Simple Truth: Hashtags Can Save You Time.

If there was ONE thing that I’d want every practicing educator to know about learning in social spaces it would be that no matter what field you are working in, there are TONS of folks who are sharing resources that you can use in your work immediately.

The trick is tracking down those resources quickly and easily.  Just because people are SHARING resources doesn’t automatically mean that you are going to FIND those resources.  Thankfully, practitioners using social spaces for learning are also adding hashtags –short identifiers that start with the # symbol — to the end of their messages.

See if you can find the hashtags in this Tweet:

Do-It-Yourself Virtual Professional Development: Taking Ownership of Your Learning #pdchat #edchat #cpchat

— Chris Sousa (@csousanh) April 15, 2014

Hashtags are designed to make it easier to sift and sort your way through the sea of information being shared online.  Once you know the hashtags being used by educators interested in the same professional topics as you are, finding helpful resources is as easy as plugging the hashtag into Twitter’s search tool and skimming the results that are returned.

What makes the content shared with hashtags in social spaces unique compared to content returned by traditional search engines is that you know in advance that another practitioner thought the resource was worth sharing.  While that’s no guarantee that the content is going to resonate with you, it does mean that the content has been filtered for quality by someone who shares your interests — which means the content has a greater likelihood of being useful.

The best place to identify hashtags being used by other practitioners is to check out this list being maintained by Jerry Blumengarten.  Jerry has done a terrific job tracking the hashtags being used by educators in tons of different grade levels, subjects and interest areas.

Some of the most active hashtags include:

#elemchat – Resources for elementary school teachers and principals.

#edtech – Resources for practitioners interested in integrating technology into classrooms.

#cpchat – Resources for school principals and educational leaders.

#ccss – Resources related to the Common Core State Standards.

#edchat – Resources about all things education.

Teachers are also using hashtags to share content that is connected to specific content areas:

#scichat – Resources for teachers interested in science education.

#mathchat – Resources for teachers interested in math education.

#sschat – Resources for teachers interested in social studies education.

#elachat or #engchat – Resources for teachers interested in English Language Arts instruction.

Teachers in singleton subjects are also using hashtags to connect with each other:

#langchat – Resources for teachers of foreign languages.

#musiced or #musiceducation – Resources for music teachers of all shapes and sizes.

#pechat or #physed – Resources for PE and Health teachers.

#chemchat – Resources for Chemistry teachers.

#tlchat – Resources for teacher librarians.

Teachers with unique interests and needs have developed hashtags to make sharing content with one another easier:

#comments4kids – Teachers who are trying to generate connections and comments for students who are blogging in their classes.

#ipaded – Teachers who are working to integrate iPads into their classroom instruction.

#flipclass – Teachers who are working to flip their classrooms.

#geniushour – Teachers who are making Genius Hours a part of their practice.

There are even hashtags connected to educational trends in individual states and provinces:

#txed – Conversations about educational reform in Texas.

#iaedchat – Conversations about educational reform in Iowa.

#NYedchat – Conversations about educational reform in New York.

#bced – Conversations about educational reform in British Columbia.

The message is a simple one:  If you are looking to save time, spend some time finding the hashtags connected to your personal and/or professional interests.  Doing so will give you constant access to a collection of filtered resources connected to the work you are doing on a regular basis.


Related Radical Reads:

Who Wants to Play Hashtag Bracketology?

#geniushour Defeats #sd36learn to Win My Hashtag Brackets!

Five Twitter Hashtags that can Save School Leaders Time.



Leadership Lessons Learned from a Corporate Barista

Blogger’s Note:  I wrote this post for Solution Tree’s All Things PLC blog.  Thought you might dig it too.  Hope I’m right!


Walk into the Evernote headquarters in Redwood City, California and you are bound to be impressed by the full-scale Espresso bar in the lobby.  Whether you are in the mood for a Vegan Raspberry White Chocolate Mocha or a cup of black with two creams and two sugars, you can get your liquid fix without ever having to leave the property.

Evernote hasn’t hired baristas to staff their espresso stations, however.  Instead, every employee is given four hours of brewmaster training and then scheduled to work a one-hour shift in the company’s coffee bar each week.

Evernote’s goal was to create informal opportunities for staffers to interact with one another.  When individuals come together in shared spaces – whether they are making high-end coffee for one another or not – connections are made, relationships are strengthened, and ideas are spread throughout the organization.  Espresso duty has also allowed Evernote’s employees to clear their heads and to work creatively beyond their positions for an hour a week, a surprising side benefit cited by staffers who wouldn’t trade their hour behind the company’s coffee pots for anything (Bernson, 2014).

What’s really surprising about Evernote’s approach to corporate caffeination is that even senior level employees – including CEO Phil Libin – are expected to work weekly shifts making espresso for their coworkers and subordinates.

Evernote’s executives don’t begrudge their coffee duties, either.  Instead, they see time spent serving coffee as an invaluable opportunity to keep in touch with the company.  Inundated with the pressures that come along with running a million-dollar business that employs 350 people, making time to stay connected – to see and be seen, to gauge company morale, to get a sense for what’s working and what’s not – is both essential and rewarding.  Just as importantly, regular espresso shifts for the company’s bosses create incredibly open lines of communication.  No one has to fight to find Libin.  They just have to check the coffee bar schedule and figure out when he’s working (Bernson, 2014).

The leaders of learning communities could learn a ton from Evernote’s approach to corporate coffee making and culture building.

Most importantly, if you want ideas to spread through an organization dependent on human relationships, it is essential to create spaces for connections to happen.  While faculty meetings and professional development days might be valuable forums for moving formal agendas forward, real progress in schools is equally dependent on the kinds of organic networking and intellectual cross-pollination that happens when staffers come together informally.

Successful leaders also create time for THEMSELVES to be active participants in these networked spaces.  Doing so gives leaders a better sense for the overall health of their schools and/or systems.  Instead of relying on second-hand reports about the progress that your school is making, put yourself in the center of your building’s public spaces and start listening.  Doing so also gives teachers ready access to organizational decision makers.  When you are visible and open, you become approachable and human – two traits that define the most successful school leaders.

Does any of this make sense?


Work Cited: Bernson, Alex. “A Different Kind Of Coffee Break At Evernote HQ.” Sprudgecom. Sprudge: Coffee News and Frothy Gossip, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.


Related Radical Reads:

Constantly Fighting the Good Idea Fairy

Leadership Lessons Learned from a Vegas Casino

Evolutionary Lessons for the Principals of PLCs


#edtech Reflections for Preservice Teachers

Over the past several months, I’ve been working with Kelsey Mullen — a preservice teacher who is taking a class in connected learning from my friend and mentor Dean Shareski.  Kelsey sent me an email this weekend with a few questions on the role that technology can play in learning.

Thought you might be interested in my answers too:

What are some of your favourite technology tools that you use in your classroom?

This question always rankles me a bit simply because I don’t have favorite technology tools.  Instead, I have favorite instructional practices.  Better yet, I have instructional practices that I think engage and empower students.

Specifically, I’m passionate about giving kids opportunities to experiment with collaborative dialogue and evaluating information.  The way I see it, if you can’t use conversations to build knowledge with one another and you can’t evaluate the content that you come across in our information soaked reality, you are going to struggle to be a meaningful participant in our world.

Do digital tools help me to support those practices?  Absolutely.  VoiceThread has always played a role in the collaborative dialogue work that I do with students and is a tool that gives kids opportunities to think critically about content.

But thinking about tools first is dangerous.  Instead, we need to think about the learning spaces that we are trying to create and the skills that we want students to master first.  Finding tools is easy.  Choosing the RIGHT tools for supporting the RIGHT practices is WAY more important.

See Technology is Just a Tool and There’s Nothing Magical About Technology.

What are the responses you get from your students about using technology in the classroom?  The parents’ responses?

My students honestly couldn’t give a rip about using technology in the classroom. What they care about the most is having opportunities to work together to change the world around them.  The most successful classroom projects that I’ve ever done — the ones that have resonated with students long after they’ve left my classroom — have tapped into that desire.

Specifically, we’ve embraced microlending — the process of giving small loans to people in developing countries who are trying to improve their lives — to learn more about the world.  We’ve also worked to raise awareness in teens and tweens about the amount of sugar in the foods that we eat on a regular basis. Finally, we’ve created an Anti-Bullying PSA to encourage others to stand up to meanness in our school.

Does that mean technology is pointless?  Heck no.  In each of the examples above, technology helped my students to raise their voice beyond the walls of our classroom.  That amplification of their ideas gave them a sense that they COULD do meaningful work and change the world around them.

But it was the cause that drove my kids — not the tools.  They cared about poverty, the health of teens and tweens, and bullying.  Kiva, WordPress and Animoto were just vehicles for taking action.

See Motivated by Shoes and Socks and The Motivational Herring.

When first introducing a new piece of technology into your classroom, what are some ways you help your students adjust?  Do you teach them how to use the tools or do you prefer just letting them explore and find out on their own?

Kids don’t need us to help them figure out how to make technology work.  They are fearless when it comes to tinkering their way through a new tool.  They will click on links in new digital products and services until they understand every feature.  Spending time teaching the tool is relatively pointless.

What kids need help with is figuring out how a tool can help them as learners or as change agents.  While they can figure out how to make posts in blogging platforms or how to import images into a video editing service without me, they rarely know what makes written content influential or how to choose visuals that tell an effective and emotional story.

So my primary goal when introducing a new tool to class is to pair what my kids know about digital tools with what I know about crafting messages or telling stories or changing minds or finding reliable information.  My goal when introducing a new tool is keeping kids focused on the ways that we can use that tool to be influential or to take action around the causes that we are currently studying.

See The Dumbest Generation and Technology Gives Kids Power.

What are some of the successes and challenges you have faced when using different forms of technology?

The successes come in the form of projects that my students completed that made a difference in the world around them.  Whether that’s our Sugar Kills blog, our Team Kids Care microlending team, our Anti-Bullying PSA, or our classroom conversation about the role that hate plays in our world, I’m proud every time that I create an opportunity for students to recognize that they can use technology to be influential.

The primary challenge I have is that I only have two working computers in my classroom and our cash-strapped district has struggled for the better part of the past decade to get more technology into our schools.  That means many of the technology projects that I do are optional activities — things that students tackle at home, during enrichment periods, or in after school clubs.  While I wish every kid in every class had the opportunity to work on something powerful every day, that’s just not possible given the access that I have to digital tools.

I also struggle with the fact that digital services come and go.

The simple truth is that the tools I embrace today — tools that I master and develop instructional materials around — may be gone tomorrow.  Worse yet, tools that are free today — a key criteria for choosing tools when you can’t afford paid subscriptions to services — might become paid products tomorrow.  Heck, that LITERALLY happened this  morning:  Newsela — a great service that I just discovered for integrating leveled nonfiction text into the classroom — is rolling out a Pro Plan and taking away access to features that I dug.

That means teachers using technology need to be digitally resilient.  We need to be ready for the services that we love to disappear or to be blocked by the district firewall; we need to be ready to look for replacements at a moment’s notice; and we can’t give up the minute that the school’s server goes down or the computers in the lab need an update in the middle of a well-planned lesson.

See Being Digitally Resilient.

Any of this make sense?  

Better yet, what advice would YOU give to preservice teachers interested in using technology in their classrooms?


Related Radical Reads:

Two Important Reminders for Digital Leaders

Digital Immigrants Unite!

Making Good Technology Choices


Ten Tips for Writing Common Formative Assessments

One of my favorite books about assessing student learning is Common Formative Assessment: A Toolkit for PLCs at Work by Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic.

In 140 pages, Bailey and Jakicic succeed in making a process that is fundamental to driving student learning — and yet fundamentally intimidating to teachers — approachable.  Each chapter is full of essential background knowledge and practical suggestions that helped me to feel more comfortable about what formative assessment should look like in my classroom.

Here’s ten tips that I pulled from Common Formative Assessment that might help to strengthen the assessment practices of your learning teams:

Remember that getting information quickly and easily is essential.  Assessment data is only valuable if (1). you are actually willing and able to collect it and (2). you can act on it in a timely manner.  That simple truth should fundamentally change the way that you think about assessments.

Write your assessments and scoring rubrics together even if that means you initially deliver fewer common assessments.  Collaborative conversations about what to assess, how to assess and what mastery looks like in action are just as valuable as student data sets.

Assess ONLY the learning targets that you identified as essential.  Assessing nonessential standards just makes it more difficult to get — and to take action on — information quickly and easily.

Ask at least 3 questions for each learning target that you are trying to test.  That allows students to muff a question and still demonstrate mastery.  Just as importantly, that means a poorly written question won’t ruin your data set.

Test mastery of no more than 3 or 4 learning targets per assessment.  Doing so makes remediation after an assessment doable.  Can you imagine trying to intervene when an assessment shows students who have struggled to master more than 4 learning targets?


Clearly tie every single question to an essential learning target.  Doing so makes tracking mastery by student and standard possible.  Your data sets have more meaning when you can spot patterns in mastery at the target — instead of just the question — level.

Choose assessment types that are appropriate for the content or skills that you are trying to measure.  Using performance assessments to measure the mastery of basic facts is overkill.  Similarly, using a slew of multiple choice questions to measure the mastery of complex thinking skills is probably going to come up short.


When writing multiple choice questions, use wrong answer choices to highlight common misconceptions.  The patterns found in the WRONG answers of well-written tests can tell you just as much as the patterns found in the RIGHT answers.  Fill your test with careless or comical distractors and you are missing out on an opportunity to learn more about your kids.

When writing constructed response questions, provide students with enough context to be able to answer the question.  Context plays a vital role in constructing a meaningful response to any question.  Need proof?  Find the parents of a teenage daughter who asks, “Can I go to the mall with some friends tonight?” How much you want to bet that they are going to ask a few questions before saying yes?  I know I will!


Make sure that higher level questions ask students to apply knowledge and/or skills in new situations.  A higher level question that asks kids to apply knowledge in the same way as they have practiced before becomes a lower level question really quickly.

The beautiful part of all of these tips, y’all, is that they are easy to understand AND easy to integrate into your process for developing common formative assessments.

So whaddya’ waiting for?


Related Radical Reads:

What Role do Hunches Play in a PLC?

Should Learning Teams Develop Every Formative Assessment Together?

More on Developing Every Formative Assessment Together

Is REAL Formative Assessment Even Doable?



Leadership and the Lovable Toaster.

Let me ask you a quick question:  When was the last time that you heard teachers grumble about toasters?

Never, right?  Everyone digs their toasters.

In fact, I don’t think I know anyone that has turned their backs on toasters.  Toaster-love is a universal truth.

Here’s why that matters:   While they clearly love their toasters, many teachers are all-too-ready to turn their backs on school change efforts.

Pitch a new digital tool and skeptics start squawking immediately.  Suggest a new instructional practice and SOMEONE will point out a million reasons it’s bound to fail.  Propose a school-wide strategy for reaching more kids and you are likely to be quelling a break-room rebellion before the day is out.

If we could figure out just what it is about toasters that makes them so darn lovable, we MIGHT just be able to tailor school change efforts that are more likely to be embraced, too.

(And YES, I’m being serious.)





 Related Radical Reads:

Our Compulsive Obsession with the Impossible Sexy

Sustainable Change in Schools is Evolutionary

Make Like an Obstetrician and Deliver