Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I have all the answers. Or not.

If you have a question, come to me.  I'll give you the best answer.  If you don't know how to proceed, just ask.  I'll tell you what to do next.  If you aren't sure of something, don't worry.  I'm sure.  If you can't decide which way to go, I'll point you in the right direction and tell you how to get there.  If you need a specific answer to a specific question, I will provide you with the answer.  If you need permission, you better ask me.


If you have a question, come to me.  I'll do my best to help you find the best answer.  If you don't know how to proceed, just ask.  I'll ask you some questions that may help you find your way.  What obstacles can I clear for you?  If you aren't sure of something, don't worry.  I'm unsure of many things.  I know we can support each other in our efforts to be better today than we were yesterday.  If you can't decide which way to go, I'll help you find like-minded people heading the same direction.  If you need a specific answer to a specific question, I might have that bit of knowledge.  If I don't, I might know how you could find it.  If you need permission, ask yourself.  I trust you to proceed wisely.  Be brave and have fun!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Stop light volume

Early in my teaching career, I had a construction paper stoplight in my room.  Each color on the stop light represented the desired volume.  Green meant talking was OK.  Yellow meant that whispering was OK.  Red was for silence.  I moved the light based on my desired volume for each activity.  It was well-planned.  I purposely chose the volume that would best fit each learning activity.  I also used it to control the volume when it seemed to get too loud.

Twenty years later, Amazon sells a Yacker Tracker for a hundred bucks and it senses the volume and changes the light automatically!

If the students were working on projects or inquiry-based lessons, the light was green.  Talking was OK.  Green was also lit for projects and cooperative learning activities.  Yellow was lit for independent work.  Red was lit during reading time and some independent work activities that I chose to be silent.  I can't remember why???

The problem with the stoplight was that my kids didn't always agree with the volume that I wanted.  So I spent too much time trying to enforce the "correct" volume.  It didn't seem to matter how many times we practiced the correct volume, I always had kids who showed me they didn't agree.  After too much time and energy, I finally asked myself, "Why?"

I asked several other teachers for better strategies to control the volume,  I wanted more tricks in my bag.  I tried several of them, but the results were the same.

I looked another direction for an answer.  I looked at my rationale behind the different volumes.  I tried to simplify things so that my students could better understand the expectations and more importantly, so I could maximize learning and spend less time fixing the volume.

I started by asking myself, "When does it absolutely need to be silent?"

I came up with two answers.  When someone is talking to the whole class, everyone else should be quiet.  That one seemed easy.  Also, some assessments needed to be quiet.  Several other learning activities crossed the board when I thought about silent.  What about reading time?  I decided that short conversations about reading made for better learning.  What about videos?  Short conversations about the videos made for better learning.  What about work that was to be graded?  This one was easy to let go as I strongly preferred a standards-based grading system!

I also asked myself, "When is whispering the correct volume?"  I listed several possibilities, but the only time that I could come up with where whispering was the best volume for everyone's learning was during silent reading time.  I guess "almost-silent" reading time would be more appropriate!

Looking at these new guidelines for class volume, it seemed to me that they were more natural for human beings!  When someone else talks, everyone should listen.  When the majority of people are concentrating silently, everyone else should respect the quiet environment by talking as quietly as possible.  Most importantly, when we are learning, we should be talking!

Now, when designing learning activities, rather than thinking about the best volume, I invest time thinking about how to elicit the best talk.  Evoking great questions.  Involving the learners in thoughtful discussions.  The one doing the most talking is doing the most learning!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Friends one minute.  Enemies the next.  Love-hate relationships.  These are the toughest social connections to take care of in schools.  The two of them want to be friends and they can't make it work.  Classroom teachers do so so much to weather these relationships in classrooms.  Parents want to make sure that their kid is in a good place.  Not easy when things are simply not gonna work!.

At some point, one of them sees that it doesn't work.  It won't work.  It is over.  Then what?  Letting the two of them battle it out every day is clearly not the right thing to do.  Oddly enough, we tend to wait and watch and talk a bit too long.  It seems that we try to convince these two that it is OK not to be friends, they just can't be enemies.  Really though, at this late stage of the frenemy zone, doing nothing won't fix anything.  Actual working solutions differ case by case and simply trying to talk through it is rarely the one that works.

In conversations with former friends, the only thing I have ever said that makes a tiny difference is one request given to both of them together.  "Tell me something good about each other."

Something caused the attraction in the first place.  Something made the initial friendship desirable.  Helping them remember those feelings is the only thing I have found that helps at all.

When friends become enemies, help them remember why they were friends.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What time is your Direct Teach?

Is this question valid anymore?  In an old Marilyn Burns lesson format, direct teach is something that occurs regularly.  Our focus has shifted from teaching to learning.  Classrooms are no longer based on what we try to teach children.  Instead, classrooms are focused on ensuring that kids learn what they need to learn.

If we know what kids need to learn, and we know how to determine if every kid has learned exactly what he/she needed to learn, then Direct Teach is simply one strategy that may help kids learn.  Some of the best lessons I have seen did not include any Direct Teach.  They included great questions to drive exploration and connected problems that engaged students.  They may have included some small group guided learning.  They were usually collaborative in nature and well-designed.

A million thanks go to Marilyn Burns for providing me with a structured approach to high-quality teaching!  A million more thanks go to the countless teachers who showed me that high-quality learning doesn't mean Direct Teach!

Friday, November 13, 2015

I can't. It would set a precedent.

When approached with a tough decision, the decision-maker has to take many factors under consideration.  Is this change be best for the student?  Is this change best for the classroom?  Is this change best for the teacher?  Are there short-term barriers?  What will the long-term effects be after the change?

And oftentimes we think, "This is not how we typically operate.  Will this change set a precedent?"

The answer to that last question scares us!  Even folks who say they love change and they fail forward frequently are scared of setting a precedent that they may need to repeat.  There is fear that any decision immediately becomes a new norm and everyone will expect it!

New norms and practices are tough!  It is also tough to tell the people directly affected that you can't honor the request because of reasons.  I think it is funny when a request is denied with communicated reasons that don't make sense!

"I'm sorry we can't go with your idea because it might upset the balance of kids moving through hallways at certain points during the day and other might think that this is now the right way and it would confuse everyone and blah blah blah!!!!"

It might be easier to say no to one person than to explain your decision to everyone that notices the exception you granted.

It also takes courage to go against the grain and make an exception and say yes.  Do what is right! If no is really the best answer, say it.  If yes is really the answer, say it.  Don't be afraid to do what is right because you are scared to allow something outside of the lines.  Be brave!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Magical mastery!

As I watch my own kids go through the cycle of a six-week grading period, I notice a definite pattern in their grades.

The first few weeks typically show wildly different grades because only a few are taken.  Then around the middle of the grading period, the normal grades begin to appear.  Around the fifth week out of six, the "important" grades hit the grade books and grades are lower than hoped for.  As the end of the grading period quickly approaches, parents worry, kids panic, and teachers work to help kids pass.

Then the last grades are entered and lots of folks go from panicked to relieved!

This pattern of grades seems to be quite repetitive.  I would bet a dollar that the lowest overall grade average in any high school course happens approximately one week before the end of the grading period.  I'd bet another dollar that the highest overall grade average happens at the end of the grading period!

Extra work is definitely done, and kids probably do all sorts of things to "repair" their grades, but is there really a magical change in mastery of the curriculum that happens during that last week?  Or, perhaps as a dedicated and passionate group of educators, we can find ways to ensure that the activities our students do each day are truly about the learning and not about the grade!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Eighth chair

A few years ago, my oldest son wanted to give band a try.  I was excited for several reasons.  Band kids usually become a tight-knit group.  I loved that he would become musical.  And, band usually has the highest average GPA of any student group!

He went to instrument tryouts and rated equally well for the trumpet and for percussion.  He couldn't decide which way to lean, so I asked the band director.  She had a great answer!  She said that trumpet players typically have a little more boisterous attitude while percussion players are oftentimes a bit more introverted.  My incredible kid was drummer!

We bought the instruments he needed ($1500) and he began his journey.  He practiced every day.  He logged his practice time and worked hard to do things well.  When it came time for his first chair test, he came home and sullenly told us that he was eighth chair.  Out of eight.

We encouraged him to continue and told him that many of his fellow percussionists played piano as well so they had a head start.  He was still trying to enjoy band.  The next week, still eighth chair.  

As the weeks went on, he was consistently last.  One week, he walked in the door and exclaimed, "Seventh chair!  I'm not last!"  Hurray!  His perseverance was paying off!  Then he told us that one kid didn't have his band supplies that day so he automatically got eighth chair.  

Enjoyment slowly drained from my kid's band experience.  I don't put all the blame on the chair test, but most assuredly, his consistent spot in last chair was a big factor.

I asked the band director about the whole chair test thing.  What was the purpose?  Were there any improved methods used in the middle school band community.  She replied, "Band has always done it that way.  It motivates kids to want to do better."

I told her that consistently coming in last place can certainly motivate someone.  Just not always to get better.  A lot of consistent last-placers are motivated to quit.  My son worked hard!  He tried!  He wanted to be a musician like his older cousin!

She didn't seem open to suggestion, but I made one anyways.  I asked her to consider having chair places #1 through #4.  Then everyone else is called 2nd row.  She scoffed at the idea.  

My kid quit band after 24 weeks.  He was motivated alright.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The pebble in your shoe

How long will you walk with a tiny pebble in your shoe?  It is barely noticeable.  Really, you pay it no attention if something else is on your mind.  But still, when you notice that pebble, it bothers you. How long do you put up with it before you do something about it?

If you are on the move, with somewhere to be, that pebble might just stay in your shoe for awhile.  Because removing the annoyance would require stopping for a moment, removing your shoe, extracting the pebble, adjusting your sock, and putting your shoe back on.  Stopping your forward progress, even if it will ease your journey forward doesn't seem worth it.

With any pebble though, there comes a point when the annoyance outweighs the trouble of stopping.  So you stop, remove the pebble, and those first pebble-free steps are awesome!  Sometimes, you giggle at your self for putting up with the annoyance for so long!  The pebble is gone and progress resumes better than ever!

What about at school?  Are there some pebbles that annoy you just a little bit?  Perhaps a certain procedure that doesn't quite function smoothly.  Perhaps a part of your daily lessons that don't produce the engagement you hoped for.  Perhaps a part of your lesson-planning process that could definitely be better, if only you would stop and address the irritant.  Maybe you are not getting the results you hope for from your current math practices.  Maybe your writing instruction lack true authenticity and the kids don't see the purpose.  Teachers usually know of several things that could be better.

But school is almost always moving quickly.  There doesn't seem to be time to stop and take care of the problem.  Or maybe the solution isn't as easy simple as removing your shoe.  The solution may actually be unknown.  You know there is a better way, you just don't know what it is.  Or, you know you want something to be a little different, you just aren't sure the eventual improvement is worth the effort to make it happen.

It is worth it.  If it wasn't, we would all be walking around with pebbles in our shoes!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Nothing is simple anymore!  Well, almost nothing.  The idea of simple went away for awhile.  Things got more and more complicated.  Ideas grew and compensations were made.  People's needs expanded, and steps were added to processes to make sure those people got what they needed.  Managers wanted some accountability for the responsibilities of their employees, so boxes and arrows were added to flowcharts to minimize mistakes.

Rube Goldberg would have loved it!  The more steps, the more fun the machine!  Only true with mouse traps, cartoons, and these days...Youtube videos!

Simple is now buzzing again.  Thank GOD!  Question #1 should always be, "What is the purpose?"  Question #2 should be, "What is the simplest way we can fulfill the purpose effectively?"

Sounds simple, doesn't it?  It isn't simple.  But it is worth it!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Must innovators be fearless?

I was listening to Warren Berger's book on the way to school this morning.  A More Beautiful Question.  It was the last chapter and he quoted somesuch guy who said, "Innovators must be fearless."

I immediately wondered if it was possible to be fearless in the face of uncertainty???
 Can you try something completely new, different, and perhaps unproven without fear?  Can you fearlessly move forward with something that could potentially be amazing...or could potentially be the opposite of amazing?

Being fearless almost seems a little crazy to me.  In order to innovate, I think it is much more important to be courageous!  When you are ready to forge your way down a new path, strength and courage in the face of uncertainty will be more helpful than a lack of fear!  Bravery is not the lack of fear.  Bravery is your ability to persevere in the face of fear!  Be brave!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I blew it!

"Daddy, guess what!  Today, I was curious if there was a way that I could get more recess at school!   I wrote the schedules, and did the math, and found good reasons online.  Did you know kids NEED recess?"

I replied, "I did know that!  Did you come up with a solution?"

He continues, "I did!  In flex time, I did the math for a new schedule and made a prezi and sent my solution to the principal through Google Classroom and guess what! I BLEW it!  I was so wrong!  I left out something really important!  How can we have longer recess and be sure the teachers get to eat lunch?"

"Yeah, I think it might be important for your teacher to eat.  So you blew it, huh?"

He finished, "Yeah, I blew it, but I'm not done and it is pretty cool that my principal asked me to keep working on it instead of just saying no.  Especially since I was so wrong!"

I asked, "If you were SO wrong, why are you gonna keep working on it?"

He looked at me incredulously, "Because I WANT to.  Duh!"

This almost-fictional story contains so many wonderful and engaging educational aspects that buzz right now.  Project-based Learning.  Creative problem-solving.  Integrated technology.  Flexible learning time.  A fail-forward attitude.  Collaboration between educators and students.  Wow!

Friday, October 16, 2015

What do you say?

When teachers talk to the entire class about anything at all, we try to choose the best words to convey a consistent message to all the kids.  We want each child to understand our message without needing to provide 22 individual messages.  This is no easy task!  A few kids may not understand the actual words we choose.  A few kids understand each word exactly as we want them to.  A few kids hear a tone of voice or see body language that doesn't necessarily match the intended message.  When teachers talk to kids, it isn't easy to always get it right.  But we are human, right?

Sometimes we say things that shouldn't be said.  Sometimes we say them in a way that we shouldn't say them.  Sometimes, like humans do, we say things we shouldn't even say.  Sometimes.

 Almost always, teachers communicate quite well!

Think about all the things a teacher communicates during a day!  All of the instruction and redirection that is given.  All the questions that are asked and answered.  All the problem-solving between students.  All the professional discourse with peers.  All the conversation to help kids have productive conversation.  All the questions that help kids think.  Teachers communicate all day long, with so many people, about so many things.

And occasionally, teachers say something that just doesn't sound quite right.  Perhaps the volume was louder than it should have been,  Perhaps a "freakin" word or phrase was used that is considered inappropriate in some homes.  Perhaps a frustrating tone was voiced because...frustration happens.  How many times has your parent conference focused on things you said or the child said or the parent said, with hopes of clearing up miscommunication?  Or more commonly, making sure you still actually like the kid!  When teachers accidentally choose words that might be taken the wrong way, conversations with parents can focus on the the wrong topic.  When the tallest human in the classroom makes a rare communication error with a kid, it can be repaired rather easily between the teacher and the kid!  Regardless of these hopefully infrequent communication blunders, most of the time teachers communicate quite well!

The way things roll these days, many educators are forced to choose words under a microscope.  The need to be perfectly PC is overwhelming.  Fear of making a mistake dissuades many teachers from ever having a crucial conversation, no matter how necessary.  Often times, educators choose to avoid the most important topics of conversations because they don't want to offend anyone or deal with the sometimes exhausting repercussions of minor miscommunication.

By nature, sugar-coating happens when we talk about kids.  By nature, we see our kids through lenses of hope and success and optimism.  But occasionally, we need to speak frankly.  We need to address the current reality with fierce determination to make things better.  And the fear of offending someone occasionally gets in the way.

The fear is not only with parents, but with other educators too.  Professional conversation gets real when two passionate educators hit a hot topic.  Can the conversation be professional and passionate?  Absolutely!  The problem comes when one of the professionals sees a differing opinion as an insult.  Two passionate educators with different opinions and one or both of them gets offended.

Really though, this entire profession is couched on excellent communication.  When misunderstanding happen, they are almost always repaired when both parties approach the "fix" with an open heart.  On that rare occasion when a teacher may say something that doesn't sound quite right, please remember the other 687 things they said quite well!  Perfect doesn't happen too often, but most teachers are pretty darn close!

Thursday, October 8, 2015


What would happen if you woke up and headed out to school, just like any other morning, but when you arrived, you realized you forgot everything you knew about pedagogy? What would your class look like?  What would you do?  What would the kids do?

Say that you do remember to treat kids well and you remember who your students are perfectly.  You have simply forgotten how to teach.  A quick glance at your lesson plans tells you nothing because of the cryptic shorthand they are written in.  There are some cut pieces of construction paper on your desk, along with Base 10 blocks, salt, sugar, flour, scissors, glue sticks, strips of paper, cups, and not much else.  Then the bell rings and your classroom fills with kids ready to go!

What would you do?

Would you run next door and tell your partner teacher that you had pedagogy amnesia and you needed help?  Probably not.  Would you tell your partner that you can't read your own lesson plans?  Nope.  Would you panic, sit on the floor, and cry?  Not a good idea!

Then you see the learning target posted on the white board.  It says, "I can demonstrate mixtures and solutions and write about them with science vocabulary."

A clue!  Luckily, you remember what what mixtures and solutions are.  You know those materials on your desk will be helpful.  Your brain starts churning with ideas, then you realize that you have no idea what your students already know about solutions and mixtures.  As you search for some record that let's you know what they know, sighs of restlessness fill the room and Little Glenn is already bouncing off the walls!  It is time to act!

With a stroke of sheer genius, you decide to ask the kids.  You ask the class, "What did you learn yesterday?" and 20 hands shoot in the air!  Realizing that you couldn't call on all 20 of them, it seemed natural to you to let all the kids have their need to answer met by talking with a partner.  So you tell them to turn to their partner and tell what was learned in science yesterday.  Longest-haired partner goes first.  It worked like a charm and it seemed so natural!

You continued, "What did you do yesterday to learn that?"  Again, partners shared....and you listened.  From these two questions, you could tell that many kids understood it well and some kids still struggled.  You ask the entire class, "Sounds great!  Does everyone understand?"  They all nod yes, which you know to be false.  Hmmmm......  "Ok, raise your hand if you need more help with this?"

The only hand that goes up is from the kid who wants to know if the seasoning in Ramen soup is a mixture or a solution.  (GREAT QUESTION!)  Checking for understanding with these two questions doesn't do you any good and you still need to know who needs additional support.  They are all staring at you.  They are ready get busy.  They wonder what your major malfunction is!

You ask yourself, "I wonder if I can make up an experiment with all that junk on my desk to help them learn solutions and mixtures???"  Then a kid states rather indignantly, "If you're not gonna show us the experiment for today, can we just make up our own?"

BRILLIANT!  You reply, "Absolutely!"

If this was you, what would the rest of your day look like?  What would you do if you had pedagogy amnesia?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A clean slate

"Start with a clean slate!"

Just how possible is it to start with a clean slate?  My slate has been written on and erased many times.  Trying to write new information on my slate can be tough sometimes because of all the previous information that has been written and erased.  Nevertheless, I continue to make erasures and add new information.  Sometimes, I simply add new information.  It can get messy!

If I am gonna actually "start with a clean slate," it better be with something I have absolutely no experience with!  Otherwise, my previous knowledge and experience will come into play.

Really though, the idea of a fresh start to improve something that needs improvement can be extremely challenging and enjoyable!  The previous knowledge and experience of everyone may make the improvement effort a bit more challenging at times, but those messy slates make for deeper conversations, informed stakeholders, deeper questions, and better decisions.

***When was the last time anyone actually wrote on slate!***

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Getting it ALL done

I was sitting in my office a few minutes ago with nothing to do.  I had done it all.  Everything on my list was checked off.  What a great feeling!!!!!

I hope you don't believe a word of that.

I haven't ever had everything checked off of my list.  I don't think anyone in a school can ever be all-the-way done with everything.  (Although I have met one amazing teacher who got almost everything done!  Yet there was always that one thing she never quite marked off her list.) And for me, I don't really keep a "To Do" list.  Keeping up with the list would be just one more thing on my list that would go undone!

The truth???  I was sitting in my office while my computer rebooted, trying to decide what my current priority would be.  Anyone who knows me understands that I need to move from activity to activity.  I rarely start a major project and stick with it until it is finished.  Instead, I try to rotate through important things.  It works for me.  I also try not to let the "paper-pushing" aspects of the principalship get in the way of the important things.

These short moments of choosing the next priority to focus upon happen several times a day.  So many great things to do and a few not-so-great things to do.  When these moments arise, I have a new practice.  I get up and get out!  I'm not the kind of guy who spends too much time in my office.  Not at all!

So when I happen to be trying to decide what priority to focus upon, I automatically go to the classrooms.  It gives me the chance to focus on the most fun part of the job that also happens to be one of the most important priorities!  It also gives me a chance to change my own state of mind.  Usually, choosing the next priority becomes crystal clear during these classroom visits!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The happiest place on earth!

I love it when people describe school as a circus!  Calling something a circus is usually meant to be an insult.  When someone says something like, "My classroom was a circus today!" it usually means that things were a bit crazy in there.  But really, maybe they were not that crazy.  Maybe it was loud and maybe there was more movement than usual.  Maybe there was some true excitement about the learning!  Or, maybe the extra movement and noise was the students' reaction to another worksheet.

Either way, I like to respond with, "Awesome!  The circus is a fun and happy place with tons of well-choreographed action that engages everyone!"

If your classroom is a circus, make sure
it is the well-designed, engaging lessons that keep the energy and happiness alive!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A web of questions!

Long ago, as a fifth grade teacher, I tried to teach kids how to organize their knowledge using a web.  Draw a circle and write a thought in it, then connect it to a smaller circle with a supporting detail.  Several circles may connect to several statements from all of the material the student knew about the topic.  This was a way to organize your bucket of knowledge about a specific topic.

Circles connected to circles with nuggets of wisdom about the Native American Tribes of Texas or the Plot of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  It allowed the facts and details to come out of the kids brain non-sequentially, with the hopes that they would flow more easily.

As I look back, I'm curious if these could have been done better???  When kids wrote down what they already knew, they had conversations about details.  They didn't necessarily add to their knowledge.

What if kids did a similar activity, but used questions instead of facts?  Or maybe the web could start with things we know, but every circle needed a question attached to it?  Or, maybe the last step in the web creation process asks the learner to add 5-10 questions that deserve answers?

When we include questions in or brainstorms, we increase the size of the storm!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fridays, part 2

I was doing the typical dad thing last week, asking my two boys about school and their homework.  It was Thursday.  I asked my 7th  grader if he had any homework.  He said, "No real homework, but I have two tests."

I asked my ninth grader the same question.  He looked at his brother and said, "You're lucky, Kid!  I have three tests tomorrow.  Math, English, and science."

My high schooler has a blocked schedule.  He attends four classes per day and one of them is soccer.  So his other three classes all have tests.  Really?  Three tests on one day?

What drives the curriculum in your classroom?  Is it driven by the learning or the calendar?  Even the best written curriculum, with thoughtful units of study and a cohesive scope and sequence has enough wiggle room to make sure that students aren't stepping on the scales in all three academic classes on the same day.  In high school,
it is probable that the math department, the English department, and the science department aren't communicating with each other about their test dates.  Nevertheless, if the test dates were driven by student readiness rather than the calendar, three tests on the same day would be a coincidence rather than a Friday norm.

In elementary, I bet there are still a huge number of teachers that give spelling tests on Fridays.  Why?  Perhaps there is a history and tradition for spelling tests on Fridays.  That is what I did as a kid.  My parents probably did too.  Other than the fact that Friday is the day before the weekend, what is the purpose for giving them on Fridays?  I have heard the argument, "I can't let them forget everything over the weekend!"  As educators, if we give tests on a Friday because we are fairly certain they will forget the information over the weekend, then we haven't actually done our jobs to ensure they really mastered the new learning.  If we are confident in our lesson design and confident in our students' mastery of the learning standards, our assessments will really just affirm what we already know!

A few years ago, an innovative team of teachers moved their spelling tests to Wednesdays.  They gave the Friday test thing some deep thought and chose to try something different.  They also decided to give it a try because they wanted Fridays to be more engaging for their kids.  They argued that there was a dip in student behavior on Fridays.  Indeed, it is common for classroom behavior to be a bit more challenging on the last day of the week.  Counter-intuitively, lots of teachers still try to take care of the challenges of Friday behavior by planning some more calm activities.  This team looked at it differently.  They decided that the best way to take care of excited Friday kids was to design learning activities that matched the Friday excitement. They loved it!  I did too!

I believe that kids don't forget what they have learned if they have truly learned it!  Fridays should be exciting days with exciting learning activities!  And if a test is needed, don't let the calendar choose your test day!

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Friday Dance!

Don't do it!  Why only dance on Fridays?  Dance every day at school!

Do you ever ask someone, "How are ya?" and they respond with, "It's Friday!" as if the previous four days were some sort of torturous journey?

I like a good weekend too, but I believe we need to set up our schools to be desirable every day of the week!  Fridays should be no better than any other day.  Wednesdays shouldn't be half-way though the grind of a work week.

To take that idea to an even better level, schools should make Mondays sound like the best day of the week!  The day we are most excited about because we get to be with our students again, doing great things!  Fridays should sound like, "Goodbye!  I'll miss you kids!  Have a great weekend!  I can't wait to see you on Monday!"

Mondays should sound like, "Oh my goodness, it is great to see y'all!  I am ready for a great week!  I hope you are too!"

Monday, August 31, 2015

We both want the same thing!

Disagreements are almost always focused on some sort of difference in perspective.  And for so many people, there is a natural inclination to find fault in that different opinion by creating a reason for it.
  • She doesn't know what she is talking about.
  • He doesn't understand what I am trying to say.
  • She doesn't have enough knowledge to have a valid opinion.
  • He doesn't have enough experience to know what I know.
  • She is letting her past experiences cloud her judgment.
  • He is only disagreeing with me because he wants me to be wrong!
  • "Crazy!"
Every one of these is often times followed with another common thought, "If she/he would just see things my way."

The funny thing is that the great majority of people really do have good intentions.  They really do want what is best.  They really do SHARE your goals for excellent progress or a solution.  They simply have a different approach to make it happen.  A common goal and a common vision can be achieved with different strategies.  The key to collaboration is the common goal.  A common goal is the key to effective collaboration.

When folks disagree on something, no matter how passionately, progress can be made when the energy is refocused on the common goal.

So, when is it OK to agree to disagree?

In my opinion, that is an interesting question with many answers.  If both parties can try something that will hopefully move towards success of the common goal, then both parties should go for it and learn from each other.  That is not really a disagreement, that is two paths towards the common goal.

When two parties need to come to some kind of agreement because they will be involved in the efforts together, then agreeing to disagree doesn't really make sense.  I subscribe to the Stephen Covey frame of thought regarding compromise.  Anytime you compromise with someone, neither of you truly get what you want.  You both lose a little bit.  Instead, finding a third alternative creates a win-win.  Dr. Covey says the third alternative, " not your way or my way.  It is a better way!"

Doing this is tough if you are creating reasons that the other person doesn't see things your way.  Instead of conjecturing the reasons for their opinion, find the common goal.  Focus on what you both can agree on.  Only then can you truly collaborate and improve!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The worries end and the work begins

When students walk in the door on the first day of school, they come with a history of experience that is oftentimes hard to realize.  Even Kinder kids have lived through experiences that have shaped their ability to find success in your classroom.  Some will walk in your door with a set of experiences that have prepared them to breeze through the year.  Others walk in with a set of experiences that have prepared them for the opposite.  Regardless of their experience, you get who you get.

How do you respond?

It is common to hear teachers talk about classrooms that are not well-balanced.  Some classrooms end up with more challenging students than other classes.  One teacher may have with more kids who aced the state test last year.  Another teacher got all the dyslexic kids.  The male teacher got all the boys coming from homes with no dads.  Another teacher has many students that are a bit bouncy.  As much as schools try to balance classes, it is almost impossible to get it perfect.

And the truth is that some teachers handle some kids a little better than others.  Some teachers are gifted with bouncy kids.  Some teachers find more success connecting with kids from broken homes.  Some teachers excel at bringing the best out of the most heterogeneous classroom full of the widest variety of kids.

Around this time of year, class lists are created.  Parents and families nervously/excitedly await the opportunity to find out who their teacher will be.  Indeed, teachers don't only get students.  They get families.

Teachers are nervous too!  They wonder how the names on that list will actually harmonize on a daily basis.  They wonder if they will be able to create and maintain a fantastic learning environment with a newly formed group that hasn't been together yet.  They wonder what new challenges lay ahead and if their previous experiences have made them ready!

Then the first day of school happens and kids head into their new classes with smiles.  Or nervous smiles.  Or maybe even tears.  And teachers smile as they try to welcome every single child into that new place.  And parents wonder all day long how it is going.

Sure, there may be a few hiccups in a few of those new classes, with a few of those new relationships.  But for the most part, the first few days create a bond between teacher and student.  The learning environment works!  The teacher finds success.  The student finds success.  These two are not always easy, but they happen all the time and they outweigh the failures.  After all the nervous wondering about what the new class brings, after a few days, the worries end and the work begins!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Today's TO DO List

Do you ever have a great idea pop into your head on your morning drive to school?  Perhaps something that you have previously done and it was awesome?  Perhaps a series of great things that could be great again with the right attitude and fortitude?  Perhaps something brand-spanking new that will be completely fantastic for your school?  Your mind races through all of the wonderfulness that will come from your great idea!  You picture the successes at your campus that come from your idea and your effort! You simply cannot wait to make it come to life!

Then you start your day and go through your day and end your day and you temporarily forget about your awesome plans.  Don't do that.  Don't forget them.  Don't let routine kill your dream!  Awesomeness deserves a chance!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The skeptical question!

A few days ago, my campus watched Daniel Pink's TED Talk about motivation.  In my opinion, it speaks directly to educators about how people are motivated.   I have watched it several times, read his books, and participated in many hours of professional conversation about motivation.  I am not an expert, but I am passionately interested!

After the video, I asked folks to throw out only questions.  No comments or judgments, only questions.  I loved it!  A typical campus conversation following a TED Talk usually includes comments that either agree or disagree with specific things that the speaker shared.  By starting with questions, we held off the judgments!  By starting with questions, we expanded the conversation and included a broader range of possibility.  It was awesome!

For some folks, myself included, it was tough to keep our opinions on hold!  After quite a few questions that were purposely reflective, I could tell that a few passionate folks wanted to share opinions.  A few of the questions were stated in a way that communicated an opinion.

At first, the questions were, "How can we give more autonomy in order to improve their intrinsic motivation?"  After some time, a few questions sounded like, "How could we translate his research about adults in the business world to kids in our schools?"

Perhaps there was a bit of judgment in this question.  Neverthess, it was a GREAT question!!!  I loved it!  When a professional is skeptical of a new idea, their thoughts
help us all think!  Especially their questions!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The teacher at the front of the room

Several times in recent weeks, I have been involved in conversations or meetings revolving around the idea of teacher evaluations and interruptions to teaching.  Several times, the term, "...the teacher at the front of the classroom...," was used by numerous folks.  The first time I heard it, my immediate and silent response was, "Where???"

Each time I heard the term afterwards, my skin felt a little more itchy.  The term bothered me more and more.  When discussing evaluations, one of the participants stated, "When I walk into a classroom, I love seeing the teacher at the front of the classroom and all of the students watching attentively."

I thought to myself, "If the teacher happens to be at the front of the room and the students are attentive that is a good thing, but if the teacher is not at the front of the room and the students are attentive to their own learning...even better!"  I wondered, "How often does that participant expect teachers to be at the front of the room?"  If I noticed a teacher at the front of the classroom every single time I visited, I would be concerned with lesson design, student engagement, and differentiation.

Another time, a small group was discussing classroom interruptions.  One person stated, "If the phone rings and the teacher has to leave the front of the classroom to answer it, that can kill the flow of the lesson."

I wondered, "How long can a lesson actually flow with a teacher at the front of the classroom?"  I get it that a phone call can occasionally interrupt something that is going on, but in a highly engaging classroom, there is not much that actually interrupts students!  Their desire to continue with their learning far exceeds the ring of the phone, and for sure, a teacher stepping away for a moment.

Finally, I watched a webinar about student engagement.  The presenter intended to share tools for keeping students engaged.  She noted that in her classroom, she never sat down.  She continued to move around the room as she spoke.  She kept moving so the kids had to continually adjust their sitting position and turn their heads frequently to maintain visual contact with her.  She claimed that her students were sitting quietly and engaged for 45 entire minutes because she kept moving!

Itchy, itchy, itchy.  I closed that webinar soon after.  Sure, if you move a little kids will watch you move.  They will maintain a bit more attention.  For real engagement, design a lesson where the kids rarely stop moving!  Design learning with several changes of state for students!  Design an experience with differing levels of dialogue in different places in the room with differing groups of peers, based on a material the students choose and they actually care about, based on great questions!

That is engagement.  And you rarely even need to stand at the front of the room.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Who has the answers? Who has the questions?

In a typical classroom in the not so distant past, teachers asked all the questions and looked for good answers from the students.  As much as we tried to call on every student equally and fairly, the best answers were almost always provided by the students that felt school was easy.  Whether the question was a simple question with one answer, or the question was open-ended and thought-provoking, good answers usually came from the highest-achieving students.

In a classroom that values questions, good ones can be provided by any student!  A question isn't right or wrong.  A question asks everyone to think.  Asking students to ask questions doesn't require kids to search their data banks for a singular answer and it doesn't require them to formulate a response to an open-ended question.  It simply requires curiosity and wonder!

When we ask kids for questions instead of answers, we level the playing field for participation by all students and we raise the level of thinking required!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Suspicious dissatisfaction

In a culture of continuous improvement, it is everyone's responsibility to ask questions about current practices in order to facilitate progress.  Some improvement needs are evident and clear by all involved parties.  When this is the case, the need to make changes is met with minimal resistance.  Any stakeholder can ask, "How can we do this better?" and the improvement process begins!

Other times, the need for improvement is much less evident.  There may not actually be any evidence at all!  Occasionally, someone merely suspects the need for improvement.  The suspicion may come from previous experience or feedback from stakeholders.  The suspicion may come from new learning or from a gut feeling that things can be done more effectively.  Sometimes the suspicion simply comes from someone who loves to ask why things are done a certain way.  (This one is me quite often!)

Unfortunately, suspicion can be a bad word.  Those that are innocent until proven guilty are suspects.  Elvis sang Suspicious Minds.  (Although I prefer the Fine Young Cannibals version and the Dwight Yoakum version!)  The idea of suspicion has generated more books and TV shows than any word other than love!

When a need for improvement is suspected, rather than known, the improvement process is usually met with some level of resistance and the one who suspected the need for improvement is oftentimes suspected of foul play.  More suspicion!

Regardless, suspicion is how experts and visionaries make things move from good to great.  They value excellence and celebrate success, yet they hold a certain amount of dissatisfaction for the status quo.  They ask, "Why?"  

Dissatisfaction is another bad word.  Too many folks see it as a sign of poor performance rather than an attitude of continuous improvement.  Several years ago, I worked for a superintendent who told the district to, "Be dissatisfied."  He passionately professed his belief that an attitude of dissatisfaction leads to continuous improvement.  I walked away feeling empowered to question everything!  Lots of folks walked away feeling like their good just wasn't good enough.

In order to truly make things better and better and better, be dissatisfied and question your suspicions.  Indeed, improvements will follow!  Healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo and a suspicious mind will drive you to ask good questions and create a culture of continuous improvement!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Between Stimulus and Response

I was thinking about Viktor Frankl's words,

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

While I am sure this may be perfectly obvious to most people, especially anyone who has heard Dr. Stephen Covey talk about this topic, the idea of the space between stimulus and response is the essence of being proactive rather than reactive.  When there is no space created, we simply react.  The more space created, the greater likelihood of a thoughtful response.

Does this idea jive with another oft-heard quip? "Trust your gut feeling."  Can you create a space between stimulus and response and trust your gut feeling at the same time?  It seems that an immediate reaction to something might be your gut reaction, but it also might not be a chosen response.  Oppositely, creating the space after a challenging stimulus is presented gives you time to respond after giving your actions time and thought.  Perhaps this is when you occasionally go against your gut instincts.

What about those questions you occasionally ponder that linger for months and months.  The response you want probably wrestles with your gut feelings until you are sick to your stomach!  What you really want, what you think you want, what your gut is telling you to do, and the sheer inability to make a decision just might be too much space between stimulus and response.

Is it possible that too much time can be created between stimulus and response?  I think so!  While I wholeheartedly believe that space must be created to choose your best response to any given stimulus, too much space will eventually cloud the entire decision.  This leads to indecision...and perhaps indigestion!

Another good quote to end this thinking, brought to you by the Canadian Rock and Roll trio, Rush.

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice..."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Passionately engaged learning!

I love seeing people passionately engaged.  It doesn't really matter what it is either.  Watching someone intensely study, work, practice, investigate, rehearse, repeat, or try to do something successfully for the very first time is intriguing!

Both of my boys play soccer.  They love soccer!  Every now and then, I catch one of them alone in the yard, working on a new juggling move.  They try it over and over and over again until they get it right.  Then they try it over and over and over again until they get it right pretty much every time.  There have been a few occasions where I watched them from a fairly close distance and they didn't even notice I was there.

This type of passionate engagement is magic!  It is where the brain grows and the deep learning occurs.  I have seen this same type of intensity in classrooms many times.  Amazing lesson design in an amazing learning environment makes it happen!  It is not easy.  It doesn't happen all the time.  But when it does, it is the kind of lesson that the teacher will always remember.

I have a few of my own teaching memories of these magical learning activities.  Building bridges, the Bike Accident Trial, and hiking in the dark come to mind rather quickly.  I loved these more than the kids.  I loved them because the kids learned from them and THEY loved them.

These are the lessons worth repeating!  These are the types of lessons we want more of!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Same Question, Different Reaction

I was recently asked, "What would the people you work with say about you in your role as principal?"

The first thing that popped into my head, "They would say that I like to ask questions!"  Indeed, I do like to ask questions.  I like to hear about the rationale behind ideas.  I like to hear about the barriers that may be in the way.  I ask question to learn more about what is going on.

The challenge with some questions is that they mean different things to different people.  The easiest example is the question, "Why?"  For some people, this little three-letter word automatically flips the defensiveness switch.  If you are asking why, you must not trust me and my decisions and you think my words are not OK.

Within a solid relationship, this one usually does not cause a defensive reaction.  But it can.  For example, two strong, thoughtful, and energetic teachers I worked with for several years approached me with a question about team teaching.  They were very excited!  These two had been on the campus leadership team and had led several successful initiatives.  They were seen as true campus leaders and I felt like they knew I respected their work and their thoughts immensely.  They were very comfortable engaging in professional discourse and they had enjoyably indulged my why a thousand times!

They asked if their whole team could try a new arrangement for teaching and learning.  Just the thought of taking a risk and trying something different was awesome!  I loved the fact that they wanted to explore ways to improve what was happening for their students!  I listened to them explain the logistics for few minutes, then asked them about their rationale, "Why will this arrangement be better for your students?"

I had asked these two teachers the "Why" question many times in the past and they typically loved answering it because they confidently knew their business!  They didn't mind answering why!  These teachers, the ones that I felt like I had a great relationship with, had previously shown no problem with my why.

This time however, their faces changed a little, and they approached their response with a bit of hesitancy. As usual, they had some really good answers to the question, but they did not have their typical level of confidence, so their reaction to the question wasn't the same as usual.  No bright smiles this time. Rather than excitedly telling me about their plans, they hemmed and hawed a little bit.  They didn't like my why.  I am sure the fact that I had had not immediately approved caused a great deal of the difference in their reaction.

Knowing these two, they would have made it successful regardless of my question.  They usually did!  However this time, I left them with two outstanding questions to think about.

  1. How will you ensure that you build relationships with every single child just as well as you usually do in a self-contained classroom?
  2. How will you ensure that your lesson planning remains fully collaborative like it is now?

It didn't take too long for this group to approach me again with the same request, "Can we team teach?"

This time, I didn't even need to ask, "Why?"  I could tell that they had really thought out the the answers to that question.  When they presented their rationale, their reactions were quite the opposite of the first request.  They were excited and confident.  They had already thought through the why.  They had really done the thinking and talking to make sure that their plan would have the very best chance to work well!  Bright smiles and brilliant ideas abound!

My why didn't bother them this time!

In hindsight, knowing the talent and passion for doing great things of these two teachers and the entire team, I should have responded to their question with an immediate and emphatic, "Yes!"  Then I should have engaged in some other good questions to hear more about it.  Also looking back, I can say that they made their team better by working hard to build relationships and by using their collaborative strengths to plan for incredible instruction!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Did you paint the outhouse?

I have read a bunch of Tweets recently about the power of 1% improvements.  I have also read several articles and blogs about using consistent, incremental improvements to make things extraordinarily better over time.

Likewise, there comes a place in the timelines of a  process to simply overhaul the entire thing.  If something is ineffective and needs more than a tweak, 1% adjustments won't get it done!

As you evaluate your systems and processes, don't simply tweak when the system needs an overhaul.  And don't reinvent the whole thing if a little bit of polish will make a noticeable improvement.

Most importantly, never ever describe a few minor changes as a completely "New and Improved" process.  Likewise, never ever tell folks that there are only a few minor differences when the entire process is newly unfamiliar.  Both cause eyes to roll.

Like my favorite ag teacher once asked me when I tried to describe an exciting change, "Did you slap a new coat of paint on the outhouse or did you install indoor plumbing?"

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

No Conflict? No Innovation. Know Conflict? Know Innovation!

Karen Valencic said, "Without conflict, there is no innovation."  Indeed, we tend to make our greatest innovations when we are left with no choice but to do something different.  If the "different thing" works, it is an innovative success!  If the "different thing" does not work, do we still call it innovative???  I think we should.

What about those who operate on the edge and do new and different things on a regular basis?  What about the trendsetters?  Where is their conflict?

I believe it comes from their passion and their relentless pursuit to improve.  Even when a lesson goes well, these are the folks who push to do better.  They may find a new app that will increase student engagement and focus student dialogue on the learning target.  They may create a new project for students based on a neighborhood problem.  They may ask the questions that nobody else asks.   They are the ones who constantly challenge the TTWWADI mentality.  They might even cause a few folks to shake their heads in disbelief.

These teachers first moved their desks out of rows and into small groups so that kids could collaborate.  It is almost a challenge to find desks in rows in 2015.  These are the same ones who first tried teaching kids to read in small groups with appropriately leveled texts.  Twenty years ago, these teachers were trendsetters.  Today, guided reading is the norm.  These trendsetters wrote grant proposals to buy iPads for their classrooms way back in 2010 so their students could access relevant and timely information globally, rather than from outdated encyclopedias.  These days, educators are fully aware that technology needs to be in the hands of students!

Teachers who make things happen find their own conflict.  Unlike folks who cringe at the thought of conflict and change, these passionate educators smile at the challenge of doing things differently!  They relish the thought of doing something better!  They innovate!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Where are you going?

Do you know where you are going?  Do you know how to get there?  Have you determined that your journey is the right thing to do and you do not intend to let anything stop you?  Are you certain that you are actually on the right path and that your critics are simply offering another perspective and not necessarily the best perspective?

Most importantly, are you still willing to hear the words of your critics...just in case there is something to learn from them?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Simply complicated

It may be as simple as choosing YES or NO.  It may be as simple as STAY or GO.  Maybe you simply need to choose between THIS or THAT.  Whatever decision you need to make, if the different parts of your brain and heart argue for both sides, that decision becomes complicated.

When your brain and heart are very much in agreement, the simple answer remains simple.  Even if the actual decision involves many factors and the ramifications impact lots of folks, a complicated decision seems simple.  What seems clearly right, is simply right, regardless of the complications.

Monday, June 1, 2015

I know what I know, but I still don't know!

Have you ever walked into a new place for a new job, met lots of nice people who asked you tons of great questions, and you answered almost every question with, "I don't know," even though you probably knew the answer at one time in your life and you will soon know the answer again?

Before walking in,  you knew you were as ready for the job as you could possibly be and you felt confident that you would find success in your new place.  You knew that your prior experiences prepared you well for this new challenge and your passion for the work compelled you to excel...yet once you arrived, there was so much you didn't know.

Once you walked in and began to talk with people, you realized that they are also passionate about this profession and they know how take care of business in an excellent manner.  They may be looking to you for answers but really, they already own the knowledge and are willing to help you learn.

Doing something for the first time, again, forces you to remember how much you need to rely on the experts all around you.  Thank you, experts!

Friday, May 29, 2015


This is the time of year where teachers and students can see the last day approaching.  The great schools count the last days as the final few opportunities to touch lives and inspire students before they leave for the summer.  The last days of school also move so quickly that most of us forget to reflect fully on the entire year.

Looking back, most of us focus on the relationships that have lived through the school year.  Students that we have nurtured and teammates that we have grown with.  For most of us, the relationships come first!

We also review our successes and unique moments.  Those learning opportunities that were memorable and the special occasions that may never be forgotten.

Because we are about learning, I think it is important to reflect on one more area of life in a school.  We need to look back on the things that proved our perseverance.  Whether successful or not, what did you work on throughout the year?  What did you stick with?  What new and positive habits did you form?

Sometimes, the act of perseverance can actually be our greatest success!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

All the answers!

I listened to a podcast featuring Simon Sinek this morning.  He was asked, "As a leader, what is the toughest thing you have had to learn?"

His answer was a great one!  I think it rings true in school buildings all the time.  Whether you are the leader of a classroom, or the leader of a school, or the leader of a school district, his lesson is an important one.

He replied, "The toughest thing I have learned is that I don't have to know all the answers and I don't have to pretend that I do."

He went on to explain that oftentimes, leaders are expected to provide answers.  Leaders expect themselves to know the answers too.  Some leaders give answers that they may be unsure of in an effort to look like they actually do know!  The problem with these uncertain responses is that they can break down trust when they are inaccurate.

When folks look to a leader for answers, they usually have one specific answer they want to hear.  If you aren't sure of your response, ask them what their answer is.  It will probably be better than yours!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

It was an accident!

It seems like twice a year, I get to climb up on the roof of the school to retrieve a shoe.  When I ask how the shoe ended up on the roof, I always get the same answer, "It was an accident!"

I love asking kids to show me how it "accidentally" came off their foot and landed on the roof.  I try to "accidentally" kick my shoe up there too!  So far, not one kid has been able to recreate the experience.  We do have a few laughs trying though.

Usually, the kid tells me that he was trying to kick his shoe off of his foot and it "accidentally" ended up on the roof.  That one has been recreated a few times by a few kids and once by me.  Most often, I finally hear the actual truth, "It wasn't actually an accident."

Another accident happens occasionally, "Why did you hit him?"

"It was an accident!"

I know you really can accidentally hit someone, but rarely does it include a balled up fist and a quick jab.  Real accidental hits occur from turning around quickly in a crowd, pointing in a direction you aren't looking, or trying to avoid red hornets!

I ask kids to show me this "accidental" hit.  The two versions never look the same.  Not even close.  Oftentimes, I hear this, "Well, I was pretending to punch him, then I accidentally made contact."

The punching action was purposeful but the contact was unintended.  You meant to throw the punch but you accidentally made contact.  In the same action.

When things happen accidentally on purpose, it is important that we teach them the difference!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Like animals!

My family and I love to hike.  I also love the fact that taking a long walk outdoors seems more outdoorsy when I call it a hike, but that is another story.  On those days when the mornings and evenings are a bit chilly, but the daytime is warm, I love to look for lizards and snakes catching sun on rocks and fallen trees.  They can be tough to find because they don't move too much.  In the wild, it is an animal's natural disposition to expend as little energy as possible most of the time.

When a cold-blooded animal sits motionless on a rock, it is trying to conserve energy and gain heat.  In hot environments, animals find shade and stand still to conserve hydration.

I think this may be the reason that it is so hard for me to walk out the door to get some exercise!  It is a built in mechanism that is telling me to take it easy!  Seriously though, when improvement is needed, no matter how badly, it usually feels more natural to be still and not move.  Even when the desire for improvement is evident, our animal instincts often times tell us to maintain the status quo.  But we are not your average animals!  We have the ability to choose action, even when it feels unnatural.  We are capable of forcing ourselves to be proactive because we can foresee the end results.

Doing nothing may be more comfortable than facing new challenges, but hindsight tells us that facing those challenges beats watching our status quo crumble into failure.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Did you hear what I said?

This morning, I gave some very specific directions to a student.  I was quite sure she understood me.  There was no way she could have misunderstood me because my words were simple to comprehend and easy to do.

So she went to her next class and described her understanding of my words to her teacher.  And somehow, she got it wrong!  Well, I was CERTAIN that I described it perfectly!  Until she explained her understanding of my instructions to her teacher and it made perfect sense.  She thought she was being asked to leave directly at the end of the class and I thought she understood that she needed to leave at the beginning of the next class.  I don't remember the exact words, but both understandings were understandable!

So the teacher gave me an immediate example of a simple request that apparently wasn't so simple.  Her students were writing persuasively to convince the school not to require uniforms.  A student wrote some good stuff and the teacher wanted him to expand on the five W's and the H.  She asked what she thought was a simple question, "Who doesn't want to do what with the uniforms?"

He replied, "Where."

She tried again, "Who doesn't want to do what....with the uniforms?"

He could tell that the repeated question meant that she didn't think he understood it the first time, so he responded with a bit more question in his answer, "Where?"

The teacher, hearing that he was confused, asked a different way, "Not Where.  Who?"

He said, "Oooohhhh!!!  I thought you wanted to know what we didn't want to DO with the uniforms, so I said wear!"

It is all so easy to understand myself when I speak!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Not crazy...but loco

Every day, every teacher who steps in front of a classroom full of students shows courage.  They show it in many ways.  First and foremost, we are in loco parentis.  We are standing in the place of the parent.  Students are with us for 7-10 hours per day, and we are expected to act in the place of the parent.  Dozens and dozens of different parents with a wide variety of differing expectations.  This takes courage.

Some of our kids come from thriving middle-class homes
with two loving parents and tons of family and friend support.  Other kids live with their grandparents because mom and dad are not capable or allowed to care of the kids.  Other kids live with mom and step-dad one week, then switch over to dad and step-mom the next week.  Two homes with two sets of friends.  Some kids live in single family homes with a parent who works two jobs.  There are hundreds of other family situations.

There are a few generalities that can be made about the expectations from these homes for their kids at school, but the reality for teachers is that we must do our best to take care of each individual, regardless of their home life.  We try to teach them that the life they have at home does not determine the success they can achieve at school.  Without a doubt, kids from less-than-perfect homes can be super-successful and quite well-adjusted on campus.  Likewise, a kid from the prefect home can find school to be extremely challenging.

We make decisions for each child based on our experiences and our desire to take care of that child in the best way we can.  We do our best take all factors into consideration without compromising our values and principles.  This takes courage.  It takes more than courage.  It takes an awesome combination of courage and grace!

When we walk on to a campus, or even into the district office, each educator is asked to act in loco parentis.  Some folks think this is crazy.  For those of us who love our profession, it is worth it!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Which side are you on?

I was listening to a sports talk show on the radio a few days ago, and the talk show host stated that sports is the last topic where people with differing opinions can disagree without taking it personally. Unfortunately, too many topics are now seen as opportunities to make judgments about a person's soul!  Republican or Democrat.  Vegan or Meat-lover.  Working moms or stay-at-home moms.  Pretty much everything that has more than one perspective does more than cause people to choose a side.  Instead, folks choose sides, then judge the folks on the other side.  Except for maybe sports???

When I think about this in education, there are definitely a few topics that have caused a bit of side-choosing over the last 20 years.  Whole language or phonics.  Do we teach spelling or not?  When do we teach the traditional algorithms in math, as soon as possible or after the child understand the concept of the math function?

For some of these, research has proven certain things to be best practices.  For example, I rarely hear of a straight-
out disagreement between whole language and phonics because a balanced approach has been proven to work.  When something is proven to work, time and time again with increasing success, it can be considered a best practice and typically educators will agree on it.  For example, I don't know any educators who say that a worksheet is the best way to learn something.  There are so many better ways to learn!

For so many other educational topics, there is still a battle between sides.  Occasionally, feelings get hurt when opinions differ.  When teams of educators are synergistic, they have built excellent relationships and are able to put these topics on the table for professional discussion.  High-performing teams may have different opinions, but they can work together in a productive manner that will benefit all students.  These educators learn from each other and often find a third alternative that was better than the originals.

When educators agree on a common goal and make that goal the major focus of everything they do, synergy begins.  When educators with differing opinions see each disagreement as a learning opportunity, success for students grows.  When educators value the differences, then look in the mirror to see what needs to be changed, improvement can be guaranteed!

When we talk about education like we talk about sports, our kids win!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Stronger shoulders

When things get heavy, we often wish for a lighter load.  It might be a giant stack of unfinished work or too many unfinished projects at home.  It might be a lack of cash to make things easier or an emotional suitcase that is entirely too full.  When things seem like they are too heavy to handle, it is normal to wish for those things to disappear.

Or, as the Jewish Proverb reads...

Looking forward at the obstacles in your path may seem daunting at times, but if you look back at the obstacles you have already overcome, they were probably just as tough to face at the time.  Stronger shoulders!  When you wish for the "heaviness" to disappear, you are giving the power to those challenges.  When you wish for stronger shoulders, the power to persevere is all yours.

Friday, May 1, 2015

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Begin with the end in mind.  The second habit according to Dr. Stephen Covey.  Decide what you want your results to be, then pursue those results.  This is a wonderful principle that will most certainly lead to greater happiness for each one of us.

As I think about the way many educators discuss future goals with a child, I wonder if there is a flaw to our rationale.  Oftentimes, we ask young children about their future as an adult, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

There is nothing wrong with that question!  It is good for kids to visualize an excellent dream career as an adult!  It is also good if they change their minds 100 times!  But sometimes we start talking details when we talk to kids, especially when we try to connect today's work as a student to tomorrow's success, "You need to care about your math if you want to be a professional bull rider so you can take accurately manage of all your winnings!"

We try to justify the importance of certain learning objectives based on their potential future.  We try to justify the importance of good behavior based on life as an adult.  For most kids, adulthood is both too far away and a completely foreign concept.  You don't really get to know what it is like to be an adult until you are one!

We tell kids, "You need to behave in school!  If you act this way as an adult, you won't be in trouble at school, you'll get fired from your job." 

"You need to learn how to understand the author's purpose so that you will be able to better communicate with your customers and clients if you get a job that requires written communication."

"You need algebra if you are going to be an engineer or work with computers."

Young kids can't even fathom having a real job.  They hear that school IS their job.  But for a few kids, that rationale doesn't matter.  A few kids just can't wait for the bell to ring.  The minutes until the end of class agonizes them.  Then they get in trouble and hear about a future that is year's away while only trying to get beyond the next 20 minutes.

Most kids agonize over waiting two days to go to Six Flags.  They can't stand waiting an hour for dinner.  And doing homework for 30 minutes prior to go outside to play takes FOREVER.  Yet we try to give them reasons to do well in school based on a purpose that is still uncertain and many years away.

It is impossible to convince a student to see the benefit of yet another worksheet or generic writing assignment.  The learning activity may benefit the kid now, and it may make his future brighter, but that kid may just not truly be able to put that rationale to work.  The student probably wants to believe the teacher's reasoning and simply cannot.  If it was easy to simply tell ourselves something and make it come true immediately, with no problems, then every single one of us would be healthy eaters and McDonald's would go out of business.  Last time I checked, there was still a McDonald's on every corner!

I have definitely seen a decline in the need for this type of conversation in schools over the last ten years.  Teachers are designing lessons that engage students with meaningful and interesting projects.  These well-designed lessons create an intrinsic curiosity that engage students.  Good classrooms do not look like worksheets anymore.  It is impossible to convince a kid that the worksheet has a purpose and the textbook is wonderful.

Good teachers create lessons that no longer have the need to convince students to perform.  Good teachers understand that learning is a process that takes a different amount of time for each individual.  They also understand how to design lessons that play to the interests of as many kids as possible.  Good lessons do not require a child to suddenly see into future far enough to understand why a basic understanding of Newton's Laws of Gravity will be beneficial.  Good lessons make Newton's Laws fun and interesting and naturally worthwhile!