aha moment, being a teacher, being me, PLN, principals, trust

How to Do PD Right – Yes, It’s Possible


Last week, I had two full days of professional development, or PD as we like to call it.  I shared my excitement on Facebook about the two days and, of course, was met with disbelief.  Excitement?  Really?  Since when has PD actually been something to look forward to?  And so I realized that I might be in the minority when it comes to excitement for PD, that I might be a lone voice among the educational community and yet, in my district I am not.  Because my district, Oregon School District, has figured out how to do PD right.

They operate under a few simple things; trust, communication, and choice.  Tenets that far too many districts kind of believe in when it comes to PD but then really don’t when it comes to setting the agenda.  Yet, my district not only believes it, they live it, and it is apparent every time we are given time to learn as professionals.   Our two days consisted of many different things, all meant to fulfill the needs we not only have as a community, but also as individual learners.

We started with curriculum time.  Just that.  No set curriculum to go through.  No agenda.  We were not even told who we had to meet with.  Instead we given the true gift of time to meet with those we felt we needed to meet with.  And so we did, and we planned, and we even book shopped as we prepared for book clubs.  They trusted us to use our time in the best way possible, in the way that we would see as most beneficial, and so we did.

Then we were given small group work time.  We have 4 separate professional learning communities happening in our school, so each group met to check in and then as a group we decided what we needed to do.  My group had decided it needed time to read the books our school had ordered for us (on our request of course).   So we did, we met after and we discussed what we found. Not in order to fill out a sheet, or to check off a box, but because we wanted to learn from each other.

The afternoon was filled with whole school learning as a coach came in to teach us how to coach each other and students.  2 hours were spent trying to make our community stronger and more cohesive.  While confusion may have arisen from things we did, it still started a lot of conversation.  It still gave us tools we could use.  It still gave us a chance to learn from each other.

We ended the first day with work time for whatever we needed.  Again, no need to check in.  No need to report somewhere.  Just work, get it done, whatever “it” is.

The second day had two components to it.  The first part of the day being an Edcamp style set-up where we could choose to go to whichever sessions our colleagues were holding, the second being time to work on Educator Effectiveness, our state evaluation system.  The morning was fantastic, there were so many sessions, it was hard to pick.  And the best part was the variety of the sessions; from discussion of curriculum, to brainstorming, to hands-on projects.  From the advanced to the basic, there was room for all.  That afternoon we ended our two days with time to do all of the things that our government is asking us to do.  Whether it was to meet with our evaluator, meet with a colleague, simply fill out the many online forms, or contemplate how to reach our goals, we were given the time.  We were given the tools.  We were given the support to be the very best educators we can be.

I wrote about trusting staff in my book Empowered Schools, Empowered Students.  I wrote about what it could do for an entire district if professional development started to mean something again.  I wrote about how a district could actually use these days to honor the talent, the curiosity, and the need of its educators by trusting them.  By listening to them.  By offering choice.  When I wrote that book, I had no idea that I would get to work for a district that lives out this vision every day.  I am so grateful that my dream is not just, but actually a part of the tapestry of where I get to teach.  PD can be done right, after all.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, being a teacher, connect, control, principals, trust

Dear Administrators, Can We Tear Down the Great Divide?

Dear Administrators,

I am not sure I am the right one to bring this up,in fact,  I am not sure it is my place to start this conversation.  Yet, this blog has offered me a voice that not all teachers have, a place to start a public discussion that is needed.  That doesn’t mean I am the best one to bring it up, but here goes nothing.

There has always been a divide between administration and teachers it seems.  From the poor jokes about going to the dark side to the hushed conversations behind closed doors discussing the latest admin “screw up,” it seems that there is an invisible mountain between teachers and administration that both sides don’t understand the origin of.  It is not that anyone wants to think of the other as being on another side and yet it crops up in conversation time and time again.  But I am starting to wonder why we all seem to be okay with it.  It seems to just be an accepted fact when I don’t think it should be.  After all, are we not all trying to educate the same children?

So what is it that is creating it, and more importantly what can we do?  Because I hear over and over that teachers don’t think their administration will believe in whatever idea they have, or their administration won’t give them permission, and I am always left wondering if this really is true.  Do they really know that or is it just an assumption?  In fact, how often do we assume what someone else may say or think and thus feel defeated?  How often do we blame our administrators for something when we don’t know if it is really their fault?  How often does our own fear of having a courageous conversation create unintended barriers?

Perhaps the divide has to to do with trust.  While I believe almost all administrators trust their staff, I wonder how often that is explicitly communicated.  Not just in words but in actions. I wonder how many times trust is assumed rather than discussed, how many times both sides assume that the other know their intentions.  What if we decided that the other side couldn’t read our minds and instead started asking questions?  What if we were told that administration trusted us in both words and action, would that break the divide?  What if teachers started to tell their administrators that they trusted them, what would that do?

What if we gave second chances?  What if we, every day, gave each other a new chance at doing what is best?  What if we actively tried to create a community of educators just like we work on it with our students?  What then?

I don’t know what the answer is.  I am not an administrator, just a teacher who wants to find a solution. So dear administrators and other educators reading this, what do you think?  How do we tear down the great divide?  What can I tell all those teachers who feel like their administration will never trust them?  Who feel like their administration will never understand what they do, what they are trying to do, and who feel no one has their back?  Because I don’t think it’s true but maybe I am wrong, I have been wrong so many times before.

Thank you,


PS:  I am absolutely loving all of the great conversations that are happening due to this post.  Here are a few responses to the post on other blogs.

John Bernia wrote a great response 
So did Melissa Emler here 

And Brandon Blom here

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, communication, end of year, feedback, hopes, parents, trust

Why You Should Ask For Parent Feedback Even When You Are Afraid of the Answers

I just hit “Send” and for a moment my hand hovered over the “undo” button.  Perhaps I didn’t need to ask these questions, perhaps this year I would skip the annual end of year parent survey.  I don’t know why after 7 years of teaching, asking for feedback is still so excruciatingly tough.  Not from the kids, that I ask for every single day, but from the adults, the parents/guardians, the ones at home that see the effects of the teaching I do every single day.

For a few weeks I have wondered if I even wanted to send it this year.  If anything good would come from it, or if my self-esteem could handle it?  This was my first year teaching 7th grade and in so many ways I have felt like a brand new teacher with all of the flaws, the mishaps, the bad teaching that comes along with the first year title.  So now as the end of the year is in sight, I was compelled to just forget all about the feedback, pretend I don’t want to know, pretend to not care.

But that’s not the truth.  Because I do care.  Sometimes probably too much.  I know that I have screwed up.  I know that I could have been better at reaching every kid and teaching them what they needed.  I know I have failed some times, and I know some of my feedback will say that.  Some will probably crack my facade and make me feel pretty terrible.

And yet, if I don’t ask, I can’t grow.

So I let it go, and I now I wait, hoping for the best.  I hope there are some that will see how hard I tried to reach every kid.  I hope there are some that will see the thought, effort, and diligence that went into this year.  But I also hope there are some that will take a moment to give me advice, to tell me how I can grow.  Because I know I need to, and that is the bottom-line.  This is not about me, it is about the students.  And while I may have an idea of what I need to work on (and boy, do I ever), there is nothing like the perspective of a parent/guardian to show you things you never even thought of.  If we truly mean that we are in this for the kids, then we have to include those at home.  We have to ask the tough questions, even if the answers may sting.

If you would like to see my parent survey this year, here you are.  Student surveys will be done in class next week.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

aha moment, being a teacher, connections, PLN, trust

Voxer Takes Connections to the Next Level If You Let It

This summer I, along with many other educators, got on Voxer and started discovering just how powerful of a PLN tool it could be.  Although I wrote a post extolling the virtues of the app then, it is not until now 5 months into using it that I have truly witnessed the incredible power it holds for me.  Voxer is not just for collaborating, it is for connecting, and those connections are changing my life.

As educators, and especially female educators, there seems to be a weird phenomenon surrounding us; the seemingly overabundance of highly connected male educators, whether administrators, teachers, or tech integrators.  (Yes, this is a simplification, but bear with me).  I have often wondered about the apparent “mens/boys” club that seem to exist on Twitter, at conferences, and on blogs that list who people must follow, and have even written about it in the past.  Don’t misunderstand; I don’t feel the need to be a part of a male club, instead this realization made me long more for my own female version that could share the same camaraderie that seemed to exist in these groups, the ease with which they communicated and had each others’ backs.  I wanted my own group of women that would inspire me, support me, and actually become friends.  Enter Voxer.

5 months ago a few acquaintances and I started a Voxer group.  I didn’t think much of it, after all I was in about 8 different groups at the time all discussing various things related to education, and loving it.  The group consisted of 5 women from different parts of education that all had a few things in common but were nowhere near being close friends.  At first the Voxes were funny, little slivers of our lives and thoughts being shared.  Yet with time those Voxes grew, sometimes spanning more than 5 minutes, and as they grew so did our bond.  I never knew how much I needed this group.  I never knew how much I needed a group of women to grow with.

Yet, this group is not the only one I go to every day hoping for my heart to be filled, for my inspiration to be renewed, and my thoughts expanded.  Another Voxer group is between a few female educators I greatly admire and am lucky enough to call friends.  These two women have inspired countless blog posts, helped me make huge life decisions, as well as made me laugh.  Every week we check in, we update, we share our thoughts, making sure that we all feel supported, that we all feel cared for.  How powerful is that.

So if you are in need of a tribe like I was; don’t be afraid to reach out.  Use Voxer a s a way to connect to others in a deeper way and don’t be afraid to ask others to be in a group with you.  If you are a female connected educator but feeling alone sometimes, Voxer is your place.  Start a group, take the plunge, reach out tot those that you maybe only know a little and see what happens.

The groups I get to be a part of, those that really matter to me, weren’t planned. We didn’t set out to create these bonds, but they happened because we tried.  They happened because we realized that by having this tool to bring our voice together, we grew stronger as a group, we grew because we trusted each other.  You don’t have to feel alone even if you are a connected educator.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, collaboration, control, trust

Don’t You Mentor Me! Will Teachers Ever Embrace the Role of a Coach?

This year I was asked to mentor a new teacher in our building and although I willingly accepted part of me trembled just a little bit with fear.  See being a mentor implies that you know what you are doing and since I keep changing what it is I am doing, I don’t know if I fall into that category.  However, I also knew that I wouldn’t be a mentor to a brand new impressionable teacher but rather to someone who actually has a year more teaching experience than I do.  So it wasn’t a case of me spilling my infinite wisdom of how to thrive in your first year of teaching, but rather to communicate ideas and offer discussion opportunities to help us both.  So being a mentor has been a reflective practice, mostly because Mark has given me as much food for thought as I hope I have him.  At the same time though I know that I have not fully acted as a mentor because I am afraid to step on toes, not that he would mind, but I just don’t feel right.  And I don’t think I am alone.

So what is our problem with mentors or coaches in education?  Why do we like the idea of them as long as we are not the ones being mentored?  We tell our students to work together, to learn from others, and yet our defensive hairs stand up on our necks the minute someone mentions a coaching or mentoring opportunity involving us.  I happen to know that I have a lot to learn and yet the reaction even comes from me; what do you mean you are going to teach me something?  I am doing just fine on my own, thank you, take your concern to someone who really needs it.

Perhaps this is our achilles heel as a community; the inability to take advice or have a discussion on how to improve ourselves.  Sure we say we want to get better as teachers, but often that means on our own, not with someone coaching us.  We, of all professions, should be embracing the very nature of the coach or mentor, or whatever you want to call it.  We should celebrate when we actually have the opportunity to learn from others, with others, and yet most of us get defensive instead.  Are we just too competitive to take advice?  Or have we lost our sense of trust when it comes to others wanting to help us?  Do we really think that we are doing our very best teaching every day?  I, for one, do not, just look at yesterday’s post, but still why I am not asking people to come in and discuss my teaching?  Why am I not the one out soliciting feedback from my local colleagues?  Why do I hide behind my classroom walls as much as anyone?

So how do we build the trust?  Where do we start as a mentor or as a coach or whatever other title may be bestowed upon us?  Can teachers ever learn to trust each other enough to know that we are are here to be be the best teachers we possibly can be?  I just don’t know but I hope someone else does.

For a wonderful perspective on lessons learned from being a coach, please read John T. Spencer’s post “10 Things I Learned From Coaching.”


Try It

I can’t…But then…What if…I don’t think….This won’t….All words used by educators as we try new things.  What if we just gave it a shot?

What if, instead of coming up with reasons of how it might fail, get messy, not work – we just tried it?

Then our words would actually speak the truth and not just our assumption.