Sunday, September 29, 2013

10 small ways to make a huge difference in someone's life...

1). At the end of the day, send a short thank you or complimentary email to someone who helped you or did something great that day. For teachers, send a quick email or make a short phone call to a parent about their child. Bonus, do a hand-written personalized note and hand deliver it...

2). Find some information or resources for someone who you know is either looking for assistance or struggling with a particular situation. This may include finding someone else who excels in this particular area and asking them to reach out to this person to help them through this process.

3). Surprise a colleague and do something that is typically on their job responsibility list. This is only effective when the intent and purpose are to help. Don't use this as an opportunity to outshine or one-up, or you risk turning a positive gesture into a negative.

4). Stand up for someone who you know is right and struggling to make progress against the masses. This could be as simple as saying something publicly in a meeting or sending an email and including others on that email. The key here is to show your support and help to validate the points that are being shunned. Bonus, by doing this you may empower and embolden others who feel their voice is not being heard...
5). Commit to doing something in the future that will help someone to do something in the present. There are countless times when others need a little support and encouragement to get them over the hump of trying to do something or change something. Your gesture of commitment in the future is just what they need to get the ball rolling in the present.

6). Find something funny and share it with others. You can't ignore the power of laughter and when presented at just the right time, a good laugh is the difference between an average day and a great day.

7). Finish the task you said you would finish. You would be surprised at how often we say we will do something to only finish half of the promised task. Be the difference and go the distance by finishing what you said you would finish... this means a lot to people.

8). Present someone a challenge you think they can handle and would be excellent at overcoming. Present this challenge in a way that highlights the strengths of others, and remind them that you believe their skill set is perfectly aligned to tackling this challenge. The key here is to empower and send a boost of confidence to someone who may be lacking of late.

9). Start saying 'yes' and 'why not' more than 'no' and 'that's not possible.' Be careful with this, because if you always say 'yes' then you will become overwhelmed and over-committed. In the same breath, don't always say 'no' because you will become the person who nobody approaches with new ideas or possible changes. Help someone by embracing their creativity and innovation by giving them a green light.

10). Be yourself and don't try to be someone you aren't. Far too often we try to be who we think others think we should be, and in the end we ultimately disappoint both them and ourselves. Be yourself and others will be greatly appreciative.

Friday, September 27, 2013

It's not teaching if there's no learning...

I've personally said it before and it's a common statement made in schools around the world.

'I taught it... it's not my fault they didn't learn it.'

Far too often we allow the focus to be on what we as the educators did or what we didn't do, when in fact the focus needs to be on what our students did or what they didn't do.

We can have the most wonderfully planned lesson in the world with varying degrees of differentiation, plenty of opportunities for global collaboration, autonomy and flexibility in how to demonstrate student understanding, and a healthy dose of technology integration, but if the students aren't able to accomplish or demonstrate any level of learning or understanding, then our lesson frankly was not a success.

Sure, we can say the students didn't work as hard as they should have or that they didn't listen to the instructions carefully enough.

Sure, we can say that the students had a bad attitude and weren't even willing to try before giving up.

Sure, we can say the previous years teachers didn't teach the kids enough and didn't prepare them for this year.

Let's take a step in the right direction by assuming responsibility and accountability for what happens in our classrooms and in our schools.

Yes, are there things we can't control and factors that make our jobs more difficult than what they could or should be, absolutely there are, but let's not allow those excuses to get in the way of doing something great.

Stop thinking about how great of a lesson you planned and presented and start thinking about the great things your students did and were able to do as a result of your lesson...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stop telling people how to use social media...

There's something happening in social media lately. Perhaps you've noticed it... perhaps not. Perhaps it's even bothering you too... perhaps not.

I don't think it was ever intended to happen, but nevertheless it's happening.

More and more I am hearing, seeing, and reading about how we should be using social media. There seems to be a growing consensus that there is one specific way to use social media and if you aren't using it that specific way, you are doing it wrong.

I'll be honest, there have been times when I have thought someone is not doing it right and said to myself that they aren't using the tool properly. Perhaps there are those who feel I'm not using social media properly...
As I see from others and reflect on what I have done, it has become blatantly clear to me that nobody is in any position to tell anybody else how they should or shouldn't be using social media.

Isn't one of the beauties of social media the fact that it is being utilized in ways that nobody could have ever imagined? Isn't it remarkable to see what has grown from something considered to be a fad is now commonplace and frankly an every day staple in our society?

Are there people who have absolutely zero netiquette and are frankly obnoxious... yes, absolutely there are. But hey, guess what, there are people outside of social media that don't have a considerate bone in their body and obnoxious wouldn't be a strong enough word to describe them.

Are there those using social media for reasons other than connecting and networking... yes, absolutely there are. Is it really a problem that they are using a tool (remember, social media is just a tool) for purposes other than connecting and networking?

My point here is simple, and maybe I'm wrong and way off base, but I just feel that we all have a choice on how we choose to use social media. I also think we should embrace social media for what it is... a tool that is customizable and personalized for all of our use, which means everyone is going to use it a little differently.

As I said, maybe I'm way wrong and not using social media properly by writing this blog post, but then again, maybe I'm not...

Monday, September 23, 2013

The educators of the future...

Don't feel the need to know everything. The educator of the future takes pride in learning side-by-side with his/her students. The educator of the future takes full advantage of the knowledge and expertise students walk in with every single day...

Don't need someone to plan, organize, and lead their professional development. The educator of the future takes ownership and responsibility for their own growth and development. The educator of the future takes their personal learning very seriously...

Don't fear making mistakes. The educator of the future sees value in learning from their mistakes. The educator of the future is committed to not making the same mistakes twice, but also doesn't shy away from taking chances...
Don't treat technology as if it is a fad. The educator of the future sees technology as a tool to enhance and strengthen learning opportunities. Similarly, the educator of the future recognizes the direction of society and appreciates the ever-increasing role of technology in our lives...

Don't focus just on teaching their content. The educator of the future knows that in order for the content to matter there will need to be a relationship. The educator of the future values connections and relationships over content and coverage of material...

Don't work in isolation. We live and work in a world where collaboration and working together are of the utmost importance. The educator of the future embraces collective thinking and collective learning in all facets of his/her professional life...

Don't allow what's been done in the past get in the way of what can be done in the future. The educator of the future recognizes tradition and past practices. The educator of the future doesn't however allow traditions of the past to dictate the best practices of the future...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The 'why' is not nearly as important as the 'how'

This blog is both professional and personal for me. By reading what I write you get a sense of what is going on in my professional life, as well as things that are happening in my personal life that then in turn affect my thinking.

Over the last few weeks I've spent a lot of time focusing on the 'why.'

I've been using my time to figure out why certain things have happened. I've questioned myself and tried to figure out what I could have done differently that may have impacted or affected what ultimately ended up happening. I've exhausted both my physical and mental energy trying to find the root cause...

What I've determined is that the 'why' can be quite mysterious and quite difficult to find and narrow down.

I've also come to the conclusion that the 'why' can't always be found.
Not being able to find the the real root cause was troubling at first because I previously believed there would always be a 'why.' Now, I feel pretty firm in my thinking that the 'why' will sometimes be eternally elusive.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are definitely times when knowing the 'why' is extremely valuable and extremely important to ensuring the same mistakes are not made in the future.

But, I'm becoming more and more interested in 'how' I respond to what happens than I am the 'why' something happened. Similarly, I'm much more interested in helping others to see the value in focusing on 'how' they respond and 'how' they react to what has happened rather than constantly focusing on 'why' it happened.

I feel too much time is spent on finding the 'why' when it would be better utilized focusing on the 'how.'

I also feel this mindset is applicable to both personal and professional environments. Our time is limited, and busy is the default, so how are you using your time...?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What's a MOOC & what do they mean for education?

Perhaps I'm late to the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) party, but I have been trying to catch up these last few weeks. I have even registered for my first MOOC on the Digital Learning Transition:

As I've continued exploring and learning more about MOOCs, I'm seeing huge positive implications for education.

Imagine a secondary student who is very interested in learning more about engineering but unfortunately his/her high school doesn't offer any courses remotely close to fitting that interest. There is a MOOC that will and it's free! Go to for a list of all the available MOOCs

Imagine an educator who is interested in learning more about his/her craft in a professional learning environment on his/her own time when it's convienent. There are plenty of MOOCs out there that allow this learning to happen with purpose, personalization, and customization. Perhaps you want to learn about synapses, neurons and brains to better understand your students, yap, there's a MOOC for that!

Imagine you have a parent who is interested in helping their student with some of their coursework, or better yet, imagine you have a parent who is interested in learning more about something they've always been interested in just so they can teach their child. There are countless MOOCs and more by the day that you can share with parents to help them meet this need. What an empowering feeling to help a parent with this challenge!

Imagine setting up learning environments in schools where students enroll in MOOCs of their choosing that align to their interests and their passions. Imagine students who then are learning about what they are interested in then in turn sharing their learning with other students thus becoming quasi-teachers assisting and helping across the district. Imagine learning happening without the mindset that a teacher must be teaching before learning can occur...

Right now, I'm a big fan of MOOCs and what they can do for education.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why every kid needs a Chromebook

My district has steadily been purchasing more and more Chromebooks for our students. I've been using my Chromebook for several months now, and from what I've read and conversations I've had with those who are also using them, I feel confident advocating for the use of Chromebooks.

Here are the reasons why I believe Chromebooks are a game changer for education and why every student needs one:

~ It boots in less than 10 seconds and is ready for use before you even know it.

~ The battery life will last an entire day at school and will fully charge in less than 2 hours.

~ If your district is using GAFE then Chromebooks are a no-brainer due to the seamless transition between a technology device and the Google platform.

~ Google Drive... need I say more?

~ When you log on, all of your personal apps and customizations come with you. This matters because a student can use one device one day and then another device the next day and it won't matter because all their apps and customizations are linked with the account, not the device.

~ The device is light and small which makes storage, usage, and mobility very easy and convenient.

~  PD resources are plentiful which means there are lots of opportunities for teachers to get comfortable with the Chromebook and GAFE.

~ Google has shown it is willing to make and continue making substantial commitments to education, which means even more features and options in the years to come.

~ The management system is pretty easy and straight forward from the networking and managing side of things.

~ From the financial standpoint, the Chromebook can't be beat. At around $300 per unit, you can put a set of 30 on a cart for around $10,000. That makes 1:1 a much more viable option in cash strapped school districts.

For the record, nobody asked me to write this post and I have not received anything from anyone as a result of writing this post.

Also, for those of you who are already using Chromebooks, what are your reasons for using them? Why would you recommend and/or advocate for more of their use in education?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

10 bold statements in education...

It's 2013, so now is probably a good time to stop saying 21st century skills, and just start saying 'life skills.'

If we aren't treating school like the 'real world' for our students, then how could we ever say we are preparing them for it?

Every time you catch yourself saying you 'have' to do something, replace it with you 'get' to do something... it's all about your perspective.

Technology devices don't make bad decisions and they surely don't bully others... this is why teaching and embedding digital citizenship is so important.

Your school culture is not something set in stone; each and every educator has the ability to shift and adjust the school culture on a daily basis.

The less teachers teach in the traditional sense and the less teachers grade the more students will learn and the more relevant and purposeful we will make education.

Teachers, not one rule you make during the first few weeks of school will cause good behavior in May; every strong relationship you make will though... via @drjoeclark

Formative assessments are not part of the grading process; they are part of the instructional process.

When you average all the scores throughout the semester, you are saying that the scores in the beginning of the year are just as important as those in the end.

Super heroes don't need to fly and don't need to wear capes; sometimes they just need to simply kneel down and provide a helping hand up.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Where the magic happens...

As the school year continues on, it's easy to let the 'grind' get you down and it's easy to become comfortable with a state of complacency. We all have a certain level of contentment when we are doing what we are used to doing... we all find reassurance when it comes to replicating the safe and the known...

While this slow but sure to happen transition tries to take hold, be sure to keep on the look out for those pockets of uniqueness and difference. They may not be the most visible at first, but as the school year gets long in the tooth, those unique and different 'happenings' will become more and more apparent.

They will start to stand out more and more... not because more people are exploring the unknown, but because more and more are falling back to the known and their level of comfort. This mass migration toward the known leaves those seeking out the unknown bare and naked in a sense.

It's kind of like all those people who pack the gyms right after the first of the year. They have great intentions and they are committed to doing whatever it takes to improve their health.

They are committed until it's no longer easy to commit...

Now, I'm not saying I'm the bastion of health, because I'm not and I am working on it, but my point is simple:

When we reach a level of discomfort or a certain level of 'unknown,' it's much easier to fall back on comfort and the known.

I challenge and encourage you to go a little bit further toward the unknown and I challenge you to push your level of discomfort.

We expect and encourage our students to push their limits every single day toward their unknown, I see no reason why we shouldn't expect the same from ourselves...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Don't miss your opportunity...

If you work in education and most likely any other profession, you are faced with new challenges on a daily basis. The beauty of these new challenges is that we are continually forced to push ourselves through the decision making process.
The decision making process helps us to define and to develop who we are. The inability to make decisions that result in action are really challenges that we've missed to capitalize on.

Sometimes these challenges we are faced with seem insurmountable...

Sometimes they seem like they aren't our job or aren't our responsibility...

Sometimes we feel like the whole world may be working against us...

One approach and mindset that was coined by someone much smarter than I changed the way I look at these professional and life challenges.

Don't look at the challenge as something that someone did to you...

Don't look at the challenge as something that you 'have' to do... 

Instead, look at the challenge as something you 'get' to do... 

Remember, opportunity comes in all shapes and sizes, and in my experience opportunity never comes all neatly wrapped with a pretty bow on top.

Life doesn't present us with challenges we aren't able to overcome. It's time to start living...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Criticism hurts...

The path to growth and development can be ugly at times. Educators are part of a world that is continually changing and evolving, and as such we are forced to take a leap, and at times take a leap when we are not ready. Going through all my education classes we were always told how rewarding and fantastic the field of education is, and from where I sit right now, I could not agree more.

So...the big question is...why are we afraid of standing out? Why are we afraid to speak up at meetings?  Why are we afraid to try something that has never been done before? If education is so rewarding and fantastic, why do we have so many educators afraid to act...? For all the great things we learned in college, they seem to have forgotten a big one...they never told us the amount of criticism and failure that go along with being an educator...

As an educator, it is almost guaranteed you are going to do something or say something somebody does not like. Contrary to belief, you will not melt, nor will you spontaneously combust! The reality is you are going to hurt, you are going to feel pain, and you are going to want to react. Hopefully, after reading this post you will have a slightly different perspective as it pertains to criticism and failure.

I would first really like to make a distinction between criticism and failure. Failure is something that happens; we learn from it and hopefully make the necessary changes so we can avoid making the same mistakes again. Failure is a valuable learning tool, and if used effectively, failure can be one of the most important things to ever happen to you. We ALL experience failure at one time or another.

Criticism, on the other hand, is something you get from somebody else. You have no control over what they say or how they say it, and most importantly criticism can hurt much more than failure. If you fail, that can be the end of failed, next chapter or end of story.

Criticism is not so easily forgotten because the words can penetrate deep into one's mind and heart. When someone is criticized the words can permeate throughout an entire school...those simple words of criticism can stop an entire building from doing anything ever again that is remotely similar to what the criticized person did. Fear of criticism is almost always worst than failure.

How can we convince people it is worth it to take a chance and risk failure, or even more, risk being criticized? We have to create a culture and environment that encourages innovation, risk taking, and most importantly taking a leap even if we are not and reaffirm those risk takers!

At times, we need to address the elephant in the room. By recognizing something we are not doing as well as we should, we are able to take the first step in accepting open criticism.

We need to help educators to use criticism in a productive manner by providing helpful feedback. There is nothing worse than criticism without any helpful feedback. Additionally, be an example for others by not criticizing your colleagues, and if you feel the need to criticize something or someone, make sure you bring your book of solutions with you.

If you have time check out Seth Godin's view on criticism and failure in his book Tribes. One final thought...every time you get criticized means that somebody took notice of what you did or what you said, and more importantly it affected them enough to tell you how they felt. As much as it hurts, do not give them the power to bring you down...allow the criticism to fuel you toward growing and developing to do what is best for kids...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Let's talk about grades...

Have you ever thought this… said this… heard somebody else say this?

"If his grades start to slip then we take away that Xbox."

"She's a good student, she keeps her grades up, I trust her."

"He got straight A's. I never would have guessed he was struggling so."

Ken O'Connor

Do you want to be graded on your performance in the beginning when all the information is new, or do you want to be graded in the end after practice?

Consider this story:

"I was meeting with our high school Advanced Placement teachers, who were expressing concerns about our open enrollment process and the high failure rate. One math teacher said that while a particular student was now getting 80's, she had made a 12 on the initial test, so there is no way she is going to make a passing grade for the first nine weeks."

Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself.  One of the most well-researched findings in the field of motivational psychology is that the more people are rewarded for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.
Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks.  Students of all ages who have been led to concentrate on getting a good grade are likely to pick the easiest possible assignment if given a choice. 

If I can’t give a child a better reason for studying than a grade on a report card, I ought to lock my desk and go home and stay there.

The primary purpose of classroom assessment is to inform teaching and improve learning, not to sort and select students or to justify a grade.

Don’t punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades; apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement.

The price of freedom is proficiency… students are motivated not by threats of failure, but by the opportunity to earn greater freedom and discretion by completing work accurately and on time.

Don’t leave students out of the grading process. Involve students; they can - and should - play key roles in assessment and grading that promote achievement.

Thoughts and ideas here are from Alfie Kohn's 'Degrading to de-grading,' Ken O'Conner's 'How to grade for learning,' and Douglas Reeves' 'Leading to change / effective grading practices.'

What are your thoughts in regard to grading?