Peace: A Fortuitous Endeavor

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Last October, I learned about and experienced an exercise in the U-Theory developed by Otto Scharmer. It’s difficult to explain the U-Theory as it is largely experiential; however, it is defined “firstly as a framework, secondly as a method for leading profound change, and thirdly as a way of being – connecting to the more authentic or higher aspects of our self.”  

February took me on an accreditation visit to a school that had a profound impact upon me.  This school was founded in 1923 by a nun and aims to educate the hearts and minds of its students.  I love this, and what is most impressive is that its mission has not changed in almost 100 years.  In one conversation with one of the Sisters in which I was complimenting the mission, she stated so simply that, “Peace begins in schools.”

Peace begins in schools.

These words return to me often and as an educator, I think we have a profound responsibility in this age of disparity to educate our students for a more peaceful and compassionate world.  

In the spring, a wonderful mentor and leader David Chojnacki, introduced me to the Charter for Compassion, a belief in a compassionate and peaceful world, and I immediately joined the movement.  After engaging in one of their online calls, I was invited to host a Charter Salon, or what I am terming a Peace Salon, a salon that hopes to “open up the door to new ideas, new approaches for our efforts to bring about a peaceful world by fostering a compassionate world.”  I love this idea of coming together to explore ideas on peace.  While I will host a salon in person, I’m also curious about what ideas we have in this digital space.

  • What actions can we take in our lives to foster more peace and compassion?
  • If peace begins in schools, how do we ensure we are meeting this worthy mission?
  • What does education for peace look like?
  • What ideas does this inspire?

As I reflect upon what became a year of inspiration, I attribute it to the U-Theory.  Once I became attuned to “what wanted to happen” I encountered the experiences I needed to affirm a passion, one that I will continue to strive towards as I allow the future to emerge,

Questions for the Quest

In my last post, I wrote about upgrading the quest of our education system, which inspired a really nice conversation on LinkedIn – thank you.  As part of my personal quest, I am posing more questions.  Hence, here is a post about learning quests inspired by questions.  I don’t have the answers to any of the questions…they are just meant to inspire thinking and more ideas.  In fact, some questions contradict others…again, they are exploratory.  Questing for answers or simply more questions!

What quest are students currently on in school?  Is it a quest for knowledge?  A quest for grades?  A quest for high test scores?  Who defines the mission?  Universities?  Parents? Teachers?  Something or someone bigger?

What would it look like to redefine the quest?  To upgrade what we value?  In actuality, to quest for what we say we value?  Creativity?  Inquiry?  Collaboration?  Problem-solving?

Who defined the core, and is the core still core?  Who said four years of English mattered more than one year of tech?  Or that World History is mandated while Psychology is optional?  Where do we learn how our minds work?  How to collaborate in relationships?  How to develop the best of ourselves?

How can we create uncommon combinations?  STEM departments to replace Math, Science and IT Departments?  Why is AP Computer Science a tech class in some schools and a math class in others?  Why don’t Visual Arts teachers collaborate more with Digital Arts teachers as part of one department?  Can we embrace Humanities in place of English, Social Science and the Arts?  How many departments do we need?

How do we create more connection in school?  How do we tap into what students need to know and what they love?  Can we replace the five-paragraph essay with blog posts and editorials?  Can students conduct real research connected to real subjects?  What does real life really look like?  Is university real life?  If not, are we preparing students for university or life?  How can we do both?

What is essential?  Is it more important to be able to explain why A – B = 0 is A = B or to be able to solve complex equations?  Matrices?  Non-linear equations?  What matters more – who, what or why?

Can we upgrade the quest?  Can we embrace knowledge AND skill as essential?  What are the Essential Questions and Big Understandings, not just in individual subjects but overall?  Are they the same for everyone?  What matters?

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What if the quest was based on the school mission?  What if we used the content, standards and skills to assess the mission?  What if we designed structures that embraced the whole rather than compartmentalize the pieces?  What if we upgrade the quest?  Build on what we do well, but change it slightly?  Dream with determination?

What should the quest look like?

In Quest of Learning

Traditional Burberry Trenchcoat
Traditional Burberry Trenchcoat

A fellow COETAILer, Matt McGrady, got me thinking about quest based learning in a recent post he wrote, and I started pondering what a quest-based school might look like.  In some ways, students are already on a quest, particularly in a traditional high school, whereby they need to earn X number of credits in A, B and C.  The high-achievers take APs to boost their scores, while the disengaged teens take a host of electives senior year in the hopes of raising their GPAs in a last strike toward their goal.  All this in the quest of attending university.  Thus, our students are already used to quests.  But, are they used to quests in the pursuit of learning?

What if we enhanced our existing system, so that students still had to earn X number of credits in A, B and C.  Except, rather than the traditional ABCs of English, Math, Science, and History, we could replace them with ABCs like Collaboration, Research, Inquiry and etc.  What if classes looked more like learning centers and allowed for problem-based, interdisciplinary learning that was self-paced with the goal of publishing/presenting to a larger audience?

In Uplifting Leadership, Andy Hargreaves advocates “dreaming with determination” and doing so by “forg[ing] powerful and positive connection between the future and the past.”  In American education, we have a great tradition of schooling.  Our credit system allows students to explore interests in a variety of areas so that we can develop well-rounded individuals who are prepared for a variety of majors.  Thus, modernizing the quest to allow for the skills needed in the 21st century is simply an upgrade to our existing system.

The New Burberry
The New Burberry

Just like Burberry reinvented themselves by recommitting to their famous trenchcoat, so could we easily redesign school to provide engaging and interactive learning quests that meet the needs of the 21st century and still keep many of our existing structures.  What does that look like?  The updated quest in schooling?  The ultimate mission-based school!

Technology is a TOOL not the Opposition

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I am in a meeting where we’ve been presenting a lot of information about 21st Century Skills and our commitment to them – critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity…We’ve also been discussing our technology initiatives.  Towards the end of the meeting, a question is posed:

“It sounds like a lot of 21st Century Skills are not technology related, they are interpersonal; yet, you are considering going 1:1.  Aren’t these two goals in contradiction to one another?”


Okay, I get it!  I do.  The old-school notion that technology is holing us up and creating anti-social beings.  I get it.  I just completely disagree.

Let me give a very simple and yet relevant example.  Two years ago, we began allowing cell phones on campus. I felt it was important to recognize that our students have these fantastic devices that we can harness for learning and connection, so rather than banning them, we’ve embraced them.

Originally, my proposal was not approved.  However, as we sat lamenting the fact that students were hiding in bathrooms to use their phones, I used that as an example of why we really needed to allow devices – we can’t teach digital citizenship to each individual in the bathroom stalls.  Technology is here, it is fantastic, and we need to harness its power and teach our students how to use it responsibly.

We have now allowed students to use their devices freely during break and lunch for the last two years.  We re-wrote our AUP to reflect our Mission and it reads that in the classroom, teachers decide how and when to use technology.  Some teachers have embraced it.  Others collect the devices so that they don’t become a distraction.  Still others merge both these options depending on the activity.

At break and lunch, the devices have actually brought students closer together rather than creating separate and disconnected beings.  Some examples:

  • Two girls sit with one phone and an earphone in each ear, sharing their music likes
  • A group of students play “Heads Up” with one phone, and suddenly, high school lunch looks more like a fun, playtime recess
  • Students can call their parents freely and re-schedule their afternoons to attend school events or meet with their teachers to extend their learning
  • Students rush around giggling and showing one another different things on their phones
  • Students do homework, research, etc.

All of this happens and more.  But mostly, students don’t need to be on their devices because there’s nothing to rebel against.  They are allowed to use them.  They can pull them out at will to check the time, e-mails, and messages.  So mostly, when they are at lunch, they are interacting with their peers.

What about the classroom then, some may ask.  Aren’t the devices distracting?  Aren’t they disengaging students from classroom instruction?

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Remember the 80’s?  When we used to pass notes in school?  Aren’t text messages just the latest note-passing tool?

Students will respond to engaging instruction.  They will disengage when not interested.  This occurs in any age, be it the device age or the paper-pencil age.

From our end in the office, allowing cell phones has created more connection among students and teachers, it has dramatically decreased discipline incidents, thereby freeing up administrator time to focus on learning, and it has decreased our incidents of cyber-bullying, perhaps because we are spending more time talking about responsible use.

I realize I am not highlighting a classroom example in this post, but it is one example of the positive power of devices.  I can continue on and on…and I will, but not in this blog post.  So in closing, I ask you:

How does technology enhance learning and connection in your school?

What happens in your classroom that is a positive side effect of technology as the tool?

How does technology serve to increase our competencies in 21st Century Skills?

How do we “Drive” in Schools

In reading Daniel Pink’s Drive, I start questioning the idea of compliance and autonomy and how it works in schools.  It isn’t that I am questioning the value of autonomy, which I absolutely believe to be the better operating system.  In fact, I realize that I have always approached work with the assumption “that people want to be accountable” (Pink 107) for what they do.

However, as I read further into the chapters on autonomy and mastery, I begin to ask if education is perhaps moving in the opposite direction.  Not with our goal for students but in how we organize and operate.

Teaching has traditionally been a highly autonomous profession.  Yes, we operate within the structures of an organization, but the majority of our time is spent alone in our classrooms, with ultimate decision-making ability.  We decide how to spend our time with students.  We decide what and how to teach.  We decide.  Or at least, we used to.

In the last decade, we have become far more collaborative in order to become more accountable.  We have started working in teams, planning with one another, aligning our assessment practices and ensuring we are providing similar conditions for our students.  We have become more accountable to standards and research based methodologies.

All of this, I absolutely believe is essential to ensure a healthy and thriving educational system.  I believe we can learn far more from one another than from operating alone within our discrete classrooms.

However, as we have shifted toward collaboration, we have also, inadvertently, built in more structures of compliance.  And if compliance is a form of control and “autonomy leads to engagement” (Pink 110) then we may, accidentally, be creating less engagement.

The irony is that by creating less autonomy for teachers, we are hoping to build more autonomy in students.  We are hoping to create innovative classroom environments in which students engage in creative problem solving, critical thinking and other 21st Century Skills.

I have hovered between this idea of compliance and autonomy for many years.  When we first moved to a common planning model, I was adamant that we could preserve our unique qualities as teachers, while learning and growing from our team.  And often, this happens.  Sometimes, however, people feel stunted and this is something we need to grow past as a profession.

This is where teacher leadership comes into play.  Involving teachers in the design of the structure, in how we collaborate, in how we do the things we must do, will hopefully allow for more autonomy in how we do things, while still holding ourselves accountable for what we do.

In all of this, the goal must be a willingness to learn and grow, a letting go of ego, and a true collaboration amongst colleagues.

In reflection, I pose this question to myself and to others:

What are ways of holding on to our autonomy as educators, while also building in accountability to one another, with the ultimate goal being deep and meaningful student learning?

What Does It All Mean?

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If you’ve been following my monthly resolution project, you’ll notice that it’s becoming a bit like something out of the Theatre of the Absurd.

Just last week my four-year old was hospitalized for oleander poisoning.  Yes, it’s a flower, a beautiful, common, everyday flower.  And it can be fatal.

Truly terrifying!

We were visiting friends, the girls were playing in the garden, and why not pick leaves and flowers?  As soon as I saw it, I made her put them down.  I knew they were harmful, but didn’t really know how harmful, so we used some hand sanitizer and continued playing.  It wasn’t until we were leaving and I looked over to see her licking her hands, that I grew concerned.  (Why she was licking her hands is an entirely different matter altogether.)  Suddenly concerned, I googled it at various traffic lights on the way home and with each hit, my panic rose steadily.  This was one helpful site:

Maybe Google isn’t meant for panicked moms, but the one thing all the sites said was that it is very toxic and any ingestion should be treated immediately.  So I rushed her off to emergency where they promptly checked her in (after googling the plant themselves – yes, the life of an expat without language).

Mia is fine now, although after returning home the next day, she promptly got the flu and we had a very interesting morning in my office before I could get her back home.  That was Mia…Madison has been to the doctor twice in the last week as well.  Parenthood is the ultimate exercise in terror, helplessness and unplanned events.  If you didn’t learn how to be flexible as a teacher, you will certainly learn it as a parent.

And so I wonder: what does it all mean?

My path to resolutions has veered from one emergency to the next, each one following a thrilling personal or professional satisfaction.  I could answer with the standard cliche – family first – but I practice that.

Really, what I think has gotten lost is the self.  My own self.  At some point, there is only so much time, so if family comes first, then work, then classes, time has suddenly dwindled to nothing.

In May, I plan to exercise and eat.  I don’t mean eat badly – I mean eat.  I mean get home earlier than 9 p.m. having eaten nothing but  a handful of almonds all day.  Or a stray cupcake.  Or a handful of popcorn.

This whole plan started off with balance, and so while trying to balance 100 personal and professional matters, I forgot to balance myself.  May was the month to Reflect and Reframe.  I’m going to take a moment to be selfish.  At least for a couple minutes a day..



Launching Digital Storytelling Tweetchats!

Help SIGDS members efforts to get the word out about upcoming SIGDS events to their PLN peeps!  Please invite, email, tempt, dare, encourage, tweet or give a shout out to follow SIGDS on Twitter for Ongoing Resources, Tools and StoryMaking News @sigds

Tweet or Email Text –> NEW #SIGDS Chat MeetUps Wed starts Apr 3 @ 9pm ET Topic is “Why storytelling? What is impact for learning?” @

Introducing Bi-Monthly…….#SIGDS TweetChats

First Topic: “Why Storytelling? What is Impact for Learning?
Join SIGDS Exec members: Paula White and Tara Waudby 

Register for SIGDS Webinar! Open to All!
Bernajean Porter – Co-Chair of SIGDS – will host!  
The Art and Soul of Digital Storytelling: Tapping Into Creativity, Narrative Intelligence and the Power of Story for Learning, Communicating, and Influencing the World

Webinar Challenge: Do you feel confident to help guide others in understanding and using the difference between storytelling and multimedia making?

COETAIL Brainstorm: Putting it into practice…

As I don’t have a classroom or a unit to revise, I have to think whole school. I am beginning with the question:

How can I lead change and inspire others through what I have learned?

Part 1: Building a Faculty PLN

Building my own PLN has revolutionized my professional growth and learning and I want this same engagement, excitement and motivation for my colleagues. Therefore, my plan is to get our faculty using technology to meet our school mission of learning for life and making a difference.



  1. Flipping 2-3 faculty meetings at which we will
    a. Define student achievement through collaboration and consensus activities
    b. Work in subgroups to define the behaviors that lead to student achievement (i.e. creating rubrics to measure “soft” skills)
    c. Use these discussions to develop cornerstone assessments
    d. Engage in assessment mapping to ensure students are demonstrating learning by what we define as achievement
  2. We will use technology to continue these meeting dialogues via
    a. Moodle
    b. Google Docs

The hope is that through engaged conversation, in small groups, that we have joined by choice, we will become so passionate about the conversation that we will continue our research outside of the “classroom” (in actuality the meeting).

At this point, I’ll introduce good professional blogs to follow and talk about building your PLN through RSS Readers and Twitter, which should serve to further the discussion.

Part 2: Increased Community Communication

Weekly Digital Storytelling
I am going to work with my group of seniors who do morning announcements to revamp what we do. Announcements via the intercom aren’t very popular or successful, so we are considering creating a weekly news show. The students would film a weekly news show with highlights from the week before and important events in the coming week. All teachers could show it Sunday morning and then for the rest of the week, we could continue with teacher read daily bulletins to serve as reminders. Essentially, we’d be creating a digital story each week, which we could also post to our blog for parent access.

Adding Voice to Our Blog
So much happens on a daily basis that it is impossible to blog about everything and share it with the community. As such, I have partnered with our Newspaper class, and starting second semester, they will be writing blogs that we can post on the high school blog. This is great for students as it authentically assesses their writing skills and they will be given the byline. It also gives us multiple perspectives of the school as students will write from their experience about classroom and school events.

I believe both options about serve to implement the NETS standards for students, teachers and administrators while also hitting the major elements of COETAIL such as

  • Building PLNs
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Embedding Technology in our daily activities

I am open to more suggestions and feedback!

If you were in the high school office, what would you do?

EQs for Leaders

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In an engaging dialogue today with our department chairs, the following essential questions emerged.  The dialogue was positive, and as a reflective dialogue, we shared the positives and challenges of leadership.  Some of the challenges generated the following questions:

  • How do we create shared vision?
  • How do we create greater shared understanding?
  • How do we create ongoing engagement and collaboration?
  • How do we create a growth mentality (versus a fixed mentality) in faculty?
  • How do we inspire?

Good questions to consider as we move forward.  And great to share challenges as a way of creating support and generating solutions!

Digital Storytelling in Schools

Several years ago, I wanted to create testimonial videos about our teachers using UbD, to show the positive effects of using long-term and backward design planning tools.

As I delve into the idea of Digital Storytelling, that idea no longer grips.  Yet, I do want to create digital stories relevant to school, rather than just creating family stories.  I want to highlight and showcase what we do and how we do it.

Technically, the Learning and Good Ideas videos I created in August tell a story relevant to school, but what more can be done from a whole school perspective?

What do teachers and students want to see from their administration?

  • Events & Activities?
  • Planning Processes?
  • Students and Teachers in Action?
  • Interview based “What Works”?
  • Game Footage?
  • School Overview – Who We Are?

And how do we produce them and share them without violating privacy rights?  There are digital stories to tell.  I’m looking for ideas on what people want to see.