Friday, December 2, 2016

Word finds are GREAT for student learning!

No. No they are not.  A few kids enjoy them.  Most do not.  They do not help kids learn.  Stop doing them for the purpose of improving vocabulary or better spelling.  There are much better ways.

Also, very few kids like The Quiet Game.  Most hate it.  They know what you need from them.  Kids choose their friends as the "most quiet" classmate.  Other kids purposely lose quickly because they know deep down inside that they will not be chosen.   Playing the quiet game really just sets the stage for you to be able to more easily spot the talkers.  Let's teach them how to talk to each other appropriately.  If too many kids are unable to act appropriately in the hallway, it is your fault.  If it is only one or two kids, address them individually.  Find a better way.

This week we are learning the letter R!  Letter of the week is irrelevant.  What a contrary and meaningless way to help young students gain ownership of the alphabet.  Start with the letters in their name.  Use environmental print. Stop cutting out 8 little letter R's and gluing them next to eight pictures of things that supposedly start with the letter R.  Kids need to learn letters and sounds through relevant language.  Worksheets with poorly drawn Rats do not help kids learn the capital R.  We can do letters better.

Copying off the board needs to end.  I'm not talking about copying a problem or an expectation for a learning activity.  I'm talking about copying a poem or a paragraph.  Don't make kids copy something that someone else has written.  If kids need to write something down, let them write their own words!  Copying is not learning.  Design something better.

Sitting out at recess for forgetting homework does not help kids remember their homework.  The kids who habitually lose their homework are only missing out on the movement they probably need.  The kids who always remember the homework simply see a stick pointed their direction.  Compliance out of fear is not the best way to do it.  Paying kids with rewards isn't the best way either.  Build intrinsic motivation by giving them better ownership of their behaviors and consequences.

Rainbow writing does not improve writing.  It does not help kids become better writers or spellers.  It does not increase engagement for the great majority of students.  It is a waste of time.  Kids are more thoughtful about choosing the colors instead of correct spelling.  I don't even know what pyramid writing is but it looks worthless.  Writing spelling words five times each is not good.   Spelling is tough to teach, but there are much better ways.

Round Robin reading still happens.  Oh my goodness, why?  The lack of engagement is beyond obvious.  The below-level readers cannot read the text.  Kids more than a couple of reading lower than the text can't even follow along.  Most kids don't follow along.  The high readers are bored to tears!  There are better ways.

These suggestions are not new.  These strategies were equally ineffective in 1994, my first year of teaching.  They were ineffective in 1979, when I was a 5th grader.  They are still ineffective, yet they still happen.

When educational practices are proven to be effective for all students, keep doing them.  The strategies highlighted above are not effective.  They are also not engaging or fun.  They are not fun for the kids or for the teacher.  Design better learning activities.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Banging erasers

Before whiteboards, classrooms had chalkboards and chalk.  The chalk in the erasers would build up and they would need to be cleaned out by banging the erasers together.  Kids in the class usually took care of this duty.  I banged erasers together a lot!  It took me awhile to realize that I was tricked!

Sometimes I banged the erasers together instead of going to recess as a punishment and sometimes I banged the erasers together instead of going to recess as a reward.

The exact same activity was a reward and a punishment.  My reaction to the activity differed though.  When it was a reward, I loved it!  The teacher chose me out of everyone in the whole class!  I didn't mind missing recess because I was a helper!  I was recognized for something good!  My teacher liked me!

When it was a punishment, I hated it.  I did not want to miss recess.  I wanted to play!  I could barely breathe from all the chalk dust.  Not fair!  Why me?  I wasn't the only one talking at the wrong time!  Banging erasers was cruel and unusual punishment.

Same activity.  Different reason and different reaction.

When I talk to kids who have made a poor choice, I try to remember my erasers.  I ask myself, "What do I need this student to learn?" and, "How can I help them learn it?"

A group of students was running down the hall.  There were 10-12 of them.  The rest of the class was walking appropriately.  What did I want them to learn?  I wanted them to learn that a herd of kids running through the hall together is not safe.

How did I want them to learn it?

I could have given them the riot act.  I could have used my old-school principal voice (high volume and too many words.)  I could have marched them through the halls for 10 minutes and critiqued every step and misstep.  Not so good.

I looked at the situation from the opposite direction.  I asked myself, "What would I do to show off the excellent hallway walking skills of these kids?"  I would practice the skill, then trust them to do it well.

The answer became clear.  With ZERO sarcasm, I kindly asked them to practice walking in the hall for a little bit.  Probably 15 seconds.  Then I praised the action.  I got them out of their line and asked them to walk for a few more seconds.  Again, I praised their efforts and gave them a giant grin!  I asked them, "Check yourself...Who needed a quick reminder?"

Several hands went up.  Sometimes we all need a reminder.  I said, "Thanks for the quick practice session.  Head on back to your class.  I trust you."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Runners gonna run!

Some people are really well-conditioned to only act when told what to do.  They defer all decisions to their boss.  They may do what they are told quite well, but this group of people doesn't make the decisions.  They wait to be told what to do.

There seems to be a correlation between the folks who wait to be told what to do and the folks who complain about what they are told to do.  They are usually the same people!

Some folks are so busy forging on with great teaching and learning that they don't wait for much!  Ron Clark, National Teacher of the Year and founder of The Ron Clark Academy says that these folks are runners  and they are too busy running ahead doing things that are best for kids to wait to be told what to do.  And they are definitely too busy to complain about it!

Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, says that when we are willing to own our story, we can write our own ending.  Don't wait for someone to tell you what to do.  Don't let someone else write your story. Wake up each day and ask yourself, "How can I be better today than I was yesterday?"  Then go be better!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

One notch better

Dave Burgess talks about designing lessons that will fully engage learners.  He is crazy passionate about it!  Read his book, Teach Like a Pirate, and you will understand!  He fully admits that it is impossible to make every single lesson into the best possible lesson.  He says that it takes incredibly hard work, time, energy, and occasionally some cash to make it happen on a regular basis.  He goes on to say that it is our duty as educators to bring our very best to every possible lesson!

He goes on to say that we should consider several facets of the lesson to determine if it is the best possible decision has been made.  In my opinion, this is the key question for making incremental improvements.  How can I do this better???

As you head into this week, look at your lesson plans.  Look at the activities that include a worksheet.  For every worksheet, ask yourself, "How can I make this one notch better?"  Then do it.  As many times as possible.

Worksheets are not engaging.  Students don't like them.  Teachers don't like them.  This week, fully investigate every worksheet and make it one notch better.  Get rid of a few of them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Does something need to get better? Of course it does.  When a need to improve something is noticed, the first thing to do is examine the current reality.  Where are we now?  If the data tells you that things are in pretty good shape, then you tweak a few things and monitor the improvement.  If the data tells you that things are in bad shape, what usually happens?

In schools, there are two common answers:

1.  We tweak.  We make a few changes and hope for the best.  We hold on to what we know and try to do some sort of facelift.  We make a few adjustments while grasping on to the current practice because it is what we know.  Even if it doesn't work, it is comfortable.  Comfortably uncomfortable.  We need a big improvement and hope for a big payoff due to a few minor tweaks.  This rarely works.

2.  We make a purchase.  We pay for a system and throw it into practice.  We know we need to get rid of the bad and replace it with something.  Anything!  For example, we hear about this great new web-based service that will revolutionize learning for students and we buy it! has simply gotta be better than what we are doing now!  They wouldn't be selling it if it wasn't worth buying!!!  We buy it.  We train, then we hope it is better.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.  All the time, it costs a bunch of dollars over several years before we can truly determine if it was worth it.  It might make things better and it might not.  It usually doesn't revolutionize the learning process quite like the salesman promised.  A few years down the line, if teachers don't eventually buy in, it fizzles and dies.

A third, less-common answer is convening an improvement team to investigate the whole thing and create something new that will fill the need better than ever.  This is the tough one.  It takes time.  It takes research.  It takes a team dedicated to improvement.  It takes a group of folks willing to address the brutal facts, determine the current reality and define the perfect destination, then create the best system to get there.  It takes a group that is passionate about the effort and willing to learn as much as possible to make it better, especially if the members realize that they do not already own the necessary knowledge for creating the vision.

An improvement team effort almost always aligns more stakeholders to the cause.  The team's efforts are built on a shared vision and a common goal.  Improvement teams usually layout a multi-stepped plan for improvement rather betting on one magic arrow.  This process may actually include tweaking a few things or buying a new program.  However, they are included in a well thought out plan that was created collaboratively.  The collaborative part builds shared buy-in and shared ownership of the efforts.

Everything improvement in education seemingly needs to happen immediately.  Fix it now!  Make things better!  Immediate fixes are like band-aids.  Sometimes they cover the problem.  Take the time to truly investigate the current reality and determine how to fully address the issue.

***I have been writing this post slowly over the last several weeks.  As I added the last few sentences, I remembered that I already wrote a similar post.  I appreciate your feedback on either one.  Leave a comment!***

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It ruined my whole day

Yesterday was an abnormal day for me.  I got stuck.  Really stuck.  For too too long, I couldn't get my brain beyond the barriers.  The two people at the table with me later asked if I was having a rotten day.  One of them told me that my mood was obvious when I first walked in the office.  This is not normal me.

Normal me has no problem looking at the current reality and looking for ways to get better.  I look for ways to learn and improve all the time.  Some folks even say I need to occasionally slow down my talk of improvement long enough to celebrate the good things that have been done.  Normal me doesn't stay down too long at all.  Normal me may say one thing one way, then immediately address the same topic with a positive, forward-thinking mentality.

Just like everyone else, my mood can swing back and forth.  I do think that one of my strengths is being able to swing it back to positive quickly.  I don't stay down in the dumps for too long.  Even if the barriers in front of me seem daunting, I usually can get to the pro-active, barrier-beating attitude that is necessary for continuous improvement.

When one of my kids makes a poor choice and forces me to make a tough decision as a parent, I usually bounce back from it really fast.  I don't want my children seeing that one negative event can ruin a whole day.  When I am working on Title One documentation rather than working to improve teaching and learning, I don't let the government-mandated paperwork ruin my whole day.  I push through it as quickly as possible so I can spend time on more important things.  Even if I am forced to use up an entire day to meet a due-date because of my continued habit of procrastination, I do so with as much of a positive spirit as possible.  I may get grumpy on occasion, but I typically bounce back quickly.

Yesterday, I let the barriers blind me for longer than normal.  And I was lucky to have these two folks with me.  They did not let me bring them down.  They didn't let the fact that I was stuck get them stuck too.  They listened to me and considered my thoughts, but they did not let it impede their desire to implement the much-needed improvements to a campus-wide process.  Yesterday, I simply could not see the benefits of the new process according to our current reality.  They refused to see the barriers I saw as insurmountable.

When I initially came aboard my current campus as principal, I was tasked with hiring a new assistant principal.  I told the committee, "I need somebody strong enough to tell me NO."  I'm glad she is here.  I also needed someone with a true coach's mentality.  Someone who knows how to make me examine my own words and thoughts.  Someone who is not afraid to engage in rigorous professional conversation and hold me accountable for rational thoughts and words.  I am lucky to have an instructional coach of the highest caliber.

Because of them, I was held to a high standard.  I wasn't allowed to negate the importance of the improvement efforts that will surely benefit our students and give our teachers a better system for working with struggling learners.

Sometimes, when one of those days rolls around, the best thing to do is to trust the good people around you to not listen to you.  Trust them for their passion and their character.  Know that they share your goal and they want what you want.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


I just met with a 1st grade teacher who has thirty-one adorable little ones in her room.  Thirty-one is a bunch in Texas!  The state says there should be no more than twenty-two children in classrooms of Kindergarten through 4th grade.  Sometimes, we put more kids in a classroom when we cannot find the right teacher.  Luckily, the teacher I met with today is the right teacher for this classroom!

Thirty-one kids have not changed her desire to meet their needs.  Thirty-one little humans has not diminished her willingness to extend her own learning and become a better teacher.  Some teachers may downshift a bit and simply strive to survive.  The brightness of this teacher shines brightly!  She thrives!

Her work this year is absolutely not easy.  She has already made several major adjustments to the routines that have worked for her in previous years.  I asked her if she had been able to shift more responsibility to her students with so many of them.  Through a big grin, she said, "Oh, yes!"

In the past, she would welcome kids into her room and take their daily folders from them and put them in order.  With thirty-one, she now focuses her energy on the classroom environment and has student helpers put those folders in order!  I do believe the new process is good for those little student leaders too!

Thirty-one kids has not slowed her desire to learn!  She had to find a way to ensure her students learned the first grade sight words.  Even before she received her class roster, she wanted to improve this part of her language arts instruction.  Some teachers may have seen thirty-one names and decided to do what has always been done in the past because it was familiar.  Not her!  Even with thirty-one, she designed a better way to personalize their sight word development!  I cannot wait to watch her efforts!

She is also working to design guided math groups this year.  Some teachers would have seen thirty-one and headed the other direction towards more whole-class instruction.  Not her!  She has already noticed that she can really provide more targeted instruction with small group instruction!  I encouraged her to have fun with this effort and to bravely try new things!

Thirty one kids would scare a lot of teachers into survival mode.  Not in this classroom!  I know thirty-one students who are in good hands!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Meet better

Many years ago, I remember hearing about a Microsoft study that looked at the effectiveness of Powerpoint presentations.  While it may be completely fictitious, I remember hearing that Powerpoint slide shows decreased effective communication within the Microsoft company by 22%.  Even if the study never happened, I have experienced enough "Death by Powerpoint" to know that this form of presentation can be completely disengaging.

If you are presenting to a group and you hear yourself say, "Here are some more bullet points to remember...," please consider a serious recalibration of your lesson design process.  If your slide show contains bullets that the audience needs to know, do not expect your audience to copy the bullets, memorize the information, or magically own the information communicated through your bullets.  Instead, guide your audience through clarifying conversations, then check for consistent understanding.  Too many bullets kill your presentation.

If you are meeting with a group in order to make a shared decision, do not show bulleted information, chat with the group, and expect everyone to magically absorb the seemingly agreed-upon decision.  Be extremely clear about the agreement.  If the group is discussing and deciding upon the details of the action plan, afterwards, be sure that those agreements are communicated clearly.  In writing.

If you are presenting bullets to a group and more than 20% of your audience is looking at their phones at any given time, rest assured that another 20% of them are daydreaming.  If more than half of your audience is looking at phones or checking emails, rest assured that pretty much no one is engaged.  If your meeting does not contain well-designed conversation, the group will quickly become disengaged.

If they are not engaged, they are not getting your message.  If your presentation contains to-do items, be sure the audience receives a list of the to-do items.  If the message you are sharing needs to be understood the same way by each audience member, let them talk about it, then check for clarity.  Don't expect them to capture notes from your words and leave with the same interpretation.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

As promised

I have noticed a recent trend of folks beginning sentences with, "As promised..."

It is awesome when people follow through with their promises.  When someone says they will provide something by a certain date and then deliver, as promised, that person's reliability quotient grows.  People who keep promises are deemed to be more reliable.  People who say they will do something and do not follow through are not as reliable.  By the way, the word "promise" does not need to be uttered in order for a promise to be made.  When someone says they will do something, it is a promise.  When someone says, "I might get around to it," it is not a promise.

Why are folks feeling the need to announce their kept promises?  Most people try to keep their promises.  We expect people to follow through with their promises.  Sometimes, it doesn't happen.  We are all human after all!  I might actually lead the way in broken promises when it comes to meeting deadlines and following through with action items that I say I will take care of!  Of course I would love to follow through with every single thing I say I will do. With the best of intentions, I want to deliver.  Sometimes I don't.

When I fail to follow through with something I say I will do, I don't mind saying, "I blew it!  I am sorry."  Admitting our failures is OK.  It recognizes that a mistake was made.

Why say, "As promised...?"  Shouldn't a kept promise simply be the expectation?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Malice, Ignorance, or Busy-ness

Tim Ferriss constantly says, "Do not attribute to malice what you can attribute to ignorance or busy-ness."

There are times we hear things that make us wonder if someone is out to get us.
"Why would she try to undermine the good work I am trying to do?"
"I've already vetted this idea with the team.  Why would she suggest such significant changes to our plan?"

Sometimes we feel ignored and we wonder why.
"Does he not care?"
"It was a simple question.  Am I not important enough for a reply?"

The next time you don't get the response you were hoping for, or perhaps you don't get a response at all, you do get to choose how you feel about it.  You can choose to feel as if the other person is purposely treating you poorly.  Or, you can choose to attribute their poor response to a lack of knowledge on his/her part, or because he/she is legitimately too busy.

Once that shift is made, your response to the situation will become more pro-active and more successful!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What do you do when someone challenges your thinking?

In conversations that become tough, fight or flight can kick in fast when a challenge is presented.  What do you do when somebody challenges your thinking?
  • I argue my point because I am correct.  I like to argue
  • I listen and pretend to agree because I hate conflict
  • I make a joke and change the subject
  • I gotta be nice, so I respond as nicely as possible.  Being nice is most important
  • I exhume every mistake from my opponent's past
  • I say nothing, then call my supervisor to protect me
  • I say, "Yeah, no.  I hear what you're saying."
  • I find one little possible reason why you are wrong and blow it out of proportion
  • I talk as much as possible, as fast as possible, for as long as possible
  • I don't listen because I am too busy refining my own point.  As soon as you hush, I'll talk
I must admit that I find myself wearing one or more of these badges on occasion.  I try to be better.  I constantly work on my listening skills.  I constantly seek to understand before I try to be understood.  Tough conversations make this challenging.

Which defense mechanism do you use when the conversation gets tough?  If you know which ones you use, you'll be able to overcome them.  When someone challenges your thinking and you are involved in a meaningful conversation, communicate that you are involved in the conversation.  When someone challenges your thinking, tell yourself, "Listen with your eyes, your ears, and your heart!"

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cold War

A lot of times, we avoid confrontation and say, "That isn't a battle worth fighting."

The thing is, if the disagreement is in your head and you choose not to address it, you are not actually in the battle.  You are in a state of Cold War.  Tensions build.  Relationships are frayed.  Other important efforts are avoided.  Doing nothing can last a long time.  Doing nothing is a choice.

Sometimes you end up in a battle that you had no intention of fighting.  Words were exchanged and emotions were heated.  There might even be tears.  A poorly-handled conversation does have an advantage.  The disagreement is on the table.  Even if a little storming takes place, as uncomfortable as it may be, it is better than a cold war.  Is anyone else picturing the Airing of Grievances during Festivus?

When there is tension between folks, effective communication diminishes.  Whether it is a cold war or an argument, don't let it drop!  Find a way to finish the conversation.  A popular twitter meme says, "If you have to choose between being right or being kind, choose to be kind."   If I choose to be kind rather than to be right, am I choosing to be wrong???

Ideally, you can choose to be kind and continue the important conversation until a win-win decision can be found.  Ideally, you can keep talking through your differences until a mutually agreeable answer comes to life.  Even if both parties must choose to table the conversation for another time, at least the talking started and the cold war was avoided.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A better idea?

Trying to come up with ideas to solve a problem?  A lot of times, one idea hits the table, then someone says, "Does anyone have a better idea?"

Usually, the one asking that question is simply looking for more ideas.  Unfortunately, asking for better ideas can limit other folks from giving potential solutions.  By asking for better ideas, it is implied that the first idea was a good one to start with.  It can also make folks try to decide if there idea is better than the first one or not.  When people worry about whether their idea is better or worse, they might just choose not to share it at all.

A better way to say it, "Thank you!  Does anyone have another idea?"  No judgment.  No comparison.  Simply an invitation to get more ideas on the table.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Are our teachers ready for this?

I have invested the last two days with fellow district administrators learning and preparing for the upcoming school year.  Our district is currently experiencing a steep learning curve in many areas.  We are in the midst of implementing a new written curriculum, we have new attendance boundaries, and we are working to increase student engagement through better classroom instruction.

With each bold idea, someone asks, "Are our teachers ready for this?"

A rational question that must be considered.  However, a more important question is, "Do our students deserve this?"

Too often in education, we develop a vision for a specific facet of education.  Bringing that vision to life requires innovation and training.  It requires time and hard work.  It requires change.  Are the teachers ready for it?

Some are and some are not.  Some will love it and run ahead of the pack!  Some will drag their feet and undermine the efforts.  The mindful deliberation to determine if teachers are ready for a change initiative often causes school leaders to back away from fully implementing a worthwhile effort.  Instead, school leaders may choose to slow the change.  They may lower the expectations.  They may not do what they initially wanted to do because of the fears that the opposition from the staff will be too great.

Sometimes, these shifts in implementation make sense.  Sometimes, they do not.  When strategically planning for the implementation of something new, don't shift expectations based on the feet-draggers or the negative Nellies.  Instead, be sure to create your implementation plan for the teachers who will run with it.  Most importantly, continuously ask, "What do our kids deserve right now?"

Friday, July 29, 2016

Baby steps

So many new things are initiated with the idea that moving forward with baby steps is good!  Baby steps will eventually get us there.

The thing about babies is that they eventually grow up and take bigger steps.  They get where they are going because they have evolved into a fully-functioning adult human.  They take normal steps and have learned to leap when necessary.  In the early stages of development, baby steps can be a good start for some people to start moving forward.  If a person only ever takes baby steps, he will be left far behind and perhaps standing in a puddle.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Not interested

I was listening to The Tim Ferriss Show on the way to work this morning.  Great podcast!  His guest said, "I'm terrible at things I am not interested in."


A pretty obvious point of view that tends to escape a lot of folks in education.  When kids are not good at something, it just might be because they are not interested.  When they are good at something, there is a good chance they find it interesting!

If kids are not good at something, perhaps we need to stop trying to provide interventions and remediation until we have found a way to make it interesting.  There are many ways to do it!  There are also two popular strategies that simply do not work.

1.  A teacher cannot simply convince a kid that an assignment is interesting.  You can't talk them into it.

2.  You will not garner their interest by telling them it will affect the job they get some day.  I don't know too many fifth graders who give credit to their future job aspirations for their interest in an assignment.  I know tons of high school kids who believe whole-heartedly that they will never use algebra.  Most of them are correct

When your students say, "This is boring," they are telling you it is not interesting.
When your students say, "This is cool!" they are telling you that it is interesting.  Ask why and I bet they explain how it connects to something they find important.

Make the connections and make it interesting!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Success breeds success... or not...

For years and years, I have believed that success breeds success.  Lately, I have been thinking about this statement more deeply.  How much success is necessary?  Is a tiny amount of success enough?  Can continuous success be a detriment to growth and effort?  What happens when there is no success for an extended period of time?

The answers to these questions can be seen in every school.  The kid who makes straight A's all the time and finds school to be easy may not understand that less-than-perfect is still pretty good.  This student may also suffer when that first B shows up on the report card.  I have witnessed an interesting connection over the years.  The later in a school a child receives his first B on a report card, the bigger the reaction.  Seeing a six foot tall 8th grade boy cry like a baby because of that first B is not a pretty sight.  That did not mean that all of his grades throughout his years did not accurately reflect his learning.  They may have!  But did we do this kid a disservice by providing him an easy avenue of all A's long the way?

Likewise, we all know the kids who barely scrape by.  Or, they don't scrape by at all.  They simply muddle through their day with very limited exposure to success.  We work our tails off in an attempt to catch them up.  Hopefully, we design learning experiences for these kids that provide some small glimpses of success so they will yearn for more success!  Lots of these kids don't see their personal little successes because they are too focused on the fact that they cannot succeed like the rest of the kids in the class.  They want nothing more than to succeed like the rest of the class.  But they don't so they become completely disenchanted.  With no light at the end of their little tunnels, they give up.  With no comparable success, why try?  We all know kids like this.

How much success is necessary to facilitate future success?  The answer is different for everyone.  How do we create learning scenarios for every kid that will provide the correct amount of challenge and the correct amount of success?

Monday, July 11, 2016


I don't like the idea that every decision and action must be funneled through me.  As a public school principal, I want the folks around me to use their talent, expertise, and passion in ways that make school better and better for kids every day!  I want to be able to clear paths for folks so that their own improvement efforts shine.

However, there are some things that I micromanage.  We all have the little things that we want to control.  As an assistant principal, I was really picky about checking the textbooks in and out.  I wanted it done my way.  I didn't care which books you wanted.  I didn't care whether you wanted a class set, one book for each kid, or none at all!  I didn't care if you used them one bit!  But I was very specific about how to turn those suckers back in to the book room!  They had to be stacked on the counter, by the door, face down, spine away from the wall, in stacks of five or ten.  This made scanning each book easy for me!

Looking backwards, I can see that I micromanaged a few things during my first gig as principal.  I can also see that the amount of micromanagement decreased each year for five years.  After finishing my first year at my new school, I can see a few things that I will micromanage for a little while.

For example, I want to see kids writing across the curriculum.  Students will be writing at least once per day in each subject.  They will also be sharing their writing with each other.  I want to see it!   I will also be asking teachers to design math lessons so that students are talking about math.  I want to see collaborative problem-solving!  I want students finding creative ways to answer math problems and talking about it!  I want to see it!

These are two of the things I care deeply about and I believe will help move our school forward!  So I will micromanage them. These two things are only a small part of the excellent teaching and learning that already happen, nevertheless, they will definitely increase learning.

There will be other things that I micromanage.  I know what some of them will be.  I'm sure there are some things that I don't even know I will want to micromanage.

The title of micromanager is not one that most folks want to have.  Most folks do not want to be known as one.  But we all do a little bit of micromanagement.  We all have those things that we want done a certain way.  I don't want to be a micromanager but I do micromanage some things.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Not too soft, and not too hard...but, just right.
Not too hot, and not too cold...but, just right.
Goldilocks knew how she wanted things.

It seems like that is how everybody wants things these days.  Just right.   It is also how everybody wants to do things.   I'm not just talking about your sleep number bed or the temperature of your porridge, I'm talking about pretty much everything that gets done.  People want things to meet their expectations...exactly.  Just right.

At a restaurant, it is not unreasonable to have certain expectations for your food.  Your hot food should be hot and your cold food should be cold.  The nicer the restaurant, the higher the expectations.  At a fast food joint, I simply want my order to be pretty close to correct and the food to be close to the correct temperature.  At a 4-star steak place, I want that expensive chunk of beef to be cooked just right!

My wife and I bought a new mattress a couple of months ago.  We spent hours and hours and hours laying on mattresses in different stores.  We showed up at one store so often, one clerk thought we just needed a place to nap!  We finally narrowed it down to two beds, then drove back and forth between the two stores until we made a decision.  The bigger the purchase, the more picky we all become!

Lots of folks are becoming more and more like Goldilocks with every expectation.  We all know that is is much more common to hear negative feedback than positive.  Something rubs people the wrong way and they let you know about.  It isn't just right.  Happily, I will say that I have felt a definite upswing in the amount of positive feedback over the last several years.  There has been a recent realization that it is worth a few minutes of time to give positive feedback too.

For example, several parents have applauded our efforts to provide more communication this year.  We sent home 16-18 campus newsletters in English and Spanish this year.  Folks have told me that this school sent home three or four during the year prior to my arrival.  My goal is weekly communication and I think I am off to a good start after one year!  Nevertheless, a few folks have complained that it wasn't enough or that it wasn't good enough.  In some ways, they are right, but I am rarely satisfied and our efforts were strong!

I didn't meet my goal and I am quite sure that there were pieces of information that should have made it into the newsletters that weren't written.  We tried to provide quality information each time!  But I also know that a weekly, ten-page newsletter would be mostly ignored.  We try to Goldilocks the newsletters so that most of our families get what they need.   Not too much and not too little, but just right.  But our families have different expectations about what is just right so it is a moving target!

Generally speaking, when people plan things, they usually try to make those things happen in a manner that will be good for everyone.  More importantly, they try to plan things so that they fulfill the purpose.  Trying to please everyone rarely works but that goal seems to be quite pervasive these days.

Thinking about Goldilocks and thinking like Goldilocks has its advantages.  Please as many folks as you can.  Design a process or an experience that will touch everyone in some way.  Find the "just right" amount of professional development.  Expect a small amount of improvement from everyone.  Aim for medium success.  Whatever you do, don't overwhelm folks!  This does not sound awesome to me.  It sounds like serving only vanilla ice cream, then adding chocolate syrup and calling it awesome.  Goldilocks thinking doesn't make people wonder, "What in the world were they thinking!!!!"  It is the easy path.  Minimal improvements may occur.

The problem with thinking about Goldilocks and thinking like Goldilocks can get you in trouble too.  Trying to get it "just right" often means making sure that the feet-draggers are not completely turned off.  It oftentimes means that getting everyone to do a little bit is better than bravely clearing the path for a few to take the improvement effort as far as possible.  In other words, Goldilocks can slow improvement to a snail's pace.  When Goldilocks is on your brain, innovation and improvement move at glacial speeds.

What if we throw Goldilocks out the door?  What if we focus on our strongest folks and celebrate the progress and efforts that truly transform education?  What if we aim higher than, "just right!"  What if we shoot for awesome instead of perfect?  Whether you are an awesome failure or an awesome success, you are still awesome!

Banish Goldilocks and be awesome!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The top ten reasons not to think

We don't like to think any more.  We just want to know.  Why discuss the beauty of the art in the museum...just give me the list of the top ten exhibits and I'll go see them.  What are the Top Ten Instagram photos of the year?  Click this link to see the list of the WORST soccer fails of all time!

I see a list, I read it, and it occasionally entertains me.  I know that so many of these lists won't make me think, yet I am drawn to them anyways.  Maybe because I want to see if I disagree with the list or not.  Usually, I find out that I don't care enough to agree or disagree.  Or, I don't have anyone else who checks out the same list and wants to talk about it.  People like lists!

Facebook is filled with ad-driven lists that draw us in!

The 12 best 80's songs.  

The 36 funniest auto-corrects EVER!

88 BEST reasons to drink cold lemon water!

I enjoyed David Letterman's lists for years and years.  In my middle school years, I owned a book called, "The Book of Lists," and it was quite entertaining!  My parents made it disappear for a few years due to one little list that was not quite middle-school appropriate!

Do lists like these cause you to think more or less?  How can we use Top Ten lists to increase the dialogue and expand perspective?

Sports shows do a great job of making a Top Ten list, then arguing about it.  Who is the best basketball player of all time, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, or LeBron James?  I'm sure somebody would argue that I am actually leaving out the real #1!

What about creating a Top Ten list and asking folks to defend their rationale?  That would get people thinking and talking!  What are your top ten ways to use a Top Ten list?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I wonder...then I write!

Alan November says that most questions that we ask our students in schools can be answered fairly easily with  a quick internet search.  He goes on to say that in this country, we essentially see education as the lining up of facts.  He wants us to teach kids to ask questions.

He is not the only guy to say this.  Warren Berger loves great questions.  His book, "A More Beautiful Question," is excellent!  He discusses the importance of questions.  Especially the ones that do not have easy answers.

Earlier today, I was interviewed by a great teacher who is beginning her grad school experience.  She is in the first week of her first class and she was asked to conduct three interviews with folks from our school district.  The questions all dealt with leadership.

For so many of the questions, I found myself quoting Covey, or thinking Covey, or trying to channel my inner Covey!  It was an excellent opportunity to think about myself and my beliefs.

The last question asked me to offer one or two pieces of advice to her.  For that question, I wish that I had been given lots of time to think about it.  Just two???  Interesting!

I immediately thought of the things I do to drive my own improvement.  First, I try to always have a question that drives my thinking.  I am always investigating a question of some sort.  I told her to always have a question.  Always be curious.  Second, I told her to write about that question every day.  It doesn't take long.  Five minutes.  Putting your thoughts into written words puts them in order.

What is your question right now?  What makes you think?  Write about it!

Friday, June 3, 2016

They made fun of me today

The talent show was today.  It was incredible!  The talent that our kids shared was amazing!  The production effort of the staff was equally amazing!  Singers turned to comedy routines turned to drummers turned back to singers with the designed precision of a Broadway show!  Wow!

They followed it up with a quick act by the staff to celebrate the end of a great year and to have a little fun.  Several of the teachers acted out snippets of what teachers act like at the end of the year.  They showed a stereotypical teacher who might be too tired to get out the door on time during the month of May.  The next teacher was from our school, and could not WAIT to get to school to see our shiny, happy kids!  OK, so my last morning announcement of the year said that we simply could not WAIT to see the kids next year and we were sad that the school year had to end.

Then I walked on stage.  It looked kinda like me anyway.  He painted on a beard and covered just enough hair to look bald like me.  He also had his radio on his belt and his phone in his hand.  He spoke in an animated, overly-optimistic tone and gave the kids my usual "sign-off" for morning announcements, speedily saying, "Make it a supergreatwonderfulfantasticexcellentfaboulous day!"  He added about 22 more similar words, including a few that have never before been heard!  As he walked off stage, he pulled up his britches.  I guess I might do that too.

They made fun of me.

And it was funny!  And I was flattered!  And it really made my day and made me feel like a more included part of the campus!  I loved it!  If they had not included this little part of the show, the show still would have been awesome!  But by including it, they included me!  And I am thrilled to be a part of such a great group of folks!

Jeff is a lifelong friend of mine.  He is a genius, and an engineer, with multiple patents.  For as long as I have known him, he has lived by a simply motto, "I don't care whether you are laughing with me or at me, as long as you are laughing."

It was awesome to have so many folks laughing at me with me today!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The MOST important thing about collaboration

During a Twitter chat last month, one of the questions asked participants to note the important aspects of collaboration.  I quickly responded with:
A5: The MOST important thing for successful collaboration is to treat collaboration like it is the most important thing!!!
This Tweet received nine favorites and a few retweets.  More importantly to me, several folks came to me and said that they agreed and they appreciated my words!  All reiterated the statement in their own words too.
If we want our collaborative time to be meaningful, we must prioritize two things.  First, your group needs to meet together regularly.  Pretty much nothing should get in the way of your meeting time.
Second, your time together must be purpose-driven.  What will your team accomplish during your time together?  If you know the answer to that question before you meet, there is a much better chance you will walk away from your meeting with a feeling of accomplishment.
Together, we are better!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Last chance

I'd rather give a kid one chance too many rather than one too few.

There a comes a point in time when you have to decide that enough is enough.  You have given Little Glenn just about all the chances he could possibly need to make better choices.  Well he makes that same poor choice again and you are done!  Unless you are not done.

When do you say that enough is enough?  When have you given a kid his last chance to learn that lesson and make the right choice?  Do the other teachers admire your ability to set limits early and fast?  Or, do they admire your ability to give chance after chance after chance with the patience of Jobe?

I don't know too many kids who wake up and say, "Today is the day I interrupt my teacher so much that she loses her cool and drags me to the office!"  I do know some kids that may seem to wake up that way though.  For the 88th day this year, Little Glenn has interrupted you incessantly.  He didn't wake up deciding to be the supreme interruptor, but he is wearing that cape anyways.  Does he get chance number 89?  Or was yesterday his last chance?

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Over the last several years, the emphasis on tutorials has grown.  Schools are pro-actively providing tutorials for kids so they can get extra help, participate in extra lessons, or simply use more time with the teacher.  Giving kids extra time, extra help, and extra learning opportunities is a good thing, right?

For example, many teachers open their doors for kids on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for an extra 45 minutes.  Some kids show up because they want to.  Some kids are told they are required to be there.  Some schools provide a campus-wide plan for study halls before school and after school.  These extra times must be good for kids.  Some schools even open their doors on Saturdays!

It seems that most high school teachers offer tutorial sessions before school, after school, and during lunch.  These sessions typically seem to be focused on doing the assignment together, thus "earning" the kid a better grade.  In other words, if you show up for tutorials, I'll guide you through the assignment so you can get a better grade on it.  Who knows if there was better mastery?  The grade was better.  Isn't that all that matters?

There is a ton of time focused on planning, prepping, and executing tutorials.  There is also a ton of time and money spent on software and hardware that provides online tutorials.  Sometimes it seems that the primary focus of conversations about improving student learning is on tutorials.

Do tutorials work?  Is the time spent prepping and planning for them worth it?  Is the money and resources worth it?  We can't give ZERO attention to struggling kids.  But, are we counting on tutorials too heavily for their success?

What if we gave our initial lesson design that much energy?  What if we spent our time and energy on better classroom instruction?  How well would students master their learning in an environment focused on engaging, differentiated instruction that was designed based upon valid data?  Sounds better than tutorials to me!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Butts in the air

It is no surprise that most students have things they find more interesting than schoolwork.  During an average ordinary day of school, the list of more-preferred activities is long.  Even during our best learning activities, it would be tough to find a kid who would rather get their hands dirty with a plate tectonics lesson using cookies and dirt instead of mine craft or soccer or fishing.  In other words, no matter what you have designed for kids to do in school, there is probably something each child would rather do.

How do we tap into that?  How do we bring it to life in our classrooms?  How do we design learning so that kids use their own interests to drive the things you need to learn.

We have all seen that lesson where kids are truly into it!  Stephen Barkley says that you can tell what kind of lesson is happening in a classroom by the number of butts in the air.  When all the butts are in the air and all the head are pointed at the same activity, engagement is high!  When all the butts are in the air and they are crawling around the room, engagement is non-existent.

Lesson design is not simply choosing the next page out of the textbook, running some copies, then showing kids how to do the work on the whiteboard.  Lesson design digs deeply into the learning objective.  What do the kids need to master during this lesson?  How will I know if they master it?  Then the big question...What is the best possible way to ensure that they can learn it?

I doubt the answer is to open a textbook and do a worksheet.  How do we get butts in the air!?!?!?!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Extra credit

What is the purpose of extra credit?  Is it extra learning or is it grade improvement?

My son has had several opportunities to do extra credit during his freshman year.  Each time, it is solely for the purpose of improving his grade.  It seems funny to me that we give kids grades on assignments that supposedly measures their mastery of learning.  After the grade is given, many teachers offer extra credit opportunities rather than extra learning opportunities.  What is more important, the grade or the learning?

Still, I encourage him to get the extra credit.  It seems to be one of the rules of the game called high school.  It is a game that not too many kids enjoy playing.  Yet, they must play and they must play by the rules, no matter how archaic or teacher-centered the rules might be.  Extra credit is not really student-centered.  It is a simple way for teachers to make sure the class gets better grades.  It doesn't equate to better learning.  It simply allows the teacher to move forward through the written curriculum because student performance "looks" good enough.  Kids are told it is an opportunity to improve the grade.  No bones about it.  Extra credit is about the grade.

When a kid shows concern for a low grade, it gives the teacher an easy out.  Rather than worry about what the kid learned, extra credit shifts the focus to a simple grade adjustment.  In this game, adjusting the grade seems to solve the problem and keep the game moving.  I think many kids would prefer a better game.

***Many teachers may say, "It wouldn't be a problem if students did better on their assignments the first time."  What we would do in education if every student asked us, "I didn't learn this well enough from your first lessons.  What will you do right now to make sure I fully learn this concept?"***

Monday, May 2, 2016

"You don't fatten the pig by weighing it!"

Assessments, assessments, assessments.  Not only are we in the midst of state testing, we are also talking about the effectiveness of this year's assessment calendar and planning for next year's benchmark tests and district-wide tests.

We know we need to measure our students' mastery of the curriculum.  We also need to know how well our lesson design imparts mastery unto our students.  We also need to know if the kids are walking out the door today with the skills they should be leaving with.

Test, test, test, test, test, test!  We need them but have we embraced them?  Have we gone overboard?

Many years ago, when the ideas of formative assessment and common assessments first hit my school, our principal put out a calendar for the tests that made some teachers cringe!  Compared to previous years, the amount of testing tripled!  (It has tripled again since then!)

I remember one teacher looking at the calendar and saying, "You don't fatten the pig by weighing it!"

Obviously, our kids are not farm animals, but the statement has provided a litmus test statement for me.  Before any test, I now ask, "What will we use the data from this test for?"  If we are giving a test because we feel the need to give a test, but there is no plan in place to utilize the data, I will question the necessity of the test!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I write

A few weeks ago, I participated in a education Twitter chat.  One of the questions asked us to chime in on the educational value of classroom blogging.  The focus of the question was on student-created blogs and their value towards learning.  The responses were interesting and thought-provoking!  Why should students blog?  Why should people blog?

I started thinking about this blog.  Why do I write it?  What is the point?  Some authors say that they write about what they need to learn.  Maybe I am doing that?  Maybe each topic is my way of focusing on something I need to improve.

Lots of the Twitter chatter talked about the power of writing to enhance learning.  As the profession of teaching changes, I am imagining a classroom where the teacher blogs her own learning experiences alongside her students!  How powerful it would be to see teachers sharing their own learning with students as they share their own learning with each other!

I took a break from this blog.  I wanted to see if I missed it.  I wanted to see if the process of writing something and publishing it for all 15 of you to see was worth it.  Really, I have realized that I miss the process of putting words down and making them say what I hope for them to say.  I like trying to put my mental ideas into written words.  I learn from it.

You want your kids to write across the curriculum.  Why don't you?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trust, Safety, and Big Rocks

Are you one of those people who sees a bunch of improvement efforts that need to be undertaken and you want to do them all?  Or, are you one of those people who grabs a hold of one thing and runs with it until it is done?  Then you grab then next thing and see it through to the end.  Then the next.  It may not be prioritized, but you get things done!  Are you one of those people who constantly have so many frying pans sizzling that you can't even remember what is cooking?  Things eventually get finished, but there are always  numerous improvement efforts happening at all times!

Prioritizing improvement efforts is one of the toughest things we do in education.  Lately, I have been thinking about them like this:
  1. Urgent improvements
  2. Needed improvements
  3. Desired improvements
Urgent things demand attention, don't they?  Urgent improvement efforts are usually centered around a need involving safety or a crisis.  Ignoring a crisis is not a good idea.

How many urgent situations pop up on any given day?  If too many occur, it is impossible to focus on the important things.  When your time is spent on crises, the big rocks are ignored!

As I look at all the great things going on around this campus, it is in my nature to always think about improvement!  No matter how great things are, they can always get a little better!  Because I think that way, I typically have too many frying pans burning!  To make matters more complicated for myself , I also like to think things through.  Once a good plan has been designed, I do appreciate a dive into the deep end of that pool!  But I do like to talk things through with smart people before jumping in.

In order to take care of the big rocks instead of too many urgent situations, I have learned that the two biggest rocks a school can focus on are safety and trust.  Oftentimes those two go hand-in-hand.  Providing a safe place for kids is a must.  Good relationships that are built on trust is also a must.  Focusing efforts in these two areas is a must.

In order to minimize urgent improvement efforts and focus on the needed improvements and the desired improvements, excellent systems for safety must be solidly in place.  These systems must be well-communicated and owned by all.  When trust is high, relationships are excellent, and safety systems are solid, the fun work happens!

A focus on incredible learning becomes the primary target!  Fun!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


This is my new favorite word!  Asking kids to justify their learning leads to deeper learning!  Asking teachers to justify their learning leads to better teaching!

If I simply need the answer to a math computation problem, I can use a calculator or I can ask Siri.  If a kid needs an answer to a math computation problem, the kid can also use a calculator or ask Siri.  Regardless of how the kid gets the answer, explaining why it is the correct answer makes it powerful.

In math, we no longer need adults who can compute.  We have tools for that.  We do need folks who can solve never-before-seen problems.

Do kids need to know how to compute?  Absolutely.  Will that ability lead to a productive future?  Probably not.  Kids need to turn the ability to compute into deeper problem solving!  That only happens when they talk about it!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

More time please!

During learning time, what are your students asking for?  Are they involved in creative discussion about a project they care about and they are begging for more time?  Or, do you hear questions like:

"Do we hafta write the whole sentence?"
"Do we hafta show our work?"
"Why do I need to copy this?"

The questions your students ask are one of the best indicators that you have designed engaging learning.  All teachers love it when their students are so engaged that they don't notice the clock on the wall or who comes in the door!  Contrarily, it is not much fun hearing your students beg for ways to get out of the work you have asked them to do.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What? Me, Worry?

When it comes to improving education, there are two forces in action.  The need to make things better and the resistance to change.  Oftentimes, these two forces occur in the same brain!  Good teachers know things need to get better but they might be afraid to make it happen.  There is fear of the potential difficulties.  There is fear of future failure.  Worry about what the other teachers might think.  There is a worry that things won't be better.

The fear and worry about the potential future outcomes cause suffering in the teacher who wants improvement.  Suffering because the status quo isn't working.  Suffering because the better way is just out of reach.  Suffering because doing the same ol' thing is tiresome.  

Strange, isn't it, that so many folks suffer from a potential future that may not even happen?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Think or DIE!

Eric Weinstein says that we must, "Think or die!"

Sounds a bit extreme, doesn't it?  To put it in context, this quote comes from an interview discussing his opinions on change, innovation, and status quo.  Doing nothing of significant difference is like like death.

He also says that simply choosing a different tool out of your toolbox is not innovation.  He believes that true innovation comes from creating new tools.

Educators talk all the time about needing more tools in their toolboxes to meet the needs of every learner.  Which tool will be the ONE that fixes the kid that has always struggled???  Indeed, it is one of our toughest challenges!  How do I strive to help each and every single student find success in my classroom and in my school?

By the time a child has struggled through a few years on your campus, there is a good chance that every tool you own and quite a few borrowed ones have been tried on the kid.  There is not a single tool, strategy, program, or app that has succeeded for this kid.  Now what?  Time to create a new tool!  Time to do something different!

How far outside of the ordinary are you willing to go?  How much difference are you willing to allow to create a successful learning experience for this kid?  Remember, nothing has worked so far.  Will a little bit of difference make the difference? you need to do things that have never been done before?

Be brave, have fun, and create something new!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Isn't all feedback positive?

"I can't wait to hear some positive feedback!"

What do you mean by positive?  Do you want to hear only the good things?  What if there are some points of constructive criticism that will improve your efforts?  Do you want to hear those too?

For years, I have heard from lots of folks that sandwich-style is a great way to provide feedback.  Say something good, then share the area for growth, then end with something good.  Does sandwich-style really work?  Supposedly, it shows there is more positive than negative and it puts the "bad" feedback in the middle.

For some people, it doesn't really matter how many good things are shared, they will only hear the growth area.

Is there a better ideology for feedback?  I think so.  Create a culture where relationships and trust are strong enough between educators so that any feedback is considered positive!  Develop and grow a true culture of camaraderie and growth.  Make it so that everything you do for kids is open for feedback and improvement.  A friend recently told me that the best way to hear the positive side of things from everyone is simple: No matter the relationship, assume positive intent.  In other words, hear feedback as if it was spoken from the heart, regardless of who gives it.  Regardless of the tone of voice.

Tell me that my morning starter rocked!  Tell me that the transition to the next activity was terrible!  Tell me that I need to speed up the progression of a lesson!  Tell my anything that makes me better at what I do!  If I choose to hear your feedback as positive, I win.  If your comment makes me ask myself a good question, I win?  If your words help me improve my practice, I win!

After hearing you, I have a decision to make.  Will I choose to act on your feedback or not.  I can't unhear it but I can choose to do nothing with it!  If we have a relationship with a huge emotional bank account balance, it won't bother you if I don't heed your advice.  If we simply have a professional relationship, it shouldn't bother you if I choose not to act on your words.  Regardless of our relationship, if I make improvements based on your feedback, you have helped me!

Either way, I will appreciate your words.  I will use them to think about, to question, or to investigate my own practice.  The important thing is that we trust each other, we respect each other as talented educators, and we both want to be better and better every day!

Friday, January 22, 2016

At my old school... (2.0)

"At my old school..."  People at the new school hate these words!  Especially if they hear them all the time.  They don't want to hear it!  They don't want to hear about how much better everything was at your previous school!

"At my old school...," sounds like such a slap in the face.  As if the way that things work at the new place aren't good enough!  Every time folks from the new school hear those words, they get defensive because the way things are at this place have worked fine enough for several years now.  Quit judging your new home based on your old home.

And while we are talking about it, quit asking why we do things the way we do things!  You wouldn't ask unless you thought this way was terrible!  I know you are judging us!  Don't come here telling us everything is bad and everything you did at your old school is better!


That new teacher sure does come with a different set of experiences!  I bet we can learn a lot from her.  She seems to know what she is talking about and has been at several different schools and districts.  My career has only been here.  A new perspective may be just what we need to make improvements!  We have been doing so many things the same way for so long, it is good to have someone on board with ideas for making things more effective and efficient!

I like that she asks us why we do certain things in certain ways.  It tells me she is interested in understanding the rationale behind our way of doing things.  At first, it seemed like she was questioning us a lot.  But now I see that just makes sense for a new person!  Now I see that she really does accomplish most things our way.  

What that really means is that she only makes suggestions for improvements when she has experienced a better way.  Sounds like a teacher to me!  We always steal ideas from each other!  Why would it be different when she offers us something to steal!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

At my old school...

Since 1994, my career has taken me through several incredible schools!  Every school had some great teachers, passionate about their students and passionate about excellent education.  Every school also had some that were not so great.  I have also been a part of a few campuses that didn't fit me too well. Most of those loved status quo rather than continuous improvement.  It is probably safe to say that I wasn't a fit in their eyes either!

Regardless, every campus had strengths that deserved to be shared.  One campus truly took care of the whole child.  Students were little humans above all!  Another campus utilized data to drive instruction better than NASA.  One campus blew me away with their constant innovations and collaboration.  

Within classrooms, strengths were everywhere.  One teacher made math journals come to life.   Another teacher constantly pushed the edge of higher-level thinking with her students.  Yet another caught the heart of every single student.  One made excellent learning look so gloriously simple yet it was always engaging and challenging!  Another truly gave ownership of the classroom to her students.  Strengths could be found on every campus!

We all know that educators are the best of borrowers.  Some say we are the best of thieves.  We love taking great ideas from other teachers, giving them a little remix, and making them our own!  And when we do borrow or steal, we gladly give credit to the giver.  It isn't about credit, it is about doing something that improves learning.

So what happens when someone new comes along?  A new teacher joins a campus after success in another school, another district, another state, or even another country?  New teachers bring their own strengths and experiences.  They bring their own biases and opinions.  They also bring their own assumptions and their own gaps in knowledge.

When the new teacher models something that the campus considers to be new and wonderful, teachers copy it and use it.  We borrow that bit of goodness and make it our own!  We may ask questions about it and seek to learn more.  We may share our successes with others and give credit to the newbie.  After all, better is better, and better is worth sharing!

The new teacher probably has questions too.  The thing is, questions from the newbie are often met defensively.  Folks that have been around for awhile often see these questions as derogatory.  The newbie asks, "Why do we do it that way?  In my old school..."

A process may work just fine in the new place, but the previous place used a process that was extremely effective.  If the new teacher simply puts the better process into action, others copy it and love it.  If the new teacher questions the new school's process, it is often seen as negative.  Why?

Each one of us is a product of our experiences.  I am the educator that I am because of my experiences.  My learning experiences, my teaching experiences, and my life experiences made me the person I am.  Same for you.  Same for your school.

If it is your goal to wake up today and be better than you were yesterday, don't be defensive when new folks ask why something is done a certain way.  Instead, ask yourself the exact same question, "Great question!  Why exactly do we do it that way around here?  Do you know a better way that we should consider?"

When someone says, "At my old school...," don't roll those eyes.  Instead, ask questions and see if there is something in that story worth borrowing.  If your new person has ideas worth stealing, be grateful for all that is offered, whether they offer it by showing you, or they simply ask you why something is done a certain way.

When someone asks, "Why do we...," it probably means there is a suspicion that a better way exists.  If someone says, "Maybe we should...," it means the suspicion of a better way is strong. When someone questions the processes, see it as a great opportunity to question them too!  When someone says, "At my old school...," listen with open ears and an open heart.  You might just find your own improvement!

Tomorrow, I will add a post with the same message.  I wrote two and could not decide which one to post!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I'm sorry you feel that way

A long time ago, I was taught that an apology can go a long way towards repairing a broken situation.  Just apologize so you can show that you care and that you are sorry for what happened.

I've kept this in mind for years and years.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not.  Apologies during a disagreement work best when they are heartfelt and they are include admission of a mistake by the apologist.  For example, "I'm sorry I didn't handle that situation well.  I did a terrible job of hearing your needs.
 I should not have ignored you.  I should have listened to your needs better and found a way to help you."

Apologies during disagreements are meaningless when they don't acknowledge your own actions.  The most common is, "I'm sorry you feel that way."


If we are really close, I can appreciate the sentiment.  If we are friends or family, and you want me to know that you feel badly for the way I feel because you care about me, those words make sense.  If we are really close, telling me you are sorry is really just commiseration or sympathy.

If we do not have some type of close relationship, please don't apologize for the way I feel.  "I'm sorry you feel that way," is not an apology.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Skill or will?

Wanna get something done?  Is it a big something?  Is it new, different, or exciting?

Are you trying to improve something or create something new?

Do you see a need?  How will you fill that need?

Sometimes I know exactly what I want to happen in order to make something better.  Sometimes I don't have a clue what needs to be done, I just know that things can be better!  Most of the time, I elicit the brains of the great people around me to get things done well!

Sometimes I have the skill and sometimes I have the will.  Sometimes...some of both.

When you prefer to do things on your own, you better have all the skill.  If you want something done really well, all you need is the will to get it done...and good people around you with the skills.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

First nods

Who are your campus leaders?  I'm not asking about the principal or the AP.  Not the leadership team.  Not the chair of the hospitality committee.  Who are the teachers that others look at for those first opinions on change?  Who are the ones that guide the opinions?  Who are the teachers that are looked at for the first nods of approval or disapproval?

These folks may be the first to speak during every group discussion or they may not speak at all.  They may be the most tenured teachers on campus or perhaps they are new and they have quickly gained huge amounts of respect due to their enthusiasm and success.  They may have earned it through student success and a passion for teaching or perhaps they earned it by a no-nonsense attitude and a willingness to hold on to the status quo.  These unofficial, yet valuable leaders make a difference.

Their opinions drive attitudes.  They drive motivation.  They drive organizational growth.

Who drives on your campus?  Is it the innovators?  The movers and the shakers?  Or is it the TTWWADIs?  Is it the passion-laden teachers who will literally do anything for their students and their school?  Or is it the clock-watchers?  The ones who just wait for that bell to ring?

Most importantly, regardless of who the leaders are, what can we do to grow more leaders that are full of passion for excellent education and absolutely love learning?