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The warning signs are pretty obvious:  withdrawn, history of failure, persistent discipline issues, learning difficulties.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!!!