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Changing Education One Post At A Time



Posted by Tim under Personal, Professional Development

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 3.05.18 PMAt the DEN Summer Institute this past week we were all wowed by the incomparable Adam Bellow and his insane energy combined with his even more insanely genius presentation style.  During his keynote, he challenged us to take a selfie and post to Instagram with the hashtag #TYIW.  That stands for “This Year I Will…”  I haven’t used my Instagram account in, oh I don’t know, forever.  So I haven’t posted a selfie…yet.

But the thought has been nagging at the outer edges of my brain, and so I thought I would at least begin the process of writing down some of the things swirling around in my head.  I don’t think of them as New Year’s resolutions.  They are more hopeful than that.  So here goes nothing.

  • #TYIW blog more often.  It is a release for me.  I love to write.  It doesn’t matter if anyone wants to read it.  It is cathartic.  And I need catharsis.
  • #TYIW stay on top of my calendar.  Toward the end of the last school year (and by that I mean September) I was way behind and feeling quite overwhelmed.  I was forgetting about meetings and playing catch-up with teacher observations.  I simply must do this one.
  • #TYIW take more pictures.  I am still very much an amateur at this thing, but I love doing it.  It is a peaceful endeavor that brings a silence to my soul. I look for pictures that tell stories because I’m a writer first and photographer second.  And I need more pictures in my blog posts.
  • #TYIW eat healthy.  This one has been nagging at me for months.  I eat horrible stuff.  Far too much fried foods, fast foods, and fattening foods.  I need more real food.  Well, I need more of it, but less food overall.
  • #TYIW walk more.  I’m counting steps and flights of stairs, and I am constantly amazed at how much I sit.  I need to walk before work, during work, and after work.  I want to hike again.  And I’ve neglected some hiking MeetUp groups.  It has to change.
  • #TYIW run at least one 5K.  I’ve challenged my daughter, Sarah, to get in shape because we are running a 5K when she moves back to Chattanooga.  And then I’m going to run 5Ks with Rebekah Ellis, LeaAnn Daugherty, and Kimberly Wright (to name a few).  I’ll be a 5K running fool!
  • #TYIW connect more with my own family.  I live with my mom, but I don’t see her enough.  I don’t see my own kids enough.  And I certainly don’t see my grandkids enough.  I can’t live with the thought that when I’m gone they won’t know the difference.
  • #TYIW take my CoffeeTime videos to new places.  I haven’t made one in nearly 3 months.  I like doing them. And I don’t want it to be another endeavor I started but didn’t follow through.  Far too many of those in my past.
  • #TYIW get to 200 pounds.  My knees will thank me.  And my double chin will nearly be gone.
  • #TYIW go to fewer conferences on my own time and visit more friends.  My summer was shot this year.  I spread myself too thin with 6 conferences since school let out.  I need to take my free time and connect with people I love across the country.
  • #TYIW do at least one thing that scares me.  I am a creature of habit.  I like my bubble.  But climbing the Beehive with Sarah showed me that I need new and exciting things in my life.  And I’ve already looked at prices for taking a flight in a glider plane.
  • #TYIW stop giving myself all the reasons why I can’t and finally decide I can.  And that means everything.  Every day.  I talk myself out of so much.  I need to talk myself into stuff.
  • #TYIW look up from my iOS devices more.  Yeah, OK, that’s probably not going to happen.
  • #TYIW ask more questions than I give answers.  DENnis Grice did a phenomenal job with his DEN Speaks talk by doing an entire 5 minute presentation with questions only.  It reminded me of the power of questions.

Those are some of the things that I know of as of today.  And this blog post will serve as an assessment of my progress months from now as I reflect on what I’ve written here and bring them back to my memory.

So, what about you?  What #TYIW comment would  you like to leave below?


The Tipping Point

Posted by Tim under Teacher Evaluations

Several years ago Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called “The Tipping Point.”  This post has absolutely nothing to do with that book, so let’s just get that out up front.

I’m sitting at Starbucks, and I think I just had an epiphany.  I’m not sure since epiphanies don’t come that often or that clearly.  But something clicked in my head, and I knew I had to get it down on digital paper before it went away.

Teachers in Tennessee, and many other places across the country, are being evaluated on every possible thing you can imagine today.  One of the biggest, most controversial tools is that of the Value Added Model, or VAM.  In Tennessee we call that TVAAS.  It is a statistical measurement of prediction that says each student in a teacher’s class should grow by “this amount” from last year’s standardized test to this year’s.  “This amount” is different for each child, of course.  And we don’t really know what “this amount” is when we start.   But that’s not really the epiphany.

Some teachers don’t teach subjects that are tested in a standardized fashion.  Band and choir teachers, for instance, don’t have TVAAS scores.  But the legislature, in their infinite wisdom based on input from our state’s Department of Education in their infinite wisdom, decided that every teacher has to be evaluated by this growth measure whether they teach such subjects or not.

As a result, the band teacher has part of his or her evaluation score based on the TVAAS results from the entire school.  It doesn’t matter that he or she has never met over 50% of the student body, has had no contact with them, and has not impacted their learning one iota.

So, I was standing at the counter at Starbucks (remember that epiphany), and realized that the person at the counter has complete control over whether the entire workforce will receive a tip or not.  At Starbucks, and places like it, tips are shared among the people on the shift.  But customers are totally impacted by the person at the register.  We decide, based on his or her performance, whether or not we are going to let loose of some spare change or a dollar bill or add a tip to our app payment.

The fact that, later, we get a drink that isn’t what we ordered, or they spelled our name wrong on the cup, or forgot something we ordered, or heated something when we didn’t want it heated, or… you get the idea…has no impact on the tip whatsoever.  We’ve already paid it.  And even though someone screwed something up and left us angry or disappointed or vowing never to return, that tip has already been split among everyone.

And that seems a bit unfair to me.

Compare that to a restaurant or cafe where we are waited on by one person.  He or she gets our drinks, takes our order, delivers our food, checks to see if everything is ok, makes sure we got what we ordered, offers us dessert, takes the bill, processes the payment, and then we decide if we will offer a tip and what amount.

That tip goes to that one person and that person alone (usually).  And that seems fair to me.

The tipping point makes all the difference.



Posted by Tim under Personal

I’ve just finished a whirlwind two weeks of travel to Maine and back-to-back-to-back Discovery events in Nashville, TN.  To say that I’m tired is an understatement.  My body is tired from hiking and climbing and kayaking and staying up late and laughing and sightseeing and…  You get the idea.

More tired, however, is my brain.  It has been asked to soak up so much in the last two weeks.  Great conversations with my youngest daughter while on vacation.  Great conversations with some of my closest friends in edtech.  Learning, learning, learning.  Teaching a little.  Crying some.  The list goes on.

I feel like a thick-skinned balloon that has been overfilled with air to the point of near explosion.  I am so full of new ideas, admiration for friends, pride in my family, and more.  Every fiber of my being feels stretched.  Don’t misunderstand me. Its a good stretch.

I’m reminded of a sermon a former pastor of mine, Ken Luke, preached nearly 30 years ago (the good ones stick with you).  Something about “Living Above the Snake Line.” Did you know that there is an altitude above which snakes will not slither?  I shared this with Sarah as we climbed the Beehive or drove up Cadillac Mountain (it already all runs together for me).  People like to talk about their “mountain top experiences.”  “I have been to the mountaintop,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached so eloquently.  Its exhilarating.  Its breathtaking.  And its free of snakes!

But one can’t live on the mountaintop.  The green, lush, healthy vegetation needed for survival grows in the valleys.  Its a trade off.  Snakes hide in the valleys.  Live is lived in the valleys.

I’ve just been on the mountain top.  And I’m as full as a tick on a wild boar (as my Papaw used to say).

I want to write about 57 1/2 blog posts all at once.  I want to just turn on the webcam and talk for about 5 hours about all that has happened.  And I want to do it all again.  But not today.

Today I need to rest.  I need a walk along the riverside in Chattanooga.  I need a quiet cup of coffee on the back porch.  I need to listen to nature.  I need sunlight.  I need a nap by the lake.  I need my introverted alone time.  I need to recharge. I need the valley.

Tomorrow I go back to work.  There are about a bazillion things waiting on us as the new year is already upon us.  Its going to be hectic.  Non-stop.  Stressful.  And some of the most fun I’ve had in education (yeah, I love my job).

But today I’m decompressing.


Sometimes a Walk is More Than a Walk

Posted by Tim under Personal

I’ve been a little busy over the last few days, so I’m behind in trying to capture some of the moments from my trip to Maine and spending time with Sarah.  I’m currently in Nashville at the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (#DENSI2014 on Twitter), so there will probably be cross-postings over the next few days as I digest new ideas for teaching and learning and reflect on a wonderful trip to the NorthEast.

I tried to map out  a few things ahead of time so there was at least the semblance of a plan in place when I got to Maine.  Even staying just in the Bar Harbor / Acadia National Park area could keep you busy for months and months seeing new things.  And when times are overwhelming, having things in bullet points and outlines seems to help.

After hiking up and down the Beehive, we drove over to The Jordan House and The Jordan Pond to see if we could have lunch.  This may be one of the largest and busiest restaurants to which I’ve ever been.   We were a little early for lunch, so Sarah and I started a trek around the pond.  The trail was 3.2 miles, so we had time.

The trail was beautiful.  It changed from soft earth paths to rock formations to wooden planks creating a bridge walkway about a foot about ground.  There were several other groups headed around the pond, but it felt like just the two of us for a long time.

The beauty of hiking and trail walking is that it can either be a quiet time of concentrated exercise, or it can be an open, quiet spot for connecting with another human being.  We chose the latter.

As we walked around the pond, Sarah asked lots and lots of questions.  We talked about her life changes, politics, lifestyles, the future, relationships, family, my work, and the Bible.  Lots and lots about the Bible.  Questions about grace and forgiveness and legalism and maturity and interpretations and much, much more.

It was a great way to spend an hour and a half.  No cell signal.  No Facebook.  No Twitter.  No nothing but Sarah and me and a peaceful, restful, rejuvenating walk.

So the next time someone says to you, “Hey, let’s go for a walk,” remember that sometimes a walk is more than a walk.

Get up off your behind and go do it.


A New Rule #1

Posted by Tim under Personal

As most of you know, I spent a couple of days in Bar Harbor, Maine, with my youngest this past week.  What a wonderful time we had.  The country is beautiful.  The food is beautiful-er.  Views were breathtaking.  At least those we got to actually “view.”

I take a few pictures wherever I go.  And I love sunrise and sunset pictures.  So it was a no-brainer that we would take those while in Maine.  And when I read that the top of Cadillac Mountain was often the very first place you could see the sunrise in the entire United States, that really didn’t sink into my head until it was time to do the calculations on alarm time to driving time to set up time to actually-taking-a-picture time.

Sunrise is at 4:50 AM.

Let that sink in just a bit.  Four.  Fifty.

That night we traveled down to Bass Harbor to get sunset at the Bass Harbor Lighthouse.  There was no sunset that day.  The sky was so hazy there was no sun that day.

Strike Sunset #1

Sarah agreed to go with me each morning.  So the first morning my alarm went off, I thought about it for a minute, and decided to go back to sleep.  The day before was a very long travel day, and I was worn out.

Strike Sunrise #1.

Later in the day we went to Seal Cove for sunset.  And, of course, without a cell signal, my Google Maps navigation stopped working.  We got lost.  Sarah took over navigating with a tourist map (not great for finding roads), and she got us back to Seal Cove.  It wasn’t technically sunset yet, but the sun was setting behind a hill and trees.  It was already gone.  No problem, I told her.  Sometimes the most beautiful skies happen 15 to 20 minutes after sunset.  So I opened the door to the car, reached in, and realized my camera was still in the hotel room.

Strike Sunset #2.

We still had one opportunity to redeem ourselves.  Cadillac Mountain for sunrise.  Sarah was game.  We got up, hit the road, and followed my Google Maps navigation.  Unfortunately, in my haste I had hit the Cadillac Mountain Trail Head, so once again we were going in the wrong direction when we ran out of cell signal.

I cussed a little.  Sarah laughed a lot.  She got the map back out and put us back on the right road.  She gripped the door handle hard as we went up Cadillac Mountain a little faster than we should have.  But we got there with ten minutes to spare.

Cadillac Mtn at SunriseIt was so incredibly cold.  And gale force winds.  And fog like pea soup.  It was so thick we looked like we had been rained on.  You could barely see 15 feet in front of you.

Strike Sunrise #2.

On the way down the mountain, I apologized to Sarah for getting her up so early for nothing.  I felt really, really bad about it.

Now, I don’t know if Sarah just felt sorry for me, if she was sleepwalking, or if she was being honestly truthful with me, but she looked at me from the passenger seat and said something like, “Its OK, dad.  I’ve learned its really about the journey.  I’ve had fun this morning even if we didn’t see a sunrise.”


So I have a new Rule #1.  It isn’t really “new.”  I’ve just been reminded by my youngest that it is the most important.

Rule #1: Its about the journey.

Thank you, Sarah, for a wonderful journey around Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.



Posted by Tim under Personal

I’m ending a whirlwind trip to the east coast of Maine with my youngest daughter, Sarah.  We have spent 2 1/2 days in Bar Harbor and the surrounding Acadia National Park.  It is breathtakingly beautiful, and I certainly hope it wont be my last trip up this way.

As I planned our outings for each day, I tried to keep in mind the things Sarah likes to do.   She is an outdoor girl.  She loves to be on the water.  She loves to hike.  She loves to open ever single set of blinds in the house to let in as much sunlight as possible.  As a result, I found this wonderful interactive map that allowed me to look around the area and choose things I thought she would love. (Go ahead and check it out for yourself.  You will probably get lost there for hours like I did!).

One of the first things on the list was a hike up the Beehive Trail.  The Beehive is only 520 feet tall.  A cake walk.  I chortled a little when I looked at what Maine calls “mountains” when compared to those in Tennessee and North Carolina.  She’ll love this, I thought.

She had already driven by the Beehive before, so she knew a little about what it looked like.  I told her I picked it for two reasons.  First, because it shouldn’t take us very long to get up 520 feet (right?).  And second, it was listed as strenuous, and I wanted her to have a good workout in the process.

That’s when I learned she was afraid of heights.  It was news to me.  It isn’t that she’s afraid to be up high.  She’s afraid to be up high on a ledge looking down.  Well, who isn’t, I thought.  That pretty much describes me as well.

But she was game, so off we went.

The first part of the trail wasn’t bad.  But after we split off from the other possible trails and headed up the Beehive things started to change.  The steps went away.  Suddenly we were climbing up rocks 3 feet tall to get from one level to another.

And that’s when things got difficult.

We were climbing straight up in some points.  There ladder rungs made out of iron embedded in the side of the mountain.  We had gone up a few of those when Sarah started to have a bit of a panic attack.  We sat down where we were and talked for a bit.  I explained we were pretty close to the top, and going up would be easier than going back down.  She was hesitant.

I told her I would go up a bit more and see what was left (we couldn’t see above us where we were).  So I left her there on that ledge and went up another few outcroppings.  I still couldn’t see the top, but I also couldn’t see Sarah.  I knew if I kept going, soon she wouldn’t be able to hear me either.  So I gingerly climbed back down to where she was and sat back down.

About that time a young girl came by us.  She seemed to be about Sarah’s age or a little younger.  She wasn’t even out of breath, and that ticked me off a bit.  We exchanged pleasantries and Sarah asked her the question to which I had no answer.  “Is there another way down from here, or do we have to back down this trail?”  She smiled and assured us there was a much easier trail on the other side of the Beehive, and she told Sarah she was almost to the top.  And then she was gone.

I took Sarah by the hand, and we prayed.  I prayed for God to grant her peace. To keep her focused. And to keep us safe.  After that, she took the lead.  As she started out, I told her this story my dad, or my granddad, or my uncle, or someone told me years ago.

Once there was a man who set out to swim across the Mississippi River.  He swam all day.  He swam all night.  The next morning, as he got about 6 feet from other shore, he decided he couldn’t make it and turned around and went back.

Bah Hahbah-6Sarah was less than amused and told me not to make her laugh any  more.  Soon we were on top of the Beehive looking out across the mountains on one side and the Sand Beach area on the other.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.

We sat on top of the Beehive and talked about the journey up that hill.  We talked about it as a metaphor for life.  We talked about things such as being easier to go forward than to go back where from whence you came and how even though the end of the journey may not be visible continuing the journey is always worth it.

Life is a metaphor.  One after another. And in the metaphors we find that life also has meaning.

And its definitely worth the journey.


One More Time…

Posted by Tim under Hiking, Personal

You would think after driving, just this summer, to Columbia, SC; Nashville, TN; Franklin, TN; Columbus, OH; Pass-a-Grille, FL; and Atlanta, GA; I would be over traveling.  And you would be right.  But…

Tomorrow I get up before I go to bed and head to Nashville to catch an Oh-Dark-Thirty flight to Atlanta.  (Yeah, I know.  Its closer to drive to Atlanta.  But this time its about where I wind up, not where I start.)  From Atlanta I catch a connecting flight to Portland, ME.  I’ll rent a car and drive to Bangor.   (Yeah, Bangor has an airport, but I saved money flying in Portland.  Can I get on with this now?).  After picking up my youngest, we’ll head to Bar Harbor (pronounced Bah-Habah) to spend a couple of days.

And while I’m sick of traveling, sick of living out of suitcases, and sick of sitting most of my day away instead of putting steps on my FitBit, I’m excited about this trip.

Sarah is an outdoorsy kind of person.  So, while I might be content to drive around and take pictures all day and night, or walk through museums and lighthouses, I’ve planned this trip to meld our two personalities.  Lots of hiking around the coast and up a couple of hills that the Maine folk jokingly call “mountains.”  We’ll get to do some kayaking (new for me) and take a ride out on a windjammer sailboat where Sarah can join the crew and I’ll sit back taking pictures.  I’ve planned the hikes and outings around where I would like to do sunrise and sunset shots.

You can get a look at our evolving itinerary at this Google Doc.

Thursday I drop her off and head back to the airport where I will wind up back in Nashville for the new DEN Admin Summer Institute, the DEN LC Pre-Conference, and the DEN Summer Institute.  I’m a glutton for living in dorm rooms evidently.

And, as is my habit, there will be lots of iPhonography postings, FourSquare check-ins, Glympse guides, and #KThxBye posts to keep everyone entertained.

So feel free to get up and see me off on FB at 2 AM ET tomorrow morning.  Or not.  Either way, I’m getting into the car one…more…time.


Final Thoughts on ISTE 2014

Posted by Tim under Personal

I’m finally back home from a very long, heavy mileage laden trip from Chattanooga to Columbus, OH, to Pass-a-Grille, FL, to Atlanta and back.  And while I’m recovering after my 3 hour nap this afternoon, I thought I would begin the process of unpacking some thoughts about ISTE 2014.

In a recent post (A New World Order), I wondered out loud about the relevance of large-scale conferences in today’s personalized, I-want-it-now, PD culture.  I still have a lot of questions about that, and it is causing me to rethink my summer for next year.

This year at ISTE I had an exhibit hall badge only.  I didn’t go to any of the formal sessions.  I understand several of my friends didn’t get to go either because the sessions were full long before time to start.  But I still had a great time at ISTE, and here are some of my take aways.

CoffeeCUE – Far and away the best 45 minutes I spent (we started a bit late).  About 10 of us, mostly total strangers except for knowing a twitter handle or two, met at a Starbucks and talked about whatever was on our mind related to education. I came away with  some amazing ideas and resources that I will share with our faculty soon.  And I can’t wait to host a CoffeeCUE locally.

TechSmith – I love TechSmith.  And not just because they put me in their inaugural “20 to Watch” list.  It is a great company that is extremely personable.  I talked with them about the video work our teachers and students are doing, and how I hope to see them go to the next level of creation and consumption next year.  We discussed PD and some of the things happening at our school that are different than anything they’ve ever seen.  There was no sales pitch.  There was no, “Oh, wait, I’ve got to go talk to this person first.”  They genuinely care about their customers.

Been - I got introduced to Been by Rachel Yurk at ICE.  They did an online demonstration of their new content curation program.  I was impressed, but the more I thought about it, the more it just seemed this was an elementary / middle school tool rather than high school.  I stopped by the Been booth to thank them for my exhibitor hall pass (thanks again, guys!), and I expressed my thoughts to them about that.  They spent time explaining to me more of the intricacies of the program.  I came away realizing I had been totally wrong, and now I hope to get some of our teachers involved with this tool next year.

The DEN – Although I wasn’t at the entire ISTE event this year, I made sure I planned to arrive in time for the DEN Birthday Bash.  I owe my educational existence to the DEN.  What a fantastic group of educators!  And those who work for Discovery are top-notch.  Spending time with friends at this party was definitely a highlight of my trip.  Seeing them sporadically around the exhibit hall, in hallways, or at social gatherings was just icing on an already delicious birthday cake.

Swivl – Yeah, I thought Swivl was cool before they had a booth.  Nearly 2 years ago I put some money down on Kickstarter to help fund this new level of innovation.  It came in the mail while I was at ISTE.  It will allow me to do a totally different kind of video recording for instruction and PD.  It was good to see it in action on the exhibit floor.

81Dash – This new backchannel site created by my friend, Carols Fernandez, is going to be HUGE.  If you are a user of Today’s Meet and other types of online backchannel services, as an educator I believe this one is going to blow you away.  Check it out.

Jessica Donaldson and MaryAnn Sansonetti Wood – These two ladies are my “ISTE Buddies.”  I got to spend a lot of time with MaryAnn in Denver and time with Jessica in San Antonio.  To have them both with me in Atlanta was almost too much joy for one human being!

Hashtags – For all the fun Jimmy Fallon has with hashtags, they are still one of the most important tools for any conference.  I found so many resources on Twitter through the #ISTE14 and #ISTE2014 hashtags!  And that would include a Google Doc attendees used to post links to notes they took from sessions they were in.  Real-time, real-world collaboration for PD.  Gotta love it.

Along with these wonderful things, there were some epiphanies as well.  Here are some:

The Bloggers Cafe is no longer the Bloggers Cafe – It has been difficult to find a seat at the Bloggers Cafe for some years now.  It is constantly full.  Which, to me, meant perhaps ISTE needed to make it bigger.  Instead, it has been taken over by short presentations, podcasts, live video feeds, and more.  In order to find a quiet place to blog (some of us still do this), I had to walk all the way back to the registration area.  But I got it done.  And I won’t worry about trying to go there again next time.

Keynotes are hit and miss – I did not hear Ashley Judd’s keynote, but the “word on the street” is that it was highly depressing and some felt anti-teacher.  I can’t comment except to report what I heard.  But Kevin Carroll and the story of the Red Ball was amazing, inspiring, and uplifting.  You just never know from one keynote to the next what you’re going to get.

I’m as important as everyone else – While I had a great time seeing many old and new friends, I was also a little discomfited from being what appeared to be ignored by others.  People I have spent time with, talked to, had dinner with, would stand next to me and not speak.  Usually my back gets raised a little over this and I make it a point to stick out my hand and make them acknowledge me.  Not this year.  They have either moved on, or they weren’t where I thought they were anyway.  Its OK.

I’m still conflicted – I had a great time at ISTE.  I learned.  I connected.  I networked.  But I didn’t register.  Officially, I wasn’t there.  So how do you convince the people who don’t understand why you should spend so much money to go to a conference, that you could spend a little less, not really go, and still learn just as much?

What about you?  What are your take aways?  If you’ve blogged about them, put a link to your blog in the comments.  Otherwise, just put your thoughts there.  And thanks for listening.


I Can Relate…Sort Of #ISTE2014

Posted by Tim under Personal

Last night, after ISTE 2014 came to a close, and most of my friends had left Atlanta, I wandered up and down Peachtree street taking random pictures of architecture.  Toward the end of my walk I wound up at Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles, and I knew my trip to Atlanta simply would not be complete without experiencing this culinary artwork first hand.

As I sat at my booth looking through some pictures on my cell phone, catching up on Facebook, reading posts in Feedly, and checking in on FourSquare, I noticed a family of four across the aisle and slightly at an angle from me.

A father with three sons.  They were African American.  The dad sat next to the oldest.  He talked to the two boys across the booth from him. They laughed and seemed to be genuinely having a good time.

But the oldest boy, the one sitting next to dad, wasn’t.

He sat stone faced.  While his brothers were dressed with shirts tucked into their jeans and laced up sneakers, this young man sat with his hat on backwards.  His sneakers were untied and gaping wide around his ankles.  He was sitting on his belt, which indicated he usually walked with his capri style pants sagging to show his underwear.

He didn’t fit with the other three in any appreciable way.

His earbuds were in.  He never spoke.  He stared ahead.  I’m not sure he ever blinked.  When his brothers got tired of talking, and the dad had moved to checking his phone, the brothers started wiggling around in the seat to the rhythm of the music playing in the restaurant.  Not this boy.  He didn’t move.

Occasionally he would move his eyes down to look at one brother or the other, but then he would immediately look back up and stare straight ahead.

I wondered to myself what will happen when their food arrives.  Will he become engaged then?  Will they talk about how great the fried chicken is?  Will he eat the chicken or the waffle first?

Their food came just as I was finishing mine.  Three plates were set down in front of them.  The dad and the two smaller boys each had a plate to eat.  I convinced myself the waiter just couldn’t carry all four at once, so I sat a bit longer to see how all this would play out before going back to my hotel room.

The boy did not eat.  Food did not arrive.  He sat there.  Stone faced still. Never moving.  Sometimes glancing slightly at his brothers as they ate, and then going back to that blank-faced stare.

I wondered what had happened that made this boy disengage from his family.  Is he always like this, or did he and dad have a fight about where to eat and now he’s making everyone pay with his “I don’t want to be here” attitude?  Its difficult to tell from across the aisle in a crowded restaurant.

What brought him to this place is a mystery to me.  It could be family related.  Food choice related.  Friend related.  The list is endless.  He looked to be about in the 7th grade.  That may speak for itself as a cause.

One thing I can relate to is “checking out.”  I do it all the time.  Some people (yeah, my family mostly) blame my addiction to my iPhone and all the wonderful apps that can entertain me so easily.  I’m sure that’s a symptom.  But its not the problem.

I live in a bubble.  Its a bubble of my own choosing.  I understand that.  But it is a bubble that my mind locks itself into from time to time.  I get lost in thought.  Random thoughts.  I play out conversations in my head.  I think about a movie I watched three years ago.  I try desperately to remember the name of the book I am reading today. I wander step-by-step through the next video I need to create for work.  I think about how to improve teaching and learning at my school by making things easier for both students and teachers. I think about my kids and my grandkids and my mom.  I think about my dad.  I wander back through two marriages that ended and wonder what I should have done differently. I run through ideas for blog posts that I will write here.  I glance through phone calls I should make and emails I need to write and calendar events I must post.  I replay every episode of Law and Order I’ve ever watched.

The list goes on and on.

As an introvert, these are natural occurrences for me. I recharge by crawling back inside my own shell and staying there for  a bit.  Isolated.  Alone.  People wear me out.  I joke that “I don’t like people.” That’s not really true.  I love people.  I love my friends.  I love my family.  But I also love being alone.

So when I look across the aisle of a restaurant and see a young boy totally checked out from his surroundings, I can relate…sort of.


A New World Order #ISTE2014

Posted by Tim under Personal

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about conferences.  Perhaps that’s because I’ve been to a few in the last couple of months.  Since January I’ve been to ICE, MACUL, DENapalooza in Austin, TX, NSTA STEM Expo, STEM Leadership Academy (twice), Midlands Tech Summit, TeachMeet Nashville, Leader U, and now ISTE.

My iPhone playlist only has two songs.  “I’ve Been Everywhere Man” and “On The Road Again.”

But more specifically I’ve been asking, “Why conferences?”

We live in an age of the instant.  Instant messaging. Instant email. Instant website updates. Instant gratification on just about anything you can think of.

Professional Development is now available in a multitude of formats.  Online PD, both asynchronous and synchronous.  TeachMeets.  EdCamps. Faculty meetings.  CoffeeCUEs.  The list goes on and on.

I’m not a conference hater.  And I don’t mean to come across as an ISTE Basher.  But I do have some questions.  And some concerns.

Below are some of my Positives and Negatives of ed tech conferences.


  • They are expensive.  I live 90 miles from this year’s ISTE.  And yet, I will spend nearly $1,000 on hotel, food, and mileage.  And I didn’t pay for registration.  I have an exhibit hall only badge.  And, I’m not here for the entire conference.  For years, this money came out of my pocket because my former boss and school district didn’t see the need to pay for these things.
  • They are huge.  ISTE has somewhere around 15,000 educators here.  That’s BIG.  For first-timers it can be overwhelming.  For all of us it can be frustrating.  If you don’t get to some sessions 20 or 30 minutes early, you don’t get in.
  • Most of the sessions seem to be geared to beginners.  This is a real problem for me.  I was wide-eyed once.  I knew nothing.  Well, OK, I didn’t know much.  Every session was a new world of wonder for me.  Idea after idea came flooding in.  Now, I struggle to find sessions that are truly meaningful to my personal needs as an educator.
  • The same faces are usually the up-fronters.  I could name names, but that would be rude.  And these are people I like.  People I admire.  People I learn from almost daily in places like Twitter.  I get that for free.  (See first bullet point above).
  • Calls for presentations close far too early.  You have to submit 9 months to 11 months ahead of the conference.  This means one of two things.  Either I’m going to talk about last year’s news, or I’m going to totally make something up and hope I can create a workshop around my proposal (and yes, I’ve done that).  Is last year’s news going to be relevant at next year’s conference?
  • There are far too many vendor sessions.  Don’t get me wrong here.  I love going to workshops in the exhibit hall sponsored by exhibitors.  Some of my best learning has happened there in the last few years.  But when I go to a workshop, I don’t want to get all the way through something and then find out I can really only do it if my school has bought their software / hardware / book / CD / music / or subscription service.


  • Connections.  By far the most important thing that brings me back again and again are the connections with educator friends from across the country and even out of the country.  Those connections started with the Discovery Educator Network (my immediate family) and have branched out to people from Facebook and Twitter (slightly more distant relatives).  There’s still a thrill in meeting someone face-to-face with whom you’ve collaborated only online.  So, the bigger the conference, the more connections.
  • Exhibitors.  There is no doubt that larger conferences bring in more exhibitors.  And that means broader choice in looking at new products.  Talking with teachers who are actually using the products.  And, of course, getting free swag.  What teacher can pass up the opportunity for a new pen or refrigerator magnet?  (We might need that in our classroom next year!).
  • Vacation.  This doesn’t apply to everyone.  But I usually try to include one extra day in my travel to see where I’m at.  I learned this after years of attending conferences and never knowing anything about a new city except the inside of the convention center.  It started at FETC.  Orlando in January.  One day to walk Epcot when the conference concludes.  (All extras on my dime of course).  So I’ve learned to see places like San Antonio, Boston, Orlando, Denver, and more.
  • Representing on a larger stage.  On the off-chance that you get selected to present, taking your knowledge, your reputation, your school, and your colleagues to a new stage is a good thing.
  • Learning.  Yes, I do learn at these things.  I’m just not sure that the learning is commensurate with the money my boss pays (or I paid) to get me here.  Most of the time I can learn the same thing by setting up a Google Hangout with 5 of my friends from around the country.

So, I leave you with this question.  In this 21st Century world, are we happy with the PD we get at big conferences like ISTE and its affiliates, or is it time for a New World Order of PD for teachers and admins?  And if it is the latter, what does that look like?

You’re turn.

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