Just Ask.

#Teacherbookclub just enjoyed its second online chat, featuring the man behind #InnovatorsMindset: George Couros. I’ve long been a a fan of his work, if there is one blog out there that educators need to make time for, it is “The Principal of Change.”  His book empowers educators everywhere to take action, and to see themselves as capable (if not responsible) for shaping the culture of their school, one conversation at a time:

The least innovative organizations often seem to surround themselves with like-minded people. Innovation often comes from conflict and disagreement, not in an adversarial way but in a way that promotes divergent thinking.”

I’ll come right out and say it: George Couros is one of my heroes.

He believes in the power of education.  More importantly he doesn’t think we need a program or a politician or an omniscient power to ‘fix’ schools.  He thinks teachers and students are already doing amazing things, and through our networks, our passions are starting a transformation in the world of education. He reminds us to see the best in ourselves, and the very best in our students:

“Think about it: we have the world at our fingertips, the ability to connect and create with people around the globe through so many different mediums. Yet what do most schools focus on when talking about technology? “Cyberbullying” and “digital safety.” … We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do .”

potential futures demand we champion positivity in one another.

Thomas Hawk Tomorrow's Possibilities
Thomas Hawk
Tomorrow’s Possibilities


When we talk about ‘resources’ at schools, we need to audit our attitude and actions.  Those are resources too. Couros pushes us to take action and develop our #InnovatorsMindset one risk at a time:





“When students come to school, we continually tell them, “You need to share!”…Educators would all benefit if we decided to take our own advice. One way we can do that is through blogs. If you’re thinking, “I’m not a writer,” consider this: every opportunity to share with others on a global scale makes you think more deeply about what it is that you are sharing in the first place.”


You are what you share.

I wanted to share my George Couros fandom with the world, so, I did.  When I reached out to George Couros through Twitter, I doubted he would have time to sift through his some 117K followers and find my request, but, he did…within the hour.

If you doubt the power of Twitter, think about this for a minute: one Tweet from Central Switzerland made its way to a pretty busy, incredibly popular person across an ocean, and a plan was put into motion that same day.  As a result, Couros shared his advice, wisdom, and inspiration with educators from 15 different countries….on a Monday.

If you need inspiration, just ask.

Here are a few of the highlights from our hour last night, you can visit the entire chat here.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 15.24.09

There’s a reason 192 people retweeted this: those two powerful words we need more of in schools: “What If….”

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 15.26.13

Three educators, three countries, one message: make people feel valued.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 15.30.29

Reflect, create, share. (Repeat).

The #InnovatorsMindset is not something your school can buy.  It is something you make together, mend together, celebrate together.

I came across this incredible series of animated movements yesterday.  In light of last night’s chat, I want to thank George Couros, and let him know I appreciate the conductor he is in my animated movement of an academic year.













Thank you Flickr!

Thomas Hawk

Tomorrow’s Possibilities

Individuals and societies

Esther Vargas Twitter
Esther Vargas

What does teaching individuals and societies have to do with twitter?

I had a lunch meeting yesterday with a member of the Individuals and Societies department at my school.  He’s tinkering with ideas connected to be a connected learner.  He sees the potential in opening up, and collaborating with his colleagues just a tweet away.  But, like many of us, he recognizes that there are challenges to taking on one more platform.  So, I’ve tried to compile resources that would work to launch his experiment process with Twitter, and I thought I’d model what a PLN could do.  Here’s where you come in:  add resources for ISOC, IBGeo, IBEcon, or AP History in the comments.  What have I left off?

Where else should today’s Humanities teacher go for inspiration?

Start following:

  1. Digital Humanities
  2. Ms. Ferguson
  3. Rebekah Madrid
  4. Jerry Blumengarten
  5. Andrew McCarthy
  6. Michael Collins
  7. History Bombs
  8. Rajesh Kriplinai
  9. Philip Altman
  10. Kelsey Girouox
  11. John Spencer
  12. George Couros
  13. Kim Cofino
  14. Marcello Mongardi
  15. Ben Sheridan
  16. Justin Staub
  17. Kevin Duncan
  18. Steve Katz
  19. DJ MacPherson
  20. Julie Lindsay


Start lurking here:

Hashtags to watch







Think big picture via:

  1. Rebekah Madrid walks you through how she live tweets in a history class
  2. Twitter techniques in a humanities environment
  3. Tweet in the Blank
  4. The Twitter Experiment
  5. Scope out #COETAIL!

That Kindling Moment

In my Learning2 Talk this April, one idea I wanted to share was the notion of seeing the school year as a campfire. In keeping with this vision, I wanted teachers to see themselves as kindling bearers rather than feeling perpetually pressured to be torch bearers.  Often schools have ideas needing just a bit more fuel, sometimes our fire needs a touch more tinder.

webhamster Campfire

It is easy to get lost in our own goals year after year.  It is important for the culture of our schools to look out for dimming flames. We should seek opportunities to be the spark that other ideas need.  I recently found the phenomenal blog of Katie Martin. In her post “Culture is Everything,” she drives this idea home. If you’ve been lucky to have worked at a school where the culture is a motivating force, you’ll quickly agree with what Martin has to say about the efforts we need to take in grooming the culture of our shared campus.

We know that kids (and adults) learn better when learning has an authentic purpose, subjects are integrated, and the learner has agency and choice in the process.  Because of this, project-based learning is BIG right now and rightly so.  You might wonder–Is there professional learning to support PBL? Are there programs that provide resources? Are there models that teachers can see and use? The answer to all of these questions is yes. Yes, you can provide all of these things and support teachers in the process to develop great projects, and you should, but it’s not enough.

I have seen some amazing examples of how project-based learning changes how kids learn in school when educators embrace integrated, authentic ways of learning in school but I have also seen these ideal methods added on to traditional schooling that rarely changes how kids learn. If the culture doesn’t foster creativity, risk-taking and innovation, project-based learning (or any transformative initiative) can easily become another thing added on a teacher’s plate. In education we tend to focus on the programs, procedures and policies. When, in reality, the culture is what will truly empower teachers to make a meaningful impact on student outcomes.

What if you saw every week as yet another opportunity to shape the culture at your school?

What would you do? With whom would you want to sculpt?

Whether you see it that way or not, the reality is, week after week we are all doing something to define the culture we work and live in.

Last week, one of my colleagues, Valerie, took action.  Today, I am so incredibly thrilled to be hosting a second chat via #TeacherBookClub.  Our esteemed guest, George Couros, is going to join us on Twitter to share some of the wisdom behind his incredible book. Valerie (a budding innovator herself), really took to what Couros has to say in his text.  So much so, that she created a beautiful visual notes poster capturing some of her favorite key ideas:

At our Friday staff meeting, Valerie stood up, referenced her poster and advocated for attending the Twitter chat.  But that’s not the most amazing thing she did.  The action she took which was a ‘cultural shift’ a-ha moment happened next.  Valerie said, “If you want to learn about Twitter you can ask…” and she pointed to a lovely sampling of colleagues around the room.  She advocated for advocates.

“Leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders.” – Tom Peters

When we take the time to connect educators with other educators, when we show that a shared vision is coming into focus through our collective lenses, we are making our culture palpable.

Juan Salmoral Feeling
Juan Salmoral


What Valerie did in that #kindling moment was rev the engine Seth Godin describes in his post: The possibility of optimism (the optimism of possibility)

As soon as we realize that there is a difference between right now and what might happen next, we can move ourselves to the posture of possibility, to the self-fulfilling engine of optimism.

Which #kindling moment made the culture at your school palpable this month?

The Bonsai Principle.

marianne muegenburg cothern bonsai
marianne muegenburg cothern


Those familiar with the fine art of bonsai know that when it is potted, it is meant to be planted off center–to leave room both for aesthetic and philosophical reasons (click here for more on that).  I’ve been thinking about how this technique applies to education.

Where do we leave empty space for other connections, inquiry, questions, and beauty to come to fruition?

I recently received feedback from the wonderful participants of Europe’s very first Learning2 conference hosted by ASM. First a big thanks to Brandon Hoover for curating those reflections and surveys, they matter to L2 Leaders.

One common thread from the participants was how much they enjoyed the collaborative activities in the session.  Please feel free to check out the three hour workshop slide deck available here.  While planning that session, I tried my best to use “The Bonsai Principle”–that is, I wanted participants to be able to take the resources in their own direction.  I wanted my prompts to facilitate an exploration of blogging, and to be a catalyst for inquiry into how it galvanizes school communities near and far.  I would estimate that for that three-hour workshop, I didn’t speak for more than 30 minutes in total.  I did that so that teachers could have more 1:1 time with me where needed, so those hesitant to ask questions in front of the entire group wouldn’t hold back.  But really, I did that because we all need time to tinker. 

We all need time to let our roots go where they need to go in our own pot of a context.

Kit Rooted


How do we make more room for other ideas to sprout?

I think about this all the time in my own classroom and whenever I’m in a meeting.  I try to keep the pace of my lessons in time that feels hopefully ‘roomy’ to my students, rather than claustrophobic.  I’m sure I don’t succeed in that aspiration all the time, but I am more and more mindful of it.

I start 98% of my lessons with either DEAR (drop everything and read) or DEAD (drop everything and doodle) time (I blogged about that in greater detail here).  I do this because I believe as an English teacher, it is my responsibility to let healthy habits find their way into the ‘soil’ of a student’s schedule.  I also recognize that our system’s approach of rushing students from lesson to lesson to lesson to lesson isn’t ideal.  We need time to shift gear.  Students also need time to exchange pleasantries with one another.  Teachers do this all the time at the start of a meeting…yet many of us feel we need to ‘stop the chatter’ at the start of our lesson.  If we need it, they need it. 

Get out of your own way.

Six years ago, I was very fortunate to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco.  The advice given to me by my project directors again and again and again was: “We can’t tell you what to do, or how to do it, just go and listen.” At the time I found that advice irritating.  What I soon came to realize however is that, in my work to establish a youth center in my small village–I did need to wait, listen, look and see.  Anytime I set out to checklist, schedule, and force my own ideas onto the community, I crashed and burned.  It was only by making room for others to come forward and want to work with me that I made progress.  By opening up to invitations, we end up in some pretty incredible places. Here’s an example of that, me receiving my first invite to lunch with the local imam:


For me, that was a huge ‘Tipping Point Moment’ as alluded to by Valerie Koch. I realized that my service there was not to implement my agenda, but to find out from the community where the agenda could go, and what it might be.

Was the last meeting you attended an example of a flexible or forced agenda?

As we reflect on our bonsai trees at the end of the academic year, are we pruning back to allow more space for our students, or are we thinking only of what is best for ourselves, the teacher?  When we assign homework, is it truly for the benefit of the learning, or is it simply trying to save time for the instructor?

How many of us have experienced days like this on campus?


Here are Five ways to apply “The Bonsai Principle” to your context:

  1. DaVinci Day
  2. Genius Hour
  3. Poke the Box
  4. Tackle one of John Spencer’s design challenges:

5. Get AMPed, Shekou Int. School Style:

But what if, instead of doing that only for our students, teachers put on their ‘maker’ mindset too? What if we made sure that all stakeholders at school had space to let their roots explore?

Couldn’t more PD days look like this one, via Sally Nicholas?

When have you had the room to grow? What happened as a result?




Many thanks to Flickr for their bank of powerful Creative Commons Images

marianne muegenburg cothern




The Storyteller’s Mindset

This week, I was thrilled to find the original ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book series still selling online.  My nephew’s birthday is around the corner, and they will make a wonderful gift for the strong reader he is becoming.  You may have already seen the  concept revamped as a Youtube video remix.  I was thrilled to see Jackie Frens working on these year ago.  Check out her blog for resources on that task (and so so so much more).


The heart and soul of technology integration is about harnessing our love for stories.

So often we get caught up in ‘top ten best apps,’ or ‘standards for classroom technology’ links that we forget what our tools are about in essence: to tell, share, and find stories for a new generation.

ePortfolios, blogs, podcasts, GarageBand, and Youtube are all about amplifying our stories.  As I type this post, I am nearly done reading the fantastic book:

Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown

In it, Brown reminds us that:
“The best and most successful experience brands have a number of things in common that may provide us with some secure guidelines. First, a successful experience requires active consumer participation. Second, a customer experience that feels authentic, genuine, and compelling is likely to be delivered by employees operating within an experience culture themselves.”
Technology allows more voices to help tell the narrative of a given school year.  My grade nine and ten classes today will spend about 40 minutes responding to their ‘blog buddies’ most recent blogposts.  That learning experience is designed to allow students to collaboratively construct their school culture.  Every time we network our student bloggers, we are asking for the culture of our schools to be built on a foundation of the student narrative. That is the narrative that we should be most concerned with, first and foremost.  In Bill Ferriter’s post “Should we be engaging or empowering learners?” he asks:
Do phrases like ” we need to engage our students” and “the first step towards motivating kids is building buy in” hint at dysfunctional power relationship between students and teachers?  Are they just further evidence of our reluctance to give students the chance to own their own learning?  When we see engaging students as our ultimate goal, are we somehow suggesting that teachers are the only ones that can determine topics worth exploring?

What story does the technology at your school tell? Is it a story based on fear, or a story steeped in believing and trusting that students will impress and amaze us?

The stories that shape us engage our empathy and creativity, and that empowers our behavior as learning designers. Coming back to Tim Brown’s book, we are able to imagine the imagery involved at a school or classroom evoking the storyteller’s mindset:

“To find out whether a company is optimistic, experimental, and attuned to risk, people should simply use their senses: look for a colorful landscape of messy disorder rather than a suburban grid of tidy beige cubicles. Listen for bursts of raucous laughter rather than the constant drone of subdued conversation.”

In Steven Spielberg’s 2016 Harvard University commencement address, he leaves the graduating class with his thoughts on the power of story:

So to me, this means we all have to tell our own stories. We have so many stories to tell. Talk to your parents and your grandparents, if you can, and ask them about their stories. And I promise you, like I have promised my kids, you will not be bored.

Our best, most advanced tools tell stories, and provide us with access to a multitude of narratives.  When we talk about ‘technology integration.’ what we are actually talking about is yet another shift in the storytelling tradition.  The closer you look at ‘digital citizenship’ the more you realize we aren’t talking about skills apart from our humanity, but skills that are involved in all relationship dynamics.


So much of our discomfort with technology is because we mislead each other by describing it in terms meant to distort the lens through which we see it.  Technology is not about gadgetry, devices, apps, or platforms.  Technology is about weaving connections, and cross stitching new serials.

The way films look —it started with old 35mm motion picture cameras, to color with the three-strip Technicolor, to cameras that weighed hundreds of pounds and had to be on dollies and cranes — that was the film grammar of the day.

Then, we came to lighter cameras, to handheld cameras, steady cams, and on and on, all the way down to now.

There’s a unique thing to a GoPro.

There’s a unique thing to an iPhone — the way things are shot and the way it’s held. It just gives it a vibrancy you’ve never been able to have before.

I believe new film grammar is going to come from these things.

(See John Lasseter’s full piece via Medium here)

Many movie-goers love the ways technology has brought the film industry forward.  Those steps are not unlike the way technology is revamping the narrative of ‘school.’

If we see our students, teachers, and administrators as authentic storytellers, and we make time for them to share their stories, perhaps we can move away from checklists about software competencies, and instead revise the entire dialogue around our tools. The time to stop asking teachers what their favorite apps are is here.  Instead, start asking them: What stories will you spark today?

rossyyume Story
Story via Flickr