Going Beyond the Textbook

'box of medical textbooks' photo (c) 2007, Patrick - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

What is the role of the textbook in education today? What should the role of the textbook be in education today?  How do you envision a textbook of the future to function? What kinds of digital resources are most appealing to students? These are several questions that I would like your thoughts on.

My memories of textbooks go back to high school and college and not much before that. Some adjectives I would use to describe them are: static, heavy, and boring. Textbooks now have the capability to be so much more; especially with the vast amount of content that now exists on the web. We aren’t confined to a physical book any longer being the summation of knowledge on a topic. We are also at a place where we can easily interact with more than just the classmates and teacher in a physical space for 45 minutes a day.

I am fortunate to have been invited by the Discovery Education team to join them  for their 2nd Beyond the Textbook forum taking place March 27 and 28. The event will be at Discovery Communications global headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Over the course of the two days I will be meeting with Discovery Education team members, as well as collaborating with about 20 very smart educators from North America on shaping the future of digital resources. I am very honored to get to be there and excited to be part of these conversations. Discovery has some incredible resources out there for teachers and students and a big hat tip goes to them for their commitment to continually make them better.

So what would you share with the team at Discovery Education? What do you want this to look like for our students? Please feel free to post comments here or use the hashtag #BeyondTextbooks on Twitter to join the conversation.

I would greatly appreciate any comments you have about the future of digital resources.

How to Be Infectious

What does it mean to be infectious? I used my handy Google Dictionary extension for Chrome and this definition relates best to this post:

Likely to spread or influence others in a rapid manner.

My friend Adam Bellow uses the phrase “be infectious” often in his keynotes and other workshops. I did give Adam a heads up that I’d be using this in a post. While Adam doesn’t have the phrase “be infectious” trademarked, I still wanted him to know. Thanks Adam!

Have you ever been around someone who is infectious?  Someone who has an energy about them, who is ready to do whatever it takes for students, and is always willing to try to something new? It might be a new way of teaching the same old content, trying a new learning technology, or exploring a new style of professional development. They’re excited about it, and they want to share it with you; via whatever medium might be most comfortable for them.

But how did this person develop this infectious attitude towards teaching? What was the catalyst or inspiring moment that sent them on their way? I can think of lots of “infectious” teachers I’d like to pose these questions to. I’ve got some ideas about this and I wanted to share with you what I think is necessary to breed an infectious attitude.


If we have leadership that’s infectious, it’s going to spread to teachers. It makes me think of the book Multipliers. If you’re an infectious leader, you strive to spread the excitement for learning; to spread the genius in your own people. This looks like a leader that’s excited about what they do, eager to try new things, and giving teachers the professional freedom to try new things. Which in turn builds more leaders among your staff. The cycle is an infectious one!

Check out this resource from NASSP called Practical Suggestions for Developing Leadership Capacity in Others.


We must be learners first, and teachers second. I’m not saying we should skirt our duty to our students because we’re supposed to be a learner first. It doesn’t mean be out of your classroom all the time either at this workshop or that workshop. It means simply to let your students and fellow teachers see you as a learner first. Have you ever taken the time to learn along side your students? To let them see that you don’t have all the answers? There’s power there. George Couros says it well in this post:

To be an effective teacher, you need to be passionate and active in your own learning first.

Which I believe leads to being an infectious teacher!


There has been much discussion about the importance of failing. Of course no one wants to fail, but a little bit of failure isn’t all bad. It helps us re-evaluate, refine, and redo our practices. We become better. It’s a notion we often don’t instill in our students either. Too frequently the mentality is, “Well I bombed that the first time out of the gate so there’s nothing more to do.” We can’t do this to ourselves as teachers and we certainly cannot let our students think this way.

Having failures and being better because of them and still succeeding despite them leads to being infectious.

This made me think about this recent post from Josh Stumpenhorst, Learning from Failure.


Take a moment to stop and think about the last time you heard about something awesome happening at your school. It can even be something you heard about at another school via a blog post, Twitter, or at a conference or an edcamp. The point is, you heard about it because someone shared it. Sharing the great things happening with learning and teaching and professional development and general work to make learning better for students is so very important. We must share and share often. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn once in a while. Blog about it, tweet about it, tell your administrator about it, tell parents about it, lead a conversation at an edcamp about it. The point is that you share. Not only are you going to be infectious with your excitement about what you’re sharing, but you might also discover ways to make it even better the next time. More infectious attitude back on you! Double bonus!

I always encourage teachers I’m working with to share; even if it’s just writing down a paragraph of thoughts for me about something they were really successful with trying in their classroom. I had a teacher do this for me recently about the great things happening in her middle school language arts classroom with Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks. She emailed me so excited and her spirit was so infectious! I became so happy and excited for her and I can’t wait to hear about what she tries next.

I came across this recent interview with Ewan Mcintosh, whom I had the great pleasure of getting to hang out with a bit at ISTE last summer, and in it Ewan was asked the question, “What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?”. Here’s what Ewan said:

More sharing of what worked by every teacher who feels they’ve got something to share, and more reading of what worked by every teacher regardless of how good they think they are today.

This should remind all of us that sharing the great things happening leads to an infectious spirit which can lead to sustainable change for the better.

If you have any other ways we can create an infectious spirit in education, please share in the comments. So let’s spread all this awesome around, and let it effect all of us in a rapid manner. Be infectious!

Literacy Worth Investing In

'Clock' photo (c) 2005, Simon Shek - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Cross-posted at SmartBlog on Education

Learning isn’t analog any more

When I think of analog learning, I think of something static. I think of content that doesn’t change and is quickly outdated. I think of a textbook that I can’t interact with. Would you agree? If so, what do you think our students think? Is this normal to them? Do we want it to be normal to them? Do they have a say?

Learning opportunities that exist today are far from analog. The evidence of content is in abundance. That doesn’t mean we just send our students freely to the web without important conversations about things like proper digital behavior and critical consumption. This cannot be treated as a skill that we have students pick up in 8th grade from a particular course. How to deal with the flood of information and tools available to our students must become a literacy. We have a responsibility to our students. If we claim to be doing what’s best for students, yet we keep our resources and methods in the 20th century, our students are losing out.

We. Need. A. Plan.

Getting our students to a place of digital literacy begins with us. It’s a matter of modeling what we expect. It’s a matter of teaching the way we would want to be taught today if we were students in our classrooms. We must make this literacy a priority for teachers before we can expect to get our students there. Teachers: this isn’t meant to be seen as “one more thing”.  Your students want you to go with them on this journey. Let them help. Let them teach you. Grow together. Leaders: it’s not a matter of finding the time for your teachers to learn; it’s a matter of making the time.

This is why a plan is important when beginning to venture into these new horizons of literacy. We have national standards for administrators, teachers, and students to help guide us in our journey to increase our digital literacy. Be sure to check out the Essential Conditions too. All are great places to start.

Does every teacher, student, and administrator need to have X, Y, and Z mastered straight away or even by the end of one school year? I don’t think so. What we expose our students to; learning that fosters creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking provides them continual experiences for them to build on year after year.

For example, In my district, our department is working closely with our Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Instruction to plan out a year-long professional development plan to our elementary principals. Using the NETS-A as a guide, we’ve created learning opportunities that allow administrators to experience new tools, ideas, and resources they can take back and use with their teachers (modeling), which will (hopefully) have a trickle down effect. Teachers will become interested and want to learn more, which leads to teachers using said ideas and resources with students which leads to students being exposed to new tools and resources to foster the “C’s” mentioned earlier. Teaching and learning is happening in new and different ways. It’s an exciting plan to be part of and our team can’t wait to see what happens next.

Making a move from the “analog” is an important step. One that’s hard to make by oneself. Planning and support is essential. Stick with it and don’t look back. You can only get better.

Thanks for reading.