Classroom Culture, Startups & Starbucks

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Classroom Culture, Startups & Starbucks

This post has been brewing in my head for awhile now.

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to visit an incredible think-tank incubator session for global entrepreneurs at Station Houston. From the moment I walked into the building, I knew I was experiencing something unique. Although the startup language was foreign to me and I was nervous about being in a business environment, the atmosphere was electric and the collaborative nature of the team eased my nerves as they were bustling with new ideas, positivity and tons of potential. I was warmly welcomed and fell in love with the industrial look to the space — it was sleek and sophisticated and had multiple seating arrangements that were moveable and whiteboards which replaced the walls. I was surrounded by an eclectic group of brilliant people who were listening and bouncing ideas around while capturing the conversation on a whiteboard. This collaborative environment was exhilarating because every voice was a piece to a puzzle that was collectively part of solving a problem and creating a solution. I knew immediately that I was witnessing learning at the highest possible level.

Station Houston opened up an entirely new world to me. #WhatIf all classrooms could be like Station Houston? #WhatIf we treated every student as an entrepreneur? Station Houston’s logo, CONNECT. BUILD. LAUNCH. has the perfect ingredients to support and encourage a Makerspaces classroom. #WhatIf more classrooms focused on building community starting by redesigning their learning environment and their curriculum?

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Burlington High School Help Desk

Luckily, there’s hope, my friend and colleague, Jenn Scheffer lives the CONNECT. BUILD. LAUNCH. motto and has cornered the market when it comes to creating authentic learning experiences for her high school students. Her BHS Help Desk program is leading the way on connecting students with real experiences. On a weekly basis, her students prepare, interview and host Help Desk Live with industry leaders. This should be the norm for every high school student. How do we encourage more school districts to carve out time and space for teachers to adopt this type of innovative mindset, so more classroom learning environments are designed to encourage and foster such collaboration?

Just last week, I had the opportunity to visit Buncee, a powerful yet simple digital literacy tool at their Alley location in NYC. The Alley reminded me of Station Houston with an international community of entrepreneurs sharing collaborative coworking spaces. I immediately felt comfortable and was not nervous about being out of my element. In fact, this collaborative space confirmed my initial thoughts about bringing out the entrepreneur in every student. Buncee’s logo EAT. SLEEP. CREATE. got me thinking further about K-12 education. Are our classrooms designed to have students create and are we preparing them to collaborate with a global world sharing coworking spaces? I continued to wonder, #WhatIf all classrooms looked like Station Houston and the Alley? #WhatIf educators thoughtfully designed classrooms and curriculum to bring out the genius in every student?


Kayla Delzer’s 2nd Grade Classroom

#WhatIf second grade teacher Kayla Delzer has already created a learning environment that takes the startup mentality and makes you feel like the 21st Century Classroom is like Starbucks? Walk into her classroom, read her blog, follow her Twitter feed and you’ll feel like you’re at Station Houston or the Alley. At the end of the day, nothing is more important than building community in a classroom, at school, in your neighborhood, at your workplace. In many ways, it’s like the T.V. show Cheers because when you gather day after day at the same location with the same people and “…everyone knows your name,” the possibilities are endless.

On Monday night, the stars were aligned and I was inspired once again to think about classroom design and students as entrepreneurs. I joined the #edtechafterdark chat on classrooms as startups and during the chat, I knew I would write this post and try to connect the dots from my experiences at both Station Houston and the Alley. These are some of the gems that were shared by connected educators during the chat:


The moral of this post is that it is our responsibility to help prepare today’s students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. The only way we can do this is to follow the lead of connected educators like Jenn Scheffer, Kayla Delzer and all the amazing educators who participated in the #edtechafterdark chat last night. We need to create more opportunities for our students to be entrepreneurs by designing environments that are highly collaborative and provide students ample opportunities to be problem solvers and community builders.

It is time for some serious action and MOXIE because our students are counting on us!




The #TEDxYouth Talk I Didn’t Give on Perseverance #ThankATeacher


“Dare to do what you dream. Search your heart to know what you most desire to do; then do it, for you can become, by perseverance, what you long to be.”

Dare to do what you dream. Search your heart to know what you most desire to do; then do it, for you can become, by perseverance, what you long to be. (1)This is the story I did not get to tell this weekend at @TEDxYouthBHS, so I’d like to share it during National Teacher Appreciation Week. I have lived these words since I was in high school. Back then, college catalogs were sent to your home. I remember running to check my mailbox, I mean the mailbox outside my home. I used to love flipping through those catalogs wondering if I had what it took to go to college. I actually used this quote as my college essay and it has guided me ever since.

When I was in the third grade, I was diagnosed as being dyslexic. What an awful word diagnosed is. It is a label that has haunted me the majority of my academic career. It has tried to define me and limit my opportunities. To compensate, I used the smoke and mirror approach and perfected the art of storytelling. This was my secret weapon, my ultimate super power because it kept my secret safe. But the fact is, I struggled in a traditional classroom.

I could tell you all about the people in my life who treated me as my diagnosis, but I’m going to focus on the people who believed in me.  Just like the children’s author, Patricia Polacco, also diagnosed as dyslexic thanked Mr. Faulker for being the teacher who changed her life, I’d like to thank my parents, my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Lane, my seventh grade teachers, Mr. McGrath and Mrs. Cronin, my high school soccer coach, Mr. Mac, my high school English teacher, Mrs. Howard and a student teacher named Ms. Loeb who literally saved me during Latin I.  

If you notice, I did not have one teacher on my side until I was in the sixth grade. My most fundamental years when all students should be building their foundation, the only people who believed in me were my parents and unfortunately, when you’re young, you think your parents have to feel that way. You don’t realize until years later that they were right all along. Up until the sixth grade, I saw myself the way the majority of adults in my life did.

But, I remember every moment of the sixth grade because Mrs. Lane saw me as extraordinary. Every student should feel this way.  Each of us is a gift to the world.  Imagine how different our world would be if we took the time to notice and recognize the talents that we individually bring to the classroom everyday.  It was that year that I remember bringing home a great report card. I remember sitting at the head of the table and having a special dinner and a cake in my honor. I distinctly remember having my first real dream, I wanted to be an actress like Barbara Streisand in Hello Dolly. The idea of being an actress was so attractive because I could be anyone I wanted to be.

When I was in junior high, I remember hiding in the bathroom because I didn’t want anyone to see me walking down that hallway to that room where only those kids went. I cried every day in the seventh grade and my parents pulled me out of special ed. Although I never had to walk down that hallway to that classroom with those kids again, the label remained. As a level 3/4 student, there was really no expectation from the majority of my teachers for me to go to college. Even my high school guidance counselor told me college was not an option. But, my parents encouraged me and so, when those college catalogs came in, I devoured them because in many ways, they were part of my dream.

My dream continues as I have pursued my education to the highest possible degree.  As a Doctor of Philosophy, a Ph.D., I have made it my life’s mission to empower others and amplify student voice. It should come as no surprise that I began my teaching career in a middle school as a sixth grade teacher modeling myself around the teachers who saw me as extraordinary. Since I began my career in 1993, I have been a middle school teacher, principal, associate professor in a school of education and an ambassador for student voice.

Looking back and reflecting on my learning style, I was a connected learner way before social media even existed. If I was growing up today, not only would I have digital access to learn with the world like my son described, but I’d have access to learn with tools that level the playing field for all students.

I stand here today to share with you the importance of dreams and aspirations. To encourage you to expect more than others might expect from you and to know that anything is possible. I stand here today as an example that your risks will be your reward. I stand here today proud that my diagnosis and label has not defined me or limited me. For anyone who learns differently, my story is your story and I dare you to do what you dream. Search your heart to know what you most desire to do; then do it, for you can become, by perseverance, what you long to be.

Leading With Digital Citizenship: Let’s Break The Internet With Kindness

Although digital citizenship is not a new term or concept, the stories we generally hear tend to focus on safety and what our students should avoid.  To me, digital citizenship is everyone’s responsibility and we need to carve out time and space for our students to actively do it.  We need to switch the focus and highlight the positive ways our students are using social media.  The more student examples we can share on what to encourage (instead of avoid), will help our students practice being safe, savvy and ethical.

Personally, I’m tired of reading scare-tactic posts on how students are using social media in inappropriate ways.  After seeing this post, 8 Ways Kids Are Using Instagram to Bully on my digital citizenship (#digcit) Twitter feed, I had had enough of all the negative stories and I decided to flip the script and ask students to show us all the positive ways they use social media.

Let's Break the Internet with Kindness (1)Why aren’t the stories about the students I know and work with or the classrooms I follow on Twitter trending?  Why don’t these stories make national headlines?  Why does the media sensationalize the negative stories?  Determined to break the Internet with kindness, I tweeted out my challenge asking students to tell a different story.

The tweet got a lot of positive reaction and two members of my PLN took me up on my challenge and blogged about their experience.  High school history teacher, Rachel Murat who also teaches a digital citizenship course had her high school students use the opportunity to examine how Students Spread Happiness to Combat Haters and Trolls. The students examined how to combat trolls and haters and created videos like Passing on Positivity.

My #digcit co-moderator and Mobile Learning Coach, Jennifer Scheffer had her @BHSHelpDesk students reflect on the positive ways they use social media, 12 Students Speak Out About Digital Citizenship.  The big take-away is negativity breeds negativity and positivity breeds positivity.  High school senior and Digital Citizenship Summit speaker, Timmy Sullivan shared how he uses social media:

Clearly my experience leveraging social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, my blog) is taboo. But – dare I question the status quo again – why does it have to be? If we collectively divorce from the rhetoric of social media’s explicitly harmful nature, then we embrace the challenge to promote positive social media use in schools. Students can learn to leverage Twitter to build a global community of learners, use YouTube to share their content, connect with professionals via LinkedIn, and assert their voice through blogging. Through education, demonstration, and proactive conversation we can abolish cyber bullying- but we must first abolish our negative mentality.

My hope is that all students, everywhere have opportunities to go beyond just talking about digital citizenship and have time to “do” and create positive solutions just like the students in Rachel and Jennifer’s classrooms. Instead of disengagement and fear, we need to promote empowerment.  We need to create opportunities for our students to engage differently in a safe, savvy, and ethical manner and this needs to start early.  Our youngest students need to use technology to connect and collaborate with an authentic global audience.

In order to improve online (and offline) culture and create safe, savvy and ethical “digital citizens,” we need to actively engage students by embedding digital citizenship into our everyday curriculum.

By not teaching digital citizenship in schools, we are also denying the opportunity to empower students to think and act at a local, global and digital level simultaneously. When we help our students positively change their local community (school, neighborhood, town, state, region), we help change other communities in the process.

Let’s make digital citizenship a verb and help our students bridge the physical gap between communities by connecting, collaborating, learning and doing digital citizenship together with other students and classrooms around the world.  Let’s help our teachers and students become active citizens and enablers of positive change.  Let’s focus on empathy and help our students humanize the person next to them, as well as across the screen.

In many ways, it’s like skipping stones and I hope you will be a part of the ripple effect by amplifying student voice in your classroom by showing the world how social media is used in positive ways. Like Timmy Sullivan said, let’s question the status quo and let’s break the Internet with kindness.

*Contact the @digcit_chat moderating team if you’d like to join us for our SnapChat Challenge and join us on Friday, May 6th for a Google Hangout on Air with educators and students sharing their experiences using SnapChat in the classroom.


Charlie Brown on Digital Citizenship

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Poor Charlie Brown doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Generations have coined him as just a blockhead, but to me, he has always been so much more than just the underdog. Charlie Brown is my hero.

I would pick Charlie Brown as my 12th player a million times over any MVP.  He is the student I’d want in my classroom and the friend I’d want by my side every day of the week. Why? He is kind all the time, he’s principled and doesn’t just follow the crowd, he’s a problem solver and regardless of how many times he might come up short, he never, ever gives up.

Which begs the question: How would Charlie Brown be in the 21st century? What would happen if Charlie Brown had a device and was on social media? Charlie Brown would be exactly the same online as he is offline.

Charlie Brown is the model digital citizen.


Here’s the ultimate Charlie Brown lessons on digital citizenship:

Choose kind, every time. Regardless if Charlie Brown is on the baseball field, at school or directing a play, he is kind to everyone he meets. If Charlie Brown was online he would be part of the solution and not part of the problem. If he saw something mean or humiliating, he would not retweet or repost it. Just like Charlie Brown fills other people’s buckets with kindness, he’d fill their cyber buckets too.

Focus on your character. What you do when you think others are watching you is all about your reputation. What you do when you think nobody’s watching you is all about your character. Just like Charlie Brown, don’t just follow the crowd. Focus on your character. Don’t just do something because everyone is doing it. Instead, be more like Charlie Brown. Be loyal and consistent and regardless if you are on an anonymous site or you think your SnapChat will disappear, be socially responsible all the time.  

Solve problems, create solutions. In 2016, Charlie Brown would be a MakerEd maker, a TEDxYouth speaker, and a Genius Hour genius. He’d make guest appearances on a KidPresident video because just like solving problems offline, he’d be busy connecting and collaborating with a global network to make the world better.

Committed to changing his own community for the better, Charlie Brown not only reminds us all the about the true meaning of Christmas, he reminds us all what it means to be part of the human race.

Charlie Brown with digital access would change global communities using a variety of social media tools and if I were Charlie Brown’s teacher, I’d use #BeMoreLikeCharlieBrown as our class hashtag (or maybe I’d shorten it to #BMLCB).

Never, ever give up. This is Charlie Brown’s mantra. Although Lucy always moves the football the second he is about to kick it, Charlie Brown never gives up hope that he’ll get to kick the football. Every single time, he backs up and charges the football with such focus and clarity. Every time he approaches that football he believes that this is the time he’ll kick it.

Charlie Brown would most definitely apply this approach to being online and he would work on that blog post or that coding assignment until he had it just right. Just like students who understand the power of social media, Charlie Brown would constantly work on his online identity. He’d build up his digital portfolio and would stand out from his peers because he understands the importance of transparency and the need to humanize the person next to you, as well as across the screen.

So, the next time someone says, “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest,” know that you just received the highest digital citizenship stamp of approval you could ever possibly receive.

Now go out there and be more like Charlie Brown.

In Gratitude

I have always been a team player.  I have zero athletic ability, but I was born to be on a team.

When it came to kids picking teams, I was always the last kid picked.  I know I was the last pick when it came to my coaches too.  But, that didn’t stop me.  What I lacked in athletic ability, I made up for in spirit and attitude.  I knew at an early age what a privilege it was to be part of a team.

I loved going to practice, wearing the team uniform, working hard and giving it everything I had.  I loved the camaraderie, the laughs and inside jokes between teammates.  As a substitute player, I saw very little playing time, but that didn’t matter because my role on the team was on the sidelines.  In fact, that’s where I developed my leadership skills and I thank every coach I’ve ever had for bringing out the very best in me.

On the sidelines, I learned that every member of the team is invaluable from the MVP to the 12th player.  I also learned to recognize, appreciate and acknowledge the gifts and talents of each individual player.

IMG_6833 This past weekend, my son’s hockey team placed 2nd out of 66 teams in the state.  In the stands, I had time to reflect on the importance of being part of a team.  Not only am I grateful as a player, I am grateful as a parent.  Coaches volunteer their time, talent and passion in order to build confidence and leadership skills for life.  What you learn from a coach defines you for life —  your work ethic, attitude, sacrifice, dedication, commitment, and perseverance.

In gratitude, I want to thank coaches everywhere — especially my soccer coach, Mr. Mac, for inspiring me my entire life.  What I learned on your field, I have brought into my classroom and my profession.

For my son’s hockey coaches, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the privilege to be a parent in the stands all season.  I loved watching you build a foundation for life for each of your players  — it is a testimony to your character and has not gone unnoticed.

As I said before every practice and game, “I’ll give you everything I have, coach.”  What a gift to have learned this lesson early in life and to have the opportunity to watch my son learn the same lessons.



A letter to my son on Father’s Day

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 11.49.59 AMThis post was published in 2011, but when I went to look for it today — it was gone. How did I accidentally delete it? Thanks to some really incredible tech support, I was able to salvage it by copying and pasting the original.

So, although it is not Father’s Day, it is the perfect time to be reflective and to give thanks.

The Original Letter
my-guy3One day you will be a Dad.  This letter is meant to be read when you are celebrating your first Father’s Day.  You’ll have a life full of wonderful opportunities to learn firsthand from your own Dad what it means to be a committed husband, father and family man and for this I’m so very grateful.

But today, I’m going to take a moment to share some lessons from your Granddad, my father that you never met and only know through pictures and stories. Your Granddad’s life was all about teaching love in subtle ways, in bold ways. Nothing was an inconvenience. In fact, he would always say, “If there’s love, there’s no burden. If there’s a burden, it’s loved.” Granddad loved with all of his being. Nothing was more important than family to Granddad. Nothing.

There is nothing quite like a father/daughter relationship and my hope is that you will experience it one day. One day, I hope you get to hold your daughter in your arms and know exactly why I’m sharing my hope and wishes with you today.

My hopes for you…

  • You get to say prayers by your daughter’s bedside (even when she’s in her late 20′s).
  • Your daughter wears your shoes around the house when she’s little and waits for you at the front door until you come home. And later in her life, she wears your top coat when she’s in college.
  • You dance with your daughter all the time and she looks forward to more dances.
  • You make up lyrics to songs and sing all the time and make sure you sing Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra when she’s a baby; it will always be her favorite lullaby (I sang it to you).
  • You learn the craft of storytelling and weave the very best stories EVER. She’ll remember every good night story and wish she could hear the story of the Little Match Girl one more time.
  • Bring her to Fenway Park often and she’ll know all about tradition, loyalty and magic her entire life.
  • Recognize abilities not disabilities within people. Play Santa for children with severe special needs and bring her with you because she’ll witness respect and empathy firsthand.
  • Drive her and her friends any and everywhere and wait patiently when she is the last one to leave the school dance and never complain.
  • Write her handwritten notes and letters everyday because she’ll save them all 
  • Intimidate boys when they start calling and coming over to your house. Grill them, judge their handshakes and ask them what DNA stands for while you walk them to the car. As they drive away, write down the license plate and point to your watch as a reminder of her curfew. She’ll appear embarrassed, but deep down she’ll love it and be so proud that you are her Dad!
  • Drive in snowstorms and blizzards – do whatever it takes to follow through on your word. If you say you’re going to be there, be there. She’ll remember that you never missed anything important in her life and that you were always there.
  • Model what it means to love her mother because years later she’ll realize how much that meant when she becomes a mother.
  • Character is what you do when no one is looking. Reputation is what you do when people are watching. Focus on your character.
  • Live your life with respect and integrity because your daughter will notice.
  • And most importantly, love with all of your being.

My wish-list for you could go on and on. Just remember to see the best in people, take in stray animals, make time for those you love, always be a good listener, have an infectious laugh, be loyal and true and always help those in need because she will notice and cherish every moment with you. I learned so much from my Dad and miss him every single day, but he lives on through me and now through you.  Passing on his love and legacy to you is one of the best gifts I could give you.


How did you celebrate #DigCitWeek?

How did you celebrate #DigCitWeek? In many ways, it was just like every other week for me since I am committed to embedding digital citizenship into everything I do and teach.

Some of my highlights included collaborating with my dear friend and colleague, Justin McGlamery on an activity that required no devices. Focusing on real face time (not virtual FaceTime), our two classes posted their status updates on sticky notes and placed them on their own personal “wall” — partners read the status out loud and responded with a different colored sticky note.  The students rotated and mingled with each other as the lesson highlighted, “If you can’t say it to my face — don’t say it on my wall.”  Powerful lesson that has had me thinking all week about how we need to help our students learn how to humanize the person next to them, as well as across the screen.

I had the privilege to guest moderate #pisdedchat this week. Best part? Talking digital citizenship with some really passionate educators! The hour flew by and my wheels are still spinning with ideas for future collaborative #digcit projects! If you missed the chat, here’s the archive.

I also hosted a webinar through ISTE — Student Voice in Digital Citizenship: A Project Based Learning Approach. I shared the collaborative project, iCitizen Project that really launched me into ensuring that student voice is leading the way when it comes to digital citizenship. I also shared high school senior, Timmy Sullivan’s presentation from the 1st National Digital Citizenship Summit and was ecstatic to hear how many ISTE members want to bring the Summit to their state and communities! (We are busy working on our 2016 location for our 2nd Annual National Digital Citizenship Summit now and hope to make an official announcement in a few weeks).

Another highlight was when my #FYS15 students met our middle school mentees from Grace Academy in Hartford. Both classes read Wonder by R.J. Palacio and will be creating Public Service Announcements on empathy and kindness this semester.

I can only hope that #DigCitWeek has inspired others to keep the momentum going. Our students need us to create space for them to explore citizenship in a digital age.


*Loved following Lady Gaga and#EmotionRevolution today and I want to continue exploring #KinderBraverSchools #YouAreFlawless in my #FYS15 course next week!


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