What did you do in school today? With Mandy Casto

Today, Mandy Casto, an educator in North Carolina responds to our question: “What did you do in school today?”

This series of blog posts includes contributions from educators from all over the world, of all content areas, in all grade levels, and in various teaching assignments so that together, we will have a better understanding of what is happening TODAY IN SCHOOL. For more information about this series or to write your own response to the question, please visit this page.

Today, I watched students collaborate. They embarked on a problem-based task, came up with a list of steps that needed to be accomplished, divided the steps amongst themselves, and then helped each other solve them to come up with an final solution. They were thinking…learning…engaged.

Today, I watched students communicate. I observed them talking, using hand-gestures and facial expressions, white boards and markers, paper and pencil. They worked on problems individually and then communicated their answers with their group. Next, they worked on problems together and then communicated their answers with the whole class.

Today, I watched students create. They built towers out olego.jpgf Legos. They built Marshmallow suspension devices. They built their experiences as designers, architects, engineers, and artists.

Today, I watched students critically think. They encountered various cross-curricular problems and were challenged to think logically, backwards, and “outside of the box.” They had to consider multiple variables and even come up with some of their own to get the job done. They were tired at the end of the day, but it was worth it.

Lastly, I watched my students choose kind. They walk in with big smiles when I greet them at the door and they go home with bigger smiles! During the day, they write affirmations for one another. They hold doors open for each other. They help each other clean up in the classroom and the science lab. There could potentially be a great deal of competition in my classroom but when given the choice between being right and being kind, they choose kind. (Thanks, RJ Palacio!)

My greatest joy is watching my students SUCCEED, just as they did today. How do I know? Because in everything they did, I could see them grow before my very eyes. They took in information, processed it, and then formed their own conclusions. And, above all else, they worked hard to absorb as much information as they could and improve themselves . . . in other words, they maintained a growth mindset in all they did today, just as they did yesterday and will do again tomorrow.

Mandy Casto is a 6th grade teacher at a STEM middle school in North C8FReoLc.jpgCarolina. She graduated from Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan in 2007, and immediately moved to North Carolina to answer her calling in education. She received her Masters in Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment from Walden University in 2010. Mandy, @thatmathlady on Twitter, is passionate about life-long learning, and likes to expand her horizons at edcamps and other educational conferences. When she isn’t in the classroom or engaged in PD, she enjoys running, reading, and traveling with her husband, Brian.

What did you do in school today? With Dr. Adam D. Fried

In response to our question, “What did you do in school today?”, Dr. Adam D. Fried, a superintendent in northern New Jersey shares with us the work he and his teachers are doing to ensure growth — for both students and educators. In addition to Dr. Fried’s response below, several members of his teaching staff have shared their thoughts on this work as well. Some of these responses from teachers can be found herehere, and here.

This series of blog posts includes contributions from educators from all over the world, of all content areas, in all grade levels, and in various teaching assignments so that together, we will have a better understanding of what is happening TODAY IN SCHOOL. For more information about this series or to write your own response to the question, please visit this page.

In 2008, Harrington Park started down a path of re-evaluation and self-reflection. Based upon the belief that some of the most powerful comtumblr_lpn871ZLSz1qjax21o1_500ponents of teacher evaluation and teacher effectiveness are best approached through self-reflection and active learning, we set in motion the development of a model that would allow staff the ability to grow professionally, enhance their knowledge base, refine skill sets, and impact student learning and teacher practice.

A key part of this new model was the Self-Directed Growth Plan, which we have asked our teachers to embrace as professional educators. The Self-Directed Growth Plan, or SDGP, is the apex of professional growth and development. Research has confirmed that adult learners generally want to work together, and yet they also prefer to be self-directed learners (Zemke and Zemke 1981). The balance between these two concepts can be seen in the development of professional learning communities, grade-level teams, and vertical teams on the one hand (Dufour and Eaker 1998), while recognizing that self-directed learning is an attitude of mind in terms of how to approach learning rather than any particular technique or activity (Dickinson 1987).

A successful SDGP allows staff the ability to “see from the balcony” while allowing them the ability to both direct their own learning and receive support through their own growth stages. This type of learning calls for long-term implementation occurring consistently and continually over a period of time (Fullan & Stiegelbauer 1991). A notable belogonefit of this type of professional learning is the presence of both accountability and support. By means of regularly scheduled meetings with the senior team as well as a multitude of different team and grade-level meetings, the staff is afforded a multitude of opportunities to share and grow together. It should also be noted that throughout this initiative our ability to set aside time for staff has enabled them to be flexible with their Common Planning Time as well as with other varied time options.

The concept of a Self-Directed Growth Plan in our current teaching model is by no means intended to suggest a deficiency on the part of our professional educators. Rather, the SDGP has been developed as an ideal model and instrument through which we as a district express our expectations for both personal and professional growth.

Today we spoke about our model of the growth, where failure is simply a part of the path toward our evolution.

Today we encouraged our teachers and students to try new things, and encourage community members to view failure as an opportunity for learning and growth.

Today we believe in the sense of ownership that educators feel, that they’re invested in the vision, and the sense of family.

Adam D. Fried, Ed.D. is an effective and dynamic school leader with an expertise in the development of Digital Education and Curriculum, with a focus on community involvement. During his tenure as Superintendent of the Harrington Park District (NJ) he has overseen the succAAEAAQAAAAAAAAJQAAAAJDczYThhMGU4LTRkZWQtNGU1NC1iMWQ0LTRhNjQ1ZDVjYjc2MQessful implementation of numerous sustainable change initiatives that radically transformed the learning culture of the district while increasing student achievement and staff engagement. Adam has received numerous awards and acknowledgments for his work as a professional educator. He is a Jefferson award winner, Educational Technology Panelist, Member of NJASA and BCASA Executive Boards, Professor of Educational Leadership and national presenter on multiple educational topics. Currently, Adam is a pedagogical leader of staff through a research based evaluation model, which has been recognized as a best practice for the NJ Department of Education. Currently, Adam is also mentoring three Ed-Tech start ups to support them in the build, measure, learn cycle. He is also husband to Dr. Nicole Fried and Daddy to Ella and Amelia.

You can connect with Dr. Fried on Twitter: @AdamDFried

What did you do in school today? with David Hiraldo

Today, David Hiraldo, an educator from New York City explains the need to further differentiate educational programs for some of our most at risk students — and what he decided to do about it personally — in response to our question: “What did you do in school today?”

This series of blog posts includes contributions from educators from all over the world, of all content areas, in all grade levels, and in various teaching assignments so that together, we will have a better understanding of what is happening TODAY IN SCHOOL. For more information about this series or to write your own response to the question, please visit this page.

Today in school, we are worried about those students who are struggling in high school, and those who are doing “ok” too, those students who are identified as “At Risk Students.” They’re labeled at risk because they may not complete or finish high school in four or six years. We are worried about students who have dropped out, not in school anymore and those who are not doing anything productive for themselves or their communities. We are worried about the juveniles who are released from prison and do not have a fundamental education or skills that may help them to become productive in their communities and this country. We are worried about those students who may not go to college because their parents can not afford to send them, those students who must work to support their family.

There are too many factors that may explain why these students are not excelling in a traditional school setting. Some people may say that the main cause is that these students are coming from dysfunctional families, that there is a language barrier, the state test is too hard, or there are cognitive issues. Whatever the cause, the question that we have to ask is what options are available for those students at risk to become successful in our society? When we see youths committing crimes, getting into gangs, living a life without hope or inspiration, we do not say that these youths failed. We say that we as community failed for not offering enough support for them to obtain decent skills or trade that may help them to do better.

I decided to start Renaissance Technical Institute (RTI) when I saw my former students being arrested for stupid crimes in their own neighborhood, seeing how, in many occasions, some of my former students were breaking into cars and robbing people in our own community. But the most influential factor was when I learned that the US has to hire people from other countries to do the work that Americans can not do. We are talking about jobs that, in the 1920’s, helped to build this country, jobs that offer higher salaries than many professional jobs. For example, an IT person can make $100,000 a year, a plumber can make $68,000 a year, a HVAC person can make $75,000 a year. And the necessary training for these technical careers can be completed in about a year.10921652_775367252570654_6749670473796450061_o

RTI will help these students by offering free vocational trade education in an area that students want to study. We will offer the skills that students need in order for them to be successful and productive to their communities. We will bring to our students the opportunity and the chance that they have been waiting for, for many years. Our classes are differentiated and designed to teach what students need and want to learn in the vocational field they’ve selected. We will support, teach, and find job opportunities for our students.

Our first sessions will be starting soon. We encourage people to get involved by suggesting ideas about technical careers that are in high demand right now and by volunteering to teach technical career classes where they hold a certificate. We are also looking for recruiters to go to different high schools and promote the school, to distribute fliers, and get the word out to students who would like to attend RTI. Please visit our website, Facebook, or Twitter account (@RenaissanceTI) to get more information about our programs.

David Hiraldo is an entrepreneurial-minded leader and dedicated professional with over 7 years of teaching experience.  Mr. Hiraldo holds dual Master’s Degrees in Administration & Supervision and Special Education in Cross Categories from University of Phoenix, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Design & Multimedia from City College of New York.  His New Yorkunnamed Certifications include: School Building Leader, Students With Disabilities (Grades 1-6), Students With Disabilities (Birth-Grade 2), and Childhood Education (Grades 1-6).

David is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Italian.  He is also well-versed in key educational approaches and programs, such as: Wilson Foundations, Wilson Reading System, I-Ready, DRA2, Fountas & Pinnel, Math in Focus, and Story of Unit Math.  Currently, Mr. Hiraldo is a Special Education Learning Specialist and Site Supervisor for the Special Education and English Language Learner programs for Promise Academy, an I Lower Elementary charter School in New York City, where he has worked since 2008.


What did you do in school today? with David R. Pollard

Today I ask David R. Pollard, an educator in Dublin, Ireland our question: “What did you do in school today?”

This series of blog posts includes responses to our question from educators from all over the world, of all content areas, in all grade levels, and in various teaching assignments so that together, we will have a better understanding of what is happening TODAY IN SCHOOL. For more information about this series or to write your own response to the question, please visit this page.

Over one year ago, I stepped off a blustery street in the centre Dublin City into the warm aroma of Bewley’s coffee. In doing so, I reached a Twitter milestone. At a round wooden table to my right sat two women. Two faces that I recognised from my personal learning network, Ruta Danyte and Lorna Keane. I had never met anyone from Twitter in person, so this was exciting, particularly as we were there to discuss the prospect of Ireland’s first EdCamp. After an enthusiastic conversation, we decided to give it our best efforts. Unfortunately, that year threw up some challenges to each of us in our personal, academic and vocational lives. Despite the green light from EdCamp co-founder, Kristen Swanson, the call was made to let the idea of EdCamp Ireland slide until we had time to give it the energy it deserved. EdCamp Ireland is still in the pipeline, although the task of its care has mainly been handed over to other Irish educators.

2015 arrived and with it came new concepts, innovations and opportunities. I was busy researching the topic of learner feedback for my Masters in Learning and Teaching when I received the e-mail from Ruta in May. She expressed her desire to organise Startup Weekend Education in Dublin. Ruta’s view was to encourage collaboration between ‘techies’ and educators, providing them with the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills. I admit, I delayed my involvement for a couple of months, but once I had dumped my dissertation on my supervisor’s desk I was ready for a new challenge.

Again, the scent of coffee greeted me as I arrived at the meeting place. This time it was Roasted Brown’s coffee. Different coffee. Different challenge. Ruta and I deliberated over the resources we would need to provide for ‘techies’ in order to expand their understanding of educational frameworks, the roles of educators and current trends. After this meeting, I drew up a rough draft surrounding these topics and devised steps educators must take before integrating new technology into their classrooms. In addition to Ruta and I, Nubi Kay, Daniel Paul and Nana Adeniyi completed the organising team. I was inspired by the online team discussions that took place on Google Hangouts and Skype. Concepts, challenges and solutions flowed, making the meetings exceptionally productive.


The site of the first Startup Weekend Education in Dublin, Ireland.

It is now August and the dates have been confirmed. Startup Weekend Education will take place on 27th -29th November. There is much to be done, but the conversations have been invigorating. It will be hosted close to Samuel Beckett Bridge, at the Bank of Ireland, Grand Canal Square. The Bank of Ireland is also sponsoring the event, so now it is up to us to make sure the plan becomes a reality. Posters, videos and t-shirts must be designed and created. Judges, mentors, and most importantly, guests have to be recruited. The real work starts here, but the first Startup Weekend in Ireland dedicated entirely to education is gathering momentum. I have a funny feeling I’m about to hit a steep learning curve. I cannot wait.

170b35eDavid R. Pollard is an Irish educator with a passion for learning and teaching. He has just completed his Masters in those two topics, focusing his research on learner feedback. As a result, he welcomes constructive feedback in his classroom, as he believes it is an essential part of his development. David also welcomes feedback on this post. You can connect with David on Twitter @edchatirl or on LinkedIn.

What did you do in school today? with Rob Cohen

Today I ask Rob Cohen, an educational consultant working in schools throughout northern New Jersey, our question: “What did you do in school today?”

This series of blog posts includes responses to our question from educators from all over the world, of all content areas, in all grade levels, and in various teaching assignments so that together, we will have a better understanding of what is happening TODAY IN SCHOOL. For more information about this series or to write your own response to the question, please visit this page.

What did I learn in school today?

I wasn’t in school today, and that should put shut to my answering this question in some kind of reasonable and responsible way, but somehow it doesn’t. What it does is raise more questions. For example, there’s a whole slew of uncertainties swirling around what we call learning and where and whether learning can take place anywhere (with or without wifi) or only in schools (with or without wifi) and if it can only take place in schools, is that learning different from the learning that takes place elsewhere, and if it is different, is that what those of us who work in schools intend or desire? You see? This idea of learning in schools gets complicated very quickly.

Now, I work in schools, mostly urban schools, as a literacy consultant/coach, helping teachers to design and enact curriculum, offering ideas for increasing student engagement and empowerment–all the usual buzzwords that surround education, CCSS, PARCC and other things that impinge their presence on classrooms and (re)define learning in the day to day (I almost wrote 21st century but I’d be hard pressed to explain how I might work in, say, the 23rd century–21st century learning is  a phrase that I call a natural redundancy: there’s no other timeframe I could exist in and still be considered rational). And I really do the work I describe. But I also question the validity of extending a range of practices (both institutional and individual) that sometimes have their roots in the 19th or early 20th century. To my way of thinking, then, there are four things we need to look at in order to parse the question of what I learned in school today.

The first is this idea of “what” — WHAT did I learn in school? I know we talk about concepts and experiences and creating contexts and all of those good things, but the idea of WHATness, or as the young Stephen Daedelus explains in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in explicating Aquinas on the way to an aesthtic theory, “the scholastic quidditas, the whatness of a thing” (you can read a longer excerpt here).

The problem is that the WHAT or WHATness takes Aquinas’ claritas, as enriching as it may be, and reifies it; WHAT becomes an object in the real world and whether that WHAT is actually abstract or concrete matters little. The process of reification opens the door to Thorndike’s edict concerning measurement: “Anything that may be said to exist may be said to exist in some quantity.” Which, when you think about it, leads to all kinds of difficulty around describing WHAT was learned in school and how we determine (measure) that learning, or whether we even should.

I’m going to skip over the “I” in what did “I” learn in school today and avoid the existential crisis that arises in trying to define a self and then differentiating that self from every other self out there. Suffice to say that I exist, no thanks to Descartes. Or Sartre.

The next term we need to confront, then, is what might be meant by the word “learn” — WHAT did I LEARN? Having already established the role of THINGs (WHAT, WHATness) in this process, maybe noTHING, maybe someTHING. The question is how do I tell–it really doesn’t matter whether you think I LEARNed something if I know I LEARNed something; it’s just that what I LEARNed may not match what you think I should have LEARNed. Obvious example: watch a group of kids play in the park and they figure THINGs out, and even if they dont know the “right” way to do someTHING, they figure out ways to do those THINGs: climb a tree without falling, throw a ball so that it goes where its aimed, whatever. They do this by exploring their world, testing its boundaries, experimenting, building and breaking things. Put these same kids in fourth grade, and they may LEARN that LEARNing isn’t about interacting with an environment or each other, about exploring and asking and joy, and especially not about failing, but about sitting still, being quiet, and waiting. For them, LEARNing is about rules and conformity and compliance. I have a 16 year old son who builds computers, programs in several languages, and has run gaming servers for fun and profit on and off since he was 12, and none of this is even remotely connected to his experiences in classrooms.


And that brings us to this idea of SCHOOL, that brick and mortar structure where we all go to work teach LEARN THINGS. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but building walls around a place and calling that place a place of LEARNing may not be the only way to get this education THING done. After all, we all LEARNed way back when we read Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” (you can read the entire story here) that walling THINGSs in is also walling THINGs out, didn’t we? When I was a kid in Brooklyn way back when, not only was the entire world a grid, much like a giant piece of graph paper, but there were clear 51yie0pQv8L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_delineations of inside and outside, divisions in space, even in my house: this was the living room, that was MY room, et cet. Like most kids, I really thought the lines on the map were representations of lines on the ground, that somewhere between Canada and the United States there was a long visible line snaking through the woods (like in the cartoons). Imagine my disappointment the first time I noticed the sign on the George Washington Bridge that marks the NY/NJ dividing line and noticed no concomitant line in the water of the Hudson River below. You get the idea. SCHOOL is place where we do someTHING called academic LEARNing, but, as Sir Ken Robinson tells us (in his newest book, Creative Schoolsthere are lots of different kinds of LEARNing and not all of them happen in SCHOOL, that maybe it’s time that we move beyond privileging only one kind of LEARNing in one kind of place.

And of course, we need to do this TODAY. Not tomorrow. No SCHOOLs of tomorrow. TODAY. Now. Am I calling for a revolutionary change in practice and perception in the same way as Ken Robinson? Maybe. But that’s because I think we’re running out of time. If you tak41g1wC1SkdL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_e away CCSS and any other standards, if you take away PARCC and any other standardized measures, if you remove the reformers and the reform movement and the charters, the institution of SCHOOL is still broken. A bogus conversation about what 21st century SCHOOLs need or might become as if we’re not already 15 years into the 21st century, as if we still have time to plan for some far off time when the 21st century gets here, is ridiculous. The 21st century is here. Now. We have the tools we have to do the work we can do, and yet the system dithers. Michael Power (here, and here) lays out the idea of audit culture as the measuring of measurement: when we expend endless amounts of energy determining not what the measurements may mean (if anything) or if they have any validity (they might), but whether or not the measurements are simply being taken, we have entered into audit culture.

So no, I did41JXkwev8ML._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_n’t LEARN all this in SCHOOL TODAY, but I see it over and over and over again in just about every SCHOOL I visit. It’s not just teachers or administrators or consultants (my pedigree these days) or parents or students, it’s all of us. The institution is fragmented by an antiquated age-grouped assembly-line process that no longer serves well the society in which it is embedded because it is marked as separate, other, and that separation needs to be far more fluidly suffused with diffuse, blended borders and absent of the demarcations and separations and categorizations that characterize the cult of efficiency (see Raymond Callahan’s book, here) that informs and describes our schools.

What did I learn in school today? I learned that we need to change.

Pete Seeger: What did you learn in school today?

unnamed-1Rob Cohen holds an MA in writing and has taught across a range of grades from middle school to graduate school, always with an eye toward the inclusion of new technologies, art, and new media in school based learning. Rob currently works as a literacy consultant and coach in urban and suburban districts in northern New Jersey. You can connect with Rob on Twitter: @rcohen54.

What did you do in school today? with Kristina Nicosia

Today I asked our question: “What did you do in school today?” of Kristina Nicosia, a new Technology Integration Specialist. This series of blog posts includes responses to our question from educators from all over the world, of all content areas, in all grade levels, and in various teaching assignments so that together, we will have a better understanding of what is happening TODAY IN SCHOOL. For more information about this series or to write your own response to the question, please visit this page.

I have spent the past 11 years teaching Biology and other Life Science classes, but I recently accepted an amazing position to be a Technology Integration Specialist.

I am excited to bring my experiences as a teacher, teacher leader, and professional development provider to my new district. My first day I was tasked with creating a PD workshop on blended learning for the administrators. Grateful to be in a supportive environment, I proposed a blended learning workshop about blended learning. I was so excited to use my knowledge of PD and adult learning coupled with how I run my own classroom to put together a meaningful learning experience.

To prepare for the PD, the team of administrators had to watch a video I created the night before the workshop. I made a Google presentation, used screencast-o-matic to record the “lecture” and then used Zaption to add a formative assessment. The morning of the PD I used the data from the video to determine levels of understanding, which I used to make groups. There were structured learning experiences throughout the day. Some involved technology while others did not.

The idea was to show them how technology was used to enhance instruction. Overall, the PD went really well and I am excited for my new position.


Screenshots from the screencast-o-matic used in the workshop.

After graduating from Monmouth University with a degree in Biology, Kristina worked as a research and development cosmetic chemist. She worked in a personal care lab formulating to create products for large companies. This left her unsatisfied so she pursued her Masters in Teaching at Monmouth University, and for the past 11 years has been a high school Biology teacher for a school in Central New Jersey. The past 3 years she has been working towards her doctorate degree and currently finishing up her dissertation. For her dissertation she created a statewide community of practice for science teachers. The focus of this sustained professional development initiative is for master and novice teachers to provide support to each other as they work towards implementing problem-based learning and other student-centered strategies in their classrooms. Kristina is hoping to defend her dissertation in early winter. In her new role as Technology Integration Specialist she will be managing, creating and implementing all technology professional development and training opportunities for district staff. She will also be managing operations of the district’s 1:1 Chromebook programs and developing and coordinating training tools l3psuKte_400x400to be used by staff.

In addition, Kristina is the president elect for the Biology Teachers Association of New Jersey. You can connect on the web at BTANJ.org and at the New Jersey Science Teachers Convention. Follow Kristina on Twitter: @kmsusca

What did you do in school today? with Sean Gaillard

Today I asked our question: “What did you do in school today?” of Sean Gaillard, a high school principal in North Carolina. This series of blog posts includes responses to our question from educators from all over the world, of all content areas, in all grade levels, and in various teaching assignments so that, together, we will have a better understanding of what is happening TODAY IN SCHOOL. For more information about this series or to write your own response to the question, please visit this page.

“#CelebrateMonday just started trending.”

My Twitter Feed greets me with this wonderful message almost every Monday. Somewhere a current educator is inspired to dig deeply in the service of our kids. Somewhere a school community is uplifted just a little due to a positive culture shift.

What started out as a way to uplift my school community has evolved into a regular event for schools across the globe. I think of the #CelebrateMonday hashtag as a Bat Signal for Educators. It’s a call to positive arms for educators to tune into the heroic and amazing things happening in our schools.

As a child, I wanted to be a superhero. I realized rather quickly at a young age that I didn’t possess superpowers and that my parents were not from Krypton. I shifted my paradigm and decided that I could be a willing help and support for superheroes as a normal kid.CK6CGQ2WgAAUmN4

Fast forward to twenty years later and my dream has come true being a Lead Leaner/Principal. I have the opportunity to work daily with true Edu-Heroes. Our Educators are true heroes working daily in the service of our kids and community. I am awed at the leadership, creativity, collaboration and drive I experience daily in the schoolhouse or through the connections being forged on Twitter.

Our noble profession is often misunderstood and unappreciated and I feel that it is necessary that we lock arms and uplift each other. #CelebrateMonday is one way to accomplish that.

Simply sharing a positive happening in a classroom or giving a colleague a shoutout can have a far-reaching impact on shaping a school culture to new heights. I had the great opportunity of being inspired by School Culture Rewired by Todd Whitaker and Steve Grunert. This powerful read inspired me to begin a “CelebrateMonday” moment within my own school. I figured that starting the conversation with a simple positive tweet on a Monday would ignite a new Monday Mindset.

What did I do in school today?

I was able to connect and reach out to Edu-Heroes by simply celebrating Monday with a tweet.

6Hi_meVpSean Gaillard is the newly-named principal of John F. Kennedy High School in Winston-Salem, NC after being principal at Wiley Magnet Middle School for six years. He and his wife, Deb (also a teacher), reside in North Carolina with their three daughters. He is the host of the #EdBeat Twitter Chat, and also enjoys co-organizing #Read4Fun Twitter Chat and @EdCampGlobal. You can connect with Sean on Twitter: @smgaillard.