Tuesday, May 23, 2017

You Can Never Be Your Best If You're Too Busy


I arrived home from school one day this past week to find our trash can turned over on its side with trash littering our yard. I had set the container at our curb that morning expecting it to be picked up by our trash service. It was a very windy day and now there was a real mess to clean up. I grabbed my cell phone and immediately called to demand answers to this terrible injustice.

"Yes, why wasn't my trash picked up this morning? All my neighbors had theirs picked up? And now my trash has blown all over my yard." So there you have it!!!!

"Oh I'm so sorry about that, sir. Please let me help you with that."

"By all means, you better help me with this," I thought to myself, applauding my assertiveness at not letting this mistake pass without it being addressed.

"What's your address, sir?"

"4404 S 146th Rd."

"Sir, it looks like your trash gets picked up on Thursdays."

I'm quite aware that our trash gets picked up on Thursdays. The problem in this scenario is that the day I set out the trash was Wednesday. I set the trash out on the wrong day!!! 

At this point, the conversation turned in a completely different direction as I backpedaled furiously.

The month of May is the busiest month of the year for me. There are so many end-of-the-year events, responsibilities, and tasks that have to be done. I'm sure many of you can relate. I am constantly on the go and have very little time to power down and allow my mind a little much needed rest. 

And maybe that's why I set the trash out on the wrong day. But that's not the end of my missteps.

Sunday at church, there was a time to shake hands and welcome others and that type of thing. I left the row where I was sitting to walk over and visit with some of our high school students and former students. As the service moved on to the next phase, I hustled back to my seat.

Only it wasn't my original seat. Pretty soon I felt a tapping on my shoulder, only to turn around and see my wife's beautiful smile. I sat down in the row in front of her. I didn't make it back to where I started. Most of the congregation saw this comical scene. I scrambled back to my actual seat, the one next to my wife, and all I could do was laugh uncontrollably. Pretty much the whole church was laughing too. I'm glad I could brighten their day.

But once again, I have to think the hectic schedule I've been keeping played a role in my lack of focus. When there are so many things racing through your mind, it's tough to concentrate.

By nature, I'm a doer. I am always thinking of the next project or possibility. If I'm not careful, I can turn into a human doer, instead of a human being. You see, we were created to have times where we allow ourselves to just be

To just be still.

To be quiet.

To be at rest.

To be recharged, refreshed, and renewed.

If we are always doing every moment, we won't have the time for just being.

I'm very thankful my mistakes did not have serious implications. But it did cause me to reflect on my schedule and how I can make sure I'm fully present and showing up well even in the month of May.

I read an article recently about how we Americans are wearing our busyness as a badge of honor. If we're not careful, we can get caught in a trap of feeling we need to do more and more and more. 

But it's hurting our ability to be our best. 
When people feel that they are busy, they tend to make short-term decisions and not focus on the things that really matter in the long term. They stop investing in their personal development, and they no longer try to think of new ways to approach work.
Busyness also undermines our ability to achieve complex problem solving, creativity, and empathy, skills that the World Economic Forum has identified as needed for success in the future.
When you’re busy, you become less creative, less imaginative, and less engaged.
This past Sunday, we had graduation for the Class of 2017 and the school year has ended, so my summer schedule is already kicking in. While I have still have plenty to do, I am committing to slow down a little and remember to say no to some things.

It's time to just be for a little while.

Question: Do you wear your busyness as a badge of honor? What are you doing to slow down, refresh, and recharge regularly? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. When you share your stories and wisdom it's appreciated!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Do You Want Things FROM Your Students Or FOR Your Students?


I'm guessing many students feel like school is a place where someone is always wanting something FROM them. 

Turn in your homework.

Stop talking.

Get busy. 

Walk in a straight line.

Follow instructions.

Pay attention.

Don't forget.

All of the demands can really weigh heavily after a while. For some, I'm guessing school starts to feel like a huge burden. They don't see the relevance. They feel like teachers are constantly wanting more FROM them, and they may not feel adequate to meet the expectations.

But maybe students don't understand the why behind all the expectations and requests. Maybe they don't realize that the best teachers, most teachers in fact, don't really want something FROM students. They want good things FOR their students.

The expectations and demands are intended to help students succeed now and in the future. The demands aren't because teachers want to make things easier for themselves or want to make things harder for their students. Teachers are successful when students are successful.

So I think we should spend more time and effort showing students what it is we want FOR them. And maybe we should spend a little less time talking about what we want FROM them.

Of course, expectations are part of life. And if students are going to be successful, there will be accountability. But they should always be reminded that the accountability we provide is because we care. It's because we want good things FOR them.

Teachers who get the best FROM their students are the same teachers who show their students how much they care FOR them. 

Try reminding your students you want these things FOR them...

FOR them to be leaders.

FOR them to develop strong character.

FOR them to believe in themselves.

FOR them to never stop growing.

FOR them to be more excited about learning when they leave us than when they started.

FOR them to demonstrate empathy and concern for others.

FOR them to learn from their mistakes.

FOR them to make the world a better place.

FOR them to learn more about who they are.

FOR them to build on their unique strengths.

FOR them to have hope.

FOR them to develop a great attitude.

FOR them to be adaptable to change.

FOR them to reach their potential.

FOR them to realize their dreams.

FOR them to feel like they belong.

FOR them to have healthy relationships.

FOR them to never give up.

FOR them to be curious, creative, and compassionate.

Question: How can we help students see school as a place that wants good things FOR them and not just FROM them? I want to hear from you. Leave a message below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

What's Most Valuable Attitude or Technique?



Your team just upset the #3 seed, and for the first time ever, your school will advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. And then you're asked this question by a 13-year-old reporter from Sports Illustrated Kids.

SI Kids reporter: “When you coach or teach your team defense, what’s more important, technique or attitude?”

South Carolina Coach Frank Martin: “First of all, a lot of respect to you. That’s a heck of a question. I’ve been doing this a long time, and that’s the first time anyone's ever asked me that, that's a heck of a question. Attitude comes first. We gotta have guys that are gonna believe in our mission, that are going to believe in what we do. Once they believe, then we can teach them the technique.”


Kudos to Frank Martin for how he fielded this question from the kid reporter. It was a great moment. The coach showed the kid all the respect and sincerity he deserved in that moment.

But it was, after all, a great question.

Our school has enjoyed its own March Madness story this year. Our boys basketball team made it all the way to the state championship game. It was an incredible run with some unbelievable comeback victories along the way. We didn't win the championship game, but our players played like winners.

Our coach has a mantra he uses to outline the core values of his program. E-A-T.

E - Effort

There is no substitute for consistently trying hard and giving your best effort.

A- Attitude

Your positive attitude is a gift to yourself and others. Your attitude will determine your impact in life.

T- Team

Be a great teammate. Care about others ahead of yourself. Be unselfish.

The messages from Frank Martin and from Robby Hoegh (our coach) are essentially the same. Attitude is more important than technique. You might not have the greatest talent level or the best technique (...yet), but you can always show up with great effort, enthusiasm, and energy.

It's hiring season for schools all across the country. What is most important to you about who joins your team? Do they need to have the most sophisticated teaching strategies, the best understanding of subject content, and the most proven track record? Those things aren't bad. In fact, they are all important.

But what's most important is that you bring people on your team who are winners. You want people with winning attitudes. You want people who are on a mission to make a difference. Who are good teammates. Who bring positive energy every day. Who will continue learning and growing. And who want the best possible learning experience for EVERY kid.

If those qualities are in place, it's impossible to NOT grow in your technique, knowledge, and effectiveness.

Developing these aspects of your CHARACTER is more important than your PRACTICE. Who you are is more important than what you do, because what you DO will always flow from WHO you are.

Question: How can we generate more focus on Effort, Attitude, and Team in our school cultures? What is your school doing to promote these qualities? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Don't Wait To Be Excellent...Start. Right. Now.


I just finished reading the latest book from Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas—Start. Right. Now.: Teach and Lead for Excellence. The authors have packed the book with wisdom and insight from their collective experiences. The end result is a book for educators that is an excellent guide for becoming a stronger leader.

Something that caught my attention right away is the idea that every educator who is effective is also an effective leader. Leadership is not just for those in formal positions. Every teacher must grow as a leader, too. And conversely, every leader should aim to be an effective teacher as well. These roles are very complimentary and are both essential to creating outstanding schools. This idea reminded me of a recent post from this blog, 7 Reasons 'Classroom Leadership' Is Better Than 'Classroom Management.'

So while Start. Right. Now. is definitely a leadership book, it is equally relevant to teachers or formal leaders like principals or directors. The authors share a framework of four qualities important to all educators who strive for excellence. These qualities are adapted from leadership guru John Maxwell.

1. Know the Way

Excellent leaders must pursue and possess knowledge of their chosen field. For educators, that means knowing content, best practices, strategies, and how to influence people. Knowing the way means knowing what works based on experience and based on knowledge passed along from others. 



2. Show the Way

Showing the way involves coming together to develop a vision for learning and then building capacity in others to reach for and achieve that vision. To show the way, leaders must be future-focused, always preparing for what is to come, while simultaneously doing the work today that will lead to a brighter future tomorrow. Always be present in the moment to create brighter moments ahead. Where some people may see only problems, great leaders see possibilities and they focus their energy accordingly.



3. Go the Way

Your example is your most powerful influence as an educator. Students and peers are always watching to see if what we say corresponds with what we do. It matters how we live out our values, and it matters how we treat everyone we meet. Every interaction counts. The following list exemplifies educators who go the way. These staff members:

  • Believe in giving back
  • Invest in others every day
  • Find time to greet children every day
  • Possess a "whatever it takes" mindset
  • Want to be pushed by others
  • Find a connection with kids each day
  • Go out of their way to share a bit of kindness with others
  • Accept that teaching is calling, not a job
  • Take time to show gratitude to others
  • Make time for others, but also make time for themselves

4. Grow Each Day

Great educators make their own personal and professional growth a top priority. The recognize that change is inevitable but growth is optional. However, failing to make efforts to grow results in certain failure. Surround yourself with excellence, invite feedback, and be open to reflecting on areas you can improve. Connect with other committed educators who can support you in your efforts to grow. The only way to reach your potential is to start right where you are and focus on getting better every day.



The book is filled with many stories, examples, and resources to support these essential leadership principles. At the end of each chapter, ideas from other outstanding educators are featured. You might recognize a number of the ones included. They might even be part of your PLN. Some of my favorites include Pernille Ripp, Neil Gupta, Glenn Robbins, Bill Ferriter, Jon Harper, Jennifer Hogan, and Heidi Veal. These short contributions add another dimension to the book.

You'll also find specific actionable strategies at the end of each chapter with links to resources to help you get started. For instance, there are suggestions to write a personal mission statement, create a vision statement, attend an EdCamp, and participate in a Twitter chat. It's packed with great ideas every educator is sure to find helpful.

Question: How are you growing in your leadership as an educator? Are you getting better every day? If you want to do something to level up your leadership, consider reading Start. Right. Now. 

I want hear from you. Be sure to leave a comment on the blog or share on Facebook or Twitter. Your thoughts and ideas take the discussion deeper.

You can snag a copy of the book at the link below. 



This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you visit Amazon via the links and purchase items, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What Happened When We Launched Student-Led Senior Citizen Tech Support


We have a group at Bolivar High School known as the SWAT team. SWAT stands for Students Working to Advance Technology. The club started in 2015 to support our 1:1 program that was just getting off the ground. 

SWAT provides valuable support related to how we use technology in our school. For instance, they have presented how-to workshops for teachers during our annual PD day, the past two years. And they've been involved in parent open house to demonstrate ways technology is being used for learning in our school. They also help out in the library with issues students are having with their Chromebooks.



Most recently, the group offered tech support for senior citizens in our community every Thursday after school in February from 4-5:00pm. We publicized the opportunity in our local newspaper and on Facebook. It was a simple concept. We had some digital natives (our students) on hand to help the older crowd in our community with anything tech related we could help with.

The senior adults could bring their own device (most of them did) or the students used their Chromebooks to help with Facebook, Gmail, or whatever tool they wanted to learn.

We didn't really know what to expect. It was our first time trying something like this. But it was a huge success. We had customers every single Thursday, and several of our guests came back week after week.




This activity was beneficial on several levels. 

1. It was helpful to the senior citizens we served.

Our students helped with Macs, PCs, iPads, Android devices, multiple smart phones, and a Kindle Fire. I don't think there was a single question that our students didn't handle effectively. In one case, it took about 45 minutes to research a solution, but in the end, they resolved the issue.

2. It was a fantastic opportunity to connect with our community.

I think it's great when students can go out into the community or we can bring the community in. In this case, we had quite a few people into our school building that might not normally stop by for a visit. 

3. It was a great learning experience for our students.

Our students had the opportunity to give back and lend a helping hand. They got to practice communication skills, empathy, patience, and problem solving. It gave them the opportunity to serve others.

4. Everyone seemed to love it. 

Our students enjoyed this experience so much, they asked me if we could keep doing it each week. For a variety of reasons, I made them take a break for the month of March. We'll see after that. But I was proud they wanted to continue. And the senior citizens seemed to have a great time too. Some of them asked me if we could keep doing it, too! Okay, after reading that I feel like a scrooge for making them take a break. :)

Here's a 2 minute video that includes some student voice about how they experienced this project...



Question: Is this something you might try with your students? What questions do you have about this activity? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Hottest Posts Everyone's Reading this Winter

The last few months have been incredibly busy. It seems like it was just Christmas, and somehow we are almost ready for Spring Break. I hope you're having the best school year ever. But even if you're not, keep in mind you are growing, learning, and contributing every day. Your work matters, and you are making a difference.

I'm just reflecting a little here on some of the posts from the winter months. Thanks for being loyal readers, for all of your comments and shares, and for your desire to partner with me to learn and grow. I appreciate your commitment and dedication to students and learning.

So without further adieu, here is a list of the most popular posts from the past few months. If you missed something that looks interesting, take a few minutes to read it and let me know what you think. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

15 Reasons #EdTech Is Valuable Beyond Student Achievement



When we were planning for 1:1 at Bolivar High School, we had numerous community meetings and invited feedback and questions from our stakeholders. One of the questions that was raised went something like this, "How can you be sure student achievement will increase as a result of every kid having a device?"

And that's a very good question, at least on the surface. It would seem reasonable that if a school is going to spend thousands of dollars on devices, there should be a direct correlation, even causation, in the research to demonstrate a positive effect on measurable learning outcomes. 

That question comes up again from time to time. Our middle school is now also working toward implementing their own version of 1:1.

The research on the impact of 1:1 programs is mixed. Some studies point to flat achievement or even declining achievement, especially with low-income and minority students. Other studies, like Project Red for instance, have found that schools implementing a 1:1 student-computer ratio along with key implementation factors outperform other schools.

But I'm a bit skeptical of studies on either side of this issue. It is very difficult to isolate any single factor or group of factors to show direct impact on measurable student achievement outcomes. There are so many moving parts in what students learn and to what extent they learn it.

I do believe that technology implemented properly CAN have a positive impact on student achievement. But I would also argue that there are many, many reasons to go digital in schools besides student achievement. And I mean student achievement in the narrowest sense. Everything we do is related to student achievement in my view, but researchers and bureaucrats usually examine this factor through a narrow lens of standardized test results.

Since I believe so strongly in the benefits of technology for students, I asked my PLN for feedback on what they believe are the most important reasons to go digital beyond strictly academic outcomes. I summarize the ideas below, and you can also check out their responses in the Twitter Moment embedded below.

15 Reasons #EdTech is Valuable Beyond Student Achievement

1. Essential to learning in a modern world.

Technology is just as essential to learning in today's world as the school library. To be an effective learner in today's world means you're going to be using digital tools to learn.

2. Encourages lifelong learning.

Our school's motto is Learning for Life. We believe in the importance of developing skills that will translate to life. If we want our students to be lifelong learners, they need to understand the role of technology in that.

3. Connects students and schools with the outside world.

These tweets from Ellen Deem and Kevin Foley summarize it nicely. Technology allows us to bring the world into our school, and take our school into the world.

4. Reflects how work gets done outside of schools.

Almost every career, project, or activity will involve technology in some way. Having stronger skills related to technology brings value to most every area of life.

5. Allows for practicing digital citizenship.

How can we expect students to make good decisions and develop into responsible digital creators and consumers if we don't give opportunities for practice in school?

6. Important for teaching digital literacy.

Students need to understand digital literacy as part of overall information literacy. It's not enough to be able to read and write. You need to know how the digitally connected world works.

7. Important for practicing the 4 C's.

If we are serious about teaching communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, technology is a great vehicle to explore those skills.

8. Kids like it.

I love this response from Melinda Miller. If we are serious about kids becoming independent learners, then learning needs to be exciting and fun.
9. Improves communication.

We gain opportunities to communicate and connect within and outside our school through the use of email, social media, shared documents, etc. 

10. Improves student engagement

Technology can play an important role in increasing student engagement and creating more student-centered learning opportunities.

11. Provides an authentic audience for student work outside the school.

Student work shouldn't be destined to finish in a trash can. It can be saved forever and shared with the world using digital tools.

12. Allows new ways to differentiate learning.

Technology is great for meeting individual learning needs. 

13. It can personalize learning.

Technology can create opportunities for students to pursue passions, make choices, and have their voice heard.

14. It creates efficiency.

With technology, we can use less paper, save time, and overcome the limitations of when and where we learn.

15. It supports curiosity.

Students have questions. A connected device provides the means to search for answers. Someone made the comment that tech has made us less curious. I don't necessarily think that's true.

Question: What are your thoughts on ways #EdTech impacts learning beyond student achievement? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. 

Also, be sure to check out all the tweets from my PLN in response to this topic. Thanks everyone for contributing!

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