Tuesday, July 28, 2015

10 things I'd like to see more often in our schools:

1). More of a focus on meeting the basic needs of each student before trying to meet their academic learning needs... hungry kids, stressed kids, tired kids, emotionally traumatized kids, and defeated kids are highly disadvantaged over their peers when it comes to their ability and resolve toward learning.

2). Less of a focus on what's wrong with kids and what they are lacking, and rather more of a focus on understanding what our kids have gone through and experienced so far in their short lives.

3). More involvement of students in educator professional development planning/implementation as well as more students involved in a 'research and development' capacity aimed at finding the best new tools and resources for learning.

4). Less of a focus on answers and more of a focus on asking deep rich questions that more times than not lack a clear defined answer.

5). More inclusion of our classified staff members (maintenance, custodians, nurses, food technicians, administrative assistants) aimed at creating more relevant and real-world learning scenarios that allow our kids to see these critically important team members in a different light.

6). More educator-to-educator accountability and the willingness of professional colleagues to not just hold each other to the high standards our kids so desperately deserve, but to exceed those high standards.

7). More teachers standing at their doors and in the hallways greeting their students with handshakes and good solid eye contact like in the Capturing Kids' Hearts program.

8). More support and assistance for our least experienced educators with a focus on helping them not just survive their first few years, but to help them thrive.

9). Less of a focus on teaching and the management of schools and more of a focus on student learning and the actions we take that yield the highest student learning return. 

10). More Legos.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Great coaches can make for great school leaders:

At the annual Missouri administrator conference we had the opportunity to hear from Coach Jerry Kill (@CoachKillFBCamp).  Coach Kill is an impressive and inspirational speaker and we were fortunate to hear his story. Having said that, I couldn't help but think there are quite a few similarities between what it takes to be a great coach and what it takes to be a great school leader.

Here are some of the thoughts shared by Coach Kill:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The best grade you can give is a conversation...

The discourse surrounding grades and grading practices has been intensifying of late.

Grade reform has taken a seat next to some of the other big topics being discussed at the education table.

It's no surprise considering the subjectivity students, parents and educators experience when it comes to grading.

So, before going any further... we have to agree that grades serve a single and critical purpose:

Grades exist to provide students input and feedback on their progression toward achieving mastery of a particular set of learning goals/objectives.

In other other words... to communicate.

If we can all agree with this definition of grades, then the rest of the blog post should hopefully make sense.

The question now is 'how can we most effectively provide our students input and feedback on their progression toward achieving mastery?'

I believe the answer to this question is more conversations...

Now, before you stop reading, ask yourself one question:

Do you believe that in an ideal word without time constraints and with an unlimited amount of 'you,' having more one-on-one conversations would be more impactful than continuing the practice of letter grades?

If you answered yes here, then let's at least keep an open mind of how one could make this work.

Yes, of course, you have lots of students in your class and it seems near impossible to carve out time to have one-on-one conversations. Especially to have these conversations on a more frequent and as needed basis.

However, what if you took time at the beginning of the year to train your students on strategies to self-assess to make these conversations more impactful and efficient? In other words, make the conversations move along more quickly.

What if you intentionally made time in the day to have these conversations and removed other stuff that just doesn't have the same level of impact on student learning?

What if these conversations served to kill multiple birds with one stone... isn't it possible to include and embed multiple learning targets/objectives in the middle of these conversations? Think creatively here for a moment...

Also, keep in mind that these conversations don't always have to involve you, the teacher. Don't forget about the other students in the classroom...

Hattie's research is quite clear on what most impacts student learning. When students are able to assess themselves and then have a conversation/reflection opportunity about the self-assessment, learning goes up. Imagine it's not just one single teacher who is asked to talk with students about their self-assessment, but rather other students in the classroom too. Imagine the power of those conversations when students are trained on how to communicate with each other about their learning progression...

In closing, what's the best and most effective way to communicate? I think most would say one-on-one conversations.

Make no mistake... I'm definitely not saying this is easy. What I am saying is that I think it just might be worth it...

If you've made this work in your classroom, please share your story below.

Friday, July 24, 2015

We need more misfits in #education

We live in a culture where asking 'why' and asking for clarification can be looked at as overstepping ones boundaries. Additionally, a simple request for more information can turn some people into feeling they need to be on the defensive. We say we want collaboration and teamwork but yet our actions at times don't exactly match up.

We also live in a culture where there is a perception that playing it safe and maintaining the status quo are the necessary steps to getting ahead. I feel pretty confident that this 'play it safe' mindset may have worked in the past, but I just don't think it has the same effect as it once did. Some of the greatest inventions and discoveries were a result of not playing it safe and avoiding the status quo at all costs. 

Insert the misfits... 

Misfits don't see a problem with asking 'why' and asking for justification and misfits don't base their actions on what is safe and what is 'status quo.'

Think about it... we all know those misfits on our teams and in our buildings. Sometimes they are treated differently and viewed as outliers, however, their behavior (which isn't always valued) does and can serve a greater purpose.

Having said all that, don't take this too far. We don't need you or anyone else going off the deep end when it comes to pushing the envelope. Yes, in an ideal world asking for clarification and more information shouldn't be frowned upon, it should be encouraged. But as you all know, it doesn't always play out like that.

Likewise, we should be creating and supporting environments where we can try new things and explore what has yet to be explored. Misfits are great at taking what is and developing it into what can be.

But remember, there always needs to be a sense of control and pre-planned purpose. All misfits know when it's appropriate to question and when to push, but they also know when it's more appropriate to be patient and wait another day. Sometimes going with the flow is the best course of action when you're a misfit.

So, ask yourself, what kind of culture do you have in your building or your district? Are misfits allowed or are they banished to their own separate island?

What would your colleagues say about you?Are you a misfit... do you ask 'why' and question the status quo... do you look for what others haven't yet seen?

How do you respond when your colleagues or students act like misfits? Do you get defensive... do you judge them... do you try to control them and limit their 'misfitness?'

In closing, what are you doing to encourage more misfit like behavior in your school or district?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Kids don't need to be ready for school... schools need to be ready for kids.

Dan French recently shared this wonderful tweet that really got me thinking:

This really got me thinking because we spend so much time telling kids they need to do this or they need to do that so they can be successful in school. We project this mentality that if kids aren't prepared to experience this and aren't able handle that, they're doomed to fail.

We inadvertently transfer the pressure and accountability onto our kids and all the while, we tend to forget that they are just that... kids living in a rapidly changing world.

We also, somewhat arrogantly, assume we know exactly what is best for kids and know exactly what they need to do to be successful in life.

But, what if it were reversed and schools spent their time ensuring schools were ready for what kids were bringing to the table...?

What if kids started talking to schools about what schools needed to do to be prepared for them...?

What if schools were feeling the pressure from students rather than the other way around?

We know life and the world around us are changing more quickly than ever before. And, it's these kids who come to our schools wanting, needing and DESERVING a system that's ready for them and is able to meet their needs.

And as a new parent and educator, I have no idea what my son Emory will need in 5 years when he starts his formal schooling... but I hope at least someone will ask him and consider what it means to be ready for him.

So, the next time you get together with your colleagues, focus on ensuring your school and/or classroom are ready for kids and not the other way around.

Maybe the conversation will be the same... maybe it will be completely different. :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cursive no longer deserves a seat at the table...

If you're a current practicing educator, you with almost certainty learned how to write cursive in school. And, I may be going out on a limb here, but you probably don't use cursive too often in your everyday life.

Nonetheless, we continue to teach cursive in schools all around the world and there are countless stories of schools trying to remove cursive from the curriculum that resulted in a community uproar.

You'll hear things like:

But how will kids ever be able to sign their name if they don't know how to write cursive? (is printing a name really that bad?)

How will they write a check if they can't write cursive? (do people still use checks?)

What about those older documents that were written in cursive... how will they ever be able to read them? (we should be teaching hieroglyphics too then...)

And many other reasons... many of which seem frivolous and really unnecessary.

But I ask why... what's our fixation on this outdated and no longer relevant skill?

I mean, even the Common Core State Standards don't include cursive, so obviously it can't be that valuable for our kids...

Sure, cursive offers benefits beyond simply being able to write cursive. Fine motor skills and spacial awareness are added benefits, but aren't there many other things kids could do that also assist in these other areas? We could instead have kids play Wii tennis and not only work on fine motor skills, but also the gross motor skills with the added benefits of physical movement. I don't know how well that would play out though...

The world continues to evolve and change and perhaps cursive deserves a small place in the future, but then again, perhaps not.

Either way, let's be intentional with our purpose if we do choose to include cursive, and if our intentions are more for our own preservation and tradition, then perhaps instead it's time to think more of what's best and needed for our kids.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What if you blew it?

What message would it send if building administrators handed out 'I blew it' cards at the beginning of the school year to their teachers?

Take it a step further... what message would it send if district administrators handed out 'I blew it' cards to their building level administrators?

Would this gesture be an invitation to try something new?

An encouragement to risk what's never been risked before?

A green light to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?

An expectation that failure is a part of the learning process and something we should model for kids?

I just wonder what message this might send...

Thanks to @thenerdyteacher for the original idea behind 'I blew it.'

Monday, July 20, 2015

10 lessons on school #leadership

~ Pride is extremely important and is something we all need, but if you are not careful, pride will work against you and ultimately blind you from seeing and doing what must be done. There are times to flex your pride, and there are times to swallow your pride... knowing when to do which is key.

~ There is an ugly side to leadership and very rarely will anything be just black and white. Leadership demands that we make decisions knowing full well that they won't be popular. The longer you are in a leadership position, the more likely you will be forced to make a decision that hurts someone innocent.

There is a healthy balance between being the center of the show & playing the support role; finding the correct balance that matches your personality and the personality of your leadership team is key.

The biggest hurdles you will face as a leader will almost always originate with your own real or perceived struggles. When working with others, you need to look in the mirror and judge yourself much more often than judging the actions of those with whom you work.

Your ability to be patient won't reap any immediate rewards... and that is exactly why being patient is so important. The ability and concerted effort to sit back and observe may seem like inaction, but sometimes inaction is just what the doctor ordered.

Part of leadership is recognizing & accepting that making everyone happy is near impossible. If your main goal is to please all of those around you, you are destined to fail. Don't make your leadership decisions on what you think will make everyone happy unless you want to feel disappointment. 

When you trust those with whom you work, you take the first step toward sustainable growth, trust is the essential foundation. Whatever you do, make sure that the team approach is the only approach. A weak team can't be fixed by a great leader, and a great team will be destroyed by a poor leader. 

There is difference between doing what is right, doing what you need to do, and ultimately what you end up doing...

Little fires are only able to become big fires because they are ignored & not addressed. Leadership is naturally about reacting and responding, but the more you are able to be proactive the better off you will be. 

Sometimes leadership is about jumping on the grenade that wasn't even thrown at you... sometimes leadership is about having broad enough shoulders to carry the weight of many... sometimes leadership is about getting kicked down and then being kicked while you are down. Real leadership is figuring out how to get back up and not getting kicked in the same place again...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

#Innovation: What exactly do we mean?

The word 'innovation' is all the rage in education these days. There are even new positions in education popping up with the word 'innovation' in the title... Coordinator of Innovation, Director of Innovation and Innovation Specialist for example.

I've been thinking though... we keep using this word, but like many words, I'm sure we all have a slightly different definition of what exactly the word means.

Webster defines innovation asa new idea, device, or method; the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods. 

You can even read this article from 2008 with 30 different definitions of the word 'innovation.'

Now, I'm sure we can all probably agree that innovation deals with doing something differently and doing something new. That seems to be pretty consistent and recurring in the definitions of innovation.

But, here's the thing... simply doing something differently or doing something new may align with the definition of innovation, but who's to say if that different and new are actually what's best for student learning?

For example... it was probably pretty innovative when we designed and structured our education system around cramming as many students as possible in one space to learn the same information as efficiently and as quickly as imaginable. That was pretty stinkin' innovative at the time and most definitely met the needs of society... things have changed a little since then though.

A more recent example... buying 700,000 iPads for students in Los Angeles with Pearson curriculum was probably considered pretty innovative, however, anyone involved in that situation would be wise to distance themselves as much as possible. New and different don't always equal better for student learning.

So, feel free to keep using the word innovation, but also keep in mind that we need to constantly evaluate and define what innovation is and what it looks like. This is especially true since it's no secret how quickly our world is changing. 

In closing, just because it was new and different very well may match the definition of innovation, but new and different don't always mean best for student learning... and over time, new and different become old and the same...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Innovators vs. laggards

Diffusion of innovations is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. Those this theory isn't specific to education per se, it's obviously got significant relevance and implications for how things develop and occur within the educational spectrum.

Here are the breakdowns of the five categories within the diffusion of innovations theory: (read the descriptors below)

Innovators: 2.5%

Early Adopters: 13.5%

Early Majority: 34%

Late Majority: 34%

Laggards: 16%

What would happen if educators in your school and/or district were asked to pick the category that they believe best describes them?

Then, once that activity is complete, what would happen if each educator was asked to pick the category they believe best describes their colleagues?

And then, all that information was shared with the entire staff in a group setting to openly discuss perceptions and realities of colleagues...

Is that the type of activity that would address the elephant in the room and get your school and/or district in a position to start making progress?

Friday, July 10, 2015

What we know vs. what we do...

We know extrinsic motivators and 'carrots' aren't the most effective means for long term and sustainable changes in behavior yet our schools are littered with rewards and 'if you do this, you get this' situations.

We know kids respond better when given opportunities to move and when physical activity is included all throughout the course of the school day yet most schooling experiences result in kids sitting most of the day.

We know strict and zero tolerance discipline policies aren't the most effective when working with our most challenging students yet many districts have policies that restrict educators and force them to assign ineffective, often damaging, and harmful punishments.

We know the value of reflection and simply getting the time to think yet we don't provide any time in the school day for kids to process and explore their thoughts.

We know the world is changing rapidly but yet far too often we cling to teaching to and focusing on outdated skills and information that are no longer the most vital and/or necessary.

We know relevance is a key component to student learning and student engagement but we keep missing out on opportunities for kids to positively influence and impact their local communities and serve the greater good by solving real problems affecting people around the world.

In closing, my challenge for all educators moving forward is to take some of the things we know are best for kids and ensure that our actions align...

Monday, July 6, 2015

Does the 'outside expert' always know best?

We've all heard the story of the child who is told over and over again by their father/mother how to do something. The child simply disregards the suggestion because the child can't imagine the father/mother knowing best.

Then, an outsider (a coach, teacher, friend of the family), responds with the same advice and/or suggestion, and the child's eyes light up in amazement as if this suggestion has never before been heard.

This story has repeated itself countless times in our daily lives.

For educators, this type of story can be all too common...

It's not uncommon for schools and districts to bring in outside 'experts' to talk about a particular topic. Often times this topic is something that's been brewing in the school or district for some time. And in an effort to sustain the momentum an outside expert is called upon to assist.

The typical response of the audience is amazement and awe. Participants are glued to every word that falls out of the expert's mouth and for the days and months to follow people start their statements with, 'John/Jill the Expert said...'

This of course isn't always the case, but I'd say more often than not this is the reality in education.

These experts from far distant lands who appear in the middle of the night and have all the right things to say in just the right ways are idolized and their words carry the needed weight to take the initiative to the next level.


What's most interesting about this outside expert is they may or may not be any more knowledgeable or experienced than some of those within the school or district.

Like anything, this isn't always the case, but there are many instances where there are very qualified and knowledge educators within an education system who have been saying and/or advocating for what the expert said for quite some time.

However, their words have unfortunately been falling on deaf ears for whatever reason...

They've been tuned out because everyone already knows how they feel or what they are going to say... it's nothing new and everyone has heard it all before.

This can be quite demoralizing for any individual and naturally will cause someone to question their worth and value in the eyes of others.

So, how often do we have passionate AND extremely knowledgeable educators within our ranks who just can't seem to get any traction with their own colleagues?

How often do father and mother know best?

What can be done about this scenario that continues to play itself out in schools and districts around the world? Should anything be done?

Full disclosure... I've benefited personally from being the outside expert and I would also say there are absolutely times when bringing someone in from the outside is a great strategy to move an initiative forward.

So, what do you think?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

10 pieces of advice for new teachers:

In just a few short weeks new teachers around the world will embark upon an exciting and crazy adventure. This adventure will surely have its fair share of ups and downs. In spite of that, this adventure will allow for countless opportunities to serve and positively impact current and future generations of students. This adventure will be like no other adventure...

Here are 10 pieces of advice I'd like to share with new teachers as they prepare for this adventure:

1). Strong student relationships will be your best friend. Get to know your students and get to know what makes them tick. Learn about their interests and hobbies and make sure they know you care about them. When students know you care about them, they will trust you. The strong relationships you create in the first few weeks of the school year will set the tone for the entire year.

2). Find time to go observe other teachers. Maybe this happens during your plan time or you work out some special arrangements with your building administrator, but going to observe other teachers teach will be very valuable for you. Also, don't just go and observe the teachers who you hear or think are good, go observe all types of teachers from all different content areas.

3). Don't be afraid to say, 'I don't know.' The people who always have an answer and the people who go to great lengths to make themselves sound smart or sound like they have every answer typically come off fake and insecure. You're new and it's ok not to know everything. Sometimes not knowing allows you to see things from a different and unique perspective which can be a positive. Embrace what you don't know.

4). Treat all students as if they were your students. Yes, of course you will have your own students, but at the end of the day all students are our students and they deserve to be treated as such. It takes a whole village and now you are a part of that village, so do your best to never say, 'those aren't my students.'

5). Plan for more and prepare for more than you think you need. When designing lessons and thinking about learning activities, it's often hard to know how long it may take. This is especially difficult for new teachers since in most instances they've never done that particular activity before. You'd rather have too much than not enough... but be careful and recognize that quality will always supersede quantity. This is especially true for student learning.

6). School districts are not employment agencies. In order words, you were selected to fill this teaching position because you bring a specific skill-set and/or expertise to the mix. Don't be shy to voice your opinion and don't be shy to speak your mind. You've got a set of experiences that others don't, so be sure you play an active role in what happens in your school and avoid being just a spectator.

7). Look in the mirror before pointing your finger. Sure, there are things that will be out of your control and things that will happen that you can't control, but at the end of the day, there are more things that we can control than we can't. Additionally, when things don't happen like you want them to or think they should, it's a lot easier to change what you are doing than to get others to change. Lastly, it's quite empowering when you take responsibility for what happens rather than shifting the blame to others.

8). Be aware and be on the look out for 'that' group of teachers. Most folks are good at heart and want to help. Unfortunately that leaves a few folks who aren't always equally committed to helping and seeing others succeed. Similarly, there are some folks who appear to thrive in the presence of others' failures. This group will be attractive because they welcome new members, and they especially like new young teachers who don't know any different. You've been warned...

9). Say 'yes' more often than you say 'no,' but don't be afraid to say no. As a new person, you will have opportunities to be a part of committees and groups. You will also be asked to attend professional learning events. You may even be asked to pilot new programs or initiatives. This can really add up quickly in terms of time commitment but you can also learn a lot in the process. Get involved but also remember that there are only 24 hours in a day, so there may come a time when you have to say, 'no thank you.'

10). Take responsibility and ownership for sharpening your own saw. Sure, you will have some conference and learning events you can attend, but don't let your learning and growth be limited to what your school or district provide. There are so many informal learning opportunities available to you, so be sure to take advantage of them. When it comes to your learning and growth, you know yourself best and you know your needs best, so take control of your own learning.

Good luck and enjoy this wonderful adventure... we've been waiting for you!

Friday, July 3, 2015

You're not in the classroom, so you just don't understand...

Every administrator has probably heard this statement before.

It doesn't matter if it's a first year administrator or a 20 year veteran... this statement is hard to avoid.

We also all know the conversations, presentations, and perspectives that are immediately discredited simply because someone is no longer in the classroom. 

Of course, we all lose a sense of what it's like to be in the classroom when we aren't experiencing it every single day.

And yes, the kids we have today aren't the same kids as five years ago.

Also, the demands on today's classroom teacher seem to be increasing to levels never seen before.

But, we have to remember, every single administrator was a teacher before becoming an administrator. It's also worth noting that administrators are in different classrooms almost every single day, so they get to see quite a lot of classroom action.

Having said all that, what message are we sending to our colleagues when we make statements like this?

What message are we sending about teamwork and working collaboratively to help our students?

Do we believe those who currently aren't in the classroom really don't understand? Or perhaps can't understand...?

Better yet, is it possible for those who aren't in the classroom to understand, or are they banished to another world to forget entirely what it's like to be a teacher?

So, is it time to put this statement to rest, or is there merit and validity in making this statement?

What are we telling kids when...

We hold kids to artificial deadlines and give them zeros for not meeting those artificial deadlines when they clearly don't have the skills mastered yet.

We have enrichment opportunities during the summer time but yet offer nothing during the school year.

We allow kids to fail for not doing their school work during the school year to only have them retake the class during the summer time in a greatly shortened time frame.

We ask our kids to take risks and get out of their comfort zone to push their learning but yet we rarely try a new strategy or approach to enhance student learning.

We use a 100 point scale which gives our kids 59 opportunities to fail.

We expect our kids to interact appropriately and respectfully in the digital space while we turn around and do the exact opposite.

Let's keep in mind... our actions speak pretty loudly and our kids are listening. Hopefully what our kids hear is what we want them to hear...