Culture Shaming…it has to stop!


I want you to stop and think back to when you were growing up. That time when your parents and society as a whole saw you as a contributing member of society. That time when you were respected for your thoughts. That time when your culture was praised for having a beneficial contribution to the world. Are you seeing my point? I am assuming that most were thinking…yeah I wish that’s how it was. Instead we were told that our music, magazines, video games, friends, activities just weren’t what they were in the good ol’ days. I am fairly certain this has happened since the dawn of time, but it has never been productive to the current generation. It makes the current generation defensive and isn’t very productive. Think back again, when your parents told you your music was stupid, you instantly stopped listening to it, right? Not me (nor most of you I suspect),  I played it even louder to try to prove a point.  I like to call this nostalgia for the “better” times as culture shaming, and it really needs to stop.

If we truly want to help this generation of young people navigate the world, we need to at least try to understand the world in which they are living. Notice I didn’t say we need to completely embrace it, but we owe them the respect of at least trying to get it. Those in education like to throw out quotes like the cup is half-full, but we do that on our terms. We need to look at our students’ lives and see the cup as half-full. I hear so many teachers and parents say that the hyper connected lives of students is problematic. They never play outside, they are lazy, they are hooked to their phone, they don’t know how to have face-to-face conversations. I would bet that this connectedness actually allows them to have more “social” experiences than we ever did. Growing up, my friends were those people on my block who led basically the same type of life as that of my family. Many youth today have “friends” all over the U.S. and maybe the world. We can argue about the nature of the word friend, but there is a much broader social interaction available to the younger generation than ever before. Many use social media as a way to get out of the bubble that is their family and community.  Yes…social media can be used for nefarious things, but  let’s not just assume that is how students are using it. I would highly recommend that you read It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd. This will make you look at teens and social media in a different light!

So as educators and parents what is the opposite of culture shaming? I like the term culture curiosity. Curiosity doesn’t mean 100% acceptance, but it does mean a willingness to try to understand. I think that is what young people crave, a willingness for adults to understand and respect them. I have tried to gain a better understanding of SnapChat to get a sense of what students see in the platform.  Maybe trying SnapChat will help you as a teacher to understand what makes your students tick. How can you leverage this platform (or others like it) to help students learn (see below)? You may think it is weird and useless, but just remember how you felt when you were culture shamed. The best option is for teachers to try to figure out how to incorporate those aspects of student culture and use them as a hook for student engagement and empowerment. Isn’t having a deep impact on students why you got involved in education?

Don Sturm

**I need to give a shout out to Tara M Martin (@TaraMartinEDU) for her “invention” of the #BookSnaps. These #BookSnaps are one of the reasons that I used SnapChat in this blog post. Obviously there are other aspects of student culture that can be explored, but SnapChat is one of the “in” things right now! #BookSnaps allow the user to interact with a text by using a photo of a page as well as images/emojis/drawings. It is a great way to make learning visible. I have included a couple of examples in case you aren’t familiar. As a side note, SnapChat does not have to be used to create #BookSnaps. Take a look at Tara’s Youtube playlist for other ideas.  

How do I change what I do??


Innovation is not about the stuff; it is a way of thinking.

George Couros

In my role as a technology integration specialist, I hear many teachers complain that they don’t know how to plan innovative lessons or that they don’t have the time to plan new lessons. One of the most common requests is for specific examples of lessons that “qualify” as innovative. It would be virtually impossible for me to provide specific examples for all of the grade levels and subjects. The classroom teacher really needs to be the one taking the concept of change and innovation (whether with technology or not) and apply ideas to either the grade level or subject matter. I think the most effective change is change that is intrinsically motivated. If you want to change the way that you teach, it is much easier to find the time that will be needed to make these changes. The steps below will hopefully help to solidify the process that can be used to design engaging and innovative lessons. By the way, I don’t think these steps need to happen in any particular order. Use any of them as a starting point for making your classroom an exciting learning space!

1. Take a look at what you teach and ask..

  • What lessons bore me?
  • What do I get excited about that doesn’t seem to transfer to students?
  • What lessons don’t seem to engage students anymore?
  • What lessons do students consistently say doesn’t apply to them?

These questions should help you to identify those lessons that are a perfect starting point for change. This is how I methodically set out changing what I did when I was in the classroom. Don’t try to tackle everything at once or there is no doubt that you will be overwhelmed. I found that once I started to get into the mindset of change, it got easier. Planning the first few new lessons was way harder than lesson 20+.

2. Decide what type(s) of changes are necessary to make the lesson better. 

Here is where your subject specific skills come into play. What do students really need to be able to do in terms of both content and skills? Be honest and reflective here. Think outside the box. Remember the saying, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”

  • What do students really need to know?
  • Do they have to memorize a set of facts or would they be better off researching and finding those facts on their own?
  • Do those facts really need to be committed to memory?
  • Is a lecture or whole group instruction absolutely necessary?

I want to stress again, you have to answer these questions honestly. This honesty will cause you to think about everything that you do and why you do it.  Just a warning…it may be hard to change your thinking, but it will be worth it! Don’t be afraid to challenge the long held beliefs about how school is supposed to look.

3. Look for specific ways to make the changes that you have decided are necessary. 

This is the part of lesson planning that I really enjoyed. Once you know the big picture changes you would like to make, you have to decide what help is needed to actually put your ideas into practice. You have a few options here. While you can rely on professional organizations for your subject and grade level, this is where I think social media can be extremely helpful. Twitter, Facebook, Voxer, and Pinterest are awesome places to help you get specific ideas. Finding and following the right people will give you a plethora of ideas to implement into your lessons.

The other option (if available) is to contact your instructional coach/technology integration specialist/innovation coach for help. Forget technology for a moment, you should be focused on what is needed to make for an engaging experience. If it does involve technology, your comfort level will dictate the help you need. You might think back to a conference you attended and/or professional development experiences for a list of specific apps and programs that will help make the new lessons engaging and rich. You might go to your technology person and share the overall lesson idea and ask for 1:1 help with how to best accomplish your goals. I want to stress that the technology, if any, should not be at the forefront of your thought process at this point; it is about the pedagogy. Technology might play a big role in your new lesson, but I would caution that you not start with an app and figure out what to do with it. This is especially true for those who are just starting to make big changes to their classroom environment. Once you have decided the big picture, it might be a new app and/or service that sparks some ideas, but don’t put the proverbial cart before the horse. Even an app like Explain Everything, while awesome, should be considered only after deciding that students need to take on more of a role in presenting and sharing what they know. The app then becomes the vehicle by which the students show their mastery.

4. Talk, read, and share with others.

This might be the most important step! Teaching is no longer that solitary profession where you enter your classroom, shut the door,  and do your own thing. Let me rephrase that…teaching should NO LONGER be a solitary, lonely profession. When you want to make changes, “talk” with people. Talk with other same grade level teachers, talk with different grade level teachers, talk with teachers who teach a different subject matter, get onto social media…see the pattern here, talk with others. Teaching isn’t just about content anymore! Read whatever you can get your hands on whether it is blogs, articles, or books. All of this talking and reading will lead to ideas. These ideas will lead to more ideas, which will hopefully cause you to want to make more changes. Some will shrug and ask where will they get the time. If you want to truly make changes, you will find the time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but dedicating even 10-15 minutes a day will help generate ideas.

5. Look around for great ideas!

When I was in the classroom, one of the methods I employed was to think about how everything I saw that was “cool” could be replicated by my students. The important part here is that my students would create! I remember watching a Common Craft video and thinking about how my students could create one…hence History on Paper was born. A language arts colleague shared with me the idea of animated Powerpoint presentations for poems…my students designed a presentation that might play in the lobby of the National Civil Rights Museum. Are you a Tasty fan? Just think about how your students could do something like that with the content that you teach! Everything I experienced became a possibility in the classroom. Did everything work? Nope, but that didn’t stop me from trying new things. The good ones stuck, while the “bad” ones were either dropped or reworked.

There is no question that making changes in the classroom will take time. It will be much more enjoyable to change what you do when it is something that you want and need. You don’t have to change overnight; instead, work to find a few areas where you want to see changes and focus on those. The more that you invest in a new classroom experience for your students, the easier it will get. Hopefully you will find that you enjoy teaching and may even make you remember why you got into profession in the first place. Changes to your classroom will hopefully pay dividends in terms of time. For example, looking at homework differently might lighten your grading load.  Allowing students to choose how they show mastery will no longer mean grading one hundred plus of the same paper! You will still assess, but it might look different than taking home a stack of papers. As the old saying goes, “work smarter not harder.”

Guilty as charged :(


I am passionate about education and technology…I know I come across as annoying at times! The mantra less is more has always been a struggle for me (my colleagues still kid me about my ability to talk when in front of others).  When I was in the classroom, I was the one who went to conferences and came back and wanted to try EVERYTHING that I learned…in one day. The justification that I used was that I was providing a real-world, fast-paced classroom experience for my students. I did finally come around to the fact that some students probably felt like they were on a roller coaster without the help of Dramamine . While some loved this theme park experience, others were just plain worn out! I started to focus on those skills and content that were truly important and then carefully selected (many times having the students decide) the technology or overall way that I would help guide students to master those important concepts. I had finally settled into what I thought was an effective classroom experience for my students.

Three years ago I felt like I was in a position to help other educators with the daunting task of incorporating the new 1:1 iPads into their curriculum by becoming a technology integration specialist.  There I was on the starting line of the greatest race I had ever run.


On your mark, get set, GO…

Voxer, Twitter, Google Apps for Education, Explain Everything, Kahoot, Socrative, Today’s Meet, Padlet, Schoology, Edmodo,…



I had forgotten most of what I had learned from my 22 years of classroom experience. What was true for my high students played out with my teachers. Some loved the roller coaster ride I was providing…others…not so much! While I am still not completely there, I think that I have started to get back into the grove that “less is more.” I have started (hopefully) to provide the exciting roller coaster ride for those who are ready for that type of experience and a gentle walk in the woods for those who need that type of experience. Just like with students in a classroom, my job working with teachers requires that I push them to step out of their comfort zone while also respecting their overall well-being. That is a tough task and one that I stress about everyday. I will continue to strive to keep in mind that LESS IS MORE!

Don Sturm

Where to start??


There is just so much in Part 2 to discuss, but I think this graphic is a great place to start! I remember the first time I read The Innovator’s Mindset, I stopped at this graphic and just pondered all that is presented here. The funny thing is that I asked myself…what if the physical schools could be like this graphic. Funny because I had yet to read the What if section of the book just a few pages further! Those eleven bulleted points are HUGE! Imagine how the world and our kids would be different if we focused more on the right side of the graphic than the left.  The right side is what I wanted for my kids when they were in school. There were those teachers who inspired and challenged my kids, but I would say that most of their formal education took place on the left side. I tried to promote the right side when I was in the classroom as a high school social studies teacher, but I think in the end the left side won out more often than not. There were those that I think I fostered in my students…challenging perceived norms,  promoting the idea that everyone is both a teacher and a learner, and making your own connections. Those were the ideas that made me love teaching.

But (and I don’t mean to get negative here!), it is challenging to truly make some of the changes that I believe need to be made. Schools are behemoths…they change at a snail’s pace. Let’s not forget that it is not just the teachers or administration who might be resistant to change. One of the biggest “roadblocks”  to change is the community. The mindsets of some communities are hard to change. I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but it is REALLY hard to encourage innovative thinking when community members are not convinced of the benefits of the right side concepts. I can only speak for the areas in the Midwest where I have lived and taught but, the common thought is teachers need to teach and kids need to learn. Teachers talk, kids take notes. Teachers give tests, students take tests. Community expectations make it more difficult to convince teachers to try for more of the right side!

So what can be done is what has been suggested by George Couros, innovate inside the box.


As educators, we need to make those right side ideas/concepts part of the culture of the classroom. Just as we can help one teacher at a time innovate, so can we make changes to the community as a whole. It would be hard to question the excitement for learning that your child brought home as a result of having a teacher who believed in the right side ideas. What if education became more about learning and less about schooling??

Don Sturm

Practicing what I preach!


My job as a technology integration specialist is to push teachers and students to change. I try to “preach” that this change is necessary and good for all involved: teachers, students, parents, heck, society as a whole. Change comes easy for some, for others….ummmm…yeah, not so much! I do think that is it imperative that I practice what I preach when it comes to innovation. George Couros has challenged us this week with this question.

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.” How are you embracing change to spur innovation in your own context?

The district leadership team came up with a list of seven principles that will help guide our six schools as we implement innovative teaching practices. These seven principles have been dubbed 709 Above the Line. Above the line referring to the upper rungs of the SAMR model  that we have used to help guide guide teachers as they implemented 1:1 iPads into their classrooms. This phrase will hopefully permeate the district as a whole as we move forward. We have started using #709abovetheline when we post to Twitter or Facebook.

  • Student Engagement:  Students are engaged when they have an active commitment to challenge themselves by demonstrating ownership of their learning.  
  • Collaboration:  Collaboration is a dynamic process whereby members (students) can have a respectful and authentic analysis of ideas toward a shared educational goal, which involves critical thinking and problem solving.
  • Innovation:  Innovation occurs when a teacher gives students the freedom to use their intellectual creativity to solve a problem, answer a question or determine a NEW WAY to accomplish something.
  • Quality of Creation:  Quality of creation is evident when the product demonstrates higher level thinking skills were used to show mastery of a skill or concept.
  • Meaningful Outcomes:  A product should show a student’s creativity or ingenuity while also displaying a depth of understanding of the content.   
  • Problem-Solving:  Problem-solving should show complex, creative, logical thought by students to solve a new, authentic problem.
  • Higher-Order Questioning:  Higher-order questioning should require a complex response requiring students to analyze, apply, predict or synthesize information in such a way that it prompts additional conversation by the class.

I have been tasked with developing multiple professional development opportunities for each of the seven, giving me an outlet to practice what I preach. Feeling strongly that most professional development that has been offered to teachers has not been effective because it was given in sit and get sessions with the whole district in one place at the same time, my goal is to offer opportunities that teachers can pick and choose based upon their comfort level, and most importantly, their interest level. While a challenging task, developing these PD options has provided me a way to do what I am asking classrooms teacher to do…innovate! I am currently in the process of creating panel discussions with volunteer teachers to share what/why/how they are providing “above the line” experiences in their classrooms. These discussions will be provided through Google Hangouts On-Air (now YouTube Live)**. This allows for teachers to watch the event live, or because it is automatically posted to Youtube, whenever they can find the time. The hope is that teachers in our district will have more interest in hearing about the innovative practices their colleagues are using in the classroom than they might from an “outsider.” I have gotten a great response from teachers who are willing to share their classrooms with others…my job is to connect them with teachers who are willing to listen and hopefully take a chance on trying something new and innovative with their students.

**- This is a resource that you need to try! I did it a few times before IMMOOC, but I am loving seeing other ways of using it!

Don Sturm


Balancing age appropriateness with innovation??


I need to start by mentioning that my entire classroom teaching experience was at the high school level. When I left the classroom, I became a technology integration specialist in the same district in which I had taught for 22 years; I was a known commodity! At first I was working primarily with the high school and junior high, but now I work with all levels EC-12.

Ok…let me get to the point! I have worked really hard to gain an understanding of what it is like to teach at the lower grade levels. I follow just as many elementary teachers as upper level teachers on Twitter, read more books about that age level, and spend just as much time in elementary classrooms as high school and junior high. There is no question that to have a true understanding of the elementary classroom one needs to have taught at that level, but I am trying to understand. Side note…one thing that I have learned is that I think I would have been a good 4th/5th grade teacher…I love those kids! I think/hope that I am gaining the respect of teachers from all grade levels and they see me as someone who is willing to help them plan and implement innovative ideas into their classroom. When teachers and/or principals have a “beef” with me, I tend to hear concerns about whether what I am suggesting or pushing for is “age appropriate.” Self reflection is one of my strengths so this concern does keep me up at night! Obviously I understand the term (I have two grown children), but when does that concept get in the way of innovation? That keeps me up at night more than the fact that someone might disagree with me! If we think that it is age appropriate for young children to read a “real” book because they have to feel the pages, does that not negate some of the innovation that might come from introducing e-books? If we say that children must handwrite on paper because it is age appropriate, does that not limit what a teacher is willing to introduce into his or her classroom? I could provide other examples, but I truly think about this idea a lot! If we always say something isn’t age appropriate will things ever change? Am I the only one who struggles with this idea? Seriously, how do you balance the two?? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Don Sturm

Excited for #IMMOOC!

446dd5bf-3cb0-421f-96a0-cf755e79ef1fThis will be the third time reading The Innovator’s Mindset, but I am really looking forward to this new experience of a MOOC. I am currently in a book study with the leadership team in my district, so it will be interesting to see the differences between these two very different ways of exploring the book. I am hopeful that the MOOC experience of having access to so many people (1200+) will allow me to add to the in person discussions that we have about our district. It is also my hope that I will have many new ideas added to my toolbox that I can use in my role as a technology integration specialist.

So, the questions for this initial blog… Why is “innovation” so crucial in education? What impact do you see it having on our students and ourselves long-term?

I think that innovation is the way that schools will stay relevant in the lives of students. Being able to come up with new and improved ways of doing things will prove that education is not a passive profession. We cannot be passive! The world has changed from when I was in school in the ’70s and ’80s, but schools still outwardly function the same way. I say outwardly because there are still bells, grades, rows of chairs, etc. present in most schools. Don’t get me wrong, there are those educators and schools who have encouraged innovation and are seeing the benefits in the general level of engagement of students. Innovation is the lifeblood and future of our schools. While that sounds melodramatic, think about a discussion about innovation within a profession like medicine. A surgeon saying that he/she used to successfully perform heart surgery a certain way in the ’80s so it should be good enough for today sounds absolutely ridiculous. We would never send a loved one to that doctor, but we think that educating students in ways of the past is okay! It truly does sadden me to think of a day when public education is completely irrelevant to what students choose to do later in life. I am hoping that this experience is a two-way street of others sparking my thought process as well as me providing food for thought for others!

Don Sturm