Tuesday, July 1, 2014


I recently completed a couple of week-long, cross-state rides. I dream of doing these all year long. Ride all day. Explore small town America. Camp overnight. Repeat. Sigh. Folks outside of the cycling cult rarely understand how such activity can be enjoyable. I just smile in response to their incredulity. It’s one of those things that has to be experienced to be understood. On these rides, I invariably end up chatting with folks that are participating on their first “long” [multi-day] ride. Most of the time, these “newbies” have finally chosen to personally experience the adventures they’d only previously read or heard about. Frequently, they become hooked. There is a sense of accomplishment, a filling of emotional and mental bank accounts, and the realization that one’s body - although perhaps temporarily uncomfortable - will benefit. 

Today in my district, Literacy Coach Michelle Brezek held PD on blogging. As a result, seven new blogs were begun. In addition, the BigTime Blogging Challenge was started
(http://bigtimeliteracy.blogspot.com/). Many blogging newbies have followed blogs in the past, yet held back on starting their own. Personally, I procrastinated beginning this blog for a variety of reasons, the main one being a fear that what I had to say would be inconsequential to most. Maybe it is, but what I have discovered is that blogging allows me to reflect on what I do and why I do it. This reflection then leads to determination to change things, which results in actions to improve. 

Just as in cycling where one’s enjoyment, endurance and form improve as more miles are completed, the educator’s mindset and practice improve through the reflective benefits of blogging. So ride on. Write on. The rewards are abundant.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Construction Ahead

Most times when I head out on the bike, I know where I’m going. Whether it’s a short jaunt, a century, or a multi-day ride, I have a planned route. Sometimes the plan is in my head; other times I carry a map. Every once in a while, however, I encounter bright a orange sign reading, “Construction Ahead.” Honestly, this tends to annoy me. I hadn’t planned on making a detour, and when I find myself being lead into unfamiliar territory I experience a sense of unease.

Recently, I ran into “construction” on my job. The “detour” I’d need to navigate would lead through unfamiliar, potentially uncomfortable terrain. At first, my response was, “I am not doing this. Period.” Since then, I’ve had a change of heart. Although not an easy decision, it’s one that I know is right. 

When faced with the need to make unplanned or life-changing choices, what are some of the factors that can help one make the best decision? Personally, the shift in my thinking occurred as I spent time:

  • Seeking wise counsel - King Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived said, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14). This does not mean that one should depend on others to sway decision-making in one direction or the other. Rather, by seeking input from family, respected peers and even God, one can get a sense of direction. As I did this, I sensed a “calling”, and became compelled to “take the detour”.
  • Looking at the big picture - I tend to be a detail-oriented person, which is not a bad thing. At times, however, it’s important to take a break from analyzing individual pieces of the puzzle,  and refocus on the entire collage. Reminding oneself of the destination/vision is critical. “A vision begins with talk, but it will only become reality with action” (Sheninger, Digital Leadership, Corwin, 2014, 33).
  • Reflecting on life goals - why do I do what I do? What do I want to accomplish for the greater good?
  • Waiting - Although my inclination might be to jump right in and begin problem-solving, I’ve learned that when it comes to making big decisions, sometimes the best thing to do is to step back and wait.

So I’m off into uncharted territory. By focusing on supporting teachers and students in the best possible learning experiences, I’m embracing the construction and taking the  detour. The destination is the same, but I’ve shifted to a different route. 

I believe that whatever “construction” lies ahead for each of us is not an accident, and can offer great potential for growth. There may be bumps ahead, but "the bumps are what you climb on" (Wiersbe, Baker, 2003).

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Woke up this morning to yet another rainy day. Sigh. This got me to thinking of similar days when I’m on the road. To me there is nothing as soothing as falling to sleep in a tent as the sound of falling rain. Waking up to the same sound is another story, especially when I know that I must ride 50-80 miles in it to get from point A to point B. I remember the first time I encountered this situation when on a cross-state ride. I knew that there was no other option than to get on the bike and head out: my gear (luggage, tent, etc.) was being transported by truck to a town 63 miles away. Several people stood around just looking at the rain, while others hopped on their bikes and headed out. I remember thinking, “I am going to get wet. Might as well just get going." When riding on rainy days, there’s really no point in trying to stay dry: all the rain gear in the world is useless after the first couple of miles. The main thing is to focus on the destination and be safe along the way.

In education, there will be “rainy days”. Sometimes for weeks at a time. As much as we might want to stay snuggled in our comfort zones, our students need us to keep moving forward. Changes in teaching facilitated by the advent of Common Core and growth in technology call for continuous learning on our part. In the words of +LeahO’Donnell, “There is always something new to learn, and that can make us great.” Our students deserve our very best effort. Looking out the window and commiserating about the “forecast” does a disservice to them. We cannot afford to waste a single day. When clouds loom large and winds of change blow, carry on: the sun will shine again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


As the school year continues to wane and summer looms large, I find myself dreaming more and more of pedaling through the countryside and sleeping under the stars, day after day, for weeks at a time. It is when I’m doing these rides, many of them across states I’ve never traveled, that all the training I’ve done and coaching I’ve received allows me to escape into hours of serenity. I seriously lose time on these rides, and have gone for hours in that sweet spot. I have a zeal to be in “the zone” - that place where one doesn’t notice the effort being expended, the pain, the aching muscles or saddle-sore butt. It’s a place of untroubled delight, of being in harmony with my bike, fully immersed in the moment, and loving every second of it. 

Another name for this is Flow. The psychologist who developed this concept, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, refers to Flow as “a mental state of operation that one enters when engaging in an activity – becoming fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, involvement and success.” He goes on to say, “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”  So being stretched to the max can give us energy and allow us to embrace success? Yes. 

I strive to experience Flow in my job as well as on my bike. Some might wonder why I’d want to stretch myself, voluntarily, to work harder. In a word: joy. Seriously. By pushing myself beyond my comfort zone and having a resolve to master some new thing, I’m able to develop a sense of control, which in turn leads to feelings of peace.  This is not easy, and I don’t always succeed, but as my skill-sets improve, I am more productive and my stress decreases. Once one goal is accomplished, I’m eager to set the next one.  I’m actively seeking new approaches and tools as I coach my peers to better leverage tech to facilitate increased engagement and student learning. And loving it. 

If this concept intrigues you, give yourself permission to shift to this mindset. Begin by identifying a challenge, set your goal, and then go for it. Here’s an article that sums up the process. As with many new endeavors, this will require focus and resolve (and time). Practicing positive self-talk is necessary - be intentional about nurturing your inner coach and squelching your inner critic. Flow cannot happen by being passive. In the complex worlds of education, technology and assessment, this is a difficult task. But by choosing to embrace the challenge and stretching ourselves to succeed, we can find ourselves getting energized.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sweet Spots

After completing periodization workouts with the bike up on a trainer all winter, I’m ready to hit the open road. The strategic and systematic classes I’ve struggled through all winter (with coach Kristen Meshberg) have hopefully prepared my body for the upcoming season. By working on various heart rate zones (bpm) and cadences (rpm), I’ll be able to maintain my desired speed (mph). My goal is to have my brain be in control, rather than my legs, and to shift my mental focus as needed. I’ve learned to seek that perfect combination where my bpm, rpm and mph are in perfect harmony. Being a mileage junkie, I love turning over mile after mile after mile in that “sweet spot”. This is my goal on the bike.

As an instructional coach, I try to help those I collaborate with find that “sweet spot” in their teaching. As I work with teachers to make the shift to merging the use of digital devices into traditional methods of teaching, I’ve recently started using the TPACK model (along with the SAMR model) as a way of illustrating the complex interaction of content (CK), pedagogy (PK), and technology (TK). As a “recovering math teacher”, I’ve always known that deep content knowledge is critical for effective teaching and learning. Having that knowledge in one’s head is useless, however, if the students don’t understand the concepts or cannot apply what has been shared with them. Sound pedagogical knowledge is critical for learning to take place. We need to fully understand how particular groups of students best learn, which approaches are best for the given content, and how to assess for genuine understanding. Content knowledge is necessary but insufficient for lasting learning without sound pedagogy. Integrating technology to teach specific content has vastly expanded the ways we can differentiate learning experiences to facilitate deeper engagement for all students The beauty of this model is that it allows us to visualize where the heart or “sweet spot” of teaching and learning is. I’ve begun encouraging those I coach to view the model and to ask themselves: how can I leverage the technology that is available, along with the use of best practices, to facilitate deep and lasting understanding for this specific class (or student)?

I love this quote! “Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between these components of knowledge situated in unique contexts. Individual teachers, grade-level, school-specific factors, demographics, culture, and other factors ensure that every situation is unique, and no single combination of content, technology, and pedagogy will apply for every teacher, every course, or every view of teaching” (http://www.tpack.org).
Reproduced by permission of tpack.org, © 2012 

Friday, March 7, 2014

It’s Not About the Hill/Tech

Each October roughly 5000 riders converge upon south central Indiana to participate in a ride called the Hilly Hundred for two days of breathtaking cycling. Literally. The fall foliage is exquisite and the hills, epic. The climb that is most discussed among riders is Mt. Tabor. At a steady 24% grade for a third of a mile, it is formidable. In the six times I’ve participated in this ride, I’ve only walked Mt. Tabor once. At the time, I attributed my inability to conquer this hill to recovery from several broken ribs. Upon further reflection, I admitted to myself it was more likely due to a lack of determination and confidence, and fear that I wasn’t in good enough shape.

When I think about times in the classroom that my students did not learn what I’d thought they should have, I sometimes felt like a total failure. This frightened me. Did I have what it took to be a good teacher? Upon honest reflection, I sometimes was ill-prepared. In other instances, I was out of tune with student needs. Too often, my focus was on my teaching, rather than on their learning. When the digital device initiative began, I was challenged - it required a major shift in my thinking about student learning. Fortunately, I chose to embrace a new mindset, with a new skill set developing as a result. 

When one is afraid or intimidated, they’ll never be able to fully succeed. Whether this refers to conquering the colossal Mt. Tabor, or integrating technology into your teaching, it doesn’t matter. The point is, your attitude can make a huge difference in your willingness to attempt great things. One key to accomplishing this is the use of reflections. Ask yourself, “What really matters? What will it look like when I succeed? Am I prepared? How can I improve?” Then, shift your energy to accomplish those things. 

It’s OK to be concerned about those hills we face. I believe a bit of healthy respect for the task in front of us helps to prevent complacency.  A tinge of cognitive dissonance
can motivate us to try to reduce our fear by taking action. If I have to walk my bike up a hill, I’ll get back on at the top and keep riding. If the awesome lesson I’ve planned flops, I’ll try again tomorrow. The point is to choose your attitude so you can keep moving forward! 

“In times of change learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” 
~Eric Hoffer 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Whether planning for a long bike ride, or looking at the weeks and months ahead in the classroom, in order to have endurance and success one must build a base. On the bike, this might involve cardio workouts and/or saddle time on the trainer through the winter months. The disciplined rider knows that the payoff will be worth it. The shift from indoors to outdoors is manageable and eagerly anticipated because the body has been conditioned and the mind knows how to focus. 

For optimal performance in the classroom, educators also need to engage in active, purposeful training. Traditionally this took the form of a one-size-fits-none institute day by an “expert” who was from out of town and out of touch. I have the pleasure of working in a district that no longer subscribes to that model. South Berwyn D100 has been exemplary in making the shift to relevant, useful, and personalized PD. At our January 20 Institute day, following “Ignite” sessions in which several teachers shared cool resources for leveraging our 1:1 technology, we could choose from over 60 workshops all presented by D100 staff. Check it out at http://tinyurl.com/D100-1-20PD. Each week we also share “Tech Tuesday Tips” in which teachers are encouraged to check out useful apps, websites and resources. Additional examples of personalized, ongoing learning that is accessible can be found at http://tinyurl.com/WPSMiniCon14 and http://tinyurl.com/DGPlaydate

Let’s just remember that, whereas as no one else can prepare you for a challenging ride on the bike, no one else can prepare you for the classroom. The shift to owning your classroom “training” has occurred and each of us needs to gear down and move forward. Using a personal learning network (PLN) for ongoing support will be addressed in an upcoming blog.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Great Quote

Wayne Gretzky once said, "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." Cyclists know this is true: for success on a steep climb it is helpful to know the length of the climb and the max grade, and then shift before it is too late (read: walk bike in humiliation, or worse, fall.) Educators need to know what the future (immediate and long-term) holds for our students, and prepare them for that. Doing what worked in the past or what one is comfortable with is a disservice to today's students. This shift requires honest reflection and a willingness to change. It also requires learning from others and taking chances. Extending the metaphor, give yourself permission to fall. "You can't fall if you never climb" (Dr. Seuss).