Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Leading Education: 10 Powerful Twitter Posts from 2015

Photo by Got CreditCC BY 2.0

Educators are a powerful force on Twitter. The learning and sharing is outstanding. Here's a look back at 10 powerful tweets from 2015. These thought leaders always challenge and inspire.

1. Todd Whitaker flips boring professional development on its ear. When educators learn, it should also inspire more engagement and excitement about teaching and learning.

2. An earlier image described what kids should do with technology, but how does that apply to leaders? It's not about the tools, but how the tools support enduring goals of connecting, leading, and learning.

3. Beth creates and shares many beautiful and inspiring images. We should always be reminded of the power of our words on students. We should always aim to encourage and lift up.

4. This encouraging Tweet from Sylvia Duckworth honors the journey of each individual towards tech greatness. I really enjoy the creativity and visual brilliance of Sylvia's sketchnotes. Great ideas!

5. Every teacher can relate to this meme. If only our students could understand. We all enjoy Twitter humor to brighten the day.

6. 2015 was a big year for Google Classroom, and Alice Keeler is a guru on the subject. Her blog is packed with tips and tricks for getting the most out of Google in the classroom.

7. This post had a simple but profound message. What do students want to hear from teachers? Great advice for making interactions with students more meaningful. 

8. Tech and teaching rock star Vicki Davis shared this image. It's a great menu of options for students to reflect on learning.

9. This chart shared by Derek McCoy extends the classic KWL chart to take thinking deeper.

10. Warning: Shameless plug alert. Yes, I included one of my Tweets in this list. I'm not sure the origin of this brilliant and widely-shared image, but it captured my imagination. Adaptable learning IS the skill of the future.

Bonus: If you want to make some noise on Twitter, just tweet that school is closed. My daughter Emma would love to have that power.

Question: Which of these Tweets is your favorite? Or, do you have an awesome Tweet of your own to share? Leave a comment or share on Twitter and Facebook

Monday, December 28, 2015

Leading Education: 10 Amazing Blog Posts From 2015

As the new year approaches, it's a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and to look forward to what lies ahead. So here is a collection of outstanding posts from 2015. It's an exciting time to be an educator. Innovation, creativity, and growth mindset continue to be important themes. These 10 posts are certain to give more clarity to your work as an educator as we head into the new year.

1. MindshiftKQED - Sir Ken Robinson: Creativity Is In Everything, Especially Teaching. 

Ken Robinson's newest book, Creative Schoolswas published in April. This excellent post highlights a few of the main points from the book. Creativity is a process of having original ideas that have value. It's about fresh thinking. Creativity is not the opposite of discipline and control. It's not a linear process, but a passion for discovery and learning.  

Sir Ken Robinson: Creativity Is In Everything, Especially Teaching

2. Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Educator - The Teacher Is Not The Most Important Factor When It Comes To Learning

Conventional thinking is that the teacher has the greatest impact on student learning. Although teachers make an impact, Lisa Nielsen exposes the myths taking this thinking to far. She explains that the student is still the most important factor in learning, and if we would design learning with that in mind, we could make incredible progress in education. The questions below help to illustrate the point.

If the answer to any of the below questions is "no," even a great teacher will find their job difficult.

  1. Does the students care about the topic?
  2. Does the student want to learn the topic?
  3. Is the teacher's style compatible with how the student learns best?
  4. Is the student developmentally ready to learn the topic?
  5. Is the student fluent in the language of the topic that is being taught?
  6. Does the student live with his or her parents?
  7. Does the student live above the poverty line?
  8. Is the student healthy?

Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Educator: The Teacher Is Not The Most Important Factor When It Comes To Learning

3. TeachThought - 7 Strategies to Help Students Ask Great Questions

This post was part two of the TeachThought feature on questioning as a strategy for learning. 

7 Strategies To Help Students Ask Great Questions

4. A.J. Juliani - Technology Can Transform Education, But Not Without People

As 18,000 educators were descending on Philadelphia for ISTE 2015, A.J. Juliani published this fantastic piece. He writes about the connections with people that are possible now as a result of technology, and that is the most important thing. It's not about the tools available themselves, but how they allow us to connect, build, and grow. 

Technology can transform education, but not without people #ISTE2015 - A.J. JULIANI

5. Classroom Q & A with Larry Ferlazzo - Response: Classroom Strategies to Foster a Growth Mindset

Growth mindset continued to be a major topic of discussion in 2015. Larry Ferlazzo published this piece with contributions from growth mindset guru Carol Dweck and a number of reader comments. Dweck gives three things you can do right away in the classroom to influence student mindsets. There is also a great video with a student reflecting and challenges and mistakes. 

Response: Classroom Strategies to Foster a Growth Mindset

6. Edutopia - The 8 Minutes That Matter Most

English teacher Brian Sztabnik addresses the most important part of lesson planning, the endings and beginnings. It's so important to create suspense and capture your students interest to keep curiosity and learning at a high level, even beyond the class period. You'll want to try the four strategies for beginning a lesson and four strategies for ending. Great stuff! 

The 8 Minutes That Matter Most

7. Bethany Hill - The Time is NOW to Innovate!

When is the right time to innovate? Right now of course! Innovation has been one of the hottest topics of 2015. And the Innovators Mindset by George Couros has fueled the discussion. In this blog post, Beth Hill reflects on how to start the discussion in your school. She reminds us we have to view innovation as a mindset. When we do, we can begin to innovate in every opportunity we have in our school.

The Time is NOW to Innovate!

8. Aaron Hogan - 5 Ways To Spread Optimism in Times of Change

It's not uncommon to encounter resistance to change, but how can we turn negative comments into opportunities for positive growth? Aaron Hogan details five ways to influence the person who is set on responding to every idea with "yeah but" phrases. Responding with optimism is essential for an effective leader.

5 Ways To Spread Optimism in Times of Change - Leading, Learning, Questioning

9. David Geurin - What If Schools Were More Like Google and Starbucks

Warning: Shameless plug alert! Yes, at the risk of self-promotion, I will include one of the top posts from my blog in 2015. But I must credit Eric Sheninger for his inspiration. After spending a day learning with him in Kansas City, I just needed to explore some of the ideas a little further. Can you imagine if we took lessons from some of the most forward thinking companies and applied them to education? Well, that's what I describe in this post.

@DavidGeurin Blog

10. We Are Teachers - The Emojis of Teaching

Perhaps one of the most fun pieces of 2015, this post looks at how emojis can be used to describe the teacher experience, both the ups and the downs of the profession. Every educator will get a good laugh out of this post, and you'll be able to relate I promise.  

WeAreTeachers: What These 34 Emojis Really Mean to Teachers

Question: What are some of your favorite blog posts from 2015? Share a link in the comment section or give a shout out to your favorite blogger on Twitter or Facebook.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Schools Should Never Confuse Excellence and Success

The problem with success is that it usually involves comparison to others. How do I measure up? Did I win? Was I the best? Was I the smartest? When individuals, teams, or schools are focused on success, anything less than first place is disappointing. Setbacks and failures can be devastating.    

In contrast, excellence is a habit of mind. It's about being the best we can be. Excellence is giving your best effort, maximizing your talents and gifts, and reaching for your highest potential. When you seek excellence, you realize failures and successes are inevitable along the way. 

Even when you seek success, you may still find failure. But when you seek excellence, success usually finds you.

10 Thoughts on Success vs. Excellence

1. Positive culture and motivation are harmed when schools focus on success. We should take success and failure in stride and aim for excellence. Even when we fall short of the expectations of others, we can still demonstrate excellence daily.

2. It's too bad that excellent things happening in a school might be overshadowed by test scores, or other measures, that weren't as successful compared to a neighboring school or district.

3. Some of the best work happening in schools is overlooked. Quiet excellence needs to be recognized and celebrated too. 

4. Often the school or teacher that is celebrated for "success" enjoyed a distinct advantage from the start. They started at third base, but everyone thinks they hit a home run.

5. Schools seeking success play the testing game. They take actions that are not really best for student learning, hoping they might result in higher test scores. Test prep and teaching to the test are unfortunate examples of this.

6. When teachers compare themselves to others, it invites either despair or pride. The despairing teacher: "I can never be as well-liked by the students as so-and-so." The prideful teacher: "I am so glad I don't have classroom management problems like so-and-so." Excellence isn't about comparison.

7. Educators motivated by success are often seeking to elevate their own status, even climbing over the backs of others.. 

8. Educators motivated by excellence value others and are happy when others are successful. 

9. In Missouri, our state department of education has a goal, Top 10 by 20. The catchy slogan means Missouri will be one of the top 10 states for education in the nation by 2020. The idea of creating a statewide vision for improvement is a good one. But does this goal focus on success or excellence? Does this goal rely on comparison to others? 

10. To be excellent, we must focus on the actions, attitudes, and commitments that lead to excellence. As Albert Einstein noted, "Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." Creating value for self and others is excellence.

Question: Are schools too focused on success over excellence? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Teacher's Christmas Wish

As the carol reminds us, "It's the most wonderful time of the year." We especially know how magical Christmas can be for kids. It's supposed to be a time filled with joy and happiness for all.  

But for many students, and some teachers too, the holidays are stressful and difficult. The hardships of life seem magnified around the holidays. In our school, two families were suddenly faced with heartbreaking personal loss just before the break.

So as we gather with our families to rejoice and be thankful, I know that teachers in our community and all over the world will also be thinking of a student, a family, or a fellow teacher, who might be suffering during the holiday season. 

Teachers have generous and caring hearts. I can just imagine that in the midst of the holiday bustle, a teacher is thinking of her students, lifting them up in prayer. 

It's a teacher's Christmas wish.

That she will have love and care during the holidays and all through the year.

That he will have a warm bed, food to eat, and someone to keep him safe.

That she won't be afraid.

That he won't feel lonely.

That someone will pick them up, dust them off, and wipe their tears.

That there will be something under the tree.

That there will be peace at home.

That there will be loving hugs.

And that after the holidays are over, all of the students will return to school with good memories of Christmas, feeling supported and ready to learn.

It's a teacher's Christmas wish.

Question: How are you mindful of your students during this season? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Stay Out of the Social Media Madness

"Stay out of the social media madness!"

That was a comment I received on a recent survey asking teachers for feedback on how I'm doing as building principal. I think it's always good to ask for feedback, but you have to be willing to accept the responses, whatever they are.

And every response is a great opportunity for reflection. It's a starting place for understanding. It makes me curious to know where individuals are coming from and how I can serve better. 

So how is my use, and promotion, of social media bumping into something for this person?

I'm not exactly sure. Maybe they only see the negatives of social media. Maybe they think I'm self-promoting. Or distracted. Or have my priorities out of line. Or maybe I've let this person down in some other area and this is just where it's directed?

It makes me wonder if I've fallen short in sharing the positives of social media? How it can be used to build community, discuss ideas, celebrate learning, and tell the story of our school. That there are new and different ways to use social media, ways that might be positive and productive.

So I am having an honest dialogue with myself, "Have there been negatives to my social media involvement?"


The answer is yes. There have been negatives. Social media does have pitfalls. I've felt it pull me too far in at times. There are dangers that must be avoided. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

But I've worked on not letting it pull me in too far. I've set boundaries for my workflow. Family time is family time.

So for me, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I feel good about what I contribute and the connections I make using social media. I can be proud of that.

But I also realize Twitter won't work for everyone. Some people are turned off by social media and might better learn and connect in a different way. 

The feedback I received was valuable. Even if I don't change my approach to social media, the comment I received gives me insight. And it causes me to reexamine if social media is as beneficial as I believe it to be. It's good to reflect on feedback we receive, whether we agree with it or not.

5 Positive Ways To Use Social Media

1. The best free professional development I've encountered. It's available 24/7 and 365 days a year! Where else can you connect with people all over the world to learn and grow, to share ideas, and to get inspired? I've even chatted with some of my biggest heroes in education. Through these conversations, I learn new things. I develop shared meaning with others. That's true collaboration.

2. A platform to advocate for ideas that matter to me (personal voice). There are things that are important to me that I want to promote. I want to see better opportunities for students, stronger schools, and empowered teachers. That's why I share my thoughts on leadership, innovation, #FutureReady, #EdTech, and more.

3. A way to engage with our students, school, and community. I use social media to connect with our community through our school Facebook and Twitter. It's great to post pictures and highlight outstanding accomplishments. I like to share things from the classroom and from the extracurricular side. Go Liberators!

4. A platform to uplift, encourage, and celebrate. Just like in my face-to-face interactions, when I share positive words with others online, it lifts me up as well as others. I've found a positive community of dreamers, believers, and thinkers who challenge me and make me stronger.

5. An example for students of how social media can be used in positive and productive ways. Social media doesn't have to be shallow, vein, and a waste of time. We can use it to promote big ideas, to energize a cause, and to develop professionally. Right now, millions are using social media to network professionally, start a business, and build a personal brand. It's important for students to have digital literacy skills, now and for their future success.

Question: How are you using social media to improve your professional life? Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How to Spark a Movement in Your School

Making a difference in a school doesn't require a 5-year strategic plan. You can spark a movement right now. When you see a problem, you can do something about it. You can be the catalyst for positive change. And it's outstanding when people from every corner of the school, not just administration, are initiating change.

A couple of months ago, I was drawn into a conversation a few of our teachers were having about getting our high school students more excited about reading. These teachers had joined together to study Book Love, a fantastic read by Penny Kittel. 

They began to share with me their vision for establishing classroom libraries. They wanted students to have more choices for reading, more time for reading, and greater voice to share their reading with others. They were completely energized and nothing could stop them. They had a vision for how a stronger culture of reading in our school could impact students forever.

It was the beginning of a movement. Soon, classroom libraries began to take shape. We started placing orders for new books from a variety of genres. 

Students were surveyed to learn more about their reading habits. Teachers from every content area were recording book talks to share personal reading with students. 

Our librarian even decided to reorganize the entire library collection by genre, all a result of a few extraordinary teachers, a book study, and a vision.

Students were talking about it. Teachers were talking about it. There was a spark.

Not every movement results in lasting change, at least not in a substantial way, but there's always a chance. It really depends on the meaning behind the movement and the commitment of the movement leaders.

So how can you spark a movement in your classroom or school? Follow these 5 easy steps.

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5 Steps to get a movement started in your school

1. Start with empathy. What are you passionate about? What breaks your heart? Empathy isn't content to see a problem and do nothing. Empathy makes us want something better for our students and our school. Dream about what could be.

2. Learn Together. Find at least one other person who shares your concern. Together, become informed, share ideas, plan, discuss. Think of ways the problem could be addressed. What are possible strategies based on the information gathered?

3. Rally support. Reach out beyond the initial group. Bring admin and other teachers on board. But don't stop there. Get students and parents mobilized as well. Have a call to action. Ask, "Will you help us?" Be ready to suggest ways your new converts can help. Listen carefully to new ideas that might be brought forward too.

4. Turn energy to action. Now it's time to follow through on the great ideas. Encourage the troops. Get moving. Communicate clearly who is doing what. Set timelines for reaching goals. Give more encouragement. 

5. Celebrate. When something great happens with your movement, let people know about it. Make it visible. For the movement to continue to grow and become lasting change, you have to help people stay energized.

Question: What movement will you start at your school? What needs to be change? Leave a comment below. Or share your ideas on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Why the never-ending pressure for kids to learn more, younger?

Of course, we want students to be challenged and to achieve their potential. But it seems there is an unhealthy press to have kids learn more, younger.

Kindergarten kids must read.

Elementary students write research papers instead of personal narratives.

Algebra I happens in 8th grade, or even 7th some places.

Some students are graduating from high school with upwards of 30 hours of college credit. Confession: Dual credit has saved our family a ton of money on college tuition so it's hard to be critical here.

But I have to wonder what is the point of all this? Is this what is referred to as the human race? What are we racing against? Life expectancy is steadily increasing right? We have MORE time to reach our life goals last time I checked.

With the recent ESEA Reauthorization (goodbye NCLB, Race to the Top), it seems some of the madness may be ending, at least from the standpoint of federal policy. For some reason, policymakers seem to think raising standards will "fix" education. But higher standards don't necessarily result in better learning for kids. Great learning is about developing great teachers, great schools, and stronger communities.

An ineffective teacher or school will still be ineffective even with higher standards. Change happens when the process changes, when educators change how they do business.

So maybe instead of pressing more curriculum down on youngsters, we could make learning more personal and meet the needs of individual learners. Some kids will read in kindergarten, or even earlier. Some kids might benefit from Algebra I in the 8th grade. Some kids need more time but will get it eventually.

Teach students first, curriculum second.

So we don't need to hurry learning. No more pressing. Create great learning environments and experiences and allow students to find their passions and become adaptable, lifelong learners.

Maybe there is still hope for finger paint. And learning to be kind. And just being a kid.

Question: What are your thoughts on kids learning more, earlier? Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, December 11, 2015

So You're an Educator and You're Not Reading?

Image Source:
With the amount of information available for teachers, it is just unacceptable to continue making uninformed decisions about what works in the classroom. Never before has so much information been available to improve your practice. 

Take your pick. There are articles, blogs, books, social media, and more. You can connect with other educators all across the globe to discuss ideas and learn from one another. And you can do it all from the comfort of your sofa.

And yet, there are still educators who are not growing and learning. They are still doing it the way it was when they were in school. Teaching as they were taught. They rest in their longstanding beliefs without testing them against research and new ideas.

In a recent Seth Godin post, Did you do the reading?, he suggested that the more professional your field, the more vital it is to read, think, and understand--to stay caught up. To stay current. We want teaching to have increased professionalism, right? We want to our field to be respected. We want our profession to shine.

So we need to make sure we are contributing to the profession. We need to behave like professionals. That means we are reading the important books in our field. It means connecting with other professionals who can push us and test our ideas. And it means reflecting on how our practices align with our beliefs.

It doesn't mean you're going to agree with everything you read. But if you aren't reading material that offers a viewpoint different than your own, how can you be sure of what you believe? My ideas are stronger when they are tested and hold true for me.

I realize if you are reading this post, you are probably among those who are growing and learning and moving our profession forward. You are doing the reading. You are connecting and seeking and innovating. I applaud you.

But teaching gets a bad wrap. Educators are under fire. And if that is going to change, we need to do everything we can to increase the professionalism among our ranks. I urge you to share what you're reading with other teachers in your school. Use your influence to lift others up and strengthen the profession. 

I believe ours is the most important profession. We need to treat it as such.

Question? How can we get more educators taking ownership for their professional growth? What should teachers be reading? I want to hear from you. Share your answer on Twitter or Facebook.

A few books on my reading list...

Book Love by Penny Kittle @pennykittle 

The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros @gcouros

Uncommon Learning by Eric Sheninger @E_Sheninger

What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas

Some of my favorite blogs...

Connected Principals

Starr Sackstein

Ditch That Textbook

The Principal of Change

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ten Things Every Educator Should Say More Often

In a previous post, I shared eight things a successful educator should never say. Admittedly, that is a negative way to think about the impact of words on teaching and learning. Why not consider what we should be saying more, I thought? So here goes.

1. "I believe in you."

One of the most powerful things you can communicate is your belief and confidence in your students, and your colleagues for that matter. Sadly, too many students (and adults) struggle to believe in their own worth and ability. Above any curriculum outcome, we should strive to show our students their own worth and genius. Say to your students, "I believe in you. You are capable. You are important."

via @AnnetteBreaux @ToddWhitaker

2. "I won't give up on you."

When things are really tough, we all need someone to pick us up and be there for us. You can be that person for your students. Every kid needs an adult to fill the gap, a person who is older and wiser, someone they can borrow strength from until they have more of their own. You can be that person when you tell your students, "I won't give up on you."

3. "I'm here to help."

I strongly believe leaders are servants too. It doesn't matter what your position is in your school, if you have a desire to help others succeed, you can have great influence and make a huge impact. Clearly, you should stand ready to help each student in your classroom. But the most successful educators are ready to help every student in the building. And they use their influence to make the entire school a better place.

4. "I have time."

Anyone feel pressed for time? Yes! We all do, and that's what makes this phrase so important. There are so many demands on our time we become conditioned to protect against anything taking an extra minute. Principals, protect your teachers' time. They need some margin so they feel like they can help each other or their students or a community cause. You can show what you value when you say, "I have time."

5. "Not yet."

Help your students develop a growth mindset by using these two words. When a students says, "I can't" show them how everything changes when you think "I can't, yet." Instead of putting a grade on that paper filled with mistakes, simply write "not yet" and have your students keep working and revising. Remind your students that the expert in anything was once a beginner. Even Luke Skywalker struggled to become a Jedi. He had the force within him, just like our students have it in themselves to succeed.

Thanks for sharing Steven Weber @curriculumblog

6. "Let's work together."

When teachers, and parents, and students, community leaders work together it is powerful. No one ever accomplished anything completely on their own. Someone else always invested, even when it's not evident. When we build partnerships, everyone benefits. When teachers learn together, it has the power to improve teaching and as a result, improve student learning.

7. "Thank you."

Two simple little words. Say them over and again. Be grateful. Our schools will be a better place. Our world will be a better place.

8. "I'm listening."

Show them you are listening. Lean in. You can learn so much. Students have so much to say, so much to share, and they are waiting for someone to truly listen. Seek to understand and not just to reply. Say "I'm listening. Go on." Ask questions. Show the patience and the empathy you know they need.

9. "What if?"

We need more innovative thinking in classrooms and schools. 'What if' is the language of the dreamers and the disrupters. We don't have to do it the way it's always been done. What if we tried something different?

10. "What is best for kids?"

As we make tough decisions, we should always be asking this question. Schools exist to serve students and should do their best to always put the best of interest of students first. It's a simple question, but we need to hear it more. It's too easy for other things to distract us from the most important thing in our schools, serving our students best.

Question: What else should educators be saying more often? Leave a comment or share on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Eight Things Successful Educators Never Say

Words matter. They carry incredible power and reveal our underlying attitudes and assumptions. The words you choose each day can serve to lift others up or tear them down. Your words will build stronger relationships or they will push people away. Your words will inspire more commitment and dedication or they will find excuses or shift blame.

The most successful educators are intentional with their words. They strive for the greatest impact for their students and for their entire school through what they say and do. They speak from the heart and express a desire to serve and help in every situation. They make people and learning top priorities, in that order. They care deeply about students and their success.

Being a teacher is a difficult job. It's a calling. Your work is valuable, far too valuable to jeopardize by using any of the phrases below. You can't afford to allow negativity to creep in. There are too many challenges and only with a positive mindset will you be able to find success.

1. "That's not my job."

In education, our bottom line does not involve profits or increased sales. Our bottom line is helping kids succeed. So when there is something that might technically be outside of your job description, remember that you entered the profession to make an impact and making an impact can involve serving in many ways. You are a powerful example when you step up and take on whatever challenge comes your way. So your job is anything that helps students and learning.

If you have legitimate concerns about your role, you should talk with your principal about those things. There should be strong support systems around teachers. And teachers need to advocate for what they need. But when you wield this phrase, it just makes you look like you're not a team player.

2. "Those aren't my kids."

If you could pick and choose the students in your classes, of course your job would be easier. But successful teachers are advocates for ALL kids, even the ones who are difficult, demanding, or disrespectful. Some teachers think special needs students are not their responsibility. They shrug their shoulders thinking how the special education teacher or the ELL instructor should be the ones to support any struggling learners. This phrase really doesn't show the kind of compassion or empathy all great teachers display.

3. "There's not enough time."

You may feel like you don't have enough time. Everyone feels that way sometimes. But the truth is we all have the same amount of time in each day. Your hours and minutes are the same as every other human on the planet. So when you say you don't have enough time, you are really just saying it's not a priority. The things you don't have time for are not high enough priority for you to give it your time.

4. "It's not fair."

Life is definitely not fair. But it doesn't do any good to use this phrase. Usually, it's just a way of blaming or complaining and that doesn't help anyone. When something doesn't seem fair, don't use this phrase. Tell yourself the truth. You can only control you. Do something to work around the issue. Be grateful for when things do work out your way. When we are grateful, even difficult things seem to work back in our favor eventually.

Sometimes this phrase is used by teachers as a reason not to differentiate or modify instruction for students. But we shouldn't confuse fairness and equality. We need to give students what they need, not treat a student exactly like another who may have completely different needs.

5. "I taught it, but they didn't learn it."

Just because you taught it doesn't mean they learned, and it's not okay to shift the blame to your students. Maybe you need to reflect on your methods and consider what you can do differently to create better learning. If you want to change student learning, you have to be willing to change yourself first. This phrase shows a desire to do things "my way" regardless of whether it's working for students or not.

6. "We've always done it this way."

This has been coined the most dangerous phrase in the language. When you use this phrase, it shows you to be closed minded, inflexible, and possibly even stuck in the past. We can't think creatively or make progress with new ideas if we are so stuck in our paradigms we can't see the possibilities in something new. It's rare to actually here a teacher say this, but I wonder how often this type of thinking is just under the surface. We can get really comfortable doing things the way we've always done them. The most successful educators are willing to step out and take risks.

7. "But that won't work with these students."

When presented with a new idea or possibility, some educators think right away, "But that won't work with our students." Our students are different. They are impoverished, apathetic, troubled, uncooperative, etc. But how do you know what will or won't work unless you try? And trying with a positive attitude is much more likely to result in success than assuming your students are going to fail. If teachers don't believe in their students, who will? The best educators make students feel like they are better than what they ever believed. They are inspirational.

8. "I don't need any help."

No one ever accomplished anything without help for others. We always need help and also benefit from giving help to those around us. This cavalier attitude works against positive relationships and sharing, and quite frankly it works against learning. Learning is a social enterprise. We learn better when we test ideas and gain feedback. To have the best school, we need to have the best teachers and leaders. If you think you can do it all on your own, you are not going to grow and be as successful as possible.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Make Room for Creativity and Change

I just read a great post from Jon Harper (Happiness, Silly) about finding our state of creative flow, those times where we feel we are in our zone and are able to develop our best ideas, create our best moments, and generate seemingly unending personal energy. Jon suggests that he finds his creative flow in those moments when the tyranny of what's next fades away. Too often we are so busy with what's next, our schedules and to do lists, that we don't find those creative flow moments.

Jon's post resonated with me, in part, because I've been thinking about ways our education system could encourage more creativity and change. I agree with him that we don't have enough white space for educators to pursue their own passions and ideas, to find that creative flow.

We need to increase creativity and personal meaning for everyone involved in education--teachers, students, administrators, etc. Creativity results in greater meaning and personal relevance. It results in more perseverance. It results in positive change. It turns schools into learning organizations instead of information organizations.

But too often, leaders want to get behind people and push them toward an outcome. We develop one-size-fits-all programs. We hold never ending trainings. We mandate this or demand that. We pile on more paperwork.

It's piled on from every level of our system. What's next is coming at us from federal, state, local, and building levels.

We even require a lot of the new stuff in the name of change. We need to change this or that. We need more technology integration. Everyone must use this new method or strategy.

And this crazy dance goes on with noble intentions.

But what if there is another way? What if we provided more white space to allow professionals to develop their own ideas, to start their own movements, to share more of who they are and what they believe in as educators?

Instead of pushing, maybe just a nudge is all that's needed.

A nudge that encourages, "You have great ideas. You should share that."

A nudge that challenges, "How could we give students more ownership in that?"

A nudge that hopes, "Wouldn't it be great if..?"

To unleash the creativity latent in our profession, we have to make room for change. We have to stop pushing and pressuring and start providing conditions that allow for new ideas and problem-solving.

It will require trust. It will require taking things off of people's plates. It will require leaders who support risks and celebrate ideas. But it will be worth it. Make room for change.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Making Learning More Meaningful

Why have we placed such a high value on sense-making over meaning-making? Sense-making involves understanding and demonstrating a content or skill. Much of the work we do in school is related to sense-making and there is nothing inherently wrong with this. We need to know facts and learn skills. But why don't we make greater efforts to connect sense-making with things that bring meaning? Meaning is what helps us to really make sense of the world. It's coming to a place where we understand why our sense-making matters. Meaning gives relevance to our learning.

Daniel Pink explains in his book Drive that people are more effective, more motivated, and more connected to the work, and all areas of life, when conditions exist that allow for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When we have autonomy we feel we have a voice and a choice. When we are able to do things well (mastery), it makes us want to try even harder and do even more. And when we have a sense of purpose, we feel our contributions matter and that what we contribute is bigger than ourselves.

These conditions are far more powerful than extrinsic rewards, because deep down we know that things that are most meaningful are ones that stand the test of time. Extrinsic rewards satisfy for a moment, but they don't deeply satisfy. They only feed appetites for more recognition, more rewards, or more pleasures. We need meaning, not more stuff, not better grades, not more rules or policies.

In our hurried, success-driven, hyper-connected culture, there is a hunger for meaning in ways like never before. We need something greater than ourselves and our shallow appetites (more stuff, more fame, more instant gratification).

So how does this all translate to the classroom? Let's ask students to do stuff that really matters, to themselves and to others. Learning shouldn't happen in isolation from real impact. Open the world and find ways for students to make a difference now. Give students the freedom and flexibility to do something amazing. As I think about the learning experiences from my school days that I remember the most, they are ones that were personally meaningful to me. We can't expect sense-making to last beyond the test if we don't help students have personal meaning connected to the learning.

Make learning personally meaningful and students will find their passions and become self-determined, lifelong learners.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tech Geek or Teaching Geek?

I think it was during a Twitter chat I first made the comment that you don't have to be a tech geek to use technology effectively to support learning in your classroom. I later polished the wording a bit and asserted that "Classrooms don't need tech geeks who can teach, we need teaching geeks who can use tech." Several thought-leaders on Twitter have also shared the quote, like most recently @ToddWhitaker.
The message seemed to resonate with educators. But I also received some push back. What's wrong with being a tech-geek? Can we not aim for both? In the end, are the results any different? It seems there is plenty to discuss regarding approaches of using technology to support learning. So I wanted to address these issues and clarify the thinking behind the quote.

Why teaching geeks?

1. It's more important to get the instructional design right and develop engaging, highly effective learning experiences, with or without tech. Unless the central aim of your curriculum is technology, the tech should support the learning and not the other way around. It's not good practice to find a nifty tech tool and then contrive some way to get it into your lesson, just to wow or impress. That would be akin to using technology like a cool party trick. Not exactly the professional practice that will develop consistent and quality learning for students.

2. Teaching geeks are concerned with more than technology. A teaching geek will do everything possible to increase learning and help all students be successful. They love to learn about teaching, talk about teaching, join with other passionate educators on Twitter, and just be geeky about all things related to their profession. Most of all, they are passionate about student learning. I love to attend EdCamps because the teaching geeks are drawn to these events. Geeks go to Comic-Con. Tech geeks go to CES. Teaching geeks go to EdCamps!

3. You don't have to be a technology genius to use tech in the classroom. Many teachers think they can't use technology to support learning because it's not a strength for them. But even if it's not a strength, every teacher can take small steps to utilize technology for learning. Pick just one digital tool that has the potential to enhance your lessons and learn more about it. Our school is in the first year of 1:1 with Chromebooks, so a tool that nearly all of our teachers wanted to learn is Google Classroom. It was a good place to start because it serves as a hub for classroom stuff and allows for increased sharing and collaboration.

4. Don't wait, start somewhere. For teachers who lack confidence with technology, it's easy to avoid taking steps to learn new ways to use technology. And this is exactly what we don't want our students to do, to shrink back in the face of something that doesn't come easily. I'm very proud of teachers in our building who have stepped out of their comfort zone to learn new methods with technology even though it's not their strongest area. It models the type of growth mindset we want to encourage in students.

5. Turn the technology over to your students. Even if you don't know all the ins and outs of using technology, many of your students do. If you give students choice about how to use technology to support their learning, you can incorporate tech even though you aren't the source of all the tech knowledge. It's actually a great thing when students and teachers can learn from each other.

6. So you're a tech geek? That's great. It can actually be very beneficial to your teaching if you couple your knowledge of technology with an array of other tools that are important to effectiveness in the classroom. How do you build relationships, set expectations, empower learning, and support diverse needs? There are so many factors that contribute to an effective classroom. Technology alone won't result in an excellent classroom experience. But if you can leverage your knowledge of technology to support all the other components of an outstanding classroom, you're a top draft pick for sure!

7. If you are one of the distinguished educators who are both tech geek and teaching geek, you have an obligation to share your knowledge with others. We all want to learn from you.

Question: What makes you a teaching geek or a tech geek? Respond on Twitter or Facebook.

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