What Are You Thankful For?

I’ll admit right at the beginning that this post is a shameless use of all facets of my network. This blog is one of those. So, if you’re someone who doesn’t like it when people do that, you can stop reading, I’m sorry. But, I do ask that you give me a shot.

Thanksgiving is upon us, and customarily, people are sharing out their quips of thanks for the season. Some go through each day and give one thing they’re thankful for.

I think this is something we need to do more often in education. It is very easy in today’s climate to get beaten down and complain about the things going wrong in our schools. I count myself in that group. There are a lot of posts on this blog in which I extol the adversity in my classroom and building. However, I would like to invite everyone to share something they’re thankful for in education. There are more wins out there than losses, and I want to make those as public as I can.

If you’re not familiar with what I do nowadays, I work with TechSmith Education. Part of my job is to host a weekly podcast on the EdReach Network titled Chalkstar to Rockstar: Revolutionary Ideas in Learning. I get to share out stories of teachers doing amazing things in their classrooms each week, and I’ve had the chance to interview some amazing people.

Next week is the Thanksgiving episode. It goes live on Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, and I want to share as many stories of thanks in education as I can. To do that, I need your help. Please take 30 seconds to fill out a two question survey, of which only one question is mandatory. I’ll be sharing all of the responses on the podcast as well as an accompanying blog post. If you could fill out the embedded form below and then pass it along, I’d be much obliged.

You can also share on Twitter using #eduthanks. If you want to pass the survey, you can use http://bit.ly/eduthanks.

For me, I’m thankful for teachers who continue to fight the good fight against overwhelming odds. You all are an inspiration daily (and I’m not just saying that). Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

And Then There Were Three

Today is the last day of our family of two. This weekend, my daughter will be born.

My wife is 39 weeks pregnant today. We’ve been busily preparing our home for the arrival of our daughter, who happens to be the first girl born in either family since Lindsey. We’ve been blessed with support from our families and we wouldn’t have been able to do nearly as much as we have in the time we were given.

How do I know my daughter will be born today? Because if Lindsey doesn’t go into labor by tonight, we will go to the hospital and be induced.

I’m in a weird place right now. This was not the plan. Everything has gone so well over the last 39 weeks, it feels almost like we’re dropping the ball at the goal line.

There are mental positives and negatives to this whole arrangement. Pro: I don’t have to anticipate waking up in the middle of the night to my wife’s contractions. Con: I have to think about the induction and possible cascading effects all day. It’s hard not to think about the negative impacts of medically inducing labor when you’re staring it in the face.

I trust our doctor. I trust his judgement and wisdom. I trust his staff, who alerted us to the fact that Lindsey’s amniotic fluid is lower than it should be. But I also trust that God has arranged all of our meetings, relationships, and circumstances with our best interests in mind. While this isn’t the path we were hoping to take, it doesn’t matter what we had in mind. All that matters is the fact that Lindsey delivers the baby safely, and that we can all come home together.

We’ve been prepared and we’ll continue to be equipped. We’re ready for two to become three.

in absentia

I used to write a lot. It wrote about day-to-day. I wrote about wins and losses, living, learning, and people. I haven’t written that way in a long time. I want to change that.

I wrote, what seems like ages ago, about a shift in my career. I left the classroom. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, and now, six months later, I’m still glad I took the risk. Honestly, until last March, I hadn’t ever considered what it would be like to not be a teacher. I went into college having my major declared. I stuck with the program, even though I wanted to quit in my third year. And I can’t even begin to explain how glad I am to have stayed with it for (nearly) four years after graduating.

I do have to admit that I’m still struggling with being part of the 50%. I had my reasons, as I’m sure everyone else does. But, it’s still hard to answer the question, or respond to the looks when I tell people I left teaching. Interesting side note: this fall was the first time in 25 years or so (including my own schooling) in which I didn’t experience a first day of school. It is definitely strange.

But, even in absentia, I can still experience students.

I bought a house nearly a year ago. We had overlooked it mainly because it looked pretty ugly on the inside. Not gonna lie. The yard is awesome though. We’ve got a full acre of land, with half of it fenced in the back. (I feel completely comfortable saying that a dog is in our future sometime.)

We moved in planning on doing some remodeling at some point. Mostly, because of the kitchen.

And then, we got another incredible piece of news.

My life had been inexplicably changed with the sound of my daughter’s heart beating strong and resolute. We had some serious work to do. What ensued was a display of love, support, and encouragement from family and friends as my wife and I worked hard to make sure our home would be ready for little _____ (sorry!) when she arrives any time now. It started with the kitchen and quickly spilled out into our dining room. (There are far too many pictures to post here, so feel free to browse through the project on Flickr.)

I haven’t been around for a while. I’m not writing in an effort to explain my absence or even to get more likes, props, kudos, or back-slaps for the blessings I’ve been given this year. I’m writing because of the support I’ve felt, along with friends and family physically here, from you. The notes on Twitter, the blog comments, and the emails…they did not fall on deaf ears.

The year has been wonderful, and I’m excited about the new things on my horizon, even though they’re not in a physical classroom any more. I’m reminded every day that learning can, and should, happen without walls, and I’m thankful for the friends surrounding me, helping me continue to learn.

How To: Use IFTTT to Crowdsource Conference Photos

A year ago, I discovered If This Then That (IFTTT), which might be one of the most innovated web services I’ve ever come across. Ever.

In short, it allows you to create simple programs that help manage things you do on the web. If you use the Internet a lot, you should use IFTTT. Like, today.

I started with some simple scripts to do things like auto-tweet new blog posts and tweet new YouTube uploads (a lot of stuff to do with tweeting, actually…).

As I played with it more, I got crazier ideas. For instance, I travel for work. If I drive my car, I can deduct the mileage from my taxes each spring. But, the IRS wants me to have proof of that mileage. Now, I could keep track of receipts, but that’s a little insane. I do have invoices, but I wanted one more level of tracking. Well, I created an IFTT recipe that will add my location (through Foursquare) to my Google Calendar when I use a certain tag with my check-in. You can grab it here.

Now, I’m trying to think of ways I can use it to share out what teachers and students are doing. For instance, I had an idea yesterday on ways to crowdsource photos from a conference. It takes some creative thinking around Gmail and a Flickr or Instagram account, but it can be done.

If you’re interested in using this recipe, you can grab it here, but there are instructions below.

  1. Set up a Gmail filter – There’s a good tutorial with a video here if you don’t know how to do this. The important thing is to make sure the filter is easy to manage in whatever account you’re using. A good way to manage it is to make the filter the name of the conference (or the Twitter hashtag you’re using).
  2. Make sure your attendees use that filter – IFTTT looks for that Gmail filter, so if the email isn’t grabbed by Gmail, their photo won’t make it to Flickr. I make sure they do this by making the subject line of the email the conference hashtag.
  3. Tagging on Flickr – The script is set to tag the photos with the name of the conference. This will help you manage those photos later if you want to add them to a set or group. I would keep that, but you can add more if you want to.
  4. Make sure people know about it! – Be sure to tell your attendees that all they have to do is email you a photo, and it will get posted automatically.

I’m looking for a way to get Twitter photo uploads to go to Flickr, but because you can’t use Twitter as an input anymore, that’s becoming a little more complicated. If you want people to use Instagram, you can create a similar recipe that looks for an Instagram tag and it will send those to Flickr for management later. I chose email because there are still a lot of people that aren’t on Twitter or Instagram, but use email. Seemed like a low barrier for entry.

Do you use IFTTT? What’s your favorite or most creative recipe? Share links in the comments!

Summer 2013 is HUGE

It’s that time of year again: summer. Conferences are picking up and I like seeing where everyone is headed. So, I give you, my summer travel/life schedule.

  • Kaskaskia Community College, Centralia, IL: 5/22 – 23
  • Clintondale HS, Detroit, MI: 6/7
  • FlipCon13, Stillwater, MN: 6/17 – 20
  • ISTE 2013, San Antonio, TX: 6/23 – 26
  • Lincoln, NE:6/27 – 28
  • Another Flippin’ Conference, Yorktown IN: 7/15 – 17
  • BLC, Boston, MA: 7/21 – 23
  • Warsaw eLearning Conference, Warsaw, IN: 7/20
  • eQuip eLearning Conference, Plymouth, IN: 7/21
  • Screencast Camp, Okemos, MI: 8/2 – 3
  • GAfE Summit – Rocky Mountains: 8/13 – 14
    If you’re going to be in/around any of these areas this summer, let me know in the comments, or send me a note on Twitter, @bennettscience

Letters to my Senators

Following Wednesday’s Senate vote, I wrote both of my Senators, one of which voted in favor of the amendment, one against. You can read the letters below.

To Dan Coats, voted against the amendment

Dear Senator Coats,

I am writing to express my deep disappointment in your vote on the Manchin-Toomey amendement defeated in the Senate Wednesday evening. A law requiring background checks on any gun sale is common sense, and the failure of the Senate to break the status quo of voting against difficult choices is deplorable.

In addition, looking through public records, it is hard for me to separate political contributions from pro-gun organizations from representatives voting patterns. Accepting $1,000 from Safari Club International (3/29/2013, transaction # A48564D256394D1CA74) gives the appearance of agreeing with the lobby, rather than with the desires of the people you represent.

Hiding behind the “slippery slope” argument is weak, shortsighted, and a failure to stand up to major concerns in the country. I hope you will reconsider your decision if the legislation is introduced again.


Brian E. Bennett

South Bend, IN

To Joe Donnelly, in favor of the amendments

Dear Senator Donnelly,

I want to thank you for voting in favor the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment in the Senate on Wednesday.

I am disappointed that the Senate did not take up the amendment, but I appreciate that you are standing up for compromise between parties and willing to take a stand on common sense legislation when it comes to gun regulations.

I want to encourage you to work with your counterpart, Senator Coats, in the continuation of the bill in the Senate.


Brian E. Bennett

South Bend, IN

Please, take a moment to send a letter to your Senator. It is time we begin voicing our opinions strongly and consistently.

UPDATE 4/19/2013 12:05 PM I wanted to post my sources for the donations received by Dan Coats. You can see his quarterly donation report here, the referenced donation is page 34 of 64. Joe Donnelly’s report is here, and he did not file a receipt for pro-gun groups during Q1.

Teachers Speak Up

I travelled to Germany over this past week to share at a conference about Flipped Learning. More on that in another post. The reason for today’s post stems from discussions I had with Germans about the American government. It was embarrassing to try and explain the dysfunction we’ve had lately. It was even worse to come back and see headlines in the newspapers about Congress walking out of negotiations, essentially, throwing in the towel on the budget cuts set to happen today before midnight.

I sat down and wrote the following email to my two Senators and my district Congresswoman.

Dear __________,

My name is Brian Bennett and I am a voting citizen in South Bend, Ind. I’m writing concerning the deplorable behavior of Congress over the current sequestration debates. I would like to know, as my elected representative, where are our leaders?

The United States Government is embarrassing to watch. Our leaders, regardless of party, have fallen to a state of bickering, partisan ideology, and personal agendas rather than governance. Your constituency would much rather see compromise and even a marginal effort at problem solving for long-term solutions rather than these foolish, short term fights that wear us all down every few months. I’m not one to write like this often, but I really don’t know what else to do.

I’m a teacher in a high school in South Bend, and I try to share the current events with my students on a day to day basis. It seems like even our children understand that Congress is derailed and dysfunctional. I can tell you first hand that the example being set by our government is humiliating and that the messages being sent to our students through your inaction are much louder than the face and lip service we receive in front of cameras.

I would like to know when our elected officials will begin doing what is best for the country rather than what is best for their political careers. Can we stop the games, please?

It’s time to begin writing. A lot. I’m tired of sitting by, and watching our elected “representatives” looking at problems in the face and then walking away from even trying to find a common solution.

If you have other suggestions of how to get more involved, I’d love to hear more thoughts in the comments.

Stepping Aside

I’ve wanted to be a teacher ever since I was 15 years old. I remember the English teacher who helped me love having Socratic discussions. I remember the band teacher who challenged me as a young adult. I remember teachers coming to swim meets, concerts, plays, and even graduation parties when we were done with school.

As a teacher, I’ve continued to grow my love of teaching by working with my colleagues to grow in our practice. My first principal showed me that it was okay to ask questions as well as proudly share what we’re doing in our classes. Doing so taught me how to grow in my own learning. He also gave me the okay to go to my first professional conference, where I learned about Flipped Learning, where I first heard about TechSmith.

Through all of this, I’ve developed a new love of teaching teachers. I shared at my first conference after nearly a year of flipping, and I caught the bug. I continue to look forward to sharing successes, failures, insights, and questions, at conferences. I also look forward to being challenged and being forced to explain why I do what I do in the classroom. It’s where growth happens. It’s also where I feel like my career is taking me.

I went to Colorado in the summer of 2011 and shared my learning. It’s also where I got to meet Dave McCollom and Troy Stein for the first time. Ever since then, I have had a fantastic working relationship with TechSmith.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

I’m very excited to (officially) announce that I’m going to be shifting into a new role at the beginning of March. TechSmith has asked me to join their Academic Team as the Academic Customer Solutions Engineer. So, what does that mean?

It means I’m going to be a resource for teachers regionally and across the nation. My purpose is to help teachers use technology in their classrooms more effectively. I’ll be the bridge between classroom practice and TechSmith as they look to help teachers solve problems through the better use of technology.

While the timing isn’t ideal, leaving in the middle of a school year, I believe this is the correct next step in my career. I’m simply stepping aside in order to serve where I believe I can make a greater impact. I won’t have my own classroom anymore, and that’s a very difficult thing for me at the moment. But, I’m looking forward to having my feet in many, many more classrooms as I transition into the new role. I’m excited to continue to work with everyone I’ve worked with in the past as well as people I have yet to meet.

Reform the School Day to Reform Schools

Schools and children are dictated by the bell schedule. Classes are 57 minutes, except for math and English, which are 87 minutes, because they’re tested at the end of the year. You have three minutes to get to your next class, where you then wash, rinse and repeat.

Unless we can break the cycles that drive our schools and really model the real world, we cannot have meaningful reform. Ask any professional. Their days do not come in neat chunks of time. Our students are not taught these skills and that hinders many as they head into a world that expects some basic life management out of them.

“21st Century Learning” is becoming synonymous with “[tech tool] in Kids Hands,” which is way off the mark. Yes, they need to be trained on technology, but we can’t stop there.

To me, a true 21st Century School would have flexible schedules, much like college. Teachers would have blocks of time for class and blocks of time for office hours. Students would be free to come and go as they needed, scheduling extra appointments on their own. Attendance would be tracked, and they would need to meet a minimum number of class hours each day or week.

In Indiana, we’re required to have six hours of learning a day. Learning, though, is often limited to classes. Any teacher worth their salt knows learning is much bigger than that. A true 21st Century School will have internship opportunities in place where students can focus on what they want to do, or take a range of opportunities to help narrow their ideas down. We cannot measure learning by seat time alone because usually, the greatest learning happens when we’re not in a seat.

We’ve lost sight of the value of flexibility. We can’t be flexible with schedules because student’s aren’t responsible enough to take them seriously. But, we can’t teach flexibility because there isn’t time in the mandated schedule. It’s a horrible Catch-22 that is holding American schools from making serious improvements. I say its time we begin to let go a little bit and really put our words into action.

photo credit: ASurroca via photopin cc

Three Responses to Failure

Things go wrong. It’s a fact that we have to embrace and learn to live with if we want to be great teachers. I’ve learned some of my most valuable teaching lessons from classes or activities melting down in front of me.

Adversity is inevitable when we work with other people. We have disagreements with colleagues, students will fight for something…it’s human nature. By nature, we all work for ourselves. To be effective in schools, we must be willing to step out and support one another.

We tend to think of our best days when everything goes right. The lab worked perfectly, kids got the concept, we all cooperated, and maybe even had some fun in class. I’m not convinced those days offer significant opportunity for growth. We can learn from success, but we all know our best learning happens in failure. How we handle that failure in the moment gives us a glimpse of our growth. I’ve observed three responses to failure and supports for people that fit each category.

The Pouter – I think this type of response is a symptom of entitlement. When something doesn’t go right, it isn’t our fault. We were wronged and there’s nothing anyone can say or do to help us move on. Give me space and I’ll check back in when things smooth out. This isn’t necessarily withdrawing physically, but a mental check-out that hurts the learning atmosphere, and worst of all, the students.

SupportBe a gentle voice. Offer help on small tasks so they can focus on teaching. Finding a way to make sure students are supported, even in the midst of failure, is priority. Give your colleague some space, but also remind them that there is a support network to help move on.

The Worker – Driven by a need to make things right, this person puts their head down and plows forward. Unfortunately, they often shoulder the entire burden and do not ask for help, leading to an eventual burn-out. These people are great problem solvers, but miss the group atmosphere of finding solutions. Colleagues may feel a little helpless as they watch The Worker power through issues on their own.

SupportThe Worker is not used to asking for help and may not be looking for areas that are open for outside support. When you have time, offer to do small tasks. Find ways to engage students by taking a class over or by stepping in and co-teaching for a period. Be forceful, but defer to the person you’re supporting.

The Engager – This person looks for ways to meet the situation at face value and move forward collaboratively. Working with colleagues and/or students as needed, they are able to find effective solutions and avoid a burn-out during the problem-solving process. The Engager is a good leader and is willing to accept responsibility for mistakes that are made.

SupportBe ready to take on a leadership role within the group. The Engager is looking to delegate and they need people they can count on to take care of particular things that need to happen. Follow through with whatever task is given and be willing to do more for them.

Notice that each supporting role is just that…support. Failure needs to be a collaborative experience, and by taking on a support role, we can encourage learning rather than bitterness. These are not at all comprehensive, not permanent labels, and apply to students just as much as they apply to teachers…more so, even. I have fallen into each of the categories depending on the particulars of the problem. But, if we can recognize what role we’re taking in a situation, it will help the healing and learning process begin sooner rather than later.

The featured image is from James Sanders’ Instagram library.