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

Joe Scozzaro:

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

Originally posted on 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…

View original 204 more words


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!

Collaboration in Cyberspace

In order to foster genuine collaboration in the classroom, a skilled teacher will focus on creating the right conditions in the class that will allow students to work together effectively.  Students have to know that they are accountable for doing or not doing their work.  They have to trust in the teacher by following the parameters of the project.  Students have to have adequate time to get to know their group-mates, so they get a sense of each other’s strengths that can help the group succeed, as well as how the group can help remedy or offset any weaknesses in any of the individual members.  To be able to get to this point, students have to let their guards down and trust each other.

The same is true on social media in cyberspace.

Some people will immediately dismiss this premise because they don’t believe that there can be any genuine collaboration among strangers on the internet.  They see the internet as a valuable source of information and they might even buy into being able to connect to people in a meaningful way, but more so as a way to facilitate real-world, face-to-face relationships.

As an educator who has worked in the classroom throughout the rise of the internet, I have noticed a clear evolution.  In classrooms of yesterday, we used the internet to access information and communicate with folks that we mainly had relationships with in our schools or communities.

Now, we can develop and maintain collaborative relationships with people we never meet with face-to-face.  These relationships can be just as beneficial and real as those we have with people we work with or go to school with.  In order to develop these kinds of relationships, we need time to get to know our collaborators in cyber-space.  That’s where social networks come in.  These are the spaces in which we can frequent our collaborators. We develop our own Personal Learning Networks, which are the equivalent of the small groups we work with in the classroom. We need time to get to know the strengths of our colleagues.  We can build teams in cyberspace the same way we build teams in the classroom and workplace.  In order for these teams to be “real,” each user must be “real.”  This is why I advocate using one’s full name in one’s Twitter handle.  When people Tweet on behalf of an institution or when they take on an alias, it hinders genuine collaboration because it prohibits your potential collaborators from knowing the real person behind the account.  It’s ok to protect one’s privacy, especially if the users are minors.  I am not in favor of requiring students to use their full names when social media is used in the classroom.  But as long everyone in the class knows each of the usernames, they will be able to get to know the person behind it.  When reaching out to others across the globe on social media, it is important to be yourself, even if you only use your first name.  This will help people connect to you.

So if you haven’t already figured it out, this is another push in support of joining and using social networks as spaces that foster collaboration with colleagues.  That’s what many educators are using blogs like this one for, as well as Twitter, Facebook, and G+ as well.

Please let me know what you think!


Chinese colleagues visit NAHS

Today we were lucky enough to host a small group of teachers from Beijing No. 35 High School.  Their trip was arranged by our partners at The Confucius Institute at Bryant University.  Special thanks to Geoff Burgess, Catherine Marcotte, Don Johnson, Jack Johnson, Alan Senecal, Erin McDavitt, Deirdre Healey, Laurie Henderson, Andrew Ferguson, Allison Jewell, Jen O’Brien, Carrie Rushlow, Alex Hatzberger,  Jeremy Thornton, Diane McKamy and Yvonne Levesque.

Agenda for Teachers from Beijing High School #35 visit to NAHS

Team 1: 1 Math  & 3 Science Teachers  (Mr. Burgess & Mrs. Marcotte Leaders)

Team 2:  6 English Teachers (Mr. Scozzaro Team Leader)

Team 3: 1 Geography & 3 Chinese Teachers (Mr. Don Johnson & Mr. Jack Johnson Leaders)

Day One:  Tuesday 1/21/14

7:30  Arrival & Welcome

7:35—7:45  Auditorium:  NAHS Movie

7:45—8:00 Brief Tour:  Gym, Main Office, Guidance, Cafeteria—Meet team leaders

8:05—8:42  Observation of period 2 classes (Team 1 to visit Science class; Team 2 to visit Spanish II class; Team 3 to visit English class)

8:46—9:23 Observation of period 3 classes (Team 1 to visit Math class; 1 team to visit French 2 class; Team 3 to visit History class)

*9:23—9:30 Coffee Break in café

9:30—10:08 Walkthroughs of period 4 classes (brief visits to a variety of classrooms) (Mr. Johnson & Mr. Burgess)

*10:12—10:49  Library: Question & Answer session with teachers, Department Heads, counselors, & students

11:00—11:15 Visit music room to observe rehearsals

*11:25—12:05 Lunch in the cafeteria with teachers and students

12:15 Departure  

Our colleagues from Beijing #35 High School were very impressed with the level of engagement, the curiosity, and the enthusiasm of all the students they observed in their visits to classrooms.  They were also in awe of discipline and the commitment to the creative process that they saw in Mr. Couture’s Concert Choir and Mr. Rizzo’s Symphonic Band.  In their discussions with teachers here, our visitors took note of just how heavy a full-time teaching load is here,  as well our inclusive approach to teaching all students.

If you would like an opportunity to meet our visitors, they will be returning on Thursday. Teachers and staff are welcome to attend any of the events on the agenda:

Day Two: Thursday, 1/23/14

9:00  Arrival & Greeting (Mr. Holcomb)

*9:15—10:00  Library: Presentations by Department/Discipline (North teachers present to visitors on HS curriculum & teaching & learning by discipline)

*10:00-10:30 Presentation by visiting teachers about High School #35

*10:30—10:45 Round table discussion (visitors , leadership team, & teachers)

*11:15—12:15 Lunch w Faculty & Staff offered by PTO in Teacher room

12:15 Departure

*All Teachers are invited to attend & participate

We are very proud of our teachers and our students here at North and grateful for the school culture that they help create!

In our discussions, Mr. Huang from Beijing HS #35 expressed an interest in building a relationship with North Attleboro High that would allow for eventual exchanges that would give students and teachers from North a chance to study/teach at Beijing HS #35.  We are grateful for our relationship with the Confucius classroom at Bryant University!

Mr. Kongli Liu, Mr. Peng Huang, Mr. Holcomb & Mr. Scozzaro

Mr. Kongli Liu, Mr. Peng Huang, Mr. Holcomb & Mr. Scozzaro

Chinese visit 2 Chinese visit 3