My Call to Educators for Leadership Day


Last year I participated in Scott Mcleod's Leadership Day project with an overview of the NETS for Administrators that I felt were most important and a video of some of my campers talking about technology in their inner city schools.

A year later I have grown exponentially as a teacher and as a person as a result of being connected with educators and Administrators all over the world. I call some of these Administrators colleagues. This has greatly changed my perspective on what an Administrator's role is as well as what the challenges are of being an Administrator. I have also come to realize that Leader and Administrator do not always mean the same thing. I have met many Leaders who do not run schools or districts (and I have met Administrators that were not necessarily Leaders).

I thought about this while reading Jon Becker's Leadership Day post.  In his post he lists award winners in various education organizations. These are highly regarded thinkers in education who have a lot of influence on policy and practice. Powerful thinkers that I had never heard of.
He called on these organizations and individuals to step up their game by becoming more transparent about what they do and say through social media like blogs. I would say that we who consider ourselves leaders or aspire to be education leaders who are 'in the trenches' need to do the same. How many of the people on that list know the people I consider leaders? 

Social media has connected me with educators all over the globe as well as thinkers and doers like Alfie Kohn, Howard Rheingold and Diane Ravitch. Granted, there are those that would argue that these are famous names, but not great thinkers in education.  However, they are famous and respected by many.  So it seems the logical next step is for these award winning thinkers to join the online community. We want our president to be transparent. We rally for more a more open government. Why are we not rallying for a more open conversation between the educational thinkers, the doers, the leaders, the people in the trenches, the parents, the students, the teachers?

The challenge may fall back to  the old 'us vs. them' situation. But isn't that why we love social media so much? It tends to tear down those titles and walls, allowing for a free flow of ideas. I can tweet Barack Obama (though Lord knows who's reading it!) Earlier in the year my friends were debating back and forth with Governor Chris Christie on Twitter about the education reforms he was pushing in New Jersey (again, who knows who they were really tweeting with!).  Let's bring more people into the conversation.

As Jon suggests, look up some of the thinkers on that list. Start blogging about what you find or read. Start talking about their ideas in the context of what you do on a daily basis. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" as they say. People are always interested when they are being talked about!

"But who cares what I have to say? I'm not a true Leader in education," you say?

If you are a teacher who finds that others tend to listen to you when you speak, you are a Leader. If you are an administrator who works alongside his or her staff and has a true vision for your school, you are a Leader.  Bring attention to what you are doing in your school, your classroom or your district through blogs, videos, press and even direct contact. Make it so that the people on Jon's lists know who you are just like you know who they are.  As Leaders in your respective worlds, you are doing a disservice to your individual causes by not connecting your two worlds.

image courtesy of dunechaser on flickr

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My Top 10 To-Do List for Administrators


Thanks to Scott McLeod for continuing the series!

10)  Read Curriculum 21, edited by Heidi Jacobs with your staff, discussing it using the ASCD Study Guide and familiarize yourself with the National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators

9)  Try to visit every classroom in your school at least once a week, even if only for a few minutes. Talk to students and teachers about what they are doing.

8)  Offer differentiated professional development. Do this by asking your teachers what THEY want to learn or what they are struggling with. Don't offer the same training to everyone, rather base it around their needs.

7)  Use your teachers as your best resource. Allow your staff members to run professional development based on their own expertise in the classroom. Hold an all-day or half-day 'unconference' in your building where teachers decide the content and teach it. Don't bring in expensive experts to train your teachers unless you have to. 

6)  Choose one digital tool to try out that will make your job easier. Maybe email your daily announcements or complete your observations on a laptop or iPad. Create a Google Form to collect information from your staff or students.  Start a blog to announce school events and initiatives and celebrate student achievement. For examples of administrators who blog, click here.

5)  Reflect on your school's Vision and Mission. What do you want your school to be known for? How will your school's mission ensure that you are preparing students for the future? What should teaching look like in your school?

4)  Don't just buy flashy technology because the district next door did it. They may be kicking themselves in a few years. Think about your Vision and Mission. How will technology fit into the picture? Do your research and take your time when making decisions on large purchases.

3)  Make tough decisions. As principal Eric Scheninger says, there will always be naysayers.  Do what you know is right for your students and your staff.

2)   Support your teachers who are using technology in innovative ways and use them as resources to support their colleagues with technology integration. For those staff members who are reluctant, pair them with a technology-using teacher as a mentor and model how you use technology in your every day life. If these teachers don't see how technology fits into their personal life they will not see a purpose for using it in their classrooms.

1)  Be vocal. Connect with other administrators whether it be through Twitter or a network your district already has in place. Share ideas, share successes, share failures. Be a voice for your students, your faculty, your parents and your community. Contact the local press when you are having an event or see an especially innovative project going on in your school. Make sure your school's website is up to date, accurate and engaging. Start a Facebook page for your school and a Twitter account. Be out there.

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The Grading and Assessment Conundrum


This weekend I attended ntcamp, an unconference for both veteran and new teachers aimed at providing conversation for new teachers to learn from veteran teachers.  I sat in on a session facilitated by Jason Bedell about grades that proved to be a thought provoking one.

He created a collaborative document that holds a lot of the thoughts, reflections and reactions from the session. You can access it here.

It really got me thinking about my own grading practices, which I have always struggled with. Part of the struggle has been trying to give grades to almost 300 students that I see once a week for 45 minutes (if I'm lucky).  Part of it is just an underlying feeling that I'm not 'doing it right.'

I tend to focus on project based learning with rubrics as an assessment. I create the rubric first, outlining the learning goals and creating descriptors to support what they would look like from basic understanding to mastery. My rubrics are constantly being revised, reworded and reworked. While the project is still in progress I make notes on changes to make as I see fault with the scale or descriptors or if I find that wording is unclear. Still, I feel that I'm just not 'doing it right.'

So I wonder: Is this because I haven't figured it out? Is there something inherently wrong with giving students grades? Or maybe this feeling is just a necessary evil?

My struggles:

  • Even with very specific descriptors that spell out the requirements for each criteria I often find myself wondering how objective my grading really is
  • I always have students who don't finish the project in time for the end of the marking period--why should they be penalized just because they work more slowly than their neighbor?
  • By teaching with a standard rubric I am using the same expectations for students who are not all the same. I do modify the rubric for students with IEPs, but usually it's just a matter of deleting a criteria to simplify the project.
  • How do I get my students to look beyond the grade when I give them feedback?
  • How do I assess my students the way I think is best within the constructs of the system I am forced to use?
  • Is it OK for me to be instilling in my students the idea that they are only as good as someone else (me) tells them they are?
  • How do e-portfolios, having students develop rubrics, student self-assessment and having students explain their understanding of a standard verbally or in written form (all ideas I've been hearing) play out at the elementary level?

What I am going to try:

  • Using LiveBinders to have my students start an e-portfolio that we can add to each year. Students would choose what items will go into the portfolio
  • Sitting with students while they explain how their portfolio item(s) meet the standard(s)
  • Collaborating with classroom teachers to incorporate content standards into my projects
  • Making standards transparent to my students and having discussions that will help me assess understanding
  • Keeping individual records on students to track progress--it should be easier this year since I won't be teaching 400 students a week!
  • Allowing students as much time as they need to complete assignments
  • Letting students revise a project until it meets the highest criteria
  • Have students tell me the grade they think they deserve with a justification (perhaps by having students record their grade explanations as an mp3 to hand in digitally)
  • Allowing for group work that will provide students the opportunity to use their strengths and learn from their peers.
  • Designing learning experiences that allow the students choice and that are based on real-life situations

Still unsolved:

  • How to quantify these assessments so they fit into a gradebook/report card
  • How to introduce and explain these kinds of assessments to my students
  • If I let my students take as much time as they want, what do I do if they haven't finished by the end of the marking period?
  • If I am going to ask my students to explain their understanding of a standard that means I will still have to have deadlines of some kind
  • I will have to plan for time for the self-assessments--this will take away from instructional time
  • How will I convey expectations to my students? Will I still need to have a rubric of some kind?
  • How will I create these 'authentic' learning experiences while allowing for student choice and meeting standards?

I'm still on the fence about grades. I know that something is not right, but I also know that we are working within a system that is based on quantifying student learning.  My students will need grades to be able to get into a good high school (in Philadelphia you can apply to competitive high schools) and definitely to get into a good college. In addition, students want to know if what they are creating is any good. We all know that feeling when we thought we really had something good only to find out it was only mediocre. Some of my most memorable teachers were able to give me useful and honest feedback while also asking questions to push me further. Eventually, though, this feedback ended in some kind of evaluation in the form of a grade.  In addition, we spend our adult lives being rated on some kind of scale, whether it be your quarterly review or a formal observation or a raise,

On the other hand, it wasn't the grade that I remember, it was the feedback process. So I guess I want that experience for my students. I want them to be more interested in the conversation around a concept and dialogue of learning than how I rate them on some seemingly arbitrary scale that I have concocted so that I can put a letter or number in a box.

So what are you struggling with? What are you going to try to do differently next year? What are your thoughts on grades?

For more about abolishing grades here are some resources/ideas

Joe Bower--Abolishing Grading and The Grading Moratorium
Matt Townsley -- The Tenets of Assessment/Grading Reform (guest post)
Alfonso Gonzalez -- Why Grade to Assess?(guest post)
Jason Bedell's Summer Series on Assessment

 photo courtesy of pjern on Flickr
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What's Really New in Education?


Maybe it's because it's summertime or maybe it's the general atmosphere of education these days, but the online education community has been a flutter with talk of what needs to change in education.

What I'm wondering is how much of this is new or different than years past. I am fairly young, so my memory is short in comparison with those who have been teaching longer than I have. In a conversation with my mother the other day she mentioned that many of the changes to education that I was mentioning mirror the attitudes and reforms of the late 1960's and 70's.

Honestly, my one course in the history of schools and schooling didn't really do the whole picture justice, so my own understanding of trends in education is limited. However, it is becoming clear to me that what many great minds in 21st Century education transformation are discussing is nothing new. John Dewey wrote about learning as a social process at the turn of the century just as we tout the power of social media to change education as we know it. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky's theories along with Dewey's are credited with inspiring the Constructivist learning theory that describes knowledge as being constructed by the learner.  This theory is behind many 1:1 laptop programs that support individualized learning. In addition, Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, proposed in the last century, is often referenced when discussing how digital tools of this century can support and transform student learning.

So what really is new in education for this century?

Is the issue really that even with all of these supported theories and innovative thinking that schools have not changed to reflect these theories? Or is the issue that educators are revolting against the No Child Left Behind Act and the widespread standardized testing that goes against these theories? Or is it the recent Race to the Top initiative that bears a close resemblance to the changes proposed by the A Nation of Risk study from the early 1980s?

I believe we live in a time like no other history. I believe that education has to evolve to meet the challenges of this world. However, I wonder how much of what we do fundamentally as educators really needs to change. It seems that we still quote theorists of old when we talk about teaching in the 21st Century.

So what can we learn from the past? Are we taking the time to look back at what others have accomplished or the struggles and challenges they encountered or are we too focused on the future?  I think we should not have the misconception that the changes that we discuss and the ideas we have are necessarily new.  The tools, yes, but not the underlying theories and pedagogy.  I am intrigued by this paper I came across describing the "social- and cognitive-connectedness schemata" as a way to describe what learning looks like in the 21st Century.

I think it is undeniable that technology has changed the way we think and process information. I am looking forward to reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr for that reason. 

Perhaps nothing is really new in education when it comes to theories because we are, for lack of a better term, at a tipping point in education. We know that we are cognitively being changed by the digital tools in our lives, but how we are changing is not quite certain yet. It may take a whole century for these changes to deeply affect how we teach and how we learn, or they may not change anything at all.  At this point in time I would argue that we don't need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to what we do in our classrooms. I would also argue that the advent of digital tools have helped support the theories of the last century.

What are your thoughts?

photo courtesy of Mark Brannan on Flickr
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The Charter School Dilemma


I am an avid reader of The Philadelphia Public Notebook, a non-profit newspaper and website dedicated to all things related to public education in Philadelphia. The most recent issue focused on Charter Schools. This piqued my interest as I will be going to a Charter School next year after almost 7 years in the Philadelphia School District.  I read an article about the expansion of Charter Schools in Philadelphia and began scanning the comments. What I found was a not so friendly debate about the Charter School movement. Immediately what upset me the most was that two of the commenters were using Anonymous or other pseudonyms--a pet peeve of mine.  To see the full conversation you can check out the article and the comments here.

I felt the need to respond as I was disheartened by the unkind banter coming from "Anonymous." I posted this:

Here was the response:

I responded as such:
(I have posted it here as text so it is easier to read)


Is this the same Anonymous from the first conversation above?

I will first reply to your question: "What do you expect to gain from working there?"

I will gain:
  • being treated like a professional, not a cog in a wheel
  • having a say in what I teach, when I teach it and how I teach it
  • knowing that when my colleague is not towing the line or if his/her teaching is doing a disservice to his or her students that he or she will be let go (yes, I am prepared to be blasted for that statement)
  • working with a team that is dedicated to a clear mission and vision
  • not having to teach scripted programs for 2 hours a day
  • knowing that I am not being governed by a non-elected School Reform Commission run by the State
  • not wasting hours of instructional time giving my students benchmark tests that are not a true reflection of their learning (not to mention the hours of instructional time spent teaching them how to take these tests along with the PSSA prep)
I am a little confused by your grouping of Charters as 'they.' Charters are all very different. For instance, there are Charters like Mastery and KIPP that are very discipline oriented and are focused on academics and test scores. There are Charters like Independence Charter whose students take full immersion Spanish classes whether it is their native language or not. There are Charters like New Foundations whose curriculum is focused around Service Learning and whose teachers attend national conferences based on teaching Project Based Learning.

You cannot lump all Charters together is my point. They are not a united front by any means.

That said, if all of Philadelphia's public schools had the freedoms given to Charters or even traditional model schools like Penn Alexander, or perhaps if being an Empowerment school actually meant being empowered and not weighted down with rules, regulations and scripted programs I would stay in the district. Unfortunately, the schools that are the most desirable are often protected by the transfer process & tenure or are highly competitive (100 applicants for one position) or no one ever leaves unless they retire. Many of these schools that are site-select only start interviewing before the site-selection process even officially starts, so unless you know someone you are SOL.

As for funding, I too am saddened at watching funding disappear for the arts. However, I wouldn't blame it all on Charters. This is happening all over the country. Partially due to redirected funds, partially due to high stakes testing that does not included these subjects and partially due to the money put out for expensive programs to help raise test scores. It doesn't help that Ackerman got a $65,000 bonus or keeps creating new positions at the top to support her.

As for rallying against Charters, why don't we start rallying FOR the things that will make Charters unnecessary? More choice for schools in how they run themselves, more flexibility for and trust in teachers, a comprehensive study of whether giving students a standardized test every 6 weeks will really help instruction or whether formative assessment can suffice. More high quality, differentiated professional development to ensure that quality instruction is going on in ALL classrooms and accountability for those administrators and teachers who don't tow the line?
I would love to hear people's thoughts on my response or any other parts of the conversation, even if you don't agree with me.

Just keep it civil and don't post as "Anonymous." :)
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ntcamp 2010 PLN Panel


I have been graciously asked by Andrew Marcinek to participate in a panel at ntcamp 2010 on Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) with my friends and colleagues Tom Whitby, Kyle Pace and Steven Anderson. One of the most important resources that a new teacher can have is other teachers.  Without a strong base of support, many new teachers leave the profession or find themselves overwhelmed.  Building a PLN, whether it be within their own building or through online tools like Twitter, blogs and Nings is vital not only for new teachers but for all teachers.

As a panel we want to make sure we address what the attendees want to hear. Andrew has put together a Wallwisher to crowdsource some questions and topics for us to address as a panel.

Please add to the Wallwisher with some guiding questions or discussion questions for us!

For more on PLNs: 

Why everyone needs a great PLN
What Makes a PLN Valuable to You?
5 Things You Can Do to Begin Developing Your PLN
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ntcamp 2010


In a little under 2 weeks I will be attending ntcamp 2010 in Philadelphia. What is 'ntcamp' you ask?

 Here's the run down:

  • an unconference modeled after edcamp and barcamp 
  • a day of conversation based around topics relevant for new teachers (ntcamp!)
  • a day of participant-run sessions
I was an organizer of the inaugural edcamp unconference here in Philly and I have been ecstatic watching them spread all over the country. I am even more excited to have the first edcamp for new teachers to be held here in Philadelphia!

Why should I attend ntcamp?

As a true unconference, ntcamp is FREE. It is free from vendors. It is free from death by PowerPoint. Best of all, it is free of charge.  Sessions are scheduled the morning of the conference by the attendees themselves. If a session doesn't live up to your expectations or you are free to 'vote with your feet' and choose a different session. Sessions are informal and are a great way to meet other educators with a passion for what they do.  Often, conversations extend past the session's time limit into the hallways or lunch.

Who should attend ntcamp?

As the name suggests, ntcamp is geared toward new teachers.  However, there really is no limit to who can and can't attend. Anyone who is invested in education is welcome.  Ideally, a veteran teacher would be able to bring a new teacher with him or her to experience the varied discussions and resources shared.

How can I register?

You can register at TicketLeap.

For more on unconferences
Another unconference by Lisa Thumann
Wikipedia definition of unconference
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The Power of Words


One of the most practical and powerful books I've ever read as a teacher that has directly affected my practice is The Power of Our Words by Paula Denton.  In it, Denton describes, using specific examples, how what we say and the words we choose with students can transform our teaching and our classroom.  It did for me.

This past week at ISTE 2010, the largest educational technology conference of its kind in the world, there was a lot of talk about a session (I'm not sure who ran it or what it was called. If you do, please tell me in the comments!) in which the leader did not let the participants use the word 'but.'  For instance, you couldn't say "I would love to use technology in my classroom BUT I don't have enough resources." you would have to say "I would love to use technology in my classroom AND I'm looking for grant opportunities to bring resources into my classroom."

It's amazing how changing that one little word can change your entire outlook on a situation.

So I challenge you: When you start to hear yourself say 'but....,' STOP. Think. Reword your statement to reflect a positive outlook.

For more about overcoming negativity, read this post by Carla Arana called Say NO to Change, which addresses how we need to change our attitudes about change.

photo courtesy of Dunechaser on Flickr
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Turning Words into Action: Part 2--Be Heard


Tonight's #edchat conversation both invigorated me and irritated me at the same time. Don't get me wrong, it had nothing to do with #edchat itself, but rather the topic. We have talked ad nauseam about reforming education. We have hashed out what needs to be done, what education should look like and why it's important that we DO something.

So where do we start? How do we start?

As I was watching the tweets go by I began to think: we have a huge community that participates in #edchat. A huge community of taxpayers, parents, community members and educators.

To really move our words into action we need to start with those who make policy--our legislators.

I have drafted an open letter to a legislator that can be edited to fit the needs of any local community. The letter could also be adjusted to be sent to President Obama or Secretary Duncan.

The idea is to use the Google Doc to collect signatures. The understanding would be that once the letter's body has been agreed upon it would not be changed,  but people could add their name at the end of the letter.

The letter can be passed around using Twitter, Facebook, email or any other digital method until the desired amount of signatures is acquired. The letter can then be downloaded as a Word document and forwarded to the legislator. I'm hoping to get 200 signatures of parents, teachers, admins and other community members once a version of the letter has been refined for my local community.  It is vital that all stakeholders are represented in the digital signatures!

Make your voice heard!

Copy the letter to your own Google Doc and get the message moving!

Of course, I don't claim that this letter is perfect or speaks for everyone. It is a template to start from.

I'm hoping to get at least 25 people to commit to starting the initiative.

If you are going to participate, please fill out this Google Spreadsheet so we can track our progress and our reach.

Thanks and keep fighting the good fight!

For more information on how to find your local legislators:

Find your state Senator:
Find your Congressman/woman:

photo courtesy of hebedesign on Flickr
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The Philadelphia Public School Notebook


If you are a teacher, parent or anyone invested in education in the Philadelphia area, I want to introduce to THE source of information for what's going on in public schools in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook is "a nonprofit news service serving thousands of supporters of the Philadelphia public schools. The Notebook serves as an information source and voice for parents, students, teachers, and other members of the community who are working for quality and equality in Philadelphia's public schools." (from their website)

There you can find blog posts, editorials, news stories and resources for parents, teachers and community members. It is updated almost daily.  If anything, you can learn from reading the comments on many of the articles. The Notebook is tuned into the heartbeat of the public school system and its readers are real people who reflect the community at large.

Even if you're not a Philadelphia teacher, parent or community member, it is worth a look.

You can also follow them on Facebook, where they often post current stories.

Disclaimer: I am listed on their blogroll. I do not receive any kind of promotion or compensation for appearing there. I am promoting them based solely on the resources and dialogue they provide to the community.
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Is ISTE Still Relevant for Young Educators?


As many of you may know, I was given the honor of being named this year, along with 3 others (Chris Craft, Lisa Sjogren, Adam Bellow), an ISTE Emerging Leader.  My new colleague, Julie LaChance was awarded ISTE's Outstanding Young Educator Award. I was excited to meet the awardees as it was certain that we had something in common and that these were people with whom I should be collaborating.  It turned out that many of us ran in the same circles and that we indeed share a lot of the same goals and motivations.

Before reaching Denver, I had spent a few days with some colleagues vacationing in the calm before the ISTE storm. As the 'baby' of the group, I found that my outlook, goals and passions did not differ from my elders.  One interesting fact I learned was that it seems that ISTE's smallest membership is with educators under 35. A colleague made the observation that perhaps ISTE is irrelevant for younger teachers, who find it commonplace for technology to be integrated into teaching and learning.

I know for a fact that while younger teachers are accustomed to using technology and that there are more technology integration courses being taught, it should not be expected that young teachers are experts in technology integration, receive support in their schools for successful integration or are aware of how technology can transform their teaching. They also may not be aware of trends, policies and projects that are occurring around technology in education.  In addition, ISTE provides a venue for young teachers to meet more veteran teachers who have been successfully integrating technology for years.

That said, there was definitely a small number of attendees at the Young Educators' Network event. I have two theories as to why this is. For one, perhaps we don't want to be labeled.  Being a newish, younger teacher can often hold a stigma.  Younger teachers are seen as novices, even if we don't feel like one.  Secondly, yes, we're young, but one aspect of being a teacher is that your colleagues are of various ages. As such, we're used to hanging with colleagues who are of a different age or generation.

I still think that ISTE is relevant for young educators, and I feel that building a network of young educators is important. The 4 other award winners are people for whom I have a lot of respect. They are accomplished and make a huge impact in the field.  Were it not for the Young Educator's Network, I would not have connected with them.

In addition, as the youngest members of the organization, we hold the future of it in our hands. We hold the future of education and technology integration in our hands. It is up to us to build the future that we want and to ensure that the best practices that we know and share continue while also fostering innovation and global collaboration.  The Young Educator's Network creates a community for us to connect and collaborate.

I do find, however, that even within the Young Educator's community there is a range of experiences and associations. It was easy for us award winners to connect since we were already connected through Twitter or common colleagues.  This makes me start to take the title of Emerging Leader more seriously--even if it is a label tacked on by ISTE.  I do suddenly feel charged with the duty of moving best practices in technology integration and global collaboration forward.  ISTE has provided a network that Twitter, the blogosphere and Ning communities can't always build since not all educators my age are as entrenched in these online communities as I am.

So for those young educators out there, let's take the bull by the horns and stay connected.  It is up to us to decide what the future will hold for our students and our profession.

Please stop by Julie's blog about Young Educators at ISTE here.

You can also join the Young Educators Network here.
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Save Trees: Don't print me!