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.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...