Tag Archives: reflection

An Ethic of Excellence, Ron Berger, Chapter 1

An Ethic of ExcellenceThe message of the first chapter of Ron Berger’s book An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students is the importance of student models. I think a lot of educators are afraid to use models because they want student ideas to be original, and they are afraid students will simply copy the models. It is our job as an educator to ensure that they don’t. I think most students really want to be creative and original. Sometimes, however, they don’t know how to start with project until they see how someone else did it. Models give us all something to strive for.

Berger also shares his process for collecting student work. He says, “One of my jobs as a teacher, I feel, is to be an historian of excellence, an archiver of excellence” (29). He doesn’t just use the models and portfolios of student work to show his students. He also uses them to show others what his students have learned and what they can do. Several anecdotes describe the surprise followed quickly by skepticism that others can feel upon seeing his students’ work. If the students are given time to draft, revise, refine, and really wrestle with their learning, they can produce amazing things. I have often found that giving students choices about how to present their learning really awakens them. I have also had students that were much more concerned about their grades than learning and doing excellent work they could be proud of, and that pressure was often external as much as it was internal. Sometimes I really wish we could do away with grades completely, as I think grades become the point of learning instead of learning being the point all on its own.

Another issue Berger describes with great honesty is the fact that his students are mostly white and rural. When he has presented to audiences teaching students of color in urban environments, they are skeptical that their students can do the same great work. Berger says it is about a school’s culture. Teaching is hard no matter where you do it. It’s harder when you don’t have what you need.

When Berger comes to visit our school in preplanning, I hope he brings his students’ work. I have to admit I am curious about it after reading his description of it.

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The End of a Long Chapter

For the last eight years of my teaching career, more than half my career and 1/5 of my life, I have been on the faculty of the Weber School in Atlanta, GA. Today was my last day, and it felt very strange to walk out the door and make my way across that lawn to my bus stop for the last time. I don’t think I expected to burst into tears, but even though I have mixed feelings about leaving, I know it was a completely normal and understandable reaction. I have colleagues at that school that I love very much. They are warm, intelligent educators who made me a better teacher. I will miss them so much. We have shared lessons and laughs. We have commiserated over shared workplace frustrations. We have grown together. I can’t imagine I won’t see them again, and I truly hope that they will manage to visit me or that I will manage to visit them. I take some comfort in that in today’s digital age, I can keep up with them a little more easily than I might have done ten or fifteen years ago. In that way, I hardly feel like I am leaving. I can’t begin to thank them for all they have done for me and meant to me over the years.

At the beginning of July, I will begin working at Worcester Academy in Worcester, MA. I am already excited about the new colleagues I have and will meet and the new experiences I will have. It’s a great adventure, and though moving 1,000 miles away is daunting, I am excited, and I’m beginning to feel almost ready. I will be heading to ISTE with new colleagues prior to joining the faculty, which is another experience I look forward to.

Though it saddens me to turn the page on the chapter of my life at Weber and say goodbye to beloved friends and colleagues as well as a state I’ve lived in (with the exception of two short sojourns in VA and NC) for the last 20 years, I am excited to see what the next chapter has in store.

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What Makes a Good Technology Integration Specialist?

Sarah Horrigan asked in a recent post on her blog, “What makes a good learning technologist?” I love this question, and it strikes me that I’ve never even really reflected here on what makes a good English teacher (that’s a separate post for another day, though). This year was my first year as a technology integration specialist at my school, and while I am kind of green as far as the role goes, I have some definite ideas about what a good technology integration specialist looks like.


Sarah and I agree here. I don’t know how to do everything, and since I only have one year’s experience, there is much I haven’t tried. However, one thing I do have is curiosity. I want to learn how to do things, and I’m willing to try, even if I don’t know how. I also want to learn more about how others are integrating technology and keep up with news and trends. I actually like learning in general a great deal, and sometimes, even when I’m frustrated by a problem, I like the challenge of learning how to solve it myself. The other day, for instance, my MacBook’s fan was going nuts, and it looked like Spotlight was the culprit, but I couldn’t figure out what on earth it was trying to index that was taking so long. I tried various solutions until I discovered a command I could input into Terminal to find out what it was indexing, and it turns out my computer was just unhappy that I had not moved the entire Audacity folder into Applications instead of just the application itself after a recent software update (which the installation instructions did, after all, tell me to do). Once I moved the folder, the fans immediately settled down. I was really frustrated by the problem, but I felt great that I figured out how to resolve it (with the help of Google).

Helpful and Approachable

One of the things some old school IT guys get zinged for is how aggravated they get whenever someone wants help. They grab the mouse when someone they are working with doesn’t move fast enough or click the right spot. They sigh and roll their eyes. They don’t listen. As a result, folks just stop asking them for help unless they are forced to do so, and can you blame them? Who wants to feel like they are putting someone out just because they need help learning how to do something? I don’t ever want to be that person. I want teachers to feel they have learned something after working with me, and I want to support them in their learning. Sometimes it is frustrating to work with someone who has very minimal technology skills, but we only perpetuate the problem if we roll our eyes, sigh, grab the mouse and do it ourselves. I have found a little bit of patience goes a long way. I use the same skills I learned working with students when I work with teachers. I haven’t found them to be that different after all (unless perhaps more set in their ways and less willing to try things, but even that varies). If I am approachable and willing to help, people are more likely to seek my help when they want to try a project in class.


Good technology integration specialists seek out opportunities and approach teachers and students with their ideas. It doesn’t do to wait for classroom teachers to come up with their own ideas for using technology, although they do come up with some great ideas. A technology integration specialist, however, is a leader in this area, and teachers and students look to the technology integration specialist to generate ideas. The technology integration specialist shouldn’t feel afraid to approach even reluctant teachers with ideas for integrating technology. Obviously, teachers may resist and even turn you down flat. However, if they can be convinced that your idea is either going to 1) save them time or make something they do easier, or 2) be more engaging for them and for their students than something they already do, then usually you can convince them. When you can’t, you should just keep gently trying. Teachers don’t give up on their students and just decide that it’s not important to teach their students, say, how to solve quadratic equations or how to write a good argumentative essay. We keep plugging away, sometimes feeling frustrated. We hope the students will understand the importance and relevance of what we teach, and we understand it’s our responsibility to sell students on the importance and relevance of learning. Technology integration specialists are no different. They need to help teachers and students they work with understand the importance and relevance of using technology. Why? Because Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is right when she says, “The truth is that technology will never replace teachers; however, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together online will replace those who do not.” It is the technology integration specialist’s job to help teachers learn this important truth and to give teachers they support they need to learn to integrate technology. It is the technology integration specialist’s job to help teachers understand technology is not a fad or an add-on, but an important part of how people today learn and work, and students need to be able to learn how to use it effectively for both work and play.


Sarah mentioned this trait also. I feel it is critical for technology integration specialists to be active participants in a variety of networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Ning communities, and professional organizations like ISTE. I also think they should be active online. If they don’t have their own blogs, they should be using Facebook or Ning blogs to reflect regularly and think out loud about technology integration. I realize I have a bias toward blogging because it was blogging that introduced me to technology integration in the first place. I was never what I would call a tech savvy teacher until I started blogging, and I taught myself most of what I know now, which leads me to my next point.


There is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with asking for or expecting professional development on tools you plan to integrate, especially if you are a regular classroom teacher and technology is not where you live. However, if it is where you live, I think you need to be willing to teach yourself lots of things. You need to have a willingness to try out a new tool. I taught myself HTML using a variety of online resources (of which, Lissa Explains it All, a website designed by a young girl to teach HTML to kids, was by far the best). I had to do some light coding for a website I used to have, and before long, I was designing my own templates. Next up: I want to learn Java and Photoshop and, well, actually a lot of other stuff, too. I could take classes, but I like the idea of trying to learn these things myself, too, and truthfully, I think figuring out how to do things on your own, finding your own resources (whether those resources are books, people, websites, videos, or other tutorials) is the best way to learn.


Sarah mentioned this one also, and at the risk of simply cribbing her entire post, I had to include it. If I am not passionate about the possibilities of technology in education, I probably should be doing something else. If I’m not passionate about technology, I’m not going to seek out opportunities to help teachers learn about it and use it in their classes. I’m not going to continue learning about it myself. I will slog to work every day and not make a difference in the lives of the teachers and students I work with. Passion ties everything else together. It is perhaps the most important quality a technology integration specialist, or any teacher for that matter, should have.

What qualities do you think a good technology integration specialist should have?

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Technology Goals

In the spirit of setting goals and writing them down somewhere so I will attend to them, I’m sharing some of the career/technology goals I have. My timeline for completion is a little up in the air as I search for a new position.

  1. Become a Google Certified Teacher. Some of my friends have this certification, and as I have become the go-to person for Google Apps at my school, I would like to learn even more about them (even though I am moving on, I think a lot of schools I have spoken with are doing amazing things with Google Apps). I also want to become a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer. Without knowing where I will be next year, I have elected not to start the application process until things are more settled.
  2. Become an Apple Distinguished Educator. Most of the schools I have spoken to are 1-to-1 Mac schools. I wouldn’t have been able to justify pursuing this program on my current school’s dime, as we are officially a PC school with no 1-to-1 program at the moment, but I can see that in a 1-to-1 Mac environment, this program would prove useful, especially as I would have more opportunities to use what I learn.
  3. Obtain OS X certifications, Certified Mac Technician Certification, and  iWork Certification. Depending on the needs of my future school, I’m willing to pursue Final Cut Pro Certification, but I don’t currently have or know how to use that software. I think most schools use iMovie for their purposes.
  4. Pursue additional SMARTBoard training. Many of the schools I’ve looked at have SMARTBoards, and I haven’t had as much training as I’d like, but there are several self-paced online courses I can take in addition to the ones I’ve already taken.
  5. Participate more often in Twitter chats like #engchat and #edchat. I have always got a lot out of these chat sessions, and my experiences in leading #engchat in the past have been positive, too (and are something I would like to do again). For the record, if you were not able to participate, I moderated chat sessions on integrating technology in English and on authentic assessment.
  6. Become more involved in my field through conference attendance. I’ve been able to attend English conferences, but I have wanted to go to ISTE for about five years and have not been able to do so. I sometimes feel out of the loop, even though I connect with several innovative tech leaders and teachers on Twitter and elsewhere.

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Golden Gate SunsetI began a new job this week (well, really last week, but this first week with teachers back made it feel more like the first week), and this image of the Golden Gate Bridge seemed to capture something about how it feels in many ways.

I am excited. The opportunity to use my technology skills to help my colleagues has been exhilarating, and they seem so appreciative. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

So far, I have written documentation for using our gradebook software and grade/homework site (Edline) and also conducted training in these two programs. I have also had training on our copiers that I translate into training faculty. I sent my first technology newsletter to our faculty (Gmail tips for Outlook users and Dropbox). I have also helped a few colleagues with some questions or issues that have arisen as they prepare for school. To be honest, I am starting my own classes on Monday, and I was completely unable to prepare anything this week, but I will work on that over the weekend.

Google Calendar has a new feature that allows users to create appointment time slots, so I have created slots and shared that calendar with my colleagues. I already have several appointments booked for next week. I have already learned so much, and most of all, I have actually had a lot of fun, even though I’ve been busy. I have been happier in my job than I can ever remember being. I think it’s really important to me to feel useful, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt this useful before (at least, not at work). It was a busy, busy week, but it was a good week.
Creative Commons License photo credit: vgm8383

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The Road to Tomorrow (and Happy 2009!)

I have never been much of a fan of New Year’s Eve. I think it’s the grandmother of all parties, and I just don’t like parties. I know that makes me weird. I don’t like going out on New Year’s Eve, and I never have understood why it’s such a big celebration.

Reflection, on the other hand, I understand.

I had a pretty good 2010. I earned my master’s in Instructional Technology from Virginia Tech. I presented at a national conference for the first time and was asked to present again next year. I was named GCTE Secondary Teacher of the Year and NCTE Teacher of Excellence. Professionally, I accomplished more this year than I have any other year. I also read more books than I have in any other year. I went on a trip to Salem, MA. I made some new friends. My friendships with others deepened. I’m looking forward to doing more this year, and I hope it will be a good one. I do have some dreams and goals that remain unaccomplished, and this year feels like a good one to get rolling on them. After all, I’ll be turning 40 in September, and one thing I won’t have is more time.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Stuck in Customs

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Train wreck at Montparnasse 1895

Failure is weird. Everyone experiences it, but when it happens, we feel embarrassed and alone. I have been writing this blog post in my head for years, but I haven’t posted it because I have been afraid. I decided after this weekend that it was the right time to share it.

I taught 8th grade language arts in the 2002-2003 school year. Our principal left in cloud of scandal, and we had a new principal. I was on maternity leave when she came in, but she didn’t have a good first impression of me, I’m sure, because I had a little bit of trouble adjusting to teaching that grade level. My test scores were great. Only one student on our middle school team of over 100 students failed the state’s writing test. By the measure that higher ups usually care about, I was a success. But before he left, my principal expressed concerns over the high rate of failure among my students and suggested my team leader was influencing me to be too exacting in my standards, and that perhaps I needed to lower them.

I left work one day and went into labor the next morning. I wasn’t due for a couple of weeks, and I hadn’t expected to be out the next day. I had some ungraded student work. While I was on maternity leave, I received a phone message from the assistant principal insisting that I needed to get the work graded, so I finally managed to do so, but I expected a little more sympathy, to be honest. I had a newborn at home.

The county let me know in no uncertain terms that my contract would be terminated if I didn’t return to work six weeks to the day after my leave ended. That day was the last day of post-planning, by the way. So I came back to discover my long-term sub had allowed the students to destroy some of my personal belongings and had done none of the things we were supposed to do to wrap up the year—filling out information in student files being the most onerous task. No one offered to help me. I had to take frequent breaks to nurse my son. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to leave school that day, but I finally was able to obtain the necessary signatures that said I had finished my work.

When I came back the next year, I was no longer teaching language arts but a journalism course instead. My new principal made it clear it was, in her eyes, a demotion. After her first visit to my classroom, she put me on a professional development plan for classroom management. I can’t even remember anymore all the tasks she had me complete. I know one of them was that I had to receive an observation with all satisfactory scores. She made sure that wouldn’t happen. She observed a perfect class but gave me a needs improvement because I had chosen to read a short article to my students instead of having a student volunteer read it. Suffice it to say that I was unable to meet the demands of my professional development plan and she elected not to renew my contract. The district must have wanted to make sure they were getting rid of a bad teacher for real because they made her observe me yet again. If I had been wise, I’d have tried to find out if I could have had a different administrator do the observation, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference.

I remember very clearly what my principal said. She felt I would never be a good teacher. She felt that I had been in the classroom too long at that point—six years—for anyone to expect I would improve. I am sure she felt that she was doing the right thing by removing a failure from the ranks of educators.

But then my current principal took a chance. I had been honest about the fact that my previous principal would not have good things to say about me, and I know my current principal did call the former one to find out what my issues were. She also talked to a former department chair of mine and another assistant principal who told a slightly different story. She thought about it and took a chance. To this day I’m not sure why she took a chance on me because a lot of people wouldn’t. I am grateful.

In my current setting I have been encouraged to grow. I have not, interestingly enough, had classroom management problems. You can’t insist it’s because I’m in a private school because I know private school teachers who cannot manage a classroom.

By any measure including my own, I was a failure as a teacher. But I learned that with the right support, it didn’t have to be that way. I could not only be a successful teacher but a really good teacher if I were given the assistance I needed from my administration.

I know a lot of folks like to blame others for their failures, but I really have to wonder what my former principal would think if she were able to see what I am up to now. In my case, I really think that I could have been a better middle school teacher if my administrators had given me the support to make it happen. Failure was probably one of the best things to happen to me because it put me on the path I’m walking now, but it stung. It hurt for a few years. I’d like to think I bounced back from it pretty well in the end, though. My former principal would have been completely gobsmacked if she had seen me walk across the room at the Secondary Section Luncheon on Saturday to receive a Secondary Section Teacher of Excellence Award from NCTE.

Creative Commons License photo credit: robynejay

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Any idea?

I began really working on my ITMA portfolio yesterday. It seemed like a huge task because I wasn’t really sure what was expected. After I started working on it, I found myself really enjoying it. I liked the freedom to choose artifacts. In choosing documents that illustrate my progress with design, I included my project from Instructional Design, which I am decidedly not proud of, simply because I was proud of subsequent designs in Multimedia Authoring and especially Project and Report. I knew I had learned a lot, and showing that progress was important to me. I am enjoying writing the reflections, too. Once I’ve completed the portfolio sometime later this semester, it will have a permanent home on my website.

Speaking of reflection, I was wondering the other day why writing over at my book blog is giving me so much joy lately. It’s not the conversation, exactly, because aside from a few regulars, I don’t actually receive that many comments over there. I keep meaning to update my education blog, but I think that grad school, coupled with work demands, seems to be sapping so much of my energy lately. And my education blog suffers because I associate it with work. My book blog, on the other hand, I associate with reading and escape from work. So it’s probably no wonder I am feeling more like hanging out over there lately. The upshot is that I graduate this December, and maybe I’ll have more time then. Then again, maybe not. I just have to tell myself that’s it’s really OK if I need a little break. I certainly don’t want this blog to feel like one more thing I have to do.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Massimo Barbieri

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Happy Birthday, Blog

Birthday (Cup) CakesFive years ago today, June 25, 2005, I started this blog. I had seen a few other education blogs and websites, and I felt inspired to start my own. I found out quite recently that one of the people who inspired me to start my own site had to shut her site down because of an illness. The other site that inspired me to start mine is still around as a blog, but hasn’t been updated since January, and I don’t know if it’s down for the count or on an extended hiatus.

Last year, I shared some statistics about my blog. Over the course of a year, a few things have changed. This post will be my 650th post. This blog has received 2,471 comments. Feedburner reports that I have 885 RSS feed subscribers, though site statistics like that are kind of hard to pin down. Feedblitz says that 104 people subscribe to this blog via e-mail updates. I know my Statcounter isn’t 100% accurate because I haven’t had it for the duration of my site, but it says that huffenglish.com has received 842,044 page views.

I talked about some of my favorite posts last year. Over the course of this year, some new additions include the following:

  • A Hogwarts Education because it was really cool to be on the radio in Ireland, and I was really excited that Sean Moncrieff’s staff sent me an mp3 of my interview.
  • Teachers and Facebook, which generated a lot of really good discussion.
  • Double, Double, Toil and Trouble, which was a great opportunity to showcase my students’ work.
  • Shakespearean Insults, in which the virtues of an iPod Touch for concocting Bard-inspired barbs are extolled.
  • The Perils of Teaching the Books We Love, which describes my trepidation about teaching Wuthering Heights. P.S. It turned out OK. The students enjoyed my sharing that speech I wrote about how much the book means to me, and I converted one of my students! She told me that the book was her “new obsession.” She came by several times to talk about it with me. I also had a student from last year thank me for introducing that book to her; she said it remains a favorite.
  • GCTE Conference 2010, which has a run-down of what I learned at that conference. It was a wonderful conference, not the least because I was awarded the Georgia Secondary Teacher of the Year award.
  • The Journey, which describes my Hero with a Thousand Faces course.
  • I Just Tried It, which discusses how we change our perceptions of learning and doing over time.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gerry Snaps

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I Just Tried It

Wednesday is supposed to be my day for sharing ideas, lessons or tools according to my new schedule, but I’m going to put that off because something happened today that made me think, or rather made me put together some thoughts I’d already been playing with.

All three of my children are artists. My eldest daughter, Sarah, is a gifted artist. The other two are learning from her and following in her footsteps. Maggie, my middle daughter, watches and reads art tutorials online and in print. Her sister taught her some techniques. Maggie’s art teacher remarked at the end of last year that she is awfully young to have developed such a unique style. Dylan has only recently begun serious experimenting with art, but he is also showing a true gift for creating. I don’t think of myself as an artist because I could never quite make my drawings look like what I wanted them to look like. My kids don’t have that problem. They also draw and draw and draw. They experiment. We learned the other day that Maggie knows how to make screencasts. She can’t really even explain how she does it. To hear her tell it, she just turns on HyperCam and does it. She said she learned about HyperCam from watching other videos and seeing the words “unregistered HyperCam” on them. She wondered what HyperCam was, and in her words, “I decided I better go figure it out.” And so she just did it.

I remarked to my husband that kids are like that. They don’t worry about learning how to do something first. They just do it. I compared it to teachers I’ve talked to who are afraid to blog, to put themselves out there in that way. The way a kid would approach it is to just do it and not worry so much about it.

Today we drove down to visit my parents in Macon. My sister is also visiting. She is going to be moving to Okinawa shortly, and it might be a long time before I see her again. Her five-year-old daughter has a Nintendo DS. She was playing a game, and she showed my sister a new trick she had learned. My sister said, “How did you learn how to do that? I don’t even know how to do that.” My niece replied, “I didn’t learn it; I just tried it.”

It reminded me of my kids and their art. They don’t see what they create as learning. They see it as doing. Partly because of school, and partly because of self-consciousness, I think we lose that perspective as we grow. Maybe it’s around middle school when we start worrying so much about what our peers think about us and consequently become afraid to put ourselves out there. Maybe it’s because over time learning seems to become less and less about doing and more and more about listening.

What do we need to do in our classrooms so that our students feel more like their not so much learning, but just trying and doing? I know, I know. Trying and doing is learning. And yet my five-year-old niece, who hasn’t even started kindergarten, already makes a distinction between them.

I don’t know. Just throwing some of my thinking out there.

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