Family Reunion!

picnic_5906c11_webI guess for most of us a family reunion implies getting together with cousins, uncles, aunts, having a BBQ, horseshoes and some beers. Well that sounds good to me, but this past weekend I attended a family reunion with no relatives, no BBQ, or lawn games. ( OK a couple of beers) I was at the EDUCON 2.8 conference in Philadelphia. The conference itself and the content of the discussions and presentations were in of itself a great experience. The multiple sessions I attended on Cultivating Student Voice, Learning how to best Empower Students, How to create a more modern Classroom & Discussion of Race in the classroom (and more) in of themselves were well worth the price of admission. I will be discussing them more in depth in another post. However,one of the best takeaways for me was the “reunion” of people who I have never really met face to face, or only briefly before. I understand they may sound a tad contradictory, so let me explain.

Before I left for the conference I was telling my family I was excited to meet up with my friends from places like Denver, Toronto, D.C. etc. They were confused because they knew I had never really meet most of these people before. “How can they be your friends? You don’t know them, not like “real friends” . They can be good professional acquaintances, but friends” ?? But to me they have become as part of my friendships as my best buddies down the street. Over the past few years as I have become a more connected educator, not only has my circle of professional peers grown, but also my circle of friends. Real friendships that go beyond the casual mutual back slapping they can occasionally happen in a chat (and to Quote the great American Philosopher  Jerry Seinfeld)”Not that there’s anything wrong with that !” seinfeld

I mean relationships that go deeper. We have a commonality of our place in education sure. We offer mutual support, assistance, and resources. But, we also know when we are happy, when we are sad, upset, confused. And just as important, as concerned friends, they know what we need to straighten our ship.

This “family” shares joys, tears, and frustrations together, and rally around each other as needed. On occasions, if we are lucky, either through travel or though the  luck of proximity we get to meet face to face.This surely helps cement the friendship, but it’s not a necessity. Distance, either close or far away is not a measure of friendship, just as birth doesn’t truly dictate who your family is. I have truly dear close friends who  I haven’t seen in decades. This doesn’t mean we are still not close. The same can be said about our PLN families. I did not what to drop names in fear of either becoming a “Twitter Groupie” or leaving some dear people out, but, an example of the melding of the two worlds is my good friend and building peer Dan Whalen (@whalen) Dan & I  had worked in the same school building for over 4 years. We knew each other in passing, but that was about it. Then when he  helped organize our school hashtag( #chsonegoodthing) and got me into the twitterverse ,I not only landed into a new world that has enabled me to grow my teaching beyond my expectations, but grew a true strong friendship. When my wandering through Twitter, landed at #bfc530 and “met” Jessica Raleigh(@TyrnaD ) She encouraged  and cajoled me and along with Dan pushed me beyond anything I thought I could do. So a true friendship developed. When we got to meet last summer at ISTE it again only strengthened the bond. This week she flew out here for the conference and she, Dan & I spent 4 days together and it truly felt like a family reunion.Add in all the wonderful people from Educon that I met face to face and it was truly family outing. Not only the ones I was planning on seeing, but meeting new names ,faces, and relationships that is expanding my “family”

Anyone for a game of horseshoes??



“You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye,
Teach your children well,.”

(music & lyrics by Graham Nash,1970)teach your children

ONE SONG, Sean & Natalie of #edbeat challenged us. Pick one song that personifies your hope for the New Year or personal philosophy. Sure, easy!!! I thought about Bob Marley’s “Stand Up” or Sly Stone’s’ “Stand” But they felt forced, great songs but…. Then it hit me. Going back to High School, CSN&Y’s  “Teach Your Children.” After all, isn’t that our charge from parents and our school system? Isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing? Teaching our children well. Yea, but teaching them what? My course of instruction is U.S. History, and I have a curriculum, but am I just cramming facts into their heads? Is that teaching my children well? And, to what end? I tell them: facts are facts and they are important, but you can always look them up. 

What I want to teach them is how to reason, how to think, the ability to read and understand the content and context, and how to connect the dots, as it were. Most importantly, I want to show them how to form and express an opinion of their own.  I want them to self-advocate. My goal is to prepare them to be full participants in their own future. To do that they cannot be passive bystanders in life. They must learn how to question. But, are schools teaching our students the skills needed for that? Are we encouraging them to speak up for themselves and others who need a voice? I was listening to Greg Curran’s (@GregBCurran) podcast Pushing the Edge, and his guest Christina Torres (@biblio_phile) was talking about “polite advocacy”, and how we as teachers often want our students to question things, but not us. We want them to mirror our values and ideals ( myself included).  But, the real goal should be for them to advocate with a purpose and goal. They should question things they don’t understand, or they believe are wrong. Teach them it’s OK to question why are we learning this? In my History Class I believe to be a productive citizen  for change they  need to understand  how the system works and how it came to be. By studying history they will gain an understanding of how they may use their voice in the future.

Obviously, within a classroom, it must be done reasonably and respectfully, but still they should question and speak out. In history class facts run rampant, but put them in context. I can say Washington was the first president and that’s a fact. If I say he was the greatest president, well now you can argue. But, learn how to formulate an opinion as to why. Ow, he was a slave owner! He was a cold unfriendly person: that you can debate.  I want my students to disagree with me, but to be effective I must teach them how to be successful in advocating, as well as how to prepare for not succeeding all the time. And, that it’s OK to fail, but to learn from it and to keep going.   


I use the curriculum of history to illustrate the tools they need to spot injustices, learn to question, learn when it’s OK to not be polite, and when to speak up for themselves and to right wrongs.  Just teaching them facts means little if they can’t put them into a perspective that makes them relevant. What good does exposing them to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s if they can’t use that to change the current climate of division in today’s society. Is  Taxation without representation  just a stuffy old hollow phrase if they can’t apply it to the government they want in the future?Do the lessons of the mistreatment of Native American fail if the students don’t know how to stop bullying of LGBT in their own school?

It starts in the classroom and expands out to their lives both now and in the future. In a world AG ( after Google) learning dates, names and places is easy, we can get information instantly . My job (our job) is to give students a broader platform to affect change for themselves and for their future.  If I can do that, then I have taught my children well!