Sunday, January 31, 2016

Your Classroom Deserves to Get Noticed



In a previous post, I examined various benefits to sharing the good things happening in your classroom. I made the case that it is essential to share. When we make learning visible, it creates a stronger learning culture throughout the school. Sharing helps us learn from each other and creates opportunities for collaboration.

But I wanted to look at one more reason it's important to provide others with insights into the inner workings of your classroom.

Your work needs to be noticed. You deserve to feel appreciated.

Nearly every survey I've read on employee satisfaction shows that people want to feel respected and noticed for what they contribute in the workplace. Feeling appreciated is very important to work satisfaction. It's interesting to me that this is often ranked higher than salary, benefits, or opportunities for advancement. 

I suspect educators are no different. We want to feel like we are making a difference, and it's great to have our efforts validated by people familiar with our work. You deserve to be noticed.

As principal, I realize how important it is to recognize the efforts of our staff. Honestly, I need to work at consistently doing this. Although I've done a variety of things to show appreciation, I also miss too many opportunities to do so. It's my sincere desire that my appreciation shines through even when I fail to be intentional in this area. I have great admiration and respect for the contributions of each member of our staff.

But here's something I've noticed. Because some teachers share more about what's happening in their classrooms than others, it's easier to be familiar with their work. Of course, I try to visit all classrooms regularly. But there's still so much that happens. A day in a high school with 800+ students is frenetic. And a principal's job is built for distraction.

More than once, I've learned of wonderful, dynamic, innovative learning in our building that might have gone unnoticed had I not accidentally learned about it. There are teachers who are quietly going about their work and doing a great job. They are amazing. But they are under the radar.

But I'm asking you to share. Please.

Your students deserve to get noticed. So does your classroom and so do you. Without a doubt, there are great things happening in your world of learning that need to get noticed. You give extra effort. You create improved opportunities for student learning. You have moments of awesomeness.

So teachers, share what's happening in your classroom. Advocate for your students. Reach out. Connect. Share. I'm suggesting you can contribute to your own sense of feeling appreciated by sharing and reflecting on your work. 

Your principal wants to recognize your efforts (hopefully). And so do your colleagues (hopefully). A healthy school culture will see people getting genuinely excited about other people's successes.

And principals, be visible and available. Ask teachers what's happening in their classrooms. Ask what you can do to help. Give your teachers the confidence they need to share their work with you and others.

A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.

Question: How does your school create a culture of appreciation? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook

Thursday, January 28, 2016

8 Ways Sharing Is Essential For Educators



If you believe good things are happening in your classroom, do you have an obligation to share them? That's a question you may not have considered before.

Some teachers are constantly sharing the good things happening in their classrooms. They share in conversations, through email, on social media, in the local newspaper, and just about any other way possible. The make learning visible and allow others to see the work students are producing and the ideas they are trying as a teacher.

Others are quietly doing great things, but they don't really share much with colleagues or anyone else. They might be a bit more reserved, or feel like they are self-promoting. Or maybe they're not confident what they're doing is worth sharing. For one reason or another, they don't choose to share much about what's happening in their classroom.

But it is possible to move past personal preferences or tendencies. What is best for students? I believe sharing positive things is an important part of an educator's professional practice. I believe it's essential and not just an add-on. Isolation is the enemy of improvement. To provide the best learning environment for students, educators need to share with one another. So even if it doesn't come naturally for you, it might be something for you to work on doing more often.

8 Ways Sharing Is Essential For Educators

1. It inspires new ideas. When you share something from your classroom with another educator, it might spark a conversation that leads to something new for their classroom. Ideas always build on other ideas, and they get better as we get more input and various perspectives. It's the power of collaboration.

2. It creates a culture of learning and continuous improvement. What you choose to share with others reveals a lot about what you value. By talking about student learning and how to make it better, you are helping support a culture of improvement and keeping the focus on the bottom line, better learning for students.

3. It builds self-efficacy. Sharing good things that are happening is encouraging to self and others. We all want to feel like we have the ability to do our jobs well and make a difference. When you focus on the positive, it gives you a greater sense you can impact your work for the better.

4. Success breeds success. When something is working well, share it. It can give others the confidence and inspiration to replicate what you are doing or build on it. 

5. Sharing pushes your own thinking. When you share with others, you inherently think differently about the idea. It causes you to reflect and consider the audience and what might be important to them. Reflection is extremely important for taking your thinking deeper. We tend to reflect more on things that we are thinking of sharing with others.

6. Taking risks can encourage others to take risks. When you try a new idea in your classroom or do something innovative, there is an element of risk. By sharing this experience with others, they might gain the confidence or inspiration to step out of their comfort zone to try something new. 

7. You might enjoy your work more. I think when teachers share the positive things happening in their classrooms, they feel validated for what they do. Everyone needs to feel noticed and appreciated in their work. It's more likely for this to happen if you reveal some of the neat things that are happening in your classroom.

Embedded image permalink8. It's too good not to share. When students do something amazing, it's just a shame for it not to be shared outside the classroom. So many things get noticed in our culture that aren't positive. We need to do our part to amplify the best things in the classroom.

Question: How are you sharing the great things happening in your classroom? Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Resource: The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros



Sunday, January 24, 2016

9 Reasons Every Educator Should Embrace Change



I've been reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. The book is fantastic. It goes in-depth explaining the how and why of innovation in education. It makes a compelling case for the power of innovation to improve schools. The book got me thinking about why educators need to embrace change. As I've learned from Couros, it's possible for every educator to be an innovator.

Innovation requires a willingness to look at problems with new eyes, and to see challenges as opportunities. Students are going to need skills for their future beyond the academic achievement goals that have been the overwhelming focus of the past. To help students be future ready, schools will need to help students become adaptable learners.

Schools need to help students develop leadership skills. They must be global citizens and understand how to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds. They need to solve complex problem, work in teams, communicate effectively, and have digital skills. We need to make creativity a top priority. But the only way schools will meet the demands of the changing world around us is to innovate and embrace change.

If you still aren't convinced, here are nine reasons educators should embrace change. 

1. Change is inevitable. It isn't productive to resist it, because it is impossible to avoid. Change will happen. When you embrace it, you can influence the direction and outcomes of the change. Change either happens to you, or you take ownership of it. Most of us become comfortable with things the way they are, even though everything around us may be changing. The only way we can provide schooling that is relevant is to accept change and learn and grow.

2. You can make a difference. Some people resist change because they believe it won't matter anyway. But your efforts to embrace change will create better learning opportunities for students. Believe in your ability to use change to make a positive impact.

3. Growth means risk. You can't grow without risking something. We stay with what's familiar because we are comfortable with it, but that's not progress. We need to have a growth mindset. When we take this approach, we thrive on taking risks and trying things that aren't a sure thing. We want to take risks. When we fail, it's not fatal. It's just proof we are trying.

4. You can't expect to do the same thing and get different results. Most every teacher is not entirely satisfied with how students are learning. Most see problems with student motivation or engagement. Is it reasonable to think these issues will improve without changing teaching or education? Change and innovation are necessary to solve the problems we see in our schools.

5. Giving up "good" can help you find "great." As Jim Collins pointed out, good is the enemy of great. It is hard to embrace change when things are going well. My test scores are good. I'm a respected teacher. Our school is a shining star in our community. When things are going well, it's harder to see the need for change. But we should never be satisfied. We should always seek ways to improve learning for our students.

6. New opportunities are waiting. Letting go is hard. It can be very difficult to put aside the things that we find most comfortable. But when you step out of comfort zone, there is potential for incredible fulfillment and reward. We stand to gain so much for our students and for our own personal fulfillment. Innovation and change starts with a belief that there might be a better way. We have to believe these opportunities await.

7. Personal preferences can be harmful. Some people resist change because of their personal preferences. Even if they see an idea has the potential to improve things for students and learning, they may not embrace it because it makes them uncomfortable. It's not what they prefer. Educators cannot afford this mindset. You must be flexible in your state of mind and welcome any opportunity that can move education forward.

8. Your students need to see adaptability. You have the opportunity to model change and innovation for your students. When you are innovative in the classroom, students are more likely to become adaptable, innovative learners. These skills will serve them well. We can't expect students to be innovative unless educators are first willing to be innovative.

9. Leaders embrace change. Effective leaders embrace change and help others embrace change too. Whether you have a formal leadership position or not, your school needs leaders who are problem solvers and who are willing to try new things. Every person can be a leader. Your words and actions can help positive change occur in your school.

Question: How will you embrace change in your classroom or school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Should We Ban Teacher Training?



Every time I hear someone talk about having a "teacher training" I cringe just a little. For some reason, it makes me think of our dog Max. He can do all sorts of tricks. Sit. Spin. Beg. Rollover. He's a smart dog. He's been trained to do his routine on command, and he's a quick learner. As much as I like Max, I don't want to associate his tricks with the development of professional educators.

I realize no one intends to relate "teacher training" to training a pet, even if the word training doesn't seem to entirely fit with the complexities of professional learning. I guess for me the word carries some baggage, some negative connotations. 





Google defines training as follows:















It's kind of funny that the example provided is "in-service training for staff." That sounds like some of the worst professional development I've ever experienced.

The problem with training is it often refers to the one-size-fits-all, sit and get professional development that is known to be highly ineffective. It doesn't allow for individual differences. It makes teaching a set of rules or procedures intended to guarantee a certain outcome.

But that's not how it works. Teaching is a more of an art than a science in my book. What works for one teacher rarely works exactly the same for another. 

The things that we learn in teacher training are rarely ever of enduring value. It's usually one new program or another. It won't be relevant in 10 years, or it's the latest fad but has very little personal meaning. Everyone is expected to benefit from it the same.

So instead of teacher training, let's promote teacher learning, development, growth, networking, and collaboration. Authentic learning and reflection allows teachers to take what they learn and make it their own. Successful teachers don't simply implement what they've been trained to do. They make complex decisions based on accumulated expertise and professional autonomy.

I'm not calling for a ban on professional development. Let's just end the bad PD. Sometimes it's referred to as teacher training.

Question: Does teacher training have a bad connotation for you? What do you want out of your professional learning? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Are Teacher Observations Helpful?



A recent trend has been for schools to make walk throughs or mini-observations part of the instructional evaluation and growth process. But the purpose and effectiveness of various approaches differs greatly from school to school and administrator to administrator.

A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School and American Institutes for research called into question the effectiveness of classroom observation as a means of assessing teacher effectiveness. The report indicated that students' prior academic achievement was a significant predictor of success on the evaluation, perhaps more influential than actual teaching effectiveness. The study suggests that high-stakes observation systems may be flawed.

But this post from Todd Schmidt expresses great enthusiasm for principals getting into classrooms. He describes how being in classrooms is an important way of supporting teachers. His approach involves offering help to teachers in just about any way needed. He starts with a desire to serve. His article is a must-read.

So what makes classroom visits worthwhile? A focus on growth and relationships.

I have tried a variety of things to make walk throughs better. I believe these mini-observations/classroom visits can be helpful with the right conditions. My goals are to 1) support instruction and show that learning is important by my presence in classrooms, 2) to help teachers grow stronger and feel validated in their professional skills, and 3) to fulfill evaluation necessities.

I think the greatest value in the process is the conversation that results about teaching and learning. The opportunity for a teacher and principal to work together to reflect on a lesson brings new meaning and better understanding of how instructional decisions impact the classroom. It builds a stronger relationships around teaching and learning.

So let's get to specifics. After years of reflection, practice, and reading on the topic, I've settled on the process describe below. But it's challenging to consistently fulfill these aims. Occasionally, I fail to follow-up with the face-to-face conversation or the email doesn't happen. I'm a work in progress and so is this system.

1. Make walk throughs frequent and routine. It can be very challenging to do this. The principal's job is built for distraction. The goal is to have multiple drop-in visits at various times throughout the school year to get an overall understanding of the teacher's work and how students are learning. The conversations gain depth and clarity when the teacher and the principal understand the classroom dynamics over time.

2. Avoid checklists or forms. I've used a variety of checklists and forms in the past, but I don't anymore. I don't want the teacher to focus on boxes that were or were not checked. Not every instructional strategy is going to be present in every lesson, but many teachers think it's a negative if they don't get lots of positive check marks. The forms become the focus instead of the conversation. I want both parties offering ideas into the dialogue. With forms and checklists, it feels like the principal is the only voice that matters.

3. Don't rate teachers on walk throughs. I realize there are many new evaluation systems that require the observer to rate each teacher with each visit. These systems require extensive training to have any reliability or consistency, and even when training is comprehensive, I believe they are susceptible to bias. As soon as you rate teachers, it creates a natural tendency to "look good" for the system rather than to reflect on "what's good" or how one can grow. When these ratings systems are high stakes, there is even greater pressure play a game instead of focusing on authentic improvement.

4. Talk to students about what they are learning. If it won't interrupt the teacher or the lesson, I always try to talk with students while in the classroom. It helps me really understand what is going on and how they are learning. It also demonstrates to students that I support the efforts they are making. I care about you and what you are learning.

Some questions to ask:
  • What are you learning today? 
  • How are you learning it? What activity are you doing to learn about this?
  • How will you know you've learned it?
  • What do you do if you don't understand or run into a problem?
5. Don't use your electronic device in the classroom. In the past, I always took notes on my electronic device. But I think that was sometimes a distraction for me or for the teacher. The teacher might wonder what I'm typing, or I might miss something important as I type. Now, I devote all of my attention to observing and interacting with students. Then I make my notes on my electronic device right after I've left the classroom. The notes just help me remember some conversation starters for when I visit with the teacher. I use the Evernote app on my iPhone.

6. Make the visit long enough to have at least one thing to praise and one thing to polish. Some visits are very short and others last a little longer. Usually, I observe from 5-15 minutes. I want to have at least one thing to praise, or reinforce, about the lesson and one thing to suggest for improvement. Often, the suggestions are actually questions, "What ideas might you try to involve more students in the discussion?" I want to be extremely positive and make the teacher feel safe and supported.

7. Meet with the teacher briefly face-to-face to discuss the visit. Within 24 hours, I do my very best to meet with the teacher face-to-face to have a very brief conversation about the classroom visit. I present the positive feedback and then ask a question or make a suggestion for a possible improvement. I always try to remember that I am only seeing a small snapshot of a much bigger picture.

7. Follow-up with an email to affirm what was discussed during the visit. After my visit with the teacher, I send an email thanking him or her and summarizing the main points of what was discussed. I think this helps to reinforce the ideas we generated and helps to create more traction for possible improvements or adjustments. Ultimately, I want every interaction generating more excitement and passion about teaching and learning.

Note: The work of Kim Marshall has had the greatest influence on this post and my work of instructional observation and coaching. 

Question: How are observations working at your school? In what ways are they helpful or not helpful? Leave a comment below or share on Facebook or Twitter. I want to hear from you!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Tale of a Distracted Learner



The teacher gives a task. 

Make a list of five things that you could do to have the greatest impact on your project. The student quickly gets to work, listing five things almost effortlessly, because he is so passionate about his topic. 

As he finishes his list, he thinks of a video he's seen before on YouTube that might be helpful. He wants to share it with other members of his project team, so he heads over to YouTube to find the video.

But the teacher zeros in, seeing him on his device. He moves over, places his hands on the student's shoulders, "Have you finished your list?" His words are filled with doubt. 

The student feels accused. He naturally wants to explain. Yes, the list is finished. In fact, I was taking the task even further

But the teacher is having none of it. He turns to the rest of the class, "He's doing his shopping on Amazon. At least he's not searching pornography."

What the heck?!?

Yes, the events I just described are true, including the uncomfortable reference to porn. But they didn't happen to a student in a classroom. They happened to me in a workshop I recently attended. We were given a task. To list five things that would have the greatest impact on our school. I finished the task. And then I was called out by the presenter in front of the group.

So how did that make me feel? Angry, frustrated, embarrassed, shamed, harassed, misunderstood? Yep. It was the most awkward thing I've experienced in a professional meeting.

But it got me thinking, I wonder if any of our students have ever felt this way. Have our "distracted" learners felt misunderstood under similar circumstances?

This type of thing should never happen in a classroom. We should never rob a student of their dignity, whether they are distracted or not.

Before you judge your students as distracted, consider if your goal in the classroom is compliance and control OR engagement and curiosity?

Full disclosure: I must admit I was not fully attentive in the workshop referenced in this post, although I was at the time of the interaction I described. I did not find the most of the presenter's content helpful. I was put off when he asked us to identify and share who we thought were the worst schools in our area. I didn't appreciate the activity where we had to critique our own superintendent publicly. When he repeatedly boasted of his $500,000 salary as superintendent, that didn't set well. When he declared that leadership is manipulation, I was ready to walk out. And when we had the next break, I did. 

Question: How does the story in this post get you thinking? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

11 Simple Ideas to Promote Reading No Matter What You Teach



You probably agree reading is one of the most important skills your students need to be successful. Since it is so important, there should be expectations for teachers across all subjects to promote and teach reading within their discipline.

But most content-area teachers don't have much background in reading instruction. They may not know where to start. While most teachers ask students to read materials for their class, they may not have strategies to support growing readers.

But even if you haven't had formal training related to reading strategies, you can still promote the love of reading in your classroom. The best thing you can do to improve reading is to to inspire more reading. When every teacher promotes reading, it makes an incredible impact on the learning culture of the school.

Here are 11 simple ideas to promote reading, no matter what you teach. This list isn't meant to be comprehensive. These ideas are just basic things anyone can do, even without training in reading instruction.
 
1. Share what you are reading with your students. It doesn't matter if you are reading professional materials, online articles, or your favorite fiction author. Talk to your students about what you are reading and let them know reading is something that you enjoy and that it is helpful to you.

2. Ask your students what they are reading. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn what your students like to read. What authors do they enjoy? What genres? When we take an interest in the reading lives of our students, it provides another way to connect and build a relationship. And, it also reinforces their identity as a reader.

3. Post a list in your classroom of books you want to read next. It's so simple to post a list of what you plan to read. And the more teachers who do this, the more variety of titles students will encounter each day. Your book interests might just be the spark a reluctant reader needs to get started.

4. Recommend a book or an author to a student. It's great to make reading suggestions to students. Again, it show the value that you place on reading. Even better, when you know your students interests well enough, you are able to make suggestions that are tailored to their individual preferences.

5. Allow students to choose what they read. When students feel they have little choice in what they read, it can kill the desire to read. Every class has material that is required reading, but allowing students to make some choices can be very helpful. Even if there is a certain topic that is important to your classroom goals, it's still possible to give students reading choices related to the topic.

6. Create a classroom library. Several teachers in our school have recently established or expanded classroom libraries. A classroom library is a selection of books readily available for students to check-out and read. It gets books closer to the life of your students and classroom. You can ask for donations to start your library, or ask your school librarian to loan books from the school collection to be used in your class. 

7. Let students see you reading. Find time in your class to read in front of your students. It could be reading something related to your class, or it could be reading for the sake of reading. When students see you reading it sends a powerful message.

8. Have your students read regularly in class. All too often subject-area teachers are presenting content using outlines, study guides, and handouts that minimize the need for students to read. Ask your students to read regularly in class. Have them read with a pencil in hand to take notes and process information.

9. Do a book talk with your students. Talk to your students about a book you have read. It's a great way to reveal a little more of your personality and promote reading at the same time. A book talk includes a synopsis of the book describing some of the key elements and explaining what you liked or didn't like about the book.

10. Celebrate reading in your classroom. We strengthen values in our culture by what we celebrate. We can celebrate reading by talking about it, modeling it, and supporting it. Tangible rewards are not helpful to build independent readers. But class goals and celebrations can support a culture of reading. 

11. Share your reading goals with your students. What are your reading goals? Do you have a specific number of books you would like to read this year? It's great to set a goal and share it with your students. Maybe they will set a goal too. As they follow your progress and cheer you along, they will be more likely to choose reading for themselves.

Question: What other ways do you promote reading to your students? Share a comment below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

7 Trust-Building Behaviors Teachers Want From Principals



Early in my teaching career, I sometimes felt a disconnect with my building administrators. I never really viewed them as a resource to help me in my teaching. In a way, I think I cheered against them, because I really believed they were cheering against me. 

The fact that I once thought this way seems ludicrous to me now. I'm sure my principals wanted the best for our school, for me, and for my students. But the way we interacted left me feeling like their purpose was to catch me making a mistake, "Gotcha!"

I suspect this type of dynamic is not all that uncommon between leaders and followers, in and out of education. And I think there are lessons to be learned on both sides. These lessons are important to explore. It's impossible to have a healthy school when there is a lack of trust. 

7 Behaviors to Build Trust

Leaders and followers both have responsibilities for building mutual respect. But leaders need to set the tone and lead by example. Here are seven ways leaders can create a high-trust culture.

1. Listening. Too often leaders are pushing an agenda and trying to reach goals without really listening to others. Teachers need to feel heard. This means leaders show empathy and truly seek to understand the daily challenges and requests from teachers. Always put people first.

2. Develop shared meaning and purpose. Teachers and principals share many of the same goals, but we often experience our differences more intensely than our similarities. We all want students to learn, we want a safe environment, and we want a positive culture. Teachers want leaders to communicate positive intentions and create safety for dialogue to occur.

3. Progress, not perfection. Nothing erodes trust as quickly as a leader with a critical spirit. Great teachers want accountability, but they want leaders to communicate in a way that builds on respect and seeks progress, not perfection. All of us have areas we need to improve. Leaders need to spend most of their energy recognizing the positive and building on the strengths of others.  

4. Lead by example. Teachers want leaders who hold themselves accountable before they seek to hold others accountable. They want leaders to set the tone, to show the way, and to model the characteristics that would benefit the whole school. No job is too big or too small for a leader who is a servant leader.

5. Keep promises. Teachers want leaders who are promise keepers, who make commitments carefully, but stick to them. Trust-building leaders make honesty and sincerity a symbol of their honor. They seek to keep their promises at all costs.

6. Right wrongs. Even the most trustworthy leaders make mistakes. The key is to quickly right the wrong and admit the failure. Teachers respect leaders who own their mistakes and apologize immediately to those who were harmed. They do everything possible to avoid hurt feelings and bad blood.

7. Be authentic. Teachers want their leaders to be transparent and open. This means no hidden agendas. Authentic leaders reveal who they are and show what they value. They are self-aware and express their thoughts and feelings in healthy, caring ways.

When I became a principal, I quickly saw with new eyes. I learned just how difficult the job can be. But I also tried my best to always remember the perspective I had as a teacher. I hope every principal will strive to be the kind of leader your teachers need.

Share your perspective: What else do teachers need from principals? Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Who Are You Listening To?


Every day you hear from people who build up and people that tear down. You encounter voices who care about you, who lift you up, who invest in your well-being. You also encounter those who take away, who speak carelessly, and who doubt you in every way. 

As an educator, you will always have people who invest in you, and you will always have those who try to tear you down. It's true for everyone.

But who will you listen to? 

Will you spend your time thinking about the critic? Or, will you choose to focus on the positive? It's your choice. You can't control who you might meet in the course of your day, but you can choose how you respond to every influence. 

You can choose to magnify the words of affirmation, hope, encouragement, and truth. Or, you can choose to magnify the doubts, fears, and frustrations.

I urge you to listen to those who...

  • see the best in you.
  • build on your strengths.
  • encourage you.
  • show empathy.
  • make you feel stronger.
  • cheer on your best efforts.
  • give good advice.
  • are there when things are rough.
  • understand.
  • listen.
  • forgive you.
  • pray for you.
  • genuinely care about you.

There are a number of people who are my champions. I draw strength from their encouragement, and that in turn, helps me to give more to others. When we fill ourselves up with the positives, we can overflow into the lives of others.

Your influence matters too much to allow negative people to bring you down. Your students are counting on you. And your colleagues are counting on you too. Most of all your family is counting on you. So much of who we are is influenced by who we listen to.

Listen to people who want to lift you higher. Don't ever surrender your thoughts to those who would bring you down.

Question: Who do you listen to? How are you inspired by your champions? Leave a comment or respond on Facebook or Twitter.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

9 Pieces of Advice Every Teacher Should Ignore


Every educator has received their share of advice from many well-meaning sourcesother 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.

1. "Don't Smile Till Christmas"

It seems every beginning educator hears this advice. Establish an authoritative presence in your classroom we are told. Be stern. Don't let the students see you as a real person until Santa has dropped a lump of coal in your stocking. Bad advice, right? Absolutely. While there may be a thread of truth to this sentiment, it is not good advice. The teacher needs to establish a leadership role in the classroom right away, but that doesn't mean we should frown. We need to smile in the classroom and start building positive relationships from day one. 

2. "Never turn your back on your students"

Now let's think about the assumptions underlying this advice. Do you want to be on opposite teams from your students? Or, should you work cooperatively and build positive relationships? If the classroom climate is so broken you can't turn your back, very little authentic learning will happen. 

Instead of this advice, try moving around the room, sitting next to your students, asking them questions, getting to know them, and investing in their potential.

3. "Give 'em an inch, and they'll take a mile"

Another piece of advice that assumes students and teachers are at odds with one another. This advice implies that teachers should be the unchallenged authority in the classroom. Every decision is the teacher's decision. 

Instead of using this approach, try this instead. Listen to your students. When they have valuable input, consider their ideas and requests. It's okay to bargain occasionally. When there is some give and take, it builds a feeling of positive intentions. 

It should also be noted, however, that teachers must be strong enough to say "no" when evidence suggests it's the best decision. Some teachers have trouble saying no to their students, and that is not healthy, either.

4. Be "Data-Driven"

This bad advice has been rampant of late. Educators are being asked to quantify all learning in the classroom on a spreadsheet. It's not even possible. We are spending our time focused on data points, instead of more important concerns, like our students. 

Please ignore this advice. Not everything that can be counted matters, and not everything that matters can be counted. Start with learners. Be learning-driven. Then you can use data to support and inform your decisions. Numbers are not evil. Data is not bad. But we should use it wisely and not allow it to become the driver.

5. "State your daily objective"

Even better, write the objective on the board. This classic advice for educators sounds great. But it's not. What's more important than stating your objective, or writing it on the board, is that there is evidence of an objective throughout the lesson. 

Besides, if you post the objective in advance, most students will largely ignore it or be confused by it, even if you try to say it in student-friendly language. And, when you spell out the target, you remove much of the mystery and curiosity that makes learning fun. 

It's much more effective to front load instruction with words and actions that help students feel connected and invested in what will be learned. Make it personally meaningful.

6. "Control" your classroom

How can you be a good teacher if you can't control your classroom, right? The problem is the word control. Some teachers think that to control your classroom means that you must be strict, threatening, or raise your voice in anger. These methods are not constructive.

The more you try to prove you are in charge, the more your students will try to prove you wrong. To the observer, a healthy classroom will seem under control, but it didn't happen by controlling measures on the part of the teacher. It happened because the teacher built a culture of mutual respect, clarified expectations, and provided consistent feedback to students.

7. "Avoid the teacher's lounge"

I'm not sure how many schools even have a teacher's lounge these days. In fact, I don't know of any teachers "lounging" at school. We were warned as young teachers to avoid any gathering of teachers where there might be a negative or unprofessional vibe. Even if there isn't a teacher's lounge, these gatherings still occur.

Avoiding negativity is not a bad thing, but wouldn't it also be great if more positive voices were brought into the pool of meaning. Better advice would be to learn how to stay positive, and have influence, even when other voices are blaming or complaining. With these skills, it's beneficial for leading teachers to interact with others.

 8. "Grade everything"


I'm not sure how common this advice is, but I know I felt I needed to grade everything as a teacher. That's how you show that the work is important. There are points at stake. And what's the first question students ask when given an assignment? "How many points is it worth?"

A much better way is to actually grade very few assignments, but give feedback on many. In fact, I believe something should happen with just about every assignment, but it doesn't have to be a grade. When we grade everything, it communicates that grades are important. When we give feedback, it communicates learning is important.

9. "Treat everyone the same"

What teacher hasn't received this advice? Or, heard a colleague proclaim proudly, "I treat all my students exactly the same." This usually means the teacher applies all the same rules and procedures for every student in the class regardless of the unique, individual needs of the student.

Instead of this rigid approach, we should base our decisions on what each student needs, not on all students being the same. It starts with empathy. Some students are dealing with hunger, violence, family trauma, or serious learning problems. The wise teacher will know how to adjust to help each student be successful, even if that means doing half the math problems the other students are assigned.

Bonus: "Stay Off Social Media"

There are still many teachers who are being told to stay off of social media, or to keep it completely separate from any part of their professional life. This advice is driven by fear that something could go wrong.

But social media is a great way to model appropriate digital citizenship for students. It's a great way to tell the story of a classroom or school, to celebrate learning, to encourage and lift up. And, most of all, it's a great way for teachers to connect with other educators to learn and share. 

Question: What other bad advice should teachers ignore? Leave a comment below or share on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Whoever Is Doing the Talking Is Doing the Learning


"The only place where one person talks at a time is a classroom," Ray quipped.

Our kids were talking as the food was passed. Ray (step-dad/granddad) was working his way through a joke he was telling. When I commented on the distracted kids, Ray chuckled reassuringly, "That's okay. The only place where one person talks at a time is a classroom."

I was momentarily stunned. I immediately thought of the professional relevance of the words. Ray's comment was totally in jest. But there is a sad element of truth to this, at least in many traditional classrooms. I could see that this statement was profound in a sense.

As you might expect, often the one person who is doing most of the talking is the teacher. 

Students sit in desks, with materials out in front. They are slouched over, eyes tired but gazing toward the front of the room. That is where the teacher remains.

Even when students are invited to speak, it's a response to the teacher. Maybe a couple of words. Answering a question. Nothing that resembles an authentic conversation.

On task? Yes, you could say so. Engaged. Not in the least.

It's true that the one doing most of the talking is also doing most of the learning. Students have a lot to say, and the skilled teacher creates conditions for students to process what they are learning through conversations.

In the classroom of a distinguished teacher, "Students assume considerable responsibility for the success of the discussion, initiating topics, and making unsolicited contributions." (Danielson, 2007)


Is your classroom characterized by too much teacher talk? 

Question: How do you ensure that student voice is developed? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

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