Monthly Archives: June 2017

The P in #PLN is for Personal

Last night I went to my first #pln party. The majority of the people were EdCamp NJ team members as well as other local NJ and PA teachers. The idea was for a bunch of us to get together and have a good time creating closer connections. We didn’t have a book club, talk about what we are going to do for the next EdCamp, or have any educational agenda. The evening was hosted by Chrissy Romano (@theconnectedEdu). She had the evening catered and graciously provided her house and yard for our delight.

Any soiree that I attend is going to have music and Paddle Zlam. This evening was no different. I brought out the Ion Block Rocker and the Paddle Zlam travel bag and the evening was ready to be conquered. I teamed up with Fade (@ojfade) and unfortunately, we were defeated by the evil Nicholas Endlich and Adam Schoenbart. Paddle Zlam is such an engaging game that you can’t but be drawn in and want to play. Everyone had a great time playing it!!

As the evening sun disappeared into nothingness we gathered around a fire and talked. Some of the conversation was about education but most of it was about life, family, and other outside interests. It is funny how my world is changing. My #pln is truly merging into a personal learning network. I have more in common with those I come across in education than some of the people I grew up with. I don’t know whether it is the fact that we all have a similar occupation or that I want to be around people who care about others.

I continue to be amazed at how the people I have connected with in the digital realm have become the people I interact with the most in the physical realm. When I look back on the last five years I notice that my life has been shifting more towards education and those people associated with education. I do worry that I am putting all my eggs in one basket. I also realize that my passion lies in education and that shutting myself off from my passion is about as easy as having Betsy Devos explaining IDEA to a group of Senators.

I enjoyed talking to everyone but my conversations with Marcos (@mrnavas), Fade (@ojfade), Shevan (@mrpersad_ba), Dani (@kennisdani), and Adam (@mrshoenbart) were highly enjoyable. The conversations ran the gamut from cigars to birth, to interconnectedness to beverages, doctorates to disciplinarians and everything between. You know you are having a lovely evening when you can’t eat anything else and your brain and body have been stimulated. I had a wonderful evening and wonder where my #pln will take me next!


Hour At a Time

This blog is being written from the perspective of a parent and not at all meant to be interpreted under the guise of the Physical Education teacher.

If you know me at all you know that I work numerous jobs to make ends meet. I have three children who eat lots of fruits and vegetables and that costs real money! One of my many jobs is being a birthday party activity leader. This entails creating games and activities for large groups of children. I have a ton of equipment to use and a beautiful gym to run the games in. The parents of the party usually pick the games and activities for their children. I get an email telling me the time, date, age, amount of children, and games that the family chose to play. I have learned more about children during these parties than I have teaching in 10 years. Let me explain a little more.

The area that the gym is located is truly a diverse mix of people.  I never know what race or origin of people will come through the door. What’s amazing about children is no matter what their ethnicity or culture they all want to play. I am not saying that I am color blind or that culture is insignificant. What I am saying is that ALL children love playing games. This is a universal truth I believe in without a doubt in my mind. It is one of the reasons that I believe recess and Physical Education are so important to a child. Playing games is a great leveler. Race, gender, and SES tend to take a back seat to skill and joy. I don’t believe just playing games will make the world kumbayah but it is one of the best ways of truly integrating people who don’t look and act like each other.

I arrive at the complex 15 minutes before the party and get all the equipment ready for the activities that the family chose. At the start of the party, I have some sort of easy 3-5 minute activity that has no rules so that when more kids trickle in they can get active every time. I make sure to find the birthday child and ask them what games they want to play when their parents are around them. This gives me a true evaluation of what they want to do. Some kids tell me exactly what was in the email while others change their minds. I believe strongly that a child should choose the games they want to play at their own birthday party!!

The other day a group of 3-4-year-olds came rolling in the gym. They did not speak English as their first language. The activity written down was capture the flag. There was no way that 3-4-year-olds can play the game let alone if they couldn’t understand my directions! I set up a quick scooter activity and the kids were ignoring me and just riding them around. This is where my understanding of children and fun kicked in. I brought out jump ropes and starting pulling the kids around the gym. They were having a blast. They didn’t want rigid activities. They just wanted to play. Good old-fashioned free play. I brought out hula hoops and we threw them around and made pathways to jump and hop through. The parents came off the bleachers and helped pull the kids and interact with them. The children had a blast!!

As adults, we manage almost every aspect of our child’s life. We tell them when to wake up and when to sleep. When to brush their teeth and what they can eat. Some of this is necessary while some are helicoptering. I am not exactly sure where the line is for me personally. What I do know is that play is an activity that doesn’t always need to be rigidly set up. Sometimes putting out balls and hoops is the greatest thing we can do for our kids. Their imaginations take over and they create activities that you would never have thought of.

Our kids play time and free time is over planned and regimented. They go to sports, gymnastics, art classes, or tech clubs. Everywhere they go an adult has a plan for them. Sometimes we need to just let go. If you want to learn more about free play check out Dr. Peter Gray’s website.

Another part of doing these hour long activities with children that I have never met before is that I have to create a bond or a connection with them super quickly. This is a skill that is not as difficult than you may imagine. How do you get kids to like and trust you in five minutes? The key is simple. Smile. Have fun. Tell a joke. Make fun of yourself. People want to be around happy positive people. Kids are no different. As soon as the birthday child walks through the door I shake their hand and tell them to call me Justin. This alleviates most of the power differential in our ages. I then do something comedic like shaking their hand for 30 seconds too long all the while telling them to stop so we can starts.

If you want to truly learn about children go to a party where there is little to no structure. Watch children interact with each other in an authentic and natural way. It will shed a whole new light on how and what they can do. I have learned more about children an hour at a time than I have in my ten years of teaching school.


This blog is going to be a rambling mess and I don’t care. I recently was with a group of educators and was talking about how I passed a car on fire on the way there. One lady responded to me that she saw a car the fireman had just let burn. “It was like a car you would see in Africa” was that comment she said. She immediately retracted it and said well not in Africa but you know it was all burnt up. I said nothing to her. This failure on my part is embarrassing. My fear of rocking the boat or looking like a troublemaker in front of new people held me back. I failed. It reminds of a @sporticus blog where he writes about how he watched another coach berate a child and didn’t step in. Right now I am all talk and very little action.

Second meandering thought. I recently pulled up this doc by accident from Edcamp Voxer (now Edcamp Voice). The doc has some people’s blogs on it from the online Edcamp. @DavidBillikopf was the first entry on it. I remember him as being very friendly and interesting because he worked in the prison system and that is so foreign to me. I click on his blog and was immediately saddened and reminded how short life is. This reminds me to cut out all the crap and really focus on the here and now.

Third meandering thought. I love school. I love kids. I am so thankful that I am an untested area where I can honestly do what I feel is best for kids. I am saddened that other ts don’t have this same leeway.

Fourth meandering thought. There are fantastic leaders out in the world. I met the superintendent of a school district and in a ten-minute conversation, I was blown away with what she was doing. She told a story that I immediately saw was getting the right people on the bus. This is the second super I have met in the last couple of weeks that has renewed hope for me that school is much more than just test scores and coercion.

Last thought. Crepes are delicious. They are even better when eaten with friends.

My Love of Public Education

I love public schools. I believe one of the fundamental goals of society should be to have an educated population. I also believe that having trained teachers is the best way for students learn. There are other ways to teach children that may or may not work however for most Americans the only option they have to educate their children is by sending them to public school.

With that being said public education is a system and every system has problems, public education is no exception. Our system has failed students of color students, students in the LGBTQIA community, as well as students from low socioeconomic status. Bullying has been an accepted practice that has led to numerous students taking their own lives as well as losing their sense of self-worth. This is not acceptable! The school-to-prison pipeline is real and proven. Students drop out at an unacceptable rate and we focus more on test scores than the students we should be serving.

I do not look at public education with rose colored glasses. There are teachers who are on power trips who care more about students complying than how the students feel in their class. There are administrators more worried about policies than the success of their students in life. Some of our students are leaving public education unprepared for the world outside of school and even then some will graduate college with a degree and no hope of a job.

In today’s world homeschooling, unschooling or private schools are unattainable for most parents. Students are forced to go to school and take classes they may not be interested in. This puts students in a very precarious situation where they have no other option but to attend a school that is coercing them to do things they’re not interested in.

Politicians and corporations have taken over school systems. We now hold children accountable for a test that they may or may not have any control over. The corporations are making billions of dollars while our students suffer. The worst part is those politicians were elected by the same people who went through public school.

If you do not agree with what I’ve written above there is no reason to continue reading this thank you for your time. If we agree with the above statements about how school is failing some of our students, you may be asking me why do I have such an undying love for public education when it has harmed so many students. My answer to you is that a free education for all children is still one of the most beautiful ideas that we have dreamt of.  In my opinion, there is no better alternative out there that can serve the masses.

I am using my sphere of influence to make the days brighter for my students. Through student voice and my guidance, my students find a Goldilocks zone (thanks for that line Jorge) where the joy of learning and movement are created and fostered. Other teachers have my same philosophy and are doing the same things all across the country. We can push back this pendulum of harm and create a system where students look forward to being participants and creators instead of being suspended or told they are dumb because they aren’t reading at a certain level yet.

I’m lucky to be in the state where we have a harassment intimidation and bullying policy that does not allow students to be put in positions where suicide is their only option. I work in a school that value students as people and not just test scores. I am not naive to think that this is the way it is done across America. I also understand that I work in a fairly affluent School District. The privilege this affords me and my school is immense.

My use of social media shows The Good The Bad and The Ugly of Education. I do not think that constantly bashing or pointing out only the negative about public schools is going to change anything. I choose to use my sphere of influence and show how we can make changes within the system. The key to making those changes is to get in leadership roles or work for leaders who have the same philosophy as myself. I have met numerous of them both in person and online and I hope that one day I will be in a position where I can make these changes within the system. There is nothing wrong with pointing out where the system is breaking down and harming our students, however, all we do is point that out and don’t ever find waste change this and all we are doing is yelling in the wind.

Education needs reform. Students do not have access to a fair and equal education. School is still run from the top down instead of the bottom up. Children have little to no say in how their education is run when they are the ones being impacted the most. My goal is to be the change within the system instead of just shouting about how bad it is.