Category: Damian’s Favorites

What Will They Remember? #Ferguson

Just some memories and questions that were inspired by Rafranz Davis’ post, “When Real Life Happens, the Lesson Plans Change”.

I was in seventh grade in November 1989.  I don’t remember many specifics about what I learned in school that year, nor do I remember what we were studying – or supposed to be studying – in Social Studies that fall.  I do, however, have a very distinct memory of my Social Studies teacher asking our class, “Do you guys even get what is happening right now?  This is history!”  This, of course, was the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent events that would ultimately lead to the end of Communism in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  I can’t pretend to know what her specific thoughts as a teacher were at the time, but I do remember us deviating frequently from our regularly scheduled curriculum that year to discuss in depth not only what was happening, but why it was important and what it could mean for us, as Americans, moving forward.

I was in my second year of teaching in September 2001.  I don’t remember many specifics about what my co-teacher and I were teaching that fall.  I do, however, have a very distinct memory of speaking with him in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when we decided that, as Rafranz says, the lesson plan had to change.  We did our best to discuss current events with our students, helping them to separate fact from speculation as well as anyone could in those days, and we also helped them to learn some background knowledge that we hoped would combat the rapidly emerging Islamophobia (or anything-that-vaguely-resembled-Islam-to-Americans-ophobia), at least in our little corner of the country.  But beyond that, we let the kids talk.  We didn’t have answers to everything; hell, we barely had answers to anything.  But our students knew our classroom was a safe place to ask questions, speak freely (and respectfully), and otherwise do our best to messily hash out the history that was unfolding before us.  Among many, many other topics, we talked extensively about what these events could mean for us, as Americans, moving forward.

In the post linked above, Rafranz says:

Rich discussions are not necessarily born from pre-planned questions. Rich discussions happen when we let go of our personal constraints and just talk. We ask more questions that we don’t have the answers to. We reflect together and maybe we ask more questions. This is how we grow. This is how change happens.

I can’t pretend to know you or your students or the circumstances in which you all work, study, and live.  But I ask you this: what will your students remember when they are bursting with the need to share their fears, their questions, and their stories that resemble those brought to the national consciousness recently by the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, MO?  What will they remember when they want to share this all with their peers and you, who may be one of the few adults – if not the only adult – in their lives to whom they feel they can open up?  What will they remember about that time they wanted to talk about racism and how it has directly impacted their lives and the lives of their loved ones?  What will they remember about that time they wanted to talk about their experiences with law enforcement, even if (especially if) their experiences do not resemble your own?

Will they remember how deftly you returned them to the appropriate place in the pacing guide?  Will they remember the novel chapter or the algebra problem that was much more important in the moment?  Or will they remember the time(s) that everyone got to talk – not as teacher, to students but as human beings, with one another – about institutional racism, or fear of police, or media censorship, and how, even if the teacher didn’t have all the answers, maybe real communication got people to understand each other’s perspectives a little better.  Maybe you’ll learn something from your students.  Maybe your students will learn something from you.  Maybe your students will learn something from each other.  And maybe you will all take a piece of that with you, beyond the classroom and beyond the school year, and maybe that will mean something important to everyone, as Americans, moving forward.


Don’t Break the Chain

Dissertation work has been going swimmingly, thanks for asking.  If we’re connected on Facebook or Twitter you are probably sick of me posting about the minutiae of my progress each day, and you’ve also seen me hashtag my Tweets #dontbreakthechain.

The idea of “don’t break the chain” comes from an article I’ve seen pop up several times over the last few years but to which I never gave much thought until now.  This 2007 article from Lifehacker outlines Jerry Seinfeld’s clever method of motivating himself to continue writing new material:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

Did Seinfeld actually say this?  Who knows.  The Internet is rife with stories attributing profound ideas or sayings to celebrities that may or may not be true.  The principle behind it, however, is one that I’ve actually used before, although not deliberately, in setting and meeting goals:

  • Whenever I do my 365 Picture-A-Day projects, seeing the daily photos and dates lining up one after the other motivates me to not “break the chain”.
  • The “Archives” list in this blog’s sidebar motivates me to blog at least once per month in order to not “break the chain” of months (if you actually care to look, you’ll see I’ve only missed one month in seven years).
  • I have to lift weights three times per week in order to not “break the chain” of steady progression.

I’m now applying that principle to my dissertation work.  I returned home from vacation on 11 July 2014, so 12 July was my first day on the chain.   Since then, I have made a concerted effort to work on some aspect of my dissertation every day.  Sometimes it’s for 30-45 minutes, sometimes it’s 4 hours.  The point is, as long as I put some work in, I mark the day off.

You can use any kind of calendar, physical or digital, for this task.  I’m using a website called (of course) Don’t Break the Chain; they have a Chrome plugin that allows me to see and update my calendar right from the browser:

dontbreakthechainI’ve only been at it for about two weeks now so it remains to be seen if this will help me maintain productivity in the long run, but I can say that chipping away at this monumental task little by little every day has helped me to stave off the feelings of self-doubt and paralysis I’ve written about previously.  With deadlines fast approaching (I need to have Chapter Four done and submitted by 1 Sept if I have any hope of defending in November), I’ll use any trick and take any advantage I can get.

300 Miles

While my surgery to correct FAI is now nearly two full years behind me (December 2011), I continue to reap the benefits of goal-setting during the recovery process.

As I wrote last year, my long-term rehab goal was to get fit enough to run Tough Mudder Tri-State in October 2012 (exactly one year ago today, coincidentally).  I achieved that goal, and then continued to focus on increasing my running.  My follow-up goal from there was to run 300 miles in 2013.  As much as I enjoy running, I figured having that target to shoot for would keep me more motivated to keep at it even when I wasn’t feeling it as much as usual.

I’m happy to report that I achieved my goal of running 300 miles on 12 September 2013, a solid 3 months and change before my deadline:

300 mi 1


And here’s a breakdown of mileage by month:

300 mi 2

I’ve continued to run since then, albeit at a much reduced rate, as my fitness focus is now back on weight training.  I’m lifting four days a week and only running occasionally, but at least that’s by design (a conscious decision) rather than by default (“I don’t feel like running today… or tomorrow… or this week…”).  My son has also developed an interest in running, so we go out for the occasional mile together as well.  A mile with him at his pace doesn’t do much for me physically, but does us both worlds of good emotionally.

My educational leadership program is grounded in the Educational Leadership Policy Standards, which emphasize goal setting to guide growth and program implementation.  While I’ve done all the coursework and understand it all from an intellectual standpoint, nothing has driven the point home for me quite like the experience of setting, achieving, and re-setting my own physical fitness goals over the last two years.

Now that I’ve hit my goals of completing Tough Mudder, running 200 post-surgery miles in 2012, and 300 miles in 2013, I’m still working on a goal related to my weight training.  My short term, “interim” goal is to make linear progression on all lifts 2.5-5 lbs per session, but I know that will only take me so far.  Once I figure out my long-term lifting goals, I know that having a target to shoot for will further help motivate and energize my fitness regime.

Resume, Cover Letter… Blog?

Justin Tarte recently wrote about the limitations of resumes in the hiring process and the role personal blogs and websites can play therein, particularly as portfolios of our professional learning, thinking, and activities:

I would like to see more prospective education candidates get their thoughts ‘out there.’ I want to see more college education students documenting their learning progression and learning journey. I want to be able to take something they have written and shared and then talk with them about it during a phone or face-to-face interview.

My advice to the job-seeking educator?  DO IT.

Toward the end of my last grad school go-round, my university was preparing for NASP accreditation, so all graduating school psychology students were required to create portfolios with artifacts demonstrating proficiency in each of the eleven domains of school psychology practice that would be evaluated and then returned to us, ostensibly to take on job interviews to demonstrate how great we were to prospective employers.

For most of my classmates that meant putting together these gargantuan, 5″ three-ring binders stuffed with thirty pounds of paper.  I, however, being the paperphobe forward thinking individual that I am, decided to digitize and watermark my documents and organize them in their own section on my website.  This way, I reasoned, I could provide each interviewer with a web address and let them peruse my site on their own time before my interview, instead of trying to navigate a War & Peace-sized binder while they’re trying to interview me.

This was exactly how the interview for my current job played out.  I ended my cover letter with the following:

I look forward to the opportunity to meet with you to discuss my qualifications for this position.  In the meantime, please feel free to view samples of my work at my online professional portfolio,

I was then interviewed by three administrators, one of whom had my site up on her iPad, exploring it and asking me questions about its contents throughout the interview.  I don’t know how much the portfolio had to do with me getting the job, but a) it certainly didn’t hurt, and b) with my NASP portfolio, a short bio, list of professional affiliations, and a link to my blog, it provided the interviewers with a much more multi-dimensional picture of their candidate while demonstrating my technological savvy.

Some folks keep a separate blog and website (like me); others have everything at one central site.  Either way, I agree with Tarte that some sort of professional digital presence is almost always going to be beneficial to the applicant.  I would even take it a step further and suggest that we all invest in purchasing our own domain name; they can be had for around $10 per year, and some domains tend to come even cheaper (e.g., .us, .co).  I own my last name in both .com and .net flavors – my wife uses the .com for her class blog and we use the .net for our family’s Google Apps setup. acts as my online portfolio as well as a central hub for my online identities – right on the front page, visitors can see at a glance:

  • a picture of me engaged in some professional activity
  • my Twitter feed
  • my last Foursquare checkin
  • my Goodreads “now reading” shelf
  • articles I’ve shared via Delicious
  • links to my last ten blog posts

With the exception of Foursquare (I just like how the map looks, tbh), these items all lend some kind of insight into what I am reading, discussing, or thinking about in the world of education.

You don’t need to build your site from scratch or self-host your own blog to use your own domain name, either.  Most major blogging platforms allow you to set up a blog and then use your own custom domain name (some charge for the privilege).  If blogging’s not your thing, use a service like Squarespace, Weebly, Google Sites, or any one of the dozens of free website hosting services to put together a clean and simple portfolio showcasing some of your best work.  I host my files directly on my own webspace that I pay for, but you could also upload everything to Google Drive, mark them as public, and share links directly to the document on your site.

Resumes probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, especially in a field as firmly rooted – for better and/or for worse – in past practice as education, but with a simple text link (or QR code if you’re feeling fancy) to your online presence, yours can serve as the jumping off point to a much clearer picture of what you have to offer a district and its students.


I’ve written about some of these ideas before.  For more on domain names and digital identity, see here and here.  For a slightly-outdated-but-still-reflective writeup on how I developed the first iteration of my current website, see here, here, and here.

Introducing My Dissertation

Recently I was asked to write a blurb about my plans for my doctoral dissertation – what it is and why I’m interested in it.  Here’s what I had to say:


My research will focus on analyzing and evaluating how a suburban K-12 school district in NJ has implemented distributed leadership practices.  As I stated in the first chapter of my dissertation, my goals are:

  • to provide a thick, rich description of distributed leadership practices at a mid-size suburban New Jersey school district, particularly teacher leadership
  • to explore, per Spillane, et al. (2004), the hows and whys behind effective district-wide and level-specific distributed leadership practices
  • to quantify teacher attitudes and perceptions relative to distributed leadership practices in their district.

There is a gap in the research base on context-specific (e.g., high school, elementary school) distributed leadership practices, and I aim to contribute to that emerging body of literature with this study.

I’ve been interested in the idea of distributed leadership, and teacher leadership in general, since before I even applied to this program.  I have worked in environments where leadership was distributed to some degree, as well as in very traditional “top-down” districts, and I know which one I preferred: the one where I felt I had a voice or some stake in what was happening.  I felt trusted and respected as a professional in the more distributed environment; not so much otherwise.

In addition to the stated goals, I’m thinking/hoping that my research will help me understand the reasoning process behind why the district makes some of the decisions it does with regard to distributed leadership.  In doing so, I hope to gain a greater understanding of the decision-making process behind implementing DL so that I can do so effectively when I’m in an official leadership position (e.g., principal, director, etc.).  While a school leader certainly can’t make all the employees happy all the time, I think there’s a lot to be said for having employees who feel valued and respected, even if they don’t always agree with you, and how that impacts on their ability to do their job and serve children.  In short, I’m thinking this dissertation field research is the next best thing to on-the-job training for me when I get my own shop to run.


Disclaimer: This represents where I stand on my dissertation as of the date of this post.  Much can happen between now and the end of 2014, when I plan to finish, so things may change.  Also, this research will all be dependent on securing the necessary permissions, which I have not yet done.