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!***