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!