This year’s powerful words.

IMG_6276I like to look back, as a school year comes to a close, at the words that carried extra impact on my thinking and learning over the course of that school year.  Here are some of the words from the 2017-2018 school year.  Apologizes to any not attributed!

This year’s powerful words.

  • “Schools supposedly have the universal mission of preparing students for lifelong learning and creating students ready to engage in modern careers. Yet most students still power down their devices when they come to school and only power up when they’re using a computer at home or a mobile device in and around their communities (Prensky, 2008). As a result, learning at home, for students who have digital access, is often more powerful than learning at school.”
  • “When we instead hold students back due to our own fears, lack of knowledge, or unwillingness to give up control, we deliberately hamstring their chances of success.”
  • Even on your worst day, you are still some child’s best hope. —Larry Bell
  • Learning involves student conversations. Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning. -David Geurin
  • If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they are just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough. —Rushton Hurley
  • The first typewriter remained unchanged for over a hundred years.  The first iPhone became obsolete in 10.
  • 20 quotes from the first half of David Geurin’s book, Future Driven
  1. Is your school a time capsule or a time machine?
  2. The ultimate 21st Century skill is the ability to “learn, unlearn, and relearn.
  3. It’s essential we prepare students for the world they will live in and not the one we grew up in.
  4. We see things. But we don’t always see things as they are. Our vision is clouded by our own filters. We are limited to our own perspective. Often we’re too close or too far away to make good sense of what we see.
  5. Mere survival today depends on being able to do something that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that powerful computers can’t do faster. And what we do must satisfy nonmaterial, transcendent desires of this abundant age. The skills in greatest demand will be those that can’t be replicated by a machine or can’t be outsourced for a lower wage. It is essential to be an adaptable learner in a world of uncertainty and complexity.
  6. Doing what’s best for students isn’t always what’s most comfortable for adults.
  7. As educators, schools have a mission that matters most. We are in the business of changing lives and helping kids have better opportunities in life.
  8. What message are we sending in the setup of the learning space? Does your classroom design show that you value collaboration? Is it teacher-centered? Or, learning-centered? Is it a shared space, where ideas of students and teachers are valued? And where teachers and students are working together to accomplish goals?
  9. But in too many schools, teachers feel like they must ask permission to try something new or take a risk. But a culture of permission is not going to develop expectations of innovation. I don’t want our teachers to feel the need to get permission to try something they believe could impact learning for students. I love it when teachers share the ideas they are trying. I also love to play a part in supporting these ideas.
  10. But perhaps the most striking transformation in our school is our library. Before, it was pretty much a traditional library. It was a nice space that was friendly and inviting. But now it is truly a learning commons, a place where students gather to share ideas, work on projects, and use technology. The entire feel is different. It feels like a Starbucks. We even have coffee. There are also lots flexible spaces for collaboration, flat screen T.V.’s, cafe tables, and distinctive lighting. Student design elements and art are on display throughout the space. An adjacent computer lab is now a makerspace complete with a green screen.
  11. Relationships and technology both matter. So does the order. We must keep relationships at the center of all we do as educators. We are in a people profession.
  12. Here’s one of our favorite interview questions we use when hiring a new teacher: Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships—which of these is most important to you and why?
  13. It’s never a good idea to delay gratitude.
  14. Even on your worst day, you are still some child’s best hope. —Larry Bell
  15. If our students master every standard but do not discover joy and passion in learning, we have failed them.  
  16. Teachers must model the same risk taking they want to see from students as learners.  
  17. If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they are just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough. —Rushton Hurley
  18. Learning involves choice. Learners need greater ownership and opportunities to make choices regarding time, place, path, and pace. Learning involves student conversations. Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning.
  19. Test scores tell us little about our children’s readiness for a complex, uncertain world. Test scores reveal who is good at taking tests.
  20. Your example is your greatest influence. What you say is important, but what you do speaks even louder. (What you do stands over you all the while and thunders so loudly that we cannot hear what you say.)
  • More from David Geurin: 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.
  • 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. -David Geurin
  • What if we thought more about how we would learn something ourselves and less about how we are going to teach it?
  • The future is here—it’s just not evenly distributed. William Gibson
  • “I need to make sure my teaching leaves plenty of time for my kids to learn.”
  • “Torched the haystack.  Found the needle.”
  • Don’t fear failure.  Fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.
  • “Every day that we walk into our school, we are entrusted with the responsibility and gift of making a difference in our student’s lives.” -Jimmy Casas
  • Two good lines to remember.  ‘Kids These Days!’  And ‘Be Their Hope’
  • “By the way, he gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  Simon Sinek, speaking about Dr. Martin Luther King
  • For veteran teachers.  What is the purpose of your gradebook?
  • “When you learn about successful principals, you keep coming back to the character traits they embody and spread: energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination… In other words, they are high-energy types constantly circulating through the building, offering feedback, setting standards, applying social glue… We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them. But we were wrong. Social transformation follows personal transformation.” David Brooks in “Good Leaders Make Good Schools” in The New York Times, March 13, 2018
  • “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”. ~Mark Twain
  • From Shelley Burgess: I actually believed that when I got excited about a new and better way of doing something and shared it with my staff, they all would be equally excited about it. I just knew they would be willing to make the change the next day! If you have been in a leadership role longer than about two months, you can imagine how well that went over. Over time, I discovered that passionate leaders also need patience if we want to initiate positive change in our schools and districts that lasts. Once we light a spark, we need to give it time to catch. We need to nurture it, feed it, stoke it, give it proper attention, and let it develop into a slow and steady burn that ultimately engulfs our school or district community. Likewise, we need to be passionate about stoking the flames of others. We need to encourage and support the members of our crew, empowering them to explore their own passions and then to find ways to use them to become better educators and help the school or district become a better place.
  • If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favorable to him. —Seneca, Epistle LXXI
  • Is the purpose of  schools to develop human potential or rank it?
  • John Dewey’s pedagogic creed.  From 1897.
    • I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.
    • I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.
  • I consider it one of the most important parts of my job to constantly expose myself to the high quality thinking of other people. It challenges me, it keeps me current, and it provides me the raw resources necessary for creative alchemy. -Dave Burgess.  
  • A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil is hammering on a cold iron. -Horace Mann


It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me!

Educators sure should know about Dave Burgess and his publishing work.  As the school year is winding down across the USA, more tweets are being seen that show stacks of great books getting ready to be read by eager learners.  And many, many of them come from Dave’s publishing company.

I’ve read a shocking number of books from the Dave Burgess house.  All have had impact, several have literally been career changers. Here are a few titles that I know lead learners will recognize.

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I could write about almost all, from first hand experience.  And I would be remiss if I flat didn’t recognize Innovator’s Mindset (George Couros) and Lead Like a Pirate (Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf).  I only call those two to extra attention, because we bought lots of those to read as leaders.  And Innovator’s Mindset still remains the most profound career changing book for me.

However.  I’m actually writing about Dave Burgess today because of these words.

I consider it one of the most important parts of my job to constantly expose myself to the high quality thinking of other people. It challenges me, it keeps me current, and it provides me the raw resources necessary for creative alchemy. -Dave Burgess.

Yesterday, we wrapped up our professional growth conversations in our Teaching-Learning-Innovation department.  I shared this quote with several of my learning colleagues during our talks, and then shared the quote with the whole department when we were all done with our conversations.  I literally have printed this quote out and have it hanging on the wall next to my desk in my office.

IMG_6155.jpgI have this prominently displayed, because it’s a daily reminder of the responsibility I and we, in our department, have to read, collaborate, write, share, model, and grow in public.

The realization I had, as I was talking with the other leaders in our TLI department, was that I thought of Dave’s quote only in terms of twitter, blogging, and conversations with people around the world.  Thus the power of twitter and a big PLN.

What I missed, and of what I was powerfully reminded was, my colleagues here, down the hall, in the car, on the phone, around the table, are all part of ‘high quality thinking’, who challenge me, keep me current, and provide the raw resources for my creative alchemy.

Thank you friends.

#TOGETHERwearefife #EdLeadership

And then the next plan comes together.

Spent a delightful afternoon in the USA and evening in the UK speaking with my friend Ian Rockey.  We believe we ran across each other during an edchat.  Probably #Leadlap or #TLAP.

Ian is a learning leader at his school, in his community, and around the world.  He was gracious enough to speak with me across the world today via Skype. I have been in awe of his podcasts, which inspired me to try podcasting. As I’ve written in previous blogposts, we wanted to ask learning leaders around the world…and right here at home 3 questions about their own learning.

So here are two experienced teachers, chatting with technology about technology that didn’t exist when each started teaching decades ago.  More excited about the possibilities for learning and growing for kids and teachers than ever.

Thank you Ian, you made my day.  Cheers!


A plan comes together.

So we just completed our very first Podcast Interview with a learning leader!  Thank you to Mark Beddes, our principal at Surprise Lake Middle School…and his willingness to throw his learning out there for one and all to consider.  It’s a pleasure learning and leading along side of him.

We’d welcome feedback on this podcast!

One of our goals, is to ask the same 3 questions of learning leaders around the USA and beyond.  We first need to figure out how to record an interview on the phone, but that’s a neat learning opportunity.  If anyone has experience or a suggestion along those lines, please fire away!


Speaking of simple ideas…

We have started doing TLI podcasts now.  3 podcasts officially qualify us as grizzled podcasters with a listening audience of at least 5.  But everything must start somewhere.  And as with blogging…the learning comes in the doing.  We’re simultaneously learning how to do a podcast, flaws, mistakes, and all….and thinking out loud.  Both pretty good exercises.

Our latest idea for podcasting is a series of brief interviews with learning leaders in our district.  We will ask the following questions, and record the answers.  Should be pretty cool to hear what people have to say.  We want to interview a whole bunch of people to get a wide range of ideas and thinking.

Stay tuned!

Here are the questions!

Podcast Questions for Learning Leaders in Fife

  1. Introduce yourself, background, time in our district.

  2. How do you continue to grow and learn professionally?  How do you model your growth and learning?

  3. What excites you most about being involved in education at this time?

  4. What is a book or resource you’d recommend to other learning leaders?  Why?


Sometimes the simplest ideas…

Caught this gem on twitter this morning!

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Holy.  Cow!  The simplest ideas have layers and layers.  Promote and model learning to kids and teachers…and anybody walking by.  Yowzers.  And…bet that anybody walking by will want to know more about Culturize, which is an excellent book by the way!

Thanks Evan, Jimmy, and Dave!

And this is why twitter continues to be my best source of professional learning.

Oh by the way:

Mr. Nelson is currently reading:

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Great book by Paul Solarz!



Lead Like a Pirate. Please.

Two recent developments here at TLI (Teaching-Learning-Innovation) headquarters.  One, I read Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf.  Safe to say the book had a huge impact on me.  In fact, we bought 25 copies and are using it as the basis of our building leadership retreat this summer.  And two, the following quote rang so true to me, I decided I better think about it for awhile and see if it kept ringing.  It did.  Time to write about it some.

“A seismic shift seems to occur when moving from the classroom into a position of educational leadership. People look at you differently. They treat you differently. They think you have sold out. They no longer see you as an educator, but as a paper-pushing “administrator.” They believe you have crossed over to the dark side and have become one of “them” instead of one of “us,” and oftentimes they see you as no longer having the ability to make a life-changing impact on the lives of kids.”


I’m sure most people that have taught and then made the move into administration will recognize the quote.  And probably have heard comments, joking or otherwise, along the lines of, “Well you got out of education.”  “You wanted the big bucks.”  “When was the last time you were actually in a classroom?”  “He sure has lots of great ideas for us.  I wonder if he’d do any of them.”  And so on.

Let’s address those comments, shall we?

My strong suspicion is that very few, if any administrators feel they ‘got out of education.’ Speaking for myself, I am more aware of the great possibilities afforded kids via great teachers and great education than ever.  I had to leave the classroom to get a broader and deeper view of the possibilities, then figure out how to use my new principal role,  then district office role to make as many possibilities for kids and teachers come to life.  I had/have hands on better levers to make those moves.

The big bucks?  Nah.  They’re bigger, sure.  But not that much bigger for all the stuff that principals get to deal with.  My good friends would walk by my office on one of ‘those days’ that all principals know, and just shake their heads.  They wouldn’t touch the job, for any amount of money, on one of ‘those days’.  Psst….what they don’t realize is that once you run one of ‘those days’ successfully….they’re kind of a rush, especially if you haven’t goofed anything up and still hold all the cards.

Good principals are in the classrooms as often as possible.  And great principals don’t need to walk into a classroom to know when good stuff is happening.  They know because they stand outside the door and listen and watch.  They talk to kids.  They talk to parents.  They talk to teachers.  Being in the classroom confirms and offers opportunity for richer and deeper conversations.  And frankly, the way I judge people who have left the classroom is…do I think they can still walk into a classroom and knock kids on their fannies?  Can I tell they have not lost their teacher chops?  It’s not that hard to figure out.

And the last one, most importantly.  Good leaders, once they leave the classroom, find a bigger classroom, be it a school or a district, and MODEL what they are learning, failure, warts, mess ups and all.

Each job I’ve had in education has been my favorite.  Including the one I have now.  But it is only fun because of the rich experiences and reflection I’ve done along the way.

On we go.

A podcast? Huh?

Well edchats can be dangerous things.  I had the chance to check out an edchat this weekend, following the hashtag #10principles. This was a great chat, which included the authors of the book The Principled Principal: 10 Principles for Leading Exceptional Schools by Jeffrey Zoul and Anthony McConnell. One of the questions in the chat was about how to share your school’s story. Ian Rockey answered that his school utilized a podcast.

Boom!  Successful edchat.  I hadn’t considered a podcast as a way to share a message and reflect on the thinking and work we’re doing in the TLI department.  Of course, I hadn’t considered twitter or blogging either as we were kicking this department into gear 3 years ago.  Now I can’t imagine my professional life without them.  Twitter and blogging have opened up and enriched my professional life more than I can describe.

So….wanting to model risk, innovation, likelihood of failure, and the possibility of learning, I did some quick research.  I googled ‘create a podcast’.  And found this link:  I followed its instructions pretty much to a T.  And thus this now exists:

Pretty clunky and rambling first effort, but it sure felt like my toes were hanging over the edge of a precipice.  Let’s see what happens next!

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Have your kids try this today.

Want to get them up and moving?  Want to see what’s on their minds?  Want to spark a little creativity?

Try this.

Set a timer for 1 minute.  Have the kids look around the room at everything, including you and each other.  Have them generate 5 questions. Then give them 10 minutes to find the answers to those questions.  Then have them share their favorite question and answer combination with the class.

Questions like:  How do you make a window?  Where do those learning target things come from?  When did you start drinking coffee?  What is that kid’s name over there?  Why is that class on the other side of the wall always laughing so much? Why are we doing this?

Of course you could direct the type of questions to be about content.  Questions like: is anybody else confused about number 12?  I’d love to share my ideas about finding slope, anybody interested? How did the order of the amendments happen?  How tall was Abraham Lincoln?  How tall was his hat?

You could refer to homework.  You could refer to an upcoming piece of content.  And of course, you probably need to set some kind of expectations for the appropriate types of questions. Ones that don’t hurt anybody or embarrass anybody.

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There is NO reason to not develop a Professional Learning Network (PLN)

Here are just a few quotes from some smart people about making oneself available to learn and grow via a Professional Learning Network.

“Isolation is now a choice educators make.”
George Couros

“To have thousands of fellow minds in your pocket via mobile devices is to have an immensely unfair advantage over humans who think alone.”
Kevin Honeycutt

“Being a connected educator is the single most important thing I’ve done to transform how I teach. I have gathered and tried new ideas. I’ve learned, asked questions, and developed an amazing online, professional learning network.”
Matt Miller

“I realized two important things at this conference. First, as leaders, we must take time to engage in specific learning opportunities that help to improve our craft. We spend so much time in our positions working to help provide learning and growth to our staff that we forget about developing ourselves specifically in our roles. Secondly, I was introduced to the incredible power of a professional learning network (PLN) to combat the isolation of leadership. Until that moment, I thought Twitter was just another social media tool to keep up with what the celebrities were up to at the moment. PIRATE principal Jay Billy taught me the ins and outs of using Twitter as a tool to connect and gain access to 24/7 free professional development.”
Beth Houf

And here’s proof of the power.  This morning several colleagues and I were talking about ‘fidelity.’ Did asking educators to attend closely to new materials mean we didn’t trust them?  In reading Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, a cogent argument could be made to that point. However, we didn’t feel like that was from where we were coming.  Trust was not the issue compelling ‘fidelity’.  So we used the power of Twitter and our PLN to reach out to both of the authors.  And we heard back from both.  Consider that.  These two authors have roughly 73,000 followers between them on Twitter. And we felt comfortable sending along a message with our thinking on ‘fidelity’, and they were kind enough to reach back.  Amazing.

Here’s the exchange:

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This would NOT have happened 4 years ago for me.  I didn’t get the power of Twitter or a PLN.  I thought Twitter was simply to take pictures of stuff and share it to 33 people.  Wrong.  And dead wrong.

If you are not making use of Twitter and a PLN, you are in danger of becoming illiterate.  And it’s by choice.  A little harsh, I realize, but I’m living the life of ongoing, on demand, learning, after 34 years in the education racket.  And it’s wonderful.