It’s like a family reunion!

This is a great book!

About a month ago, Dave Burgess send me a message letting me know that I had been selected to get a free book from DBC! The person who would be taking care of me was Tara Martin. I had the awesome good fortune to listen to and learn from Tara at ISTE last summer in Chicago.

The Tara Martin at ISTE with one of her many fans!

I let Tara know that I was excited to read one of DBC’s newest titles, Lead Beyond Your Title by Nili Bartley. I loved the title and had great hopes for another fabulous pirate experience. Tara let me know that this book was SO new, it wasn’t even released yet, but as soon as it was, I was in business. And, of course, she was good to her word. The book arrived, along with some cool pirate swag (I love DBC!)

So I’m well into Nili’s book. It’s fantastic. It’s like sitting next to a trusted colleague, sharing fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations. It’s so clearly written from a great teacher’s heart, it’s amazing. One of the thing that struck me most powerfully was her use of quotes. Since I changed jobs, moving from being a junior high principal, to the executive director of Teaching-Learning-Innovation, I’ve had the opportunity to figure out that twitter is the best professional learning tool on earth for educators. And because of twitter and my PLN, I know every single person she quotes…and even cooler, have met almost all of the educators. That would NOT have happened if I hadn’t opened my mind to the possibilities available through twitter.

Here are just a few of my favorite quotes from Nili’s book from some of my favorite learning influences. Thanks to all for growing, sharing, and learning with me!

“When students put their phones in their lockers for the day and are asked to learn what we tell them they must learn, engagement immediately drops, no matter how good a teacher we think we are.” –Joy Kirr, Shift This

“People are less likely to tear down systems they help build.” –Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, Lead Like a PIRATE

“It’s not supposed to be easy–it’s supposed to be worth it.” -Dave Burgess, Teach Like a PIRATE

“If you are going to crush apathy in our schools and create learning that’s irresistible, it won’t happen doubling down our efforts to reach proficiency. We have to start by developing environments where students can rekindle what it means to be a passionate learner. After all, they came to us this way, right?” –David Geurin, Future Driven

“Twitter is not going to change your life. But the educators you meet there will.” –Aaron Hogan, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth

These are just a few of the quotes from the author educators. Reading them again, having read all their books, interacted with them on twitter, talked with them via Google Hangouts, or met them in person, makes this book, in addition to being a powerful, supportive well of inspiration and ideas for educators, a family reunion. A celebration.

Great job Nili and thank you!

Where were these questions when I started teaching?

Sometimes I feel like I whale on my beloved university unfairly. But the further along I go in my career, I honestly wonder what in the heck we learned in the undergrad teacher preparation process. I specifically remember a solid week’s focus being on bulletin board preparation. Seriously.

Joe Feldman has written an excellent book shown above. He is flat calling me out as a teacher who gave no thought to grading practices. I made ’em up as I went, based on how I thought grades were supposed to work. I remember something about a bell curve, from teacher prep days in college.

And that was literally the extent of the thought to which I gave my grading practices.

I wonder sometimes if we’ve moved the needle at all with this topic. Here are some pretty hardcore questions/statements about the punitive nature of grading from Mr. Feldman.

  • Does traditional grading stifle risk-taking and trust between the student and teacher?
  • Are mistakes punished? Or encouraged? (Jo Boaler has an entire book about the brain growth nature associated with making mistakes.)
  • Simple question for teachers. Do the kids’ grades at the beginning of learning carry the same weight as at the end of learning? When they don’t know anything about the subject matter, do their mistakes as they learn punish them? Wow. That one kills me because it makes SO MUCH SENSE.
  • Do kids’ grades include things associated with behavior? Noisy class? Brining tissue for extra credit? How about wrong heading? Late work? Skipping problems they don’t understand?
  • The entire riff on grades being sought for the sole purpose of a grade—not learning. Does a teacher’s grading practices incentivize cheating? Getting the right answer, to get the right grade is the point. Not the learning.

I could kind of go on and on. I’ve just started this book. The above is captured over 3 pages(30-32). I’d dare any educator to read them and honestly ponder grading practices.

I did. I wish I could go back in time.

Would this fly today?

I bet most educators who do great things with/for kids, do a lot of those things via instinct. Just seems like the right things to do. Greeting kids at the door, for example. Doesn’t seem like rocket science, seems like a good idea intuitively. Then somebody does some research, slaps a name on the thing, and we’re off to the races. And virtually every teacher thinks, “Geez, I’ve been doing that for years. Didn’t know it was an official thing.”

One of the things I did, every Monday, for 16 years as a middle school teacher, was ask the kids how the weekend went. 6 periods a day. That simple. Sometimes the conversation in class would last the entire period. 47 minutes. It never occurred to me that I should/shouldn’t do it. It just seemed like a good thing to do. Spend time talking with the kids about how things were going with them. Sometimes, but rarely, we had to dive right into the work of the day, but the majority by far, of the time, we talked about how the weekend went. What kinds of things I was doing, what the kids were doing, or wherever the conversations went. And those same kids, now adults, still remember fondly those conversations. We really built strong relationships and a positive classroom environment. Paid off in many ways, including academic.

Back when jumping in the air and landing didn’t seem daunting or dangerous.

Another thing we used to do was play flyers up Frisbee with the kids. This was not a very technical process. One person threw the Frisbee towards a large group of kids/teachers. As soon as one person caught the Frisbee 3 times, he/she became the thrower. We had some the funniest and best things happen during this dumb game. Lifelong memories. Built strong bonds to school.

Yesterday I was having an awesome conversation with one of our principals. We were talking about grades and who the kids were behind the grades and how important it is to know the kids. The educators at his school are masters and getting to know the kids behind the grades. I recalled my time working at the same school….and some of the things we used to do. Spending a whole period talking with kids and playing.

I wondered if those things would still fly today? Does the tyranny of the urgent overcome the power of forming relationships as a classroom foundational must?

And I decided, based on this conversation with this great principal, that nope…relationships still matter and fun times with kids still fly.

Kind of think this is how learning is supposed to work.

We’re up to our eyeballs in designing our brand new, soon to be built, fabulous middle school. We have visited other schools, we have met with students, parents, staff members, community members, officials, and so on. We are visiting other schools tomorrow to look at kitchens. We’re trying to leave no stones unturned.

Then I was looking at our latest design documents and found myself pondering the layout of our Collaborative Learning and Innovation Center (CLIC). Some schools might have referred to this area previously as the ‘Library’. We intend to build on and enrich the basic idea of a library. One of the parts of that build is the ‘Makerspace’ area. Well it occurred to me that I knew virtually nothing about a Makerspace.

So…I did what I do when I want to learn something. Probably what a lot of people do when they want to learn something. I googled. I found Laura Fleming. Laura Fleming has a couple of books. I bought this one.

Great book, great resource!

It didn’t take me too long to hammer my way through it. Not because it is slender in its resources, import, and impact. Nope, because it’s rich and fat with resources, import, and impact.

Here’s one of the pages from which I learned today.

I like books in which I can write and scribble.

I’m now sharing the book with the fantastic principal at our middle school. I tried to tell him how much Fleming’s book brought me up to speed with my Makerspace learning, and failed utterly. He’ll figure it out himself as he reads through it. I can’t wait to talk to him when he’s done with his reading and initial Makerspace learning.

I’ve ordered two other books to flesh out my learning and thinking. It’s kind of a sickness I have, I think. I like to learn about new stuff and think about possibilities for teachers and kids.

It also occurred to me that this is how learning is supposed to go. One wants to, or has a compelling reason to, learn about something. So he finds resources…and learns. Happened to me today. Made it a great day.

Looking forward to learning today.

Our district is hosting John Tanner today. John wrote The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Incompatibility with Actual Improvement. It’s a great book for all educational leaders to read.

As I head into our learning, I’m keeping George Couros’ challenge in mind:

“Three things I ask you as you read this text: Identify what has challenged you. Identify what has been reaffirmed. Identify what you will do moving forward.”

I’ll keep those questions in mind today!

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!