Thursday, July 13, 2017

Schools Aren't Businesses, and Students Aren't Customers



I've been guilty of looking at business as a metaphor for education many times. I think there are some ways it works okay. We can learn from the business community and certainly need to work closely with business partners. We have some shared interests in good education outcomes. I enjoy reading books from business and a whole variety of areas and applying principles I learn to my work as an educator, where appropriate.

But we have to be very careful with comparing education to the business model. Our mission should be to advance the human condition. Our measure of success as educators is changing lives and creating opportunities. And making our democracy stronger. In business, the bottom line is ultimately measured in dollars and cents. But you can't reduce a child's education to increased profits.

The business metaphor is especially dangerous considering the current political and policy landscape. There are many who would like to privatize education. Better schools, goes the thinking, would result from competition and the marketplace. Capitalism would do it's thing and education would be stronger for it. But that model has proven failed over and again. Learning is not a commodity.

I've also been guilty of referring to students as customers. When I've done this, it is making the point that we should provide good customer service. Our students are the end users of what we do, and we should carefully consider their experience and how school is working for them. 

But this comparison only works to a degree. The relationship between a business and a customer is transactional. The customer doesn't own much responsibility in the relationship. The customer pays for goods or services and expects the business to do the rest. 

But schools need to go beyond treating students like customers. We must make students partners in learning. We are not just delivering learning to students like a product. We must co-create learning with students if it is to be most effective. It requires a degree of pulling together and helping students to contribute to their own learning. 

Metaphors are generally helpful to try to understand the world in deeper and more meaningful ways. But as educators, we have to be careful about comparing what we do to what businesses do. Can we learn from business? Yes! But should schools entirely operate as a business model? I think not.

Question: What are your thoughts on schools as businesses? And students as customers? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

3 Classroom Tips for Stronger Digital Learning


More and more classrooms are gaining access to digital technology. And that’s a good thing. In a world that is increasingly reliant on digital tools, students need to have opportunities to learn with access to technology. Schools are adding Chromebooks, iPads, and other devices more than ever. Some are simply inviting students to bring their own devices (BYOD). But either way, access to devices is only growing in schools.

But the availability to devices doesn’t automatically result in more learning or better experiences for students or teachers. In fact, the addition of devices presents new challenges for educators to consider. When our school added Chromebooks for every student, we quickly learned we would need to address some new challenges. These obstacles can derail learning in classrooms where the potential pitfalls aren’t addressed or avoided.

If you are an educator who is fortunate enough to have access to digital devices for all your students to use, be ready to take steps to teach the procedures and routines that will help create success for using these tools in learning. It’s important to establish and maintain boundaries. And it’s also important to never make assumptions about what your students may or may not know about using the devices.

1. You can’t assume students are tech savvy just because they are digital natives.

It’s true that students in today’s classrooms are digital natives. They’ve grown up around technology and tend to have some skills that are helpful in navigating the digital world. However, it’s a mistake to think they are proficient in using any tool you might throw at them. For the most part, kids have used technology for social media or entertainment. Using technology for learning, productivity, or creativity might be new to them. So, when you plan for using a new tool in class, plan to spend some time orienting students to how it works.

Or, if you prefer for students learn the tool on their own, provide time for them to experiment with the tool and share out their learning to others in the class. It can be a good idea for students to “teach themselves” a digital tool. New tools and apps are being developed all the time. It’s great practice for students to be able to adapt to new tools and work on the intuitive thinking and problem solving required for “clicking around” and figuring it out. You might want to provide them with a list of tasks they should be able to do with the new tool. And it’s great for the teacher to model what to do when getting stuck. The ability to research solutions via Google or YouTube search can be very helpful.

2. Don’t just teach digital citizenship, embed digital citizenship.
It’s never a good idea to hand students devices without also supporting safe, responsible use. Many schools create their own digital citizenship curriculum or buy one to use with their students. There are also some excellent digital citizenship resources available for free online, from Google or from Common Sense Media for instance. Try to anticipate the problems your students might encounter in using the digital devices in your classroom. Be proactive and have discussions up front with your students about what is appropriate to share, how to judge validity of resources, how to respect content ownership and fair use, and how to report something that is threatening.

While it is important to teach digital citizenship up front, it’s also very important for teachers to monitor student use of technology and use teachable moments to address situations that may arise as students utilize tech. Often the most valuable lessons occur as opportunities arise to discuss relevant issues in authentic context. Digital citizenship should not just be a scheduled lesson. It should be part of everything we do related to the use of technology in the classroom. It’s something educators must model and discuss regularly. Moreover, it’s part of the bigger issue of developing good citizenship in the broadest sense. How are we helping students contribute as positive, productive members of communities online and in physical space?

3. Plan to manage distractions.

One of the most common challenges of implementing devices in the classroom is dealing with the potential distraction technology can present. While technology open up a whole new world of possibilities for learning, it also opens a world of possibilities for diversion away from classroom learning priorities. This prospect is very frightening for many teachers. How will I make sure my students aren’t wasting class time? How can I make sure students are watching content that is not appropriate for school? Will the presence of a screen take away from learning instead of accelerating learning?

Keep in mind distractions are nothing new in the classroom. Keeping students attention has always been a chief concern for teachers. Even in a class without devices, students can find a plethora of things to occupy their attention besides learning. The key to alleviate boredom is to stimulate curiosity and plan engaging lessons. Device distractions are no match for an amazing lesson! At least I think it pays to think like that.

Some schools also choose to purchase classroom monitoring software that allows teachers to view and even take control of student devices. This type of system typically allows teachers to monitor an entire classroom from the teacher’s computer. You may not have this type of software available, and I actually prefer not to utilize it. It’s better for the teacher to be able to move around the room and interact with students rather than being tethered to a computer monitoring students like Big Brother.

Here are some solid tips for managing distractions with no software required.

-Clearly communicate times when students should and should not be on devices.

-Clarify when it is okay to use earbuds and when earbuds should not be used.

-Set up the classroom so you can easily move around and behind students using devices. You need to be able to easily view student screens.

-Require students to only have one browser tab open at a time. This prevents switching tabs when the teacher is not watching to games or media that might be distracting.

-When transitioning from devices to whole group instruction or another activity, wait until you have everyone’s attention before you move on.

-Give specific instructions about which apps or sites should be used during a particular activity. Hold students accountable to use these tools only unless they ask permission to access another site.

These considerations are an essential part of establishing a strong culture of learning in the digital classroom. Other issues will also arise like caring for devices, dealing with tech questions, managing battery life, etc. The most important thing is to work with students to establish classroom expectations and revisit them consistently. It works best when teachers can develop a shared responsibility with students for using devices responsibly and productively. Just like any other classroom behavior, it’s not enough to proclaim a rule and never discuss it again. Students will need reminders and guidance to be successful.

Ultimately, the opportunity to develop digital learning skills is invaluable to students. Students will need to be able to successfully use devices for learning and productivity for the rest of their lives. Although there are challenges with implementing technology in the classroom, with the right approach, teachers can help students become strong digital learners.


Question: What other tips would you share about creating a safe, positive, and productive culture for digital learning? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I can't wait to see what you've got to add. Together we are stronger!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Not Data-Driven But Student-Driven And Future-Driven


I gave an assignment to one of the graduate classes I teach to consider a technology purchase a school has made recently. Was there a good return on the investment? Was the total cost of ownership considered? Was there a clear purpose for obtaining the technology in the first place? Students then explore these questions by talking with a principal or other decision-maker about the process of acquiring the new technology in their school.

One of my students shared about how their school had purchased a software program to help with a broad array of learning objectives. I am paraphrasing below the response she shared from the school leader she interviewed.  
We don't really spend much on technology. We purchased the software to help with mastery of content, but our data didn't show it was effective. We bought it to increase student achievement across the curriculum. It was fun, engaging, and relevant for students, but we make our spending choices based on how it impacts our data. We are data-driven.
Now I certainly realize there are limited resources in every school, and honestly this software sounds like test-prep to me, and there are far more valuable, authentic ways to use technology in my view. But I was also puzzled by the idea that a method or strategy could increase engagement, be fun and relevant, and yet if it doesn't show an measurable impact in data, it's not valuable or worthwhile. That seems to be the line of thinking.

We've spent a significant amount of money in our district on Chromebooks as part of our digital learning initiative. And I'm thankful for the support of our district to provide this learning tool for students. But there have been questions raised about how we know this digital transformation is resulting in learning gains. What data proves that this is working?

And I can understand when a school is spending a lot of money, we want to see evidence that it's money well-spent. But that evidence may not be quantifiable. I believe providing a Chromebook for students to use for learning is a necessary part of preparing students as learners for life in a world that is increasingly digital. But I don't think it's possible with any degree of validity or reliability to show direct links between this tool and a learning outcome.

What if we applied the same type of thinking to other aspects of school?

Can you show me that your school library has a measurable impact on student achievement?

Could you please show us that your textbook has a measurable impact on student achievement? 

What data can you present to demonstrate that music, art, career education, or athletics has a measurable impact on student achievement? 

We spend significantly on all of these in our district because we think they are incredibly important (the importance of the textbook might be up for debate). And we know they are important not because we have data measures that tell us so. But we do have plenty of evidence that demonstrates their impact. We know they are good for kids and good for learning.

When I hear the term data-driven, I admit it makes me cringe just a little. I always try to view learning through the lens of being a dad. I never want the complexity of my child's learning reduced to a number. It is dehumanizing. Is it inevitable in the current system? Yes, it probably is. College entrance emphasizes the ACT score for instance. But I know there are many brilliant students who are not accurately represented as learners based on an ACT score.

Instead of data-driven, shouldn't we first be student-driven. George Couros has written about this idea and shared it in his presentations. People are always more important than any metric or number. When we reduce a person's abilities to a number we risk putting limits on their potential and capabilities. NBA superstar Stephen Curry didn't allow the numbers to keep him from greatness. Coming out of college he was considered by scouts to be undersized with athleticism far below the NBA standard. He couldn't run as fast or jump as high as the typical elite athletes in the league. From a data-driven perspective, at best he would be a marginal contributor on an NBA team. He would be a role player.

But what the NBA scouts didn't account for was his commitment to excellence, his incredible work ethic, his passion and instincts for the game. He turned the numbers upside down. He used creativity and risk-taking to gain the upper hand on superior athletes. His success reminds me of this Jon Gordon quote:
The world will try to measure you by scores and numbers, but they'll never be able to measure the power of your desire and size of your heart. 
When we are student-driven, we make decisions that recognize a student has potential far beyond what the numbers might indicate. We don't make our decisions based on numbers alone. We make decisions based on good thinking that includes what we know about human potential and what students need to succeed in a complex, uncertain world.

So even if we can't quantify the impact of a digital device, that doesn't mean it isn't valuable to learning. Our world is increasingly digital and being an effective learner means being an effective digital learner too. Being student-driven also means being future-driven, especially in today's rapidly changing world. We are doing the right thing for our students when we do what's best for them in the long run, not just to raise a score in the short term.

Later this summer, I'm releasing my new book, Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive In An Unpredictable World? It will empower you to crush the status quo, create authentic learning, and unleash your passion to help students succeed in a time of unprecedented change. In hockey, the puck is traveling at speeds up to 100 mph. And that's why players say you don't skate where the puck is, you skate where it is going. The same is true for our students and schools. We must be student-driven and future-driven to create learning that will serve students well in our modern world. The puck is moving fast, and we have to help our students keep up.

In the coming weeks, I'll share more details about my book release and give my blog readers an in-depth preview. I've poured all my energy, effort, and enthusiasm into this project, and I'm excited to share it with you. It truly is a passion-project. And I think you'll love the message and want to add it to your professional library.

You might also want to check out this post from George Couros and this one from Lisa Westman both with strong ideas regarding being student-driven.

Question: What are your thoughts on being student-driven and future-driven? What role does data play? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Venting Doesn't Extinguish Anger, It Feeds It


It was a blast to join Jon Harper recently as a guest on his terrific podcast, My Bad. Of course, the show is all about owning a mistake you've made as an educator and reflecting on what you learned from it. It's a great concept because many of us working in schools think we need to be perfect. That's never going to happen. We just need to be authentic and striving to get better.

I shared about how I used to get so frustrated by students, parents, other teachers, administrators, etc. You name it. I got frustrated and let it be known. I didn't share my blaming and complaining far and wide, but with a small group of people it was common for me to just vent. And I thought that was perfectly healthy. It actually felt good. I looked forward to letting out all that frustration.

But I've learned that venting actually isn't helpful. In fact, it can cause more angry, aggressive behaviors. In his outstanding book, Originals, Adam Grant shares a behavioral study designed by psychologist Brad Bushman. It demonstrates how venting impacts our psyche.
Participants were asked to write an essay about whether they were against abortion or pro-choice. They then received some harsh written feedback from a peer with the opposite view, who rated their essays as disorganized, unoriginal, poorly written, unclear, unpersuasive, and low in quality, adding, "This is one of the worst essays I have read!"
The angry recipients were then randomly assigned to one of three responses, venting, distraction, or control. The members of the venting group were allowed to hit a punching bag as hard as they wanted for as long as they liked, while thinking about the jerk who criticized their essays and looking at his picture. The distraction group hit the punching bag but was instructed to think about becoming physically fit, and was shown a photo of someone exercising. In the control group, there was no punching bag; participants sat quietly for two minutes while the computer was being fixed. Which group would become most aggressive toward the peer who insulted them?
To find out, Bushman gave each of the groups the chance to blast their essay's critic with noise, letting them determine the volume and duration of the sonic blasts.
The venting group was the most aggressive. They slammed the critic with more intense noise, and held the button down longer, than the distraction and control groups. One participant got so angry after thinking about the insulting feedback that hitting the punching bad wasn't enough: he punched a hole in the wall of the lab.
Venting doesn't extinguish the flame of anger; it feeds it. When we vent our anger, we put the lead foot on the gas pedal of the go system, attacking the target who enraged us.
Working as an educator is a stressful job. There are many, many things we can choose to be frustrated about in a typical day. As a result, it is very tempting to vent to our friends, our colleagues, our spouse, or some other listening ear. But it's not a healthy response. It's better to do nothing than to vent.

But anger doesn't have to be harmful. Emotions are not good or bad inherently. They are only good or bad depending how we act on them. Anger can actually be a source of energy for taking positive action, solving problems, and making something better. Anger can motivate us to do something to improve a situation.

Blaming and complaining are completely ineffective. They just compound frustration and only have negative consequences, for us and others. Venting is blowing off steam without doing anything to correct the root problem.

Instead of venting, do something to create change.

But what about those situations you can't do anything about? There are some things that frustrate us that are completely out of our hands. We have no opportunity for influence. Now I would caution that these instances are rarer than most people perceive. We sometimes like to pass the buck and tell ourselves there is nothing we can do. Usually, there is some possible way to help or try to make something better. We just have to stop avoiding the things that frustrate us and step forward with solutions.

But if the situation is beyond us, it is still better to do nothing than to vent. 

Consider these questions when you are frustrated. What's bothering you? What would you like to do about it? What would be a helpful response? What's your next step? How can you be part of the solution?

I want to challenge all educators to stop venting and start doing. Be problem solvers. I'm trying to give up my venting ways. Complaining doesn't help me or anyone else in the long run. Let's all make it a point to give up on venting.

If you want to here my entire conversation with Jon, I've shared it with you below.


Question: How do you handle your frustrations? Are you ready to go beyond venting and help make the world a better place? Respond below or on Twitter or Facebook. I'd love to hear from you.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

We Want Students to Think 'HOW Am I Smart?' Not 'AM I Smart?'



In a recent post, I considered the importance of building on student strengths rather than a deficit-driven approach. When we help students understand their strengths and use them for learning, we show them they are valued for who they are. And we help them develop greater efficacy as a learner so they will want to learn more.

As I continue to reflect on this idea, I am reminded that we should never sort kids into smart or not smart. Even subtle decisions in the classroom can lead kids to think of themselves as not smart. And when a student's confidence suffers as a learner, then motivation is likely to suffer too. Instead, we want them to think, "How am I smart?" Every student has strengths as a learner.

And these strengths shouldn't be confined to just certain subjects. For instance, some students think they are only good at reading or writing, but don't recognize any strengths in math. I am suggesting that in every discipline, we teach students to identify their strengths and build on them.

So, even when working with a struggling writer, we can recognize that the student has a strength with imagination, spelling, or whatever. What is one area of writing that is stronger than the others? Identify that and build on it.

If a math student struggles with basic facts or number sense that gap is going to present challenges, but what mathematical skills do they have that we can reinforce? What is a way they can enter the problem based on a strength they have in their thinking? Build on that.

Students with highly specialized minds can be brilliant in certain areas and struggle mightily in other areas. When we recognize things that are familiar to them as strengths, we can use these things as a pathway to learn new skills. We start with the familiar and move to the unfamiliar. We all like to learn that way.

All students want to feel like learning has value, and they have a good chance of success. It leads to more engagement. In fact, all performance is built on strengths. That doesn't mean students shouldn't try something new or shouldn't be pushed out of their comfort zone. But we must first start with strengths and use that to lead into more challenging areas.

Question: What ideas do you have for identifying student strengths? How do we do this? I want to hear from you. Share a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Do Something Today to Move in the Direction of Your Dreams



Walt Disney was fired by his newspaper editor because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." 

Reportedly, Albert Einstein was told as a child, "You will never amount to anything!"

Beethoven's music was not initially accepted by critics and one music teacher said, "as a composer, he is hopeless."

You've heard stories like these of famous failures. We see the incredible achievements of their lives, but we often forget the struggles they most definitely faced. We all face struggles. Most every person can relate to withstanding a biting critique or unfair assessment. 

And when we hear these voices expressing doubts about us, our abilities, and even our intentions, it can cause us to doubt ourselves, our worth, and our purpose in this world.

But often the voice that is most damaging to our future is the voice within us. It's our own shadow. We are often our own worst critics. Our internal voice says play it safe, don't take any chances, just stay comfortable.

Our shadow makes us hesitate. It generates fear in us that is paralyzing. We retreat to the familiar, the routine, the mundane.

But don't let your shadow steal your dream!

If you have a dream, don't put it off. If you feel a push to do something, make it happen. As Henry David Thoreau urged, "advance confidently in the direction of your dreams." Don't wait.

The shadow's push-back against your dreams will not relent unless you push-through and just go for it. Make something happen.

Over a year ago, I took the first step toward a dream I have of writing a book for educators. I wanted to write a book that would make a difference for classrooms and schools. I started. But then my own voice of discouragement slowed my progress. I was too busy (so I thought). My ideas were lacking (so I thought). I hesitated.

But I am determined to push through. I am determined to see this dream realized. Before I return to school in August, my new book will be published. My hope is that it will challenge and inspire educators to crush the status-quo so we can better prepare students for an unpredictable world. 


Cheesy photo to keep me focused!


I want to use my effort, enthusiasm, and experiences to strengthen our profession. I want to see stronger schools. I want to see more excitement for learning than ever before. I want to see students and teachers engaged and empowered by their school experience. That is my dream.

And I want the same for you. I want to see your talents and passions used to reach for your dreams. There will never be a perfect time. Your shadow always wants you to hesitate. Don't listen to your internal critic. Do something today to move in the direction of your dreams.

A body in motion tends to stay in motion. And a body at rest tends to stay at rest. If you are going to fulfill your purpose in life, you have to step forward in faith. You have to take risks. You can't play it safe. You have to take that first step now. 

As I make progress on finishing the book, I'll share some updates here on my blog. I'll give you a preview of the book and detailed plans for release. And I'll also ask for your help in sharing the news in your circles. 

Press on toward your dreams! 

Question: What are you going to do this summer to move in the direction of your dreams? I want to hear from you. Share your story of overcoming your shadow. Let's unleash our purpose and potential together. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Deeper Learning Is By Discovery, Not Delivery


We've been talking about Bloom's Taxonomy and critical thinking for as long as I've been an educator. And yet we still have work to do to get kids cognitively engaged in classrooms. We can't seem to shake the traditional methods that turn education into a delivery system, rather than a powerful engine of discovery and inquiry.

So much of the conventional wisdom is wrong. For instance, many teachers believe we should teach the basics and then if we have time, include opportunities for critical thinking. Our assessments are often organized that way. Most of the items will be recall/knowledge level questions with one or two performance events or critical thinking tasks at the end. It seems like critical thinking is always an after thought.

In my first year of teaching, I remember one of my mentors gave me this advice, "Make them (the students) think." And that's exactly what we need to do. We need to design learning that involves students in making meaning, not just accepting information. If we want students to get deeper understanding and enjoy learning, that is what we must do.

Here are some of the differences in approaching education as a delivery system vs. a discovery system.

Delivery

1. Students are expected to accept information (textbook, lecture, study packet, notes, etc).

2. Learning is impersonal and disconnected. 

3. Understanding is limited to what was taught.

4. The teacher is doing much of the thinking and explaining.

5. Learning is measured by right and wrong answers.

6. The teacher mostly decides the direction of learning.

7. Teaches step-by-step problem solving (at best).

8. Relies on compliance, following instructions, rules.

9. Passive, receiving, accepting, memorizing type of learning.


Discovery

1. Students are making meaning of information (thinking critically and creatively).

2. It connects to the learner's interest, aptitude, experience, and even their personality.

3. Understanding often results in new ideas.

4. The student is forced to assume more cognitive load. 

5. Learning is measured by the quality of your thinking (and ultimately quality thinking will result in right answers).

6. The students' questions help determine the direction of the learning.

7. Teaches students to activate their reasoning skills to solve problems.

8. Relies on curiosity, interests, and exploration.

9. Active, reasoning, questioning, connecting, synthesizing type of learning.

There are numerous advantages to discovery learning. Students will remember more of the facts and fundamentals of the discipline when they learn this way. They will have more context to connect ideas and make learning stick. They will also develop skills as independent learners, something that will serve them well their whole life.

And it doesn't have to be complicated. Although I'm a big fan of project-based learning, we can make students think in simple ways without an extended project. Sometimes the simplest teacher moves are the most effective. Try this: Wait longer after you ask a question before you accept a student answer. Then, wait longer after the student responds to the question before you say anything. Instead of saying the answer is right or wrong, ask, "And why do you think that?" 

This summer I challenge you to think about how a lesson could be better next year. How could you improve your lesson design so that learning becomes more discovery and less delivery?

Question: What tips would you share for making students think? How do you achieve cognitive engagement? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. Your suggestions are like gold!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Are You Strengths-Based Or Deficit-Driven?


An important part of being an excellent teacher is attempting to create conditions that cause all kids to want to learn more. If we can consistently develop each student's desire to know, they will eventually become unstoppable learners. We can never assume the motivation and engagement of students is a fixed characteristic. We should never assume some students are just naturally curious and others are not. Instead, we should always be striving to unleash the natural curiosity and wonder in every learner.

One reason some students withhold effort and engagement is a feeling that they will not be successful as a learner. When students don't believe in their own ability to learn, they tend to avoid learning. School has a way of sorting students into smart/not-smart, learners/non-learners, capable/not-capable. At least, that's how a number of students feel. 

Unfortunately, for too many students, school has felt like a place where they are constantly reminded of what they aren't good at. And that needs to change if we hope to create learning environments where all students become curious, enthusiastic, and engaged learners.

What if every educator in your school committed to make learning a strengths-based endeavor? What kind of place would your school be? Talk with your team about the belief statements I shared below. How can these translate into a different approach to learning for your school?    

1. Every student has unique gifts and talents as a learner.

2. Students who are confident learners will learn more. They will want to learn more.

3. Each student needs to feel like he/she can be successful.

4. Educators should recognize different aptitudes and adjust accordingly. One-size-fits-all doesn't work.

5. Learning is build on strengths and not deficits. Are you reminding students more of their assets or their liabilities?

6. We should focus on what a child can do, instead of what he/she cannot do.




7. Teachers should design learning experiences that allow students to use strengths to make meaning. Allow students to enter the problem in a way that is familiar and go from there.

8. It's impossible to develop an effective learning experience if we treat a classroom full of students like they all have the same strengths.

9. Success breeds success. So if students have success with a task in their strength area, they are more likely to take on a task that isn't in their strength area.

10. We all give and withhold effort depending on our own feelings of talent, skill and efficacy.

11. Seek to understand how students learn best, and help students understand how they learn best.

When we help students find their strengths and use them for learning, we show them they are valued for who they are. Their confidence soars. And with increased confidence, students will want to learn more.

Questions: How are you building on students' strengths as learners? What needs to change to make school more personalized to account for different learning strengths? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Get Up, Show Up, Never Give Up



Just last week we held commencement for the graduates of the Bolivar High School Class of 2017. I always like to provide a few words of encouragement for the graduates. But I also like to keep my remarks brief. I try to follow the public speaking advice of President Franklin Roosevelt who said, "Be sincere, be brief, and be seated." My message this year was to always Get Up, Show Up, and Never Give Up! 
_________________

Something curious happens every year at Bolivar HS. There’s an outbreak of a mysterious illness. It’s symptoms include loss of energy, excessive sleep, lack of motivation, procrastination, apathy toward school work, excessive tardies, and in the worst cases truancy.

I see the affects of this peculiar illness and hear about it from students, teachers, and even parents. They say things like, “Dr. Geurin, I think maybe Garrett is suffering from a bad case of senioritis.” Yes, it's the dreaded senioritis.

Class of 2017, by a show of hands, how many of you have felt the affects of senioritis this year?

Now here’s the real question, "Parents and teachers, how many of you have felt the affects of senioritis this year?"

It’s often thought the only cure for this terrible affliction is graduation. And here we are today. Without a doubt, graduation does greatly relieve the symptoms. But I’ve found there are often times in life where symptoms arise that are a lot like ‘senioritis.’ There are times you’re tired, you’re done, you feel like you just don’t care. You don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning. 

We’ve all experienced that. So if graduation doesn’t cure your ‘senioritis’ permanently, here are a few ideas for overcoming it if you have an unfortunate relapse in the future. Here are three tips to overcome senioritis - Get Up, Show Up, and Never Give Up!

1. Get up 

Attack each day with enthusiasm. Bring great energy, excitement, and passion to whatever you do. A perfect example from the Class of 2017 is Doug. He never failed to bring a ton of energy and excitement to BHS. Okay, so a few times there was a little TOO much energy from Doug. Maybe that had something to do with that Good Morning ringtone we heard about a million times.

2. Show up!

Show up each day with a great attitude in every situation. An important part of success is being fully present. It's being consistent. People can count on you. It’s showing up every day. Cal Ripken, Jr. did it in baseball. He played in 2,632 consecutive MLB games. He was nicknamed The Iron Man. But BHS has it’s own Iron Man. One member of the class of 2017 has gone from Kindergarten thru his Senior year with missing a single day of school. That is an amazing feat. I’d like for Jose Hernandez to stand so we can give him a hand for this incredible accomplishment.

3. Never Give Up

Here you are today. You didn’t give up. Senioritis may have tried to bring you down, but you didn’t let it get the best of you. And even when you didn’t win every time, like at float building for instance, new opportunities always came along. You are Polk County grinders. You are Liberators. You know how to take on a challenge. Success is NOT about never getting knocked down. It’s about getting back up every time.

So when ‘senioritis’ strikes again in the future, know that you are well-prepared to fight it off. You know how to persevere and finish strong. And remember you’re not alone. You’re part of a very important and select group of people, the Bolivar HS Class of 2017. You’ve left a strong legacy here!

Part of that legacy is incredible achievement. The Class of 2017 has earned so far, nearly $2.9 million dollars in scholarships. That sets a new record topping the previous mark by over $600,000.

Class of 2017, I am very proud of you and your accomplishments and it’s been truly an honor to know you and be a part of your high school years. I wish you the best. I believe in you. I know you’ll do great things. You'll be world changers! God bless you all!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

5 Myths of Digital Leadership


The use of technology in schools continues to rise each year. By 2019, spending for education technology is expected to be more than $55 billion. More and more schools are utilizing devices as part of routine, daily learning. 

And this shift is happening for good reason. The world is becoming increasingly digital, and students will need skills that involve using technology to create, connect, and learn. A recent article claimed that just having the word 'digital' listed on your resume improved your chances of landing the job.

As technology becomes even more pervasive in schools, the need for effective digital leadership will increase as well. Even now, I believe it's impossible to be an effective leader unless you are also an effective digital leader. All educators need skills for using digital tools to support and transform learning.

But there are also a number of myths about digital leadership I want to dispel. There are often misunderstandings about what it means to be a digital leader.

1. Digital leaders are tech geeks.

You don't have to be a technology geek to be an effective digital leader. It's great if you have strong digital skills or love technology, but it's more important to be an expert about learning. The most important thing is the willingness to learn more about technology. It's great if you're a tech geek, but it's essential to be a learning geek. And, it's critical to recognize the importance of technology to help you and your students leverage skills. 

Every digital leader should strive to learn more about using tech and strive to make that learning visible. I'm often considered a tech-forward principal, but I learn something new every day. It's not as important to have all the technical knowledge as it is to model the mindset of a constant learner.

2. Digital leaders are always administrators.

It's very important for administrators to be digital leaders, but they aren't the only ones in the school who can do the job. We need leadership from every corner of the school. It takes collective leadership to really support the culture of digital learning that is needed in schools. Change is hard, and there are often leaders in the school besides the administrator who can help champion the cause of using technology for learning.

3. Digital leaders force everyone in their schools to use technology.

Effective digital leaders don't look for technology to be used at every turn. They don't force technology on people. Instead, they constantly model, teach, and inspire. They start with why it's important to for students to use technology, and then they challenge people to grow. They don't want technology being used just for the sake of technology. They want to see digital tools being used when it makes sense to use them and when it supports learning. They encourage teachers to use digital tools in ways that transform learning.

Every educator is at a different place with their skills and their mindset about technology. Digital leaders honor teachers as learners and support them wherever they are in their learning journey. Even when growth is slow, if the educator is growing, that is success.

4. Digital leaders love everything about technology.

Not true. Digital leaders can fully see the importance and relevance of technology and still not love everything about technology. Sometimes technology is a pain. It hovers somewhere between being a blessing and a burden. And there are some parts of technology we don't have to embrace. No one likes it when technology doesn't work. Devices can be a huge distraction. There are all sorts of dangers online. People get addicted to the internet. And the list goes on. Some of these challenges work directly against learning.

But clearly there are incredible benefits to technology too. Digital leaders work tirelessly to overcome the pitfalls of technology use to help make sure teachers and students have what they need to leverage these tools for productive use. There isn't a single challenge I've seen that can't be overcome with inspired leadership and careful planning.

5. Digital leaders spend the whole day tweeting.

Completely false. There's no question that digital leaders tend to be connected leaders and one of the best ways to connect is through Twitter. In fact, Twitter has been one of the best tools for professional learning I've ever encountered, and it has been an invaluable resource in my own digital leadership, and in my leadership overall.

But effective digital leaders are busy each day supporting learning in their schools in hundreds of face to face interactions. Not everything that happens in a school is digital, nor should it be. Our goal in our school as we transitioned to a device for every learner was to improve the quality of our conversations at the same time. We want better learning with digital tools, while at the same time increasing the quantity and quality of discussions happening in classrooms.

Question: What other myths or misunderstandings do you see about digital leadership? What are the biggest challenges digital leaders face? I want to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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. 



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