Tuesday, December 29, 2015

6 Strategies to Start off the New Year with Greater Classroom Engagement

The New Year is here, so what is your plan to get the kids more engaged than ever?  The solution won't be found in that new lesson that you developed or that cool tech-tool that you discovered on Twitter.  The key to better classroom engagement is guaranteeing that each student optimizes every minute of his learning in your room.

Every student's minute counts.  Now, if you are allotted 50 minutes of instruction, and you waste or lose 5 minutes everyday due to poor behavior, disengaged minds or apathetic students, you give up 10% of your instruction every day (See 5 Fixes for the 1st 5 Minutes of Instruction).   I don't know about you, but I don't have 10% of time to give up on any given. Do you?

With that said, I'd like to offer some strategies that you can easily incorporate into your instruction immediately that will reduce your chances of losing valuable minutes of instruction while simultaneously increasing the chances that more students will be engaged in their learning in 2016.

1.  Routines & Procedures 
The best pair of tennis shoes always need to be tied before you go running.  Think of your routines and procedures as the shoes for your instruction.  If you don't tie them tight everyday, you will lose time having to tie and retie them throughout your run.  Spend time each day reviewing how students are expected to independently do everything such as:

  • enter the room & get started in the warm-up activity
  • request to leave the room 
  • sharpen a pencil 
  • retrieve all materials
  • ask for help if they have a problem
  • manage their materials independent of you
If students aren't reminded of the routines and procedures for the classroom on a daily basis, they will rely on their own routines and procedures to learn, and that will generally not lead to maximized engagement.

It must be emphasized that routines and procedures grow in effectiveness with praise and affirmation.  Spend time every day recognizing and thanking kids for doing things right, and the rest of the class will work hard to be praised as well.  What gets celebrated gets accelerated.

2.  Start off the period with Music
Haley Van Sandt was the first teacher that I saw use music consistently to engage kids in learning during the first 5 minutes of instruction without fail every single day.  As soon as the bell rang, Mandisa's "Good Morning" started, and the kids started singing and vibing to the music as they completed their warm-up work and readied themselves for the day's lesson.  Using a familiar song as a regular routine focuses students' thoughts on learning and what they need to do to be prepared for learning.

3. Excellence begins with Expectations
Before you begin any task, it is extremely helpful to set expectations for what you want kids to do.  If it is a normal activity, don't assume that all kids will know or remember the expectations.  Take 15 seconds to remind them of the expectations for that activity, or you'll lose 5 minutes redirecting and correcting off-task behavior (5 minutes = 10% of your instruction).  If it is a new activity, you will need to spend 2-4 minutes describe the learning behaviors necessary for students to complete the activity successfully.  Don't expect excellence.  Set expectations for students to reach excellence.

4. 3 B4 Me
Students can't truly maximize every minute of their learning if the only person they can ask for help is the teacher.  A "3 b4 Me" rule will help students own their learning by expecting them to solve their own problems without you.  Here are just a few places students can go before they go to you for assistance.

  • Anchor charts in the room,
  • Their notes,
  • Their classmates,
  • Google for things they don't know,
  • Dictionary.com for worlds they don't understand,
  • A print out of procedures for logging-in to websites.
In the real world, the most successful people are masters at solving their own problems.  "3 B4 Me" is a real world strategy to empower all kids to solve their own problems, and it keeps you available for the few problems that truly require the expertise that only you, the teacher, can provide.

5. Note-taking
Listening is not a very engaging activity.  In fact it's quite boring, and with every passing minute that students must listen to the teacher's lesson, their engagement decreases considerably.  Engaging lessons from the teacher require students to follow along, copy, imitate and/or summarize what the teacher is presenting. 

Note-taking and summarizing was noted by Marzano (see here) as one of the highest-yield strategies.  All students (K-12) should take notes everyday.  From copying what they teacher is doing in Kindergarten to using graphic organizers or notes with holes to take notes in elementary to using art to take notes in high school, note-taking is a powerful strategy that helps students deepen their learning of the content while you model learning for the kids.  If students aren't taking notes, how will they remember what you taught them?

6. Stop the Q&A and Start the 'Turn and Talk'
When you ask one student a question, the rest of the class disengages from the lesson.  If the goal is to get all students learning at high levels, pose a question and ask the students to turn and talk to their neighbor for 30 seconds.  This gives all students their opportunity to discuss their learning with one another, and there is a greater chance that all students will stay engaged in the lesson.

Why should you drop the Q&A? Well, every time you ask one student a question, the rest of the class is off the hook, and their learning essentially stops while they wait for that student to answer the question.  With turn and talk, every kid's learning keeps going, and you can monitor conversations and then hand pick 1 or 2 kids to share out what they discussed.  There will always be better engagement with turn and talk.

Make 2016 Ring with Engagement
Learning is accelerated with better engagement, and if we want all students to be active learners, we must make certain that all of them are active participants throughout every lesson that we provide.  By creating active learning environments that focus on optimizing every student's engagement, we actually foster each student's independence and autonomy that essentially transform their engagement into empowerment.  Imagine the kind of learning and growth we would see in every kid if we created a classroom where empowerment wasn't the goal, but the constant.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

#Leadership Lessons from Steve Harvey

The 2015 Ms. Universe Pageant will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in the history of mistakes, as there is no doubt that Steve Harvey will always be remembered for naming the wrong person, Ms. Columbia, as the winner of the prestigious event.  In the days following the pageant, Harvey was the target of endless jokes and memes that not only highlighted his mistake.  They glorified it.  What was verified is that leaders live a cruel world where people will make darn sure that your mistakes at least will define you if they don't destroy you.

Here's why leaders should pay close attention...

Immediately following the mistake, Steve Harvey epitomized this quote. 

"Mistakes don't define you; your response to them does." 

Instead of hiding from responsibility and gathering a council of advisors to help him avoid the fallout, Harvey immediately owned his gaffe in front of the entire world to see.  He didn't deflect and the use typical avoidance strategies that high-profile leaders use.  He said, "It was completely my fault".  What a simple, yet courageous statement.  

Leaders must accept the fact that they are going to screw up and make mistakes, and some of the them will be 'really' bad.  What followers appreciate and gravitate toward is not an infallible leader, but a leader who shows he is mortal and capable of messing up from time to time.    People follow courage, not perfection.

Thank you, Steve!

If it weren't for Steve, most people wouldn't have even known there was a Ms. Universe pageant, and they definitely wouldn't have known who won it.  In fact, if his mistake did one good thing, it was show more people that the pageant is still alive and well.  You can be sure that more viewers will definitely pay close attention to the pageant next year.

But the greatest thing that we should all be thankful for is the leadership example that Steve displayed for all of us to emulate.  To make a massive mistake in front of the entire world is one thing, but to face it head-on and overcome the outrage and insults that followed sends a powerful message to all of us that leadership is defined by the courage and conviction that leaders have when they have to admit to the world that they were wrong.  Now how much better off would our world be if our government had more politicians like that? (sorry, had to say it).  The reality is that more organizations and governments deserve completely transparent leaders like Steve.

Thank you, Steve, for the courage that you displayed and for the leadership example that you displayed.  There will come a day when every leader, including myself, will eventually mess up in front of the world and will need a successful example to follow.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Principal's Ultimate Mission

Student learning is no doubt the goal of every school in America, and as long as I have been a leader, that has been my goal.  I’m pretty sure that is your goal, too, but the illusive question becomes this, what one resource has the greatest impact on guaranteeing that more students succeed.  One can argue that we need better schools while the next person can argue that we need better teachers, but at the end of the day, kids must have access to quality instruction from several highly successful teachers in excellent schools for 13 consecutive years in order to experience the best success.   

Teachers are the only ones who can directly impact learning for every child, but they can only impact learning at higher levels when they work in school environments that actually help them get better at the art and science of teaching kids.   The fact of the matter is this.  We need to stop focusing on making better schools and/or better teachers.  

We need to create better schools that are deeply committed to making teachers better.

For too long, educators have been asking the wrong questions when attempting to solve the age-old dilemma of guaranteeing higher success for all students. Administrators ask questions such as the following.
  • How do we raise scores?
  • How do we get better teachers from the colleges and universities?
  • How do we get better walkthrough observation instruments?
  • How do we get better staff development for our teachers?

These are important questions, but they often lead to misguided decisions, short-term gains, and transactional leadership responses. Sadly, this focus on teaching generally leads to a recycling bin of traditional leadership answers.  If we want to truly make a major impact on student success, we, as leaders, must guide our thinking away from superficial targets and bureaucratic habits disguised as silver bullets.  We must close our minds to the questions of the here and now and focus our thoughts on a new vision for schools.  The questions we should fix our eyes on include the following:
  • ·      Why are we here?
  • ·      What makes a great teacher?
  • ·      How do we help make all teachers successful?

When we find the answers to three questions, we will actually begin to make it our mission to create better schools that in turn help make all teachers better at guaranteeing that all kids learn.  After all, if it is our mission to ensure that all kids to learn, then our leadership mission must focus on guaranteeing that every teacher becomes their very best for all kids.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ending the "Just a Teacher" Mentality

All great leaders are teaching, and all great teachers are leading.  
Rick DuFour

Whenever I am in a new district or visiting a new part of the world with educators, I always ask this question, "What do you do?", and invariably I get the usually responses.  "I'm a principal."  "I'm a teacher", or "I'm a director".  You get the point.

But that's doesn't answer my question  

Your title doesn't tell me what you do.  It tells me the role of your residence.  The point for asking this question is to see how teachers view the potential in their role. Whenever I hear someone say "I'm just a teacher", or respond like their role isn't very important, I whence just a bit. The "Just a Teacher" response tells me that something or someone in the teacher's culture or in that person's experience has prevented them from seeing the value of their role as something bigger than merely being responsible for teaching kids.

Let's be real for just a minute.  Teachers are more than "Just a Teacher".  In fact the reason that education is becoming more successful every year is because teachers AREN'T just teachers.  They are changing the landscape of education, and as leaders we owe it to teachers to combat the mindset of minuteness by convincing them that they have a greater impact and play a bigger role than they could possibly imagine.  

Ending the Just a Teacher Mentality
Here are a few phrases that you could use with teachers through your daily interactions that could compel them to give up the mentality of "Just a Teacher".
  • You have expertise that I don't have.
  • You possess knowledge that others need.
  • You see things in kids that we can't possibly see.
  • You can influence your peers in ways that I can't
  • You have the potential to lead in ways that others can't.
  • You add tremendous value to our organization.
  • We need you to NOT be just a teacher
  • We need to you to help lead.
  • You ARE a piece of the puzzle.
What if every leader took a few minutes at the start of 2016 to have these kinds of conversations with every teacher?  What kind of place would we create?  What kind of potential would we discover?  What talent would we unleash?  What kind of leadership capacity would we build?  Can you see what would happen?


A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see the results of this mindset throughout our district.  On a half-day dedicated to professional development, teachers at our high school were asked to lead their very first "TEDI Talks" (Tatum Eagle Digital Innovators).  We had 6 teachers of all levels of tech-expertise share their knowledge and wisdom on how they are embedding technology into their instruction.  The power of these talks inspired their fellow teachers to take risks, embrace their insecurities, and feel affirmed that their knowledge was essential to move the campus in the right direction.  

The beauty in this form of professional learning was that we didn't need to hire a consultant.  Our teachers unleashed what they had deep inside them, and as a result, these leaders are starting a movement where teachers see themselves as teachers and as leaders.  They have talent, knowledge and expertise that can help every person in  the campus improve.

Teachers are leaders of learning because they are the practitioners that can truly reform education.  Our job as district and campus leaders is not to impede their leadership but to tap into it and leverage it for the betterment of the organization.  After all, our moral imperative as leaders is not to improve the organization.  It is to create the conditions where the organization will improve itself, and that'll happen only when teachers see themselves as leaders of learning.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Kind of Set is in your Mindset?

I love a good play on words, but this thought has consumed me this week.  I read the article, "There's More to Mindset than Assuming You have It", and it made me  ponder this question.  What kind of set is in my mindset?  Sure, I can espouse the necessity to embrace the research about growth mindset, and I can justify how I and my work are all about growing, but I have to admit that I catch myself sometimes making a statement that more closely mirrors a fixed mindset than one of growth.

So I decided to research the word, set, and here is what I found at dictionary.com  When thinking about the word as a noun, I found it to be a collection of static and inflexible objects that only serve one purpose.  Take for instance a chess set or a set of golf clubs.  Each part of the set is necessary, but the part itself can never be changed. As long as the set remains the same, the game will never change.  In our work, our rhethoric can change all it wants to, but if the mental tools and processes that we use to do our work never change, then our minds are pretty much set; therefore, our work and effectiveness remain the same.

But, when I looked at the definition of set as a verb, my mind started to move.  When we transform our thinking about mindset from a noun to a verb, we move our thought processes around.  We rearrange them into a new particular order.  Our long held beliefs about things become reconditioned as a result of placing them in a new set of parameters.  Our suppositions are put to the test when we apply them in a new context.

You see our mind is a muscle, and when we fail to put it to action in new and unfamiliar situations, it loses its power to create.  When we fail to place it in a new setting, it loses its agility.  If it never receives any pushback to the "way things have always been", it becomes set in its ways.

Mindset is a noun, and it always will be in the English language, but I would challenge you to think of it in a different way.  Every time you say or think of the word, I would encourage you to see it as an attitude of action as opposed to a static state of mind.  After all, our thoughts eventually become our actions.  Let's just hope they become actions of growth rather than a solidifier of the status quo.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Gift for the Entire Teaching Profession

If you're reading this, you need to thank a teacher, and if you have a degree, you can thank a teacher for that as well.  One of the most difficult and most thankless jobs in our country is that of the classroom teacher.  The perception, among many who have little to no knowledge or respect for the profession, is that teachers have a cake walk for a job.  They make statements like "all they do is work from 8:00 - 3:30 and have summers off".  This assumption is more than just faulty. It's downright wrong.  People base this inaccurate belief on the fact that they really have no clue what it takes to be a teacher, let alone a successful one. Sure, teachers are with kids during those hours, but I can assure you of one thing. Teachers bust their tails and do a whole lot more work than the average Joe could ever fathom.  Furthermore, there are tons of things that teachers do for kids that no one, including the kids themselves, will ever know.

Since Christmas is around the corner, let's give teachers a well-deserved gift for all that they do. Sure, they will receive gifts from their students and administrators, but I'd like for us to go a step further by doing something that could do more for the profession than any Christmas gift.  We should give them the gift of educating the general public on what it is that teachers actually do. Think about it.  If we had a more educated public, we would have a larger and more supportive group of education advocates than we have right now.  So here are a few things that we can tell our communities about the teaching profession.

THANK You for Choosing to be a TEACHER
Teachers come early, stay late, work through lunch, and give up their conference to work with kids. In fact if you asked a teacher how much time they have to do their job, they would tell you not enough to meet the ever growing needs of kids.

A teacher's lounge is a mythical place.  Most schools have a teachers' "lounge", but you will never find a teacher lounging around on their conference period or at lunch because they are working their tails off getting ready for the next class, participating in a meeting, or helping one of their fellow teachers.  

You can't call your doctor anytime you want, but you probably know how to reach your child's teacher.  Teachers make themselves accessible to their parents via email, phone and even social media. Many parents have direct access to their teachers because teachers want parents to be their partners in the educational process. Additionally, teachers make time to conference with parents at night or any other time when they aren't with students. 

Nights, Weekends and Summers 
If you drive past the school any time, you will see cars parked at the school.  That's because teachers are working in preparation for the next week. Throughout the summer you will see the same thing as teachers are preparing for the next school year. 

No matter how much people berate teachers and the profession as a whole, they continue to kill the world with kindness. When a teacher is slammed on Facebook, the teacher has little choice but to sit quietly as they continue to serve kids selflessly. 

Shirt off their Back 
When a kid is hungry, they have a stash of snacks. No lunch money; no problem. They give kids lunch money if they're out.   And I can't tell you how many times I've seen teachers buy Christmas for one of their students that wasn't going to have a Christmas.  Teachers give everything they have for their kids.

Give Thanks for Educators
To sum it up, I hope you will watch and share this unbelievable video by Rick DuFour.  This will further illustrate what teachers are doing for your kids and for mine, and furthermore it will show why we as a nation must advocate for the profession and continuously make the time and the consistent effort to tell our teachers how truly amazing that they are.