ASCD Part 1: Conversation with Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Last Sunday, I joined a group of bloggers interviewing educational authors and experts at the ASCD Conference here in Philadelphia. I’ll share some of the highlights in a series of posts.

First, I’d like to share a video interview with Heidi Hayes Jacobs–author and editor of Curriculum 21 and a personal hero and inspiration–who discussed a few of her rules. To watch, click below or visit

When discussing students with colleagues, you can raise any professional issue, but only when it’s done with the best interest of student in mind. Heidi suggests using the strategy of imagining the student (let’s say her name is Haley) sitting in an empty chair in the room.

And when you act, you need some data or some research to support what you are doing. It can be observational. But, you can’t do something just because it feels good or based on habit.

Regarding technology, you have to show me how it’s good for kids not to use technology. Not using available technology is like going to a doctor who says, “Oh, I’ve heard of X-rays.” It’s not okay. The first issue is not your comfort. It’s a no-brainer. These kids are in the 21st century. The question isn’t whether, it’s how.

Heidi doesn’t find resistance. Teachers and administrators want to do stuff, they just don’t know where to start. They are feeling the pressure of ridiculous paper trails.

If kids use, Visual Thesaurus,WolframAlpha they’re going to do better because they can do things that antiquated (not classical) teaching can’t do. These tools help students learn independently.

We’ve created dependencies. The missing adverb is independently. It is important that Haley is able to do things independently. Ultimately, you want Haley to balance an equation without you, to edit a complete sentence without you. One fellow blogger suggested, you as a teacher should aim to be obsolete for that learner by the end of the year.

Teachers need to grow beyond their habits. Doctors take an oath. They don’t say, every September I am going to give you my favorite medicine whether you need it or not. Would any parent take kids to a doctor using techniques of the 70s and 80s? It’s not okay.

Staff development must be differentiated.

Heidi describes a quadrant, to help group teachers and allow them self-select and learn. The quadrants represent levels of technology comfort and curriculum writing strength.

To accomplish teacher growth for teachers with strong abilities, sometimes we need a lab, which really means one or two colleagues sitting next to each other. If you have teachers new out of college, good with technology and not experienced with curriculum writing, they need a workshop.

If you are high at both, you need self-tutorials, feedback and models and opportunities to share. If you have people on your faculty who are low in both quadrants, those teachers will need a lot of support and, perhaps, a career change.

Heidi is impressed with the edcamp movement. Mary Beth Hertz, an edcamp founder, noted that it is as important to differentiate for teachers as we do for kids. We’re all learners.

We adults have more in common with Haley than Haley has with little Susie who is just entering kindergarten. She will be learning and growing up with touch technologies. The big disparities will be related to access to touch technologies.

I am very sorry for the poor sound quality of the interview. If you don’t have the patience to tune out the very loud man in the background, you may enjoy Heidi’s TEDxNYED talk, in which she asks, For what year are you preparing your students?

Joyce Valenza is the Teacher-Librarian at Springfield Township High School, author, and technology advocate. Read her SLJ NeverEndingSearch blog here.