Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year in Pictures

1,201 is just a number.  I can’t decide how I feel about it.  On one hand it seems like a lot of pictures to take at school that tell the story of the amazing things happening in Cricket Country.  On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like nearly enough to articulate what happens in our schools on a daily basis.  Obviously, pictures tell stories.  The pictures and videos we take in schools hope to tell stories for those who can’t be there to experience what we see every day.  The pictures can highlight what happens, but often the message gets lost with the “you had to be there” mentality.  We hope that the pictures we take contribute to the mosaic that is Fall Creek. All 1,201 can be seen at  It was next to impossible to come up with only a few to highlight in this blog, but here goes…

The first picture is the monstrosity that is our Play Web.  It’s huge…and the kids love it.  It represents what I hope students bring to school all the time.  Be brave, aim high, and step out of your comfort zone.  When we were building the new playground, I had inkling that the structure would be big…but had no idea that I could go to the top and take an aerial shot of the school!  The idea was to have some equipment for our older students at the elementary level.  Turns out that everyone loves it…from Kindergarten students to Middle School students…I even saw some of our high school kids navigating the ropes.  In the end, it is awesome and the students have been both safe and brave while spending time on the structure.  It clearly represents what we want from kids and we hope that the same level of nervousness and drive can get them to the top of their academic career as well.

As the year went on we wanted to get more time for our staff to collaborate.  We have grade level collaboration days and our professional development time has moved to more of an independent model where our group gets to choose how they grow.  That model leaves little to no time for all staff collaboration between SPED, Title, Counseling, and across grade levels.  So, thanks to Jay Posick (who I will yell at later in the post) we started collaboration mornings for our staff and students.  Every 6 weeks I get to take our students, all 350 of them, in the gym for 90 minutes.  During this time we read a book together, play some team building games with classes and grade levels, and have some buddy reading time.  Our teachers get that additional time to work together and connect on a different level.  The picture is from one of our teambuilding activities.  Look at the smiles!!!!  Now…I have learned a few lessons.  First…though the time is crazy and trying to keep the interest of 350 kids ages 5-12 is next to impossible, I love it.  The staff has been very appreciative of the time and the connection I get with our students has been excellent.  Next…our 5th grade students have helped organize and even plan some of the days, which is a prime example of what happens when you trust and empower kids…they have been awesome.  Finally…listen.  When I talked to Jay about the idea I failed to listen to the details.  Apparently, I didn’t hear the part where he told me they get together for 30 minutes…not 90.  So…

This is a first grade student drawing during indoor recess.  I snuck behind him only to see that he was drawing a picture to give to his teacher.  It speaks to the connection we aim for when
working with kids.  The feeling that they have when they know they belong, when they know they are wanted, and when they know they can succeed is so special.  This happens all the time…kids color a picture or draw something for their teacher and the stacks of mementos grow on the edges of desks in every school.  Our reaction to the picture is what makes the connection work.  If it’s just another picture, the likelihood of the connection diminishes.  If there is that moment in giving it to their teacher, when they feel like the only other person in the world, the connection goes well beyond curriculum and school rules…and that is where amazing starts.
Moment captured by Karen Stuttgen

Finally, and my favorite, was taken in a classroom by one of our teachers.  It is rare that the ah-ha moment is ever captured.  This was it…the moment where one of her students “got it”.  The student was teaching her peers and the knowledge that she understood the process was overwhelming…it is both precious and poignant.  We spend hours and hours hoping that a moment like this happens for our kids.  We help them to own the process so the joy comes in learning, not memorizing.  When they take pride in the learning and can work through the tough times to get to that moment, it makes everything right.  The joy in her face continues to make me smile and gives me hope that this feeling happens often, even if we can’t catch it with a picture.

1,201 to 4.  I often think about the work we do in schools and know that it is worth it, but don’t know if everyone feels that way.  Our staff and students are amazing.  Our staff has the best interests of students in mind and their joy comes from seeing students succeed.  Our students are respectful and find joy in owning the learning process.  When those two ideas collide, magic happens.  Here is hoping that you, your students, and your staff have seen it happen this year and continue to do amazing things in 2014. Go Crickets.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Social Media is the new Fridge

Image via Jones Sign
Think back to when you were a kid.  Stuff would come home from school, out of the backpack, and in my house, would go immediately to the refrigerator.   My mom used to display everything.  Draw a circle on a piece of paper…fridge.  Paint a line on construction paper…fridge.  The one time I got 100% on a spelling test…fridge.  As time went on, essays, my sister's grade reports, school pictures (fashion faux pas and mullets included) were all affixed on the central location in the kitchen.  The place where everyone would go for nourishment was also the place they went to get an emotional pick me up.  Many of the good things going on were prominently displayed in that place.  Anyone who came to the house would inevitably stop at the fridge, and the displays would spark a conversation.  It was a great place to tell the story.

Social media has brought the conversation that happened in the kitchen to the masses.  The pictures that were held by magnets are now posted and shared through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. The opportunity to share has grown exponentially.  Iphoto streams can be shared with anyone and the story told through pictures.  Obviously these feeds/streams can become saturated, but the fact that our refrigerator was so covered in paper and pictures lends itself to the same concept.  We WANT to share…we are PROUD of our kids and deep down we want others to know about it.

image via
Parents want to be connected and want to brag about what their kids are doing in school.  They want to be proud of the place they send their children…who wouldn’t?!?!  We have a number of people following our district Twitter and Facebook feeds, but the real gold comes with the feeds specific to classrooms.  Some of our teachers took the leap last year and helped parents sign up for Twitter.  The teachers post often to keep families up to date on the great things going on in the classroom.  They don’t try to meet a quota of how many times they post or count to see who has been in pictures and who has not…they just post…a lot.  The feedback has been great!  Essentially, families now have a running story of what happens in the classroom. This is happening all over the country.  Leaders like Tony Sinanis and Ben Gilpin flood their Twitter feeds with the great things happening in their schools.  Matt Gomez and Pernille Ripp are not only displaying what happens in their classroom, but are allowing students to own the process through posts and blogs.  The list clearly does not end there…hundreds of teachers across the country are connecting with their families through social media…but what if it was in the thousands…or more!?  When someone asks what is going on in school, the evidence is right in your pocket…all the time.  It can be shared with family, shown to coworkers, and provide a little smile when a day gets tough.  Stories are told day in and day out in schools…sharing those stories with the world is a great way to connect to families.

There will never be a time in education where someone walks into my office and says… “Wow, I just don’t know what to do with all of this time.”  We expect a great deal from our group…and they deliver.  Connecting with parents is simply not optional.  How teachers connect with parents has been based on comfort zone and time.  As we move into an environment where the fridge has turned into a phone, it is essential to find parents where they live socially.  Twitter and Instagram will turn into something else in a few years, and we will be ready.  We want the conversations around what happens in our school to promote the positive things going on at every turn.  The medium will change…but the commitment to creating opportunities for parents to connect to what we do will not.  That connection can help the conversation that has happened at kitchen tables since the dawn of time…

Parent: How was your day?
Student: Good.
Parent: What did you do?
Student: I don’t know.

I used to live that discussion every day.  Using social media as the new fridge swings that conversation.  When kids own the process, know there is a connection to home, and can take pride in what they do because they see it all the time, their response goes from “I don’t know” to “I don’t know where to start”.  Go Crickets.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Power of Branding

When is the last time something amazing happened in your classroom?  I’ll help you out…the last time you had kids in your classroom and they were engaged in learning, it was amazing.  To think that we have people in this world that have the skill level to engage a group of children of varying abilities, backgrounds, races, needs, and interests is amazing.  The work done in schools all across the world is spectacular.  Kids gather…learn…leave…and make the world we live in a better place.  So…amazing happens all the time.

The idea of branding schools isn’t about selling kids or making false promises…it’s about promoting the amazing things going on for those who don’t have the opportunity to experience it on a daily basis.  The percentage of people in your community who have kids in schools is relatively small.  When we were looking at community data for a referendum, about 20% of our community was made up of households who had students in our building.  That leaves a huge void in who has knowledge of what goes on in our building and who does not.  Telling the story of the wonderful things happening in schools to the kids who see it all the time is simply not enough.  Students understand the experience because they live it…we need to make connections to everyone else because the 80% can be an incredible asset to the 20% who walk through the hallways.  That large percentage is the group that tells the stories of their community and their experience with the school system.  Schools have the chance to be the piece that communities get behind and provide an identity to those who live within the boundaries.  Some community members will come to you…they will show up at games, concerts, school plays…and when they do, the performances on courts, fields, and stages is only part of the story.  The feeling they have when they leave your building is the one that gets talked about at dinner tables, local restaurants, and work the next day.  Others will not…but if they both are speaking the same language and can identify with a brand it helps you build a great deal of social capital and celebrate the wonderful work of kids. Here are 3 things we discussed when building our brand in Cricket Country:

Get a Win Early
We started a Facebook and Twitter feed before the school year was up and running a few years ago.  We had a Red Carpet Welcome Back to School for teachers where students lined an area of the hallway and when all of our teachers walked out of a meeting on their way to lunch the kids screamed…yelled…took pictures…asked for autographs…made it feel like the Oscars.  They were awesome.  We got some media coverage and it ended up on for the day.  One event…and we were off.  We had something to celebrate and it was fun to see it grow.

Find something and go. 
It’s really that easy.  People see the golden arches or the swoosh and know exactly what it means.  The Fall Creek Crickets put Go Crickets on everything…everything.  Shirts, window clings, bracelets, umbrellas, stress balls, Frisbees, lanyards…everything. We throw t-shirts out at games, give away bracelets, ask who needs window clings…whatever we can do to get the word out.  The financial investment we put into "stuff" is  minimal in comparison to the amount of social capital it builds.
We use the #gocrickets hash tag all over the place.  Staff, students, and now even parents are using the hash tag…as social media continued to grow we needed to find a presence in that space…having our community own that through a shared voice has been an incredible feeling.  Identify your brand and then promote it.

Never give up the opportunity to say something great about your school
The issue is not about what is happening in schools, it’s the perception of what is happening.  The reality is that everyone didn’t have a great school experience when they were younger.  The thoughts and feelings they had as students often linger to a point that their perception of what it was becomes the reality they convey to others. That perception can change…if your voice, and their new experience, are positive. The interactions you have through social media and face to face have an incredible impact.  If your focus is on the positive things happening in  your building the take away for those who don't see it everyday is so powerful.

I am unbelievably fortunate to work in a school district that has outstanding teachers, great families, and a supportive school board.  I understand that this is not the case everywhere, but the opportunity to change the perception of what your school district is starts with you.  We are with kids everyday…we see their smiles, growth, and accomplishments.  Those are the stories that build pride and community.  As a school district you can hope that the words of your students and parents reach the 80% of the population who are not there everyday.  Or…you can take to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, local media, games, and community events to spread the amazing story of what kids do all the time.  Our story is special and so is yours…TELL IT. 
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and start building a brand that celebrates the great things going on in your building and district.  Good luck…and Go Crickets!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Delivering on the Promise

Travel half way across the country for a conference with no agenda…really?  Try to explain that to people who have not taken part in an Edcamp and the look you will get is priceless. When you explain it to those who have attended and Edcamp, they seem to get it.  The trip started out as an idea to connect with family and attend a great professional development opportunity, and I’m so glad that it came to fruition.  The people, conversations, and connections made the 3000 mile trip well worth the time and effort. EdcampNJ was the first of a 3 stop East Coast #Edutour of great things happening on the other side of the country.  It was a fantastic way to start the trip.  Here are a few reflections: 

The day started like many Saturdays do with #satchat.  The only difference this week, was that I got to participate live with the moderators at #EdcampNJ.  Twitter is a funny thing…you get a chance to talk to people that you have never met, and form a relationship based on common interests.  Somehow, when you meet these people face to face, that conversation just continues seamlessly.  The opportunity to meet some people I connect with on a regular basis was something I was really looking forward to at the event. I had the chance to meet with Billy Krakower, Scott Rocco, and Brad Currie as they were getting ready to start the live feed.  As great as they are online, they are better face to face.  During the show, put on by Jeff Bradbury from Teachercast (his work is also fantastic!), they asked me to come up and share some of the great things going on in Fall Creek.  It was an absolute honor to be on stage with those incredible leaders.  The work they are doing through #satchat is outstanding, and brings together a tremendous amount of people who want to change the face of education.  To have the chance to share our story with that audience was truly humbling.  

People not Programs
This is a staple of Todd Whitaker’s message when he speaks to groups.  As educators, we tend to get so hung up on process that we forget it is the people who make schools successful.  This was clearly the case at #EdcampNJ.  When you attend an Edcamp, you put a tremendous amount of trust in the people associated with the event.  As I connected with people on Twitter who were planning to attend, I knew the event was going to be in great hands.  The day absolutely delivered on that promise.  Tony Sinanis and Tom Murry have been incredible go to people online for me over the course of the last year.  To meet them both on the same day and get a better understanding of who they are was a fantastic experience.  They are both hysterical…and 100% about kids.  The passion they project in discussions about students was stunning, and I am glad to call them friends.  It seemed that everyone I connected with fit their Twitter persona perfectly.  The #edtechchat crew in attendance was hysterical (@iplante, @thomascmurray, @ajpodchaski), the #satchat crew wonderful, and the 300+ people who attended were all fully engaged in getting better as educators.  It was very cool.

Cross Country Connection
A few weeks ago, I was talking to Tony as we were both working on a presentation about branding your school. The importance of branding your school district and telling your story has become more important than ever.  It was ironic that we were both preparing a very similar presentation for a future conference and attending #EdcampNJ.  As Tony and I talked, we thought it might be fun to connect what we were doing in our own states, and present as one of the sessions. Though we didn’t have anything formal to present together, we had enough to start a great conversation.  The session went great!  Tony and I had a blast.  We joked that if it wasn’t going well after three minutes, we were going to vote with our feet, and leave our own session. Ha!  Unfortunately for everyone in the room, we really like to hear ourselves talk, and didn’t even get through introductions in the first three minutes.  After that the discussion was really insightful.  We certainly learned more from the group than they did from us…but we sure had fun doing it.  I would encourage anyone attending an #edcamp to own the process and present something.  You don’t need to be an expert…only willing to start a conversation and see where it goes.  It was a wonderful experience.  

Walking Away
There were so many take aways from the day, but a few were clearly quantifiable.  The people running this event were absolute pros.  Logistically, it was flawless.  The venue was great, and the sessions were outstanding.  I walked away with new apps, a better understanding of Google hangouts, an experience that will help run #EdcampEC in April, and the opportunity to present with a great friend.  I made another connection to the #edtechchat crew that afforded us an opportunity to share our session with a larger audience the following week (post coming soon), and continued connections with people who I truly respect in the education world.  #EdcampNJ was the first on my East Coast #EduTour, and it couldn’t have started out in better fashion.  Thank you to all who made the day possible…it absolutely delivered on the promise.