Sunday, December 10, 2017

Another Thing High Schools Might Learn From Elementary Schools

I completely agree with the tweet below from Jennifer Hogan. High schools can learn from elementary schools. And every level of education should stoke the fire and cultivate curiosity in learning. It's important for every classroom to inspire kids to want to learn more.

I truly believe that regardless of what level we teach, we should also strive to learn from each other. When we share our knowledge and experience across content areas or with other grade levels, it just makes us all stronger.

The tweet also reminded me of another way high schools might learn from elementary schools.

I'm always amazed when I have the opportunity to visit elementary classrooms. I observe keenly and enjoy seeing different strategies and methods that lead to more learning in that context. I often see things that would be beneficial in the typical high school classroom, too. 

All the way down to primary school classrooms, I have observed students taking responsibility, working collaboratively, and self-managing in various structures. The teacher is often working with a small group of students while other learning activities are happening all around the classroom.

I've heard teachers at the high school level make statements that seem to reject this type of learning. 

"Freshmen can't handle working in groups."

"Projects don't work for my students."

"I would like to do more collaborative things, but I have 30 kids in my class. It's just not possible."

"If I'm working with a small group of students, how will I know what the others are doing?"

All of these statements have an element of truth. It can be challenging to do these things, at any grade level. But the statements are also extremely self-limiting. These statements become self-imposed limits, probably based on an experience that wasn't positive, "I tried that. It didn't work for me. Case closed."

Is it possible for projects, collaboration, and small group instruction to be effective at the high school level? Of course! I've seen high school classes thriving with these methods. And it makes no sense developmentally that even much younger students can handle self-directed methods while older students cannot.

So why do teachers tend to revert to more teacher-centric approaches in high school? It's likely because of the efficiency, control, and structure that is provided through direct instruction. It's partly because it's what's comfortable, and perhaps all they've ever known. 

By the way, direct instruction is not bad. It can be an effective and necessary method, but it shouldn't be the only way students learn.

There should also be opportunities for more self-directed, student empowered methods also. We must provide students opportunities to develop agency, ownership, and social learning abilities.

So what does it take to have success with this type of learning?


It's the same thing that makes teachers want to use direct instruction. Every teacher knows that a productive learning environment is going to have structure. And it feels easier to do in a direct-instruction, teacher-centered classroom. And maybe it is easier to do. But that doesn't make it better.

In the classes that succeed with more collaborative, student-centered approaches, teachers must clearly communicate the structure that will be used. There must be boundaries. The expectations must be communicated consistently and revisited regularly.

Whether it's an elementary classroom or high school classroom, it takes structure to make any learning strategy successful. We are not talking about anarchy in the classroom here.

However, it will take willpower and determination on the part of the teacher to push through some of the struggles that may happen as students learn the structure. But as the teacher works with students to clarify expectations and provides opportunities for practice and reflection, students will learn to have more independence and exhibit a higher level of responsibility.

It's not that the students can't do it. Don't impose your limits on a classroom of kids. Don't diminish their capabilities. You are choosing not to pursue success when you embrace disempowering thoughts. You won't have success with any method if you don't believe in it and your kids' ability to succeed with it.

It's just that you must teach them to do it. You must provide accountability as needed. You must coach them. You have to reflect with them. You have to provide consequences when needed. You have to bring so much passion to the space that students know you're not going to settle for less than their best.

With your guidance and creativity, you can help your students do amazing things, regardless of the grade level you're teaching.

Is there a misconception that student-empowerment means not having structure in the classroom? I wonder about that. Share your thoughts below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

5 Ways to Lend Your Strength to Students

I'm interested in how educators can help students develop resilience and problem solving. On the one hand, students need to develop independence and healthy coping. On the other hand, caring adults need to provide appropriate support.

After all, we have more wisdom, life experience, and emotional support than most students. You never know what they are facing at home. You never know the battles they are fighting on the inside. Life can be tough.

It's not uncommon to see difficult behaviors surfacing as a result of what a kid is dealing with on the inside. Kids don't need more judgment, harshness, or anger in their lives. What they really need is for the caring adults in their life to lend them some strength to carry on, to help them get to a place where they can be stronger on their own.

Remember, how you treat your students says far more about you than it says about them. No matter how they act or what they say, you have the opportunity to speak encouragement and hope into their day.

Here are five ways to offer your strength and dignity to a student who is struggling. It's all about lifting them up and helping them stand on their own.

1. Focus on who students are becoming, not just who they are right now.

Every kid needs someone to believe in them, to advocate for them, to champion for them. You never know who this child might become some day. He or she has great value and worth, and you can help shine a light on it.

2. Show acceptance even when you can't show approval of the behavior.

Students are going to make harmful decisions. But don't make it all about you. Their job is not to please you. We want them to be better people, not just compliant students. So show them you care for them even when you have to correct them. 

3. Never give up on any student. Little miracles happen every day.

Kids who are hurting the most often cry out for love in the most harmful ways. It can be easy to give up on them. Sometimes it seems impossible. But you can be a mother's best hope. You know she wants to see her child succeed. Say, "You can do this! This is important. I believe in you."

4. Value people over performance.

Your value as a person should not be based on successes or failures, wins or losses, how you look, the size of your bank account, who your friends are, or even how much you accomplish today. We need to treat every person will great care and concern simply because they are worthy of all the human dignity we can offer. 

5. Offer a quiet voice, an open mind, and a patient response. 

When you give a student your full attention in the moment, you are giving a valuable gift. Just listen. Don't react. Don't try to solve the problem. Just listen and encourage. Be patient. What is making us think we have more important things to do? I am writing this for me as much as anyone. I can be terribly distracted. I want to do better.

If we build great relationships with kids and combine that with high expectations and support, we can help students be stronger and find a new path.

Are you in a place to lend your strength to a student? What gifts can you offer to make them stronger? Share a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

7 Thoughts on Being a Passionate Educator


Educators should be the most excited people on the planet for kids and learning. Your passion is needed in your school. Imagine what your school would be like if every person brought great passion every day.

A passionate, caring educator makes all the difference. When I think about the teachers in my life who made the greatest impact on me, they were passionate. They had high expectations and they expected success. They were deeply caring. They helped me be more than I thought I could be.

Here are 7 thoughts you might consider about being a passionate educator:

1. Passion is developed, not discovered.

You can't expect passion to settle on you like a fog. It's not just about finding something you like to do. For most people, you don't just wake up one day and suddenly think, "Eureka! I've found my passion!" Passion and commitment feed each other. You won't generate maximum passion without maximum effort to become everything you can be. As you continue growing and giving, your passion will also grow. And you will make a greater impact on the world around you. 

2. You are responsible for nurturing and growing your passion.

It's never helpful to blame your circumstances for your lack of passion. I realize there are immense challenges you face as an educator. We can have personal issues that pile up. It's easy to blame something outside of us for squelching passion. But the truth is there are educators who remain passionate in the worst possible situations. And there are also educators in thriving environments with tremendous support, who are lacking passion nonetheless. Don't allow your passion to be a victim of anything outside of you.

3. Your students deserve a passionate teacher.

Our kids' futures are too important to have educators in their lives who are just going through the motions. Every day counts. And your kids are counting on you. Great teachers bring so much passion and persistence to the classroom the kids know this person is not gonna settle for less than my best. Your students need you to bring your best to help them be their best. Bring it!

4. When teachers are more passionate about learning, students will be more passionate too.

Great teachers ignite the passion to learn. Your passion and commitment becomes contagious. Your energy and enthusiasm will spill over into the whole classroom. If your students master every standard without discovering joy and passion in learning, is that success? I don't think it is. You want to be so passionate about teaching and learning that your students look at you and think, "I want to do that when I grow up! That's a fun job! Teachers make a huge difference in people's lives."

5. Passion is pouring yourself into something you care deeply about. 

It's important to always remember your 'why' and focus on making a difference. When it gets really hard and you want to quit, remember why you started. Remember your purpose. Remind yourself what kind of teacher you set out to be when you began. You wanted to be a difference maker. I'm guessing you didn't want to just be average or mediocre. You wanted to be great. And you can be great! Let your passion lead you to greatness!

6. Passion will lead to greater significance and meaning in your life.

It's living beyond yourself and using your talents and abilities in a way that impacts a greater good. You were created with gifts that make you great. When you use these gifts to the fullest, you will find the greatest significance and meaning. You'll have more energy. You'll jump out of bed in the morning to do the thing you were meant to do. And no one will have to make you do it. You will do more than expected. Passion and commitment will always surpass accountability and compliance.

7. The greater your passion, the smaller your problems.

Ever talk to educators who think the solution to every problem is better kids and better parents? Some people can't resist the urge to blame and complain. They can't fully realize their passion because they think, "If only..." If only something outside of me would change, I could be great. Too many educators are choosing dis-empowering thoughts. They are choosing to believe things can't change. They are thinking the problems are too big. But that's just not true. We must challenge our beliefs about what is possible. We can create schools that work for kids. We can have powerful learning that is irresistible. We can overcome the obstacles. When you are passionate and you focus your energy on solutions, anything is possible. 

Who is responsible for your passion? I hope it's you. Let me know what you think. Leave me a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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