Friday, July 21, 2017

Please Stop Staring



The Types of Stares

To stare means to look at someone or something in a fixed way with eyes wide open. Sometimes it can be an incredibly positive and amazing look because people are staring in awe. Individuals cannot believe what they are seeing and can't shift their eyes away. We see those stares when an acrobat performs an amazing flip or a magician makes something disappear. We can call those the AWE stares. Then there are the stares that are accompanied by a smile and sigh where people can't look away because whatever they are seeing makes them happy and fills their heart. We see those stares when we encounter an unexpected marriage proposal or see a baby take their first steps. We can call those the HAPPY stares. Then there are the other stares. The stares that are not only fixed on someone or something but are often vacant in nature and are generally accompanied by a look of shock. We see those after a terrible accident on the highway or a heart breaking story on the news. These stares do include a level of awe but not the positive type of awe; instead, these stares are often filled with pity and perpetuate a feeling of negativity. We can call those the BAD stares. The bad stares don't make anyone feel good - not the person staring and certainly not the person being stared at. Yet, the bad stares are real and pervasive in our world and we must work together to address them.

Please Stop Staring

Recently my family and I went on vacation to Aruba where we had an amazing time hanging out at the pool, enjoying the buffet and being surrounded by family and friends. The overall experience was a positive one and I cannot wait to go back to Aruba. Unfortunately, during our travels I also encountered the BAD stares and they left me feeling disappointed and disheartened. 

While I have been on the receiving end of this type of stare (I have had my share of fashion faux pas or have done something in public that I regret) this time the stares were directed at my son, Paul. Paul was born with arthrogryposis and congenital scoliosis, which have impacted his physical development and have led to certain atypical characteristics in regards to the way he walks and the shape of his spine (I have written about his journey here and here). In the end, Paul is a miracle because in the most important ways he is a typically developing and functioning kid (including possessing the attitude of a middle schooler but that is a whole other post) and he has exceeded the expectations of every doctor he has ever seen. He is smart, funny, engaging, empathetic, compassionate and, from my vantage point, pretty perfect. And while his norm may be different than others, he is a "normal" kid. Of course, when you see him you can't help but notice that there is some sort of physical issue because of his gait and the curve in his back. Fortunately, Paul does not allow himself to be defined or limited by those issues, instead he accepts them as part of who he is and realizes that they are just physical limitations not life limitations. 

In the end, Paul walks through life with a good amount of self-confidence and positivity, which serves him well but isn't necessarily visible to everyone else - especially to those who don't know him. Instead, what is visible is the curve in his spine, and the way that he walks, and these are the things that bring on the stares... the BAD stares. Now I am not sure if Paul notices the stares and just ignores them or is completely oblivious to them but I notice them and they break my heart a little bit each time. The stares bring on a range of emotions. I feel everything from anger to sadness to indifference to frustration to disappointment. And while I understand why people might glance for a moment, I don't understand why people stare - literally eyes fixed, mouths wide open and looks of shock. One time, I actually watched a person walk into a wall because they couldn't stop staring. I think the stares that I have the hardest time with are the ones that come from adults. I can't help but think - wait, you're a grown up and someone must have taught you that it is not ok to stare. Yet I see it over and over again. People stare and literally can't stop themselves; unfortunately, those stares only evoke insecurity and negativity and the time has come to stop the staring.

What Can We Do To Stop The Staring?

While I don't think schools and educators alone are the silver bullet to "fix" the societal issue that manifests itself in the form of staring (I think the issue here is a reflection of much a more systemic and pervasive issue in our world impacting people who are marginalized), I do think there are things we can do within our schools to help our students be positive global citizens. Here are 3 ideas that I think can help stop the staring...

1) Put empathy and inclusivity at the center of our work in schools - and not just during SEL time! Our curriculum can no longer be just about academic skills with a special period of social emotional learning; but, instead we must place the importance of empathy and inclusivity at the center of our work whether we are doing a read aloud, completing a science experiment or solving a math problem, we must expose our students to what it means to be an empathetic individual and citizen of the world. Just think about the whole 21st century movement - both collaboration and critical thinking skills are central to this work and are also important when thinking about developing empathy and believing in inclusivity.  We must also be mindful of our actions as the educators because we can model (and even do a "think aloud" to show kids the what and why of our thinking) empathy and inclusivity. While I do believe some people are more inclined to be empathetic and inclusive (a lot to consider in the whole nature vs. nurture argument) I think we could equip all of our students with the skills to be able to exhibit empathy and be inclusive of those around them who might be different. It is another skill set we can expose kids to through inquiry and discussion if we focus on empathy and inclusion with intentionality. Ultimately the work we need to do is about emotional intelligence and high levels of self-awareness (for students and staff) and by building those capacities, we can take the conversation beyond tolerance and acceptance and help nurture empathy and inclusivity. This is not easy work but so important because when we nurture the ability to be empathetic and inclusive, we take learning to a whole other level.    

2) Use digital platforms to connect our students to people from every walk of life - we can no longer contain the learning to the four walls of our classrooms or schools! There are so many digital platforms (new ones spring up each day) that remove all barriers (geographical, SES, gender, etc.) and allow us the opportunity to learn from the world; yes, literally learn from the world beyond our classrooms. By accessing digital platforms, we can accelerate our learning because we can engage our students with people who are different than them and the result will be an informed perspective and appreciation and respect for what makes us different. We can have our students learn from people who have a different skin color, people who speak a different language, people who subscribe to different religions, people who live a different lifestyle, people who are living with disabilities, people who aren't like our students. This type of exposure and interaction will help support the development of global citizens! 

3) Incorporate literature, texts, blog posts, articles, etc. that feature characters and people who can serve as windows and mirrors for our learners. Much like the use of digital platforms (which may not be for every community), texts can serve as the gateway to an understanding of how others experience life. To that end, we must ensure that the literature, and other text based resources, available to our kids are rich, diverse and inclusive. Ultimately, empathy is about understanding, respecting, and potentially appreciating, the experiences of others. 

In The End... 

These are just three possibilities of what we can do in our schools today to help nurture the development of global citizens who are empathetic and inclusive... and don't stare. I am sure there are better ways to accomplish this goal but the problem is real and we must address it sooner rather than later because our kids, my kid, deserve better. In the meantime though, to all the adults out there, please stop staring.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

5 Leadership Lessons From Dad





My Dad...

It took me many years to realize this but my dad has had the singular greatest influence and impact on the man I have become today. While growing up I spent most of my time with my mother and grandmother, it was those quiet moments with dad that I treasured; it was those deep discussions with dad that impacted me; it was watching my dad that helped me understand what kind of man and father I wanted to be. Unfortunately, I didn't quite realize this until I met my partner. As I got to know my partner and grew to love many aspects of his personality it clicked that the thing I loved most was that he reminded me of my dad. They are both kind, patient, quiet, supportive and humble beyond words; yes, my partner reminded of my dad! My dad, who is my mentor; my dad, who is my best friend; my dad, who is my role model; and my dad, who is my hero!

My dad left his home, in Greece, alone at the age of 17, and came to the land of opportunity where the streets were paved with gold. My dad was the chosen one to take that journey because his family saw possibilities in him. In fact, many people in my dad's village chipped in to pay for his travel expenses so he can come to the United States of America and begin a new life. Not only did my dad begin a new life but he started a family, he persevered to connect with others in a country where he had little understanding of the language, and, in the end, after being here for over 60 years, it is clear that he thrived on many levels. He thrived as a husband (my mom has always been the strength behind many of his successes), as a dad, as a grandpa, as a friend and as a business man. Yes, this man, who came to our country with a few dollars in his pocket and no English, thrived as a successful business man and leader!





Leadership Lessons From My Dad...  

As I start to prepare for my new professional endeavor, as Superintendent of Schools in Hastings on Hudson, I started to reflect on the leaders and leadership lessons that have had the greatest influence on me. Yes, I have been influenced by the likes of Whitaker, Senge and Fullan but the one person I kept coming back to was my dad. My dad has had the greatest impact on who I am as a leader because of these 5 leadership lessons he taught me... 

1) Listen more than you talk... a lot more! My dad is the best listener on the planet. No matter what anyone is telling him, he always listens attentively, patiently and supportively. There is no judgement. There is no overreaction. There is no dismissing of others. There is only listening for the purposes of understanding and appreciating someone else's journey. This was crystalized for me when I came out to my dad at 40 years old. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do and I was pretty certain that as a traditional and religious Greek man, who grew up in another time period, he would not be able to understand or support me. But, that was the farthest from the truth. He listened patiently and when I was done he asked if I was happy and when I said yes, he responded with, "That is all I care about because your happiness is more important than my own!" I had never appreciated my dad more than I did at that moment. I also realized that my dad had modeled one of the most important leadership skills... listening without judgement! So as I get ready for my new journey, I am going to try and listen a lot more than I talk!  

2) Understand and respect your professional context! My dad owned and ran a service station (he was an auto mechanic and his station did repairs and sold gas) in a community that was comprised predominately of members of a conservative religious group. While my dad had little understanding of the community when he opened his shop, he immersed himself in the community and got to know the people, their beliefs, their values and their needs. My dad used this information to tailor the experience at his station to best meet the needs of his community - he closed the station on days of religious holidays that were important in the community, he learned some of the language spoken in the community and he connected with the people; everyone that came to his station knew that Paul would take care of them because he understood and respected them. As my journey as an educational leader has unfolded, I have called on this lesson many times and it has served me well in connecting with members of a community because I took the time to get to know them and understand their values. I am especially mindful of this lesson as I prepare to begin my journey as a Superintendent because my father has helped me recognize that leadership is as much about context as it is about the skills of the leader.    

3) Be supportive and don't judge, even when you don't understand or agree! My dad is the most supportive and encouraging human being on the planet. No matter how serious the problem or complicated the situation, my dad always stays calm and supports those in need. When my son was born with various medical issues, I was a mess because I couldn't wrap my head around what the future may hold for Paulie... would he walk? Would he be healthy? Would he be independent? Would he be happy? The questions and fears flooded my mind and the only thing that made me feel better was talking to my dad because he calmed me down and reminded me to keep my focus on what I could control because that is what my son needed. This is a leadership lesson that has guided me hundreds of times over the last decade whether dealing with an anxious staff member or a fragile child or an irate parent, I try and remain calm so the person knows they are supported even if I don't understand or agree with them. Support goes a long way because it challenges us to keep the focus on the issues and avoid passing judgement.   

4) Find balance in your personal life because people in your professional world are watching! While my dad worked 20 hour days when I was a baby, as I got older he began spending less time at work and more time with our family. And when I turned 8, the unthinkable happened... my dad, who had worked every single day from the age of 17, took the entire summer off and traveled to Greece with me. We went on road trips, visited family and spent time connecting. There was no work and no late hours - it was just quality time with family. While his employees and customers were shocked that he was away from his work for over a month, in the end, they developed a whole other layer of respect for him because of the value he placed on family. This lesson has been an important one for me because when I first entered educational leadership I spent many hours away from home and missed a lot of time with Paulie. As I have grown older, I have become much more conscious of the importance of balance and so now, when I am with my family, I am with my family. While this means that I have to stay up late and wake up early to get work done, this balance helps me amass the emotional deposits I need to sustain myself in both personal and professional worlds. In fact, this balance has also made an impression on those in my professional world who have commented on how much they appreciate my attempts to maintain balance. This lesson has reminded me that balance in my personal life doesn't only have a positive impact on me but it could also have a positive impact on those in my professional world who are watching.

5) Be humble! My dad spent his life introducing himself as an auto mechanic but what most people didn't know is that my dad is an incredibly successful business man. Not only did my dad fix cars but he also owned and managed several successful service stations at the same time. My dad is a lot more than "just" an auto mechanic but in the end, it is his humility and ability to remain humble that always strike me and those who know him. As I leader, this is something I always keep in mind - I stay humble by taking my work seriously but not taking myself seriously. So, while I may have a specific title in front of my name, I will always be a humble and proud educator! 





Words cannot capture how much my dad means to me but as we prepare to celebrate Father's Day, I hope sharing his story with the world means that many other people will benefit from the 5 leadership lessons my dad taught me! Thank you dad - I love you!

So, if you have a few minutes after you read this post, please feel free to leave a comment below and tell my dad (Paul Sr.) which leadership lesson resonates most with you.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

Redefine The Roles, Not The Whole System

McIver Institute

Education Reform: Is It Necessary?


Does our educational system need to be reformed? While I think many people would answer a resounding YES, I am a bit more skeptical, cautious and honestly, uncertain. While the word reform speaks to making changes to improve a specific institution, when it comes to education, it seems to be synonymous with a complete overhaul; an implosion of the current system and a entire rebuild. While that may be necessary, that is an awesome task that would require a coordinated effort behind a clear vision and goal in the best interest of all learners. An effort that would be dedicated to providing all learners a meaningful academic experience (not to only be defined by the adults) regardless of SES, geographical location or race; in the end, the reform effort would be about equity for all learners. Unfortunately, in my opinion, I don't think those clear goals and vision exist at this time and that is one of the major stumbling blocks impacting the reform movement. 

Those involved in driving the reform movement are not deeply connected to what is happening in classrooms today; they are not seeking input from students, families and educators; they are not trying to change the behaviors and philosophy of those directly involved in learning and teaching; instead, they are trying to overhaul the whole system, from a macro level, and the results have been inconsistent, at best. 

Do things in our schools need to change? Yes, they do but not just because the system is "broken" but because the world around us is constantly changing, iterating and evolving. I have been immersed in discussions, readings and debates about the reform movement over the last five years and what I have come to realize is that there is no silver bullet to change the whole system. The charter school system is flawed; the school voucher movement is questionable at best; and the privatization of our public schools has literally polarized our nation. What we know today is that none of the major reform movements have proven to be effective in a sustainable way. Yes, there are pockets of success but in the end, no singular reform movement has been the silver bullet because the task is too awesome to happen in a vacuum without changing the behaviors of those responsible for the change... our kids and educators.  

Redefine The Roles, Don't Focus on Reforming The Whole System

If we want our kids to be able to navigate the world around them then we need to meet them where they are and change the way we do things in school. I don't mean by implementing a scripted curriculum or buying a bunch of stuff to throw into the classrooms; I mean by investing in the people within the organization (kids, families & educators) and make a concerted effort to redefine the roles in education as the starting point for improving our schools and reform our practice. If we want reform to be pervasive and sustainable on a greater scale than the current "pockets of success" then we need to make the following happen...

1. Change behaviors and actions of the students, educators and families, which lead to a... 

2. Change in thinking and philosophy within the students, educators and families (according to Dr. Stangor), which lead to...

3. The development of a shared vision and common goals through intentional work, which are...

4. The beginnings of positive change... aka, REFORM!


From Brendabence.com


Redefining The Roles: What Should We Do?

When thinking about the major roles in education, we find ourselves thinking about the children, their respective families and the educators (including teachers, support staff and educational leaders). For the purposes of this post, I am going to focus on ways we could redefine the roles of teachers and building/district administration but also offer some possibilities for children and families. Here we go:

Children (if your schools permit)... 

1. Drive the learning in your classroom by asking questions, offering ideas and collaborating with those around you.

2. Find your passion and pursue it... but not just on a surface level, instead, immerse yourself in the subject and learn everything you can so you become an expert.

Families (if your schools permit)... 

1. Be actively engaged in what your child is learning in school; this doesn't mean do their HW or enable them but instead just be aware of what your children are learning and why they are learning the content. 

2. Communicate with your child's teacher or building leader for both positive reasons and with any questions and concerns; educating our children is collaborative effort and a strong home/school partnership is critical.

Teachers...

1. Engage families in the learning that is unfolding in the classroom in a current, dynamic and relevant way (blog about it, tweet about it, post pictures about it).

2. Don't focus solely on covering content and curriculum; instead, teach the learners before you. Teach the readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, etc. sitting before you because if you focus on teaching the reading, writing, math, science, etc. you are going to miss an opportunity to empower kids to take ownership of their learning because you will end up simply "covering" the curriculum.

3. Focus on the journey of learning and give your learners opportunities to be immersed in the inquiry process. Encourage your student to drive the learning in your shared learning space (classroom is so 1971). No, this doesn't mean the teacher isn't necessary; in fact, it means the teacher is even more necessary because they frame the parameters, they facilitate/support the learning and they meet each child at their readiness level and help them grow. It is not easy work.

4. Give rise to agency in your shared learning space so children can act with some level of independence and make decisions about their learning.

5. Talk to kids to find out how things are going and how your teaching is impacting them and their thinking; don't be afraid of this feedback because our kids are our most important "customers".

Edu Administrators/Leaders...

1. Be a lead learner, which means model being a learner first and empower those around you to take ownership of their learning. Being a learner is step one but then you should share your learning in a public way (possibly through a blog or through tweets) because you want people in the organization to know you are a learner first and that you value learning.  

2. Be present and engaged because you cannot effectively lead people, systems or change from your office. As a central office administrator this year, I made it my goal to spend at least 40% of my time in classrooms (apparently this is not the norm for central/district office leaders). While it meant staying up late to get caught up on the administrative work, it informed my practice in ways that I never could have imagined. Not only did I nurture relationships with those around me, but I came to see, with my own eyes, what learning and instruction looked like in our district. These new found understandings, rooted in people, came to inform decisions about everything from professional development to furniture purchases. 

3. Communicate with those around you and be transparent in what you are doing and why you are doing it. Instead of having administrative meetings behind closed doors in an office somewhere, make them a walking meeting and 

4. Make feedback a norm because one of the best ways to reflect, change behaviors and shape philosophy is through objective feedback on practices based on observations. Feedback doesn't just become a norm by saying it is a new norm - there must be practice and professional development around the work of giving and receiving feedback. In the end, we must always be mindful of the intent of our feedback and the actual impact it has on those around us because they may not always align.

5. Don't look at data in a vacuum and don't use said data to purchase stuff to address student needs or fix perceived problems. Want to fix a problem? Invest in the people affected by, and possibly affecting, the problem. Yes, research based programs are valuable but research based instructional approaches and techniques carried out by our teachers, who we should support through meaningful personal and professional development, trumps every program, resource or curriculum.

What Does It All Mean?

Yes, the lists above could go on and on (feel free to add to them in the comments section below) but, in the end, if we want to see sustainable change in our schools, we have to focus on shaping and changing the behaviors of the people within the organization. That is the first step to meaningful reform.      

Monday, April 24, 2017

Like-Hearted

Dr. Paul Dordal (blog)

Over the last five years I have immersed myself in the "Twitterverse" and slowly built up my Personal/Professional Learning Network (PLN). Twitter quickly became a way for me to connect with other educators, and specifically educational leaders. In fact, Twitter became a way for me to escape the silo and sense of isolation I was experiencing while working as a Lead Learner at Cantiague Elementary. Yes, I was surrounded by a group of incredible kids, passionate educators and amazing families but I was the only "administrator" in the building and I was looking for an opportunity to learn, grow and be inspired by others in my position! 

Likeminded

Well, Twitter quickly became the space where I learned, connected with other likeminded educators and shared my thinking. In fact, I learned more through my connections on Twitter in a matter of months than I had learned in years of attending workshops, conferences and grad courses. The thing about Twitter that really hooked me is its functioning as a Virtual Community of Practice where tens of thousands of educators are openly sharing ideas, problems of practice and resources because most barriers had been removed (the glory of a digital platform). There is a sense of fluidity on Twitter where a person could be a novice at one moment when the topic is unfamiliar to them and then a moment later becomes the expert in "the room" because of their experiences and knowledge with a different topic/subject. 
   

Rod Sullivan (site)

Twitter has provided me access to so many likeminded educators that I quickly realized that I could learn about almost any topic in a matter of minutes by reaching out to specific members of my PLN. Whether I wanted to learn more about school culture or wanted to better understand how we could implement sustainable PD or figure out how to use the Google Suite to enhance my workflow, I went to the likeminded and experienced people in my PLN and immediately had access to ideas and resources that were actionable and impacted my work as an educational leader.

Like-Hearted

As the months and years of accessing Twitter quickly flew by, I started to notice something happening with certain members of my PLN. While I respect and value the thousands of likeminded educators who inform my practice on a daily basis, I recently realized that there was a specific group that I kept coming back to; a specific group that informed my practice but also sustained me on an emotional level; a specific group that went from professional colleagues to personal friends. 

I started to become aware of this phenomenon when I noticed that members of my Twitter PLN started showing up in my Facebook feed and were becoming my "friends" on that platform. While I do have hundreds of friends on FB, it is a space that I generally keep for sharing personal posts, thoughts, celebrations and struggles. As some of my new friends began commenting and reacting to my posts, I noticed we were interacting on a different level. I started to get to know more about my new friends and realized that some of the connections we shared went beyond that likeminded level and deepened because we are like-hearted. 

The like-hearted people in my PLN are the people who have gotten to know me as a father, partner, educator and person. They know what makes me laugh, they understand what frustrates me, they recognize what makes me go, "Awe!" and they appreciate what touches my heart. Basically, the like-hearted members of my PLN understand what makes me tick and through their presence in my world, have made it a better place. I can say, with 100% certainty, that my like-hearted friends have shaped who I am as a person today.   

Why Do Like-Hearted People Matter?

As I refined my skill set as a leader during my time at Cantiague, and specifically as I explored Twitter, I started to realize that I relied on my heart as much as I relied on my brain. Yes, being logical, thoughtful and responsive are generally my guiding principles as a leader but I am also passionate, emotionally invested and I pour my heart and soul into my work. While the likeminded members of my PLN have helped inform my practice on that logical/rational level, the like-hearted people have not only done that but through our friendships (some of my best friends on the planet) they have also sustained and inspired me on an emotional level. My like-hearted friends have added more sparkle and positivity to my professional world than I could have ever imagined. My like-hearted friends have reminded me that being an educator and working in schools with kids is a calling. In fact, my like-hearted friends have inspired me to dedicate myself to reframing the narrative in public education by spotlighting all the positive things happening in our schools!

You see, our work as educators impacts our whole being - we need to use everything from our brains to our hearts to our bodies in order to do what is best for our kids. And as I think about it, the same is true of our students and their learning; our kids are using every fiber of their being to successfully navigate the day. So when we are "all in" and we pour a 100% of ourselves into our work and learning, who are the people we (us as educators and our students) turn to when we need support? Who are the people we turn to when we need inspiration? Who are the people who support us when we are struggling? Who are the people who make us laugh when we need it the most? Who are the people that get us? Those people are generally the like-hearted people in our worlds.

So, make sure you pause and reflect on your PLN (make sure your colleagues and students pause and reflect on their people around them too) and recognize those like-hearted people who have made your world a better place and have made you a better version of yourself!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

43 Things We Need To Stop Doing In Schools

This month I turned 43... that's right I have officially moved into my mid-40s and am a prime candidate for a mid-life crisis (does wearing funky socks & drinking Mountain Dew on the regular count?). Although getting older comes with some drawbacks (starting to sound like your parents, lamenting for the days of yore and feeling aches & pains on a daily basis when getting out of bed), the last few years have also been pretty awesome for me on a personal and professional level. Being in my 40s has been quite empowering and has given me the confidence to be true to who I am, be proud of what I believe in and make decisions based on my experiences (not just strong opinions). I have learned a lot about happiness (it comes from within), a lot about priorities (both personal & professional), a lot about balance in life (still not great at it but better than ever before) and a lot about the world of education, especially the current landscape of education, which continues to be an interesting one, especially as it intersects with the political landscape. 

I have been an educator for 20 years and I have learned more in the last few months when I embarked on a new professional journey as an Ass't Sup - the learning literally happens minute by minute - it is pretty awesome! In the past I have written posts to coincide with my birthday milestones (here and here) and I have decided that although I missed last year (not sure why), I felt strongly about sharing 43 things we need to stop doing in schools today. 

Is this list perfect? No. Will everyone agree with it? Probably not. Do I have research to back everything on the list? No. Am I right? I don't know but it is based on my experiences in the classroom, as a building leader, and now as a district leader so here is my list of 43 that we need to stop doing in education right now...



From ERLC


We need to stop... 


1) Making schools more about adults than kids - we can't primarily make decisions about what is easiest or more comfortable for the adults because we need to make decisions that are best for kids;

2) Giving HW (at least in elementary school and possibly in middle school). There is NO research that I have seen that speaks to a positive correlation between HW and academic achievement;

3) Giving grades... what is the point? Grades seem to bring the learning journey to an end, which goes against what most schools communicate when stating in their vision that they want to nurture life long learners! Life long learners need feedback, direction and space to fail as they evolve. My friend Starr has enlightened me on this one!

4) Blaming teachers for all that is wrong in our schools - the issues are much more systemic and pervasive and are rooted in a history that is plagued by racism, inefficiencies and misguided mandates; 

5) Making classroom management about compliance and obedience. Instead we should make it about engagement and choice;

6) Taking away recess as a punishment when kids do something wrong (unless they do something serious at recess) because our kids (like us) need a break to run around, have fun and socialize!

7) Using public behavior charts (red light, yellow light, green light, etc.) because all they do is humiliate kids and they generally don't change the behaviors of the kids who are struggling. My friend Pernille has really pushed my thinking on this point!

8) Confusing innovative or progressive environments with ones that have a lot of technology!

9) Mistaking technology for innovation; my friend George has taught me that innovation is rooted in strong relationships that allow for creative ways (that may fail) to solve our current problems! 

10) Blaming parents/families for our children who might struggle in school; it is partnership - not a blame game!

11) Keeping all the awesome things happening in our schools to ourselves - the four walls should not be barriers; instead, they should be transformed into glass and we should proudly share all the awesome things happening in our schools! My friend Amy (and her awesome teachers) did an amazing job at telling the school story!

12) Giving tests with fill in the blank or multiple choice answers; these might be easier to grade but they don't build our children's ability to think critically!

13) Killing the love of reading by making it about reading logs, assignments or jotting every 2 seconds;

14) Keeping technology out of the classroom because we, as the adults, are uncomfortable with it... that ship has sailed!

15) Confusing technology with engagement; yes, screens do engage our children immediately but that is "level 1 engagement" - we want to push them to be engaged at a higher level where they are collaborating, communicating, creating and thinking critically. I think engagement is about thinking not just sitting quietly and working!

16) Using mindless worksheets - you know the ones with word banks at the top or dozens of multiple choice questions. We don't want our kids to be masters of worksheets because that is not how they are going to change the world!

17) Confusing PROJECTS with Project Based Learning! Projects are about a product (that often looks the same for every learner) while PBL is about inquiry and process... often driven by the student after being framed by the teacher. My friends Ross and Erin have taught me a lot about this!

18) While we are on the topic of PROJECTS, we must stop sending projects home for families to complete. Our parents don't need to be doing book reports or tri-fold boards that look professionally done! If the project is that important, do it in school to level the playing field and make the learning collaborative.

19) Demanding that our kids work quietly throughout the school day; messy, noisy and collaborative classrooms are often more successful than the quiet ones. 

20) Just involving our families in school during special events (like the bake sale) and instead we should engage them in the learning. 

21) Making professional development for teachers an afterthought - our teachers need to have the opportunity to learn throughout the school year! And the PD does not have to be a workshop or conference; the PD can be led by the principal, by teachers and even by kids! And, our teachers should have the choice to log PD hours by doing things like reading (or writing) blog posts, participating in Twitter chats and watching webinars. 

22) Making professional development for building leaders (this one goes to you superintendents) almost nonexistent because we don't want them leaving the building - that is not ok! We need to support our leaders in their learning - they should be encouraged to go to conferences, EdCamps, take courses, watch webinars, etc. because if they stay current, the chances increase that our schools will continue to iterate and get better!

23) Ignoring the fact that school leaders have the greatest singular influence on the culture of a school. Todd Whitaker taught me that if the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold and after 10 years as a principal, I can wholeheartedly say that is TRUE!

24) Removing "soft data" from our data walls, data meetings or whatever you call them in your school! We cannot just look at test scores as THE data point; instead we should consider observations, conference notes and relationships because they all influence how our kids perform!

25) Hiding our smile from kids till December - that is just silly! We need to smile for kids from DAY ONE! Smiling teachers and kids lead to happy teachers and kids and that leads to positive relationships and those are the key to active learning!

26) Ignoring the fact that relationships influence everything that happens in a school. Our schools need to be built on positive and healthy relationships rooted in trust and respect!

27) Ignoring the reality that culture is about a lot more than spirit days and parties; culture is about trust, respect and a common vision!

28) Forgetting how important our school secretaries are in the sustainability of culture; these people are the faces of our schools so they need to be AWESOME and they should be recognized for their awesomeness!

29) Forgetting how important our school custodians are in the daily running of our buildings; these hard workers make sure our schools are healthy and safe for our kids and teachers!

30) Ignoring the reality that, in general, our schools haven't evolved much since the one room schoolhouse yet we, as humans and thinkers, have evolved tremendously. It is time for our schools to start moving forward!

31) Focusing, solely, on "forward thinking" or "progressive methods" because then we are working towards something that doesn't exist - something abstract. Instead, let's focus on building the capacity of our educators so that the current instructional methods being used are sound, robust and best for kids!

32) Putting pressure on kids to perform on high stakes testing (or any testing for that matter). If we support our kids and differentiate instruction (and assessment) to meet their needs, they will perform and show us what they know!

33) Focusing on the "cool" or "trendy" stuff (iPads, Chromebooks, etc.) in isolation; instead we must focus on the people... the stuff is only as good as the people using it!

34) Going towards a total self-directed PD model for teachers. While I do believe choice for teachers in what they learn about and how (passion projects, PLCs, etc.) is incredibly important, there also need to be some district-wide goals and focal points that we are all working on. That is how we move an entire community forward as opposed to just perpetuating pockets of awesome within our schools. 

35) Trying to force educators to get on Twitter (or some other SM platform) because the truth is, it does not work for everyone. That being said, we do need to expose people to the power of collaboration (possibly through communities of practice or PLCs) so educators can break out of their silos! 

36) Making school more about teaching - school should be about learning first! Learning for kids, families and educators should always be at the core of our work!

37) Punishing educators through ridiculous federal or state mandates that have nothing to do with kids; instead, these mandates reduce educators to a number and that is not what will improve education in this country!

38) While I love trends like Genius Hour, Makerspaces and PBL (we did a lot of this awesome learning at Cantiague) those go much deeper than just blocking out time in a schedule to make them happen. If we want things like Genius Hour or PBL to be sustainable, we must change the way we teach - these can't just be special events that happen once a week (that is a fine starting point though); instead, they should help us change our daily approaches so learning is filled with more student centered and student driven inquiry opportunities!

39) Using sarcasm in the classroom - especially with our elementary and middle school kids; even if it is funny most of the times, the one time it is embarrassing to a child is enough of a reason to stop!

40) Making all teachers write in plan books (you know, the ones with all those little boxes). We need to let our teachers plan however it makes sense for them and their kids!

41) Ignoring the reality that common planning time is critical to the success and sustainability of a school community - our teachers and leaders need time together to share ideas, resources and materials!

42) Having meetings just for the sake of having meetings! Come on people... if it can be put in an email or newsletter, then put it there and use the meeting for some professional or personal development! My friends Jennifer, Peter and Mark taught about re-imagining meetings. 

43) Finally, we need to stop making decisions that feel good or are easier for the adults within the learning community and instead make all decisions in the best interest of children. While this approach may not always be easy, it will always be right.


Clearly the list could go on and on but in the end, I think these 43 points are critical to the success of any learning organization and are in the best interest of children. Do you agree? Which one stands out most? Why? What do you think should be the next thing on this list? 

Please leave a comment below!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Turn Key Thursday: A HW Alternative

While recently visiting a #WeArePlainedge Grade 4 classroom, the teacher, Cara Newman, and her students excitedly started telling me about all the exciting things happening in their classroom. They told me about the book talks they were having, the literary essays they were about to begin writing, the independent reading books they were immersed in, the Genius Hour projects they were just starting and how excited they were to share their HW. 

Excited about HW? Excited to show off HW? Hmmmm.... Needless to say, I didn't want to squash their enthusiasm with my own personal feelings about HW so I just smiled. If anyone has read my blog posts (here and here), seen my social media posts or just spoken to me in person, you know my position on HW... I'm not necessarily the biggest fan. That being said, I wanted to hear more from these kids - I needed to know why they were so excited about doing their HW. That is when they told me all about Turnkey Thursday!

What is Turnkey Thursday you ask? Well, I could never do it justice so I asked the kids to write a guest post for me where they explained it and here is what they generated... their first ever blog post...

What is TurnKey Thursday? How does it work? Why do you do it? Can students really teach others? Have you ever wanted homework that was fun? Or to be able to create a keynote, song, scratch game, or maybe even a dance about the material you learned in class? All of this is possible with TurnKey Thursday. All classrooms should have TurnKey Thursday because kids can teach their family members, it is fun, and most of all it helps students to become better learners.

All classrooms should have TurnKey Thursday. All classrooms should have TurnKey Thursday because kids can teach their parents so they stop saying, “I don’t know what that is!” Mrs. Stella is a parent who said, “As a parent it is very hard for us to help our children because they are learning so differently than we did. We stayed in box, kids today learn outside the box.” This shows it is very hard for parents to help their children with homework. Instead kids can help their parents! Alec says, “You could teach your parents the way your teachers teach you. Also, you could make a test or quiz for them at the beginning or end of every new chapter.” If you teach your parents, they will understand the concept that you are learning so in the future your parents will be able to help you. It would be great to teach your parents so they don’t say, “I didn’t learn this way when I was younger.” As kids it is hard to learn differently that our parents did. When we ask for help they can’t help us and get frustrated. Having Turn Key Thursday takes this frustration away!

All classrooms should have TurnKey Thursday because it is fun! TurnKey Thursday is fun because you can use your imagination and creativity. For example, when learning about Prime and Composite numbers students made a song about it. The two students changed the “Cup” song into a prime and composite song. They used their imagination and even gave the lyrics to the class! Now the class is having fun as well. This shows that Turn Key Thursday is fun!

Ryan said, “It is fun because you get to be a teacher just like Mrs. Newman and Dr. Sinanis. You also have to remember what you learned that week. It is pretty much fun homework even though you have to remember the work learned. You don’t realize it but you are really learning.”

All classrooms should have TurnKey Thursday because it helps students to become better learners. It helps students to become better learners because they have to know the material, to teach the material. It helps students to become better learners because they want to pay attention so they can be a good teacher themselves. It helps students to become better learners because they need to practice what they are going to teach. While they are practicing, they are learning. Gino feels its makes him a better student because it makes him study harder, so he can teach someone else.


In conclusion, children should have Turn Key Thursday because family members can learn from them, it is fun, and most of all children become better learners. We hope you try Turn Key Thursday and explore all its possibilities!

So, what do you think about Turnkey Thursday? Are you convinced that it is worth a try? Leave a comment below and let us know! 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Yes, I Love To Read




The last blog post I published, Let's Not Kill The Love Of Reading, seemed to really resonate with other parents and educators based on the responses and comments that were shared. While the post was inspired by my son Paul, he didn't actually read the post until the other day. After reading it, he thanked me writing it and then asked if he could write a guest post for me so he could share things from his perspective. Needless to say, I loved the idea and am honored to feature my awesome son as a guest writer on my blog. After much discussion, a drafting of some notes and a shared Google Doc to review ideas, here is Paul's take on reading and his plea to allow him to keep his love of reading... 

My Reading Journey
As a seventh grader in middle school, I spend a lot of time reading. I read in all my classes - from math class to newspaper club, I am always reading something. Fortunately for me, I am a good reader and have always loved to read. From what my parents tell me, I was reading before I was even 2 years old and although I may not remember those first reading experiences, I do know that I have always loved to read. Whether it was the hysterical My Weird School books by Dan Gutman that spoke to my sense of humor or the powerful All American Boys, which helped me develop a better understanding of race and social justice in our country, I have always loved sitting on the couch and getting lost in a great book. Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was going to our local Barnes & Noble because I knew I'd get to go home with a few new books and experiences. I could literally spend hours in the store checking out books, reading some books and making piles of the books I wanted to take home. Yes, I also loved going to places like Toys R Us but Barnes & Noble was my go-to because no matter what I was into (Star Wars, superheroes, video games, etc.) there was always a book I could find that I could learn more about the topic. 




Of course, as my dad mentioned in his post, when I started school and had to read for my teachers, my love of reading started to change. I felt like every single time we read something in school, there had to be some sort of writing assignment or activity connected to the reading so we could prove to our teachers that we actually read. Now don't get me wrong, I have had some amazing teachers over the years but as I got older, reading in school became more about the teachers and less about the students. Yes, there are many things I like about reading but there are some things I wish could change about reading in school. 

Things I Like About Reading

Reading has been one of my favorite things to do for many years. There are many positive attributes to reading that I really appreciate, especially as I get older. For example... 

1) As a reader, I can get so captured inside of a book, that I would literally end up finishing it in one sitting. That is the sign of a great book - I literally could not put it down!

2) I love reading because I can choose any book that fits my style of reading and my interests. Whether it is nonfiction interests or realistic fiction that connects to my life, I can always find a great book.

3) I have learned lots of great life lessons from books. One of my favorite books of all time is Wonder and there are so many life lessons in that book but the one that still sticks with me is the importance of being kinder than necessary. 

Things My Teachers Do/Did That I Like

Even though sometimes it feels like a specific class (or maybe just school in general) has been slowly destroying my love of reading, there are some great things my teachers still do, or used to do, that I really enjoy as a reader and learner. For example...

1) Some of our teachers let us choose our own book to read on the side in addition the book we are reading in class. I like this because I get to choose what I want to read and what fits my interests at the time!

2) I used to love when my teachers would confer with individual children and talk to us about what we were reading. I loved this because I got to share with my teacher what I had been reading at the time and why I was enjoying my book. Truth is, one of my favorite things about reading conferences is that I had I a chance to talk with my teacher - 1:1 time with my teachers was always a good thing. 

3) I like the opportunity to showcase the books that I have read with my classmates. Sometimes I have read a really awesome book and I want to share that book love with someone else. I like to do this because it lets me feature what I read or am currently reading with my friends and classmates and book talks are a great way to do this in school!




Things My Teachers Do/Did That I Don't Really Like

The truth is that even though I love to read in my free time, and always have, there are also many so called “activities” that I do in school (or have done in the past) that have been crushing my love of reading since elementary school. I don't blame my teachers because I have had many amazing teachers - I think they either doing what the principal is telling them to do or what they think is best (that's what my dad says). Unfortunately, some of the reading activities we do in school are not awesome. Now, you might notice that there are many things I have written about that my dad also wrote about in his blog post but I am writing about them from my perspective as a student. For example... 

1) Summaries/Written Responses. I don’t feel the need to write down what I have read throughout the book, I'd rather just explain it verbally to someone in class the next day. Sometimes, I know I have to write a summary because my teacher needs to understand what I am thinking but the truth is, I just want to share with my classmates to make the experience more interactive.

2) Book Reports/Five Paragraph Essays. I really don’t enjoy writing these because they are a long and exhausting process and there are usually so many boundaries that I can’t write what I want to write. If I have to write about a book, at least let me share the things that I think are most important without so many boundaries.

3) Gist Taking. For those of you who don’t know, gist taking is when you constantly have to stop in the middle of reading and jot down the main idea of the last couple of pages. I feel that this is unnecessary and excessive because it disrupts my reading and thinking. I just want to read my book without disruptions from other people. 

4) Extended Readings. I really do not like these because it takes a book that can be done in a few days or a week, and stretches it out over 3 to 4 months of reading and all we seem to do is answer text based questions. What reader does that? Readers want to read and think and maybe talk about a book and then move on - not read the same book for months and write about it a thousand times. 


5) Reading Logs. Yes, I know how my dad feels about reading logs but the truth is, I don't love them either. The thing I don't like about these charts is that I feel like my teachers do not trust me enough to read without logging it. I do also recognize that reading logs do need to be used with some kids, but other kids (including me, an avid reader) do not need to use them because I generally read on a daily basis because I love to read!

Yes, I Love To Read

Reading has been one of my favorite things to do for my entire life. I am sure I am not the only kid who loves to read - I am guessing there are a lot of us out there. So, to all the educators out there who are reading this, please try one of my recommendations because I think your students will enjoy the reading experience more. Remember, readers should want to read for themselves, not for someone else!