Monday, September 29, 2014

The Joy of Learning

Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to represent Affton at the Missouri School Boards Association during a presentation about our journey with bringing greater technology integration into our classrooms. It was a great experience, and I said something during the presentation about how too many classrooms around the country squeeze the joy out of learning. When I made it home, a friend had shared this video of a group of preschoolers talking about what they love about learning. It is incredible to listen to their voices. I feel this same energy every time that I visit our early childhood center. I have great hope that the opportunities for kids that are growing around in the district in the areas of creating, making, and designing can support this natural joy of learning. Enjoy the video and remember that all learners, no matter their age, desire joy and playfulness in their learning experience.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Affton and Dell Support Learning

A great piece from KMOV on how teaching and learning is shifting in Affton. Wonderful to have a partner like Dell supporting the journey.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Connected Classrooms

One of my favorite things about last week was seeing the visit of an author to our elementary schools. These connections foster energy and excitement around learning that is hard to replicate without these types of moments. Hundreds of opportunities like author visits, classroom collaborations, and virtual field trips are available on the Connected Classrooms Community. In addition, tons of resources and opportunities are shared daily at two Twitter hashtags that feature Affton teachers, #afftonlearns and #moedchat. You don't have to have a Twitter account to share in these resource rich links. Take a moment to explore during Connected Educators Month.

The Road to the Finish

Twenty runs to go until the New York City Marathon. I was excited about the race, then I watched this video, and I'm over the moon pumped about the opportunity to experience New York through its marathon. There is a unique connection to the towns in which you run, suffer, and smile. From Tulsa to Little Rock to Chicago to New York, each of these cities have memories that can only come from being a marathon competitor in those cities. This training cycle has been a little different for me. I've been running four days a week with increased miles, not because I'm hoping for a better time, but because I want the journey to the finish to be tough, fulfilling, and an adventure. I've had more memorable training runs than ever this cycle. Less than 40 days until the finish line.

The Road To The Finish from StoryView on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Innovative Leadership Challenge

During a beautiful run at elevation in Colorado, I was listening to a podcast that mentioned Brad Gustafson's efforts create a Digital Leadership Challenge for the principal in Minnesota and beyond. It was built on a set of activities that principals and teacher leaders could take to build their capacity to be digital leaders. It remains a great way for leaders to grow into connected leaders, and I encourage you to visit the link.

This idea propelled me to begin building a similar challenge for leaders looking to grow in the area of innovation. To make this a reality, I partnered with allies at An Estuary. They are an organization providing innovative ways to blend, connect, and deepen professional learning. I encourage you to explore their site, build a profile, and explore the many ways that they offer great learning.  A bit more about their work can be viewed on this video.

My contribution to the site so far is the Innovative Leadership Challenge. It is a set of four challenge created for school, district, and classroom leaders that are looking to push into fresh innovative spaces. When you log into the site, you are eligible for a beautiful badge for your learning accomplishment after you have accumulated 16 points out of the 24 points available in the challenge. The four categories for the innovative leadership challenge are: engage, empower, excite; 'making' a difference; growing connected; and core courage.

I encourage you to try some of these activities, share them with friends, and begin a fresh road to innovative leadership in your schools.

Engage, Empower, Excite

Permeable Classrooms- 3 Points
One of the strongest ways to engage, empower, and excite learners comes from using a plethora of "classrooms". Innovative leaders are supporting learning outside, outside in the community, and outside of the community. These efforts begin to close the experience and opportunity gaps for students. To earn three points, support students learning beyond the classroom through resources, materials, and partnerships.

Passion Based Learning- 2 Points
Student learners have increased engagement when they have an opportunity to spend time working on projects in which they have passion. Innovative leaders are finding ways to adjust the schedules, routines, and bells to allow students space to engage deeply in their learning. To earn two points, gather a group to study and implement fresh time in the learning day to maximize student engagement through passion-based learning.

Student Voice- 1 Point
Innovative leaders know the power of student voice. Too often, school is done to students without their input as a part of the system. Student voice empowers students and brings new perspective to leaders. To earn one point, scheduling a listening session with a student group to bring their voice to the forefront.

"Making" a Difference

Rethinking Space- 3 Points
Making requires fresh instructional thinking which is often hard to achieve in the traditional classroom. Community makerspaces are open creative places that provide the tools, energy, and collaboration for new ideas to flourish. To earn three points, select a pilot space that will serve as a place of making. Begin plans to: communicate about the space, purchase resources for the space, and involve students in the planning.

Design Thinking in Schools- 2 Points
Making in schools is often linked to design thinking, a system of thinking, that brings ideas and solutions to life through making. Innovative leaders are finding ways to integrate design thinking into a variety of subjects and curriculum. To earn two points, watch the dSchool Crash Course with a colleague and brainstorm how this process can add to your classroom, school or district.

Create Something- 1 Point
The Maker Movement is bringing new life to creativity, design, and innovation. Making brings choice to learning and summative assessment. To earn one point, find a space of making (art, shop, music studio, television studio), relearn the space, and create something for yourself.

Growing Connected

Learning Beyond The Comfort Zone- 3 Points
Inertia, momentum, and habits drive our daily work as leaders. Breaking this commands ongoing attention and thinking about your thinking. Use this realization to reach out for new connections in learning. "Lateral Capacity Building" allows us to reshape our mental models. Earn three points for making fresh connections outside of education that can support the mission of your work.

Exploring a New Communication Media- 2 Points
Telling the story of your classroom, school or district is an essential part of communicating the excellent learning taking place. Many innovative leaders are using a variety of communication tools to make this a reality. To earn two points, choose a fresh tool and begin to use it for telling your story because if you aren't telling the story, someone else is.

Listing Your Allies- 1 Point
Leadership can be lonely, and the marketplace of ideas nurtures the work of all leaders. One important question for all innovative leaders is, "Who are the ten people doing your job better than you are learning with?" Earn one point for listing ten people that fit in this category that you are currently learning with or that you would like to learn with?

Core Courage
Starting the Big Shift- 3 Points
Most leaders have an idea that they believe could truly be a game changer in their learning space. It sits there waiting for the perfect moment, a moment that will never arrive. The courageous leader is able to craft the culture, resources, and momentum to begin making this possible. What is your game changer? Earn three points for taking the first vibrant actions to make it possible.

Failing Forward- 2 Points
All leaders have projects and ideas that fall flat. The courageous leader is nimble, recognizes that a change is necessary and pivots. What project or idea has fallen flat and need to be abandoned or recrafted? Earn two points for publicly recognizing the need to pivot and start down a fresh path (failing forward).

Conversation and Reflection- 1 Point
Making decisions is a daily part of the lives of leaders at all levels. Growing as a courageous leader often comes from going back to a situation after the decision to discuss it with the person or people that didn't like the decision. To earn one point, return to these people or person and review and reflect on the tough decision that was made.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


October is Connected Educator Month, a month dedicated to celebrating and supporting educators on the journey to connect their classroom to deeper learning. For many, this comes through an artful integration of technology tools into the classroom that allow for greater collaboration and creativity, and for others excellent teachers, this means connecting students to the community, culture, and the learning opportunities that surround the everyday in our hyperconnected world. All of these efforts to have a connected classroom begin with being a connected educator, someone who learns and grows from those around the world in education and beyond who are bringing ideas and innovation to kids. How are you more connected than last October? How would you like to be more connected? How can we help you grow your connected classroom for kids?

Monday, September 8, 2014

ALS Challenge-Once more into the wild

Just heard from Mike that he had an incredible trip. I'm so happy that his life has been an adventure. He has experienced so much beauty, so many amazing things. It is hard to know that the end of the journey will be one filled with so much pain and suffering. Hope that you take a moment to read this incredible story of courage, living life big, and friendship. This story was originally posted here.

Gardiner man with ALS embarks on what may be his final wilderness journey

By WHITNEY BERMES, Chronicle Staff Writer

Mike Yochim asked for help up from a blue chair in his living room with windows overlooking a cloud-covered Electric Peak. Using a walker, he slowly moved across the room to the staircase. The 47-year-old pushed the walker into the corner and slowly started walking down the steps, using the handrails for balance. “I’m going to be right in front of you, just in case,” said Yochim’s friend, Sean Miculka, a few steps ahead. Yochim descended gingerly past framed photos of his many outdoor adventures -- from the Grand Canyon and Tasmania to his beloved Yellowstone. Once downstairs, Miculka helped Yochim into the garage, where Yochim’s blue recumbent tricycle awaited him. The custom-built tricycle has been Yochim’s main source of exercise since being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

Yochim pedaled the block or so down a dirt road to Miculka’s house. His friend walked next to him along the way. There, the two met up with Josh Becker and Eric Compas, who stood amid a kayak, a canoe and piles of gear that would eventually be loaded into the two boats. The day before, Becker and Compas flew in from Minnesota and Wisconsin, respectively, to prepare for a week-long adventure in Yellowstone National Park with Yochim and Miculka. The trip will likely be Yochim’s last into the wilderness.

Starting with the National Park Service in 1986, Yochim’s career included several summer and winter seasons giving bus and snow coach tours. In both Yellowstone and Yosemite, he worked in planning, including snowmobile issues in Yellowstone. Yochim earned his master’s degree at the University of Montana and received his doctorate in geography at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His dissertation was turned into two books, “Yellowstone and the Snowmobile” and “Protecting Yellowstone: Science and the Politics of National Park Management.” Yochim’s love for the outdoors is insatiable. He routinely hiked more than 500 miles each year and has hiked all 1,200 miles of trails in Yellowstone and most of the trails in Grand Teton National Park, the Gallatin National Forest, the Shoshone National Forest and the northern half of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. “He’s done a tremendous amount of backcountry hiking,” Compas said.

The first ALS symptom Yochim detected was trouble with his speech. It was February 2013. At first, the issues were nearly undetectable by his loved ones. “Only I could tell,” Yochim said. “But by the end of that month, it was obvious.” In addition to problems speaking, Yochim’s small muscles began twitching endlessly, and he had an enhanced tendency to cry. Last September, Yochim was diagnosed with the disease. Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of the disease, which come in multiple forms, include muscle weakness, twitching and cramping of muscles, thick speech, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing and walking, and weakness in hands, legs, feet or ankles, among others. 

An estimated 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time, according to the ALS Association. Life expectancy for those diagnosed with the disease is two to five years on average. There is no cure. Since Yochim was diagnosed, the disease has slowly but steadily progressed. As recently as March, Yochim could hike 10 miles a day with 2,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. “Now I struggle to walk 5 feet unaided,” he said. He uses a walker all the time and has an electric wheelchair on order. “My speech and swallowing ability are hanging in there,” Yochim said, though people do have a hard time understanding him. “My fingers are so weak, I can’t pull the stems off of cherries or button my shirts,” he said. Yochim hired a housemaid who helps clean his two-story home in Gardiner, where he lives alone. He’s added railings and handles throughout the house to help him get around. Friends and family have stepped up to help since his diagnosis. “How blessed I am to have so many nice friends and parents who are up to the task,” Yochim said.

 However, he said this winter he might move to Missouri to be with family to get care full time. But one of the biggest adjustments? Slowing down. “I’ve had to adjust my routine and expectation that everything will take a lot longer,” Yochim said. “A lot longer.” Lunch takes an hour, as does showering and getting dressed in the morning. “Because everything takes so long, I have less and less time to relax,” Yochim said. “ALS is worse than almost any cancer,” Yochim said. “No hope, no effective treatment, only imprisonment in one’s own body. This is partly because there has not been much funding for research. “Until now,” he said. “This ice bucket thing is the biggest cause for hope that ALS sufferers have ever had.”

Last Friday, Yochim and his crew started their trip at Bridge Bay on Yellowstone Lake. From there, they took a shuttle to the tip of Promontory Point. Outfitted with one kayak and one canoe, they plan to travel southeast along the lake, stopping at campsites for two nights at a time. This Friday, the group will come out at Sedge Bay along the park’s east entrance road. Despite his physical setbacks, Yochim, as he has always done, had a heavy hand in organizing the trip. In January, the plan for August’s trip had been to be a hike. Due to Yochim’s deterioration, however, they decided this spring to change it to a horseback trip. But Yochim’s neck couldn’t handle the motion on a horse. So then it became a boat trip.

As the crew prepared for their journey Thursday, they each talked about what the adventure means to them. All agreed on one thing. It’s bittersweet. It will be the first time the four take a trip into the wilderness together, but the reality is it’s the end of an era for Yochim. “I don’t even want to say it to myself,” Compas said. “This is probably going to be the last wilderness trip I take with Mike.” “There’s a sense of urgency that this trip happen,” Becker said. “It’s huge on a lot of levels,” Miculka said. As he listened to his friends talk about the importance of the journey they were to embark on the next day, Yochim quietly cried, softly wiping away tears with a tissue.

Growing up, Yochim spent time camping in national parks with his parents and three brothers. It’s where Yochim’s passion for the wilderness, for learning about it, for protecting it, for spending time in, it began. “I wanted always to preserve and protect those attributes that I found, and still find, to be so compelling -- beauty and wilderness,” Yochim said. “And that’s in part what I hope to encounter on this trip. To soak up as much of Yellowstone’s magnificence and tranquility as I can, so that when I am confined to a wheelchair, I can close my eyes, bring that beauty and wildness to mind, and smile and relax.”

Whitney Bermes can be reached at or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

Feeling Learning Deeply

When was the last time that you learned something that was soul-filling? Do you remember how it felt? Do you remember the smallest of details in a way that you don't normally do? Did it bring a smile? Did it leave you wanting more? I wonder when the last time that our students have learned at this deep level. I wonder when the last time that experience happened at school for them. Is it too much to ask to strive for moments of soul-filling learning? Are we just in a place when the demands are too great and the time is too short for moments like this to happen in classrooms? Soulful learning feels so good and has such a lasting impact on our desire to learn more. I hope that we haven't given these moments away to chance or luck. I hope that our kids hope for these moments to happen with us each day.