Tag Archives: pln

Blogging Is Worth Our Time!

Is blogging worth our time?

That’s the question Pernille Ripp posed this weekend on her blog. I think it is. Here is a list of times when I feel blogging is worth our time.

Blogging is worth our time when…

  • we pose questions that generate debate and pushback – we all need to be shaken up a little from our thinking from time to time so that we remember we don’t know everything and that our ways are not the only ways of doing things.
  • we post ideas that others can use – teaching becomes a very lonely profession for many, and there are plenty of people who do not feel comfortable using their own schools for growth (for whatever the reasons are). So when we share tips from our own experience, we give others the confidence to try.
  • people are inspired by what we write – the most gratifying comments are when people write that I’ve reminded them of something they’ve forgotten about being a teacher, like what really matters (ie. the kids!)

As multiple comments on Pernille’s post pointed out, it is not for anyone but the individual blogger to decide if blogging is worth the time. I know that blogging is worth my time because people get something out of reading what I write and putting my thoughts down allows me to more deeply and honestly reflect. The latter makes me a better practitioner in a variety of ways.


A Recipe for Good Lesson Planning

This post originally appeared on Edutopia’s New Teacher Academy. Thanks to Lisa Dabbs for inviting me to contribute. I will be joining Lisa on Twitter during #ntchat (New Teacher Chat) tonight at 8 PM EST to discuss lesson planning. I hope you and any new or pre-service teachers you know can join. I am looking forward to learning along with all of you!

Without a detailed plan, you may — if you’re lucky — deliver a lesson that turns out to be pretty good. More often, though, a poorly planned lesson is going to be a clunker. Our students suffer when we fail to appropriately plan for them.

Planning a lesson is not as simple as referring to a curriculum map, the next page in the textbook or standards. These resources all have their place, and you should use them — but as guides, not the law. You will find they often don’t account for students’ deficiencies. You have to account for them, or else your teaching becomes meaningless.

Lessons don’t occur in a vacuum. What you see, hear and read from your students today should be directly reflected in what you teach tomorrow. Let the students dictate where you go with your planning. If you are too married to what “needs” to get done, students will fall behind quickly, quite frankly because they don’t get what they need.

“Data” is a four-letter word that strikes fear in many teachers. It shouldn’t. You collect data everyday when you observe your students and take note of what they are doing well and where they need support. Data comes from conversations (between or with students), exit slips, quizzes, questions, journals and more. Use it to figure out what your students still need to learn, and therefore, what you need to teach.

Some people like to plan a whole week at a time. I’ve even heard of people who plan all their lessons over the summer. I question these practices. Planning should be reactive. I generally plan only one or two days in advance. That way I make sure I’m not getting too far ahead of my students.

A lesson plan does not need to be scripted to the letter. However, it should have certain components to facilitate delivery. (These are my suggestions. Your school or district may require a certain format.)

1) Objective Your objective is what you want the outcome of the lesson to be. You might write, “At the end of the lesson, students will be able to _____.”

2) Materials Your materials are the list of resources, articles or manipulatives you need. This helps you organize everything prior to the lesson.

3) Procedure The bulk of the lesson, procedure includes, among other items: your activation or assessment of prior knowledge; teaching and learning activities; and questions to guide student thought.

4) Assessment How do you know they “got it?” You can use various forms of data to see. Remember, though, assessment happens throughout the lesson (so you can see what your next steps might be within the lesson) and at the end (so you can see if the objectives were met).

Lesson planning is pivotal to positively impacting student achievement. My rule for planning: always let your students be your guide!

Be a Better Blogger: 5 Ways to Find Inspiration

In the summer of 2011, I was in a major blogging slump. I was writing very little and not writing very well. In the first six months of 2011, I published 32 posts. Then, in the final six months, I published 161. 

That’s an increase of over 500 percent.

What happened from June to July that enabled me to increase my output?

I learned I didn’t have to wait for inspiration to come from my classroom.

I realized I could find inspiration in many places.

With this understanding, I was liberated from the thought that ideas had to come to me and empowered by the realization that I could find ideas if I was looking.

So, if one of your ambitions this year is to be a better blogger – to write more, write better, increase your reach – here are some ideas that have worked for me that will also work for you:

1. Write about what you read. Being a better blogger means being a reader of blogs. At this point, I spend more time reading Google Reader, Flipboard, and Zite than I do reading books. There are so many wonderful blogs out there (see my blogroll to the right for some of my favorites) and so, if you’re reading them, there is rarely a shortage of  inspiration of thought. Sometimes I explicitly acknowledge the post that led me to write my own (like Vicki Davis’ here, Josh Stumpenhorst’s here, and Nick Provenzano’s here).

Much more frequently, though, a kernel of thought is planted in my head and it sprouts into my own post days or weeks later (like here).

The more ideas in your head, the more incentive you will have to write (lest you allow your head to explode).

2. Find inspiration where there appears to be none. Being a better blogger means engaging in an active process that shifts the burden of inspiration to you. You need to make inspiration happen.

Rather than let it come to you, go out and find it.

I became a better photographer when I started looking at the world asking, “How would this look in a photograph?” I became a better blogger when I started looking at the world asking, “How can this relate to education?”

I have found inspiration in unusual and unexpected places that I have been able to apply to education: my grandmother’s death, my cousin’s birth, Whitney Houston’s music, and natural disasters.

3. Blog (and micro-blog) on the run. Being a better blogger means always being aware of ideas that you could eventually turn into posts. Writers keep notebooks with inspiration so that they can draw upon those ideas when they need to write something. My system is a bit less, well, systematic, but it works for me.

I scribble ideas on post-its and throw them in my pockets. I e-mail myself ideas from my phone. Sometimes I start a one-sentence draft on my WordPress app and save it for elaboration at another time. Ideas often hit me when I’m driving to or from school in the quiet company of my thoughts, but they don’t do me much good if I forget them (and this has happened too many times to count).

4. Dig in your heels and take a stand. Being a better blogger means not worrying about offending people with an unpopular position. It means standing up to opposition, rocking the boat, and challenging people. It is all at once exciting, intimidating, and fun.

I have vigorously defended my beliefs about college and career as the expectation for all and have strongly disagreed with friends over the merit of awards. Most recently, I took on the oft-revered Khan Academydrawing a lot of criticism – for its brazen one size fits all mentality. You can’t worry too much about upsetting people. After all, your blog must reflect you and your beliefs – not what you think people want to hear.

5. Dig up some stories from your past. Being a better blogger means reaching back for ideas. We spend time thinking about times from our past, so it only makes sense that we can and should spend time writing about times from our past, too. I have written about painful experiences in my childhood, fun times in college, and social missteps that changed my thinking. Our past experiences shaped who we are today. The past is a treasure trove of rich material for writing. Do not ignore it.

These are ideas to help you broaden your blogging. There is nothing wrong with writing about your class or school! I still write plenty about the goings-on in my classroom and with colleagues, but now I do so in the much greater context of life itself.

I hope these ideas help you become a better blogger!

In 2012, Being a Better Member of Others’ PLNs

If 2011 was the year I made a dent on the social networking scene, 2012 might very well be the year in which I make that dent meaningful. I hope I can do this all without losing a sense of my significance (or insignificance) relative to the bigger picture. What do I mean? I have to make a better effort to connect and not just misinterpret following/follower counts as indicative of said connection.

Here is how I view Twitter. Let’s say 50 people are at a party I’m throwing. They all know who I am, after all, I am the host. Perhaps I’ve said hello to half of them once or twice in the past. I see some faces I know and the faces of some I didn’t even know were invited. At the party I chill with the two or three people I know really well while everyone else talks to each other. I might bump into some of them over by the hors d’ouevres or the crudites and say, “Hello, thanks for coming,” but invariably I return just to my closest pals. In turn, I miss out on the stories and jokes others are sharing because I’m in the comfort of my cocoon.

I have many people following me with whom I’ve never exchanged even one tweet. The sad thing is that many of these people have reached out to me, either through a remark about something I sent out, a retweet, a reference to something I write, or a “Follow Friday’ recommendation. I might acknowledge them with a, “Thanks for the ___,” or a reply, but then we’re left standing there with nothing to say.

It’s as much my fault as anyone else’s. If someone is making even a slight effort to connect, I should embrace their attempts and reciprocate them. Twitter can be a lonely, lonely world when complacency and silence merge to form elitism.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I’m no more likely to stick to something on January 1 than I am on July 1, so I won’t call this a resolution. All it is is a realization that I am not so important or special that I should ignore all the people at the party. We’re all at the party together, so we should all enjoy it together, too.

Happy new year! See you by the fondue station!

Two Years Ago, I Started a Blog

Two years ago today, I found myself one morning staring at a brand new shiny laptop. With visions of celebrity updates dancing in my head, I created a Twitter account. Then, recalling my old blog (dormant for over two years at that point), I decided to create a new one.

Has it yet been determined what the proper term is for the annual blog milestone? Is it a birthday? Anniversary? Blogiversary?

Two years ago today, I wrote this (with grammatical errors!):

Then, today, I finally relented on something I’ve only several years behind, and signed up forTwitter. No longer was I unencumbered by the innocuous blue bird that has basically hastened the downfall of society as we know it. Now I found myself firmly encumbered, a slave to its mish-mosh of links, twitpics, witticisms, and nuances. We’ll see how long it lasts.

Anyway, it brings me to this. I figure, I’m a moderately interesting writer, and I’ve cultivated three passions that seem to spark interest in others: my life as a teacher, my life as a photographer, and my life as a chef (“amateur cook”) is more like it. And here we are. A brand new, shiny blog, that I aim to maintain. Eeks, it sounds like a New Year’s resolution at this time of year, but I’m going to look to get 3-5 posts down each week. And they’re going to be substantive. (I don’t know if I believe that myself, but for now, why not?)

So, enjoy the ride with me. I’ve got interesting things to say about those three facets of my life. That’s how I feel, but you’ll probably close out this window as soon as you start reading.

And then tweet about it to all your friends.

It is embarrassing to reread that and only slightly less embarrassing to bring your attention to it. (And how about the fact that someone else is using my original Twitter handle, @MSR_7?)

At the time, I didn’t realize how Twitter and a blog could exist – even needed to exist – symbiotically. I would love to know what I was tweeting about back then. Nothing important, I’m sure.

The thing is, I never saw this blog becoming what it has become. I never wrote about cooking and I only briefly scratched the surface of writing about photography. Once my focus became education, my writing had a purpose outside of being a diversion for my pompous self-aggrandizing.

My first education-related post was on January 3, 2010. It was linked on one of my favorite blogs and received TWO comments! Man, I was on top of the world.

I floundered around for quite a while, writing about things I thought I knew about. I was writing for myself, quite sure no one was reading. This post was the first time I let myself be angry about the state of affairs in NYC education. Soon thereafter, several of my posts were picked up for newspaper publication. In one (it is maybe my favorite post I’ve ever written) I ate some serious crow for mishandling a situation in my class.

I don’t know when I realized Twitter could be a conduit for people to access my unseen blog, but I’m glad I did. Twitter brought me in contact with many wonderful people – friends who challenge my thinking and inspire me to do better. Many of these folks (like you, perhaps) started reading my blog, commenting, and sharing it. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to pass along something I wrote.

Now, the expectations on my blog are much greater and I treat my small role as someone who influences thought much more seriously than ever. As one Twitter friend said, “You found your voice.”

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amazed that so many people find what I write worth reading… (And no, this is not false modesty. I know I write some good stuff, but I never saw myself as inspiring so many people).

I have been moved by some beautiful comments in the last two years and am so thankful that folks like you have allowed me to be part of your educational journey. I am glad you’ve joined me for mine.

I hope I can continue to provide you with ideas, inspiration, and whatever else you get from reading my blog.

So if you’ve ever read my blog, retweeted or e-mailed a post, made a comment, or tried something in your classroom that you found here, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you. I only hope that I can continue to provide meaningful and thought-provoking posts and do my small part to impact change.

A Touching Note

Here is a beautiful e-mail I received yesterday from an old friend with whom I haven’t spoken in a couple of years. It is notes and encouragement like this that help me keep going.

Hey Matt,

How are you?

It has been awhile since we talked. I keep meaning to e-mail you but I am so bad at doing these things in a timely fashion.

The reason I’ve been wanting to e-mail you is because I have been reading a lot of your posts on your blog and they are just so amazing and inspirational. You know, I hear so many teachers constantly complaining and whining about their jobs and have seen firsthand how so many of them slack off. Not having a job now, you know, it has made me quite bitter about everything to know that so many classrooms of children are not having the experiences they could be having due to these teachers. It makes me angry at fellow teachers and understand why some people outside of the field have such low views of teachers. But then you remind me. There are teachers out there that still care and still put forth 150% effort because the children and the profession is important to them. You are making a difference and it will not go unnoticed. I really wish I had a classroom to call my own, and could work amongst teachers who had such creativity and motivation like you. I miss teaching so much. I just really want you to know that I admire you and read your blog posts and get inspired and touched by your words and your work in general.

I am beginning to ramble, I don’t know where I was going with this, but I just wanted to say it because I think about this a lot and just never actually type it out.

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season and Happy New Year!

So touching, and these are the types of notes that are so much more meaningful than retweets or awards!! Thank you, you know who!

Don’t Vote for Me in the Edublog Awards

Only stuff the ballot box if you want to.

Now that the Edublog nominations are out, many people are going to take to their blogs to say, “Vote for me!” and many others are going to take to their blogs to say, “It is wonderful just to be nominated!”

I am going to take a different approach – the approach that speaks my mind on the whole thing.

Fact: It is nice to be nominated.

Myth: Being nominated is enough (ie. Now that I’ve been nominated, it doesn’t matter if I win.)

However, with that being said, I only ask that if you vote for me, you do it because you feel I am the best choice in the field. Given the quality I am up against, that is asking a lot.

Look, I would be honored to win an Edublog Award, but I’m not campaigning for myself. If people objectively take a look at what I have to offer and decide that my vibe is groovier than everyone else’s, then so be it. But I’m not soliciting votes just so people can blindly push me to the top.

[Full disclosure: I did post a link on Facebook through which my friends and family can vote for me, and I will probably at some point encourage non Facebooked family to vote. However, I am making it a point not to extend those pleas to my personal – and professional – learning network. If I win, it will be because of merit and approval from my peers (including those who do not know me), not because people like me, but because they feel my work is the best choice].

With all that being said, I say this: “May the best teacher blog win, and so too, may the most influential blog post win.” If neither of them happen to have “Mr. Foteah” in their title, then, hey, so be it.

After all, it is an honor just to be nominated, and I can always display those badges with pride.

Obviously Amazing

Credit to Curt Rees, who shared this video on his blog and got me thinking. Watch, then read.

Obvious to you. Amazing to others. from Derek Sivers on Vimeo.

I sat with a colleague the other day and she shared with me that she puts students’ IEP goals on a label, slaps them onto the sheets she writes her conference notes on, and, voila! IEP goals are right there for conferencing.

A true “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment.

Of course, she was nonplussed by the whole thing. After all, all it really was was a sticker on a piece of paper.

That’s the point made in the video, though. Share your ideas, no matter how obvious they seem to you. They aren’t obvious to everyone else!

A group of special educators at my school has decided to start meeting regularly to share these “obvious” ideas in the hopes that we can support and inspire each other. I have not had many opportunities to collaborate with other special ed teachers, so it should be quite beneficial.

Of course, I’m going into it thinking I really don’t have much to share. My ideas are very obvious to me. Maybe, though, they’ll be amazing to the others.

I imagine if I went into every classroom in my school (and there are many, we have 2,000 students), I would gain one “obviously amazing” idea from each teacher.

So, you, out there in the online community, consider the power of your original ideas. We need to hear them so we can benefit. You have amazing ideas. Please share!

These are some wonderful ideas I’ve found in the last few months. They may be obvious to their creators, but they’re amazing to me!

Here is an obviously amazing idea for word walls that I discovered this weekend.

A great collection of obviously amazing ideas for all aspects of the classroom.

Obviously amazing ideas for using specific music for transitions throughout the day. (My kids like the “Mission Impossible” theme song when cleaning the room!)

Some obviously amazing and fun ideas for the first day of school.


How to Gain Followers on Twitter (I Think)

A friend texted me the other night and we got around to Twitter. His words, not mine, were: “You seem like a Twitter sensation. Lots of followers and such.” I responded that Twitter is about connections, and he asked, “You just build it through retweets?”

Ah, young Tweeters.

Here were some of my tips:

1. Establish an identity and carve yourself a niche. I am a Mets fan who teaches and has an interest in photography. Incidentally, those were the identifying traits in my Twitter profile for quite a while. Now my profile is much less ambiguous and a lot more focused. It leaves no doubt about what I do and what I stand for: “Elementary teacher of special education. Believer in the abilities and value of all children. Education blogger. I’m in it for the kids.” It wasn’t until my blog and Twitter stream began to reflect these views and little else that I gained more followers. Once I better identified what I was about, I was also able to tether my blog to my educational values, and  since then, I have written some of my best, most appreciated posts.

2. Be a blogger. This means reading others’ blogs, commenting on them, and following up with them on Twitter (either through a credited retweet or by pursuing further conversation). I also suggested my friend start his own blog and try to identify its purpose early on. Like I alluded to above, having a voice on your blog is a plus. I initially conceived this blog to be about photography, teaching, and, wait for it … cooking. Ha! That’s because I started it one day when I was bored and it seemed like a grand idea. Clearly the blog has evolved, and with a consistent, expected message (“inspiration from inside the classroom”), more people are following me and looking to read future posts.

3. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. I went back to my buddy’s Twitter feed to see what he was tweeting. He has a decent amount of sports observations that are very much in the vein of some of the more prolific sports media types. They’re basically ironic, off-color observations. I told him, “You’re not those guys.” I know I had a phase where I tried to tweet in the style of others with millions of followers. Then I realized they also had radio and tv appearances and thousands of views on their blogs, and therefore a greater audience to start with. I didn’t have those things, and I wouldn’t ever if I didn’t do what they do: be individuals. I believe the message and ideas you promote will increase a following more than parroting the style of someone who is more established. Sure, they can inspire you, but there’s a reason we’re the ones watching them on tv.

4. Be thankful you have any followers in the first place. Of course, it is almost laughable that nearly 1,300 people follow me. It always surprises me to see my follower count and I am often amazed at how many people are viewing my blog. We all want more followers – they do the ego good – but, realistically, we have to be glad that there’s anyone who wants to follow us.

So those are my tips for my buddy and for you (if you’re looking to build your follower count). I’m no expert, but since the summer, I’ve gained about 1,000 followers, and I think the reasons above are the main reasons why.

Yes, I’m a Grammar Snob

Long ago, I emailed the founder of this blog and commended him on how far he had taken his site (from just being popular among my friends to being featured nightly on regional sports telecasts). I was spurred to write to him, though, because I kept noticing typographical and grammatical errors in most of his posts. My point was that, since the site was becoming more popular, he should make an effort to be crisper in his writing, or else readers would think less of him and his site. (Can you tell I’m a bit of a grammar snob?)

He wrote back to say that the nature of his blog, which is often breaking news and quick posting, leaves him prone to errors.  I wanted to write back and say he could always edit after publishing and then update, but the tenor of his response led me to think that if I said that, the lines of communication would be closed.

Now that I’ve become a blogger, or at least someone who blogs on a regular basis, I am revisiting these concerns and thinking about fellow bloggers who put their words out there with mistakes. Some of my favorite blogs consistently challenge my thinking, inspire me, and simultaneously, leave me scratching my head wondering, “How can s/he publish this with THAT mistake?”

Again, I am a bit of a grammar snob.

This is not to say that I don’t make mistakes when I publish. Usually, I try to clean them up, but there is no doubt that many people  would be able to go through my posts and find a bevy of mistakes. (Someone even corrected me when they reposted. See the paragraph after the quote.) True, I don’t know every intricacy of written grammar rules, but I try to make sure I follow every one I do know.

I know I often start sentences with “but” or “and” and don’t always use a conjunction when making a list, but those are liberties I take with style. Failing to show proper subject-verb agreement is not about style.

Yes, I know, I’m a total grammar snob.

This is my point, though: if our online selves are a reflection of us (and I’ve really started to understand what it means to present yourself as an online brand) then isn’t it imperative that we use proper grammar in our blogs? I have written nearly 225 posts. That means there are 225 opportunities for someone to read my writing and say one of two things: 1) Wow, I love the message and he is a good writer, or 2) Wow, I love the message but he is a lousy writer.

Blogging is a public display. I think we need to treat our blogs as we treat our cover letters, letters of recommendation, and anything else that requires top writing performances. With so many eyes on what we write, doesn’t it behoove us to project our best image of ourselves?