Cinco de Mayo & My Newest #EduHeroes

May 5th – Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is a traditional day of celebration in Mexico.  A day when the entire country celebrates that long ago victory at The Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.  It is a day when the citizens of Mexico come together to celebrate their ancestors who, against the odds, chose to take a risk and try to fend off the French even though they had a much smaller and ill equipped militia.  The victory they achieved that day created a sense of national unity, a sense of pride. It proved to the world that great things can be achieved when one believes – No voice is too small…

Fast forward 154 years…

On May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, 2016 a small group of educators from the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership will come together to embark on a new adventure. These educators have volunteered to put themselves out there, take a risk, and let themselves be vulnerable.  You see on May 5th, this small group of educators will be immersed in an Avatar Teaching Scenario session. Our organization has teamed up with Mursion and their TeachLivE program to provide our teachers with a unique opportunity to reflect upon their current teaching practice.

If you’ve never heard of TeachLivE you really should check it out:

“The TLE TeachLivE™ Lab is a mixed-reality teaching environment supporting teacher practice in classroom management, pedagogy and content. The TLE TeachLivE™ Lab, developed at the University of Central Florida, is currently being used at over 85 campuses in the United States and growing to include multiple school districts and international partners. Each partner utilizes the TLE TeachLivE™ Lab in a unique manner depending on the needs of their students, teachers, professors, and community stakeholders. The TLE TeachLivE™ Lab provides pre-service and in-service teachers the opportunity to learn new skills and to craft their practice without placing “real” students at risk during the learning process.”

And here’s a quick YouTube clip to view: TeachLivE Digital Story Short

Now, from what I can find, the TeachLiveE avatars have largely been used in training teachers at the pre-service level, which is great.  Our organization, however, is hoping to utilize the avatars as a way to help our in-service teachers hone their teaching craft. You see these avatars can be set at all levels of classroom management difficulty and they can be set up to help a teacher work on a particular skill for example, increasing wait time, asking more open ended questions etc.  Teachers will have the option of coming to the avatar sessions with a skill already in mind that they would like to work on or they can choose to interact with the avatars first, reflect on the experience then perhaps choose an area they’d like to target based on their reflections. Up until this point, we have had only a limited few teachers interact with the avatars, and it has been in a more general format.  Our next steps are to bring in a group of teachers who will act as our test subjects as we work to develop meaningful professional development opportunities for the teachers in our region.

So what does this have to do with Cinco de Mayo and #EduHeroes?

Coming back to the theme of Cinco de Mayo, where an entire country celebrates the efforts of a small group, I would like to celebrate the teachers from my organization who have willingly volunteered to put themselves out there and interact with the avatars. This may not seem like such a big deal to some but you need to know that this will not be just my teachers and myself “playing'” with this cool new technology.  Our assistant superintendent, superintendent and PR person will be there, in addition to a representative from a local college who is interested in learning more about the avatars and I think I’ve even heard that some of our principals are coming over to “check it out.”

So you see, these teachers who have agreed to be our guinea pigs as we embark on this journey of discovery with the avatars really are my #EduHeroes. They’re willingly putting themselves out there, letting themselves be vulnerable, not only in front of each other, but also in front of the “head honchos.” They do this because they seek to blaze a trail so that their colleagues have a smoother path to follow.  They do this because I asked, and they trust me. They do this because they know that the efforts of a few can make the lives of many better.  They do this because they believe in the art of teaching.  They do this because they continually seek to improve upon and hone their own teaching craft. They do this because, like the small Mexican militia at The Battle of Puebla, they know that the efforts of a few can have a positive impact on an entire nation – school.

So as I wrap up this post I charge each of you to take a moment to identify and recognize those trailblazers, those #EduHeroes that are part of your organization.  Celebrate them and when Cinco de Mayo rolls around be sure to remember that the efforts of a small few can have positive impact on an entire nation – school.  We CAN affect positive change in education!  Together We’re Better!

The Optimistic Educator…




5 Days & Counting-My #WGEDD Butterflies

5 days and counting….

In 5 days at this very time, 7:05am, I will be at the Rochester International Airport with my 3 principals. Jon Sanfratello, my current principal, Foster Miller, my former principal and Matt Flowers, my adopted principal.  We are flying to Houston, Texas to attend the What Great Educators Do Differently, #WGEDD, conference.  I have butterflies…

This will be my second #WGEDD conference.  In October I attended #WGEDD Chicago with the original team #GVEPride, fellow teaching colleagues Dawn Ellis, Danielle Morsch, Mike Deming and Greg Scholz.  We left the conference charged up and ready to go! But unlike other conferences where the initial enthusiasm fades after a few days back in the “trenches,” upon returning to school after #WGEDD we immediately wanted to start sharing our new found passion with everyone!

Fast Forward #1:  Success!

The original team #GVEPride found their “Brave” (Thanks Angela!) and, with our administrations support and encouragement, began taking over the planning, development and implementation of PD on conference days.  Suffice it to say that it has been a HUGE success!

Fast Forward #2:  Encore!

Because of the enormous success of the first #WGEDD conference, a second #WGEDD was planned – enter #WGEDD Houston.  As soon as I heard this I just knew that my principals (*I know it’s odd to refer to 3 different people as my principal but that is something to be explained in another post…) needed to attend so they could experience the awesome.  After much discussion and finagling it was set – they were going to #WGEDD Houston! And even better – I was going along with them!  *A huge shout of thanks needs to go to my Assistant Superintendent Dr. Julie Donlon for making this happen!!

Fast Forward #3:  The E-mail

After I knew for sure that the 4 of us were going to #WGEDD Houston I, of course, shared my excitement with the twitter world.  Not long after the e-mail came.  Would I be willing to present an Ignite session at #WGEDD Houston.  WHAT?? Me?? Why?? Had Jeff and Jimmy lost their minds? I’m just a little old teacher from an unknown, rural school district. What could I possibly have to offer?  And then I STOPPED.  I was not thinking like a “Great Educator.” Had I forgotten everything I learned at the first #WGEDD?  I took a deep breath, told myself I could do this and then said Yes!

Fast Forward #4:  The Butterflies

So now here we are, 5 days away from jumping on a plane to Houston. The butterflies didn’t hit until yesterday.  I’m really doing this.  For some, presenting for 5 minutes may not feel like a big deal.  For me, it’s huge.  I’m nervous. I’m scared. I hope I don’t screw up. I think it would almost be easier if everyone in the audience were perfect strangers. But I know out there watching me will be my principals – I’m representing our school – I need to get this right.  And I know out there watching me will be Jeff and Jimmy – they’re trusting me to do a good job – I need to get this right.  

Fast Forward #5:  Flying in Formation

I know I can do this. I know that once it’s done I’ll want to do it again. That’s my personality. I’m passionate about people and I love sharing my passions with others. And those butterflies, instead of fighting them, I’m now training them to fly in formation. I’ve made them friend, not foe. They’ve become my invisible side kicks and I welcome their presence!  (Thanks for the tip Scott Berkun!) 

5 days and counting….   #WGEDD Houston here we come! Team #GVEPride take 2 is on it’s way, butterflies proudly in tow!

The Optimistic Educator…


Day 1: My #FlyHighFri Day

So it’s day 1 of the #AprilBlogADay challenge. What to write? I pondered it this morning but only came up with a few false starts.  It’s only when I got home after school that it came to me. I could write about my day!

Today is Friday, April 1st, 2016. Instead of heading to my own school I headed over to our sister campus. Today our Academic Integration team was going to work on curriculum together. Not the most exciting prospect but the company would be grand. I am one of the fortunate ones that is blessed to work with wonderful people.

Upon arriving and settling in it was quickly realized that none of us was in the right frame of mind to be writing curriculum.

So what did we do?

 This is what we did:

  • spent time teaching each other how to make lists and how to follow other people’s lists on twitter
  • spent time teaching each other the most effective ways to use tweetdeck during a twitter chat and how to set up columns
  • talked about the collaborative efforts that were occurring on each of our respective campuses
  • talked about ideas we had for upcoming endeavors
  • helped a colleague brainstorm ideas for an upcoming conference
  • babysat a puppy (way too cute she was!!)
  • spent time teaching each other about voxer then practiced voxing
  • watched and gave feedback to a team of 3 young gentlemen  who had created a video game and were presenting it at an upcoming competition
  • watched and gave feedback to an amazing young lady who had designed an entire advertising campaign for a restaurant and had to present it at an upcoming competition
  • and so much more!

So did we accomplish what we had originally set out to do?  The answer is no. But what we did accomplish was so much more valuable. We bonded, collaborated, helped a colleague, helped students and helped each other.

It really was a  #FlyHighFri kind of day!

The Optimistic Educator…

Special thanks go out to Dawn, Mike, Augie and Jackie for making the day so awesome!

The Transformation

It happened slowly.  It was uncomfortable.  For a long time it was unidentifiable.  I resisted it. At times I actually fought it. After several years I could no longer deny it.  A transformation was occurring and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Let’s look back 5 years to see where I was….

  • Teacher – effective yet not satisfied (whatever that means!)
  • Unsettled – my “teacher” skin was getting itchy
  • Isolated – great colleagues yet felt professionally alone
  • Protector – supporter and defender of those in need

At the time, our school was working under oppressive leadership.  I’ve always been a giver but during this time I felt myself changing.  There were some troubling things happening in our school.  My fellow teachers, in my opinion, were being “abused.” It was at this point that I felt my fierce mama bear come out.  These were my teachers and I was going to protect them.  I needed to take action!

The actions that I took during those dark days are not necessary to share but what resulted from those actions is.

What I learned about myself during those trying times…

  • Resilient – like Chumbawamba says in their song Tubthumping “You’re never gonna keep me down.”
  • Courageous – willing to live outside of my comfort zone to benefit others
  • Capacity – able to bring together and positively influence others

Eventually the dark days passed and new leadership was at the helm.  My unsettled feelings and struggle with isolation were still present yet I was feeling confident in the changes that I helped bring about in our school.  Under the guidance and encouragement of our new leadership I was able to embrace the transformation that was occurring within me.

Let’s fast forward to the present to see where I am now…

  • Collaborator – growing and learning with our entire school
  • Unsettled – embracing the discomfort that growth and learning create instead of fighting it
  • Connected – isolation is a choice that I now choose to dismiss
  • Leader – encouraging and supporting growth in our school community

My transformation is far from complete and I’m ok with that.  I am less “itchy” in my own skin and am feeling excited about some new opportunities that have been presented to me.  I don’t know where my educational journey will take me but I do know that I am on the right track.  My experiences over the last five years have taught me that instead of just reacting to the circumstances around me and letting that unsettled feeling take control I need to stop and reflect.  I need to acknowledge and embrace my feelings instead of letting them overpower me.  I need to take action where I can but also need to step back and realize that some things are outside of my control. Ultimately I have realized that how I deal with the transformations in my life is my choice. I can ride the wave and choose to find the positive or I can get caught in the undertow and let the negative drown me. The choice is mine.

So in conclusion, I invite all of you who are feeling unsettled and like you need a change to stop fighting your unrest.  Ride the wave, keep an open mind and embrace the transformation that is occurring within you!

The Optimistic Educator…

On Drinking the #WGEDD Kool-Aid…

Team #GVEPpride arrives in Chicago!
Team #GVEPride arrives in Chicago!

On Thursday, October 15th five educators from the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership had the privilege of flying to Chicago to attend the inaugural What Great Educators Do Differently conference #WGEDD This is their story…

Disclaimer: Drinking the Kool-Aid often has a negative connotation but we choose to use it’s more modern meaning indicating that we embrace the #WGEDD philosophy.

Our Team  Before  #WGEDD:

Teacher #1 has been connected and drinking the Kool-Aid for almost a year now. This teacher was first offered a drink by her principal.  Initially she declined his offer. Then, because he was pleasantly persistent, she decided to take a sip.  She never looked back!  When she first heard of the #WGEDD conference she just knew she had to attend.  Together with Teacher #2 they planned the trip.

Teacher #2  is Teacher #1’s counterpart on our sister campus. These two call themselves “Teacher Twins.”  So as you can probably guess when Teacher #2 saw how much Teacher #1 was enjoying the Kool-Aid she had to join in. She got herself connected and has never looked back!  Like Teacher #1, she just knew she had to attend the #WGEDD conference.  Together they planned the trip.

Teacher #3  was not connected and didn’t know there was any Kool-Aid to drink.  She is a phenomenal teacher with energy and enthusiasm who was on the brink of burning out. She was isolated on an island all by herself, or so she thought.  Teacher’s #1 & #2 knew they needed to bring her along.

Teacher #4 is a steadying force for Teacher’s #1 & #2.   He is not one willing to accept any old Kool-Aid.  He attended the #WGEDD conference because Teacher’s #1 & #2 asked him to.  He was connected in theory but had not yet found his tribe. He was still a twitter egg head.

Teacher #5  is Teacher #3’s counterpart on our sister campus.  He was to be our barometer.  He is a seasoned educator who has not yet become connected. He is a great teacher and, of his own admission, doesn’t really want someone telling him what to do.  He was not interested in drinking anyone’s Kool-Aid.  With our encouragement he agreed to come along.

Team #GVEPpride After  #WGEDD: *Note we now have a hashtag-we’ve learned the importance of branding our school and telling our story!

Teacher #1  She still can’t stop smiling. She was motivated, inspired and uplifted by every single person she encountered during the #WGEDD conference! She was so proud of her team too.  They listened critically, reflected then eventually embraced what they were hearing.  She knows there’s more out there for her to do but for now is content to live out the #WGEDD philosophy with her students, teachers and admin. by her side.

Teacher #2 She was always an innovator in her own right but now, after #WGEDD, she realizes that the sky’s the limit! She continues to grow, connect and collaborate both in the twitterverse and face to face with her fellow teachers.  She lives out the #WGEDD philosophy every day while bravely sharing her greatness with those around her.

Teacher #3  She is now a connected teacher-hooray! By the end of our weekend she had a twitter account, was tweeting and had plans to start a school social media account to which she plans on posting podcasts of the amazing students in her school sharing all the awesome things they do!  She is on fire and there is no stopping her!  She’s a giver and will now share the Kool-Aid with anyone who will listen.

Teacher #4 He’s become a believer! He no longer has an egghead for a twitter picture, has begun connecting with others in the twitterverse and is eager to learn more about joining in (maybe just watching at first…) some of the amazing twitter chats that are out there.  He now willingly admits that the there is value to drinking the Kool-Aid and is spreading the word to his fellow teachers!

 Teacher #5 He’s still not ready to take the leap into the twitterverse but is no longer a naysayer.  After #WGEDD he took a leap of faith and decided to sip the Kool-Aid.  He has stepped outside of his comfort zone and is trying new things in his classroom.  His students are loving this new approach! It has been so exciting to watch him embrace and embody some of the things that he learned at #WGEDD.  He is even becoming a vocal advocate among his fellow teachers!

So that’s our story.   Did anything earth shattering happen at #WGEDD that caused the changes in our team?  The answer is no. But something did happen –  people happened, face to face connections happened, sharing happened, learning happened, laughter happened, friendship happened, excitement happened, passion happened, reflection happened, growth happened – a network of greatness was born.

So what were some of the take-a-ways from #WGEDD that bolstered those of us in our team who already believed and converted those who did not?  It’s impossible to include everything but here is a small snippet of what we learned:

  • Be Brave!  If we expect our student’s to take risks, stretch their thinking, not be afraid to fail then we too must do the same.  Embrace your vulnerability then go out there and share your greatness!
  • What Can Go Right?  When you’re being brave and trying new things remember to think about what can go right.  Focus on the positive!
  • Brand your school!  Celebrate all the amazing that is happening in your school.  Use social media to share what you are doing with families and the community.  Create a school or district hashtag.  Remember that if you don’t tell your schools story someone else will…
  • Connect and Collaborate!  There is a whole world out there just waiting to connect and share with you and your students.  We live in a global society. No longer do we need to stand alone in isolation.  Go out there and grow yourself a PLN!
  • Move outside of your comfort zone!  Change is hard, change is scary-no one is denying that. But if we want true growth for ourselves and our students then we must challenge ourselves to move into that sate of unrest.
  • People before Purpose!  There have been, and will always continue to be, many different initiatives in education.  There will constantly be new buzz words and programs you are expected to implement.  But ultimately it comes down to the people.  If you as a teacher are willing to embrace the #WGEDD philosophy then it will not matter what program it is that you are implementing, you WILL be effective. Remember, it all comes down to relationships-everything else is secondary!
So in parting I challenge you to take a sip of the #WGEDD Kool-Aid.  It may not be the answer to all of education’s woes but it is certainly a step in the right direction.  Try it, I think you might like it….

The Optimistic Educator…