A New Plan: Pomodori Posts

Pomodoro technique While in Atlanta for ISTE a couple of weeks ago, I spend lots of time with my friends Bill Ferriter and John Spencer. Bill and John are two of my favorite teacher bloggers. I never miss a post that either of them writes, and their writings have really helped me grow and develop as a teacher. Both of them have encouraged me greatly in my own blogging efforts. Bill helped me get this website up and working, and John has been one of the most frequent commenters and sharers of my work.

Hanging out with them (we shared a condo) was one of the high points of my ISTE experience. I learned so much through our conversations, and they constantly challenge my thinking. One of the coolest things about hanging out with them was the opportunity to watch them write. It’s cool to see Bill crafting posts through conversations, tweets, and questions making notes as he goes. It was also interesting to watch the way Bill manages his time, prioritizing writing and sharing. John, too, is a blogging master. I watched as he wrote an entire post in less than twenty minutes (with my interrupting him occasionally), and the post was brilliant. He has truly honed his craft. In fact, he’s developed himself into such a good writer that he rarely spends any time editing his posts.

I’ve been thinking about what I learned observing Bill and John at ISTE and about my own attempts at blogging. I’ve also been experimenting with and reading about personal productivity. I want to share more openly and blog more often about my teaching and learning. I’ve already started taking more notes on my learning using a Moleskine and creating drafts of things to blog about in Evernote. This is similar to the way Bill works. That should help when it comes to capturing my ideas. But I also need to write faster and let go of my writing more willingly like John does. Having considered this, I’m going to start posting more often using what I’m calling my pomodori post technique.

I’ve used Tomatoes for the past few months to help me be more productive during my planning, before school, and after school work time. I’m going to start using the Pomodoro Technique to write two posts a week. I’m going to limit the time I can spend on a past to two pomodori. I will spend the first pomodoro (25 minutes) writing each post. I’ll use the second pomodoro to edit mistakes, format the blog, polish my thoughts, add categories and tags, and add a photo to the post. At the end of the second pomodoro, I’ll schedule the post and walk away from it. I’ll tag each as a pomodori post. They will be somewhat similar to Bo Adams’ process posts, but I’m not going to name them as such in the title. I’m only going to tag them this way. I’m sure I’ll have to tweak the process as I go, but it’s a start.

So what do you think? What is the process you go through when you write a blog post? I’d love to read your thoughts on my plan.

What Were You Thinking!? #micon14 #micon15

06/08/2015 Update: Alice and I were asked to share this session again tomorrow at the Martin Institute 2015 Summer Conference.

What Were You Thinking!?Today and tomorrow Alice M. Parker and I are learning and sharing at the 2014 Martin Institute Conference. Alice and I are facilitating a session entitled “What Were You Thinking!?” Our goal is to help teachers learn and grow in their ability to develop students into the critical and creative thinkers they will need to be to thrive as citizens in the rapidly changing, information-rich world in which we now live.

Session Description: Blank stares. Ask your average middle school students what they are thinking, and all you’ll receive are blank stares. As teachers our primary goal must be to move beyond simply teaching content to helping our students develop the critical and creative thinking skills they will need to thrive in the modern world. This session will explore the value of critical and creative thinking and examine how to develop student thinkers by using visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques across the curriculum and in all disciplines.

Session Outcomes:

  • Examining the importance of critical and creative thinking in today’s information-rich world
  • Insight into what critical and creative thinking looks like in a classroom
  • Familiarity with visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques
  • Awareness of the 4 aspects of creativity and how to scaffold them into instruction
  • Reflection on current practice and transformation of classrooms into places that promote students’ creativity and critical thinking

Protocol/Routine Links:

The following are some resources for further exploration and learning:

Brookhart, S. (2013). Assessing Creativity. Educational Leadership, 70(5), 28-34. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/Assessing-Creativity.aspx

Ciotti, G. (2013, June 22). Creative Thinking: How to Be More Creative (with Science!). Sparring Mind. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.sparringmind.com/creative-thinking/

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (20112011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tishman, S., Perkins, D. N., & Jay, E. (1995). The thinking classroom: learning and teaching in a culture of thinking. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ideas for My #ISTE13 6-word Story

6-word storyWhile sitting by the pool watching my kids swim this afternoon, I came across a Sandy Kendell post entitled “Contribute to the #ISTE13 Six Word Story Project!” This was the first I’d heard of the project so I followed a link to Bryan Doyle’s original post and the collected stories. What a fun idea! I enjoyed reading the other stories and saw that a few of my friends have already shared their 6-word story creations. So as the sun beat down on me, I wrote the following 6-word story ideas as my potential contribution:

  • “Remember,” he whispered outside the Alamo.
  • They’d never met in person before. (Do contractions count as two words?)
  • They walked and talked all evening.
  • He raced to escape the Expo.
  • The conversation flourished beyond 140 characters.
  • He waited in the wrong room.
  • The conversation completely changed his classroom.
  • A single tweet stood between them.
  • The queue wrapped around the building.
  • He just wanted to introduce himself.
  • He talked. They watched their phones.
  • Was it possible? Could it be?
  • He tried to text. Dead iPhone.
  • They invited me to join them.

I’ve already written my ISTE 2013 reflection, but I like the creative aspect of Bryan’s idea so I need your help. Which of my stories should I share? I’m pretty sure the deadline looms tomorrow so if you have a favorite, please let me know in the comments below. I want to pick the best one. Also if you have an image that would go perfectly with one of these, please share it with me. I’ll be happy to credit your for your contribution.

Transformative Learning and Classrooms of Understanding #MICON13

transformative learningWhat’s on your calendar June 12th and 13th? If you have those dates open, I highly recommend you consider attending The 2013 Martin Institute Conference held at my school. This is the third year PDS has hosted the summer conference. Having attended the previous two, I must say this conference is one of the best kept secrets in the edu-sphere, and that needs to change.

Fortunately, my friend and colleague Jamie Feild Baker, the executive director of The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence, has decided to offer a discounted early registration for just $95.00 through March 31, 2013. On April 1, the price increases to $150.00. On June 1, the fee will increase again to $195.00, so you should go ahead and register early. You can register here.

It’s going to be an incredible two days of learning here in Memphis. The theme this year is “transformative learning,” and author/speaker Will Richardson and Superintendent Pam Moran (Albermarle, Virginia) will be the keynoting the conference.  Some of the extraordinary educators offering plenary sessions are Bo AdamsJohn Hunter, Grant Lichtman, and Gabriel RshaidMary CantwellRobert Dillon, Jill Gough, Eric Juli, Jessica Ross, and Ira Socol are among those offering workshops, too. To quote my friend Bill: “I’m pretty jazzed about this conference.” And you should be, too. Memphis-area educators and anyone else who can get here in mid-June ought to make the effort to attend.

Alice Parker and I will facilitate a workshop at the conference. Our session is “Classrooms of Understanding: Scratching Below the Surface.” Here’s the description:

What does student understanding look like? How do innovative teachers equip today’s learners with the critical and creative thinking skills needed to thrive in a changing world? In this excavation of understanding, we will uncover the essentials of student understanding, delve into routines and questioning strategies that develop habits for critical and creative thinking, and unearth best instructional practices in order to transform today’s classrooms into places of deep student learning. Join us. You’ll dig it!

Session Outcomes:

  • Insight into what student understanding looks like
  • Tools for developing (and assessing) students’ critical and creative thinking
  • Familiarity with deep questioning strategies and visible thinking routines
  • Awareness of the 4 aspects of creativity and how to scaffold them into instruction
  • Reflection on current practice and transformation of classrooms into places of deep thinking and understanding

I hope you’ll make plans to attend The 2013 Martin Institute Conference, and if you do, consider attending our session. Alice is a truly amazing teacher, and I’m excited about the things we plan to share. The whole conference is going to be a fantastic event, and I think it’s more than worth the cost of registration. Let me know if you plan to attend. I’d love to connect. Who knows, maybe Debbie and I will open the Cummings’ Bed & Breakfast for friends coming in from out of town…

Full Disclosure: The Martin Institute of Teaching Excellence is an innovative venture by my school, Presbyterian Day School, and our partners to provide world-class professional development to teachers in public and private schools. I am a full-time teacher at PDS.

Collaborative Research & Learning with Diigo | TCTE 2011

I had the honor of presenting with my good friend Dr. Julie Forbess from Millington Central High yesterday at the Tennessee Council of Teachers of English Conference here in Memphis. The title of our session was “Using Web 2.0 for Cooperative Learning in the English Classroom,” but our primary goal was to demonstrate and lead a conversation about social bookmarking and annotating a tool for teaching 21st century reading and research. Julie teaches AP English Literature and Composition at Millington and most of the fieldwork for this occurred in her classroom.

The idea for the project and presentation developed from conversations we had about how to incorporate more 21st century and cooperative learning in our classrooms. Bill Ferriter deserves recognition for all we gleaned from his book and his website about teaching with social bookmarking. I also want to give a hat tip to my friend Russ Goerend who first introduced me to Diigo and really opened my eyes to the possibilities of online collaboration.

Scattered thoughts from #Educon

Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend Educon 2.3  at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. In January 2010, I virtually participated in Educon 2.2 and decided at that point that I would do what I could to attend in person this year. By early December that didn’t look possible. Fortunately, I am married to THE most amazing woman, who tolerates my edu-geekiness with a smile and offered to send me to Educon as a belated Christmas gift. It was a perfect gift. My only regret is that she wasn’t able to go with me.

I had a wonderful experience and learned much. In fact, I’m still sorting out and reflecting on just what my Educon experience means. Having young children and still recovering from barely sleeping while in Philly, I haven’t had time to stop, sort, and reflect on my experience other than on the few minutes that make up my daily commutes. I have several strands of thought running through my head including the following:

  • the need for more inquiry-based learning and blended-learning
  • moving from a Personal Learning Network (digital) to accountable friendships
  • what does it mean to be a teacher-entrepreneur
  • the need to establish and guard more time to be more reflective and write
  • the need to encourage, promote, model innovation
  • the need to take better care of myself as an educator (holistically)
  • if the arts matter (they do), what am I doing to integrate and promote the arts
  • my desire to better understand expectancy value theory and what does it mean for my classes
  • what is the moral obligation to share and what does that mean for me as a learner, leader, and teacher

I would love to take the time to write a post on each of these strands, but I doubt that will happen. As of this morning I have added teaching four English classes to my Title I administration responsibilities. That said, I plan to let these ideas ferment and grow. Hopefully, I can revisit them soon, and I hope they will impact what happens in my classes. If nothing else, I have at least documented that I am thinking. Right?

For those of you that I had the opportunity to meet in Philly, thank you. It was delightful to meet so many fellow learners. I appreciate the way you have challenged me to think and grow. I look forward to continuing to do so. Feel free to comment on any of these ideas. I welcome the conversation.

Reflections on TEDx Memphis (#tedxmem)

I spent the afternoon Saturday with approximately 35 other people at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum attending the inaugural TEDx Memphis. To be honest, I almost missed the event. Fortunately, I saw a tweet by Dave Barger late Thursday night and was able to still register for a ticket on Friday. Apparently, the event started out as invitation only or so it seems. (At this point, I need to publicly apologize to Jason Bedell. I should have contacted him and invited him to join me in Memphis for the event, but I just didn’t think about it so he missed it. Sorry, Jason.)

For anyone unfamiliar with TED, the conferences were started in 1984 as a way to bring together “ideas worth spreading” from the fields of technology, entertainment, and design. Members give brief (under 18 minute) talks on their particular “idea worth spreading.” TED conference membership is exclusive (they don’t like the word “elite”) and the membership fee is currently $6000.00, but they have begun admitting a few TED fellows in order to diversify their membership. TEDx events are independently organized but follow the TED format. I learned about TED through my Professional Learning Network and have been inspired by several talks including ones by Sir Ken Robinson, Jonathan Zittrain, Gever Tulley, and Dan Pink.

The Memphis event focused on the concept of simplicity, a topic about which this father of four knows very little, and I was excited about the potential learning TEDx Memphis would afford. It was a good day and I gleaned several nuggets. If you’d like to read the tweets from the event (most of which are mine) you can do so here. In this post, I’m only going to hit my personal highlights.

Kris Pond-Burtis started the day with a presentation “Beyond Leisure: The Pause that Truly Refreshes.” I appreciated her thoughts as she spoke about the value of Sabbath rest. I know I need to be more intentional about setting aside time for rest, and I plan to act on her suggestion that we schedule Sabbaths in our calendars and protect the time as we would any other important appointment. I’m looking at my calendar and planning my intentional escape.

“Why the Human Mind Should be Recalled: Exploring the Great Disconnect Between Intention and Action” by Steve Levinson helped me understand and think through why my best intentions never actually realize the wanted results. He also provided me with some helpful suggestions for how to actualize my intentions. I intend to implement his strategies, but we’ll see what happens. :0)

Finally, I was encouraged and inspired by Austin Baker and Bob Taylor‘s “MILE : A Simple Program for Transferring Leadership Knowledge to the next Generation of Leaders.” While the program is focused on connecting college-level business students with current business leaders in mentoring relationships, I can see the potential benefits of implementing a similar program designed for our career and technical students or any of our students at the high school level. A good mentor is so important in developing as a leader and I am encouraged that so many business leaders in Memphis are interested in working with students.

Several of the other presentations were also excellent, and I hope the videos will be available soon online. I also enjoyed getting to meet some new folks and share a little with Dave Barger about how many educators are using Twitter, blogs, and other web 2.0 tools to develop Personal Learning Networks. It was a good day and I look forward to the next TEDx Memphis. Hopefully, next time some members of my PLN and more fellow Memphians will be able to join me.

In the meantime, if you want to get an idea of what TED is like I recommend you view the following talks which we also viewed at TEDx Memphis on Saturday.

Have you been to a TEDx? What was your experience? I’d love to hear more about the independent TED events happening around the world.


Okay, I’ve decided. I’m going to really stretch my comfort zone and attend BarCamp Memphis tomorrow. My new friend (and tech guru) Clif Mims has encouraged me to go, and I’m grateful he’ll be there. As much as I really like technology and have jumped head first up to my ankles in social media, I’m still just sticking my toes in the water of all of this technology. Don’t get me wrong, I think as an educator I really need to embrace all the 21st century skills I can muster, and I want to advocate for technology and digital learning in schools.

At the same time, I don’t like to feel like an idiot. No, I really don’t like to feel stupid. It’s one thing for me to stumble and fumble my way through an application or software program at home. It’s entirely different to spend a day talking tech with all the brainy folks I’ve followed for the past few months. I’ve interacted with a few, but I’ve mostly just sat back and learned at their proverbial (digital) feet. Nevertheless, I’m going. I’m going to be brave, and I’m going to plan to stay for the whole event, too. I’m taking my laptop, my iPhone, and my wife’s pink digital camera (as if I wasn’t already insecure). I may even bring my Flip camera so that I at least look the part.

Today, I read an interesting article by Carol Dweck entitled “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids”. After reading the article, I realized how much I, too, don’t like to feel stupid or fail. I hate it so much that I sometimes don’t challenge myself. Well, it’s time to change. I’m ready to fail if that’s what it takes to really learn. Well, I’m ready to at least try something new and uncomfortable. So here I come BarCamp Memphis. I hope you people will speak some English while I’m there, if not, I’m putting my Memphis Tiger football tickets in my pocket, just in case.

Approaching Parent Conferences

Autumn has arrived. The temperature has fallen, and football season is in full swing. (Yes!) In our district we just finished the first quarter and grade reports will be delivered soon, which means the annual onslaught of parent-teacher conferences is on the horizon. I have some experience with parents. Not only do I currently have two parents of my own and two sets of in-laws, but also I have had more than my fair share of surrogate mothers telling me what to do and how to act over the course of my life. It takes a village. Nevertheless, perhaps my greatest experience with parents comes from my years as an eighth grade teacher.

As middle and high school English teacher, who felt passionate about providing a “rigorous curriculum,” I was regularly inundated with parent-teacher conferences. Sometimes my students didn’t share my enthusiasm for verbal phrases or my zeal for Shakespearean literature. Therefore, it was common for me to have several face-to-face meetings with parents over the course of a school year. I confess I have made many a mistake in working with parents, but I’ve learned a great deal, too. Today, as a teacher, parent, and aspiring administrator, I approach parent conferences from a totally different perspective, but no matter my approach, the Boy Scout’s rule runs the day: ALWAYS BE PREPARED.

The following list contains a few of the things I try to keep in mind as I prepare for meeting with parents:

  • Dress professionally. I won’t wax eloquent, but the way you look matters. It reveals something about you. What message do you want to send about yourself, your school, and our profession?
  • Be sure your room is orderly.  I don’t think you need to wash windows and dust blinds, but put away the clutter and straighten your desk.
  • Arrange the seating in your room so that you don’t sit across the desk from the parents. At best it comes across as authoritative; at worst it’s combative. I prefer to sit around a small, round table, and I like to sit at a 90° angle from where the parent is sitting. We are, after all, on the same team working to support the student’s learning.
  • Try not to meet with the parents and all the child’s teachers at one time—how intimidating! What if you are the only teacher that has a positive relationship with the kid? What if he’s only a knucklehead in your class? Do you really want to piggyback off the other teachers?
  • Spend a few minutes reviewing your records for the student. What areas concern you? Is the issue related to ability, expectations, behavior, time on task, etc? What could make a difference for the student?
  • If appropriate, invite the student to the conference. If the student won’t be in attendance, tell the student specifically what you plan to discuss with the parents. There should be no surprises.
  • Shake hands with the parents, look them in the eye, and thank them for coming.
  • Communicate your desire for the child to be successful. Don’t sugarcoat it, but find something good to say to the parent about the student.
  • Listen.
  • Speak clearly and directly about how the parent can help their child succeed. I highly recommend you have everything you might need at your fingertips, but don’t go digging through a file while talking or listening.
  • Provide examples of student work. Show examples of student work. If Junior’s work has been less than his best, show a model of what you expected to receive. (Be sure to remove the other student’s name from the example.)
  • Keep the meeting brief, and work together to establish a plan to implement with the student. Respect the parents’ time. Say what you need to say and arrange a time for a follow up phone call.
  • Thank them for their time.
  • I also recommend that you follow the meeting with a summary email to the parent. Again, thank them for coming and for their involvement. Restate the proposed plan for implementation and your prearranged follow up.

I could go on and on about things to consider, but I think you get the idea. I see this as a great relationship-building opportunity, and think it should definitely be approached with thought and deliberation. What do you think, educators? How do you prepare for parent conferences? What recommendations would you make to a novice teacher? What about you, parents? Any thoughts? Comments are welcome.