Sunday, February 5, 2017

9 Essential #EdTech Ideas to Share With Your Team

Technology is playing a bigger role in classrooms and schools in this country and around the world. Here are a few thoughts to keep technology in perspective. Share them with your team and discuss how to best implement technology in your learning culture. I hope these ideas help guide you to more effective use of digital tools with your students. 

1. Your learning goals should drive your tech goals, and not the other way around.

Just because you have access to iPads, Chromebooks, or some other device in your classroom doesn't mean they must be the center of learning in your classroom. Not every lesson can be made better with technology. Allow your goals for learning to lead you to the most powerful ways for tech to further support those learning goals. Keep your students at the center of learning, not a device.

2. It's not enough to think tech is important for students. You must be willing to learn it yourself.

To deny that tech will be important to students' futures seems unthinkable. But it's not enough to recognize students will need tech to be successful. Your students also need to see you as a willing learner of technology. They need to see you as a learner period. And it's a shame if you aren't leveraging your skills as a teacher because you aren't willing to learn technology. All of your teacher skills are priceless, but they can be even more relevant and powerful if you know how to effectively use technology for learning, too.

3. Tech can make kids want to learn more, but more importantly, it creates opportunities for more learning.

Lots of kids like to use technology. But using tech because it is engaging isn't as important as using it because your students are engaged. If your students are curious and motivated learners, they will have questions that need answers. They will want to create and share new knowledge. You know your students. You inspire them as learners and that relationship will ultimately lead to more learning. Technology can then create unlimited opportunities to create, learn, and share.

4. Being an effective learner in the modern world also means you are an effective digital learner.

Readers of my blog know I believe adaptable learners will own the future. The ability to learn, to be creative, to see possibilities, to make something new, will be a huge advantage for future success. But in today's hyper-connected, digital world, being an effective learner also means you are effective in using digital tools for learning, solving problems, and creating knowledge. 

5. If you change the technology but don't change your lesson, nothing really changes.

Adding technology to the same old lessons doesn't automatically make them better lessons. Work to create a better lesson first—one that is meaningful and authentic and causes deeper thinking and greater understandingthen consider how technology can make it even better. Technology won't improve learning if that worksheet is now in digital format. It won't inspire learning if students are just looking up answers online instead of in the textbook. Your lesson design is always more important than your digital tool.

6. For students who don't know how to use social media appropriately and effectively, who knows what opportunities they might miss?

If you want to be successful, do what successful people do. And some of the most successful people in our world are using social media and blogging as a platform to network, share their message, and improve their work. How many kids have the chance to practice these skills in school? As digital footprints replace traditional resumes, will your students have anything to show for their work? Even worse, will their digital record disqualify them to employers?

7. Google doesn't have answers; it has information.

Learning and inquiry involves more than searching for right answers. Students make meaning of information through good thinking. The most interesting questions don't have one right answer and require students to think in ways that lead to understanding. Access to a web-connected device is a powerful tool for learning. It creates agency, empowers learning, and puts students in the driver's seat, but only if we allow it, support it, and facilitate it.

8. Tech should make us more human, not less.

It's not hard to see ways technology is both a blessing and a burden. So we need to be thoughtful about how we use technology for good and limit the negatives. We've heard a lot about how social skills are deteriorating as a result of attachment to mobile tech and addiction to device notifications and so forth. But technology can help us connect, do more good, and be more human, not less. In the classroom, technology should lead to more conversations, not less. Students are going to use technology. We need to help them use it in ways that are healthy and productive.

9. Anyone who wants to be a leader needs to be a digital leader too.

We are past the days where leaders could just count on the tech department or that one teacher to take the lead on technology. Every person who aspires to lead should expect to be a digital leader too. Leaders don't have to have better digital skills than anyone else, but they do need to model the use of technology and constantly be willing to learn. Working to stay informed, learning new tools, and being future-driven are critical to digital leadership. And every leader should strive to be a digital leader too.

Question: What essential #EdTech idea would you add to this list? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What Do You Want Your Legacy to Be?

Your legacy is one of your most valuable possessions. It is a treasure. It is your gift to the world. For every person you come in contact with, your influence—good and badgoes with them to some extent. Your legacy is how you are remembered.

Who Has Inspired You?

There are a number of educators, and other mentors, who have had a profound impact on my life. They influence me even when they are not present, even if I have not seen or spoken with them in years. Just thinking about the type of person they are inspires me even now to learn more, dream more, do more, and become more.

These people lift me up and make me stronger. They have a strong legacy in my life.

How Will You Inspire Others?

I want to have a strong legacy too. Not only because I want to be remembered fondly. Of course, I do. But more importantly, I want to make a difference. I want my life to count for something bigger than me. I want to be that legacy person for someone else. I want to help others.

I was recently listening to a podcast by Andy Stanley. He shared an exercise he said changed his life many years ago. He was reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. 

In 7 Habits, Covey challenges his readers with an exercise that is profound. You might find it unsettling or even slightly grim. But I urge you to read it carefully and thoughtfully. As you read the excerpt, consider how reflecting on this passage might be life changing for you too.
In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.
As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.
As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended —children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who have come from all over the country to attend. The second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or some community organization where you’ve been involved in service.
Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?
What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?
Stanley shared how he spent several days reflecting, in writing, on the questions set forth in the passage.

The 3-year timeline until your death is an important detail in the exercise. It creates a stronger sense of urgency. As educators, we should always have a sense of urgency too. We may be our students' best hope. But we only have so much time. We may not have the same opportunity to influence them next year. They will likely move on to a new classroom with a different teacher.

Educators Leave a Lasting Legacy

Although the funeral exercise is great reflection for living a meaningful life, how might it be slightly modified to narrow the reflection for you as a teacher/educator? In a similar instance, what might your students say about you as their teacher? What would their parents say? How about the community you where you work? What is your legacy in that?

As I reflect on those questions, I am reminded of what's most important to me. And I am also reminded of things that might distract me from the most important things. The most valuable thing is how I treat people, all of them. People come first. I want to be the kind of person who is always learning, who lifts others up, and who treats people with kindness, care, and consideration.

It's easy to get distracted from the most important things. I am a person who also wants progress, who has goals, who is driven. If fact, in the past, there were times I was too focused on achieving and not tuned in to the people around me. I am working hard to make sure that doesn't happen anymore.

I am convinced that reaching goals, making progress, and achieving success will be more likely to happen—mostly inevitable—if the first priority is people. If we treat people with all the care and concern we possibly can, we will see progress and success like never before. 

I respect every person who works hard and gets stuff done. There is value in working hard and earning a living to support yourself and your loved ones. But teaching provides the opportunity to do far more than just earning a paycheck. It's more than a job. When teaching is your life's work, you have the opportunity to make a lasting difference. You have the opportunity to make an important contribution. Your legacy counts!

So think about it...

What really matters?

What keeps you up at night?

What makes you want to be a better teacher, principal, parent or friend?

I hope these questions are helpful as you think about your legacy and what's most important to you. Reflecting on what you really value is one of the best things you can do to find purpose and meaning in your life and work.

Questions? What do you want your legacy to be? Are you focused on the right things? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Why Successful People Are Open to Coaching

In an earlier post, I (David) shared 5 Blind Spots Educators Must Address. My friend Jennifer Hogan commented that one way to overcome blind spots is through coaching. That conversation led to the idea of writing this collaborative blog post.

There are lots of ways we can become more aware of our blind spots. Usually, it happens when we have some input (reading, discussing, observing, etc.) and then reflect on that information. But one type of input that is probably underutilized is coaching. We all need to be open to coaching.

Coaching is a good strategy for revealing blind spots while also building on strengths. How do we open ourselves up to embrace coaching as a way to grow both professionally and personally?

Blind spots represent gaps between what we think is true and what is really true, and uncovering blind spots is an important part of one’s personal and professional growth. Blind spots may be certain behaviors, traits, habits, or thoughts that are observable to others but not immediately evident to us. To reduce blind spots we must be open to acknowledging what the other person sees and be willing to reflect on different perspectives. When we recognize a blind spot exists, we can work on changing, reducing, or eliminating them.

We all have blind spots. There are things we do not immediately recognize in our own patterns and behaviors that are plainly evident to others. It’s almost always easier to see how others could improve than to see areas in ourselves that we might improve. For the most part, you know far less about yourself than you feel you do.

Here are a few ideas for developing an openness to coaching and receiving feedback.

Coaching involves building trusting relationships.

Unless there is trusting relationship, it is impossible to have an effective coaching relationship. We can’t act with good faith on feedback from a person we don’t fully trust. But if we sincerely believe a person wants the best for us, we should always openly consider the feedback they provide. Why would we ever be closed to someone who genuinely wants good things for us? It doesn’t mean we automatically have to agree with their perspective, but we need to listen carefully. This person has my best interest in mind. They want me to do well. Why wouldn’t I listen to their feedback?

Good coaching involves listening, not judging.

Feeling judged makes the defenses go up. But feeling heard creates safety. Listening is one of the best tools a coach can use. It’s not a situation where one person is the expert fixing someone else’s problem. Even if it might seem obvious someone has a blindspot, it is ultimately their responsibility to own that. In a coaching conversation, the goal is shared meaning and solutions that arrive as a result of both parties contributions to the discussion. Listening opens doors to new ways of thinking and makes room for others to reflect on their own thinking.

Accepting coaching means facing, and even embracing, failure.

Most people see failure as a threat. We’ve learned failure is bad, and we want to avoid it. We want everyone to think we are successful all the time. But if we reframe failure, and think of it as an important part of how we learn, then we can translate our failures into even greater successes. Each time we fail, we can feel defeated and afraid. Or, we can look for the possibilities for growth in the situation. Some of our greatest opportunities are disguised as failures. Productive failure leads to personal and professional growth. We just need to see clearly. We need to overcome our blind spots.

Identifying blind spots requires seeking evidence that might be critical.

If we truly want to grow, we have to seek evidence of things we might be doing that aren’t working. Sometimes we might not want to look too carefully at something because we might find something we don’t like. But that type of thinking will always hinder our performance. John Hattie urges educators to “know thy impact.” Seek evidence to understand what’s working and what’s not. Hattie focuses on collecting evidence regarding one’s impact on student learning. Coaching can help us reflect on and process what we are doing and how it is impacting student learning. When we better understand what’s working and what’s not, we can focus our energies on highlighting the strengths and mitigating the weaknesses.

A coachable person views criticism with curiosity.

Curiosity leads to discovery and experimentation. A curious person will listen to criticism and feedback with an open mind and a willingness to continue learning. Curiosity is the engine that keeps us searching until we understand something or trying until we can do something. The inclination to explore new ideas, even ones that contradict current beliefs, help to close the gap between what we think is true and what is really true.

Asking for feedback makes it more powerful

Unwelcome feedback usually falls on deaf ears. Unless there is a high level of trust and a desire to hear a different perspective, it is usually a waste to offer feedback. We need to create a culture where it is normal and routine to have honest conversations about performance. Leaders need to model this. They need to ask for feedback too. When leaders demonstrate consistent comfort with examining their own areas for growth, others will feel more comfortable doing this too.

Effective coaching leads to positive change.

Learning is messy. As adults, we are in control of a lot of things. We decide what we’re having for dinner, how our classroom will run, where we will vacation, what time to leave the house, and so many more little and big decisions. Learning is messy. The process is never linear. Learning and trying something new goes against our habits of creating control in life situations. Especially when we know that we will be accountable for the learning and will get feedback throughout the messy process. But ultimately, coaching can lead to clarity, confidence, and growth.

What happens when we don’t open ourselves to receive coaching? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, January 6, 2017

5 Blind Spots Educators Must Address

More than likely, you've seen the video below. It is designed to test the power of your attention. It will take careful concentration to succeed in the task. 

In the video, two teams are passing basketballs, one team is wearing white shirts and the other team is wearing black shirts. Your task is to count the number of passes by the white team, ignoring the black team entirely. Before you read further, I would like for you to watch the video and see how you do.

The video has been watched millions of times. And over half those who view it do not see a person wearing a gorilla suit appear, join the other players, thump its chest, and exit. Were you among those who missed the gorilla? If so, don't feel bad. You may have the ability to focus in ways others could not. You didn't allow a silly gorilla to distract you.

The blindness to the gorilla is caused by the focused attention on counting the passes of the white team. Our brain has the ability to ignore what it doesn't perceive as important. And we all know the idea of effective multi-tasking is a myth. You can learn more about this study on selective attention at

One of the remarkable findings of the study is how surprised people are to realize they missed the gorilla. "No way!" they think. They cannot imagine how they could have not seen someone in a gorilla suit in the video. They can't believe they missed it.

The invisible gorilla study reveals a couple of interesting facts about our minds. 

First, we can be blind to the obvious. We can miss the forest for the trees. We are so focused on the details we miss the bigger picture.

And second, we are not only blind to the obvious, but we are unwilling to admit we didn't see clearly. We are also blind to our blindness.

This gorilla business got me thinking about blind spots we may have as educators. The day-to-day problems we face require intense concentration, and unless we pause to reflect, to listen, to pay attention to the world around us, we may miss some of the most important changes happening. Or we may miss things we need to change.

The world is changing rapidly. And we can be so busy we don't even realize what's happening. Because of our intense focus on the routine parts of our work, we may not be aware of how our classrooms and schools need to change. 

We can't afford to let that happen. Our students can't afford for us to have blind spots. Here are five questions to help you think through some issues that can be blind spots for educators. You may have assumptions that haven't been tested. Maybe these questions will help you see any 'gorillas' in your approach.

1. Are my lessons designed to help me teach better or to help students learn more?

Some teachers design lessons to deliver content to students. They strive to teach better. They seek better presentations, better strategies, more tools. They rely on a test at the end to know if students are learning. Other teachers design lessons that cause students to own their learning. Students are the ones doing the heavy lifting. They are creating instead of consuming. They are active in the process. Their learning is visible throughout.

2. Am I teaching students first, or a curriculum?

Some teachers implement a curriculum. They teach the standards of their curriculum with fidelity. But if that is all they do, in my mind, they are not an effective teacher. If you teach students first, you recognize their unique needs. You seek to guide them, mentor them, and help them grow as people. You make learning personal. And you want them to be more excited about learning when they leave your class than when they came. It's more important to develop a passion for learning than to check off standards.

3. Am I preparing students for the world they live in or the one I grew up in?

Some teachers are teaching exactly the same as they were taught. If you visited their classroom, there would be no way to distinguish between this classroom and one from 1991. Your classroom should never become a time capsule. It should actually be more of a time machine, helping students to see what they will need to be successful in their futures. The next 20 years will be the most dramatic period of change in the history of the world. How are you adjusting your classroom to prepare students an uncertain, complex world?

4. Would I want to be a student in my own classroom?

If you are like most learners, you don't enjoy sitting for long periods of time, listening to someone else, and having very little input about anything. Be the teacher who prepares learning experiences, not lectures. Listen to students and try to see learning through their eyes. That's one of the most powerful weapons a teachers can have. If you can understand your students better, you can create learning that is irresistible.

5. Do my students see me as a learner too?

Some teachers are afraid of being wrong. They want to have all the answers and be seen as the expert in the classroom. But more important than being the content expert, teachers need to be learning experts. They need to model how to be an effective lifelong learner. If you asked most student if their teacher learns new stuff, they might say yes—at a conference, or a training, or in teacher meetings. But what about the classroom? Do your students see you learning side-by-side with them every day?

Question: What other blind spots might educators have about learning? I think we all have areas we could see more clearly. Or, we miss the forest for the trees. Or, we don't acknowledge the gorilla. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Best Of 2016 From The @DavidGeurin Blog

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you...for reading, connecting, and sharing with me this past year. It's inspiring to be in community with so many passionate educators who come together to learn and lift each other up. I am humbled when readers express how an article was inspiring or helpful. I know that I am always learning and growing as I reflect and share with you. Thank you for responding and sharing your thoughts and ideas with me also!

I am looking forward to the new year with great expectation. As one of three 2017 NASSP Digital Principals, I look forward to making new connections and learning from educators across the country. I will remain committed to advocating for relevant and meaningful learning for all. In spite of the challenges we face, educators are working tirelessly to invest in the lives of students. We will continue to do so regardless of political, social, or economic uncertainties.

Here are my top 10 most popular posts from the blog this past year. If you see one you missed, I hope you'll check it out. 

Five Critical #EdTech Conversations For Your School

Developing a shared vision for technology in your school should include lots of conversations. These conversations should occur among teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders. It's important to think through the pros and cons of technology use and how technology can play an valuable role in learning.

Does Your Professional Development Honor Teachers as Learners?

For the past couple of years, our school has worked to create a way of supporting professional learning that is more personally meaningful. We were inspired by the idea of So our message was clear. If it might make learning better for students, then pursue it.

9 Pieces of Advice Every Teacher Should Ignore

Every educator has received their share of advice from many well-meaning sources - other teachers, administrators, college professors, parents or even your students. You name it. You may have even received some of the advice on the list below. If so, you might want to ignore it.

7 Questions To Guide Decisions Of School Leaders

Our decisions can have a big impact on the school, learning, and ultimately our students. So it's very important to make the best decision possible. Of course, I often make decisions and then come to realize later that with different information or a different perspective, I might have acted differently in the situation.

7 Reasons To Use Social Media In Your School (INFOGRAPHIC)

One thing is for sure, social media is here to stay. Never before have people been able to connect, share, and learn from one another as we do now. I can only imagine what might be next! As a result, our students need skills to win at life in a digital world.

7 Ways Technology Can Transform Learning (INFOGRAPHIC)

In a previous post, I shared some thoughts on technology integration and how tech in the classroom is too often an add-on or extra and not part of an authentic learning experience. In fact, technology is so vital in today's world that it's on par with the school library.

Adaptable Learners Will Own the Future

When I was kid, my Grandpa Geurin bought me a pony. I know that sounds like the type of gift a spoiled rich kid might get. But we were definitely not rich. Grandpa owned a small farm in West Kentucky where he and my grandma worked tirelessly to make a living.

5 Challenges to Your Best School Year Ever

As the new school year is just around the corner, it's a great chance to commit to making learning more effective and meaningful in your classroom or school. Here are five challenges to make it the best year ever. 1. Greet Your Students at the Door Everyone can make it a point to greet students at the door each day.

Is It Time To Move Past Tech Integration?

What is your school's mindset surrounding technology use in the classroom? If you're like a lot of educators, you are probably working to integrate technology into instruction. You might even be discussing the merits of blended learning. But what does it mean to integrate technology? And what is blended learning?

9 Ways to Make Learning Irresistible

True story. The bell rang and nobody moved. How often are students counting down the minutes of each class? They have their eyes on the clock. They start But the underlying message was that learning is "work" and unpleasant and you need a break, so I'll give you some time later to visit.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

7 Reasons 'Classroom Leadership' Is Better Than 'Classroom Management' {Infographic}

There are a number of visuals like the one above that illustrate some distinctions between a boss and a leader. I bet you can think of a specific person who characterizes the boss list. This type of person tends to make big impression. You can probably also think of someone who exhibits the leader qualities. You probably admire that person. Of course, these are illustrations intended for the workplace, not the classroom.

Clearly, they are relevant to school administrators, but I'm also thinking they can be applied to classroom leaders as well, aka teachers. In fact, they can apply to anyone charged with leading people and charged with getting something done.

Here's another. This one is similar but contrasting management vs. leadership.

Source: Verma and Wideman (1994)

Most everyone would agree leadership is a top priority in moving any group of people toward a desired outcome or goal. But in education we use the term classroom management frequently to refer to how teachers get things done in the classroom. Some educators actually reject the term. They would say you manage things (grading papers) and you lead people (students). 

But I'm not overly concerned about using the term classroom management as long as we can work from a shared understanding of the meaning. To me, it's all about the things we do to create a positive and productive learning culture in the classroom.

But that will never happen just by managing. If we rely on the lists in the left columns without having the necessary leadership qualities, we are doomed to failure. Sure, some students will still learn, but the overall classroom learning culture will not thrive. And there will be little passion or inspiration for learning.

But on the other hand, if we don't also establish some 'management' qualities to go with leadership, we may have great ideas and willing students but a lack of specific steps to achieve the goal.

Although several items from each column have value in context, I would always choose leaders over managers. Most everyone leans one way or another.

In fact, most every problem that persists in the classroom is at its root a leadership issue. That is not to blame the 'leader' but to say that if an ongoing problem is to be overcome it will usually happen by good leadership and not through better management.

Here are 7 Reasons 'Classroom Leadership' Is Better Than 'Classroom Management.'

1. Establishing a Vision for Learning

Leaders create a vision for learning. They communicate why the learning is important. Better yet, they help followers (students) unpack for themselves how and why the learning is important. When there is a clear vision, students will be empowered to move toward aims without having to be pushed there forcefully.

How are you clarifying a vision of learning for your students?

2. Building Strong Relationships 

Building positive relationships is essential to establishing a positive classroom learning culture. Leaders develop a 'we' feeling with students. Students feel safe, connected, like they belong. Every student feels like they are valued. The leader doesn't use fear as a motivator. Instead, they rely on relationship building to correct and guide.

How can you commit to building stronger relationships with your students?

3. Generating Enthusiasm

Leaders are inspiring and energizing. They have passion for what they are doing and it's contagious. They encourage others to come along on the learning journey. Managers don't think about the energy they bring. They rely more on structure and organization to be efficient. Efficiency is more important than passion to the manager. 

What are ways you show enthusiasm not only for your subject but also for your students?

4. Building Trust 

When trust is lost, it does incredible damage. A leader is careful to ensure students don't feel disrespected, overlooked, or misunderstood. When things go wrong, leaders help to shoulder blame. And when things go right, they are willing to share the credit. Leaders are quick to forgive. And work to repair a relationship that is hurting.

Will you protect the dignity of each child in your classroom?

5. Honest and Clear Communication

Even if you establish great, trusting relationships with students, you won't have a strong learning culture unless you are communicating effectively. Sometimes this includes delivering hard truth to students. Sometimes it means standing firm. Setting boundaries. Giving consequences. However, consequences are never as effective as communication for establishing a positive change.

Are you consistently communicating with students and clarifying the classroom norms and expectations?

6. Leading By Example

Managers don't feel the need to set an example. They view their role as making sure the kids are doing what they're supposed to, but don't look at their own actions. Leaders have high expectations for themselves. They start with the person in the mirror. They model the types of behaviors and mindsets they want to see in others.

How are you modeling the values you want to establish in your classroom?

7. Being Proactive vs. Reactive

Managers react. Leaders prevent. Managers focus on what just happened. Leaders focus on what will happen next. An effective leader anticipates the needs of followers and works to stay in front of problems. 

In what ways are being proactive in building a learning culture rather than being reactive when the culture goes off the tracks?

Question: What are your thoughts on building a learning culture in your classroom or school? What would you add to the thinking I've shared? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

5 Reasons to Look Beyond Test Scores as the Measure of School Success

Are you beating the state average? The teacher down the hall? The school down the road? How about the Fins or the Singaporeans? How do your scores measure up? Is your school keeping up with the Joneses?

Lately, I've seen lots of comparisons of achievement data. Including the PISA international benchmark results that were just released. Once again, U.S. scores were not stellar in comparison to some of the best test takers in the world.

While reading Linchpin by Seth Godin, I was challenged to think about how we define success. And where we spend our energy to develop world class schools. Godin illustrates how difficult it is to be the best by any statistical comparison.

❝Donald Bradman was an Australian cricket player. He was also the best athlete who ever lived. By any statistical measure, he was comparatively the best at what he did. He was far better at cricket than Michael Jordan was at basketball or Jack Nicklaus was at golf.
It's very difficult to be as good as Donald Bradman. In fact, it's impossible. Here's a chart of Bradman's batting average compared with the other all-time cricket leaders. 
Bradman's Test batting average was 99.94. In cricket, a player's batting average is the
total number of runs scored by the number of times they have been out.

Everyone else is quite grouped near sixty. Bradman was in a league of his own, not even close to the others. 
The challenge of becoming a linchpin solely based on your skill at plying a craft or doing a task or playing a sport is that the market can find other people with the skill with surprising ease. Plenty of people can play the flute as well as you can, clean a house as well as you can, program in Python as well as you can. If all you can do is the task and you're not in a league of your own at doing the task, you're not indispensable. 
Statistics are a dangerous deal, because statistics make it strikingly clear that you're only a little better than the other guy. Or perhaps not better at all.
When you start down the path of beating the competition based on something that can be easily measured, you're betting that with practice and determination, you can do better than Len Hutton or Jack Hobbs did at cricket. Not a little better, but Don Bradman better.
And you can't. 

And this demonstrates the problem with measuring school performance based on standardized tests. To clarify...

1. Someone is always statistically better. 

You cannot be the best just on your effort or the effort of the students in your classroom or school. You cannot measure up. Even your best will not be enough. There will always be a Don Bradman. So when we accept this measure as judge and jury of our effectiveness, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and inadequacy.

2. More achievement is not always better.

A recent article about the learning culture in Singapore shows just how unhealthy a culture of over-achievement can be. Even in our own schools, we should not celebrate unhealthy attitudes toward achievement. How many ulcers, headaches, and mental health issues are a result of students, and educators, who are placing too much emphasis on achievement results? Being an effective human being involves a healthy attitude toward achievement, not high achievement no matter what it takes.

3. What can be measured doesn't always count the most.

And what counts the most can't always be measured. There are so many things about being an effective learner, a well-educated person beyond test scores. In fact, there are many people in our communities who are incredibly successful and lifelong learners, but who did not excel as test takers. Their success is attributable to many intangibles that cannot be easily measured. As Godin points out, "The easier it is to quantify the less it's worth." The most valuable things are often hard to measure.

4. High test scores are not a vision for learning.

When raising test scores becomes a chief aim of a school or district, it can easily become the vision of the school. And raising test scores is not a vision for learning. This approach marginalizes the individual and their learning needs in favor of data objectives that may not even be meaningful to the individual. In a sense, it dehumanizes learning. A vision for learning should always focus on the individual learner and create a culture that helps each student reach his or her goals. 

5. A school's identity should not be contingent on achievement.

The identity of a school, or individual, should not be contingent on achievement. It should be comprised of the way the school seeks to fulfill its mission. We should seek to have a high level of commitment, collaboration, and care. We should strive to help our students achieve, but also to fully engage, to be more excited about learning, to gain hope, to learn more about who they are, and to fulfill their potential in the broadest sense. We control our identity, but we can't always control our scores. Any teacher knows this, but sometimes we do our best work with students who DO NOT demonstrate achievement on tests.

So what's the alternative to playing the test score game? Godin suggests using emotional labor to make yourself indispensable. I think this principle can be applied to schools, too. The idea is to focus energy on connecting, supporting, reaching out, lifting up, and offering hope better than anyone else. It is always teaching students first, then curriculum.

Even though many educators realize how important emotional labor is, it is rarely included in strategic plans, teacher evaluations, or educator standards. It is not considered a strategic advantage. In my review of my state's principal standards, the word data was found 15 times. By contrast, the word relationships was not to be found. The era of accountability has created an assembly line approach to schooling. It seems to almost eliminate the human element. 

But the truth is the human element is everything in education and in most every profession. Once you have achieved a measure of expertise in polishing your craft, you become a game-changer only through your interaction with each child. Your emotional labor is what makes you able to do your job unlike anyone else on the planet. And if your school collectively does it's emotional labor better than anyone else, it will indeed be world class. And I'm betting your test scores will improve as an added bonus.

Question: How do you view the role of emotional labor in your classroom and school? Is it a measure of success? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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