The Darkside of Sharing

Sharing has a dark side that is rarely discussed.  It comes in like Darth Vader. Breathing heavy, all gruff, and it says, “I took your work and am profiting off it it.”    Then there’s Yoda, he’s all, “Share you must. Inspire others you will.”  I like to live my life like Yoda.  But, Vader shows up sometimes. And he’s awful.

I’ve created hundreds of graphics. On my laptop, on my phone, on paper.  I share them, freely.  I always felt like, when I made something, if it makes even one other teacher’s day, mission accomplished.  My name or website has ALWAYS been on them.  Super small, because hey, if my goal is to create things for teachers to inspire themselves on their classroom wall, the last thing I want it my gigantic name shining on their classroom wall. Pompous much?  Teaching is a hard profession. It’s rewarding, and joy filled, and fantastic. But, also… hard.  Society doesn’t always value teachers. School days can be rough.  Our hearts can be tugged by kids we see struggling personally.  The list could go on. But for anyone who has ever been a part of this tribe we call education, you get it.

In Our ClassroomSomehow, I’ve always felt that if I create something positive to share, I might be somehow making someone else’s day a little brighter.  From the very start, I’ve been clear.  You can print and hang anything I create in your classroom– but it must never, ever be for sale.  My posters, licensed Creative Commons, Non-Derivative, Non commercial from the beginning and falling under the automatic copyright for things created after 1978.

These norms?  They were written with a special class of kiddos many years ago and I turned them into poster form one summer, so the kids could see their words on the wall.  They’ve been copied countless times.  Not just copied like, a general idea, but copied. Word. for Word. It wasn’t the copying that really got me. It was the selling. Selling.  And sold.  On teacher sale sites.  And when I report? It’s always the same, “Oh, I didn’t know.” or worse, “I got them somewhere else.”   I’ve seen too many companies try to look the other way.  I suspect because business is good and it’s easier to claim not knowing than take products down.

People will “borrow” graphics on social media, cropping out that watermark and re-sharing, and boom. The graphic seemingly belongs to the world.  But the 2012 date on Flickr, with “All Rights Reserved.”  Still there.

And most recently and possibly what set off this plea of epic proportions?  I was in one of my favorite store’s dollar spot and they they were, the exact words. Word for word. On pencils. On posters. On sentence strips.  The words I had written with my students years ago. Now for sale.

What's your superpower?

Then there’s “I Teach: What’s Your Superpower?”  I’ve seen it… everywhere. At first, I thought, great, it’s inspiring others. Empowering us as teachers.  But then I noticed, people are making money off it it. A lot of money.   Often times when it’s copied, even the layout is kept very similar.  Edutopia.  Etsy. Or just Google the image… yikes.  And now? A graphic that I meant to be free for teachers is being used up. Over and over.

Over the years, I’ve answered hundreds of emails from people wanting to use my graphics for tshirts, for inspirational displays in their schools.  I have never said no. I’m not saying this to earn a halo or stroke my ego- my point is, the people were polite enough to ask, and doing the right thing. There are so many out there doing the RIGHT THING.  My question was always simple, is this for profit?

But for all the good, Vader still comes along.  Sorry About the Mess was even found for sale in my previous all time favorite craft supply store last summer.   In This Classroom We Don’t Do Easy has been on teacher-made product sale sites, handmade art sites, various shops at Amazon, and was also found in that same store for sale.

People will claim that I just need to hire a lawyer, send letters.  I just need to notify someone.  Truth is, I’m too busy teaching to make protecting my work a full time job.  And maybe that’s why it’s so out of hand.  It makes me feel so petty. So taken advantage of.  So disheartened about the entire online community.   At some point we’ve crossed a line between sharing and profiting, and started marketing ourselves as products rather than people. It is a slippery slope down a gross trail of greed.  It’s gross to me anyway.  People are clammoring to market their ideas and their work and sell. sell. sell. It’s all getting worse and it’s bothering me on a bigger level than before.  I want to believe the good in people.  I want to keep sharing openly because I love this profession.  I love learning. I love celebrating all that is good in the world.  But, everyone is selling something, or worse, themselves.  Even if that means borrowing others work and stamping their own watermark on it to make a buck or level up into some higher echelon of social media status.

I’ve never denied that teachers deserve the chance to share their work, even be compensated for it.  Of course they do.  But I ask, who is making the money off most of these stolen graphics?  Big companies.  Corporations. Websites. Not teachers really.  Not at all.  Maybe they are earning a portion, but I guarantee the companies in question are the ones raking in money off graphic searches and recreations.

If this reads like a vent. It is.  If it reads as a wake up call for people to stop stealing. It is.  If it reads like a plea for people to just stop being greedy, it is.  Create your own things to sell, or don’t sell them.  You are what the world needs anyway. Not a copy of someone else’s ideas or words.

If you’ve printed and hung a poster that I made, I hope you know this post is not about you. YOU are the reason I value creativity.  It empowers us to take a message or thought from inside us and turn it into a tangible form.  In Yoda speak, “Continue to create, I will.”  But I’m rethinking what it means to be a connected educator and what it means to share openly.   It’s a highly personal thing, releasing that message to the world.  And maybe that’s exactly why it feels so awful when it’s stumbled upon, used up and tossed on a sale site or store shelf.  And that’s exactly what the darkside of sharing is like. Personal.








Past the Edge of the Comfort Zone

It is often said that we need to get out of our comfort zones as teachers and learners. It’s true.  The struggle, the messiness, the uncomfortableness is where we truly learn.  When we step back and reflect on what went right and what went wrong, we dig in and we figure things out.  We cannot do this alone.   I’m convinced it’s impossible.

Through my years, I’ve been in different places.  I’ve been in situations where I was the one of the only people in my school working on something.  It’s awful.  To be the only person passionate about “a thing” that you believe in can be lonely, maddening, and downright disheartening.   It can make you feel like you are alone.  Like your passion doesn’t matter.  It’s what drew me to Twitter so many years ago and my PLN became the family of support I needed to keep pushing me forward.   Connection for growth.  Through conversations and learning, I’ve realized there are tons of people in education that feel this way.  People who feel far less than empowered to make change.  People buried in data and negativity.

Right now, I’m in a different place. A place where I’m part of a team. And it’s changed everything.  People to share ideas with, notice joy with, and people who will brainstorm with me when something doesn’t work out. People who feed me ideas.  People I laugh with on a daily basis.  People that I trust enough to share my own ridiculousness with.  People that share their mistakes with me.  People to ask me questions that I hadn’t considered myself and people who expect me to grow.  People who are working hard everyday to make the world better through making school the best it can be.  People who do everything for each other that we expect our kids to do in a learning community.

Then, I look around at all of the products flying around education. Programs to subscribe to. Certifications to earn.  It’s noise. So. much. noise.  It’s the promise of making education better through a quick buy. And I can’t help but think about what truly needs to happen.   We have to change ourselves and how we do things to truly empower our kids and our future.  We have to be willing to fail.  We have to lean into the messiness that lies outside of our comfort zones. We have to be willing to be seen, authentically, and we need to be living breathing examples of growth mindset.

It’s like the difference between fast food and eating raw.  We think we want fast food because it’s good, and it will change things on the surface, right now.   Feed us. But it’s not going to lead to long term satisfaction. Guides and packets are not the way to the future.  Doing activities and buying STEM in a box isn’t the answer.  They might change your day, but they won’t change the course of learning that’s needed.

We need a revolution.  We are the revolution. Creativity for all.   Deep learning and thinking. Human Connection. Community.  The right kind of school for every single learner, big or small.  The kind where each and every teacher is valued as a learner and a human being, just as we must value and honor the needs of each and every student.

And my brain hurts when I think about it. Maybe because I’m afraid it won’t fully happen. Maybe because I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t have all the answers. Maybe because fear is louder too many times.  But, there’s hope. Knowing, in the deepest part of your heart, that the thing that matters to you most is a thing that some kid, somewhere, needs. That? It’s a flicker of hope.

And I think back about this team I’m part of.  I think about a moment where they all just showed up.  With a Sharpie Bouquet (literally) and support during one of the darkest days of my life. The day I returned to work a few days after my dad passed away, a day that also happened to be my 40th birthday.  It didn’t feel like a day to celebrate. And yet, there they were, at my door, reminding me that I was not alone in that moment, nor any day, no matter how terribly dark something might be.  Like little rays of sunshine picking me up when I didn’t even want to admit I needed to be.

And then I realized in order for us to really change school and learning environments, we have to be willing to change ourselves first. Human nature will always gravitate toward the thing that is easy.  In reality, that’s so dangerous. That is not what our kids need experience with in school, and it’s not what is going to get us to be the kind of education system we need.   Creativity can’t be the afterthought because for some kids, it’s the air they breathe.  It’s inside each and every single one of us, and only real change will release it.  One flicker of hope away from being uncomfortable and making change happen.




Never Truly Gone

It’s been two months since I’ve wanted to blog.  It’s also been just over two months since I lost my Dad.  The irony of it all is that one day before he passed away, I wrote “Hands up,” in honor of turning 40.  And I thought I had life all figured out.  Then, just about 24 hours later, I sat in a hospital waiting room, staring down at my yellow converse, and feeling like the smallest person in the universe. Helpless.  He was gone and there was a hole in my heart bigger than anything I’d ever known.

If I look back in my life I see my dad painting a larger than life giant Smurfette on my wall when I was six. I see him building me a tv stand out of a metal trash can when I decided to make my bedroom look “industrial” at 13.  I can also hear the sound of his tools hitting the ground as relentless disease hammered away his ability to hold them in his hands and do what he loved. But in that sound, I never heard frustration.  Only optimism.  He somehow always worked through whatever it was, picked the tool back up, or figured out another way.  His outlook is something that I will forever look up to like I’m still nine years old.

So for two months, I haven’t written. Not trying to forget, but trying not to think about how final it all was. That night was so final. Final. It was and still is like hearing the tool drop on the garage floor. Knowing the ding means something bigger than you can comprehend. In the same way that he taught me lessons when he probably didn’t even realize I was paying attention, I thought about how he always handled everything with a sense of laughter and persistence, a sense of creative optimism that I can’t even explain. But I know it, because it feels like an old familiar warm blanket. Wrapped in love. And that is the very thing that I will continue to try to be good at in my life, because in that small way, he will never truly be gone.

Hands Up.

In about ten days, I’m turning 40.  I’m not sharing this so that you’ll send me birthday cards or ginormous bouquets of flowers.  I’m sharing this because it’s liberating.  Like, how did I get here?  I’ve always wondered what “Over the Hill” means or is – I surely never imagined I’d actually be here.  I get it now.  I’m here, in it. I can see the hill and the coaster is about to crest.  It’s the moments we wait for, the part where we put our hands up and scream, “Let go.”

The reality is, as the track has been clicking toward the top, I’ve been gripping the bar and bracing myself to prepare.  And probably missed some good moments along the way. I won’t make that mistake any longer.

I spent years polishing presentations with messages that didn’t truly matter to me.  Sharing about learning tools that I knew how to use and enjoyed, but not that WERE my joy.  I’ve always loved learning, but I also love sharing and sharing is more fun when you know the message is one others want to hear.

I poured time into jumping through hoops, collecting achievements like there was going to be some sort of gold star behavior chart on my headstone. *For the record, though morbid, I’m totally okay if my headstone glitters, but not for achievement stars. 

I adjusted myself, over and over, to fit. To fit the testing culture. To water down my teaching to fill some niche that was needed by someone somewhere.  So that I could feel needed and full. But it only makes you feel more empty in the long run.

I longed to be with people who got me, on a personal and professional level, and understood that my heart and my passion were about making the world better and in the process making myself better… not better than the competition, just better for the dream.  Those people? I have and I love them all.

I took some chances, some that didn’t work out. At all.  But then they did.  They always worked out in the end.

Every click of the track.  Polishing my message. Only sharing what I was pleased with.  Only creating things I was comfortable with. Throwing away the art I hated – when I should have been hanging those pieces up. Hiding 90 percent of the things I felt like only I would understand.   I was shining my ideas with varnish when I should have been scraping and sanding away the things that just don’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if anyone else understands, not everyone ever will.

There are people, around you, that care. Always.  Don’t just be ready to support them, but also be ready to let them support you.

I’d rather have 3 seconds of genuine conversation than 8 hours of pre-packaged promotional blah.

When I say a “makerspace in a box” that I see for sale, “kills a part of my soul,” people chuckle. But I’m not joking.  It literally makes a little part of my heart whimper with “ick.” An ick that takes me RIGHT back to elementary school when I felt the same way.  And I’m 95% sure that as I crest the top of the hill and put my hands up, I’ll continue to understand that listening to those little inside voices is what it’s all about.

The lightheartedness in which I write this seriousness?  It’s me.  I miss my grandparents, all of whom I just lost within the past 4 years.  I hate seeing the vice of incurable and devastating chronic illness squeeze on my parents, but at the same time, they continue to smile and live life, because in that respect, there is no choice.  These things are all daily, second by second reminders that the clock ticks regularly and that we don’t get second chances.  Sobering, but liberating to remember.

And I guess, that’s what happens at the top of the hill.  You throw your hands up and let go. Well, there are also wrinkles, old age pain conversations with my husband, and raising a teenager… but for this moment, today, I’m just going to enjoy this ride.

Learning. Creating. Connecting.

And the occasional scream.




Don’t Put Making In the Corner

It’s been a great couple of days. Stepping away from our learning space, to a different learning space at SxSWEdu.  Participating in a panel with people who inspire me (Thanks Manuel and Rebecca for the true honor of sitting with you all!) .  And one line that I keep thinking about, “Nobody owns making in your school. Nobody can. And that’s what makes it great.”  I keep going back to.  I think six thousand things a day that I never share or act on.  But this one ?  I keep going back to it.  In our schools, there are experts that “own math,” and “own social studies.”  Owning their subjects like we own cars and houses. I despise the term “edu-rockstar” and when people talk Twitter follower counts, I’d rather climb under a table and hide.  But, a conversation with another educator who share a passion for the magic in the classroom? I can never, ever get enough of that. Making just can’t be reduced to one person or thing.   It’s built on the work of great people like Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez, Seymour Papert… and many more.

The idea that we don’t have classrooms with a sage on the stage anymore is not new.  But, it’s still taking so much, too much time, to catch on.  Because we go to conferences where too many are still, well, the sage on the stage.  Being the sage or being IN it. Daily. Up to your nose in cardboard and covered in alligator clip wires, and loving it.   There’s too much of one person being the golden apple of the “thing” and the buzzwords.  The buzzwords.

You know that scene in Dirty Dancing where Baby gets put into a corner.  That’s how I feel about making.  You cannot put making in a corner.  You just can’t. You can’t reduce all that is beautiful about raw human creativity into a pile of buzzwords and things.  The energy people have when their genuine excitement of kids creating and making the world better is almost indescribable, uncategorizable, and unsellable, non-packageable. It’s made from a variety of passions, things, and mixes. It’s not processed.  It can’t be because the mix is exactly the thing that makes it what it is. It’s as authentic as authentic gets.

We are not apples.  Apples only produce more apples.  We are a fruit salad.  Bananas. Pears. Oranges. Grapefruit. Hybrid mixes of yet to be invented Pineoranges. A beautiful, colorful mix of unmatchable joy.  You are the Scratch guy?  Great.  You’re the edu-startup girl? Awesome.  You’re the one who wrote the book on design thinking? I want to hear about it and mostly hear how your fiasco in your classroom turned out to be amazing because you hung in there.  Because no matter WHAT you are passionate about, if it’s promoting learning and empowering a kid or another teacher to change the world, I’m there.

Just don’t feed me processed applesauce. And don’t you dare put making in the corner.

Largest Nameplates Ever!

Learning Glitches with Coding and Images

One mission I have when teaching young children is helping them understand the different type of image files and discussions about file extensions.  The topics of .gif and .jpeg lead to great discussion about animated vs. non-animated images.  File extensions can help students think about different programs and what type of files are needed or created.   Understanding image resolution helps them create higher quality media that doesn’t contain pixelated images.

Enter this tweet.   The idea?

  1. Start with an image.
  2. Change the file extension  from JPEG to TXT.
  3. Edit bits of code in the image. Copy/paste. Delete characters. Be experimental. There is no guide.
  4. Change the extension back to a JPEG.
  5. Open your photo to view the results.

I love that this simple and quick activity also reinforces the idea that images are made of code.  Seeing how every single characters together in hundreds of lines creates the picture.  Pretty cool!

Photo edits could become framed works of art. Backgrounds for poetry. Parts of a student made book.  The possibilities are endless.

I decided to try it out with a photo from a spring break visit to Austin.  A red poppy.  After the text code edits?  It’s a glitchy photograph that is a whole new way to view a poppy. It’s messy, unpredictable, and a work of art.  It’s all about the process of the code lines coming together. Just like learning.