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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 8.01.21 AM.png

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.

A Day of Learning.

Our district has added a number of Professional Learning Days.  We eliminated the words ‘Professional Development’ in favor of Professional Learning in our Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Actually wrote about the difference between these two ideas.

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 11.51.39 AMToday is one of our Professional Learning Days.  And here’s how it went.  Each of our schools selected the topics most relevant to them, their learners, and their educators.  Some did this via survey.  Others through Instructional Leadership Teams.  None of them were told what to do by ‘the district’.  Two of our elementary schools chose to learn and work together. Among other things, they were working on DOK and standards based grading. Our high school chose to do a Poverty Simulation.  We arrived in time to hear the debrief of the morning.  Clearly had an effect on the good hearts of the educators.  Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 11.52.34 AM.png

Our primary school and middle school were both working on Learning Targets.  What makes a good one.  How what a kid is supposed to be ‘doing’ is different than what a kid is supposed to be ‘learning’.  This turn of phrase changes the whole question you ask a kid.  What are you learning today vs. what are you doing today?  What does it look and sound like to a kid/teacher when the student has hit the learning target?  What does it look and sound like to a kid/teacher when a kid is approaching hitting the learning target?  The conversations around these topics were rich, deep, and powerful.

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 12.03.29 PM.png

Our junior high staff members were sharing work.  Looking at and sharing WICOR strategies.  Learning and sharing with each other.  Because it’s important and relevant to the work they are doing with their kids at their school with each other.

Our educators are learning leaders.  They get it.  They don’t wait for someone to ‘develop’ them.  They have college degrees, know their students, and know what they need to know more about to give more kids better opportunities to learn and grow.

Sounds about right.

The Power of a Learning Leader

Yesterday was a fun day at our middle school.  The principal, Mark Beddes, decided to spend professional learning time with the teachers learning about the potential of Twitter and ongoing, self-directed, personal, professional learning.  He shared his own story of initial misunderstanding about Twitter, but how he has come to realize its potential for professional learning and growth.

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 9.09.34 AM.pngAs we learned earlier, there are several powerful activities leaders can utilize to impact student achievement.  The top activity is: Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development (effect size = 0.84): Leadership that not only promotes but directly participates with teachers in formal and informal professional learning.

This principal has had his own professional learning hugely impacted by the Professional Learning Network (PLN) he is developing.  He has directly connected with other thought leaders around the world, opening up new ideas and ways of doing business, all of which is in service of improving the lives of the students at the middle school.

This leader literally promoted and participated in teacher learning and development.  My own twitter feed was going nuts with new teachers adding accounts and growing their own PLNs.  The staff set up and used #SLMSStaffchat. It was awesome!

Welcome aboard to all our new learners.  The ride ahead is going to be a blast!

Um. Ed Tech in the classroom ain’t new.

Rolled into work this morning.  End of semester one, teachers are getting it all wrapped up and gearing up for semester two.  So I took a glance at tweetdeck and found out that Ed Tech in the classroom ain’t new (great article from Education Rickshaw). Not at all. Allow me to share and elaborate.

Here’s Skinner’s teaching machine from the 1920s. “The instructional potential of the teaching machine stemmed from several factors: it provided automatic, immediate and regular reinforcement without the use of aversive control; the material presented was coherent, yet varied and novel; the pace of learning could be adjusted to suit the individual. As a result, students were interested, attentive, and learned efficiently by producing the desired behavior, “learning by doing”.


So why didn’t it take off?  Why isn’t this very attractive box sitting in every classroom?  My guess is because it wasn’t about the machine.  Even almost 100 years ago.  It’s still about the teacher.  Was then.  Is now.  Will be tomorrow.

Here’s a graph.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 7.53.49 AM.png

If you know about John Hattie’s work, this graph will make sense.  Basically anything north of the .40 hinge point is significant.  Collective Teacher Efficacy, for example is usually number one or two in impact.  Recently scored a whopping 1.57 in effect size.  That big time significant.  But what about technology?  In and of itself?  Not huge.  Dr. Sonny Magana reports that the 50 year average impact of technology is .34.  He says, “Perhaps the main reason for this disappointing impact is that the inclusion of technologies has done little to change the “tell and practice” approach to teaching and learning — the predominant pedagogical practice of our time. In this model, teachers tell students what knowledge is and what knowledge is worth knowing; students meanwhile invest their vast capacity for creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration by memorizing and practicing what they were told. The overarching goal of this model is simply for students to accurately repeat the information they were told.”  He continues, “If the tell and practice model of schooling does not change, then we should expect the same meager impact of new and emerging technologies on instructional quality and student achievement for the next 50 years or more. That is clearly not a desired destination.”

However…throw in a teacher and a framework for learning, and the effect size jumps to 1.6. Dr. Magana sets forward the T3 framework as a way to look at technology and learning. Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 8.02.16 AM.png

Teachers + Technology + Framework = 1.6

Ed Tech in the classroom ain’t new.  It wasn’t about the device then.  It ain’t now.  It’s what a great teacher does with it.