I had the fortune of spending a full day at El Cajon Valley High School last week shadowing a student across his day. This student is a recent immigrant, and his English skills are still developing. He joins a large population of refugees and immigrants at the school.

My usual visit to a site involves a meeting or two and maybe some short visits into classrooms. While I don’t think I’ve lost touch with being in the classroom every day, this experience was something completely different.As a teacher, you conduct the class – you are responsible for delivering the instruction, must ensure the class environment is conducive to learning, and check in with as many students as possible. That’s before you did any grading, attend after school meetings, engage in professional development, meet with administrators, etc. It can be exhausting.

Spending the day sitting in classes as a participant affirmed some thoughts I’ve had for years. The student experience is exhausting in a different way. Let me first say, I think the teachers heading up the classes I watched are all exceptional. They took the time to build lessons that academically challenged students and while also teaching them English.

So, here is what I found.

  • It’s a long day in those desks.
  • It is easy to get distracted in a room full of 30-40 students.
  • While our English Language Learners are getting good instruction in English that combines learning content and skills with learning the language, most of those students speak their native languages with their peers. Two different students noted that this to me and expressed that their English acquisition is probably slower as a result. I saw this first hand as students clamored to know who I was and why I was there each class – in Arabic and Spanish.
  • Changing subjects every hour requires students to stop mid-thought and then jump back in where they left off the day before. In the classes that had some time to work independently, students took some time to get settled and start working then they had to stop.
  • The academic language of a high school subject is daunting. I felt a little overwhelmed jumping back into biology and geometry.
  • One student I spoke with shared his confusion during his first semester when he walked into the school with almost no English. However, just six months later, he had a strong handle on basic conversations. English is his fourth language. Compared to my one.

I challenge all administrators to take a day and follow just one student.

Moving On and Falling Out

The hard part isn’t coming up with a new idea.
The hard part is falling out of love with the old idea.
Seth Godin

As he often does, Seth Godin masterfully captures an idea that speaks to the state of education.

We get use to teaching certain ways. Sometimes those ways could be more engaging, student-centered, or effective. But, we are attached to them, because they feel good or comfortable or safe. Or they worked in the mindset that dominated a different time.

I use to love the art of lecturing. I would spend days researching a topic, scribbling notes in on yellow pads of paper. Then I would create an outline that would build up to a revelation or problem they had to solve or something that would shock them. Then I would work on the images and the timing. Maybe try and add a personal story or corny joke.

I’m sure I wasn’t as good as I thought I was at the time, but when everything aligned, it certainly appeared they were engaged. My enthusiasm seemed to build a sense of engagement. They asked questions, shared their own insights. Well, a few did at least. The others, dutifully took notes. Maybe. When I collected them for points, they totally did at least.

And at the end of the day, I was exhausted, but satisfied. I had successfully imparted the historic impact and lessons learned of A Soldier’s Life in WWI or the Rise of the Mongols. At the end of each unit, I was always a little disappointed when they underperformed on my customized multiple choice and short answer tests. But, in the moment, I felt like I was breaking through to them.

As I matured as a teacher, my arsenal of project types, simulations, and other student-centered activities grew. For each addition, something had to go. Initially, I was casting aside individual PowerPoints or Google Slide Presentations. Eventually, I was breaking up and falling out of love with the approach as a whole. Picking change, growth, and often, innovation, over what I knew and had once loved. Pushing more of the work to the students and letting them create, collaborate, and think more. Seems only natural now.

What lessons or instructional approaches have you fallen out of love with? Which ones should you?

Our #GoOpen Journey – Getting Started (Part 2)

In the Grossmont Union High School District, we have started the process of developing several OER curriculum collections to eventually replace some of the traditional textbooks currently found in classrooms across our ten high schools. We have started to share some of the different pieces of that journey in different venues and thought it was finally time to document with some more detail in one place.  

Part 2: Getting Started

#GoOpen offered us a chance to empower teachers, ensure equitable access to curriculum, modernize instructional materials, and save money in the process. It should be easy, right? Of course, it wasn’t. After I drafted a proposal in December 2015, we got sucked into the challenge of matching the ideal with the messiness of our reality – district policies, association agreements, and a product that would work for and in our ecosystem. 

The first big hurdle was to establish the parameters of the project. Without getting into the details, the district and the teachers association were able to come to an agreement that clearly defines the roles, qualifications, responsibilities, selection process, and compensation (see the resulting MOU ). As we began spreading the word to departments and teachers, we created an FAQ to address pressing questions and dispel some of the rumors and myths that had spread during the negotiation process.

With the logistics under control, the next step was to determine the general shape of the finished products (knowing that they would never fully be finished). We didn’t just want to just create an online textbook. That defeated one of our purposes – providing digital content and resources that will help facilitate an instructional transformation or evolution. We wanted more. We also wanted to provide a wide array of resources to allow teacher choice on what resources to use based on their classroom needs and areas of interest. To address that up front, we created a multitiered approach to categorize and guide the work.

  • Core Content – Textbook-style content that serves as the foundation of the course. This meets our Williams Settlement obligations (A California thing).
  • Supplemental Resources – Additional readings, primary sources, videos, multimedia resources, online simulations, etc.
  • Teaching Materials – Multiple pacing guides, activities, simulations, projects, lesson, etc. This section draws from the content and supplemental resources.

This structure continues to guide our curation of materials. It started as a generic template, but as the work progress, it evolved into something more user-friendly.

By Summer 2016, we were ready to start selecting subjects, building teams, and starting he work.

Next: Doing the Work

Our OER Journey – The Backstory (Part 1)


In the Grossmont Union High School District, we have started the process of developing several OER curriculum collections to eventually replace some of the traditional textbooks currently found in classrooms across our ten high schools. We have started to share some of the different pieces of that journey in different venues and thought it was finally time to document with some more detail in one place.  

Part 1: The Backstory

In January 2014, we started rolling out carts of Chromebooks to teacher teams that committed to attending at least two full days of professional learning. Before this time, most of our schools had outdated computers and technology-related PD was mostly non-existent at the time. Over the next 18 months, we deployed over 5000 Chromebooks and trained over 400 (of 800) teachers. For many teachers this began to change everything. The demand skyrocketed as the team model did not provide the regular access many now wanted. A group of high-level users came together in a training we called the GUHSDtech Google Ninjas program. This group built leadership teams at their sites and lobbied for more access. In May 2015, the board approved our FutureForward program – a teaching and learning initiative that provided every student with a Chromebook over a three year period.

As the GUHSDtech team advocated for digital learning opportunities, we kept getting stuck on the question about digital content vs print content. We have all these devices and great web 2.0 applications, but the official content still sits in textbooks. Many teachers had already abandoned their textbooks for found and self-created materials. Teachers started exploring options in open content through Gooru.org and CK-12. In August 2015, the #GoOpen movement was announced.

My superintendent (now enjoying the good life of retirement) and I got the opportunity to attend the #GoOpen kick off event at the White House in October 2015. When we returned, I started drafting a proposal to bring OER materials into the district in a systematic and scalable manner that empowered our teachers to help shape the content for their classes.

In many ways, this is about timing. We needed to start the exploration of digital curriculum because our students had access to devices every day for the first time and many teachers wanted to harness that capability. It came in an environment where teachers were being encouraged to take risks, to innovate, and to redefine instruction in the classrooms.

The big idea was easy. The details are daunting.

Next: Selling the Proposal

Modeling Failure Successfully

Last week my district was the victim of two intense DDoS attacks. Our connection to the world was severed. The network team worked tirelessly with our security vendors to try and get us back online. We were successful on Thursday, only to be attacked again the next day.

Across the district, Chromebooks spun and teachers scrambled to come up with an alternative plan. There was plenty of frustration and those who are critical of our FutureForward initiative pointed to this instance as reason why teachers just can’t rely on technology (even though these instances are pretty rare).

IMG_9825On Saturday, we hosted 125 teachers from around East County to our annual TechFest for a day of learning with technology. Luckily, we had put into place a mitigation service that fended off any further attacks. During the TechFest keynote, Jen Roberts went through ten things that she learned going 1-1 in her classroom. While all ten were relevant and helpful to the audience, one stuck with me – we need to model successful failure.

She went on to remind us that kids are watching us. All the time. When we hit a point of frustration because a lesson didn’t go as planned or the network goes out, what do we do? How we react speaks volumes and provides an example to students on what to do when we face an unforeseen challenge.

It just happened that on the first day of last week’s network outage, I was leading one of our GUHSDtech Google Ninja workshops. And the Internet was down. I internalized my frustration and we went a slightly different route. As I listened to Jen talk about modeling successful failure, I wanted to think that all of the teachers in my district took the same approach. 

When things don’t work out as planned in front of 30-40 students, how do you respond? What lesson are you teaching? It might just be more valuable than the actual lesson you had scheduled.

I’m not the tech guy.

Yes, my current job is about getting computers into the hands of kids and teaching their teachers how to use them. Yes, I’ve got an MA in Educational Technology. Yes, I’ve done hundreds, yes hundreds, of tech-related workshops. Yes, I have integrated various forms of technology into my classes since my student teaching. Yes, I believe in the power of technology to transform and amplify an educational experience. But, no, I’m not the tech guy.

In 18 years in the classroom, most of my time with students was spent away from a screen. We talked. Read from different perspectives. Analyzed. Made decisions. Worked together. Found problems. Solved problems. Explored the world. Created. We created so many different things. Sure, the screen opened up the world, but the real connection happened in front of and between us.

And, in 20 years of facilitating workshops and professional development, most of my time with teachers has been about teaching differently. About students coming first. About using that tech to give students a voice and a space to create. About letting students find their way with the teacher lighting a multitude of paths.

Real education technology is about all those things. It’s not about word processing, online assessments, or replacing instruction; it is about preparing them for life in a digital world. Often we can get stuck in the weeds of technical difficulties — learning is bolder and bigger than that.

I’m not the tech guy. I’m a teacher, a learner, and an administrator who operates beyond the confines of the traditional four walls of a classroom or office. I use tech to blow up and expand what can be done; not because it’s cool, but because it is the right thing to do for our students. Who are you?

Our Social Citizens: Students Posting Above the Line

Social Media has reshaped the landscape that our students travel across each and every day. For better or worse, their lives straddle online and offline worlds. Relationships and friendships are stretched and pulled in directions that many of us can’t imagine. Too often our collective gut response involves cutting it off or pretending this force doesn’t frame the lives of the students who sit in our classrooms everyday. It consumes them. Like all other school districts, teachers and administrators in the Grossmont Union High School District grapple with the balance between it being a positive force or a distraction. Too often we get stuck in the negativity, but in the last two months there have been two instances where our students have risen to the occasion in the social media realm.
graniteresponseThe first involves BurnBook. In early March, this app swept through our schools and caused a significant disruption here and across the country. Students anonymously posted terrible statements about their peers, teachers, and anything else they could attack. While bullying in schools is hardly a new idea, the nature of this app facilitated and encouraged it. Our district quickly reacted and issued a statement to the media and parents informing them of the situation, along with suggestions to deter its use. Luckily, it fizzled out almost as quickly as it started. Despite the negativity that BurnBook brought us, it gave a small group of students at Granite Hills High School the opportunity to stand up and take action. Dismayed by what they saw in the feed associated with their school, these young men decided to flood BurnBook with posts about potatoes, vegetables, and fruit. This was much to the dismay of many contributors who demanded with less-than-kind words that they stop. They didn’t. Within a day or two, the self proclaimed Potato King spammed BurnBook with so much nonsense, that the threat at Granite Hills dissipated. These students did the right thing without prompting, and should be considered heroes.

The second event ripryanfollows the tragic car accident in front of West Hills High School on April 30th, where Junior Ryan Willweber lost his life. News of the accident and then his passing spread rapidly on social media. Within 24 hours, over 2,500 unique posts and over 20,000 retweets with the hashtag #RIPRyan appeared on Twitter and Instagram. The simple addition of #RIPRyan instantly created a community where anyone could view or contribute to the stream of photos, condolences, memories of Ryan, and support for family and friends. On Thursday evening, a message requesting that students across San Diego wear blue in his memory went viral. Friday morning, hundreds of students at over a dozen schools showed support to a grieving family and school. Photos were taken at several schools and shared out on Friday via Twitter. While nothing will take away that pain, people directly and indirectly touched by tragedy had the opportunity to instantly reach out and come together in a way not possible ten years ago.

Social media continues to redefine what happens in and out of school. It presents a new set of challenges on top of the challenges we educators already face. However, we can’t ignore it or shut it off. We must face it and embrace it so we stay relevant in this new world. There are no special online and offline rules. We can use the term “digital citizenship” to quantify this new frontier, but really, it’s just citizenship. This new territory will require us to build resources and guidelines in the coming months, but we can always learn from the ways our students continue to adapt to technology and the times they rise up to surprise us along the way.

Cross posted on the GUHSDtech Blog.

Students Are Bored

Recently I was invited to be a guest speaker in an education pathway class full of high school students who are interested in becoming teachers. I looked forward to getting in front of students for the first time in six months to speak about my job and what role technology should play in the classroom.

I decided to do an experiment. I started off with a Google presentation slide packed full of great information. Then I changed the slide and asked what they remember. As expected, I got a lot of blank stares. In fact, I knew I lost them right from the beginning. When I asked how much of their day is spent sitting and listening, the response varied from three to five periods each day.

The next part of lesson plan was to have them read a short article and then respond to it in a Google Form on a Chromebook. Soon, every student was working through the quick 15 minute assignment. Some answers were more thoughtful than others, but everyone did it. I projected their responses and we had a short discussion. They were spirited and filled with opinions. One of the questions asked students to list five words that describe school. I took those responses and put them into a Word Cloud. I wasn’t expecting these results, but I also wasn’t surprised by them.


There were only 30 students in the class, but I bet if we widened the sample size, this is a theme that would be found across many school.

Many don’t have any idea what they are working towards – other than not being in high school any longer.

Student engagement has never been more important. The traditional, teacher-centered model does not work for all students. We need to be more innovative in how we draw students into our content. In how we make them want to learn. Which is most likely very different from the way we learned. We need to define the purpose of what we do with students and students need to put their learning in the greater context of their own life goals.

My Purpose as an Educator

My number one goal as a teacher, and now as an administrator, has been to prepare students for what’s next. Whatever that may be. Whenever that occurs. It could easily be a skill needed in the next grade level or an understanding of the world that will help them in life. The content itself, I loved and could talk endlessly about any of the many subjects I taught, but it served as a vehicle to my greater purpose. It also continues to be the driving force behind my belief that meaningful and relevant technologies should be integrated into the classroom.

When I taught AP World History, I could have probably worked my students a lot harder and maybe more of them would have passed the AP exam. Not that the class I taught wasn’t rigorous or that it didn’t provide a good foundation for them to be successful on that high stakes exam, but I also didn’t let the test constrict every moment or the spirit of the class. It was never our singular purpose. We took time to discuss current events, apply skills to content that wouldn’t show up on the exam, do simulations, collaborate, and have fun. At the end of each year, the students walked out of my class improved writers, empowered, appreciating history, understanding the bigger context, and better prepared for their next challenge. They were part of the class community I built and fostered each year. Most of them passed, but many didn’t. I’m sure those who didn’t pass wished they had, but it did not define their experience.

And it didn’t matter subject area or level of student.

As I have moved out of the classroom and into a support role, I have the opportunity to influence more students through the culmination of my passion of technology and my purpose. When I interviewed for the job (Director of Instructional Technology) last October, I remember saying something to that effect – this is the job I’ve been working towards since I started teaching. I loved teaching (and miss it terribly), but I have a desire to lead more classes into the 21st century than I could do while working as a teacher.

I’ve been lucky to get to develop, grow, and evolve doing what I love. It motivates me and inspires me to do more.

Thanks Moss for setting up this weeks #slowchatED for the opportunity to reflect.

The Last Eight Years – Part 3

(Part 1 and Part 2)

Year 17 (World History and Photo)
After a three year hiatus, I was back to the course that defined my first ten years – CP World History. The course was in dire need of an overall and I was able to implement a series of new tech projects, especially since my photo lab was available every day. My second Digital Imagery Pathway cohort finally got the luxury of a full lab and took great advantage of it. We officially moved away from film and pushed the digital limits. It included an amazing mix of talents who will do amazing things as seniors in the capstone pathway class.

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Year 18 (Photo and US History)
With my good friend Dave Burgess taking a leave of absence to tour the tour the world on the wake of his book, Teach Like a Pirate, I was able to grab a US History section with another fantastic group of student in what would be my final year. I started my career desperately wanting to teach my major – US History, but got locked out of it most of my years. It is fitting that I was able to enjoy it for my last eight weeks of teaching. My colleague, Jarrod Carman, and I threw everything out we had done in previous years and started completely from scratch. I have always loved the challenge of developing a class, especially when working with someone with the same mindset. One of my big take aways from this last 18 years is that I have been lucky to have had a series of amazing collaborative experiences. I am who I am because I worked with smart, motivated, and resourceful peers.

The most bittersweet part of my departure this year was leaving my cohort of senior pathway students. In many ways, it was like a family reunion. We formed a close knit community in my class two years ago. They spent last year with another teacher, some occasionally visited and I caught up with others in the hallways in between classes. Then they came home. It was eight weeks of educational and artistic bliss. No time spent building rapport or setting class norms. It was the most natural beginning to a class. We just started rolling. And then I left.

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So there we have it. A self-indulgent and nostalgic snapshot of a series of milestones that characterize my adventure in and around the classroom. It all came down to five words – students, technology, collaboration, creativity, and relationships. Ideas that I take with me into my next world.

And it is now officially added to the historical record. However, make sure to consider my POV.

Those 18 year will forever define me as an educator.

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