Monday, June 30, 2014

Pause and Delete: Sometimes Our Best Response to Those Passionate Emails We Receive

“Pause before sending an email. What do I want to see come out of this communication? The other party to feel diminished or encouraged?” Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace

Email has made it quite easy to speak your mind. How many of us are guilty of pounding out a scathing response to an email that we received from someone else who wrote from a moment of passion? Chances are, unless you’ve been asleep for the first decade of the 21st century, you have had your own experiences of composing and sending an email that did little to be helpful and much to be hurtful or detrimental to an already emotional situation. There’s something about email that seems to make it OK to speak to other people in ways that we would dare not speak to them in person.

This tendency to respond out of passion is all the more reason to “Pause” before sending that email when we find ourselves ruled by passion. A simple test I follow is this:

I ask myself: Will this email response be useful? And, as Sharon Salzberg indicates, “What do I want to see come out of this communication?” If the answer is harm to another person, then perhaps the delete button is the best option. If my email response will bring about harm to another, even in the spirit of revenge, then is it really expedient to send that message?

We don’t have to be discourteous and thoughtless with our messages. In fact, in our times, there’s just too much polarization and hate to go around already. Why would we choose to add more simply because it satisfies our own sense of revenge?

Today, don’t be afraid to “Pause” before sending that email-of-vengence.” If our message is harmful to others, no good can come from it. The delete button is sometimes the best option.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

More on OpenEd's Free Online Assessment Tools: How-to Videos

OpenEd recently released its Free Assessment tool. OpenEd's assessment tool not only provides the question types required by the Common Core curriculum, but it also has some unique capabilities as well, such as suggesting videos to students who miss specific questions. It also suggests questions to teachers to add to their Common Core assessments.

OpenEd offers educators the largest K-12 resource catalog online today. Here's a couple of interesting videos about their new online assessment tool. Check them out!

Friday, June 27, 2014

NC Legislature Shows Love for Charters & Hostility to Traditional Public Schools

Here’s some more evidence that our North Carolina State Legislature despises traditional public schools and favors charter schools that don’t have to play by the same rules as other public schools. Yesterday, the North Carolina House voted to allow charter schools to once again play by different rules.
While traditional public schools have been required to disclose to names and salaries of all its employees to newspapers and the other media under public records laws, it seems our legislature does not believe charter schools should have to do the same. The bill passed by the North Carolina House does not require charter schools to disclose the names of employees with the salaries with public records requests. The logic used to justify this measure by NC Representatives Charles Jeter and David Lewis? “Disclosing the charter school salaries by name creates a hostile work environment.” (See “NC House Votes to Block Charter Employees’ Names with Pay.”)

As far as I am concerned, the logic and intentions of this legislature is clear. It simply despises public schools. period. Through this bill, our legislature finally admits, though tacitly, that it “wants to create a hostile work environment” in traditional public schools, because they are unwilling to protect public school employees from some “theoretical hostile work environment.”

Once again, this North Carolina Legislature proves its hostile intentions toward traditional public education. For the past several years, all employees in school districts in our region have endured having their salaries publicly available in data-bases located on newspaper web sites. Has it caused a hostile work environment? I’m not sure it has. Most of us don’t even bother to access that data anymore. But the fact that our political leaders somehow want to hide how charter schools operate and spend money, definitely shows hostile intentions toward traditional public schools.

These two state legislators, Jeter and Lewis, prove that what they really want to protect is how charter schools actually spend public money. Charters in our area have been known to pay exorbitant salaries to administrators. One charter in Charlotte, North Carolina recently imploded due to bloated administrator salaries. (See “Troubled StudentFirst Charter School Closes Abruptly")

If anyone needs names and salaries disclosed it is public charter schools. Because they are not required to play by the same employment laws as traditional public schools, the public has an even greater interest in making sure these schools do not waste tax payer money. Perhaps this is once again that the signs of intelligent life in our North Carolina Legislature grow even dimmer.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

BoomWriter Delivers a Free Common Core Aligned Personalized Literacy Tool

BoomWriter is an award-winning educational technology resource that is free for teachers and allows their students to create, share, and even publish stories and other original content.  BoomWriter’s interactive collaborative writing platform lets teachers deliver a fun and engaging personalized learning experience, while elementary, middle, and high school age students work online to develop their reading, writing, and peer assessment skills.  By blending writing and technology use—two skills of increasing importance for success in the 21st century world—BoomWriter provides teachers and students the necessary space to explore creativity, hone writing skills, and develop a deeper understanding of literary elements, all while aligning with the Common Core.

BoomWriter uses a simple process but with a technology twist.  The teacher selects a “story start”, either from a database of original first chapters or they can create their own prompt, and students then individually write what they think should be the next chapter/section.  The teacher reviews each submission online before allowing the students to read and vote on the anonymous chapter/s that they would like to see included as the next part of the piece.  There’s an easily managed voting system that fairly determines the winning chapter, while not requiring students to read all of their peers’ submissions (and they do not see their own during voting).  The process continues until the story is completed, which is determined by the teacher.  Once finished, BoomWriter will even convert the project into an actual published book containing the names of all of the participating students.  Completed books are then made available for purchase from the BoomWriter Bookstore.

BoomWriter can be used by teachers in a variety roles and educational settings, such as whole class, small group, before, during, and after school.  Boomwriter is also completely safe for students, since all of their work is created and stored in a closed digital environment.  BoomWriter is a helpful and effective instructional tool, allowing teachers to go online to monitor students’ progress, and provide individualized feedback and personalized instruction from anywhere.  Teachers are also able to provide helpful guidance notes to the group prior to each writing phase, creating relevant practice and application opportunities for specific skills and/or understandings covered in class.

BoomWriter started in a middle school classroom and now has a presence in close to 10,000 classrooms spread throughout more than 60 countries!  The more BoomWriter grows, the more ways teachers find to use this approach to writing in their own classroom.  One high school teacher in Kansas used BoomWriter with her students to create a modern day version of Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible that explores the events of the Salem witchcraft trials.  According to the teacher, while collaboratively engaged in a contemporary retelling on BoomWriter the students explored “how the themes and ideas that Miller wrote about are still prevalent in today's world.”  

BoomWriter has also identified a way to support large urban school districts and inspire students to write using technology through its Technology Heroes Program.  Tech Heroes, which “helps teachers be champions of technology in their classrooms”, consists of BoomWriter partnering with larger districts and a third party corporate sponsor to provide every student and teacher with their very own free copy of the book they created using BoomWriter!  Tech Heroes programs have taken place within Boston Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, and the Oakland Unified School District, to name a few.  In a survey conducted of participating Tech Heroes teachers just last spring, 95% found BoomWriter to be an “effective instructional tool” and 97% of teachers would use it again in their classrooms.  One teacher raved, “I really enjoyed hearing my students beg to write. Students were thinking at home but writing in class.  They were talking about their stories during recess.  Students who never wrote full stories, began to write and complete their writing.  I am delighted with BoomWriter.  It is a valuable asset to my classroom.”

BoomWriter continues to add new free resources and features to support teachers, such as ELA lesson plans, providing teachers step-by-step instructions on how to incorporate elements of personal narrative or literature into their projects.  By the start of the upcoming school year, BoomWriter will also feature two new products for use within and beyond the classroom.  The first is an interactive vocabulary application called “WordWriter” that will deliver an interactive vocabulary experience allowing students to apply, share, and assess newly learned words in original content.  The second will facilitate non-fiction group-writing projects around Social Studies/History and Science/Technical subjects, and BoomWriter will support teachers with these efforts by providing free lesson plans.   

Increase the levels of collaboration taking place in your school’s classroom by registering for free at: BoomWriter!

Guest Post by Ashleigh West, Media Specialist at BoomWriter Media

NC State Senate Bill Proposes Paying Teachers Through Donations & License Plate Sales

NC Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest’s proposal to fund teacher pay raises by collecting donations and selling special license plates is now a bill proposed by the North Carolina Senate Education Committee. The proposed bill would collect money from individuals and businesses and place these funds in an endowment. Lieutenant Governor Forest stated in May that his idea was “a creative response to tough economic times.” Now, Republican Senator Jerry Tillman has bought into the idea by starting that they are “looking for ways to build up and enhance education dollars…"

Instead of looking for “creative" ways to fund teacher pay and education in general, I suspect Forest and Tillman are looking for “creative ways to avoid adequately funding public education.

They don’t won’t to fund education the way it should be funded because they do not want it to exist.

It’s clear that our North Carolina Legislature still continues its anti-public education campaign with Lt. Governor Forest and NC Senator Jerry Tillman in the lead. For more info, check out “NC Bill Asks for Donations, License Plates to Pay Teachers More."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Resources from ASCD for Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

Alexandria, VA (6/17/2014)—ASCD, a global community dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching, and leading, is pleased to present a variety of professional development resources that support educators in creating a positive classroom culture. The collection of ASCD books and online resources supports all educators in improving their school culture and furthering their school’s continuous growth and achievement.
A positive classroom culture is essential to supporting the whole child and ensuring that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. By using these resources, educators can set the standard for comprehensive, sustainable school improvement and create long-term student success.

Professional Development Books
How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom—Teacher leaders Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian believe that no school improvement effort will be effective unless school culture is addressed. Drawing on their years of experience in the classroom, they identify five pillars that are critical to building a culture of achievement. In addition, they provide 19 action research tools that will help educators enable success for all students.

Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success—McREL expert Bryan Goodwinpresents a practical, research-based framework for improving student achievement and identifies five essential practices that can vastly increase students’ chances of succeeding in school. Whether at the district, school, or classroom level, educators will find a valuable blueprint for turning knowledge into visible results.

PD Online Courses
Bullying: Taking Charge, 2nd edition—In this second edition PD Online Course, educators will learn practical tools for confronting and preventing bullying. Through video examples, in-depth readings, and problem-solving scenarios, users will learn how to recognize and detect bullying, address bullying with the bully as well as the victim, discuss bullying with students through classroom activities, and implement a communitywide bullying intervention program.

Embracing Diversity: Effective Teaching, 2nd edition—Through this PD Online Course, participants will consider the importance of building respect for racial and multicultural diversity, as well as how to combat gender and sexual bias through curriculum activities. Educators will explore ways to build learning environments that embrace diversity and learn practical tools for building respect for all students.

PD In Focus
The Art of Science of Teaching—This PD In Focus® channel presents a comprehensive framework for effective teaching that consists of three major focus areas and ten design questions, all of which are powerfully interconnected as part of the art and science of great teaching. 

Visit to browse all PD In Focus channels.
To learn more about ASCD’s professional development offerings that support classroom culture, For more information on ASCD’s other programs, products, and services or to join ASCD,

OpenEd Launches Free Common Core Assessment Creation Tool

Los Gatos, CA – June 17, 2014 — OpenEd (, the largest K-12 educational resource catalog, today announced a free tool designed to enable teachers to easily create assessments with the question types required by Common Core standards. OpenEd’s assessment creation tool enables educators to create tests incorporating their own questions, or existing questions automatically suggested by OpenEd’s unique educational recommendation engine. The assessment tool supports traditional question types such as Multiple Choice and True or False as well as newer types such as Multiple Response, Free Response and Composite Items.

OpenEd’s assessment creation tool also allows teachers to associate resources to individual questions. Should a student miss a question on an assessment, OpenEd automatically recommends resources such as videos or games they can review to achieve mastery.

“When we added assessments to our library, we found that there wasn’t a wealth of free, quality content. Since formative assessments are such an important tool, we asked our teacher community what they used for creating them. The answers we heard varied from Google Forms to Hot Potatoes to handwritten worksheets,” said Adam Blum, CEO and co-founder, OpenEd. “But none of the currently available free tools supported the types of questions required by the Common Core. So we decided to create one and make it free and open source. And our recommended resources functionality finally makes it practical for teachers to personalize content for each student based on the results of formative assessments.”

With the largest catalog of standard-aligned videos and games – all curated by educators – OpenEd provides teachers and parents with a free, simple tool to find videos, games and assessments that enliven lesson plans and aid students in class or at home. OpenEd provides teachers with powerful content to refresh their lesson plans, blend media content into classroom lectures and aid students with their work in class or at home. 

To visit OpenEd go to

OpenEd Assessment Creation Tool -!/assessments
• Free and Open Source
• Intuitive interface allows educators to quickly create quality assessments
• Supports IMS QTI import
• Unique recommendation engine auto-suggests questions based on standards and other metadata
• Allows educators to attach supplemental videos or games to questions
• Recommends content for intervention for students’ weak points based on assessment results

About OpenEd
OpenEd was founded in 2012 with the goal of enabling teachers to have access to the best educational resources for their students, with a focus on finding the right resources to teach Common Core standards. To do this, OpenEd has built the world's largest catalog of educational videos, games and assessments. OpenEd is committed to keeping all content available free to all educators worldwide. For more info visit

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

NC Legislators Vow to Find Voucher Money Despite Budget Woes

Once again, our state legislative leaders in North Carolina demonstrate where their hearts really are: anything but public education. According to to WRAL,  North Carolina State Representative “Skip” Stam from Wake County said he hopes to find “another $7 to 8 million” to pour into the state’s legally challenged voucher program that the North Carolina predominately anti-public education legislature passed last year.

Not to be outdone, North Carolina State Senator Jerry Tillman jumped in and stated that he felt obligated to continue pouring money into state vouchers too.

One thing is clear; this North Carolina Legislative leadership, which includes Senator Tillman, Senator Phil Berger, and NC House Speaker Thom Tillis, do not demonstrate the same dedication and determination to provide for students in the public schools in this state.Their eagerness to find money for vouchers rather than find funding for textbooks, teacher assistants, and teacher pay is a clear indication of where their heart is. Together, these three have done more to damage public education in this state than anyone else. At the end of their anti-public education campaign, there will be no public schools left standing. For more information about their determination to find voucher money even in difficult budget times, check out “Voucher Backers Want NC to Double Available Slots Before Lottery."

With political leaders like these guys, North Carolina continues to become the anti-education state.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Scribe: An Inexpensive Outliner Note-Taking Software Alternative for Mac Users

Recently,  I found myself in search of a simple program that would allow me to outline my readings for my doctoral program. Obviously, I could create those outlines within a word-processor like MS Word or Pages, but when I’m taking notes, simplicity in operation is important. I found a simple outline program in Scribe by Peppered Software. It is a simple outline program that provides minimal features for simple note-taking.
  • Easy keyboard shortcuts
  • Minimalist interface that keeps superfluous features from getting in the way
  • Ability to export your outlines to multiple formats, including: OPML, Rich Text (For your MS Word or Open Office programs), or plain text.
For the Mac user looking for a simple, inexpensive Outliner note-taking program, Scribe has proven for me an excellent choice.

Scribe interface
Scribe Interface

Note: I haven't received any compensation for the promotion of this software.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Value-Added Measures and 'Consulting Chicken Entrails' for High-Stakes Decision-Making

“Like the magician who consults a chicken's entrails, many organizational decision makers insist that the facts and figures be examined before a policy decision is made, even though the statistics provide unreliable guides as to what is likely to happen in the future.” Gareth Morgan, Images of Organization: The Executive Edition

Could it be that using Value-added data is the equivalent of consulting “chicken-entrails” before making certain high-stakes decisions? With all the voodoo, wizardry, and hidden computations that educators are just supposed to accept on faith from companies crunching the data, value-added data might as well be “chicken entrails” and the “Wizards of VAM” might as well be high-priests or magicians reading those innards and making declarations of effectiveness and fortune telling. The problem, though, is value-added measures are prone to mistakes, despite those who say “it’s best we have.” Such reasoning itself smells of simply accepting its imperfections. One only need hold their nose, and take the medicine.

What President Obama, Arne Duncan, down through our own North Carolina state education leaders do not get is that Value-added measures simply are not transparent. If anyone reads any of the current literature on these statistical models, you immediately see many, many imperfections. There’s certainly enough errors of concern to argue that VAMs have zero place in making high-stakes decisions.

As the “Wizards of VAM” prepare to do their number crunching and “entrails reading” in North Carolina, we await their prognostications and declarations of “are we effective or ineffective?” Let’s hope it doesn’t smell too bad.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Leadership and Letting the Difficulties of Life & Job Be Our Teachers

Aren’t our difficulties always our best teacher, taking us to the places we rarely willingly go on our own?

Bayda, Ezra (2014-04-08). The Authentic Life: Zen Wisdom for Living Free from Complacency and Fear (p. 192). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.

There’s something noble in looking at even the daily difficulties of life as teachers. These troubled situations in our lives do indeed impart wisdom if we have a willingness to allow them to teach us, but we must be willing to be openminded and drop the difficulty-avoidance strategies we often engage in. Many pray that their god will take away the difficulty so they don’t have to endure it, but I am reminded of the story of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he did do the human thing and ask that the difficulty be taken away, but also acknowledged that if it was his path, then he could accept it. There’s is true nobility in accepting our difficulties as our teachers. Regardless of religious faith, difficulties can be our teachers if we’re willing to let them be.

I once had an administrator who believed that with proaction, all difficulty and complication could be avoided. He painstakingly planned for every possibility. To him a school was a machine to be manipulated and controlled to the point that every issue could be avoided. That was, until the one difficulty he missed occurred. Due to this difficulty, he found himself transferred to another school, where he was free to practice proactive avoidance strategies once again.

We as administrators must do what we can to proactively prevent problems; that’s a big part of our mission, so I am certainly not arguing that we slacken our efforts to prevent issues and difficulties from happening. What I do advocate is a simple recognition and openness to let life use difficulty to teach us, because, as Zen teacher Ezra Bayda points out, these difficulties "take us places we aren’t willing to go on our own."

We don’t have to see difficulties in our jobs as something to be avoided. We can see them as our “best teachers."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

NC Legislature & Governor Incapable of Listening to Reason

It seems the North Carolina legislature has found a new target after the North Carolina Senate targeted teachers with a budget that offers a bribe for them to give up due process rights or tenure in exchange for massive pay raises which are basically paid for by gutting other parts of the state’s education budget. What’s their new target? The Common Core State Standards. Today the North Carolina House voted to toss out those standards and create a commission of parents and educators to develop more rigorous standards for the state of North Carolina.  What is their primary reason for doing this? Here’s what former school administrator from the last century and current North Carolina State Senator, Jerry Tillman had to say"

“A lot of time and energy were invested in something we should never have gotten into the start with. We ought to own our own standards, and this will put them in our hands.” (See “House, Senate Takes Bites From Common Core Apple” from WRAL.)

Now, as I’ve posted before about the Common Core Standards, I am under no illusion that these have any power to improve education, nor do I step out here to defend them. If they are that great, then they need no defense nor marketing from me; they’ll stand on their own. But Senator Tillman’s statement I think captures more of a “how dare that federal government tell us what to do” attitude than any actual critique of the standards themselves. I would bet he’s most likely never read them, and that is fundamentally a problem with this state legislature.

This North Carolina government is incapable of listening to argument and reason because they are so ideologically driven. Even if one were capable to making a solid argument for Common Core, raising teacher salaries, or increasing funding for textbooks, it doesn’t matter. Our state legislature and even Governor McCrory are incapable of even having any open-mindedness to listen to arguments. That is North Carolina’s greatest danger right now; we have a government driven by ideology and if your ideology or ideas clash with that, forget it.

In the end, Senator Tillman’s objections to the Common Core aren’t based on logic or reason; it’s based on an ideology that blinds them to any level of reason and understanding, and unfortunately, I would say that doesn’t bode well for North Carolina Public Schools this year.