Friday, December 7, 2012

Re-Define Failure: Fail Something Everyday!

Photo: via

If someone never made a mistake, would they have learned anything?  If we want to develop the much-heralded "life long learners" in ourselves and our students, we need to begin to re-frame failure, not as a grade, but as a necessary component for learning. 

Imagine the impact on learning if we asked students, teachers, administrators to fail at something everyday.

Imagine a school day, week, or culture that:
  • Step 1-  Asks everyone to try something new, but it had to be something that they: a) are interested in, and b) believe that they likely would not be able to do successfully. 
  • Step 2- Improve upon that first try and then try again
  • Step 3- Share what they learned with everyone
What would the impact be?  What would your honor roll student choose to do?  Your disengaged students?  Your peers? 

What would you choose?

As long as failure is something that we tell ourselves should be avoided and punished, we are missing daily opportunities to develop the capacity for life long learning and resiliency in our students and in ourselves.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Can My Bad Day Can Be Good For Teaching & Learning?

I had to remind myself recently that sometimes as a leader, it is often our job to take on the bad days so that others are able to have good ones.

This is not to say that we should take on everyone's problems (especially those of their own creation), but there is something strangely satisfying when, after dealing with a difficult situation or day, others might say "I had no idea that happened" or "my class was great, we were not interrupted at all" or "today was a great day".

When we take on big problems/distractions that are often unrelated to teaching & learning we free up others to focus to do the real hard work... the teaching & learning.  If my tough day contributed to that happening, it is worth it.

(Lets just not make a habit of it!)

Like a goalie needs to protect the net so that others can score...

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Latest Incarnation From a Culture of Fear

"We need to stop treating people as if they are bad", this was the advice of Todd Whitaker at last year's  NASSP conference, as well as during his keynote at the RIASP summer conference the summer before.  Immediately, I agreed.  Intrinsically, I knew.  I knew that in far too many places, in our culture, in our institutions, in our politics, in myself; a unjustified culture of fear had disconnected us from one another.  Sadly, I also knew that it had also had its effect on me as an educator.  "Kids are up to no good, people not doing their part, things are going to go wrong, etc..." these thoughts pervaded my consciousness.  The worst part- there was no evidence to suggest that any of it was true.  Actually, when I looked: 99.9% of my students were doing the right things, my faculty and staff were (and are) committed to excellence, the community overwhelmingly supported and celebrated our school.  Thanks to Mr. Whittaker's advice, I recognized the grip the culture of fear had on me, and I am pleased to say it has slowly loosened.  I am that once again I am able to see what is the reality in my school; GREAT KIDS, GREAT TEACHERS, GREAT COMMUNITY.

Unfortunately, I cannot help but see that the culture of fear is invading again.  The assumption that people are bad, and need to be proven good (in spite of existing data) has come to education in the form of evaluation systems based on standardized testing.  Now I believe that everyone, every position, every school, should be evaluated (I am one of those leaders who looks forward to NEASC visits and measuring myself and my school against world class standards).  However, educators across the nation are being asked to spend countless hours making sure that other educators (regardless of level skill, previous evaluations, student input, portfolio of evidence, or other existing data) spend countless hours documenting to prove that they are indeed good enough.  And even if the evidence collected proves best practices are in place with outstanding levels of student engagement, it might not matter if the test scores are not up to par.

How many hours/days/weeks/months have you lost succumbing to the latest incarnation of the culture of fear?  Time to shift that monkey...

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Test's Answers vs. The Right Answers

As those who are participating as evaluators in RI's new Evaluation System already know, we need to take an assessment based on the Charlotte Danielson model (vehicle used is Teachscape).  For those who are unfamiliar with the test, the test can take up to 5 &1/2 hours and contains video segments that have to be observed, then with the evidence collected, scores are assigned to the segments according to competencies.  Additionally there are multiple choice questions, select all that apply questions, and select those that don't belong questions. For more info see

There are many issues that keep swirling in my head since taking (and thankfully passing) the test.  The list below are a few of those thoughts.  The list is in no particular order with the exception of #1 (can't get that thought out of my mind).


  1. How I answered questions- I consciously changed my answers based on what I felt the "test" wanted as an answer, not what I knew I could prove or what I know to be best practice in education.  I think I can't shake it because it makes me wonder "to what extent do we do this to our students through our existing assessments?" (Especially those that are "high stakes")
  2. Don't Model This...How this test/assessment is implemented does not follow best practice in regards to assessments to measure learning- No pre-assessment data to determine if my existing knowledge or the video training led to my "success".  Also very limited feedback about how you score and/or how to improve.
  3. Who are these "Master Scorers?-How many times did they get to watch the videos before assigning scores? Did they change their answers to match the assessment?  Do they have superhero vision & hearing (See #4 below)? HOW DID THEY THINK THAT IS A 4?!? (Upon reflection this is a great thing to have pop into my mind, because it makes me realize how lucky I am to see level 4 teaching every day)
  4. Surprising Lack of "Standardization"/The Bias of the Multiple Cameras- For a tool that is looking to standardize our evaluation practice, I was very surprised that the videos in the module are not standardized.  Each video had a different camera view.  Some were panoramic, some followed the teacher, some used multiple cameras & angles, some had good sound some, you could barely hear, some the volume was too high when certain people spoke.  This had an enormous impact on what and how I could observe the lesson.
  5. When Will the Student's Views Become a Factor?- Just because I think a lesson went well, or matched up with what I am trained to see as "good teaching", or because I learned by observing the lesson, does that mean it was effective? Is the lesson personalized to the students? Is the lesson connected to the students' interests, other classes, or past experience? Do the students feel a teacher cares about them? Any tool that does not look to provide a measure of the student's voice as at least a potential indicator of educator effectiveness, is missing a key component of an effective tool. (Side note: Useful tool to incorporate this idea is
I'm sure more will pop into my head this weekend.  For those who have taken the test I'd love to know what has stuck with you after completing it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Oops!?! Keep the Tweet or Delete?

As an educator who is trying to model best practices and proper citizenship (lets not call it digital citizenship anymore) I am curious what other educators do when you have regrets about tweeting something?  This can be for a variety of reasons- realize that you missed something in the link you sent out, having second thoughts, not promoting the values you hold dear, etc.  What to do?  Do you delete it (and other associated links)? Do you keep it up and mea culpa?  Ignore and just keep going?

Or blog about it to see what others do?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Too Many Cooks Ruin the Soup...

As I posted last week, there are a tremendous number things that are being asked of education today (  The reasons for their implementation vary as much as the initiatives themselves: best for kids, research based best practices, Race to The Top, Publishing & Testing companies, compliance with state and federal mandates, creation of a culture of fear (make people prove they are good), etc.  What I had asked in my post was is it possible to implement them with true fidelity under the current industrial model of education that most of us operate under? 

Thanks to the effects of Hurricane Sandy I had time to catch up on some reading.  I divided my time between two: Shift Ed: A Call to Action for Transforming K-12 Education by David Houle & Jeff Cobb and (while I had the internet) a nice synopsis posted by Mike King of Michael Fullan’s “Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform” ( ).

The following are a few excerpts that resonated within the context of the original question:

“If scarcity creates value, then information in and of itself is rapidly becoming worthless. We must now move beyond information to find real value. For institutions that have largely been purveyors of information-and our schools certainly fall into this camp- making this change rapidly and successfully is fundamental to survival” (Houle & Cobb 41)

“Now that change is environmental, it is essential to not build upon and update the present educational system but to leap ahead into the future and create something of and for the future.” (Houle & Cobb 42)

“Intrinsic motivation, instructional improvement, teamwork, and ‘allness’ are the crucial elements for whole system reform.” (Fullan)

“Effective drivers are those
• that cause whole system improvements;
• that are measurable in practice and results; and
• for which a case can be made that strategy X produces result Y.

An ineffective driver, however, is one that
• actually does not produce the results it seeks;
• may make matters worse; and
• can never have the impact it purports to produce.  (Fullan)

Looking at the list from the original post, many of the individual initiatives/programs/methods/changes have the potential to be effective drivers of reform (although maybe not as systemic as Fullan’s focus).  However, given that there is so much pressure to implement all the items, at the same time, this turns them all into ineffective drivers (With so many variables, how do you know which X produces Y?).  Even worse is the cultural impact of how "change" comes to be viewed.  Instead of being a challenge that is embraced and focused on (intrinsic), change is equated with something to be avoided, or something that can't possibly be done ("Have you seen all the stuff they think we should do?").  The over-saturation of initiatives has poisoned countless meaningful initiatives into being labeled the dreaded “just one more thing”.  Too often, too many changes, too many times, have resulted in us changing nothing.  Ruined soup for all...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Can 1:1 Prevent Snow Days???

While I am not an advocate for shortening the school year, as we hunker down and prepare for Hurricane Sandy, I am curious if schools/districts that are 1:1 are able to bypass snow days/make up days?

With tools such as Google+, Facetime, Google docs, content geared to flipped & blended classrooms, project based classrooms, etc. it seems like make-up days due to short term school closings (1 day) & where electricity is not the issue, could be made to go the way of the Dodo.

Does anyone know of any states or schools that have moved in this direction?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Is it even possible...

Is it possible to implement with fidelity:

Response to Intervention- RtI, personalized learning environments, Common Core State Standards- CCSS, professional content standards, the new educator evaluation system (complete with self-reflection, Student Learning Objectives-SLOs, Professional Growth Goals, Observations and Conferences), 1:1 or Bring Your Own Device- BYOD initiatives, Differentiated Instruction-DI, digital content, online learning, project based classrooms, advisory, guaranteed and viable curriculum, traditional & standards based report cards, Professional Learning Communities- PLCs,  Positive Behavioral Intervention Strategies- PBIS, flipped classrooms, blended classrooms, meaningful & ongoing professional development, interim assessments, common comprehensive assessments- CCAs, portfolio reviews, school wide rubrics, IEPs, 504s, dropout prevention programs, formative & summative assessments, common tasks, 330 minimum minutes of direct instruction a day (RI), multiple pathways, progress monitoring, state tests, Advanced Placement- AP exams, PSAT/SAT/ACTs, Senior Project... (plus many others that I am sure I have left off)

all the while working within the current structure (industrialization model) of schools?

However, if we start with a structure that, as Chris Lehmann spoke of at ISTE LF 2012, is based on student/teacher engagement in work that both groups find relevant, how many things in the list above occur organically and do not fall into the dreaded "one more thing" category?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Inspired by ISTE- Entering the Blogging World

In spite of the numerous recommendations from respected educational leaders everywhere to start blogging, I have resisted.  However given my experiences over the past few days at ISTE Leadership Forum 2012, it is time to start.  Given that some of my take aways from the conference are:

  • Leaders must lead by example & be willing to share their journeys - especially with technology
  • That the Technology Plan is the Education Plan
  • To increase student engagement we need to, in the words of Chris Lehmann "Make kids do important stuff. Then have them share it."
Add the above to the benefits that I have personally gained by following educator's blogs such as Patrick Larkin and George Kulowiec, I have run out of excuses.

So here we go.  Stay tuned...