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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fighting For Their Lives

photo: PhotoPin (attribution below)

My students. Our students.

Our kids. Your kids.

The police described the home's conditions as a house in "complete disarray."

Don't talk me about letting a child explore their passions when they get home as if that is all they have to worry about.

"No working plumbing", let that sink in for a minute...

I don't care what you're point on Twitter is, if your point isn't the kids.

"They (police) found the kids wrapped in coats and an open oven for heat."

Don't talk to me about grit.

"a meth lab was found"

I don't want to hear about how you can't open up the world for your students with technology, because you don't have enough or the "wrong" device.

"No food"

I'm mad. I'm sad. They're all our kids. Give one a hug today.

My twenty-nine kids have twenty-nine  stories on how they arrived at Room 216's door. I can't control what happens when my kids leave the four walls of our school. I do know that for some of them, too many of them, that our class and school,  is the safest they will be all day. I can give them that.

Some of these kids are fighting for their lives. So am I.

Thanks for reading.
I'm on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Photo:photo credit: GE Oven Dials (left) via photopin (license)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Edu Conferences, Woodstock, & Physicists

@MrJohnsonsGnome tagged along to the 5-Sigma Edu Con
Do you wonder about what people were thinking at the beginning of a revolution? Have you ever been at the genesis of greatness? Had a moment when you say to someone that "I was there" and your statement created an instant reaction of envy and wonderment in the listener?

My 10th grade literature teacher attended Woodstock and had the pictures to prove it. He never dwelled on his attendance and never passed on the salacious details sophomores desired, but he occasionally referred to it as a transformative event in his life. The days long concert opened his eyes to what was possible, what his generation could aspire to. The event challenged his assumptions and changed the way that he would view things through his life's prism from there on out. 

The 5-Sigma Education Conference promised the same. A chance to interact with visionary educators, to see what true inquiry learning looked like, and a better understanding of how to assess the whole child. Transformative indeed.


Unlike so many conferences that I've attended, 5-Sigma was not focused on discovering the latest whiz-bang tech tool or teaching trick for the classroom, but on sharing, learning, and communicating. Focused on discovery and innovation, educators from all over the U.S. ascended (Denver is 5280 ft up ya know) to Centennial, Colorado to Anastasis Academy, the conference location. Traveling upwards seemed appropriate.

We started off the opening morning with Chick-Fil-A breakfast sandwiches and within minutes I had made a new friend, and despite using the wrong name to request a picture against the conference backdrop , we continued our conversation over lunch.  (follow Noah Geisel, formerly aka to me as "Seth", an innovator) While eating and talking I noticed how the Anastasis students, wearing matching t-shirts, were scurrying about and how they were gathering in diverse groups. They weren't clustering in age groups as you would expect, but students of all levels were talking and interacting together. It reminded me of a gathering of cousins. Nobody had told them to stick together. They were choosing to gather in this way. It was clear that this school was different.

Challenging Assumptions

I wasn't planning on looking for a tissue within the first 5 minutes of the conference kickoff, but Anastasis student, Isabella and her spoken word poem "Hibernation" brought many to tears with her wonderful words. It was the first of many student voices conference attendees would hear over the next few days.

Anastasis Academy and 5-Sigma Founder, Kelly Tenkely, then asked us to challenge our assumptions over the next few days. Asking,  
  • What labels have you been carrying around with you?
  • To examine how many layers there were between educators and their students?
  • That we recognize that most education reform is "surface level stuff" 
  • That we engage failure.
  • Attendees to participate in the meaningful.
Our name badges (innovative in and of themselves) only contained our first name. Titles didn't matter at 5-Sigma. We were all learners and there was no need to create walls of prestige and importance to impede what we could learn.  Kelly's words set the tone and theme of the Conference and challenged us to take what we were to learn and act because, "They (students) can't wait for us to get it right." 

Ranfranz Davis delivered the opening keynote and told her story as well as some of her student's inspirational stories, while asking attendees to give their students a reason to explore something they're passionate about. Explore the content through the lesson of what they love. She told the stories of Braeden and Edgar who learned to learn that "I cannot give up until I learned this thing." Rafranz told these tales to help those in the room understand "that the test is not a definition of who these students are." They are more, so much more.


The sessions were relaxed, but amazing nonetheless.  Learning doesn't have to stressful. The flow of the conference was such that there was much time to talk to before and after to the amazing people assembled. The vibe, to use a Woodstock era term, was relaxed and that atmosphere contributed to everyone being approachable and open to conversations. I met so many amazing people before, during, and after sessions that the presentations really were secondary to the learning and relationships being formed in between. 

I had the fortune to attend sessions given by the amazing and inspiring, Shelly Au, and learned about his artistry, amazing journey and how to tell a story with images. Tim Kaegi and Colin Reynolds shared the innovative things they are doing with their kids in their respective classrooms. You never knew who you were going to be learning with at these sessions, because the titles and achievements were secondary to what we were learning together. You were just sitting down with a Shelly, Christian, Kelly, or a Jen
Longtime friends and new alike.

Panel Discussions

The Panels were extraordinary. Not only because they included Anastasis' wonderful student voices, but because we had a chance to hear from the Academy's parent's, alumni, and teachers. They talked about their community and purpose together in learning. These students, current and former alike talked with great affinity of how they learned how to learn and how they adjusted to the freedom of inquiry to learn meaningfully. The teachers have an uncommon understanding of what it means to reach the whole child. The teachers lead them towards leaning something of importance, something that is meaningful.

There are no grades. The students are engaged, not just producing. In the words of one student, "there is so much to learn." From an alumni, "I love this school because you're taught how to think, not what to think."

"they (Anastasis' teachers) taught me how to love to learn"

Some of my other favorite student statements. 
  • "I'm happy to be a nerd, at least I can think"
  • "Do I know everything I need to know? "Yes, because I know how to think" 
  • "We're all change makers, if we move our feet"
  • "I was who I was, not someone who was a grade"
  • "I like this school because I can be myself" (this student's energy lit up the room)


Community is a big, no huge, part of the learning atmosphere at Anastasis. The students and educators talked about how it was such a integral part of their culture. They do everything together. Lunch, recess, morning walks, projects, etc. It started to dawn on me that that sense of community was why the children came together so naturally on day one

There are no distinctions or curriculum labels to divide students and teachers into learning silos and therefore no structures to keep them apart.

The community forms naturally, but it is not by accident. From "Detox Week" to the end of the year, through Edu Ventures and service projects, these students and teachers learn together. A learning community. Teachers visit each student's home before the start of the school year and they find out how the students learn best with innovative games (that I hope that Kelly makes available to the world someday soon) Great time and care is spent to create a special environment and to make each child feel special, because "when they feel special, their attitude changes."

Time to Go

The closing keynote was delivered by Christian Long and I can only say that I feel lucky to have been in the room. I didn't realize until about 15 minutes into our conversation the day before that Christian was our closing keynote. Intense, but personable. Passionate, but measured. He also seemed to pull off the same pants that my 12-yr old students (not to mention my 17 yr-old son) make fun of.  

I briefly had a chance to continue the conversation later at dinner the evening of day one and I was really transformed by the conversation. Christian is visionary in the way he looks at learning spaces and learning. His wisdom is something that will continue to enhance my teaching for a very long time. 

Some of his thoughts during his talk:
  • "The hard part of what we do is whether or not in 10 yrs anyone will care about what you've done."
  • "When in doubt, create the conditions"
  • "We don't need the right stuff, we need the right mindset"
  • "We taught the kid to leap, but we never taught them how to land"
  • "Titles, position, allow someone in the room to stand in opposition"
  • "The center of the endeavor should be the person, not the object"
  • "The hard things should be hard"
  • "We love you, we love that you did this thing, but you can't expect the world to come to you. That's where quality matters"
Physicists use 5-Sigma to signify that there is only one chance in over two-million occurrences that the occurrence would occur randomly. It's a statement or declaration for discovery and means that something special has happened. With a 99.999996% confidence level or certainly without much of a doubt, something special happened at the first 5-Sigma Conference. If we ever cross paths, ask me how it was, I can't wait to watch your jaw drop.

Thanks for reading.
Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

On a personal note

I don't know if I'll ever understand why I was the beneficiary of Kelly Tenkely and Michelle Baldwin's and my PLN when we asked our followers to fund my flight to the inaugural 5-Sigma Edu Conference, but it's nice to be wanted. Thank you for all of the contributions and RTs that made attendance possible. Special thanks to the Baldwin household for being such great hosts for my stay. Generosity defined. It was an extraordinary experience, given to me by extraordinary educators. I am grateful beyond words.