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.”

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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…..



Our students deserve better.

Just finished reading The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Incompatibility with Actual Improvement by John Tanner.  He concluded his thinking with that line.  “Our students deserve better.”

As with all good books that impact learners, his book has impacted me.  And that line really hit home.  I have been having that specific thought a lot lately.  But the context in which I have been having it has been a little unusual.

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Our wonderful communities recently supported a significant capital projects bond so we could build, update, and replace aging and overcrowded facilities.  Last week, during one of our leadership walkthroughs at our middle school, I was walking with our new high school principal.  He had spent little to no time in our middle school.  Our middle school is very old and it shows.  It’s the first building project we’re tackling with our communities’ support.  I said to him, as we were looking at the condition of the building, “Our students deserve better.”

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I’m wondering and thinking about what other contexts might produce that idea in one’s head?  Our students deserve better?  Beyond the context of facilities.

Contexts like the kids I had in my math classes so many years ago?  Where my teaching consisted of kids in rows, taking notes, then silently working on assignments?  Students deserve better.

Contexts like classroom management techniques focused on quiet?  Students deserve better.

Contexts like that last time some educators read anything was in college.  Students deserve better.

Contexts like building leaders simply managing buildings rather than being open learners, willing to try things and fail publicly.  Students deserve better.

One could keep going, but here’s the suggestion, for all of us in the education world.  As you go through your day,  as you do your work with teachers and/or kids, does that work, action, interaction, comment, idea, practice, or whatever compel you think, “Student deserve better”?

You might be surprised at the impact of the answer.  The impact can be pretty moving and poignant.  What one does next is the big question.

Context matters.  Students deserve better.


The flow of learning around here.

Our superintendent, Kevin Alfano, recently returned from a meeting with a group of superintendents.  He was telling us about the focus of the learning: school organizations as bureaucracies vs. learning organizations.  Our intention is to well live and work in the latter.  In the conversation, he mentioned an author, John Tanner.  Turns out that John Tanner has written a book called The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Incompatibility with Actual Improvement.  The description of the book and its author caught my attention…so I bought the book and have nearly finished reading it.  It’s an amazing discussion about standardized testing, what it can do, and what it definitely can’t do.  And how it has zero to do with actual improvement for kids and teachers.

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Here are a few booming quotes/ideas that hit home:

“Assessing students and gaining an understanding regarding what they know or are able to do is a vital component of accountability, but it is the easiest part of accountability. Once we know where students stand in their learning, the harder part is understanding why we are seeing the results we are seeing. Why is one gender performing better than the other? Why do some of our English-language learners excel when others do not? Answers to these questions enable teachers to change, hone, and refine practice to produce better results. And answers to these questions are not available through standardized testing.”

“The simple fact is that such tests are tools that fail to work as designed once you put the burden of accountability on them. Tests meant to operate in the background as a check on a system are now made to operate front and center and are presumed to say something well beyond and in addition to their design.”

“In fact, tests have come to play just about any role a policymaker wishes to assign to them without so much as even a rudimentary understanding of what a standardized test is, what it was designed to do, or how it was designed to be used. A standardized test score now determines whether a student has sufficiently learned his or her assignments, whether a teacher has effectively delivered the curriculum, whether a principal is or is not a fit instructional leader, and whether the system of education is functioning as intended. None of these was ever inferred in the design. Choosing such an instrument and deploying it counter to its design has serious consequences.”

And my favorite quote so far, ”

“But the argument that anything is better than nothing when it comes to making changes risks offering a fallacy for a solution. It risks being akin to saying “we needed a needle and thread but you gave us a hammer so at least we have that.” Having the wrong tool is having the wrong tool, and it cannot substitute for the right tool. That they are both tools is true—and useful in their own right against their design—but you can’t sew a button with a hammer.”

The point of this blogpost isn’t actually about the book, although it’s a doozy, has already impacted my thinking, and I recommend it to all education leaders and thinkers. The point is how we learn around here.

In our district, we want our leaders to be learners.  We want them to be readers. We want them to be sharers of their learning and reading.  And my aspiration for this year is to encourage our leaders to also be writers.

A simple conversation with our superintendent led to a book being read which led to new ideas and thinking to be undertaken.

A good day at work.


Educators and Research

What do good educators do with research that will improve learning for kids? 

Before that question can be addressed, there’s a more important question.  Do teachers, after college (or even in college given my experience), connect with research as their careers are rolling along?

In our district, we try to keep our educators apprised of research.  For example, we have shared Hattie’s work, especially the finding regarding ‘Collective Teacher Efficacy’.  At one of our kick off days several years ago, we introduced them to Jenni Donohoo, the author of Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning.  We literally had Jenni onsite, working directly with our teachers.  That pretty much made the research come to life.  Collective teacher efficacy continues to this day to be a topic of conversation, planning, and action in our schools.

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One of the main reasons it’s easy for educators to get behind Collective Teacher Efficacy?  It just flat makes sense.  When educators share the belief that, through their collective actions, they can influence student outcomes and increase achievement. Educators with high efficacy show greater effort and persistence, willingness to try new teaching approaches, and attend more closely to struggling students’ needs.  Common sense.

Here’s another common sense idea with the power of research behind it.

Greeting kids at the door.  Yep.  That simple idea.  Makes a whopping difference for kids.  Here’s the actual research.  Common sense.  I know teachers who were doing this before they knew about the research.

From the research article, “In practical terms, students in the PGD (Positive Greetings at the Door) classes evidenced a 20% gain in AET (Academic Engaged Time), which corresponds to an extra 12 min of on-task behavior per instructional hour or an additional hour of engagement over the course of a 5-hr instructional day. On a larger scale, use of the PGD strategy could potentially result in gains of several more hours of additional academic engagement over the course of the academic year, which could produce significant improvements in actual academic achievement.”

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Back to the original question.  What do good educators do with research that will improve the learning for kids?   When they know about it, do they act upon it?

Our great teachers do both.  They know about it.  They act upon it.


If I only knew then….

“So when kids come to your class, are they learning math or math class?”

There’s a question for you.  Are kids learning math or math class?  Ignore the content area.  The question remains the same.  Not something I had contemplated before.  But it really rocked me back when I heard the line.  So I started thinking back to the math classes I taught.  Or the language arts classes.  Or the social studies classes.

Did the kids learn math…or math class?

I tweeted this line out a while ago.  One of the replies came from the twitter account of Teacher2Teacher.

They asked a fair question:

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My answer was, “I guess I think about what kids are doing. Are they DOING math? Or have they simply figured out how to do your math class? Are they up to their eyeballs in math or up to their eyeballs in the math class routine. And I know one doesn’t automatically exclude the other.”

That answer is fine.  It’s close to what I could express within the limits of twitter. A better answer would focus on of what constitutes the majority of the kids’ learning?  Do they primarily learn math?  With joy, creativity, challenge, open ended thinking, collaboration?  Or do they primarily learn math class?

I know the kids learned math class because I had my routine. Get out your homework while I take attendance. Maybe a bell ringer activity.  Any questions from last night’s homework?  No?  Ok, switch papers.  Correct.  Turn them in.  Get out your notes.  I give some notes about the next thing in the math book.  Any questions?  No.  Ok, the assignment is page 48, 2-40 even.  Go ahead and get to work.

Ugh.  As goes the old saying, if I only knew then what I know now.  That model would be blown up.  Way less teacher.  Way more kid.  Way more interaction among kids.  Way more talk, questions, strategies, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Nelson SLMS(Back when I didn’t know what I know now)

The line also made the me think about ‘classroom management’.  Such an awkward phrase.  Like teachers are managing a classroom.  They’re not.  The classroom is fine.  It’s a room.  The ‘management’ is of students.  Kids.  And usually the ‘management’ is focused solely on behavior.  And more specifically, sadly, kids being quiet and orderly.  Again, the old saying.  I’d rework the entire classroom management conversation. Something more along the lines of, “How to we maximize our learning time together everyday?”  “What does it look like and feel like in here when we’re learning?”  And 5 bucks says the answers wouldn’t all focus on quiet.

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One little line disrupted my thinking.  That’s a darn good thing.

What does the ‘I’ stand for again? #LeadLAP #IMMOOC

Sometimes when we’re out and about and people ask us what our roles are, we tell them we work in in the TLI department in Fife.  And of course we’re asked what the heck TLI stands for.  Teaching-Learning-Innovation.  Most people get the Teaching-Learning part.  In our little shed down here, we define learning thusly, “Learning results in a permanent change in thinking or behavior.”  So…one has learned something when a permanent change in thinking or behavior occurs.  Turns out, for example, I never actually learned about photosynthesis.  I held the information for a while, until the test, then gave the information back, and went my merry way. No permanent change in thinking or behavior.  And of course teaching is everything that great educators do with/for kids to create learning.  And everything that great educators do create learning for themselves.


How about the innovation part?  Well we get our definition for innovation from an educator named George Couros.  He wrote a book called The Innovator’s Mindset.  I’ve probably mentioned over 1000 times that this is simply the best book about the learning world I’ve ever read.  A career changing mind blower.  Couros on innovation, I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative. That means that change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword, as many organizations do, to appear current or relevant.”

Something is innovative if it creates something new and better.

We have examples of innovation all over the place in our district!  One of the questions we encourage ourselves and our educator colleagues to consider is, “When was the last time I did something for the first time?”  That’s a decent place to start thinking about something new.  But not new for the sake of new.  That’s dumb. New and making something better.

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Here’s a perfect example.  Mr. Beddes, SLMS principal, wanted to focus on the educators at SLMS and improve communication to our community.  So, he decided to give podcasting a try.  Podcasts, in and of themselves, aren’t new.  But Mr. Beddes made them innovative in how he used them, and in doing so, made communication about SLMS better.  New and better.

Here’s his latest podcast, where he interviews Mr. Kratzig.  It’s a remarkable and insightful interview.

Way to model innovation gentlemen!