I’m full. I can’t learn anything else.

Once upon a time, I was a 31 year education veteran.  16 years as a middle school teacher, 3 as a high school assistant principal, and 12 as a junior high principal. I had seen it all, knew it all, and couldn’t imagine there was anything else I could possibly learn.  I openly said, “I’m full.  I can’t learn anything else.”  And man.  Was I wrong.

I’m now 3 years into a new learning curve.  It took two things to make me eat those words.  The courage to change jobs and the energy to be humble.  Rather than thinking now of myself as a 34 year veteran, I’m a 3rd year newbie, learning everyday.

This morning I bought a digital copy of Unmapped Potential: An Educator’s Guide to Lasting Change by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard.

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I made it 2.5 pages into the introduction before a roundhouse right nailed me in the head.  Here it is:

“Thus, lasting change starts when you are brave enough to identify and modify the beliefs that are creating barriers on your map and holding you back from reaching your potential. Once we took out our own mental maps, unfolded them, and really looked at them, we could see the limits we were placing on our students and ourselves.
Up to that point, we had been unaware of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages we were sending to our students and colleagues every day. Through our words, actions, and choices, we were letting others know what we believed about their ability and potential, and sometimes those messages had a negative impact. We were principals tasked with helping students and teachers grow, but we were actually impeding growth without knowing it.”

My mental map ended at the borders of the document.  The lands beyond the edges were unexplored and I didn’t know of their existence.  The courage and energy I needed to step off the map came….and here I am writing a blog.  More excited and passionate about our work as educators than I’ve ever been.

Now back to the rest of the introduction.  Thank you Julie and Missy for finding the words I need to describe my journey. Have a great day!

What great good could we do if we weren’t afraid?

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
—William ShakespeareBl7GPV_CIAEAidP


Not sure why, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what one could do if one wasn’t afraid. Maybe it’s just me. But I don’t think so.  What great good could educators do if we weren’t afraid?  Of what are we afraid?  Failing?  Embarrassing ourselves? Judgement from kids?  Parents?  Evaluators?  Getting fired? Standing out from peers?

What happens when we let fear affect our professional lives?  Do we settle for routine?  Comfort?  Predictable?  Rote?  Coasting?  Going along to get along?

So how do we minimize fear in ourselves and others?

Somewhere along the line I read an idea about shared or distributed leadership in a school.  And actually what I read was the contrary of such leadership. “There is NOT shared leadership in a building when one needs to ask permission to do anything.”  If good educators are afraid to try things, without permission, or if the guiding principle is “Ask for forgiveness rather than permission”, does an organization actually practice distributive leadership?  I don’t think so.

What’s missing?  TrustSupport.  Knowing that whoever is in the role of leader a rung above you will have your back when/if failure, conflict, or controversy result.  Without that…fear holds.

When I was a principal, I used to think, “Give good people what they need and get out of their way.”  This was wrong thinking.  Better thinking would be, “Give good people what they need then stand in front, beside, and behind them as they do their work.”  Because what they need is the knowledge that you have their back. Actively have their back. Trust and support.  And these two things need to be consistent and public.

The instant one leaves the classroom, one becomes suspect.  Ok hotshot, you have lots of good ideas about what to do in the classroom, but you don’t have to do them.  You don’t have to be afraid anymore.  Not true.

The truth is I started and deleted this post twice because I was afraid to post it.

But here it is.

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

Good call Mr. Shakespeare.  Thank you.

Words that hit me this week.

Reflecting a little over the past week as it winds down.  Thought I’d share some words that hit me.

Read The Boy Who Was Raised as A Dog by @BDPerry and @maiasz. Some of the words included: 

“A picture, not a label.”

“Research has repeatedly found that surrounding a child with other troubled peers only tends to escalate bad behavior.”

“Without love, children literally don’t grow.”

“To calm a frightened child, you must first calm yourself.”

“Spend some time getting to know her–not her symptoms.  Find out about her life.”

Read Brain Rules for Baby (Updated and Expanded): How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five by John Medina. 

Loved these words:

“Finally, I realized my mistake. I was giving parents Ivory Tower when they needed Ivory Soap.”

“Myth: To boost their brain power, children need French lessons by age 3 and a room piled with “brain-friendly” toys and a library of educational DVDs. Truth: The greatest pediatric brain-boosting technology in the world is probably a plain cardboard box, a fresh box of crayons, and two hours. The worst is probably your new flat-screen TV.”

“But what you do in your child’s first five years of life—not just the first year—profoundly influences how he or she will behave as an adult.”

“Sadly, myths rush in when facts are few, and they have a way of snaring people.”

“Kids praised for effort complete 50 percent more hard math problems than kids praised for intelligence.”

“‘I have friends on both sides of the issue, and I like to stand with my friends.’”

“The fact is, the amount of TV a child should watch before the age of 2 is zero.”

And finally, this amazing blog post by Kris Felicello.  Impact words included:

“I saw Twitter as another app that would be a drain on my time. Now I see it as a means to improve education by opening classroom doors and allowing educators to share the incredible things that are happening in our schools.”

Relationships are the single most important factor in determining your success as an educator and the success of students. Take the time to speak to each student in your class, individually. Impossible to make the time?  How about when students finish a test or quiz early, or when students are working individually? How about staggering independent and group work to give you time to conference with students? What about having lunch or breakfast with your students?  Think about asking different questions as your relationships with students build such as:

  • A time you felt smart
  • A time you were scared
  • A time you were happy
  • If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
  • If you could change one thing about your life what would it be?
  • Who would you trade places with?
  • Who is the nicest person you know? What makes them nice?
  • Who is the meanest person you know?Why? How can you help them?
  • A time I made you happy in class
  • A time I disappointed you
  • What is unfair?
  • What is an area you wish you could improve upon? How can I help you with that improvement?

I have learned that there is so much learning available if one makes the time to be available to learn.  I didn’t know this as a principal.  I wish I had. I hope others realize it as they’re doing principal work in buildings.  It’s worth it.  You never know when or from where the next great idea might come.



Basic practice vs. professional practice.

One of the things that happens when one reads, grows, learns, challenges, and reflects on practice is old notions fall away.  I saw a tweet recently that went something like, “I would be horrified if I was still teaching the same way I did when I started.”  That would be true for me.  That would have meant that over 34 years so far….I’ve learned nothing about the art and science of teaching.  Early in the career, so many professional conversations did not happen.  So many opportunities to read and discuss did not happen.

When one knows better, one must do better.

Recently I shared a draft graphic with two principals and a veteran teacher.  I was exploring some of the practices in the classroom that separated professional educator practice from basic educator practice.  The 3 other educators were not shy in giving opinions and input.  Thank you to Mark Beddes, Mark Robinson, and Kirk Dodge.

One of the first changes was examining the differences in practice, not educators.  We had a very healthy conversation about desks being in rows.  A strong opinion held that desks in rows weren’t automatically a bad thing.  So that language was sculpted into a more flexible representation.

Here’s the chart: Screen Shot 2018-03-12 at 7.26.18 AM

These practices are a few off the top of the head.  Obviously there are a lot more.  One thing I can say for sure is, that if I had known then, what I know now….I would have been a much stronger teacher for more kids.

When one knows better…..

Distracted because of a device?

Eric Sheninger tweeted a provocative tweet.

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Excellent, thoughtful (mostly) replies, comments, and conversation followed.

Then George Couros added to the thinking and conversation via his blog, encouraging us to think about ‘learners’, not just kids.  This would then include educators.

Both of these educational thinkers challenge my thinking and help me grow.  Reviewing the comments from Eric’s original tweet, one of the replies really caught my attention. “The cheating is uncontrollable with devices”. Hmmm.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this ‘cheating’ notion lately.  I’m wondering if we’re asking kids wrong questions if the whole point is ‘an answer’ that can be easily accessed by a device…and then that’s called cheating. Perhaps we need to think of better questions that require better answers.

Another cheating idea that seems tenuous; checking with another kid via a device for ‘the answer’.  Might actually be an opportunity for collaboration if there were better questions.  In a non-school setting, trying to solve a problem, working with other people, is a good thing.

And finally, plagiarism. A biggie. A legitimate problem that is rightfully labeled as cheating.  I wonder how questions might be reworked to develop future (and present) skill needs that require kids to critically think, collaborate, communicate, and create answers, rather than grabbing entire sections of text via a device to answer a question. For example, instead of tasking kids with a question like, “What is the dominant theme in To Kill a Mockingbird?”, we ask, “Use your device to find two conflicting statements about the dominant theme in To Kill a Mockingbird, then discuss the differences.  Be sure to cite your sources.  Which of the statements of theme do you find to be the most credible, in your opinion, and why?”

Lots to ponder.  I love that I’m pondering with others. Twitter and blogging are two of my favorite professional learning resources.

No answers yet, but lots of good questions.  Lots of good opportunities to learn and grow.

And I did all of this using a device.