Summer Learning, Had Me a Blast.

Well, folks. It’s been a long time since last published a blog on this personal blog, but in the words of one of my favorite current musicians, Macklemore, who I was fortunate to see in concert last week…. “You know I’m back, like I never left.”IMG_3396

I’d like to begin my return to this blog with a reflection on my last month of learning and have us consider how we can create similar circumstances for ourselves and our students during the school year, not just in the summer.

This month I have been fortunate to participate in various summer learning opportunities at the MASS Superintendent conference, MSAA Principal conference, and during our district’s leadership retreat. In addition to conferences, I’ve entered Voxer group chats, re-engaged with podcasts on my long walks, spent more time on articles from Twitter, and started to tackle my tower of books on my bedside table, I am definitely feeling rejuvenated and back fully in the “learning zone.”

In reflecting on the past month and trying to capture the environmental factors or conditions that helped me to dive deeper into the zone of learning, I have identified five areas that have supported my personalized learning:  Flexible learning spaces, Agency, Balance, Supportive Network, and Space for Risk-Taking.


1.  Flexible learning.  My learning has taken place on beaches, in conference rooms, at dinner tables, over Twitter and Voxer, at work, at home, or while walking in my neighborhood.




2.  Agency.  I have had agency to pursue any topics, approaches, books, workshops that I want to learn more about or were passions I want to follow.  I have had an array of choices and the autonomy to determine the best fit.



3.  Balance.  I have been more productive and focused in my learning because of the greater balance of work, family, and personal health that the summer has allowed.  Long walks and runs bring clarity. Quality time with family and friends instill meaning in the work.



4.  Supportive Network.  I pride myself in surrounding myself with innovative thinkers, educational leaders willing to take risks, and friends who laugh with me (and at me).  Through building an extensive network at various conferences, and then through social media, I have access to on-the-spot support and resources on topics ranging from SEL to PBL, from some of the most enthusiastic and collaborative folks around.

5.  Space for Risk-Taking.  This summer allowed for the space needed to take some risks either in my personal life in doing things out of the norm like learning to fish or hiking a mountain,


as well as presenting some crazy presentation titles such as “Maybe it is time to throw the baby out with the bathwater” regarding school change or “Making curriculum sexy again” which was about how we need to take a look at what we are keeping, discarding, and creating in curriculum.  Sometimes…. a little risk can bring great rewards.



Here is a question for all of us as we think about our approach to the next school year:

  • How can we create the same conditions for learning for our students where they have flexible learning opportunities, agency in their learning, balance with school, home, and health, a supportive network, and  a space to take risks?

I welcome your thoughts and approaches on how you plan to create these environments for the next school year, leading our students to say at the end of their school year…“I had a blast learning.”



#ShadowaStudent2018 It is really FUN to be a 6th grader!

“Make sure you wear your pajamas on Friday for your Shadow a Student Day, because it’s Pajama Day!”

The past few years for my #shadowastudent day I have either shadowed a high school student or an elementary student, so I decided it was time for me to check out what it’s like again to be a middle school student.  I met 6th grade student Jake at the arrival of the bus, a quick stop to his locker to drop off our bags and jackets and to gather our materials for classes.

“Can I bring my backpack to class?”  I asked.

“No, just a pencil and your iad is needed.”

“Can I bring any snacks?”

“No, but you can have your water bottle if you want.”

And so began my journey as a 6th grader. I followed Jake as he scurried off to meet up with his friends. “Wait for me!  Don’t forget your new student!”  In my mind, I was thinking…”I hope I don’t lose my pencil.  I think I may drop this stuff.  Can I survive a morning without my coffee and snack?”


In homeroom, we listened to the music played over the speakers.  “Who gets to pick out the music?” I asked.  “I don’t know, but I wish I could.” the students replied.  Quickly conversations in our group turned to discussions of Fortnite.  “How can I play that?  Is it a mobile game or Xbox?  What’s it all about?”  As I learned about Fortnite, we looked on my iPad and phone to see if I could download it.  If I was going to learn what it’s like to be a 6th grade boy, I knew Fortnite was key.  Without really thinking, I started downloading it on my phone to see what it is, then one student exclaims “She’s downloading Fortnite Mobile right now!”  I quickly realize that phones probably aren’t allowed and downloading games in school are doubly not allowed.  Oops!  Being a student is going to take a lot of getting used to.  Thankfully, we were off to our first class of math.  “Jake! You need to keep me in line with the rules. I don’t know the school rules and don’t want to be sent to Mr. Marshall’s office today for breaking any rules.”

“Ok, Dr. Cohen. I’ll do my best.”

Math:  Choose Your Own Adventure.

IMG_1269In math class we had a lot of opportunities for choice and movement.

When going over our homework, we were able to choose a partner to check our answers against one another.  We could choose to answer the questions on our iPads, in a notebook, or on the worksheet.

After the homework review, we were onto the Choice Board activity.  One requirement was that everyone had to do the scavenger hunt.  Around the room we had problems posted. With our partner, we would answer the question and then the answer would lead us to the next question in the room.  Once we finished the scavenger hunt we were onto the other choice activities, where we had to do at least three in all.  We decided to begin with the Ordering Rational Numbers on Number Lines.  The three of us worked collaboratively to figure out the order for the mixed fractions.  We clearly had mastered the negative vs. positive numbers, but when multiple fractions were in the mix, it started to get tricky, but still doable.  I was impressed how Jake knew many of the fractions in his head and convert them to decimals and I may  have taken my phone out to use the calculator on some to make sure I was putting them in the right order.  Use the tools you have, right?  I asked Jake the question I always ask, “When do you think we will ever have to use this skill in life of putting mixed rational numbers on a number line?”  We couldn’t come up with an answer right then, which is a shame, because we were really good at it!  Just as we finished all 8 of them, we were off to our next class, which was our special…French!


French:  Bon Jour, Madame!

In French class, we began by sitting in whatever seats we wanted to sit in.  According to one of my new 6th grade friends, it is important to get there early so you can grab the coveted seats in the back against the wall.  Because we arrived early we had some time to chat.  Quickly conversation turned to….

  • “Do you think that Fortnite will be the most popular game 20 years from now?”
  • “Definitely not, I can’t even imagine what types of games there will be in 20 years.”
  • “Who are you?  Are you the new student? Why are you shadowing Jake?  Is he in trouble or something?”
  • “Hey, I think this year is my last year in baseball. I’m going to focus on just basketball in the future.”
  • “Do you know if people who pledge allegiance to their own flags in other countries put their right hand over their heart like we do?

Our teacher started class and called us by our French names and asked us to introduce ourselves using our French assigned names and greeting our teacher in French.  Then we were off to our daily Quizlet Live activity where we are assigned to groups by the app and we work together to identify the proper French phrases to match with the English greetings.  I apologized to each of the groups that I only knew a couple of French phrases so they will have to help me out.  After three rounds, where I completely failed my teammates, (except for the phrases of Bon Jour and Merci), we went back to our coveted seats.

The final part of the class, we were supposed to find a partner who we can practice a dialogue of greetings where we say hello, ask their name, tell their name, say nice to meet you and practice without looking at our notes.  Somehow, our partner activity turned into a group of 4 boys and me where some of us practiced the greetings (at least when the teacher was around).  At the end of class, she asked for volunteers and our many friends were ready to move around and jumped up for numerous practice sessions in front of the class (in their animal pajama costumes of course!)


As I watch these presentations towards the end of the class, I start to realize how hungry I was.  All I can think about was lunch, which I learned was still an hour away.  I started thinking of how I wish I had my bag, (which had my snacks in it,) and also started contemplating how I might sneak out to grab a snack before a faint from low blood sugar….but no time for that as we were off to Science!

 Earth Science:  Picture this!

Once we were in science class, we were quickly put into two large groups and given the instructions that we will be playing a modified form of Pictionary to review our understandings of various types of volcanoes.  We were instructed to pick four people who will be the ones who draw and I have to admit, at first it was a bit of mayhem as each group of students had to decide on the 4 as almost all wanted to participate.  Then, quickly they started to put some strategies in place, which was really interesting to observe.  I saw a few leaders jump up and try to take charge of the group, then I heard one of the boys say “we need to make it even, 2 girls/2 boys,” then someone declared “let’s do it by birthdays, that’s fair!” and finally a battle came down to two who did rock/paper/scissors for the final choice.  It was impressive to see the students come to a resolution through various methods of decision-making.


What did I learn about volcanoes?  I learned about magma chambers, side vents, the pipe, and crater as part of the anatomy of a volcano.

Also, fun fact:  Did you know that Pahoehoe eruptions can have two kind of lava:  Pahoehoe rock forms from hot, fast, thin and runny lava.  When it cools it becomes smooth rock that looks like rope-like coils.  Aa rock forms from thicker, cooler, slower-moving lava.  When it cools it becomes rock with a rough, jagged surface.

Lunch Time

I have to admit, I was kind of excited for lunch time after learning about volcanoes, and I was about 90 min past my typical mid-morning snack.  While in line, I asked the girls behind me what they recommend and what the big-seller was and they said definitely the chicken nuggets.  Then when I was paying, there was a wide array of unhealthy snacks (my favorite) and I asked what the most popular one sold was and was informed that it was rice krispies treat so I went for that.  I saw the students crowded around the condiment table and observed that it is normal to put as much ketchup as you possibly can into the unused portion of my tray.  I also observed that we eat everything on our plate, except for the vegetable.  Surprisingly, despite taking photos and talking to my new friends at the table, we did have plenty of time to eat our lunch.  We had to clean up our table before we were dismissed to recess, which was about 5 minutes outside in the parking lot in the cold, without a jacket (because apparently 6th grade boys don’t wear jackets out to recess).


ELA:  Visible Thinking


After lunch, we headed back into our ELA class where we were partnered up for some partner discussions (3 rounds) on the NEWSELA articles the students had read in a previous class.  We discussed some big questions from our articles:

1.  What surprised me?  How did the author do this?

2.  What did the author think I already knew?  How did this impact my understanding?

3.  What challenged, changed, or confirmed what I knew?  How did the author accomplish the purpose?


In this process I learned about how an olympic snowboarder lost his jacket in the morning of a competition; how math can help with March Madness brackets; how marine animals, turtles, and whales have the same moves, and how California is aiming to protect it’s animals through legislation.  What was very apparent through this activity was that the students loved being able to read and learn about content that interested them through the NEWSELA article access.  The boy who chose the snowboarder article is an avid snowboarder himself and does competitions throughout the weekend.  The boy who chose to learn about math in March Madness is really interested in basketball and was surprised to learn how much math can be incorporated into the process.  Another observation was how well the students carried on discussions about the articles to share their learning with one another.  They asked great questions and were extremely respectful of one another, even when matched with different students who weren’t their close friends.

Social Studies:  Time to Present

In our last class of the day, it was time to present about Ancient Egypt.  Each student had come in prepared with a topic about Ancient Egypt.  All of the audience participants were provided a presentation rubric, as well as an audience participation sheet to take notes on.  I learned about Egyptian Fashion, the structure and function of pyramids and then Egyptian cuisine.  After each of the presentations, the audience members provided three pieces of positive feedback and with the cuisine presentation we even got to try some snacks!


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Wellness Week:  High Altitude

The end of the day we were dismissed to an all-school assembly in recognition of Wellness Week.  We were dismissed by grade levels, which put the 6th grade in the front row on the floor in the gym, where we had a great view of the amazing jump rope team representatives from MURSD High Altitude.  They got the crowd clapping and cheering and we all were amazed by their skills.  It certainly was an amazing end to the day and the week.


What were my big take-aways?

  • The day of a 6th grader is busy, yet not hectic.  We had enough time for transitions, lunch, and enough mixture of being “on” with having time to talk to our friends.
  • All of the teachers put in a lot of time to craft engaging activities that get us either moving or interacting with our peers
  • My favorite time was when students had the opportunity to talk about their interests, either in ELA with their choice articles or in conversations with their peers about their passions.
  • Our students are extremely respectful of diverse opinions and students with different learning styles. I saw elements of inclusion and respect in all classes.
  • Finally, it is really fun to be a 6th grader.

Building “WONDER” into our classrooms. #oneword


Hey boys…”I’m going to write a blog about what students wonder about.  What do you wonder about?”


IMG_0480Connor (12):  “I wonder what the universe is shaped like.  I wonder what dark matter and dark energy are.  I wonder if there are multiple universes.  I wonder about the possibility of keeping wormholes open.  I wonder if extraterrestrials would be advanced. I wonder why so many people are allergic to peanuts.”



IMG_0080Liam (9):  “I wonder if Alexa works for the CIA.  I wonder what it would be like to be in space.  I wonder what Tom Brady’s practice routine is like.  I wonder what the world would be like if junk food was good for you and fruits and vegetables were bad for you.  I wonder if there is such a thing as a 3-hour delay.  I wonder if BOSE headphones spy on you (I heard that on the news).”

Hmmm…I wonder…”How can I have two children who are so different?”

With the beginning of 2018 you may have seen the #oneword hashtag movement.  If you are not familiar with this approach to the year, please check out their video overview or the website  While I haven’t yet decided what my own word will be for me this year, I can’t help but think that the word WONDER would be the one word I’d love for all of our students.

This school year in our district we introduced  modern learning pathways to teachers, encouraging our teachers to take risks as they try out some new practices such as introducing genius hour/20% time, expanding project-based learning opportunities, incorporating design-thinking tasks, or integrating maker-spaces.

One of the core principles that I’ve noticed our teachers expanding is to ask our students what they want to learn about.  This has taken place through activities such as I wonder boards, beginning lessons asking students what they wonder about the topics, or having students identify what they notice and wonder in the learning process.


I was blown away at the start of the year by our kindergarten wonderings.  Check out this I Wonder posters below from a few of our kindergarten friends!

My favorite?  It definitely is the “I wonder how do you become a rockstar?” as I’ve often wondered the same.

Screenshot 2017-09-17 21.24.44IMG_5192


Students in our district have had increased opportunities to notice and wonder, especially in their mathematical thinking. Check out these flipgrid videos as one example where one of our 4th grade teachers asked their students to: Take a video of something you see has the potential to start a mathematical discussion, like a long train passing by, the pattern of the floor tiles in your office, a grocery worker filling up a box of peppers. Keep your eyes open for these “mathe-magical” opportunities to share with us. We will use them in class to notice and wonder!”

A few of the student wonderings in the videos were…

  • We were wondering how many cards would fit on a table?
  • We were wondering how many 1 in. square tiles would fit in a floor tile?
  • I was wondering how many pieces of mandarin you get in a fruit cup compared to a whole mandarin?

In a 5th grade class, they began the year creating an Our Wonders board:

In a 4th grade class, the students were asked to provide what they wondered about an upcoming topic:


These wonderings also are taking place at the high school where recently our AP Biology students were able to research any topics of interest for a potential study they would share at the AP Biology Symposium.  My question to all the students who presented was “Why did you choose this topic?” Their answers ranged from wanting to dive deeper into a topic of interest to a sincere desire to learn more about how to cure diseases that affect people they know.

At our high school we have even gone as far as to have an entire course dedicated for students to pursue their own passions and wonderings in our Generation Think course.

Check out the student websites that have been created on their own passion projects.

Screenshot 2018-01-04 16.07.52

Are you looking for ways to encourage your students’ wonder in 2018?

  1.  The next time you look to begin your class with pre-determined essential questions, ask the students if they can come up with essential questions of their own.
  2. Try a Wonder Week, proposed by author John Spencer, which is  is an “inquiry-based , week-long project, where students ask questions about anything they find interesting.These are those nagging questions they have that they’ve never had a chance to answer in school. Next, they engage in research about that topic before eventually creating a short multimedia presentation. Some students do podcasts (like a CurosityCast) and others choose a blog post or a video. They get to decide on the format.”
  3.  Incorporate into your classroom with a wonder of the day.  Below is an example of some of the most popular wonders.
  4. Bring in an Amazon Echo or Dot into the classroom. Whenever students have a question they are wondering about, you have quick access to find out the answer.
  5. Most importantly, as you know modeling is key as educators, make sure you take some time to share your own wonders with your students and discover the answers together.

If you have incorporated elements of wonder into your classes this year, please share with us in the comment section… I wonder how many people will contribute?

The Nest of Inquiry.

nestIt was a Saturday, this summer,  and I just came into the house and saw my son Connor (11) sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop, a notebook, pencil, and a bird’s nest in the middle of the table.  He was leaning into the computer, his hand furiously writing notes in his notebook, that he didn’t even notice me enter.   I walked over to him and did what any mother would do, I asked him with a flare of incredulousness and loud emphasis, “Connor, what are you doing?  Why is there a bird’s nest in the middle of my kitchen table?”

What happened next has stayed with me since.  He looked up at me and replied in a matter-of-fact tone,  “The nest fell off the vines we took off the side of the house and there were no birds, so don’t worry Mom.  I brought it in here, so I can study it.  I wanted to learn more about it, so I’m researching how bird’s make a nest and trying to find out what kind of birds might have made this.”  What followed was a long conversation where Connor eagerly shared what he learned about the nest, along with his hypothesis based on the materials, and a notebook of lengthy notes of information he found.

Let’s contrast this with another conversation I had with Connor a month later.

“Hi fine2Connor, how was school today? What did you learn?”  Connor’s response, “Oh, it was good.”  I was thrilled with a strong “good” response and inquired further with a little excitement, “Good, that’s great! What was so good about it?  What did you learn? Something new?  Did you do anything fun?”  Connor, gave me a funny look, a roll of the eyes, and said with a tone that only a 6th-grader could master, “It was FINE, Mom.  You know, it is just school. It is always the same.”

Now don’t get me wrong, Connor does like going to school and he does well, and learns a lot.  His teachers have been great, and they work extremely hard to create the best learning environments they know how to.  That’s what we all do, right?  As educators we all work hard every day for our students and always have their best interest in our hearts and minds; however, I keep coming back to that nest.

The image of the nest was still with me when Will Richardson, in his keynote speech in our district, asked us to really take a look at what we know and believe about learning and whether our practices in school reflect those beliefs.   I wondered, what conditions in school would foster the same eager excitement, inquisitiveness, passion, initiative, research, and self-directed learning that I found at my kitchen table in the middle of a hot Saturday afternoon?

What if we created similar learning experiences where:

  • Inquiry and discovery is alive
  • Student voice and choice play a role in what we are learning
  • Learning is grounded in real-life application and problems
  • Learning is messy and non-linear and as one learns, new doors of learning open in the process


and where…

  • Students have the tools and skills to be able to learn how to learn


Therefore, one day when  a nest falls into their lap….learning will be more than fine; it will be exquisite.







“We’re Going on a Bear Hunt This Year.”

bear hunt

“We’re going on a bear hunt.  

We’re going to catch a big one.

 I’m not scared.

What a beautiful day!”



Did you read the book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” as a child? Or did you read the book to your own children or students?  This one is my favorite, by far.  I think it is the adventurous spirit of the family and kids, out exploring despite facing long grass, cold rivers, and oozy mud.  They explore through the deep dark forest and the swirling whirling snowstorm.   As I would read it to my boys when they were young, I’d try my best to recreate the excitement of the bear hunt with its swishy, swashy grass, the squelching of the mud, and the woo hoo of the snowstorm.  They would get excited and giggle, even though they knew what came next, and ask for me to read the book “again” and “again.”  In reflecting on this as we enter a new school year I wonder….

What if every day at school was as adventurous as a bear hunt?  

The bear hunt is an ultimate field trip for the ages.   It reminds me of what my son Connor said to me upon returning home from a field trip to Boston at the end of last year.  Usually, when I ask him what he learned in school he offers few details about his day; but, after the field trip to Boston, he was eager and excited to share what we saw and learned. Then he asked….

“Mom, why can’t every day at school be a field trip?”

Well, I could have launched into the high costs of field trip busses, or the need for numerous parent chaperones, or state testing; however, that wasn’t REALLY what he was asking. The core of his question was truly about the structure of learning we typically provide for our students, the design of our lessons, and the sometimes lack of opportunities for experiential learning, which he found to be motivating, engaging, and relevant.

Going further back in time, this leads me back to a memory of when I interviewed for a high school history teaching position and the principal asked me the following questions: “If you had all the money and resources you needed, what learning experience would you provide to your students?”  At the time, as a prospective history teacher, I walked the interview committee through descriptions of a field trip to Italy and Greece to see the ancient cities first-hand.  After an elaborate description, the principal thanked me, then swiftly followed with, “I’m sorry to tell you that all of the promised funding for that experience ran out.  With this new information, how would you recreate that experience you just described for the students in the classroom?” Although I don’t remember the answer I gave (and I was hired for the position thankfully), I never forgot the interview question because it was a powerful message about the expectations for student learning at that school.  As we enter our next school year, these are our challenges to consider:

1.  How can we create the field trip experience for our students every day in school, which captures the spirit and enthusiasm of the bear hunt?

2.  How can we develop learning opportunities filled with adventure, where our students come back each day laughing and declaring “again, again” no matter what age they are?


It isn’t easy.  There will be obstacles we can’t go over or under.  But sometimes we just have to gather all together and go through it in order to capture that bear.  Happy bear hunting in 2017-2018.

Celebrating Relationships, Risk-taking, Collaboration, and Laughter #MSSAASI

Relationships, Risk-Taking

Everyone loves summer, right?  The weather is nice, things slow down a bit, and you get more time to spend with family and friends.  One piece I love about summer is that it provides me more time for reflection, recharging, and learning.  This past week I was fortunate to attend and present at the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators Association (MSSAA) summer conference.  Over the course of the year I attend various workshops and conferences, but nothing quite compares in my mind to the power of the MSSAA Conference and its organizationmsaa as a whole.

With the unification of MESPA and MSSAA to MSAA, I see even greater things happening!

If I were to sum up the conference in a few words, it would be Relationships, Risks and Laughter.  Here are some of my big takeaways from this conference, which emphasize what makes it so special.

  1.  Celebrate your Colleagues.  In every session, the presenters took time to share how they have grown and become better educators because of their colleagues. Setting the stage, John Clements, the high school principal of the year,  expressed gratitude to the many educational mentors and colleagues that have encouraged and supported him over the years.   Brian McCann, in his presentation on social media noted the date he and co-presenter Marty Geoghegan entered the world of Twitter in 2011 because of their colleague Bill Burkhead’s presentation.  Henry Turner shared how he started using positive signs outside of school after attending a presentation the year before by Brian McCann.  The list goes on and on, as every presenter gave credit to the previous sharing of their colleagues.  MSSAA has created a culture of celebrating others through recognizing outstanding leadership, and by encouraging collegial sharing.

Questions to Think About:  Do you have a culture of celebrating your colleagues in your own schools and districts?  Do you openly celebrate your colleagues’ success and what you have learned from them?

2.  Take Risks.  The majority of the sessions I attended had one common theme, as a lead learner, you need to take some risks because the rewards can often surpass your expectations.  Some of my favorite ideas shared included Positive Sign Thursdays, and how a simple act can have such a powerful impact on making students feel welcome and excited to come to school.sign3sign

Another idea, which was presented last year, but brought up again this year was the positive impact of #shadowastudent.  It was awesome to see the increase from last year of how many school leaders participated in shadowing a student.  It began with a few trying it and sharing their success to the majority of the school leaders taking part this past year.  I know from my experience the last few years in different grade levels and schools, it was truly transformative.  At the conference, we discussed how we can expand this opportunity to teachers and to district leadership in our districts.

Questions to Think About:  What is the one area you are going to take a risk in for this coming school year?  What will you do to truly engage with your students?

3.  The smartest person in the room, is the room.  This is one of my favorite quotes and how I can sum up the type of conversations that took place at this conference. Because of the strong relationships, open minds, and willingness to share successes, participants are able to walk away with a toolkit for continuous improvement for the next school year.  No better examples of this collaboration, then what I saw at the Disrupt presentation with representatives across multiple districts sharing one leadership experience that has shaped them, positive impacted their schools, and is a takeaway for others.


John Clements and Mary Anne Moran’s presentation on Practical Strategies to Reimagine School, Redesign Education, and Reinvent Learning was a big hit because of the various opportunities participants had to share their own beliefs about learning, assumptions about school, and discuss hacks they can bring back to start the conversation with the communities about the larger shifts that need to take place to support our student learners.  Through post-its, conversations, and online polling, they really captured the collective wisdom of the room.

In the lead-up to our presentation on leadership, Paul Vieira and I reached out to some colleagues to share what the title of their book about leadership might be and within about a 24 hour turnaround we had a wealth of engaging titles and take-aways.  Check out these great answers and please add to the mix.

Questions to Think About:  Does the culture in your own districts, schools, and classroom place an emphasis on the collective wisdom of the group?  Do you provide ample opportunities for discussions, engagement, and sharing?

4.  Laugh A LOT.  The outgoing President of MSSAA George Ferro emphasized the importance of laughing as we learn together and you did not have to go far to find our top MA educational leaders laughing and learning.  When you are in the business of being the chief child advocate for kids, you need to have fun.  That excitement is contagious, influential, and creates positive cultures for learning.


Questions to Think About:  In your school, how much do you laugh….really laugh?  Do you have a culture that allows you to get silly with the students and make school a fun place to be?


Want more updates and reflections about the conference, check the following out:

Marty Geoghegan’s Smackdown

Joe Scazzaro’s Making Time for Professional Growth

Paul Vieira’s Reflections

Let’s Increase the Volume in Student Voice

Pump up the VolumeAs educators, when asked if we should increase “student voice” in the classroom or schools, our quick response is often “Yes, of course!”  However, in reality, are we really, truly engaging our students in leading our schools, having a say in our curriculum, contributing to our decision-making?  I know we do try.  For example, we have student councils, we ask for student input in surveys, we give choice to students in projects, we ask them to self-reflect and students participate on some committees.  We ask for their feedback, we listen, right?  However, student voice needs to go beyond just listening.

Harvard Researcher Brion-Meisels points out:

 “Listening to young people doesn’t mean unilaterally considering their perspective…It means recognizing that young people have a perspective on the world that adults can’t share, and that their perspective should be welcomed alongside the wisdom that adult perspectives bring” (Giving Students a Voice by Leah Shafer).

 In the past month, I participated in four activities that really solidified my own thinking about student voice.

1. Search Committee

The first was a middle school principal search committee where we had students involved in the interview and recommendation process.  What was amazing about the interview process was that our students truly had a seat at the table.  They brought their own questions as representatives of the student body.  (The best questions on our list came from our students!)  Then, when we had discussions as a committee, we went to our students first and listened.  Their responses were exactly on point and we were thrilled to have them contribute to the conversation, use evidence to support their arguments, and provide a student perspective, such as,  “If she were the principal of my school, I would love coming to school!”

2.  Student Discussion

The second instance was a meeting with student representatives at our high schoolIMG_3602 where they were asked a series of questions about the school such as:

  1. Beyond friends, what do you look forward to at school each day?
  2. If you could change one thing at our school, what would it be?
  3. If you could give one piece of advice to teachers or administrators, what would it be?”

The following discussion could have continued for a lot longer than the time allotted because the students in the room were excited that they had an opportunity to share their thoughts on what they loved about their school and ideas for improvement.  It was an incredibly powerful discourse filled with respect, reasons supported by evidence, and excitement.  It certainly was the highlight of my week!  The students, who were representative of various grades and interests, described the school as welcoming, inviting, and inclusive.  They enthusiastically provided why they loved coming to school and usually it was because of a single enthusiastic teacher who had made learning exciting.  They wanted to have more opportunities for relevant learning opportunities and meaningful homework.  They liked using technology, but only when it fit the purpose of the assignment, rather than fitting the assignment around the technology.

3.  Student Events–  3rd-Grade Tea

IMG_3897Yesterday, I was lucky to participate in a 3rd grade tea that was being held for seniors in the community.  Sitting in the middle of a table of about 11, third graders, it was an opportunity for me to ask them about their school experience. Coming off of the high school discussion recently, I figured I’d stick to some of the same questions.  I asked them: 1.  “What do you like most about coming to school?” 2. “If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?”  3.  “What is your favorite subject?”  The students eagerly shared their love for math (that was the #1 choice around the table) and we had a few who liked reading.   Some wished they had more time for recess, and thought the end of the day would be the best time to do that before leaving for the day.  They said they wished they had more opportunities to learn science, and they shared their favorite books of choice.  They liked their music class and were looking forward to learning to play musical instruments in the future.  They wanted less homework, but admitted they didn’t have too much each night and Lexia was a big hit because they found it to be a fun way to learn.  WOW! That’s A LOT of feedback.

4.  Student Panels

Last month our counselors provided a workshop to other educators on the implementation of Wellness Weeks.  As part of the workshop, the counselors had student representatives speak to the educators about their thoughts about the effectiveness and impact on wellness weeks from a student perspective.  To be expected, the educators in the room were enthralled listening directly from students about their view on the positive impact of these successful practices.  Adding student voice to these panels was highly effective!


3 Steps To Increase Student Voice

If you are looking to take action and  increase student voice, consider some of the following questions:

  1.  Do students have a seat at the table?  

    Think about all the meetings and committees that take place in a school or district and corresponding decision-making.  Every time you have a meeting, ask yourself…what if students were here with us at the table?  In our district, we have student representatives to the School Committee, students on our Spanish Immersion board, students on panel presentations, and students on interview committees.  Despite all of those opportunities, there is definitely room for growth as well.

  2. Are we asking for student input in a consistent way and then following up with implementation?  

    If you are a district that does not use surveys of students regularly, then that is a great way to begin this process.  Surveys are an effective way to gather data, solicit input, and to help inform decisions in a classroom, school, or district.  The key to successful student surveys is that the data is then applied to implement change.  It is even more effective when students are part of this process of analysis and discussion.  Ask yourself, are you sharing the data with the students and are you implementing change based on input?

  3. Do students have input into and the ability to drive their own learning at school?  

    Although we work within a  standards-based system, that does not mean that students can’t have input into their own learning.  There are many ways to increase student voice in learning from input into units, activities, the questions they will answer, or the ways they are assessed.  Check out this resource from Chicago on how to have students co-shape curriculum:  Seven Steps to Students Co-Shaping Curriculum or this article from the organization we use for surveys called K-12 insight:  How to amplify student voice in curriculum discussions.


If you are looking for more resources about how to increase student voice, here are some examples of how it is being done in schools across the world.

In my own research about student voice, I came across a local school to ours that has a Student Voice Community Service Program at their middle school.  What an interesting approach and a way to say at that school–student voice matters.

5 Videos to Watch on Giving Voice to Students

Including Student Voice by Bill Palmer

Student Power by Milton Chen

Next Steps

After reflecting on the above questions, I challenge you to take one step forward in increasing student voice before the end of this school year.  Using the comment feature of this blog, please share out one way that you will try to increase student voice as an educator.



The Force is Strong #Shadowastudent


I’m a huge Star Wars fan and in thinking about my experience shadowing an 11th grade student, Diana Richard, I couldn’t help but think about the quote “The Force is strong with this one.”  What a dynamic, caring, and  outstanding young woman!  The Force was not just strong with that one student….but with her peers, with the teachers, and within the school.  “The culture is strong” would be an apt reference to my biggest takeaway from shadowing.

Walking in the shoes of a student gives one an opportunity to view the day-to-day interactions in a new way.  As Diana said “Hi” to every student she passed and called them by name, the other students responded in turn.  The best moment was when a student was walking by the classroom at the start of class and saw Diana, so she stopped and made a heart with her fingers in front of her chest before going on to the next class.  I can’t remember the last time someone walked by me at work and was so excited that they made a heart-shaped symbol?

IMG_3167During the Help Desk in the morning, we had an opportunity to talk about what she liked best about school, what her favorite classes were, and what her goals were in the future.  In P.E. class, we laughed as I tried to show my ‘mad’ skills in badminton during a tournament.  At break, we hung out with all of the other juniors in the media center and I was schooled in professional wrestling and the students’ interest in watching that.




In math class, our teachers provided great scaffolding on our graphs, as we worked collaboratively in groups to work through the problems.


Before lunch, in English class we participated in a mock School Board presentation where two groups presented on whether or not to ban Huckleberry Finn.  
IMG_3170As someone who has attended many School Board meetings over the last decade, this was probably one of the most educationally focused and friendly one I’ve ever witnessed!  




After lunch, we analyzed some of the text of The Great Gatsby to determine evidence of Nick Carroway’s point of view and being an insider vs. an outsider.


In history class, we analyzed political cartoons from World War II to identify stereotypes, analogies, juxtaposition, captioning, and labels to get at the essential question of “What’s the human impact of war?”   


While my biggest takeaway wasn’t necessarily the content presented as I have already analyzed The Great Gatsby, taught lessons on WWII political cartoons, mastered badminton and graphed math problems in my former life, the takeaway was the interactions that took place between the spaces of content.  In each class there were opportunities for students to work collaboratively with one another, in pairs, in groups, and online.  Teachers provided the perfect amount of support and scaffolds, like in the story of Goldilock (not too hot, not too cold, just right…).  In each class, the teacher-student relationships created environments where students were willing to share their ideas, speak in front of the room, or even help the 40-something year old new student.

“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck” was what Obi-Wan told Han Solo after Han Solo claimed that there was no force controlling everything.  I would agree with Obi-Wan that that it is not luck that creates such a warm, inviting environment that I experienced in my shadowing day, but a commitment of all members of the Nipmuc community in creating a safe, engaging, caring environment where “The Force is strong.”

Information-Rich or Poor? Do you know what is real in a world of alternate realities?

Do you know what to believe? On the radio the other day a caller called in to declare that millions of illegal immigrants voted illegally in the election.  The radio host responded quickly to clarify that there was, in fact, no evidence to support that statement, but the caller insisted that it was definitely true.  Then the caller went on to state that they don’t know who to trust anymore because they hear from one place that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but they are not sure that is true because they read an article that said it was not true.  The radio host tried to make a distinction for the caller between what is verifiably true based on evidence, but the caller was still uncertain:  “I just don’t know what to believe anymore.”

Has this happened to you yet?  Where you are exposed to a news story and you are not quite sure what to believe?  When information gives you pause, do you look more deeply to find out the source of the article?  

Let’s try this out together.  In my Facebook Timeline, I saw an article someone posted that said that D.C. high school marching bands were boycotting playing at the inauguration. The same day, someone said to me, “Did you hear how the D.C. band are refusing to play at the inauguration?”  I now had two pieces of information that have been presented to me within 24 hours time.  It kind of sounds possible, but the news article came from a partisan website and many of my friends probably live in the same media bubble of information.  So, is this true?  How do we find out?

In going to, where they fact check potential rumors and fake news, I found a Fact Check: Fake News article on this.  According to, the schools did not apply to play, but they are not officially boycotting.  For more information check out the whole article: Did every single school marching band in D.C. just boycott Trump’s inauguration?

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Information-rich AND Information-poor. We certainly live in an information-rich world where we can access information from many sources ranging from: “Alexa, tell me today’s news,” and “Hey, Siri…what’s the weather,” or satellite radio news from around the world or 24-7 CNN news coverage, to moment-by-moment coverage on Twitter or personalized news streams in our Facebook feeds and YouTube channels.  Despite being information-rich, we can end up being information-poor if we are unable to decipher point-of-view, bias, or propaganda vs. verifiable, research-supported information.

So what does this mean for educating our students?  

How do we help them to be critical analysists of information?  

The first resource I’d direct you to would be the Stanford History Group, who conducted a study of civic online reasoning from January 2015-June 2016, where they administered 56 tasks to students across 12 states, collecting more than 7,800 student responses from middle school, high school, and college students.  Despite our students growing up digitally, the researchers found that the students had difficulty determining the differences between sponsored content and a news article and the students often would accept the information presented without verifying its source.  To get a better sense of the tasks and results, please review this link to their executive summary of their results.

Below is a summary of tasks they had the students complete, which is outlined in the executive summary.  Taking a look at the list below:

How would your students do?

Middle School

  1. News on Twitter:  Students consider tweets and determine which is the most trustworthy
  2. Article Analysis:  Students read a sponsored post and explain why it might not be reliable
  3. Comment Section:  Students examine a post from a newspaper comment section and explain whether they would use it in a research report
  4. News Search:  Students distinguish between a news article and an opinion column
  5. Home Page Analysis:  Students identify advertisements on a news website.

High School

  1. Argument Analysis:  Students compare and evaluate two posts from a newspaper’s comment section
  2. News on Facebook:  Students identify the blue checkmark that distinguishes a verified Facebook account from a fake one.
  3. Facebook Argument:  Students consider the relative strength of evidence that two users present in a Facebook exchange.
  4. Evaluating Evidence:  Students decide whether to trust a photograph posted on a photo-sharing website.
  5. Comparing Articles:  Students determine whether a news story or a sponsored post is more reliable.


  1. Article Evaluation:  In an open web search, students decide if a website can be trusted.
  2. Research a Claim:  Students search online to verify a claim about a controversial topic.
  3. Website Reliability:  Students determine whether a partisan site is trustworthy.
  4. Social Media Video:  Students watch an online video and identify its strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Claims on Social Media:  Students read a tweet and explain why it might or might not be a useful source of information.

Next Steps:  How do we teach civic online reasoning?

  • This CNN article:  Raising Media-Savvy Kids in an Era of Fake News offers some other strategies:
    • Look for unusual URLs, including those that end with “lo” or “”
    • Look for signs of low-quality writing, such as all caps, or bold claims with no sources
    • Look for sensationalist images
    • Check out a site’s “About Us” section
    • See if mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news
    • Check your emotions.  Fake news strive for extreme reactions.




Reflections on Moving Forward in 2016

I’m going to begin by saying that this past week was a whirlwind of emotions for me.  You see, I was an avid Hillary supporter, and I was so very hopeful as we entered election day. However, this post isn’t a political post.  I won’t share my views on the Democratic Party’s platform or my opinions on President-Elect Trump.  Instead, I’d like to share my own reflections on moving forward.

November 8th-Election Day Excitement

In the evening of November 8, I brought my boys to the polling booth so I could talk to them about the importance of voting, explain why I was choosing the way to vote on certain issues, and engage them in the process.  We were excited.  Finally, it was Election Day!  They gave me their input on how to vote on the ballot initiatives and asked questions about what a state representative and senator does.  We got our “I voted” stickers and proudly headed to Dunkin Donuts for an Election Day treat, in anticipation of the first woman being elected President of the United States.


As the election results came in, my close friends and I quickly spiraled into despair as our hopeful enthusiasm turned into devastated disbelief.


But theimg_2542n…..I went to the Memorial Elementary School Veteran’s Day concert on Thursday, November 10th.  The most adorable children, ages 3-10, decked out in red, white, and blue, sang their hearts out to recognize our local servicemen and women.  That moment centered me.  It drowned out the noise and negativity of social media discourse and gave me hope for a bright future.

Here is a video clip of our students singing a song by Teresa Jennings called “One Nation.”

ONE NATION (Teresa Jennings)
Maybe we’re not the same color. Maybe we’re not the same race.
Maybe we don’t have the same beliefs or live in the same kind of place.
Maybe we think we’re too different. Maybe that’s simply not true.
Maybe I also have hopes and dreams, and maybe I share them with you, share with you, oh!

We are one nation, yes, we are one land!
Together in freedom, united we stand! Oh!
We are one nation, yes, we are one land!
Together in freedom, united we stand! Oh.

We are a rainbow of people. We have our own history.
We share a nation with common bonds, a nation where people are free.
We know that freedom is precious. We know the cost is extreme.
We share commitment and gratitude; we share our American Dream,
share our Dream, oh!

We are, we are, we are one nation!  3X’s
Ah! One nation!


So in keeping with my blog’s mantra, here are some reflections on how I am moving forward as an educator in a time of political change.

1. Seek First To Understand

First, I tried to read multiple articles about the election, including opposing political viewpoints, to seek to better understand the multitude of perspectives that will contribute to the leadership of the next four years.  In working with our students, we can try to foster a similar approach to help them navigate political discourse in a safe and productive manner.  This is more easily accomplished when one can learn to empathize and put themselves in another’s shoes.  It is difficult enough sometimes for adults to converse around divisive topics, so this is an important skill to help to develop in our students. Understanding people’s life stories and perspectives and “walking in their shoes” is essential to fostering civil discourse.  Here is a resource on teaching civil discourse.

2.  Have Faith in our Political Institutions

It was my 10-year-old son, who is currently studying the three branches of government, who helped remind me of the enduring strength of our democratic institutions.  This election is a great opportunity to remind our students about the strength of our political institution and history as a nation.  Here are a few strategies to help build the students’ knowledge and understanding of the process.

  • Use the historical events taking place to instruct them about topics like the peaceful transition of power.
  • Illustrate examples of how our government is designed based the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, so no matter who the president is, there are checks on that power.
  • Ensure students understand how the Bill of Rights was created to protect our fundamental rights such as speech, press, assembly, and religion (among many others).
  • Provide students with historical examples of how our country’s leadership and political leanings are like a pendulum that swing left and right, but eventually, move towards the middle.
  • Analyze the President-Elect’s appointments to key leadership roles and the significance of those roles

3.  Recognize that our Differences are our Strength

As we all move forward, we are witnessing numerous reactions to the election results.  I’ve seen some people check out from the world and social media.  Others are embracing movements such as the safety pin protest.  Some are fearful, while some are calling for Unity.  Others are hopeful and enthusiastic about the changes to come, while some are using their right to assemble in protests.  So what is an educator to do in these times? First, we need to make sure we remain neutral in our political leanings while at school. Second, we need to foster an environment where students can safely express their opinions and stand up for what they believe in.  Finally, we need to let our students know that our schools will be a safe haven where differences will be celebrated, respected, and protected.

Here is a great resource from Teaching Tolerance that offers various activities on countering bias, getting along, and engaging in civic  activities with students.