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!