Sunday, December 31, 2017

11 Things to Be Instead of Comfortable

As I reflect on 2017, one of the things that's been on my mind this past year more than just about anything else is the importance of risk taking. I am on a mission to crush apathy, in my own practice, in our school, and for our students. 

And why is that so important to me? I can't think of anything that is more detrimental to the pursuit of excellence than complacency and apathy. 

In the first few years of an educator's career, it's tough to be apathetic. You are in survival mode. There is so much to learn. But for many, once there is kind of an equilibrium, it's easy to just settle into a comfortable groove and start coasting a little. The initial passion can wear off, and the easy thing to do is to get a little stale.

For students, as the years wear on, engagement in school tends to decline. Far too many students are going through the motions, playing the game of school, and just getting by. The focus is often on getting a certain grade or achieving whatever level of success is acceptable to self and to parents, but the idea of passionate learning or the pursuit of self-mastery is completely lost on most.

The chart below demonstrates just how students view their own engagement, as reported by Gallup. There is a consistent decline in engagement from 5th grade late into high school. These numbers are unacceptable to me. 

And even more concerning is my suspicion that apathy is possibly worse than even this data reveals. Many of our best students would report they are engaged, but if you really listen to the things they say about school, they primarily see it as a means to an end. They would likely report themselves as engaged, but not because they are enthusiastic learners so much as because they are willing to jump through the right hoops to get where they want to be.

So I am on a mission to pursue excellence and crush apathy. And it starts with me. I need to examine the ways I am taking risks and how I'm pursuing excellence in my personal and professional life. I want to push out of my comfort zone to do the things that will accelerate my growth. As John Maxwell writes, "There is no growth in your comfort zone and no comfort in your growth zone."

I'm not interested in playing the game of school. I want to see high impact, meaningful experiences in everything we do. 

So in 2018, let's step out of the comfort zone and embrace the challenge of growth and excellence. 

Here are 11 things I want to be to push beyond what's comfortable:

1. Passionate-A passionate, caring educator makes all the difference. Imagine what your school would be like if every person brought great passion every day. Craig Groeschel (@craiggroeschel) writes that apathy makes excuses, while passion finds a way. 

2. Desperate-That word may seem surprising, but we need a sense of urgency about the work we are doing. Be desperate to see every student succeed. Bring that type of energy.

3. Daring-Be bold. Be audacious. Don't retreat from a chance to make a difference.

4. Determined-Nothing worthwhile is easy. It's a struggle. There will be challenges and obstacles. It's an uphill climb. Crushing apathy will take our deepest resolve.

5. Committed-We hear a lot about accountability in education. But apathy just hides from accountability. It does just enough. What we really need is more commitment, not more accountability.

6. Brokenhearted-It's possible to become hardened and even cynical as an educator. The challenges are immense. But I never want to lose a soft heart, a broken heart for students, colleagues, for all others. I want to exhibit empathy in each day.

7. Significant-I want to live a life of consequence. I want to make a difference. And I'm pretty sure you do too. The search for significance is shared by everyone. We want our lives to matter. But it won't happen if your own comfort is your priority.

8. Creative-Don't ever say you aren't creative. Everyone is creative. Every thought we have is a creation of our mind. You have ideas that the world needs. But you have to push them out there. Don't hide your creative light.

9. Extraordinary-The difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary is that little extra. 

10. Courageous-Fear is one of the greatest things holding us back. We are born with only two fears, the fear of heights and the fear of loud noises. But we learn to fear so much more because we want to feel safe and comfortable. But it's not the way to crush apathy or pursue excellence. You have to be willing to put aside fear and pursue risk.

11. Curious-Start with questions. Question everything. Asking the right questions will push you out of your comfort zone as quick as anything. Growth is fueled when curiosity is flourishing in a learner.

Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone in the coming year? What else would you add to the list? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Year in Review: My Top 5 Posts from 2017

2017 is almost in the books, and I'm taking some time to reflect on what's past and certainly looking ahead to what is to come. Blogging has continued to be a personal and professional outlet for me. I appreciate my PLN for your support and for pushing me to be my best.

Here's a quick look back at my top 5 posts from 2017. It's interesting every post is a list. I guess I'm kind of into organizing my thoughts that way, but not all of my posts are structured in this format. In fact, some of my favorite posts weren't lists at all. But, note to self, it seems that posts with lists are really popular with the audience.

1. 21 Phrases to Use in Dealing with Difficult Behaviors, October 12th.

21 Phrases to Use in Dealing With Difficult Behaviors

The first priority in creating a positive classroom environment and limiting problem behaviors is to develop positive relationships. That's absolutely essential. Kids can't here this enough. It's important to establish positive intentions.This is another one of my favorite questions. I often will use this to hold kids accountable if they do something disrespectful to me or someone else.

2. 9 Essential #EdTech Ideas to Share with Your Team, February 5th.

9 Essential #EdTech Ideas to Share With Your Team

Technology is playing a bigger role in classrooms and schools in this country and around the world. Here are a few thoughts to keep technology in perspective. Share them with your team and discuss how to best implement technology in your learning culture.
3. 17 Signs You're a Future Driven Educator, September 26th

17 Signs You're a Future Driven Educator

In writing my new book Future Driven , I shared many of the great things I see educators doing that are changing education for the better and helping to prepare students for the world they are facing. And we all know it's a challenging, complex world out there.
4. 11 Things You Might Be Unintentionally Be Communicating to Your Students, November 14th

11 Things You Might Unintentionally Be Communicating to Your Students

Some things we communicate intentionally. And sometimes when we fail to communicate intentionally, we send a message that we didn't mean to send. Here are 11 things you might unintentionally be communicating to your students. 1.

5. 9 Mistakes That Sabotage Your Classroom Management, October 27th

9 Mistakes That Sabotage Your Classroom Management

If you've followed my blog, you might know I really like to refer to Always remember you're This one encompasses so much. It's easy to jump to conclusions or make assumptions in the course of a day working with students. Teachers make so many decisions.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Pursuing Your Passion Projects: A Conversation with Art Lieberman

Recently, I enjoyed a conversation with my friend Art Lieberman (@artFling). He is a middle school teacher in Texas and author of several books including The Art of Focus and The Art of Motivation

I'm sharing a recording of this conversation for you to enjoy. It's a blogcast. It's kind of a mix of a blogpost and a podcast. 

Art and I talked about how he became an author and why passion projects can be helpful for teachers. You can listen to the entire conversation embedded below, and I also included highlights and key takeaways in my notes below.


Twitter allowed Art and I to connect and eventually collaborate on a project. He helped edit my new book Future Driven.

Art credits his increase in productivity to changes in his diet and exercise habits. When he made these changes, he had more energy to devote to things outside the school day, like passion projects.

One of the changes was adding green smoothies to his diet. He explains how he makes them and why they make such a difference. They are much better than taking vitamins.

Art wanted to do more writing and so he started blogging.

Blogging is a great way to share, connect, and grow.

As he wrote more blog posts, Art realized with the amount of writing he had produced, he could've written a book.

Blogging helped Art practice his writing so he was ready to take on a bigger passion project, writing a book.

Passion projects can sometimes also be extra sources of income, but sometimes they are just for the love of the experience.

Being creative is good for us. Everyone has the ability to create. Everyone has gifts. When you use these gifts more fully, it actually helps you have more energy. It helps you be more productive.

Your passion project may be related to education, or it may not relate directly. However, a passion project can make you a better educator too. It's one way educators can model lifelong learning.

And finally, don't wait to start that passion project you want to do. There will never be enough time. You have to make time to do what's important to you.

Be sure to check out Art's podcasts here: One Teaching Tip.

Are you working on a passion project or thinking about starting one? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I would like to hear from you.

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.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Is It Possible To Teach Grit?

In a previous post, I shared about the power of keystone habits. The ideas are based on the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business

So what are keystone habits? They are habits that seem to have a spill over effect. The changing of a keystone habit leads to changes in a person's other habits too.

For instance, getting enough sleep might be a keystone habit. It could also result in improving other habits like better communication, more productivity, or avoiding late night snacking. The initial goal was just to get better sleep, but it can lead to improvements in other areas too.

One critically important keystone habit is willpower. In fact, it has been shown in research to be the most powerful habit of all.
In a 2005 study, for instance, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed 164 eighth grade students, measuring their IQs and other factors, including how much willpower the students demonstrated, as measured by tests of their self-discipline. 
Students who exerted high levels of willpower were more likely to earn higher grades in their classes and gain admission into more selective schools. They had fewer absences and spent less time watching television and more hours on homework.
"Highly self-disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive peers on every academic-performance variable," the researchers wrote.
"Self-discipline predicted predicted academic performance more robustly than did IQ. Self-discipline also predicted which students would improve their grades over the school year, whereas IQ did not... Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent."
Sounds a lot like grit and growth mindset to me. These have been very important topics in the education community. We see this every day. Kids with willpower habits do better. But I wonder how much success schools are having with teaching these skills? And should we be doing more?

Starbucks has an intensive training program to help employees develop the willpower to handle the moments they believe will make or break the company. It must be working because we all know how prolific Starbucks has become.

They focus their training on what employees will do when they hit rough patches. Each employee develops a plan for how they will deal with an angry customer, for instance. And there are opportunities for role playing. They want to develop automatic response loops that employees can rely on when faced with a problem.

So if the Starbucks employees encounter a certain situation, they automatically use the strategies they've learned and practiced.

I wonder what that would look like in the classroom? Sometimes, I think we simply tell students to work harder or to persevere, but we aren't giving them tools they need to learn these skills. We aren't teaching the behavior we want to see.

Sure, we may reinforce qualities like grit and willpower when we see them, and that's a good technique, but could we be doing more to explicitly train students how to have willpower?

Based on the studies of willpower as a keystone habit, it seems like it should be one of our most important priorities. Most of your students who are struggling in your class have probably always struggled in school. That becomes a pattern of frustration and failure. Part of that might be attributable to a lack of willpower. How can we disrupt that pattern? That's something to think about.

I'm curious what curriculum or programs readers have been using to teach grit and willpower? For instance, I've heard some good things about Leader in Me, but I've also heard it's expensive. I would like to find a more systematic way to teach these habits in our school. Leave me a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Information Without Emotion Is Rarely Retained

In 1993, famed college basketball coach Jim Valvano gave an inspiring and hopeful message at the ESPY awards. Valvano was fighting terminal cancer that would soon cut short his remarkable life. I occasionally watch the speech over again. It reminds me of what's most important.

During his passionate speech, Valvano helped put everything in perspective:
"If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. And if you do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special."
I invite you to take a few seconds to listen to Jimmy V speak these words in the video below.

So how can this apply to what we do as educators? Well, I think a great day at school includes the same things. We should laugh, we should certainly think, and we should also cry. 

I'm guessing that crying is harder for most of us to think about. We tend to think of some emotions as good or bad. We tend to hide those emotions that are sad or might be considered weak.

But emotions are an important way for us to connect. It's how we better understand ourselves and others. Emotions help us to reach the heart and not just the mind.

We know that stories are powerful for learning. I think that's because of how stories connect to emotions. You can talk about ideas all day, and I might be interested and even learn something. But if you connect those ideas with a story, and you touch my emotions, I may never forget what I've learned.

I remember one day years ago I was teaching freshmen English. It was one of those days when for whatever reason, I had a class period that was ahead of the others, and I needed to fill some time.

I decided to read a short story, The Scarlet Ibis, to the class. It was the first time I'd ever read the story myself, so I didn't know exactly what to expect.

But as I read, I was drawn into the story in a powerful way. No doubt the class could sense my quivering voice, my efforts to fight back tears, and my unsettled body language. As they saw how the story was connecting with my heart, they too were drawn in. You could've heard a pin drop.

The story is about two brothers. The younger brother is born with health problems, and he was never able to keep up with his athletic older brother. At times, the older brother is cruel and ashamed of his handicapped sibling. At one point, he even thinks of smothering the little brother with a pillow.

But he also demonstrates his love for him. He nicknames the younger brother Doodle and decides to teach him the things he will need to be ready for school, how to run, swim, climb trees, and fight. You know, the important stuff.

But the Saturday before school starts, the older brother pushes Doodle to physical exhaustion while rowing a boat. And then a storm blows in suddenly. The older brother runs ahead angry with Doodle for not keeping up so they can get out of the rain.

But when the older brother's anger calms, he notices Doodle is missing. He goes looking for him and finds him curled up under a bush with his head on his knees. He is bleeding from his mouth. He is dead.

It's a tragic ending.

I remember talking with the class about how the two boys reminded me of my own sons. Both of my boys are perfectly healthy. But there was something about the way the brothers interacted that reminded me of my own sons.

I also remember talking to them about empathy and cruelty. How most of us have it in us to be cruel. How we can fail to understand what someone else is going through. How selfish we can be.

I know without a doubt, even many years later, during that class period, there was laughter, there was thinking, and there were definitely tears. I think every student in the class felt something special that day.

So what does a perfect day in the classroom look like? 100% mastery of the objective for the day?

For me, I think a great day is when students are learning the objective, and the learning is also connecting with the heart. I'm not sure who said it, but I believe it's true, "Information without emotion is rarely retained." The lessons that stay with us the longest connect to our emotions.

Are you teaching with heart? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook

Friday, November 24, 2017

5 Reflective Questions to Encourage a Growth Mindset

A teacher at one of our elementary schools shared this recently. She was talking about how she encourages her students to persist in the face of difficulties.

Instead of saying something that makes a wrong answer seem like a curse or worse, she encourages the process. She says to students with curiosity and wonder, "Oh, that's my favorite mistake!"

Students are then able to view problem-solving as something that is not just about getting a right answer. It's about having thinking that perseveres. It's about staying with the problem longer.

Thomas Edison failed over and again in trying to invent the incandescent light bulb. He documented 1,000 failed attempts before he was successful. When a reported asked him how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he replied, "I didn't fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." 

Our district has adopted new math curriculum, and it's challenging. But kids are rising to the occasion. And a big reason it's successful is the focus on the process and the greatness of teachers to promote perseverance and model growth-mindset thinking.

Here are five questions to ask your students to help them reflect on their own mindset. The questions might need some unpacking for younger students. But I think all kids can think about these ideas.

1. When I start to feel like quitting, what will I do in that moment to persevere?

This might be the most powerful question on the list. When people decide exactly how they will respond to a difficulty in advance, they are far more likely to push through in the face of the challenge.

2. What are my thoughts telling me about how successful I might be at learning this skill? If these thoughts are limiting to me, how might I think differently?

Lots of kids are thinking thoughts that are self-limiting. "I'm not good at math" for instance. It's helpful to think of phrases that are filled with belief and resourcefulness to replace the negative thinking. Teachers can help students find the words for this.

3. What am I saying or doing to myself that is holding me back?

There are many things that can undermine a growth mindset. Excuses, justifications, worries, perfectionist thinking, thought patterns, past failures, etc. It's important to recognize what unhelpful beliefs students need to overcome.

4. What would I want my teacher to say to me when he/she sees me taking a risk, trying hard, or pushing through mistakes to pursue this goal?

This question is helping to shift the perspective to expecting success. When I try hard, good things happen. My teacher will say this to me, and that feels good.

5. Imagine how you will feel when you accomplish something that is really challenging. Describe that feeling. 

Again, this one is beginning with the end in mind. Getting a picture of success is so important. Humans are the only creatures on the planet with imagination. We can experience the whole range of emotions through our minds. Visualization is extremely valuable. It teaches the brain to expect success.

When gymnast Mary Lou Retton won her first gold medal, a reporter asked her, "How does it feel to win gold?" 

She replied, "Just like it's always felt."

"But this is your first gold medal?" said the puzzled reporter.

"Yes, I know. But I've experienced this moment thousands of times in my mind," she explained.

The power of belief cannot be understated.

What do you think about these questions? Do you have suggestions for other questions that might be helpful for students? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Power of Keystone Habits

I'm currently reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I couldn't put it down. These ideas are immediately relevant in trying to help myself and others (teachers and students) build capacity to do more and be more.

One profound takeaway for me is how small changes can lead to bigger changes and superior results. Habits are powerful, even ones that may not seem directly related to a particular outcome. 


When Paul O'Neil was named CEO of metals producer Alcoa, the company had been underperforming for years. Many questioned his selection for the top position, but after he spoke to shareholders the first time, he was especially under the microscope. You see, he didn't talk about raising profits. He spoke of creating the safest company possible.

He created an intense focus on worker safety, something he felt everyone in the company could get behind. The company had problems with quality and efficiency, but he didn't focus on on that. He made worker safety the driving concern.

But as his safety measures were implemented, quality and efficiency improved across the board, and soon Alcoa was turning profits that were extraordinary. Even though the company's energy wasn't focused squarely on profit-driving levers, those levers were subsequently effected by the focus on safety.

Impact of Exercise

Researchers have found over the decades that people who introduce consistent exercise routines into their lifestyle, also seem to improve other patterns in their life, often unknowingly.

They also improve their eating habits, smoke less, show more patience with others, and even use their credit cards less. It's almost like the consistent, positive change spills over into other parts of life. As exercise improved, so did other aspects of life, and it even happened unknowingly for participants. They weren't aware of the improvements they were making.

These types of habits, that tend to have the spill over effect, are referred to as keystone habits. They are the key to improving in a whole variety of ways.

Weight Loss

The conventional advice for weight loss was to join a gym, exercise more, follow restrictive low-calorie diets, and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Of course, those actions are helpful if you stick with them but most weight loss patients would not. They would follow them for a few weeks but slip back into old patters.

But when researchers asked 1600 obesity patients to make one simple change and keep a journal of what they ate for an entire day at least one day a week, the results were extraordinary. The people who kept the journal lost twice as much weight as those that did not and other behaviors changed, like exercise and diet, even though the researchers didn't make any suggestions to the patients about exercise or diet. They simply asked them to log what they were eating. It seems the journal was a keystone habit.

Other Keystone Habits

Families who eat together on average have children who make better grades, have more emotional stability, and demonstrate more confidence. 

Making your bed every morning has been shown to correlate to increased productivity, sticking to a budget, and better overall sense of well-being.

These keystone habits establish small wins in a person's (or organization's) life that can translate to bigger wins.
"Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage," one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. "Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win." Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

Implications for Educators

Are we taking advantage of small wins? Are we leveraging keystone habits in schools? 

Often when thinking about improving student achievement, we simply double down on math or reading. We implement more interventions. We increase the rigor, give more homework, or take away electives in favor of core instruction. And maybe we do increase performance just a little.

But at what cost? Is it worth it if we are sacrificing the joy of learning?

And, are we overlooking other levers that might yield better results and produce stronger learners?

What if we looked at other factors that might produce small wins and set some goals around these areas? I was part of a conversation with some local school leaders who were discussing goals for the year. 

One of the schools was focusing on getting more kids involved in school activities. Involvement in sports, clubs, fine arts, etc. has shown correlation to student achievement in studies. If we can get a small win in this area, it's good for kids regardless, and perhaps it will spill over to classroom learning.

What if you worked on having extraordinary greetings and made that an important habit in your school?

What if everyone made it a point to call students by name, make eye contact, and smile more? 

What if you focused on proximity in the classroom? Moving from the front of the room, sitting by students, being with students instead of in front of them.

I'm going to continue to reflect on how we can leverage the power of small wins in our school. What do you think about your classroom or school? 

Have you seen examples of the power of small wins? What do you see as possible keystone habits educators could develop in students? 

Leave a comment or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I'm curious what's on your mind.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Lesson On Gratitude

Tis the season of gratitude and thanksgiving, and the video below had me thinking about what it means to be grateful.

Have you ever heard the saying, "You started at third base but you thought you hit a home run?" The idea is that sure you are successful, you hit a home run, but it was due to the advantages you had as much as it was due to the way you hit the ball. After all, you started at third base.

The video below illustrates the idea of social and economic advantage and how these advantages can impact chances for future success. It's undeniable that certain starting points in life can create greater opportunities for success.

I think this video could be a great launching point for discussions with students. There is plenty to think about and even to critique. It's powerful, but there are plenty of opportunities for critical thinking.

So who should be grateful in this video? Some might say the kids with the most advantages. They have more to start with than the others after all. It's statistically true that people with those advantages tend to be more successful on average than those who do not.

But here's the thing about gratitude, it should not be dependent only on having more or even having enough. Gratitude is a state of mind that is available to all of us all of the time. 

After all, if you aren't grateful for what you have now, what makes you think you would be grateful if you had more? Unless you make a choice to be grateful in all things, how will it ever be enough?

It's very difficult to adopt this mindset in our consumer driven culture. Even in the video, the end goal is a $100 bill. We are constantly reminded of what we don't have. But life is not about racing past someone else to win. It's not about having the most money or toys.

Life has far more to offer than economic success. Some of the poorest people in the world live the most meaningful, happiest lives. They are finding joy in life in spite of having very little material wealth. Every day presents its blessings or burdens. We choose our focus.

Everyone has challenges in life and everyone has opportunities. Sure, some have more challenges and some have less, but everyone has the opportunity to choose two things: thoughts and actions. 

Will you choose to focus on your blessings or your burdens? Will you choose actions that lead to blessings or ones that lead to burdens?

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

Ultimately, I believe this is true. We can rise above circumstances, eventually. It may not happen as fast as we'd like. There are many stories of people who have risen above, people who are overcomers. There are people who have overcome terrible hardships and horrific circumstances, even abuse and neglect. If it is true for some, why can't it be true for all?

For all the problems we have in this country, there are still incredible opportunities, even if the deck is stacked against some more than others. Are there inequities? Absolutely. Should we be satisfied with a system that works against some? Absolutely not. But there are also tremendous opportunities for those who choose to rise above.

We need to help all students learn to be grateful even in the midst of challenges. Why? The research is clear (Harvard Health)
Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Gratitude is an empowering state of mind. It helps us realize that we have blessings in our life. It also helps us offer blessings into the lives of others. 

There may be difficulties and disparities in our world. There always have been injustices and as long a human being are running this planet, that will probably continue to be true.

I would summarize my response to the video I shared with two questions:

1. Who will you lift up?
2. What will you rise above?

Who will you lift up? You have gifts to give. You can be hope and help to someone else. You can lift up someone who might need a helping hand.

What will you rise above? There will be challenges. There will be obstacles. But you have everything you need to be great. Just keep moving in the direction of your dreams.

What's on your mind? I'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Facebook or Twitter

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Don't Let What's Urgent Keep You From What's Important

I bet you are a fantastic problem solver. Most educators have developed this ability because problems come at you all day long. And you make hundreds of decisions from dawn till dusk.

Our time is a precious resource that can be extremely scarce because of all the demands we face. If we're not careful, the tyranny of the urgent will consume us and may crowd out time for what's most important.

Can we agree that the things that are most urgent are often not the most important? Reflect on your day. There were things you felt had to be done. But at what cost?

When you spend all your time dealing with urgent matters, not considering what things would have the highest leverage for success, you are simply spinning your wheels. Lots of activity not going anywhere.

Benjamin Franklin dedicated 5 hours of his week to learning. His personal growth and learning was a priority. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oprah Winfrey also share this personal commitment to learn at least one hour a day and probably more.

You will never reach your growth potential if you are captive to the urgent.

We did a strengths finder with our staff about a year ago. It was a survey instrument that gave us feedback on our strength areas. We shared these out in a meeting and enjoyed reflecting on how our differences make us collectively strong.

But we all got a chuckle when I asked for teachers to raise their hands if love of learning (one of the characteristics) made their top five strengths. Surprisingly, in this sizable group of educators, only 2-3 teachers had it in their top five.

Of course, I think our teachers love learning. But I also wonder how much of a priority we are giving to our own growth and learning. I challenge you to spend at least 5 hours a week learning and see how it impacts your effectiveness.

For me, my learning each week involves reading, blogging, connecting with other educators on Twitter, and thinking and reflecting. 

Make time to support your own growth and learning and watch how it influences the learning and growth of your students.

The most successful people in the world are extremely busy and they are still finding time to read and learn consistently. Don't let the urgent things rule over you. Take back what's important and invest in your own growth.

How are you growing and making time for the 5-hour rule? What are you reading? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

11 Things You Might Unintentionally Be Communicating to Your Students

Some things we communicate intentionally. And sometimes when we fail to communicate intentionally, we send a message that we didn't mean to send.

Here are 11 things you might unintentionally be communicating to your students.

1. When you don't wait for all students to get quiet and give you their attention before you start talking, you might be communicating that it's not really important that they listen to you.

2. If you complain about the school, other teachers, or the way things are, your students will probably think it's okay to be negative about the school, other teachers, and probably your classroom too.

3. When you pass a student in the hall or they enter your room and you don't say hello or call them by name, they may think you don't really care about them.

4. If you give a grade for every assignment or activity and talk about how "this or that is going to be on the test," your students may think your class is more about grades than learning.

5. If the questions you ask have just one correct answer, there's a good chance your students will think your class is all about right answers, not about being better thinkers.

6. If you only recognize the 'A' students or celebrate the kids who have high test scores, that may communicate that only the 'smart' kids matter and that growth is not valued.

7. If you make mistakes in front of your students and then act defensive or embarrassed, you might be sending the message that only perfection is accepted and risk taking is not appreciated.

8. When you break a school policy or act like the rules are no big deal, you might send the message you don't really value a culture of respect and shared responsibility.

9. If you aren't intentional about making your classroom innovative and future driven, you may be sending the message to students that what their parents learned in school will be good enough for them too.

10. When you come in dragging, lack energy, or just don't give your best, you might be communicating to students that it's okay to try hard only when you feel like it.

11. If you don't give students choices in their learning or opportunities to pursue their passions, they may view learning as more about compliance than actually being about...well...learning.

We have to be very careful about what we are communicating. Kids are always watching. They want to see alignment between our words and actions. They are looking to see what we really think, what we really believe, and how much we really care about them.

What is being communicated in your school unintentionally? I think that's a good question to consider. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What If We Aimed for Collective Greatness?

This summer I heard Ron Clark speak and tell his story of how he became one of our nation's most celebrated teachers and ultimately founded the Ron Clark Academy. It's truly an inspiring story for educators. 

He came into education almost by accident. He was only going to teach temporarily until something better came along. But then he started to love it. And the kids loved him. And he was having unbelievable success, even with the most challenging students. He was setting very high expectations, and he was creating learning experiences that were irresistible.

And then the principal of the school came to him and said, "Why are you being so showy? You're making the other teachers very uncomfortable." 

He was getting fantastic results. He was bringing passion, enthusiasm, and energy to the classroom. Kids were learning. Kids were having fun learning. Test scores were skyrocketing. You would think everyone would want to replicate what Mr. Clark was doing, right? You would think they would want to learn from him, right?


Years ago, after I had given a suggestion to a teacher about a practice another teacher was using, I was surprised by the response.

"Oh, she runs circles around all of us."

The teacher said this with a measure of envy and a touch of self-defeat. It seemed like she was saying she could never do that. I hadn't intended there to be a comparison between the two teachers. I was just sharing that so-and-so tried this one practice and it seemed to work.

Average minds want other people to have average minds too. They feel threatened by the boldness and daring of those who want to do something great. How dare you try to be great? You're making us look bad. You're making me uncomfortable.

So what kind of dreams do you have? What kind of difference are you trying to make? If you want others to be comfortable and accepting of you, maybe you should keep those hopes and dreams just a little smaller.

When you dream big and want to do more, be prepared for opposition from mediocre minds. There will always be naysayers who want to protect the status quo. They want to retreat to average and aim for nothing greater.

But you are different. You have gifts that you want to use. Everyone has gifts if they are willing to take the risk of using them. You aren't going to waste them. Don't waste your gift! 

People may not always appreciate your gift, but don't let that stop you from using it. Don't let someone else keep you from pursuing excellence.

Find those people who will allow you to change, grow, develop, expand, and be great. Better yet, find those people who will challenge you and encourage you to be great. Be around people who lift you up and want to see you dream big. 

Keep dreaming big.

If you want to be a difference maker, you have to be a risk taker. Your students will reach their potential only if you are willing to unleash your own potential. It's never a competition to be better than the teacher down the hall. Everyone has greatness in them. 

They should want to be great too! We want them to be great too!

We should all be pursuing greatness together, cheering each other on, celebrating each other's successes, and learning from one another. 

That's what we are ultimately pursuing. We want collective greatness. We want to create a school where excellence is everywhere. Not just pockets of excellence. We want a school where kids are experiencing learning that will literally change the course of their lives.

What can you do to further your dreams and help your school find collective greatness? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. Be great!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

9 Ways to Shift the Energy in the Classroom

The current generation of students is dealing with more stress and anxiety than ever before. I'm sure there are many reasons for this, but regardless of the causes we must work to help address the reality.

Here are the stats as reported in an article from Time:
A study of national trends in depression among adolescents and young adults published in the journal Pediatrics on November 14, 2016 found that the prevalence of teens who reported an MDE in the previous 12 months jumped from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014. That’s a 37 percent increase. (An MDE is defined as a period of at least two weeks of low mood that is present in most situations. Symptoms include low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, and problems with sleep, energy and concentration.)
We hear the stories every day of kids fighting depression, feeling overwhelmed, struggling with problems with friends, parents, or both. There seem to be more kids than ever who are no longer living with parents at all.

And here's the thing, if you are depressed or filled with anxiety, how are you going to focus your energy on learning? You probably won't unless you shift your thinking. Or unless something in your environment helps you shift your thinking.

One of our teachers commented, "I want my class to be an oasis for students. For the time they are in my class, I want it to be so good they forget the problems on the outside."

So how do you do that? How can you help kids shift energy from a focus on problems to a focus on learning? 

Here's what won't work.

"Class, yesterday we worked on such and such and today we will do such and such. So let's get started."

Ready, set, go.

It's an abrupt attempt to start learning. That won't work because a bunch of kids in class are still thinking about how bad they feel, what was said to them that's hurtful, or how they are going to deal with that personal problem. They are distracted. They aren't emotionally in a good place to learn.

I believe every learner would benefit from more 'right-brain' directed starters in class. Lead with something that helps them access positive emotions, creativity, empathy, and connection.

It might take a few minutes to plan and execute these strategies, but it will be well worth it. In the end, there will be more learning by  helping students get the right focus. Start class by shifting the energy. Get kids in the right mindset first.

So here are 9 possibilities to make this happen. Find ways to open your class with one or more of these. And, look for ways to have these things show up throughout your class, too. It will help to inspire learning. 

1. Humor - Tell a joke, make fun of yourself, or do something zany and off the wall.

2. Music - Play upbeat music as students are coming into class. It's amazing how the right music can put us in a different mood. 

3. Relaxed Breathing - Slow, deep breathing and quiet relaxation can help students to calm body and mind.

4. Imagination - Have kids write or share with each other on topics that require imagination. What if you could time travel? What time would you visit? Why?

5. Drama - Create some fun drama in the class. Have a debate about something ridiculous. Launch an investigation. Make it absurd. Be over the top.

6. Play - Toss a ball around the class. Have a quick game. Nothing too competitive. Just bring some whimsy and playfulness to class. 

7. Movement - Stand up and stretch. Give a high five to someone. Or go for a quick walk outside of class.

8. Sharing Gratitude - Ask students to share something they're thankful for. Help them be grateful for the little things.

9. Stories - Share stories real and imagined. Find out what's going on in their lives. I always had some winning stories that I told just about every year. Kids were on the edge of their seats.

These techniques are not intended to treat anxiety or depression, but they can temporarily relieve the symptoms. Of course, students who have depressive disorders need professional help. But for the time they are in your classroom, maybe you can help them focus on learning by using these strategies.

What do you think? Do you have other ideas for shifting the energy in your classroom? I listed several general categories. I would love to hear your specific ideas. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter
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