First of all – sorry for missing the post last week.  I caught a bad case of whatever is going around and it was not a fun time.  My kids were also sick and I was doing my best to not only help my wife, but also keep her from not getting what we all had (she stayed healthy!).

Anyway, this week I think its an appropriate time to talk about the term “busy.” I’ll be blunt – I hate the term “busy.”  I get it that people have full plates – myself included – but for some reason that term really frustrates me – especially when it is used as an excuse.  As an administrator I do my best to make sure I do not use “busy” as an excuse for why I could not do something.  They are running just as hard if not harder than I am in making sure our students are getting are getting top notch instruction in their classrooms every day.  My job as an administrator is to support them in any way I can.  From removing bureaucratic roadblocks, to being an advocate for what they are doing and the building and district level, if they need my support (either by asking for it or me recognizing the need for it) I need to make it a priority to support them.

I saw a quote the other day that really struck home: nobody is too busy – it is just a matter of priorities.  Powerful.

Some wear busy like its a badge of honor – and no matter what they always seem to be talking about how busy they are.  We all have full plates – every single one of us in this profession is pushing the limit with what they need to accomplish for our students and our schools.  We get it.

My biggest takeaway from reflecting on this blog post is that I am going to be more intentional in never telling my team I am too busy for whatever they are bringing to me – it must be important to them because otherwise they wouldn’t be bringing it to me.   I may be honest with them and let them know it it is not a top priority right now (and then given them an explanation why), but I will get to it when I can.  Conversely I am going to try and start holding my folks accountable for not using “busy” as an excuse either.  It will be a paradigm shift that may work or may not work but it is worth a conversation. But we are not busy enough not to have the conversation.

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So I’ve been thinking a lot about goals this month.  Personal goals. Family goals. Professional goals.  I wanted to share a few professional ones here – to make them public and as a way to hold me accountable – because like the old adage says, if you didn’t write it down, it never happened.

  1. Blog once a week – I mentioned that last week – one of my goals is to write at least once a week here.  So far, I am 2 for 2 in weeks.  Stay tuned.
  2. Re-write at least 2 of my AP Economics units before the summer – As a department chair so much of my time is devoted to supporting others in their curriculum development that sometimes my curriculum development gets put on to the back burner.  Not complaining at all – I love my job and helping my colleagues grow – but there comes a time when you just know its time for an overhaul of what you are doing and right now is my time to do that.  I am too Powerpoint centered and I want to start incorporating more simulations and application based lessons in my units. I will keep you posted.
  3. Spread our Democracy School mindset outside of the Social Studies Department – We have been a proud Democracy School for the past 4 years and now more than ever I am finding it important that we spread the culture we have created in our department across the entire school.  This work has already begun as I have had some conversations with colleagues in our English department about ways to incorporate service learning into their curriculum.  In presenting to our board earlier this month my counterpart over at North and I added up the numbers and realized that last year students in District 127 spent nearly 20,000 hours in community service – just in their Social Studies classes.  Imagine how we could impact our community if we spread those same opportunities for community connection throughout the school!

So there are my goals – feel free to leave feedback if you’d like.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress.  As always, thanks for reading and make it a great week!

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Welcome Back?

Wow – is been almost 3 years since a post here.  3 years of a lot of growth and change.

Our family has grown by one more (a cute little energetic guy named Jackson) and I have grown into my role as Department Chair.

My goal this year is to write a lot more (1 post a week at least) about things that are on my mind professionally.  Whether that be ed tech related or educational leadership related I want this to be more of a place for me to reflect, question, and get inspired.  I’m not sure where the blog will end up, but I am excited to find out.  I’ve missed writing professionally.  Its not that I wasn’t busy (I hate that word!) its just that I didn’t make it a priority.  That changes starting this week.  This is my first post of the year, and I hope I have 51 more posts by this time next year.  My word of the year is “priority” and I hope to make this blog exactly that.

Thanks for reading.

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Making the Jump From Proficient to Excellent – #ICE14 Presentation

This is our presentation from the Illinois Computing Educators conference on making the jump from “proficient” to “excellent” using technology. The workshop was very well attended and I had a blast presenting with some great colleagues.  Please offer your feedback and thoughts.

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5 Things I Learned at #NCSS13

So this was my first time at a NCSS conference, and I have not been to a Social Studies specific conferences since I presented with one of my favorite professors at Michigan State University, Dr. Timothy Little, at MCSS back in the spring of 2001.  I had been to quite a few technology conferences but to me, this journey to NCSS was a return home – back to the subject that I love.  Here is what I learned…

1)     When it comes to the Common Core, we are doing good things already in our curriculum and the C3 standards makes it even better.

Common Core, which has been treated like a four letter word in the past (and by keynote speaker Oliver Stone) is where we are going as a nation and we have to accept it. I equate it to throwing up, you can fight it all you want but its gonna happen!  The good news is from the presentations I went to, we have already been doing a lot of what the Common Core asks of us! If anything, we now have more autonomy! Wait you want me to teach skills and I get to have some freedom over what content I get to use to teach it? Score!  The NCSS’ C3 standards even give more direction for teachers to focus on while developing those skills.  We are well on our way – which may be why we are left out of most state and national tests!

2)     Civil engagement – now more than ever – is key

From the C3 framework to the numerous sessions put on by the likes of the McCormick Foundation, Dr. Peter Levine at Tufts University and Diana Hess the message was loud and clear – students need to get involved with what is going on in their community, state and the world around them.  Considering the current political climate, I couldn’t agree more.

3)     There weren’t enough “really make you think…” sessions.

As I sat through Kenneth Davis session a colleague mentioned “wouldn’t it be great if Davis and Oliver Stone did a panel discussion/debate together?”  I couldn’t agree more! Dr. Diana Hess’ session on Friday morning highlighted a statistic that said “students in like -minded classes are more likely to be less tolerant of other people’s views” and that we as teachers owe it to our students to expose them to ideas and viewpoints contrary to their own.  Aside from Oliver Stone’s speech (he does not mince words!), Rep. Lewis’ speech, and an poignant yet respectful comment by a Vietnam Vet directed at Mary Beth Tinker I didn’t see or experience too much controversy at this conference.   I think we missed out on a chance to grow as a community from the controversy that a good keynote or a great session provides.

4)     Technology and gaming is really starting to catch fire…

As a former tech coach and a self-described nerd I was very excited to see all the sessions on gaming and technology! I have used iCivics in the past with great success and it is good to see that these simulations are starting to take hold within our curriculum! If you get a chance to look at iCivics do it. I’m excited to see what Historia could do for our feeder school students and their understanding.  What I would like to see more sessions of are ones on the use of social media in Social Studies.   Hmmm, proposals open up in December…maybe I will fill one out!

5)     Speaking of social media, I was surprised by how few people were using the #NCSS13 tag on Twitter!

Perhaps the Twitter thing hasn’t caught on yet with NCSS but considering the amount of people at the conference the feed seemed relatively quiet.  The networking that was going on was incredibly helpful to me and I only write this as a way to encourage more people to start using Twitter! Next year let’s get the #NCSS14 feed trending!

All in all it was a great conference and I am looking forward to going to Boston next year! On a side note, although I didn’t attend any sessions I LOVED the idea of the “unconference”! How cool was that? I hope that stay for the Boston conference.

Thanks to all those who worked tirelessly to put on this conference.  I had a great time and am looking forward to next year.  See ya at Harvard yard!

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Top 5 Things I Learned at ASCD13

I’m back (well, actually I am here because the conference was here in Chicago) from the ASCD 2013 Conference.  I attended sessions on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and learned so much my brain has entered a “learning coma” (similar to a food coma with less of a need to workout after).  In reflecting on the weekend I wanted to summarize a few of the things I learned.  Here are the Top 5:

5) There is a digital divide between those educators who are on Twitter and those who are not. 

Props to ASCD Executive Director Dr. Gene Carter for proudly telling the 7,000 or so attendees on Saturday that he had just sent his first tweet of his career just moments before taking the stage.  He took a big step forward in connecting with thousands of other educators around the world all working to make sure they continued learning from others.  I felt that being on Twitter allowed me to gain so much more insight from the conference than I would have if I was not on it.  From powerful quotes from Will Richardson to another colleague I follow seriously questioning where the learning was in this particular session I was engaged on so many different levels because of Twitter it made my experience that much richer.   A big shout out to Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and Nick Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) for putting together an impromptu EdCamp on Saturday afternoon to discuss how Twitter works and how teachers can use it.  I had a chance to walk by #EdCampRogue and it was fantastic to see so many teachers learning about Twitter.  If you truly want to continue to grow as a teacher and do what is best for your students – get on Twitter and start developing a PLN.  Not sure where to start? Following those two guys I mentioned earlier is a great place!

4) Chicago needs to build up the area around McCormick Place

Ok, so this is my only non-educational based one but seriously the only options we had outside of the convention hall were a Burger King, Papa Johns, White Castle and a few local places.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the King and his onion rings but if I had a ton of money I would build a big entertainment area right next to McCormick Place with a whole bunch of restaurants and bars.

3) Don’t follow the crowds at the conference

I was able to get into the Sandra Day O’Connor session even though I got to the conference rather late.  I saw the very long line and thought, “well, this isn’t going to work…” and dejectedly walked away (Sandra Day O’Connor is one of my heroes both judicially and through the way she was a pioneer).  I heard security telling people that the room would be full and that there was an overflow room set up on the other side of the convention hall – many people line joined me in my walk of rejection.  I met up with a colleague who was going to a session right next to where O’Connor spoke.  I decided I would join her and walked back toward the room where Justice O’Connor was scheduled to speak – except there wasn’t a line any more…and they were still letting people in.  I quickly jumped in line and was able to secure a 2nd row seat for her talk-which was awe inspiring! Which brings me to my second point…

2) Never underestimate the power of a teacher

So as I sat in Justice O’Connor’s session with the giddiness of an 8th grade boy who just got asked to dance by a cute girl, a question was posed to her about her educational experiences and the impact they had on her career.  She told a story of her elementary school teacher in 1st or 2nd grade telling her she could do anything she wanted when she grew up.  When she spoke she caller her teacher by name (Mrs. Fuhl (sp?)) and spoke of her impact.  It blew me away…here is an 82 year old woman who has seen the world, and met millions of people still remembering her 2nd grade teacher’s name because she meant that much to her.  Why? Because she inspired Justice O’Connor.  She made her feel important and more so empowered.  I sat there and pondered if we took Mrs. Fuhl out of the equation would Justice O’Connor be sitting there as the first woman on the Supreme Court? It made me realize the gravity of what we do day in and day out and inspired me to do my best.

1) Sometimes its the unfamiliar names in the small rooms that can really change your practice and make you think. 

Don’t get me wrong. I was blown away by the Justice O’Connor talk, meeting with my well known college professor Dr. Gerstein, listening to Maya Angelou, and learning more about flipped classrooms but one of the best sessions of the weekend came on Monday from Anthony J. Fitzpatrick (@antfitz) that dealt with reading and writing across the Common Core as it pertains to Social Studies.  I’ll be honest, I never heard of Mr. Fitzpatrick but I was intrigued and I walked into the small room and sat down for his presentation on how Social Studies can be SPECtacular.  His presentation style and content were awesome and made the 90 minutes fly by.  He talked about the importance of the 5 paragraph essay for about 4 minutes and then spent the rest of the time talking to us about how to engage students in the writing process – and how to get them to write about different angles (Social, Political, Economic or Cultural).  It was awesome and a relief to know if I followed his ideas I would not be reading 30 of the same papers.  I am hoping to share some of his resources with my colleagues and hope that we can use those ideas to inspire writing with our students.  Again, nothing against the big names that presented – they did a fine job and  I learned a lot – but I always like it when a session surprises me like Anthony’s did! It was worth coming down on Monday just go gain the knowledge he shared with  us.

Well that about wraps it up for ASCD for me this year.  Am I going to LA? I liked ASCD and learned a ton but I am hoping my district can send me to EduCon or ISTE next year and if I go to that it would be hard for me to get them to foot the bill to LA – especially the week before Spring Break!

Join Twitter if you haven’t already, do your best to inspire kids and never stop learning from whoever you can.

I’d love to hear of your experiences at ASCD.

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Giving Up Facebook For Lent


So I’ve been thinking long and hard about what to give up for Lent.  I could give up soda, snacks, or junk food but for a guy of my, um, “stature” giving up useless calories is a lot like asking someone to give up breathing…sure it sounds like a good idea at the time but it isn’t going to last very long. 

So I took a good hard look at what was going on in my life.  I was incredibly busy with coaching club volleyball, helping lead a department, integrating writing into my Honors US Government curriculum, and getting students ready for the AP Economics exam, taking Masters classes but more importantly trying to be a great husband to my wife and an even greater father to our 11 month old daughter.  I realized that my time was at a premium and that while being on Facebook was fun it wasn’t helping me become better at any of those more important things listed above.  So I am going to give up Facebook.  For 40 days.  40 incredibly long days.  

To say I am a bit nervous is an understatement but I think it will all be ok.  Our daughter just turned 11 months today and I look forward to spending more time playing with her and watching her grow.  I look forward to spending more time conversing with Beth (we are both guilty of getting lost in our phones spending time checking status updates after a long day rather than talking to each other).  I look forward to spending more time blogging (I’ve already decided that WordPress will be my “fix” for when I want to check Facebook at home or at school – I will just jump on here and throw out something that I am musing about).  I look forward to spending time on what is important.  That is not to say things on Facebook aren’t important. There are some things that are important on Facebook and most likely I will miss out on a few things (like a $5000 from Bill Gates if I “like” his picture…I may have won that contest!), but in the grand scheme of things I will probably miss out on a lot more going on around me if I were spending time on Facebook.  

Some of you may ask, “Well Jason, that is very admirable…are you going to give up Twitter too?” 

My response would be “Next question…” 

I will still be on Twitter, which I use a lot more for professional development (I swear!) than getting my fix of Someeccards sayings.  But until Good Friday I am saying “Adios” to Facebook.  There will be some trying times to be sure but I think in the long run it will all be ok.  

I mean we all survived without Facebook before Mark Zuckerberg right? So how bad can 40 days be? Really? I’ll keep you posted.  

I’d love to hear your thoughts – post them below – and once I come out of my withdrawal shakes and tears I will be sure to read them.  

1 day down…39 more to go…


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