Budget games from the past continue to hurt our students today #edchat #tlchat


As teachers all across the country are aware, politicians like to play fast and loose with their ability to get the job done. If you’re a teacher today and aren’t aware of the games that have been played with teachers and schools in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Philadelphia, Newark, and so many other locations, it’s time to get informed fast.

Today, however, I want to bring to light an issue that’s more recently crossed my radar in my own state of Massachusetts.

“But Dan,” you might say, “isn’t Massachusetts some sort of Libertopia where everything is awesome and test scores are amazing?”

Yes, we do have many things going for us, it’s true. But still…

As we’re all aware, every time there are budget cuts, it seems like certain kinds of teachers are always the first to be cut. One of those is the school librarian.

School librarians are amazing. Tons of them are not only experts in literature and research skills for their chosen grade levels, but they’re really pushing the envelope of their chosen profession. They don’t just stay in their libraries, because they’re also master teachers and technology ninjas. A good library should be the hub of a school, where all learning is somehow related to the work students can do there.

When budget cut time comes, though, school districts will often ax nearly every librarian in the entire district save 1. A district that I used to teach in has 1 librarian for more than 10,000 students across a gigantic high school, two large middle schools, and numerous neighborhood elementary schools. It didn’t used to be that way. When I taught there, every school had its own librarian.

When budgets start to turn around, though, a lot of schools think they really don’t need those librarians back, so they don’t bring the positions back.

Now, imagine you’re a young teacher, or interested in becoming a teacher, and you think that you’d really like to become a librarian. You can have a real impact on the lives of every student in a school! You can help teachers make their lessons even more amazing! You can be the first one out the door when budget cuts come!

I’m pretty sure that last point is stopping a lot of good people from becoming librarians, and who can blame them?

I found out that in Massachusetts right now, there are thirty unfilled librarian positions across the state. That’s schools that actually want to have a librarian and can’t find any qualified candidates, because people have responded rationally to the cuts to libraries by not becoming librarians. Simmons, one of the few library programs left in the state, graduated just seven new librarians this year. Word has it they may consider eliminating the program because of lack of enrollment.

So thanks, politicians. Because you’ve refused to make supporting school libraries a priority over the past decade, now people have decided to stop becoming librarians. If everybody turned around and made it a priority tomorrow, it would take years just to fill positions in the schools that want them now, let alone in the more than 200 other schools in Massachusetts that don’t have librarians and aren’t looking to fill the position.

Anybody else tired of our country’s penchant for short-term planning with long-term consequences?

My vision and mission for my new position as Professional Learning Specialist


PANIC! Less than 24 hours until I start the new job!

So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this whole Professional Learning thing, and realized that I need focus. When in doubt, come up with a Vision and Mission, all while making sure that they’re not terrible.

So here’s what I came up with.

Vision: All educators are in control of their professional learning.

Mission: Create learning experiences that assist teachers on their journey to becoming their best professional selves.

The vision, of course, is straight up Edcamp/PLN/PLC. One of the core reasons I believe that I got this job is because I’ve been pestering my new boss for the past three years over and over and over again with this very real, simple idea that teachers need to take control of their professional learning, in large part because when we’re not, professional development is frequently done to us very poorly.

The “best professional selves” line in the mission I’m completely stealing from Laura Thomas, because it neatly encapsulates this idea that I’ve been wrestling with of how you can design learning experiences for teachers who might not be operating under the same pedagogical vision. While I’m ridiculouslyopinionated about the ways I think good classrooms should be run, I’m not foolish enough to think that my way is the only way. So it’s my job to figure out how to help teachers build capacity in the areas they most want and need to grow.

The fun part of this, of course, is this is how I see my job right now, before I’ve walked in and actually started the work. I haven’t talked it over with my boss or other people in the department. I’lll have to meld this within the larger organizational goals of the division, the state union, and the national union. But for me, less than a day before I walk into the building to begin the next phase of my career, these are the things I want to actively work towards.

Resume PANIC!

potter puppet pals


I’m killing my little darlings to get ready for the next stage of my career

I caught this hawk killing some prey in the backyard this summer. Grisly picture of it tearing the rodent apart not included.

With new job impending in three days, and babies going off to daycare at the same time, I’ve really spent this summer trying to figure out new workflows, habits, and routines to make sure I get everything done.

A lot of that is coming down to figuring out what I most want to do and what I most need to do to make sure that I’m successful at my job, and then figuring out which things I need to drop, or rebuild from scratch to be more meaningful.

So I’m killing my little darlings.

The most painful cut that I made this summer was resigning from the board of the Edcamp Foundation. Edcamp is the single most important thing that I have done in my time as a teacher. No question. It changed my life and made me into the teacher I am today. I loved being the Chairman of the Board of Directors for a nonprofit I co-founded and deeply cared about.

But ever since the babies were born, I will honestly admit, I have not been able to give the organization the time it needed from me in order to maximize its success. When it came right down to it, my presence on the board, especially in the position as chair, was probably holding it back from accomplishing what it needed to.

So I resigned.

On the digital front, I’ve revamped all sorts of things, but a big focus was on figuring out which tools I’m using that may no longer be appropriate to my new work or just is something that I don’t use any more.

On my computer, DropBox didn’t make the cut. I’m finding that many of my files already exist in some other cloud service, so DropBox had to go away. I still have stuff that lives there for now, but none of it is mission-critical, and can still be downloaded from there without running an app on my laptop that will just suck up processing power and battery life.

On my iOS devices, in July I declared bankruptcy. They were too filled up with lots of apps that I never use, so I wiped them clean, started fresh, and decided that I would only download old apps as I needed them. Both devices right now have about two pages of apps that I actually use, plus a third page of new stuff I download to try out and maybe stick into the rotation.

Of course, in some cases I killed some of these tools only to make way for new ones that better fit my workflows. I’ll talk about these soon in another post.

Why are good teachers leaving the classroom? #edchat

So I’ve spent the past several years watching as many of my friends have left the classroom to go do some sort of role outside of the immediate school environment, such as private consulting, joining a non-profit, joining or founding an edtech startup, or stepping up into district administration roles.

Watching, and fretting.

Because these teachers were all in the good to great range, I’ve always felt as if it’s a real loss to their students in some way, but also a loss to the profession.

I’m a big believer in teacher leadership, and was proud this past year to join the NEA’s Teacher Leadership Initiative, which emphasized that teachers embedded in schools should be actively leading change and improvement in their classrooms, teams, schools, and districts.

So every step of the way, as I’ve seen yet another great teacher leave their school for some fresher waters, I’ve felt a pang of regret.

And yet, here I am, one week away from taking my new job as a Professional Learning Specialist for the Massachusetts Teachers Association. As I’ve described on Edutopia, I have so many feels about this major change in my life. [full disclosure: I contract with Edutopia to do a few hours of Community Faciliation a week]

While I can’t speak for everybody else who’s left the classroom, for me, the decision to leave, while not an easy one, really came down to one thing.


The MTA is a professional union with 113,000 members. They have a lot of students. If I can improve professional development for even a small percentage of teachers in the state, I can help a lot of students by proxy.

The toughest part of the decision, of course, is that layer of separation now between me and the students. I have always said that directly working with students is the best part of the job, and that continues to be true. But if I have the chance to help more of them, even if it means not having them in my classroom every day? Well, I have to take that opportunity when it’s offered to me.

I do have one other, very personal reason for taking the job. Make that two others.

I’ve made no bones about my feelings that we are somehow failing our students in a very real and fundamental way. While the school reform crowd places lots of blame on teachers, but only ever comes up with punitive methods for handling it, I place most of the blame on systems and structures, whether it be the way schools are designed and run or societal.

Back when my babies were born, I started joking around that I now had five years to try and rebuild public education. But at some point, it wasn’t very funny to me any more, but more like a real challenge that I had to find a way to work on.

Well, this job is a part of that. I’m going to take my skill set, networks, and passions, and try to pull them together into something that will help build better professional learning opportunities for our teachers. That’s how I can contribute. And I can work together with other people at the MTA, sharing my ideas for where our systems are failing and finding ways we can improve them or remake them.

I’ll spend some more blog posts unpacking different things I’ve been thinking about this summer as I prep for my new job, and I’ll share about my progress along the way. [public commitment!]

So yeah, I’m leaving the classroom. I’m amazingly anxious about it on many levels. But I’m incredibly excited to see what I can get done.

Let’s get to work.