Showing up. Because it matters.

Showing up. Because it matters.

In the last few days of the school year, it’s easy to become relaxed and to “loosen up.”  It’s also tough to engage our students in new content and new lessons when they, themselves, are ready for a break.  Students might feel like “it doesn’t count.”  And, technically, it might not for the grade book.  However, we need to model that it always counts.  If we aren’t engaged with our students, in reflection, in helping them set goals for the next year, in team building – if we don’t model that it matters, if we don’t show up, how can we set those expectations for life and career for our students?  It’s an opportunity for making learning personal, for team and relationship building, and for students to explore something of interest.  Try something new.  Show up.  Because our students matter.

Teaching Reflection

Teaching Reflection.

The concept of “How” do I …?” is often a discussion for educators and students.  “How do I … ?” fill in the blank … “solve this word problem,” “write this conclusion,” or the thousands of examples in which teachers explain, model, and demonstrate for students how to do something.  As we close the school year, perhaps we show students how to “reflect on the year.”  I would agree that the “How?” of learning is possibly one of the most important skills.  Students need to learn how to learn and develop metacognition.  With our help, they can develop perseverance, develop grit, and work through the struggles and failures of learning.  However, I believe we must start with “Why?” and finish with reflections about their “Why?” This is probably the most important aspect to model and discuss with students.  This year, we were proud to see our students in all of our schools set and work towards personal goals.  The teachers and students are certainly reflecting on those goals as we approach the end of our school year (and some are possibly setting new ones for the summer and for next school year).  

Here are some ideas to finish the year strong:

  • Lead reflective discussions (perhaps use Pear Deck since teachers control whether responses are displayed for the class, plus they’re displayed anonymously)
  • Share your own personal life lessons on setting, achieving and/or not reaching goals
  • Discuss favorite or memorable lessons and ask students to explain why they were so memorable (this will help show that you are reflecting as a teacher on how you can make lessons better for students)
  • Have students create bulletin board or whiteboard wall art that explains, “Tips for “incoming” students.”
  • Consider tracking goals using Sheets and Docs – perhaps students can track some type of personal progress over the summer
  • Watch and discuss Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk – “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance”
  • Have individual student-led conferences to help students finish strong
  • Create a “Pride Wall” for goal achievements where students can share their accomplishments


In the end, start with “Why,” and continue to come back to that throughout the year.  

Plan – Do – Check – Act – it’s all a process, especially for learning.

Bootstrap your EdTech

“Bootstrap” your EdTech


To “bootstrap” indicates to get started, develop, or create under one’s own efforts, finances, maybe even, ingenuity, with little or no assistance from others.


We often hear about entrepreneurs and start-up companies that “bootstrapped” it until they “made it.”  It’s a good term.  It’s relevant.  Additionally, Bootstrap is actually a “mobile first” front-end development tool for HTML, CSS, and JS.


There is an overwhelming amount of educational technology available to choose from for students, teachers, and administrators.

First, start with why.


Is there really a need for all of these tools?  In my opinion, yes.   There are certain online programs that provide value that are worth the cost, effort, and implementation.  Programs that allow for personalized learning paths, that are “adaptive” and personalized – remediating, or advancing, a student “real-time” – and those that provide educators invaluable analytics and insight into a child’s performance and mastery towards standards.  There’s also some awesome programs that facilitate creativity, collaboration, and discussion among students.


However, there is redundancy among many of the edtech tools that we have access to. So, continue to evaluate if your students and teachers are getting value from those online programs that you use.


Then, “bootstrap”, the rest.  What I mean by this, is utilize the free online tools that bring a lot of value.  Ask yourself, “Are you fully utilizing the online programs that are free?”


One of the biggest players in the truly free for educators market is G Suite for Education.  With a bit of creativity and understanding of the power of GSfE, you can implement everything from blended learning to differentiated instruction to collaboration and interaction with your community.


Here’s a few tips and concrete examples:



  • Google Hangouts: Find and develop connections in your curriculum/content to local (or global) specialists willing to share some relevant experiences.


      • Here’s an example: fifth graders engaged with nurse practitioners and transplant coordinators from The Lung Transplant Program at New York-Columbia Presbyterian University Medical Center to learn more about the respiratory system as part of their science curriculum.


  • Google Docs/Slides: Manage formative assessment feedback and comments using Action Items.


  • Google Forms: Have students create surveys for projects.
  • Google Sites: Almost limitless.
  • Create a site that stores all of your curated resources, videos, links, Docs, Slides, Forms, assessments, etc. for a project.  Facilitate student self-paced activities, blended learning, and share your created or approved instructional content through a Site.


      • Student created portfolio sites.  Create the opportunity for students to share the work they are proud of throughout the year.  Students will surprise you with their creativity and engagement when you simply give them a platform to express themselves.
      • Create a teacher site.  Make this as simple or robust as you would like. The canvas is blank for your creation.




Beyond Google for Education there are so many edtech tools that can enhance instruction, increase student engagement, and personalize and differentiate learning.

Without diving deep into these tools, here’s a bunch of online programs that are free for teachers:


Curiosity Machine


Khan Academy


The Lawrence Hall of Science


Math IXL (limited free for teachers)




National Science Teachers Associations


National Science Digital Library (NSDL)




PBS Learning Science


Pear Deck




Science Interactives


TenMarks (limited free for teachers)


Smithsonian Education


Understanding Science

Data Informed

Data informs every aspect of decision-making.  The flowchart below is a look at how data collection, asking questions, finding answers (not the answers you want, but discovering what the data says) informs everything from “What do our teachers value?” to “Why and how should we pilot a new program?” to “What professional development does our staff want and need?”



The Iceberg Model

The Iceberg Model is an awesome visual and analogy that helps you visualize and uncover the underlying causes of the events we see (the portion of the iceberg above the surface).

The analogy works because there is always an unseen portion of an iceberg that lies below the surface and with events, there are values, structures, and patterns that lead to the event.

Once you uncover the underlying structures, you can start to leverage those to transform and design outcomes or prevent unwanted outcomes.  You can use high value and high leverage concepts like the beliefs and values of your organization to create desired and positive outcomes.


Design Thinking

Design thinking has become a bit of a buzzword in education over the past few years.   In our classes I do not want it to become (and have no intent in it becoming) reduced to a buzzword.  

Design thinking is a process and a mindset.  It cannot be reduced to a simple checklist.  Lessons and projects for students should include empathy, experimentation, prototyping, reflection, and redesign.  

Abandon prescriptive scenarios.  Facilitate activities that let students “problem find,” practice empathy, interpret issues and find meaning leading to the generation of new ideas, experiments, and iterations.

Students can learn these valuable skills centered on empathy, collaboration, prototyping, and iteration if we set out to create opportunities to include these mindsets in our instruction.

The interesting thing about design thinking is that teachers are inherently designers of instruction, beginning with empathy for their students’ needs.  Ultimately, we need to support our teachers with time to create projects that allow the students to practice design thinking.  


Here are some great books to introduce kids to these mindsets:

What Do You Do With an Idea?


What Do You Do With a Problem?


The Most Magnificent Thing


Here’s a good resource to get started:

Design Thinking for Educators



Lessons Learned from Surfing

Reflection. Adam after a sunset surf. Photo: Kyle McCarthy
Reflection. Adam after sunset surf.

I was fortunate to have grown up just a few miles from the beach in New Jersey and was there daily.  A childhood that consisted of playing at the beach and in the ocean, learning to surf around the age of 12 was a natural progression.  Currently, at the age of thirty-five, I’ve been surfing for over twenty years now, and yearly (which includes cold NJ winters) since I was sixteen.  Although I could easily wax nostalgic about the youthful days of surfing, that is not the purpose of this blog post.  Rather, surfing has taught me many life lessons that I have connected to my career as an educator, some are probably more deeply rooted in my subconscious and others might be more easily identifiable.  I recently read Grit by Angela Duckworth which brought this concept to my conscious and ultimately this blog post for those interested.

Surfing has taught me a few things about life, learning and teaching, and myself.  To be brief here is my short list (as of September 2016, because there’s bound to be more lessons):

  1. A deep understanding of the ocean.  The science: meteorological and oceanographic aspects – tides, currents, waves, winds, storms and swells, bottom contours, erosion/deposition, etc., etc.  It takes years to develop an understanding of a particular part of the ocean or surf break – and this knowledge and practice is what helps one become a better surfer.  This deep understanding can be applied to various locations around the world.  Just like in teaching, it takes years of practicing your craft to develop a deep understanding of the art of teaching.  Eventually, things like classroom culture, routines, or having an ‘arsenal’ of discussion questions or strategies to use in the moment become second-nature – helping one become a better teacher and respond to various situations (see #5).  What skills or subjects have you developed a deep understanding for?
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  It’s only riding waves, it’s all about having fun.  It’s okay to fall; laugh at yourself.  Have fun teaching; make learning fun.  It’s also okay to make mistakes.  Laugh at yourself once in awhile, be sure your students know you’re human.  Of course, maintain the role of teacher/facilitator/coach and classroom culture will thrive.  When was the last time you laughed at yourself?  Do students have fun learning in your classroom?
  3. Perseverance.  Grit.  Practice.  Persistence.  These are all characteristics that I believe I’ve developed from surfing.  You fall a lot in surfing, especially while learning.  You’ll fall a lot less as you persist at it, but you’ll still fall.  Hold your breath, get back on your board, and catch another wave.  This is my ‘mantra’ for learning and work.  Falling or failing is okay.  I make mistakes, I reflect and try very hard not to make the same mistake twice.  Let your students see you fail, or when you make a mistake, (see #2), accept it, make a joke of it, correct it and learn together.  When have you allowed yourself to fail – and then, picked yourself up and gave it another go?  Where have you demonstrated grit?  Take Duckworth’s Grit Scale.
  4. Patience.  This is particularly the case in NJ, it’s not exactly a ‘wave blessed’ region offering consistent, big, surfable waves daily.  Patience and an understanding of the ocean (see #1) are essential characteristics to surfing in any region.  Be patient with your students.  Your down to the minute schedule won’t always work.  Give kids the time they need to struggle (see #3) and develop perseverance.  Don’t sweep in and give them the answers right away.  Wait.  Guide, coach, support.  Practice patience.  Can you think of an example where patience has paid off?
  5. Ambiguity. Riding waves on a surfboard is an amazing example of split-second decision making.  At most surf breaks, there is no script.  Just to catch the wave, you have to take into account your working knowledge of the wave and your expectations of how you think it will break.  Once up and riding, you are continually assessing the movement of the breaking wave, anticipating where it will break next, maneuvering your body and board according to your current abilities, and continuing until the wave ends or you fall.  In teaching, and in life, sometimes the plan needs to be abandoned.  While working with your students, use your working knowledge, the feedback you’re getting from your students (formative assessment/questioning/etc.) to consider changing directions or speeding up/slowing down.  Be comfortable with scrapping ‘the plan’ and thinking on your feet.  (Remember this takes time, see #1).  In teaching, career, or life, when have you been challenged with uncertainty but still made a decision?
  6. Be nice and respectful.  I’ve been fortunate to travel to some amazing places – all for surfing.  By no means am I seasoned globetrotter, but I’ve surfed in enough foreign lineups to understand that simply showing respect, smiling, and being welcoming is usually the easiest way to start a conversation, ask a question, learn something new, and give something back.  In teaching, it’s obvious.  Be respectful and care for your students and colleagues – as teachers, we play an important role in a child’s life.  When tough situations arose, I always said, “They’re only kids.  I’m here to coach them, care for them, and help them learn how to learn.”  Where in your life has kindness and respect helped you in challenging situations?
  7. Don’t be greedy.  Surfing can be a selfish sport.  Waves are a finite ‘natural resource’ and there is competition in any lineup to catch waves.   There are some unwritten ‘rules,’ and there’s usually a rotation and order to a lineup.  Once learned, the skilled surfer can successfully work his/her way into that rotation and get a few waves.  However, regardless of your skill level, don’t be greedy and share waves with everyone (and see #6).  I relate this to working collaboratively with colleagues – share ideas, be open, pay it forward.  Don’t be a one-way street.  How do you collaborate and show signs of generosity in teaching, in work, or in life?
  8. You can always learn.  I still find myself learning new things about surfing, pushing myself to get better, attempting different maneuvers, riding different surfboard shapes, or experiencing and learning new surf breaks.  You can be both a teacher and a learner.  Participate in a professional learning community, pick up a new book or try a new instructional strategy.  I am currently learning more about Arduino and coding, but am ultimately relating what I learn to instruction, learning, and what’s best for students.  What are you currently learning? Are you learning something new, something totally outside of education, or are you developing your skill-set?  Perhaps all of the above.

This last point relates to many of the others, but specifically number 1 and 3.  I had an intrinsic motivation and perseverance to be a competent and skilled surfer.  I had the same intrinsic motivation to do well as an educator, to be a good teacher for kids.  I learned as much as I could from everyone around me.  I was fortunate to have great mentors.  I also had the persistence and desire to get better.  I have fostered and developed a deep understanding of these interests and ultimately my passions for them were fostered.  As Duckworth claims, through grit comes deep understanding – skills increase, interest increases, nuances learned – passions developed.  This concept can be applied to almost any skill or topic, and is related to sports, arts, music, martial arts, mathematics, sciences, writing, and career.  Surfing and teaching/learning are my examples; my passions.  What have you learned so deeply that you’ve developed and fostered a passion for?

For most, the first couple of years of teaching are extremely hard, but through perseverance and grit, one may begin the journey towards deep understanding.  Sometimes, you’re going to fall.  Take a deep breath, get back out there, and catch another wave.  It’s worth every second because you’re bound to have amazing moments.

Photo by: Don Cooper
Adam surfing at his local break in NJ. Photo by: Don Cooper