Overcoming The Ordinary

If you ask most any body to describe me, you’ll find a theme:

“a firecracker,”

“bold and courageous,”

“creative and flashy.”

And I can own that; I have my own special brand of crazy.  

But, I have a confession. I am terribly boring when it comes to my fear.

You see, my fear shouts “STOP!” to me, every single time I sit down to write. Fear doesn’t offer interesting insight or compelling rationale. Never. It just SCREAMS ad nauseam that one word, repeated and repeated with increasing hysteria: “STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!!!”

My fear wants me to stop, because it wants me to be safe, as it perceives all inspiration, all work, all risk, all passion *whatsoever* as potentially life-threatening. My fear’s wicked whispers of inadequacy and destructive comparison have paralyzed me, freezing my confidence when it comes to sharing stories of learning and my experiences as an educator.

For the longest, I’ve almost celebrated this fear: pretending as if it were a unique kryptonite that only I felt; but it’s not. Your fear is exactly the same as mine. I guarantee it. You see, fear is common. It’s ordinary. My fear wants me to be disconnected from my supports and to feel alienated and self-conscious in my pursuits of excellence. My fear wants me to live a smaller life, a life without sparkle or design. That, my friends, is not the life I want to live.

I tell my kids every day the world is not a scary place.

Most often, that which makes us nervous, unsettled, even downright-shaking-in-our-boots-with-sweaty-palms, is the world challenging us to reveal our superpowers and share the genius we all have inside us. Discomfort and uncertainty allow us to rethink a situation, reframing it with creativity and clarity. This simple reflection is the very basis of learning and, in turn, is the threshold of innovation.

You see, I struggle with comparison. I am my harshest critic. I worry that I am not enough. These are fears — unfounded and ordinary. It’s time to silence them. It’s time to embrace the tingle, that twinge which whispers to try, to be bold, to champion for kids.

So, here’s to vulnerability and critiques; to stumbles and blown shots; to tweaks and epiphanies. Because that, my friends, is where true learning lives.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll face these fears together and #BEEtheChAnGe for our kiddos.


Narrated Google Slides — BOOM!

I am incredibly proud to be part of the FriEdTechnology family. Seriously — best people ever. I’m sure you guys have friends like this (you know you’ve seen the quote circling on social media)…
Well…my weirdos did it again :) Thanks so Jessica Powell-Allbright (@SimplyEdTech) , Amy Mayer (@friEdTechnology) and Tommy Spall (@TommySpall) for mixing up a Google-riffic goodie for us.
special thanks to Tommy Spall for this post

So, I hope everyone that reads our daily blog is ready to have their minds blown!

I would like to thank two incredibly smart, Google-tastic friends: Jessica Powell and Amy Mayer from FriEdTechnology for this blog post!  It’s awesome what happens when folks put their minds together!  #PLN
In a recent Brenham Tech Daily blog post we discussed the new G-Suite update to Google Slides where you can now upload a video straight from your Google Drive into your Slide Presentation.  Jessica Powell has taken this a step forward and decided to turn her presentations into voice-navigated (self-paced) presentations.
The practical use for this in education and/or self-paced training is enormous.  Just think of educators conducting training sessions online using this method.  Or students taking a self-paced, voice-navigated test at their own speed.  Every day Google is allowing for us to change the game in education!
Below is the original idea from my buddy, Jess P.
“I’m sure by now you’ve heard the awesome news….you can now insert videos from Google Drive into your Slides presentations so that you don’t have to rely on YouTube videos.
One tip I wanted to share with you all that I’m using with my self-paced course materials, 
Voice-Navigated Presentations:


  • Use Screencastify’s “Webcam” recorder to narrate your slides. 
  • Upload to Google Drive. 
  • Insert the video into your slide. 
  • Then, right click on your video to see “Video options”
  • Choose  “Autoplay when presenting”
  • I shrink my video super small so it’s hidden.
There you go. Now your slides presentations can be self-paced, using the link to slide option, AND voice-narrated. Making online coursework using Slides is super easy now!”

 +Amy Mayer (@friEdTechnology) was able to take this great idea and create a wonderful tutorial for you that takes you through the various steps needed to make this happen!  Watch below:

Narrated Slides from Amy Mayer

#BEEageniUS of innovation

Quick! Name a goal of classrooms all across the United States? Ding, ding! To create a classroom of innovation. Teachers and administration alike are pouring over the blogosphere, Twitterverse, and attending conferences en masse to find this holy grail of transformation. And while there are innumerable treasures to be found in each resource, a single underpinning to innovation is simply encouraging student voice.

Think about it: when students feel safe to express their ideas and supported to take risks with their learning, we are able to transform the classroom from a place of instruction to a community of exchange, intrigue and interaction.

Interested? The key to nurturing a culture of voice is establishing an environment of trust and respect. Here are some important considerations to ponder and integrate into your classroom.


Angela Maiers’ 2011 Tedx Talk “You Matter” tells us that two words — YOU MATTER — “can change lives and can change the world.” She advocates for recognizing each person as significant contributors to society; that each person deserves to be heard, seen, and cared for. With this, Maiers dares us to frame our interactions with our students by saying: “YOU are a genius and the world needs your contribution. What will you share with us today?”

As an English teacher, I took this simple idea and presented it to my students. #BEEageniUS became our galvanizing concept, we explored different ways to share their genius with the world. I created Padlet boards, Google Slides and Today’s Meet chats with conversation starters, including:

  • What’s your theme song? Pull a lyric or two that best describes you.
  • What cartoon character is most like you?
  • Name one skill that you are proud of. Create a #hashtag to explain its significance.
  • Name one challenge that you are setting your sights on this year. Create a #hashtag to explain its significance.

The collaborative nature of our connected classroom allowed students to watch as each classmate added their post. Seeing all of the colors, fonts, and answers helped weave a tapestry of contributions. My students began to see their peers through different lenses: they began forming new appreciations for their gifts instead of focusing on right and wrong answers. To further encourage relationships, we all (myself included) commented on posts, drawing on similarities and providing kudos. To extend the learning beyond the classroom walls, we turned to our blogs and the students saw the power of their words — their beliefs — impact others and found significance as they shared their personalities and perspectives with a global audience.

We’re all GIFTED, some just open their packages DIFFERENTLY.

One of the important features of these activities is that it is exclusive of “academic content.” So often, we limit the interactions of our students by restricting conversations to “school.” This puts their contributions into a box: they’re either good at math or not; it’s a right answer or not. If we learn more about their inspirations, influences and ideas, we’re better able to appreciate their gifts. This is paramount to creating a culture of community. Students need to know (and believe) that you’re not going to silence them every time they make a comment or ask a question. How you respond (especially in the first weeks of school) sets the stage for the entire year. If you continually tell them they are wrong, they will begin to “not:” not try, not care, not learn. If you continually tell them to be quiet or ask fewer questions, they hear: your voice doesn’t matter.


So how do we tell them they matter? How do we innovate? We encourage that which has always been done, to be approached differently. We look for the unheard voice to rise above the crowd of contentment. We turn to the young people we serve daily and ask them to lead us and share their voices with us.

Let’s Be Honest – Homework Sucks for EVERYONE

Guest Post by Jon Corippo

Special Thanks to Alice Keeler for featuring this article.

Recently, Texas Elementary School teacher (*and TSU alum*) Brandy Young posted a homework policy for her classroom and a very happy parent Facebooked that policy to the tune of over 74,000 likes (and counting). As an educator, I’m thrilled that people are finally getting this conversation out in the open.

There are PLENTY of blog posts agreeing with  this mini-viral sensation, so I’m going to talk about what nobody is talking about, the one thing Ms. Young has REALLY wrong in her amazing manifesto: The hidden danger of teachers saying “if you don’t finish, you have to do this for homework”.
homework on facebook

A little background on me first. I WAS that homework teacher. I had my students line up ALPHABETICALLY, graded their work in real time and if they didn’t have it, I trained them to call home and reported themselves to their parents. I had the routine down pat. And I had it all in the gradebook before I went home Friday. Usually about 300-400 pieces of paper per week, not counting in-class work. I once delivered a student his math book, paper, and pencils and a missing assignment report to his house, so he could finish missing assignments over the weekend.  And I did it unannounced, a drive-by homework deliverer. I was into homework.

And then one day I realized that every Friday, I was wrecking everything I had built up between Monday and Thursday. I always tried to have a classroom that was fun, friendly, relaxed and had the feeling of being a studio, instead of a place where I was just a “handout hand-outer,” dishing out worksheets. Every day was an exciting adventure, filled with teachable moments, unexpected changes on the fly, and hand crafted projects that featured lots of technology infused throughout.

And then, every Friday morning, I wrecked it all. Every week. And every weekend I’m sure kids spent time wondering why I was all “up in their weekend”. I was the Friday homework maniac, and “checking the box” preempted all the learning we’d done up until then.

Stop the Homework Crazy Train

I decided to stop the homework crazy train. In fact, I got to help develop a high school that actually had a school-wide goal of “no stupid homework” – meaning there was work to do at home, sometimes. But homework just to be busy was not okay. This same high school just had the highest SBAC scores in Madera County – thereby proving it is possible to have a “homework minimal” policy at the high school level.

If You Don’t Finish

SO. What’s wrong with Ms. Young’s no homework plan? Well, it’s that one little wrinkle, “if you don’t finish, you take it home.” Seems fair, right? Do your work now – so you can have the night off.  But you have to think like a person who is surrounded by their friends. And their friends will not be there when they get home. So, a fair amount of students will mean to do their work. But they don’t finish. Then, they have a moral dilemma – will they actually do the thing at home, independently, that they wouldn’t do at school with support?

 can not do this the night before

How many kids will be the kid who doesn’t do the homework? Not all of them. But if you understand The Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule, having 20% of the kids off-task can decimate the general productivity of a classroom (if he’s not working, why should we?). And then there’s Parkinson’s Law – “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, so if a student can finish tonight, why would they finish today. And then at home that cycle REPEATS (Hey! They can do it in the morning! Before school!).

5% of grade

In my years of teaching in the K-8 grade range, I sat in on meeting after meeting where students were missing 20, 30, 40 pieces of work. Think about that amount of work, especially in the context that a teacher might typically enter 3-5 items per week. How does a student get that far behind? It’s easy: the “take it home if you don’t finish” effect. The idea of trying to have kids hurry-up to finish so they don’t have to take the work home is a failure on many levels.

A far better pedagogical approach, one that benefits our students is to establish a class tempo that focuses on students finishing work at school – the idea that leaving without the work done is not okay. Nothing aids learning more than fast feedback. Consider this 3 step process: situation, behavior, impact. When a teacher allows the student to “finish at home” – the behavior and impact portions are put “on credit” to be dealt with tomorrow or Monday, if ever. Without this feedback, student learning is hampered.

Bell to Bell

In my own classroom, once I changed to a do this at school, finish now model, my students were far more engaged in the work of the day, because of the idea that we’d all finish. Right now. And I’d get their work feedback to them immediately. No homework for them or me. (At Minarets High School, Daniel Ching calls this working “bell to bell;” I like that phrasing).

Some teachers or parents may be saying “but we need homework” right now. I’d argue that *if* kids are working “bell to bell”, six hard hours a day, with immediate feedback – most of the minutia we are obsessed with assigning in the homework category can be eliminated. For example, I used to spend at least one full class period a week of ELA time giving out Latin Root definitions, homework, giving and grading the tests. Using a tool like Quizizz, Socrative or Formative, students can take the test twice a day (with automated grading) in about 10-12 minutes per day. My experience is that this classroom flow meant that by Thursday, the class average will be above 90%, with no homework. With data like that, I don’t need to do the whole test/give out homework thing on Friday. It just isn’t needed. That means one day a week is now wide open for new work. Every week.

So all those kids could be getting great academic work done, teachers can give faster feedback and homework could have been a bad dream…if we will just open our minds to the possibility of saying “do it now.” We talk about change being expensive in education, here is a place where we can make a dramatic and positive impact almost immediately and it’s free. Think about making one free change this week: NOT allowing work to be finished at home.


A Pep Talk for Change

I spend an awful lot of time talking about change. Not the pennies and dimes kind of change, but the hard stuff…the let’s scribble all over this and look at it differently change. And let me be the first to tell you: people do not like that kind of change. I get it. It’s scary. Most of the time, at least in my line of work, talk of change evokes a trademark teacher move: the eye roll and sassy head crane, followed quickly with the oh, so you want me to reinvent the wheel? My answer is an emphatic no.

im-not-asking-you-to-invent-im-asking-you-to-innovate-1There is a basic misunderstanding between the words invention and innovation. I am stymied by this myself. I struggle with feeling compelled to find something “new and ground-breaking.” But the truth is, we’re not after new. We’re after iteration, refinement, touch-ups, and tweaks. That’s what allows us to improve. That’s what allows us to change…for the better.

So, let’s rally around INNOVATIVE CHANGE and use our powers for good to be the light we want to see.