Wednesday, July 27, 2016

7 Reasons for Teachers to Be Enthusiastic About a New School Year

The days of summer will soon give way to the start of a new school year. For teachers, the end of summer can be met with mixed emotions. Even the most passionate educators can be reluctant to give up the freedom and flexibility of summer break. But it's also a great time to get excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. It's GO-TIME!!!

As you gear up for back-to-school, here are seven reasons to be enthusiastic about the new school year.

1. Making New Friends

One of the most exciting things about the start of a new school year is the chance to meet new people and welcome them into your school. It's a privilege to get to know new staff members and students. And it's a great opportunity to share with them all the things that make your school great. It's also a great opportunity to find ways they can contribute to making your school even stronger.

Remember that being new can be terrifying. Offer your support. Be sure to send the message loud and clear to everyone new to your school, "We're glad you're here."

2. Reconnecting with Old Friends

I also look forward to seeing everyone who is returning. Over the years, we build increasingly strong bonds with the people we work with. It's great to hear about their exciting adventures of summer and begin to share in the daily life of school again. I can't wait to see all the smiles and feel the energy as we come together again to help kids.

Keep in mind that returning to school can be especially difficult in certain seasons of life. I am always reminded that a word of encouragement or act of kindness can go a long way to making the new school year better for someone going through a difficult time.

3. Making a Difference 

For some students, summer hasn't been that great. They've had struggles, turmoil, maybe even hunger. Returning to school won't solve all their problems, but it will provide a chance for educators to make a difference. No matter what their summer was like, your students are counting on you now. They need to know how much you care. They need you to love them, listen to them, and to never give up on them.

Your work as a teacher makes a difference in the lives of young people. That's a great reason to get excited about the start of the school year! 

4. Fulfilling Your Purpose

It's great to enjoy the wonderful time away from school during summer break. Good teaching is demanding in so many ways. We need time to recharge. But there is something about doing what you are meant to do, even when it's hard. The start of the school year is a great time to reflect on why you started in the first place. Why did you become a teacher? How will you make a positive impact this year?

When you have passion and purpose for your students and your teaching, you won't have too much trouble being excited for the new school year.

5. New Beginnings

When I reflect on a previous school year, there are always things I wish had gone differently. I see areas I need to improve, and things I want to change. The start of the school year is a brand new thing. It's a fresh start.

There's something about the cyclical nature of school that lends itself to making adjustments based on last year to continue to make things better for learning. But the key is to reflect and set goals during the summer, so that you're ready to adjust and adapt this year.  

6. New Opportunities to Grow

Positive people grow. Happy people grow. Healthy people grow. The new school year will not doubt present challenges that will help us grow if we choose to allow growth to happen. I believe growth is an essential part of being fulfilled in our lives. We can't stay the same or even have stagnant growth and expect to have a healthy and happy life. And for certain, we won't make much of an impact on others if we aren't willing to grow.

I know some people dread the start of school because they feel that they are going to face challenges that are really difficult for them. Some struggle more with difficult students. Some struggle to keep up with paperwork or grading. Clearly, some struggle to get through the school day more than others. I think most of that is related to attitude.

If we welcome the challenges and view them as a way to grow, it changes everything. If we invite hard things into our lives, it makes us stronger. Rarely do I see an unhappy teacher who also regularly takes on new challenges. Usually, the most unhappy people in your school are the ones who are most protective of their time and their comfort.

So I think a GREAT reason to get excited about a new school year is that it's a GREAT opportunity to grow. What would your school be like if every educator had a growth mindset?

7. Believe in Amazing Possibilities

I'm excited about the new school year because I believe this will be the best school year ever. I'm excited about the work our school is doing. I believe we are moving in a positive direction. I see a tipping point happening, where we will see learners empowered in ways we've envisioned. 

Your classroom has amazing possibilities too. Students will learn more about who they are. They will learn and grow and become more confident and independent learners. Commit yourself to the idea that great things are going to happen this year. Focus on the positive. Who knows what incredible things will happen this year in the life of your school?

Questions: What gets you excited about a new school year? What are you anticipating? I would love to hear from you. Leave me a message below or respond on Twitter or Facebook. Here we grow!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Top Quotes on Excellence for Educators

In a previous post, I discussed some possible distinctions between excellence and success, and why schools should aim for excellence. When success is defined only by the end results, it doesn't honor the process and how not all aspects of our "success" are within our control.

I think about the Olympic athletes who will compete in Rio in just a couple of weeks. Not all of them will be successful as competitors there. In fact, someone is going to finish last in every single event.

But clearly, these are excellent athletes. At least I can't imagine any of these elite athletes not demonstrating courage, heart, determination, hard work, and discipline. One would expect every Olympic athlete must exhibit these qualities just to make it to the games. These are qualities that embody excellence.

But in spite of their excellence, not all of these athletes will experience the same level of success. The same is true of teaching and schools. Sometimes, we do our best work in situations that may not appear to result in outward success.

Below are a few quotes that capture the spirit of excellence I am seeking to describe. For students, educators, and schools, a new school year is filled with possibilities. However, we can't always control our level of success. But we can control our level of excellence.

"Excellence in education is when we do everything we can to make sure they become everything they can." 
–Carol Ann Tomlinson

"Excellence is not an accomplishment. It is a spirit, a never-ending process." 
– Lawrence M. Miller

"Strive for excellence, not perfection." 
– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit." 
– Aristotle

"We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by how far they have traveled from the point where they started.' 
– Henry Ward Beecher

"Excellence is to do an common thing in an uncommon way." 
– Booker T. Washington

"Strive not to be a success but rather to be of value." 
– Albert Einstein

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” 
– Colin Powell

"The secret of living a life of excellence is merely a matter of thinking thoughts of excellence. Really, it's a matter of programming our minds with the kind of information that will set us free."
– Charles R. Swindoll

"Mediocrity always attacks excellence."
– Michael Beckwith

Question: How will you demonstrate excellence as an educator? How will inspire your students to strive for excellence? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Does Your Classroom Offer Cash-Back Rebates?

Grading as a Kind of Manipulation

Earlier this summer I did something I vowed never to do again. I fell for a deal with a cash-back rebate. You know, the kind where you follow a complicated set of instructions and then mail-in all the required papers and hope it pays off. If you're lucky, you'll get your rebate check back in the mail in a few weeks.

I'm not sure why I fell for this again. I guess I thought the deal was just too good to pass up. After the rebate, the synthetic motor oil was going to be a great buy. And I didn't even need it right away. I had just changed the oil in the vehicle I planned to use it in.

But in spite of my best intentions, I failed to ever claim my rebate. I kept the receipt. I had the bar-code and the rebate form. I was good to go. But then I got distracted. I forgot about the rebate for awhile. And when I thought to finish the process, I couldn't find the receipt anymore. Game over.

Now I am just a resentful consumer. I'm irritated with myself for breaking my promise to never try for these offers. And, I'm irritated with the brand for manipulating me with a rebate offer they know many customers won't complete. They count on it. They are manipulating customers to buy knowing many consumers won't ever complete the rebate process successfully.

But it's so frustrating, and it's not customer-focused. If they really wanted to give me a great deal, they'd just give me the $10 off, without all the hoops. They don't actually want me to be successful. They want me to fail.

You've probably been frustrated by a rebate offer too. I think most people have. But not getting my $10 bucks is not the end of the world. But when similar tactics are used in the classroom, it undermines the foundation of learning.

The Problem With Points and Grades

In schools, the currency is not dollars and cents, it's points. And for a student, the more points you earn the better grade you get in the class. Students start learning this at a very young age, as soon as grades matter to them and their parents.

The points themselves are not the problem. The problem is how the points are used. Students learn to see the points as part of a transactional system, the game of school. The goal is to earn points. We have used the system to the extent that many students have forgotten how to learn just for the sake of learning. The first question students ask in many classrooms after an assignment is given is, "How many points is this worth?"

Clearly, classrooms and schools aren't offering cash-back rebates, although I'm guessing students might say it was great if we did! But when we further a grading system that is transactional, in essence, we are using sticks and carrots to manipulate behaviors and results. It's very similar to what companies do when they use rebates.

Just like the rebate is used to manipulate, points can be used to manipulate, too. Teachers have used the power of points for all sorts of reasons. To get students to participate, to show up on time, to choose right answers, and even to bring boxes of Kleenex.

Students are even sorted and ranked according to how well they play the game and earn points. I'm not a fan of sorting or ranking when it comes to learning. But this is especially concerning since earning points is often more about compliance and selecting right answers than showing good thinking or solving problems creatively.

In the current system, teachers even communicate the importance of an assignment by how many points it's worth. "The test tomorrow is worth 100 points so you better study tonight."

It's well-intentioned manipulation. And when used on rare occasions it might be helpful. Teachers are always trying to influence student behaviors and decisions. And for good reason. We will do just about anything to motivate students to learn. But as soon as sticks and carrots become routine in the classroom, students come to expect them all the time.

Point Chasing Never Empowers Students As Learners

The problem with transactional systems is they only change behavior for a moment. They never last. In fact, they work against most some of the most valuable things we want students to gain from school. They rob empowerment. They steal intrinsic motivation. And they even undermine relationships. 

Some students get so frustrated with the points game, they just quit caring. They refuse to play along and choose not to care about how the teacher or the school 'grades' them. And it's not just the kids who are 'at-risk' or 'underprivileged' who tend to reject this system. Often some of the most intelligent and creative students see through this artificial construct and pull back from learning in school.

Some of these same students have passions outside of school they pursue as self-motivated learners. They pour themselves into hobbies, interests, and causes. They will read online for hours, they will create art or practice an instrument, or they will share ideas on message boards or through social media on all types of important topics.

We do our students a disservice when we don't empower them as learners at school too. If students leave school less excited about learning than when they entered, we have failed them.

Learning Isn't About Transactions Between Students and Teachers

We don't have to use transactional systems in classrooms and schools.

Some companies choose not to use rebates. They let their product or service stand on its own merits. They communicate the value of their products with a compelling message of why they are helpful and beneficial to us. And because we believe in their product, we are willing to pay full price.

Likewise, classrooms and schools offer something extremely valuable to their end-users. What could be more valuable or more helpful than learning, for the sake of learning? But we have to remind our students of the wonder and awe of learning. We have to package it in ways that are interesting and attractive. This is especially true when they have come to view learning as part of a system of compliance to ultimately earn a grade.

Cash back rebates don't build loyalty with consumers, whether they ultimately receive the rebate or not. And a school culture driven by points and grades won't build loyalty with students either. It won't transform students into self-motivated learners. Only empowerment and authentic learning experiences will do that.

Question: How do you empower your students and avoid the compliance-driven classroom? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

7 Questions To Guide Decisions Of School Leaders

"I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions." -Stephen Covey

Making good decisions is important for all us. Whether we are working with students, with parents, or even with colleagues, our decisions ultimately define our success. And the key to better decisions is better thinking. We must never make a key decision in haste. Instead, we should consider the problem from everyone's perspective, collect advice, and ask ourselves the questions that will help us make the wise choice.

Our decisions can have a big impact on the school, learning, and ultimately our students. So it's very important to make the best decision possible. Of course, I often make decisions and then come to realize later that with different information or a different perspective, I might have acted differently in the situation. When we make decisions we are doing the best we can with the information we have at the time.

That's why it's so important to ask tough questions to make sure the decision is the best one possible with the available knowledge. I want to think through my decisions and test my thinking with questions that help me clarify my values and ensure that I'm acting in a way that is congruent with my beliefs. I want my actions to line up with what I believe and what I profess to others.

These seven questions have helped me make better decisions. I'm sure there are others you could add to the list as well, but these are the ones that I keep going back to.

1. How can I help you? 

This first question is the essence of servant leadership, the leadership approach that recognizes leadership is service and turns the old paradigm of leadership on its ear. Leadership is not about power over others, or being in charge. Instead, it is about helping followers be successful. It's about helping others reach their goals. Robert Greenleaf coined the term servant leadership, and he described it as a type of leadership that strives to help followers be healthier, wiser, freer, and better able to be leaders themselves. Leadership does not just create followers who are dependent on the leader, but it creates new leaders who are able to extend their influence and become change agents.

So as I make decisions, I must always remember this question, "How can I help you?" This question begins with empathy, the ability to see things from another person's viewpoint in a caring way. Sometimes I need to speak the words aloud and offer to help. Other times my actions and attitudes may demonstrate this mindset even if the words go unspoken. But my goal as a leader must always be to help those around me be the best they can be. If someone in my school needs anything I can help provide to be successful, my job as a leader is to try to move mountains to get it done.

"The secret to success is good leadership. And good leadership is about making the lives of your team members better." -Tony Dungy.

2. Is this good enough for my own child? Would I want this for my own child? 

As a parent I will do just about anything to support the success of one of my kids. I want them to have the best opportunities possible. I want them to have the best teachers, and I want them to have experiences in school that cultivate a love of learning and lead them to find who they are as people and as learners.

As I consider situations in my school against this high standard, there are times when I realize we're not quite there yet. There are things that need to improve to best meet the needs of students. I guess there will always be areas to improve, but I don't find this discouraging. Instead, I find it exciting to know that we can create better opportunities and continue to grow so that every student finds optimal success.

I will share that this question has helped me to find clarity on tough decisions in the past. When there are times the task may seem too big or the obstacles insurmountable, asking this question has helped me stay focused. I've also used it with others in my school to help frame a situation on a personal level. Parents don't want excuses about why something can't be done, they want heroic action that overcomes any hindrances and ensures that their student is receiving the best.

3. Will this decision preserve or attack the dignity of a child? 

Our words are very powerful and can do great good or great harm. By considering this question, it helps me focus on the humanity of a child in each situation. We must always strive to build up and not tear down. We must treat others with dignity and respect. As Todd Whitaker writes, great teachers and principals treat every student like they are good. We must presume positive intentions and come alongside students to help them succeed. 

There is never a place in a positive school for cutting sarcasm, public humiliation, or harsh treatment of a student. Even the best teacher will occasionally make a mistake in how they treat a student, but we should work quickly to restore any break in the relationship. When everyone in a school makes decisions that consistently preserve dignity and respect, the culture will be one of mutual cooperation and shared success. I explored this topic in greater depth in a previous post.

4. As I make this decision, what am I ultimately hoping to achieve? 

Part of effective decision-making is the ability understand how decisions are going to impact the goals of the individual or organization. I may be justified and have good reasoning for a decision, but if it is going to ultimately hinder the mission of our team, maybe I need to reconsider my decision. There is great finesse and wisdom in knowing how to help others be successful. Sometimes it means overlooking things that might be personal pet-peeves of the leader.

As we make decisions, we should always consider the purpose of the decision and if a particular action will lead to the purpose being accomplished. We should also consider if the decision will do any harm beyond the main purpose. Many schools have implemented policies to try to fix a specific problem, but have unwittingly harmed culture or created distrust. You must
 consider if the purpose is large enough or is there a higher purpose that might be jeopardized in this decision? Effective leaders see the big-picture.

5. How does this decision impact learning in our school? 

Some decisions or situations may not affect learning greatly or at all. If this is the case, why make these decisions important in your school? We spent too long trying to solve the issue of whether students should be allowed to wear hats in our building or not. Ultimately, most everyone agreed it really didn't affect learning so why make an issue of it. Other decisions, however, greatly impact learning. We need to have tough discussions about our schedule, course offerings, assignments, and grading. Are we making decisions based on what's best for learning or what's convenient for adults?

I would add one other part to this question. Does the decision have the potential to transform learning in this classroom or school? I think we spend too much time trying to incrementally improve the same stuff we've always been doing. We should all be thinking about how we can do things that could be a complete game-changer for our students. We need to think big!

6. If you had no fear, what would you do? 

Sometimes change can be frightening even if we truly believe change is necessary. Fear causes us to hesitate, to think small, and to avoid difficult conversations. We are all governed by fear to one degree or another, but nothing great was ever accomplished without risk and a possibility of failure. We must practice taking risks in small ways and build confidence in our risk-taking to reach for our really big dreams. If a decision is good for students and will improve learning, what are you waiting for? If you had no fear, what would you do?

7. In any situation, how will the best people respond to this decision? 

There will almost always be critics of any significant or meaningful decision. We cannot please everyone. What's right is not always popular and what's popular is not always right. But in any situation, we should consider what the best people will think. If my very best teachers will not support a decision, then perhaps I need to consider why I feel this is the best decision in the first place. If the best teachers are unable to support a decision, then maybe I need to go back to #4. What exactly do I hope to achieve if even the best people in the building are not on board? Conversely, how often do we delay or lower our expectations because of the worst people in the building (students or teachers)? We shouldn't aim lower or expect less because a few people seem to find a problem for every solution. If the best people are supportive, then even in the face of some criticism, a school can successfully move forward.

Question: What other questions would you include to guide effective leadership decisions? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

This is an update from a previous post published here in April 2014. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Technology Is An Every Day Thing

What are some things you use every day? I bet I can predict with great certainty a few of them. Let's see. I'm guessing you use your toothbrush every day. How about water? Electricity? Hopefully clothes, unless you are appearing on the reality show Naked and AfraidGood grief. What will they think of next? 

Umm...I'm guessing you use a bed every day (or night), probably a car, and you can't forget this next one. It's very important. You probably use a toilet every single day. It's necessary, right?

I'm sure you're amazed right now at my ability to know you so well. It's almost like I know everything about your daily life. You might be a little creeped out. Has that crazy Twitter principal been stalking me? 

But wait, I'm not done yet. There is one more thing I bet you use every day. In fact, I think you might be using it right now. Most of us use one or more of these nearly every singe day. If you are a teenager, you might have confused it with one of your other four limbs.

That's right. You guessed it. It's a connected device. For you teenagers, that doesn't mean it's connected to your body. It could be a mobile phone, a laptop, a Chromebook, an iPad, or one of the many other varieties out there. We like to connect every day.

I'm guessing many of you even use several of these devices during your typical day. You probably have a couple at home, at least one at work, and a smartphone that goes with you everywhere. 

I just ran around our house and did a quick audit. Drum roll please. I counted 29 web connected devices in our home. We need to have a garage sale. Of course, who would buy a Palm Pre smartphone? It was a great device in 2010. Just shows how irrelevant a device can be in just six years. The Palm brand has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Extinct.

So last year was the first year our school was 1:1. Every student had a Chromebook to use for learning every day. One of the reasons our school made this move was because we all use technology in our everyday lives, so why should school be any different?

Before 1:1 came to Bolivar High School, using technology was not necessarily an everyday thing. We had computers in the library, in computer labs, a few scattered around in different classrooms, etc. But there was not consistent access. Some students rarely used a device for learning.

As we made the transition to 1:1, we knew every teacher was in a different place in terms of their comfort and skill with using technology. Of course, we are always striving to increase the comfort and knowledge of our staff. And we like to nudge people out of their comfort zone, too.

But since everyone was in a different place, we didn't set any universal expectations. There weren't any quotas or mandates on how to use the Chromebooks. Every teacher is unique, and the curriculum they teach is unique too. So we didn't expect everyone to use the Chromebooks in the same way, or equally as often.

We simply asked everyone to look for ways the technology could provide value and enhance learning for students. And I believe every single teacher in our building used the Chromebooks to support learning in one way or another. That's a good thing.

But even though all of our teachers were open-minded and supported the need to go digital as a school, some just didn't see the relevance as strongly for their classroom. I'm guessing there were a whole variety of reasons the devices were used or under-used in each classroom.

But consider these questions. Do you have multiple devices in your home? Do you rely on a device daily? Is your ability to connect important to your learning? Do you feel your ability to connect is empowering to you? If you are a digital learner, I'm guessing you answered yes to those questions.

Even if you didn't answer yes to all of the previous questions, consider the following. Do most professionals use devices every day? Are the most successful people connected learners? Is our world becoming increasingly digital? Will more opportunities come to those who are competent digital learners?

It just seems obvious to me that our students will need to be digital learners to be successful in the future. Heck, they need to be digital learners now in order to get the most from their school experience. There are tools and resources available online that far exceed the resources we could provide otherwise.

And almost every school has realized this to some extent. I haven't visited a school yet that isn't using computers or digital learning in some way. 

But technology should be an every day thing. It shouldn't be a special event, a remediation strategy, a canned learning program, or an enrichment activity after the real learning is done. It should be an authentic part of learning. It should empower us, connect us, and give us new opportunities. It should stimulate curiosity, creativity, and help us solve problems.

Technology can be used to support learning, but it can also be used in ways that transform learning. And it is far more likely to be transformational when it is used regularly. It just becomes a normal part of learning and not an add-on or special event.

Now you might be thinking that using technology in every class, every day sounds rigid. And don't we sometimes need a break from tech? Don't we need to unplug occasionally? Aren't students using technology every day anyway? Some students are probably using technology too much, right?

We absolutely need to keep some balance in mind. Too much screen time can be bad for us. We need to unplug from time to time. I took a month-long break personally in July 2015. There are benefits to pausing and stepping away from devices.

But that's not a reason for limiting tech in the classroom when it could be so helpful. I recently learned about the Project Red research study, a large-scale look at practices in 997 schools across the U.S. The report includes seven key findings about the effective use of technology in schools. One of the key findings was related to the importance of daily technology use:

Schools must incorporate technology into daily teaching to realize the benefits. The daily use of technology in core classes correlates highly to the desirable education success measures (ESMs). Daily technology use is a top-five indicator of better discipline, better attendance, and increased college attendance.

The Project Red report shows how powerful technology can be when it is used effectively. There were all sorts of positive outcomes in schools that implemented technology well, including the benefits found from daily use of technology instead of intermittent use.

So I would challenge you to consider how you are using technology in your classroom. Is it an every day thing? Even if your students don't have access to school-issued devices, what can you do to help them develop as digital learners? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or TwitterHere we grow!

Friday, July 8, 2016

15 Essential Skills Your Students Must Develop Now To Meet The Challenges Of An Uncertain Future

What are you preparing your students for? College or career? The next grade level? Standardized tests? Or something more? We can't afford to be shortsighted in these challenging times. But is it even possible to predict what students will need to be successful in the future? The world is changing at such a rapid pace, the only constant seems to be rapid change and increased uncertainty. 

In fact, one report estimated that 7 million jobs will disappear globally within the next five years. The same article reported over 2 million newly created jobs will help offset that loss. These new opportunities will emerge in technology, professional services, and media. These extreme shifts are happening because of advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology.

Of students entering primary schools today, 65% will someday work in jobs that don't yet exist. That is staggering to contemplate. You can even use this handy calculator to find out the likelihood your job could be automated in coming years.

LinkedIn published a list of jobs advertised on its site that barely existed five years ago. 8 of the 10 jobs on the list belong to the digital world—Android developer, digital marketing specialist, cloud services specialist—to name a few. It's easy to see examples of how technology is changing the workplace.

Beyond the implications for employment, changes in population, politics, culture, climate, diversity, etc. will also present significant challenges in other areas of life. Being 'future-ready' goes beyond just 'college/career' readiness, because life extends beyond our need to earn a living. 

Tragic events in just the last few months illustrate the magnitude of the problems we face in our contemporary world. Just last night there were the Dallas Police Shootings, preceded by the Philando Castille shooting in Minnesota and Alton Sterling shooting in Louisiana. This summer we've had Brexit, more ISIS bombings, the Orlando night club massacre, and more bad news about rising ocean levels and climate change.

While the future should be viewed with optimism, the current headlines are warnings of the need for change. To navigate the challenges of these disruptive times, we need the mindset of adaptable learners. It's the ability to adjust to meet the needs of the future by learning, unlearning, and relearning. We must develop the ability to quickly learn the knowledge and skills needed to survive and ultimately thrive.

The list below includes 15 skills that will help your students adapt and be ready for the challenges of today and tomorrow.

1. Problem-Solving

It's not enough to know information. You must know how to apply information to new contexts and use reasoning and critical thinking skills to find solutions.

2. Creativity 

The ability to develop new ideas is extremely valuable. People will create value by divergent thinking and seeing problems in completely new ways. Creativity is art, but it's not just art. It extends to every area of life and thought.

3. Communication Skills

Both written and verbal communication skills are needed to express ideas and create content. 

4. Taking Risks

Adaptable learners are willing to take risks to try new things. They step out of their comfort zone to pursue learning and innovation. Fear of failure doesn't hold them back.

5. Continuous Growth

It's not enough to develop expertise in an area and then ride the wave the rest of your life. Constantly growing and learning and building on expertise is the wave of the future.

6. Recognizing Opportunities

Adaptable learners see new possibilities and seize them. They don't wait on the sidelines hoping things will work out for them. Instead, they jump into the game when a great chance comes along.

7. Building Networks

Being connected is critical for adaptability. Learning is multiplied when you draw on the power of your network. Networks are a source of help, support, encouragement, and ideas.

8. Utilizing Teamwork

Teamwork involves shared ownership of goals, tasks, and outcomes. Together we are able to achieve more. A high-performing team is characterized by positive interdependence of team members. Or in other words, you have each other's backs.

9. Leveraging Resources

An adaptable learner uses available resources to the maximum. As future resources become scarce, it will require wisdom for how and when to use resources to provide the greatest value to self and others. 

10. Managing Change

Change can be unsettling and even frightening. The learner who will thrive in the future won't deny change or simply react to change. With the right mindset, it's possible to shape and influence change while remaining flexible. 

11. Interpersonal Skills

Learners need skills to relate to others positively. Our success in life is tied closely to our social skills. Empathy, compassion, honesty, trustworthiness characterize the adaptable learner.

12. Embracing Diversity

Globalization continues to make our world smaller and more interconnected. Diversity will be more evident in every aspect of life. As a result, there will be even greater need to work effectively with others who have racial, cultural, religious, and political backgrounds different from our own. 

13. Life Mission/Purpose

When learners recognize a purpose for life beyond themselves and work to make the world a better place, everyone benefits. A future ready learner recognizes the need to give back.

14. Sharing Knowledge

Adaptable learners create value, not by storing up knowledge, but by sharing it with others. Being recognized as an expert comes from the influence of sharing what you know and the ideas that identify your brand.

15. Perseverance

Perseverance is perhaps the most important skill of all. The future will demand the ability to stay with problems longer, to be persistent, and to never give up.

Question: What skills would you add or remove from this list? How are you helping your students become adaptable learners? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why Blogging Isn't What You Think It Is

It's been a couple of years now since I started blogging here. Starting a blog is not really the hard part. Continuing to blog is what's tough. To be successful, you must constantly remind yourself why you started in the first place. And I think for many people, they don't really have a clear vision of why they are blogging.

It seems to be the thing to do. It starts with Twitter. You feel the excitement and support of being connected to other educators. You really start to think about things in new ways. Ideas are flowing. Others in your network are sharing posts from their blogs. You get some encouragement, and you're on your way.

But the newness wears off soon. It doesn't seem like anyone notices what you write. You get discouraged or distracted and pretty soon your blog is a distant memory.

Years ago, I had more than one failed experience with blogging. They were failures in the sense that I didn't continue to add new content, and I don't think anyone ever read the content that was created. I had some vague notions of why I wanted to blog, but I didn't have the commitment to continue.

Writing is hard work. And to create writing that is valuable to others is extra hard. I think many people view blogging like it's a public journal. It's a way to work through their thoughts. They write for personal reflection and self-expression, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

However, your audience will demand more. If people are going to read what you write, it needs to be valuable to them. As educators, we face many of the same challenges. So you have valuable things to share from your knowledge and experience. When you are able to share something that is helpful to another teacher or principal, that is powerful. Together, we can solve more problems, offer much needed encouragement, and challenge one another's thinking.

It's also helpful when you make learning in your classroom or school more visible to your community. There are amazing things happening that deserve to be noticed. It's not self-promotion, either. I know you don't want to come across as bragging. But bragging on your students and promoting learning is part of what we do as educators. We need to sell learning.

So even though personal reflection and self-expression are valid reasons to blog, it's important for the ideas we share to be received. Someone needs to see them. If you don't see growth in your audience or at least consistent response from your audience, it's tough to stay motivated.

Blogging is ultimately about the audience. It's not about how big the audience is, but it is about how you bring value to the audience, whatever the size, through what you share. The sense of audience is one of the reasons blogging is so helpful for personal and professional growth. It forces you to really clarify your ideas and how they might be beneficial. You want your writing to be relevant and helpful to your readers. 

I realize this is vulnerable turf I'm treading. It's really scary to publish something you really believe in and to have the response be underwhelming. It happens to me all the time. I can never predict how an idea will be received. It requires the willingness to take the risk and put yourself out there. I often read over a post later and find mistakes and wonder why I thought that was a good idea in the first place. Not everything you share will turn out the way you'd hoped.

The important thing is that you are sharing. You should be proud of that. It's really a shame when outstanding educators don't share what they do with others. I've known some amazing teachers who really didn't share their work with anyone, even in their own school. They were completely focused on their students and their classroom and didn't seek to have an impact beyond that circle.

But other teachers do amazing work in the classroom, and then have tremendous influence as leaders in the whole school, and even make an impact beyond their school. Blogging is one way to do that. You can share your journey with others in ways that make an impact on your profession. You can contribute to making education better for all of us.

You may feel like you have nothing to contribute. You are selling yourself way too short. Everyone...and I mean everyone...has knowledge and wisdom that is valuable to share. I am reminded of the Bill Nye quote, "Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't." Your thoughts matter and can help your audience succeed! You have incredible experiences, talents, and perspectives to contribute!

Blogging is about better thinking. When I am working on a blog post, it really pushes my thinking. I have to consider if my ideas make sense, will they be helpful, are they worth sharing? I spend time thinking about the ideas I want to share in my blog. When I have an idea that I want to write about, I make some notes about it. I get inspiration for posts from reading books and blogs, from interacting on Twitter, and when I'm just going about my day. I never know when something will trigger a thought or idea.

There is a creative process in all of this that is valuable to me. It requires my sustained thought. I am always harping on my own kids about creating vs. consuming. I don't want them to constantly be consuming YouTube, Netflix, Instagram, etc. and never creating anything. I have to walk the walk if I'm going to expect this from them. 

I guess in a way I've always viewed myself as a writer, but for years I was writing very little. As educators, we all know how important literacy is. If our subject matter is important enough to learn, it is worth writing about too. If our classrooms and schools really matter, aren't they important enough to write about? We need to model this for our students. Find your identity as a writer. How many teachers and administrators are not writing anything, ever? I wrote a post earlier about how important it is for educators to be readers, but they should be writers too. In fact, I think we should be writing alongside our students as they write too. 

I cannot imagine giving up on blogging again. I've found it to be incredibly valuable. And I really look forward to the day when I can look back over a period of 5 or 10 years or longer and see how my thinking has changed over time. Because I should be able to trace my own growth in a way that I couldn't before.

I recently heard Pernille Ripp speak at the Model Schools Conference in Orlando. It was a thrill for me to introduce myself after her presentation. Pernille is one of my favorite bloggers. She is truly authentic and transparent in sharing her work as a 7th grade English teacher. She doesn't come across as a person who has it all figured out (even though she is brilliant), but she generously shares the work she is doing in her classroom. She has created tremendous value for her audience. I observed other educators greeting her with stories of her impact. It's amazing what can happen when you decide to share.

If you are considering blogging, summer is a great time to start. You can write some posts and also plan for some later posts you might want to explore when you have a classroom full of kids again. Pernille is constantly sharing what her students have to say about learning. She uses her blog to give them voice. If you are thinking about blogging, I would urge you to visit her blog. I'm sure you'll find it inspiring.

I would also like to hear from you. How can I help you on your blogging journey? What's standing in your way? What passions can you share through your blog? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.
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