Using Artifacts to Reflect

Now that some time has passed since the 2-day “bootcamp” with the CESJDS cohort, it’s time for me to reflect on those two days through the lens of my role as coach. (Note: This post is not ABOUT using artifacts to reflect; it is an example of me using artifacts to reflect on my own teaching).
cesjdsImage Credit

Who am I in this cohort? What value do I offer?
I am a storyteller, facilitator, questioner, a sharer of experience, a connector, an instructional designer, a data collector, a listener.
I am also an outsider. I am able to offer a perspective not rooted within the school culture. This, I have come to understand, is extremely valuable.

Of course, I am also an experienced blogger. I maintain my own professional blog  and have introduced blogging to many teachers and students. I have learned things the hard way. I know something about this journey because I have walked the path myself. I believe in teachers blogging-sharing their own reflective practice as a way to become better teachers, more connected learners and literate in digital spaces- not as an abstract belief but as an absolute truth.

I know that blogging sparks possibilities, and I have my own stories of transformation. But I also ask my students to trust, to walk this path without knowing exactly what the destination will be. I can guarantee an adventure in learning, but I can not say, qualitatively, what stories will unfold, what connections will take place, what magic will evolve.

As I think about sharing my perspective and experience, there are many directions in which I could choose to go. Two days may not sound like much, but those two days were long and full.  I’m going to focus my reflection by using a few of the artifacts I collected during our time together. There is so much to “unpack!”

Make It Work: The Value of Open-Ended Challenge
Our first challenge of the morning had me channelling Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame. Gunn’s catchphrase, as he walks around inspecting the progress participants are making (or not making) on their fashion projects is, “Make it work.”

The “Selfie Challenge” seemed simple. Here are the instructions:day_one_of_transforming_-_charles_e__smith_jewish_day_school

I purposely did not give directions for HOW to approach the task, and each of us succeeded with a different approach and/or tool. Look at our passion-inscribed selfies. Does it matter how we satisfied the task? Is the tool important to the outcome?
selfiebThe lesson for me is that tools are a means to an end. It is possible that the more tools you know how to use, the more choices you have. But that’s not always the case. An open mind, willingness to learn and perseverance are the most important tools in any toolkit.

I love the creative problem-solving that kicks into gear on Project Runway, when designers are given a challenge that must be presented to the judges within a limited time frame. Tim Gunn walks around, asking questions, giving suggestions and leaving people with, “Make it work.” And they do! No matter how weird or difficult the challenge, they always pull it together. Sometimes it’s successful; other times not so much. But they learn and grow through the process. They discover their capabilities and are often in awe of their own creations.

Our selfie challenge was small-scale, but everyone had to figure out something. New tools were discovered. We learned a bit about each other’s passions as teachers. We had fun and felt the success of making it work. I contrast this with the “compliance classroom” where product trumps process, and a particular outcome is preordained. In our modern world, “the illiterate are those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” (this quote is most commonly ascribed to Alvin Toffler, but it seems that Toffler was quoting from an interview with Herbert Gerjuoy.) This is the “make it work” mindset.


I, like many people, incorrectly attributed the quote to Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, when I made this slide in 2011. This new info about the quote itself is another example of learning, unlearning, relearning. Original photo

Success Criteria: Measuring Growth
After sharing my learning intentions for our work together, I asked the cohort to brainstorm criteria for what success would look and feel like to them.
cesjdsIt is so important for me, and for us, to check in regularly and review this. Have we achieved these goals? Have our goals changed as we learn more and gain experience?

I also shared my success criteria: big-picture and open-ended ideas that refer to shifts in understanding and perspective.


How can we assess if these internal changes have taken place? Not everything is easily measurable. Does that mean we should not value qualitative shifts in perspective? This question, itself, is part of the underlying discomfort that is pushing the current educational paradigm. The traditional mentality places strong emphasis on quantitative measurement of growth. However, this often leads to superficial, closed-ended assessments which, in my mind, do not prove that there has been deep and meaningful learning.

Hopes and Fearsslide50

We ended our first day together by sharing hopes and fears for doing this work.


I have many of the same hopes for this work as the participants, and I certainly understand their fears. I notice that many of the hopes AND the fears involve reaching an audience. We do this admittedly time-consuming work of sharing and reflecting our learning because we do hope someone cares, that we reach or help others. This is a dilemma, one I’ve thought about and written about in the past. However, I think it bears remembering that this impact is also tricky to measure. Here is an artifact that demonstrates that:


During our “blog hunt,” Hadas told me about an amazing Jewish Studies teacher’s blog that she reads. It was my longtime colleague, Liat Walker’s blog. I was excited to share with Liat. Her response is so telling. I think that, at times, most bloggers feel this way. We write and post, pouring our hearts into this sharing, and we sometimes wonder if anyone reads or cares. It’s easy to say, “Just write for yourself” and yes, there is tons of value in that. But I think it is human nature to want to connect (I’ve also written about this), that really is the point of sharing online.

Just because we don’t get interaction or comments does not mean there is not another teacher or “unanticipated audience” reading our blog and learning from our reflections. However, taking the time to leave a comment, especially for new bloggers, is extremely important. Please consider, as you read these posts, taking a moment to let us know that you read, you understood, you didn’t understand, you have more questions, you have similar experience, you have different experience….that you’re out there!

Top 10 Innovation & Collaboration Thoughts

A buzzword is a word, that is frequently used and fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context. Currently, innovation seems to be such word in the educational arena.

Let’s take a closer look at what some are saying about INNOVATION.

Guy Kawasaki, in a TED Talk, shares a Top Ten list of the The Art of Innovation in order to change the world.

1. Make Meaning in order to change the world (not making money)
2. Make a Mantra, why you should exist (not a mission statement)
3. Matter of perspective, jump curves. (Don’t define yourself with what you do, but what benefits you provide)
4. Roll the Dicee (deep, intelligent, complete, empowering, elegant)
5. Don’t worry, be crappy (don’t wait to the perfect world, ship things that take your best might have an element of imperfection)
6. Let a hundred flowers blossom (You might know what you want your brand to stand for, but your consumers will ultimately decide)
7. Polarize people
8. Churn, Baby Churn (make version 1, then 1.1, then 1.2….1.9, then 2.0. Ignore people who tell you it can’t be done. keep changing and evolving your product
9. Niche thyself (uniqueness and value)
10. Perfect your Pitch (customize your introduction)

Kim Bhasin in the Business Insider shares the following definition of Innovation (in comparison with Invention)

Innovation happens when someone “improves on or makes a significant contribution” to something that has already been invented.

Don Wettrick in his book Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level

“Innovation brings new solutions to problems that arise in a changing environment”.

George Couros in The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity defines Innovation

as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” ,a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new” and better”, it is not innovative.

Innovation and Collaboration

The three quotes above from Bhasin, Wettrick and Couros, from their respective books, made sense as an overall definition of innovation, but  Walter Isaacson in The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution makes a vital connection to collaboration. Collaboration has always existed, but when we take advantage of the power of technology and the Internet, that we can truly collaborate in “new and better” ways … and that changes everything… that is what can make it transformative. It is about taking collaboration beyond working in groups in our classrooms, teams, subject areas or school silos. It is about using the technology at our disposal to connect, collaborate and learn in order to change the world.

Isaacson stresses that when innovators collaborate and with the “ability to work as a team, made them even more creative. […] It’s when innovators turn disruptive ideas into realities“.

Digging deeper into the other books, collaboration seems to be emerging as a common thread.

Couros’ makes being networked part of his eight characteristics of an innovator’s mindset. He uses the word “crucial” to emphasize its importance.

Innovation (and enjoyment) flourishes when teachers collaborate to learn and practice new strategies. Isolation is often the enemy of innovation.

Wettrick, dedicates an entire chapter to collaboration with experts from around the world and helping his students amplify their message via social media. He calls “Collaboration: The Name of the New Game” and at “the heart of why we need an Innovation Class model”. Wettrick shares Six Building Blocks of Innovative Learning. Collaboration is the first building block on his list- ” Look farther than the person beside you”.

Collaboration should include networking with real-world experts, as well as other students.

Isaacson also concludes

that innovation is usually a group effort, involving collaboration between visionaries and engineers, and that creativity comes from drawing on many sources.

but he calls the following revolutionary

The Internet facilitated collaboration not only within teams, but also among crowds of people who didn’t know each other. This is the advance that is closest to being revolutionary. Networks for collaboration have existed since the Persians an Assyrians invented postal systems. But never before has it been easily to solicit and collate contributions from thousands or millions of unknown collaborators.

So, what does all of this mean in terms of for schools, administrators, teachers and students?

Let’s use the Top 10 Innovation & Collaboration Thoughts as a starting point.  What skills need to be in place? How do we move a collaborative and innovative reality in our schools forward?


  1. Re-define Collaboration
    Redefine what “collaboration” means in today’s world. Taking all the technological advancements into consideration and being aware of their constantly evolving capabilities, are we taking advantage of the transformative possibilities of collaborating globally, asynchronously and exponential connections? How do we make sure we are not talking at cross purposes with each other and our stakeholders about what collaboration signifies in the second decade of the 21st century?
  2. Understand the Change in Communication Skills
    The skill to communicate is basic, but at the same time, has changed drastically and exponentially. Being able to read and write on an analog platform, is no longer the only relevant platform and is fast becoming the least relevant form of communicating in every day life. Schools, curriculum plans, articulated learning skills need to reflect that change. Being capable to communicate through a variety of multimedia and platforms is more important than ever to share and collaborate beyond our local comfort zone, specific audiences, across time zones, geographic boundaries, cultures and languages.
  3. Take Advantage of Crowdsourcing
    Let’s embed crowdsourcing opportunities as an integral part of our learning process. How do we learn the skills to solicit, connect, collect, evaluate, learn from different global perspectives and create something “new and better” out of the contributions from people we don’t even know?
  4. Develop A Sharing Culture
    In order to collaborate, there has to be a culture of sharing in place. No collaboration is possible, if no one is willing or capable of sharing. How do we nurture the disposition of a sharing culture in our schools and learners? How do we encourage this sharing disposition in order to foster collaboration and innovation when it collides with competitiveness that might be otherwise (consciously or unconsciously) present? The term sharing also needs to be re-defined in order to include the openly and transparent sharing on a global forum such as social media platforms, blogs, websites and wikis.
  5. Just do it- Be Concrete
    Find concrete ways to amplify (beyond the person next to you) collaboration for learners. Let’s not talk about the big picture of what needs to happen in order to be innovative. Let’s design, prototype, fail and be continuously in a beta version. These opportunities can’t only focus on amplify for student learning, but need to include educators and administrators as learners, collaborators and innovators.
  6. Become Network Literate
    To be able to connect with experts and peers from around the world in order to collaborate, we need to have the skills to understand, value, create, maintain and grow a network. Network literacy includes the understanding of network intelligence and the ability to take advantage of different network platforms and capabilities. Becoming network literate is as important for administrators as it is for educators and students. This puts everyone on the same playing field to connect and collaborate.
  7. Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone
    We know that very little or no learning occurs in our so called comfort zone. It is imperative to push ourselves or allow others to push us outside of that zone in order to enter a learning zone . This applies also to pushing ourselves out of our field of expertise and learn to connect Information from different fields. Innovation is when we use something and Remember what happens to companies, like Blockbuster or Kodak, who were too comfortable in their zone to catch the warning signs of change to their “expertise”.
  8. Stand Up, Move On and Push Past Nay Sayers
    Develop a thicker skin to be able to withstand the powers who are against change, always find a reason why this or that won’t work or not capable of seeing success past a beta version. Innovators become leaders who model for others, support and promote their first followers and scale this support by enabling their first followers to become leaders.
  9. Make the World a Better Place
    One purpose of learning is /should be making the world a better place. Let’s embed that principal in our reflective and metacognitive practices. How can we take what we know and then make something new and better out of it? How can we add more “what action will you take”? to our instructional designing and curriculum planning? How can collaboration add value by adding perspectives (desperately needed in order to not just make it a better place for a specific group of people) from around the world ?
  10. Give Edupreneurship a Chance
    Edupreneurship is the educational methodology based on innovation and entrepreneurship. How can we embed this methodology to teach/learn real world skills? Let’s give learners authentic opportunities to be exposed to non-simulated experiences, receive authentic feedback and assessment. Let’s all become action researchers to better the field of education or in our area of passion. Let’s not just do projects in or for our schools that are confined to a simulated environment, but serve a real world audience.

How do you define innovation and collaboration at your school? How is innovation and collaboration encouraged within and outside of your physical school building? How can we promote an innovative culture as we collaborate among Jewish Day Schools?

Transforming Jewish Education ONE BLOG at a Time

We’ve been working on clarifying our communication about who we are and what we do. The biggest challenge of edJEWcon has been explaining edJEWcon. edJEWcon began as a school-based conference. We invited other Jewish educators to see and experience what was happening at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville where we were experimenting with ideas and openly reflecting on the process. edJEWcon itself, as an innovative organization, has had to experiment and reflect, grow and adapt as we’ve evolved from conference to coaching and thought leadership, one school to many schools. Through this process, what has always remained constant has been the commitment to our vision and core values.


Jewish day schools have the unique capacity to transform teaching and learning in alignment with new standards and pedagogies.

Core Values:

We’ve recognized the need to hone in on a clear and concise mission that answers the question in a way that everyone can clearly understand. And we’re excited to share it with you:

edJEWcon: Transforming Jewish education one blog at a time


In the past, we’ve shied away from embracing a particular tool or a platform, preferring to keep focused on the big ideas and mindset of learning in the modern age. After all, tools change. However, blogs (and blogfolios: blogs that are used as digital portfolios) have proven to be THE platform that provides the perfect framework to support ALL of edJEWcon’s core values and advance them from ideas to realities.

How does introducing blogs to teachers and schools transform education through edJEWcon’s core values? And why does education need to be transformed?

Let’s answer the second question first.

Why does education need transformation?
The short answer is this: in a rapidly changing world, what worked 10 years ago, last year, even last month, may not be sufficient to meet the need to prepare students for the world of now and tomorrow. We must address problems that we’re only beginning to understand and teach skills for careers that haven’t yet been invented.

Why blogs as the vehicle for transformation? 
Blogs are a blank slate, a seed that can be grown into any kind of fruit or flower depending on the needs, interests, voice, skills and situation of each unique blog “owner.” Blogs also, whether being specifically used as portfolios or not, document growth over time and provide a place to house resources for the use of oneself and others.

Let’s look at edJEWcon’s core values and the connection to blogs as a platform for their actualization.


Transparency: an openness to sharing our process of thinking, trying, and learning, including any mistakes or missteps, as well as how we addressed issues and moved forward.

Risk-taking: “Most of the things that we do have two possible outcomes: they might work or they might not. Being able to live with the possibility of either is essential if we’re going to move forward.” –Seth Godin

Innovation: to stay up to date with the latest educational technology and literacy skills. Innovation happens through learning, researching, communicating, and creating with 21st century tools.

Reflection: “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.”- John Dewey
“If you are not thinking about what you are learning, you probably are not learning.” –Jim Knight

Sharing: a habit of mind that the work we do belongs to the collective, that our piece is one part of a larger puzzle that is lacking without our contribution of our work, thoughts, process, ideas, and products. According to Dean Shareski, teachers have a moral imperative to share.

Collaboration: We live in a connected world and must work, often and well, with others. The sum is greater than the whole of its parts.

When we think about these values, how to live our experience them and where to show our evidence of that experience, the blog is the platform. Using the blog to document our process of taking risks and trying new things, sharing our learning and experiences and reflecting openly, is the definition of transparency. The kinds of skills and literacies we need to blog are the same ones usually referred to as “21st century” skills and literacies. By sharing our work, we invite connection and collaboration from colleagues far beyond our four-walled structures.


6 Benefits to Learning in Connected Communities

Cross-posted from Edtechworkshop


As one who studies learning, I have become fascinated by a type of learning activity I’ve observed on Instagram. I segment my interests using different social media platforms for different parts of my personality and have been using Instagram (where I go by the name @effort_ease) as a place to follow others who share my interest in yoga (whereas Twitter where I am @edtechworkshop is all about teaching and learning). I do this only because I am like a kid in a candy store when it comes to social media, finding so many interesting people to connect with and learn from that I can’t fathom having it all in one place.

When I first began filling my Instagram feed with amazing yogis, I became aware of an assortment of yoga challenges taking place. This is the general protocol for an Instagram challenge:

  • Outreach– There are at least two, often many more, host accounts for each challenge. These are prominent accounts with many followers who generate excitement and interest for participating in the challenge since you get to interact on some level with these motivators.
  • Activity– There is a daily challenge to be fulfilled via an uploaded photo tagged with the challenge hashtag
  • Reflection– Reflection appears, in most challenges, to be optional yet widely practiced. I find this especially interesting. The nature of participating in a challenge seems to bring out a desire to share more than just the photo. Typically, posters will share thoughts about what fulfilling the day’s challenge entailed or brought to the surface, what was experienced or learned, future goals and thoughts about the nature of learning and growth related to the activity.
  • Reward– many challenges are sponsored by a business account who uses the challenge to build their own brand awareness. For example, a business that makes yoga clothes may sponsor a yoga challenge by offering a piece of their clothing as an incentive. All who meet the requirements of posting are eligible to win the prize at the end of the challenge.
I’ve now discovered that there are many self-selected groups of Instagrammers in a wide variety of interest groups that use challenges and community support, as well as the power of visual documentation, to support their growth and goals.
  • What are the lessons here for those who wish to inspire learning in more traditional settings? 
  • How can teachers and schools leverage the power of these types of learning communities? 

I’ve identified six benefits of social media challenges that motivate learners and help them succeed.

Self-Selected Learning Goals: It is clear that learners are motivated by that which is meaningful to their own interests and goals. Many schools are acknowledging the importance of this by offering genius hour or passion projects as part of the curriculum.  Even within a more externally defined curriculum, teachers can find ways to leverage student interests and offer opportunities for choice.

Structure: Instagram challenges have a clearly defined structure; there is a starting date and an ending date. There are requirements for full participation. There are instructions for each day’s activity. Within this structure, there is endless room for creativity and interpretation, but the structure gives form to the entire pursuit. Structure supports growth!

Support: I believe the support of the group is one of the strongest benefits offered by learning in community. One amazing example of this is the “BBG” (Bikini Body Guide) community built by 24-year old Australian personal trainer, Kayla Itsines. Currently, Itsines has 4.5 million Instagram followers, many of whom have purchased her food and exercise guides. What contributes enormously to the success of Itsines’s program is the support community she has built, and continues to nurture, on Instagram.

According to a 2015 article, Kayla and the 3 Million-Strong Bikini Body Movement,

The hashtag #BBG has been used over a million times on Instagram, at a rate of one post every thirty seconds. Other hashtags like #KaylasArmy, #thekaylamovement, #thek2movement, #deathbykayla, and #kaylaitsines are also rampant. 

The “BBG girls” support one another by posting inspirational quotes, sharing recipes and giving “likes” and encouraging comments to hashtagged photos.

Accountability: Accountability is built into the structure. There are no external reinforcements; participants must be self-motivated in order to succeed. However, for self-directed learners to have a daily check-in with peers is tremendously powerful. In schools it is too often teachers, grades, parents and other external motivators that provide the bulk of the accountability needed for work to move forward. I wonder how we can shift our accountability structures away from grades and toward more of these types of peer check-ins that help us hold ourselves and others accountable for staying the course.

Challenge: Challenge is something that occurs naturally on a true learning path. No learner wants to stay in one place. The problem with typical classroom learning is that it can be difficult for a teacher to constantly gauge the level of challenge appropriate for each learner. Some learners are not sufficiently empowered or do not possess the confidence or stamina necessary to push themselves in an academic environment. Seeing photos of the achievements of others acts as inspiration to challenge oneself. The supportive (non-graded, non-judgmental) environment for achieving the goal is, I believe, more conducive to taking risks. Finally, each person posts one photo or video “artifact” showing their interpretation of the day’s challenge. The underlying process, including failed attempts and difficult practice sessions, are not necessarily showcased. But they are, undoubtedly, the backstory to every successful picture that gets posted.



Document Growth: Another compelling and inspiring piece is the power of photos and videos to make learning visible. BBG and other fitness groups use hashtags like #transformationtuesday to document their progress with side-by-side, before and after selfies. It is amazing to see the growth that occurs with persistent effort and the passage of time.


What would learning look like if schools leveraged the benefits of learning communities as successfully as social media? I know there are many schools, teachers and classrooms playing with these ideas. Fundamentally, we will have to shift our whole mindset around learning if we are to create schools with true cultures of learning. Learning is a journey. I believe the Instagram challenges (and similar memes, challenges, etc. happening through social media) make learning fun and, most importantly, give learners permission and support for wherever they are on that journey.

Structures to Support Professional Learning

Cross-posted from Edtechworkshop blog

As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about learning, I have spent a lot of time pondering the best structures to support learning and growth. I have shared my thinking on my blog as well as my attempts to design and implement structures that work.

Looking back to the December 2011 post Making Shift Happen- How?  I think this was the first post that expressed my searching for a structure that would work universally to shift school culture to one of self-motivated, self-directed learning for all.  Here we are in January 2016, and I am still playing with these ideas, having tried many approaches (which are documented throughout the blog). At this point, I’m pretty sure that there is nothing that has universal appeal, no “magic-bullet” that engages every learner and paves a path to lifelong growth-mindset.

This does not stop me from continuing to plug away at the process. If you follow my journey, you know that my job description changes from year to year. This year, I am out of the classroom and once again focusing my energies on professional learning for teachers.

One thing that I notice is how different teacher-learners are from my 4th/5th grade learners. I think that teachers, as a group, can tend to be more closed-off to learning, whereas the kids are more open. They know that their job is learning and they generally participate in the process. Another thing I notice is how similar teacher-learners are to my 4th/5th graders. As a group, the teachers are similar to a classroom of students. Some are super motivated and need little to no external motivation. They love learning and seek out challenge. They welcome coaching and feedback. Others need a high degree of external structure and pacing. They need a push to get started and keep moving but would rather be left alone.

 The thing noticed about myself is that I always (ok, almost always) felt compassion for my young students, even the ones who, let’s be honest, never lifted a finger without serious work on my part! Yet, with teacher-learners, I’ve typically lacked compassion and felt only frustration; these are paid professionals! I’m trying to temper my approach and bring more understanding and yes, love, to my work with adult learners.

I am still working at designing materials and structures that help support growth, as I also work on managing my own expectations. Ultimately, I believe deeply that becoming an excellent, reflective learner is the number one job of the teacher and is an ongoing, never-ending process. In my classroom it was important that the learning space be beautiful. As I evolve as an instructional designer, it is important to me that my teaching materials are visually appealing, concise and well-organized (aka beautiful), and I am working very hard on my own learning of design and visual note taking.

All of this is the preface to sharing some recent materials I created for “my teachers” at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School to support professional learning. One is a sketchnote depicting the idea of creating SMART goals. The other is a worksheet that can be used during the planning process. (this is one page of a two page worksheet. If you’d like a PDF version of the whole thing, let me know. I’m happy to share).

Looking FOR Learning through the Lens of Growth Mindset

edJEWcon Chicago took place in November 2015 on the campus of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago. Around 300 educators convened from six Jewish day schools from the Chicago area.



edJEWcon was conceived out of the necessity to upgrade professional development opportunities for educators in Jewish Day Schools.

  • We knew that isolated PD workshops did not work…
  • We knew that learning in isolation did not work…
  • We knew that we needed to give teachers the time to experience and live through the same type of learning that we wanted them to bring into their classrooms for their students…
  • We also knew that John Dewey was right when he said, “we don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on the experience”.

Hence edJEWcon’s mantra was born… LEARN-REFLECT-SHARE

How could we embed the conference theme and mantra as part the conference day?

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The essential questions of the day were:

  • What does growth mindset mean for us as adults?
  • What do teachers need as part of school culture in order to do the work of cultivating growth mindset?
  • What resources are administrators using to create cultures of growth mindset in schools?

The Learning Intentions were set to be:

  • Learning how to learn in the 21st century
  • Looking for Learning (in ourselves)
  • Strengthening a Growth Mindset as an Adult Learner

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We kept close to these learning intentions in the belief, that educators had to experience the type of learning, they hoped to see in their students. How could we give teachers the opportunity to experience documenting FOR and AS learning? Learning to tell the story of their learning, but also learning to become aware and being able to articulate a narrative of where are we going as learners and as a school community?


The keynote(s) we shared that morning were reliant on the participants’ willingness to be learners, to be pushed just a little out of their comfort zone.

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Seth Sandler explains the three rings quite nicely:

First Ring: Comfort Zone
The comfort zone is where many of us operate. It’s the location of the skills and abilities we’ve acquired. While the comfort zone is by definition the most ‘comfortable’, we can’t make progress or build skills in the comfort zone since it consists of the abilities we can already do easily.
2nd Ring: Learning Zone—- Magic Happens
One can only make progress by choosing activities in the learning zone. The skills and abilities that are just out of reach are in the learning zone; they’re neither so far away that we panic nor close enough where they’re too easy.
3rd Ring: Panic Zone
If you’ve ever become so anxious you can no longer think, you’ve probably run into the panic zone. Activities in the panic zone are so tough that we don’t even know how to approach them. The overall feeling of the panic zone is that you are uncomfortable and possibly discouraged. Like the comfort zone, we can’t make progress in the panic zone.

We knew, we could expect participants to be overwhelmed with content, technology, platforms, ideas, resources, etc., but we wanted them to be aware of these feelings. Aware of HOW learners feel… everyday… in their classrooms….in their schools….as part of the reality of the 21st century…

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Did being aware of these feelings mean that they also were aware of the messages and signals that their brain might already be sending them:

  • I don’t know how to do that!
  • This is too much!
  • I am not good with tech stuff!
  • This is too hard!
  • I am going to retire in a few years, this is not my problem anymore!
  • What if I can’t do this?

Or on the flip side, some might not feeling overwhelmed regarding the learning intentions we had set?… but felt more like:

  • I got this
  • I already know this
  • I have been teaching for many many years, I know what I am doing
  • How does this apply to me? I want to know how I can instill a growth mindset in my students, growth mindset has nothing to do with me!

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We took another look at the characteristics of a fixed versus a growth mindset and applied them to ourselves. Where do we fall? On this side? On that side? A little bit on both sides?

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No matter how much the teachers already knew about Carol Dweck and her growth mindset theory, we asked them to practice characteristics of that very growth mindset and that to look at the CHANGE around us that are impacting education and at the exponential and constant speed things are changing. We asked them to look at themselves and at the CHANGE FOR LEARNERS that was required in the 21st century in order to prepare students for the 22nd century.

Eduardo Briceño cleared up some common confusions about Growth Mindset in an article in MindShift- How we will learn. Carol Dweck herself revisits her own theory of Growth Mindset and warns the misuse of her theory, when she sees:

educators who claimed to have a growth mindset, but whose words and actions didn’t reflect it.

We reminded teachers that a growth mindset is NOT about attending this one day conference nor letting everyone know that one already have a growth mindset, but about continuous improvement or as Carol Dweck says:

the path to a growth mindset is a journey, not a proclamation.

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What if each and every one of us, would ask ourselves not
What if I can’t do it? but
What if I CAN do it?




How would our learning as a community be different today? What if everyone would think: What if I can learn and contribute? What if I can share?

The answers below were contributed to a Today’s Meet backchannel platform:







We asked teachers to start where they were. We asked them to:

  • Don’t just look… observe
  • Don’t just hear… connect
  • Don’t just think… reflect
  • Don’t just have your body present… but have your mind present!

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While the keynote(s) shared many different approaches of new pedagogies involving technology, it was not about technology. We asked teachers to LOOK FOR LEARNING and not for the tool or the platform. How easy is it to dismiss a paradigm shift in LEARNING, if lumped together under the umbrella of “tech stuff”!



We did not just want to talk about different types of learning, we wanted participants to experience it as well. There is not better way to teach than to show, not only tell…

Teachers, not only talked about Growth Mindset and took a closer look at an infographic/ThingLink titled “The Educator and the Growth Mindset”, we also skyped Dr. Jackie Gerstein, creator of the infographic and ThingLink and directly asked her questions.




Listen in to the skype call, brought to you (in case you were not present during the presentation) by the power of “documentation”.

I have worked with the concept of documenting FOR and AS learning and written extensively about the topic on the Langwitches blog. The concept operates under the assumption that looking for learning with the idea of :

  • being aware of what learning looks like?
  • how we can capture learning?
  • how we can make thinking and learning visible?
  • how can we reflect on the learning as par the process of learning?
  • sharing the learning , not as an add-on, but as part of a moral imperative

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We asked to document our learning throughout the day in different ways, from video recording, images, sketchnotes, backchanneling to post-it notes.



edJEWcon believes in Alan November’s words

“Collaboration and sharing knowledge are highly prized skills”.

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This concept of collaborating and sharing beyond one’s own classroom or school building might in itself be already a BIG PUSH outside of some comfort zone…but this is precisely where we needed to demonstrate (not just talk about) our own growth mindset.


The benefit and process of marking our thinking visible has been researched and shared by Harvards Project Zero and written about by Ron Ritchart in his books Make thinking Visible and Creating Cultures of Thinking. I am adding another layer to the equation by making the DOCUMENTATION over time an important ingredient in the process of learning. Documenting embeds the process (not just a final product), a reflective component and feedback!

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Carol Dweck, in an article, where she revisits her Growth Mindset theory, points out that students need to learn and

try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck.

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As we are all, administrators, teachers and students, embark on a journey of documentation FOR and AS learning, we need to bring awareness to, create common vocabulary and decide what we will consider as evidence of growth.

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Stephen Downes in a post titled ” A few Words about ePortfolios” reminds us that

Increasingly in the future, students will be responsible for managing their own online learning records and creative products… they will need to manage these resources, index them and enable access to them.


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We need to keep Stephen’s words in mind, as we are documenting. If we do not have a platform, nor a strategic plan how we will archive, manage and connect our online learning records, we are setting us up for trouble.

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edJEWcon has created a platform and a learning community to support the development of documentation FOR and AS learning in form of shared documentation and reflection of a professional learning process as educators in Jewish Day Schools.

Blogfolios, defined by Andrea Hernandez as

Portfolios give students a chance to develop metacognition, set goals and internalize what “good work” looks like. Blogs offer a platform for creativity, communication, connection and the practice of digital citizenship. “Blog-folios” are the best of both worlds- using a blogging platform to develop writing skills, provide opportunities to connect with an authentic audience and increase reflective practices.

Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He encourages us to remember that:

In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.

We invite you to step forward into growth by participating, reading, writing, contributing, reflecting, documenting AND sharing on in order to grow a community of learners from Jewish Day Schools.


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Taking the leap of looking at Growth Mindset for students, we encouraged attendees to examine themselves in terms of their own Growth Mindset as life long learners. How does a school look like who embodies the characteristics of the Growth Mindset theory?



From the keynote(s) which set the tone, we transitioned into a Collective Wisdom session. Participants were divided into different groups and had the opportunity to discuss and document their conversation.





The first guiding question was

What motives you to persevere when learning something new or difficult?



Participants were asked to answer in 140 characters or less and share their answers on a post it note (click image to be able to read contributions).




A second guiding question for the collective wisdom discussion was posed: This time, we asked participants to create an image or sketch their discussion.

How can you create learning environments that foster growth mindset?

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Participants were asked to use a backchannel to share their answers to the third guiding question:

What quotes about growth mindset resonate with you? What tools and resources have you used to help your students build growth mindsets?




The third part of the day was planned as a “Deep Dive” by sharing the artifacts that were created during keynote and the collective wisdom sessions, reflecting publicly on the blog and and giving/receiving feedback in form of comments.

As Murphy’s Law states: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, participants were not able to log into their blog accounts on edJEWcon in the afternoon.

What an opportunity to apply a growth mindset and not throw in the towel due to obstacles or mistakes? The Deep Dive session was quickly re-arranged into a face to face Speed-Geek Sessions with grade-level sharing session of best practices.


Catch glimpse of a few seconds video of the conversation that took place during the Deep Dive.

If you made it this far in reading this blog post, my question to you is about the value of documentation? What are the advantages for the reader….? I know the time, effort, reflection and learning that went into putting this post together… in itself enough value… , but what about you as a reader?

  • Someone who was there and is taking advantage of my perspective…
  • Someone who was there and is adding my documentation to their documentation…
  • Someone who was there and was in one or the other keynote,session or group, missing the conversation that occurred in another.
  • Someone who was NOT there… what are you taking away from the documentation?


3 Reasons Why You Should Share and 3 Things You can Do to Start Sharing

cross posted to the Langwitches Blog


I am back on my soapbox…

  • …because I continue to see great things happening in classrooms, but get blank stares, when I ask, if these things are being shared beyond the school building.
  • …because I watch as administrators feel the need to “protect” their faculty from “one more thing to do”.
  • …because I continue to hear fear of transparency, competition, privacy and technology skills and tech phobia.

share4 Setting up my soapbox to raise awareness of the “moral imperative of sharing” for teachers (Dean Shareski) goes back to his keynote in 2010 at the K-12 Online Conference. Since then I have stepped on that soapbox via my blog and at conferences advocating for the IMPORTANCE and NECESSITY of sharing.

George Couros, recently published 4 Reasons People Don’t Blog, which are in essence the same reasons why people don’t share (just substitute “blogging” for “sharing”)

  1. Blogging is useless
  2. I have no time
  3. I’m a private person
  4. No one cares what I have to say

He closes his blog post by pointing out the importance of sharing as an integral component of learning as well as underline “the willingness of others”

I have learned a ton not only from my own blog, but from benefitting from others that have been willing to share their teaching and learning with me, and because of that, as Dean Shareski stated, I am better off for the willingness of others to share.

shareI DO want to understand WHY it seems so hard for some many educators to share…but only in order to build an airtight argument that SHARING best practices, reflections and documentation of learning is the essential fabric of education and the building block of networking, growing and moving forward.


We need to stop looking at all the reasons why educators DON’T SHARE and start looking at and DOING all the things WHY we NEED TO SHARE.

So here is my list: 3 Things Why You (as an Educator) Should Share

3why-sharing1. The shift of a culture of consumers to producers is built on sharing and disseminating.
Our world, and in particular the world of our students, is build on the culture of sharing. Ex. Sharing your status on facebook, adding a book review on Amazon, leaving a comment on a product you purchased online, photos on Instagram and videos on Snapchat and YouTube. Educators need to acknowledge the shift outside of the classroom and take advantage of the shift for learning with our students.

2. Painting the picture of teaching and learning in your school
Too many other people (non-educators, policy makers, politicians, media, etc.) are painting a grim picture of the teaching profession, teaching in general, schools and student learning. It is time to become our own storytellers. Sharing student successes and teachers’ professional and continuous learning MUST overshadow and outnumber the negative press and reputation that has been building up.

3. The future of learning is social and build on and around Professional Learning Networks.
Networking is built on a concept of sharing. Networking is defined by the Merriam_Webster dictionary as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions”. In order for an exchange to take place, someone has to step up to SHARE. Without sharing there is no network. Someone has to give and someone has to take, without giving the machinery of how a network works will not function. In our Information Age, where information is being generated at exponential speed, we need to rely on a network to filter quality and relevant information for us. It is our responsibility to be the filter and curator for others as well.

sharingSo from 3 reasons WHY you should share… on to 3 Things you can do to start sharing…

share63 Things What You (as an Educator) Can Do to Start Sharing

3 whys-steps to sharing.0021. Stop resisting change
We need educators, in particular administrators, to stop resisting change, take a deeper look at the world around them and LEAD by modeling! Sharing is and needs to be a method, a strategy and a technique to improve teaching and learning practices, benefiting an entire school learning community.

2. Create a workflow to document teaching and learning
Great things are happening in your classroom and in your schools. Learn to embed documenting best practices, student learning and action research in a digital form to be able to easily disseminate via a blog, twitter, photo or video sharing site.

3. Start small.
Add a comment on a blog you read, share a resource, a link, a book or an article you have learned from on Twitter. Let students take over in documenting learning in their classroom. Use your cell phone to take photos of learning in action, write a descriptive comment under the photo and share on a blog, Instagram, a classroom site, blog, Twitter or Facebook account.

share3You can start sharing right here by adding your reasons WHY educators should share and WHAT you can DO to start sharing?

Six Things You Can Learn From Science Leadership Academy

Last week, as part of the North American Jewish Day School Conference,  I had the opportunity to spend a little time at Science Leadership Academy, the inquiry/project-based learning school started by Chris Lehmann. Here are the top five things that stuck with me as I reflected about what makes this school so special. [Note: “special” is not just my opinion as evidenced by the fact that they have thousands of visitors come to see the school each year, receive over a thousand applications for the 120 openings for ninth grade and host educon, an annual learning conference that consistently draws the best and brightest thinkers and leaders in the world of education.]

These are things your school could should do, too. In no particular order…

1. A Common Language   

Everywhere you go at SLA, you know what’s up. It’s communicated in the posters on the walls, both in halls and classrooms. Three simple rules: Respect yourself, Respect…… As Jeremy Spry, our tour guide, put it, “Basically it comes down to ‘Don’t be jerk.” I think that one of the most important things a school leader can do is infuse a school with a common language and value system. It is undeniable that Lehmann has done that at SLA. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to teach the same way or that there is not room for individuality. It does mean that certain, important ideas, like norms of behavior and core values, are consistently communicated throughout the school. 

2. Kids Over Content                                                                                                                       If you’ve ever read his blog or talked to Chris Lehmann you have heard him say that students should never be the implied object of their own education. In other words, it is clear that teachers are there to teach people. I loved the way Jeremy put it, “Students don’t need us for information. They have Google for that. They need us to take care of them, raise them in community, guide them.” I think that is beautiful and so essential to remember. Of course, I like teachers to also be passionate about the subjects they teach, but kids come first!

3. Technology Like Oxygen

Another famous “Lehman-ism” is that technology in schools should be like oxygen- necessary, invisible and ubiquitous. I’m not sure what else to say about this one except that sometimes this is easier said than done, but as a vision, it’s the only reasonable choice.

4. School is Not to Prepare Kids for the Real World

I personally despise “schooliness” and think it is one of the most insidious blockers of evolving our education system to meet the real needs of learners. Even young teachers seem to have trouble envisioning a classroom or school environment different from the ones they encountered as students.

Schooliness to me equates with teacher-centered and passive. Students show up waiting to be told what to do. Teachers show up to tell students what and how to learn and “manage” behavior. Learning is low-level and closed-ended. Yuck. Why is this still the dominant culture in so many schools?

What I heard at SLA was this: We don’t think of our job as preparing kids for the real world. We believe our students already live in the real world. We don’t ban cell phones because cell phones and the distractions they provide are part of life, and we want our kids to learn good habits.

5. Passion Matters!

Jeremy told us about the process by which students apply to become SLA freshmen. He said they receive over a thousand applications for around 120 open spots. Admission process is by interview, and interviews are open to anyone. The interviewee shares a learning project about which he or she is excited. What they are looking for is passionate learners. I compare this with high schools that bases admissions on grades and test scores and, to me, passion for learning is a much greater indicator of success.

6. We All Like to Look

Art is a required course at SLA. Jeremy explained that visual literacy and design skills are not optional in today’s digital world. I agree, and I still see many presenters, otherwise highly qualified, who use outdated slides that lack visual appeal or communication. It is obvious that SLA makes thoughtful decisions, based on what students need rather than what has always been considered important, when designing their curriculum.

Edu-Innovation is Becoming The Same Old Song & That’s a Good Thing!

Cross-Posted on Edtechworkshop

After I returned from last week’s North American Jewish Day School Conference in Philadelphia, I felt, as I often feel after a high-energy conference, excited and overwhelmed.

The conference theme was “Uncommon Connections: Schools, Systems and Success” which referred to the idea of systems intelligence. As a big-picture thinker (who sometimes gets lost in the minutiae,) this theme really captured my attention and imagination.

As I began to think about sharing my notes and thoughts, to reflect on what I learned and what I would do with that learning, I decided to try sketch-noting as a reflective practice. I am working on practicing this new way of making my thinking visible. I wonder if you can read my sketchnotes to understand my thinking.

What stuck out in my mind was how overlapping and repetitive many of the themes were, or so it seemed to me. Not only am I starting to hear the same messages repeated (the same old song), but it appears that “everyone” is on-board. For example, instead of arguing against the “school should not be preparation for real life; school is real life” philosophy at SLA, it seems as if people agree completely. Of course, my observations are not scientific. There is no control group. The group who visited SLA chose to go to SLA. Does that make all the difference?

Between the visit to SLA and Grant Lichtman’s sessions on innovative schools (informed by the research from his book #Edjourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Innovation), I heard several recurring themes, outlined in my notes:

  • Abolish Schooliness
  • Passion Matters
  • Keep Kids First
  • Create a Culture of Learning
  • Create a Culture of Risk-Taking/Fail Forward

 These are the same thoughts about school innovation that I have also written about (over and over again in different ways) on my blog. These are the same thoughts about school innovation that those of us who have, in the words of Alec Couros, “walked through the same door on the Internet so we could think together” have been trying out in our own schools for years!

So….why are we still stuck? Lichtman’s response to this question was, “Fear and inertia.” I would add lack of imagination. So….how do we vaporize (or at least minimize) fear, inertia and the lack of imagination that keeps our schools stuck in a time-warp?

My answer is this: we do it one step at a time. We ARE doing it. We keep on doing it. We educators look into our own hearts and minds and weed out our own fears. We stay connected.

Someday soon, everything will be different, and no one will know how hard we fought to get there. And that, I believe, is how it should be.