A Quick Message to My Teachers

The last few weeks have been filled with a lot of struggles and chaos for many of us and our students. Seemingly, there is a never ending stream of news which just keeps punching at us in a variety of ways. The hurricanes in the Gulf and Caribbean, the protests happening locally, and the tragedy in Las Vegas. Just as we struggle with our feelings and emotions surrounding these events, as some of us have been directly impacted by them, our students are also experiencing that confusion in their own lives.

Chapter 17 of Kids Deserve It! focuses on the need for strong relationships with our students This is THE key to success in the classroom, not test scores. Now, I am not suggesting that you be their “friend,” but I am suggesting to forge authentic relationships. Smile at them and with them. Ask for their opinions. Listen to them. Celebrate small successes. Believe in them. Give fist bumps or dabs. Be present for them when they need it. Tell them that they are appreciated. Think about the quiet kid who is distant and hard to reach. Think about ways in which you can improve your relationships with your students. Start with empathy and patience.

I love seeing the relationships some of you are in the process of building. Keep going, as those relationships keep us sane in a world which sometimes lacks any kind of reason. I appreciate you and thank you!



Reflections On Civics in Action

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The past couple of weeks have been filled with images and thoughts which are devastating. A week and a half ago, the first images of Hurricane Irma damaging St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands reached my computer screen. About 95% of an island, I have spent a lot of time visiting the last five years, has been destroyed. My family and I are unable to find friends of ours who live and work on St. John or St. Thomas. All of this came on the heels of seeing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey a week prior.

Last Friday, residents of of St. Louis started their morning off with an ominous cloud hanging over their head and that was the decision of the judge in the Stockley Case. At 9:30am, I was at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School looking in on my social studies teachers when the verdict reached social media and finally reached the students. Many sat stunned. Others were in tears, as they see injustice in the decision (I will reserve my personal opinions in this case). Just as teachers did in August and November of 2014, they confronted another uprising.

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Photo by Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

Teachers and administrators started performing triage on hurting students, who themselves had been affected by negative encounters with the police. Some students wanted to walk out as opportunists to miss class, but the vast majority of students wanted to organize their protest and become united in a cause. They did so. After spending time honing their message and identifying the leaders and having the full support of the administration and superintendent, the students started their protest. Lining both sides of Kingshighway, a very busy thoroughfare, students chanted, marched, and solicited support for their understanding of social justice. They protested for over an hour. Cleaned up the area in which they protested and went back in the building to debrief. How awesome is that?

Photo by Glenn Barnes

So much of the change which can take place within our society happens when we empower our young men and women to become agents of change. When I attended Central VPA from 1991-1995, we were not allowed to speak out on the injustices we saw at the time. We were silenced.

I am so very proud of the teachers, students, and administration for taking a bold stance…even when it is unpopular among many others.

We need to help our students find their voice and be agents of change. For far too long, we have marginalized this voice of optimism and of hope…for a better tomorrow. The actions of these students may not always be quantifiable in a test score right now; it will be quantifiable in their likelihood of voting, their likelihood of participating in community organizations, and their likelihood of joining organizations they feel oppressed by right now. These change agents will reform systems from within, so long as they hold true to their values and understand their role as a citizen in this city, state, and country.

A Letter to My Son On His First Day of Kindergarten


Dear Noah,

I am writing this letter to you to remind myself years from now of the wisdom I hope you have decided to commit to. Over the years, you have grown so much. Eleven inches in the past year alone! Your passion for all things Minecraft, Fizzy Toy Show, and YouTube Kids is rather humorous to me. How does a 5-year old kid find these things? We have moved through phases of paper ninjas, trains, and stuffed animal “friends.” Through all of these phases in your very short life, I am proud of the fact that you are compassionate, caring, and a supportive friend to others.

As you start your formal educational life, there I so much your mom and I aspire for you. We share in the dreams of having a successful child. Success in this manner is not based on how much money you will make in the future. Instead, how well did you help others who needed help? Did you stand up for the kid who couldn’t stand up for themselves? Did you gravitate to the kids who make wise choices? Were you respectful to your teacher and others in the school? I believe in you…

There is always a time to fight for what you believe in. I want you to fight intelligently. Use your words effectively. Communicate. Smile. Say “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Address adults as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” I believe in you…

As a teacher, I know you will face a lot of tests. Tests in the classroom and tests in life. All I ever want you to do with either of these situations is, “Do the best you can.” When you become frustrated with a situation, don’t ever give up. Quitting is not an option. You will learn that in our world, you have to work ten times harder than everyone else. Your mom and I will help you as best we can every step of the way. You will fall and we will help you get right back up and encourage you to keep going. Practice those spelling words. Keep trying with your handwriting. Embrace a good book and share some stories with us. I believe in you…

Maintain your innocence for as long as possible. We spend a lifetime being jaded by issues which should have been solved long ago. Your mom and I have tried to raise you to be independent and proud of who you are. Again, be the one who stands up to bullies. Be the one who gives encouragement to those scared or upset. Celebrate others success with a high-five. I believe in you…

Work on not beating up your sister, or leaving Legos out on the floor for me to step on. Step away from the tablet and enjoy the outdoors, even if there are bugs and it is a little warm. Always remember, there is more to life than peanut butter waffle sandwiches with syrup and Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets and Wendy’s bacon cheeseburgers. Believe it or not, I believe in you finding alternatives in the future…

Noah, you are an awesome kid! As I write this, I am choking back tears thinking about the first time we met in the hospital in Tampa, Florida. Keep on being awesome. Know this much my son…You are loved more than you know and I believe in you!

Love you, buddy!



Question of the Week

Change is a Process

With the state testing and school year winding down, I wanted to reflect upon how things are going. Teachers are notorious for their “armchair quarterbacking” skills. “If the principal had only done this, or had the curriculum team done this…” You know what I am talking about.  How many missed opportunities for change did you allow to fly by? How many second chances did you get to make an impact? More important, how many second chances did you grant someone to make an impact?

As I reflect upon this year in my new position, I am keeping mental notes of the successes and challenges I need to improve upon for the next year. However, I am reflecting upon the opportunities I had and judging whether or not I was able to capitalize upon them. I am thankful to take up the many challenges this year, both personally and professionally. Moving into a new house, taking on a new job, having my parents move in with my family, driving a textbook review and purchase for elementary schools, co-leading #EdCampSTL (made especially difficult on the day of when I was sick), facilitating a design thinking challenge, continuing work on my doctorate, being a husband, a dad, a son, a brother, an uncle, a colleague, a teacher…being a friend…Seems overwhelming when looking at these roles, but those things mean nothing, unless I have invested myself wholly into those roles to make a difference in the lives of those folks I encounter.

I cannot be the same person I was as a 20-year old college kid. To be perfectly honest, I don’t care for that person. I cannot be the same teacher I was in 1999, fresh out of college. My methods are obsolete. I am not the same person Julie Stafford married on November 12, 2005. I have evolved. I have changed (mostly for the better). We cannot be stagnant in our development and hope everyone conforms to us. Instead, we need to be the agents of change in the world. For me, this starts as an educator. So I ask the following of you as teachers and school leaders:

“How are you being the change in your school or district?”

Leave me some comments and let’s continue the conversation.

Creating the Solutions-Reflecting on a George Couros Post

George Couros’ post from yesterday about finding problems and creating solutions has me thinking about professional development this morning. Far too often, PD is a prescribed “sit and get” lecture with minimal interaction. I have been guilty of facilitating this style of PD, but what if this changed?

Couros suggested asking a question like, “What are some practices in education which need to change?” When answers are provided in advance, utilize those answers to drive towards solutions in the general session. Waiting for solutions to happen without taking action is akin to waiting for money to grow on trees. It will not happen.

So, what about PD? The same principle applies here. What if teachers are allowed to identify their weaknesses and then work together to drive solutions? By interacting and engaging with one another, they initiate the change which is desperately needed. Within my district, this could be what is needed to empower teachers to take back control from the “one-size fits all” approach to PD and growth. I also see this improving the perception of what curriculum is and what curriculum can become with this mindset.

Challenging The Reluctant Teacher

For the past 18 years, I have worked in the St. Louis Public Schools. During that time, there have been 5 social studies curriculum facilitators/specialists. I am the 6th one during that time. Taking on this role, is not one in which I would classify as a dream position. Nobody I have ever met in education aspires to be the curriculum specialist for the district. My guess is that the position really does not have any real “power,” it is a 12-month position, and does not pay much more than being in the classroom. Please hear me out when I say that the previously mentioned list is not a litany of complaints. Those are just the facts. What this job does offer is influence.


Influence is often overlooked by those in leadership roles. A positive influence is able to generate a culture which is open to experimentation in methodology. A negative influence can cloud the culture of an organization or group of teachers to merely thrive on the concept of survival. I for one, never thrived under threat. If anything, the development of deep interpersonal relationships with students and colleagues afforded me the opportunity to grow as a professional. When teachers sit alone in isolation, or commiserate in negativity, there can be no growth.

Having the opportunity to lead professional development allows teachers the ability to develop networks with other teachers to seek out improvement. Unfortunately, many teachers are fearful of the judgement of their peers. While not unfounded, how sad is it that adults who tell children to not be bullies and treat everyone with respect, become the very thing they advocate against? The reluctance to improve. The familiarity of the known. These are the zones of comfort teachers need to break out of.

Christopher Emdin in his book, “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too:  Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education,”  said the following:  ” The kind of teacher you will become is directly related to the kind of teachers you associate with. Teaching is a profession where misery does more than just love company–it recruits, seduces, and romances it. Avoid people who are unhappy and disgruntled about the possibilities for transforming education. They are the enemy of the spirit of the teacher.” This statement is everything. We are a huge influence not only on the students, but also on where we go together as colleagues in this journey called education. We control what happens in our classrooms in many ways, but we also need to control who we surround ourselves with.

Build a positive network of support. Reach out to people who will build you up instead of tearing down others. Be the person who influences positive energy and attention into the work of your school.

Reflections on #EdCampSTL 2017


For the past 6 months, I have been involved in the planning and leading of #EdCampSTL with the ConnectED Learning STL. ConnectED Learning is a 501(c)(3) organization which hosts and promotes free learning opportunities for educators from around the St. Louis region. Every year, the big event is EdCamp. The best way I can explain EdCamp is that is a “conference about nothing.” Educators come and sign up to facilitate sessions on topics or issues they are passionate about. For example, there were sessions on Makerspaces, Bloxels, motivating the unmotivated, improving data teams, Google Expeditions, bringing empathy to leadership and even using WordPress in classes. Over 450 people gave up their Saturday to learn and network. Urban, rural, suburban, black, white, Christian, and Muslim educators came for one purpose…Improve the teaching and learning happening in their schools.

Here are my takeaways from this event:

  1. Surround yourself with an All-Star Team.  I say this as a member of the leadership team and as an educator. This event is not possible without the guidance of Chris McGee, Bob Dillon, Manual Herrera, Julie Szaj, Chuck Baker, Patrick Dempsey, Rob Lamb, Steven Shaw, JaNekka Hutchinson, Dorean Dow, Danielle Zuroweste, Kristen Wellinghoff and so many others. Communication plans don’t happen without the guidance of Samuel Fishburne and Cody Collier. Other behind the scenes folks include Debbie Fucoloro, Christine Ruder, Melissa Hellwig, Chris Campbell, Dino Kiveric, Kat Korte, Julie Tiemeyer, Erin Whalen, Colleen Skiles, Erin Whalen, Matt Weld, Kathleen Dwyer, Lance McLard, Matt Geringer, Ryan Boeckman, Drew McAllister, Michael Dragoni, Emanuel Young and countless student volunteers. Connected Learning STL Board Members deserving of praise include Amy Peach, Jason Kelly, Cathy Bear, and Brenda Watt. These passionate educators believe in the mission of EdCamp and are willing to dedicate their time and energy in sharing best practices with so many other educators. This passion is contagious and what has rejuvenated my passion for education. Besides, it is not everyday a teacher is able to surround themselves with genius and these men and women are my educational heroes. (I apologize if anybody was omitted, as there are so many folks who make this event happen.)
  2. Take risks and get out of your comfort zone. The first EdCamp I attended in person was at Grand Center Arts Academy in 2015. I learned about things like Kahoot, Quizizz, ZipGrade, Plickers, and other Web 2.0 tools/apps. These were things unknown in my school. This was foreign territory for a school which banned phones from the classroom. Early on in this experience, you start talking to people, exchanging ideas and networking with folks via Twitter. The conversations continue and the thoughts of the day continue to grow. EdCamp merely plants seeds in learners who are willing to take calculated risks in their professional learning. For school districts looking for innovative practices, imagine having your professional development sessions in the same style as EdCamp. While EdCamp is not innovative in and of itself, the thought processes and practices which come out of these sessions will drive your innovation. All it takes is someone to take the risk and facilitate this movement.
  3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Honest conversation is the hallmark of a great experience. My first session on Saturday involved attending a packed session in which teachers discussing issues of race and privilege in the classroom. Conversations like this and employing empathy are conversations that we overlook far too often in our schools. Confronting our our biases is needed now more than ever, especially if as a teacher you work in a predominately white institution. We need to confront why we feel or believe certain things, while also uplifting all of our students to be compassionate and caring individuals of all humanity.
  4. Being selfish is OK, when it comes to your professional growth. Very rarely do teachers get to experience anything for “FREE,” let alone of a professional development aspect. EdCampSTL works to ensure the experience is largely free for those who attend. Breakfast and lunch is provided at no cost. Prizes and resources are offered at no cost. You may buy a t-shirt, but they are sold at cost. Also, you have the ability to choose the sessions you want to attend. Nobody is forcing you to sit down for hours at a time and keep track of your attendance. If you don’t like a session, use your feet and find a place which will feed your brain. If you didn’t learn anything, that is your fault, because you control the learning.
  5.  Your knowledge means nothing if you keep it to yourself. Too many teachers, schools and districts exist in silos. Information is not shared. School culture stifles innovation when we do not network with others and ask the simple question, “Why can’t we do this here?” I have asked that question so much as of late and will continue to push the envelope on this issue. Reading authors like Simon Sinek, Daniel Pink, George Couros and others has pushed my thinking in a whole new direction in addition to the EdCamps themselves. As teachers, we need to familiarize ourselves with the world of business and organizational theory. When we isolate ourselves and keep doing the same thing for 10 years, we become obsolete as practitioners. The need to constantly evolve and stretch what is possible in our schools is desperately needed.


For me, EdCamp allows me to “be the change I wish to see in the world.”  That means disrupting stagnant processes. It means having courageous conversations and incorporating voices which are not included…mainly the voices of students. They are the voices we need to hear from. If they are not learning, we need to take a look at ourselves and figure out how to best reach them. EdCamp helps facilitate those connections.