Last week, my two kids went back to school like the rest of us. I watched their eager, anxious faces turn toward the bus as it rolled to a stop and saw their backpacks bounce up the bus stairs. I was filled with hope and excitement for them. I was also a little nervous. Even after 19 years as a teacher and so many back-to-schools, the nerves still kick in.

Sending children off to school requires an incredible amount of trust. We trust doctors with our health, airline pilots with our long-distance travel, and other drivers on the road to stay in their lane. We trust teachers to keep our kids safe and ignite curiosity.

But how do perfect strangers earn those varying degrees of trust from one another?

Specifically, how do teachers earn the trust of parents? How do we reinforce that trust?

Phone Calls – Starting the year off can be nerve-wracking for children, parents, and teachers. After the first weeks of school, we call each family to discuss their child’s transition. We answer questions ranging from field trips to recess to snacks to whether students are making friends and focusing on learning.

Open Doors – We welcome parents into our rooms in the mornings before school starts. It is an opportunity for them to explore the space, look at student work, and to see the faces of everyone involved in their child’s life.

Class Blog Posts/Tweets – Parents want to know what is happening in school. We make it a habit to capture and share moments on our grade level Twitter page. We also encourage students to write reflections of events and classes that are then shared on the blog. We encourage parents to provide their feedback through comments or tweets.

Teacher Blog Posts/Tweets – Building trust requires an understanding. We take the time to share our professional thinking through blog posts and tweets. We provide a snapshot into our pedagogy and make our philosophy of teaching as transparent as possible. We begin early in the year by simply sharing our summer reading.

Personalization – Parents want what is best for their child. They send their children to school not only to learn the “3Rs” but to also be energized by the world around them. Helping students find their passion and building the curriculum around individuals needs and interests helps connect teachers and parents.

Being Present – We are visible and approachable at morning drop off, dismissal, and at school-wide events. While our teaching and home lives are busy, taking a moment to watch an inning of baseball or to stand in the entranceway before a performance reaffirms our role in the lives of our students.


There are many other opportunities to build trust. What are your suggestions?

Information Overload

We live in an increasingly connected world. Inspirations, ideas, and commentary are shared instantly and viewed by many. Currently, social media and news outlets are awash with political opinion and, at times, vitriol. Flooded by this tidal wave of fandom and tribes (for more on this read Participatory Culture In A Networked Era) it is hard to discern what is fact, opinion, or trolls.

I feel I am a sensible, educated, and level-headed individual. As a result, I feel I can unearth the nuggets of truth from various media sources to reach my own conclusions. How did I get to this point? How did I learn to discern fact from fiction, see the spin, and try not to sip the kool aid? What skills did I develop to get to this point and when did I learn them? More importantly, how did I practice them and where did I receive the feedback to confirm that I was seeing a version of the truth through my own lens?

I worry that our students are not developing these skills. I fear they do not have the opportunities to practice discussing topics in class and review media sources. I fear that our country is developing a sense of “us and them” and we are losing our ability to have considerate conversations about important issues. How do we build these elements into our classrooms and school cultures?


I cam across two articles that connect to this post.

It Might Be Trending, But That Doesn’t Make It True – The Guardian

The End Of Trump: How Facebook Deepens Millennials’ Confirmation Bias – The Guardian



Field Guide: A Design Thinking Experience


I had the privilege to attend Field Guide, a four day conference at Gould Academy in Bethel, ME, produced by Adam Burk (@AdamBurk) and Sarah Shifrin (@SarahShfrn). The focus was on design thinking. Design thinking is a human centered approach for unearthing opportunities and possibilities by drawing inspiration from diverse people, industries, and experiences. It leverages the power of connecting with individuals to develop possible solutions and breeds a mindset of responsiveness and flexibility through prototypes, testing, and iteration. Through hands on learning we moved projects through a design thinking process which included:

  • Empathizing
  • Defining
  • Ideating
  • Prototyping
  • Testing

As an educator I saw immediate application to the classroom. Collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity – the 4Cs (and connecting and computing to solve problems if you follow Will Richardson) all play a vital role in the design thinking process. I appreciate the design thinking approach because it is human centered and honors the connection all stakeholders have to a problem and possible solutions. Inherent in the process is the need for designers to connect, thinking critically, be creative, collaborate, and communicate their ideas. The process also opens the door to authentic problems that require a cross-curricular approach to solve.

To accommodate the design thinking approach in my classroom, I will need to provide time for students to empathize. I will need to unpack that term so students can understand it. I will need to provide more time for students to brainstorm in various ways as well as time to prototype their ideas. These two steps are already well-rooted in my practice. Most importantly, I will need to honor the cycle of ideation. I will need to design a scope and sequence that will allow students to prototype a solution, and test it with users. This, to me, will be the richest learning moment for my future students.

My first experiments will start small including a focus on empathy using picture books as mentor texts. I plan to implement a design thinking approach to our first literature study thanks to examples provided by Dan Ryder (@WickedDecent). This will include logging problems faced by the characters and designing solutions to those problems. I also am thinking of redeveloping our immigration and industrial revolution study with design thinking in mind. It would be powerful to meet with immigrants of today and ask about their transition into the United States. Students could explore ways in which the transition could be made easier and bring their ideas back to their “user.” Students would also be asked to design a mill city in Minecraft meeting with the mill owners (me in costume) to gather information for the initial prototypes. All these scenarios would emphasize the creative cycle, gathering feedback from the user to inform revisions.

I am excited to make these changes as I feel they will only enhance the quality of my students’ education and how they think, test, and learn in all aspects of their lives.


I will keep you posted on our progress. Feel free to share any resources or ideas!


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Multi-Genre Writing Projects In Grades 4 & 5

My colleagues and I always strive to find the balance among student choice, direct instruction, and free writing in our Writing Workshop. We want our students to explore their past, find their voice, and capture their passions through story. We also want to expose students to new genres, develop sound writing skills, and refine the craft of writing.

This year we experimented with multi-genre projects as a way to find this balance. Tom Romano explains that multi-genre writing is “composed of many genres and subgenres, each piece self-contained, making a point of its own, yet connected by theme or topic and sometimes by language, images and content. In addition to many genres, a multigenre paper may also contain many voices, not just the author’s. The trick is to make such a paper hang together.” 

It is also an an opportunity to develop a dynamic piece and infuse student choice into writing (watch this nice video posted by Barry Lane). “Writing in the world is a mural and not a snapshot.” We want students to experience that mural.

This project began after April vacation in conjunction with Genius Hour (post one and two) and a dynamic Restaurant Project in math. Students identified writing topics that they were passionate about, and began to tell the story using different genres. Our requirements were simple:

  • Have a beginning, middle, and an end
  • Use at least three different genres

Right from the beginning, the students were engaged and challenged. Many started with genres we had explored during the year, but slowly began to blaze their own trails. These young writers began to do their own research about new genres, and shared that learning with their peers. Writing newspaper articles and learning the format of e-mails were early adventures in writing style and form. Soon students explored storytelling through:

  • texting
  • ransom notes
  • blackout poetry
  • found poetry
  • narrative
  • triolet
  • poems in two voices
  • mystery
  • memoir
  • invoice
  • haiku
  • diary entries
  • eulogy
  • recipes
  • news casts
  • lists

The feedback from our students was more than positive:

  • “Writing these projects helped me keep things simmering in the back of my head.”
  • “I liked it because I could work at my own pace.”
  • “I liked having choice and total freedom of what to do.”
  • “This was my favorite writing project because we got to choose our favorite genres, learn about new ones, and it was challenging.”
  • “This was a good end of the year project because we grew as writers and now we know more stuff.”

As teachers we were impressed with the quality of their work and the passion they brought to the craft of writing. You can explore a handful of student pieces by visiting their blog post. 

Digital Curriculum: A work in progress

Last year a collaborative inquiry team was formed to explore what digital skills students would need to have in order to be successful in the world after graduating high school. I joined the effort because I was eager to move our technology integration efforts forward. The collaborative team discussed pedagogical practice, explored our school culture, and conductive extensive research. Together we identified a set of skills that we believed all students should possess before leaving school. The team shared their findings with the full faculty which overwhelmingly agreed.

This year, we began an extensive curricular review based on the work of the inquiry team. A curricular review team was formed, of which I am the chair. Our challenge was to extend the work of the previous year, frame the skills so they could be applicable to all content areas at all grade levels, and to begin to identify where and how those skills are being integrated into the curriculum. The full document, still in draft form, can be found here. The skills include:

Choose the best tool(s) for the task at hand
Work collaboratively online
Conduct research online
Formulate, test, and validate ideas through data analysis
Curate files and information digitally
Communicate messages with digital media
Solve problems and create products using computational thinking
Navigate digital lives

Next year we will begin to collect information from every educator, PreK-12, and will use the data to create a scope of sequence of our digital curriculum. We will then make recommendations to the school of how our professional development funding can be best used to support our learners and what gaps in experienced need to be addressed.

What are your thoughts regarding this process and the skills we have identified?

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I felt the love during Teacher Appreciation Week. It is nice to hear the voices of the community acknowledging the efforts put in by educators. We would not be able to do what we do without an amazing supporting cast. Behind the scenes of every great classroom is the teacher’s family and friends. They are there to help sew the costumes, push the shopping carts of extra supplies, volunteer for field trips, bring the coffee during late night grading, be a guest reader, test experiments in the backyard, cut out stencils, be extra hands for the bulletin board paper, and be an ear for the ups and downs of a teaching day.
To those of you who are there for the teacher. Thank you.


There is a bump in the hallway outside my classroom. It is one of many little quirky character traits of our 100+ year old building. I tripped over that bump every time on the night I moved into my classroom. I made hundreds of trips from my car to the room and hundreds of times I stumbled over it. Now, eight years later, I gracefully step over that bump. I may be talking to a student, reading students’ writing, or rushing to a meeting and I will not falter. Subconsciously, I have learned where it is. Still, I always forget to warn visitors.

Familiarity with that quirky little bump has allowed me to move easier through the hall. It has also got me thinking. Little bumps are part of learning, part of trying something new. If we as teachers stick with the same content we get used to the trials and tribulations of learning something new. As we introduce the same ideas to new students we gracefully step over the bumps and forget to talk about the them with our learners. We develop blind spots. As I reflect on this school year and look forward to the next I hope to invite more educators into my classroom to help me really look at what’s going on. What am I gracefully stepping over?


I have read a number of pieces from educators about improving the work done in schools. They have focused on honoring the relationship between student, teacher, and the content. A first step in building the relationship is time and the fastest way to generate the time is to ensure small class sizes. Educators know that if you have smaller groups you can be a more impactful educator. You can deliver lessons more efficiently, assess more accurately, and be more available to both students and families.

Everything I hear from politicians (big business) is to toss more accountability onto schools with new programs, packages, and standardization but these are not addressing the simple fact that there are too many students in each classroom for any of these policies to work. The root of success in the classroom is based on teachers guiding and facilitating learning with students. Honor the relationship, lower the class size, and great things will happen.

Of course, teachers have little control over the number of students entering classrooms but they have some control over how classrooms operate. Here are some resources I have gathered to help me make my classroom feel smaller and to honor the work students do everyday.

Responsive Classroom

The Backchannel: Giving Every Student A Voice In The Blended Mobile Classroom by Beth Holland

Turn Your Classroom Into A Personalized Learning Environment by Robyn Howton

To Flip Or Not To Flip Your Classroom by Erik Christensen

Extreme Makeover: Differentiation Edition by Chris Weber and Nathan Lang

Classroom Design Matters by Keri Lee Beasley

Creating An Emotionally Healthy Classroom Environment by Mark Phillips




Looking Ahead

My daughter started her second grade year at a new school, leaving her previous school after 4 years. Her eyes were wide and her excitement was high. I am happy to say that the transition to her new school was smooth and she looks forward to the new experience.

Over dinner we were chatting about her day. She was eagerly sharing her adventures in the cafeteria. She shared who she sat with, what they were eating, and the tales they swapped. As her retelling continued she grew more and more energized and peaked by sharing, “did you know that Middle Schoolers get ice cream?” This was, to the second grade universe, an amazing discovery and instantly became the carrot for advancing in school. Her academic goal was to reach the heights of Middle School in order to enjoy an ice cream at lunch.

Hearing this discovery made me smile. I enjoyed connecting with her life at school and am not surprised that a sweet snack made its way into her school consciousness. Later that night I reflected on the chat. It is refreshing to hear the perspective of the student as they experience school. To my daughter, the idea of growth is earning new privileges. I wonder what other students think?

Summer Collaboration

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I am excited to say that Page Lennig (@plennig), Sarah Morrisseau (@smostorming), and I put the finishing touches on our first e-book, Apps For Young Learners. You can now download the e-book for free here for your Apple devices, or request a PDF from me. Here is the blurb:

Looking for apps to use in the classroom with your young learners? Here are the apps we like best for engaging and stretching students’ minds, building 21st Century skills (collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, communication), furthering students’ tech comfort and savvy, and organizing and supporting successful learning environments.

The idea for the book came from an article that Page and I wrote last winter for Waynflete School and Sarah’s desire to learn more about e-book publishing and online formatting. We took time this summer to refine our ideas, think about our practice, and provide tips for integration.

Our target audiences are (1) teachers who are exploring edtech integration in their classrooms, and (2) parents who want to support and encourage at-home tech use for learning.

I encourage you to check it out! Please share your critiques, thoughts, comments, and ideas by using #Apps4YL or by adding a comment to this post.

Jam Sessions

The summer months are coming to an end, prompting me to sift through all the ideas that have sprouted since June. I was fortunate to have a few “jam sessions” with incredibly talented and creative people. Jamming is an improv, one idea leading to another following an undefined, often unexpected path.

I was inspired by the flow of conversations and energy that sparked new ideas for practice in my classroom. For instance, an impromptu conversation about a friend’s summer trip led to an idea for bringing Twitter into a classroom conversation. Building fairy houses on a local island led to an examination of Genius Hour.

Summer is a time to wonder, explore, and recharge. I am fortunate to have had time to noodle through ideas, and am now excited to get back into the classroom and explore them with my students.

Thanks to the following for my summer jam sessions.

Summer is almost out, have you had your jam session yet?

Charles Gray. Acoustic Guitar

Charles Gray. Acoustic Guitar

Student Reflection Of Their Teacher

There has been a missing step in the “end of the school year” routine. Traditionally, a teacher reflects on the student, shares progress, identifies goals, and sends a final report home. This tradition worked well when school was organized as a simple lock-step factory. Thankfully, schools are slowly evolving and some of our traditions are shifting. While I was starting to write my final reports for my students I was curious to know what they thought about my work in the classroom. What were my strengths? What were my challenges? What would be the  goals they set for me? They are the ones most impacted by my work so I felt they should have a voice in the matter. I went about creating a simple questionnaire with the help of my older students and during the last week of school shared it with the class. In receiving their responses I was excited to hear what they thought but I was also a little nervous. Perhaps that is the same feeling students have before receiving their progress report. Here are some of my students’ responses:

In what ways have you changed as a learner because of your work this year?

I think I became more confident.

I feel that this year I was much more focused than last year in class.

I changed as a reader because of the IRT Project and Lit class.

My spelling is better.

I changed because I know myself better because you gave us more freedom.


In your opinion, what is one of Tim’s strengths as a teacher?

One of Tim’s strengths is he makes people feel welcome.

His strength is helping people out as much as he can.

Tim is good at pushing us to do harder things.

Tim pushes the limits bit not too far that it gets annoying.

Tim is good at talking for a long time without getting boring.


In your opinion, what is one area that Tim needs to work on as a teacher?

Tim needs to work on not being so stressed about play time.

Tim needs to work on other voices for his read aloud. He has a regular voice and an old lady voice.

Tim needs to work on not talking so fast.

He needs to let us have more typing lessons.

Tim can let us pick some of the read aloud books.

He needs to explain big words more.


What is one classroom experience that Tim should definitely have in the plans for next year?

More genius hours. Every student should have that experience.

Minecraft building for the Oregon Trail.

Dry paint fights.

Keep Morning Meetings, the greetings, and the mind exercises.

Tim should keep doing academic choice.


What is one classroom experience that Tim should not do again?

Do not do self-portraits.

People should not be able to use Minecraft for Genius Hour.

We should have more time to work on the play.

Do not do Tritinas in poetry.

I think that this year was great and I wouldn’t change a thing.


What would your students praise you for? What suggestions would they give? By doing this small but powerful exercise I solidified a year-long mantra, “we are all workers in school and we are all learners.” I willingly offered myself up for reflection to the people who have the most to say about my work as a teacher.