Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Ultimate Belief

'Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe."

After beating Roger Federer in this year's Wimbledon tournament, Novak Djokavic said the following , "You have to believe in yourself".  This "duh" statement is so true. You can't accomplish anything if you don't believe in yourself.  Novak works as an individual, performs as an individual and succeeds as an individual; therefore, all he has to do is believe in himself and nothing else.

But this statement doesn't fully apply to education. Educators work in a comprehensive system; therefore, educators can believe in themselves all they want to, but there is a truckload of other factors and people that affect how one teacher can perform.  In other words, if every teacher in the system is to reach the pinnacle of success, it'll require beliefs that are much deeper than a tangible belief in ourselves.

So how does this apply to teachers, leaders, teams, schools and districts?

There are 3 levels of belief:  Belief in Self,  Belief in the Team and Belief in the System.  Let's explore the three levels.  

Level 1 - Belief in Self

Belief in yourself is not the ultimate goal for educators but the first step. If an organization desires to reach the pinnacle of excellence, a bunch of people who believe in themselves is a great goal but if the focus is on kids, individual belief isn't enough because believing in yourself and no one else can only impact 1 year in a child's life.   If you don't believe me that believing in yourself isn't enough, then watch "Freedom Writer's", "Mr. Holland's Opus" or any other Hollywood movie of a teacher with the ultimate belief in themselves who worked in a disastrous system.

Level 2 - Belief in the Team

Teams that trust in each other believe in each other. They have positive presuppositions about one another's motives, abilities and contributions. They lean on each other in times of difficulty and hold each other to high standards because of that belief.  A team of individuals who believe in themselves and in one another is a huge step up from any belief in yourself because it takes courage, trust and confidence in something bigger than yourself.  Furthermore, teams that believe in themselves expand a positive influence and impact directly onto more students, but this is not the ultimate belief. The team only impacts one segment of the system, not the entire system. There has to be something bigger to affect every kid in every day of their education.

Level 3 - Belief in the System

Most people are cynical of the system simply because they can't see it. No matter your role, you can't see every facet of a comprehensive system that you are a part of, therefore, for most people, they believe in the system with the following mindset, "Seeing in Believing".  Without tangible and immediate evidence, they don't have faith in the system.  Those who possess the Ultimate Belief know that the system is not perfect, but they also know that they are a part of that system.  That means they believe they can improve the system.  They understand that their role, no matter how small, is vital to improving the system.  Belief in the system takes a deep rooted understanding that what you are doing has the potential to influence every person in the system (including the leader).  Finally believing in the system means transcends belief and leads to faith in the system.  You believe that what you do have a ripple effect beyond anything that you can see or touch.

So Do You BEL13VE?

Believing beyond your own abilities requires seeing your role in the context of the system. While some believe their role can only impact things they can see, those with the ultimate belief see their efforts to the power of 13, the number of years it takes to prepare every child for college or career ready life.   What they do matters because not only do they have the faith.  They keep the faith.

While your on the Journey, "Don't Stop Believin'"

Friday, October 24, 2014

6 Sparks of a Scintillating Teacher

I love watching "Minute with Maxwell", a daily email that comes into my inbox each morning.  This morning a fireball of a word piqued my interest, Scintillating.  I knew what the word meant, but the mere pronunciation of the word sparked my intrigued in John Maxwell's message.  I just had to find out what he would say about the word in his video.  

As he went through his vivid description of the word, some of my favorite teachers of all time bursted to the front of my mind. Their electrifying lessons captivated me.  Their individual consideration made me feel like their class was designed just for me.  They walked their talk, and that influenced me to do the same.  Finally, these instructional idols inspired me to shoot for the stars in my own life, and they did that with high expectations accompanied by amazing accountability and stupendous support.

6 Sparks of a Scintillating Teacher 

To be even more definitive, each of these teachers possessed 6 sparks that didn't just motivate me.  They motivated all students.  Hope you identify with them.

Her intellectual prowess drove me to constantly ask the question, "How does he know so much about this content?"

His passion for telling us the story of history took me on a journey back in time. 

His dynamic presence made me believe that I could be equally an expert of this content. 

Her excitement and love for life and teaching challenged me to be a more selfless human being. 

Listening to her 'why' behind the 'what' entranced my mind and made me view life and content in a way that I had never experienced before. 

His unique way of explaining my thinking to me redirected me to correct my own mistakes without ever hearing that I was wrong. 

So what other Sparks would you add?

Scintillating teachers sear learning into the minds of their students. Kids rarely forget these superstars because their content is branded into their brains.  But there are other descriptors that make a scintillating teacher, so drop a comment and share your thoughts.  Who inspired you by being a firecracker of a teacher?  What was it about their teaching that fired you up?  After all, that is how we become better teachers, by emulating the greatness in others.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Take your Content to Deeper Levels of Knowledge through Reading

"Points of Entry" (CLICK HERE) by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher  is a great article for any teacher who wants to make their students better at reading, comprehending and explaining what they have read.  Reading is THE foundational skill for every course, but teaching kids how to read is often relegated to the English teacher.  Kids need more reading instruction than any English teacher can provide, but the solution to this conundrum is not to go out and hire more English teachers.  The answer can be found by providing more reading instruction throughout the day.

If we really want students to be better at our content, then we must ensure that we are making them better readers.  In other words, all teachers must consider how reading is being taught explicitly to their students.  Furthermore, reading instruction is thought of as a silent and individual learning activity, but here's the problem with that philosophy.  How many of us read informational texts in our work and never do anything with it?  Real-world reading requires us to do more than answer multiple choice questions in isolation.  We need to make certain that our instruction mirrors this idea of interactivity.  If we can do that, the multiple choice answers will be answered correctly.

 What I like about this article is that it illustrates the 4 access points of reading:  
  1. Establishing Purpose - "Kids benefit from having a clearly established purpose for learning."
  2. Closed Reading - "A systematic practice of analyzing a text to gain deep comprehension."
  3. Collaborative Conversations - "It's not enough to have students read complex informational texts; they also need time to discuss these texts and interact using academic language."
  4.  Wide Reading - "Ensures that students read enough to build their background knowledge and vocabulary"
Using the 4 entry points of reading, all teachers can better engage all students, which will in turn make  them better readers.  The point of the article is this.  If all students can become better readers, they'll become better at mastering our content.  That is why we can't teach our content apart from reading.  They must intentionally be integrated.

Bonus Video - At the bottom of the article is a great video that shows how a teacher uses these 4 access points to make her students better readers.  Prepare yourself.  It's not a quiet video.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Leading with your Tail-Lights

Leaders go ahead to show the way, but they need a way to alert followers if there is danger. Leaders guide others down a path toward success, but they need a way to let the organization know when it is time to turn. When days become dark and it's hard to see in front of you, leaders need some way to show us that they are still there moving everyone forward.

Every leader requires tail-lights just like the car in this picture. They need to be pushing the organization further ahead, but they also need some way to keep followers aware of when it's time to slow down or make a sharp turn. Nothing brings the traffic of followers to a screeching halt faster than a leader without tail-lights who suddenly slams on the brakes. Failure to notify followers that caution is ahead frustrates. Without brake signals, traffic comes to a screeching halt or even worse, to a massive pile up leaving destruction and frustration to all involved. 

Tail-lights in leadership are extremely important. They keep followers safe and informed of what is coming up. A broken tail-light or busted turn signal is no good to an organization. Actually, they're unsafe for the entire organization because followers perceive the leader's erratic decisions as ulterior motives. Sadly, there are many leaders who operate without any type of warning signal. They just allow their organization to crash and burn behind them, and they don't see the importance of warning them when it is time to come to a stop. 

Here are 4 tail-lights that you need to keep your followers moving forward.

Brake Signal
Leaders need to warn followers when it is time to slow down. Brake lights warn followers when the organization is approaching potential problems. Brake lights are probably the most important tail light followers need to see from the leader. 

Turn Signal
Leaders need to notify followers when they are about to turn onto another path. Sometimes leaders need followers to get back on the path of progress or they need to get off the road for a while.  So as not to confuse followers, they should warn followers that they will be taking a sharp turn in the near future and that the turn is purposeful. 

Hazard Signal
Sometimes leaders are stuck on the side of the road with a major problem. So that they don't impede traffic, leaders need to turn on their hazard lights and let followers know that they have to stop moving forward while they deal with the problem at hand. Hazard lights also encourage followers to continue moving forward without the leader. 

Reverse Signal
Leaders make mistakes and need to back up before heading a different direction. Without reverse lights, leaders back into followers and cause frustration. Telling followers that you need to back up builds trust and shows followers that leaders make mistakes too. 

Tail-Lights send a Message

Communication is the most critical skill leaders have at their disposal. The better leaders are at communication, the smoother the flow of traffic will be for the organization. Often times, leaders are so caught up looking forward that they neglect to communicate frequently with those behind them. Tail-lights don't communicate frequently, but they do communicate when it is critical to warn followers that change is coming. Leaders must never forget that failure to communicate critical information will cause the traffic of improvement to crash and burn into a pile-up of dysfunction. The best way to keep progress moving forward is to ensure that you communicate with those who are behind you. That is if you want them to continue following you. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Essence of DOK

The other day I ran across this tweet and thought to myself, "This visual reminder is exactly what we need when we are trying to help kids learn at DOK levels 2, 3 and 4 in our instruction."  Now the first assumption I made was that the goal of this visual was to get kids to teach others, and that is a great goal for any instruction. After all, the expert must know the concept deeply with familiarity, and teacher must transcend that level of expertise.   But as I synthesized the tweet a little bit longer, I said, "95% retention isn't good enough for someone to become an expert.  

So let's put all of those components together:  reading about a topic, hearing about a topic, seeing the topic, discussing the topic, experiencing the topic and teaching about the topic, that would add up to roughly 275% retention rate.  What I mean is this.  If a student has learning opportunities to learn a given concept at all of those levels, there's a pretty good chance that the student would have a tremendous depth of knowledge and high rate of retention about that concept.

Passive isn't always Bad

Passive learning is perceived as bad and active learning is perceived as good, but that's not necessarily the case.  Passive learning is a great way to activate introspective learning.  It grounds students to a central concept when introducing new skills.  Through listening, reading or hearing,  a student can internalize new learning to make meaning.  If students don't have an opportunity to internalize content on the front end, they'll have a difficult time generating products of mastery on the back-end.

Active is the Real-World

There are very few professions that require a person to merely think without producing a product.  Active learning is the real-world because every profession requires employees to use  their knowledge to produce results.  Instruction must produce results, and that means learning requires meaningful work.  Meaningful work starts with application, and sadly that is where traditional learning stops.  Authentic learning takes application and leads to creation, evaluation and presentation.  Why do you think teachers are so good at their content?  It's because they are constantly creating, evaluating and reflecting on their content.  Students need those same learning opportunities to master content.

Link to Visual

The Essence of DOK

The pathway to Depth of Knowledge is neither passive nor active.  It is both.  Learning requires activity and interaction as well as internal reflection and synthesis.  Educators mustn't subscribe to the theory that activity is the only way to help kids learn, but it mustn't cling to the safety of sterile and quiet learning spaces either.  The essence of depth of knowledge is knowing the depth of mastery for your content, the learning styles of your students and the best strategies to help all students get as close to 270% mastery of that content.

Friday, October 3, 2014

10/8 - #ThankaCopToday

This post is dedicated to the brave men and women who answer the call.  When trouble threatens our world, they will always respond.  Thank you to police officers around the world for putting your life in danger to save our lives.

When bad things happen, who do you call?  When a person's life is in danger, who is the first to respond?  When a law is broken, who is there to keep the order? When a domestic dispute erupts, who is there to keep the peace?  The police officer.

In today's world of high profile and instant scrutiny, the police officer has one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Where else can you find a job that every time you respond to a call, your life is put in danger?  Every car that is pulled over could be a life-ending in counter. Every door that is knocked on could be answered with the fire of a gun. How many of us would gladly take that task on and accept the scrutiny when people don't like how we hold them accountable?


If you synthesize the work a police officer does, the job of a police officer is one of the most underpaid, over-demanding, under-appreciated, over-scrutinized jobs in America. From the moment that the blue and red lights come on, the camera is rolling.  Every word and every action during the most difficult and often life-threatening parts of the job are being recorded.  High-pressure, split-second decisions are recorded for the world to see.  How many of us have jobs like that?

"What is a Policeman?" by Paul Harvey

On 10-8, Let's Publicly Show our Respect. 

Every time one police officer makes a mistake, the entire profession is negatively generalized by that one mistake. When a police officer responds, his decision is automatically scrutinized. We have to educate our community that we shouldn't always do that. 

When I was growing up, every police officer was respected with a "Yes sir", and we always followed his direction. That is not always the case today. Many times there are people that police encounter that have absolutely no respect for police officers and blatantly refused to follow any directions. Some go as far as to fight the officer when being corrected.

Let's share our appreciation of law enforcement officers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

So why does this matter?

The future of our nation is dependent on whether or not it's people will follow and obey laws. We are a nation of laws; therefore, we must have brave men and women to enforce those laws.  No one will be willing to enforce laws on people who blatantly refuse to follow them and even worse fight against them.  

That's why we need you on 10/8.

Throughout the week of October 8, let's unleash social media to show our appreciation of law enforcement officials.  Let's teach our children and our students the important role that police officers play to preserve our free and democratic society.  Teach them not to give in to hasty generalizations about the profession. After all do you like it when your professionalism is judged by the mistakes of one person in your profession? 

After all, we need someone to respond the one time that we call 911 because our lives are in danger.  That person won't be you or me.  It'll be the police officer.