Making Time for Professional Growth #MSSAASI

In today’s busy world, it takes a lot of energy to prioritize and execute a to-do list filled with our work, family, and social responsibilities.  As professional educators we often leave our own professional growth and development to our district leaders to figure out for us.  Some of us engage in professional learning networks on social media and that recharges the batteries for us to keep us running full throttle during the school year.  One way I’ve taken a more active role in my own professional growth since becoming a school administrator is to join Massachusetts Secondary Schools Administrator’s Association.  If you too are a busy educator who yearns for high quality professional learning opportunities outside of your own school or district, I highly recommend seeking our your local branch of your national organization, whether it’s NCTE, ACTFL, NASSP, NCTE, NCHE, ASCD or ISTE, these organizations help to connect you to other educators to expand your own professional network while also providing you access to conferences geared towards personalized learning.

This week, I attended a conference called Summer Institute by MSSAA.

Not only did I have a chance to connect with some truly inspiring educators, many of whom I follow on Twitter, but I also got to attend workshops that helped push my thinking on how to engage with students, teachers, and parents as an assistant principal.

Here are my notes from three workshops I attended over the past two days:

This morning (DAY #2) I attended another workshop entitled, “The Alchemy of Social Media: Prioritizing Relationships to Nurture Whole School Community through Legacy Building.”  I know the title is a mouthful, but it really captures the entire hour discussion hosted by Marty Geoghegan and Brian McCann.  In their workshop they discussed how as school leaders they have experimented using social media and in doing so have created gold.

Sometimes as educators we spend so much time in our respective buildings working our to-do lists, solving problems and organizing events and activities, that we lose sight of what’s happening in the field of education at large.  We also can tend to feel cut off from educators in other schools and districts.  Ever since I started this journey as an educator who connects with a Personal Learning Network on Twitter and as a blogger, I’ve discovered that there’s no better way to find inspiration than to put yourself out there on social media and engage with peers and colleagues both within and without of your district.  I’m grateful to my superiors in my home district for supporting me in my desire to attend this conference as a professional development activity.  I’ve spent two days with a whole community of leaders in education, and I feel reinvigorated to return to my school and get to work on the new school year.  Please take some time to read through my notes from the workshops posted above and explore the links to the educators I’ve mentioned.  If you appreciate what you see, please follow them on Twitter and on their blogs.

If you would like to connect with me and become part of my PLN, please follow this blog and/or follow me on Twitter.


The power of community

The Student Council at Duxbury High School composed the phrased “Define Your Legacy” as the catchphrase to frame their efforts for the 2016-2017 school year.  Student Council President Emily M. took that phrase as a challenge and used it to inspire an idea she had about bringing seniors citizens into our school, into our classrooms to participate in discussions with our current senior students.  In early October, Emily began meeting with the school administration, with leaders in our community, as well as with teachers who might be interested in participating, adopting a highly collaborative and professional approach to making this idea a reality.  On Friday, November 18th, 2016, a group of about a dozen members of the Duxbury Senior Center came to Duxbury High School and spent the day touring the facility, observing classes and student demonstrations, and engaging in thoughtful discussions on the past, present and future of teaching and learning in Duxbury.

The group of visitors arrived just after 9:00 am and was greeted by representatives of the student body, faculty and administration.  Mr. Stephens, principal of DHS, welcomed the group over coffee and light refreshments in our Breadboard area located in the central concourse of the school that we like to refer to as “Main Street.”  During this meet and greet, Emily paired each visitor with a junior or senior student who would act as a personal guide for the remainder of the day.  Soon after, the principal led the group on a tour of the facilities, giving some insights into the construction process and how the plan for the building was developed collaboratively by the building committee a few years ago.  The tour made a lengthy stop in the music suite and visitors were able to observe rehearsals by the symphonic orchestra and string orchestra.  Visitors were introduced to Mr. Ric Madru, director of the music program, who gave them an overview of all the programs offered and answered questions as they came up.  The tour continued on to the wood shop where our Tech. Ed. teacher, Mr. Files showed the group around the woodshop and then introduced the group to members of the Robotics Team.  The group was amazed while viewing a demonstration of the team’s robot which was remotely controlled by one of the students to play soccer with members of the visiting group.

The robotics demonstration was followed by classroom visits.  Each visitor was given a choice as to the types of classes they were interested in visiting–choosing among AP English Literature, AP English Language, AP Biology, US History II, and AP Calculus.  For this part of the program, each visitor traveled with their personal student guide and had a chance to interact and engage with students and the teacher of the classes they visited.  Most visitors were able to spend about 30 minutes in two different classes.

The visitors enjoyed lunch provided by the student chefs of the Breadboard kitchen in the faculty dining room.  This was a good opportunity for visitors to talk informally with teachers, administrators and students about the new building, teaching and learning, or the wonderful food on the menu.

After lunch, visitors, students, teachers and administrators participated in a round-table discussion during which all participants could ask questions and share insights about how education has changed over the years.  The group was delighted to listen to Mrs. Mary Ciccarelli give a wonderful presentation about the history of Duxbury High School and how teaching methods have developed over the years and how the educational values are reflected in the architecture of the buildings that have housed schools over the decades.

At the end of the day, all who participated raved about the experience!  The leadership of the Senior Center and the Duxbury Student Government in collaboration with the DHS Administration have committed to running this program for more members of the senior center in the Spring.  In the end, this intergenerational learning opportunity is on its way to becoming a part of the fabric of Duxbury High School, ensuring that Emily M. has gone a long way towards Defining her Legacy and proving the power of community!



At the start of National AP Appreciation week, the MSSAA hosted this day of professional learning for Assistant Principals around the state of Massachusetts at the Doubletree Hotel in MIlford.  Dr. Henry Turner, Principal of Bedford High School, was the keynote speaker.  He acknowledge that “APs and school secretaries are the real people who run schools.”  He gave the crowd of about 120 people the ground rules for the Edcamp model, including “vote with your feet” and “good conversation and good coffee.”  He challenged all participants to use today to challenge the way you think to try to discover new ways of doing things or improve practice that you’re already committed to.  The more diverse the group of people you invite into the discussion, the richer the discussion will be.  Henry’s message was very eloquent and deep that if you take a risk by sharing, you will grow your own professional learning network that will keep on giving.

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb.

Henry’s main recommendations if you want to bring Edcamp to your school to push forward from the PD model into the Professional Learning model are to start small and keep it focused on your learners.

After Henry’s presentation, our participant proposed topics for the breakout discussions by  building the board of discussions for the day posted here.

We moved into a presentation by Deb & Dana Hult of Core Trainings.  They politely asked us all to close the laptops and put away the devices so we could do the hard work of making personal connections with our team.  We had a very fun activity of building a tower with uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows.  It was a blast!

The sessions I attended were very productive.  All the notes for every session can be accessed on the MAIN BOARD, set up by Mary Anne Moran

Thanks to the MSSAA for putting on this great day of Professional Learning and Networking!


What I learned at #LFL16

    Today I was a participant and a presenter at Leading Future Learning at Holy Cross in Worcester. The day began by hiking up numerous pathways and stairs trying to find Hogan Hall on this beautiful campus. Once I found the space, I was greeting by a friendly familiar face at the registration and then I found a spot at a table with my teammates With whom I will be presenting in the afternoon. As the keynote started, I was please the Caitlin Krause began her presentation by doing some exercises to remind us to be in the moment. This was especially helpful to me as my mind was racing with the inevitable swirl of details from work, all the loose ends that I was unable to tie up at the end of the workday yesterday. The whole purpose for me to attend this conference was to step away from my school for the day and connect with and learn from educators from around Massachusetts about how to effectively use social media in schools today. I wanted to be able to bring back what I learned to my team and my colleagues in a way that is productive and supported by best-practices. With all this on my mind it was so important to hear Caitlin’s message of being in the moment and to practice the meditative exercises she began with. It was funny to look around the room and see a room full of tech-savvy educators with their devices blazing before then breathing in and breathing out in an attempt to be in the moment! Is this even possible in this day and age of hyper connectivity?  But Caitlin’s wonderful presentation took this question head on and reminded us all that what makes an educators job so powerful is leveraging the power of community-building in class and using technology to help amplify the quieter voices to a global audience that becomes a part of a student’s individual learning network. 

The first session I attended was put on by colleagues from the Sharon school district about how to create a living, kid-friendly AUP that helps teachers teach digital citizenship. It was very cool to hear how the district approaches the Acceptable Use policy as a teaching tool that is layered and revisited and built upon each year in students’ lives, helping inform parents as well of the snares and potential pitfalls their kids might experience in their use of digital tools. 

The second session I attended was put on by a panel of Twitter using leaders, Pat Larkin, Brian McCann, Jim Adams and John Clements entitled “Embracing Social Media in Schools.” The panelists discussed how to create proactive policies and how to use social media to build relationships that create the fabric of the culture of the school and district. They took questions from the audience such as “When do devices become a distraction to learning? How do you get your tech folks to let down the blocks?  How do you teach kids how to be responsible citizens? How do you create PD opportunities to help engage staff and develop their own skills?

In the afternoon I attended a session on social media for PD with Jonathan Werner. He is great and shared his resources with us. This session was very upbeat and fast-past with a very slick presentation that hit on the idea that we have to re-think the paradigm of PD. He introduced me to Teachers teaching teachers as a model (#ttt). 

I had the honor of also serving as a presenter at this conference! When I saw the call for proposals for this conference back in the fall, I thought I would love to bring together a panel of school leaders who are social media users. I went on Twitter and invited a few school admins to work with me. I was for fortunate to collaborate with Tom Bresnahan, Brian McCann, Bill Burkhead, and Bill Chaplin. We used Twitter direct messaging to flesh out ideas and the worked on a shared Google doc to plan out our session which I used in creating the proposal. The two Bills ended up being pulled away from attending the event, but their collaboration on the bones of our session was essential. As I sit now waiting for our session to begin, I’m excited about being able to lead a discussion with school leaders about how to navigate through the social media “Shark Tank”.  Follow our discussion here: #LFLTank2016 

In conclusion, what I take away was a great opportunity to touch base with the real people behind some of social media accounts I follow. At its essence, bolstered by the message of its morning keynote speaker, Leading Future Learning 2016 is a collegial activity to contribute to  a professional network of educators who believe in technology. 

Here’s a photo of the Sharks at the debrief session:



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.