There are moments when you realize that you are doing exactly what it is that you are supposed to be doing and you are working with exactly the people you are supposed to be working with.

For me, that moment was Monday.

Each Monday our administrative team meets.  We talk about logistics, protocols, new tools, professional development, finances and almost always, our philosophy.  This past Monday, we were talking about the latter, respectfully pushing each other’s thinking and having an open dialogue about our collective vision.  Like many hard discussions become, we had begun to come back to thinking that was more comfortable, and by comfortable I mean traditional.  And then our CEO said:

If we are really going to change the world…

What came next is not nearly as important as those 9 words.  They are incredibly powerful words.  Imagine if all conversations started with those 9 words.  What if we used those instead of these:

If we are going to get Board approval…

If we are going to get community support…

If we are going to get the faculty to buy in…

If we are going to reach a compromise…

If we are going to get the students to pass the state tests…

If we are going to get this concession…

Nine words.  With nine words our CEO reminded us of our mission:  to change the world.

What is your school’s mission?  Perhaps your nine words are different that ours, but can you redirect a conversation toward that mission with just nine words (or less)?

If not, it may be time for a new mission.

In the past I have offered my “Top 10 Images” in a series of posts on my blog (2012, 2011, 2010).  This year, I did something different.

2013 was an important year for me artistically.  I estimate that I have taken 75,000 images since 2010 when I got more serious about taking meaningful images and I feel like things finally started to “click” for me in 2013.  Shooting more in manual mode, understanding better the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and experimenting with filters and long exposures have allowed me to take my photography from point and click to being purposeful in composition and settings. Yeah, I’ve taken some pretty bad shots and my frustrations have grown at times, but for every 100 shots that didn’t work, one did and brought with it immense satisfaction.  The images below are more representative of my year than a list of my “top” photographs.  Each represents a technique, technology, or story from my year behind the lens.

boat reflection

Picture 1:  Boat Reflection

On an overcast summer evening in Portsmouth, my friend Mike and I set out to take some images in and around Portsmouth, NH.  The difference for me this evening was that Mike brought his tripod for me to use.  I have used a monopod in the past for my sports images, but never a tripod.  It didn’t take long for me to realize what I was missing.  While you can see exif data for this image here, the tripod allowed me to keep the shutter open for almost a full second here, which gives the glassy look to the water and allows for the reflection of the boat on the water.  While I learned more about filters and long exposures later in the year, using the tripod on this day opened my eyes to a whole new realm of photography that I had yet to explore.


San Antonio

Picture 2:  San Antonio

Perhaps the most impactful day on my photography this year was the ISTE13 photo walk.  Long after the photo walk was done, I joined a group of five other amateur photographers and Carlos Austin, a professional photographer from Texas.  Carlos was gracious enough to spend the day with us, teaching us a variety of techniques and strategies for street photography.  He taught us to not just “see” the image, but also create the image you want.  The best example of this was when he asked a local serviceman to pose for this image.   When I asked him about approaching strangers, his response was simple and classic:  ”There are 7 billion people in the world, they aren’t all going to say ‘no’”.  Carlos lived by the mantra that “strangers are just friends that haven’t met yet” and that was certainly the case for us that day in San Antonio.



Picture 3:  Tugboat

High Dynamic Range imaging was a technique that I was somewhat familiar with using the ProHDR app on my iphone, but a conversation with Larry Anderson at ISTE13 and quick research on Lightroom plugins taught me that HDR wasn’t too difficult.  As a result, I began to do some HDR work this year.  The image to the left is actually a combination of three different images taken at three different exposures, then merged in post processing.  It was my first attempt at HDR processing and was taken in Portsmouth, NH.



ExeterFallPicture 4:  Exeter Fall

Having begun to do work with the tripod and longer exposures, the next step was to begin using filters.  In this image of the Exeter River in Exeter, NH I used a Neutral Density Variable filter to reduce the amount of light entering the camera.  This allowed me to keep the shutter open longer and still get the appropriate exposure.  Why would I want to do this?  Why not just open the shutter quickly?  As you can see in this image, by keeping the shutter open longer, I was able show the motion of the water in the river.  On still water, the long exposure technique results in a glassy look.  On flowing water, a long exposure results in a smooth flow of the water through the rocks and rapids.    Without the filter if you left the shutter open too long mid day, your images will be over exposed.  By putting the filter on, the light entering the camera is reduced so I was able to keep the shutter open longer, thus capturing the flow water.






Picture 5: The Speed of Lacrosse

For years it always made sense to me to ensure that every image I took was as crisp and clear as possible. Somewhere along the way, however, I learned that being out of focus isn’t all that bad when done correctly. By that I mean that an image that is mistakenly taken out of focus doesn’t look good, but when one purposefully creates blur, it can effectively create the illusion of speed.  In the image to the left, while my son Ben was advancing the ball down field I panned left to right along with him to create the blur in the background and a slow shutter speed to make him blurry.  The result is a rather surreal image.  Here’s another example, this time with my daughter swimming.



Picture 6:  Mount Washington

I waited all day for this image.  The clouds simply wouldn’t give up and reveal the highest peak in the northeast.  But, after dusk had come and gone, the clouds parted and I was able to capture this image.  I was able to use many of the techniques I had learned in 2013.  It was, something of a culminating project for me this year.  While you can read the exif data here, it was a great opportunity for me to combine my new understanding of long exposure with aperture, shutter speed and ISO.



Picture 7:  Breast Stroke

This is simply my favorite picture of the year.  It’s of my daughter, Elisabeth in the midst of her breast stroke.  I have taken many pictures at swim meets, but rarely can I get close enough to the pool to get really detailed and interesting images.  But at this outdoor meet, I was able to get close enough to get this image of Lizzy just breaking through the water as she stretches forward with her stroke.


So, where do I go from here.  Well, I hope that 2014 will see my growth continue.  I recently opened an account at Fine Arts America where my images can be bought, created a Flickr account dedicated to my fine photography, and opened a Facebook page for folks to like.  Very soon, I will hit “publish” on my professional photography website.  What was an interesting hobby has expanded into a full blown passion.

As I have written before, I sincerely hope these do not come across as self-indulgent or self-serving.  I enjoy taking pictures and I enjoy sharing them with others.  A few folks have complimented me privately on my images through the years and I thank each of you for that.  For those of you who have not, I appreciate your willingness to come see what I have to share and hope that you enjoyed seeing my images and reading the stories associated with them as much as I enjoy sharing them.  Thank you for taking time to visit this space and read what I have to share. I truly hope it has been worth your while.


The above video has got me thinking about “distracted” kids.  We hear that term all the time, mostly in the context of kids being distracted from the work we are trying to have them do and it’s typically not in a flattering way.

Kids these days.  They are just so easily distracted.


Unless I take their phones away from them, kids are just too distracted.


I have a hard time getting Tony to stay on task, he’s always distracted by the internet.


I don’t use Powerpoint because the kids just get distracted by all the bells and whistles.


I remember when I didn’t have to compete to get kids attention.  They have too many things to distract them these days.

I’m sure that you have heard more, perhaps even in a weak moment you have mumbled your own version.

But what if we thought about things in a different way?  What if we thought about kids as being easily attracted, as opposed to easily distracted?

Kids are easily attracted to electronic devices.


I love how attracted kids are to being creative.


Many kids are attracted to working hands on, with other kids, to solve problems.


Kids are attracted to learning from others, especially when they are experts in those things that they care about.


My kids are so attracted to worksheets, I can hardly print them out fast enough.

Well, maybe not that last one…

But, wouldn’t that shift be a game changer?

It’s time we focus on being attracted and less with trying to compete with being distracted.



It’s been a few years since I had homework, but when Dean Shareski assigned me some, I had to get it done.  So, Dean, thanks for tagging me, here’s my work for your review…

11 Random Facts:

  1. I met my wife in the very first class of our freshman year in high school.  We were 14.
  2. I am afraid of climbing extension ladders, but have no problem flying in planes, helicopters and even hot air balloons.
  3. I have run 6 marathons and more than 20 1/2 marathons…
  4. and now my knees are shot.
  5. I attended the final Redskins football game in RFK stadium.  They beat the Cowboys 35-0.
  6. I was at the Orioles game when Cal Ripken tied Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record.
  7. I installed lawn irrigations systems in college.
  8. I once benched press 325 lbs and leg pressed more than 700.  I used to lift a lot.  Did I mention my knees are shot?
  9. My favorite food is vanilla bean ice cream.
  10. The last movie I attended in a theater without my kids was The Green Mile.
  11. My father, brother and I each played for New Hampshire in the Shrine Football game.  None of our teams were scored upon.  We all played offense.

Dean’s Questions

  1. How do you feel about pants?  I like them more when I was skinnier.
  2. What was the last movie you saw in a theatre?  Hotel Transylvania
  3. Where are your car keys?  Unless my wife moved them, on the counter.
  4. What time is it?  9:43 PM EST
  5. What’s the last tweet you favorited?  I have never favorite a tweet on purpose.
  6. Outside of your immediate family, which relative do you like to spend time with?  My wife’s aunt and uncle.
  7. Have you ever been to Saskatchewan?  Not yet.
  8. How long did it take you to walk to school as a kid?  I used to take bus in the morning and walk home after.  20 minutes.
  9. Besides you,  blogger should I be paying attention to?  John Spencer.
  10. Name one golf course.  Breakfast Hill Golf Club.  My favorite local course.
  11. What’s your favorite Seinfeld episode or line?  “I’m out!”  

Next up (if you have not already been tagged)

Steve Gagnon
Jess Valenti
Josh Stumpenhorst
Michelle Baldwin
Patrick Larkin
Beth Still
MaryBeth Hertz
David Warlick
Steve Anderson
Steve Dembo
Anyone else

Here are your questions:

  1. Have you ever been to New Hampshire?
  2. What item could you not live without?
  3. What is the highest peak you have ever climbed?
  4. If you could live anywhere else for 1 year, where would it be?
  5. How many TV’s do you have in your house?
  6. At what age do you think its appropriate for children to get their first cell phone?
  7. Who was your 3rd grade teacher?  I had two:  Mrs. Stavenger and Mrs. Hawkins.
  8. When is the last time you posted a picture publicly?  (bonus points for providing link)
  9. Other than the birth of your children and/or the day you were married or met your soulmate, what was the best day of your life?
  10. What is your most artistic skill?
  11. Who has been the most influential person in your life (non family version)?

Here are the rules:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
  6. Post back here with a link after you write this.

SelfieI won an award yesterday and when I took to the stage to accept it, I turned my back to the crowd and took the”selfie” to the left.

The award is serious.   I was not.  Well…kind of.  Perhaps Dean Shareski has finally rubbed off on me.  At last year’s ISTE he appropriately pushed back and reminded me that it’s okay to have fun, that not everything has to be serious, that there was value in seeking joy.  His post, Why Joy Matters, is one that should be read regularly (Here’s Dean’s Tedx Talk on the topic).  So, yeah, I wanted to have a bit of fun.  It may have been interpreted as obnoxious, but I hope not.  That is not me, and that was not my intent.  To provide more context, here’s the beginning of my 2 minute “Thank You” speech:

Thank you, Pam and thank you to the NHISTE awards committee.


Some of you may know that I am one of the photographers for McAulliffe this year.  I hope you don’t mind if I take the opportunity to fulfill that duty for a moment.


So, I need everyone to sit up straight and look this way.


[Turn back to audience and take "selfie"]


You know, recently Oxford announced that “selfie” was the word of the year, thankfully beating out “twerking” much to chagrin of Miley Cirus.


But the idea of taking a “selfie” is really important in our society today because whether you are taking a selfie with the Pope, with friends, with colleagues, or here in front of this audience it gives us the opportunity to capture context as it is happening and immortalize it forever.  I know that if I had taken selfies over the past 17 years, I would have captured the many exceptional people I have been honored to work with along the way, because while I have never considered myself a technology leader, I have always considered myself an educator who has leveraged technologies, most recently and importantly to connect with and build meaningful relationships with a network of people in whom I have come to depend upon.

So, yeah, I took an “award winning” selfie, just before the Keynote speaker for the day, Jamie Casap took that same stage.  But I took the selfie as was a way to begin thanking those who would have been in my selfies if I had been taking them over the past 17 years, which is why winning this award was so meaningful to me.  Winning gave me the chance to thank Steve, Rachel and Jess for reminding me how hard it is to teach like you are living on the edge of tomorrow.  It allowed me to express gratitude to Andy, who allowed me to be the guinea pig for all new technologies in the school back in my teaching days.  I was able to thank the administrative team at VLACS, who reminds me that doing groundbreaking work is hard, and our CEO Steve, for being nothing short of a world-class leader.  I had the opportunity to thank my beautiful wife Kelli, who 24 years ago attended the prom with a dorky high school kid in a white tux, in the very same hall where that (still) dorky (now) man just took a freakin’ selfie on stage. I got to thank my sister and dad who were sitting in the front row and my mother who is no longer with us, but would have been very proud of her youngest, which made her youngest very happy.

And then later in the day Jamie Casap, the keynote speaker for the day, tweeted this:

So, yeah I took an “Award Winning” Selfie.  If that started a trend and it reminds folks that this is all supposed to be fun and we need to take time to humbly offer our thanks, then maybe being a dork for 10 seconds was okay.

His first practice with us two years ago wasn’t good.  He struggled to finish the warm up lap.  He was last to get to all of the drills, none of which he was able to finish before having to move on to the next one.  Push-ups and sit-ups were near impossible and the end of practice conditioning was painful to watch.  But, he ended the practice with a smile on his face and a promise to return the next day.  And he did.  Still sore from day 1, he struggled again to get through practice, but he made it through, smiled and said, “see you tomorrow coach.”  And he did.  Day after day, practice after practice, he kept coming back.  Each day getting a little better than the day before.

Still, as the season approached, he wasn’t nearly ready or able to play regularly in a game.  We would make sure he got into the games, but after just a few plays, he would be tired and ready for a break. Still, he arrived at practice every day with a smile on his face and ready to work hard.  As the season progressed, we all got to learn he had a special personality and a quick wit.  When the coach asked if the team had cheerleaders, he announced, “I’m all over that coach!”  Or when the coach kiddingly said that someone was going to screw up the snap count, he shouted, “I’m prepared to do push-ups, coach!” only to be followed by, “would you like me to do them here or come back to the huddle first?” when he actually did screw up the snap count.  When coach announced at the end of one practice that the team would be doing the “wagon wheel”, a tough version of duck-duck-goose in which the kids sprint over a circle of teammates laying on their stomachs,  he mused, “That must suck if your the slowest kid on the team, oh wait a minute…” knowing that in fact he was the slowest kid on the team.

By mid year, he had won over the hearts of his teammates and the coaching staff.  He still wasn’t playing a lot, but the improvements in his conditioning and skills were noticeable.  His smile and quick wit never went away, even as we struggled through a tough schedule.  He was everyone’s biggest supporter, the first to give high fives, pats on the back, and words of encouragement to anyone and everyone.  The biggest play of the season for him was a sack, which was followed by an impromptu sack dance that had everyone laughing.  By the season’s end I remember saying, “I hope he comes back next year.  He needs football in his life,” because he had improved so much during the year.  After the final game, we told him that he needed to continue to work on his conditioning, that while he had come a long way, he couldn’t allow himself to fall back during the off season.  We challenged him to make himself a better athlete.

When this season started, he came back an different person.  He was thin, fit and more athletic.  He still wasn’t the fastest, quickest, or strongest on the team, but he was finishing the drills, running laps, and managing conditioning as well as any 13 year old could.  He was physically changed, a combination of physical maturity and an off season working out with a trainer.  When the season started, he was a starting two-way tackle.  The year prior, he struggled to play 5 plays in a row, this year he was barely coming off the field.  By mid season he was the team’s de facto captain, leading calisthenics for all 120 seventh and eighth grade students.  And he didn’t lose his sharp tongue, either.  When his teammates started counting out the stretches in spanish, his quick wit ended that quickly with, “C’mon guys, they don’t play football in Mexico!  Do it right!”.

It was a no brainer to have Fred carry on the tradition of having an 8th grade player speak at the end of year banquet.  So, when Fred courageously stood in front of a crowd of 400+ (including a very proud mom) and thanked his coaches and teammates for, “picking me up and dusting me off” after the passing of his father mid way through the season, their wasn’t a heart untouched or a dry eye in the house.  He spoke of how moved he was when the sea of white jerseys entered the funeral home for his father’s wake.  He thanked his teammate who brought him cookies, and made the crowd laugh when he said, “whoever thought of baking an oreo cookie inside of another cookie is a genius.” and he thanked his coaches for rides to and from games and supporting him during his time of need.  He even specifically thanked one coach for being his dad’s best friend.

Fred walked off that stage to a standing ovation.  Mom was standing, wiping tears from her face, proud of the strength with which her little boy spoke.  Parents were standing because of his brave words.  His teammates and coaches were standing because of his brave heart.  Fred had turned himself into more than an athlete this year, he turned himself into a young man.

It’s a wonderful thing when kids teach us lessons.  I was wrong about Fred when I said that he needed football, because we needed Fred.  We needed his effort, we needed his personality, we needed his support, and I needed his reminder that kids have the amazing capacity to meet the expectations of caring adults.  In the wake of a sorrow no thirteen year old should experience, Fred grew into the emotional leader of our team.  Our boys went undefeated in the playoffs, including two upsets to two teams that had beaten us handily in the regular season.  Winning the league championship was satisfying, but for me the lasting legacy of this season will be Fred and the lessons of bravery, humility and dedication that he taught us all.



It’s been a while since I have written in this space.  That wasn’t the plan, it just happened and as it did, it was harder and harder to get back here.  Writer’s block?  Laziness?  Pride?  I’m not sure what got in the way, but allow me to briefly get you caught up with the past few months…

We continue to work hard on the house we bought almost a year ago.
The kids are swimming, dancing, playing instruments, and playing sports (and this and this).
My school won a massive competitive grant which requires us to redesign everything this fall.
My wife’s company is in the midst of a major acquisition which means she is on the road more than in the past.
I’ve been using my free time to explore my passion for photography. (or like this)

All of this has resulted in a too busy schedule for our family and has meant that my time here and in other online spaces has been compromised.  I say too busy fully acknowledging that this is not really a problem.  Truth is, I would not want it any other way and I am by no means complaining.  I feel incredibly blessed to be too busy.

But when this email arrived in early October, it served as a great reminder as to how important this space has been for me:

Dear Tony,

Congratulations!  You have been nominated for the Susan Janosz Technology Impact Award presented by New Hampshire Society for Technology in Education (NHSTE).

A colleague of mine, without my knowledge, nominated me for this award and wrote the following for consideration by the committee:

I’m not sure if Tony’s more known for being an introvert, administrator, blogger, Tweeter or photographer.  Tony is really good at a lot of things!  My favorite aspect of Tony is that he trusts the process in both his professional and personal life, and is transparently reflective about his process…Tony has been the most influential and inspirational leader I have ever worked for, which is why I keep following him.   

It’s often said that the rewards of teaching come much later in life, well after your students have moved on and in the places you least expect it.  Like the time I was walking through Lowe’s and a former student of mine stopped me to say “hi” and tell me how she remembered my class in particular.  Or the parent who stopped me at a hockey rink and told me how she still remembered the end of the year slide show I would do for the kids.  Or the man who now works at Staples (and looks totally different) who remembers when we used Palm Pilots and heart rate monitors to study the cardiovascular system.  Those quick conversations, as clandestine as they were, validated the long nights, early mornings, and hard fights we had to do what we thought was right in the classroom.

When I got the email nominating me for the Janosz Award, it was similarly validating for me.  It validated the path that connective technologies have led me on since July 2009.  The path that led me to connect with incredible educators all around the world.  The path that led me to many conferences and the many friendships along the way.  While life is happening, and will continue to happen, the nomination process provided a much need reminder for me of how important it is to make and maintain meaningful relationships along the way and to live up to the words in my colleague’s nomination and return to being transparently reflective in my leadership.  Frankly, I think I do my job better when I am.

This November 6th email from the Chair of the awards committee was just icing on the cake:

Hi Tony

… congratulations on winning the 2013 Susan Janosz Technology Impact Award!  I’m so excited for you!

On December 4th I will receive the award at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference, but in reality I’ve already won.  Having the opportunity to do the work that I love, with people I have the utmost respect for, and being able to connect with so many others in this community, has provided me with more rewards than I could have ever imagined.  And now, with this wonderful reminder from my colleague, I am ready to be transparently reflective again.

Respectfully back.


I wrote the following in an email today:

Just because kids will work hard and do whatever we ask them to do doesn’t [automatically] mean we should be asking them to do what it is we are asking them to do.


I read a lot of “my’s” in the blogs I read.  As in:

I look forward to meeting my staff at our first day of school tomorrow.

I can’t wait to meet my kids this year.

My school is up for an award.

My classroom is almost ready for my kids to arrive.

Maybe I’m being picky here, but I do wonder how we build a culture of “us” in our schools if we claim personal ownership of everything.

(The second post in my back-to-school series)

Don’t smile til’ Christmas.

That was the first bit of advice given to me by my mentor teacher* nearly 20 years ago.

Set the tone early.

It’s easier to ease up than get more strict.

Let them know you mean business.

Imagine if the only way we could establish culture in our classroom was to not smile?  How inhuman is that?

Fifty-five percent of communication is non-verbal.  Knowing that, I can’t accept that the majority of communication with students needs to be smile-less.  Till Christmas?  No way.

My advice to all new teachers: smile early, smile often.  Let your students know that your classroom is a positive place to be.  A warm place.  A welcoming place.  A learning-focused culture, one that includes hard work and high expectations can still be set, but one doesn’t have to eliminate half of their emotional arsenal to do so.  Having interviewed hundreds of teaching candidates, I can tell you that personality and determining the right “match” are a large part of the hiring process.  There is no doubt that you were hired because of the human you are, be sure to let your students experience that.     I know that I want my children to know you are real people.

But kids, you have a responsibility too.  You have to know that your teachers are human.  They are moody.  They smile.  They laugh.  They get angry.  They sometimes are not in a good way. They make mistakes.  Just like you.

On their bad days, they don’t have it out for you.  They definitely don’t hate you.  They’re having a bad day. Come back tomorrow, they’ll be smiling again.

They’re human.  Just like you. 


*This person also told me, “I have 21 years experience.  9 more and I’m outta here!”  I told myself that day that I didn’t ever want to be trapped in my job.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve done so many different jobs in education.


Related Post:

Teachers:  Try Something New

Delivering that Long Lost Love Letter