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Tools Are Just That – Tools

In my last post, I filled in everyone on my inauspicious start in BBQing and cooking. I spend much of the weekend working on the floor in my upstairs bathroom, making mistake after mistake because nobody had showed my how to use some of the tools I needed to use.

I’m fortunate to have some fantastic tradespeople I call friends at out campground. Under their instruction, I have learned to use a small set of tools well while building our deck and three season room and can complete most tasks I need. What was the difference between the bathroom debacle and the deck/room success? Instruction. That got me reflecting about my last post and the way we far too often roll out technology in education.

That shiny Weber Kettle I received as a gift became nearly useless because BBQing experts had not taught me about direct vs. indirect cooking or even small-scale smoking. Somebody gave me a tool, but no instruction came with the tool.

Left to my own devices, I stumbled along, and came to believe that I just wasn’t meant to be good at BBQing because everything came out overdone, undercooked – or worse – a combination of both. Only after I built my first smoker with my own hands and discovered two sites where I could ask questions and learn, did I start succeeding as a cook and BBQer.

The first site – the BBQ-Brethren Q-talk forum – will scare non-techies. It’s a discussion forum site and doesn’t look all that user-friendly, but the people using that site couldn’t be more friendly. These folks walked me through my first pork but quote, asked questions, requested pictures to troubleshoot, and helped me cook a serviceable pulled pork for our family Christmas.

To me, this illustrates what needs to happen when we roll out technology to teachers. Yes, some folks will know what to do and run with it, but others need to ask questions, fail, and receive patient feedback and assistance until they feel comfortable enough top move forward. How often does this happen in a technology rollout? Too often, folks disconnected from the classroom decide on the technology, purchase the technology and then had it to teachers with an implied “Good luck!”

Another site that helped move me forward by leaps and bounds was Meathead Goldwyn’s Amazingribs site, referred to by some as the Rosetta Stone of BBQing. This site interested me for reasons that will surprise my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Wray. I like the science behind what Meathead does on his site. I hated science in high school, but I can’t get enough of the science of cooking. I especially like when the resident physicist, Dr. Greg Blonder, dispels long-held beliefs about cooking – this one aspect, alone, makes me want to learn more every day.

Again, what if we used this approach when rolling out technology to teachers? To me, the science of BBQing meat – and cooking in general – is the “hook” that Dave Burgess talks about in Teach Like A Pirate. How can we use a pirate hook to roll out technology to teachers? Instead of just another thing they have to learn, how do we make it something they want to learn about and improve their skill set? In the case of Meathead Goldwyn above, meathead knew if he could bust myths that made BBQing seem difficult, he could get more people interested. HIs website can prove challenging to navigate at times, so you may want to check out his book: Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling.

So, what hook should we use to roll out technology? For me, it is about helping teachers buy back time. When I first learned Google Apps, I discovered the wonderful Doctopus add-on and now I could help teachers free up hours from their weekly workload while still allowing them to provide feedback on student writing. Once teachers had that time, they always came back, wanting to free up more time. I think the “hook” answer lies somewhere in that type of thinking.

A tool is just a tool without training. My Weber Kettle, alone, did not make me a better cook. Technology, alone, did not make me a better teacher. We need to make sure we help people learn what they need to know in order to use those tools well.

Reflection: For this reflection, I want to have a question for both weekend chefs and educators.

  • Weekend chefs, what’s one new BBQ or cooking skill you could share with someone new to barbecue and grilling?
  • Educators, what pirate “hook” could you use to make technology more relevant for reluctant staff members and create that need for them to learn?



A Most Ignominious Beginning

When I got married, my aunt and uncle gave us a Weber kettle grill as a wedding gift. It was new and shiny, and I had absolutely no idea what to do with it other than dump in some charcoal, squeeze on a bottle of charcoal starter and light it up.

This made perfect sense because as a non-adult I had never had reason to pay attention when either of my parents grilled. All I know was to stick chicken directly over high heat and take it off when the outside was charred correctly.


In actuality, that made no sense. Much like putting someone into a classroom without proper training makes no sense. Oh, they know how to unlock the door, and they can mimic the way they were taught in school, but they really don’t know the art of teaching – good or otherwise.

I spent years flailing around, doing my best but not knowing where to turn for help or guidance. All of my known relatives had come of age in the 1960s and 70s where large fire and quick cook resulted in many hockey puck burgers and inedible chickens.

We can hit the fast forward button here, because I spent nearly 20 years making the same BBQ mistakes and not learning from them at all.

One day while teaching my Written Communication class for the umpteenth time, I grew discouraged by the number of students who simply went to the Tires Plus Website and copied instructions for how to change a tire. In my despair, I found inspiration and decided to learn how to do something on my own and outside my comfort zone. I’d learn how to build and use a 55-gallon steel drum smoker – something that would stretch someone who had not taken a shop class since 7th grade.

After weeks of reading and learning, I bought my first barrel, drilled some holes, found some pallets for burnout, and set it all on fire. The result doesn’t look like much, but it was a thing of beauty to me.

And the first thing I ever cooked on the smoker was this:


A bacon-wrapped, pork sausage roll known in the BBQ world as a “fatty.” I though it was the best thing I had ever tasted. My wife did not agree. In hind sight, she was probably right. In my excitement to cook something, I did not wait for the smoker to come to high enough temperature to turn billowing white smoke into thin blue smoke. And so, it probably did taste like an ash tray, but it was an ash tray I made on a smoker I made with my own hands.

I share this lackluster beginning because it fits nicely with education on several fronts:

  • If I wanted my students to stop copying directions for the web, I had to show them a different way. Plus, once I learned how to make better food, I actually brought the smoker into school and gave a hands-on demonstration and fed them.
  • If I wanted my students to take risks and actually learn, I had to take a risk and actually learn.
  • And – maybe most importantly –  I learned the importance of failure. After that first, terrible dish, I gradually got better. I think I only made one other item that tasted too much of acrid smoke. Caught in that area of “flow” in learning, I did not have enough skill – but I wanted that skill – so I kept learning. This hands-on experience helped me to truly understand Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.

My next post will show you some meals I made, places where I learned and how that learning impacted me as a cook, learner, and educator.

Reflection: Until next time, what is something you learned that was completely outside your comfort zone or skill set, and how did that experience help you as a learner, educator, and/or leader?

Connections Lead To Ripples

I try to convey to others the importance of connecting to others in today’s world of education. During our opening convocation, Todd Whitaker shared an example of the power of Twitter by relating what happened on the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Teachers across the country shared lessons they had planned for the occasion.
One teacher had created a multi-disciplinary unit aligned to standards. In response, a HS physics teacher shared a unit he had developed allowing students to work through the physics involved in that sinking – aligned to standards. Todd shared several other examples and then laid down the following challenge: I’m sure your lessons to mark the sinking of the Titanic were great, but what might they have been had they collaborated with people around the world?
I am connected with a brilliant group of passionate, brilliant educators from around the world, including Jay Posick, an intermediate school principal from “Little ol’ Merton, Wisconsin,” as he would say. I shared out what I was doing by using a Google Form so teachers could easily share with me positive things they saw in some of their students, so I could call home and share with parents on the teacher’s behalf.
Jay relayed that he had asked teachers to take pictures of students new to the school and district and describe what they were doing, so he could email the parents and assure them the student was doing well and adjusting to his school. I LOVED this idea, so I emailed my staff and asked them to do the same thing. Even though I am new and still making connections with staff, a number of them took me up on my request.
I share the email I sent to staff afterwards because it cannot fit into 140 characters and it is too long to share via Voxer – even if it is a good story. But, I still want to share it because it illustrates the importance of being connected, both digitally and in person. I have removed student names and identifiers:
Good evening, everyone!
I wanted to say a sincere thanks to those of you who indulged me and sent photos of our new students doing well in our classrooms.  Five teachers took me up on my request and sent in photos with a brief explanation. The parents have responded more positively than you can imagine!
One student’s dad was thrilled, and he passed along that he appreciated seeing her smile because she has had trouble adjusting – which I passed along to Jodi Devine, her counselor. Even better, another student hails from out of state, and his mom had concerns about a new state and a new school. At the Parent Visitation Night, she approached me and thanked me for sending the email, but I said she should make sure to thank Scott Jirik because he captured that moment – I just passed along good news.
Why do I share this with you? Because I firmly believe that it is the little things that allow us to accomplish the big things. I received a phone call from Laticia in Nutrition Services today telling me that that male student’s mom had called and wanted to pay off some negative lunch balances for some of our students. Think about that. She’s new to our district, but because Scott let her know her kid was safe with us and doing well, she wanted to take care of other students not doing as well.
It’s all about ripples. Alone, they may not seem like much, but together???
As always, thanks for tolerating my obnoxious positivity and treating me like I belong here. I can’t wait to see what the next ripple brings – or who creates that ripple.
Call to Action: How will you get connected and use those connections to help others create ripples?

It’s All About That Trust, ‘Bout That Trust: Part 1

My first post today began as a Storify inspired by my #LeadLAP Twitter chat this morning but quickly evolved into a Storify about how I participated in today’s chat.
Stay tuned for my follow-up post about the learning that went on today about building trust and being intentional.[View the story “It’s All About That Trust, ‘Bout That Trust: Part I” on Storify]

Find Your Voice, Not Your Brand

This past week, as the start of school draws closer, the “momentum” of a large high school has gained speed. Meetings have shown up on my calendar, and more requests for my time have been made. That made it difficult to stick to my goal of completing a minimum of one blog post a week. So, here I am on an early Sunday afternoon, in my office, working on a post I have thought about for weeks.

Several years ago, a mentor whom I admire greatly, told me, “Jeff, when someone offers you a seat at the table, take a seat at the table and figure out the rest.” I mostly got his point, but only after reading an article about Sheryl Sandberg on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website, did I have a true understanding of that phrase.

In the article, author Theodore Kinni shares Sandberg’s recounting of a conversation she had with Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Like me at one time, Sandberg weighed the pros and cons of her current job and found there wasn’t much to like, BUT…that was because she couldn’t see in herself what some others already saw in her. Schmidt told Sandberg, “You love the mission. This is a rocket ship. When you get offered a seat on the rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat.” Schmidt knew what Sandberg did not yet understand: sometimes, taking a more junior role or a position that doesn’t make sense to you, can lead to bigger opportunities that we have not yet even pondered.

During the entirety of my career, I have been known as the “Tech Guy,” “Tech Guru,” “Twitter Master,” etc. And a lot of that is my own doing because of the fortunate set of lucky breaks into which I have stumbled. In college, a job as a computer lab assistant led to opportunities as a technician and eventually as the coordinator of an entire office of students who ran the technical operations for the Residence Life department at our school. In my last semester, I even got paid to create the first actual website on campus back in the days when nobody knew HTML and we had to hard code everything – no Google Sites or Square to help us. I could easily have become a technology director and rested there comfortably.

And over the next two decades, curiosity and technical know-how opened a series of doors for me that I could never have imagined. Along the way, I have had to figure out the best way to tell people to NOT try to be like me. Twenty years of working with technology made it as easy as breathing for me, but I soon realized that it did not come as easy for others. How could I best help people see the power of technology to make their lives as educator easier while also moving forward learning for students? That would take longer to answer.

Along the way, I encountered like souls, but they seemed more interested in how they might monetize their expertise and less interested in sharing their knowledge for the benefit of others. Some of my colleagues would probably say I lack an entrepreneurial spirit – and they may be right – but I had difficulty looking at trying to leverage my learning for money. After all, nobody had charged me for my opportunities to learn. Yes, some of them used me for cheap labor, but the hours and hours of learning I got to do with someone else’s resources were far more valuable to me than money.

After giving you all of that context, allow me to pivot back to my main point: Worry less about your “Brand” and more about finding your voice. As a high school AP, I am charged with helping developing our school brand, and that makes total sense to me. We use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook – and soon SnapChat – to tell our story and allow the world to peek inside our walls and see the opportunities created every day by students and staff at DC Everest Senior High School. We should create, maintain and elevate our school brands because so many outside forces want to paint schools in a negative light.

“People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.”

On the personal side, I am struck by the case Sandberg makes when she says, “The proper goal of hard work is not personal gain, but organizational contribution.” Sandberg pushes further to argue that “People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.” That feels right to me. And it is why I ask those whom I serve, “What do you need from me to make that happen?”

I’m a learner. I’m a husband. I’m a dad. I am a friend, and I am a son and a brother. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.

Several years back, I had a colleague who helped kids a ton but focused an awful lot on what personal gain could come from their efforts. I get why some folks want to copyright their work – though many organizations claim rights to the intellectual property generated on their time with their equipment – but when I ask “Who am I?” I never think of my brand. To paraphrase Sandberg: I’m a learner. I’m a husband. I’m a dad. I am a friend, and I am a son and a brother. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice. And along my journey, I think I have final found that voice – and a use for all this technology know-how – and I intend to use it to serve and empower others.

So many people contributed to helping get me where I am today. To not “pay it forward” would feel like turning my back on all the folks who saw something in me that I did not and invited me to take a seat on the rocket ship. I have changed seats and even rocket ships several times, but that sense of wonder never wanes. And my new seat on a new rocket ship feels very “right.” I hope and believe that my voice, far more than any attempt to brand myself, will allow me to help change something in the world. For me, the opportunities I have should result in opportunities for others. Otherwise, what is the point?

How about you? Have you found your voice? If so, how are you using that voice to benefit others?

PR Palooza!

In my new role as a high school AP at DC Everest Senior High School, I am tasked with developing and maintaining our presence and brand via various social media channels. This morning, I sent the email below to all staff at the high school. Rather than wait for our beginning-of-the-year staff meetings, I decided to get out the word early. I’m also hoping some of the folks in the building want to help me spread the word about the awesome that takes place every day in our building. Below is the email I sent out to staff.

Hey everyone!

Hopefully you all have received my intro letter and are starting to get to know me.

One of my roles as the new AP is to maintain our Social Media (SM) presence. To that end, we have added an Instagram and Twitter account to our arsenal of SM channels, and students and parents are beginning to find us there. In my time at Clintonville Middle School, we took a toxic, negative culture and turned it around – and in the beginning it was all about telling the positive stories going on in our building. We do not have that culture here at DCESRH, so we get to simply share the awesome you all create for kids every day. Honestly, we just need to share the work you do every day to keep the positives rolling.

As such, please make sure to contact me about activities, etc. that you want to publish to our SM channels. I do not want to create extra work for you, so if you contact me ahead of time, I can come into your classrooms to take photos or video. Heck, we could even ask the Help Desk to take some video and help you edit it down for posting.

If you haven’t yet had a chance, check out our three SM channels:

  • (Like our page, please – it helps drive traffic and can expand our reach)- Kids will tell you that parentus lameus hang out on Facebook, along with the curious but wary grandparentus oldus. Don’t let them fool you, though. The kids are coming there, too. Since we dropped the Football preview video on July 28, we have added 60 page “Likes” and drawn a wider audience. I believe we will eclipse the 600 “Like” mark before school even starts. I’d love to feature your club, sport, or activity so those parents and grandparents can see through the school walls. Please, let us help you to tell your story.
  • – This is where the cool kids hang out (The really cool kids hand out on Snapchat, but we can get there later). Instagram has some great tools, and we are using a service to let us get really granular. Some pics and videos are kid-oriented and belong on Instagram. Some should go to only Facebook. Others should go to all of our channels, and we can do that. The ability to use filters to create stunning effects makes Instagram a popular choice for kids (Plus, the Kardashians live on Instagram – negative for society but a plus for us in attracting kids).
  • – We will have to see how Twitter goes. The district has had lukewarm success thus far, but we have to give folks a reason to come to Twitter – “If you build it, they will come” – or they won’t come. A number of you already hang out on Twitter, and that is AWESOME. I am there, too: @jeffreyasee We can utilize Twitter in a variety of ways, and I will probably start next week by hashtagging the TLL training next week and calling on some of you to share your learning via a Tweet. I’ll even do the Tweeting and video a few responses to hear what you learn next week and share that learning. I can even point you to some folks you might want to follow on Twitter who make great peeps from whom to learn.
I realize that is a lot of info in one email. If you have suggestions about how we might leverage these channels, I am all ears. I want our school team to tear down the figurative school walls and build even more parent and community support for the excellent work you all do. If you want to learn how to set up your own Twitter account or try something in your classroom, please come see me.
Kids will be here before we know it! Enjoy these last few weeks of summer and I cannot wait to meet all of you in person.

Education “Glue Guys”

Quickly checking my Facebook feed the other day – my PLN has joined me there as well as on Twitter – I came across a post by former MLB player David Ross in The Players Tribune about Elite Glue Guys in baseball. I knew it would eventually become a post about the “glue guys” (No patriarchal offense intended. The term, as coined, is “glue guys.”). I gave the article a second read, and something didn’t feel right. Partly because of Ross’ inexperience as a writer. Partly because his examples didn’t seem “glue”-like. After a third read, I almost gave up – it felt like there was no story here.

A quick google search for “glue guys” finally yielded fruit. Buried in a list of returned hits, I found a post by former NBA player Shane Battier about glue guys. Best of all? Shane Battier is the prototypical glue guy.

Not Duke University superstar Shane Battier.

I’m talking about NBA journeyman Shane Battier.

The best part is that Battier understands the importance of a glue guy and admits he was that guy.

I knew my value was helping us notch victories however I could. So there were certain things that I did to ensure that my team was always as prepared as possible. For example, I used to ask really basic questions during film room sessions. – Shane Battier

Battier goes on to share the types of questions he would ask

“Coach, can we run through that last set one more time?”

“Hold up coach, which direction do I roll out of this pick?”

“Wait coach, which player is supposed to switch here if the point guard drives?”

“Sorry, can you run through that set just one more time?”

Yeah, I was that guy.

Nobody likes that guy. I know that.

Education “Glue Guys”

The Questioners

This got me thinking about glue guys in schools. In my long tenure at Oshkosh West High School, I knew plenty of glue guys. From the colleague who responded to every district or building initiative with a litany of questions to the colleague who knew her peers did not dare to ask even simple questions, so she asked for them. And no, nobody liked when they asked questions because it always made the meeting longer. Check out this YouTube Mix of every meeting ever if you have forgotten.

We need these types of glue guys to have success as an organization. If we blindly accept every initiative without asking questions, we might always go in search of the shiny new thing. If we never help a colleague who lacks the confidence to ask questions, they may never find that confidence.

The Team Organizers

Even in a results-driven world, relationships matter, and the team organizer plays a crucial role in helping the rest of the team find balance, laugh, and communicate. In my time at Oshkosh West, a variety of people filled that role, organizing staff socials outside of school, having the annual “Venison Feed,” and making sure we celebrated births, grieved deaths, and much in between.

One of my favorite events – perhaps because it came at a needed time – was the annual chili cook off started by my former principal, Ann Schultz. I may be biases here, since I won the cook off in back-to-back years, but Ann made sure we carved out time in the day so ALL staff members could come to the chili cook off at the same time – no small feet with a staff of 150+.

You see, Ann knew that we needed time to commune, time to “dish,” and time to just relax and talk with each other as friends. I have no statistical data to support this, but I believe the work of Ann and so many others at West has contributed to the view of West as a successful school. When looking at adding people to your team, please keep in mind the need for these “glue guys” when making hires.

The Maximizers

Not everyone can put the success of the team above personal success. Those who can, contribute as much – if not more – than the “stars” on the team. During my time as an associate principal at Clintonville Middle School, one teacher in particular served as a maximizer. Tiffany O’Toole, just like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, maximized the skills of so many teachers in our building and helped even teachers with whom she did not directly work elevate their teaching games. This despite the fact that on any other team, she would have been the unquestionable star. In fact, she may very well have been the star, but the success of the team was more important than her success.

Tiffany co-taught with two teachers directly, but when others in the building saw the success those teachers had, they would seek her out and ask questions. Working with the most successful teacher in our building, Tiffany helped him see “gaps” in his game and worked to help him fill those gaps. By adding technology to his game, he became even better and students flourished.

One of our 8th grade ELA teachers worked with some of the most challenging students in the building. Tiffany collaborated and planned with her to all students to become makers. Their Shark Tank project allowed students who had seen little to no success in school to find their passion and and earn applause from people outside of school.

Have you made sure to include a Tiffany on your team? If not, you should because they allow others to shine.

Elite Glue Guys

Tim Duncan

As Battier notes in his post, first ballot Hall of Famer Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs functioned as a glue guy his entire career. Nobody would question his greatness as a player, but his true greatness was in making the players around him – and thus the team – better. Sometimes, the rockstar teachers do this as well. Some of the best teachers I have ever known could have tooted their own horn, tried to monetize their work or prevented others from using their work. Instead, their greatness inspired others and he did everything he could to help others get better.

My longtime friend and colleague, Trent Scott, is one of those Hall of Fame teachers who looks at how he can make his department and school better. He could easily make the speaking rounds sharing his strategies for not just getting a high percentage of students to pass the AP Language and AP Lit tests but getting a high percentage of 4s and 5s on those tests. Instead, he focuses on how to bring in new Rockstars and cultivate a culture of Rockstars in the English Department at Oshkosh West. Trent tries to share the wealth, where possible, and makes sure other teachers have the opportunity to work with the same types of students he often drives to success.

Just like Tim Duncan, Trent is always where he is supposed to be (Well, except for that one time that he moved to California for a year and taught at The Kings Academy so his wife could be closer to family and he left me in charge). That consistency and unselfishness has allowed the entire department to succeed and earn recognition.

Moving To A New Team

Just as in the NBA, educators may move to a new team. I have done moved to a new school in a new district in a different part of Wisconsin. I have only met a few teachers in my first month-plus on the job, but I love the passion I see so far. I can’t wait to find out who the glue guys are at D.C. Everest Senior High School. The success and track record at this school stems from the often unseen work these folks commit to the school. In just a few more weeks, I’ll get to see what drives #EverestPride.

Bring. It. On.