Now what? Five tips for #educators to #resist

Betsy Devos was confirmed today as the new Secretary of Education for the United States.

This is concerning to many educators, as well as members of the general public.  Millions had called their senators in hopes to convince them to vote in the interest of public school students nationwide.  However, many chose to vote instead with their pocket…ahem…party.

Houston, we have a problem.

Public education has a big question mark looming overhead.  We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, much less the next four years.  I know what yesterday brought, and that was an announcement from CoSN, linking to this Washington Post article that “the FCC is stopping companies from providing federally subsidized Internet” to low-income families.  This is devastating news, and will no doubt exacerbate the already-wide digital divide that affects our students.

When there is a problem, we need to work to find a solution.  I don’t have it…I’m sure nobody does.  This is much bigger than any one individual, which is exactly why we need to come together.  We need all hands on deck.  We are at war to protect our future.

ISTE Teacher Standards 2017, Draft 2, challenges all educators to be advocates (See Standard 2: Leader, Indicator B).  In light of several questionable decisions taken by elected government officials(?), we need to rise up and fight for our students.  Many of us have been doing so all along, but again, we need all hands on deck.

So, what can we do?  It is helpful to have a set of actionable steps.  These are some initial thoughts, and I encourage any readers to add their suggestions in the comments:

  1. Each one, reach one.  I always talk about how connecting with other educators via social media has helped me become a better teacher for my students.  Over the years, I have found even more benefit as my use has grown to include collaborating for social change.  We need more voices in the mix.  Now, connecting is more than sharing best practice (which I’m not diminishing by any means…this is also important).  Let me put it this way, an individual can make a big difference; however, that difference is amplified even further with collaborators.  So I challenge everyone reading this to bring a colleague online, and get them involved.
  2. Organize.  The power of grassroots movements is undeniable.  The keyword in that last sentence is grassroots.  People who start movements don’t wait for permission to organize to be handed to them.  They take it.  We all have so much more power than we know, individually and collectively.  Don’t sit around waiting for a leader to take action on an issue you care about.  That leader can very well be you.  (Of course, there are precautionary measures to take.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there may be risk involved.  Be smart.  Only go as hard as you are willing/able.  But there are ways to resist in most situations, and taking small action is better than taking no action.)
    1. Don’t be afraid to lead…and don’t be afraid to follow.  There’s nothing worse than groups fighting for the same cause, but also fighting each other like crabs in a barrel.  It’s a waste of energy at best, and also counterproductive.  Instead, I would suggest looking first to see if there is already a group aligned with your vision, and throwing your support behind that.  If there’s not a good fit, then go for what you know, but reach out to similar groups to see if you can work together.
  3. Keep your eyes open. Going back to social media…I use Twitter lists a lot.  I have a special one called, “Watch These,” where I always go when I sign on, immediately after checking notifications and/or DMs.  It has evolved through the years, first including my close friends.  Then I added those who inspired me in education, then those outside of education.  In addition to my all-time-favorite Twitter peeps, the current iteration has grown to include people who are there for not-so-positive reasons.  I’ll let you guess who they are.  Anyway, my reason for adding them to the list is because it helps me keep my eyes open.  I see what these people are saying.  It’s better to get it directly from the source than to hear it second- and third-hand, especially with all of this “fake news” and “alternative facts” going around.
    1. I also like to follow alt-gov accounts like @AltUSNatParkSer, @Alt_DeptofED, @RoguePOTUSStaff, @RogueNASA, and others.  I cannot vouch for the authenticity of all of the alt-gov accounts, but at a bare minimum, they often share valuable information, such as when demonstrations are being held.
  4. Stay vocal.  Social media is definitely a recurring theme in this post, as you can see.  As much as you are able, share your views freely, share them often, and fight for what you believe in.  Do not accept to be silenced by the opposition.  Silence is death.  Yes, that may sound overdramatic, but it is true.  When you allow yourself to be silenced, you are allowing your idea/passion to die.
    1. Tangentially, we need to be amplifying and uplifting one another.  Too many times, I have been guilty of letting my passion die because it was met with deafening silence.  Now, I am learning to keep talking.  Talk to anyone who will listen.  Talk, even if no one is listening.  Just keep talking.
    2. I was introduced to the term “protest fatigue” by an article a friend shared, but as Shaun King says, we must reject that.  Protest fatigue is death.  Resist, resist, resist.  Not everyone can go to marches all the time, but there are many ways to resist.  Do whatever you are able/willing.  Every little bit helps.  Speaking of that…
  5. Don’t forget the little things. Senators Collins and Murkowski voted NO today.  I have tremendous respect for them, especially given that every other member of their party voted to approve the nominee.  With a little bit of digging, it’s not hard to see how that could have *possibly* happened.  I would like to note that, even though Senator Murkowski’s campaign allegedly received a donation, she still voted NO, which was pretty remarkable.  This begs the question, why?  It would have been so easy to just vote with her party.  But she did exactly what we hope that all elected officials would do…listened to her constituents. “I have heard from thousands — truly thousands — of Alaskans who shared their concerns about Mrs. Devos as Secretary of Education. They’ve contacted me by phone, by e-mail, in person, and their concerns center, as mine do, on Mrs. Devos’s lack of experience with public education and the lack of knowledge that she portrayed in her confirmation hearing,” she stated February 1 at a Senate session.  
    1. I have always been reluctant to call my legislators for two reasons: a) it was a bit scary, and b) I felt like it would be a waste of time.  Concerning the first point, this particular issue lit me up so much that I forgot all about being shy.  (By the way, my friend shared this link with me, which was a tremendous help.)   Regarding the latter, Senators Collins and Murkowski’s actions today are living proof of what can happen when we don’t forget the little things.  I’m a believer, and from now on, I will be calling my legislators and letting my voice be heard.
    2. Another friend of mine put me onto the Party of Lincoln app (iOS, Android) which has over 20 ways to take political action, and includes the phone numbers of U.S. politicians.  I’ve also used Countable (iOS, Android), which allows you to contact Congress and learn about bills.

We have work to do, friends!  Again, I welcome any constructive comments and ideas for ways that educators (and let’s be real, all human beings) can support one another. Thanks for reading!

So, you want to write a book?

We just did. It had been a dream of mine for a very long time, but I was afraid because I thought it would be difficult. I was wrong. It can be done, relatively simply!

Caveat one: We literally just released this book less than a week ago, so I’m still learning a lot. I may have to update this post later as it’s still brand new waters.

Caveat two: I started writing this at the gym, so I may come back and add details that I forgot in between sets of squats.

Caveat three: I am not a lawyer, nor do I have an MBA. This is the documentation of an experience. You may want to consult with a professional, as this is not intended to be advice.

The purpose of this post is two-fold. First, I need to document the process while it’s still fresh in my mind. Second, hopefully in doing so, this will serve as a roadmap for others who wish to do the same.

This post will provide information on beginning a publishing company. It will also include information on how to crowdsource an anthology. For example, our book has authors from all over the country. Not everything will apply to everyone, so pick and choose what is relevant to you.

One more thing before jumping in…I need to thank everyone who made this project possible, beginning with the 19 other collaborating authors, all of the chapter editors, the EduMatch community, my educational and non-educational friends, and huge props to my family! I had no idea what I was doing, but my parents are writers and really took me under their wing. So did my edu writer friends who have already published. Looking forward to more collaboration with all whom I’ve mentioned and more in 2017.

Ok, ready? Set? Lehgo.


Simon Sinek says to start with the why.

Have a Purpose 

It doesn’t have to be grandiose. My purpose was that I’m passionate about sharing. I strongly feel that part of being an educator is also to educate one another. I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues, and I wanted to share as well. Just as our students have multiple ways of learning, so do we. Some people like reading books.

I chose to crowdsource this book to get multiple perspectives on multiple topics. Every author in the book is an expert at what he or she does, and was willing to share. When I say “experts,” I am not using that term in an elitist way; quite the opposite. We all have expertise in something. Find yours and share it to make our field better. Knowledge only increases as we share it because it spreads and allows for dialogue. This serves to further polish the idea and make it even better. Off my soapbox.

When I say “experts,” I am not using that term in an elitist way; quite the opposite. We all have expertise in something. Find yours and share it to make our field better. Knowledge only increases as we share it because it spreads and allows for dialogue. This serves to further polish the idea and make it even better. Off my soapbox.

Get your business in order

This section is mainly for publishers, edupreneurs, and organizations. Upon the recommendation of friends, when EduMatch was ready, I went to Legalzoom to get it registered officially to do business as an LLC. This was about a year in. Shortly after that, I applied for a trademark, which required a product, hence the book.

How do you know when you’re ready? It’s a blurry line, to be honest. I’d say definitely anytime money changes hands, for sure. You want to make sure to legally separate your personal assets from that of your organization or company.

This wasn’t the case for us…at the time, EduMatch was self-funded, and still is (meaning, it costs money to run and doesn’t make any lol). Honestly, it came down to branding. I wrote a post a while back about how branding is viewed by some as a dirty word, but like it or not, everyone has a brand, also known as reputation. Just like Tony Sinansis and Joe Sanfelippo said at a 2013 edcamp session that changed my life, “tell your story or someone else will tell it for you.”

I registered to protect the EduMatch brand. We stand for the passion for helping all children. We stand for open sharing of ideas. We stand for educators educating educators. We stand for grassroots initiatives, collaboration, and for learning with and from each other. We stand for empowerment. We stand for worldwide teamwork, regardless of titles. That’s what I wanted to protect. When you think of EduMatch, I want you to think of all of those things.

Again, off my soapbox. Anyway, Legalzoom can help you set up your business and get you a trademark. It’s pretty easy…not cheap, though. We got the basic package. I got about a million solicitation emails from lawyers who offered to help me file the trademark, but ended up doing it myself.

Plan

Have a plan from the get-go, and begin with the end in mind. Put together an outline with your anticipated release date, and set milestones accordingly. This helped tremendously…winging it works in some cases, but after many unsuccessful attempts, I’ve learned that planning and organization go a long way.

 

Crowdsource

This section is for people who are looking to do an anthology-style publication. If that’s not you, you can skip this part.

Since this was our first book project, I pitched the idea to people in the EduMatch Voxer group as well as a few others, and people who had guest blogged for us. I didn’t want to put it out on Twitter, because then it could have been too much to handle. I told everyone upfront that this was uncharted territory and there was a huge chance it wouldn’t work. Everyone was ok with taking that chance.

Potential contributing authors filled out a Google form with their emails and topics. As responses came in, I sent an email with more details on the project and asked respondents to reconfirm their interest. When they agreed, I then shared with them a Google Doc template. Contributing authors then had about three months to write their chapters.

During the second month, I began to line up chapter editors using a similar process. For this, I sent out a Google form to a slightly larger audience (i.e. the EduMatch mailing list) asking potential chapter editors to fill it out, with their areas of professional interest. I attempted to match potential editors with authors, based on areas of mutual interest. Sometimes they aligned perfectly, sometimes not.

When the submission deadline was up, I shared the Google docs with commenting rights to the chapter editors, who then used the commenting and suggested edit features to provide feedback on content and style. There were more chapter editors than contributing authors, so in some cases, the authors received feedback from multiple people. Each author had feedback from at least one editor.

After the authors had made their final edits, I transferred each chapter to a master template that I had found online. It was in Word format, which complicated things a bit, which leads us to the next section.

Formatting

The book was initially going to be available as a free PDF available for download on our website, edumatch.org, with other options TBD. My goal was to eventually have paperback and Kindle versions as well, but I didn’t want to promise this and not be able to deliver. However, beginning with the end in mind, it had always been set up to be paperback-ready.

In a Voxer group of authors, we discussed how we could make this moonshot happen. I also talked to authors I knew (hi Mom), and read a book on how to publish…that went way over my head. Our trademark category was e-books, which is why it was important to set EduMatch up as a publisher.

Createspace came up multiple times, as did Lulu. Both looked good, but Createspace had lots of options. I downloaded a template that I found online, and transferred the chapters onto it. It was in Word, and that was a headache, but there wasn’t much of a choice. Word lets you have custom section headers, for one thing. This is small, yet vital.  

Lessons learned: hyperlinks when you export to a PDF in “Word for Mac” don’t always work; if you transfer between a PC and a Mac, formatting will almost definitely be lost; use only one computer, because formatting is also probably lost if you upload to Google Drive and download the file to work on another PC; “Manage Versions” of PDFs in Google Drive will become your best friend.

We will come back to that last point. Anyway, after getting all of the chapters transferred, table of contents set, etc., I shared the first draft with the collaborating authors as a Word file and PDF. They could then use track changes to get it back to me with any final revisions if they had Word. If not, they could open the file as a Google Doc and make the changes there as suggested edits so I’d see them. The PDF was necessary in that case so they could see how it would appear with the formatting in place. Google doc conversion lost formatting lol.

After this final round, I shared the web version with the authors through Google Drive. Here is where Manage Versions saved my life. Between all of the formatting losses, there were glitches here and there that I (and Grammarly…and Spell Check) lost. Whenever someone found them, I could fix it in the Word file, resave as a PDF, and upload the new version on Google Drive. Same link…I wasn’t constantly sending out emails with an updated URL.

Publishing

Createspace has a pretty simple process, and you just follow the steps. I’d highly recommend ordering a physical proof before publishing. My mom noticed that the type was different fonts and sizes in some parts of the book, as a result of all of the conversions and glitches. This was subtle but very important. We would not have seen this had it not been for the physical proof.

The cost of the book depends on several factors, including your desired royalty, distribution channels, the number of pages you have, and whether it’s black and white or color.

At first, the price was really high, which was not what we wanted as a group. Our intention was not to make a lot of money, it was to share strategies with other educators. We discussed it in our Voxer group and decided to include a black and white paperback option. Also, we found that by opting out of expanded distribution for the full-color version, we could knock about $10 off. Hence, it’s a collector’s edition.

For the Kindle version, we used KDP. Again, very easy and self-explanatory. The only drawback was that we could only list 10 contributing authors on the form and we had 20. If you have more, just go to their contact page and fill out a ticket. You are then able to send them more names.

Before submitting on Createspace and KDP, we were able to get someone to design a book cover for a great price on Fiverr. Even with all of the gig extras, it was under $50.

The person who did it only did a front cover, but I found out that I had Photoshop through Adobe Creative Cloud, so I did the back. (You only need the back if you’re doing a physical copy.) Gimp is a free alternative, but I didn’t really use it once I found out I had Photoshop. Anyway, Createspace has templates for book covers, too, that you can download.

Even if you don’t know how to use the tools, you can teach yourself with YouTube tutorials. The Colorzilla Google extension lets you find out the numeric code to any color, which may come in handy if you need to match exact hues. Also, you can download Photoshop fonts online from DaFont and install them to your computer. 

Promotion

Once you have the book set up and you’re ready to launch it, start promoting. Here are a few things that worked for us:

  • YouTube Live: We had a panel of authors for an #EduMatch Tweet & Talk, many of them part of this project. This was a good way to get some buzz going. You can do the same. Send out the video when it’s done.
  • Drop hints on social media: Create a hashtag and promote the book across platforms.
    Ally with educational events: We coincided the launch of the book with the wrap of Edcamp Voice on Voxer. All attendees received the link to the free PDF download in their closing letter.
  • Have a launch party: We did this on Zoom, the day after the launch.  Unfortunately, it kept crashing, and the video didn’t record.  So, we will do it again on January 8. If you use Zoom (or anything else), it’s a good idea have multiple backup plans running in case of technical issues.
  • Thunderclap: This is a great, free tool that you can use to crowdsource promotion. You create a message and get people to “support” your project. If you get the required number of supporters (minimum 100), it will send out the same message from all of their accounts at the same time, hence a thunderclap. It’s best if you can set this up well in advance. It takes a while to get it approved, and you need time to get supporters. We were still able to get it to tip in two days, but next time we will allow for more breathing room.
  • Press release: One of our contributing authors yesterday suggested a press release because someone asked her for one. This was a great idea. You can get it done on Fiverr, or just do it yourself. When you have it, send it out to people who may be interested. Remember your target audience…you might want to include Twitter chat moderators,  podcasters,  YouTubers, educational publications, educational organizations/edcamps/conference organizers, and maybe even school district communications offices.

This is where we stand, as of today.

What’s next?

I’m excited to see what 2017 will bring for our project. We will be talking about the book on #RuralEdChat on January 10, and have a book study coming up in March.

EduMatch plans to do a Snapshot for 2017, as well as other books that are in the works. We also have other plans brewing, with details coming soon. Part of the fun is seeing what happens next.

Comments, questions, and ideas are welcomed. As always, thanks for reading!

The Lucy Ricardo Effect #edusnap16

As you may already know, we are releasing our first #EduMatch book in a few days. More about that later. The purpose of this post is to thank my fellow collaborators on this project, and many others. I know I have said time and again how excited and grateful I am. I never usually say why. 

Lucy Ricardo and I are kindred spirits. Since I was a kid, I have been coming up with crazy ideas. In first grade, it was the underground newsletter (yes, this was a thing). A few of my friends and I wrote articles, based on things that impacted our six-year-old lives (I can’t remember what, maybe cartoons, hula hoops, and Bobby Brown). This was inspired and encouraged by my parents, both writers themselves, among many other hats. My mom would let me use her computer to type everyone’s article; my dad would make copies for the whole class and the teacher. Cool News only had maybe two or three editions, but I remember how exciting it was to create something together. 

As I got older, I became more distracted by extracurricular activities, socializing, and the like. The next big Lucy Ricardo moment came in college. The summer of junior year, I was doing an internship at a nonprofit law organization that helped artists in my area. Being artistic myself, and considering a career in entertainment law, it was a great opportunity. One day, while filing papers, I came across a flyer for a workshop about starting a record label. My eyes lit up and it was on. 

I organized every musical friend I had, and Royal-T Records was officially born in October of 2002. Broke college kids, we had no money, but we were determined to make it work somehow. The research was the most fun. I read every book I could find about the music industry. I must have called every studio in DC, until I found one that charged $25 an hour. It was still a little pricey, but we gave it a shot. 

After a few sessions, we ended up bonding with the owners and built a partnership of sorts, and eventually recorded there for free. They mentored us, showed us how to work the equipment and told us what to buy to do it ourselves. As the years went by, we looked out for one another, wrote songs together, performed together, etc. The more we learned, we shared, and we grew together. This was yet another early lesson about the power of collaboration. (Alas, this came to an end, as I fell in and out of puppy love with one of the owners. There may or may not be some Alanis Morissette-ish songs I wrote about him floating around somewhere. C’est la vie.)

Anyway, the point of the story is that these are the times where I have truly felt alive. Coming together to create something is magical. This time is no different. 

I can easily remember a time in the past when I felt like a teacher outcast. Had I attempted to try anything outside of the ordinary, it quite possibly would have blown up in my face. The idea would have been ignored at best. Some of our colleagues face such toxicity constantly, and it really can kill your spirit. It almost did mine. I try to always remember this when encountering someone hesitant to sip the connection Kool-Aid. It can be very scary to take that first step, especially if you are afraid of consequences. 

I’ll admit that, even though everything has turned around (and more) beyond my wildest expectations, I still have that fear before trying anything. What if it blows up? What if people ignore me? Regarding the latter, many times people do 😂 But I’ve learned that’s not the end of the world, and to try new ideas anyway. If it’s good, people may want to collaborate later. 

This book project in particular has been an absolute joy. I got to work with 19 other amazing people, learning this process together. It was a throwback to the newsletter in first grade, while uncovering the roadmap as we went along, much like the record label. These are some of the most brilliant, funny, open, kind-hearted, and passionate folks I have met. Before we began, I thought this would be hard…that nobody would want to do this…that if anybody did, I’d mess it all up and it would be like pulling teeth. Guess what? None of that happened! My co-authors are so amazing and have made this process super-easy. In fact, after such a positive first experience, we plan to expand in 2017!

All of that being said (in a very disorganized way…yes, I am laying on the couch. Yes I am on my WordPress app on my phone. No, I probably won’t polish this up later 😬), I need to take a moment to thank those of you with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating, especially in this educational space. It has meant the world to me. This goes out to all of the co-authors of the book, the entire #EduMatch crew, all of the co-organizers of any edcamp or conference planning team I’ve been on, my teammates at work, my other work families (MAFI, OHHS, and more), GEG DC Metro, anyone who has reached out to me to invite me to their table, anyone who ever believed in me (especially when it was cool not to), anyone who positively impacted me, and especially to Mom and Dad for showing me that anything is possible, and when it gets hard to keep fighting for it. 

That felt like the Grammy acceptance speech that never happened 😜

The Subtle Art…

I’m currently reading this great book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ****. Since I tend to give way too many, wasting a lot of time worrying about stuff that doesn’t matter nearly as much as I think it does, this book is right on time. Yesterday when I was at an event, I took an introvert break. There was no cell reception, so I cracked open the Kindle app and continued to read where I left off. 


Excuse the potty language. Not my words. Also, while I’m asking for pardon, know that I am writing this from the gym, so the post won’t be polished. Very stream of consciousness. 

Anyway, I had been reflecting on this idea for a little while now. A few months ago, I had heard someone talk about how so many people are results-driven, when the process itself is often more meaningful. This has implications for education, for bettering ourselves, and for many of other things I care about. It just makes sense. 

Yesterday in a Voxer group, I was chatting with some friends about gatekeepers in our field, and how my early feelings of powerlessness drove my passion to be connected. When I discovered there was so much more out there, and that I didn’t need to wait to be spoonfed PD, that there were other millions of educators out there just like me, willing to connect and learn together around the clock…it was like a drug and I couldn’t get enough. 

Yesterday, I had the honor of attending a symposium at the White House. It was my first time there since a tour in 8th grade. My mind was blown when I saw my name tag:


#EduMatch!!! At the White House!!!

It was a little over two years ago when I was chatting on Voxer with my good friend Rafranz Davis on a Friday night. I remember saying something to the effect of, “you sound like my cousin. You guys should meet and talk gamification in math. Hey, wait a minute…” 

Those 30 seconds were the birth of EduMatch. I wrote about it at length in our upcoming book. More on that later. 


Anyway, people are usually surprised when they hear how long (or short, more accurately) #EduMatch has been around. It has grown exponentially and that is all thanks to everyone who joined the family. Everyone who comes in leaves a little piece of themselves, and what we have built together belongs to all of us. I didn’t mean for this to turn into an EduMatch commercial. Got carried away. Back to the point. 

“Who you are is what you’re willing to struggle for…the joy is in the climb itself.”

I was a very inquisitive kid, and read anything I could get my hands on…encyclopedias, magazines, dictionaries even. My parents encouraged this habit and would often lend me their books. I remember reading one of my dad’s books around the age of nine or ten, and coming to the realization that life has to be hard at times. If there is no challenge, it would get boring very quickly. We have to struggle…we have to work. That’s what makes success taste so sweet. You must have something to compare it to.

In another Voxer group, or maybe the same one…I can’t remember, we were talking about learning. I had an aha moment when I realized the things I was proudest of were the ones that I had to work for. I assume the same is true for many others. 

For example, I had a student once who was an amazing kid. Great sense of humor and leadership skills. He had some academic challenges at various points, but when he tackled something, that’s all he wanted to talk about. He was so excited every time we got to the unit with his favorite topic. The kid had a grasp on poetry! This was his thing. He had worked hard, and nailed it. 

But he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to learn more. The joy was in the climb. Standard eighth grade curriculum wasn’t enough for him. He put me to work (which I did happily), looking for high school level vocabulary and concepts so that he could be challenged in this area. 

There is so much more I’d love to say, but it’s almost time for work. I will add that this morning, I picked my struggle. It is cold as a mug, as we say in the DMV, and I’m sleepy after an exciting day yesterday. However, I am committed to the gym, so here I am. The joy is in the climb. Results are slow, and sometimes non-existent, but I love seeing the progress in personal records for lifting. I’m choosing not to focus on results, i.e. visible changes in my body.  If they come, they come. But I am enjoying the journey!

Playing Basketball 

Yesterday, I went to visit my former students and work family at the K-8 school where I had been for 7 or 8 years. Whenever I walk in those doors, it’s like going back home. This was the school I loved (and still do) for so long. Some of my coworkers are like brothers and sisters; the students feel more like nieces and nephews, having seen them grow in some cases from 3 feet to 6 feet. A lot of the parents also feel like family, especially those I have grown close to over the years. 

A few weeks ago, a former student reached out to me and said that the boys’ basketball team was doing very well this season. Two years ago, I helped establish the team. At the time, the county was bringing back the program after a hiatus. During the break, a lot had happened. We had split from the Montessori school and got our own building, so we were now two separate teams. In the French immersion school, the main sport among teachers was soccer. The kids needed a coach. 

Having played a little myself, I always participated in, and enjoyed, the staff vs. students games. One day after English class, a couple of eighth grade boys came up to me and asked me to coach them. 

I was a little thrown off at the prospect of coaching, especially with the limited experience I had as a player. On top of that, I was hesitant about coaching boys. I was never a boy. I don’t have sons. The boys assured me they had asked other teachers, and nobody else could, would, or knew how to do it. I followed up and confirmed this with our Athletic Director. I decided to try it. 

I was horrible. I had so much fun working with students outside of class, but I won’t lie. Coaching is totally different than teaching. While drills and practices were pretty cool, I had no clue what I was doing at game time. Often my anxiety would go through the roof. I won’t go into all the gory details, but let’s just say middle school basketball games are fun…when you’re winning. I did everything I could to make sure that players gave it their all and kept a positive attitude, win or lose. However, the pressure as a coach was intense. There were some parents who stepped up to lend their expertise, and for that I am very grateful. 

Still, it was very tough. The phrase “blood, sweat, and tears” is an understatement. Again, I won’t go into gory details, but if you’re thinking about coaching and really want to know, I’d be more than happy to tell you. Despite all of the hard times, and there were many, I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to work with these amazing young people and get to know them outside of the classroom. Would I do it again? Never as a head coach. Maybe as an assistant. For two year olds. Maybe. 

What I do love is being able to go back and watch these seeds sprout and blossom. Now, the sixth graders whom I coached two seasons ago are the leaders of the team. They have grown in height and maturity, and it made me so proud to see them do their thing last night.  Watching the girls’ game in particular moved me, because I remember how, every opportunity I had, I would go down to their PE class on my planning period and work with them. There were 2 or 3 who had experience, but most of them had never played on a team at that point. We practiced and scrimmaged all the time. Now those same girls are about to go to high school. Hopefully they continue playing there. 

Tl;dr: basketball is fun, unless you’re the coach and you don’t know what you’re doing. Even then, it’s sorta fun…

To Sir, With Love

In August 1999, I walked into Freshman Honors English class. My professor was truly a master at his craft, a gentleman from whom I had the pleasure of learning for two concurrent semesters. 

Professor Braithwaite wrote To Sir, With Love, which I read for the first time in his class at 18, and leaned upon many times years later, during my hardest days as an educator.  Although I was a Radio-TV-Film major while in his class, his stories about teaching inspired me, and no doubt influenced my decision to seek alternative certification soon after graduation. 

Professor Braithwaite allowed us to write about topics of our choice, and made learning fun. Looking back on papers from that class, I can see exactly how much I grew as a writer freshman year. 

He showed us the ropes of publishing, as he had our class make an anthology of our work. Everyone contributed a story, and at the end, we had built a strong community, and had assembled quite a collection. It is still sitting on my parents’ coffee table. I also remember his generosity, as he took the entire class out to lunch in DC to celebrate our achievement. 

Even more powerful, Professor Braithwaite shared his story. He was very transparent as he told us about the obstacles he faced as an educator, especially the racism directed towards him as a Black teacher in London in the 1940s. Hearing how he was able to achieve all he did, even when forced to navigate such a hostile climate, was inspiring. 

There are so many things that I can no longer remember, so it says a lot that my time with Professor Braithwaite is so vivid. Thanks to an amazing educator, and cheers to a life well-lived. 

Radio Silence Explained

My formal journey to become an educator began almost 13 years ago. A recent graduate of Howard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Radio-TV-Film, I had always worked with children.  Toward the end of my program, I felt the strong itch to become a teacher…however, I had already completed the bulk of my major coursework.

One day, in grad school, I learned of an opportunity to receive alternate certification.  I applied and was accepted into the Transition to Teaching program.  After a summer of preparation, I was hired as a teacher in a nearby school district.  The learning curve was extremely steep, but I learned to survive (and later thrive) in this field through the School of Hard Knocks.  Pun intended, by the way.

It was through my early experiences that I gained perspective on the need for teachers to become “teacher leaders.”  Everyone has something to offer, and everyone is an expert in something.  It is up to us to decide whether we share our expertise with others, or take it to the grave and isolate ourselves in solo silos.

Empathy and relationship building must also be at the core of everything we do in our profession, whether learners are our students or our peers.  After all, we are supposed to be models of life-long learning.

For years, I have been shouting from the rooftops on social media: empower, empower, empower. Share, share, share. Teacher leaders. Student voice.  Teacher voice.  Sharing is caring.

Yet, lately, I’ve been silent.


Rewind back to the 2014-2015 school year, also known as my last full year in the classroom. In SY 2014, I started off the school year attempting to blog, vlog, or vox-blog every single day.  I gave it the old college try, and my streak lasted roughly the first month of school.  Even after that I was over, I was still fairly consistent.

This past November (2015), I left the classroom for my current role, a central office technology role in my county.  It has been my dream to join this amazing team since I first was introduced to them in 2008.  I wanted to help teachers in my county the way my teammates helped me when I was in the classroom.  They showed me new ways to make things better for my students.  They helped me to find my strength and believe in myself, even when I was weighed down by the baggage and self-doubt of my early experiences.

Were it not for them, I would have never applied to present at a conference, or even known that conferences were things that I could go to.  Were it not for them, I would have never known it was possible to choose to learn what I wanted to know.  Were it not for them, I wouldn’t have found out about social media as a way to communicate with other teachers around the world.

Were it not for them (and my last three principals), I honestly don’t know if I would have found my niche, and I don’t know where I would be today.


I have been in this role now for nearly a year.  I have learned so much, one would think this would be the time when I had the most to blog about.  However, oddly, I have been experiencing writer’s block.  Not only that, but in the most exciting time of my life thus far (professionally and otherwise) I have been utilizing social media less in a “pro-senal” (professional-personal) manner…unless, of course, you count my Tweetjukebox posts, which cheerfully remind people at 3 a.m. “never to miss another EduMatch meeting,”as one of my buddies jokes.

To be fair, I have tried.  I made a strong push to blog at the beginning of the school year, but didn’t get very far.  I fear that, to an extent, I have adopted the #solosilo life, which I have actively opposed for so many years.

The more I try to get better, the worse I have become.  It has become difficult to find topics to blog about.  Today, out of the blue, the reason hit me.  The answer is a combination of different factors:

  • Similar to when I first started classroom teaching, I am still learning a new role.
    • I am soaking in all of my new experiences and setting new goals, taking time to reflect.  While blogging is reflecting, I am still establishing my foundation…albeit a bit more privately (for now).
  • When I was blogging regularly, it was from a classroom teacher’s perspective.  However, now, my lens is shifting, which can take time to adjust.
  • I have been very fortunate and blessed to have been recognized for doing what I love.  I have worked very hard on branding myself, but I strongly believe that part of branding is amplifying the voices of others.
    • We are all doing this work together and good ideas need to go viral.
    • Lately, I have fallen in love with helping to create opportunities for dialogue, and have invested as much energy as possible in making this happen. This will continue.
  • In the final year of my doctoral program, I need to balance my time more effectively.
    • I have set a visual reminder to myself every time I log onto Twitter that time is ticking, and I need to be smart.  Obviously, I don’t listen very well (even to myself), as I still struggle with getting “Ph.inished.”
    • In a Voxer group that I’m in, we have been discussing this very concept, and someone made a great point that you’re never “too busy” to do anything, you just make time to do things that are important to you.
    • Priorities have shifted, as I’ve grown more connected and become more involved in various projects.  I need to move my dissertation even higher up on the list.
  • Once again, the connection aspect comes into play.
    • Despite what people may think, I am introverted by nature.  Social media has given me a loud voice.
    • Through the years, I’ve gotten better at merging Sarah with Sarahdateechur, but I’m still a work in progress, and sometimes backslide.  Enough said…I won’t dwell on this 🙂

That’s all I can think of for now, so I’m going to hit publish…I guess this is one of those posts where I blog to understand and make sense of things.  As always, I thank you for reading, and for all that you bring.  I am truly honored and blessed to connect with so many amazing educators.  Thank you for inspiring me.

Game Plan SY 2016-2017

I used to write a lot about what I did in my classroom.  Now, at the beginning of another school year, I would like to establish a game plan to maximize my efficiency in this new role.  Yes, I have been here since November, but this is the first time the training wheels come off and I have a cluster of my very own.  I am determined to do my part in carrying out the vision of my phenomenal team.  My hope is to be able to help people in my district, as much as people in my team helped me when I was in the classroom.

Note: I rarely promote my blog posts, but please excuse me if I do promote the hell out of this one.  The goal is not to get clicks, but I would like help in refining these ideas to make them as airtight as possible before implementation.


I was speaking with a couple of coworkers a few days ago, with the conversation centering around workshops we plan to offer throughout the year.  They shared some great information with me, regarding topics that tend to work best at given times during the year.  Later that day, I met with a principal, who had an idea of some topics such as technology integration, parent communication, and others.  She suggested that I chat with the school’s Technology Liaison to create a plan of action, after surveying the staff.

Over the past months, I had filled in for coworkers on leave, after coming into the position mid-year.  My teammates have been so welcoming and so supportive, that now I am armed with an arsenal of tools to help meet the needs of schools/teachers/students in our district.

I also posed the question on how to best approach the school year to my PLN in a couple of Voxer groups this morning.  By the time I was done speaking with coworkers and virtual friends, I had a few takeaways.  I cannot take credit for these ideas…they have all been begged, borrowed, and/or stolen…but these are the best of the best:

  1. Create office hours one day a week, using Google Calendar appointment slots.  Anyone from the district can sign up for tech help with anything.  Appointments can be online or offline.
  2. Beta test (one school each) a few things that I’m curious about, such as:
    1. Classcraft for gamified professional learning (been gamifying for a while, but never tried that platform).
    2. Teacher Individual Exploration Plans (IEPs) a la Jennie Magiera.
  3. Increase teacher-leadership capacity by partnering with TLs and letting them take lead on workshops at their school level, encouraging them to connect within and outside of the district, as well as present at local/national/international conferences (if interested).
  4. Block off Fridays for Sarah 20% time/Moonshot Day (whenever possible).
  5. Use the power of extensions such as Training for Google Apps to maximize time and productivity.
  6. Continue pushing out content and opportunities via social media to interested parties in my district.
  7. Utilize Articulate (NOT FREE FYI) to create workshop materials which can be accessed asynchronously.

I am still working out the details, but these are some initial ideas.  I have my first appointment for office hours on August 29, and am enjoying planning the year and helping schools get set up.

I’m hitting publish now, even though this draft is extremely rough.  To any new readers, I try to polish my work before putting it out there to the world, but time is of the essence.  Please keep in mind, I will probably revise this multiple times before it is in its final form.  The purpose is to keep these ideas fresh in my mind, while simultaneously getting as much perspective as I possibly can before taking action.  Please leave a comment, Vox me, or Tweet me (@sarahdateechur).  Thank you for reading!

#PostYourDrafts: Bloggers’ Cafe

I wrote this post two years ago during my first ISTE, but I never finished, so it was sitting in my drafts folder.  I won’t finish it, but it was fun to go back and re-read it/re-live it, so I decided to post it. Here it is.


Hey guys, I’m at the Bloggers’ Cafe at ISTE so I might as well…blog…lol.  It’s been a while.  Hopefully I haven’t lost my mojo, but I feel like a total hypocrite for sitting here the past three days and not blogging at all.

These past three weeks have been intense, but amazing.  Hey, I asked for it, so I can’t complain.  I made a video about it here, but the quality sucks, so you may want to read this blog post about it instead.

Disclaimer: There is way too much awesomeness to cram into a regular blog post, so I’ll have to summarize.  Think of everything I write as 100x more awesome, and you may start to understand the level of awesomeness.

Brief Summary

  • June 13: Last day of school with the kids.  Lots of boo-hooing.
  • June 16: Last day with the teachers.  Lots of celebrating.
  • June 17: Flew out to Austin for iPadpalooza.
    • Hung out with totally awesome members of my PLN (TAMOMPLN) face to face.
  • June 18: Presented at iPadpalooza.
    • Hung out with TAMOMPLN.
    • Got on plane to Denver for InnEdCo.
    • Plane wouldn’t take off because it was too hot.
    • Missed shuttle to Copper Mountain.
    • Slept in airport.
  • June 19:  Changed in bathroom.  
    • Paid out the rear for private ride to Copper Mountain the next morning.  
    • Arrived to presentation 15 min before it started.
    • Connected with people.  
    • Hung out with TAMOMPLN.  Shout out to the crew for putting me on my first ever ski lift.
    • Took shuttle back to airport.
    • Caught plane to somewhere in Canada.
    • Went through customs.
    • Ran through the airport because I almost missed my connecting flight.
    • Found out the plane was late.
    • Flew to Kelowna and checked in without incident.
  • June 20: Presented at CanFlip.
    • Hung out with TAMOMPLN.
    • Rest of the day, no drama.

#EduMatch Bingo at #CUERockstar

Hey peeps! Long time no see 🙂

When I began this post, I was at #CueRockstar…however, it’s now the next day and I’m in Colorado.  Cue Rockstar was AWESOME!  I was faculty from June 21-23rd, and have learned so much through facilitating sessions.  My first session was about flipped/blended instruction, and the participants created fantastic products in a very short time.  I’ve encouraged them to tweet them out using the #CUERockstar hashtag, so maybe you may see them 🙂

The second day was about gamification.  I have presented on the topic multiple times, but usually it was to people who were new to intermediate level gamifiers.  Occasionally, there have been some advanced participants, but I have never been in a situation with so many in one place.  I loved it, because I learned new tricks from some of the rockstars in the room.  There were many things I hadn’t considered, and they gave me great food for thought by sharing what they were doing.  It was truly a collaborative learning space, and felt somewhat like an edcamp.

Yesterday was session three.  Since the format of CUE Rockstar is totally different than other conferences, and workshops are supposed to be hands-on, I wanted to tweak my usual “What is EduMatch?” presentation.  While this one is designed to be a discussion, and runs on audience participation, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new: #EduMatchBingo.  I drew on influences from several cool things that I’ve been playing with, such as Mystery Hangouts and BreakoutEDU.

The idea came together last week when I was chatting with the #EduMatch crew on Voxer, preparing for a different session. I don’t know exactly where the inspiration came from, but as soon as I opened my mouth, a plan began to form.  The idea appealed to me so much that I decided to beta test it in the safe space at CUE Rockstar.  Here’s what we did:

 

Pre-Session

  1. I set up a Google Form where people from around the world (hosts) could sign up and answer a few basic questions, including their availability, preferred platform, and personal/professional facts about themselves.  (I wanted them to share some personal information because part of the mission of #EduMatch is building relationships.  This is important if we are to learn from and with each other.)
  2. Given their responses, I assigned them to different platforms for the morning and afternoon sessions (plus a third date next week).  I organized this on a separate sheet (Template Here)
  3. On a third sheet, I organized their responses into different lines.  It also served as a cheat sheet for the hosts to see their responses in an easy way, in order to make sure they gave all their answers.
  4. I found this Bingo Template from Alice Keeler that saved my life.  The directions are on the sheet.  I created and downloaded about 15 random bingo boards and put them into a Google Folder.
  5. The morning of, I placed all of the hosts into a Voxer group and communicated with them, reconfirming everyone’s availability and answering any questions when they arose.

Thank you to the following hosts, who had signed up at the time of this writing:

Beta Testing Round 1

At CUE Rockstar, the faculty members shred, or promo, their sessions at the beginning of each day. During the shred, I admitted my nerves and beginner’s mindset, saying that we were going to try something brand new for the first time, which could either be an epic win, or an epic need-to-overhaul (thanks Tammy Neil for changing my mindset regarding the word FAIL).

The first session ended up being both!  I was so thankful to see my new buddy Nishantha who came to play.  He was the sole participant, so we ended up competing head-to head to test for bugs.  There were many, so I noted them as we played.  Spoiler alert: he won!  A few ideas from session one:

  1. Add a slide that provides an overview of how to connect to the game boards through Google Drive.
  2. For platforms with sound and/or video (i.e. Google Hangout/Voxer), only play from one device.  Encourage participants to join the main #EduMatch Voxer group.
  3. Google Hangouts was the easiest platform to play, because it was synchronous.  Voxer was second, probably because of the speed of voice.  The text-based platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus) were a little clunky.

Nishantha also offered other good suggestions, such as pre-surveying the participants and getting matches based on their interests; as well as having people sign up to be hosts after playing the game.

Beta Test Round 2

With this new information on hand, I went back to the Voxer group to rally the hosts.  I created a PM Voxer group, and changed strategy a bit.  For example, I linked a slide to the #EduMatch Google Plus and Facebook groups, and asked the hosts to tweet to the hashtag #EduMatchBingo.  In addition, hosts frontloaded the text based platforms with their clues ahead of time.  The roles were more fluid and free-flowing, with anyone being encouraged to post their clues in advance on any/all platforms, but not to post all the answers in one place.  In addition, all hosts were invited to participate in the Voxer/Google Hangout conversation.

For the second round, we had three players: Linda, Judy, and Jed.  The second round was much smoother than the first, and we improvised small changes along the way.  For example:

  • One of the hosts asked how cryptic the clues should be.  In the morning, we had not covered this point.  In the afternoon round, we experimented with having them give their answers verbatim.  This made the game go by very quickly.  Ideally, the responses will be a little vague, but not too challenging.
  • Each participant could ask one question to the hosts on Voxer and Google Hangouts.  I passed them my phone, they introduced themselves, and asked their question.
  • At the end, we had an open dialogue on Google Hangouts, and participants were encouraged to join their new connections in our #EduMatch Voxer group.

There were many duplicate answers on the Bingo cards, which came as a result of having  six hosts per session.  As we continue to play and expand our database, there will be less duplicates, and the game will be more challenging to win.

Next Steps

Thank you to all of the players and hosts from Beta Test Day One.  Whenever we get #EduMatch swag printed, you all will get a special gift 🙂  After running through both sessions and debriefing, some of the following ideas emerged:

  • Continue running the game to refine the model.  Although we have most of the bugs out, Day One was played in small groups, with tech-savvy, connected participants.  Other factors for consideration may emerge later. For example, future players may not be on the social networks that we utilized, or know how to access their Google Drive.
  • In addition, the current model works well in small group settings.  For each round, I made only 15 bingo cards. However, I do intend to use this tool in other avenues, such as keynotes, edcamps, and featured speaker sessions in the near future.  At such sessions, there can be dozens to hundreds of people in one space.
  • One idea to address the first two bullet points is to do team bingo, as one of the participants suggested.
  • DocHub was a good tool to annotate on a PDF, however there may be another, easier solution.
  • A last idea is to create an app that will be able to do all of this in one place.  Since I have limited coding experience, I may have to do some edumatching to myself, in order to find someone who can help.  Perhaps other tools that are already out can work.

Thanks again to everyone for participating in this experiment.  I am looking forward to seeing it grow and develop, and would love to hear any feedback on how to make this better.