Random thoughts on a Sunday morning (Culture and Personalization)

Yesterday, I was in a Voxer group, catching up on what felt like 50 million messages that I’d missed throughout the week. I listened at 4x speed, as I often do, so some of the gist may have been lost. Someone mentioned something about culture, and someone (else?) mentioned something about personalization.

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This got me to thinking about the interplay between culture and personalization. Personalization is a popular buzzword in education. I have taken a dislike to most buzzwords because too often, they lose their meaning and become corrupted and diluted. It’s like a game of edu-telephone. But sometimes if you go past all of those layers of muck, there’s still something valuable.

I do believe in personalization. Last week on a Google Innovator panel on advocacy, Jennie Magiera spoke of the difference between “every child” and “each child.” She preferred the latter, because it spoke to the uniqueness that each child brings, as opposed to the uniform connotation of every child. Each child has his/her own experiences, background, knowledge, culture, dreams, challenges, interests, and more. All of those intersect to make each person different.

Let’s take one piece of that…culture. What is your culture?

In a different Voxer group, a few weeks ago, a friend asked us to identify the five cultural traits that play the strongest role in our lives. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it went something like:

  1. Black
  2. Woman
  3. Haitian
  4. Middle class
  5. Non-religious

Other friends chimed in, with many of them saying “educator,” “parent,” and other things I hadn’t even thought of putting on my list. But these are all true. We each belong to an infinite amount of cultures, and the combination of these cultures is the intersectionality that makes us unique.

For any of these five cultural traits I listed, I no doubt have common experiences with most other people sharing that trait. For example, at the top of my list is being Black. When I see another Black person (especially in America), chances are that we have some common experiences, at a bare minimum. These experiences may lead us to have shared perspectives, which influence other things that we may then also have in common. But might this look different if I’m interacting with a Black woman or Black man?


Being a Black woman comes with its own unique set of experiences. If you can picture a Google search, our terms would be

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which would cut our number of hits roughly in half.

Now, if I expanded this search to

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 10.16.05 AM.png

this would also have some relevant hits, but if I wanted to find the “Culture of Sarah-Jane Thomas” page, I’d have to keep searching.

Black AND woman AND “Haitian-American” AND “Middle Class” -religious

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28,300 results…but, we would be getting somewhere at least.

The next question my friend on Voxer asked that night was something to the effect of, “What’s your in-group?”

In-group may not have been the exact phrase she used, but basically, if you walked into a room full of __________ people and would be most at ease, what would go in the blank?

Easy! “No.” (Introvert joke.)

All jokes aside, I thought long and hard about this one. I went down the list of my top five cultural traits, and found some combinations that would work, but she didn’t ask all that lol.

I could only think of two honest answers. The first is educators, but that is fairly recent. The second has been my in-group throughout my life. I feel most instantly at ease with…

…people who grew up in the US in an immigrant household.

This surprised even me. But when I think about it, it makes perfect sense. My parents came here in the late 60s, and had my brother and (much later) me. I grew up navigating two cultures, my Haitian family life at home and American culture in the outside world. Sometimes there was dissonance, and even as an adult, there still are those fun moments when people just don’t “get it.”  (Side note: particularly when dating…I’m amused/annoyed at the reaction I get from some guys about my cultural values.)  It is so refreshing when someone understands without me having to explain.

In our Voxer group that night, I went back and forth about this with another friend, who moved to the US when he was very young. We had a good laugh about how we weren’t allowed to go to sleepovers as kids, and I referenced a funny YouTube video that my mom had sent me about a Haitian father arguing with an American parent about them. We also bonded over our respective national foods.  This has often been the case when meeting other first- and second-generation people.

This is not to say that I don’t feel at ease with anyone who is not from an immigrant family, or that every single person who grew up bicultural is my automatic homie.  But even though our home cultures are different, I feel like this is the group of people who “get” me the most, as a group.

As always, this was all a great big tangent.  What does any of this have to do with education?

Let’s (quickly) examine two sides of the same coin.  We preach personalization in learning as a best practice.  Absolutely.  What role does culture play in this?

In my dissertation, Chapter Two is a review of literature that shapes my conceptual framework.  In it, I reference Gloria Ladson-Billings’s work regarding Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.  Sneak peek:

Ladson-Billings (1992) stated that the matching of school culture to student culture generally yields positive results. From this premise, she coined the term “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP),” which she described as “a pedagogy of opposition that recognizes and celebrates African and African-American culture,” with the primary goal being “to empower students and to examine critically social change” (p. 314). Here, she talked about the sharing of power in the classroom equally between teachers and students, since education is an “empowering force” (p. 318).

This method respects the background of learners such as Haitian students and helps to avert the phenomenon of not-learning, a term coined by Gao (2014) to describe a student’s conscious decision to assert his/her power to reject learning. Au (2008) mentioned consequences of classrooms where CRP is not practiced, describing possible student behaviors including, “ignoring the teacher, refusing to participate, turning in incomplete assignments, or acting out in class…student resistance can develop quickly if teachers signal their low regard for students’ culture” (p. 70). It is, therefore, important to include CRP practices so that students know that their culture is respected, which will positively impact their motivation for learning.

According to Gay (2000), CRP practices: acknowledge the legitimacy of cultural heritages of different ethnic groups, build meaningfulness between home and school experience, use a wide variety of instructional strategies, teach students to know and praise their own and each other’s cultural heritages, and incorporate multicultural information, resources, and materials in all the subjects and skills routinely taught in schools (p. 29). Gay discussed the need to respect the cultural and individual differences of students, and to embrace the skills that ELs bring with them, such as bilingualism. CRP acknowledges and embraces such differences, recognizing them as positive and encouraging students to share, adding to the richness of the classroom and learning experience.

Anyway, long story short (too late), I would argue that while personalization should take into consideration interests, proficiency levels, etc., Culturally Relevant Pedagogy also needs to be at the core.  I’ll even take it a step further, and say that we must also include Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy.

Paris (2012) introduced the idea of culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP), which “seeks to perpetuate and foster – to sustain – linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling” (p. 93)…Paris suggested teacher advocacy in support of students’ home languages and cultures, while simultaneously helping learners navigate the dominant culture. 

In conversations about personalization, I rarely hear any talk of including a learner’s home language or culture.  I would love to see some research or resources regarding this.  If you have any, please send them my way.  Furthermore, the bulk of discussion I hear tends to center at the whole group level, i.e. having books that reflect all types of characters, how to celebrate all cultures all year long, etc.  These discussions are absolutely necessary.  In addition, I would like to hear more regarding CRP/CSP in personalization.

Additionally, we have to be careful not to view culture from a monolithic standpoint.  Now, we finally get to the point of that big detour we took somewhere in the middle.  An individual’s “culture” is actually comprised of the combination of many different cultures.  No two people from a given culture (even with many of the same intersections) will turn out identically.

For example, think of siblings.  My brother and I were raised in the same household, by the same parents.  He is probably the one person who has the most in common with me, but we are not the same.  He is male, and I am female.  He was born in the 60s, and I was born in the 80s.  At the core, we have the same values, but we are still very different.

So are our learners.  Part of CRP/CSP includes embracing the differences that each child brings.  I feel like this piece is often lacking in conversations about how to support our students.  Far too often, I hear stuff like _______ (insert strategy here) works for (implicit: all) __________ (insert marginalized group here) students, and this is bullshit.  Quite honestly, if personalization is a “best practice,” shouldn’t that be the case for each student?  Why is it implied that some of our students should receive the luxury of personalized instruction, while others should get some cookie-cutter approach? (Edit: I started going in, dropping in extended references about Dangerous Minds, but that’s not my steelo.)  And usually the cookie-cutter approach goes viral…*facepalm*

You know what should go viral?  Getting to know your students.  Building relationships.  Embracing their cultures…all of them.  Not assuming that just because they are Black/brown/Christian/Muslim/etc. that they like _________________, or don’t like ______________, or listen to _____________, or speak _________________ at home, or their parents have ______________________.  That’s actually called stereotyping.  Instead of assuming, ask.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  I do think that students learn in different ways, and often culture does play a role.  As a matter of fact, the intersection of all of our cultures plays a HUGE role in our learning.  Respect and embrace that.  Each learner is different and brings with them a wealth of cultural capital.  Don’t be afraid to try new strategies with your students, but make sure you are also respecting them as individuals.

#BFC530 and #IMMOOC-inspired post: Snow Day Reflections on Choice in #PD

This morning is a snow day.  To my surprise, the forecast got it right for once.  I woke up around 5 AM to the sound of tapping against my window, and got out my phone to check if school was closed.



I have this horrible habit of not being able to go back to sleep once I wake up.  Plus, I had set a calendar reminder for #BFC530 today.  I’ve been trying to get back into Twitter chats, but this time with balance lol.  Today’s topic was right up my alley.

First, a quick note regarding terminology.  You will see me employ professional learning (PL) and professional development (PD) in this post.  At first glance, it may seem like I’m doing it arbitrarily; however, I refer to PL as non-mandated learning opportunities for educators to opt-in.  PD, in this case, will refer to learning opportunities mandated by a school or district.  These terms are intended to be value-free as there are good and bad examples of both.

Being part of our district’s Technology Training Team, I am honored to contribute to the PL opportunities that we provide.  Even prior to joining our team, PL had been a strong interest of mine, beginning with creating #edtech tutorial videos in 2013, then organizing a team that hosted our district’s first edcamp in 2014.  After attending Google Innovator Academy (then Google Teacher Academy) later that year, my project was to start a Google Educator Group for the DC Area.  That summer, we had gamified learning challenges based on instructional strategies, which stretched me as both an organizer and a learner.  This opportunity for growth, plus contributions from my educational family, inspired many of the things that we do in EduMatch.  (P.S. I’m currently thinking of bringing back the gamified challenges to that as well.)

Regarding choice, I have been inspired by the great work of Jennie Magiera, Emmanuel Andre, and others when it comes to designing PD.  Choice is extremely important for all learners, including us.  The perceived disconnect between pedagogy and andragogy has puzzled me for a long time.  Yes, children and adults are different, but we are not two different species.  The day you turn 18, you do not magically turn into a brand new person.  Instead, we just become older versions of ourselves with more life experience and perspective.  When I was 12, I loved music, basketball, and LL Cool J.  At…20-teen…I still enjoy karaoke, playing three-on-three vs. sixth graders, and LL Cool J (enough said).

The point is that best practice for learners is best practice for learners, regardless of age.  Student choice is preached far and wide, and as a student of the world, I prefer choice.  This is why PL opportunities like edcamps are so clutch.  In addition, I believe that PDs can also be very effective and relevant when done correctly.  To me, “done correctly” almost always involves choice.  Maybe there is a prerequisite for educators to see what is available, since you don’t know what you don’t know.  But after that…choice.

Another thing that is equally important is building capacity.  Everyone is good at something, and should share their expertise with others for the good of the field.  However, this is more complicated than meets the eye.  Some people are hesitant to share for various reasons, many of which stem from feeling disempowered.

When I first began teaching, I had low confidence in my ability, as a result of some negative experiences.  About four years in, I was given a role in leadership as Social Studies Chair, and the healing process began.  My fifth year, I moved to a school where my principal was a true multiplier, and this is when I began to feel like a leader.  Around my sixth year, the Technology Training Team selected me for participation in their Teacher Leadership Academy, and I began to see myself as a leader.  My eighth year, I got connected and *BAM*!  I don’t even have to explain the BAM…if you’re reading this, you probably already know what it’s like to breathe the fresh air of building and learning from a PLN.

This ties into my passion for building capacity.  I want to note that I needed EVERYTHING that happened, to undo the layers of self-doubt I had built early in my career.  I thank everyone who has ever believed in me and helped me to believe in myself.  This is where building capacity is key.  Once people see themselves as leaders, they act as leaders.

However, nobody has to wait for others to deem you a leader.  If you want to be a leader, then lead.  As a good friend of mine, Dr. Will, said, “if no one invites you to the table, build your own table.”  You are a leader!!! To quote one of my favorite movies,

Anyway, back to the point.  So, this morning, I was doing #BFC530, and participated in a great discussion.  I saw this tweet:

which reminded me of a recent discussion that pushed my thinking with George Couros and Katie Martin last week on the #IMMOOC YouTube Live.  At one point, we were talking about how educators can “innovate inside the box”:

Through our discussion, I learned A LOT!  Although my own growth came from being provided with trust and space, Katie and George helped me realize that support looks different for different people.  Some folks, like Kevin and I, may thrive with freedom, although this is not always the case.  I asked Kevin what he thought, and he suggested that each teacher be able to design his/her PD.  YES!!!

David, another #BFC530er, also had done this at his school:

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David was so kind to share this Google doc with me.  Again, I think of Jennie’s Teacher IEPs and Manny’s model, where educators can choose their PD courses university-style, with double credits awarded for teaching a course.  Building capacity for the win!

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.


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.



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.


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.


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. 


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!