now, shift gears and think about a “game changer” for educators - EdCamp.

For many, EdCamp, has been monumental in bringing new life back to “beaten down” educators who work in similar settings listed above. They are usually held on a Saturday, they are free, provide incredible discussions, and empower others to try something new after they leave. They are so powerful, that most educators share with others, and bring more educators back with them to the next EdCamp.  It’s a place where, Chief Yea But Officers (CYBO’s), do not exist, as everything and anything is possible to learn. The voices of the learners are heard!

I challenge you to make time and create a daily EdCamp period.  

Create a daily EdCamp period that allows students to select what they want to learn and how they want to learn. Students design the board, and students lead the class. Teachers are off to the side as facilitators, and learn with students throughout the period. Allow the voices of the learners to be heard!

Tips successfully implement an EdCamp period

Mindset change:

*Revamp your traditional scheduling-study hall, advisory periods, once a week innovation periods. Make it happen EVERYDAY.  
*Ask yourself- What is the experience you are trying to create at your school?
*Explain the concepts of EdCamp, and let the students make it their own.
*It’s ok to let students tell you what they want to learn.
*It's ok that if you don't have all the answers during the period.
*It's ok to embrace Andragogy, which is, students taking control of their learning. 
*Remember to check your ego at the door. 
*Innovation isn't just about technology. 
*Everything does NOT have to be graded.
*Trust and respect your students.
*Trust and respect your teachers. 
*Promote and support staff and student ideas. 
*Culture and climate are EVERYTHING!

Reasons why:

*When is the last time you witnessed students rushing to sign up for a class?
*Students control their learning. Teachers are facilitators, who learn alongside students. 
*Student and teacher relationships bloom from transparency.
*Ungraded periods spark creativity -Students demonstrate higher level thinking skills, and less anxiety, when they know they can't fail because they didn’t follow a rubric. 
*It focuses on ALL students. Regardless of being advanced or at-risk, ALL students are present. 
*Autonomy- Teachers develop new sense of lessons: PBL, Genius Hour Projects, 20% time, Maker, etc… to use in other courses. 
*Your school will change for the better.  

Short video of our EdCamp Period:

Blog posts about our EdCamp period: 

Disrupting Traditional Courses with an EdCamp Model to be Life Ready

An EdCamp Period: Why Can't This Happen At Your School?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Idea Street Welcomes Teenage Mutant Ninja NCMS Turtles


Would you be willing to allow students to paint on your school walls? Better yet, would you be willing to let Middle School students paint on your walls?  

What happens when you give two amazing 6th grade students an opportunity? You tell them we trust you and believe in you.  The answer is simple - MAGIC!

As we awaited the arrival of our turtles for Idea Street, we needed to make some more changes.  We needed to create a habitat for them to feel at home, when hundreds of students and staff walk by them on a daily basis.  

Allow the pictures to tell their story!

Dismantling the display case

A blank canvas

Isabella V. and Gracen C
Overhead put to us

Ready to rock!

Mr. Law, Science Teacher who won a grant for the turtles watches 
Not a bad start


Welcome Home Turtles!

Special thanks to Mrs. Schwanzer, Mr. Law, Mr. Mease, Mrs. Woodall, and everyone else who gave our students the opportunity to make it OUR school! 



Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sitting on Top of the World - Flying over the North Pole

Far East Tour- Home of the Dragon (Part 2)

Sitting on Top of the World - Flying over the North Pole

As our airliner crossed one of the most unique areas in the world, I couldn’t help to think of vast unexplored regions in our world. Yes, much of the North Pole is exotic, unknown, and the home of Santa Claus, but the unexplored regions that spark my interest is our educational system. Have we even "explored" all that there is in education? I'll let you decide...

As we head to China, I am so anxious to see what we can learn, acquire, and bring back to our school along with “hopefully” a Mandarin program. Multiple school and university visits are just the tip of the iceberg to pushing us forward.  Yet, I cannot wait to spend multiple days with a powerful group of educational minds from New Jersey as well. Just the plane ride alone, conversing with Spike Cook and Jay Eitner, was worth the 14 hours. 

As schools continue to remain in status quo, the Northfield Community Middle School is making huge strides to produce an educational system that provides staff and students with the opportunities to similar to those of Stanford University’s d. School. Yes, we are a middle school, not Stanford, but the idea of design thinking focused on empathy, personalized student learning, genius hour projects, Andragogy/Heutagogy advancing forward with higher level pedagogy, and flexible learning spaces in our studios.  

What unique learning spaces, methodologies, and ideas are waiting for us on this trip?

Checking in from Santa’s house, and to all a good night. 

The Emperor Who Had No Clothes - The American Tourist Version

After a 14 hour plane ride from Newark to Beijing, we were still not at our final destination. We passed through customs, retrieved our luggage, went to the ticket counter to check our bags, passed through security, and sat down to eat. We had time before our flight and we were anxious to eat our first meal in China. 

    Good times waiting for our first meal

Beef and Noodles were AWESOME!

We were now 13 hours ahead of when we left! Yes, we time traveled to the future, and everything was looking pretty good. 

We then boarded our next flight to Changchun, and began the last leg of our travel over the last 20 hours.  The flight was fast, only an 1hr and 1/2, but when we got off, that's when the next adventure came to light. Two members of our team were not on the flight and are hopefully catching the next flight in. We then proceeded to head to the baggage claim area. All was fine until the conveyor belt stopped. Everyone had retrieved their luggage, except for ME! Yes, after twenty hours of traveling, my bag did not make the last flight. 

After 20 minutes of the airline checking their computer system and phone calls, Dietrich, was able to help translate for me and help me to understand that my bag had been located in Beijing. 

HOPEFULLY, it will be on the next flight in and delivered to the hotel in the am as promised. Yet, as I boarded the bus, we couldn't help to laugh as Jay Eitner stated, "Glenn Robbins will officially be the emperor with no clothes tomorrow." 

Thanks to Spike Cook, he will loan me some clothes for tomorrow morning's school visit. 

The adventures of Big Trouble in Little China have just begun. However, in this wintery northern region of the country, I'd love to be emperor, but with clothes!

What's next?
-Will my bag arrive?
-Will I look as classy as Spike Cook in his clothes with my sneakers on?
-Will we the other two members of our team catch the next flight and join up with us?
-Our first school visit- What will it be like and how will it go?

Sincerely-The Emperor with no clothes. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Far East Tour- Home of the Dragon (Part 1)

“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” -Alain de Botton

An incredible short clip from Shots of Awe: 
Why We Travel

For the past several months, I have been waiting for this day. The day, that I kiss my amazing wife, Abigail, and incredible son Henry goodbye as I take a journey to improve my own educational growth and hopes to establish networks and an additional foreign language curriculum. The day, where I'm to embark on a 14 hour plane ride to the Far East, China. 

I have been fortunate in my life to have traveled to many countries before such as: Italy, Croatia, Turkey, Greece, France, and Egypt. Yet this will be the first trip without Abigail, who has always been my travel companion. This will also be the first time that I am visiting school and university settings to study, and better understand their educational system. 

Thanks to the gracious support of my interim superintendent, board of education, staff, students, and my school community, I am beyond thankful!

With a team of ten administrators from New Jersey, thanks in part to Rutgers University and the Confucius Institute, we are heading on a study tour of five middle/high schools and two prestigious universities. Yet, before we arrive to Beijing and Changchun, we need to fly over the NORTH POLE! That in itself is simply mind boggling. 

I'm honored to have been invited on this trip and that I was given the opportunity to help select others to join. Jay Eitner, helped Dr. Dietrich Tschanz to come in contact with me and I'm blessed to have an unselfish friend like Jay, who like many in my PLN, is about helping others grow for the betterment of themselves, their students, their staff, and their schools. In playing it forward, I was able to have Spike Cook, Pam Moore, and Steve Santilli added to the team of ten. 

What's ahead?

-14 hours on a flight to Beijing, then a three hour layover before taking an 1hour and 50 minute flight to Changchun. 
-Visiting multiple middle/high schools.
-Visiting two prestigious universities.
-Site seeing so many historical areas and tourism sites.  
-Internet access- What will the Great Firewall of China block?
-Living 13 hours into the future. Yes, 13 hours ahead of home time. 
-FaceTime with my family, staff, and students?
-New networks/relationships between their schools and mine?
-What innovative ideas will I bring back to share with my school?
-Will we be able to start a Chinese Language program at my school in the near future?
-What memories will be created during this adventure?
-Will I be able to blog and post photos of each day?
-So much curiosity and wonder lies ahead!

Stay tuned, as the adventure of a life time is just beginning! 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Our Innovation Ambassadors Rocked NJSBA

"Meaningful student involvement is the process of engaging students as partners in every facet of school change for the purpose strengthening their commitment to education, community & democracy." Adam Fletcher

Earlier this week, the annual New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) convention took place in Atlantic City, NJ. It's a convention where education professionals and vendors hold workshops focusing on improving schools through multiple avenues, such as: policies, board of education PD, legislation updates, department of education employees discussing high stakes testing, and so much more. It's a convention where Board of Education members, their guest, superintendents, and other school officials attend. It's a convention where educational minds come to discuss what's best for their communities, schools, and students. 

Yet, there was something different this year compared to previous years. 

A HUGE Thanks to John Henry, a NJSBA STEM & Sustainable Schools Specialist, we (Northfield Community Middle School) were invited to share all of the innovations that our school is currently undertaking this year. The invitation was sent two weeks prior to the convention, which left us little time to prep. Yet, we were beyond honored by the invitation, and certainly wanted to demonstrate all that our students and staff were doing. After a short discussion with Interim Superintendent, Bob Garguilo, and Digital Shop Teacher, Kevin Jarrett, we decided that we needed to bring something that stood out from everything else. Something that TRULY REPRESENTED what school is about and what it should be. 


We selected ten students, as well as four teachers. Oh, did I mention that it was 8 girls and 2 boys! Yes, girls leading the way with our innovative projects and STEAM!

We set up a meeting for the students and their passion/energy helped to propel us forward. Through a Google Doc, Slides, and a portable whiteboard, our storyboard came to life.  

Student Created and Student Voice!

Student designed and written- Leave behind  brochure

Our students and staff rose to levels of excellence that I still cannot honestly describe.  They talked to everyone and anyone willing to listen about our school.  They scoured the convention center floor with robots and drones, handing out our brochures along the way. They spoke with immense pride and enthusiasm about our school. Some would even say there was a glow to them, that simply hypnotized each person that spoke with them.  They demonstrated their abilities as young leaders and models of our "Life Ready" manifesto. They represented themselves, their parents, their school, and their community with such dignity. They seized the moment, and never looked back! 

Day 1 Team

Day 2 Team

Bring Students and Staff = Crowd will come!

Sharing our story with pride

Getting "Bob" the drone ready before the start of Day 1

Non Stop Pride!

Mr. Jarrett, Mrs. Terista, Mrs. Kennedy, and the rest of the team before the "rush"

Let me tell you about our school!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Stanford U + FabLearn + d. School = How High Is Up?

As I flew across the United States from Philadelphia to San Fransisco, on a five hour flight, I couldn’t help to explore the thoughts of so many topics in my head. Yet, there was one thought that wouldn’t leave my mind: “I’m on plane with Kevin Jarrett, heading to Stanford University for the FabLearn conference, with some of the most brilliant minds in the world.” I wanted to scream, “Wow, can you believe that I’m heading there on a scholarship!” but I had second thoughts about standing up and yelling on an airplane.


Several years back if you had told me that I would be on this trip, I would have laughed at you. Yet, today, I am beyond proud of what our staff and students are doing at our school.

Within 48 hours, I had the opportunity to meet and network with so many passionate educators from across the globe.  The keynotes, workshops, educator panels, student panels, and food breaks were not for "comfortable" educators.  It was a tsunami of information for educators who were looking for ways to move their schools to new heights.  Robotics, 3D printing, more makerspace ideas, laser cutters, cross curriculum lessons, and so much more.

The opportunity to sit and mingle with some of the brightest minds in the world, was something that I will never forget.  With the assistance of Kevin Jarrett, I was able to make connections that I never thought were possible. How often can you eat with Kevin Jarrett @kjarrett, Mary Cantwell @scitechyedu , Sylvia Martinez @smartinez , Tracy Rudzitis @wagongrrl , Dr. Jessica K. Parker, and Josh Weisgrau @jweisgrau. And to think, I was with David Culberhouse @DCulberhouse and LaVonna Roth @LaVonnaRoth the weekend before was AWESOME!

Thank you FabLearn for allowing us to partake.  I promise, if we are invited back out next year, we will certainly be more than willing to present the AMAZING student Maker/Designer/Innovative happenings at our school.

d. School

I made it to the d. School! The moment you walked through the front doors, that were wide open,  you could feel the energy, innovation to learn, share, aspire, and be free with your thoughts. When people ask me what I think future schools will look like, I often mention openness, just like the d. School.

For me, it was surreal, as the entire summer, our projects, research, and visions were based off of the d. School.  When people ask, what would you like your middle school to look like, I always say, Google, Ron Clark Academy, and the d. School. Oh BTW, we now teach design thinking to our students in 5th-8th grade with a focus on empathy and human centered!

Threshold moment
Love Maker!
Where Idea Street Comes From

No Traditional School Desk Here

Students Design The Learning Space!

Idea Street, EdCamp Period, Digital Shop, Black Mesa are all products of what imagination, innovative mindsets, hard work, teamwork, and desire to create the best possible learning environment.  

Thanks d. School for inspiring us to strive higher each day, and to teach our students, and teachers the enormous power of design thinking. 

Our Own Manifesto That Drives Us!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Walking Dead In Schools: Faculty Meetings


Several weeks into the new year, I am already hearing the same horror stories. The stories of destroying culture and creating zombies. Yes, it's near Halloween, but it doesn't have to be this way. 

What is it? 

Traditional Faculty Meetings.

We know what they are, and we still subject our staff to it!  Yes, it's where the leader lectures the staff from a piece of paper and takes an hour out of their lives that they will never get back. 

Waste of time. Things to do. Yet, it's the time for the leader to stick his or her chest out, and says "now hear this."

Does your entire staff attend your meetings? Do you have part time staff, coaches, advisors, people away at PD, vacation, sick, something else? Why not share your message with all instead of most? 

For those who are willing to set aside their soapboxes and egos, here are just a few ideas to make faculty meetings meaningful. 

* Flipped meetings: Send a short 3-5 minute video explaining what needs to be shared, as well as, recognizing deserving staff (especially those who don't get recognized as much). Putting yourself out there, true transparency, promotes the idea that your looking for staff to mix it up in their studios (classrooms) as well. 

* Allow staff to present great and/or bad lessons they did with others.  How many teachers work in schools for years and never share their great stories with others.  This quickly opens into a great Q & A session. 

* Place photos of each student in the hallway and have staff discuss what motivates them.  How many times does someone know something about a student, but doesn't share it with the rest of the team?

* Allow staff to turn-key information they learned from any PD they recently attended. 

* Talk about how genius hour projects can become Passion Projects throughout the year. They can take place in each class instead of just one. 

* Back channel the meeting to allow the quietest person on your team to have a voice. Demonstrates how students and staff use this during lessons. 

* EdCamp style- Need I say more? Create the board during the day and let the "rule of two feet" happen!

* 20% Time: Allow staff throughout the year several meeting dates to work on 20% time projects that they never had time for before. 

* Have students present to staff. What apps/websites are they using that staff don't know about. Allow them to teach your staff. Is your culture and climate in need of a fix? Surprise staff by having students come to meeting and share what they love about their school. Have the school band, theater club, or any other club in your school perform for staff. 

* Set up dates for PLC meetings.

* Scavenger hunts. 

* Set up dates to analyze curriculum, data, or any other items that need to be addressed. 

* Skype, GHO, FaceTime- set up meetings with other educators, schools or companies who are looking to help your staff. 

* Share inspirational video clips and have a group discussion. 

* Bring food! Cooking contest? Pot luck anyone?

* Hold raffles for new items such as furniture, donated items, or even a free dress down pass. Be creative. 

* Have a Maker meeting, where staff get to see play, passion, and purpose first hand. 

* Have design thinking sessions!

* Select a few dates throughout the year to allow staff to reflect. Yes, let them write! Give them time to sit down and write down thoughts, before they go home to family duties , head to a second job, grade papers, or anything else in their busy schedules. 

* Email an agenda and DON'T hold a meeting. Let them have a meeting off or two. 

* Have a Twitter chat where staff can be anywhere instead of a room. (Thanks Mark French). 



If they didn't have to attend, would they? Do they come to the meetings happy, ready to see what's next or are they unhappy, geared up for bingo, papers to grade, or a device to text? 

STOP BEING TRADTIONAL. Stop being a 2nd rate replica of who taught you. It DOESN'T always have to be that way. 

These are times, where so many positives could come about: such as meaningful PD, collaboration, culture/climate building, and making a time where they want to get together. 

If you are TRULY a 21st century school leader, then why does it still happen?  Step up, rise up, and make a difference before you create zombies and destroy your culture. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

We Need More Dr. Michael Curran's In Higher Education

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure to speak to Dr. Michael Curran's two classes at Rider University. This was the third time over the past two years that I spoke to his students and I each time I am honored by the invitation to do so.  

Not only did I have the opportunity to speak with pre-service teachers, but I had the opportunity to speak in front of a true game changer in the educational field. 

Dr. Curran, is a type of higher education professor that the world needs more of. Yes, his experience, awards, and professionalism throughout the years are amazing stories, but that's not what makes him special. 


He understands and continues to bring innovative ideas to pre-service teachers to prepare them for what schools need in the 21st century, even when many schools continue to live in the 20th century. While we are 15 years into the 21st century, there are so many higher educational institutions that do not embrace digital/technological methodologies and/or pedagogical styles even when mission statements say they are. Many continue to "pump out" traditional mindset educators who like to play the game of school, while Dr. Curran continues to strive forward. Students are required to become connected educators, establish PLN's, and develop growth mindsets that focus on innovation. Yet, others in the field continue to ban technology in class, and lecture about DI, innovation, pedagogical strategies. 

Throughout this current semester, his students have meet Scott Rocco, Brad Currie, Star Sackstein, Magdalene Mattson from Australia, Rich Kiker, and myself. He stresses the importance of PLN's. He attends EdCamps, and other professional development opportunities where you RARELY see higher education professionals. This type of passion, and energy is simply amazing. He not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. 

Dr. Curran could retire whenever he wants, as he has put in more time then many of us can ever hope to do so, yet I hope that he continues for many years to come. 


Frankly, he needs to continue to demonstrate to others in higher education that we are relying on them to shape the minds of future teachers to take risk, be someone's hero/role model each day, be innovative, and not be second rate replicas of traditional styles of teaching.

I was lucky enough to talk with an amazing group of pre-service teachers from two courses, and shared some of the amazing stories of what we are doing at my school. Yet, I couldn't help to stress the need for them to rise up and become leaders in the field and that the greatest support system they will ever encounter is their PLN. 

I also asked them:

"What is the experience you are trying to make? Will you be their hero? Will you rise up and teach differently or will you subject your students to the same style of learning you dealt with?"

Thank you Dr. Curran!

Reflection papers from my time at Rider U who were much too kind:

By Samantha Tunnell: @MissTunnell

By Alyssa DiFlora: @DiFloraA 

Kierstin Molnaur: @MissMolnaur 

Friday, October 2, 2015

An EdCamp Period: Why Can't This Happen At Your School?

"Unfortunately, there are no procedures, no checklists, no blueprints, or manuals for being a pioneer. 
And real change very rarely arrives in a binder." David Culberhouse

When is the last time you allowed loitering, cheering, laughing, running, shoulder bumping, and organized chaos in your hallways? At 2:50 pm, student dismissal time, you could hear the commotion within seconds after the bell.  It was time! It was time to select their next EdCamp sessions by placing their names on the whiteboards on Idea Street.  For the past several weeks our students have been selecting sessions to attend, and the energy level has changed.  Yes, it's at an all time high, as the energy level is higher than I could have ever imagined. In all the years in my educational career, I have never seen anything like this before.  And, I still wonder, why are we the only school doing this?  

If you don't believe me, I encourage you to come visit us.  You will know when the EdCamp sessions are in action, as you can hear our students all around the building. If you didn't know any better, you would think that there was a fight or ruckus of some sort. Yet, it's not the obnoxious, screaming, look at me noise that you would expect.  It's pure passion, drive, and autonomous ideas in action.  I have never walked into all rooms in a hallway (Idea Street) were students are leading sessions the entire time period, pushing each other to strive higher and truly engaged in the lessons at hand.  

Reflection/Sessions since last post:

At the completion of the first week, the 8th grade team and I held a meeting to reflect. Everything and everyone was open for discussion as we all wanted it to work.  The beauty of this meeting was purely the energy of the staff.  You could sense that they too, wanted to take this to a new level. However, the best ideas didn't come from the staff or me.  So who were the geniuses to supply us with two great ideas?  Jenna and Carter, our two students that we invited to represent their class, were the difference makers.  Carter suggested that we remove the teacher's names and room numbers, so that the students had to select from the session titles.  Jenna added, that this would allow students to select based off of topics instead of heading to their favorite teacher's room where they were comfortable.  BOOM! 

This brilliant idea, one that I had discussed before at EdCamps that I had attended, was put into action. It was a way to attend sessions by title, instead of the popularity of an EduStar or favorite teacher.    

Throughout this journey, I often think of the movie Accepted, where students created a fake college and designed their own courses.  Yet, our students, just like the movie, created sessions that they look forward to attending. Students are often the most forgotten voice in schools, as they strive to move forward or "reform".  However, I still wonder. Why are there still so many teachers and administrators out there who are holding back?

*What's holding you back and how can you address it to be a change agent? 
*What is the experience you are trying to create for your school?
*Are we truly preparing our students to be agile for the shifts that are happening all around us? 
*What is holding your school back?
*Are you willing to accept student voice?
*Are you willing to allow students and staff to have freedom to innovate?
*Are you willing to try something new?

From Accepted

-Pumpkin designing based off of your favorite children book
-Take me out to the ballgame- Statistics from baseball
-World Geography- Using Kahoot  
-Art in Math
-Creating board games
-Teacher Assistant 
-Contest creative writing
-Waiting on Joaquin 
-Culture around the world

Brendan and Kevin in action
Final product

     Analyzing statistics through baseball

   Maker- Designing cars to race from scratch 

     Get Kahoot- World Geography


"Dropping a binder on someone’s desk does little to motivate anyone towards new actions, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing…towards committed change efforts." David Culberhouse