Join us and share what you have learned at ISTE



How many times have you left a conference energized and excited about all of the new ideas to try, but when you return to your home community you find yourself asking, now what?


Not this time! Join us at ISTE 2013 and attend our BYOD session:

Create a lessoncast and share what you learned at ISTE

Register here! 


Session Details
Wednesday, 6/26/2013, 11:45am–12:45pm

Where: SACC 006CD

Why: Access new web tools to capture lessons learned in an easily sharable format. View other attendees’ lessoncasts. Build, take-away, and share collective learning with colleagues.

The purpose of this BYOD presentation is to provide a digital format to capture and share new learning and to support ISTE attendees in being able to implement new ideas upon returning to their home learning communities. Participants will access LessonArchitect, a tool which makes it easier for educators to create lessoncasts. After the conference, they will be able to view their creations and see the lessoncasts published by other participants.

Questions: Contact @MsTuckerSmith. Nicole will be available throughout the ISTE Conference to answer questions and help attendees create their own lessoncasts.

Why I became a teacher

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Growing up, I never thought about becoming a teacher. I wanted to be an actress or dancer or singer. As a teenager with visions of becoming a triple threat, I performed with companies and took classes in New York. I was accepted to the Tisch School of the Arts, but couldn’t rationalize accruing such a looming debt after I earned a scholarship to the University of Virginia.

I figured that I’d major in communications and get my start in television. Lo and behold upon my arrival to Charlottesville, I found out that UVa was shuttering the Communications Department. Undeclared, as most eighteen year olds tend to be, I ambled across the bridge by the Curry School and saw a flyer for an interest meeting to learn more about the five-year master’s of teaching program. I attended the meeting, took a few classes, and applied for the program.

By my second field experience, I realized – Hey, I like teaching and I’m pretty good at it. But that’s not why I became a teacher.

About a year ago during an interview with Eighteen Eighty, filmmaker Vinny Verma asked me, “When did you know that you were meant to be in education?” Today I can call Vinny my friend, but at the time I barely knew him, which was why I was so surprised by my emotional response. I recalled a student teaching experience in the Charlottesville City Schools. One of our students, so brilliant and sharp, was dealing with an unpredictable living situation. Sometimes he was with his mom, other days his dad; frequently he stayed with is grandmother, but she didn’t live within walking distance to the school. One Monday morning it was pouring rain. School had been in session for an hour when he stomped in the classroom soaking wet. He yelled what the f*#!@ are you looking at? And he hurled his backpack at the ceiling. The classroom teacher and I could have been angry with him, but we knew what happened. He had stayed with his grandmother for the weekend, and in order to get to school he had to take two buses and walk a great distance. This third grader had done everything he could to get to school in the pouring rain. When I left that student teaching experience, he gave me a plastic rose from 7-11. I just hoped that he kept that drive to get school even when the world seemed so unfair.

That’s when I knew that I became a teacher to make a difference in the lives of children – to help them see that not only can they change their circumstance but they can change the world. After teaching for several years in Alexandria, VA, I moved to Baltimore, MD, and – unbeknownst to me – signed a contract to teach in a school in a neighborhood that had the highest homicide rate in Baltimore at the time. My time there made season 4 of the Wire look mundane. (The City Schools have come a long way since 2003.) Despite being surrounded by poverty, violence, recidivism,  depression, and drug abuse, our students wanted to learn, the teachers worked extremely hard, police officers and church leaders stayed committed to the community, and the parents wanted the best for their children.

I’ve come to love Baltimore, which is why I choose to live here, but so many of my students didn’t know about the world beyond their neighborhood. One student told me, “If I can’t get there by bus, then I don’t need to go.” By the end of the year, that same student asked if we could plan a trip to China.

This teaching experience taught me about the power of a teacher’s words. One of my students would wail every day about how her stomach hurt so badly she couldn’t focus; all she wanted to do was lie on the floor. Annoyed with the daily complaints, I snapped, “If your stomach truly hurts that badly this often, then you need to go see a doctor.” She returned to school a few days later and announced, “Ms. Tucker-Smith, you were right. I went to the doctor and found out I have a tumor!” Thankfully, the tumor was benign. Shamefully, I resolved from that point forward to always try to speak to students from a position of love not anger.

I loved teaching, but I became frustrated with school leadership and the System (capital S). For example, I had to attend juvenile court as a witness to an arson incident. Yes, we had real fires. One of our students was being charged with two offenses. He repeatedly said, I admit that I deal drugs, but I don’t set fires. The prosecutor, however, would only offer the deal if he plead guilty to both charges, and he was counseled accordingly. We knew he wasn’t responsible for the arson, but the System was more concerned with closing two cases than investing in a young man who felt his most viable option was to deal drugs. Fourteen years old with two strikes against him…What were we teaching our children?

Channeling my frustration, I enrolled in a school administration program, because surely there had to be a better way to lead. As the school year ended, one of my students told me, “I know you don’t need to stay at this school, but I’m glad you were here.”

Throughout my roles in education, I will always remember that classroom. Classrooms are where the students are. They come with their hopes and dreams, hunger and pain, struggles and gifts.

I became a teacher for the boy who fought his way through the rain to get to school, for the young man with two strikes against him, for the girl who was glad I was here.


The Common Core Conundrum – Why We Can Set the How or the What but not Both


Once upon a time, I learned that in leading a school initiative I could specify the how or I could specify the what, but if the initiative was to be successful I couldn’t specify both. As a school and district leader, one of my key roles was to facilitate a collective vision – establish the what that we were working towards. I could also set specific procedures or require a process to be followed. If I tried to mandate both – the what and the how – for a single initiative, however, then the community members would lose their sense of ownership. They would say (or think), “I did what you told me to do, and I did it how you said to do it. So if it doesn’t work, it’s on you.”

For example, when our school improvement initiative focused on putting specific reading and vocabulary strategies into practice in each classroom, we specified the what. But teachers had the flexibility to implement the strategies in a way that worked for their curriculum, their teaching style, and their students. Sure we provided professional development resources, recommendations, and feedback, but teachers still had the freedom to make instructional decisions and everyone maintained laser-like focus on the end goal – student learning. We all played key roles and recognized our responsibilities.

On the other hand with LessonCast, we specify the process, but educators and learning communities choose their focus based on their identified needs.

As I reflect on the path of the Common Core, I seem to remember that initial reactions were positive overall. For the most part, the standards were well received. I’ve had yet to hear a well-articulated argument that the standards themselves are poorly written. This current Common Core pushback is related to the newly released assessment blue prints and test specifications. Now communities are realizing that they are not only being told what the goal is but how we are expected to measure and justify success.

We’ve been espousing the need to inspire innovative, creative, problem-solving thinking (and all of those other 21st century buzz words), but now we are being forced into measuring those results with 20th century standardized high-stakes testing. This does not compute, which is why the growing sentiment is one of repulsion. Even if the multiple-choice assessments are adaptive and delivered via computers, the underlying assessment philosophy is old school. I’ve never been a fan of high-stakes testing, but previously communities had the freedom to determine what was being tested even if they were mandated as to the how. By mandating the how and the what, the Common Core movement runs counter to a key principle in change leadership.

Now, I’m a firm believer in not just complaining about a problem but also bringing forth solutions. Thus, my next entry will be about aligning assessment to innovation and not the other way around.

What’s Behind Good Teaching


How can we see what great teaching really looks like?

This is a question that reoccurred for me after reading Nancy Flanagan’s “What Does Good Teaching Look Like?“ In her blog, she explains that this is a question that she would frequently use in a starter exercise presenting to candidates in the National Board Certification process. While the conversation could go on and on, rarely would she hear,

“What the teacher was thinking–and how he made decisions as the lesson unfolded. Whether the teacher had clear learning goals, and if her goals were important and worth pursuing.”

So much of what goes into great teaching isn’t even visible. When classroom management is seamless, it’s barely noticeable. The majority of effective teaching is in the preparation and in the mental adjustments made throughout the lesson. Flanagan expressed concerns with the emphasis on placing cameras in the classrooms to evaluate effective teaching practices. These videos might lead to capturing vignettes or demonstrations, but what about the behind-the-scenes thinking that led to the classroom implementation?

As an assistant principal striving to lead professional development that would actually lead to positive student outcomes, I learned two things.

1. It’s not enough to have a teacher visit a classroom or watch a video or even attend a workshop to support the teacher in putting a new teaching idea into practice in her classroom. When viewing a demonstration lesson, there is so much that is unseen. Effective implementation requires diving into the unseen: setting clear goals, finding multiple ways for students to show what they know, anticipating misconceptions, pivoting if needed to better support students.

2. When a teacher masters a lesson or a teaching technique, it’s more difficult than one might think to enable that teacher to share her idea with the school community. In the past, I’ve said to teachers, “That class was awesome! Can you tell everyone how you did it?” Then I realized that doing something well and explaining to others how you did it are two very different tasks. The teachers were able to give a general overview, but they didn’t go into the hidden gems that made the lesson so effective.

These challenges led to the lessoncast media format and implementation process (responses to challenge #1) and LessonArchitect (response to challenge #2). Today I was reminded of these original lessons learned during a Common Ground conversation following my presentation on using LessonCast to support students with special needs. We were talking about how master teachers make magic happen and how some of those instructional insights never leave their classroom. A teacher said to me, “You know it’s like a scientist who works in a lab, but never gets to publish his work.” There may be a cure for cancer, but without sharing what they’ve learned the world may never truly benefit.

Feature in ED Week Teacher

After Nicole Tucker-Smith presented at the ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago, Liana Heitin from Education Week’s blog Teaching Now wrote a positive post about the session and explained how LessonCast is flipping teacher PD. See a six-minute version of the presentation.

LessonCast Presents at Columbia TechBreakfast

Nicole Tucker-Smith, Founder & CEO, shared a demonstration of LessonCast at the Columbia, Maryland TechBreakfast. Live demo and Q&A in under 10 minutes – Check out the video: