Sunday, May 10, 2015

How will you choose to end the school year? ... (100)

The weather is getting warmer...

There is more and more to do outside...

The always exciting standardized testing is either over or coming to a close soon...

You're tired and your patience is wearing thin...

Summer is getting close...
At this juncture you have to make a choice about how you wish to end the year.

This goes the same for teachers and administrators who are equally feeling the tension of the end of the year push.

Are you going to do as you've always done and play it safe?

Are you going to cut a few corners and take the easy route because you know there are only a few weeks left so what's the big deal?

Are you going to lower your expectations for not just yourself, but also for those around you?

Are you going to end this year quietly and uneventfully...?

We all have a choice to make.

We all have these last few weeks to make a bigger or more positive impact.

We all have a choice to make that will determine how our students remember us...

Remember teachers, if you don't want your students to check out early and coast through the end of the year, then you better not get caught doing just that.

This also goes for administrators... don't get caught checking out early if you expect your teachers to push strong through the end of the year.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

How we ask questions is important too (99)

#teacherappreciationweek Thank you for all that you do!

Also, have you registered to attend or possibly even present at the FREE #4riversconnect learning event hosted by Union this July?

Read more here:

Asking the right questions is obviously important.

At the same time, though, how we ask those 'right' questions is also important...

For example, read the three questions below...

  • "Don't you think we should go ahead and make the change?"
  • "Do you think we should wait any longer than we already have?"
  • "Can anyone think of a good reason not to buy that book?"
In all three questions above we are making it known what we believe. In the first question, we clearly think we should go ahead and make the change. In the second question, we clearly think we shouldn't wait any longer. In the final and third question, we have already decided to buy the book.

We all do it. We ask leading questions. Or we ask limiting questions. Or we ask questions that assume a certain answer like in the three examples above.

What if instead we asked these three questions?

  • "What do you think we should do about the change we are discussing?"
  • "The team has already met twice to discuss this issue. What do you think we should do now?"
  • "What do you think is the best way to learn the information that's in the book?"
By slightly changing the way we ask our questions, we leave room and space for a variety of responses. It's this space that leads to truthful discussion and conversation without limitation.

Also, try and avoid 'either/or' questions...

When we ask 'either/or' questions we limit the response to either one answer or another, without any flexibility or deviation.

Instead, just state the problem. Then ask "What do you think?" Or "What would you do?" Or "How should we handle this?"

As educators, we ask lots of questions every single day. Let's be aware of how we are asking those questions and figure out ways to push our kids in their thinking. Let's focus on asking questions that allow our kids the flexibility and freedom to let their thinking take them wherever it may lead...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sit still and be quiet... (98)

The cemetery method... everyone in rows being quiet and compliant:

Edutopia posted a blog post titled: 30 techniques to quiet a noisy class...

The question is... what's wrong with a noisy class?

Let's consider the question of 'should we be trying to keep our students quiet?'

What do we know about how learning occurs? What do we know about student engagement?

What do you think about this comment in response to the blog post?

When I was a beginning teacher I would have loved to have had this list of techniques. But then I learned the real answer to avoiding the problem of students acting up, talking, etc. It is not a matter of controlling the students at all.  

What about this article on 'why so many kids can't sit still in class?' Does this change anything?

What about this article written by a teacher who spent two days as a student to 'remember' what it's like to be a kid in school?

Think about what you want for your own child...

Think about how you want your next team meeting/faculty meeting conducted...

Think about how you retain and learn information best...

Think about real cognitive engagement vs. student compliance...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A new reality starts with a good question... (97)

What if schools didn't use grades and numbers to tell their story and instead used emotion like major companies such as Coke, Anheuser Busch and Google? via @gcouros

What if just one time a teacher said, "We won’t have time for Math today, we have too much PE to do?” via @shareski

What if the world as we know it ceased to exist and everything we thought was important became no longer important? Would our students still have the skills/ability to adapt and find success?

What if 65% of today's grade-school kids ended up working a job that hasn't yet been invented? (article written back in 2011...

What if what we call cheating in school is in fact in the "real world" called collaboration and maximizing time and resources? via @adambellow

What if schools had more open and shared learning walls/spaces like this? via @curriculumblog

Sunday, April 12, 2015

5 ways to gauge student engagement... (96)

Student engagement... a topic that is commonplace in schools and school districts around the world. The goal being that we want to have highly engaging classrooms where our students are intimately and passionately engaged in whatever task they are working on.

Engaged classrooms are where learning occurs and one of the defining characteristics of a great teacher is the ability to have his/her students engaged in learning.

But... student engagement can be a tricky and slippery slope at times because how we define student engagement can vary from educator to educator.

For example, when looking at a student who is working and doing what they are supposed to be doing, can we automatically assume they are engaged? Are they cognitively engaged or are they merely compliant and obedient? What about the kid who is passionately doodling and completely ignoring whatever the rest of the students and class are doing? Do we assume the student is not cognitively engaged because the student isn't compliant and obedient?

The point is simple... student engagement and the gauging of student engagement really aren't as easy or straightforward as some would think.

Also worth noting... most of our kids are truly engaged at most times during the day. The question is... are they engaged in what we are wanting them to be engaged in...

Having said all that, here are 5 ways to tell if your students are truly cognitively engaged in the learning occurring in your class.

1). Your students are asking in-depth questions that are specific and relevant to the learning occurring in your class and the questions go beyond simple yes and no answers.

2). Your students are curious about the topic and are expressing an interest in exploring the topic further beyond even your original intent.

3). Your students are taking the initial and baseline information and are creating and designing something completely different and completely new.

4). Your students are able to explain the purpose and reasoning behind learning what they are currently learning and see how it relates to their lives and the bigger picture.

5). Your students can clearly explain and articulate where they are in terms of their learning progression... they know where they are doing well and they know where they are still struggling.

What other signs and indicators would you say constitute true student engagement?

Monday, April 6, 2015

5 blog posts to get your wheels turning... (95)

1). Self Talk by Seth Godin:

2). The Death of the Final Exam:

3). Your Nostalgia isn't Helping Me Learn:

4). 21st Century Libraries Becoming the Learning Commons:

5). Why I Do the Same Student Projects Over Again:

What if...

And, being an innovator and pioneer won't always be received positively at first...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Challenge yourself with these 10 thoughts... (94)

Keep this in mind...

Recognize how important and powerful you are...

Never be afraid of answering this question...

Be sure you don't do this...

This should be one of our main goals...

The differences may be subtle but they're extremely important...

Our words really do matter...

We don't have standardized kids nor are we preparing them for a standardized world...

Significant difference between the two...

Something to blow your mind...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Experts do these 13 things every day... (93)

'Fires in the Mind,' a book by Kathleen Cushman, discusses what kids can teach educators when it comes to motivation and mastery. Though the book covers plenty of topics, the part most intriguing was Cushman's point on "the habits of experts." As educators, we are constantly learning and growing, and when considering the term 'expert,' we all probably have a pretty confident definition of what we believe an expert is. The part we tend to not think much about is what someone does to become an expert and what they do once they've reached a certain level of expertise.


A person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.
Having or involving such knowledge or skill.
noun.  specialist - connoisseur - adept - judge - master
adjective.  skilled - skilful - skillful - proficient - adept

The 13 habits of experts:

1) - Experts ask good questions...

2) - Experts break problems into parts...

3) - Experts rely on evidence...

4) - Experts look for patterns...

5) - Experts consider other perspectives...

6) - Experts follow hunches...

7) - Experts use familiar ideas in new ways...

8) - Experts collaborate...

9) - Experts welcome critique...

10) - Experts revise repeatedly...

11) - Experts persist...

12) - Experts seek out new challenges...

13) - Experts know their own best work styles...

After looking at and reflecting on this list of habits, Cushman describes expertise not in the traditional way many of us are accustom to. Cushman doesn't focus on what you know or the skills that you might have. Instead, she is more concerned with how we use information and approach a particular situation or issue. She focuses on the "growth" mindset rather than the "fixed" mindset.

How would the culture in your building or in our district evolve if we all exhibited the habits that Cushman feels characterize 'expertise...?'

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What educators should know about the human brain... (91)

Here is your lifelong learner 'brain' hit list for the week:

1). 9 things educators need to know about the brain

2). Boys' and Girls' brain processing differs

3). Girl brain and boy brains: What educators need to know

4). The impact of writing on our brain

5). Left vs. right brain in which side are teachers?

1). A lack of sleep has a significant impact on one's ability to do many of what we would consider to be simple but yet essential tasks.

2). There are two brains and each is quite different from the other.

3). The girl brain and the boy brain have some significant differences that affect learning and affect brain development.

4). There are different stages and different compartments for memory.

5). The stressed student will perform significantly worse when compared to the student who is not stressed... especially over the long term.

6). Physical activity has a significant impact on overall brain activity and brain performance in the short term.

7). Different parts of the brain are engaged depending on the activity and the information that is being accessed in the brain.

8). Exercise affects the brain in a positive manner and impacts several of the most vital features of the brain.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

There's no such thing as 'just' a teacher... (90)

You all know that child who doesn't have someone advocating for them. As a teacher, you are in a position to advocate for and fight for what is best for that child. Wow... what an awesome responsibility.

Where else in the world do you get to work with so many different personalities, egos, and varied life experiences all in the course of one day. If as a teacher you can't find something to learn from your students, then you aren't looking hard enough.

In what other profession can you literally witness the growth and development of a child on a daily basis? You are in a position to see first-hand the progress and growth that takes place every single day in classrooms around the world. You are able to take a student who possibly knows very little about his/her interests, and then help them discover and explore those interests while simultaneously watching them change before your eyes.
How many other professions can say they are a punching bag for the media and the sole reason for all the problems in society (joking here)? Educators seem to be getting all the attention... how cool is that to always be in the limelight! On a serious note, if what you were doing wasn't important, then people wouldn't notice and people wouldn't care.

Some of your students will get to know you better than anyone else in their lives. You will spend more time with some of your students than even their own family members. You will get to experience all the highs and the lows right alongside your students. Being this much a part of the lives of your students definitely makes this an awesome job.

In what other profession can you continue to learn and grow in the areas you are passionate about and say that it's a part of your job. Then on top of that, you get to share your passion and interests with others while getting paid to do it. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Research is quite clear in that a great teacher has a tremendous impact on the life of a child. This is not just related to academic achievement, but to all facets of their life. When you think something you might do or might not do doesn't matter, remember this research and keep it fresh in your mind.

You get to be an entertainer, actor/actress, and a Gumby-like person almost every day! I know the 'edutainment' mindset is not the most popular at times, but aren't you first trying to sell yourself? If the kids aren't buying into 'you,' then they will never buy into what you are trying to accomplish in the classroom. Take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity!

So, please remember, there's no such thing as 'just' a teacher...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Real-world problems that need solving (88)

Here's what we know...

We know that safe drinking water is still out of reach for millions. We also know the contamination of fresh and saltwater bodies around the globe is adversely affecting usable water supply.

We know that certain economies around the world have become increasingly fragile and susceptible to negative changes that affect millions of people.

We know that species around the world are becoming extinct at a faster rate than ever before in the history of the world. Some of these same species are heavily relied upon for human food consumption as well.

We know that the main sources of energy in the world are becoming more limited and scarce. The continued reliance on these sources of energy is and hasn't been sustainable for quite some time.

Lastly, we know that climate change is real and it's happening as you read this very sentence. The effects of climate change aren't yet fully known, but they most certainly won't be good.

So, with knowing all of this, which I honestly don't believe is doubted, debated, or unknown to the masses, how have we adjusted and modified what we are doing in schools to address these known issues?

The reality is that some of these issues impacting the world are already having significant implications for everyday people and their everyday lives. Additionally, if these issues aren't having a negative impact yet, according to the experts they most certainly will in the next 25-50 years.

Here's the rub... we want to provide our students with a well-rounded and broad set of educational experiences. We want our students to learn about the many great things that have occurred in the history of the world. We want our students to be prepared for the real-world which may include college or some type of career.

But, what if all of that didn't matter because the world as we know it ceased to exist?

What if we continue spending our time on what 'was' and ignore what 'is' and what 'will be?'

For the sake of our youngest students and for the sake of their potential children... are we focusing on the right problems to ensure a good and sustainable quality of life for those in the future?

Or, are we preparing our kids for a world that doesn't and won't exist in the future?

If we know the problems, shouldn't we be using this awesome opportunity called school to come up with some solutions?

Just a marble that's been rolling around lately...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What if...? (87)

What if we always kept things in perspective and tried to see things from the opposite vantage point?

What if we all committed to this?

What if we all got comfortable with being uncomfortable and 'let go' more often?

What if this is how we responded to any naysayers in regard to our shifting grading practices?

What if we had to remove a policy/practice whenever we wanted to add or start a new one?

 What if these 'causes' become the focal point of every one of our classrooms?

What if we gave our students these 8 'look fors' and asked them about their educational experience?

What if we encouraged students to publish their work and then sell their work in vending machines to other students and visitors in our district?