Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 blog posts of 2013

2013 has been a great year for blogging and has been wonderful for my self-reflection. Hopefully something I've written has caused you or someone else to reflect. :)

Take a look at which blog posts garnered the most attention in 2013:

15,141 pageviews: 10 things I want all new teachers to know

12,115 pageviews: The truth about homework in schools

10,874 pageviews: 8 things we can't accept in education

10,075 pageviews: 10 reasons we need social media in education

10,013 pageviews: 5 ways to make your classroom more student-centered

8,525 pageviews: The 21st century classroom

7,989 pageviews: 7 proven strategies that will help you engage your students

7,778 pageviews: 10 reasons it's a great time to be in education

6,139 pageviews: 8 principal leadership tips for the new year

5,813 pageviews: 10 things we need to remove from education

Happy reading!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Let's make formative assessing a top priority

In our undergraduate courses we all learned about summative and formative assessing. We've also all been to conferences or events that have emphasized the importance of many small assessments to drive our instruction rather than waiting until the end when it may be too late.

Though I think this has all been with good intention, we may have been missing the most important part of formative assessing and feedback.

See, when we focus on this more timely and frequent feedback to change and adjust our instruction, we are focusing on the teacher side of things.

The true beauty and value of more frequent and timely assessments is not just to help guide and drive our instruction, it's to provide frequent and timely feedback for our students so they can take more ownership and control over their learning.

As Marzano so simply stated, "The most powerful single innovation that enhances achievement is feedback."

Flip the scenario... why would any teacher want to use frequent formative assessments?

They are looking for feedback and input to help guide and drive their instruction to hopefully improve student learning.

Now, while we are on the topic of formative assessments, I want to make a few things clear about what formative assessing really is:

Formative assessments are fluid and flow seamlessly in the learning process because they are a part of the learning process. Most situations involving formative assessing are not and shouldn't be for a grade. Formative assessing is similar to what happens in real-life, thus students and their learning won't even skip a beat.

Formative assessing would be like going to the doctor for a preventative check-up and finding out you have high blood pressure. At this check-up you would get feedback and input on how to lower your blood pressure. Formative assessments keep you off the autopsy table when it's too late to fix or prevent the damage.

Formative assessing is about goal-setting and the ownership of the learning process for students via feedback and input both from the teacher and from the students themselves.

Lastly, formative assessing DOES NOT need to be a traditional type of assessment. It can be something as simple as a thumbs up or down activity or a quick scan of the classroom to check student body language and demeanor. DO NOT think you need to have a quantifiable number spreadsheet to do a formative assessment.

Do yourself a favor and most importantly, do your students a favor by utilizing more formative assessments.

Check out these links with several examples of formative assessments:

54 examples for formative assessments via David Wees

Formative assessment techniques to check understanding

Formative assessment strategies

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Are you cooler online than you are in-person...?

Have you ever thought how cool it would be to meet one of your online 'idols?'

We spend time online interacting with folks from all around the world and at times we have pretty in-depth and complex conversations. 

We begin to think we really know these people because these online conversations lead to Google Hangouts which then may even lead to a face-to-face meeting at a conference or even a family vacation where paths may cross.

Naturally, we've developed a preconceived notion of who we think this person is and how they will act in-person.

Then, finally, that face-to-face interaction is planned and you have the opportunity to meet this person.

And then, that person you thought you knew is completely different in-person and isn't quite what you expected.

Maybe this person isn't the 'bigger than life' and outgoing person you thought they would be.

Maybe you left the interaction somewhat let down because the person didn't live up to all the hype you created for them.

Here's the thing... who we are online and who we are in-person may not be the same. The fact that we are online says something about us...

Are you that person who enjoys a Friday evening catching up on reading blogs and following your streams on Tweetdeck?

Are you that person who finds small-talk to be difficult and taxing?

Are you that person who is more comfortable planning things in advance and being mentally prepared for whatever comes your way?

Are you that person at a party who talks with people you already know rather than trying to talk with and meet new people?

As Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) would say, does this make any sense?

Oh, also, I'm 'that person' by the way...

Is it time to stop doing 'common' assessments...?

Most have been using common assessments for quite some time now. The idea in theory is good because teachers can collaboratively develop an assessment that assesses the most important skills that students need to demonstrate in that particular course or grade level.

Once the assessment is complete teachers can then sit down and collaboratively go through the data to determine where a majority of the kids are finding success or perhaps even struggling. This will allow teachers to discuss which activities and instructional strategies they are using that yield the best results in terms of student learning.

Now, like I said, this is all good in theory and common assessments have shown to be effective to some degree.

Most have seen this image before. Most chuckle and give a little laugh when looking at it. Most nod their heads in agreement and question why we force kids to all take the same types of standardized assessments when we know it's not appropriate and an accurate measure.

So, I go back to the title of this blog post... is it time to stop doing common assessments?

If we all agree that this image is not fair and is not an appropriate measure for assessing students, then we have to question the practice of common assessments.

What if as Rick Wormeli believes we started using 'common evidence' as our new assessment practice?

What if teachers worked collaboratively to determine the most important skills and knowledge that should be acquired by students but they gave each other the freedom to determine how best to evidence that learning?

What if teachers had the autonomy to develop their own assessments that are personalized, customized, and differentiated to best meet the needs of their students?

What if students were given the option of choosing an assessment that is most appropriate to demonstrate their mastery of the content?

What if...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Maybe we just need to get out of their way...

Imagine this scenario...

In science class students are getting ready to learn how to use a microscope. The teacher starts by showing a short video about microscopes. The teacher then has each student share one thing they learned about microscopes from the video to the class. Next, the students are given a worksheet to label and correctly identify all the parts of the microscope. Students are then asked to switch their papers so the worksheet can be graded. Finally, students are assigned for homework to read a short story from their textbook on the use and effective operation of a microscope due the next day.

The next day the students are given a verbal quiz on the information that was covered in the reading. Following the quiz, students are paired up and each group of two students is given a microscope. Each group is now responsible for following a very prescriptive set of directions on how to use the microscope. After completing the microscope activity, students are then asked to write a reflective piece on the proper use of a microscope.

I may be wrong (and hopefully I am), but the majority of classrooms probably do something similar to the above scenario as a way to 'introduce' new information and content.

In this scenario, the students get a whole lot of information about microscopes. But, in reality, they most likely won't remember much of what they covered and they definitely wouldn't be able to teach someone else about how to use a microscope.

The information that was covered here was done in isolation and really falls short when it comes to context.

Now, imagine if we took the same scenario but instead flipped everything around and did everything in the complete opposite order.

Imagine if the students were asked to write a reflective piece first and then got the opportunity to explore and navigate a microscope with a partner with a very limited set of directions and guidelines.

Imagine if the students had their interest peaked before ever getting to the nitty gritty type of information and the official terminology and use of a microscope.

Imagine if students had context and meaning to their learning and the learning was not in isolation with no real connection to anything else.

Remember, students don't need every little detail and every little piece of information before they can start learning.

Students are naturally 'primed' and ready to learn... we simply just need to get out of their way.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Is being connected actually disconnecting us?

More and more we hear of the advantages and the ever-growing comforts of being 'connected.'

At times I even struggle to imagine what life would be like without all of this connectedness.

But, in spite of all the wonderful positive advantages of being connected, I worry we may be slowly losing something far greater and far more important.

We've all missed an event that's happening right before our eyes because we were buried in a phone.

We've all told someone to wait while we just finished that last text message, Facebook post or tweet.

We've all spent hours reading about and researching something that we could probably go experience in person.

We've all sent a quick email over the just as simple quick phone call or walk down the hall and face-to-face interaction.

We've all thought that by being more connected we were building better, longer-lasting, and more sustainable relationships.

There's no doubt that being connected is a part of being human, however the means and the tools we use to be connected  must be carefully evaluated and monitored to ensure they are actually helping us achieve our goal.

Take 3 minutes to watch this extremely moving and extremely powerful video by David Bowden on if or whether we are moving toward a hyper connected or disconnected world.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

25 (more) thoughts on teaching and learning...

1). The relationships among the adults in your school have a significant impact on student learning & student achievement.

2). Educators are responsible for their own professional development. You can't & shouldn't rely on someone else for YOUR growth.

3). The simple idea that somebody encourages and believes in you can be hugely empowering. Be that somebody today.

4). A teacher not being attentive to the emotional status of the students in class is approaching educational malpractice.

5). Use your professional educator language with your students; in time, they will too...be a vocal & visible advocate for teaching.

6). When the butt goes numb the brain goes dumb... get your students up and moving in your class!

7). We need to stop giving our new and less experienced educators our most at-risk & challenging students; these kids need our veterans.

8). You need to have intentionality with everything you do; plan with purpose & act with confidence. Avoid reacting out of necessity.

9). The purpose of education is so that younger generations surpass us rather than match us.

10). Our future depends on the individuals who break from the conventional practices.

11). During your plan period, take a few moments to visit other classes where your students are; see them learn in a different setting.

12). When did it become unacceptable to say 'I don't know' and 'I'm not sure.' If we want to prepare kids for life, these statements are normal.

13). If you have to yell & be obnoxiously loud in your class to keep your students awake, maybe you should change the things you are saying first.

14). Every kid needs that one adult in the building who connects with them... are you that one adult for at least one kid?

15). When we refuse to accept an assignment late and give a zero instead, we undermine our content and say it has no value.

16). Your classroom walls are merely a suggestion, not a limitation on learning.

17). Whoever does the editing does the learning... stop giving students the answers and let them own the learning process.

18). In class, make students use the names of other students & do lots of peer critiquing; good things happen when kids know each other.

19). When teachers only teach how they learn best, they are forgetting about how their students learn best.

20). Schools should not be a constant reminder of student deficits; we need to allow students to taste & experience success.

21). If a kid never does any of the work you assign but does wonderfully well on your assessments, then it's time to evaluate the work you assign.

22). Just because something is mathematically easy to calculate doesn't mean it's pedagogically correct.

23). Grades are communication... not compensation.

24). As educators we need to let students go beyond our level of comfort... just because we don't know, doesn't mean students can't.

25). Homework is practice of what has already been learned, not for learning content for the very first time.

Also, feel free to check out the first 20 thoughts on teaching and learning via Rick Wormeli.

I want to give credit to Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli) for these thoughts and comments above. I was fortunate to attend a recent event in which he engaged the entire audience and shared many thought-provoking comments. If you ever get the opportunity to see Rick Wormeli, I highly recommend doing so.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

20 thoughts on teaching and learning...

1). If you allow re-do's & retakes for full credit, extra credit becomes obsolete & irrelevant...

2). An 'F' at the top of the paper means the kid is off the hook; an 'NTY' on the top means 'not there yet.'

3). How did you learn to teach & be an educator? You probably had some re-do's & retakes... why can't we allow this for kids in school?

4). A kid who says 'school sucks and just give me an F' should not be in charge of his/her educational decisions.

5). A D is a coward's F. The student failed, but you didn't have enough guts to tell him.

6). If you trust the validity of your test/assessment, you shouldn't have any problem with re-do's for full credit.

7). We have got to stop using grades & assessments as a 'so-called' motivator; we are destroying any true love of learning.

8). Kids can learn without grades... but they can't learn without descriptive feedback.

9). Sometimes being 'kind' is more important than being 'right.' When a kid needs 'kind,' give them kind... not right.

10). Next time a kid says the wrong answer, ask them to 'tell you more about it.' They will work through their error & not get defensive.

11). Knowing what you are learning is important; knowing where you are in relation to what you are learning is more important.

12). How quickly do you throw a life preserver when a student struggles? Don't let your impatience get in the way of allowing kids to struggle.

13). If we only give students 'pre-filtered' websites, then how in the world will they ever learn how to navigate the web?

14). Watching other teachers teach is hugely valuable. When observing, you think about your classroom, which causes self-reflection.

15). We need to focus on better ways of 'priming' students' brains before asking questions before any learning experience.

16). Please, let's stop taking kids out of P.E. and fine arts classes so they can double up on math or reading remediation classes.

17). Adjust the master schedule to support best practices; don't sacrifice best practices to support the master schedule.

18). Stop asking teachers to turn in their lesson plans to show their 'expertise.' Expertise can't be found in a lesson plan.

19). When teachers create 'curiosity' in their classrooms, kids start to wonder... when they wonder, they want to learn.

20). Teaching is not adversarial... it's not about 'getting' them before they 'get' you. It's us and we.

**I want to give credit to Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli) for these thoughts and comments above. I was fortunate to attend a recent event in which he engaged the entire audience and shared many thought-provoking comments. If you ever get the opportunity to see Rick Wormeli, I highly recommend doing so.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Finish strong... start stronger!

The year is coming to a close.

You've had many successes so far this year and you've noticed huge gains in several areas.

You've also had many setback and stumbles and you've identified several areas that need your immediate attention.

There have been days when you couldn't quit smiling and there have been days that seemed they would never end.

You've had times when you felt you couldn't give anymore because you were stretched to the breaking point.

You've also had times when everything seemed to fall into place perfectly.

Recognizing the ups and downs in life is one thing.

Committing yourself to having the right mindset and a positive attitude to make adjustments and changes is an entirely different thing.

Don't let what has happened in the past interfere with what you want for the future.

Don't settle for what has been when working to write your future plans.

Don't close the book just because the first few chapters weren't what you expected.

Finish this year strong, but focus on starting the next year even stronger.

Which starfish are you going to save?

Also, remember that not every student is going home to an amazing holiday. Be sure to make their week as special as you can... via @drclintfreeman

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A tale of two classrooms...

Think about the classrooms you were in as a young student...

Think about the college and graduate classes you were in or are in as a current student....

Think about your current classroom or the classrooms in the school where you work...

I'm sure you can think of the those awesome classrooms and those classrooms that might not fall in the 'awesome' category.

What's the difference?

What makes one classroom more effective than another?

Is it just the teacher in the classroom?

Is it the teacher and the administration together in the building?

Is it the individual students in that particular classroom?

Is it the support of parents of the students in that classroom?

Or is it something else...

Thanks to @venspired for this great image!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Learning facts, or learning to think...

We've all had the conversation before...

Should we focus on teaching facts, or should we focus on teaching kids how to think?

We can all agree that simple facts and information have become increasingly easy to obtain. The world has had a fundamental shift that has resulted in the value of facts and simple information going down drastically.

Now, I think there needs to be a clear distinction that recognizes that facts and information haven't lost their value in the sense that they are no longer necessary or important. We still need facts and simple information to do things. But, they have lost value in the sense that memorizing a ton of facts is no longer necessary.

So, the question is... do we focus on teaching facts or do we focus on teaching kids how to think?

From where I sit, I believe there needs to be a balance.

I don't think we can completely ignore simple facts and simple pieces of information. Now, don't get me wrong, I feel very strongly that classes that focus just on memorizing facts and simple pieces of information are doing a huge injustice for students. But, in the same breath, I think we need some simple facts and pieces of information before we can properly and effectively create, design, innovate, explore, and discover.

When we talk about kids learning how to think, we are reaching far beyond just knowing simple facts. Kids are going to learn to think as part of the process when they create, design, innovate, explore, and discover. However, for these higher levels of thinking to be the best they can be, kids will need to have some basic foundational pieces of information.

I may be wrong with these thoughts, but I don't think we can go all-in 100% one way or the other... there needs to be a balanced mix.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I wish I could tell you how I really feel...

As a kid we all want to get older because we believe that things will become easier and simpler.

As we all so abruptly find out, life doesn't get simpler with age, it gets more and more complicated.

Life doesn't become more black-and-white, it becomes every shade of grey imaginable.

We soon find out that the simplest and most straight-forward issues become layered in complication and difficulty.

Here's the tricky part as we age... we end up having to play 'games' and we end up having to become masters of manipulation, persuasion, and misdirection.

As youths, we are naive and we assume that everyone is honest and telling the truth at all times.

How far from the truth could we be...

Go back to the most recent conversation or interaction you've had with someone. This can be either someone in your personal life or someone in your professional life.

Were you able to tell them exactly how you felt and were you able to tell them exactly why it is that you felt that way? Were you able to be completely honest with this person?

Now, when we are talking about honesty, please know we aren't talking about a straight-up lie and the straight-up truth. The idea of pure honesty and pure deceit aren't as common as we think they are...

Think about the last time you told someone that you were going to be honest and frank with them... were you really completely honest and truthful with this person or were you still only partially honest about your feelings and thoughts?

Rewind for a moment and go back to when you were a kid.

Think about the pureness and open honesty that comes from the mouths of children...

We all laugh and chuckle about their honesty and simplicity in thinking, but why do we always stop at just laughing about it?

Life is complicated and how we approach life is even more complicated.

Let's all take a page from our younger-selves and bring a little pureness back into the picture.

Let's all do more than just laugh at the honesty of young kids...

Let's encourage young kids and help them not to lose their honesty and pureness as they get older...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Maybe we need to ditch the training wheels...

We've all been new at something at some point in time in our lives.

We all know what it feels like to be on the short end of the knowledge stick.

The experience most likely caused varying degrees of stress and discomfort.

Stress and discomfort are handled differently by each of us, and similarly, each organization handles support and assistance to those who are experiencing stress and discomfort differently.

Imagine the new teacher who is struggling with a challenging student or a challenging parent. Can the administrator swoop in and 'take care' of the situation? Absolutely he/she could, but does that prevent the new teacher from learning how to handle challenging students and challenging parents? Does this new teacher learn that he/she should go to the administration every time they have an issue, or do they learn to troubleshoot, get creative, and think outside the box for possible solutions...

Imagine the new administrator who is struggling with a challenging teacher or a challenging parent. Can the superintendent or assistant superintendent step in and resolve the issue? Absolutely he/she could, but will the new administrator ever learn how to deal with challenging teachers and challenging parents? Will the new administrator inadvertently undermine his/herself by always getting external assistance? In the short term, probably not, but in the long term, the effects could be detrimental...  

Imagine the student who is struggling with solving a problem. Can the teacher or parent step in and provide assistance and walk the student through the process? Absolutely he/she could, but does the student learn about perseverance and learn about multiple paths and avenues to solve a problem? Will this student learn how to get through their struggles in an effort to find a solution, probably not, especially if a teacher and parent are always there with a 'life-line.'

Here's the thing, we all at some point in time need help from someone else, but we have got to be careful about providing too much help too quickly that ultimately ends up stymieing one's growth and development.

When we give people the opportunity to find their own way, we will be pleasantly surprised by the results. Sure, some will get lost along the way, but that's why we work as a team so colleagues can help us find our way again. 

Despite those few who get lost, we will have many others who will excel and reach destinations we never would have imagined.

Go ahead, ditch the training wheels and step back... I think you'll like the results.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Are you getting too big for your britches?

Life has a way of figuring things out...

Life also knows just when to bring you back down to earth so to speak...

Sometimes life will even send you a loud and clear message that hits like a ton of bricks...

If you're lucky, a single moment of discomfort and humility will have the power to change you for a lifetime...

Sometimes the most important lesson comes at the height of your confidence...

Sometimes the further the fall, the longer-lasting the lesson...

Walk confidently...

Be courageous...

Push the envelope...

Do what you know to be right...

But remember and recognize that your position is never quite as strong as you think, and it's never quite as weak as you think.

You are one person with value, but nobody's value is so high they are irreplaceable.

Lead with dignity...

Lead with respect...

Lead with compassion...

Live life with humility...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What you post online WILL be used against you...

Many people (myself included) share quite a bit of information online. Whether it's on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or any of the other social media outlets, we are becoming a society of openness and sharing.

The information being shared ranges from what we had for breakfast all the way to our deepest and purest thoughts about life and our existence.

For myself and many of the readers of this blog, we tend to share some personal information about our lives and then we share a ton of information about our professional lives.

We've all heard the stories of somebody posting something inappropriate online and then being fired. We all know it happens and we might even know someone who it has happened to.

We also know the stories of someone being treated differently, someone falling out of favor, and someone getting a stern talking to as a result of something they've posted online. Though it didn't amount to dismissal, the effects are long-lasting and don't tend to go away quickly.

So, here's the deal, you are being naive if you believe the stuff you post online will never be used against you at some point in time in your life.

Even if you post cute videos of cats all day and every day, someone is going to find a way to use it against you.

Even if you only share 'how to' information specifically focused on improving the lives of others, someone is going to find a way to use it against you.

It might not be tomorrow... it might not be next year... it might not be this job... it might not be your next job...

But, the fact remains that as more information is shared, the more likely it is that something you shared online will be used against you at some point in time in your life.

Now, just so we are all clear and nobody leaves this post confused, I'm NOT recommending we stop posting and sharing information online. I'm merely trying to be frank and realistic.

You've been warned...

Happy sharing!

Monday, November 25, 2013

7 proven strategies that WILL help you engage your students...

1.  Don't just care...really care!

It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own little worlds, but we have got to remember that whatever is going on in our world, is 100 times simpler and less complicated than that of our students.  If a student is having a bad day, or if a student is having a great day, give them the opportunity to tell you about it.  Be interested and actually listen to their stories, because if you can show the students you care, they will trust you, and when they trust you, magical things can happen in an educational setting.  Take an interest in their music, their hobbies, their triumphs and struggles, and use that information to help them.  IF THE STUDENTS DON'T THINK YOU CARE, YOU WILL NEVER MAKE A MEANINGFUL CONNECTION WITH THEM!!

2.  Speak to every student at least once every class period - the more the better!

Try very hard to make sure this is common practice in your classroom.  Even if it is a simple "hello" or "how are you doing?" it can mean a ton to the student.  Additionally, making that early connection in the class period allows that student to feel more comfortable, which as we all know, students must be comfortable for learning to take place.  STUDENTS DON'T LEARN WHEN THEY ARE STRESSED AND UNCOMFORTABLE!!

3.  Meet your students where they are; not where they are supposed to be, or where you want them to be...

This strategy can be really difficult, but if you can master it, it can pay huge dividends in the long run.  Every year you start with new students, with different ability levels, different learning styles, and different attitudes toward education.  We have to meet each student on their level.  Their level means their ability, their learning style, and their attitude toward education.  If we treat every student the same, we CANNOT expect the same results!  Just as a doctor evaluates all of a patient's symptoms and treats the patient accordingly, we must evaluate each student and approach the learning process in a manner which is best suited for that individual student.  FORGET ABOUT USING ONE STRATEGY TO TEACH ALL OF YOUR STUDENTS!!

4.  Have high expectations, and expect the best from every single student every single day!

This is probably one of the toughest in terms of increasing student engagement.  I have found that when you push the students and they know you are pushing them, they engage themselves and respond at a much higher level than if you were giving them review work over and over.  Human nature is to enjoy a challenge and a task that requires more than the minimum.  If your students are disengaged and non-attentive, perhaps they are bored, and they need a challenge to get them going.  Let your students know you have high expectations for yourself, and consequently you expect the best from them too.  NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A CHALLENGE WHEN IT COMES TO STUDENT ENGAGEMENT!! 

5.  Do whatever it takes to get your students out of their desks, and give them every opportunity to be actively moving ! 

Organized chaos is how we should describe our classrooms.  Students need to move, and sitting for 7 hours a day is frankly torture.  Would you want to sit for 7 hours a day and listen to people talk at you...no, I think not.  Try to get your students up and moving every single day.  I am talking about relay races, group work, activities that require building things with their hands, an activity where unused fly swatters are used, and lastly skits and reenactments that make everybody laugh.  THE HUMAN BODY WAS NOT DESIGNED TO SIT ALL DAY!!  

6.  Focus on the three R's - rigor, relationships, and relevance... 

I already talked about rigor (4) and relationships (1), but I wanted to keep all three Rs together.  If the students see no relevance and value in education, then how can we expect them to learn?  We have got to make sure what they are doing in school is practical and relevant, because if we don't we have no shot at engaging them.  Show students the connections to what they are learning and the world in which they live.  Also, use resources to make what they are learning applicable in their current lives, and show them ways to use what they've learned in class.  IF THEY SEE NO VALUE, THEY WILL NEVER BE TRULY ENGAGED!!     

7.  Most importantly...give your students a voice and involve them in the educational process!

Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult things to do in an educational setting, and because it is one of the most difficult, it is one of the most important.  The students know how they learn, they know what they like and dislike, and they hold the key to getting them interested and engaged.  Every day is an opportunity to learn from your students how to do your job more effectively and efficiently.  Students are a free resource that most educators ignore.  Include them in making assignments, teaching lessons, designing rubrics and designing assessments.  What do you have to lose?  They will provide you with a wealth of knowledge, and most importantly, they will be engaged because they are a part of the process.  They now have a voice in how they are educated, as well as how they are assessed...STUDENT INVOLVEMENT = AWESOME!!

Please respond with any additional strategies you use to engage your students.  I would love to add to this list and compile a much larger list to use with new and experienced teachers, as well as teacher growth and development programs.  Thank you in advance for your help!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dear tired teacher...

It happens to everyone at some point in time in their education career.

You know what I'm talking about.

You know I'm not talking about being physically tired.

I'm talking about the other kind of tired.

You've consumed yourself with these thoughts on the way to work as well as on the way home from work.

You've also probably had trouble sleeping at night.

Those around you have questioned if everything is alright.

You've become noticeably agitated at things that typically don't bother you.

You don't go out to social events nearly as often as you used to, and your circle of friends seems to be shrinking.

Excitement and enthusiasm toward the day have been replaced with constant clock-watching in anticipation of the end of the day.

Adults aren't the only ones who've noticed your situation; kids are starting to react.

Things that used to fire you up barely phase you now.

Living in the now has been replaced with living for tomorrow.

Purpose, meaning, and justification are absent from your thoughts.

Dear tired teacher...

There are those around you who have energy to share.

There are countless 'recharge' opportunities that just need a little of your time.

There are students who are counting on you.

There are students who are looking for that person to make a difference in their lives.

Dear tired teacher...

Your students need you to be that person who makes a difference in their lives.

Dear tired teacher...

It's ok to take a nap from time-to-time, but please don't sleep the whole day away...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Being the loudest doesn't mean you're the most intelligent...

~ Studies tell us that 1/3 to 1/2 of Americans are introverts. There is no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert.

~ Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking. They enjoy the thrill of the chase for rewards like money and status.

~ Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They are relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame. They prefer environments that are not overstimulating and 70% are also sensitive. They may be shy, which is a painful condition.

~ People tend to assume that loud people are more intelligent. When forceful people carry the day, a lot of good ideas from the introverts can get lost. 

~ Introverts are more likely to reveal more of themselves via social media. They welcome the chance to communicate digitally and can now contribute in classes where they don’t have to raise their hand and talk. 

~ Extroverts get better grades in elementary school, but introverts outperform in high school and college. At the university level, introversion predicts academic performance better than cognitive ability.

~ Opposites are often drawn to each other. One tends to talk as the other listens.

~ Don’t try to change a kid. Expose children to new situations and people gradually. Note and respect their limits. Never call a child shy.

~ Schools should prepare kids for life, but often kids need to be prepared for surviving schools, which are often designed for extroverts. Teachers should balance their lessons to allow for both types. 

What are you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Take the quiz:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Are you the 'Twitter' guy or gal at your school?

I've been thinking a lot about Twitter lately. Part of this is because some in my district have referred to me as the 'Twitter' guy.

At first I thought nothing of it and I was actually a little proud that somebody took the time to refer to me as something other than my official role in the district.

But, as the 'Twitter' guy acknowledgement continued, I started to think about if that was really who I wanted to be and what I wanted to be known for.

Now, I'm not saying I'm not proud of being on Twitter and I'm definitely not saying that I will stop being a vocal advocate for Twitter.

I'm also not interested in putting an end to my tweeting anytime soon!

Twitter has had and continues to have a profound and significant impact on me both professionally and personally.

But I'd like to think I'm more than just the 'Twitter' guy...

I honestly don't believe being the 'Twitter' guy has adversely affected my role or any of the relationships with my colleagues.

Having said that, I can't help but think this designation has 'scared' off or 'shyed' away some colleagues who may have thought I was 'weird' or that I wouldn't understand.

Even though more and more folks are dipping their toes into the social media scene, many and most are not.

Being the 'Twitter' guy definitely has some perks, but more and more I'm worried about the subtle negatives or possible and perceived misconceptions...

Just putting words to my thinking...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Confessions of a blogger...

I've read a couple blog posts recently about blogging. The first blog post is titled, 'Blogging is just People Showing off,' and the second is 'Blogging is Narcissistic (expect when it's not).'

Both these posts of course made me think about my blogging journey and the reasons why I continue to blog.

Part one of this blog post:

So, here's the deal:

Yes, I do blog because I'm proud of what I'm doing and the things that are happening in my district.

I want to share our successes and share the many great things we are doing to positively impact kids.

I also want to further develop my digital footprint and the Justin Tarte brand. I've had several opportunities come my way as a result of my blog, and I honestly don't believe these opportunities would have happened without my blog.

With over 300 blog posts written in the last three and a half years and over 840,000 page views, I feel pretty confident that something I've written has been worthy of sharing with others.

Also, while we are being honest, I have adds on my blog that result in me getting a few extra dollars a month for my time. I didn't get into blogging for the money and I don't plan on quitting my day job anytime soon, but a few extra dollars a month seems fair.

So yes, is blogging a little narcissistic and a little focused just on me, yes, absolutely it is, but is that really a problem?

Is anyone forcing you or anyone else to read my blog? Probably not, and if they are, then I apologize.

When did telling your story become inappropriate and taboo? I guess I missed that memo...

Part two of this blog post:

Blogging has also done wonders for me as an educator in terms of my self-reflection and development as a young educator.

I have been able to put in writing my thoughts and gain a new perspective from what I think based on having to really think through what I'm writing about.

I've also had great conversations and discussions via the comment section of my blog that have been quite productive to say the least.

So, on the flip side, blogging has also been instrumental in my growth as an educator which undoubtedly has positively affected and impacted both students and colleagues with whom I work.

Maybe I'm way off here with my thoughts, but I will continue to blog because there are many benefits that go way beyond thinking that blogging is just narcissistic and just showing off...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

5 reasons to 'stand up' and not just 'stand by'

It might not seem like it, but that one tiny little preposition makes a world of difference when it comes to how you live your life.

When you stand up you are exhibiting confidence and you are showing others that you believe in something. Though it may not always be the most popular thing at the time, you would rather confidently believe in something rather than leave everyone around you thinking you believe in nothing...

When you stand up for something you believe in, you are taking action. When you take action, things get done. When things get done, lessons are learned. When lessons are learned, things get better and the overall organization improves...

When you stand up you are showing support of something. When you show support of something, you are inherently showing support of someone. When others know you will support them, they then in turn begin to support you...

When you stand up you are an example and model to others. When others feel empowered and encouraged to stand up themselves, they in turn become models and examples to others... 

When you stand up you start to live your life. When you start living your life, you begin to make a difference. When you start making a difference, you find self-satisfaction, purpose, and meaning in life...

Bonus: The more you stand up, the better you get at standing up. Also, the more you stand up, the more others around you know you will stand up. Lastly, the more others around you know you will stand up, the more they count on you and the more they respect what you stand for.

Go ahead, I dare you to stand up...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How well do you take constructive criticism?

We've all experienced it before and it's very commonplace in our everyday lives.

You write something... you design something... you create something... you share something... you present something...

You then ask for feedback and input in the hopes of improving and making whatever it was better.

The person or persons on the receiving end then say something nice like... that's a great start or that was wonderful.

Then, even though you know it's coming, you get shocked when the infamous 'but' escapes their mouth.

But, you could have done this... or you might want to consider this... or you should probably change this.

By now after the constructive criticism you are probably feeling deflated and a little defeated.

How often do we ask for feedback and input only to get our feelings hurt once we receive the feedback and input?

Here's the thing, when we share or present something to someone, we are sharing and presenting what we feel to be worthy of sharing and presenting. 

Let's face it, people don't share and present things that are unpolished and incomplete. We want others to like what we are sharing, so when we get to the constructive feedback and input discussion, we are always hoping and aiming for positive feedback.

The tricky part is having enough confidence and 'toughness' to handle the constructive criticism...

The tricky part is putting yourself out there to be vulnerable...

The tricky part is having the endurance to pick yourself up after you've been knocked down...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

5 things great teachers & Thor have in common...

I've recently rekindled my interest in Thor. As I've thought more about his character and the role he plays, I'm noticing more and more similarities to great teachers.

1). Great teachers are immensely loyal to their students and are immensely loyal to the cause. Thor never hesitates or questions his purpose or his existence. He is above reproach with his commitment and dedication to protecting Asgard and the nine realms.

2). Great teachers always have a plan and know what they want to accomplish, but in the same breath, they also aren't afraid to 'adjust' & change on the fly if needed and if appropriate. Thor always has a plan and knows what he wants to accomplish, but he is also willing and able to adjust his plan when circumstances require it.

3). Great teachers play by the rules, but they also are willing to bend rules and/or go around the rules if it means doing what needs to be done. Thor must go against the will of his father, Odin, several times in the interest of doing what needs to be done. Thor's treason and disobedience are not initially accepted, however in the end Thor's decisions are respected.

4). Great teachers aren't naive, but they do believe in giving second chances and do believe in trying to bring out the best in others. Thor knows Loki can't be trusted, but Thor holds out hope that there may be something pure and something righteous still within Loki.

5). Great teachers aren't in the business of education for accolades and fame; they are however in the business of helping and assisting others without wanting or needing recognition. Thor has the opportunity to assume the throne of Asgard, but in the end he determines he can't adequately help and assist others while on the throne, so he declines.

Thor is most definitely not an educator in the traditional sense, but nonetheless there may be something we educators can learn from him...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

As a leader, how do you define "professionalism?"

"Professionalism" in a leadership capacity in education... defined as providing teachers with as much autonomy and freedom as possible while still following district policy, regulations and mandates. Having said that, has anyone experienced a school where the staff yearned for a leader who is more directive and authoritative, rather than more hands off and supportive?

You might think who in the world would want to work in an environment where directives and mandates ruled the day, but these types of environments do exist. In my experience, I have seen three different scenarios when directives and mandates were favored over autonomy and freedom.

Scenario 1 - Staff members had experienced an environment where their opinions and feedback were not valued or appreciated, thus it was easier for them to simply say, "just tell me what to do and I will do the bare minimum to stay within compliance." In this scenario, ineffective leadership created an environment where autonomy and freedom were non-existent, thus directives and mandates became the norm.

Scenario 2 - Staff members were not interested in thinking for themselves or trying to solve their own problems. It was easier for them to simply ask for directives and mandates because it allowed them to exist while assuming no responsibility for their actions. This type of environment exists when staff members are penalized and reprimanded for taking risks and attempting to do anything more than the status quo. These staff members have been trained to fear autonomy, freedom and risk taking.

Scenario 3 - Staff members are not interested in freedom or autonomy and want directives and mandates for everything for no particular reason. They just want to be told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. I have found this scenario to be the most uncommon scenario when dealing with educators.

In the first two scenarios I see an underlying cause that stems from ineffective leadership. When school and district leadership value the opinions and feedback of staff members while encouraging and rewarding those who take risks, you won't find many who are not in favor of more autonomy and freedom.

So, in closing about "professionalism" in education, I believe strong leadership is key in creating an environment where autonomy and freedom are not only the norm, but they are expected and demanded by all staff members. Just like we do with our students, we need to look for the underlying causes of why someone would act a certain way or think a certain way. As educators, we at least owe that to ourselves...