Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Focus on '1 in 5' for 2015

Last year, I wrote a New Year's Resolution challenge call "Will your PLC put the 1 - 4 in 2014?"  It challenged collaborative teams to keep the focus on the 1 thing that matters most, All Kids Learning Every Day, and in order to do that collaborative teams must guarantee learning by focusing on the 4 questions of a PLC.
  1. What do we expect all kids to learn?
  2. How will we know if they have learned?
  3. How will we respond if they don't learn?
  4. How will we respond when they do learn?
This year, I would like to raise the stakes a bit.  Since we are leaving 2014 behind and entering 2015, I would like to encourage you and your team to keep your eyes on "1 in 5" for 2015.

What is 1 in 5?

It's pretty simple.  One in every five students starts high school but never graduates.  This statistic has improved from a few years ago when the stats showed that 1 in 4 failed to graduate, but let's be honest. 4 out of 5 kids graduating from high school is still not good enough?  That leaves behind 1 in 5 who will graduate but it will be into a life of poverty, a life of governmental dependence, a life of poorer quality of health and a higher probability of entering the pipeline to imprisonment.

Who are the 1's?

Well there's no sure fire method to predict who will drop out, but here is what research shows.  
  • 1 in 2 fatherless children will drop out.
  • 1 in 3 teenage mothers will drop out.
  • Minority students are twice as likely as white students to drop out.
  • Kids who fail to read on level by grade 3 have a strong chance of never graduating.
  • Students of poverty are 2 years behind their affluent counterparts; thus more susceptible to vanishing from high school.
  • Students with unaddressed language barriers are likely to leave without a diploma.
  • Students who are highly mobile have probably the greatest chance of falling through the cracks.
Are you starting to see the 1's who are in danger of dropping out?

Ending the Drop-out Rate Starts with You

Whether you are a kindergarten teacher, a senior English teacher, bus driver or any role in between, you can reduce the dropout rate and there is only one thing you need to do.


The warning signs are pretty obvious:  withdrawn, history of failure, persistent discipline issues, learning difficulties.  You may not be the one who can fix those problems, but you are the one who can build a relationship with 1 to 5 kids who are in the danger zone.  You can be the one who reminds them daily that they have worth and can reach their dreams.  In short, focusing on the 1 in 5 is deeper than focusing on preventing the dropout rate.  It's about you and never forgetting that we have the potential to be the ones that can save lots of kids from becoming another statistic.

In 2015, #URthe1

The reason you made it to your current places in life is because someone inspired you and never gave up on your potential.  Whether it was your parents or your educators, chances are that someone played a vital part in shaping you throughout most of the years that you were in school.  Every kid needs regular motivation to succeed, but at-risk students don't always have consistent people invested in them or constant motivation to help them hurdle the overwhelming obstacles in their path.  That's why they need you and me, and why we should never underestimate our potential to turn statistics into success stories.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

My One-Word Resolution

Well, Christmas is over and the New Year is upon us.  I have been really focused on selecting my 2015 resolution.  I have so many things to work on and so little time.  Obviously continuing to work on my health will always be something that I strive to improve upon, but I don't consider being healthy a profound New Year's resolution.  After all, improving my health should be part of who I am, not what I resolve to become.                                                                                            
So I continued to reflect on my leadership, my current role in my new district, my efforts to be a better husband and father, and my writing.  There are so many choices and they're all important, but I still can't decide what to select as my New Year's resolution.

That is until I came across this doodle (right) that I made on the InkFlow app followed up by this bit that I read by @LeadershipFreak called "Don't Make a Year's Resolution; Find a Word"  These discoveries reminded me that I have too many things to improve upon.  Does anybody feel the same way about their resolution?

When I present, I often say "When you focus on everything, you focus on Nothing!"  These words could not better apply to my New Year's decision than now.  So for my new year's resolution, I will not lose weight, or be better at this or that.  I will simply FOCUS on being my best and avoiding distractors.

For 365 days, I will focus on what needs to be accomplished each day and not let anything or anyone detract from that focus.  I find that this one-word resolution is much more profound than an elaborate, one-dimensional resolution.  I'm looking forward to putting this focus picture on my screensaver and striving to be more focused in all aspects of my life.  My hope is that if I commit to focus each day, I will accomplish more than I every could being committed to one resolution.

What will your one-word resolution be?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tier 1 or Tier 2? That's NOT the Question

RtI is an difficult concept to wrap your mind around.  Presenters and authors share their ideas about how best to implement RtI on your campus.  Difficulties arise when campus teams process new information and discuss which steps to implement first. Arguments and misconceptions generally ensue around what's a Tier 1 or 2 intervention and how much failure it takes to get a kid into the system.

Everyone has their own idea of where to start first because they develop their own understanding of RtI based on how they think RtI should apply to their role within the organization.  With all of the uncertainty, teams ultimately fail when they move to action without understanding. Furthermore, if educators don't collectively commit to fully understanding how a successful RtI must work to support all students in learning, they might as well abandon the concept of a systemic RtI program all together.

Tier 1 or Tier 2 is not the Question.

If you want to implement a strong RtI system, here are some ideas all educators in the organization should consider about RtI before building a system of interventions.
  • RtI isn't about Intervention - Actually RtI is about learning and guaranteeing that students get access the very best instruction possible to help them learn.
  • Understand before You Implement - If you start implementing without gaining a full understanding of RtI, you can create structures that will be ineffective and more than likely lose kids.
  • Train your Staff - If you want your staff to understand RtI, they must receive training themselves.  Regional education service centers provide free training and can bring in consultants to train campus teams.
  • Build an RtI Team - An RtI team is critical to lead any campus to successful implementation of an intervention system.
  • Develop a Campus RtI Philosophy - If everyone has their own philosophy of what RtI should be, RtI will become a dirty word to all.
  • Identify What Works - Many campuses set out to implement new things without looking to see if anything that they currently do works.  Identify what interventions are currently working and weave them into your RtI system.
  • Clarify your Tiers & Triggers - This gets confusing, so it is very important that everyone align their understanding around which interventions are Tier 1, 2, 3, and more importantly what triggers are in place to prescribe interventions for kids.
  • Build Norms within your Team - These norms must include how frequently the campus will monitor student progress and how you will work together to respond when kids are not learning.
  • Identify What Data to Monitor - Data can get overwhelming, so decide as a team what data is most important to monitor at each tier.
  • Realize that RtI is a 3-5 Year Process - Be prepared to take lots of time to build your RtI process.  Rome wasn't build in a day.  Your RtI system will take lots of blood, sweat and tears to develop. 
  • Learn from Others - Here is a short list of leading experts in the field of RtI.  Begin to study their work, as it will make your work a lot easier.
    • Mike Mattos, Solution Tree Consultant and Author of Pyramid Response to Intervention and Simplifying Response to Intervention @mikemattos65
    • Austin Buffum, Solution Tree Consultant and Author of Pyramid Response to Intervention and Simplifying Response to Intervention @agbuffum
    • Chris Webber, Solution Tree Consultant and Author of Pyramid Response to Intervention, Pyramid of Behavior Interventions and Simplifying Response to Intervention  @Chi_educate
    • Jim Wright, Creator of, an outstanding website with tons of intervention ideas.

Supporting All Kids is the Answer

RtI is the answer to how we will respond when kids do not learn, but the answer won't come unless teams stop building stagnant systems and thoughtfully consider how to build a living system that continuously strives to guarantee learning for all kids.  In other words, if you fail to make a detailed system that responds when kids fail to learn, you are essentially planning to allow kids to fail.  That's why it is critical to stop worrying about Tier 1 or 2 and start focusing on what systems will support kids in the class first and outside of class second. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Do you Diigo?

Do you ever wonder what happened to that article that you found on Twitter a month ago?  Me, too...  That is until I found Diigo.  Diigo is a free bookmarking tool that you and your students can use to bookmark and annotate articles, digital documents and virtually anything that you find on the web.  The cool thing about Diigo is that you can bookmark links into categories and tag keywords to the article.  Don't lose that amazing article.  Diigo it!  I also included this tutorial video from

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Excellent Teaching Is...

Teaching is the one of the most important and most difficult jobs in the world.  Where else can you find a career that has so many challenges yet such huge implications on the future of our nation?  When I pondered what teaching actually is, a flood of thoughts emerged, and then I fixated on the greatest teachers that I've ever had the privilege to work with.  

Here are a few descriptors that make them the best at what they do.

The ability to be obsessive about creative ways to hook every child into learning and discovering their purpose in life.

Enthusiastic Energy
The kind that inspires learners to surpass content consumption and see the impact that their learning  can make on the world.

Action of Accountability
A focused and committed environment that takes learners from where they are to where they need to be, but goes a step further by transforming engaged students into empowered learners.

A constant desire to learn with and from colleagues to find ways to improve at the art & science of teaching.

Which generally goes far beyond the hours and confines of the school building.

Inward Inquiry
Constantly asking the question, "How can I improve?"

No Excuses
The unwavering commitment to conquer all obstacles and never accept excuses when students fail to learn.

The persistent pursuit for greatness in every child.

The greatest teachers know how to elicit greatness from their students. In fact, as you read through these descriptors, you probably had several teachers come to mind.  Teaching is a difficult profession.  It is sometimes thankless, but there are those times when it is the most fulfilling and most personally rewarding gift that a person could ever give themselves.  

I would definitely enjoy your thoughts on what you believe excellent teaching means to you.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Christmas Gift for your Team

Christmas is in the air.  Songs are on the radio.  Businesses are pushing their products, and kids are excited in anticipation of what Santa will bring them in a couple of week.  Everyone is focused on what they want for Christmas, but what does your team want for Christmas?  What are you hoping will be in your team's collaborative stocking this year?

Well, it depends on what your team needs in order to be more focused on kids and their learning. Here are a few questions to help you find out what your team wants for Christmas.

  • How well is collaboration working on your team?  
  • How is time being utilized in your team's work?  
  • Where should your team grow in the next semester?  
  • What, or better yet, who is holding your team back?  
Your team's Christmas gift can be found in all of these answers if they are discovered through collective reflection that is open, honest, and most importantly focused on growth.

6 C's of Collaboration

A few years ago, I wrote a post called , "6 C's of Collaboration".  In that post I shared my thoughts on what makes a team truly collaborative. Teams that thrive have coherent conversations grounded in collegiality. Conflict is never personal, but it is always present and focused on continuous growth. Control isn't owned by the leader but shared by all, and celebration is a constant that continuously motivates all to believe in their commitment to all kids and to one another. 

What does your Collaborative Team need for Christmas?

Every team needs something. It may be more meaningful discussion. Teams may want more ideas for struggling kids or innovative ideas that engage kids at a deeper level. They may feel like time is being wasted, or they may need accountability for members who are not participating. 

To help your team find out what it wants for Christmas, I put together this little reflective tool (Click Here) that can help your team determine its strengths and areas for growth.

I hope your team receives the best gift of the year, A Collaborative Culture.

Merry Christmas!!!

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Best Assessments Motivate All Students

In meaningful collaboration, there are always discussions surrounding the topic of how we know if kids are learning, and how we help them move forward.   Every teacher always wonders what the best ways are to assess student mastery of content, but here's the question. Do we consider assessments from the student's perspective or the teacher's perspective?  A great resource to solve this dilemma is Dylan Wiliam's "Embedded Formative Assessment".  In addition to his work, there is tons of research that says this.

The Best Assessments Motivate Students

  1. Accuracy requires the task that we give kids to be tied directly to the learning standard that we expect all kids to master.
  2. Descriptive feedback is more or less how educators provide specific information to help students know exactly what they need to do next in their learning.
  3. Student involvement means that students own the process.  If students are not involved in the learning process, then how can we expect them to be an active participant in closing their own gaps.

What does All of This Mean?

As we work with kids, the question circling through our minds shouldn't always be how do we know if kids are learning.  It should involve this kind of internal reflection.

  • What is the learning target that we want all students to master?
  • What is the best task that will meet these 2 criteria:
    • Peak student involvement and interest in the learning standard,
    • Aligned to the learning standard with depth and complexity
  • What types of feedback will we need to give students that will:
    • Scaffold learning for students
    • Be tied directly to the standard.
  • How will we: 
    • Determine when students master the skill,
    • Report mastery in a meaningful way that will help students move forward.
Assessment has such a bad perception because so many people think that it means test.  Assessment has Latin roots, and its original definition means "to sit beside".  My hope is that when we assess learning, we remember that our chief job is not to give a test or quiz but to give meaningful tasks that will allow students to connect with our content in powerful ways.  After all, that is the ultimate goal of learning, to connect kids with 'their' learning.  The best assessments don't make learning the goal.  They make learning the reality.

For more ideas about assessment, check out my post, 5 Ways to Assess without Giving a Test.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

5 Fixes for the First 5 Minutes of Instruction

You don't have a second opportunity to make a good first impression. If you get a bad feeling after meeting someone, it's going to take a lot for that person to change your general feelings about them. In other words you better spend time making the best impression the first time, or you'll have to spend lots of time thereafter convincing them that you've got it going on.

The same thing goes for any lesson.  If the kids don't develop a good impression in the first 5 minutes of the lesson, you're going to experience a lot of problems convincing them to stay with you. Great lessons can die in the first five minutes. It's not because they weren't planned well. It's because they didn't make a good impression on the student in the first few minutes. Have you ever had a lesson that included technology, and the technology wouldn't work?  Minute by minute the student engagement morphed into passive disengagement and eventually into disruptive bedlam, and as a result it took three times the time to reengage the students as it did to lose them in the first place.


But it doesn't have to be this way.  Look at the first 5 minutes as the foundation for learning.  A house built on a sandy foundation won't last long, but a house built upon a rock will last forever. Having homework turned in and materials ready for instruction is not enough to motivate kids for learning in the first five minutes. So how do great teachers create a great foundation for learning?

5 Fixes for the First 5

Here are 5 strategies to engage kids in learning and make an awesome 5 minute impression.

  1. Pose a problem on the board that is tied to your direct instruction.
  2. Padlet - Students can use their cell phones or tablets to respond to a thought-provoking questions.
  3. QR codes - Post a QR code that connects them to your lesson.
  4. Today's Meet - This is a great way to get kids to post their questions or comments about last night's homework while you tend getting class started.
  5. Google me this - Pose a term or concept for students to research through a Google search. 

The first five minutes of instruction is all about igniting minds. It's about connecting what students know to what you want them to know. If students aren't connected to your content, it is kind of difficult for you to create that interest through a lecture or presentation.   The pathway to rigor starts with cultivating a desire to want to know more. If the first five minutes of instruction do not inspire a student to want to know more, the remainder of the class will not be filled with rigor, but with rigor mortis. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"It's about Time" You Read this Book

November has been a great month. My first published work came out, and I was glad to be a part of such a cool project. Mike Mattos and Austin Buffum led an RtI anthology project called, "It's about Time" Planning Interventions and Extensions in an Elementary School", and it was an honor to be included in this book.                                                                                                                                                          Now before you think this is a shameless plug, I'd like you to read a little further. This book features several leaders who are practitioners from all over the nation.  They serve in all kinds of schools in a variety of roles, but these schools have one thing in common. Each school overcame amazing obstacles to make all kids successful. 

In each chapter, readers will learn a variety of strategies for collaboration that are truly focused on school improvement. Contributors share how they overcame the barrier of "not having time for intervention". Leaders illustrate how they included strong academic and behavioral interventions in their RtI program. The great thing about this book is that there's something for everybody. There are chapters that you can use right now to guide your school's thinking in constructive ways. In short, you will be able to connect your school and its limitations to almost every chapter in the book. That is because this book is about real schools with real problems who found powerful solutions to guarantee learning for all kids. 


The cool thing about the book is that it focuses on the right thinking that schools need to help kids. Sure, some of these schools may have more things than your school, but there are also schools that have far less resources and more problems as well. RtI is not about programs or paperwork. It's about collective responsibility and tapping into the unique strengths of your school and utilizing every asset in the building to help every child learn. 

"It's about Time" is about the right thinking schools need to support kids. I learned a lot about myself by writing my chapter, but this book taught me far more about what I need to do now for the kids in my school district. I'm very proud of this book, and I truly believe you should check out this book.  'It's about Time' provides educators with a smorgasbord of solutions that will help you focus more deeply on the learning in your school. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Are you a Learner or a Leaner?

I have visited with lots of educators over my almost 20 years in public education. What I have come to find is that there are two types of educators: those who learn and those who lean. From a cultural perspective, leaners annoy learners. Leaners lament for the status quo, and they oppose opportunities for growth. They yearn for yesterday and tear down tomorrow.

Now before anyone gets too offended, let me explain a little further.  Leaning is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does become negative if that's all you do. From time to time, we have to lean on our friends for guidance, experience, or just plain old wisdom. But if we look to people to do our jobs for us, then what good are we to kids?  I'm not just talking about our kids, but the kids of the person that we are taking advantage of? 

Leaning + R = Learning

Learning is leaning with a little R. The R stands for resilience, a commitment to never give up, a desire to know more, a commitment to make this world a better place by making ourselves better first. Educators who are learners are constantly finding new ways of thinking, and new ways of doing. Learners are like leaners in that they rely on their colleagues, but the striking difference is that learners don't mooch off of their colleagues. Learners give as much to their colleagues as they borrow from them. They reciprocate the favor. (another R that is in a Learner) 

A good friend of mine always said, "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."  Well the same goes for education. If you've got time to lean, you've got time to learn.  Those who habitually lean on others ultimately do not impact their kids to the degree and depth because they have no desire to impact their own life. 

To put this thought into even more perspective, I'll throw you this question. If we really believe in learning for all kids, shouldn't we believe in our own learning first?  After all, if we are not focused on being learners first, then how can we possibly expect our students to make learning their first priority?

What other R's would you add to make a Leaner into a Learner?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Is your Mind Fixed on Growth?

Do you have a growth mindset?   Learning is about growing through failure not success.  To synthesize this question at a deeper level, I challenge each one of you to read Bill Ferriter's blog (CLICK HERE) and watch the video at the end.  I rarely say that something is unbelievably amazing, but this concise post (which was unbelievably amazing) fixed my mind on what is most important.  It is the growth not the result that determines if we are learning.  If we can condition ourselves first to become fixated on the progress we are making in our craft as opposed to obsessing about meeting a specific level of mastery, then I am confident that we will be more successful at conditioning our kids to develop the same growth mindset..

As I pondered the idea of growth mindset, I wondered what questions I should ask myself.  That is when I found this infographic by Marc Chernoff from  While these questions focus on reflecting on our work at the end of the week, you can ask these questions every time you encounter a failure or setback.  By reflecting and being cognizant about failure, we can identify which strength can be leveraged the next day or next week to improve our deficit area.

Monday, November 3, 2014

How to Build a STEM Lab without Money

My job is so much fun.  This past week, our primary Media and Information Technology Specialist, Veronica Wilkerson, came up with a great idea to create a STEM Lab completely from recycled items from home.  Instead of asking for donations or money, she decided to have a "STEM Lab Supply Drive".  Since most people have the basic items in our vision of the STEM lab at their home, we decide to host an event similar to a canned food drive to generate the necessary supplies for the STEM Lab.

Here is a link to our post about the STEM Lab 

If you'd like to see how we are engaging the community, here's a link to the Google Form to sign up for the STEM Lab Supply Drive.

Why This is Cool!

What I like about this idea is that it challenges the paradigm that you have to have a lot of "stuff" to get STEM up and moving.  STEM is not about stuff.  It's about innovation and the purest form of innovation is being able to create things without being able to buy stuff.  I also like this idea because it solicits support from community without asking them to spend money.  In essence,  we are building a STEM lab with the STEM mindset.  That's why my job is so much fun.


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.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

To Give or Not to Give Homework. That is the Question...

Homework (n) - a learning task that evokes tremendous excitement, felt no student ever.

Throughout the history of education, homework tasks have been given, and depending on who you ask, homework has multiple meanings. If learners struggle academically, homework has a negative meaning.  If they excel, it can be a bore or just another chore. 

If teachers want to give homework, they should keep in mind the goal of homework, to reinforce skills that students have already be exposed to.  Failure to meet that goal will certainly send students and parents toward a different goal, wondering why the teacher would assign something so difficult.  When teachers assign homework, they should always consider the following criteria if they want parents and students to find it beneficial.

  1. Familiar Content - Homework should be over content that is familiar to the student.  Work that is unfamiliar to students can cause frustration or create bad habits or incorrect understanding.
  2. Time Considerate - Homework should be something that the student can do in a relatively short period of time.  Consideration should be given when deciding how much homework to give students.
  3. Feedback - Homework works best when teachers review the task and give feedback.  Research shows that homework that is not reviewed by the teacher has little effect on learning. (Marzano. Classroom Instruction that Works. p 64.)
  4. Parent Support - Parents deserve to know what level of help is expected of them to give to their children.
  5. Relevance to Students - Students deserve to know how homework will help them in their future learning.


When encouraging parents to get involved with teaching their children good study habits, here are tips from the US Department of Education  on ways parents can help their children successfully do their homework.  The last thing parents want from homework is to be confused about the role that they serve when it comes to homework.

Make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit place to do homework.
Avoid having your child do homework with the television on or in places with other distractions, such
as people coming and going.
Make sure the materials your child needs, such as paper, pencils and a dictionary, are available.
Ask your child if special materials will be needed for some projects and get them in advance.
Help your child with time management.
Establish a set time each day for doing homework. Don‘t let your child leave homework until just
before bedtime. Think about using a weekend morning or afternoon for working on big projects,
especially if the project involves getting together with classmates.
Be positive about homework.
Tell your child how important school is. The attitude you express about homework will be the attitude
your child acquires.
When your child does homework, you do homework.
Show your child that the skills they are learning are related to things you do as an adult. If your child
is reading, you read too. If your child is doing math, balance your checkbook.
When your child asks for help, provide guidance, not answers.
Giving answers means your child will not learn the material. Too much help teaches your child that
when the going gets rough, someone will do the work for him or her.
When the teacher asks that you play a role in homework, do it.
Cooperate with the teacher. It shows your child that the school and home are a team. Follow the
directions given by the teacher.
If homework is meant to be done by your child alone, stay away.
Too much parent involvement can prevent homework from having some positive effects.
Homework is a great way for kids to develop independent, lifelong learning skills.
Stay informed.
Talk with your child‘s teacher. Make sure you know the purpose of homework and what your child‘s
class rules are.
Help your child figure out what is hard homework and what is easy homework.
Have your child do the hard work first. This will mean he will be most alert when facing the biggest
challenges. Easy material will seem to go fast when fatigue begins to set in.

To Give or Not to Give Homework

The answer to this question can best be answered by this 2-part question. What purpose does homework serve in helping all kids learn, and how will the teacher gauge if the students learned from it?  Every learning task must have a purpose for supporting learning. Homework that is given flippantly or is not monitored to support learning should not be given.

Finally, deciding whether or not to give homework is often based on whether educators think kids will do it or not.  The excuses of home support or work ethic provide quick roadblocks to this issue. If this is the case, it all comes down to relationships and accountability.  If we can build strong relationships with kids, show how homework will benefit their learning, and hold them accountable for doing it, homework will get done in a way that enhances learning.

Drop a comment to share your thoughts on homework.  Your comments are extremely valuable to those who read this post.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rage "with" the Testing Machine

Over the past 10+ years in my administrative role, I have seen just how important state tests are in a child's life. Regardless what you believe about standardized testing, it is the gatekeeper to the rest of a child's life. No matter how much you may want to change the legislature's mind about standardized testing, today's kids can't get into college without it, and in states like mine, Texas, "The Test" must be passed in order for any child to graduate from high school.


Raging against the machine is one way to take a stand, but we mustn't do it at the cost of our children's education. Personally, I don't want my children to be taught to a test, but I don't want my children to have teachers who choose to ignore the test either. I want my children to be prepared for college because education has epic impact on the quality of their future.  I want my child to be taught above the test.   For today, the test is a necessity for them to get to college.  It is their proverbial rite of passage.

Let's Take a Test
Here's a multiple choice test question for you. I want to know what is the best pathway to solve an educational quandary that has be plaguing our nation for quite a while. 

Which method would be the best way to prepare kids for the real world while making a significant change to our current system of standardized testing?

A. You can advocate against testing by keeping your children home on testing days.

B. You can say "There's nothing we can do", and continue to live with the machine and prepare kids for the test. 

C.  You can prepare kids of today to be successful in today's system while also actively promoting and advocating for a new and more meaningful method to gauge each student's college or career readiness. 

D. Make a suggestion in the comments below. 

Now let's break down those answers. 

A.  Wrong.  (Win-Lose). While I don't disagree with taking a stand, this decision negatively impacts kids in the process. It tells kids that they don't have to take or pass a test that is a requirement to earn a diploma. 

B. Wrong (Win-Lose). Sure kids will be prepared to pass the test, but the machine will also be reinforced as a best practice to assess kids' preparation for the real world. Nothing changes. 

C. Correct. (Win-win). This answer is the right kind of thinking. Educators with this mindset are preparing kids for life under the current system while proposing progressive changes that will be more beneficial to gauge academic readiness for future generations.

Raging with the Machine is the Democratic Process in Action. 

Having a win-win mindset as opposed to an "either-or" philosophy is exactly what our country was founded upon. If you  want to change education, you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. We must remember all kids still have to meet today's standards.  These governmental requirements are what our kids need for life. Whether you like it or not, this is their reality, and you must make sure it is a positive one for them.  Conversely, you should work feverishly to think about future generations, the skills they will need, and the assessments that will best determine mastery of those skills. Standardized testing has been here for a long time, and there are many people who want to see it continue. Fighting against it will do no good.  Fighting with it and offering plausible solutions is what will ultimately make a lasting and productive impact on all kids and the future of education. . 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

It's Connected Educator Month, So Share your Recipe

What's your favorite recipe?  Is it Mom's apple pie, or your favorite barbecue sauce. Is it the American Cookie Factory's Chewy Pecan Supreme or Pizza King's pizza, King's Delight (the best Pizza in America)? Besides salivating with hunger, don't you wish you knew the secret to that favorite recipe?


Great recipes aren't shared very often, but the product of those recipes is paraded around like a brand new car. This is because great recipes are a sign of excellence.  Strangely, great recipes aren't just about food. They are about the people who invented them. Recipes are guarded out of fear that if the recipe is shared, the creator will lose not only his recipe, but the notoriety for being the recipe's creator. 

If you think about it, education has great recipes that we call lessons, and for the last 20 years or so, we have had this pressure to share our knowledge.  The pressure to share great lessons is higher now than ever before. There are great educators who are sharing everything they have on the web, but there are also great educators who share nothing. 

To share or not to share. That is the question...

The fear of sharing is a real thing. Great teachers don't share because they fear their stuff is not good enough.  Some fail to share because of their modesty or they don't want to be perceived as a know-it-all, and some won't share because it is their creation and they don't want to share it. 

All the while kids continue to fail.

Kids come to us like a masterlock without a key. Some locks can be unlocked with a good lesson, while other locks can only be picked by a master lesson. Not all educators have the time, knowledge, or experience to create master lessons, but all educators can follow the recipe and adapt them to their needs. That's why sharing shouldn't be the goal. 

Sharing should be the standard...

All kids must learn; therefore, all kids deserve access to the same degree of instruction.  Instruction like this can only occur when educators break down the barriers of bravado, and kick in the doors of detached desolation. If all kids must learn, then all educators must be the first learners. We must share our recipes of excellence, borrow recipes where we fall short, tinker in teams with new techniques and collaboratively grow as lead learners. When we embrace this growth mindset that sharing is about more than caring, then educating all kids will no longer be the goal, but the standard. 

October is Connected Educator month, so get out there. Connect with your colleagues. Share your recipe, and equip educators with your excellence. 

Kids will be better for it!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Honor Labor Day now that It's Over...

How did you view Labor Day?  Was it viewed as one more vacation before summer was over or a teachable moment for your children? Sure we got out the grill and we celebrated with our friends and family because that's what Labor Day is about. It's about taking a day off from work to relax and reflect, but we need to remind our students and ourselves why Labor Day was created, to honor the history and value of hard work. 

The History of Hard Work

Employers never gave their employees a break from work. Many employees in the early 1900s worked six or even seven days a week from daylight to dark without any overtime pay or any relief from work. Where do you think the term, backbreaking work, came from?  It came from our ancestors who never had a day off, and who never had a break

Labor Day didn't come easy. It came as a result of employees saying that they deserved a break.  Employees stood up to their employers, and as a result many laws were created to help employees. Labor Day was one of those laws. 

Labor Day was created to honor hard work and hard workers, but here's the question. Does our country still see Labor Day in the same way as our ancestors?  I'm afraid that as our country gets more forgetful of its history, we will start to view Labor Day as another just another holiday. 

We have to remind our country and our children that:

  • Our country is the best in the world because of hard work. 
  • Labor Day is a day that honors the freedom and rights of our people to work hard for a decent wage. 
  • Labor Day was created to recognize the outstanding work of our nation. 

Labor Day should remind us that our freedom hangs on our work ethic. The kryptonite of our work ethic and our freedom is called laziness and entitlement. Labor Day is a day that was earned.  It was not given to us. In order to keep it, we need to remember that we must look at work and work ethic as important and meaningful things in our society. Hard workers succeed and lazy workers fail. Lazy workers depend on others, and hard workers depend on themselves. 

This month let's preach the importance of hard work.  Let's make work a good word again. Let's make Hardwork what we aspire to do not because we're told to do it but because we know that it makes us a better person.