Sunday, September 28, 2014

10 ways to remain a relevant educator

The world is literally changing right before our eyes. ‘What is’ is quickly become ‘what was,’ and what ‘can be’ is quickly becoming ‘what is.’ The future is now and we all have a choice as to how we interact with that future. Education is fortunate to be in a position to not just accept, but to be an integral part of how the world is changing. With all the changes occurring, we educators are forced to adapt and evolve. It’s our level of commitment and willingness to adapt and evolve that will ultimately dictate how relevant we remain. Here are 10 keys to remaining relevant as an educator:

1). Eliminate the phrase 'that can't be done' from your vocabulary and replace it with 'let's figure out how we can make this work...'

2). Stop thinking that just because it worked for you in the past that it will work now for today's students...

3). Don't think that technology integration in schools is just a 'fad' that will go away like many other education initiatives have...

4). Embrace the notion that you, the educator, haven't been for a while, and will continue not to be the smartest person in the room...

5). Figure out creative and innovative ways to take learning beyond the confines of the four walls of your classroom...

6). Take full advantage of the many tools and platforms that are available to tap into the wide-world of collaboration and teamwork...

7). Stop believing that an educator-centered classroom that focuses on the educator more than the students is the most productive and effective learning environment...

8). Find ways to make learning relevant, purposeful, and meaningful for your students by focusing on real problems in society that are affecting real people...

9). Don't avoid trying new things and don't run the other way when someone mentions the word 'change...'

10). Lastly, don't be afraid to stand out; don't be afraid of being the first, and don't be afraid of standing up when everyone else sits down...

I’m confident that if we heed this advice we won’t just remain relevant, but we will position ourselves to do great things for kids which in turn will allow our kids to do great things for humanity.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

5 ways to be a great teammate

I’m approaching this school year with several goals. One of those goals is to be a better teammate to those with whom I work. I have the luxury of working with folks in all different capacities in my district which means my interactions are varied and our role-relationships are constantly evolving and changing. Having said that, this unique situation for me doesn’t diminish the importance of being a great teammate to everyone with whom I work. Here are five ways I hope to be a better teammate this year:

Give praise, but make sure you are genuine:

We all know that teammate who seems to be full of compliments and kind words. This same teammate always has something nice to say and always showers others with words of praise. We all feel good when being praised and we all enjoy being recognized for our work, but like all good things, praise is best served in moderation. Don’t shy away from giving praise, but do make sure that it’s genuine and warranted, because if it’s not it will come off insincere and will actually negate any positive effect.

Dish out challenges, but make sure you are supportive:

The best colleagues I’ve worked with have always challenged me. They’ve pushed me and they’ve made me a better educator and I honestly believe a better person. They’ve challenged me to do things I didn’t think were possible and things I didn’t think I would ever be able to accomplish. They helped to paint a picture of what could be rather than continuing with what is. The important key here with these colleagues has been their support and encouragement that followed the challenge and the push. It’s because of that support I knew I could push myself and reach beyond my level of comfort. Be that type of colleague on your team. Be the type of teammate who pushes and challenges but stands right there with you when the going gets tough.

Be quick to question, but make sure you are respectful:

Far too often we find ourselves with a team full of ‘yes’ people. We’ve become scared to ask questions and more often than not we choose harmony over a situation that could have some type of disagreement. The teams that function best are the teams that have people who aren’t afraid to ask questions. It’s the people who ask the hard questions when nobody else will who help to move an idea or an initiative forward. The key to asking these hard questions is to do so respectfully and appropriately. At times this means asking a question in private and not in front of the group. Other times, it means presenting a possible solution with the question. Either way, a team that has artificial harmony because people are afraid to ask questions will never reach a high level of effectiveness.

Be sure to speak your mind, but make sure you listen first:

It’s Ok to have an opinion. In fact, I think it’s preferred over not having an opinion. But, be sure that before you voice your opinion to take the time to actually listen. Human nature is to start formulating a response while the other person is still talking which disengages us from actually paying attention to what the other person is saying. Do your best to give your teammates your undivided attention and then feel free respond, but whatever you do, be sure to completely listen first. Also, keep in mind that if you’re never speaking your mind, then what value are you adding to the team? Be an active participate, not a passive bystander.

Be the first and the last on the scene:

Be the type of teammate who is first on the scene and the last to leave. It’s easy to talk about doing something, but the best teammates I’ve worked with didn’t just talk about it, they actually did it. They also were there in the end to make sure everything was done right. Be the teammate that people can count on and rely on. Be the type of teammate who leads by example. Be the type of teammate who is there for others when others aren’t. This is going to be your year… this is going to be your team’s year… so good luck!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

10 things students experience every day at school that we educators tend to forget about...

So, just recently I was challenged by our middle school principal, Ty Crain.

The challenge was simple... come be a student at the middle school for an entire day.

This would mean starting the day at school at breakfast and following a schedule throughout the entire day just like any student would.

The goal of this challenge is to experience what a student experiences and see the day-to-day operations of the middle school from an unbiased and different set of eyes.

I accepted this challenge and have a new appreciation for what our students get to (have to) experience each and every day they are at school.

Here are 10 things our students experience every day that I believe many of us educators tend to forget about...

1). Limited amounts of time and constantly in a rush to go from one place to the next and having to eat at a pace that isn't normal or ideal for most.

2). Trying to keep straight a different set of classroom expectations, procedures, and beliefs about learning for several different teachers.

3). Dressing out for gym class can be quite an intimidating and frightful experience for many.

4). Having to go the restroom and either being rushed or having to ask for permission to go to the restroom during a time in class when it's convenient for the teacher.

5). The amount of food our students get at breakfast and lunch may not be enough to completely quench their hunger due to recent changes in food and nutrition regulations.

6). Lots of sitting only to be followed up by more sitting. A majority of a student's day is comprised of sitting in an uncomfortable chair. 

7). Students are asked to travel all throughout the building over the course of the day, and it seems like each classroom and each space in the building has a different temperature. One room may be too warm while the next room is too cold.

8). Lots of being talked 'at' rather than being talked 'with.'

9). Other kids in class who purposefully derail and consume large amounts of attention and time from the teacher which leaves other kids feeling like they aren't important or don't deserve any of the teacher's time.

10). Lastly, and probably most frustrating, the tiny little desks and work spaces students are provided that make it difficult for everything to fit. Pencils and pens falling off desks, and books, devices, paper, and writing utensils all fitting on the desk at the same time are real problems.

So, in closing, let's not forget about what our students experience every single day they are at school.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Is your gradebook supportive of learning?

When was the last time you looked at your gradebook?

Not just look at your gradebook because you are recording grades, but to actually look at your gradebook and evaluate its purpose and the reasoning behind its existence.

What is the purpose of a gradebook?

The logical answers would be...

To record and document the grades of students in a particular class.

To document how well a student did on worksheet 1.7 and record how well a student did on the chapter 4 test.

To sort and categorize our students into A, B, C, D & F grade rankings.

These answers are widely accepted and widely practiced by educators all across the globe.


What if the gradebook was more?

What if the gradebook was viewed as another tool in the student's belt for learning?

What if the gradebook gave specific and detailed feedback to students about their learning progression?

So, the challenge is, how can we use the gradebook as a formative tool in the learning process rather than a summative 'end of learning' tool that has very little if any effect on student learning?

When a student sees they received 12/20 points on worksheet 1.7, does the student really know specifically where he/she is struggling? Does the student know specifically where he/she needs to focus to master the skills/content from those 8 missed points?

When a student sees they received a 72% on the chapter 4 test, do they know specifically where and why they lost points?

What if instead of seeing worksheet 1.7, the gradebook said something like, 'determining the central idea of a text - RI.6.2?'

What if instead of seeing chapter 4 test, the gradebook chunked the test and said something like, 'finding the area of right triangles - 6.G.A.1, represent three dimensional figures - 6.G.A.4, & finding the volume of a right rectangular prism - 6.G.A.2?'

If you are an educator, a student, or even a parent wanting to help, which gradebook is going to provide you specific information on where a student is in the learning process? Which gradebook is going to encourage future learning? Which gradebook is going to lead toward an authentic and valuable conversation about how to help that student with their learning?

So, ask yourself, is your gradebook supportive of learning, or is your gradebook just full of subjective and irrelevant information...?

Monday, September 8, 2014

The H&R Block Budget Challenge awaits you!

I can remember in high school taking a personal finance class. At the time the class didn't really have a huge impact on me as I didn't always see the connection and relevance to my life. If I only knew then what I know now...

Far too often kids are leaving high school with limited knowledge about the basics of personal finance and the possible long-term implications that can and will result from poor financial decisions. Sure, money isn't everything, but it definitely can make things in life easier.

Having said all that, there is a wonderful opportunity for students and teachers to get involved in a program that will help students to more fully understand the importance of good personal finance.

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The H&R Block Budget Challenge will allow students to participate in a FREE online simulation that allows students to experience the real-life expenses and experiences that come with adulthood.

The neat thing about this challenge is that students get to experience paying bills, paying taxes, and planning and saving for retirement. These aren't exactly the types of activities that most high school students get to experience which is why this program can be quite beneficial for preparing our students for the 'real-world.'

Even more, the students and the classes that participate have several opportunities to actually win large amounts of money. Each classroom and each student is competing with other classrooms and other students and it's the individual or collective success that determines if or whether money can be won.

I will definitely be sharing this information with the business and personal finance teachers in my district as this appears to be a great opportunity for students to learn and strengthen their personal finance knowledge.

Good luck to all participants!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Have 'summative' assessments become obsolete?

We hear the terms 'formative' and 'summative' assessments all the time in schools.

As educators, we learned about the differences while in college in our education preparation courses.

We now talk all the time about using assessments to 'drive' our instruction and provide guidance on where students are in the learning process.

I'm struggling though with how these terms are actually being implemented in classrooms with real teachers and real students...

To ensure we are all on the same page here with definitions, here is an image:

Formative assessments are a part of the learning process while summative assessments are an end to the learning process.

So, if we are formatively assessing students frequently throughout the learning process and constantly getting temperature checks on where they are in the learning process, we will eventually have students all over the place in terms of their learning.

We know students don't learn at the same rate and pace and we know students need frequent and timely feedback to assist them in the learning process.

We also know that if we are formatively assessing then we will always know where students are in terms of their learning.

So my questions are simple...

Why do we still need summative assessments to tell us what we already know? If we are frequently formatively assessing, then we already know where the students are... so what's the point of the summative assessment? What's the point of giving an assessment if we know the students aren't ready for it yet? And on the flipside, what's the point of giving an assessment when we know the students already have it mastered?

Why do we have every student do a summative assessment on the same date when we know every kid isn't at the same place in terms of their learning?

And lastly, why do we make each summative assessment exactly the same for every student when we know students need multiple platforms and multiple venues to demonstrate their learning?

I also recently read an article, 'Stop telling students to study for exams,' and it really reinforced my thinking...

So, in closing, have 'summative' assessments become obsolete? What do you think...?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Don't give up on your idea...

You know that idea you shared with your colleagues...

You were so excited to share the idea and you spent plenty of time trying to figure out the best way to get this information out to your colleagues. You tried to put yourself in their shoes so you could make this idea relevant and applicable to what they were doing. You even found a couple additional resources to complement the idea you were enthusiastic about sharing. You envisioned their response and knew they would be greatly appreciative of your time and effort to share an idea you think would benefit their practice, and most importantly, their students.

Unfortunately, the way it played out in your head isn't exactly the way it played out in real life...

If you are new in your position or new in your district, or if you are just trying some new things and new approaches, you most likely know what it feels like to share something with such passion and enthusiasm only to feel as if your words were falling on the proverbial deaf ears.

It's not a good feeling, and after getting that feeling several times, it's easy to see how some educators decide to work in isolation and simply focus on doing "their thing" rather than the collaborative and open-communication approach we would all benefit from.

It may be tough not to, but the easy thing to do is to give up on sharing new ideas. New ideas cause people to feel uncomfortable because it is the unknown, and it's human nature to fear what we don't understand. Additionally, it's easy for the person who is sharing these new ideas to be ostracized and cast aside as someone who is "pushing" their own agenda.

What you might not realize is that even though it appears these new ideas are going unnoticed and that people are ignoring anything and everything you say, I can almost guarantee that a few people are taking notice. Even more so, I would be willing to bet they are secretly having conversations about these ideas and possibly even trying them out in their classrooms. 

This won't be evident (at first), but after a while a few pockets of "initiators" will begin to form. People who didn't hear the idea first hand will begin talking about this new approach because they are hearing it second hand from others. You might even get a nice email thanking you for taking the time to share. You might... 

You might also never hear anything. You might never know how this idea or how the time you spent talking about it affected those around you. Even though you might not ever know, is not an excuse to stop doing what you do...

Don't give up... 

We can't afford for you to give up. Our kids can't afford for you to give up...

Monday, September 1, 2014

5 reasons why we need physical education in schools

As schools and districts attempt to continue improving student learning opportunities, there's a frightening trend emerging that might not have the intended consequences.

In an effort to provide students more time with math and reading and other core area subjects, schools are cutting back on physical education courses, and recess opportunities are shrinking for students at the elementary levels.

The dangerous trend of giving physical education the backseat to other 'more important' areas of learning might not yield the intended results.

Here are five reasons why we need more physical activity in our schools and not less...

1). Physical activity helps to enlarge your brain's basal ganglia which controls your ability to focus.

We all know how hard it can be to focus at times and we are living in a day and age where a plethora of things are vying for our students' attention. Therefore, any measures we can put in place that will help our students to not just maintain their focus, but also enhance their focus, most certainly will pay off when it comes to student learning.

2). Physical activity positively affects several vitally important areas of health.

Steady amounts of physical activity will prevent obesity and will help to maintain proper levels of blood pressure. Additionally, physical activity will ensure students grow up with healthy bone structures as they continue their skeletal development. Finally, cholesterol levels will also be kept in-check with daily physical activity. As we all know, students who are physically healthy will be in school more often and absent less and will be better able to focus on their learning.

3). Physical activity helps you sleep and improves your overall sleep quality.

When we get consistent and daily doses of exercise our sleeping experiences become higher quality. Since the physical body needs the nightly recharge more, the body is able to fall asleep faster and get into a 'deeper' level of sleep more quickly. Because of this, the quality of sleep goes up drastically and a classroom full of well-rested and recharged students will always perform better than a room full of tired and fatigued students.

4). Physical activity is a natural stress reliever.

When we are stressed we are unable to focus as well and we become tired more easily due to struggles with sleeping. Additionally, we are less able to be patient and are much more susceptible to mood swings. When we get physical activity we are able to relieve and diminish these levels of stress which in turn will have several positive effects on our overall mental and physical health. Stressed students don't and can't learn, so let's ensure they have some outlets to keep the stress at a minimum.

5). Physical activity stimulates brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity allows our brains to be more 'fluid' and 'moldable' so to speak. When this happens, our brains are able to make new connections as well as able to strengthen existing connections. The more and stronger neuronal connections we have the better able we are to learn and retain information. This obviously has huge implications for our students on how and when they learn.

So, in closing, let's increase opportunities for our students when it comes to physical activity. When we add physical activity to our overall instructional programming rather than cutting it, we might just get the results we are looking for...