Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I swear they knew this stuff before Thanksgiving!

So you want the learners to learn what you want them to learn.  You have chosen your learning targets and you have designed learning activities to engage them.  You have taken the time to investigate what your learners already know so that you can build on their prior knowledge and experience.

Then you get started and it becomes clearly evident that the learners don't know what you thought they knew.  You ask questions for clarification and you realize they really don't get it.

So then what?

Sometimes educators make assumptions about the prior knowledge of their learners.  Sometimes we assume that just because a kid has finished 8th grade math, he is ready for algebra.  We frequently assume that our own class knows what they need to know from our own prior lesson.  We may even see data that tells us they know it!  More realistically, the data tells us that the kid knew the right thing on test day in the manner that it was tested.

So they don't know it now.

As a teacher, what do you do?  Undoubtedly, it is frustrating to work so hard "teaching" something, only to see that they don't know it at all later on down the line.  How do you handle the frustration?  Do you find fault in the students' work and their study habits, or do you look at your own work and determine what you can do better next time?  Do you bring out what you have already tried or do you go find new and better?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Do you blame the parents?

For over 20 years, I have heard that children are less responsible now than they once were.  Shoot!  I am pretty sure I heard that I was less responsible than the kids who came before me!

Is the level of responsibility and self-reliance of kids declining?  Do kids perform fewer chores than they once did?  Are students less able to organize and maintain their "stuff" at school?  Can they find their own stuff?  Can they organize their own thinking?  Do they seem more helpless than a few years ago?

At school, teachers constantly create new and improved methods to keep the kids organized.  We want them to find their "stuff."  We want them to hold on to it until they need it again.  We want them to be responsible for it.  Binders and color-coded folders and labels and dividers and shelves and cubbies and trays and boxes and checklists and rubrics and agendas and planners and...on and on and on...  Some classes have ALL of those things.

Some kids can handle our systems of organization perfectly.  They do so every year, regardless of how the teachers differ in their approach.  Other kids are seemingly hopeless each year, regardless of how the teachers differ in their approach.  And variations in between.

Some kids keep a messy desk, have a messy backpack, they leave their lunch in the car at least once a week, and they never seem to get homework done.  Nothing gets signed and returned on time either.

Some kids have a tough time taking responsibility for their own choices.  They will try to blame others rather than looking at their own actions, "Little Glenn made me do it!"

Unorganized, or irresponsible, or always pointing a finger...who do you blame?

Some teachers look at the kids and blame the parents.  They say things like, "If parents did a better job at home, kids wouldn't be like that."

This statement may actually be true some of the time.  It doesn't matter.

Blaming anyone for a child's behavior is a waste of time.  Instead, look forward and focus your energies on teaching this child how to act in your classroom and in your school.  Teach the kid the behavior you seek.  It is OK to teach kids that there are a different set of rules and a different mindset for success at school.  Create a classroom that works for this student to be successful at school.

Or...deal with the status quo.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


The things that absolutely must happen.  No matter how positive or negative, no matter whether or not they are value-added or worthless, and regardless of how well they are done... they must be done.

Some person or group made a decision to deem some thing... non-negotiable.  The decision-maker believes in that thing and wants to see it come to life and add value to the efforts of the district or campus.


A district I worked for a few years ago has a list of non-negotiables for elementary reading instruction.  It lists a handful of things that needed to happen every day, in every classroom. One of them states, "Every child writes every day."  To some teachers, it means that every kid develops original thoughts and puts them on paper.  To a few teachers, it means copying a poem.  Both are called writing.  One is not writing.  All of these teachers checked it off their "must do" lists.

Another school insists that every child practices and masters basic math facts through daily, five-minute practice.  It happens every day for every kid.  The results are quickly graded and recorded by non-classroom teachers.  It takes less than ten minutes a day and there is accountability for task completion.  Check it off the list.  Some teachers really use this practice to fills the learning gaps for kids who don't understand how the numbers work together.  Other teachers simply pass the sheets out, then collect them five minutes later.

Another school requires students to maintain Level Zero volume in the hallways.  There are signs everywhere that state the required volume level.  Teachers give numerous, daily reminders.  Many students walk through the halls holding up a ZERO sign.  The expectation is Level Zero.  This non-negotiable is clearly defined and well-understood by the teachers.  One would think that the students also fully understand the expectation.  The hallways are not silent.  The biggest volume in the hallways comes from teachers voices trying to get kids to hush.

Another district expects every student in certain grades to complete a science fair project.  The informational packet is sent home.  Teachers are given the discretion to choose how much control they take over the projects.  Some teachers simply send it home, then wait for the due date.  Other teachers manage the steps of the project throughout the process.  Some kids present projects that they created on their own.  Others present their mom's project.  And everything in between.

I can think of other school-related non-negotiables.  There are so many.  Some of them are etched in stone while others are simply understood.  Whether they are called non-negotiables, mandates, or "we wills"... they imply required compliance.

Non-negotiables define the necessary compliance.  They do not state the required knowledge or buy-in.  Those are intended to come later.  If everyone complies with the mandate, the practice will build knowledge and the results will garner buy-in...hopefully.

Because of that, they are often seen negatively by lots of folks.  Some folks even apologize for using the word, "non-negotiable."  Like it is a bad word.

A non-negotiable isn't a bad thing as long as it is communicated well, it adds value, and it is purpose-driven.

What is missing from the scenarios above to make them more successful?  What non-negotiables do you have in your classroom or your school that need improvement?  More importantly, are you encouraged to discuss your non-negotiables?

If doing these things is non-negotiable, doing them well should also be non-negotiable.  Talking about them should be required (non-negotiable.)