Sunday, April 23, 2017

How Edcamp Changed My Career

Edcamp logo from Wikimedia
by the Edcamp Foundation
** Full disclosure: I serve on the Edcamp Foundation board. I don’t come at this without bias. However, I strongly believe what I am writing is true regardless of this bias. Now, to the story :)

In late July, 2011 Diane Main told me, “Hey. There’s a thing going on in the East Bay in early August. You should totally go.” Being new to the edtech world - and trusting Diane’s opinion - I signed up to attend the first edcampSFBay.

I remember it being a great day. I remember great conversations. I remember great energy. I remember seeing people I looked up to on Twitter there - a lot of them. I have no idea what sessions I attended. Or even if I said anything at those sessions. But at the end of the day, I filled out the evaluation form and checked the “I’m willing to help organize next year’s edcampSFBay” box.

Fast forward a year: the second edcampSFBay was at my school. Where I taught! I was nervously excited. We set up everything the night before. Signs. Session board area. Wifi information.

Then came Saturday morning. And naturally there was no wifi when we got to school. In upgrading a cable somewhere in the IT maze on Friday night, something had fried. It was unclear when wifi was coming back. I was crestfallen - how was edcamp going to run without wifi? How embarrassing!!

You know where this is going: people had a great day. Talking. Engaging in conversations. Sharing hard problems. Did we tweet much? Nope. Was the edcamp a success? Yup.

But this isn’t a story about a near-miss disaster. It’s a story about validation. See, when you help throw a party - and it is successful - you get excited. You feel brave. Ready to take risks. Your realm of the possible expands from that confidence - things that seemed hard or far-fetched before all of a sudden seem attainable. And my realm of the possible expanded because of organizing edcamp.

When it came time to rethink my classroom, I was ready to take big swings not little steps: I was CONFIDENT. When there were other edcamps in California, I hopped on a plane and flew to LA - or Orange County, or Palm Springs - and attended. #caedchat was born at edcampLA! When a couple friends started talking about running an online edcamp, I was all in and edcampHome happened. (Three times, in fact.)

The confidence from helping organize an edcamp transferred to my classroom, to my students.  The confidence I gained from helping to organize an edcamp helped me rethink my classroom: my role in that classroom, my students’ role in the classroom - things happened there because I believed in myself. I was confident - confident enough to take a risk.

That confidence came from helping to organize edcamp. From helping throw a party - or an edcamp :) - that people came to, and wifi or not had a good time. That confidence has meant and continues to mean the world to me.

Hopefully that confidence meant something to a bunch of students that passed through my classroom as well.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What You Look For Matters

As I apply for jobs for the first time in a decade, some interesting thoughts swirl through my head. Having spent almost a decade at my last job, searching for a school that wants to add me is a different feeling. As I think about myself and what I bring to a job, the way I look at who I am and what I can add to whatever school I end up at matters.

I’m a new educator in a new system: going from a place and education system I knew well - California - to a new education system in British Columbia. Not just a new state, but a new country! On top of that, British Columbia has just instituted a new set of education standards, further complicating the transition. That’s a big hurdle for someone to overlook when they’re looking to hire me.


I could look at the things I was able to do in my almost decade at Hillsdale. What I did in my classroom. What my students did in my classroom. Committees I was a part of. Professional development opportunities I helped organize and facilitate.

It’s a very different way of looking at yourself: what can you do, what do you know versus what can’t you do, what don’t you know? That deficit model - looking at weaknesses - can be really toxic. If I spend too much time thinking about what I don’t know, about what I can’t do, I get doubtful. I’m a risk - someone needs to overlook that big gap in knowledge that I have to hire me. But if I look at what I can do, what I do know, what is transferable between contexts, it feels very different.

I’ll own it: I’ve looked at other educators and focused on what they can’t do in the past. I don’t feel good saying that, but it is true. By doing that, I’ve missed strengths people have. Things they can teach me. The amazing things their kids are doing in their classrooms. Thankfully, I’ve had to eat some humble pie in those areas, as my perceptions of what people can’t do has been impacted by what I’ve seen them actually DO. The outlook - what could this educator do better - was wrong. Should we work on weaknesses? Sure. But focusing on weaknesses and ignoring strengths - as I have done about myself in my job search - is toxic.

How many times have I focused on weaknesses with students? How often did they feel like their areas for growth were being hammered on and their strengths ignored? That’s not a question I can answer, but it something I can take forward: look for strengths in students. Look for what fellow educators are great at. Focus on building on those things people do well, not on things people could get better at.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Wejr’s TED talk on strengths-based education at the end of this post. Chris is brilliant, and his talk is everything you’d hope it would be.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Stay Out There

Long before I was a history teacher with a blog (that I even posted to sometimes), I was a history major. In order to graduate with a history degree, I had to write a thesis. My work for my thesis focused on the Vietnam War protests, specifically in Madison, WI where I grew up. My thesis looked at the impact of the bombing of the Army Math Research Center (AMRC) in Madison in  early 1970 on the anti-war movement.

As I was out for a walk this past week, I started thinking about my thesis. Particularly, I was thinking about the widespread protest that characterized the 1960s, from the Civil Rights Movement to the Vietnam War protests, and the number of people in the streets today protesting all manner of acts by President Agent Orange (thanks Busta Rhymes for that moniker).

It is always imperfect to draw comparisons across historical eras. However…

As the protests around the Vietnam War drew on, protesters became frustrated: their huge numbers and vocal dissent seemed to be doing nothing. The Vietnam War expanded into Cambodia and Laos while protests were widespread. President Nixon even said that he knew nothing about a quarter million person march in Washington DC because he was too busy watching football.

This frustration manifested itself in more aggressive and confrontational tactics by protesters. Whether it was the sporadic violence of the Weathercells or an enormous bombing like the explosion at the Army Math Research Center, protesters were upping the ante in their level of confrontation with the government. The AMRC bombing ended up killing a researcher, ruining the research of many, and crippling the anti-war movement in Madison and beyond as the public rejected the violence of the movement.

I am not here to cast judgment about whether protests that cross the line from nonviolent to violent are just. Others have written about this, and made me think deeply about systems of oppression and who is requesting protesters only exercise their rights nonviolently and in ways that aren’t inconvenient to the dominant groups in society.

My point is, though, that had protesters in the late 1960s knew the impact they were having, they would have been heartened. Nixon, despite his public lack of concern about the protesters, received multiple updates per day about protests. He made sure the FBI was using COINTELPRO to target anti-war groups. Protesters had an impact: the devastation that the Vietnam War had on American soldiers and families - to say nothing of the Vietnamese people - was muted by the protesters speaking their truth to the people in power. They just didn’t know that.

So stay active. Keep marching. Keep calling. The fight will be long. There will be losses - Sessions, DeVos, etc have already shown this. But the 2018 elections will be here soon. Keep the pressure on. Your actions have impacts on policy makers, whether they want to admit it or not.