Midvale School for the Gifted

One of the greatest cartoons of all time.

This morning, we have our principals’ meeting. We’re leading off with this quote from Don Wettrick,

“We do our students a disservice when we prepare them for a world that no longer exists and fail to empower them with the skills and abilities they will need to navigate rough and shifting seas. We don’t need students who can fill in bubbles on a multiple-choice test; we need students who can create, innovate, connect, and collaborate. We need students who can identify and solve complex, real-world problems. Changing the way we educate students is not only necessary…it’s a moral imperative.”

Working with our principals and teachers, thinking about Don’s quote, I am reminded of the great Gary Larson cartoon above. As leaders, we sometimes feel like we’re pushing against a door that says to pull. And nothing happens. Teachers and principals absolutely know that kids deserve and need a different type of learning experience. Different types of learning experiences. Plural. We need to be able to push the door open.

But the door still says pull. What are some of the reasons that the door requires us to pull?

One of the reasons to still pull the door is the focus on kids’ test scores. Clearly the significance of this single piece of data as the be all and end all is dimming. But it’s still there. We can’t ignore it. Still need to pay it some attention. But not as much and not anywhere near enough to not attend to Don’s idea. We can’t pine for kids who can create, innovate, connect, and collaborate, but blame the need to attend to test scores as reason to keep pushing on the door.

Another example of pushing against the door that needs to be pulled is a notion that teachers don’t want to try new things or don’t think the skills Don describes are important. Simply not true. Here’s an idea from Elisabeth Bostwick on that notion,

“But I’d like to challenge the notion that just because someone appears to be unwilling to change, they are fans of the status quo club. It’s entirely possible that those of us who fear change or are uncomfortable with it simply require more support, encouragement, or time to process along the way. Perhaps some individuals aren’t certain why it’s crucial to step forward.” -Elisabeth Bostwick, Take the L.E.A.P.: Ignite a Culture of Innovation

I love this quote. Our job as leaders is to provide more support, encouragement, and time to process.

The most important part of Bostwick’s quote is the responsibility of leaders to explain why it’s crucial to step forward and push the door open.

Because, “Changing the way we educate students is not only necessary…it’s a moral imperative.”

On which Cs are we sailing?

It has happened again. I start reading a new book and a single sentence just hits me. I’m reading Take the L.E.A.P. Ignite a Culture of Innovation by Elisabeth Bostwick.

I hit this early section in the book.

The Cs.

We have spent a ton of time thinking, talking, and working with the traditional 4 Cs. Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Critical Thinking. I hadn’t thought about some of the other Cs until I saw this in Elisabeth’s writing. Compliance, control, and conformity. So my wheels started turning. On which Cs do we set sail?

So I decided to even the Cs up and think on them a bit more. On the positive C side, I added Curiosity. On the rough C side, I added Confined and Closemouthed.

And now I’m thinking about on which Cs we primarily sail. We did a walkthrough at our high school yesterday.

Mr. Chapman’s AVID class!

When we do our walkthroughs, we use Jenni Donohoo’s protocol. We talk about what we saw, what we didn’t see, what we wonder about, and on what we think the school is working. Then the building leaders share insight and comments. We had a good conversation about the potential tension between a uniform note taking strategy, which flows primarily from lecture, and the desire to have kids collaborate. The general conclusion was that a good teacher has a variety of tools in her/his tool belt. Lecture and notes are inherently bad. Unless that’s all that happens in classroom.

A question I have is, and we’ve discussed this a lot recently, do we think about opportunities, when building our lessons/experiences for kids, to have kids collaborate, create, critically think, communicate, and use curiosity? Or do we fall into the Cs of compliance, control, conformity, confined, and closemouthed. I don’t think those latter Cs should be a part of any tool belt. Got to be honest though, we still see those Cs as part of a kid’s daily life. And I don’t think they’re by design. I think they’re by default.

Bostwick talks about her own son’s experience, where he is beginning to disengage from school. Where the 3 Cs she describes, Compliance, Control, and Conformity are in full vigor, his natural curiosity is being diminished. “Nolan’s teacher was not intentionally doing anything wrong. Simply put, she was teaching the way she had been taught through her own experiences as a child or how she learned to teach. Our experiences influence the way we approach our respective roles as educators. His teacher was caring and seemed to desire to ensure all the content was covered. What happened as a result occurs in classrooms across the nation: When our attention becomes hyperfocused on content, assessments, and management, we lose touch with what matters most—the learners’ voice.”

We will soon be meeting with all of our teachers as we celebrate one year of our 1:1 Chromebook rollout. This reading will impact that celebration and conversation as we’ll continue to model, encourage, and support teachers venturing further on the high Cs, leaving the behind the old Cs.

Looks like Dave Burgess has another potential Pirate metaphor! It’s a Pirate’s Life on the High Cs!


This is viral.

Last week I wrote a little deal about Ten Tips for New Teachers. Far and away my most read blogpost. 1437 views to this point. Woohoo, right? It was fun to read the comments, especially the ones from former students. But this isn’t viral. I’m honored that it was read and well received. But I like to keep things in perspective.

Ten Tips for New Teachers Stats.

The one below these words is viral. Let me use a BIG font.

This is Viral!

Check out the stats on Andre’s tweet. As of this morning, 335,000 likes, 61,000 retweets, and over 1100 comments. If that ain’t viral, especially in the world of education, I don’t know what is. 61,000 retweets? Holy smokes! Her simple and elegant change of words to her students is a masterpiece. “What questions do you have?” Instead of, “Do you have any questions?”

I bet Andre would agree that the point of sharing our thoughts, however, isn’t to generate numbers. The point is to share, learn, and grow with our Professional Learning Network. And to make that happen, one has to take a couple of minutes to set up a twitter account. Here’s how.

We look forward to meeting, sharing, learning, and growing with you. What questions do you have?

Ten tips for new teachers!

Had I known then what I know now…

The fellow above, in the swell yellow belt, matching the swell yellow walls, is a first year teacher, hired in December, 1984. He was interviewed as the kids were heading out to break, and stepped into a middle school classroom, in January, 1985. That’s me. I’ve learned a lot since those first days. I thought I’d share Ten Tips for New Teachers (or old ones). I’ve lived and learned each of these lessons personally and professionally. They are in no particular order.

  1. Be yourself in class. Kids can spot a phony a mile away. I used to say, “The best teachers are themselves inside and outside of the classroom, with slightly less profanity.” I’m sure I’d say that same thing now, with more sophistication.
  2. The theory of Don’t Smile Until Christmas is crap. Err….garbage, excuse me. See number one. I recently saw a tweet from a new teacher asking about the line between ‘rapport’ and ‘classroom management’. I don’t think there is a line. Rapport and classroom management are about relationships. And falsely waiting until some date to smile is dumb. George Couros says, ” 50 years ago, relationships were the most important thing in education, and 50 years from now, it will be even more so; you can get great content anywhere.  The human connection is something that we will always need.”
  3. Speaking of Twitter. Get a twitter account. You can fill your professional life with smart people, talking about school stuff that you want to know more about. It’s like a big convention with friendly people everywhere, all wanting to share, learn, and grow with you. I would have killed to have twitter as a new teacher.
  4. You’re going to cry as a new teacher. Nobody told me how many funerals a teacher would attend. Horrible things happen to kids and colleagues. I’m not sure what I would have done with this information ahead of time, but it’s true. You are going to cry as a teacher.
  5. Go to kids’ events. It means the world to them. They love seeing you there. They are more than just your students and you can be more than just their teacher.
  6. Find a good friend on your staff with whom to dream and play. This is a biggie. My friend was another new teacher named Dave. We spent 33 years together, before he retired. We built, laughed, cried, shared, challenged, grew, played, and had the best times together. I can’t imagine my career without that guy. A positive, awesome teacher.
  7. Kind of along the lines of number 6. Don’t hang out with or pay attention to toxic and negative colleagues. They’re not your colleagues. They are jealous of what you are bringing to the table, because they can’t, won’t, don’t want to, or never did. And your excitement and enthusiasm makes them feel guilty and embarrassed.
  8. Read. Write. Read. Write. Especially write. Your brain and your skills will thank you. As will your students and colleagues. Start a blog. Even if nobody ever reads it, the act of writing will help you be a better teacher. And always be reading something.
  9. Visit other teachers’ classrooms. Some of your best resources and ideas are just around the corner. We are too isolated sometimes. Although, again as George Couros says, “Isolation is now a choice educators make.” Choose otherwise.
  10. Laugh with kids. I did save this one for last on purpose. Laughing with kids is one of the very best things you can do in your classroom. Kids will remember forever the fun times you had in class. You establish a class atmosphere when you can laugh with kids. Funny stuff happens. Let it happen.

Have a wonderful 2019 colleagues!

A new PD! Professional Driven!

Saw this on twitter earlier.

The chart I saw on twitter.

This chart grabbed my attention.  It felt a lot like what I think is the difference between ‘Professional Development’ and ‘Professional Learning’.  Wrote about that notion before

Well I looked for the source of this great chart.  Found out about Jarod Bormann.  He wrote a book called, Professionally Driven: Empower Every Educator To Redefine PD.  

Jarod’s awesome book!

I’ve had strong reactions to books before.  This was different.  I swear I just got this book today.  Yet…many, if not most, of the ideas had been banging around in my mind, in my words, ideas, and statements since I took my new gig 4 years ago.   Executive Director of Teaching-Learning-Innovation.  Jarod’s story of mind numbing PD sessions is my story.  And like Jarod, I’m a role to do something about it.  His book, which I highly recommend, makes the case unequivocally.  Here are a few of my favorite ideas from his book:

  • Educational leaders have to walk the talk. Don’t talk to me about innovation, risk-taking, collaboration, connectedness, and creativity if the professional development you provide models none of this.
  • This BIG question created such an intense energy within me: What about them?
  • We need to quit viewing the teacher as the fire that is last to receive the water and the expert as the original source of knowledge that we must pay to dip our buckets into. As William Butler Yeats has been famously quoted, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” We have extinguished so many learning fires within teachers for so long that there isn’t a single hot coal left to stoke a spark. Moreover, the idea that “teachers don’t know what they don’t know” implies that teachers cannot be trusted to discover for themselves what it is they don’t know, or worse yet, that teachers are not even capable of it. This type of thinking is simply incorrect and toxic for a school’s culture.
  • I’m not sure when, but at some point professional development became primarily training, and districts began to expect educators to do learning on their own time. And if they chose not to (probably because they are trying to deal with all of the responsibilities that come along with teaching, as well as the training that has been bestowed upon them), they are quickly labeled as a “lazy” educator. I said this in the previous chapter, but I feel it’s worth mentioning again here: forcing teachers to learn on their own time should not be some kind of test to determine the “motivated” teachers from the “lazy” ones. This is no different than using the idea of homework in the same fashion and then giving kids the same labels.

Just a few of the ideas that hit me between the eyes.  I’m pretty proud and convinced that we are on our way to doing a better job with professional learning.  We have proof.  Our teachers identify needs, wishes, and books to read, study, and act upon.  We buy the books and facilitate.  One example, the great book Conscious Discipline, by Dr. Becky Bailey, was selected by the teachers at our primary school.  We bought the books and ran the book study.  Then the teachers, the following year, continued on their own. Then the following year, they continued the learning and reading on their own.  Then teachers at one of our other elementary schools wanted to do some reading, thinking, and learning from the book. So we did it again.  Then another elementary school.

Are we perfect?  Nope.  Do we still have sit and get, professional development kind of activities.  Yeah….. but fewer of them.  There are still ‘trainings’ that happen.  But we are 100% dedicated to teacher originated, ongoing, professional learning.

As I said, reading this book was like watching a movie of my recent thinking.  If one checks out my twitter feed…the pinned tweet, for the last couple of years is the WB Yeats quote Jarod referenced!

Thanks to my new PLN colleague and WB Yeats!

Nostalgia still isn’t a strategy.

Bought another Hacking book. This one is Hacking Instructional Design: 33 Extraordinary Ways to Create a Contemporary Curriculum by Michael Fisher and Elizabeth Fisher.

The preface, yes, the preface, has a series of stone cold factual statements that need to be read, said, and understood.  Here’s one, “The way we’ve always done it has run its course. When we think about how we are going to prepare our children for life after school, nostalgia is no longer on the table. We need to focus on the things that matter to the student, the student’s world, and how the world will receive this student into its global citizenry.”

Nostalgia is no longer on the table…

I’ve written before about this notion of nostalgia. Actually, almost a year ago to the day!  And here it is again.  “…nostalgia is no longer on the table.”  I still agree.  And yet, I wonder what one year has done?

Here’s another doozy. “Students are thirsty for investigating what matters to them. We must give them that chance. Our current system of education shouldn’t be the barrier that hinders their learning; it should be the fuel that launches it.

And another, “We must defend innovation. We need more innovation in schools. We’re getting nowhere with antiquated curricula that blocks creative problem-solving and cross-disciplinary learning. Students need to learn things that are just in time rather than just in case.  In order to innovate, students need to take risks, make mistakes, and fail. And then do it again. And then do it again. Failing early and failing often creates a cycle of iteration and a learning mode that invites trial and error, discovery and exploration, and intrinsic motivation.”

I LOVE the line, “Students need to learn things that are just in time rather than just in case.”  WOW!  And just in case is nostalgic.  I’ve heard myself answer a question from a kid, “You’re going to need this later.”  Just in case. 

Two more.  First, “We must create a culture of connection rather than a culture of correction. How we interact with each other matters now more than ever. We are the only humans in the history of humanity who have been as well-connected as we are now. That’s a lot of overlapping of talents, and a lot of opportunities. Yet we are losing the possibilities that lie within the overlap by continuing to separate politically, socially, and culturally. Communicating and collaborating are key 21st-century skills.”

And bringing it all home, “We must commit to our objective of loyalty to learning and the learner. It no longer matters just what students know. It matters what they can do with what they know. Contemporary students don’t necessarily need teachers to gift them with knowledge. Knowledge lives everywhere now. Everybody has access to everything. Contemporary students do need teachers to help them sort, sift, connect, sophisticate, construct, create, explain, and evaluate all that is out in the ether.”

I would encourage each educator to simply take a look around your daily life.  Look at how you do things.  Look at how you communicate with other people.  Look at how you order things.

And here’s my example from this very morning.  I needed to order refill cartridges for my electric razor.  I called out, from the bathroom, “Alexa, reorder shaving refill cartridges.”  And I heard, “Looking at your last order….is that what you want?”  I said, “Yes.”  And Alexa said, “Done.”  I take that level of interactivity and communication for granted these days.  And in 5 years, that will probably seem nostalgic.

We need to give kids the chance to practice skills for tomorrow.  Not fill them with ‘just in case’ learning today, for a world that doesn’t exist anymore.  Just ask Alexa.

The kids that don’t make the news.

SLMS Peer Mentors

Sometimes, when I was a middle school teacher, or a junior high principal,  when I was out and about, and not around other educators, people would ask me what I did for work.  So I’d say I was a middle school teacher or a junior high principal.  Pretty much got the same reaction every time.  A step back. An, “Oh geez, really?  Wow, that must be rough.  Teenagers. Ugh.”

It never made sense to me.  Still doesn’t.  The picture in this blogpost is from last night.  Our middle school team presented to our school board information around their Peer Mentor program.  Featured these kids.  Gen ed kids.  Special ed kids.  Working together.  Helping each other. Caring for each other.  Laughing with each other.

When I was a junior high principal, we had the Life Skills program, with kids from 12-21, with profound special needs.  In 12 years as principal, not once did I ever see a teenager be anything other than kind and loving toward the Life Skills kids. Not once.  Everytime, in every situation, they showed their better angels.  Their best angels.

These are the kids that don’t make the news.  And they represent the vast, vast majority of kids in our schools everyday.

Why do I love this so much?

Seems like such a simple list.  25 different things to ask your kid when she/he gets home from school.

Here’s the list:

1. What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)

2. Tell me something that made you laugh today.

3. If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?)

4. Where is the coolest place at the school?

5. Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)

6. If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?

7. How did you help somebody today?

8. How did somebody help you today?

9. Tell me one thing that you learned today.

10. When were you the happiest today?

11. When were you bored today?

12. If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?

13. Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?

14. Tell me something good that happened today.

15. What word did your teacher say most today?

16. What do you think you should do/learn more of at school?

17. What do you think you should do/learn less of at school?

18. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?

19. Where do you play the most at recess?

20. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?

21. What was your favorite part of lunch?

22. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?

23. Is there anyone in your class who needs a time-out?

24. If you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would you trade with? Why?

25. Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today at school.

I’m trying to figure out why this list just knocks me out.  I guess I read it from 3 different points of view.  I was a kid, I have kids, and I taught kids.  And the questions and answers take on different import depending on which question is asked.  Like ‘What word did your teacher say the most today?’  What an awesome question!  As a teacher, I’d be fascinated to hear what kids reported.  As a kid and parent, I’d be fascinated to know what a kid remembers.  Rich and interesting.


Is it still just a dream?

In my younger years, before I was a teacher, but knew I was going to become a teacher, I used to dream about my drive to work, which included a quiet countryside, the leaves turning in the fall, and arriving at a nice school.

I distinctly remember, after I had been hired as a middle school teacher in 1984, at some point thereafter, realizing that my drive to work wound through a quiet countryside, with the leaves turning in the fall, and that I arrived at a nice school.  

I was living my dream, and I was able to see it.  Reminds me of a great line…

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point,
‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

An actual picture captured from my drive to work.

I wonder how many of us take the time to recognize, among the hustle and bustle of the day, that we may, in fact, be living what we dreamed?

Just finished reading…

I kind of wonder if, when I start a sentence with, “I just finished reading…” colleagues want to run away.  I get it if they do.  I know more now because of my professional learning via twitter than I ever did as a teacher and principal.  That’s just a fact.  And I’m not shy about sharing and modeling my failures, learning, reading, and growth.  Two steps forward, one back.  The sharing falls under what I used to think when attending a wrestling clinic as a coach.  If I get one good thing out of this clinic, it’s a good use of my time.  If, via sharing and modeling,  I can convince one leader to take a good hard look at his/her own learning and growth, it’s worth my time.  And I know it will be worth hers/his.

In the last 48 hours I’ve read two books by Baruti Kafele.  Prior to 48 hours ago, I had not heard of Principal Kafele.  I read The Principal 50: Critical Leadership Questions for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence and Is My School a Better School Because I Lead It?

One could certainly wonder, “Geez dude, do you ever work?  How do you have time to read two books over the last 48 hours?  Must be nice.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 7.36.55 AM

Well it is nice, and it’s helpful that the books are 95 and 62 pages respectively.  Don’t let the small page numbers make you think the books don’t pack a punch.  They do. When Principal Kafele says, “Though I have been called a ‘motivational speaker’–my objective is to create discomfort toward inspiring leadership excellence.”  He is not kidding.

Try these ideas on for size.

  • Is your school a better school because you are there?
  • Would your school be a better school if someone else were leading it instead of you? (Wow!)
  • Do staff members feel they have grown in their practice thanks to your instructional leadership? (I LOVE this one)
  • Just because principals don’t work in the classroom doesn’t mean they shouldn’t teach!  Leadership itself is a series of lessons that you provide to students, staff, and even parents on how to approach matters big and small.
  • Your leadership presence conveys a message to students, staff, parents whether you want it to or not; the question is whether you are in control of that message.
  • What’s the one thing over all of my responsibilities that I deem I simply must accomplish?
  • Your school cannot afford for you to be the same person next year on this date that you are today.

And this.

  • Leaders are readers, and they learn from other leaders. Effective school leaders read regularly despite–or more precisely, to help guide–the long hours that they invest every day toward ensuring student excellence.  They have such an obsession with growth as leaders that they carve out the necessary time.


Here’s my morning so far. I’ve met with our assistant director about some professional learning we’re leading with two groups soon, I’ve spoken with two principals, worked on some of our bond related items, and read a 62 page book, Is My School a Better School Because I Lead It?  And now I’m writing about it.  And I have a meeting in about 10 minutes.  I have an obsession with growth and learning.  I carve out the necessary time to make both happen.  And I share.

Because I just finished reading…..