Thursday, October 20, 2016

9 Ways to Help Your Students Show Up Well

Every teacher wants students to "show up well" to their classroom. It means students are mentally, physically, emotionally, and otherwise ready to learn. We know that doesn't always happen, because life happens. Kids are dealing with real issues and problems and brokenness just like every other person on the planet. Some students have most of their needs met and rarely struggle to show up well. For others, it's a constant battle.

No matter if the challenges are big or small, every student who walks through our doors has a unique story. It's a story that may impact their ability to learn. And if we don't seek to understand what's going on in their lives, we are missing an important part of the profession. We aren't just teaching curriculum. We are teaching kids first, and we have to understand their needs.


We also have to create environments that help students to show up well, even when all of their basic needs might not be met. A positive school culture can help overcome the challenges a student may face. A positive classroom culture can do the same. If we want to build stronger, more respectful learning communities, invest in the lives of students and never miss a chance to brighten their day. That's helping them show up well!

Every student in your school needs to feel physically and emotionally safe. They need to feel a sense of belonging. They need to feel people care about them as individuals, that they matter, that they have dignity. Every student needs to feel respected and supported. When a school or classroom has a positive culture, it creates a secure feeling so students can be fully present and ready to learn, even when stuff outside of school might be really tough.

Here are some ideas everyone can use to help students in your school show up well:

1. Greet students, learn names, give high fives and fist bumps. Say hello to each person you meet in the hallway.

2. Get to know your students as people. Ask them about their hobbies, their weekend, or just about anything. Eat lunch with them.

3. Always protect each student's dignity. Show great care and concern. Give respect even when it's not returned.

4. Notice how your students are feeling. Make it safe for them to express their feelings to you without judgment. Ask them if they are okay? Check on them.

5. Smile. Joke around. Use humor to lighten another person's load. Laughter makes life better and even more bearable.

6. Meet a need. Provide a snack or a jacket or a pencil. If you can't meet the need, find someone who can.

7. Encourage and praise. Use your words to inspire and lift up. See the spark of genius in each student.

8. Have high expectations. You can do it. I believe in you. I've seen you overcome this before. You can do it again.

9. Listen with empathy and try to understand. Approach that hurtful comment, behavior, or action with curiosity to understand the child better.

We all want our students to show up well, and together we can create environments to help them do just that. But we also need to work at showing up well ourselves. Educators are human too, and life can be rough on us as well. Never neglect your own self-care. The teachers I've met throughout the years are some of the most selfless people I've ever known. But if you aren't taking care of you, it will result in resentment, fatigue, and poor emotional health. Our students need us to show up well, too. So take the time to care for yourself and develop a strong support system for your own well-being.

How will you help your students show up well in your classroom and school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

11 Reasons Educators Should Empower Students

I had a conversation not too long ago with an educator who pushed back a little on the topic of student empowerment. The teacher asserted that he went to school to be trained as a professional, is an expert in his discipline, and knows the best methods and strategies for teaching the students in his classes. The line of thinking seemed to indicate that students are not equipped to take a more active role in directing their own learning.

In another conversation with a different educator, I suggested that students and teachers should partner in the learning process and that students' voices should be heard. But there was some push back. The person shared that some teachers would not like the term partner with students. It seems too much like students and teachers are on the same level.  

Of course, I realize teachers assume a position of authority inherent in their role. And while teachers should seek to share power with students, they should also maintain a leadership role. When necessary, they can direct, guide, or even say no. But when teachers truly honor student voices and really listen, it's often amazing to see the initiative, wisdom, and commitment students will display.

I guess you can see I'm a big believe in student empowerment. Actually, I'm a believer in student and teacher empowerment, and empowerment in general.

I believe empowerment is one of the essential purposes of pursuing education. The more you know, the better you are equipped to make good decisions, by your own choice. Empowerment is increasing the ability to act on one's own behalf or on the behalf of the community to accomplish a goal or create an outcome. It is an essential part of our freedom and liberty in this country. In fact, it is wrong to keep capable people controlled or limited when they can do it on their own.

When students are empowered learners, we equip them to make positive choices, to take control of their circumstances, and to go forward with their learning and goals. It's empowering!

9 Reasons Educators Should Empower Students

1. To develop more independent learners.

The best learning is not dependent learning. It is learning that is self-directed and intrinsically motivated. School should be a place where students are expected to take greater ownership of learning.

2. To create life long learners.

As I reflect on my school days, very little I experienced led me to be the life long learner I am today. That's not to say I didn't learn quite a bit in school, but I didn't learn how to pursue learning for life. I learned that outside of school. I don't think it has to be that way.

3. To help students learn to make good decisions.

Students need practice making decisions about their own learning. They need to learn about their own strengths and weakness and how their decisions affect self and others. When there are few choices in learning, students are being robbed of the opportunity to grow as a decision-maker.

4. To foster more relevance in learning.

When students are empowered, learning becomes more relevant. Instead of just doing something as I'm told, I am able to learn things that are of interest and value to me. Teachers can help provide the context to expand and challenge the interests of students but not to make all the decisions for them. I believe students would take a harder look at what is really valuable if they were given more opportunities to be empowered.

5. To help students find their passions.

I believe this is one of the most important parts of a well-rounded education. Students need to find things they are passionate about. Learning is lifeless for the most part unless there is passion. When students discover passions, they care will care more and do more. If I'm passionate about something, I will invest in that passion even when it's hard. Students will be more likely to find passions when they are empowered as learners.

6. To learn resilience.

Resilience develops from suffering a failure but caring enough to press on in the face of difficulty. School that is mostly compliance-driven results in students who want to do just enough to get by, or they want to take shortcuts or work the system to get a certain result (a good grade or a diploma for instance). Learning that is empowered results in students who will strive to overcome obstacles and do more than is expected. Resilience is closely tied to sense of purpose, support from others, and a positive outlook.


7. To develop empathy.

I believe empowered learners are more likely to understand and exhibit empathy. Empowered learners see how they can make a difference in the world. They see how their learning can impact others. How it can help a friend, or solve a problem, or challenge someone's thinking. If we want to create students who are world-changers we have to give them opportunities to make a difference now. Students need to have opportunities, as part of their education, to recognize injustice and then do something about it.

8. To promote leadership.

When I talk with students about leadership, I can see that many view it as having and wielding power. I think much of this thinking comes from the experience they've had in school where most all of the power is consolidated with teachers and administration. When we empower learners, we share power with them to help them develop the skills to own power and also share it with others. It's not about telling someone else what to do. It's about working with others to accomplish a greater good. At its best, it starts with humility and service. Students need to see this modeled, and they need to have the opportunity to practice it as well.

9. To develop better global citizens. 

Young people want to make a difference in the world, but they are often immobilized by a system that tells them every move to make. Empowerment allows students to make a difference now. Empowerment asks students, "What problem will you solve? How can you make the world a better place?" But there is a choice. Students will learn to be better citizens when they have the chance to lead and speak up on causes that are important to them.
10. To practice creativity.

Creativity requires unconventional thinking and will not thrive in a compliance based culture. Empowerment promotes creative thinking. It's not about finding right answers. It's about looking at problems in novel ways.

11. To cultivate curiosity.

Curiosity is also supported through decisions that empower others. We aren't likely to be curious about things that aren't personally meaningful. But when we are empowered to pursue our own questions, to investigate, to explore ideas, then our curiosity becomes an incredible pathway to learning.

Question: What are your thoughts on student empowerment? Why does this seem scary for so many educators? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why Your High School Should Teach Computer Science {Guest Post}

Guest Post by Gina Green

Why is computer science important?

Students are required to take history, math, English, and science classes so that they have a general knowledge of the world around them. Notice anything missing? I do. It’s computer science.

For most high school students, their phone is integrated into every part of their lives. It’s how they socialize, complete school work, and find answers to their questions. I believe that students should at least have the option to learn how the digital world works.

According to Techprep by Facebook, there will be one million unfilled computer science jobs in the United States by 2020. and Gallup point out that only 1 in 10 schools offer computer science, even though:

At a time when young adults are living with their parents at the highest rate since 1880,  it just makes sense to give students exposure to a career field for which they could be passionate about, make an above-average wage, and have unlimited possibilities. Computer science related jobs are in every field, every industry, and behind every entrepreneurial endeavor.  

Our high school’s computer science journey began four years ago when the computer science department chair of our local university contacted Dr. Geurin to ask what computer science classes we were offering. The answer was none. So, the following year, we offered one semester of Introduction to Programming. Three years later, we are offering six semesters of various computer science courses. It’s amazing growth, but we’re not done yet. We hope to expand our course offerings even more in the next two years.  

Action Steps

If your school is ready to look into starting a computer science program, I would highly recommend partnering with a nearby university or community college that has computer science programs.  They’ll be able to help you figure out where to begin.

You’ll also need a teacher who is willing to teach CS and devote time to training.  If you are that teacher, prepare for CS to level up your passion for teaching. It’s the most rewarding, challenging, best-thing-ever for students that I’ve done in my career.  I’ve been approached by several teachers from other districts about starting a CS program at their high school and my response is generally received with two types of attitudes.

Sometimes the teachers are so eager to get started that they take notes as I’m talking. Other times they start telling me that they’ve taught for too many years, have just a few years until retirement, have paid their “dues,” are done with furthering their knowledge base, and their principal is really the one who’s wanting to know. Well, okay. Be the teacher with the 'can do' attitude.  A new CS program will never work if the teacher is not excited about teaching the courses.

Get support from the district leadership. Everyone should be on the same page about what training and equipment the district is willing and able to provide. Be sure to include the counselors in this discussion. This year, I’m going to make a computer science course guide on a laminated card for the counselors to keep by their desks. This information will help them guide students to the proper classes.

Resources to help you get started

What is computer science?  -- I love this video. It can be used to explain what computer science is to staff, students, and parents.

Project Lead the Way -- PLTW is a fantastic way to kickstart your CS program. PLTW offers hands-on training to teachers. The teachers actually go through the curriculum they’ll be teaching to the students with the help of a PLTW Master Teacher. It was, by far, the best professional development I’ve ever had. The high school course offerings are expanding each year.

Computer Science Teachers Association -- See if there’s a CSTA in your state or area. Right now, it’s free to join CSTA. Your local chapter will have a website that has forums, resources, and, most importantly, a network of support.

Advanced Placement Summer Institute -- Even if your school is not going to offer CS as an Advanced Placement course, attending a summer training will be beneficial. An APSI will give the teacher aligned objectives, essential questions, prompts, projects, and rubrics, not to mention a network of support. I walk away from APSI every summer with the curriculum of a certified AP instructor that has many more years of experience teaching CS than I do.  

It’s often said that we are preparing students for careers that haven’t even been invented yet.  I believe that the majority of those future careers will involve students being creators of technological content, not just consumers of it.  As educators, we are in the business of doing what’s best for students.  Unquestionably, exposing students to computer science is what is best for them. Now, go start a computer science program at your school!

Connect with me!
Gina Green
Bolivar High School
Bolivar, MO

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Never Underestimate Your Influence


Sometimes when I reflect back to my nine years teaching English and social studies, I feel a little sad for the experience I provided my students. The same goes for my coaching. I was named our high school's head basketball coach at 25-years-old, just two years out of college. When I think back now to some of the things I did, or didn't do, it makes me want to drop my head. 

Even at the time, I often struggled with my confidence that I was doing a good job, especially in the first few years. I think I felt a little on edge nearly all the time. I was often stressed, but I really didn't talk much about it with anyone, not even with my wife, Lori. Sometime I even felt trapped. "Maybe I'm not cut out for this," I thought, but I didn't know what else I would do either.

Things really started to change for the better when I went back to get my Master's degree. I didn't really want to be a principal at that time. I figured you needed to have teaching figured out to do that. But I knew I needed to do something different. The graduate classes helped me see things from a different perspective, and the connections I made provided support for my growth.

Even though I improved during those teaching years, I sometimes wish I could start over and know what I know now. I would do so many things differently. My classroom would be a completely different place. My coaching would have a different focus. I think I would enjoy the journey a whole lot more.

In just the past couple of weeks, I've had different connections with several of my former students. We live about an hour away, so that doesn't normally happen too often. 

A former player was visiting our church with her family. Her husband's family lives in Bolivar. It was great to see her just for a few minutes.

Then I saw a former student at a restaurant where he was working. He's a manager there. I honestly didn't remember him. But we chatted for a few minutes. He shared a little about his family and said he really enjoyed my class. That meant a lot.

Another former student is now an English teacher in the same school where I taught. She returned to her home school after graduating. She was extremely bright and conscientious. I'm sure she must be an outstanding teacher. She messaged me through Facebook, because she came across one of my quotes that Edutopia had posted. I was happy she reached out to me.

And then last night, one of my favorite former players, who is now the head football coach at Southwest Baptist University, here in Bolivar, led his team to a thrilling comeback win. The Bearcats are now 3-0. I can't even express how much I enjoy seeing him be successful. I messaged him to congratulate him. He still calls me coach when I see him, which is about the greatest thing ever.

I have to remind myself that during those early years, just like now, I was doing the best I could with the information I had at the time. And when I see my former students doing well, it makes me feel very proud. And not because I was a huge influence in their lives. Like I said before, I think I would be so much more if I could do it again. But I still feel that connection. I'm proud of them and thankful that I had the privilege of working with each and every student.

Yesterday, we held our Bolivar HS Alumni Hall of Fame induction luncheon. There were three honorees this year. As they told their stories about their school years, it was obvious the gratitude they had for their school and the teachers who worked with them. These individuals are incredibly successful in their careers and very active in their communities.

One of the inductees, in particular, shared how teacher after teacher had impacted his life. When he spoke of his high school football coach, he was choked up and had to pause. He remembered each one by name and described the specific impact they had on his life. Several of these former teachers were among the guests at the event. None of the lessons had much to do with academic content by the way. But he named the character traits each one modeled for him. And how he took those lessons into his life and has tried to convey them to his own daughters.

As I listened, I got a little choked up myself. I thought of the impact that teachers have on the lives of kids and the influence my teachers had on me. It's the greatest profession in the world. I thought of how I wish every teacher could hear his words as he thanked his teachers with such sincerity. It was such a reminder about the value of relationships. 

It was also a reminder of the incredible impact you have on the lives of your students. Even if you feel you don't measure up, or maybe this isn't for you, always remember your legacy is not about doing everything perfectly. It's not about having it all figured out. Just be the best version of you. Show up well each day and try your best. Keep growing and learning. Invest in the lives of your students. And never underestimate your influence.

Questions: How do you look back at your teaching legacy so far? Are you too hard on yourself? How can you do your best today to invest in students? Please leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Not Just Better, But Different

Recently, we had a faculty meeting to start our teachers thinking about their personal learning plans for this year. Personal learning plans are an important part of what we do to grow and learn as educators at Bolivar High School. I outlined what we do and why we do it in a previous blog post.

During our last meeting, I challenged our teachers to try to develop a learning plan that has the potential to be a game-changer for their own professional practice and for student learning. It's easy to get in a pattern of just doing mostly the same things but trying to do them a little better. As a result, we may miss great opportunities to do something that would be completely different and possibly tranformational for student learning. It could be a game-changer.

I would certainly applaud those who seek to improve established practices, especially newer teachers. It's much better than an approach that doesn't seek growth at all. A worse scenario would be an educator who teaches exactly the same lessons year after year with little adaptation. Even the smallest incremental change is better than no effort to improve.

But for teachers who have developed their instructional foundation, it can be highly rewarding to take a risk that could be awesome or awful. You see I believe the things we often choose to pour our energies into are safe. We want to improve, but we aren't comfortable enough with failure. If we are doing hard things, it can be highly rewarding, but it can also be terrifying.

During our staff meeting, I shared the video of Caine's Arcade with our staff. I asked our teachers to consider how their own personal and professional learning is similar or perhaps different from Caine's learning.

Each small group worked to develop a visual representation of how Caine's Arcade might help us think about developing our own successful learning plans. These are a few of the characteristics often found in successful projects. 

1. Starts with Empathy - Empathy recognizes there is a problem to be solved. It involves seeing things from another person’s perspective and seeking to help make something better.

2. Rich Inquiry - Develop lots of questions to drive your learning forward. Seek out resources. Find the information you need to advance the project.

3. Deeper Learning - Apply the knowledge to create new understanding and original ideas. Invite complex thinking.

4. Meaningful Connections - Successful projects are usually personally meaningful, and they usually involve connections with others.

5. Autonomy - If you want commitment and engagement, not just compliance, autonomy is better. Our teachers are the ones who choose their project and are empowered to see it through.

6. Risk of Failure/Celebration of Success - Most meaningful projects have a chance of failure. The idea might not work. The more ideas we try, the more likely we are to find ones that are game-changers. We always need to reflect and celebrate what we’ve learned and what aspects are successful.

Our teachers shared some amazing insights from their reflection on the video. It was exciting to see the type of thinking happening around the room.

Here are some of the comments teachers shared on an exit survey:

It's always exciting to have the opportunity to learn something new and different. I also love to experiment.
You telling us that if we try our plan and it fails, it's OK.
I like that PLP is all about ownership and autonomy.
They will be something that has a positive impact on students and teachers.
Personal growth encouraged
The autonomy to make decisions of how I want to spend my time making a difference.
I feel good about the collaboration and the sharing that will take place. I feel like it's a very open place to share good and new ideas
I want to continue to grow as a professional.
PLP's hold me accountable for growth.

This next week we will have small group meetings (3-4) to share the ideas we have so far. It's an opportunity for everyone to give and receive feedback. When we share our ideas, they almost always get better. Someone will have a suggestion or make a connection that will move our thinking forward. 

Caine's Arcade was transformational. He didn't necessarily have that in mind when he started, but he did have lots of big ideas. In the end, his little arcade started a movement that has impacted students, educators, and beyond. And some more pretty cool stuff happened for him too. Caine's Arcade Part 2 details what happened after the initial video. It's amazing.

Who knows what you might start at your school with an idea and the willingness to pursue it? Be willing to take a big chance and try something new for your students. Your dreams and passions make learning come alive for you and for your students.

Question: Some educators seem to think that new ideas are unnecessary. They say the fundamentals of learning and education are unchanging. Stay with the tried and true. What would you say to this type of thinking? Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

7 Steps to Be a Better Advocate for Your Students

Recently I participated in an outstanding Twitter chat (#satchat) about advocating for students. It's such an important topic. Almost every teacher is successful with the top tier students. The top students seem to learn almost in spite of the teachergood, bad, or indifferent. But to reach students who have significant struggles, at school or home or both, requires a teacher who is willing to be an advocate.

Educators have the opportunity to influence and support students who need a helping hand. We can lend them our strength for a time and help them find the strength within themselves to carry forward.

This excerpt from Katy Ridnouer's book Everyday Engagement summarizes what it means to be an advocate as an educator:
An advocate is a person who supports or promotes the interests of another, and that is what a teacher is doing when he or she works to engage students and their parents as partners in a positive, learning-focused classroom community. An advocate is also one who promotes a cause, and I believe every teacher must be an advocate for student and parent engagement in learning, and for learning in general. They must promote it actively; they must embed these efforts into their classroom practice on an everyday basis. 
So based on these thoughts and reflection from the recent Twitter chat, I am suggesting 7 steps to be a better advocate for students.

1. Be Present

Every student needs to know you will be there for them and move closer to their messy situations and not push them away. Students need our unconditional love.

2. Ask

Get to know your students. Connect with them. Know them well enough to see when something's not right. Make the person in front of you feel more important than the content you teach. Ask how things are going and how you can help.

3. Listen

Take the time to really listen. You don't need all the answers. And you don't need a degree in school counseling to hear what your students are saying.

4. Understand

Listen to understand. Try to see things from the student's perspective. You can't be an effective advocate if you don't really try to feel what they're feeling and see it like they are seeing it. 

5. Speak Up

Be the voice for the one who is overlooked, underserved, or mistreated. Don't just look the other way. Say something.

6. Take Action

Words are powerful but actions speak louder. Do something to show your support. Reach out. Every action you take to help a child builds bridges to a better future.

7. Always Encourage

Some situations may feel hopeless. We can't fix every problem. But we can always provide encouragement. We can say something positive. We can show how much we care. The kind words of a teacher can restore hope to a kid who is feeling lost and all alone.

When we become wise and caring advocates for students, we are developing young people who someday will be able to better advocate for themselves.

Question: How are you advocating for your students? I want to hear from you. Share your ideas by leaving a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hottest Posts Everyone's Reading This Summer

Where did summer go? I guess it's still hanging on just a bit longer. It's certainly hot out today in Missouri. The temps are in the mid-90's. But here is a look back at some of the popular posts from the blog over the past couple of months. As always, thanks for reading and responding to ideas I share. I really appreciate your support, and the way you push me to think deeper and give more. Thank you for leading and serving in your classroom and school! You are amazing!

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