Category Archives: Leadership
Last Friday was an upsetting day. The conference I had attended for the past 10 years (SXSWedu) announced it was cancelling along with the larger SXSW that often brings thousands of people to Austin and over $356 million dollars in revenue to the city. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, I was frustrated. I realize that being frustrated at something like a conference cancellation is extremely small in the scope of what is happening around the world, but I’m just being honest. This event was the most diverse conferences I have attended, and selfishly, I looked forward to growing global collaborations and connections as well as the sharing of ideas for learning.
That night, I agreed to meet my friends downtown at their new bar, called Idle Hands, on Rainey Street here in Austin. When I arrived the mood was somber. The service staff were depressed. Uber drivers, stage crew, bands, waiters, bartenders, valets, food trucks and more make a significant amount of their income from the SXSW event and all the subsidiary events that happen before and after it takes place. In the case of one of the bartenders I spoke with, he makes almost half of his yearly income in the span of just a few weeks because of it.
While this was happening, I pulled out my phone to look at see what the reactions were on Twitter, Facebook, and text messages. The responses ranged from “thank god they cancelled it” to those that were now stuck here because of the late cancellation. Many of these people were from overseas.
People like Ryan King from China and Tracy Mehoke from Wisconsin (by way of Abu Dhabi) were here in Austin and now wondering what to do with themselves. Others like Krista Vaught from Florida and Vitor Bruno from Brazil were educators in a similar predicament of having already arrived here and literally collecting their baggage when the announcement came out. These people began to find each other through various social platforms and quickly formed an “EdUnconference” Slack channel as a way to connect and try and coordinate some meet-ups around Austin.
While this was happening, an idea started to rise up in my mind. We have all of these brilliant minds trapped in Austin, but no way for them all to gather. I’ve hosted educational conferences for years in Austin and around the world. While those events take months to plan, I didn’t have that kind of time. I had 72 hours.
I also needed a place. Enter Idle Hands. Like many bars in Austin, their space had been rented out for SXSW, but those sponsors had since dropped out leaving a fully-stocked event space with complete with service staff but missing an important thing….people. I pitched them the idea of hosting “an alternate event” to SXSWedu. They were all for it and excited to help out. The owners of Ranch Hand, a local food truck that had taken up residence in the kitchen of Idle Hands said, “We have nothing to do and would love to have some people to serve!”
I immediately put the news out on Twitter that night.
Within minutes Krista reached out and told me about the Slack channel. Magic started to happen. On Saturday, I got up and bought a domain and built a website out for AltSXSWedu.com. I threw together a quick form for presenters to submit ideas (so quick that I left off the field for people to enter a presentation title!) and an Eventbrite page for people to get their free tickets. By mid-day Sunday we had 20 submissions with over 50 people that were listed as attendees and I started to think…this might actually happen.
On Monday, I met up with Krista and Tracy for the first time in person. We started going over the logistics of what the 2-day event would look like and how we could utilize the space (a former house converted into a bar) to facilitate discussions and learning. I’m the type of person that thinks and creates better collaboratively and having these two share and bounce ideas off of was amazing. Krista agreed to lead the opening session with an activity called “Collaborating with Strangers” and Tracy was going to MC some “Flash Talks” – quick, 5-minute talks with no slides, for anyone that wanted to get up and speak. We had poetry, topic mixers, round-tables, and immersive experiences. Late Monday night some signage was put together and name badges were created.
I reached out to some local vendors like Bulb, Kahoot, Squarecap, Firia Labs and Brainpop to cover items like waters, coffee and snacks for attendees. I contacted good friend Humberto Perez to see if his band MariaBloom and another band could play both days to wrap up the event. All of this happened in less than 48 hours. My INCREDIBLE wife, Renee, who always is so supportive of my crazy creative ideas, was by my side for the next two days helping run registration, logistics and answer questions.
Then Tuesday morning arrived. I didn’t know what to expect. As people started to arrive, I grabbed my portable speaker and started blaring some Stevie Ray Vaughn to welcome our international guests to the event. The learning could not be stopped!
In all, over 120 people would attend and over 30 sessions were shared either face to face or virtually. Using my daughter’s portable karaoke speaker, I kicked off the event by telling everyone that they were not attendees….they were organizers.
We shared ideas.
We invented the #AltHandShake (photo left)
We argued about educational strategies and theories.
We collaborated on how to address the rapid shift to online learning that was about to take place.
As the event wrapped up on Wednesday afternoon, I was physically exhausted but mentally and emotionally fulfilled. I made connections and learned ideas that I rarely do at a large conference. This event COULD NOT have happened without the support of the amazing companies like those mentioned above and amazing people like Ryan, Tracy, Krista, Renee, Anne, Jami, Humberto, Vitor, Meghdut, Pauline, Anna, Claudio, Carolyn, Al, Nikki, Rebecca, Sarathi, Maru, Suzanne, Reyna, and many, many more that made this event happen.
Minds from all over the world, brought together because of a virus, showing me that learning can’t be stopped even when the world around us is facing uncertainty.
I will cherish the new connections I made, the things I learned and the memories I made for the rest of my life.
We did have a few news agencies come by to see what we were up to. If you’re interested in hearing more, here are links to their stories about AltSXSWedu:
It’s been interesting to watch the world react to the COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the “Coronavirus”. In the age of social media and instant notifications on our mobile devices, it’s made this pandemic seem like the worst on record when in fact, it’s not even close. That said, as with any disaster or pandemic, there comes an increased awareness to how schools and districts respond to it. Many schools are on alert, creating plans and awaiting guidance. While others, like this school in Seattle, are shutting down as a precaution.
Last week I posted the question of how schools prepared for a long-term closure using Facebook, Twitter, and group texts as ways to crowd-source responses. Those responses varied from “packets, we’ll just give them lots of packets” to “we’ll use Google Classroom to hand out assignments.” Neither of these responses are inherently good or bad, but it does open the door to a slew of questions schools and districts need to be asking themselves when it comes to continuing the learning even when the building is closed to students.
This post is a cumulation of those responses crowd-sourced from school administrators across the globe. As every district is different, it’s impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach to long-term closure. However, I do hope these questions can help guide you as you see what kind of plan you have in place should the unfortunate happen. Being from Texas, I know that weather can cause long-term closure as well (see Hurricane Harvey). For the purposes of the following questions, I’m going to assume that it’s a pandemic and that it’s affecting the entire community and surrounding districts. I will also post some ideas and solutions that were shared with me in the hopes of sparking an idea for your school or community.
1. How will you deliver learning to your students?
I purposefully put “learning” instead of “content” as too often times we default to what we know. Learning online looks a lot different than learning in a physical classroom. Some mentioned using LMS platforms like Schoology or Google Classroom to deliver the learning to their students but this assumes that A) they have devices and B) they have internet access (see next question). Also, most of the responses pertained to students in grades 6 and up. Some had some measures for 3-5 students while most had no plans for online learning when it came to K-2 students.
Ideas/Solutions: As mentioned, using LMS platforms seemed to be the most common response to this question, with Google Classroom being mentioned the most. Sometimes these can be online assignments, digital worksheets, or journal prompts. Some mentioned using live chats, YouTube, and Google Hangouts as a way to supplement the learning, including having “office hours” where teachers take 10-15 minutes to check in virtually with each of their students. A couple of districts mentioned their teachers creating lessons on Nearpod and using the “student-paced” option to send work home as it tracks their answers and allows them to upload work. Andrew Wallace from South Portland Maine Schools shared another creative solution. In his district, they send home a “one page cheat sheet” with passwords and usernames for online resources like Newsela, Tumble Books, Overdrive, and BrainPop (which already has a new lesson on the CoronaVirus – see below) In Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Kyle Berger deploys a Classlink portal for all teachers, parents and students to access resources. Of course, this all still assumes that all kids have devices and internet at home which leads me to my second question.
2. How many of your students DO NOT have online access at home and how do you deliver learning to them?
This is a question many schools may already know the answer to. Online survey tools like Survey Monkey and Bright Bytes can help collect this data (ironically, you have to be online to take the survey) or you could collect this information during school registration. Regardless of how you collect it, you’ll likely have a percentage of students without access that you’ll have to plan for.
Ideas/Solutions: There were a WIDE variety of ideas and solutions for this question. Bonnie Blan from Southwest Christian School was able to leverage discounted internet access for families in need using Kajeet and the BroadbandNow initiative. Others mentioned giving out hotspots as it would be likely that students wouldn’t be able to go to places like McDonald’s or Starbucks during a quarantine (although some adults might risk it for coffee :). With either of these solutions, you would need to set these up well before disaster strikes, but I like that schools are solving this issue regardless. In general, the responses from educators seemed to indicate that you should be prepared to have some analog mixed with digital. Writing in journals and reading are easy enough for ELA, but having prompts for writing helps. Some schools mentioned having students check out extra books out of the library just in case.
3. How prepared are staff and what is their role?
Like Jennifer mentioned, setting up a bunch of brand new tools during a stressful time like a long-term closure wouldn’t be wise. Staff will be worried about their own families as well as their students. Anything that is implemented would either need to be put in place before hand or easily deliverable to a teacher’s existing curriculum and instruction. While not ideal, this could mean just sending home paper or digital worksheets, but even that can be a challenge.
Ideas/Solutions: Having a plan in place with deliverables to staff would be a smart thing to create and have on hand regardless of a global pandemic. These can range from having some one-page step-sets that show teachers how to deliver a variety of content on your LMS of choice to an internal website with a range of ideas for online learning. Schools can leverage tools like Microsoft Teams as a way to collaborate or have conversations or create Padlet walls that students can post ideas on. Any and all solutions should be web-based, device agnostic and able to work on a smartphone as that may be the only online access they have.
One bit of advice from Jennifer Pearson, a Tech Coordinator who works at the International School of Nanshan Shenzhen in China – “There should be a plan. The plan should be consistent and NOT introduce a bunch of new techy tools.”
4. Are these days recognized by your state or country as actual instructional days?
As you might imagine, each state and country has different rules around this. Here in Texas, we count instructional days based on the actual amount of minutes our students are physically in school. While there might be exemptions made, currently those days won’t count and schools would presumably have to extend the school year to make up for the loss of days and weeks while shut down which would likely push through the end of June. While I think learning should still continue even if your state or country doesn’t recognize it officially, this brings about many other questions, including contract lengths of your professional teaching staff.
Ideas/Solutions: Some states, like Illinois, recognizes a handful of “eLearning Days” that can often times come about due to poor weather. These days are counted as official instructional days and were recognized by the state, which means no make-up days at the end of the year. Phil Hintz from Gurnee D56 in the Chicago area was a part of a handful of districts that ran the pilot for eLearning days starting in 2016. While not a solution for weeks of closure, the framework they built was around giving students windows of time to complete assignments and using Title 1 funds to get those without access Kajeet Hotspots. Here’s a video of his school’s experience with eLearning day.
5. What role do other “non-classroom” professionals play?
In an average school building there are many professional, salaried staff working along side the classroom teachers. Some of these teach special area subjects like art, music and PE. Others include counselors, nurses, and campus administration. While the majority of the interaction of students will come from the teacher in an eLearning concept, these staff still have a role to play.
Ideas/Solutions: Principals are the go to source for school-to-home communication. They should be posting updates regularly to both parents but also to staff and help identify families that might not have online access at home. They also have to set expectations for teaching staff in making sure online instruction is consistent. Special area teachers should continue to serve students and provide instruction whether it be having students post a video of them doing push-ups on a FlipGrid or capture their art and reflect using a digital portfolio tool like Bulb. Counselors and nurses can provide support to families in need either through one-on-one at home visits or through online video chat tools.
6. What about itinerant and paraprofessional staff?
Those professional staff on salary can rest easy knowing that they are still getting their paycheck every month, even if the school is closed. Sure they may have to work some extra days, but they aren’t clocking in to work an hourly job. Custodians, administrative assistants, cafeteria workers and teacher aides don’t have that luxury. For them, a shut down could be a devastating hit to them financially if they aren’t working.
Ideas/Solutions: There are still roles for many of these staff to play even if the building is closed, but they may be very different compared to the normal school day. Custodial staff should do a deep cleaning of the building and prepare it for the eventual return of students. Admin assistants can help connect teachers with students and vice versa as they have access to parent contact information. Cafeteria workers can help provide and deliver meals to those families in need. Teacher aides can use tools like Google Hangouts to meet with those students they serve and check in or assist on the work that they have to do at home. In some cases, while human contact in masse is to be avoided, they can also make one-on-one home visits like the counselors and nurses. While the building may be closed, there is still plenty of work to be done and these staff are vital to keeping things running efficiently as well as helping our students with special needs.
In summary, there is a LOT to consider before shutting a school down for a few days or even a few weeks. The questions above are just the tip of the iceberg, but they come from a multitude of librarians, teachers, and administrators across the world that genuinely care about keeping the progress of learning happening despite the closure of a physical building.
What plans does your school or district have in place? Please post your ideas and solutions in the comments section below. If I’ve learned anything from this post, it’s that we all are better when we work and collaborate on ideas together.
“People have one thing in common; they are all different.” – Philosopher Robert Zend
Last summer, Adam Phyall and I were engaged in an interesting conversation. This isn’t uncommon as anyone that knows us knows we can debate and discuss just about anything under the sun, but this time it was different. For one, we weren’t at a conference or a school building. We were “tubing” down a river in central Texas (a favorite past-time of ours down here). I throw that in not as a non sequitur, but to mention that we were both out of our normal “professional” environments which enabled some freedom in what turned into a highly engaging discussion around equity. During our 3 hours down the river we discussed our backgrounds. Where we came from. How we were raised. What we each had to overcome and what kind of supports we had. How we raise our children and how we find and cultivate “our crew” of friends.
We discussed race openly and honestly. This included conversations that might be uncomfortable for some, but with our years of friendship and genuine empathy, it was absolutely captivating. We wondered – how do we help students understand the differences in race and culture in a way that is productive? Too often uncomfortable conversations are avoided or left to HR personnel that come in and talk to staff about equity in the hopes it makes its way into the classroom. Not knowing how to proceed on that front, we stuck a pin in the conversation until a later date.
That later date was a month later. I was about to take the stage at the GAMEIS conference in Savannah when Adam came in to chat. We sat in the front row and re-engaged in the conversation from a month before, albeit in a much more formal setting now. As we went back and forth, we weren’t aware that more and more people began to seat around us and listen in to our discussion. They were both “highly engaged and intellectually stimulated” (their quote, not mine) at not only our content but how we addressed what they admitted was a hard topic to tackle with honesty. At one point near the end of the conversation, Adam remarked, “We should just do this as a session.”
Our opportunity would arrive just a few weeks later. As we are both national advisors for Future Ready Schools, there was an opportunity to present our idea at the February TCEA conference in Austin. Future Ready Schools not only tackles the issues of technology, budget, privacy, and curriculum, but is also an organization that champions opportunities to solve issues of inequity in schools across the country. Adam and I had our opportunity to formalize what started as an informal discussion and turn it into an interactive conversation around equity.
On February 3rd, we walked into our session with both excitement and un-easiness as to how our conversation would be accepted. To ramp up the talk, we decided to wear coordinating t-shirts of “Ebony” for me and “Ivory” for him. As it was a Monday morning session in a week-long conference focused on technology tools, we weren’t sure how many people to expect around the topic. We were pleased to see so many show up ready to engage and discuss the truth about stereotypes we make regularly in our schools and how to use student backgrounds as a way to better inform our instruction rather than pass judgment on their character.
During one of the segments, we asked the audience to list what words we use in education that could lead unintended stereotypes. While Adam and I brainstormed a few, they came up with an overwhelming amount as you can see in the screen shot below:
We also discussed recent cases in Texas and New Jersey of students being asked to change their appearance and what other cultural assumptions we might be making in schools. Technology also has a part to play in this discussion. As was witnessed at the conference, eSports is making a HUGE splash across many high schools throughout the country. Those students on eSports teams can practice in school but many also practice at home on $3000+ computer gaming systems. That immediately eliminates many of our lower-economic students from participating, a talking point many in the crowd hadn’t immediately considered.
While I won’t go through every point of the talk, our main goal was not to tell them how to solve every issue of inequity, but rather to make them think and reflect on their current situations. Neither of us represent an entire race. We only represent a viewpoint of two educators that have lived somewhat mirrored lives only from opposite identities when it comes to race. We listed the following three questions for audience members to reflect on:
At the end, we attempted to summarize our unique viewpoints with passion and emotion in 3 minute co-poetry slam titled “Ebony and Ivory”. After the talk ended, we were overwhelmed with the amount of support and interest from the audience. Many commented on the fact that these were the conversations we needed to be having regularly in schools. What kinds of conversations are you having at your school around equity and race? Too often times, these conversations are not conversations at all. They are a set of bullet points on a powerpoint at the beginning of the year staff orientation or a required video that staff watch along with blood-born pathogens so that schools can “check the box” on equity training.
We had definitely touched on a nerve while at the same time stretching both of us out of comfort zones when it comes to presenting. We’re not sure where this goes next but we do have some plans on how to engage students more in this conversation at the classroom level (stay tuned). We also hope to expand this session to more events in the future, as we feel this is a conversation that needs to take place in district offices and classrooms across the country.
Interested in having Adam and Carl come to your district or event? Reach out here: Mrhook.it/speak
If you’ve been in education for any length of time, you’ve likely experienced a myriad of professional learning experiences. Conferences, webinars, book studies, workshops, and the dreaded “mandatory training” are all part of the lexicon of learning for the everyday educator. Strangely, a large part of our profession dreads these events. Then again, maybe that’s not so strange.
We try and tell teachers to make their classrooms student-centered with voice and choice. We want them to incorporate movement and mindfulness as well as risk-taking into their instruction. Then we absolutely do NONE of that when it comes to professional learning. During my 10+ years as a provider for professional learning, I try to emulate all the things we are asking our teachers to do. If you’ve ever seen one of my sessions you know there’s movement, voice, choice, and conversation taking place regularly. I’ll admit, there are some times when I can tell educators just want to sit in the back and surf on the web or grade papers, but usually by the time we are finished, they approach me with comments like:
“You know, I hate ice breakers, but I’m glad I did that.”
“I really just wanted to sit in the back and get my 6 hours credit, but I’m glad you got me to participate and try new things.”
I think at our core, all of us are learners. However, I think for many of us, we have been subjugated to instructional malpractice when it comes to the teaching of adults, otherwise known as andragogy. Brianna Hodges and I are in the midst of a several-year debate on the subject that teaching adults is different than teaching kids, otherwise known as pedagogy. We recently took this debate on the air with the OnEducation Podcast, and while the debate remains unresolved, I do think we need to consider the learners in our audience whenever we plan professional learning.
Last night, I woke up in a cold sweat. I’d just had a series of nightmares about attending a variety of professional learning and ALL of the worst things I could imagine were happening. I quickly grabbed my notepad to write down some of the things I remembered so I could think about a cure for each uncomfortable situation. The following scenarios may make you cringe or may hit a little close to home, but please know, these are all completely hypothetical and pulled from my series of nightmares.
Nightmare #1: The professional learning that could have been an email
As I walked into the room I could tell there was something wrong. Everyone had their laptops open around the table and no one was making eye contact. Had I done something that offended them? Was my zipper down? Had I forgot my clothes? (remember, this is a nightmare). Finally my boss says, “I’m glad you all are here, this shouldn’t take very long but we need to go over our TPS reports.” Obviously I had been watching Office Space recently and that had crept into my dream. I looked down at my watch and it was 9:02. I sat down in my chair and a foggy haze seemed to drift around me. It seemed like the clock was spinning rapidly and people’s faces seemed to get sucked into their laptop screens.
My stomach started to growl. You know, that uncomfortable growl that everyone else notices but you try and pretend your chair was just making a funny noise? Was I hungry? Or starving? Had we taken this meeting right through lunch?
Then, I noticed my beard was growing at an abnormal rate. How long was this meeting going to take? What was this all about anyway? At the end, my boss asks me in a question in a voice that now sounded like my old varsity basketball coach, “Well Hooker, what do you think?!”
And then I wake up. The anxiety I was experiencing was similar to those that recount tales of being stuck in a small space or trapped in an elevator. It was like I was suffering from some sort of claustrophobia of learning.
Cure: I think that schools and districts have the best of intentions when holding meetings to discuss things. However, rather than making the meeting focus on items that could easily be handled over email, make it about outcomes. Consider “flipping” your faculty meetings so that time together is time to collaborate and problem-solve, not just disseminate information.
Nightmare #2: The all-day sit-n-get
I drifted back off to sleep and awoke in a strange room. The walls were colored that sanitarium off-white tone. Everyone was in a chair and desk, but they all appeared to be wearing straight jackets and Hannibal Lecter-like masks. Suddenly, the lights dim and a person wearing what appears to be some sort of 1940’s style army sergeant clothes walks in. He begins to show us videos of classrooms, a wide variety of apps, and even shares some clever quotes. I was almost in a hypnotic state as I watched slide after slide loaded with bullet points about “optimal learning production” flash across the screen.
My back started to ache so I tried to stand up, only to find that I had been chained to my desk. Others in the room seemed to be struggling to move in much the same way. The presenter didn’t stop or even recognize the discomfort. He continued to drone on in what was quickly becoming a very monotonous voice similar to Ben Stein’s teacher voice in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The room began to spin. The walls closed in as the florescent lights over head began to buzz and flicker. The temperature seemed to be increasing. I was in hell. Finally, I got the courage to try and rock myself back and forth to try and tip over my desk in the hopes of breaking the chain. When I finally started to tip over, I awoke with a jolt. I had fallen out of my bed and found myself wrapped up in my sheets.
Cure: There are many days in our lives where we have an entire day dedicated to professional learning. Sometimes, the provider has only one job: to make sure you hear and see every bit of information they have prepared. The average adult brain can go 18-20 minutes in lecture setting before needing some sort of transition. My cure for the all-day sit-n-get is to break the day up into 20-minute chunks. Some of those chunks may involve some lecture or information sharing, but they never go longer than 20 minutes without some sort of brain break or discussion question to focus thinking. I often have my attendees “Stand-n-talk” to someone across the room about a question or idea. This accomplishes a couple of things:
1. It gets them out of their seat, thus increasing oxygen flow to the brain.
2. It makes them talk with someone that might not know as well, thus helping them expand their thoughts outside of their echo chamber.
Need other ideas on how to break up your professional learning day? You can find some of my favorite brain breaks on this google spreadsheet.
Nightmare #3: Drinking from a firehose
After picking myself off the floor and crawling into bed, I quickly fall back into the dream I was just in. Only now, something is a little different. I appear to be the only person in the room. I’m still strapped to my desk, but now there is a spotlight blaring into my face. I can’t quite make out what or who is behind the spotlight, but I do notice a 60-second countdown timer on the wall and what appears to be a panel of people sitting at a table taking notes.
The timer goes off and a door to my left opens. Someone walks in as a slide lights up on the projector screen. They quickly go through their presentation (about an app or idea, I can’t quite remember) and then proceed to walk off to the right and punch a giant red button.
I hear the squeak of a nob turning and look up just in time to be blasted in the face with a stream of water. As I shake off the water, I notice the timer go off again as another person walks in from the left. They also rapidly go through their presentation as the 60 seconds counts down. Again, after the rapid-fire presenting of non-sensical information, the presenter slaps the red button and I get sprayed by a hose. And then another presenter walks in, followed by another and another and another. Each one does the same thing. They present information quickly and then punch the red button. After what seems to be 50 or 60 of these, I wake up in a cold sweat (and realize I need to go to the bathroom).
Cure: This scenario reminds me of the early days of apps when you would see all sorts of sessions that were “60 apps in 60 minutes”. They are referred to as firehose sessions for a reason. I will admit that one of my more popular session offerings is a “list” session, however I try and do it a little differently by building in some time for attendees to reflect on what I had just covered. Another cure for these rapid-fire sessions besides doing a little less and allowing for reflection, is to differentiate and prepare self-paced challenges ahead of time. I’ve started doing a session on “Google Tips & Tricks” which can admittedly be a misleading title. However, once the session starts, I give all the attendees access to the resources, which include a ton of self-paced challenges. I tell the crowd that there is no way I’m going to rapid-fire through all of these and that I know most people learn best by actually using the tool or strategy. Creating self-paced challenges ahead of time transfers the voice and choice of instruction from the presenter to the attendee. They can self-monitor how much information they are taking in and decide whether or not to crank up the hose.
While these nightmares may seem extreme, my dreams were influenced by real events that I’ve experienced during my 21+ years in education. I do not have cures and solutions for every problem when it comes to professional learning. However, I do think if we begin to be just a little more mindful of our adult learners, we can start to make perceptions and attitudes around professional learning change for the good. One of the biggest compliments I ever get as a professional learning provider is when someone says, “I always look forward to your sessions because I don’t know what to expect but I know I’ll walk away entertained and with something useful.”
I think for providers of professional learning the best way to judge the success of what we provide is a simple math problem. Take the speed of which people are running to your workshop and divide it by the speed of which they are running away from it.
And hopefully don’t make these nightmares a reality.
Anyone who knows me, knows I always have a soundtrack for different parts of my life. Friends and colleagues have shared with me that certain songs speak to them at certain parts of their lives. For me, the song currently speaking to me for this part of my life is the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime. As a new school year kicks off, I find myself in a strange place. For the first time in 21 years, I’m not running around trying to help classrooms get set up with their technology, updating iPads, training new teachers, or helping with district-wide professional learning.
And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
About 15 months ago I was wandering around New Orleans and stumbled into a local coffee shop. They had a bookshelf full of books with “Free- take one” labeled on each cover. My eyes were drawn immediately to the cover and title of this particular book:
The title caught my attention because that’s exactly the title we used when we launched our 1:1 program in 2011. Our LEAP program stood for “Learning and Engaging through Access and Personalization”, and while it was centered around 1:1 iPads, what made it successful was the learning. Seeing the subtitle for this book did intrigue me, but when I got home from the trip, I set it on my bookshelf in my personal office and didn’t read it….for almost a year.
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…
Flash forward to this past spring. As I’ve told many a friend and colleague in person, there are always signs out there for us to see, and sometimes, they have to be banging you across the head to notice them. With some changes coming to both vision and structure in my now former district and increasing requests for my speaking and consulting side-work, I knew a decision was imminent.
While sitting at home over spring break, I began to discuss the possibility of leaving the 9-to-5 (more like 8-6) work as a district administrator to head into the freelance market of the “Gig Economy.” I discussed this with the one person in my life that has steered me right more than wrong, the mother of my kids….my wife.
“Sometimes, you just need to move on. If you don’t do this, you’ll regret it,” she said.
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife…
That all sounds well and good. After all, I’m the type of person that likes to push people to take risks, yet now, for some reason, I was waffling. Tons of questions swirled around my brain including:
Am I ready to leave 21 years of education behind?
How will I continue to be relevant?
What about private health care? (this one still scares me)
How will this effect my kids who are going to school in the district I work?
I’ve received a monthly pay check since I was 16-years old. How will my family handle the uncertainty of consultant and speaking work?
All of these questions and fears started to creep into my mind.
And you may ask yourself – Am I right? Am I wrong?
To be honest, I still don’t have answers for many of those questions, but in the weeks that have followed, answers have begun to seek me out. Below are some of the main items I weighed before making this decision to take the LEAP:
I think I spent a total of 85 days at my house this past year. From the main work and the travel of the side work, my days and evenings are pretty
well tapped. Late night board meetings, random travel changes, and staying up late to work on a project all took time away from my family. While I know travel will increase some in this new role, I’m excited with the opportunity to spend more time with my kids, my wife, and my parents who live near us. That kind of time is precious and you can’t put a price on it. Too often, we become a slave to daily grind and carry that work home with us. The benefit of time with family was the number one motivator for me to make the decision to leave full-time district work.
Time isn’t holding up, time is after us
I never want to turn into one of those talking heads on stage that hasn’t stepped foot in an actual school in decades. I’ve had the good fortune recently to be hired on as a part-time consultant in a couple of amazing school districts. Having these consulting opportunities in place allow me to both be a part of district decisions and model learning in the classroom with actual students. I always find my energy from the kids, so having these in my back pocket to maintain relevance helped with my ultimate decision.
And you may ask yourself, how do I work this?
Other Creative Opportunities
I’ve built up a very supportive and inspiring network of friends, colleagues, and companies over the years in my role at the district. Many have asked me about collaborating on different ideas and concepts but I simply haven’t had the time. My hope now is that I can devote some energy into those collaborations and seek out some creative opportunities that might have not happened while juggling all the work. In fact, some plans and collaborations are already in the works! In the coming weeks and months, you should start seeing the result of these as I try to impact the larger scope of education across the country.
I’m soft-launching my site this week: CarlHooker.com. If you’d like to seek out my services as a consultant, speaker, MC, event organizer or creative collaborator, go there. I’m excited for the opportunity to connect and collaborate with even more educators across the world now!
Letting the days go by…
I feel like there are 5 things that garner the majority of our attention: Family, spouse, work, friends, and self. These things change in order based on the time of year or whatever your current relationships look like. As this blog is all about me being honest, I’ll tell you that the last item on the list has really suffered lately. As my attention focused on the other 4 items, I spent little to no attention to self-care. That inattention has caused increased stress, blood pressure, weight gain, and insomnia. It’s hard to be productive as a father, husband, or employee with my own mind and body falling apart. While I’ll now have different stresses to manage, I feel like I’ll have extra time to manage those with healthier eating habits and exercise, which ironically should help the other four areas that need my attention.
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
After my last day at “work”, I found myself behind the wheel of a large automobile as my family and I embarked on a 3-week RV expedition across the eastern United States. Having that gap and family time really confirmed my belief that this could all be possible and might just all work out. The journey ahead won’t necessarily be better or worse, it’ll just be different. I’ll miss many of the great students and teachers that I got to work with in my previous role, but also look forward to the many more teachers and students I’ll have the opportunity to work with in the future.
As a reader of my blogs and someone who’s made it this far on this post, I hope you’ll continue to come along with me on this #NextChapter of my journey and that our paths may cross in the future.
After all, you may ask yourself, where does that highway go to?
Whenever I get the opportunity to work with a team of educators for a day, I’m always excited for what the day will bring. Being an attendee at many a workshop as well, I know that there is a sense of dread when it comes to “icebreakers”. I’ve got a few up my sleeve that seem to always be a big hit, but lately I’ve been looking for something different.
If you know anything about me, I usually look for inspiration outside of education. As some of you witnessed with the Silent Disco Presenting at last year’s LearnFestATX (coming back in 2019 too!), that idea was “derived” from a silent disco dance event at ACLFest here in Austin. This summer, my family and I got to go on a trip of lifetime and traveled on a 14-day Alaskan cruise. We enjoyed the sights, the scenery, and especially all the fun and interactive activities on board the ship. I befriended the cruise director (a former educator and owner of my dream job) and spoke with him about all the ways he tries to engage his audience. He shared a bunch of different games and interactive activities that would be easily applicable to a classroom or professional development setting. Games like “Majority Rules” where the right answer isn’t as important as picking the answer of the majority introduces some hilarious responses and creative thinking.
One event that my family and I repeatedly tried to compete in was the Team Trivia competitions. Some were music based, some were general, but all of them were fun, in large part because of the engaging MC and the collaborative thinking of our team. I started to wonder if this might be a good way to have a team of diverse thinkers work together and quickly get to know each other rather than the traditional icebreaker.
Last week, I was lucky enough to have two opportunities to try out my theory. I knew I was going to meet with a dynamic team of educators in Illinois and later in the week was playing co-host to my own teams’ beginning of the year retreat. What a perfect opportunity for some team-building while also breaking the ice! What follows is a step-by-step run down of the activity with some takeaways if you would like to try this for your team, school, classroom or family!
As I didn’t want this to be solely random trivia, it had to include some information about the group. Things like “What is your greatest fear?” and “Would you rather be a little late or WAY early?” were some of the questions I sent out in advance in this “Pre-flection” survey. (Here’s a sample) While much of the data was easily captured into graphs to use, some of the open-ended questions take quite a bit of data digging to suss out which are the top responses.
I also created the following trivia answer sheet (Link to Team Trivia PDF). I know you could also do this digitally, but as the purpose of this was more team-building and collaboration, teams were instructed to “use your noodle, not your google.”
Finally, for the trivia portion, I printed a couple of different cards or “life-lines”. One was a “Text a friend” card and the other was a “Google” card. Teams were instructed that they could use these cards one time and for one question only. If they didn’t use the card, they received a bonus half-point for each card. It was interesting to watch teams use strategy around when or if to use a lifeline card.
Also, just for fun, I created a playlist that included the songs they chose when answering the “my go-to karaoke song is…” on the Pre-flection survey and had their songs playing as they entered the room.
Create your team
For this challenge, I didn’t want teams to just be people you know or members of your campus. In fact, in some ways, this would put your team at a disadvantage if you knew everyone on your team really well. As the last sections were about the group and their answers, it actually is better if you have a more diverse group so that you can poll your team on what they answered. I awarded bonus points for creative team names (and told them to cater to the judge as it was all subjective 🙂
The Trivia Section
There are tons of websites that have trivia out there, so don’t rack your brain coming up with questions. I looked at pop-culture, technology, current events, and school related trivia as my go-to questions. I also tried to pull in some “local” trivia for some of the questions (about the town, school district). For the audio clue questions I included song samples from their Pre-flection Survey for “go to karaoke song choice” and they could earn a point each for listing artist, song title, and year it was released.
Finally, while you could totally do this verbally, I liked having the visual of the question on a screen so I built all my slides in Keynote. This is helpful in large spaces where they might not be able to hear you and it reinforces the idea that we understand and remember much more if we hear AND see it. I then copied all my questions slides and repeated the questions at the end of the deck with answer slides in between when we got to the scoring part.
The “Survey Says…” Section
This is a “Family Feud” like section where the team is trying to pick out what they think the number one answer is of the group.
I awarded 5 points for the top choice and down to 1 point for the 5th choice. A word of caution here, when building your Pre-flection survey, shoot for one-word answers as it makes tabulating top responses easier to find. Some fun questions here are “What’s your number 1 place to visit on your bucket list?” or “What was your favorite cereal as a kid?”
Remember, it’s not about what you answer, it’s about what you think the group’s top answer will be.
The 50/50 Section
These questions were based on a series of “would you rather” questions at the end of their Pre-flection survey. Questions like “Would you rather lose your hearing or your vision?” or “Would you rather go on a cruise with a spouse or your friends?” were some fun ones and prompted quite a bit of laughter and discussion. Again, don’t re-invent the wheel here. I found this list and many others on the inter-webs to pull these questions from. For the teams, they had a two-part answer on their scoring sheet. First they had to decide what the majority of the people in the room chose, then they had to guess a percentage for how many chose that as their answer. (i.e. “Lose Hearing…90%) When we get to the scoring section, I awarded points for those that got it right AND got within 5 percentage points in either direction.
After all the trivia was completed, I awarded bonus points for those that didn’t use their lifelines and for team name. I then randomly distributed the answer sheets to other groups to do the scoring round. Note that competitive teams can really hung up on some answers. For the most part, if it was close to the original answer, I would allow it (this is supposed to be fun people).
This part should be super engaging. Ask the audience to shout out what you think the answer is and reveal the answers on the screen with some suspense. It’s always amazing to me how competitive teams can get and how disappointed they are when they get an answer wrong.
All in all, these team trivia contests were a hit at both events. It allowed the teams to get to know each other in a competitive and collaborative format. It took about 6-8 hours to do all the set-up (creating the google form, the answer form, gathering the data, creating the slide deck) and the actual event took an hour. Now that I’ve done this a couple of times, I can re-use my slide deck and just change some of the questions based on the group so set-up won’t be as labor intensive. Also, I’ve shared the Pre-flection survey and answer sheet in this blog, so feel free to borrow and remix it yourself. Would love to hear from you if you try it with your team. Tag me on twitter @mrhooker or comment on this post!