As the descriptions and images of the carnage in Paris pour across our screens and our hearts go out to the families of the innocent, it is important for us to think of our children and our students.  While the candidates and commentators build up their own rankings by fanning the flames of vengeance and blame, we have to find a way to be attentive to the concerns and questions of our students.  Most educators do a fine job of keeping their own personal political opinions out of the discussion when they are carrying out the planned curriculum. It is a little more challenging when we have to face questions about the terrible tragedies that happen over the weekend, whether they happen in our towns or across the world.  Before smartphones and the 24-hour news cycle, we could hope that our students would not know about these terrible events.  Now we are obliged to assume that kids have heard the news or have seen a few of the front-page images that appear automatically when apps are opened or TV channels are surfed across.  We must face this discussion courageously with our students.  We must stay true to our mission by hearing all sides and considering all points of view.  We must, as we aspire to do every day while guiding our students through inquiry, be comfortable in posing questions that do not have clear, unambiguous answers.  We must allow students the space to grapple with these questions and allow them to hear the thoughts and opinions of their peers.  We must caution them to not jump to conclusions or label large populations of people based on the actions of a few.  We must encourage them to hold fast to the values that we hold dear.  We must encourage them to stand with all people across the world who hold similar values. We must encourage them to stand with our fellows who are struggling against a common enemy of intolerance. By engaging in this discussion with our student, we stand with the people of Paris as they mourn the dead, care for the injured, and comfort the traumatized.

image credit: Justin Minggan Wei

Microsoft Education’s Top 5 Free Tools for Teachers

I’ve been out of my building all this week to attend a Microsoft Innovative Educator Training Workshop to become a Trainer in Microsoft tools for education.  Having been an avid user of OneDrive for over a year now, at the beginning of the week, I thought, “how on earth is there enough content to fill up four days?”  My mind was completely blown by the depth and breadth of Microsoft’s offerings.

Below is a my own ranking of tools we learned about on Days 1 & 2, with a description in my own words as to what this tool is all about and how it might be useful to teachers in the classroom:

1. OneDrive--In our district, we have have been “on the cloud” for a couple of years now.  However, just because we all had a little training, doesn’t mean that you know everything.  Learning takes time you learn as you use it.  What I know about OneDrive today is much greater than two years ago because I have made it part of my daily routine and keep all my professional docs on it.  The advantage of putting all my docs up on OneDrive is that I can have access to them from any device.  As a teacher, you may always have a desktop or a laptop in your classroom, so you might think you don’t need to have your docs on the cloud, but if you have them on the cloud, you can share them with students without having to be always dependent on printing and photocopying.  The power of OneDrive for teachers happens when you use it as an organization or district so that all students, teacher and staff members have an account with free storage, email, and a whole “waffle” of tools that are available for free using online versions.  Here’s a screen clipping of “the waffle” (made with Snip):


Be patient because when you are new to the cloud, seeing all these tools can be overwhelming. But don’t be afraid to try out new tools! Microsoft has a multitude of trading videos available and there’s a whole network of Microsoft Innovative Educators out on social media (#miechat) who are there to help.

2. OneNote–I have been using this tool as a three ring binder to keep track of all my notes for everything I do at work.  I wish this tool was around when I was a teacher, because now there are versions for teachers One Note Class Notebook and for administrators, One Note Staff Notebook, to have everything all in one place.  What I like about OneNote is that I can drag and drop content right into it, I can include voice and video clips, printouts of emails all cataloged and saved in a searchable way so that I can find that info easily.  Because it’s linked to the cloud, I can find those notes on any device at any time and I can share notebooks and set permissions for who sees what and who can add and edit info.

3. Office Mix (Add on for Powerpoint)--The name here is a bit confusing, but this tool is essentially an add-on to Powerpoint.  I’m excited about this add-on mainly because many teachers already use Powerpoint to deliver content.  Office Mix allows teachers to make their existing ppts interactive by adding video, voice-overs, ink-overs and employs analytics when shared inside an organization.  Office mix will allow teachers to flip the classroom, pushing content out that is rich and interactive to students at home, while also being able to make sure students are doing it, interacting and completely viewing through the analytics feature. You can download the free add-on by going to and clicking the download button. Here’s a demo video that will do a much better job of explaining Mix than I could ever do!

4. Sway–This is a free tool that appears on your Office 365 “waffle” that allows you to easily create rich content and push it out to students, parents, colleagues who can view it on any device.  This tool allows you to drag and drop photos, videos and clips from the web, add text, organize and arrange and then share easily.  This tool facilitates digital storytelling.  I made a sample Sway that is kind of like an About Me, which could also be thought of as a digital resume, even though I did not put any work experience on mine.  I set the sharing settings to “anyone with the link” and then pushed out the link.  It looks good on any device.  So teachers could use this to present short bursts of information, or to arrange a deck of photos for a lesson.  Students could use this easily to do class presentations. Here’s link to a tutorial on YouTube.

5. Delve–This is one of the tools inside your Office 365 homepage.  Delve is helpful when you share a lot of documents inside an organization.  If your organization share documents saved on OneDrive around, like meeting agendas, policy docs, etc, or if you are a teacher and share documents with your students who also have OneDrive accounts.  It becomes difficult to keep track of all the docs that are being shared.  Clicking on Delve allows you to see your Delve homepage and then along the left side all the people within your organization that you share with.  You can click on the person and see all the docs you collaborate on together.  The layout of Delve also allows you create boards, much like Pinterest, to keep stuff organized.  If you are using the O365 Cloud, Delve learns about all the ways you use the cloud and organizes your whole interface and your top collaborators right there in one place.


And one for good luck… Excel Survey–I’m starting to use this more in more as an assistant principal to collect information for a variety of stakeholders.  I used it last June to put a link up on our school website to collect info from parents attending the graduation ceremony.  Teachers could use Excel Surveys to do formative assessments of students, who may access the survey using any web-connected device, collect information from parents on Back-to-School Night, or do worksheets, quizzes, or tests in a computer lab or with a laptop cart.  The survey allows teachers to create and manage a spreadsheet full of information collected from a variety of users.  Don’t look any further than the menu ribbon inside of Excel. Or while logged into OneDrive, click on “+” and select Excel Survey.”

Notes from #EdcampLdr Boston

Have you ever thought about attending an Edcamp?  Here are my notes from my experience at Edcamp Leadership held at Bedford High School in Bedford, MA on 7/13/15.

Entering the school, I saw a couple of former colleagues, Dan Richards and Henry Turner  and it was great to re-connect with both of them.  As I entered the auditorium, I started to recognize several people, many of whom I know as Twitter Rockstars, including Tom Bresnahan, David Hochheiser, Rik Rowe, Brian McCann, Marty Geoghegan, Patrick Larkin, Steve Guditus, Tara Bennett, Jamie Murray Armin.  It is very exciting to be able to make real-world connections with folks who have been so active and supportive via social media.

The formal activities of the day began  at around 9:00 AM with a welcome presentation by Henry Turner during which he oriented the group with the idea behind the Edcamp model.  By a show of hands, the majority of attendees were new to Edcamps and this shows that the idea is spreading.  Today’s camp here in Boston is happening at the same time in locations around the US and even in South America.  If you haven’t experienced an Edcamp, I highly encourage you to take the plunge.
You only have to bring an open mind and a device to be able to build your own Professional Learning Network.  Henry explained that all edcampers are encouraged to put a question on the big board with a large sticky note.  You don’t have to be an expert and present; rather, you just need to have a question and be comfortable acting as a facilitator.  The board was populated by ad-hoc “courses” over the course of the opening hour, while folks were sharing coffee with colleagues in a very informal, welcoming environment.

In the first hour-long discussion session that decided to attend, a group of 16 educators got together to discuss #Makerspaces.  Brian McCann facilitated a discussion with the opening question, “What exactly is a Makerspace?”

Participants shared that it is more about problem-solving than creating an actual space.  It’s a concept that could be done in specific classrooms that use the idea to help students solve problems that are hands on.  Or you could incorporate the Makerspace model in common areas of one’s school, like the media center.  Some examples provided by participants are “Create your own bookmark using LED lights and simple circuits” and “Using 100 styrofoam cups, who can create the tallest tower.”

The conversation really took off from there and it became really hard for me to follow.  Participants began sharing resources immediately to the shared google doc for the whole session.  I got lost trying to find the link for that google doc.  I tweeted out a request using the #EdcampLdr hashtag for the google link and waited for a response on Twitter.  I know I could have just asked someone in real time what the link is, but I already asked another edcamper while walking to the first session and I could not find the link where it was described to me to be.

The really cool part about Edcamp is that we are all here to learn together, collaborate and network.

Many of the participants came to learn about Makerspaces while others came because they are experienced with the concept and want to share ideas and build on what they know.

How do you get folks in your building on board with this idea?

The whole purpose of Makerspaces is to get kids to experience hands-on learning.  This idea is going to be something that teachers agree with.  It’s not an initiative that needs to come down from above.  It is better incorporated in a grass-roots kind of way.

While I was trying hard to keep up with the energetic discussion, I received a notification on my Twitter account and received the link for the google doc.  If you’d like to check it out, click here.  On this big board, you can click on the specific session and see the running notes that are being put up by participants in each session.  At edcamp, we are encouraged to “vote with our feet” and using this big google doc helps us do that by giving us the chance to monitor in real time the discussions that are taking place in the classrooms nearby.

If you take a look at the google doc notes for the Makerspace class during the 9:30-10:30 block, you will see that participants who shared in the live session also posted their thoughts and resources on the google doc.

Session 2 10:30-11:30 How to overcome leadership roadblocks

Participants gathered in BHS’s Large Group Instruction room to participate in a discussion with EdcamptLdr New Jersey via Google Hangouts.  The central question was “What roadblocks have you encountered and how have you overcome them?”  If you’d like to read the notes taken by participants, here’s the link to the google doc.

This was not my first experience using Google Hangout, but it was the first time I’ve seen it used to facilitate discussion between two groups of people in different locations.  This would be a great way to have discussions among educators in different schools around a district, as well as allowing classrooms of students to discuss with other classrooms around the state or the country.

The discussion was hampered at first by some small technical gliches, getting used to the sound and managing the feedback loops that occur when multiple mics pick up the live audio.  However, it didn’t take long for the discussion to really take off, as the notes suggest, and I just enjoyed listening to the comments more than trying to take accurate notes on this post.

Session 3 11:30-12:30 Learning Walks: How to open up those classrooms

Ann Jones opened by sharing how she used learning walks with teachers to help support a cohort of beginning teachers in her building by creating collegial relationships among new and more experienced staff.

Some of the questions we discussed:

How do you get experienced staff to open up their classrooms to new teacher?

How do you make the peer observations happen?  Schedule them or let them happen more organically?

How do you help teacher-observers know what to look for when they are observing?

How do you build the culture where teachers welcome peer observation?

How can your admin team use learning walks to improve their practice and comfort level with walk thrus?

It’s important for all staff to realize that we’re all in it together and the point of Learning Walks and evaluations is to learn and grow, not gotchas.

By Joe Scozzaro Posted in PD

One Hope

Very nice New Year wish for rekindled hope by Scott Rocco.

Evolving Educators

The New Year brings anticipation, excitement, and hope for people around the World. Education should be no different. Even after a few tough years with how the educational profession has been perceived and the difficult debates on how learning should be evaluated, there is always room for hope. With that in mind I posted a tweet on December 31, 2014 asking members of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) to respond to this:


Over the course of the next 24 hours there were numerous tweets from educators using the hashtag and identifying their educational hopes for 2015. To me it’s important to have hope for what a new year can bring and I looked for the responses from my PLN as validation for my belief in hope. Here are some of the responses that demonstrate the true anticipation, excitement, and hope for education in 2015.

A number of tweets centered on…

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Building Capacity

As I was running yesterday morning through the woods, I reflected on how grateful I am to work on a team where there is a strong spirit of collaboration. We are in our self-study year for our NEASC accreditation cycle and we are lucky to have many classroom teachers stepping up to chair the many committee posts that are needed to complete the self-study report. Teachers have their hands full with their primary roles in the classroom. When they volunteer to help out on initiatives that impact the whole building, they are also inadvertently taking on leadership roles, or building leadership capacity. Leadership capacity is vital to affecting positive school change as the more people who participate in the discussion of how to improve our practices inside and outside the classroom, the more authentic the change will be. When more stakeholders participate in the discussion and in the ideas that spring from that discussion, the more vital and necessary the work becomes. When all of us who work in schools bring the mindset of “how can I help to make this a better school?” we contribute to building leadership capacity.

School leaders should try to foster leadership capacity in their staff by encouraging collaborative problem solving and sharing best practices. As teachers improve their classroom practices through reflective collaboration with colleagues, they can turn their focus to addressing building-wide issues. Leaders cannot mandate the solutions to persistent or pervasive problems. They have to rely on building the culture of leadership capacity that allows for addressing problems on the grassroots level.

Looking back at my own career, I see that I developed most of the skills I utilize every day in my role as an assistant principal when I was a teacher. I was fortunate enough to work in a school where leadership was shared and teachers were empowered to take responsibly for making progressive change. When enough people agreed on identifying a problem, they would partner with administration and develop a plan of action to address the issue. The actions didn’t always immediately work, but at least people were on board with the effort.

When stakeholders invest in the effort of school change, their actions make them invested in the school. I would not have gone into leadership, if I didn’t feel that leadership was already something I was doing as an invested teacher. I am grateful to the leaders with whom I have worked because they built leadership capacity in me by giving me a seat at the table where issues were discussed and plans were made to address the issues.

Who has encouraged you to take on leadership capacity?



Brand Loyalty

I started this blog when I was a classroom teacher trying to grow student engagement by opening a window into my classroom for parents and the world to see. High school parents often don’t get much response from their teenagers when they ask, “so what did you learn about in school today?” My blog was a way of letting parents see the tools we were using in class, read some of the discussions we were having and view the projects that students created. The response to the blog among parents was very warm.
Now that I’ve moved into the role of AP, I don’t have a single classroom. I view my new role more as a teacher of a larger classroom. It’s very exciting getting the chance to visit many classroom and witness the learning that is taking place.
I now think of this blog as a place to start discussions around big ideas that impact teaching and learning. While it is a challenge to write about issues of pedagogy that I witness inside the classroom that can be consumed and digested by a variety of stakeholders and not just teachers, I also like to write about my ideas for implementing new ideas in my current role.
I was just lurking in on a Sunday Twitter chat called #APchat and they were discussing the importance of getting parents and students connected to the brand. To build a strong school identity, the school’s story cannot only be authored by a single solitary individual. Lots of school leaders write about the happenings in their schools for the consumption of the community as a way to break to ice and allow stakeholders a view inside. This is a good place to start. But once stakeholders are used to reading the leader’s views of the school, they would benefit even more from hearing directly from students. School publications are great for this purpose. When our students act as ambassadors for the school by writing or speaking about the quality experiences they are having, the stakeholders who read or hear this can begin to feel a deeper connection to the school brand.
When students offer testimonials to the wonderful product that the school offers, parents, teachers and community members will take stock in the organization. As the testimonials roll in, especially from a wide cross-section of the school, stakeholders, realizing that the organization is working effectively, become loyal to the brand.
For this reason, I am working this year on a blog that tells the story of the student experience at our school, in the voice of our students. My goal is to invite a wide variety of students to become storytellers, writing about a transformative experience.
If you have any ideas about how I can get students involved in this blog as writers, I’d love to hear your comments.
If you are a student and you’d like to share a transformative experience that you’ve had at your own school, please add a comment with a link, if you have a blog.
If you don’t have a blog and would like to be a guest contributor here at teachingcontext, please leave me a message. I would love that!
If you are a student or a parent at NAHS and you would like to contribute a post to our new school blog that I’m building this year (called therocketsredglare), please email me and let me know what you’d like to write about.
We become loyal to the brands we love when we have good experiences with the product. When we speak out in praise of the brand, we can get others excited about the brand as well.
Schools too need to utilize the power of stakeholder testimonials.


Work-Life Balance

As we ease into Labor Day weekend, many educators, who have not started school this week, have already begun the mental preparations necessary for the start of the school year.  This is the weekend when we try to cram in all the fun activities that we enjoyed doing over the summer one last time!  As technology becomes more entrenched in our practice, we’ve already started using our devices to get school work done from home, often multitasking as we spend time with friends and family.  I myself have just said goodnight to my kids and as they drifted off to sleep, I logged into our school website to upload one or two docs that just got emailed to me from my teammates.  My instinct is to bang those things out now so I can relax later.  I have to be mindful of the trap that this thinking may set for myself.  Whenever we put off leisure time to tick off a few more lines of our to-do list, we are squandering precious time that could be devoted to being present with our loved ones, to enjoying a hobby that keeps us youthful, to exercising, or even to just having some much needed solitude.  While being effective at my job brings me great satisfaction, I must also keep in mind that my family, my tech hobbies like keeping this blog, my running, and my reading for pleasure bring me immeasurable satisfaction as well.  As we begin another school year, we educators must remember to “sharpen the saw,” that is, keep ourselves sharp by paying attention to the things that make us whole.  

When we are mindful of the need to detach from work after giving ourselves fully to it for the day, we will be better able to coach our students to adopt this mindset as well.  Many students struggle under the weight of expectations and have difficulty knowing when or how to shut off the working mind to save a little mental capacity for family, friends, hobbies, fun, exercise or even just alone time.  So as you mentally prepare yourself to re-enter the lives of students, and you spend some time polishing your syllabi this weekend, delineating your expectations for excellence for your students, remember to shut it off and dedicate yourself to the moments you have for yourself.  And when those students come through the doors next week, let them know that your high expectations include expecting them to forget about you as their teacher and your subject after a certain time each day.  Let them know that you encourage them to dedicate time each week to the art of keeping it all in balance.  They will appreciate you and and your class even more if you live by your own example. 




Vacation In Real Time

We are putting the final items into our suitcases, readying for the flight to Italy, which leaves in a few hours. The kids are excited and we are looking forward to seeing friends and a family and just relaxing.

I am committed to staying off social media for the entire time. We are bringing our devices, but mainly so the kids can play games and watch videos while in transit. I’m looking forward to living in the real world, fully enjoying the moments shared with my family.

I’m disconnecting from work and from my PLN, not because either of the two are disagreeable, but mainly just to enjoy old-school delights, like reading, conversation, and learning something new from the world in front of me.

I would love to hear what you are doing for vacation! Please post a comment or two below!


5 Ways to Reboot, Recharge & Reconnect over summer


Looking back at my last year in blogging, I notice that it was a challenge for me to post frequently. This was my first year in a new position so I was learning the ropes in the new school. I also went through a bit of an identity crisis as a blogger. My blog had been kind of an electronic journal of a teacher using tech tools in the classroom. Now that I’m an admin and not in my own classroom everyday, I’ve had to re-envision the blog to help keep me grounded in what I am passionate about: using technology to provide students with rich learning experiences.
Just as educators use summer to recharge their batteries, I’ve started the summer by recommitting to writing more frequent posts.
Today, I’m sharing the five things I’m doing to Reboot, Recharge & Reconnect this summer. I hope this helps you do the same!

1. Reboot the blog
I started by re-reading the tag line and asking myself if this states correctly the purpose of my blog. As I am not a classroom teacher anymore but I am still an educator of around 600 students on my caseload, I refreshed the language to better fit what I want to write about in my new position. I also snapped a selfie in summer attire and updated my gravitar and About page.

2. Sign up for an Edcamp or other PD activity. I live in Massachusetts and it just so happens that summer coincides with the yearly Edcamp Cape Cod.
Edcamps are known as “unconferences” because there is no pre-determined agenda. Just show up, mix and mingle with the creative folk who attend and attend any number of ad-hoc sessions that attendees decide to offer that day. It’s a great place to make face-to-face connections with some of the people in your PLN. If you don’t have a PLN, then it’s a great place to learn about the idea and begin building your own. Here’s a site where you can find an Edcamp near you:

3. Participate an a weekly Twitter chat that is new to you! I am a regular visitor to #satchat, which takes place most Saturdays from 7:30 AM – 8:30 AM EST on Twitter. I’m comfortable there as I am familiar with many of the moderators and participants. Over the summer, I try to explore other chats so that I can engage in discussions with new educators whom I can add to my PLN. It can be refreshing to follow people who are outside your immediate circles. I think it’s professionally sound to do so so that your thinking gets influenced by folks in different disciplines and levels. You can search for a new chat on this fantastic google doc put together by @cybraryman1 to help educators find one another in weekly chats.

4. Read a book. Does this need to be expanded upon? Stop making excuses! Just find a book–for personal preference, for professional edification, or just to escape into a fictional world–and set aside time to just read. You might like to check in with Twitter to see if there’s a book group to chat with about the cool, if that makes it more fun for you. I will recommend @edfocachat, if you are interested in Ed Leadership. The educators who moderate this chat are really smart and very welcoming.

5. Disconnect. At some point in the summer, I try to keep off the internet and social media for a week or so. It’s nice to recall that time in. Your life when you weren’t connected all day, every day. I’m traveling to Italy for two weeks with my family this month and while I tempted to want to document the experience on social media, to keep my friends and family updated or to document it for my kids, I’m committed to enjoying the time away from technology and the quest to keep up. I will use that time to enjoy life in real time with the people in my immediate vicinity. It’s important to remember how to do that! I can always post the photos when I get back! Remember when you’d go away on vacation with several rolls of film and not get to view time vacation photos until months later? We are too spoiled nowadays with the instant gratification that technology provides us. It’s good to get away from that for a little or long while. Just do it!