Flipping the Narrative: Do You Ignore the “Haters”?


Welcome to the world of education’s professional learning on the internet.  I have been seeing a disturbing trend lately, which seems to be the thing that motivates me to write blogs more now than ever.  (Please accept this grumpy “old” man as he shouts at the wind.)

Putting your work out to the public, to the world, can be scary.  It can be a challenge to overcome the fear of rejection. Having consistently put my own work out to the public over the past few years, I understand that there are people with whom you can’t engage or continue to hold conversations because the goal isn’t discussion. I am also firmly of the belief that if you did the work, you should share your voice.  You never know who will resonate with your work, so we shouldn’t feel as though we don’t have a voice.

I want to dig into a different sentiment though.  The new push from people who are catching pushback and criticism has been to simply say, “I don’t listen to the haters.” Sure that’s not new, but it is beginning to catch on with some of the biggest, most influential names in our field.  It is becoming the standard response to people who disagree with your position. The sentiment is that other people are jealous, dislike you for your success, or are just being petty.  I have seen it more and more. I have been blocked by high profile names in education on social media for asking questions or pushing back on something they’ve posted.  I am not a hater. I am not jealous of the success of others, I tend to promote it and support them.  There are many people like me out there, people who care about what messages are put out to the hundreds and thousands of people influenced by popular educators.  Each time I see messages that are questionable, I ask the question.  I try to do it in a respectful manner, but also publicly.  I want people to think about the great sounding positions they blindly agree with because they make great sound bites.

The worry I see in this “don’t pay attention to the haters” mentality is how easy it becomes to ignore everyone.  There is no surer way to create your own echo chamber than to stop thinking about the objections of others.  I don’t expect you to engage with everyone, but ignoring them means you have given up on learning. It means you’ve given up on making your ideas better. You don’t need to make “haters” agree with you, but it is important to stop ignoring the voices that counter you. Understand their concerns and use them to make you stronger. Not everyone is a “hater” just because they disagree with you. Your ideas aren’t perfect, they are just like the rest of us, getting better and improving every day. If you don’t, you will look for the learning and only see your own reflection.  You will become an echo chamber of one.



IMG_9079I have spent most of my life living with in a bike ride of the Atlantic Ocean. Growing up, and living now, in a beach town in southern New Jersey I have learned many things.  I have written about how my summer jobs in restaurants have made me a better teacher,  I have had a summer job since I was 13 years old.  (Yes, I know I was supposed to be 14, but I wanted money for a stereo…) While I have had ups and downs working the summer months while many teachers spend their time refreshing and rejuvenating from a long year, I have spent almost ever summer for 2/3 of my life working in the summer. While the work was a change of pace and at times I enjoyed the restaurants in which I worked or the people with whom I worked, I have never felt excited about summer work.  This summer, however, I am in a different place.

This summer I have found myself more disconnected from the education world than ever, despite oddly enough working with a number of educators. Unlike the past 20+ summers working in food service, I have found a slight change of pace.  The hours are long, the work involves slightly more physically demanding labor, but I feel like for the first time my summer is providing me with a combination of working income and self care.  I spend 5 days a week working 10-12 hour days on a dolphin watching speed boat where my job is to take care of the boat and the passengers, spot dolphins, and essentially through a party for the 100+ passengers on board.  When I am not doing that part of my job, I also spend some of those days as a “Jet ski” guide flying through the harbor helping novice wave runner users “play with the water motorcycles”. (This is my favorite and most terrifying explanation I’ve heard of a wave runner.)  My job is often fun. I get fresh, salty ocean air. I get more than my share of the sun. I get to spend amazing time close to some beautiful moments of nature. Most importantly, I get to completely unplug my brain from education for most of that time.  I have almost never left teaching out of my mind for that much time in a day, let alone a week.  It has shown me just how important it can be to completely step away.  Even when I have gone on family vacations there was always something I was thinking about that I needed to come back to do, yet for the past week I haven’t had time to so much as think about my classroom.  This is something for which I feel there should be no apology.  So, be aware that if you are trying to contact me, do it directly.  If you want me to read something, send it to me. I have plenty of educational goals for this summer and  I am planning on digging into them soon, but I am finding myself wholly refreshed by this major change and the ability to let go of so much. To me this summer is only two weeks old, but it already feels like a lifetime.  It isn’t perfect, though I won’t list my complaints. It is however, exactly what I needed to feel rejuvenated after a long, challenging school year.


I have said many times I am going to revive and rejuvenate this blog, so I won’t make promises to anyone other than myself. I am aiming to rebuild my blogging.  Today was a start, I hope to build upon it from here. IMG_8931

What does it mean to be consistent?



Last week I found myself swept up in excitement with an incredible group of people who shared their thoughts a


fter running via a short twitter video.  It was called a #runandrant. I found the concept to be really exciting as it coupled three things I like but don’t do as often as I would like; video, over thinking, and running. (Ok the 2nd one I do all the time.) 

We talk about consistency often.  I had plenty of time to think about it on my long slow 5k leg of what was a joint effort marathon filled with great reflections.  So many times people refer to consistency as being the same every day, offering the same level every day, doing the same things every day.  People know what to expect from you when you are the same each day.  But, are we ever really the same each day? Reality is way messier than that.  Each day brings new challenges. Yes, most mornings I get up and do many of the same activities every day, but that is not what makes for real consistency.  Some days I wake up with plenty of energy, others I am a zombie, slogging through the routine.  

As I trudged on, one foot after another, I realized something.  Being consistent isn’t about somehow being the same every day.  Holding yourself to that standard is unrealistic and unnatural. It is alsolikely to be bad for your health both mentally and emotionally.  Being consistent isn’t about your routine either.  Anyone can follow a list of steps, it’s so easy a robot can do it.  As I drove onward, holding pace, putting one foot out in front of the next, I realized, consistency is about keeping on.  

I haven’t been running regularly since December of last year. So, running a 5k was doable, but also painful at times. Other times the sun shined on my face or the breeze blewperfectly and I felt amazing.  I could have easily stopped. There wasn’t anyone watching me. I could have ran less. No one would have known. Yet I kept going.  Consistency is about continuing to try despite the lows.  It is about not getting too distracted by the highs. We will all have life moments that swing heavily to one side or the other. For me, being consistent is about moving forward, taking the next step (either literally or metaphorically) and working toward small goals.  Those small goals, those slow steps, add up over time.

The Endgame (I promise there’s no spoilers!)

Last night I went to the premiere night of Avengers Endgame. Despite my love for this film and the Marvel Comic Universe, that isn’t what we are going to talk about.

Besides the ending of an incredible saga I left the theater with an all together amazing feeling. That feeling came from the communal experience with hundreds of other fans. Moments when fans cheered, laughed, cried, and gasped together. Part of the incredible experience was sharing it with the other people, despite being complete strangers.

Communal experience is powerful. I’ve seen it during some of our full school assemblies and group celebrations. I wonder how we could leverage those celebrations and communal experience to build our culture? Going to opening night of Endgame left me with many thoughts, but I couldn’t help thinking about the value and power of communal experiences. We should value them more and do more to intentionally create them in our schools.

Rumii: Transforming Presentations, Learning, and Anxiety in my Classroom!

Every year I’ve been in Middle School I’ve taught presentations. I teach them how to create visually engaging slides, how to tell a story through those slides, and how to weave in their content. I do this in part because I have seen just how bad presentations can get, and I have seen just how important communication can be for creating opportunities.

Every year we do this, and every year more than half of my students do the same thing. Their eyes widen, they shrink in their seats just a bit, and they look flushed. Most Middle School kids hate talking in front of a crowd. I have tried to mitigate this with a variety of strategies, with some success. I often have students come in during lunch and during their homeroom time and present privately. This is ok but is extremely time-consuming. I’ve also done group presentations, but they tend to just be dominated by one person. Finally, however, I’ve found something different, something awesome.

I’ve been learning with and experimenting with VR in the classroom for the past several years. This school year I learned about a VR meeting platform called Rumii. (Disclaimer: at the time of writing this I have not received anything free from Rumii or Doghead Simulations. I choose to share this experience because it was incredible for me and my kids.)

I found Rumii through my friends at The VR Podcast. Rumii is a Virtual meeting space where you can have multiple conversations, show images and documents, render 3D models, and so much more. It is a fully immersive experience for sharing our kids’ ideas. I was excited about all it could do but I hadn’t figured out exactly how I would use it within a single class.

As this group of kids started their descent into presentation anxiety it finally hit me. What if I let kids choose to present in Virtual Reality? We could use Oculus Gos and project the presentations to the group. I let my students know this was an option and started planning. About half of my 26 students choose to use Rumii. For most of them it was their first time in a fully immersive virtual environment, so they left slightly overwhelmed, but also desperate for more. Students who chose the VR spoke confidently, they were easy to hear, and they were able to give their presentations with minimal anxiety. These classes actually asked for more presentation projects.

Students shared their vision of technology 10 years in the future. They spoke about the future of everything from video games, to transportation, to schools. They did so by experiencing the type of platform that will enhance their ability to work with others anywhere in the world in their own futures. I was asked to share how I went about this to help others recreate it. After assigning the presentation, I let them know the option to use VR was available and what it would entail. Then I began getting it ready. (I have a very large closet attached to my room where I am working to build an Immersive Technology Lab.)

The process went as follows:

Step 1: I created a free account which allowed me up to 3 users on my team. They have even more available when you upgrade.

Step 2: Download Rumii software from the Oculus store and for your computer at Doghead Simulations.

Step 3: I used the manage team section to invite my two Oculus Go email accounts to the team. Users in the same team can share a Virtual meeting space.

Step 4: I worked with my awesome IT team and the development team at Rumii to make sure the software was able to run through our servers at school. I got support from Amber Osbourne the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, and from Chance Glasco – just look him up- directly (how cool is that) who not only communicated with me via email and twitter, but also called me at school to ensure this went well.

Step 5: Test it out before the kids show up!!!

Step 6: download their presentations as PDF files, then upload them using the pdf viewer in your desired meeting room. I chose a presentation room.

Step 7: Open the PDF files on the Oculus Go headset or device of your choice that will be presenting (you could do this on a computer) and get started!

One big hint for the workflow of this, was to get kids into the headsets really quickly after the previous student so it wouldn’t turn off. Turning off sometimes causes my Oculus mic to stop working. It would work again after quitting and restarting Rumii, but it caused downtime I wanted to avoid.

Not only am I excited to use Rumii going forward for having students share their work, I am now really starting to think of new, incredible ways we can bring meaningful VR integration into our classrooms with Rumii. If you want to learn more go to https://www.dogheadsimulations.com/

Mentoring Isn’t a Program. It’s a Culture

#theteachersjourney #teachbetter #edumatch @cpoole27

cropped-add-a-little-bit-of-body-text-12.pngMentoring is one of the most critical aspects of building the education profession and ensuring both new and existing teachers are successful.  Yet most schools look at mentoring as a list to be crossed off.  Yes, they will say they place a certain level of importance or take pride in their “mentoring program”, but the reality is, they are just putting an “X” in the box for their legal requirements.  I am sure this last statement has offended some people.  Good.  The vast majority of education does mentoring all wrong and it has been contributing to some serious issues in education, specifically, teacher burnout.

Teaching, as I have said many times, lends itself to being potentially isolating, lonely, and overwhelming.  You are in a room without other adults for most of the day making thousands of decisions every hour that will have significant ripple effects on everything. When you are a new teacher you typically don’t know very many people.  You are thrown into a school setting and told: here is your person.  You are assigned a mentor.  Sometimes those mentors have training, however, what is the purpose of that training?

While listening to an interview in the Teach Better Podcast with Chuck Poole(I am in no way faulting Chuck here, just the very construct of the mentoring program), he described an early experience as a “teacher mentor” (I will use the term in quotations because despite that being the label, it is absolutely not what mentoring is supposed to be.) He said he struggled because he was still learning a lot himself.  What we all need to realize is that our experiences, especially the fresh experiences of being a new teacher, are incredibly valuable to those new teachers who need mentors.  He finished the discussion talking about how a teacher he had been paired with for the program more recently had asked him if he would continue to be her mentor even though it wasn’t part of the program anymore.  Everything about what he described sounded more like mentoring than most programs ever do, but this is the thing that made my heart sink as an educator and advocate for a stronger culture of mentoring in education.  While it was exactly what should happen, someone who built a connection with a mentor should continue upon that relationship, the fact that this teacher felt the need to ask for permission to continue being mentored beyond a specified program made my skin crawl.

Mentoring is not a program, it is a culture.  Either you are actively developing mentoring relationships both as the mentor and the mentee, or you are not.  Signing up for “mentor” does not make you one.  Also, assigning someone a mentor, no matter how great you are a reading people, is in no way the same as developing a mentoring relationship.  Like many things that people talk about in education, mentoring is not a scheduled activity, it is a relationship between two people.  As I have stated in The Teacher’s Journey, and I have borrowed from Col. Ray Kimball’s book, An Army Officer’s Guide to Mentoring, many times, mentoring is a relationship built upon mutual trust and respect in which the mentor has a difference in experience that the mentee needs.  The mentee also selects the mentor.

Mentoring programs conflate mentoring for coaching, or even worse, some failed hybrid of the two.  Programs (the vast majority) assign a mentor to a mentee and if you are lucky, the supervisor has considered more than just the content you teach.  They include scheduled times, checklists, specific skills and knowledge you need to give to another teacher, and sometimes the mentee is even required to pay the mentor a stipend.  Most programs undermine the idea that you are developing a relationship of trust and respect from the start.  They also instill in teachers the idea that you have ONE mentor and after your first year, or your 2nd, or 3rd in programs that are making more of an effort, that you no longer need one.  These narratives are not only false, but harmful.  We can and should be seeking out mentors at every stage in our career.  Mentors; Plural.  The number of things I do not know as an educator are vast and vary in depth.  The experiences I can draw upon from various educators whom I trust and respect should reflect the variance in what I need to learn.

I am constantly cultivating mentor relationships and making myself available to others to offer my experiences.  This is how mentoring culture should work.  It should not be assigned, it should be grown. We cannot expect to build a stronger profession if our concept of mentoring is built into a program rather than grown into our culture.

Put Yourself First

As educators, we have a lot of tendencies that are perhaps less common in other professions (I cannot speak for them.) One of the most common and widely accepted tenants that sweeps education, is that in everything we do, we should put kids first.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? And, in truth, there are a number of times when in education that it can hold incredible value. There are plenty of teachers that need to hear it because they disregard what’s best for kids on a regular basis to support their comfort, their routine, or their unwillingness to struggle through learning something new. If you haven’t been reading this blog over the past few years (I don’t blame you, it’s sporadic) I am not big on the Eduisms that flood educational social media and conferences. This one, like most, is rooted in an important concept, but as we reduce it down and strip away the context, it becomes toxic.

The real message, as I understand it, is not that we should always put kids before ourselves, or put kids needs before our own, but that as stakeholders in education, kids hold the highest priority. When planning academic experiences, we should focus on student needs as a top priority. When making policy decisions, understanding how students are impacted should be of paramount importance. When building a culture in the classroom, or a school building, student needs are vital.

But, often we reduce that rather weighty paragraph down to the simple phrase, put kids first. It looks good on a field of wavy grass with a sunny day behind you, but those words can be toxic to the health and culture of your staff.

Think about how many schools have a culture where teachers readily stay in the building until 5,6,7, as late as 10pm each night. They are putting kids first, working the extra hours to make their lessons just that much more incredible each day.

Or, think about the schools where teachers are stressed, focused so intently on their students needs that they neglect their own.

Raise your hand if you have neglected your personal needs, your family, or your some other important aspect of your life because you were putting kids first? Good, now put your hand down you look whacky raising your hand while staring at your device.

Mental health has become a major issue in education and in truth our world. I don’t know many teachers who have not shared publicly or privately a struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns. Yet here we are blasting to the world that the best teachers neglect themselves for the sake of others. We are telling all of these struggling people that if they try to take care of themselves before taking care of others, they aren’t good teachers.

My point is this, if we want teachers that can focus their instructional decisions based on what kids need, and we want teachers who are part of a culture that inspires and empowers learners toward their full potential, then we must have teachers that are healthy, physically, mentally, and spiritually (for whatever you may take that to mean.) You can only operate on selflessness in the classroom for so long before you flame out and consume yourself.

Eduisms like these are part of an issue of bumper stickering our language to make it brandable. When it’s brandable, it spreads fast, and the hard work of building real understanding is often left by the wayside.

So take care of yourself. Put yourself first. I’m giving you permission (not that you needed it from me) to care about yourself first so that when your kids’ needs and well-being need to be met, you’ll be wholly up for the challenge day after day. By allowing yourself to put yourself first, I don’t mean to neglect change, ignore opportunities to learn, or not provide your kids with everything possible to help them. I simply mean that it’s ok to go home early sometimes, that it’s ok to not do that work on Sunday or to take a day off to go on your kid’s field trip. It’s ok. It doesn’t make you any less awesome as an educator. If anything, it will probably make you even more so.

Until the next inspiration hits, I leave you with my new favorite line for our world via Philip Larkin.

Stop “Fighting”

As teachers we mythicize and romanticize the concept of the heroic teacher, fighting for kids in the trenches. You hear the soundbites on repeat everywhere across the education landscape. “I am fighting for my kids” “I am battling to do what is best for kids” “I am there, in the trenches every day.”

Dear teachers, this needs to stop.  I’ll start with the last metaphor. How problematic is it that we refer to our classrooms, as the teaching profession to, “the trenches.” I suppose we would need to understand what the trenches actually were, meaning all of us ought to brush up on some social studies.

During World War 1, soldiers would dig pathways into the ground and build up defensive positions in the ground.  During that time soldiers would take refuge from a barrage of gun and artillery fire while being overrun by weather and vermin. Approximately 10% of soldiers involved “In the trenches” were killed, nearly double the average from WW2.

Life in the TrenchesThis is the image we are referring to when we talk about being in the classroom? Are our students fellow soldiers? Are they the enemy? Are they the artillery fire? When we refer to classrooms as “In the trenches” we are basically calling our workspace a living hell.  Even on my worst day in the classroom, I have NEVER felt that my workspace was as bad as the unimaginable horrors of living and fighting in the actual trenches.  The more we talk about our workplace like these incredibly awful scenes, the worse it reflects on our schools, our kids, and ourselves.  Stop telling people you are “in the trenches” you aren’t making yourself sound heroic, you are making your school and your kids sound like a nightmare.

So now let’s tackle the more obscure problem, the metaphor of the fight/battle.  Why shouldn’t we be “fighting” and “battling” for kids? This is one of the problems of world choice that can lead us to create tension.  The idea of a fight creates the idea that there will be a winner and a loser.  When we are advocating for kids, we can’t afford to have winners and losers.  We need to find a way to eliminate the idea that two people with differing views of what is best for kids are locked in some sort of battle.  We can’t ALL be in this together if we are also battling and fighting.  I don’t view any of my work as adversarial, and if you hope to build bridges, make connections, and develop meaningful relationships with the people in your professional life, you cannot keep undermining them with poor word choices.

Image result for sometimes when you win, you lose

What we say matters to ourselves and others.  I want my words to evoke positive imagery of my classroom and school.  I want to use my words to build positive relationships with kids, coworkers, parents, and the community.  The faster we stop viewing education as a battle, a fight, or a hellish warfare landscape, the easier it will be to stop considering our work as a zero-sum game.  When there is a fight, there is a loser. We cannot afford losers in education, and our goal should be to ensure that we all win.

Chaos to Creation


This week I finally started really teaching my classes (getting into the curriculum we had designed over the course of the past year) and it has been amazing.  While I am finding some aspects of returning to a full teaching role to be frustrating, most of the time I’ve spent in my classroom with the kids has been incredibly rewarding. Teaching three things at once to several groups of middle schoolers has been exciting but at times chaotic. Embracing the chaos has created some incredible moments thus far.

Over the past week I have started to build relationships with my students, get into to teaching robotics, and learning a ton. I have also seen some incredible excitement and creativity from many of the kids with whom I am working.  While I won’t pretend it has been sunshine and roses, overall I am thrilled with where the class is going.

One of the things I have been reminded of as I return to the full classroom setting is how overwhelming the beginning of the year can be.  We are expected to do all of our regular teacher assignments plus incorporate new district initiatives, start our clubs/sports, complete online training (on our own time), set Student Growth/Mastery Objectives, and all the while build meaningful relationships with our students.  It can be easy to focus on the endless list of tasks that need to be done, I am choosing to focus on the incredible creativity and excitement I have seen so far.  Despite some of the outside things that are getting me down, I am falling in love with classroom teaching at the middle school level. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Memories of a Generation

In the fall of 2002 I sat in my comparative politics class. I had an amazing professor who predicted the next 15 years of political happenings from the soon to be Iraq war to Arab Spring, he predicted each.

He also told us about the day FDR died. He was a boy of only 5 years old, but it was undeniably burned into his memory. His parents crying, the funeral procession, the overall feeling. He also described the assassination of JFK. These he said, are moments that are burned into the identity of a generation.

For my generation, a lovely late summer morning like any other was engraved into our memories. We all have our stories. Each year we rehash where we were, what we felt, and what the memory of 9/11 means to us. As years go by we remember different moments less clearly, but all of us have been changed, some far more directly than most.

It’s important to share these memories, to reshape them, and to acknowledge their impact on who we are as individuals and as a group. Here are some of my most vivid memories.

Disbelief: I watched with horror, not believing what was unfolding miles away. I would build close friendships with lots of people who were effected, some directly.

Fear: Living relatively close to 3 Mile Island as flight 91 was being hikacked, not knowing where my brother was or having a way to contact him. There were some brief moments of real, genuine fear.

Community: Not just the brave first responders, not the amazing spirit of the people of New York and DC banding together, or even the wave of American pride that spread, but the hundreds of college students who had just met that banded together to donate blood. By 10am hundreds of us were at the local hospital. They had to set up a whole floor to handle all of the people giving blood. Volunteers and first responders, the helpers as Mr Rogers called them, created a new narrative of hope and community.

Hate: Not the hate of those who attacked us, but our own hate and bias shown through. I had a friend in college who was new to the United States from India. He lived the first few weeks after the attacks afraid to travel alone. We, his new friends, accompanied him everywhere, from class to the corner store. While there was so much positive response, there was also the negative reaction. This event brought out the best and the worst in us. It’s important to remember all of it and look to embrace those aspects we hope to be rather than those that we sometimes allow ourselves to become.