Today in school…well, today at a local coffee shop, teachers in central NJ met for a #CoffeeEDU.

The idea behind a #CoffeeEDU, as originated by Alice Keeler, is that it is an opportunity to meet up in person — face to face — with members of your online Professional Learning Network (PLN).

“#CoffeeEDU is a subset of the unconference. #CoffeeEDU is not about promoting a product or organization, it is about expanding your PLN in a face to face meet up for one hour.”

Our group today had representation from four different districts in the area. We represented elementary, upper elementary, middle, and high school levels. We were classroom teachers and instructional coaches. We were educators returning to the same assignment as last year and educators preparing for new assignments, buildings, or districts.

We introduced ourselves…and shared experiences, concerns, and ideas all at our own pace over a relaxing cup of coffee. We shared contact information. We expanded our PLN.


A group photo from our #CoffeeEDU! @MrsDubuque, @mcfallrenee, @mmorriswrite, @Gallagher_Tech, @Radical_Robin, @ms_itech, and @iruntech (@patflavin1007, not pictured)

Like with a larger unconference, there is no agenda in place ahead of time, and there really is no one person in charge of the event. The event unfolds as the individual attendees see fit. Anyone can leave at any time. Anyone can jump in with an idea, a suggestion, or change the direction of the conversation. For more specific details, you can visit this #CoffeeEDU guidelines page.

#CoffeeEDU is a casual event.


Some of the materials from Remind and Edmodo for our next #CoffeeEDU!

And just like larger unconferences, there can be sponsors! Remind, for example, is one company interested in and dedicated to getting teachers to connect with one another. You can visit the Remind blog and find out more information about their limited time offer to sponsor #CoffeeEDU meet ups.

Our group decided that we definitely wanted to meet up again! We are going to pick a date about a month from now and pick a different coffee shop for our next #CoffeeEDU. We divided up some small jobs to prepare for the next event (including each person trying to bring another educator with us).

In keeping with the unconference structure, we won’t have a specific agenda in place for our next meet up, but we did say that we wanted to focus our meet up around a topic important to all of us, parents:  parent outreach, parent engagement, parent support, etc.

As of today, we are planning to meet up to talk about these topics. Some of us may bring related resources to share out, and some of us may prepare questions for when we meet. Some of us may think of something entirely different that we want to talk about. We may stick to the topic of parents the entire time, or we may pivot and spend our time on a different topic.

That’s the beauty of the unconference and the #CoffeeEDU.

Here are some resources to find or start a #CoffeeEDU near you:

~What did YOU do in school today?


Today in school…

Teachers, instructional coaches, supervisors, principals, and superintendents spent the day learning from and with one another in Wyckoff, NJ. (And this was just one of many locations for this summer’s EdCamp Leadership unconference, connecting educational leaders from all over the world!)

I got to meet up and learn with a friend and colleague. 

I expanded my PLN…

…and I met some of my online connections in person for the first time.

I gleaned new ideas for the coming school year from educators with different roles, different backgrounds, different experiences, and the common goal of being the best educators we can be for our students.

We learned.

We laughed.

We left a little bit more connected than when we arrived.

It was a good day.

~What did YOU do in school today?


For the fourth year, teachers are going to writing camp this summer.

Teachers Write! is a voluntary, free, online camp designed for educators and anyone else interested in developing their own writing skills and becoming a better writer. The idea is that by writing every day at camp, educators will hone their craft, gathering ideas and experiences to take back into the classroom and share with student writers. new-teachers-write-2015

Camp is structured; each day there is something planned including writing prompts, mini-lessons, and opportunities to chat directly with the camp hosts, Kate Messner (@KateMessner), Jen Vincent (@MentorTexts), Gae Polisner (@GaePol), and Jo Knowles (@JoKnowles).

Through this camp, teachers have access to published authors who are willing to take the time and mentor them, give feedback on their work, and coach them through the process. Teachers will also gather mentor texts — including the ones they write themselves during camp — and other resources to use with students in their own teaching practice.

Not all of our students are natural writers or even enjoy writing, yet we ask them to live and breathe as writers, every day in school, even when writing may be the last thing in the world that they want to do. Like our students, not all educators are natural writers. This type of professional development activity, therefore, is a true testament to just how dedicated today’s educators are about improving their craft. This type of professional activity pushes teachers out of their comfort zone, forces them to think differently, try new approaches, and experience authentic vulnerability as writers that our students feel each day.

Writing every day, publishing and sharing that writing with others, and reflecting on the writing and the process, is exactly what we ask of our students in school, and it is what teachers are doing through Teachers Write! camp this summer.

For more information about Teachers Write! or to connect with participants, follow the #TeachersWrite hashtag on Twitter.

~What did YOU do in school today?


For so many educators, this school year is bringing a lot of change!

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Learning that once took place in a computer lab can now take place anywhere.

There are changes to policy and procedure, changes in high-stakes testing, and lots of changes in the way technology is being used in school. To incorporate the experiences students have outside of school and prepare them for tests, graduation, and life in a digital world, many schools are now adopting BYOD and 1:1 learning programs.

This means that teachers no longer have to depend on signing out computer labs or borrowing carts of computers. This means that students don’t have to wait to take a turn on devices in the classroom. This means that devices and access to the internet are directly available to each student all day long. This means that the climate and culture of many classrooms are changing. This means that teachers and administrators, along with students, are learning lots of new things.

Cell phones, once banned from the classroom, are now a regular part of the learning environment.

Cell phones, once banned from the classroom, are now a regular part of the learning environment.

Almost instantly, a 1:1 learning environment becomes a collaborative and student-centered learning environment. While classes aren’t going entirely “paperless” they are using much “less paper.”  Some educators, who have been in the field for five, ten, or twenty years are suddenly feeling like it is their first year of teaching all over again.

Professional development for teachers today includes many tutorials and workshops on how to navigate some of the apps and devices the students are using. Beyond the tutorials, educators are sharing best practices for lessons and activity ideas as well as tips and strategies for classroom management in 1:1 environments.

Here are some key points to help new and veteran teachers manage a 1:1 learning environment.

  1. Let it happen gradually.  Changing a classroom climate and culture is not going to happen overnight. Start small and start slow.  Choose one new thing at a time to change, and when you get used to it, choose something else.
  2. The teacher is still in charge of the classroom, not the technology.  When new technology is introduced into a classroom, some teachers feel like it takes over.  Don’t let it.  The teacher is still in charge of managing the classroom.  Setting up classroom routines to “close lids” on laptops and “flip” tablets over so that the screen is hidden are helpful in making sure that students are focused on the teacher or other speakers in the class during whole group work.
  3. The technology is not a separate entity.  The technology in the classroom does not need to be treated as anything foreign to the course. Incorporate the technology into existing classroom routines and policies instead of developing new policies around the technology. Think of it as you would a pencil, textbooks, loose leaf paper, markers, poster board, test tubes, or any other classroom materials.
  4. Not everything needs to happen “in the cloud” or on a device.  When
    Students work with digital and paper resources.

    Students work with digital and paper resources.

    something is new, we tend to want to use it all the time; that’s part of our human nature.  Balancing instruction and activities that are digital or online with other methods of instruction is important, especially while students and teachers are transitioning to new ways of doing things. Hybrid learning environments are most like what students are familiar with outside of school anyway.

  5. Use the technology to transform and redefine the learning experience.  Aside from direct instruction that is intended to teach students a particular computer skill or program, don’t use the tech just for the sake of technology. Once familiar with technology options and uses, thinking about how the technology will improve or redesign lessons will make choices about integrating technology much easier.
  6. Make sure students feel like they have a voice.  Students want to find out new ways to do things and they want to share what they know. Let them. Giving students a change to share what they know or ask them for help will create a strong community feeling in the classroom and everyone will learn the best ways to utilize the technology that is available.
  7. Keep assignments about what students learn, not the tool they use. When assigning a task, don’t worry so much about the program or app the students will use to complete it. Give clear, concise directions (and a rubric or checklist) so that students know what concepts and skills you are looking for them to demonstrate…and leave the rest up to them.  Let them decide if they want to use type a document, make a video, or use pencil and paper, as long as they meet all the requirements of the assignment.
  8. Speak honestly and routinely with students about good digital citizenship. Remind students that the internet is a public space. Remind students that they should treat people online fairly and kindly, just as they would in person. Remind students that the technology they use in school is not a toy and should be used for academic purposes.

The education profession will keep changing with the world around us, even after we move to BYOD and 1:1 learning environments. New research, new technology, and new policies will continue to change education as we know it. Once the practices listed above are in place, it will be difficult for any teacher or student to imagine a 1:1 learning environment without them, and it will make it a lot easier for everyone to adapt to future changes.

What did YOU do in school today?


Today’s educators are busy, so we “take time to make time” for professional development.

This article is about how to keep time management from being the thing that gets in the way of the work you truly want to do.

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There is no question that teachers today have a lot to do. Our lives outside of school are already busy, and educators face new responsibilities and challenges each new school day.  Anyone and everyone in the field knows this.  A common concern these days, among many educators, is that there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to accomplish all that has to be done.

A strong caution to both new and veteran teachers alike, is letting this get in the way of your own professional development.  We can’t ever be too busy for our own growth or to help our colleagues grow. The good news is that there are some time management strategies we can employ that will help us accomplish the things we want to do.

The first thing is to catch and stop yourself the next time you are about to say, “I’m too busy for…”


The problem with saying we are “too busy” for something that will help us grow as a professional is that what we are really saying is that the thing we are being asked to do is not valuable or important to us. We’re saying that in the long list of things we need to take care of, this thing we are saying no to is at the bottom.  That’s the clear message we convey when we say we are “too busy.”

Is that really the situation?  If it is, then that is a different story, entirely.  A better response, that case, would involve explaining honestly why you aren’t interested in doing the thing you are asked to do.  There’s no sense in bogging ourselves down with nonessential work.  (And that’s a whole other conversation — or blog post — about learning how to determine what is most essential.)

If that’s not the situation and the task we feel like we are too busy for is actually meaningful or essential work, however, then there are ways to find the time.

Just think about the expression, “If you want something to get done, ask a busy person.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement because the better we get at managing our time, prioritizing tasks, and focusing on what is essential, the more we can and do get done. Being busy is not an excuse for impeding growth (it’s actually a catalyst for growth!).

timeTime management, therefore, is an important component of professional development. It’s one that often gets overlooked or taken for granted. Making time management an intentional aspect of professional development makes other learning and growth possible.

It is not a sign of weakness to say (to ourselves or to others) that we need more time to adjust to new initiatives, manage our workflow more efficiently, or various other aspects of our work into our day.  It is really a sign of strength and dedication to the profession.

The following lists are ideas and suggestions for for teachers (and administrators) to intentionally incorporate elements of time management into self-guided professional development and growth.  I call them the #busybusters.  There will be follow up blog posts on the individual #busybusters mentioned below.

Taking Time to Make Time:

  • Dedicate a prep period for your own learning each week (don’t grade, don’t plan, don’t email anyone, just learn!). Schedule it on your calendar now.   (After a month, that’s 2 hours of learning.  After a full school year, that’s 20 hours of learning!)
  • Find a mentor and schedule regular meetings to work on the topics you want to at your own pace.  Once a week, every other week, once a month, etc. The mentor can be a fellow colleague, a specialist, a supervisor, or an administrator.
  • Choose a time (or request release time) so that you can visit other teachers’ classrooms. Pair up with another teacher and plan to visit each other’s classes.
  • Speak with your department supervisor and suggest or request topics you would like to see covered at department meetings.
  • Speak with you building administration and suggest or request topics you would like to see covered at faculty meetings.
  • Use a calendar or planner to schedule regular meetings with your department or grade level colleagues to talk about and share resources.
  • Use Twitter to build your PLN.
  • Follow blogs and regularly read professional journals and magazines.  Start a discussion group in your school or department to further explore the ideas that you find.
  • Seek out a teacher leadership opportunity in your school or department that is meaningful to your own career goals:  become a mentor, lead a share session, invite colleagues into your classroom, etc.

Finding the Value in Professional Development:

  • Be mindful of your work and your well-being.  If you are stressed (spending more time on a task than you would like or are very frustrated with it), talk to your supervisor, or building admin to work on a plan to alleviate some of the stressors.
  • Make intentional connections between what you enjoy and what you are doing in your classroom by bringing outside interests into the classroom.  If you are impassioned by art or music, you travel, or you play sports, think of ways that these interests can enhance the lessons you teach.
  • Reach out a colleague who seems to be stressed and offer to help them and work together to alleviate the concern.
  • Let others know when they’ve given you an idea or helped you in some way.  Showing that efforts are appreciated will lead to even more collaboration.
  • Journal. Take note when something is going well so it can be repeated, and take note when something is not going well so it can be revised.

We may all get the same 24 hours in each day, but it is what we choose to do with that time that make the difference. It is easy for any of us to get caught up in nonessential tasks or get stuck in unproductive ruts. Reflecting regularly and taking control of how we manage our time each day makes it possible to do a lot more and to do it better.

~What did YOU do in school today?


A thought for Thursday:


~What did YOU do in school today?


While students are in our classrooms every school day, all over the world, people are creating, sharing, and consuming information.  Every second, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Skype, and other social media outlets are connecting people and ideas.

It begs the question, just how much real-time learning is happening in our classrooms today?

This real-time infographic from Penny Stocks Lab helps put into perspective how quickly data is generated and shared on some of the most prominent internet sites by updating totals with estimated data every 60 seconds: http://pennystocks.la/internet-in-real-time/

Click the animation to open the full version (via PennyStocks.la).

This is a powerful resource to let run in the background during meetings, PD sessions, parent workshops, etc. as a reminder of much information is created and consumed during such a short timeframe and to spark some interesting conversations about what being “college and career ready” really means today.

~What did YOU do in school today?


The learning doesn’t stop when the school year does.

Teachers are learning all the time, and these days we learn in nontraditional, participant-driven settings like unconfernces.  The next local unconference, EdCamp STEAM is coming up on August 5th in North Brunswick, NJ.

Hundreds of educators will be in attendance, learning from one another, gathering ideas to bring back to school in the fall.

For more information and to sign up for FREE, view the flyer:  https://www.smore.com/pgd4m

What did YOU do in school today?


As a member of my school’s professional development committee, it has been a focus of mine to make PD resources accessible and attainable for my colleagues.  We’ve all been bombarded with emails containing links and instructions for accessing a variety of resources, but all too often, those well-intended emails get buried and forgotten about before they can really be explored or the concepts implemented.

A number of social networking sites provide ways through which we can share information instead of clogging up our email inboxes:  following Twitter accounts is an option, and starting Facebook pages or groups is another.  I’ve tried both, and while I’ve learned and shared some good things through each of them, I’m now finding that Pinterest is a much better medium to find and share information.  (Don’t worry – if you are already using Facebook or Twitter, you can easily link your Pinterest account so that what you post there will also appear through those accounts.)

While I strongly recommend joining Pinterest and setting up an account of your own, the interesting thing about it, and something that sets it apart from Facebook and Twitter, is that you do not need to be a member to view boards – it just makes it a whole lot easier and more convenient if you are signed up.

My own personal Pinterest account can be found through this link:  http://pinterest.com/msmorriswwp/.  It’s certainly something worth checking out.

What did YOU do in school today?