Making a Difference

Dear Teachers,

At our district’s recent Ed Tech Success Initiative, we asked teachers the question, “Why did you even go into teaching in the first place?” and the first answer was, as it so often is, “To make a difference.”

Curran Dee, Chief Kid Officer of DigCitKids, often quotes President Obama’s question, “How are you using technology every day to make a real difference for your community, other kids, and the world?” A classmate recently posted on our discussion board that he’ll be encouraging his students to use the makerspace at his school to really make a difference for the community this year. Another student friend of mine, Olivia van Ledtje, makes a difference by routinely spreading words of hope and encouragement.

Like Curran, my classmate, and Olivia, those of us in the positive digital citizenship movement also want to make a difference. We want the social media world to be different – far less fraught with ugly, demeaning words and more filled with positive words of love and hope. We seek to empower students and others to embrace their potential for doing good in the world.

And what a noble – yet at times seemingly impossible – task that is. I wake up every morning these days discouraged by the news and the divisive and rancorous tone that exists on social media and in the world. It’s probably not surprising that so many people live in a “filter bubble” where they just keep reading the things they already believe in; it’s difficult to hear those loud voices on the other side. I long for a more civilized and peaceful world where everyone’s voice is respectful – and heard. And where hateful voices and opinions are not just silenced, but those hateful hearts are truly changed through dialog and love.

Screenshot 2017-08-16 at 6.29.43 AM

No one knows what will become of our country and the current civil unrest. There is no politician or pastor who can fix this mess for us. WE are the ones who need to get out there and MAKE A DIFFERENCE. We need to be louder and more explicit than ever in teaching our students to accept others and to listen carefully to opposing points of view. We need to be louder than ever in teaching our students to resist evil in all its forms and to speak up when they see oppression. We need to be as loud as we can possibly be in modeling what it looks like to love and care for others. And we need to be explicit in telling kids that if they think it is okay to view themselves or the group or culture that they come from as better or more worthy or more valuable than any other group, that is not only wrong but immoral.

This is a time when I wish I had better words. I wish I were more eloquent and more powerful in my ability to say what I mean. But I hope you are hearing me anyway, dear teachers, because you are on the front lines out there, and you are the people who can help turn our wonderful, imperfect, divided, beautiful country around. Do it, I beg you; do all the good you can. Make a real difference this year.

Faithfully yours in cockeyed optimism,


P.S. Please see this post from the International Literacy Association on ideas to address the recent events in Charlottesville.



#DigCitSnaps, Anyone?

Dear Teachers,

This morning as I was meandering through Twitter, I stumbled upon Tara Martin’s post about #booksnaps. I had heard about #booksnaps (and its companion, #gratitudesnaps) but I hadn’t ever taken the time to investigate what that really is. So I watched a couple of Tara’s videos, and because of the way my brain works, I naturally thought: I wonder if we could do something like that with digital citizenship.

I know next to nothing about Snapchat. I’ve had an account for a couple of years, and yes, those filters are fun (I was happy to catch a pic of myself as Wonder Woman!), but I am still figuring out the ins and outs of Snapchat. In one of Tara’s videos, she talked about how she wanted to reach her son and his friends, and how much value there is in annotating books using the Snapchat app. My librarian self thought that was pretty brilliant.

And then I read about #gratitudesnaps. I’m a big fan of gratitude, and I am all for putting as much positive out into the universe as we possibly can. And that’s when I started wondering if we could make #DigCitSnaps become a thing. I’ve written previously about getting sneaky about how we introduce digital citizenship to kids. Might #digcitsnaps be another way to teach concepts that we wish they knew about digital citizenship? Could students use Snapchat to teach each other?

I have a lot to learn about Snapchat, but I can see why kids like it. I followed Tara’s directions and had fun adding text and my Bitmojis to a few images.I’m sure most of you more advanced Snapchat users are snickering about what a dorky mess I am, but hey – we’ve all got to start somewhere, right?

basketball-photocredit       icanhelp










What do you think? Are #DigCitSnaps something that could catch on? Do you have students who might be interested in starting this trend in your school? How else might the #digcit movement capitalize on Tara Martin’s great idea?

I’d love to know if you think this could work!




The 2017 Nerd Convention

Dear Teachers,

I just got back from my third experience at ISTE, the biggest nerd festival in the history of ever. (Okay, maybe Comic-Con has us beat. But not by much.) I was fortunate enough to attend the conference for the first time 5 or so years ago when it was in San Antonio; that time I think I just walked around with my mouth hanging open, trying to get a handle on… anything. The one word I heard over and over from first-timers this past week was OVERWHELMING, and that’s definitely the way I remember feeling on my first time out.

Last year was ISTE #2 for me; that one was in Denver, a little lagniappe since my son lives there. My team was selected to present at last year’s conference, and that was an amazing and humbling experience in and of itself. But it was last year when I started to see what people meant when they talk about the relationships and reunions that happen at ISTE. My colleague (and now friend) Julie Paddock and I met for the first time at the Digital Citizenship PLN meeting last year, and it was there that we were drafted into service for the #digcit cause. Since that initial meeting last year, she and I have presented a couple of webinars, written some curriculum together, and are making grand plans for developing our PLN. I’ve always been amazed at how on-the-same-page we are. She lives many states away, but the Internet has enabled us to forge a strong bond of friendship.

So the conference was in San Antonio again this year, and this year was for sure the first time that I truly understood what people meant when they talked about the “old home week” feel of the place. After all, there are always over 20,000 nerds at ISTE. How intimate could it be, right? (And – side question – how in the world do they provide wifi for what is probably well over 100,000 devices?!)

Well, it’s like this. I have several worlds of which I’m a part, due to the magic of the Internet and social media. At ISTE, all those worlds get to collide. I met in person for the first time several people I’ve been in grad school with for over a year. I ran into people I have started seeing only on the conference circuit (places like Region 10, TCEA, and others, in addition to ISTE). I had a fabulous reunion with some of the brilliant educators I met through the Google Innovator program back in April. And most of all, I got to hang out with my true tribe, those wonderful folks who share my somewhat obsessive interest in digital citizenship.

So in addition to meeting back up with Julie, I met in person a bunch of people it seems like I know due to the relationships we’ve forged online. I also added a bunch of new people to my PLN, people who already seem like friends because of our shared interest in digital citizenship. Julie and I presented a session titled “Cultivating a #Digcit State of Mind” – which I guess you have to be a special kind of nerd to have any interest in – but we met more people like us! It was awesome! Since Julie and I are going to co-chair ISTE’s Digital Citizenship PLN this year, we got tons of new victims volunteers who will help us in our plan to take over the world develop the PLN and connect people to resources and to each other.


In Tuesday’s powerful keynote, Jennie Magiera encouraged us to compare the “single story/limited potential” narratives that we all experience to the “untold stories/limitless potential” stories that we are as yet unaware of. Just as all your students have lives much more complex than could ever be fully understood by a single standardized test score, we all have untold stories that we hold close in our hearts. While we may be grudgingly tolerated for or even actively discouraged from sharing these stories in our real jobs, ISTE and conferences like it allow us to be our full nerd selves with people who totally get us. We can share more of what might remain an untold story in many other situations.

Into gamifying PD? You will find your nerd tribe at ISTE. Obsessed with the ISTE Student Standards? Yep, there’s a group for you there. Are robots your jam? How about flexible seating, or virtual reality, or global connections? You guessed it, there are people at ISTE who will understand you and want to know more about your untold story.

I think technology is super cool, and I think it’s a really fun time to be in the field of Education because of the many ways that students can now access and create content. But the main reason I love technology is because of the way it allows people to connect to each other. Even ten years ago, it’s likely that I never would have crossed paths with Julie, Rachelle, Vanessa, Jaime, Susan, Mary Ellen, Jennifer, Keegan, Marialice, or Sue, but now our lives and stories are connected.


Photo taken at Jennie Magiera‘s keynote

I am so excited for the future of the Digital Citizenship PLN, and for all the cool people I’ll get to know this year because of our shared and as-yet-untold stories. THAT’s the best thing about the nerd convention, and THAT’s why I’m already looking forward to next year’s ISTE conference.



P.S. Gotta give a shout out to my awesome coworker Clara for her amazing pre-keynote Ignite speech. How’d I get so lucky to work with her, Fern, and Leah? Check out Clara’s talk here. #growthecilantro #bestteamever

So What?

Back in April when we were in London (you know, because of that Google Innovator thing…), my husband and I enjoyed eating at a little place called Pret a Manger. I have no idea if the locals enjoy that place, but each of the multiple locations we encountered was always busy, the food was fresh and tasty, and its prices seemed reasonable – although it was in pounds, so who knows. Thrift seems to elude us when wpret-a-manger-napkine go on vacation.

Anyway, our last stop at Pret a Manger was at Heathrow airport, and the slogan on my napkin caught my attention: “Nothing to declare.” I thought the play on the natural content of the food and the typical customs questions was really clever. I saved the napkin because I liked it so much, and I came upon it again a couple of weeks ago as I was continuing to make my way through the detritus of the trip.


The napkin popped up as I was gathering all the swag from the trip (you know, the one where I became a Google Innovator...) and creating my first-ever attempt at a shadow box. The wife of one of my fellow innovators had made him one, and when he posted it on our group chat, I knew that I wanted to give it a try, too. It needs a couple of extra pins in a couple of places, but overall I’m very happy with it, as it displays in one place so many happy memories:


But I’ve been thinking about that napkin in relation to my whole trip, already six weeks in my past. People ask me about Google London, and I tell them, “It was wonderful! It was the best professional experience I’ve ever had!” and while that’s true, I want to make sure that I put into practice the things I learned there – or else, I’d have nothing to declare – yes? So what is it that, a month and a half after the fact, I took away from my Google Innovator experience? What’s the “so what”?

  1. The design thinking process is something that can and should be applied in all our training plans. At the Academy, we were taught to think in terms of [User] needs [unmet need] because [insight]. In my district, we use the Understanding by Design framework for all our curriculum planning. Those of who plan professional learning also need to keep our learners in mind when we plan our classes. Every class we’re teaching this summer needs the deliberate forethought and planning that we so often do by intuition; thinking about users’ unmet needs and how we can address them (and why) will help us to sharpen our preparation for the classes. 
  2. Have a bias toward action. I need to continue to be proactive in my efforts to affect change in our world. That might mean reaching out to  individual teachers and schools, designing new classes or initiatives, or just thinking through how to solve a problem before turning to someone else for help. I like to think I do those things most of the time anyway, but I want to become more conscious of the idea of a bias toward action.

    Along those same lines, I can’t just sit back and expect my plot to take over the world my CLICK project (the reason I made it to the Google Academy in the first place) to manage itself. I need to keep pressing forward to see it grow and become the resource that I hope it will. And some of the action I’ve taken since I returned is already paying off! Stay tuned for another blog post – soon, I hope – on the latest developments there. (Squee!)

  3. Start suggestions for new ways of doing things or new initiatives with “How might we…” Opening a conversation this way implies both optimism (the implication that we can, in fact, accomplish whatever the goal might be) and collaboration (we, as in us, working together). How might we tweak our Chromebook classes? How might we make ETSI even more successful this year? How might we reach out to more schools in the upcoming school year? How might we demonstrate technology integration more effectively? … the possibilities are endless. And these kinds of questions open the door to more creativity and new ideas, rather than just going with the fallback “way we’ve always done it.”
  4. The power of NOW-HOW-WOW – thinking of ideas that can be accomplished right away, those that can be accomplished with a little help or some additional resources, and those really “moonshot” ideas – the ones that make us say WOW and might seem impossible at first. But those “WOW” ideas are what will really end up changing the world. Fifteen months or so ago, CLICK was a WOW for me – just an idea and a dream that I couldn’t let go of.  I don’t know that it’s going to change the world, but I’ve loved every minute of working on it and seeing it move from a “WOW” to a “NOW.”

My Innovator cohort, #LON17, continues to interact, bounce ideas off one another, and share successes, and I daresay we will all continue to communicate with one another into the foreseeable future. I’m looking forward to reuniting with some of those fabulous, brilliant people at ISTE in San Antonio later this month, and the group is talking about other opportunities for future reunions. As I continue to reflect on this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I know that I, unlike my souvenir napkin, have something to declare: the Innovator Academy was a professional learning experience like no other, and one that will continue to influence my actions for a long time.






The Power of an Act of Kindness

Dear Teachers,

Earlier this week I quietly marked a significant anniversary milestone: it was 50 years to the day that my father died. I exchanged a short text with my brother (“Thinking of you” “I’m thinking of you too”) and mentioned it to my husband, but otherwise the day passed by without much fanfare. I don’t know what I feel, or what I am supposed to feel; it’s mostly just a lifetime of the sense of a great big question mark where a parent is supposed to be. I don’t really know what it feels like to have a father, so I don’t know what I’m missing.

My family has always been stoic, and not much for conversation. My recollection is that my father died and we never really talked about him again. In fairness, that may not be accurate, but that’s how I remember it. Chatting about fond memories is what keeps a person’s presence among us, and since we didn’t do that, I remember very little of what my father might have been like, or how his death affected our family. I remember that my first grade teacher, Miss Robbins, came to my house on that day 50 years ago, and that I sat in her lap, and which chair it was in our living room where I had her undivided attention for a bit. I have only the vaguest recollection of attending the funeral, and none at all of the end of my first grade year or the ensuing summer. Although I was happy several years ago to unearth this picture of us at the beach, I can’t conjure up even a whiff of the memory of the actual event.


As I approached my office building on the morning of The Significant Anniversary, several other people were coming to work at the same time. I thought about how carefully I was protecting the personal gravity of the day’s date, and I realized that the date might hold a silent significance for so many others as well; perhaps it marked a loved one’s birthday; someone else was anticipating a court date that afternoon; another celebrated a year free of cancer. Maybe it would be only after the day unfolded that a new significance would be added to it: a birth; an accident; a diagnosis.

It is May once again, such a stressful time for teachers as you endure testing and try to keep your students interested and, in spite of your exhaustion, begin to look ahead to the next school year. You have come to love your students this year, just like you always do, and some of them, too, have experienced unhappy things over the past nine months. Some of those life events you may know about; some you may be completely unaware of. But I hope you’ll remember that someday, fifty years or more from now, your act of kindness today (one that you yourself will have likely long forgotten) may be the one thing in the blurry haze of memory that your current student remembers with absolute clarity. I don’t remember a thing I learned my first grade year, but I remember Miss Robbins, and her kindness, and how special she made me feel on what was surely the worst day of my six and a half years on the planet until that day in 1967. You have the same opportunity to affect your students in profound and unexpected ways, and I hope you’ll use every minute of the next few weeks to give them the kind of care and attention that they very well may remember for the next half century.






Dear Teachers,

I just got back from a fabulous experience: participating in the Google for Education Certified Innovators Academy and becoming an official Google Innovator! My husband asked me in the airport on the way home, “Do you feel any different?” I thought about that question for a few seconds before I answered; the reply was a resounding yes, but maybe not for the reasons I was originally expecting. cupcake

But before I get into that, I thought I would share with you some of the trip’s lagniappes, a term that was the subject of one of the Spark sessions by the fabulous Tinashe Blanchet. A lagniappe, as you likely read above, is an unexpected something extra. I experienced so many lagniappes on my trip to London, it’s hard to know where to begin. The first memorable one was this lovely gift that showed up in our hotel room the evening before the Academy began. Totally unexpected and made me feel so happy and excited and optimistic about the following day’s adventures! Many thanks to Wendy Gorton and Becky Evans at Google for starting us out on such a fun note! Continue reading

On Not Being the Smartest Person in the Room

Dear Teachers,

Growing up, I was usually among the “smart kids” in my classes. Learning (or at least, getting good grades) came easily to me all the way through elementary school. And then I hit 8th grade, and Algebra. I just couldn’t get it; it made no sense whatsoever to me, and back then there was no such thing as “promoting a growth mindset.” I just knew that for the first time in my life, something was hard, and I had to work at it. I assumed that all the other information I had gathered about myself as a good student was simply wrong, and that I must be “bad at math.” Grades in my other classes slipped as well, and so I began to experiment with a new identity: that of Not That Great a Student. I wasn’t exactly comfortable in that persona but with no one telling me otherwise, I tried it out for a while to see how it fit. I didn’t much like it, and have always regretted that slide in my grades and my reputation. Continue reading