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. 



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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

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


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

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



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

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

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




This activity was beneficial on several levels. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Everyone seemed to love it. 

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

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



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

Friday, March 3, 2017

Hottest Posts Everyone's Reading this Winter

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

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

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

15 Reasons #EdTech Is Valuable Beyond Student Achievement



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 Reasons #EdTech is Valuable Beyond Student Achievement

1. Essential to learning in a modern world.

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

2. Encourages lifelong learning.

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

3. Connects students and schools with the outside world.

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

4. Reflects how work gets done outside of schools.

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

5. Allows for practicing digital citizenship.

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

6. Important for teaching digital literacy.

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

7. Important for practicing the 4 C's.

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

8. Kids like it.

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

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

10. Improves student engagement

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

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

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

12. Allows new ways to differentiate learning.

Technology is great for meeting individual learning needs. 

13. It can personalize learning.

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

14. It creates efficiency.

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

15. It supports curiosity.

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

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

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

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