Thursday, April 24, 2014

5 Reasons to Blog or Tweet Even if Nobody is Reading, Retweeting, or Responding

This blog gets very little traffic, and that's ok. For all I know most people read my posts and X it before finishing the intro; that's fine by me.

Some of my "best posts" in terms of personal value and impact have received less than 20 clicks, and I'm pretty sure half of the clicks I got were me.

Don't worry about the crickets


Most of my tweets get 0 retweets or favorites, and that's ok. Sure, it would be nice to have hundreds of people read my posts or get multiple retweets, but it's not why I do it.

I'm not looking to make money off of my blog, I'm not all that interested in how many people follow me, and I don't need any extrinsic acknowledgement to know that writing about what I'm learning makes me better prepared to implement new knowledge and skills into daily habits and routines.

Even if your blog is unreadable, uninteresting, or unengaging there's still plenty of value in it for you as the writer; there's been plenty of value in it for me.

1. It cements your own learning - blogging and tweeting is the perfect follow up to what I'm reading, thinking about, or experiencing. Instead of sitting and thinking and forgetting or reading, highlighting, and forgetting I write it down. I may forget after I write it, but it'll be there when I need it. Blogging or tweeting takes annotating to the next level; it's like an infinitely sized margin of the book. It doesn't have to be on a blog, and it doesn't have to be published; recording it anywhere do more than letting it go.

2. Your words will be there when you need them - On Friday April 11 I left work feeling pretty low. I had an escalating issue that wasn't fixed by my first two rounds of interventions, and the situation was spiraling. Blame was being thrown my way. I was panicking a little, and frustration was overtaking critical thinking. In reading a post I wrote last June I was reminded of a similar situation I faced last year, and how to proceed became clearer and clearer. I re-took control of the situation, established exactly what my next moves needed to be and by the following Thursday the hostilities had subsided. I hadn't even thought about that post from last June since last June, but it was there for me when I needed it the most.

3. It keeps you in touch with the process of learning, reflecting, and creating - With each new piece comes new perspective on the creative process. It's through this constantly evolving perspective that we're able to provide the most effective guidance or instruction to the students or colleagues we work with trying to do the same thing in another arena. Instead of talking about what we think they ought to do, or what we've heard they ought to do, by staying fresh and continuously producing our own output we're able to talk to them about what we do.

4. You never know when someone is going to stumble across your words - Last summer I started my first full time school leadership position at a new school, and within a couple of weeks of being hired I was with my new colleagues at a summer leadership retreat. I hadn't interacted much with my new superintendent, but when we struck up a conversation he mentioned that he had read my blog and was impressed with what he read. It led to immediate conversation starters, and already established who I was as an educator to my new superintendent. And it wasn't even hard.

5. You'll have more effective face to face conversations - I work in education and I blog about teaching and learning and leading; the topics I write about come up in conversation all of the time. They don't come up because I write about them; they come up because they're crucial topics of conversation in schools in 2014. Reading and blogging about it prepares me for these conversations before they happen, because I've already worked through initial thoughts and synthesized information I've heard or read about. I'm a better resource for the people around me because of the writing I do on the side for sometimes the tiniest of audiences. 

The bottom line is that you ought not quit writing because you don't think anybody is reading.

It's not about your audience; it's about your own learning and creativity and growth.

The crickets are only temporary.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

5 Thoughts on Facilitating Better Meetings

One of the items lacking from any of my school administrator preparation courses was how to facilitate an effective meeting, but I've since discovered that we as school leaders facilitate a lot of meetings for a lot of different purposes.



Rare are the days when I'm not facilitating some sort of meeting, and rarely do meetings happen that don't leave me reflecting on how I can do better next time.

When planned right and executed well great meetings can produce important results and generate innovative solutions to persistent problems; the facilitator's role is crucial but also different with each circumstance for meeting. How I prepare will determine if the outcomes match the purpose.

I've learned 5 things about facilitating better meetings this year; please read below.

Prepare like you want your teachers to prepare their classes

NB: using backward design to plan my meetings has yielded great results. The meeting planner template linked above is something I put together adapted from Ubd lesson planning templates.

Facilitate like you want your teachers to facilitate their classes

  • post and review the objectives, intended outcomes, and agenda before starting; leave it projected / posted throughout the meeting
  • get everybody talking and sharing but always bring it back to the objectives
  • settings where a small group listens to the leader talk about something aren't the same thing as meetings
  • it can't be your meeting; it has to be everyone's meeting
    • just as classes can't be completely teacher-centered, nor can meetings be completely leader-centered
    • let them find your conclusions on their own

Communicate for purpose

  • don't tell me about the problem; tell me about the solution and actions needed to get there
  • don't be afraid to be honest 
  • be clear - identify what you need people to hear and do beforehand
  • prepare your questions as carefully as you prepare your statements

Identify and follow up on further action items

  • establish at the beginning what actions are expected following
  • don't make it just about the meeting; what's most important is what happens after the meeting
  • meetings that don't produce or lead to anything didn't need to happen
  • you'll know how good it was a couple of weeks later after the action items from it are reviewed

Don't get nervous; get prepared

  • if you're expecting confrontation or hostility, then your best strategy is extra preparation
    • visualize yourself responding to certain claims or talking points
    • anticipate where the hostility may come from and plan for it
  • nervousness is pointless; thinking and dreading is not the same as thinking and preparing
    • don't dwell on it, but don't avoid it - be ready for whatever it is
  • focus on what you can control; how someone else intends to behave is outside of your power


Saturday, March 29, 2014

12 Ways to Use Words to Inspire Growth


Your words matter. 
The way we give feedback, lead meetings, or speak to our teams or colleagues matters. In reading Self-Regulated Learning for Academic Success: How do I help students manage their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions? several selected quotes throughout the book show how impactful or unimpactful our words are and how inspiring or uninspiring they can be.

"Praise is a mixed bag. Although it can increase students' self-efficacy and their expectations of future success, it can also lead them to feel helpless in the face of challenges if their self-worth is tied too closely to being praised." -page 11

Acknowledge effort over result. Don't discuss things outside of their control. Use words that make improvement seem possible.
Be specific with your praise. Identify why they're being praised. Don't use praise as a consolation for disappointment, or because you feel obligated to. Use words for a purpose.
Don't make them reliant on your approval or input. They need to be able to self-diagnose their own problems and solutions. The goal is always to grow and get better; it's not to receive kudos. Use words that promote dialogue.
Visualize later now. Talk about how the praiseworthy incident can be replicated elsewhere. Use words that make connections and promote transfer.

"When a child learns to associate task outcomes with the effort invested,he's more likely to attribute failure to a lack of effort and to adopt new strategies and work harder until he succeeds." -page 11

Acknowledge effort over result. People have to believe their efforts matter or else you won't be able to keep them motivated to embrace the challenge. Use words that will inspire more effort.
Focus on what's controllable. Don't waste time with things that can't be changed or that have already happened. I once spent an entire coaching season blaming our losses on 2 guys who had quit the team earlier in the season. What a blunder, and a waste of energy and time. I shouldn't have used words that caused people to dwell on things they couldn't control.
Action plans have to be achievable. Set them up for quick wins. Don't aim for a target that can't be placed or can't be achieved. Use words that can be realized.
Tell stories of your own failures leading to growth. Empathize with how hard it is to keep getting better. Use words that make it seem possible.

"...teachers can do a lot to further students' self-regulation by creating a warm and supportive social climate, providing collaborative learning opportunities, and giving feedback focused on the learning process rather than the learning outcomes." -page 19

Give them a tangible skill of focus. One improvement at a time. Use words that make it clear.
Include them in the planning and feedback process. Make it their plan and their result. Use words that get them to own it.
Create critical thinkers and decision makers. They need to be able to evaluate their own habits and ideas. Use words that cause them to reflect.
Don't waste time on things they already know. "Good job" or "you can do better than this" or "this is terrible" or "A" alone doesn't help anyone get better. We usually know when it didn't go we'll; tell us how we can improve. Use words that promote growth.

"...it can be difficult to remember that your verbal and written feedback should concentrate not in outcomes but on students' selection and use of learning processes and strategies. Doing this focuses students on what they can do to improve their work and gives them a sense of control over their academic success...." -page 26
Image Source



Sunday, March 23, 2014

Think Long -Term : They Won't Be Students Forever

After reading Carrie Germeroth & Crystal Day-Hess' Self Regulated Learning For Academic Success I've been thinking a lot about how brief our time with our students or athletes or colleagues really is in the grand scheme of things.

For our impact with these people to be long-term we have to be building self-regulation skills rather than simple behavior or task management.

We don't want them to rely on us to remind them to put their name on the paper.
We don't want them to rely on us to tell them what to eat and what not to eat.
We don't want them to rely on us to tell them they're doing a good job to keep going.
We don't want them to rely on us to be watching for them to treat people right.

Managing behavior is for the short-term; building self-regulation skills is for the long-term.

"Self-Regulation is an internal process in which an individual uses a multifaceted set of emotional and cognitive skills...to regulate his or her own behavior. Within educational literature, the term behavior management refers to external processes or rules that are imposed on students to manage their behaviors." -page 38

We have to be teaching / showing them how to do it on their own - outside of the classroom or in a different venue or environment.

The goal can't be simply to stop the behavior from happening in our presence or in our classroom; the goal has to be for the person to be able to stop their own inappropriate or counter-productive behavior no matter where they are or who they're with.

They have to be able to thrive in any situation, not just with us or in our classroom or school.

We need to teach lessons that last.

"By drawing on their previous learning experiences, they can assemble a better toolkit of strategies and build confidence in their ability to take on new challenges." -page 4

Transfer isn't something we can take for granted; self-regulation skills like learning from experience need to be drilled and strengthened like critical reading or writing skills.

Build in reflection time; don't just ask content questions.

It's not enough that they can demonstrate something with us around; they need to be able to do it without us and outside the confines of the classroom or schoolhouse.

"Your less self-regulated students may not know the best ways to approach the task or which goals are most appropriate, particularly when they are encountering unfamiliar topics." -page 16

If all we're doing is preparing students for end of the year exams or even preparing them for college, then we're definitely not thinking long-term enough.

There's a lot of life to live and a lot of learning to happen after 22, and it's when they're not doing what they're doing for a grade or because someone is telling them to that we'll see how impactful and how meaningful their time with us was.

What good was my teaching or training if it can't be used anywhere except class or in the school or in an isolated time or place?

I can't be there forever; if it's lost or it falls apart when I'm gone or even some time after I'm gone, then what was the point?

How can I build self-regulating skills in school?

"Now is the time to begin teaching them that they don't necessarily need another person to tell them how well they are doing; they can figure it out on their own with tools that record and track their goals, the learning strategies they use, and their learning outcomes." -page 18

1. Expose students to multiple styles of note taking / information recording and let them choose which to use based on the information that need to be recorded - have them explain why they chose what they chose in their notes. Instead of giving them an outline, or a chart, or a Venn diagram create opportunities for them to decide which one to use; by reflecting on why they chose what they chose and how well it worked they're more likely to make the informed decision next time in a different context. They're not doing what they're doing because someone told them to.

2. In a language class have students create their own unit vocabulary list. Present to them the objectives and topics of the unit, and instruct them to create the vocabulary list they think they'll need the most. It will make the words mean more, and builds prioritization skills. Follow up with your recommended vocabulary list to create multiple reflective opportunities for students.

3. Allow groups to choose multiple platforms for presenting; build in to the process reflection on why they chose what they chose and how well it went. Being able to choose the right tool for the task is a critical self-regulation skill.

If they don't have the tools to do it, then instead of doing it for them we ought to help develop it.
4. Act out a behavior of focus people demonstrate toward others in group settings, both positive and negative, and have students reflect on how the observed behavior impacts others in the group before starting the next team project. 

5. Create opportunities for your students,colleagues, or athletes to log, curate, and interpret their own data. Being able to identify your own areas of need and opportunities for growth is a critical self'-regulating skill. Utilize portfolios, allow students time to really look at old writing samples before starting new ones, let your athletes break down their own film, and make self-assessment and reflection as meaningful as teacher assessment and commentary

6.  Get them talking about it. It doesn't matter what it is. If they're talking about it and how it works, or how it can be improved, or how to get better at it, then chances are it'll stick more than it would otherwise.

Think about the long-term impact of your lessons; how can they be used for future learning or to solve future problems? How could they be?

Simple adjustments can yield huge dividends.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What's the Opposite of "Shoosh?"

Quiet is nice every once in a while in certain classroom situations, but it's not the environment that promotes long-term memory or transfer. Get them talking to each other about the material. Devote set intervals of time for interpersonal communication and reflection between students, teammates, colleagues, etc about the topic or lesson at hand if you want it to stick and have meaning.


Photo Source
Quote Source - page 58

"You want to demonstrate the process of talking through a problem so that your students will begin to see how to negotiate challenging situations." -Germeroth & Day-Hess p. 8-9

You want them talking about it now so that they're talking about it when it matters - when it gets hard.

You want them talking about it now so that they're talking about it when you're not there.

Quiet cuts out critical steps to the process of learning anything

We talk our way through questions and problems all of the time, because it leads better performances and outcomes. 

Even the most confident of us bounce ideas off of our colleagues and teammates every day; shared decision making and responsibility are two elements on the Massachusetts teacher rubric; we're not supposed to work quietly.

So let's not teach quietly.

Quiet is orderly; it's easier. But don't confuse order and politeness for long-term learning.

"The overarching goal is to help middle and high school students realize that by using effective learning strategies and study habits, they can control their learning and academic success, even when the work is challenging." -Germeroth & Day-Hess p.34

Dialogue and interaction with others leads toward realization. Dialogue and interactions gets us through the tough stuff.

They have to be able to do it or talk about it outside of the classroom or practice for it to matter; it's not uncommon to hear someone lament that they took a class on something but don't remember a thing. 

It was probably a wicked quiet class.

For different ways to get them talking more, I wrote down 11 strategies last month. 

Get them talking about sample pieces of work discussing ways to improve it.

"Students can typically identify problems in other people's writing more easily than they can in their own, but with guidance, they can start applying what they've learned during peer feedback sessions to their own work." - Searle p. 86

Make today's lesson really matter.

Promote engagement; promote activity; promote the long-term learning and application of your lesson; get them talking about it.

#education #classroommanagement


Saturday, March 15, 2014

5 Classroom Management Tips


Last Week I wrote down 9 Classroom Management Tips and since then I read Jane Bluestein's Managing 21st Century Classrooms: How do I avoid ineffective classroom management practices?

16 quotes later, I have 6 additional tips related to what most would say is the most difficult aspect of teaching to "master."

Classroom Management isn't easy, but keep these 5 additional tips in mind...

1. It's Not About You

Don't make it about you; it takes away from the real reason why classroom management is important; behavior that takes away from the learning of others must cease because it's taking away from the learning of others, not because it doesn't please you.

 "...instead of talking about how their behavior makes you feel, focus on how their cooperation will pay off for them." p.41
Making it about you the teacher sends the message that it's your show instead of theirs. 

Making it about pleasing you and complying to your wishes takes student attention away from the prime matter at hand - their education and preparation.
 "Simple recognition...that emphasizes students' efforts and actions rather than how their behavior pleases you is a great way to build morale and positive relationships." p.23
Don't praise students because they make you happy and make you feel satisfied; praise students because their efforts and actions are that of a student who will best learn taught lessons.

 2. Don't Cut off Your Nose to Spite Your Face

You can't react in a way that alienates your other students; you can't be threatening or volatile and still expect students to learn what you're teaching.

 "When we perceive threat, our primary brain functions retreat to the survival centers of the midbrain....Whether targets or witnesses, most individuals exposed to this energy will either shut down or fight back, with a no-win outcome likely for all concerned...." p.37
If they're not asking questions, then they're probably not learning; if they're afraid of your response, then they're not going to ask questions. 

You can't be draconian and expect real engagement.
 "Thus, the harder we try to control or disempower kids, the harder they will push back, whether by exhibiting overt defiance, becoming passive-aggressive, shutting down..." p.7
The brain cannot be in learning mode and survival mode at the same time. Fear is literally and figuratively a four letter word in the classroom.
"Classroom management behaviors that rely on teacher control and students' fear of punishment trigger the brain's survival instincts and suppress the brain functions students need for learning, cognitive processing, and retention...." p.8
There's always a tomorrow; don't say or do anything that you can't take back. 

I highly recommend the book

 3. Own It

Classroom management is not about your rules; it's about you. 
"When you walk into a classroom where kids are busy and engaged, it is unlikely that their cooperation was motivated by rules. And I can guarantee that when students are disruptive, off task, or out of control, it's not because there aren't enough rules." p.11-12 
Don't set limits that you're not prepared to enforce; don't say you're going to do something unless you're going to do it.
"But structure is only as effective as our willingness to follow through on the conditions and limits we use to create it." p.25
Avoid practices that send unintended messages. 
 "Asking for excuses for explanations when students have misbehaved, broken an agreement, or failed to complete an assignment interferes with our goal of building responsibility by suggesting that students can talk their way out of the requirements we set." p.26
You communicate most effectively with your actions; words eventually become meaningless.
 "Another way we sabotage our authority is by reacting to infractions with warnings instead of following through on the conditions we set." p.27
 4. Respond Intentionally

Don't give praise for the sake of praise.
"Although recognizing effort, persistence, or a job well done is legitimate and valuable, there are a number of ways to get this one wrong, with potentially harmful results." p.20
Instead of responding simply because you feel compelled to respond, think about what you want to happen as a result of your response. 
"...if you intention is to elicit a behavior you have not seen yet, you need to use a different approach from the one you use to reinforce existing desirable behavior." p.23
Respond in the manner that the behavior merits - no more and no less. 
"The best way to improve follow-through (and thus maintain respect and authority) is to only allow positive outcomes when they are earned and withdraw them when the conditions are violated." p.28
5. Always Make it Positive

Make sure the work students are doing is aligned with present abilities.
"Students who believe they're going to fail no matter what have little stake in engaging and cooperating." p.17
Use words and phrases that create the culture of cooperation rather than the expectation of struggle.
"Even making a simple change from a threat ('if you don't do this, you can't...') to a promise ('As soon as you do this, you can...') transforms the energy and power dynamic in the interaction and increases the the likelihood of cooperation, especially if the positive outcome is meaningful to students." p.18
Classroom management isn't about responding to bad behavior; it's about anticipating potential cracks that students can and will fall through, and filling them before the fall.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

3 Lessons I Learned From Sports

I spoke tonight at our winter sports awards night representing the school's administration. Preparing my remarks gave me the opportunity to reflect on my time as an athlete, and for the first time in a while I thought about what I learned from competitive sports and how it's benefited me as an adult and a professional. Part of the speech is below...

Congratulations to all our winter teams on such a successful season of win loss records, playoff appearances, and league championships; congratulations to all of the individuals who earned all-star honors, and congratulations to all who receive individual recognition tonight.

But rather than use my time tonight to speak about accolades, victories, and the tangible rewards that come with athletics I’d like to share with all of you 3 lessons I learned from competing in high school and college sports that I still apply and still hold true going on 15 years later. More than any individual plaque, medal, or trophy I received. these lessons have proven to be far more valuable and leave me truly thankful that I competed athletically for as long as I did.

The 1st lesson sports taught me is that gratification is rarely instant. I've played in games and competed in races where I and my teammates did everything we could possibly do as well as we possibly could do it, and we still lost. Similarly as an adult, I've gone for job interviews where I said all the right things and did everything I was supposed to do and still did not get the job. I've prepared endlessly for lessons or meetings that just didn't go as well as I thought it was going to go. And that’s ok. Getting frustrated is pointless, blaming others is toxic, and giving up should never be an option. Embrace the process, keep working hard to get better, and the payoff happens. It may not look exactly like you thought it would, and may not happen when you thought it was going to, but it’s still sweet.

The 2nd lesson sports taught me is that excellence is a habit. It’s not just about playing, racing, or cheering hard; anybody can do that. Athletic excellence comes from training hard, from practicing perfectly, from not letting your ego stunt your own growth, from taking care of your body. Similarly I’ve learned that excellence in the workplace isn't about just showing up on time and doing my job; it’s about constantly learning new things, keeping up on the latest educational trends and developments, visualizing important meetings or conversations, and doing my homework so I’m prepared act intentionally throughout the day. Worded another way, athletics taught me that long-term success can come only by purposely matching my lifestyle to my aspirations.

Summer 2005 - Rowing with Riverside Boat Club



The 3rd lesson sports taught me is that trust beats talent any day of the week. The most successful team I coached really took off when I removed our most talented athlete. He had all the physical tools, but he was a loose cannon, he alienated his teammates, and his words and actions did not suggest any sort of commitment to his team. We couldn’t trust him, and all the talent in the world couldn’t make up for it. Similarly, I’ve worked with folks professionally who were highly educated, had great ideas, and a diverse skill set, but couldn’t be trusted. Sports taught me that people are at their best when they’re working together toward a common goal, and that we can beat me ten times out of ten.