Living a Life


I’ve been thinking about my life lately, like who I am and when I figured that out..

The hard answer is that I don’t think I knew until a few years ago. I spent most of my life trying to be someone I wasn’t, and that’s not a pretty admission.

But I do remember the first time I experienced something that would help me on this path. I took a recertification course for teaching. I signed up for programming, and I’d never seen a computer. Back in 1985, there weren’t many, but I was intrigued.

I spent the first three weeks complaining– about the difficulty, my lack of understanding, and my frustration. And then one day it clicked and I wrote a program that worked.

From that day on, I realized I loved solving problems and being creative. I began learning again, first as a teacher and then as an instructional technology coach. When we had problems with our school network, I’d stand in front of the cables and routers, trying to figure the problems out. When I wanted to start blogging, I called the only teacher in the county I knew who was doing it: Will Richardson. We installed Manilla software on the server, and we were up and running.

When the school needed a webpage, I taught myself HTML. When my second computer died, I finally learned how to trouble shoot it myself instead of following the directions to reformat (and lose) everything.  I began connecting with others online, learning both how to be a better teacher and how to use the power of a group. A few years ago, I decided to explore letterpress printing. Because I’d learned to build a community online, I knew I could reach out and get help. Now, three years later, I am printing and running a small business.

I say this not to pat myself on the back but to point out how long– 45 years– it took me to learn that I love being creative. I love to learn. I love change.

The last few years I’ve embraced the idea of solitude and quiet, realizing that more than anything, I like to be alone. And that’s ok.

My wish–for my grandchildren and for all the children–is that they learn about who they are and what they want from life at an early age. This comes from play, long talks, empathy, and kindness. Wouldn’t it be lovely if children spent the first few years of school learning to get along and getting to know themselves instead of being pounded with homework and stress?

From Will: It would make more sense to focus simply on nurturing and supporting the learning mindsets that kids already bring with them, rather than forcing them to adopt a “school mindset” that has little connection to their real lives.

Self-acceptance, learning to ignore the ego, and loving one another, these will grow a happy life. Everything else will fall into place.



Playing with my creative side. That’s the excuse I use when I change the theme of my blog.

It doesn’t matter though, really. This blog has lost any semblance of organization and consistency. It has become my place to collect, think, and dream. About what’s next.

Downtown Writing Studio. That may be the name I choose for what seems to be rolling around in my head as a potential way to do what I love to do. A place for middlers (ages 10 to 14?) to work on their writing. A place for those who think they can’t and those who know they have to. I’m envisioning small groups, reading clubs, day-long workshops? First around my dining room table and next in a comfy, warm space downtown. Maybe a nonprofit eventually?


Following My Own Script

One year I was asked to teach a course at the last minute. A friend, an inspiring and creative teacher, gave me her plans to follow.

Frankly, it didn’t work. During the year, I remember being frustrated, often feeling like a failure. But I couldn’t figure out why following her plans was so difficult.

Now, years later, I know. I can’t follow someone else’s script. And I want my students to have more control over their own learning. That’s not to say I don’t ever want to ask students to work together, read a book together, or focus on an issue I offer up. (And my friend who follows her own script is masterful in this.) But to me, true learning comes when students have choices, and teachers follow their instincts about direction and shaping the culture and curriculum of the class.

Whatedsaid posted this today:

Talented actors can perform to anyone’s script and bring something of themselves to the role. But most of us find it easier to perform to a script of our own creation, which reflects our own beliefs, values and ideas. We need to question things that don’t feel right. We need to follow our instincts. We need to listen to our inner voices. We need to take risks and experiment with our ideas. We need to create our own scripts…

Edna Sackson offers tips here.

Breaking Some Rules

Are you a rule-follower? I am. After all, I was an Army officer’s first-born daughter, raised to curtsy and and speak when I had something “nice” to say.
Now that’s not all bad. Rule followers and nice people can get pretty far in this world, so I don’t hold this against my parents too much. But after reading a recent article in Scientific American, I realize there’s much to be said for being a rule-breaker, or at least one who isn’t afraid to follow her own path.
Andrea Kuszewski shares her two hypotheses in the article:

1) Teaching and encouraging kids to learn by rote memorization and imitation shapes their brain and behavior, making them more inclined towards linear thinking, and less prone to original, creative thinking.
2) Teaching kids to ask questions and think about problems before receiving the solution encourages more non-linear, divergent and creative thinking, to produce better innovators, problem-solvers, and problem-finders.


My own schooling was much of the first. Teachers who told me what and how to think. Schools where I was either ahead or behind because of yearly moves with my family (I attended 13 schools in 12 years!) Few opportunities to think on my own or, worse, fail and recover.

Years later, I remember the first time I really had to figure something out, and I almost didn’t make it. After staying home with my children for a few years, I decided to go back to the classroom. But first I had to renew my teaching certificate, which had expired. I signed up at our local college for two courses, one of which was BASIC programming.This was 1986, and I had never seen a computer. An English major who preferred humanities to math and science, I was taking these courses while I was teaching full time again with two small children at home. Not a pretty picture.

After three weeks of working in the college computer lab, I came home one day and said, “I quit. I don’t get it. It’s too hard.”
But something in my head said, no. Don’t.
So, I tried again, making my brain understand the code, the symbols, that needed to speak to that darn machine. And soon, I had created a short program that worked.

Yes! Such satisfaction.
The next week, I bought my first computer. I then taught myself DOS, and learned how to add hardware and software (do you remember installing the first Windows program that took about five hours and tons of disks?)

Most of my exploring happened as I said, “I wonder what will happen if I….” Sometimes in my playing around, I had to reformat the machine because I got myself in so much trouble. I figured out how to use Pagemaker and was the first teacher in my district to self-publish our school’s newspaper, and I moved online when the web was only text based, opening myself up to a world of research and global awareness. More often than not, I had no one to tell me what to do as I explored this new world. Technology became my window to becoming a self-confident, self-directed learner.

As Kuszewski said,  “students that are more actively engaged are more intrinsically motivated to learn—no bribes or artificial rewards needed, just pure enjoyment of learning.” I was “in the flow.”

Over the years, I’ve continued to find ways to break rules and take risks. I don’t find it easy, and often retreat to safer places. But I know my journey from passive to active learner has resulted in greater work and life opportunities and general all around feelings of accomplishment.

I agree with Kuszewski who wonders why, with so much evidence, we continue to subject children to the kind of schooling I had. I love how she closes:

What is supposed to be the most critical learning period for shaping children into the leaders of tomorrow has evolved over the years into a stifling of the creative instinct—wasting the age of imagination—which we then spend the rest of our lives trying to reconnect with. The time has never been more ready for systemic change than right now, and we’ve never had better tools to achieve this level of creative disobedience, to successfully prepare our children for the big challenges that lie ahead. It might be uncomfortable and take a bit of work, but our future depends on this radical change in order to survive.


My life changed when I realized I could do whatever I wanted to do, and I didn’t have to wait for instructions. Don’t we want that for all our children?

Money and Time: Can we get around these?

Often teachers say the biggest barriers to getting sound professional development are money and time. First, let’s change the phrase “professional development” to “professional learning.” (I wish I could remember which of my great Dublin Dallas PLP cohort teachers shared that phrase with me, but alas, I can’t.)

If we really want to learn–and we should–then it’s pretty simple, isn’t it? We make choices.

This tweet from @newsfromtengrrl today reminded me of a few ways to do that at little or no cost:

ISTE Unplugged: During the regular ISTE sessions, these presenters have signed up to share their passions with you on elluminate. From the wiki: “All ISTE Unplugged sessions will be streamed live through Elluminate and recorded as well. (To make sure your computer is configured for Elluminate, go to The broadcasting is taken care of by a volunteer there. All sessions slots are 30 minutes long–20 minutes to present, with 10 minutes for transition and short Q&A.”

reform symposium: You don’t have to leave your couch for this one,either. From the site: “RSCON3, will take place from Friday, July 29 to Sunday, July 31, 2011 and we hope you will join us for what promises to be our biggest yet global online conference for everyone concerned with education. With more than 65 presentations and 12 keynote speakers it is sure to be an incredible event!” Read my curated posts from my RSS feed and links from twitter. I try to include only those reads I find most interesting to me.

Powerful Learning Practice Action Research: Ok, I know I work for PLP, but where else can you find great research, links to examples, and specific details about how our Peeps collaboratively examine their own educational practice. And if you want to cough up a few bucks, check out the e-courses, too. They are getting rave reviews.

The K12 Online Conference may be from last fall, but there’s plenty to catch up on. Plus you can find the details about K12 Online 2011, too.

Of course, like most of the other teachers I know who learn online, twitter and reading my RSS feed give me as much as I need or want. They are both free and I can fit my learning in whenever I have a few minutes. Here are my favorite opportunities:

  • in the car when my husband is driving (iPad connected to 3G)
  • as I eat breakfast, the morning “news”
  • after dinner–no more television for me
  • waiting for a doctor’s appointment (that handy iPhone)

I’d love to hear your favorite way to learn….


image credit: By shareski