Why #CoffeeEDU should be part of your PD!

As educators, it is our job to continue to grow, learn and challenge ourselves. One way that I have chosen to not only grow my PLN but to enhance my PD is through monthly meet-ups at our local coffee house. These meet ups are better known in the world of education as CoffeeEDU!  

For those who are not familiar with #CoffeeEDU, here is a brief definition; CoffeeEDU is a one-hour gathering for educators. CoffeeEDU is not about promoting a product or organization, it is about expanding your PLN in a face to face meet up.

This educational "meeting of the minds" has been spreading at a rapid pace and I am proud to be part of it. Over the past year Chrissy Romano, Adam Schoenbart and I have been hosting a CoffeeEDU in Northern New Jersey. Based on the people we have met, the conversations we have had and the growth that we all experienced, I think it was one of the best decisions we have ever made. Here's why: 

1. Connect - At our events, we have met so many amazing people that our PLN is constantly growing. This outstanding CREW of people is always helpful and they are the ones that force me to become a better educator 

2. LearnI walk away from each gathering with new ideas that I can bring to my classroom. One of the newest ideas that I am most excited about is finding ways to use Scratch in my Social Studies class. Stay tuned as this becomes a reality in the coming months!  

3. Grow - One idea that I advocate for with all educators is that they step outside of their comfort zone. CoffeeEDU allows people to do this by just showing up! Taking a leap and sitting with new people allow us to do more than we even imagined we could.  

4. Be Inspired - The stories that people share have been so powerful. Listening to other educators share the work of their students, or discuss their passions about teaching and learning, has been fantastic. When I see that look from other educators, it pushes me and inspires me to do more, or become "better". There have been many times where I walked away from these gatherings with a newfound love of teaching. 

5. COFFEE!!! - I mean honestly, who doesn't love to sit back and have a cup of coffee while discussing relevant topics to you? 
Our #CoffeeEDU North New Jersey Crew, such an awesome PLN! 
Want to join this great Crew for our next #CoffeeEdu??? Contact me for more information! 

Get Involved --> Find a CoffeeEDU near you or start your own! Please feel free to share your #CoffeeEDU experiences and PD story in the comments section.

Connect with us: 
AJ Bianco - @AJBianco
Chrissy Romano - @TheConnectedEdu
Adam Schoenbart - @MrSchoenbart

What If, In schools...

The "WHAT IF?" question is such a powerful thinking tool. We are all trying to improve in some way, whether it is the sports teams we follow, our personal life, or our profession. As an educator, we are always trying to determine what changes we can make within our schools and classrooms to make the learning experience relevant, meaningful and exciting for our students.

After taking part in Week 3 of #IMMOOC and reading The Innovator's Mindset, "What If" questions have come to the forefront of my mind. There isn't just one topic that I am focusing on, but more about what I would answer when it comes to my classroom and my teaching. Here are a few things that are on my mind.

What If in Schools: 
* We allowed students to create the school of their dreams?
* We gave students a VOICE where they record, share and tell their story to the public?
* We changed how our students learn on a daily basis!?
* We had the resources to redesign our learning spaces to create an unreal classroom experience?
* We gave up control and created a REAL student-centered learning environment!?
* We allowed students to follow their passions and not have to be tied down to a curriculum that doesn't interest them!!!!

What keeps you up at night? What makes you think? What are your "What If" questions?
I'd love if you would share them with me in the comments section or through social media.


Learning vs. School

When we think about school, we usually think that students come to school ready to learn. We imagine that students walk through the doors, sit in class and learn what is being taught. I think that today, schools are no longer set up to help students learn, school is set up to feed and deliver information to students. This information may not be important, interesting or make an impact on our students lives, but for some reason they HAVE to learn it.

Today, amazingly enough, our students DON'T NEED SCHOOL TO LEARN! There are so many different, MORE EXCITING ways for students to learn where they are able to find something that is personal to them and can help them reach their personal goals. I reflect on my classroom often and it hits me every day - my students just don't have a passion to learn about early American History! This has to change! I need to find their passions and find ways for them to bring their passions into our daily learning.

After studying and agonizing this image, my charge for this post hit me. As educators, we need to step up and create a school or classroom environment that allows for personal, individualized blended learning! This is more important now than ever before. When we allow for our students to come to an environment where they can LEARN something that they are passionate about, we will change how our students view school and we can bring their passions into the classroom.


Risk does not equal Danger it equals Reward.

After another week of #IMMOOC, again I find myself inspired by the chat, blogs of other educators, the dialogue throughout social media and of course the book that started it all! It has been outstanding to see so many educators share their passions, fears, questions and ideas about what Innovation is and how they plan to bring this thoughts into their classrooms and schools. 

I decided to use the "8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset" as my reflection for Week 2, with my major area of focus on taking RISKS!! I chose this because I feel like this topic is something that we all want to do, but so many of us are filled some type of fear when it comes to taking a risk. I wrote a post 2 years ago about Leaving Your Comfort Zone, where I discuss the different ways I had taken risks at that time. When I reread that post I remember how afraid I was to take those risks and try new things, but I do not plan to stop anytime soon. 

As defined, Risk Taking means: To be willing to take risky action in the hope of a desired result. In our classrooms it is important for us to be able to take risks. As educators we should be taking risks with the content that we teach, the lessons that we deliver to our students but most importantly, we should be modeling the risks that we take so that our students follow our lead. In our classrooms and schools, we are their role models, we are the ones that have to show students what taking risks lead to and what the benefit will be when we do take specific risks. By teaching our students how to take risks, we will see them open up more, try new things and build a new trust with other educators. 

In my classroom this year, my students took a risk by embracing technology in their learning. Our 8th graders have gone 1:1 with the use of Chromebooks and while this doesn't seem like something that is so tough for students today, my students, had never really used much technology prior to this year. My 8th graders did not took a risk by trying new things such as Google Classroom, GSuite and other tech tools, but they took a risk by becoming more creative, opening their minds to new ways of learning and working collaboratively with their classmates. My students don't think anything of this, but when I look at how they are changing their learning and trying new things, I am proud of their achievements. It is my hope that this one small change in their learning has opened up a newfound love of learning and something that they will take with them as they move throughout High School and College. 
" Risk does not equal danger, Risk equals reward!"  

Do Something AMAZING!

"Change is an opportunity to do something amazing." 

For many people change is an extremely scary word however, the idea of change is something that has always been fascinating to me. Change is something that allows us to reflect on our practice, improve our actions and make us become something that we never thought we could become. I am excited by change and try to bring that excitement to my classroom each and every day. 

In our schools and classrooms, change may not be something that many educators are willing to embrace, but as connected educators it is our duty to show others how much change can improve us. We must be able to push others so that they break out of our their comfort zones and embrace new ideas. We are the teachers, leaders and change agents that must show the power of opening new doors for our colleagues and most importantly our students. 

Our students come to school and not only do they need to learn, but they need to be entertained. We need to be able to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary and give our students something that they never expected. We can incorporate all the technology tools and websites into our lessons, and if our students are not excited or walking away wanting to learn more, we are not doing what we need to do to bring about positive change. We have to continue to ask ourselves two things every day; First, what do we expect of ourselves as educators? Second, if we had the ability would we want to be part of our classroom?  With these questions in mind, we can change our classrooms for the better and create an amazing experience for our students. 

There is a scene in The Incredibles, where a kid on a bike watches "Mr. Incredible" every day. Mr. Incredible asks "Well, what are you waiting for?", and the little guy replies "I don't know, something AMAZING I guess!". Each and every day, I think about that interaction between these characters as my students come through my door. I want their experiences in my class to be amazing, and for me the only way for that to happen is to continue to change, learn new methods and allow them to explore. I reflect on my practice often and I think about when I first started teaching, if I never made the change from year 1 to today, I would not have found the things that I am so passionate about today.