Organic Learning Communities

"The best connected learning communities have strong visions and clarity of purpose—and often begin organically." (Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall, Connected Educator, The)
The Connected Educator

Not every organization begins through an order from on high.

Some of the greatest change comes from groups of people who share a common vision and a desire for change.

These groups make change happen over time, building a case for their views and influencing others.

Change takes time but when driven organically, it stays.

Treat Everyone Like a King

"“Anyone can face ease and success with confidence. It is the way we face trouble and misfortune that defines us. Self-pity goes with selfishness, and there is nothing more to be deplored in a leader than that. Selfishness belongs to children, and to half-wits. A great leader puts others before himself. You would be surprised how acting so makes it easier to bear one’s own troubles. In order to act like a King, one need only treat everyone else like one.”" (Joe Abercrombie, Before They Are Hanged)

“Anyone can face ease and success with confidence. It is the way we face trouble and misfortune that defines us. Self-pity goes with selfishness, and there is nothing more to be deplored in a leader than that. Selfishness belongs to children, and to half-wits. A great leader puts others before himself. You would be surprised how acting so makes it easier to bear one’s own troubles. In order to act like a King, one need only treat everyone else like one.” (Joe Abercrombie, Before They Are Hanged)

Leading the Way

This is a preview of my Friday “10 Things” newsletter. Friday editions are free for everyone.

power up blended learning

Greetings, friends. It’s the second Friday of 2023. I hope you’re off to a great year. It’s also Friday the 13th, so be careful out there and watch out for hockey masks…

Here are 10 things I thought were worth sharing this week, focusing on the theme of leadership:

10 Cool Things Worth Sharing

  • Monday here in the US, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Here are 4 lessons from his leadership that apply in every organization I can think of but doubly so in education.
  • If there was ever a time for leadership amidst whirlwinds of change in the world of education, it’s now…

To read the rest, subscribe to my Friday “10 Things” newsletter.

10 Quotes to Kick Off 2023

As we enter a new year, many of us are looking for ways to spark creativity and bring fresh ideas to our lives and work.

Quotes can keep us motivated, remind us of what’s important, and inspire us to take action.

Starting this year, I’ll share 10 of my favorite quotes from the previous year to help us get on the right track.

This quote from Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Wise Man’s Fear” is fitting to begin a new year.

Ask the questions, my friends. And ask them of others. Even if they can’t answer, they’ll begin the hunt.

Here are nine more of my favorite quotes to kick off 2023:

Hard Days

The Next Step

Our Calling

Hard Work

How to Change School Practice

Sticking Power

On Greatness

Heading the Right Way

How to Really Know Yourself

I hope your 2023 is fantastic. If you’re looking for great books to read like these, sign up for my reading list below. I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking. Have a great year! 🙂

The Connected Educator Book Summary

The Connected Educator is more than just someone that uses technology in the classroom. The connected educator is a lifelong learner, ready to adapt and use the tools available to improve their practice. They embrace new ideas and viewpoints throughout the connected world. Through the development of connected learning communities, the connected educator can improve their practice, encourage the work of others, and build an ever-changing repository of shared knowledge to benefit the education community as a whole.


As educators of 21st-century learners, we must embrace different models of learning and connectivity that are native to our students. Learning happens for our students in a connected world. The same should hold for educators. Collaboration between educators of diverse backgrounds and levels of expertise allows for creating connected learning communities: an amalgamation of communities of practice, professional learning communities, and personal learning networks. Connected learning communities provide the same benefits as the three aforementioned communities but on a scale not previously achievable due to the connected tools available today.


Conversations with a community of practice can lead to deep, connected learning. Learning as a connected educator is important to connect with global educators in a globalized world. Educators can make learning relevant for themselves and their students through communities of practice. The focus of connected learning is on a collaborative culture that includes having a shared vision, shared values, and opportunities for inquiry.

Magnetic Connections
Magnetic Connections by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC-BY 2.0


In the past, connecting outside of the classroom was relegated to professional development opportunities and conferences that only a few educators attended. With tools like Twitter and Facebook, teachers can participate in groups and chats based on grade levels, content areas, teacher leadership, and more. Bookmarking and sharing sites such as Diigo and Wakelet allow teachers to curate resources around any topic and share them with the larger community. Blogging tools like Blogger, WordPress, Squarespace, and more allow teachers to reflect on professional learning with a worldwide audience.


Educators must have a plan and purpose for how they will build their personal learning network (PLN). Tips for getting started creating a PLN include:

  • Begin with one tool and add others when comfortable.
  • Establish a consistent username across all networks.
  • Find a mentor to help along the way.
  • Choose well-respected and familiar educators, see who they follow, and select connections from their list.

Educators assume roles and responsibilities in a PLN: linking, lurking, learning, and leading. Linking and lurking involve staying on the sidelines and being reluctant to share thoughts. Learning and leading members are frequent users who share ideas and help shape the community. The learning and leading roles should commit to bringing those linking and lurking into action.

people doing group hand cheer
Photo by Dio Hasbi Saniskoro on


While forging ahead in new connected realms, it is important that educators work to sustain these communities and foster growth. Through appreciative inquiry, educators can sustain the initial work begun in newly connected virtual communities by focusing on their strengths and asking “what if?” to explore possibilities. Community members can keep a positive perspective on what can be accomplished using the 4-D model of appreciative inquiry: discovering what they feel the group is at its best, dreaming about what it would be like to see those discoveries happen, designing the community to make those dreams happen, and fulfilling the destiny for the community by implementing those designs.


Transformational leaders collaborate, encourage connected learning, and believe in distributed leadership. Distributed leadership is shared throughout the school by many people to strengthen the community. To shift to transformational leadership, traditional leaders must let go of control to move forward. Distributed leadership requires having a shared vision and shared responsibility in problem-solving. In a connected world, solving these problems includes making online connections with experts to inform ideas. Being connected allows teams to collaborate outside of the school day in a shared space.


Being a connected educator goes hand in hand with teacher leadership. It is important in leadership to be an effective communicator and collaborator, which are also important aspects of being connected. Connected educators build their personal learning networks, or communities of practice, to continue professional learning and build connections outside of their school community.

Thanks for reading. Get access to exclusive content and expert insights on technology, teaching, and leadership by subscribing to my newsletter. Stay up-to-date on the latest trends and join our community of professionals and educators worldwide.


Hord, S. M., & Sommers, W. A. (2008). Leading professional learning communities: Voices from research and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Nussbaum-Beach, S., & Hall, L. A. (2011). The connected educator: Learning and leading in a digital age. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

The Speech Kennedy Never Gave

“…I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

Remarks at a Closed-circuit Television Broadcast on Behalf of the National Cultural Center (527), November 29, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.

59 years ago today, shots rang out across Dealey Plaza as President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade passed by thousands of onlookers.

I’m sure many of you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing that day.

While questions still surround the circumstances of JFK’s assassination, there can be no doubt about his legacy. The President was scheduled to deliver remarks later that day in Dallas.

Much of the speech is no longer timely, but the main ideas and philosophies are certainly as important today as they were 59 years ago.

So, heavily redacted, here are verbatim excerpts from the speech JFK never gave.

Leadership and learning

“It is fitting that these two symbols of Dallas progress are united in the sponsorship of this meeting. For they represent the best qualities, I am told, of leadership and learning in this city — and leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. The advancement of learning depends on community leadership for financial political support, and the products of that learning, in turn, are essential to the leadership’s hopes for continued progress and prosperity. It is not a coincidence that those communities possessing the best in research and graduate facilities — from MIT to Cal Tech — tend to attract new and growing industries. I congratulate those of you here in Dallas who have recognized these basic facts through the creation of the unique and forward-looking Graduate Research Center.”

The Best Books about JFK

“This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs.”

“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason — or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

“…fewer people will listen to nonsense.”

“There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternative, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable. But today other voices are heard in the land — voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness.”

“We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will “talk sense to the American people.” But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this Nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.”

Words alone are not enough.

“Above all, words alone are not enough. The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely to convey conviction, not belligerence. If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help.”

“Freedom can be lost … by ballots as well as bullets.”

“I have spoken of strength largely in terms of the deterrence and resistance of aggression and attack. But in today’s world, freedom can be lost without a shot being fired, by ballots as well as bullets. The success of our leadership is dependent upon respect for our mission in the world as well as our missiles – on a clearer recognition of the virtues of freedom as well as the evils of tyranny.”

image via Wikimedia

“An America which has fully educated its citizens…”

“Finally, it should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home. Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future. Only an America which has fully educated its citizens is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden dangers of the world in which we live. And only an America which is growing and prospering economically can sustain the worldwide defenses of freedom, while demonstrating to all concerned the opportunities of our system and society.”

“It is clear, therefore, that we are strengthening our security as well as our economy by our recent record increases in national income and output…”

“My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. The strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions — it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations — it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

“We, in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than by choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength.”

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

How the Pandemic Made Me a Better Reader

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent my days hunkered down at my desk. I spent my time creating and sharing technology resources for teachers.

My teachers were thrown headfirst into a world many of them weren’t prepared to experience. So, I did my best to support their remote learning work.

Those first few weeks didn’t leave much time for extracurricular activities. When I did finish the day’s work, I disconnected. Exhausted from sitting in front of a computer, I’d chill out with my family.

We played games and invested in several outdoor activities, like horseshoes and basketball.

But spring turned to summer and the school year ended, leaving me with a lot of time on my hands.

Diving Into Reading

I had to find something to occupy my time, so I retreated into the land of the written word.

I’ve always enjoyed reading but never committed to reading regularly. During those nascent months of the pandemic, I decided it was time to establish a regular reading habit.

I used GoodReads to compile a “to be read” list (TBR). At first, there were only a handful of books. I participated in Daily Stoic’s “Read to Lead” challenge and began building my list.

One of the challenges put forth in that challenge was to read a book “above your level” – rather than always reaching for your favorite genre or a book you’ve read before. Reading a more challenging book builds your “reading muscle” and likely brings new ideas to the forefront of your mind.

A challenging read is necessary for your personal growth. So, I started building my list.

Yes, I included many science fiction and fantasy books. I dove headlong into the worlds of Brandon Sanderson and regretted not diving in long before now. I found my favorite prose in Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind.”

If you haven’t read that excellent tome, go out right now and get it. Even if you don’t usually read fantasy books. It will make you weep.

But my journey didn’t stop there. I included Pulitzer Prize winners like “A Confederacy of Dunces” – a hilarious book with a sad back story – and biographies of Steve Jobs, Ulysses S. Grant, Harry Truman, and more.

I’ve read classics like Meditations and The History of the Peloponnesian War. I’ve discovered authors like Robert Greene, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Yuval Noah Harari, who have informed my thinking and broadened my viewpoints.

Since March 2020, I’ve read or re-read 236 books, some 74,000 pages of content. They’ve been a mix of physical, digital, and audio formats.

I’m not sharing those numbers to boast; I’m encouraging you to bump up your reading numbers. We are all busy, but if we want to expand our minds, we must make the time to do so.

Sometimes I read for pure entertainment. But, I’m often reading to learn something or expand my brain.

My TBR is now approaching 2,000 books.

Yes, you read that right. I’m in the process of building something.

Building an Antilibrary

I am well aware that I will never finish reading the books on that list for two reasons:

1. I can get through about 100 books a year. I’m working on getting through more, but I only have so much time.

2. So many of the books I read lead me down a path to other great books, and I keep adding more to my list.

I will never read all the books on my list. And that’s ok.

There is power in understanding that you can’t learn it all. That there is always more out there in the world.

There is massive value in surrounding yourself with books that you will never read. The Japanese term for this is “tsundoku,” the stack(s) of books you’ve purchased but haven’t read.

Some people refer to those stacks of unread books as an “antilibrary.” I don’t know if I like that term since it’s still a collection of books, but whatever.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about Umberto Eco’s antilibrary in his book The Black Swan. Here’s a view of Eco’s library of some 30,000 books.

Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. [Your] library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We tend to overestimate the value of what we know while underestimating the value of what we don’t know. Taleb’s antilibrary flips this tendency on its head.

The antilibrary’s value lies in how it challenges self-estimation by constantly reminding you that there is so much more to learn. Living with this nudge daily will help improve decision-making skills and motivation for learning new things.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a TBR list that you could never get through in three lifetimes (like me!). All those books you haven’t read are a sign of ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of most other people.

Colorado Teacher Reaches New Heights

Colorado chemistry teacher Eddie Taylor has something new to add to his resume: He’s reached the peak of Mt. Everest.

And he did it with the first team of Black climbers

While other Black climbers have previously climbed Mount Everest, this was the first summit by a team of Black climbers. The other Full Circle team members who summited were Thomas Moore, also of Colorado; and Manoah Ainuu, Rosemary Saal, Demond Mullins, James “KG” Kagami, and Evan Green. Phil Henderson, who lives in Cortez, Colorado, led the Full Circle team but did not climb. 

“If you’re a black person or a Latino person and you Google ‘climbing,’ you’re going to still see lots of people who don’t look like you,” Taylor said. “That, I think, makes those sports … seem a little bit more unapproachable.”