Tag: learning

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?



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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

Read More Why Blogging Isn’t What You Think It Is



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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

Read More Why Blogging Isn’t What You Think It Is



About 10 years ago, I was principal at a small rural school in Southwest Missouri, and somehow found myself as both principal and head girls basketball coach…at the same time. I would tell you I drove a bus route and mowed the grass, too. But that wouldn’t be true. But I did coach girls basketball and was the principal for grades 7-12!



I had coached for several years prior to becoming a principal, so this whole coaching thing was not new to me. And we were pretty good, too. It didn’t hurt that one of our players averaged about 40 points a game and would go on to be the all-time leading scorer in Missouri history.



We were in a very important tournament and facing one of the best teams in the state from a class larger than us. I knew they were going to be tough to beat. So for my pregame speech I decided to take a big risk. I was going to do something so crazy and unexpected that it would, hopefully, motivate the team and take away some of their nerves.



I went into my speech about our opponent and how they were pretty good, and we were going to have to play our best game to beat them. And that there would probably be times we would want to give up, but we had to be the ones who didn’t flinch. We couldn’t let them get the best of us.



I had brought along a large bucket that I prepared upon arrival at the gym by filling it with water. It was sitting on a small table in front of me as I delivered the opening to my speech. I’m sure the players wondered why it was there.



And then I explained, “I’m going to show you what it means to push through even when things get tough. I’m going to stick my head in this bucket of water and hold my breath for as long as I possibly can. And the whole time, I’m going to think about why I started. I’m going to focus on how bad I want to do my best, to stretch myself, to test my limits.”



Now I realize there is a distinct difference between weird and whimsy. And right now, you may be thinking I’m weird. But that’s okay. Stay with me.



The girls on the team stared in utter disbelief at what they were seeing. But they definitely weren’t bored. Engagement was high at this point in the lesson!



And then my head went under. And I stayed under. And I stayed under some more. Until I couldn’t take it any more. 



I came up gasping for air, paused to regain my senses, and then, with my arms flailing wildly, exclaimed, “Now go out there and play your best game yet.” We all put our hands together in the huddle. You could see the electricity in their eyes. Some were grinning, maybe even giggling a little, but they were ready to play, and I knew it had worked.



We went on to win by the narrowest of margins. It was probably our best win of the entire season, and we won 25 games that year.



Too often in our classrooms we have lost a sense of whimsy about learning. It should be fun and exciting. It should challenge us to reach higher and do more. It helps our fears melt away. It helps us believe in our possibilities. It should never be mundane or boring or predictable.



Now you may be thinking that life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we have to just do boring stuff, and kids need to learn to do stuff that isn’t always exciting. You may be thinking that you’re not an entertainer, you’re a teacher, right? I’ve heard this before, “Kids nowadays want to be entertained all the time. They want instant gratification.”



But I don’t think life has to be mundane and boring. My wife and I are traveling and staying in a hotel as I write this. This morning at breakfast one of the guys working there was joking around with us and having a good time. You could tell he was really enjoying his job. He was making it fun. He could just as easily be putting in his time and hating life. But instead he was busy putting a smile on our faces. 



The people who really make life better for all of us know how to take even the mundane and boring parts of life and make them wonderful. It’s not about being an entertainer. Some of us aren’t entertainers. But we can all look for the whimsy in what we do. We can ask our students to partner with us in making learning fun. Ask them to help you.



We ultimately want exactly the same things our students want. It’s two things. We want community (fun, whimsy) in the classroom. And, we want learning (curiosity, creativity) in the classroom. Yes, your students may not always act like they want either, but they do. You just have to help them get past all the defenses they’ve built to self-protect. School (and life) hasn’t always felt safe to all of them.



Here are some questions to consider related to bringing whimsy to your classroom:



1. Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?

2. If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?

3. Do you ask your students about how things are going in your classroom, from their perspective? Not to find out if you’re a good teacher or not. But out of curiosity of how they feel and how that information might help you make better decisions for them.

4. What are ways you can bring more whimsy into your classroom? In my example, I was doing something completely crazy that might be totally out of character for you. I would still challenge you to do it anyway. But there are also things related to how you design your lessons that can be whimsical and awe-inspiring. 



I challenge you to bring more whimsy to your classroom. If you are in your off-season (summer break) right now, what a great time to plan some new possibilities for this next school year. Set a tone from the start that your classroom is going to be filled with whimsy and excitement. 



If you need some more inspiration, I would highly suggest you read, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. It’s an outstanding book that will undoubtedly inspire you!



Question: How are you bringing whimsy and surprise to your classroom? Is that important to you? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More The Power of Whimsy in the Classroom



About 10 years ago, I was principal at a small rural school in Southwest Missouri, and somehow found myself as both principal and head girls basketball coach…at the same time. I would tell you I drove a bus route and mowed the grass, too. But that wouldn’t be true. But I did coach girls basketball and was the principal for grades 7-12!



I had coached for several years prior to becoming a principal, so this whole coaching thing was not new to me. And we were pretty good, too. It didn’t hurt that one of our players averaged about 40 points a game and would go on to be the all-time leading scorer in Missouri history.



We were in a very important tournament and facing one of the best teams in the state from a class larger than us. I knew they were going to be tough to beat. So for my pregame speech I decided to take a big risk. I was going to do something so crazy and unexpected that it would, hopefully, motivate the team and take away some of their nerves.



I went into my speech about our opponent and how they were pretty good, and we were going to have to play our best game to beat them. And that there would probably be times we would want to give up, but we had to be the ones who didn’t flinch. We couldn’t let them get the best of us.



I had brought along a large bucket that I prepared upon arrival at the gym by filling it with water. It was sitting on a small table in front of me as I delivered the opening to my speech. I’m sure the players wondered why it was there.



And then I explained, “I’m going to show you what it means to push through even when things get tough. I’m going to stick my head in this bucket of water and hold my breath for as long as I possibly can. And the whole time, I’m going to think about why I started. I’m going to focus on how bad I want to do my best, to stretch myself, to test my limits.”



Now I realize there is a distinct difference between weird and whimsy. And right now, you may be thinking I’m weird. But that’s okay. Stay with me.



The girls on the team stared in utter disbelief at what they were seeing. But they definitely weren’t bored. Engagement was high at this point in the lesson!



And then my head went under. And I stayed under. And I stayed under some more. Until I couldn’t take it any more. 



I came up gasping for air, paused to regain my senses, and then, with my arms flailing wildly, exclaimed, “Now go out there and play your best game yet.” We all put our hands together in the huddle. You could see the electricity in their eyes. Some were grinning, maybe even giggling a little, but they were ready to play, and I knew it had worked.



We went on to win by the narrowest of margins. It was probably our best win of the entire season, and we won 25 games that year.



Too often in our classrooms we have lost a sense of whimsy about learning. It should be fun and exciting. It should challenge us to reach higher and do more. It helps our fears melt away. It helps us believe in our possibilities. It should never be mundane or boring or predictable.



Now you may be thinking that life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we have to just do boring stuff, and kids need to learn to do stuff that isn’t always exciting. You may be thinking that you’re not an entertainer, you’re a teacher, right? I’ve heard this before, “Kids nowadays want to be entertained all the time. They want instant gratification.”



But I don’t think life has to be mundane and boring. My wife and I are traveling and staying in a hotel as I write this. This morning at breakfast one of the guys working there was joking around with us and having a good time. You could tell he was really enjoying his job. He was making it fun. He could just as easily be putting in his time and hating life. But instead he was busy putting a smile on our faces. 



The people who really make life better for all of us know how to take even the mundane and boring parts of life and make them wonderful. It’s not about being an entertainer. Some of us aren’t entertainers. But we can all look for the whimsy in what we do. We can ask our students to partner with us in making learning fun. Ask them to help you.



We ultimately want exactly the same things our students want. It’s two things. We want community (fun, whimsy) in the classroom. And, we want learning (curiosity, creativity) in the classroom. Yes, your students may not always act like they want either, but they do. You just have to help them get past all the defenses they’ve built to self-protect. School (and life) hasn’t always felt safe to all of them.



Here are some questions to consider related to bringing whimsy to your classroom:



1. Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?

2. If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?

3. Do you ask your students about how things are going in your classroom, from their perspective? Not to find out if you’re a good teacher or not. But out of curiosity of how they feel and how that information might help you make better decisions for them.

4. What are ways you can bring more whimsy into your classroom? In my example, I was doing something completely crazy that might be totally out of character for you. I would still challenge you to do it anyway. But there are also things related to how you design your lessons that can be whimsical and awe-inspiring. 



I challenge you to bring more whimsy to your classroom. If you are in your off-season (summer break) right now, what a great time to plan some new possibilities for this next school year. Set a tone from the start that your classroom is going to be filled with whimsy and excitement. 



If you need some more inspiration, I would highly suggest you read, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. It’s an outstanding book that will undoubtedly inspire you!



Question: How are you bringing whimsy and surprise to your classroom? Is that important to you? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More The Power of Whimsy in the Classroom





Brent Catlett (@catlett1) and Brad MacLaughlin (@IsdBrad) led a great session at #edcamplibertyWhat Great Leaders Do Differently in 2016. I really enjoyed the discussion. It was everything EdCamp should be. There was enthusiastic participation from the room. Lots of great ideas were shared. 



In fact, several ideas were actually applauded. How cool is it that educators are gathering on a Saturday morning to discuss leadership and cheer each other on? The session gave me plenty of inspiration for this post.



So what do great leaders do differently in 2016?



1. They lead themselves first. Instead of focusing on managing others, they lead by example and model the qualities they would like to see in others.

If I am going lead anyone, I have to lead myself first via @IsdBrad #edcampliberty

— Brent Catlett (@catlett1) March 12, 2016



2. Great leaders take risks. They view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Great leaders make others feel safe to try something new. They understand setbacks.



3. They come from every corner of the school (students, teachers, support staff, etc.not just admin). Leadership is more about disposition than position. Great leaders help develop new leaders and share leadership roles with others.

As a principal, I realize the best chance of sustainable, meaningful change only happens with strong teacher leadership. #edcampliberty

— David Geurin (@DavidGeurin) March 12, 2016



4. Great leaders are flexible. They see problems as opportunities. They are comfortable with ambiguity.



5. They are present. The entire school is their office. Traditional leaders might manage from behind a desk, but 2016 leaders can work from anywhere.

School leaders need to be visible and available for both teachers and students. #edcampliberty

— Scott Miller (@Miller_BHS) March 12, 2016



6. Great leaders are instructional leaders. They are out of the office for a reasonto be supportive of learning.



7. They are authentic. They admit mistakes. They are self-aware. They know their strengths and weaknesses. 



8. Great leaders are digital leaders. They recognize what it takes to succeed in a digital world. They are modeling the use of digital tools.



9. They are quick to give credit. And even quicker to shoulder blame.





Great leaders share the credit and shoulder the blame. Tweet this image.



10. Great leaders know their stuff. They are lead learners. They remain curious and are always seeking to learn.



11. They listen. And strive to understand. They lead with empathy. They lead with heart.

Leaders learning alongside teachers impacts change in school systems! It is about listening and the conversation! @catlett1 #edcampliberty

— Tracey Kracht (@TraceyKracht) March 12, 2016



12. Great leaders help others reach their goals. They don’t impose their own goals or organizational goals. They start with helping individuals grow.



13. They generate enthusiasm. They have a great attitude, have great energy, and inspire others to be stronger and more enthusiastic too.



A common theme seemed to be that schools should be ‘flat’ organizations instead of hierarchies. And leaders should be working alongside other team members, in classrooms and hallways, and not separate from them. We need more great leaders for 2016 and beyond. Judging by the group at #edcampliberty this shouldn’t be a problem!



Question: What are your thoughts on great leaders for 2016? What do they do differently? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.








      

Read More What Great Leaders Do Differently 2016





Brent Catlett (@catlett1) and Brad MacLaughlin (@IsdBrad) led a great session at #edcamplibertyWhat Great Leaders Do Differently in 2016. I really enjoyed the discussion. It was everything EdCamp should be. There was enthusiastic participation from the room. Lots of great ideas were shared. 



In fact, several ideas were actually applauded. How cool is it that educators are gathering on a Saturday morning to discuss leadership and cheer each other on? The session gave me plenty of inspiration for this post.



So what do great leaders do differently in 2016?



1. They lead themselves first. Instead of focusing on managing others, they lead by example and model the qualities they would like to see in others.

If I am going lead anyone, I have to lead myself first via @IsdBrad #edcampliberty

— Brent Catlett (@catlett1) March 12, 2016



2. Great leaders take risks. They view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Great leaders make others feel safe to try something new. They understand setbacks.



3. They come from every corner of the school (students, teachers, support staff, etc.not just admin). Leadership is more about disposition than position. Great leaders help develop new leaders and share leadership roles with others.

As a principal, I realize the best chance of sustainable, meaningful change only happens with strong teacher leadership. #edcampliberty

— David Geurin (@DavidGeurin) March 12, 2016



4. Great leaders are flexible. They see problems as opportunities. They are comfortable with ambiguity.



5. They are present. The entire school is their office. Traditional leaders might manage from behind a desk, but 2016 leaders can work from anywhere.

School leaders need to be visible and available for both teachers and students. #edcampliberty

— Scott Miller (@Miller_BHS) March 12, 2016



6. Great leaders are instructional leaders. They are out of the office for a reasonto be supportive of learning.



7. They are authentic. They admit mistakes. They are self-aware. They know their strengths and weaknesses. 



8. Great leaders are digital leaders. They recognize what it takes to succeed in a digital world. They are modeling the use of digital tools.



9. They are quick to give credit. And even quicker to shoulder blame.





Great leaders share the credit and shoulder the blame. Tweet this image.



10. Great leaders know their stuff. They are lead learners. They remain curious and are always seeking to learn.



11. They listen. And strive to understand. They lead with empathy. They lead with heart.

Leaders learning alongside teachers impacts change in school systems! It is about listening and the conversation! @catlett1 #edcampliberty

— Tracey Kracht (@TraceyKracht) March 12, 2016



12. Great leaders help others reach their goals. They don’t impose their own goals or organizational goals. They start with helping individuals grow.



13. They generate enthusiasm. They have a great attitude, have great energy, and inspire others to be stronger and more enthusiastic too.



A common theme seemed to be that schools should be ‘flat’ organizations instead of hierarchies. And leaders should be working alongside other team members, in classrooms and hallways, and not separate from them. We need more great leaders for 2016 and beyond. Judging by the group at #edcampliberty this shouldn’t be a problem!



Question: What are your thoughts on great leaders for 2016? What do they do differently? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.








      

Read More What Great Leaders Do Differently 2016

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