The Case for Complete Albums


Photo Credit:  iTunes

I miss Tom Petty, and to aid the grieving process I downloaded his Wildflowers album.  The next morning I popped in my earbuds and took a bicycle ride.  It was the first time in 20 years I listened to an album in its entirety.     

I rediscovered long forgotten songs and caught myself listening intently to the lyrics, distracted only by the cold morning air.  I pondered the meaning of each song and reflected on how quickly time passes; the moment best described by one of Petty’s lyrics, “ And the days go by, like paper in the wind.”  I was in high school when the album was released, 24 years gone in the blink of an eye.   It’s amazing how music evokes emotions.  I felt inspired, excited, reflective, and sad, all within minutes of each other:  a rollercoaster of consciousness.    

The whole experience transported me to simpler and more frustrating times.  Random memories of dropping record player needles and ritualistically rewinding and fast-forwarding cassette tapes flashed through my mind as I cranked the pedals of the bike. I appreciate the conveniences of digital music but dislike the efficiency.  Playing the album in its entirety was a sharp contrast to my typical exercise routine of eternally clicking the shuffle button.  It allowed me to settle into the album, relax, and simply enjoy the music.  I’m looking forward to reliving the experience soon.  Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Live from Carnegie Hall is next.  




jfk at rice university

Photo Credit:  John F. Kennedy Library

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”-

John F. Kennedy


This bold proclamation echoed across Rice University, and into history, on a hot, September day in 1962.  When these words were spoken, the necessary knowledge and technology to accomplish this task did not exist, but the requisite energy, passion, and creativity were in abundant supply.  President Kennedy’s bold declaration spurred America to action, and seven years later Apollo 11 astronauts would successfully land on the moon.  

This iconic speech demonstrates the power of setting daring and courageous goals, even if they seem impossible.  I believe educators should inspire students to call their own “moonshots”.  Certainly, we help students set goals, but I worry our approach is too pragmatic.  Critics will denote the astronomical odds of becoming a professional basketball player or a student at Harvard.  While goal setting should possess verisimilitude, it should also be flecked with encouragement and motivation.   Students should be informed of accompanying challenges, not to dampen enthusiasm, but to help them develop a plan of action.   

I have a friend who I consider to be a great parent.  He empowers his kids to call moonshots.  When they would set ambitious goals he would verify they understood the sacrifices involved.  Essentially, he would ask them, “Is this something you really want to do?”  If they did, he would simply state, “Alright, let’s find a way to make it happen.”  It’s a profound and empowering statement.    

This post is not an indictment against educators.  It’s an indictment against myself.  Too often I countered bold dreams with dissuading statistics.  I didn’t do this to be cruel, I just wanted to ensure students set realistic and attainable goals.  I now realize it wasn’t my responsibility to determine which goals were reasonable and attainable.  It was my responsibility to listen, verify commitment, and help them find a way to make it happen.

We are in desperate need of moonshots to solve today’s dynamic problems.  While we currently lack the knowledge and technology to solve these issues, the required energy, passion, and creativity are abundant in today’s classrooms.  


The Best Way to History Class

The best route to history class and meaningful learning are one and the same.  They are products of asking the right questions.  

Earlier this month, a building administrator excitedly shared with me a great lesson he recently observed.   A science teacher  was discussing the topic of testable questions.  He provided a brief overview of the topic, then challenged students to solve his testable question, “What is the best route to take when traveling from gym class to history class?”  It’s a simple and relevant question  but it required complex problem solving skills.  Students timed the walk and noticed travel time varied between hours.  In essence, the best route might vary each hour.  A simple question spurred action and provided students the opportunity to utilize higher order thinking skills.  

I love this lesson.  It’s engaging, it’s fun, and it utilizes all four Depth of Knowledge (DOK) levels.  While state assessments measure higher order thinking skills, and 21st century jobs will increasingly require advanced problem solving skills, today’s classrooms too often ask questions at the recall level.  I know I was guilty of this during my time in the classroom until I received some great advice from my building principal.  

During a post-observation discussion, my principal asked me to begin scripting  questions for each lesson.  While I bristled initially, I found this exercise to be incredibly useful.   It helped me avoid the pitfall of low-level DOK 1 questioning.  

This is essential if we want students to move beyond knowledge acquisition and towards knowledge application.  The DOK resource many educators are familiar with is the infamous DOK Wheel.  Recently, I stumbled across a great blog post by Erik Francis entitled, “What EXACTLY Is Depth of Knowledge? (Hint: It’s NOT a Wheel!)”.  Francis contends the DOK “wheel of misfortune” is a poor and inaccurate representation of depth of knowledge and offers his own visual titled “Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Model Context Ceilings” (see below).  This is a solid resource for any educator looking to develop their questioning skills.

Great questions transform classrooms and enhance learning opportunities.  They transport students to history class and beyond.    


Anxiety Sucks




The first time it happened, I was talking in front of a group of people.   I was no stranger to public speaking, and had performed similar tasks hundreds of times.  However, something was different this time.  I was sweating profusely,  my heart raced, my ears were ringing, and I couldn’t catch my breath.  I was disoriented and felt helpless.  What was going on?  I stumbled through my presentation and tried to gather myself.  

I eventually went to the doctor, and submitted myself to several medical exams.  My mind feared the worst, but the news I received was the unknown.  I had an anxiety attack.  A what?  I was familiar with the term, but honestly, I doubted the legitimacy.  I mean, what mature and confident person can’t handle a bout of nervousness?  I quickly received a crash course in the legitimacy of anxiety attacks.  

I decided to visit an anxiety specialist to better understand and manage this condition.  “Specialist” is code for therapist.  I didn’t want to type that word because there is a stigma associated with attending therapy.  Judge me if you want, but talking to my therapist was incredibly helpful. During my first visit, he asked me, “How does this (anxiety) make you feel?”  I struggled to convey my feelings, and eventually settled for, “Frustrated. Confused. Pissed”.  He laughed and said, “It sucks.”  I exhaled , laughed, and agreed.  It sucks.  Therapy gave me an outlet, and helped me understand the origins of my anxiety.  Simply stated, my lifestyle choices were to blame.

Prior to my battle with anxiety, I worked… a lot.  I didn’t have any real hobbies, and I sacrificed my personal health and well-being to boost job performance.  I drank copious amounts of coffee.  Let me rephrase, copious sounds reasonable.  I drank ridiculous amounts of coffee.  I would begin most days at 5:00 a.m. to catch up on email.  I then worked a full day before returning home to spend a little time with my family.  I routinely stayed up past midnight to work on graduate coursework.  I did this for years and I took pride in my work habits.   When I was 16, I put in  60 hour work weeks during the summertime.  In college I worked at a trucking terminal from 4:00 p.m. until 12:00 a.m. while taking a minimum of 15 college hours each semester.  When I began my career in education, I poured myself into my work.  

Little did I know that this lifestyle came with undesirable side-effects.  I juggled a ridiculous schedule for over 15 years, and excelled during this time.  To me, this reaffirmed the value of good work habits and the belief that I was indefatigable.  I can work 14 hour workdays and get 4-5 hours of sleep.  I would scoff at people who “only” worked 40 hours a week.  Leisure was a waste of time; activities should be productive, not relaxing.  My work habits were at their zenith when I had my first attack.  I can vividly remember sitting at my daughter’s dance competition that spring.  Between performances, I worked on my dissertation, answered email, and prepared my schedule for the week.  I remember thinking, “How are you doing this?  This schedule is ridiculous!”  Mentally and physically I was exhausted, but I ignored the warning signs.  Later that same week I had my first attack.  I had 3-4 other attacks over the course of a month. Fortunately,  I have only had 3-4 anxiety attacks during the last 16 months, but I think about them daily.  

I hate writing this because I hate being vulnerable.  I used to excel at presentations and have always been at ease in social situations.  They are now anxiety producing.  I still work very hard.  I love my job and find it very rewarding.  However, I learned over the last 16 months that there is more to life than work.  Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed.  It’s great to appreciate your job, but we are infinitely more complex than our roles at work.  I now take time to enjoy being a husband and a father.  I’ve taken on new hobbies, and I take time for myself.  I sleep at least 7 hours each night and exercise 6 days a week.  

Battling anxiety sucks.  It’s maybe the most difficult thing I have ever done.  I am aware of the stigma that comes with the admission of anxiety.  I just want to share this because I know other people are experiencing this too.  If you are, know you are not alone and it will get better.  There will be good days and bad days.  For me, life is on the upswing and the good days far outnumber the bad.  I’ll close with a quote by Ernest Hemingway that encapsulates my experience with anxiety.  While frustrating and humbling, it has made me a stronger person.  

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

– Ernest Hemingway

The Power of Words


Words can be impactful in many ways.  The poignancy of words, spoken or written,  is dependent on on many things, but I believe atmosphere and tone are especially important.  Words spoken in the right environment, and with the appropriate tone,  can be powerful and motivating.  Of course, the opposite is also true.  

This is my 16th year in public education, and during this time I have participated in innumerable meetings.  Some are productive, while others are endured; nearly all are believed to be necessary.  I believe it is paramount to meet and discuss critical issues.  It affords opportunities for stakeholders to ask questions and express concerns.  The process is just incredibly inefficient.  An hour of conversation might produce one or two outcomes, or worse, it results in another meeting date with no resolutions.  

Over the last 16 months, I have had the privilege of working with a group that is the antithesis of routine committee work.  I was asked to help facilitate a technology steering committee.  It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. Copious meetings and conversations have produced abundant and meaningful results.  

Two weeks ago our school district distributed over 1700 Chromebooks.  All students in 8th -12th grade received their own device.  Watching students receive these devices was extremely gratifying.  This seminal moment made me think about the beginning.  In May of 2016, 17 people gathered in a small meeting room to outline district technology needs.   We met every 2-4 weeks throughout the school year and engaged in open and honest conversation.  We were driven by a common purpose, and focused on solutions, not problems.  We had limited time to solve dynamic problems, and managed this time wisely.  We respected differing opinions and listened to concerns.

Prodigious results originated from ordinary conversations. Words spoken in a purpose driven environment, with a positive tone.  Harry S. Truman popularized the saying, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. “  The people listed below embody this expression, but I think it’s important to recognize their efforts.  Because of their dedication, 5000 students will be afforded new and exciting learning opportunities.  

Special thanks to the Jackson R-2 Technology Steering Committee- you rock! 

Andy Helle, Cory Crosnoe, Danna Bruns, Liz Seaton, Erica Cooper, Janelle Pope, Janet Silliman, Jennifer Bennett, Jen Pehle, Jay Spurgeon, Kelli Guyot, Lance McClard, Sam Trankler, Seth Harrell, Tom Schreiner, and Travis Dambach.  


Holiday Road


Exactly one week ago, my family and I stuffed the back of our Honda Pilot with luggage and drove south.  While flying maximizes time, the road trip enhances the holiday experience.  There is something special about the American open road.  

There was the gas station in Alabama with brevity, but no gasoline.  “Nope”, was the concise answer to the question of fuel availability (they did have boiled peanuts).  

We had a dull radar for gas stations, but a keen knack for local eateries. Dreamland Barbecue in Montgomery, Alabama was a divine experience.  The menu outlined the genesis of the restaurant.   In desperation to make ends meet, a local mason prayed to God for guidance; his prayers were answered in a dream while mine were answered when lunch arrived. A symphony of smoked pork was complemented by tea containing profuse and possibly profane amounts of sugar.  

There was the anticipation of crossing state lines and watching pine trees transition to palm trees.  We sang with the radio and played the license plate game.  A New York plate at the Florida border created quite a stir.  

We laughed and we fought.  My daughters are best friends and arch rivals.  I channeled my father and pulled the car over to the side of the road at least once.  When you are in a car for twelve hours you talk….a lot.  Amidst the chaos I realized my daughters are growing up.  

The beach was great, but a lot of memories were made on the way.  

Start with Why

I am currently attending my first ISTE Conference.  I was extremely excited to attend this event with over 20,000 educators.  While I was eagerly anticipating ISTE, I now realize my focus was misguided.  I was fixating on how to incorporate technology, not why we should incorporate educational technology.

While preparing for ISTE,  I highlighted sessions related to 3-D printing, 1:1 implementation, and coding.   I certainly believe these resources can transform instruction, but I now realize my narrow focus on technology resources was problematic.  This problem is illustrated in a visual created by Bill Ferriter.


While this visual has been around for over 4 years, I was reintroduced to it during a session at  ISTE.  It reminded me that students want to use technology to connect, collaborate, and take action.   Technology implementation is essential in a 21st century classroom, but we must reflect on the purpose of incorporating technology.  Are we using a new app because we learned about it at a conference, or are we using it because it will complement a lesson?  Will it help students take ownership of their own learning and allow them to make, create, and collaborate?

ISTE is a good reminder that effective tech implementation begins with “Why” not “How”.  Technology is a tool, not an outcome.