Fightin’ words.

Started reading Start. Right. Now.: Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, Jimmy Casas.  The authors start off discussing the importance of living and breathing mission statements.  “We believe in the power of mission statements that are created with intention and communicated and acted upon regularly. The organizational mission statement should succinctly answer the questions,’Why do we (as a classroom, school, or district) exist? What is our core purpose for being?’”

It’s easy to see the power of these words, especially when these leaders drive home the clear point that words without action are just words. “Even with a compelling mission statement in place — one that is known by all members of the organization, communicated regularly among many in the organization, and used frequently as a driving force for decision making — having an overarching description of why we exist is still not as important as the consistent behaviors each team member exhibits as they go about their jobs.

That got me thinking.  We have mission statements in all of our schools.  We have a district mission statement.  And further, we have 4 strategic goals as a district.  The establishment of these goals was one of the first things our new superintendent, Kevin Alfano, did.  He hired a group to facilitate a rigorous process of interviews and questions.  Teachers, administrators, parents, business people, community leaders, association leaders, classified staff, students, etc. 14 different groups of people.  At the conclusion of all of this work, 4 goals emerged.  Academic Excellence.  Transition Readiness.  Parent, Family, Community Engagement.  High Quality Work Force.  Now these 4 goals are definitely not just words.  They live in our mission statements.  We bounce all of our ideas, goals, and plans off of them.  They give muscle, motion, and meaning to our mission statements.

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And even with all of that, I am not sure every single educator could talk about the mission statements and the 4 strategic goals.  I’m not convinced they live everyday, in the classroom.  They’re far better than I’ve seen in my 30+ years in this district.  They’re closer to our daily thoughts and efforts.  But they’re not quite there yet.

What is there?  Fightin’ Words.

At least two of our building leaders have rallying cries.  Or what I’m calling Fightin’ Words.  They use them ALL the time with their teachers and students.  Everybody knows them in the whole school.  One is, “Whatever it takes.”   His colleague’s words for his staff and students are, “We’re all in this together.”  Both of these leaders then act and expect their colleagues and students to also act, based on these words.  The words are alive and kicking everyday.  Come decision time, they’re not reviewing the mission statement, they’re looking at their fightin’ words.  Are we doing ‘Whatever it takes’ as we make decisions and take action at one place.  Are we ‘All in this together’ when we’re making decisions and taking action at the other place.

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Talk is cheap.  Words have power and require action.  Reminds me of this great idea.

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So I’d ask each of us, including and especially myself, “What are your fightin’ words?”  Where does the rubber of the mission statement and strategic goals meet the road of the classroom or school?

Whatever it takes.  We’re all in this together.

I never learned about photosynthesis.

Time and experience are wonderful things.  Learning is also a wonderful thing.  My working definition of learning is ‘a permanent change in thinking or behavior.’  It turns out I never actually learned about photosynthesis.

And here’s why.

There’s an old saying about lectures. “A lecture is an event where the notes of the professor pass to the notebooks of the students without going through the brains of either.”

When I was a freshman in college, I had a course called BioSci 102.  It was held in a big, two tiered auditorium.  Probably 600 students at least.  The professor was wonderful and engaging.  That’s what I remember about him and the class.  He was engaging.  I can’t honestly say I learned anything that became permanent.

The students took notes as he lectured.  It was in this class that I discovered I could pay $10 to buy official lecture notes.  The university paid a former student in the class to attend, take notes, then make them available for other students.  I signed up.  I didn’t even have to go to class to get the notes anymore.  It could hardly have mattered less.  Come time for the test, I studied someone else’s notes well enough to do well on the test, then whoosh, the information was gone.  A big part of the test was on photosynthesis.  Like almost all of the test.  The lecture notes were absolutely beautiful.  Lovely drawings, arrows, quotes, fabulous.  And nothing about photosynthesis became permanent in my thinking.

Fast forward to now.  Did a google search on photosynthesis.  Google reports,  “About 19,800,000 results (0.63 seconds)”.  Hmmm….that’s a lot more information than one professor talking and someone taking notes.  Let’s narrow that search to just videos.  “About 597,000 results (0.26 seconds).” 597,000 videos on photosynthesis….in .26 seconds.

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If we decided it was mission critical in a class for kids to LEARN about photosynthesis, meaning the information became permanent in their thinking or behavior, I bet a lecture might be the last way to have kids learn.  My college lecture experience was a perfect example of education as a distribution system.  Professor has information.  Distributes it. Students have it for awhile, then give it back via some kind of test.  The end.

In a discovery system, probably using technology, students could be in groups of 4.  The teacher has identified 4 excellent videos about photosynthesis.  The students, with headphones on, each watch a different video about photosynthesis.  They have a large piece of butcher paper in front of them, on which each takes notes as he/she watches her/his own video.  When all videos are done, the students go around the table and share what each learned about photosynthesis.  They generate a list of questions, honing their questions to their top three.  Then each table shares its top 3 questions.  The class finalizes a list of top 5 questions and kids find answers for those questions.

I bet I would learn about photosynthesis that way.

Permanent change in thinking or behavior.

From my earliest days of teaching, I liked to capture quotes on my chalkboard.  Yes.  Chalkboard.  At some point the chalkboard gave way to a whiteboard.  And the capturing of quotes continued.  Usually the quotes were great things that kids said in class.  One of my favorites, that I bet most kids in one particular class will always remember, was when a kid answering a question I posed, said, “Cuzitwoowoo.”  He was so excited to share his thoughts…his brain, tongue, and mouth couldn’t get on the same page.  So into the world and all of our memories came the gem, ‘Cuzitwoowoo.”

I don’t believe we were able to return order to the class for a solid 10 minutes.  We couldn’t stop laughing.  And the kid that uttered the memorable phrase loved it more than anyone.

And onto the whiteboard went Cuzitwoowoo.

Other times, certain phrases from reading or learning stood out.  And they went onto the whiteboard.

Teaching gave way to building administration gave way to district administration.  And in each place, I continued to capture ideas on the board.

Walking into my office this morning, I glanced at the words upon which I’ve been ruminating lately.  And I saw a connecting thread.  Here are the words:


The latest words come from Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Professional Practice by Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack.  Their definition of professional learning, or actually learning, is precise.  “Professional learning results in a permanent change in thinking or behavior.”  That is a pretty high bar to call something learning. I really like it though.

So looking at those words, I thought about the history of how they came to be on my whiteboard.  And it goes back to using Twitter as a professional learning tool.  I saw a retweet on twitter this morning in fact, from Aaron Hogan.

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And Aaron is correct.  Through twitter, I have found and learned from so many amazing educators.  Jenni Donohoo is one, for example.  She shared some of her favorite books.  The Katz/Dack book was one.  And man, did it hit home.  We had been searching for a resource to help us do a better job with adult learners.  And bingo….this book will help us.  We are literally living their learning process. We are going to try to put focus, collaborative inquiry, and instructional leadership on adult learning.

The educators I have found on twitter have permanently changed my thinking and behavior.  I have learned.  And want to continue to learn.

The other two quotes are guideposts.  “Nothing is going to change if nothing changes”, from the amazing David Geurin.  If you haven’t read Future Driven, stop what you’re doing right now and go read it.

And, “What you do stands over you all the while and thunders so loudly that we cannot hear what you say,” is just such a stunning reminder that actions speak louder than words, that I wanted a daily reminder.

Permanent change in thinking and behavior.




Trust the people. Trust the process.

Our district hosted Jenni Donohoo last week.  Easily one of the best professional learning experiences we’ve had in awhile.  Her presentation to about 200 educators was engaging, topical, entertaining, authentic, and motivational.  One of our key takeaway thoughts was so simple and clear.  As all good key takeaway thoughts should be.  Jenni quoted the great Michael Fullan,

“Trust the people.  Trust the process.”

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As we continue to battle the beast of passive professional development, this phrase, this truth arms us with the correct frame of mind.  As we said to our educators, “Everyone in this room has a college degree.  Everyone in this room has a very good idea what she/he needs to learn more about to do a better job for more kids.  It’s your job to professionally learn.”  And we, the people responsible for removing obstacles and barriers to that professional learning need to believe bone deep that we are to Trust the people.  Trust the process.

Jenni flat gave us an immediate experience to do just that.  Trust the people.  Trust the process.  After our first session together, our educators had ‘team time.’   No directions for how to form teams, with whom to form teams, what to do in said teams.  Just some suggestions for activities.  Completely up to the educators.

So, there was some standing around.  A little awkward time.  We’ve done a great job in the past completely programming every minute at these kinds of gatherings.  And then….people formed into groups.  Had the conversations they needed to have.  It was fantastic.  Upon returning to Jenni’s final session, it was clear that the intensity, based upon the success and excitement from the team time, was ratcheted up over the first part of the presentation.  We were invested.  Our learning was deeper and more meaningful.

Kind of amazing what happens when one trusts the people and trusts the process.

Whose job is it exactly?

Professional learning or professional development?  I believe in the former.  Used to experience the latter.  Not to claim victimhood, but when one knows better, one must do better.  I now know better.  Professional learning > professional development.

What’s the difference between PL and PD?  The source of the ultimate responsibility.  We have done a revoltingly good job removing the teacher from her/his own professional learning when we professionally develop.  Typical professional development is top down.  Someone else decides what one is to learn, designs the learning, imposes the learning, assesses the learning.  The learner is not part of the equation.  No determination of interest, need, experience, expertise.  Zip.  And we’ve done such a great job with this model, it’s really tough to break good educators out of this stultification.  We’ve created a system where educators expect to simply sit and absorb.  Play the game. Then go about business as usual.

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Professional learning, on the other hand, is all about the learner.  David Geurin sums it up perfectly, “Great teachers are great learners, too. They don’t wait for the school to ‘develop’ them. We’ve all been to mind-numbing professional development sessions. We’ve also observed educators who don’t make an effort to engage in professional learning. Maybe you’ve been professionally disengaged. Maybe the culture of your school doesn’t reward growth and progress for teachers. It makes me sad that so many educators have lost sight of why they became teachers in the first place. You can make a huge impact, and one way you can do that is to continue to learn and grow. Don’t expect your school to own your personal growth. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to be a learner. It’s up to you to become your best. Of course, every school should support educator learning, but with all the tools available today, you can connect and learn no matter what your school is doing to support your growth. Take the initiative to be a learner.”

And then he really hammers the point home,The responsibility for growing personally and professionally ultimately rests with the individual and not the organization. We will provide support and encouragement, but you will get out of your professional learning what you put into it.”

Our district is hosting Jenni Donohoo next week (October 13, 2017).  We can’t wait to learn from her more about Collective Teacher Efficacy. “The belief that teachers in a given school make an educational difference to their students over and above the educational impact of their homes and communities.”

Following our morning work with Jenni, we’ll be hosting our own EdCamp.  We think these two learning opportunities fit together in service of professional learning.  The research based, Hattie reinforced, Donohoo clarified Collective Teacher Efficacy, leading into an educator driven EdCamp.  Educators choose the topics for learning.  They learn from each other. They share resources.  If it’s a good EdCamp, they leave with more questions than answers.  They collaborate, share, challenge, argue, network, and LEARN.  Sound like some of the stuff we want kids to do.

And yet, our challenge remains to slay the passive beast of professional development.  Sit.  Get.  Absorb.  Leave.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Final note.  Emphasizing David Geurin’s stone cold fact, “…you will get out of your professional learning what you put into it.”





A very important C. Communication.

The Four Cs.  Communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.  Tonight and tomorrow, students will be utilizing all four.  Students in Iowa, Washington, and Minnesota.

Two twitter chats are happening. The first is this evening.  A group of middle school kids in Minnesota are hosting this awesome twitter chat!

Then a second twitter chat takes place tomorrow morning!

This twitter chat features pre-service teachers in Iowa chatting about technology use in class.  We’re inviting some of our own students and staff to participate!

The power of Twitter for communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

Can’t wait for both!

The most obvious words.

Simple words can convey such powerful ideas.  Continuing to read David Geurin’s great book Future Driven.

This morning I read these words.

Nothing’s going to change if nothing changes.

How simple to read.  How simple to understand.  How simple to enact.

Simple, powerful words.  The most obvious words.