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...


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!


  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! A thousand times YES to all of them!

  2. Thanks for putting this out there Tony! It gave me pause to think about our practices. We can be quick to call out the things we don't do but I was happy thinking about the steps our teachers take for kids. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love your list, but... You only mention "high stakes testing" in #32. Do you not think the idea of standardized testing itself needs to stop? This method of assessing students seems antiquated and more suited to the one size fits all method of teaching when teachers disseminated information. I would love to worry only about the inquiry of my students, but my evaluation is tied to their performance on those tests and their proficiency with standards for my content.

  4. Love the list. I also want to see money put where teachers can best use it and not filling the pockets of companies which create and sell scripted literacy programs to school districts.

    1. I agree! Trade books are so readily available and SO MUCH BETTER!!

  5. I see nothing here that involves the ea as part of the school system what are your thoughts on this

  6. As usual, the birthday boy hits a grand salami! Well done my man!

  7. Great list. I love the smile all year concept. Makes no since not to.

  8. Great list! I agree with you PBL is about inquiry and process. However, we should not frown upon doing projects. Projects should be how the student expresses and shares their learning in their own unique way. It can serve as an affective means of instruction and assessment, asking the student what can you design, develop, and do; how could or would you; or what do you believe, feel, or think. Projects are good if it provides students to express and share their learning using their skills and talents.

  9. Great list! I'm definitely retweeting! I know my students, colleagues, and administrators would agree with this list even if they aren't willing to implement them.

  10. I kept waiting for one thing I disagreed with....and couldn't! This is worth reading for all school leaders. Common sense matter!

  11. Yes to all, but especially to PD for building leaders, love to custodians, and vision and goals tied to pd-- love self directed, but not all. We need a common path :)
    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Kids love it when you teach them how to DO something. Let them succeed, let them fail, but let them DO. We don't know what jobs our students will be working at when they graduate from high school, so how can we best prepare them? Make them memorize stuff. The three "R's." Make them read aloud. Make them give a presentation to the class DAILY, even if it's working a problem at the board. Do you know what a classroom looks like at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY? Small room, nothing on the walls except white boards. Not SMART boards, white boards. This is the number one public university in the country. They teach ENGAGEMENT with each other. It's a flipped classroom on steroids. I attended a comprehensive high school in SoCal. Required courses included small engine repair, metal or wood shop, bachelor and bachelorette living, typing. We had a working farm and livestock, teaching restaurant, auto repair and body shop. Students learned SKILLS. What SKILLS do students need to learn TODAY for success TOMORROW? HOW do we teach them? Are the arts as important as the sciences? Did Dewey's vision of a "social" American education distract us from teaching children about LIFE and how to SUCCEED? Why did we stop teaching character education? What is "citizenship" and why is it important? What are "values" and why are we afraid to teach what they are and how they influence EVERY SINGLE DECISION WE MAKE? Education should always be about children/students first. But what does that mean in the operative sense? For me, education starts with the teachers - the center of a student's learning universe, the "sun" if you will, of the learning solar system. They make or break it. Do you remember your favorite teacher? Did they make you feel special, loved and smart? What's wrong with that? What's wrong with a COMMITMENT to EXCELLENCE? What's wrong with teaching what being "excellent" really means and HOW to be it? I'm almost 55, have been an educator for 33 of those years, and I still LOVE coming to work each day - because each day is another opportunity for excellence; because each day has its challenges; because each day I can do some good for children. And that makes me happy. Thank you for today's inspiration, Tony!

  13. I wanted to pick the top 10 out of this list but I just can't. Each is so important. Every single thing. Bravo!

  14. Great list, Tony! Loved your comment about happiness coming from within. It's a choice, and we all can make it. I think empowering teachers to make changes from within gives them the motivation to expand on ideas and give students more choices. When students have choice we create lifelong learners. Happy 43rd!

  15. Happy Birthday Tony! Love the list and can't disagree with any of it. I realize this was a thematic post about the #43 and agree that we can go on and on with the list of important things we need to give up. My slant would be to stop creating stop-doing lists and start creating start-doing lists. I just think the whole "stop-it" mentality is part of that "old school" culture that focuses on the adults who focus on their needs over the needs of students. I think we need to start focusing on all of the learners in our schools (students and adults) and ensure that every action we take is focused on the continued growth of all learners. That should be our lens.

    Selfishly, I am getting too old to remember lists that get beyond a very small number ;) My list will be hitting 50 this year, so I am going to try to keep my focus on that one thing.

  16. Great list! Can you please explain #31? I'm not sure I understand it. Thanks!

  17. Wow! I love how #s 2-42 all support #s 1 and 43--Always do what is best for our kids!!! Thanks for such a great post, Tony! : 0 )

  18. Great read! Yes to all of this!

    1. This should be a must read for all the teachers

  19. Here's my issue: make the list with your faculty and students. It doesn't matter unless the COMMUNITY agrees to the list. While I don't agree with the "no homework" - how about READING - most of the list makes great sense. But, like the principal who sneezes (nice analogy), a principal or superintendent sneezing in his/her office means squat. Get buy-in from all staff, including the paras, custodians, administrative support. In our school, they don't understand why we're changing...thanks for sharing. It's good to be a Mets fan, but the Jets? You're not only laughing; you are CRYING.

  20. This was a fantastic read on a snow day. I feel motivated to get back at it tomorrow!

  21. I agree with almost everything on here (and on the stuff I am not 100% behind, I would say that I do agree in part).
    I'd like to add that we need to rethink the school calendar. I don't know why we're still on a Horace Mann-determined, pro-agricultural society calendar. The huge gap in the summer has been proven detrimental to lower-income students' academic gains, and we could possibly re-think how early school starts if we could add a few school days. The 8-hour school day, divided into its tiny blips, leaves little room to really dive into what we're learning.

  22. Unless I missed this point, I would add stop elementary grades K - 5. Some students can be at a higher level in one subject like math than another subject like reading. Age doesn't determine the level a student masters.

    Great list of Stop Doing in School! And, I agree with the school calendar and daily hours needing changed.

  23. My children are now in their 30s. As a parent, I asked for many of these same items to be implemented, which they were not, when they were in school. Good luck educators of today, changes must be made. I like the concept of desegregating grade level learning.

  24. This a fine list but what do you expect to see instead? This is a "perfect world" scenario, which will never happen. How do we make it better in the "imperfect and flawed" world that we actually live in? What practical, doable changes can we actually make today to change education for the better?

  25. Summer vacation is not a product of the agricultural schedule. If that were true we would have 2 long vacation during spring planting and fall harvest. The current vacation schedule is because people take vacations in the summer. Schools found that there was very poor attendance during the summer disrupting learning.

  26. I do not agree with no homework. If it were athletics, would we ban extra workout, or would we say stop working on skills at home? Not if you want your players to be standouts. It would be more efficient to ban foolish homework that is given for the sake of fulfilling an outdated model. My students complete the work I give them, and they are better prepared to succeed as a result of it.

    1. OMG! Thank you. The"No Homework" trend seems to be the latest fad! I'd love to suggest "No Homework" to college professors.However, I do not think it would go over well...especially when the Exams come.

  27. Tony! Thank you for continuing to inspire me to focus on what is most important. Your list is honest, genuine, and a great launching pad for discussion. Awesome job!

  28. I would add: treating the Arts and Libraries as a place to leave your kids while you take a break. More often than not, the Arts teachers and librarians are your most gifted and engaging teachers in your building. Make sure your classroom teachers take advantage of their knowledge and skills!

  29. I don't necessarily agree with all, but I do agree with most and the sentiments.
    Time at school should be useful for teachers and students. Teachers should model a love of learning and that learning is life-long.
    Learning can be from teachers or from students - passionate learners learn so much and can teach others.

  30. wow, I love your list, every single thing resonated with me, and I am a teacher in NZ, particularly love the point about homework. Study after study shows it doesn't raise why do schools and some teachers continue to set mountains of it. I tell my kids to read every nigh, and go outside and play, climb tress, go fishing with their family, help someone cook dinner at home, just spend time doing things with their family...or alone if they prefer. We are caught up in this "first world" busy-ness and we need to slow down and just let kids be kids!

  31. #10 and #4 should be closer together.

  32. This is an awesome article! I do agree on all aspects of the learning process that are in here. I will start doing some or all of these things in my classroom this coming school year. And I will share this article with all of my educator friends and colleagues. This article make a sense. We are doing our children a disservice by the common educational practices of yesteryear. We need to engage our students with more interaction and sensitivity. We don't know where some of our children are coming from. So to be more aware of things we need to take the time to do some of these practices that are in this article. I will be sharing and doing some of these points. Thank you for this...

  33. Great job, Tony! You penned down everything that should be considered. A teacher from east to west or north to south, the problems are same in all schools around the world. I do agree all 43 points.
    Especially reading without reader logs or maintaining record and that pushed me PD is throughout the year. And seriously no H.W assignment, kids at middle level don't do it. I fully agree with that project idea, I see teachers give for home.
    I am not at the post of the principal, I aim to do that before my forties. :) I am currently working as a teacher coordinator and master trainer in Pakistan. I enjoyed reading it. All the best Sir!

  34. I liked a lot of this, but I can't say I am wholeheartedly agreeing.

    There is a place for rote work, and there is a place for worksheets such as in grammar study. Kids need a strong foundation on which to build. This foundation includes how to communicate clearly (and not simply narrative, literary pieces either) and how to complete basic math. Without a strong foundation, the creative pieces are meaningless for the students because they really don't understand what they are working with and the principles they are applying.

    I am not a big proponent of collaborate work. There are numerous studies that prove most collaborate work is a really the finished work of one or two students while the others coasted. Collaborative work depends hugely on the make up of the class and the talent of the teacher to organize the class. Sometimes, there is no way to make group work work.

  35. 44. Pulling gifted students out. Instead train teachers how to meet their needs all day... the GT coordinator needs to be more of a life coach and mentor. Teaching students how to navigate and embrace their giftedness.
    45. Tolerating gossip. Conflict is healthy when managed well- stop turning schools into toxic places.
    46. Running recess like a jail yard. Put the nurse out there- create a bike trail- see my book on Maker Recess (Amazon)
    47. Ignoring character. Must be central to discipline system as well as PBIS.

  36. As a parent I encourage my children to complete homework as assigned. Too often, assignments are not relevant, experimental (because they want to "up" the "rigor" and don't know how), or part of an ill-conceived PBL.

  37. From my share on FB: This Assistant Super GETS IT. He's so spot on I almost cried as I read each one. YES. THIS.

    I've decided I'm going to start my own blog. I have too much to say.

  38. Thanks for this Tony. It reassuring I'm not the only one on this path - both with the midlife crisis and the revolutionising education. Can we just start a new school system...?

  39. #44. Quit looking at the Specials/Encores as a subclass teacher who doesn't teach. They do teach and have standards that must be taught. They are not just the classroom teachers break time.