Tag: learning



Recently, we had a faculty meeting to start our teachers thinking about their personal learning plans for this year. Personal learning plans are an important part of what we do to grow and learn as educators at Bolivar High School. I outlined what we do and why we do it in a previous blog post.



During our last meeting, I challenged our teachers to try to develop a learning plan that has the potential to be a game-changer for their own professional practice and for student learning. It’s easy to get in a pattern of just doing mostly the same things but trying to do them a little better. As a result, we may miss great opportunities to do something that would be completely different and possibly tranformational for student learning. It could be a game-changer.



I would certainly applaud those who seek to improve established practices, especially newer teachers. It’s much better than an approach that doesn’t seek growth at all. A worse scenario would be an educator who teaches exactly the same lessons year after year with little adaptation. Even the smallest incremental change is better than no effort to improve.



But for teachers who have developed their instructional foundation, it can be highly rewarding to take a risk that could be awesome or awful. You see I believe the things we often choose to pour our energies into are safe. We want to improve, but we aren’t comfortable enough with failure. If we are doing hard things, it can be highly rewarding, but it can also be terrifying.



During our staff meeting, I shared the video of Caine’s Arcade with our staff. I asked our teachers to consider how their own personal and professional learning is similar or perhaps different from Caine’s learning.






Each small group worked to develop a visual representation of how Caine’s Arcade might help us think about developing our own successful learning plans. These are a few of the characteristics often found in successful projects. 

1. Starts with Empathy – Empathy recognizes there is a problem to be solved. It involves seeing things from another person’s perspective and seeking to help make something better.

2. Rich Inquiry – Develop lots of questions to drive your learning forward. Seek out resources. Find the information you need to advance the project.

3. Deeper Learning – Apply the knowledge to create new understanding and original ideas. Invite complex thinking.

4. Meaningful Connections – Successful projects are usually personally meaningful, and they usually involve connections with others.

5. Autonomy – If you want commitment and engagement, not just compliance, autonomy is better. Our teachers are the ones who choose their project and are empowered to see it through.

6. Risk of Failure/Celebration of Success – Most meaningful projects have a chance of failure. The idea might not work. The more ideas we try, the more likely we are to find ones that are game-changers. We always need to reflect and celebrate what we’ve learned and what aspects are successful.



Our teachers shared some amazing insights from their reflection on the video. It was exciting to see the type of thinking happening around the room.


Here are some of the comments teachers shared on an exit survey:


It’s always exciting to have the opportunity to learn something new and different. I also love to experiment.
You telling us that if we try our plan and it fails, it’s OK.
I like that PLP is all about ownership and autonomy.
They will be something that has a positive impact on students and teachers.
Personal growth encouraged
The autonomy to make decisions of how I want to spend my time making a difference.
I feel good about the collaboration and the sharing that will take place. I feel like it’s a very open place to share good and new ideas
I want to continue to grow as a professional.
PLP’s hold me accountable for growth.
This next week we will have small group meetings (3-4) to share the ideas we have so far. It’s an opportunity for everyone to give and receive feedback. When we share our ideas, they almost always get better. Someone will have a suggestion or make a connection that will move our thinking forward. 


Caine’s Arcade was transformational. He didn’t necessarily have that in mind when he started, but he did have lots of big ideas. In the end, his little arcade started a movement that has impacted students, educators, and beyond. And some more pretty cool stuff happened for him too. Caine’s Arcade Part 2 details what happened after the initial video. It’s amazing.




Who knows what you might start at your school with an idea and the willingness to pursue it? Be willing to take a big chance and try something new for your students. Your dreams and passions make learning come alive for you and for your students.


Question: Some educators seem to think that new ideas are unnecessary. They say the fundamentals of learning and education are unchanging. Stay with the tried and true. What would you say to this type of thinking? Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More Not Just Better, But Different



Recently, we had a faculty meeting to start our teachers thinking about their personal learning plans for this year. Personal learning plans are an important part of what we do to grow and learn as educators at Bolivar High School. I outlined what we do and why we do it in a previous blog post.



During our last meeting, I challenged our teachers to try to develop a learning plan that has the potential to be a game-changer for their own professional practice and for student learning. It’s easy to get in a pattern of just doing mostly the same things but trying to do them a little better. As a result, we may miss great opportunities to do something that would be completely different and possibly tranformational for student learning. It could be a game-changer.



I would certainly applaud those who seek to improve established practices, especially newer teachers. It’s much better than an approach that doesn’t seek growth at all. A worse scenario would be an educator who teaches exactly the same lessons year after year with little adaptation. Even the smallest incremental change is better than no effort to improve.



But for teachers who have developed their instructional foundation, it can be highly rewarding to take a risk that could be awesome or awful. You see I believe the things we often choose to pour our energies into are safe. We want to improve, but we aren’t comfortable enough with failure. If we are doing hard things, it can be highly rewarding, but it can also be terrifying.



During our staff meeting, I shared the video of Caine’s Arcade with our staff. I asked our teachers to consider how their own personal and professional learning is similar or perhaps different from Caine’s learning.






Each small group worked to develop a visual representation of how Caine’s Arcade might help us think about developing our own successful learning plans. These are a few of the characteristics often found in successful projects. 

1. Starts with Empathy – Empathy recognizes there is a problem to be solved. It involves seeing things from another person’s perspective and seeking to help make something better.

2. Rich Inquiry – Develop lots of questions to drive your learning forward. Seek out resources. Find the information you need to advance the project.

3. Deeper Learning – Apply the knowledge to create new understanding and original ideas. Invite complex thinking.

4. Meaningful Connections – Successful projects are usually personally meaningful, and they usually involve connections with others.

5. Autonomy – If you want commitment and engagement, not just compliance, autonomy is better. Our teachers are the ones who choose their project and are empowered to see it through.

6. Risk of Failure/Celebration of Success – Most meaningful projects have a chance of failure. The idea might not work. The more ideas we try, the more likely we are to find ones that are game-changers. We always need to reflect and celebrate what we’ve learned and what aspects are successful.



Our teachers shared some amazing insights from their reflection on the video. It was exciting to see the type of thinking happening around the room.


Here are some of the comments teachers shared on an exit survey:


It’s always exciting to have the opportunity to learn something new and different. I also love to experiment.
You telling us that if we try our plan and it fails, it’s OK.
I like that PLP is all about ownership and autonomy.
They will be something that has a positive impact on students and teachers.
Personal growth encouraged
The autonomy to make decisions of how I want to spend my time making a difference.
I feel good about the collaboration and the sharing that will take place. I feel like it’s a very open place to share good and new ideas
I want to continue to grow as a professional.
PLP’s hold me accountable for growth.
This next week we will have small group meetings (3-4) to share the ideas we have so far. It’s an opportunity for everyone to give and receive feedback. When we share our ideas, they almost always get better. Someone will have a suggestion or make a connection that will move our thinking forward. 


Caine’s Arcade was transformational. He didn’t necessarily have that in mind when he started, but he did have lots of big ideas. In the end, his little arcade started a movement that has impacted students, educators, and beyond. And some more pretty cool stuff happened for him too. Caine’s Arcade Part 2 details what happened after the initial video. It’s amazing.




Who knows what you might start at your school with an idea and the willingness to pursue it? Be willing to take a big chance and try something new for your students. Your dreams and passions make learning come alive for you and for your students.


Question: Some educators seem to think that new ideas are unnecessary. They say the fundamentals of learning and education are unchanging. Stay with the tried and true. What would you say to this type of thinking? Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More Not Just Better, But Different



Recently, we had a faculty meeting to start our teachers thinking about their personal learning plans for this year. Personal learning plans are an important part of what we do to grow and learn as educators at Bolivar High School. I outlined what we do and why we do it in a previous blog post.



During our last meeting, I challenged our teachers to try to develop a learning plan that has the potential to be a game-changer for their own professional practice and for student learning. It’s easy to get in a pattern of just doing mostly the same things but trying to do them a little better. As a result, we may miss great opportunities to do something that would be completely different and possibly tranformational for student learning. It could be a game-changer.



I would certainly applaud those who seek to improve established practices, especially newer teachers. It’s much better than an approach that doesn’t seek growth at all. A worse scenario would be an educator who teaches exactly the same lessons year after year with little adaptation. Even the smallest incremental change is better than no effort to improve.



But for teachers who have developed their instructional foundation, it can be highly rewarding to take a risk that could be awesome or awful. You see I believe the things we often choose to pour our energies into are safe. We want to improve, but we aren’t comfortable enough with failure. If we are doing hard things, it can be highly rewarding, but it can also be terrifying.



During our staff meeting, I shared the video of Caine’s Arcade with our staff. I asked our teachers to consider how their own personal and professional learning is similar or perhaps different from Caine’s learning.






Each small group worked to develop a visual representation of how Caine’s Arcade might help us think about developing our own successful learning plans. These are a few of the characteristics often found in successful projects. 

1. Starts with Empathy – Empathy recognizes there is a problem to be solved. It involves seeing things from another person’s perspective and seeking to help make something better.

2. Rich Inquiry – Develop lots of questions to drive your learning forward. Seek out resources. Find the information you need to advance the project.

3. Deeper Learning – Apply the knowledge to create new understanding and original ideas. Invite complex thinking.

4. Meaningful Connections – Successful projects are usually personally meaningful, and they usually involve connections with others.

5. Autonomy – If you want commitment and engagement, not just compliance, autonomy is better. Our teachers are the ones who choose their project and are empowered to see it through.

6. Risk of Failure/Celebration of Success – Most meaningful projects have a chance of failure. The idea might not work. The more ideas we try, the more likely we are to find ones that are game-changers. We always need to reflect and celebrate what we’ve learned and what aspects are successful.



Our teachers shared some amazing insights from their reflection on the video. It was exciting to see the type of thinking happening around the room.


Here are some of the comments teachers shared on an exit survey:


It’s always exciting to have the opportunity to learn something new and different. I also love to experiment.
You telling us that if we try our plan and it fails, it’s OK.
I like that PLP is all about ownership and autonomy.
They will be something that has a positive impact on students and teachers.
Personal growth encouraged
The autonomy to make decisions of how I want to spend my time making a difference.
I feel good about the collaboration and the sharing that will take place. I feel like it’s a very open place to share good and new ideas
I want to continue to grow as a professional.
PLP’s hold me accountable for growth.
This next week we will have small group meetings (3-4) to share the ideas we have so far. It’s an opportunity for everyone to give and receive feedback. When we share our ideas, they almost always get better. Someone will have a suggestion or make a connection that will move our thinking forward. 


Caine’s Arcade was transformational. He didn’t necessarily have that in mind when he started, but he did have lots of big ideas. In the end, his little arcade started a movement that has impacted students, educators, and beyond. And some more pretty cool stuff happened for him too. Caine’s Arcade Part 2 details what happened after the initial video. It’s amazing.




Who knows what you might start at your school with an idea and the willingness to pursue it? Be willing to take a big chance and try something new for your students. Your dreams and passions make learning come alive for you and for your students.


Question: Some educators seem to think that new ideas are unnecessary. They say the fundamentals of learning and education are unchanging. Stay with the tried and true. What would you say to this type of thinking? Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More Not Just Better, But Different

If you’ve been on the fence about using Twitter to support your professional learning, this list might help. If you exhibit the following signs, it’s probably a good idea to just forget about Twitter.



1. You don’t understand Twitter and aren’t willing to learn.


2. You don’t need any more personal or professional support. You have all the friends you’ll ever need.


3. You have perfected your craft. Every kid is learning every day. You have no room for improvement.


4. You’ve never had a good idea someone else might benefit from.


5. You’re not interested in your voice being part of a larger conversation about education.


6. You only collaborate with colleagues in your school because they have cornered the market on how to teach well.


7. You don’t have time to do something that could be a game-changer for you and your students.
8. You’re afraid you might change your mind about something. You hold onto your beliefs about kids and learning like a security blanket. You wouldn’t want that disturbed. What if your flawed assumptions were challenged and didn’t hold up under scrutiny? Ouch!


9. You can’t believe amazing professional learning could be free and convenient and totally self-directed!?! But it is.


10. You’re so passionate about education and kids, you are afraid you will get addicted and have to go to therapy (warning: this could happen).



If this list doesn’t describe you, you might be a great candidate to use Twitter to grow your PLN (personal learning network). Twitter may seem a little difficult at first, but it’s a great way to challenge your thinking, find new resources, connect with educators across the globe, and consider new ideas that can help your professional practice.



Best of all, it’s free and can be done at your convenience, any time of day all from the comfort of wherever you are. There are really no wrong ways to use Twitter for professional learning as long as you feel it’s supporting your goals. For me, it’s been the most powerful professional learning possible. It’s been a game-changer.






Question: Is Twitter your thing? Or are you still on the sidelines? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook…or Twitter. 🙂

Read More 10 Signs Twitter PD Might Not Be Your Thing

If you’ve been on the fence about using Twitter to support your professional learning, this list might help. If you exhibit the following signs, it’s probably a good idea to just forget about Twitter.



1. You don’t understand Twitter and aren’t willing to learn.


2. You don’t need any more personal or professional support. You have all the friends you’ll ever need.


3. You have perfected your craft. Every kid is learning every day. You have no room for improvement.


4. You’ve never had a good idea someone else might benefit from.


5. You’re not interested in your voice being part of a larger conversation about education.


6. You only collaborate with colleagues in your school because they have cornered the market on how to teach well.


7. You don’t have time to do something that could be a game-changer for you and your students.
8. You’re afraid you might change your mind about something. You hold onto your beliefs about kids and learning like a security blanket. You wouldn’t want that disturbed. What if your flawed assumptions were challenged and didn’t hold up under scrutiny? Ouch!


9. You can’t believe amazing professional learning could be free and convenient and totally self-directed!?! But it is.


10. You’re so passionate about education and kids, you are afraid you will get addicted and have to go to therapy (warning: this could happen).



If this list doesn’t describe you, you might be a great candidate to use Twitter to grow your PLN (personal learning network). Twitter may seem a little difficult at first, but it’s a great way to challenge your thinking, find new resources, connect with educators across the globe, and consider new ideas that can help your professional practice.



Best of all, it’s free and can be done at your convenience, any time of day all from the comfort of wherever you are. There are really no wrong ways to use Twitter for professional learning as long as you feel it’s supporting your goals. For me, it’s been the most powerful professional learning possible. It’s been a game-changer.






Question: Is Twitter your thing? Or are you still on the sidelines? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook…or Twitter. 🙂

Read More 10 Signs Twitter PD Might Not Be Your Thing



We’ve started a series of weekly discussions in our building about life in our increasingly digital world. I guess you could call it Digital Citizenship. I prefer to call it Digital Leadership. We have a half-hour academic support time built into our schedule four days a week. This past Thursday during that time we had our first lesson. We provided teachers with a couple of choices for activities that were pretty easy to implement. We showed a video of interview clips with our own students sharing some thoughts about how their digital life impacts their overall life. And then we discussed the upsides and downsides to technology, for us personally, for our relationships, and even for our nation. 



In my visits to classrooms, there were lively discussions during this time. These are relevant issues that kids really want to discuss. They want to hear different ideas, share their experience, and wrestle with how to successfully navigate this complex world. 



But there were also some challenges to making this happen. Our teachers and students are accustomed to having this academic support time for tutoring, making up missed work, and other important tasks. There were some legitimate concerns where the loss of the time was going to impact the academics of students. They really needed to retake that quiz or there was a study session for a test the next day. And so, I let the teachers decide. If you feel the academic need is pressing, then skip the Digital Leadership lesson this time.



Even my daughter, Maddie, was disappointed she wasn’t able to use that time for academics. She is playing tennis and has missed a ton of school for matches and tournaments. She’s working hard to get caught up and values Liberator Time to get stuff done. She was concerned about the loss of that time.



As I’ve thought about how this has all played out, my biggest question concerns our priorities. Are we really paying attention to our students’ needs? There is no question that preparing students academically is important. But if we aren’t preparing students for life in a world that is rapidly changing, will the academic knowledge really be that helpful?



Each year, I hear stories from heartbroken parents and see shattered lives because of decisions that were made online. I see the impact of all sorts of digital miscues, small and large. Besides the tragic circumstances that arise, there are also less obvious consequences of failure to navigate a digital world successfully. Who is helping kids figure this stuff out? 



One teacher commented that parents should be doing more to monitor and support their own children. I don’t disagree with this. I think parents can do more to be aware and help meet these challenges. That’s why we’ve hosted parent workshops and provided information in our newsletters to help parents in this area.



But what I don’t agree with is the idea that it’s completely the parents job to address these issues. Our school does not exist in a vacuum. We MUST address the relevant issues of our time and partner with parents to help students be successful. Our school motto is, “Learning for Life.” That points to the need for learning that really matters, that will help students be successful, not just on a test, but in living a healthy, balanced, fulfilling life.



In our school, every student must have a device for learning. They can use a school issued Chromebook or they can bring their own device. But using a device is not optional. I think this ups the ante for us in our level of responsibility on these issues. It’s important no matter what. But when our school is so digitally infused, we must work to educate our students about the challenges they will face. And we must educate them about the opportunities that digital can provide, too.



We are so focused on our curriculum and meeting standards I think we can forget to pay attention to our students and their needs. We aren’t thinking deeply about what is most useful to them now and in the future. We see them as just students. It’s all about academics. We are completely focused on making sure they are learning science, history, math, literature, etc. Are they college and career ready? Did they pass the state assessment? 



And the one overarching question, the elephant in the roomare you teaching content or are you teaching kids? Cause there’s a difference. The best teachers are always ready to teach the life-changing lesson. They understand that’s the stuff that really makes a lasting impact. Students will forget the foreign language they took in HS, they probably won’t ever use the quadratic formula in real life, and reading Victorian literature isn’t likely to spark a passion. 



I hope you get my point.



We can’t afford to not make time for Digital Citizenship, or just plain citizenship. 



Question: How is your school addressing the relevant issues of our time? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More Do We Really Have Time for Digital Citizenship?



We’ve started a series of weekly discussions in our building about life in our increasingly digital world. I guess you could call it Digital Citizenship. I prefer to call it Digital Leadership. We have a half-hour academic support time built into our schedule four days a week. This past Thursday during that time we had our first lesson. We provided teachers with a couple of choices for activities that were pretty easy to implement. We showed a video of interview clips with our own students sharing some thoughts about how their digital life impacts their overall life. And then we discussed the upsides and downsides to technology, for us personally, for our relationships, and even for our nation. 



In my visits to classrooms, there were lively discussions during this time. These are relevant issues that kids really want to discuss. They want to hear different ideas, share their experience, and wrestle with how to successfully navigate this complex world. 



But there were also some challenges to making this happen. Our teachers and students are accustomed to having this academic support time for tutoring, making up missed work, and other important tasks. There were some legitimate concerns where the loss of the time was going to impact the academics of students. They really needed to retake that quiz or there was a study session for a test the next day. And so, I let the teachers decide. If you feel the academic need is pressing, then skip the Digital Leadership lesson this time.



Even my daughter, Maddie, was disappointed she wasn’t able to use that time for academics. She is playing tennis and has missed a ton of school for matches and tournaments. She’s working hard to get caught up and values Liberator Time to get stuff done. She was concerned about the loss of that time.



As I’ve thought about how this has all played out, my biggest question concerns our priorities. Are we really paying attention to our students’ needs? There is no question that preparing students academically is important. But if we aren’t preparing students for life in a world that is rapidly changing, will the academic knowledge really be that helpful?



Each year, I hear stories from heartbroken parents and see shattered lives because of decisions that were made online. I see the impact of all sorts of digital miscues, small and large. Besides the tragic circumstances that arise, there are also less obvious consequences of failure to navigate a digital world successfully. Who is helping kids figure this stuff out? 



One teacher commented that parents should be doing more to monitor and support their own children. I don’t disagree with this. I think parents can do more to be aware and help meet these challenges. That’s why we’ve hosted parent workshops and provided information in our newsletters to help parents in this area.



But what I don’t agree with is the idea that it’s completely the parents job to address these issues. Our school does not exist in a vacuum. We MUST address the relevant issues of our time and partner with parents to help students be successful. Our school motto is, “Learning for Life.” That points to the need for learning that really matters, that will help students be successful, not just on a test, but in living a healthy, balanced, fulfilling life.



In our school, every student must have a device for learning. They can use a school issued Chromebook or they can bring their own device. But using a device is not optional. I think this ups the ante for us in our level of responsibility on these issues. It’s important no matter what. But when our school is so digitally infused, we must work to educate our students about the challenges they will face. And we must educate them about the opportunities that digital can provide, too.



We are so focused on our curriculum and meeting standards I think we can forget to pay attention to our students and their needs. We aren’t thinking deeply about what is most useful to them now and in the future. We see them as just students. It’s all about academics. We are completely focused on making sure they are learning science, history, math, literature, etc. Are they college and career ready? Did they pass the state assessment? 



And the one overarching question, the elephant in the roomare you teaching content or are you teaching kids? Cause there’s a difference. The best teachers are always ready to teach the life-changing lesson. They understand that’s the stuff that really makes a lasting impact. Students will forget the foreign language they took in HS, they probably won’t ever use the quadratic formula in real life, and reading Victorian literature isn’t likely to spark a passion. 



I hope you get my point.



We can’t afford to not make time for Digital Citizenship, or just plain citizenship. 



Question: How is your school addressing the relevant issues of our time? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More Do We Really Have Time for Digital Citizenship?





This past weekend, I decided to teach our 15-year-old daughter Maddie how to mow the yard using our zero-turn-radius mower. We have a pretty large yard to mow, and it takes about three hours to do the job. All summer I’ve relied on the two older boys to take care of mowing the grass, but now they are both at college.


Maddie is doing a great job learning to drive, so I thought it would be no problem to teach her how to mow. She was very excited about doing it, and I was happy to have help so that I’m not spending three hours every week on this task.


Well, it didn’t go as well as either of us had hoped. She had a little trouble at first getting the mower to steer in a straight line. And at times, she was missing sections of grass. A zero-turn mower can be a little tricky till you get the hang of it.


I was coaching the whole time. I would stop her and give her a little feedback, lots of encouragement, and even hop on the mower myself to demonstrate.


But in spite of my best efforts to keep everything positive, I could tell it was stressing her out a little. She was struggling. And I was just a few steps away when the mower hit a pipe right next to the wall. It broke right off. She was crushed. Her head dropped, and she looked so sad.


I tried to reassure her, but there were tears and she said, “I’m terrible at mowing.”


I really felt for her. I explained that everyone is a beginner at first. I did my best to comfort her. “You are just learning. You’re not terrible at mowing. You’re just new to mowing.”


I asked her if she wanted to take a break, and she said yes. I mowed for a while, and then she got back on and did fine until we finished. I felt it was important for her to get back on the mower, even after the accident. But I stayed with her the whole time.


As I was reflecting on this, I was thinking about how many kids feel like Maddie when it comes to school. They may be excited at first, but then it gets harder or doesn’t go well, and they really want to give up.


Our job as educators is to stay at their side and help them. We shouldn’t rescue them, but we shouldn’t leave them floundering either. We have to find the right balance. They need support and encouragement, but they need to learn perseverance too. These skills will serve them well for their entire lives.


A few of our teachers participated in an externship program this summer with GOCAPS (Greater Ozarks Center for Professional Studies). The main purpose of GOCAPS is to provide intership experiences for our high school juniors and seniors. But they also have a summer experience where teachers get to work in business and industry and get a better understanding of the working world outside of education. It’s called an externship.


At one of the meetings, business leaders were asked what schools could do to better prepare future employees. What is the one thing you wish your new hires could bring with them from their school experience? The response: We need people who don’t give up easily. Too many want to quit as soon as anything goes wrong or gets hard. We need young people who can face challenges and keep trying.


In the end, I was very proud of Maddie for not giving up. She didn’t enjoy mowing nearly as much as she thought she would. But she finished the job. Together we did it. And even thought it was hard, it was a good learning experience.


How are you teaching your students to be resilient? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.


Read More Too Many Want To Quit As Soon As It Gets Hard





This past weekend, I decided to teach our 15-year-old daughter Maddie how to mow the yard using our zero-turn-radius mower. We have a pretty large yard to mow, and it takes about three hours to do the job. All summer I’ve relied on the two older boys to take care of mowing the grass, but now they are both at college.


Maddie is doing a great job learning to drive, so I thought it would be no problem to teach her how to mow. She was very excited about doing it, and I was happy to have help so that I’m not spending three hours every week on this task.


Well, it didn’t go as well as either of us had hoped. She had a little trouble at first getting the mower to steer in a straight line. And at times, she was missing sections of grass. A zero-turn mower can be a little tricky till you get the hang of it.


I was coaching the whole time. I would stop her and give her a little feedback, lots of encouragement, and even hop on the mower myself to demonstrate.


But in spite of my best efforts to keep everything positive, I could tell it was stressing her out a little. She was struggling. And I was just a few steps away when the mower hit a pipe right next to the wall. It broke right off. She was crushed. Her head dropped, and she looked so sad.


I tried to reassure her, but there were tears and she said, “I’m terrible at mowing.”


I really felt for her. I explained that everyone is a beginner at first. I did my best to comfort her. “You are just learning. You’re not terrible at mowing. You’re just new to mowing.”


I asked her if she wanted to take a break, and she said yes. I mowed for a while, and then she got back on and did fine until we finished. I felt it was important for her to get back on the mower, even after the accident. But I stayed with her the whole time.


As I was reflecting on this, I was thinking about how many kids feel like Maddie when it comes to school. They may be excited at first, but then it gets harder or doesn’t go well, and they really want to give up.


Our job as educators is to stay at their side and help them. We shouldn’t rescue them, but we shouldn’t leave them floundering either. We have to find the right balance. They need support and encouragement, but they need to learn perseverance too. These skills will serve them well for their entire lives.


A few of our teachers participated in an externship program this summer with GOCAPS (Greater Ozarks Center for Professional Studies). The main purpose of GOCAPS is to provide intership experiences for our high school juniors and seniors. But they also have a summer experience where teachers get to work in business and industry and get a better understanding of the working world outside of education. It’s called an externship.


At one of the meetings, business leaders were asked what schools could do to better prepare future employees. What is the one thing you wish your new hires could bring with them from their school experience? The response: We need people who don’t give up easily. Too many want to quit as soon as anything goes wrong or gets hard. We need young people who can face challenges and keep trying.


In the end, I was very proud of Maddie for not giving up. She didn’t enjoy mowing nearly as much as she thought she would. But she finished the job. Together we did it. And even thought it was hard, it was a good learning experience.


How are you teaching your students to be resilient? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.


Read More Too Many Want To Quit As Soon As It Gets Hard

When I was a junior high student, I remember feeling pretty clueless about what to expect in high school. Sometimes my teachers would tell me to expect to be treated like a number. At other times, they would warn us that if we were unprepared, we could expect a dismal future. Over the years, I’ve […]

Read More PMP:033 What Motivates Your Learning? A Better Alternative…

I encourage people to challenge me in my workshops, and share their frustrations and hurdles that they have to jump to get to the next level. This one amazing lady shared this with me. She said, “You know every time I learn something new in my work as a teacher, all of a sudden there … [Read more…]

Read More Learning is the Job



As the new school year is just around the corner, it’s a great chance to commit to making learning more effective and meaningful in your classroom or school. Here are five challenges to make it the best year ever. 



1. Greet Your Students at the Door



Everyone can make it a point to greet students at the door each day. But it’s also easy to get busy with other things and neglect the doorway greeting. It’s easy to get pulled away by paperwork or visiting with colleagues or other things. That’s why I decided to include this as a challenge. It’s a challenge for me too. I always try to greet students in the morning, either at one of our entries or by mingling in the hallways. But sometimes I let other things get in the way. I want to commit to make this a top priority all year long.



Greeting students is helpful for several reasons: 

  • It shows students you care and want to interact with them. 
  • It allows you to read students’ body language and see how they’re doing, if they’re ready to learn.
  • It earns buy-in from your students and motivates them to engage in your classroom. You might be surprised how much difference it makes when you make greeting students a top priority.






2. Teach Your Best Lesson on the First Day



I think it’s fair to say there is too much teacher talk overall in K-12 classrooms. Learning would be better served if students were more actively processing content and skills instead of so passive receiving. And that’s and every day concern. But is there any school day with more teacher talk than the first day of school? 



Teachers talk about the rules, the procedures, grades, the seating chart. We talk about the syllabus, about the class objectives, and more. I remember a teacher who even discussed at length the organization of the textbook. Really?



Why would we want the first day of school to be the most boring day of the school year? Shouldn’t we want students to actually be excited about returning to school for the second day? I think the first day should create enough excitement and intrigue that students are more excited about learning tomorrow than they are today.



I recently read that we tend to make first impressions of people we meet within the first 7 seconds and then spend the rest of the conversation trying to convince ourselves why our impressions are true. I’m betting that’s true in the classroom, too. Your students will make assumptions from the first day that may be hard to change later.



So I’m suggesting you try to teach your best lesson on the first day. Make it so great that students will be rushing to your class for day two. Don’t talk about all the boring rules and procedures on day one. You can communicate all that stuff a little at a time the first few weeks of school. Some of it you can address as teachable moments arise. I understand the importance of rules or procedures, but don’t start the year with that stuff.



Instead of the boring pitfalls of the first day, here are some alternatives. Challenge students with a problem. Have them work in groups to create something. Use a team builder to get students active. Here is an Epic List of Team Building Activities. Use Brain Teasers to get your students thinking immediately. Here’s another set of Brain Teasers that might be a little less challenging. You might even be able to use the brain teaser to illustrate something about your rules or procedures, if you are determined to squeeze some of that in on day one. 



Another possibility would be to jump right into your content. Have students read something interesting and even mind-blowing from your subject. Have a discussion about it. Get everyone talking and sharing as much as possible right from the start. Set the stage for high levels of engagement on the first day.



And another possibility, I would always do this when I was teaching high school English. I would tell my students on the first day that I was going to learn everyone’s name, today. I had six classes with nearly 30 students per class. So this was always a big risk. It’s tough to learn 180 names. And I always failed. But I would try. And I would learn most of the names on the first day. 



Think of the lessons that flowed from this. The kids were interacting with me. There was suspense. They couldn’t wait to see if I would remember their name on the next cycle through the class. It was a great chance to talk about taking risks and failing forward. We would laugh together at my mistakes. I also did this to emphasize the importance of relationships. I try to learn your names because I want to get to know you.



Whatever you do, make your first day memorable. Try to teach your very best lesson!








3. Make Questions More Important than Right Answers



I’m guessing many students have come to believe that success in school is closely tied to delivering right answers. And if you deliver enough right answers you get a good grade. But this type of learning doesn’t necessarily stick. Students will deliver right answers on the quiz or test that is right in front of them, but what about months down the road. Do they still retain much of that information? I’m guessing no.



But focusing more on questions can lead to deeper understanding. And when students have deeper understanding, the learning tends to stick. It helps with applying information, seeing the big picture, and transferring learning to new contexts. Questions are the foundation of all inquiry. Physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman said, “There is NO learning without having to pose a question.”



But not all questions are created equal. Many questions are asked in the classroom that do not generate deeper thinking. These questions are the ones that seek a single right answer with very little explanation of thought. But my challenge is to make a shift. Try to make your classroom more about questions than answers.







A couple of years ago, we asked our students to select schoolwide essential questions to guide inquiry across all subjects. Our students actually voted on the questions. We had one question each quarter of the school year. You could do the same thing in your classroom or school. Here’s a Giant List of Really Good Essential Questions.




4. Put Students in the Driver’s Seat



If our goal is to create independent, lifelong learners it’s important to create classrooms where students are taking greater ownership of their learning. We know that a student-centered classroom is more effective than a teacher-centered classroom. So how can you put your students in the driver’s seat this year? 



Our school went 1:1 last year with Chromebooks for every student. Many in our community probably thought this was about keeping up with technology. But the greatest benefit to every student having a device is student agency, the ability for each student to make some of the decisions about the direction of their learning. Access to a device and consequently access to the sum of human knowledge via the internet creates opportunities for empowerment.



But we can’t keep teaching the same way and expect empowerment to increase. Just giving a student a device will not lead to empowerment. We have to give up some of our control and help guide and facilitate learning instead of making every decision ourselves.



Here are some questions for you to consider about agency and empowerment in your classroom?

  • How often do students have input on how they will learn?
  • How often do students have input on what they will learn?
  • Are students given opportunities to lead conversations?
  • Are classroom goals developed by the teacher alone or in partnership with students?
  • Do students have some time to pursue their own goals?
  • How often do you ask students for feedback on their experience in your classroom?

In classrooms where student ownership has flourished, I’ve noticed that it’s usually because teachers really listen and spend a considerable amount of time understanding their students’ perspective, what’s important to them, what their experiences with learning have been in the past. There is a feeling that the students and the teacher are co-creating the classroom together, instead of the teacher delivering lessons.



5. Eliminate the Trash Can Finish



Where does most student work ultimately end up? Unfortunately, most of it is destined for the trash can. It will never be shared with anyone beyond the classroom. The teacher will review it and assess it, and finally it comes to rest in a landfill. Sometimes, the work will be shared with other students in the classroom. But why aren’t we seeking more authentic audiences for student work?



When students know their work will be shared with a real audience, it changes the mindset. Instead of just producing work that is good-enough to get the grade, they will want to produce work that represents their best efforts. The sense of audience is an opportunity to practice empathy and try to see the project through the end-users’ eyes. It’s what professionals do in their work all the time. Our students need to be practicing the skills that all people use when they are completing a project or developing a product that will no doubt be presented to a real audience.






And there are more ways than ever to share student work. With social media and other digital platforms, student work can be shared across the world. Students can create blogs, produce podcasts, or compile digital portfolios. Twitter is a great way to share out links or images of student work. The #Comments4Kids hashtag is one great way to connect with audiences and get feedback too. 



According to a Forbes magazine article, your online presence will soon replace the traditional resume. But most students haven’t done anything intentional to establish digital presence or personal brand. Your classroom could help change that. You can find ways to share student work so that their great ideas and best efforts can be accessed in the present and the future.



Besides digital sharing of work, there are other ways to make learning visible and include real audiences. Elementary schools are great at displaying student work throughout the school. Why don’t more secondary schools do this? One idea a teacher developed in our school invites professionals in our community to examine student projects. It’s kind of like Shark Tank, with students pitching their ideas to a panel of “sharks.” Schools can also have maker faires or other showcase events where student work is on display for parents and community.



Avoiding the trashcan finish can be as simple as a Tweet or as complex as a schoolwide fair. Everything students do can’t be shared out, but we need to start sharing more. It brings relevance to learning and allows kids to contribute ideas and products to the world right now. Students shouldn’t have to wait until they are out of school to make valuable contributions.



Question: Which of these challenges will you try this year? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More 5 Challenges to Your Best School Year Ever



As the new school year is just around the corner, it’s a great chance to commit to making learning more effective and meaningful in your classroom or school. Here are five challenges to make it the best year ever. 



1. Greet Your Students at the Door



Everyone can make it a point to greet students at the door each day. But it’s also easy to get busy with other things and neglect the doorway greeting. It’s easy to get pulled away by paperwork or visiting with colleagues or other things. That’s why I decided to include this as a challenge. It’s a challenge for me too. I always try to greet students in the morning, either at one of our entries or by mingling in the hallways. But sometimes I let other things get in the way. I want to commit to make this a top priority all year long.



Greeting students is helpful for several reasons: 

  • It shows students you care and want to interact with them. 
  • It allows you to read students’ body language and see how they’re doing, if they’re ready to learn.
  • It earns buy-in from your students and motivates them to engage in your classroom. You might be surprised how much difference it makes when you make greeting students a top priority.






2. Teach Your Best Lesson on the First Day



I think it’s fair to say there is too much teacher talk overall in K-12 classrooms. Learning would be better served if students were more actively processing content and skills instead of so passive receiving. And that’s and every day concern. But is there any school day with more teacher talk than the first day of school? 



Teachers talk about the rules, the procedures, grades, the seating chart. We talk about the syllabus, about the class objectives, and more. I remember a teacher who even discussed at length the organization of the textbook. Really?



Why would we want the first day of school to be the most boring day of the school year? Shouldn’t we want students to actually be excited about returning to school for the second day? I think the first day should create enough excitement and intrigue that students are more excited about learning tomorrow than they are today.



I recently read that we tend to make first impressions of people we meet within the first 7 seconds and then spend the rest of the conversation trying to convince ourselves why our impressions are true. I’m betting that’s true in the classroom, too. Your students will make assumptions from the first day that may be hard to change later.



So I’m suggesting you try to teach your best lesson on the first day. Make it so great that students will be rushing to your class for day two. Don’t talk about all the boring rules and procedures on day one. You can communicate all that stuff a little at a time the first few weeks of school. Some of it you can address as teachable moments arise. I understand the importance of rules or procedures, but don’t start the year with that stuff.



Instead of the boring pitfalls of the first day, here are some alternatives. Challenge students with a problem. Have them work in groups to create something. Use a team builder to get students active. Here is an Epic List of Team Building Activities. Use Brain Teasers to get your students thinking immediately. Here’s another set of Brain Teasers that might be a little less challenging. You might even be able to use the brain teaser to illustrate something about your rules or procedures, if you are determined to squeeze some of that in on day one. 



Another possibility would be to jump right into your content. Have students read something interesting and even mind-blowing from your subject. Have a discussion about it. Get everyone talking and sharing as much as possible right from the start. Set the stage for high levels of engagement on the first day.



And another possibility, I would always do this when I was teaching high school English. I would tell my students on the first day that I was going to learn everyone’s name, today. I had six classes with nearly 30 students per class. So this was always a big risk. It’s tough to learn 180 names. And I always failed. But I would try. And I would learn most of the names on the first day. 



Think of the lessons that flowed from this. The kids were interacting with me. There was suspense. They couldn’t wait to see if I would remember their name on the next cycle through the class. It was a great chance to talk about taking risks and failing forward. We would laugh together at my mistakes. I also did this to emphasize the importance of relationships. I try to learn your names because I want to get to know you.



Whatever you do, make your first day memorable. Try to teach your very best lesson!








3. Make Questions More Important than Right Answers



I’m guessing many students have come to believe that success in school is closely tied to delivering right answers. And if you deliver enough right answers you get a good grade. But this type of learning doesn’t necessarily stick. Students will deliver right answers on the quiz or test that is right in front of them, but what about months down the road. Do they still retain much of that information? I’m guessing no.



But focusing more on questions can lead to deeper understanding. And when students have deeper understanding, the learning tends to stick. It helps with applying information, seeing the big picture, and transferring learning to new contexts. Questions are the foundation of all inquiry. Physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman said, “There is NO learning without having to pose a question.”



But not all questions are created equal. Many questions are asked in the classroom that do not generate deeper thinking. These questions are the ones that seek a single right answer with very little explanation of thought. But my challenge is to make a shift. Try to make your classroom more about questions than answers.







A couple of years ago, we asked our students to select schoolwide essential questions to guide inquiry across all subjects. Our students actually voted on the questions. We had one question each quarter of the school year. You could do the same thing in your classroom or school. Here’s a Giant List of Really Good Essential Questions.




4. Put Students in the Driver’s Seat



If our goal is to create independent, lifelong learners it’s important to create classrooms where students are taking greater ownership of their learning. We know that a student-centered classroom is more effective than a teacher-centered classroom. So how can you put your students in the driver’s seat this year? 



Our school went 1:1 last year with Chromebooks for every student. Many in our community probably thought this was about keeping up with technology. But the greatest benefit to every student having a device is student agency, the ability for each student to make some of the decisions about the direction of their learning. Access to a device and consequently access to the sum of human knowledge via the internet creates opportunities for empowerment.



But we can’t keep teaching the same way and expect empowerment to increase. Just giving a student a device will not lead to empowerment. We have to give up some of our control and help guide and facilitate learning instead of making every decision ourselves.



Here are some questions for you to consider about agency and empowerment in your classroom?

  • How often do students have input on how they will learn?
  • How often do students have input on what they will learn?
  • Are students given opportunities to lead conversations?
  • Are classroom goals developed by the teacher alone or in partnership with students?
  • Do students have some time to pursue their own goals?
  • How often do you ask students for feedback on their experience in your classroom?

In classrooms where student ownership has flourished, I’ve noticed that it’s usually because teachers really listen and spend a considerable amount of time understanding their students’ perspective, what’s important to them, what their experiences with learning have been in the past. There is a feeling that the students and the teacher are co-creating the classroom together, instead of the teacher delivering lessons.



5. Eliminate the Trash Can Finish



Where does most student work ultimately end up? Unfortunately, most of it is destined for the trash can. It will never be shared with anyone beyond the classroom. The teacher will review it and assess it, and finally it comes to rest in a landfill. Sometimes, the work will be shared with other students in the classroom. But why aren’t we seeking more authentic audiences for student work?



When students know their work will be shared with a real audience, it changes the mindset. Instead of just producing work that is good-enough to get the grade, they will want to produce work that represents their best efforts. The sense of audience is an opportunity to practice empathy and try to see the project through the end-users’ eyes. It’s what professionals do in their work all the time. Our students need to be practicing the skills that all people use when they are completing a project or developing a product that will no doubt be presented to a real audience.






And there are more ways than ever to share student work. With social media and other digital platforms, student work can be shared across the world. Students can create blogs, produce podcasts, or compile digital portfolios. Twitter is a great way to share out links or images of student work. The #Comments4Kids hashtag is one great way to connect with audiences and get feedback too. 



According to a Forbes magazine article, your online presence will soon replace the traditional resume. But most students haven’t done anything intentional to establish digital presence or personal brand. Your classroom could help change that. You can find ways to share student work so that their great ideas and best efforts can be accessed in the present and the future.



Besides digital sharing of work, there are other ways to make learning visible and include real audiences. Elementary schools are great at displaying student work throughout the school. Why don’t more secondary schools do this? One idea a teacher developed in our school invites professionals in our community to examine student projects. It’s kind of like Shark Tank, with students pitching their ideas to a panel of “sharks.” Schools can also have maker faires or other showcase events where student work is on display for parents and community.



Avoiding the trashcan finish can be as simple as a Tweet or as complex as a schoolwide fair. Everything students do can’t be shared out, but we need to start sharing more. It brings relevance to learning and allows kids to contribute ideas and products to the world right now. Students shouldn’t have to wait until they are out of school to make valuable contributions.



Question: Which of these challenges will you try this year? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More 5 Challenges to Your Best School Year Ever





For the past couple of years, our school has worked to create a way of supporting professional learning that is more personally meaningful. We were inspired by the idea of Genius Hour and how that might be relevant for teachers too. What if teachers were able to learn in a way that respected their individuality? What if they pursued their passions? What would that look like? How might that empower teaching and learning in our school?



We are trying to create the most powerful professional learning possible. We realize the importance of learning and growth for each individual. If we want sustainable, meaningful change in our schools, it will only happen when teachers are learning and leading.



From this thinking, we developed a plan for teachers to have greater ownership of their professional development. The idea was for teachers to pursue any learning they wanted so long as they believed it had the potential to improve our bottom line. And for schools, our bottom line is never about profits or shareholders. Our bottom line is about creating powerful learning for students. 



So our message was clear. If it might make learning better for students, then pursue it. If you are passionate about it, then pursue it. That was the challenge. We asked every teacher to write a Personal Learning Plan, to express a general direction for where they were headed. 




The first year I met with every teacher and signed off on the plans. I quickly realized that the meetings were standing in the way of teachers pursuing their goals. In meeting after meeting, I heard questions like “Does this sound okay?” or “Is this what you were looking for?” We were seeking to empower teachers, but the requirement of a meeting and a signature seemed to take away empowerment. 



So last year we didn’t have the meetings or the signatures. We had several activities during our regular staff meetings to brainstorm ideas and share possibilities, and then teachers simply shared their plans through Google Classroom. We wanted to remove the barriers and get to the real work.



So much of the PD of the past felt like jumping through hoops. It wasn’t always relevant to every teacher. It might be exactly what one person needed, but it might not be helpful at all for another. In a sense, it created a culture where professional learning became lifeless. It was just something that was expected and sometimes dreaded. I think some teachers began to view professional development as something that was being done to them instead of something they felt invested in. 



We needed a professional development reboot, one that actually honors how people learn best. These principles work for students, and of course they work for teacher learners too. 



Greater Ownership



The success or failure of each teacher’s plan belongs to the individual. The responsibility for growing personally and professionally ultimately rests with the individual and not the organization. We will provide support and encouragement, but you will get out of your professional learning what you put into it.



If you are taking risks and pushing the envelope, you may experience failure in the short term, but that is okay. Sometimes we learn the most from what doesn’t work. The important thing is to be invested in your own learning. We want it to be authentic and feel personal to you.








Increased Choice



Two years ago we required teachers to write goals that were aligned with certain building goals. We were emphasizing literacy since that is so important across all content areas. And we were about to launch our 1:1 program so we felt it was important to make digital tools a priority. We asked each teacher to line up their goals with the direction we were moving as a building. 



But last year, we removed that requirement too. Most teachers still had goals that were very relevant to literacy or digital tools, but they had the freedom to pursue things that might only be relevant to the learning in their classroom. We trusted our teachers to choose the priorities for their learning plan. What is important to you? What will benefit your students? The choice is yours.



Providing Time



We have built-in time for teachers to collaborate and learn. Every Wednesday morning, school starts at 9:00 a.m. The late start provides time to do this work. But we still have to be very careful it doesn’t fill up with other stuff that leaves little time for personal learning. It’s essential to try to carve out some time to allow teachers to be self-directed learners. However, time should also never be used as an excuse to not be a learner. Everyone has the same number of hours in the day, and learning is not optional for educators. We have to model the ongoing growth and lifelong learning we should seek to inspire in students.








Opportunities for Sharing



We tried to build in some opportunities for sharing Personal Learning Plans throughout the process. However, that is an area we need to continue to develop. It is so important to reflect and share in an ongoing way. Creating the structures for that is one way the school organization can support this process.



While most teachers developed and executed their plans on their own, some teachers elected to work together to create a learning team. We think it’s great to allow the flexibility for teachers to choose to work independently or with others. But either way, sharing with others is essential and not optional.



Near the end of the school year, we facilitated a closing event for the Personal Learning Plans. We randomly assigned teachers to small groups for a time of sharing. Teachers were asked to bring an artifact or product from their work to share. It was a time of celebrating all the good work that was done.



What’s next?



This year as we develop new learning plans, we are going to facilitate several opportunities for teachers to brainstorm and share possibilities. We want to develop more opportunities to support this work and allow staff to encourage one another and build off of each other’s ideas. One activity will be a First Turn/Last Turn structured dialogue. Here’s how it works:



1. Groups of 6 are ideal.

2. The facilitator will ask one group member to share a possibility for their learning plan.

3. In round-robin fashion, each of the other group members will comment on the idea with no cross-talk.

4. The person who initially shared the idea will then close the round by processing his or her thinking about the comments offered by the other group members.



Emphasizing the rule that there be no cross-talk will help keep the discussion focused and on-topic. Follow-up conversations can occur after everyone has a turn in the structured dialogue.



Transformational Ideas



As I mentioned before, the criteria for the learning plan was that it had potential to improve student learning. But maybe we can aim even higher? We want to think bigger and strive to do things that don’t just improve student learning, but that can actually transform student learning. 



It might be helpful for a teacher to learn how to use Powtoon, Twitter, or Glogster, but it could be transformational if the teacher learns how to use these tools to cause students to take more ownership of their learning or to create work for authentic audiences. We want to focus our energy on ideas and learning that has the potential to transform student learning. We want our work to be a game-changer for our students.



Here are a few examples of topics our teachers chose last year for the Personal Learning Plans:

  • The impact of goals and journaling on student motivation
  • Project Based Learning
  • Nonfiction reading with IEP students
  • Genius Hour with emphasis on human rights
  • Formative Assessment strategies
  • Increased choice in demonstrating mastery
  • Using CAD to create designs for 3D printing
  • Developing math tutorials for student to use for review and reinforcement
  • Using technology in choral rehearsals (video, music theory techniques, etc.)
  • Creating “flipped classroom” lessons
  • Increasing student choice in reading to develop passionate readers
I am very proud of the work our teachers have done as part of their Personal Learning Plans. We have already seen new ideas become game-changers for our school. As we continue to practice and refine this process, I believe we will see even more positive results. Ultimately, our efforts to honor teachers as learners and empower individual and collective genius has been meaningful for our school.



How is your school honoring teachers as learners? Do you believe this type of professional development would be helpful in your school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.



Read More Does Your Professional Development Honor Teachers as Learners?





For the past couple of years, our school has worked to create a way of supporting professional learning that is more personally meaningful. We were inspired by the idea of Genius Hour and how that might be relevant for teachers too. What if teachers were able to learn in a way that respected their individuality? What if they pursued their passions? What would that look like? How might that empower teaching and learning in our school?



We are trying to create the most powerful professional learning possible. We realize the importance of learning and growth for each individual. If we want sustainable, meaningful change in our schools, it will only happen when teachers are learning and leading.



From this thinking, we developed a plan for teachers to have greater ownership of their professional development. The idea was for teachers to pursue any learning they wanted so long as they believed it had the potential to improve our bottom line. And for schools, our bottom line is never about profits or shareholders. Our bottom line is about creating powerful learning for students. 



So our message was clear. If it might make learning better for students, then pursue it. If you are passionate about it, then pursue it. That was the challenge. We asked every teacher to write a Personal Learning Plan, to express a general direction for where they were headed. 




The first year I met with every teacher and signed off on the plans. I quickly realized that the meetings were standing in the way of teachers pursuing their goals. In meeting after meeting, I heard questions like “Does this sound okay?” or “Is this what you were looking for?” We were seeking to empower teachers, but the requirement of a meeting and a signature seemed to take away empowerment. 



So last year we didn’t have the meetings or the signatures. We had several activities during our regular staff meetings to brainstorm ideas and share possibilities, and then teachers simply shared their plans through Google Classroom. We wanted to remove the barriers and get to the real work.



So much of the PD of the past felt like jumping through hoops. It wasn’t always relevant to every teacher. It might be exactly what one person needed, but it might not be helpful at all for another. In a sense, it created a culture where professional learning became lifeless. It was just something that was expected and sometimes dreaded. I think some teachers began to view professional development as something that was being done to them instead of something they felt invested in. 



We needed a professional development reboot, one that actually honors how people learn best. These principles work for students, and of course they work for teacher learners too. 



Greater Ownership



The success or failure of each teacher’s plan belongs to the individual. The responsibility for growing personally and professionally ultimately rests with the individual and not the organization. We will provide support and encouragement, but you will get out of your professional learning what you put into it.



If you are taking risks and pushing the envelope, you may experience failure in the short term, but that is okay. Sometimes we learn the most from what doesn’t work. The important thing is to be invested in your own learning. We want it to be authentic and feel personal to you.








Increased Choice



Two years ago we required teachers to write goals that were aligned with certain building goals. We were emphasizing literacy since that is so important across all content areas. And we were about to launch our 1:1 program so we felt it was important to make digital tools a priority. We asked each teacher to line up their goals with the direction we were moving as a building. 



But last year, we removed that requirement too. Most teachers still had goals that were very relevant to literacy or digital tools, but they had the freedom to pursue things that might only be relevant to the learning in their classroom. We trusted our teachers to choose the priorities for their learning plan. What is important to you? What will benefit your students? The choice is yours.



Providing Time



We have built-in time for teachers to collaborate and learn. Every Wednesday morning, school starts at 9:00 a.m. The late start provides time to do this work. But we still have to be very careful it doesn’t fill up with other stuff that leaves little time for personal learning. It’s essential to try to carve out some time to allow teachers to be self-directed learners. However, time should also never be used as an excuse to not be a learner. Everyone has the same number of hours in the day, and learning is not optional for educators. We have to model the ongoing growth and lifelong learning we should seek to inspire in students.








Opportunities for Sharing



We tried to build in some opportunities for sharing Personal Learning Plans throughout the process. However, that is an area we need to continue to develop. It is so important to reflect and share in an ongoing way. Creating the structures for that is one way the school organization can support this process.



While most teachers developed and executed their plans on their own, some teachers elected to work together to create a learning team. We think it’s great to allow the flexibility for teachers to choose to work independently or with others. But either way, sharing with others is essential and not optional.



Near the end of the school year, we facilitated a closing event for the Personal Learning Plans. We randomly assigned teachers to small groups for a time of sharing. Teachers were asked to bring an artifact or product from their work to share. It was a time of celebrating all the good work that was done.



What’s next?



This year as we develop new learning plans, we are going to facilitate several opportunities for teachers to brainstorm and share possibilities. We want to develop more opportunities to support this work and allow staff to encourage one another and build off of each other’s ideas. One activity will be a First Turn/Last Turn structured dialogue. Here’s how it works:



1. Groups of 6 are ideal.

2. The facilitator will ask one group member to share a possibility for their learning plan.

3. In round-robin fashion, each of the other group members will comment on the idea with no cross-talk.

4. The person who initially shared the idea will then close the round by processing his or her thinking about the comments offered by the other group members.



Emphasizing the rule that there be no cross-talk will help keep the discussion focused and on-topic. Follow-up conversations can occur after everyone has a turn in the structured dialogue.



Transformational Ideas



As I mentioned before, the criteria for the learning plan was that it had potential to improve student learning. But maybe we can aim even higher? We want to think bigger and strive to do things that don’t just improve student learning, but that can actually transform student learning. 



It might be helpful for a teacher to learn how to use Powtoon, Twitter, or Glogster, but it could be transformational if the teacher learns how to use these tools to cause students to take more ownership of their learning or to create work for authentic audiences. We want to focus our energy on ideas and learning that has the potential to transform student learning. We want our work to be a game-changer for our students.



Here are a few examples of topics our teachers chose last year for the Personal Learning Plans:

  • The impact of goals and journaling on student motivation
  • Project Based Learning
  • Nonfiction reading with IEP students
  • Genius Hour with emphasis on human rights
  • Formative Assessment strategies
  • Increased choice in demonstrating mastery
  • Using CAD to create designs for 3D printing
  • Developing math tutorials for student to use for review and reinforcement
  • Using technology in choral rehearsals (video, music theory techniques, etc.)
  • Creating “flipped classroom” lessons
  • Increasing student choice in reading to develop passionate readers
I am very proud of the work our teachers have done as part of their Personal Learning Plans. We have already seen new ideas become game-changers for our school. As we continue to practice and refine this process, I believe we will see even more positive results. Ultimately, our efforts to honor teachers as learners and empower individual and collective genius has been meaningful for our school.



How is your school honoring teachers as learners? Do you believe this type of professional development would be helpful in your school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.



Read More Does Your Professional Development Honor Teachers as Learners?

Grading as a Kind of Manipulation



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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem With Points and Grades

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

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

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

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



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


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



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








Point Chasing Never Empowers Students As Learners


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


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

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

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



Learning Isn’t About Transactions Between Students and Teachers


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



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

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

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



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

Read More Does Your Classroom Offer Cash-Back Rebates?

Grading as a Kind of Manipulation



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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem With Points and Grades

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

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

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

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



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


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



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








Point Chasing Never Empowers Students As Learners


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


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

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

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



Learning Isn’t About Transactions Between Students and Teachers


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



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

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

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



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

Read More Does Your Classroom Offer Cash-Back Rebates?