41 Books Worth Reading

41 Books Worth Reading

41 Books Worth Reading

The end of the year always makes me a little nostalgic. I miss my classroom and the conversations that came up at the end of the year. By that point, we had talked through so many books and so many of the big life issues that came up in that process that we knew each other well.

I really enjoyed the challenge of the “I don’t like to read” student. Even with the juniors in my English III classes, we used the reader’s workshop model, so students were given a choice (often with some guidance with regard to genre or subject–but not always) about their reading selections.

I loved it!

The “I don’t like to read” student is really the one who hasn’t found the text that is just right for him. Just the right subject. Just the right cover to pique his interest. Just the right length. Just the right reading level.

In general, I always like a puzzle, and I really like one that could end in seeing a student learn that he, too, can be a reader.

In my current role as an assistant principal, I still share books with students. But what I’ve come to enjoy in this role is the conversations I have with teachers about their own professional development and what I might have on my shelves that could help push their thinking further.

I often run across people on social media who are looking for that next title to push their thinking, and I thought I would take the opportunity to share some of the books on the shelves in my office (and a few that I’m looking forward to reading). I went back and forth about how to organize them, but I’m leaving them as just one big list. Browse through them. Search out reviews for one or two before you make the jump. Download a sample to your e-reader to see if it fits your tastes. But, more than anything, take time to get yourself heading in the right direction as we approach the biggest break and change of pace that educators get all year.

I’m always happy to talk about books, so reach out to me on Twitter (@aaron_hogan) or Voxer (@aaron_hogan) if you have any questions. Finally, I’m always looking to add to my shelves (even though I’m on a shelf “cap” at home–no more room along the walls). What should I add to the list and why?

Without further ado, welcome to my bookshelves.


innovators mindsetThe Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros asks educators to consider what it will take to help all educators, teachers and administrators alike, to grow into forward-thinking, innovative leaders. Couros is widely respected throughout education (if you’re not following him on Twitter, click HERE and enjoy), and his text does not disappoint. Don’t figure out if you’re going to read this; figure out when.

 

wceddIn What Connected Leaders Do Differently, Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas collaborate to create a thorough yet streamlined text that explores the role of connected educators in today’s educational environment. Whether you are looking to get connected or are already swimming in the deep end, this book will challenge you to engage in new ways. This is a book to read and reread. When you do, you’ll be encouraged by your growth and challenged by the number of simple reminders to push you forward.

sheningerUncommon Learning by Eric Sheninger explores a number of aspects of education that educators need to be aware of (if not implementing ourselves) right now. From makerspaces and digital learning to BYOD and digital badging, Sheninger has both the educational experience and the expertise as a writer to communicate clearly on each of these important topics. Rooted in his practice during his time as principal at New Milford High School, this text will push you to explore new ideas in new ways.

41ifeR5HSHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Adam Saenz’ The Power of a Teacher should be required reading for educators. As a clinical psychologist, Saenz brings a wealth of experience to educators as he dives into educator wellness. The Power of a Teacher explores physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and occupational well being for educators. Saenz’ stories are poignant and heartfelt, and they serve as a reminder of why we all got into this profession to being with. It has my highest recommendation!

519lHx-UOzL._SX377_BO1,204,203,200_Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer is a game changer of a book. As a former English teacher, Miller’s take on literacy and reading in the classroom is an easy sell. But The Book Whisperer is a book for everyone. It will stretch you, and parts of that will be uncomfortable. But in the end, you will be better for it, and so will your students. Developing students as readers is vital to their success across all disciplines. If you’re excited by this, read it. If it freaks you out to think about being a reading leader, read it. Just read it.

download140 Twitter Tips for Educators is quite simply the best primer on Twitter use for educators that I have ever come across. It’s not surprising that a project developed by #SatChat creators Brad Currie, Billy Krakower, and Scott Rocco would be excellent, but even with the highest of expectations, their text did not disappoint! I feel quite comfortable personalizing my learning on Twitter, but there was a ton I learned from their book. This is a book every educator needs to own. Either it’s time to learn or it’s time to get this and share it with a friend!

personalized pdPersonalized PD brings together a host of connected educators who have flipped much of their own professional development. It’s great as a primer or as a challenge for educators who are comfortable with their level of connection currently. The personal vignettes set this text apart from others on the topic. The front cover lists Jason Bretzmann, Kenny Bosch, Dr. Brad Gustafson, Brad Currie, Kristin Daniles, Laura Conley, and Ben Wikoff as authors with 14 more contributing vignettes.

amplifyEven though I’m at a high school, I’m really enjoyed Amplify by Katie Mutharis and Kristin Ziemke. Their slim volume is a great overview of not only how technology can touch so many aspects of our schools, but also when and why it should integrate with sound pedagogical practice. The authors are risk takers, and we have a great deal to learn from their experiences. I love the “Three Things to Try Tomorrow” sections that end many chapters. EdTech isn’t a new idea, but their reflections on the topic are well worth your time.

hackHacking Education by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez is best described by it’s subtitle: 10 quick fixes for every school. What I love about the Hack Learning Series is that more than most of what I read, the authors are willing to take on the tough questions that come along with their proposed changes. This text pushed my thinking, and I’m sure it will do the same for you.

Hacking-Assessment-eBook-coverI’m thoroughly intrigued by the no grades movement. Starr Sackstein’s Hacking Assessment is a great primer on why to consider no grades and how to take the first steps. Her book includes several helpful tips for common push back that accompanies this conversation. If I were in the classroom, I would be using her advice to find my way through this conversation. Instead, I’m working on ways to challenge interested teachers to consider what she has to offer (and the huge upside for students to be able to continue their learning past each test).

sacksteinTeaching Students to Self Assess is Starr Sackstein’s 55 page exploration of the question: “How do I help students reflect and grow as learners?” Sackstein has assembled an accessible introduction that is great for any who are considering helping students learn to self-assess. While it absolutely applies to the classroom as you would expect, administrators and leaders can apply the same logic to their work with educators.

gritIn Fostering Grit, Thomas Hoerr looks at how we are working to make sure our students are prepared to take on the world outside our schools. I love his driving question, “How do I prepare my students for the real world?” Hoerr’s 52 page volume is a great primer for those wanting to enter into this conversation. I’m thankful his primer is out there.

millerFreedom to Fail asks the question, “How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom?” Andrew Miller’s book offers essential reminders for educators who seek to do just what the title says, regardless of their experience with the idea. Even at just 48 pages, there’s still plenty here to push your thinking.

 

steinbergDr. Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist, shares his expertise on adolescence and how we can best take advantage of this seminal time in our students’ lives. His perspective is so refreshingly different than most of the literature that hopes to equip teachers and parents to survive this time. Steinberg’s expertise and optimism are a powerful combination, and though this might not be on the radar for many educators, Age of Opportunity is absolutely beneficial for our work.

school-culture-rewiredSchool Culture Rewired by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker is required reading for anyone looking to make significant change in the prevailing attitudes on a school campus. This text will help you walk through the steps required to initiate an influential change on campus without bogging down into the minuscule details and minutiae that can seem to slow the pace of other texts. School Culture Rewired comes in at 170 pages.

power of brandingTelling your school’s story can’t be undervalued, and Tony Sinanis and Joe Sanfelippo are two of the best at crafting a meaningful, authentic campus story. The Power of Brandingis part of the Corwin Connected Educators Series (which I can’t recommend highly enough), and at just 72 pages, you’re not going to get bogged down in fluff. You will have to deal with this though: Each page has something meaningful for you to consider, so don’t plan on blowing through this just because it’s a slim volume.

learning by choiceA.J. Juliani’s Learning by Choice is required reading for anyone looking to include more student choice in the classroom. (And, let’s be honest, who couldn’t benefit from hearing more about choice in the classroom, right?) This has heavily influenced my beliefs about choice in professional development as well. I wish I had read it while in the classroom.

download (6)Paul Solarz’ Learn Like A Pirate will push your thinking in a few different directions. Filled with challenges for teachers and ways they can support students in their learning, Learn Like a Pirate is a great resource for new and veteran teachers. It’s essential reading for educators today, and it’s well worth the time you’ll invest in reading

rising strongRising Strong is one of those books that reads really quickly but leaves you with so much to think about that you can’t digest it rapidly. Brené Brown’s latest book investigates what happens after we take the risks that are oh so popular for us to discuss. The reality is that we end up with what she describes as a moment where we are face down in the arena, and we have to be able to pick ourselves up and move forward, learning along the way. It’s an idea I think we all want to embrace, but the process of getting there (and I am by no means there) is less direct than we would like.

originalsOriginals is a book that challenged my thinking. Adam Grant explores a number of qualities we typically associate with being an original and does a little mythbusting along the way. Grant is a great storyteller, and he’s got a wealth of tales worth telling here. It’s worth noting that this is book is one that I listened to as an audiobook, and it presents well in that medium.

breaking nightI came across Breaking Night after hearing Liz Murray speak in my school district recently. To say the least, there’s a lot of story for her to tell; she manages the task brilliantly, and that makes her book both enjoyable and tough to take. Oversimplified, hers is the “Homeless to Harvard” story that’s the stuff of movies (literally–there’s a Lifetime movie that tells her story). But more than one of accomplishment, Murray’s is a story of the value of education and mentors and hope. Tough, but well worth the time it takes to invest.

sketchnoteThe Sketchnote Handbook is a great introduction to sketchnoting. Admittedly, I’m the guy who just needs to jump into something like sketchnoting; that being said, Mike Rohde’s book was just what I needed to develop a foundation of skills for myself. Can I sketchnote anything live? No. It looks like my 4 year old drew it. But given the time, I can put the ideas into practice and create something I’m proud of that I wouldn’t have dreamed of in the past. To me, that makes it worth it. Maybe you’ll think so, too.

passionateIf you’re not familiar with Pernille Ripp’s work, you’re missing out. Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students will undoubtedly challenge educators to engage students in innovative and creative ways. In concert with vignettes from her 7th grade students, Ripp challenges educators to develop our students into passionate learners. Don’t read this if you don’t want to be challenged. You’ve been warned.

relevantI’m a big fan of The Relevant Educator by Tom Whitby and Steven W. Anderson. Both authors are connected leaders, and their text is a fantastic primer for any educators looking to get connected. The slim volume (it comes in at 65 pages in length) covers how to guide your professional development, choose the best social media options for you, and transfer your new knowledge back to your campus. This highly recommended text you can read in a sitting is part of the Corwin Connected Educators Series.

content curationContent Curation by Steven W. Anderson provides a great deal of insight for educators who are looking to sift through the vast amount of resources that are out there for educators today. He offers tips on platforms to use, ways to schedule posts, what to schedule, and why to take content curation seriously. If you’re drowning in the great resources out there or feel like you can’t keep up with all the good material, this is for you. Since it’s part of the Corwin Connected Educators series, this, too, is a quick read full of valuable resources.

bloggingThis blog wound’t exist without this book from Starr Sackstein. I picked up the book with an interest in blogging but no confidence. By the time I was halfway through, I had the tools I needed to get a blog off the ground and share a few ideas with other educators online. It’s succinct, it’s informative, and it’s required reading for anyone looking to blog as an educator.

Shen_DigitalLeadershipEric Sheninger’s Digital Leadership explores why schools must change, how they can make meaningful change happen, and how educators can help make the desired change a reality. He touches on communication, public relations, branding, reimagining learning spaces on campus and many more aspects of digital leadership that educators today wrestle with. Highly recommended reading!

tlapTeach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is a great place to start for fresh ideas about classroom instruction. This slim volume is packed with great information for new and veteran teachers. In addition, a great community exists on Twitter around the #tlap (like Teach Like a Pirate) hashtag. If you read one book on instruction, read this book.

ditchIf you’re ready for a change in your classroom, Ditch That Textbook is for you. Matt Miller’s recently released text highlights ways that educators can make changes in their classrooms for the better. Interested in more than incremental change? This is for you. Miller explores new mindsets and methods for adopting those in your classroom. You won’t want to miss it.

how we learnBenedict Carey’s How We Learn takes an educational spin on much of the research that has happened recently on the brain and how we learn. Carey makes his way through a great deal of research to provide readers with applicable tips for how they can learn best (and how they can help others learn well, too). He takes multiple factors that impact learning into account without dwelling on research or skimming along the surface of this important conversation.

focus on learningJim Knight’s Focus on Teaching offers a wealth of strategies for using video in the classroom. If you’re creating video in the classroom, you should read this. If you’re flipping your class, you should read this. If you’re an administrator looking to use video for coaching, you should read this. His highly readable text will benefit you now and for years to come. Check it out.

burkeJim Burke’s What’s the Big Idea challenges educators to reframe units around questions. His big example is moving from a study of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to an investigation of this question: Am I my brother’s keeper? This text was transformational for me when teaching English, and I hope that it is beneficial for you as well!

art of coachingElena Aguilar’s The Art of Coaching is a great text for educators looking to change the way help is offered to teachers. A coaching model can be transformative for a campus, reshaping our mindsets about how we learn as educators and forcing us to realize the uncomfortable feelings many of our students associate with dealing with their imperfections. This isn’t the only coaching text, but it’s a great place to start your journey into this mode of thinking.

how google worksThis might seem like an odd choice, but How Google Works has had as much impact on me when considering school culture as anything I’ve ever read. As you might expect, you’re not going to find any information about programs, policies, or education lingo here, but the mindset that makes Google so impactful is evident on every page. Authors Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg are experts in their field, and they are both wildly intelligent individuals. We would benefit greatly from listening carefully to their take on what makes Google work.

work rulesWork Rules gives more specifics to the overview provided in How Google Works. Laszlo Bock takes time to get into the nitty gritty of how to shape an organization. Again, you’re going to find a model here that can be transferred to your campus, but you’re not going to see a plan specific to schools. This one isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoyed How Google Works at all, I recommend you at least check this out to see if you’re interested.

inquiryA.J. Juliani’s Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom is a great place to start the conversation about making changes for the better for students. If you’re looking for fresh ideas on 20% time, genius hour, and PBL, this is for you. It also serves as a great intro to each idea if you’re looking for a primer on any of the topics.

20timeIf you find that 20% time or genius hour is something you’d like to learn more about, Kevin Brookhouser’s The 20time Project is worth investigating. Brookhouser explores why (because “we need wicked problem-solvers”) in the first half of his book before concluding with how to pull that off both in the classroom and across a campus.

creative confidenceCreative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley challenges readers to reimagine their previous conception of creativity. If you think you might be a creative person, but you’re not creative in the conventional sense of the word, this book will help you see where you (and others) truly are creative. I really enjoyed the challenging ideas that the Kelley brothers share here!

creative schoolsKen Robinson’s recent book, Creative Schools, offers readers an overview of creativity in schools with Robinson’s trademark wisdom and wit. His text is both readable and challenging, encouraging and motivational. It’s an easy read with big ideas for the reader to consider. If your’e a person who likes inspirational education quotes, you can’t miss this!

51B3zEFka3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Steal Like an Artist is a quick read that will leave you thinking for a long time. It has pushed me to think more creatively, share more openly, and believe that more is possible. For this guy who didn’t use to think creativity was in my wheelhouse, I’m quite thankful to have stumbled upon a text like Austin Kleon’s.

worldpeaceI can’t remember how I came across John Hunter’s World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements, but I’m glad I did. Hunter details how project based learning helped his 4th graders tackle some of life’s biggest problems, and he does so in a way that leaves you thinking that you can take on this kind of challenge, too. I enjoyed the text, and I think it would be a great place to start opening up other’s minds to the possibilities of PBL in the classroom.


So, this is a lot. But I hope that there’s something here that piques your interest. Over the summer, take time to look through a few of these–even if you just do so while visiting a local bookstore. Check out something that will help make you better when next school year starts up. Happy reading!

Lead Like an MVP

Lead Like an MVP (1)

I have to admit it. I love watching Stephen Curry play basketball. With Curry on the court, the game is more exciting and more fun! He’s redefining the game for the better, and this year, Stephen Curry is this year’s undisputed NBA MVP. In a unanimous vote, he was chosen as the most valuable player. Take that in for a moment. The most valuable player in the entire NBA.

For me, that’s a lot to take in. One of the things I like about it the most is that the award is the most valuable player, not the best player. It may seem like a slight difference, but it’s substantial to me. The title “Most Valuable Player” begs the question–most valuable to whom? I tend to think it’s to his team. The organization. The teammates. The fans.

The most valuable player is more about his team than about himself.

The most valuable player represents the name on the front of his jersey–not his name on the back.

The most valuable player makes others better around him.

And it’s clear to everyone who is watching that Curry does just that. He makes success about the team. He represents the organization and team above all. He makes everyone else better around him.

Watching the comments from Curry’s press conference accepting the award, I couldn’t help but think that there is a lot we can learn from him as educators. These four ideas stuck out to me as great reminders for educators who want to want to be the most valuable member of their team–not for a trophy, but to serve others well and put the best opportunities in front of our students and teachers.

Be the Unexpected Leader

Early on, Curry’s head coach, Steve Kerr, commented that Curry’s “own mom didn’t even know if [he] would make it in the league.”

I love that.

How unlikely is it that someone who was passed over for scholarship after scholarship was even to have a chance at playing in the NBA, much less end up as MVP? But Curry doesn’t seem to be one who needs permission or a road map. And we would do well to follow his example. We should be more willing to take the lead, figure it out, and stop listening to the reasons why we shouldn’t do something. There are too many of them. We can’t afford to let them keep us still. Move forward, defy the odds, and lead from where you are.

Push Through Failure & Celebrate Success

Curry’s head coach, Steve Kerr, followed up with a comment on how much Curry struggled the night before. Curry, a prolific 3 point shooter to say the least, missed his first ten 3-point attempts. Not good. But, as Kerr describes, “he made the 11th and shimmied down the sideline.”

Our work is full of this. (Or if it’s just me who experiences this, someone find a gentle way to break the news to me.) Even when we’re operating in our strengths, there are times when the success feels pretty far away. As I watched Curry throughout this game, he never hung his head, never felt sorry for himself. He kept pushing forward, stepping into his role after missed shots, and putting up the next shot that made sense. An MVP keeps pressing forward into what’s right. Don’t let obstacles slow your progress.

Take Inspiration From the Team

Selfless leadership is really important to me. There are a lot of leaders who lead so that they are front and center, so that the attention is on them (along with the credit for a team’s hard work). I really respect Curry’s genuine comments to his teammates. For a guy who is the unanimous MVP to come out and say to his teammates, “You guys inspire me to keep getting better,” I’m impressed. I think it’s important to remember that leading from this sort of posture isn’t just a nice caveat or a feather in Curry’s cap; it’s a prerequisite for being a leader who is this effective.

Aspire to Excellence

Before Curry’s press conference concluded, he shared one final goal: “Let’s win a championship.”

I think that his perspective, one driven out of a pursuit of excellence, pursuit of being the best, is one we should emulate. “Good enough” teaching isn’t good enough. If we are content to sit on our laurels and rest easy as we determine how much to push those around us to be the best, we aren’t going to accomplish what our students deserve. We owe it to our students (and leaders–we owe it to our teachers) to give our all in pursuit of excellence.


One last note–I think there is a lot that we can learn from Stephen Curry’s response to his MVP award. But it’s important for me to remember that for all the attention he will (and should) receive after winning this award for a second season in a row, he never set out to to accomplish this as his goal. He’s aspiring to something far higher than individual gains here. He’s aiming for the greater good. He’s aiming for the best for his people. And he’s just being himself the whole time he’s doing all of that.

As you finish our the year, I hope we will, too. There are too many who will benefit along the way for us to give anything less than our best.

A Different Call To The Office

A Different Call To The Office

It’s May. While all eyes turn to the end of the year, I think it’s time we start counting up some of the end of year conversations we need to have before summer starts and we’re not seeing our students each day.

I’ve written before about my belief that we are wired up so that things outside us tell us who we are (here’s the link if you’re interested). That’s neither good nor bad; for me, it’s reality. Without getting into the whole logic behind it and whether or not that sits well with you, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say there is great value in speaking truth into the lives of our students.

My role as a assistant principal puts me in conversations with many students who have failed to meet expectations. I realized late last week though that a student who I visited with quite frequently last school year had a reasonably good fall and a fantastic spring semester. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was time to call him to the office for a different sort of conversation.

This student is the one who is nearly unrecognizable from himself last year. He’s turned it around in terms of behavior, and that’s led to him being a totally different academic student. Here’s what he’ll hear from me:

Last year was not your year. We had a lot of conversations–too many–in which I told you that you were the only one who could turn it around, that you had to want it. I meant it when I said that. I was serious. And you did it. I’m impressed with the young man you’re becoming. Let me know if there’s anything big of small I can do to help you out.

Once I started through this conversation, I realized there were more students I needed to visit with. I’d like to share a few of the conversations that I realized I need to have with some of my students. Maybe one or two will remind you of a student you work with. If so, I challenge you to go and share a word of encouragement with that student. Be specific with the growth you’ve seen and share candidly how students have made an impact for the better this year.

The “Invests In Others Well” Student

This student is the one who gets along with everyone. She’s popular, but she really doesn’t care about that popularity. She treats everyone as equals. She is present with each person she interacts with, and each person’s day is better after interacting with her. Here’s what I’ll tell her:

“You’re a popular student who is successful academically. Really, it’s hard to find something that’s not going well for you. But what’s most impressive to me is the way you value people. I notice that you do a great job investing in others. You make little conversations a big deal, and the way you interact with everyone I see leaves them feeling better about themselves afterward. Thanks for investing in others.”

The “Always Positive” Student

This student is the one who always says hi. The one who is busy, who has plenty going on, but who always takes time to say hi. Even to this assistant principal. I’ve written before about the value of those little interactions, and seeing her interact with others reminds me to go back and be better about those little interactions because, on the other side of them, they really do make a difference.

“Thanks for taking time to be positive. I see your positivity each and every day. I know that it probably takes a concerted effort on some days to stay so positive. But I want you to know that I’m thankful for the way you interact with others so positively. It makes me better, and I’m thankful when we cross paths.”

My Challenge

So, who do you need to speak into this month? Time is ticking. Summer will be here soon. When you hear the countdowns that too often creep into conversation at school, remember that with each day and each hour, we have less time to invest in our students. Take the time to do that well over the next few weeks.

What Does This Mean For My Students? #WGEDD

WGEDD (6)

WGEDD (6)

I had the privilege of attending the What Great Educators Do Differently conference in Katy, TX recently. It was a wonderful experience all around. The sessions were great, and the people were even better. Really, I don’t think I could have asked for a better time. At the end of our two days together, I ended up with a wealth of new information, new challenges, and strengthened relationships with a fantastic group of educators.

The weekend was one of those that leaves you with so much information that you don’t know where to start with implementation. It’s also one of those times that you know you have to organize your thoughts because the ideas were too good to leave as talking points over a weekend; they need to hit the ground at school.

In his opening remarks, Jimmy Casas challenged us to keep this question in the back of our mind throughout the conference: “What does this mean for my students?” I’ve been turning over what seems like a countless number of great ideas from the conference in my mind ever since.

I’d like to share some of those contagious ideas I came across over the weekend. They’re a mix of encouragement and challenge, but there is a huge upside to us taking each of these comments seriously as we serve students.


We are wired to be risk averse. Brave is uncomfortable. – Angela Maiers

I love this idea. We are faced with challenges each and every day that are uncomfortable (or at least I am). Hearing the encouragement that it’s not something wrong with me that causes that reaction, rather it’s something that is hard wired into me that creates it was encouraging to me. I know that I need to work to be brave for my students, and this comment from Angela Maiers is already helping push me toward being bolder for what’s best for each and every student on my campus.

WGEDD


We can’t change the kids, but we can change the way we teach. – Pernille Ripp

We all have obstacles to overcome. Some are new at the beginning of each school year; some are consistent for longer periods of time. All too often we focus on the things we cannot control rather than the things we have great control over. Most of this blame game, for me at least, is the result of me wanting to put some distance between me and my problem, especially when I recognize my shortcomings. Pernille Ripp’s reminder that we can change our actions is exactly what I needed to hear. I am in control of so many of the variables at school; I should worry about those and not dwell on that which I cannot control. I love our students, and the more I take on the responsibility for creating positive change for them, the better off they will be.

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In a great teacher’s classroom, everything happens intentionally. – Todd Whitaker

Have you ever been in a great teacher’s classroom who can’t tell you why things are going well this year? Didn’t think so. This idea from Todd Whitaker reminded me that our work doesn’t happen by accident. I need to be better about planning out my day to maximize my output. Just being busy isn’t enough. Our students deserve quality effort from us, not just a lot of effort.

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Never pass up the opportunity to say something great about your school. – Joe Sanfelippo

This is something that I’ve known (and probably even told other people to look at), but I still need to get better at this. Over the next few days, I need to sit down and target when I think students, teachers, parents, and community members will be on social media and look seriously at what I can share to tell our story well for each of them. Sanfelippo is a master at this, and I’ll definitely be checking out the #GoCrickets hashtag for models of what I can do to share my school’s story well.

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Want to double your credibility with a student? Offer a sincere apology when the time calls for it. – Jimmy Casas

In the middle of all the technology and pedagogy and leadership conversations that happened throughout the What Great Educators Do Differently Conference came this comment from Jimmy Casas that offered an incredibly empathetic, human response to students. It might be my favorite thing I heard all weekend. Students learn so much from their interactions with adults, but we are quick to place blame and slow to take ownership for our mistakes. To me, this is one thing we just can’t afford to get wrong. Especially for our young men, accepting ownership of our mistakes and taking responsibility for our actions is imperative. I’m thankful this idea was shared with me.

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So, there it is. There’s plenty to ponder, but I’m enjoying thinking through these ideas and considering how each of these ideas can change school for the better for our students!

Also, it’s worth your time to take a few minutes to explore the #WGEDD tweets. So much brilliance and wisdom wrapped up in 140 characters there!

Grades, Learning, and Change

Grades,Learning,& Change

A few weeks ago, a teacher shared with me a question his had given to his students. He asked them,

“If you had the choice for your next grade, would you choose an 88 that you really worked hard for and learned something to earn or 95 where you won’t remember anything after the grade and didn’t learn throughout the process?”

I love the question. Both the question itself and the thoughts I have about the implications of either choice are fascinating to me.

Not surprisingly, many students opted for the 95. They are sophomores in high school, and with a few weeks to go until spring break, I can understand the allure of some free points.

Still, there was much to talk about.

So the teacher and I talked though his reactions and our mutual reactions to the students’ reactions while we watched a soccer game after school. I mentioned several articles and books on standards based grading, dropping grades, and assessing for learning v assessing the learning, and we continued on talking for a while about our hopes for students and our desire for great learning to come from the feedback students receive from teachers. He mentioned that he wanted to follow up with these students, and I committed to touching base with him over the coming weeks.

So a few days ago, I stick my head in to ask if they’ve had their conversation yet. I thought I would get a yes/no answer and maybe a quick recap as class started if they had talked. Instead, he invited me into his classroom.

We talked the entire class period!

I used two recent posts to get the conversation going. The first was an idea that I’d heard before but was succinctly summarized recently by George Couros in this post titled “What Success (and Learning) Really Looks Like.” I recreated the drawings he includes in the post, and we talked for a bit

Demetri Martin on what “success” really looks like (from George Couros' blog)
Demetri Martin on what “success” really looks like (from George Couros’ blog)

This idea resonated with everyone, even the few skeptics who were still a bit unsure about an assistant principal dropping in to talk about turning the grading world on its head.

With that in mind, I decided to share this image “Shifting the Grading Mindset Starts With Our Words” by Starr Sackstein that compares the language of grading with the language of assessment.

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From Starr Sackstein’s blog, “Shifting the Grading Mindset Starts With Our Words”

This is where I really saw students begin to see the value in considering this. Many who if they were honest probably responded out of convenience for themselves initially with their teacher and even with me when presented with the “struggle to learn for the 88 or get the easy 95 and learn nothing” choice seemed to really understand the power of this.

To be honest, they really impressed me.

I expected that they would come around eventually (probably out of overconfidence in myself and the teacher, right?), but I didn’t expect it to come so quickly. Students mentioned their desire to take tough classes but the fear that accompanies that. They mentioned the pressure to succeed (from themselves, their peers, their parents, their coaches). Two students asked pointed questions about how a no grades classroom would work with eligibility for sports and extracurriculars.

Each of those questions have answers–though I am convinced by some more than others. But then they asked the question that has stuck with me the most: “Why don’t teachers do this?”

I was struck by their honesty and their enthusiasm for something that seemed so different from their normal and something that would daily ask more of them as learners. But more than that, I quickly realized that the reasons students might be reluctant to change are similar to the reasons the adults might also be reluctant.

Grades have their issues, but the process is predictable and consistent. Though the game doesn’t always measure what we’d like, it’s one students know the rules for. For teachers (and for me), I don’t always love the idea of something entirely new when I know I’m going to be evaluated on it. Teachers likely feel the same way. Grades are established and safe. Shifting is risky.

Three Takeaways From My Conversation

  1. Students will rarely rise above our level of expectation. If we expect them to be compliant, they will, but they aren’t going to try to push that ceiling on their own. At all levels, leaders need to be modeling what a reflective learner looks like. Doing so opens up valuable lines of communication between learners of all ages and breaks down barriers between positions and titles on campus.
  2. Change and learning require vulnerable conversations. I’m thankful for this, but it can be a barrier to our progress. In front of those students, I had to admit that the same reason that my reason for not pushing on this topic in a wider fashion is likely quite similar to the reason teachers aren’t always keen on pushing a tough to implement idea–it’s risky. I like to look like I have it together; taking risks doesn’t always do that. Still, it’s time we had those vulnerable conversations to push this forward.
  3. Success in reimagining assessment isn’t going to happen in a linear fashion. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was nice and neat to present? That’s not reality. Instead, our lived experience is going to follow the messy path that Demetri Martin depicts (and I think even his drawing is optimistic in that the change continues in a generally positive direction throughout it’s journey). As much as that’s not something I love to engage with, it’s a great (and necessary) reminder that our path through change is not one that is without risk at any level. Instead, it is one filled with excitement (and a bit of treachery along the path) and one that is worth effort!

I’ll leave you with a few questions. Leave me a comment to help push this conversation forward in a way we can share!

  • How satisfied are you with your/your school’s grading practices?
  • What would ideal grading practices look like to you?
  • What is one thing you could change to move toward that ideal?
  • What makes talking about the shift from grading to assessment worth it?
  • Any tips for the those interested in the transition?

Grades,Learning,& Change

Let’s Keep Learning – Spring Break

Keep Learning

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Spring break is coming up for many educators, and although that can mean the end of the year is approaching, there is still a great deal of time for us to invest in our own professional learning. We expect our students to keep learning, so why not continue in that effort ourselves?

A good deal of my own professional learning comes through what I’m reading. During the year, a lot of that comes through blogs. The wealth of blogs out there combined with the difficulty finding consistent, predictable time to dedicate to reading mean I spend less time than I would like investing in longer works.

For me, spring break provides just the sort of change of pace to dig into something new!

Take time for yourself over the break, but if nothing else, take time to plan out how you can push yourself to continue to grow throughout the rest of the spring semester. It won’t happen by accident. Unless we put a plan in place, schedules get busy, the urgent infringes on the important, and our best intentions end up as the things that never happened.

So, here are eight titles that helped spark my thinking. Even if none of these sound interesting to you, take time to find something that will push you to continue your learning over the next few weeks.

6 Titles to Push Your Thinking

amplifyEven though I’m at a high school, I’m really enjoying Amplify by Katie Mutharis and Kristin Ziemke. Their slim volume is a great overview of not only how technology can touch so many aspects of our schools, but also when and why it should integrate with sound pedagogical practice. The authors are risk takers, and we have a great deal to learn from their experiences. I love the “Three Things to Try Tomorrow” sections that end many chapters. EdTech isn’t a new idea, but their reflections on the topic are well worth your time.

Hacking-Assessment-eBook-coverI’m thoroughly intrigued by the no grades movement. Starr Sackstein’s Hacking Assessment is a great primer on why to consider no grades and how to take the first steps. Her book includes several helpful tips for common push back that accompanies this conversation. If I were in the classroom, I would be using her advice to find my way through this conversation. Instead, I’m working on ways to challenge interested teachers to consider what she has to offer (and the huge upside for students to be able to continue their learning past each test).

rising strongRising Strong is one of those books that reads really quickly but leaves you with so much to think about that you can’t digest it rapidly. Brené Brown’s latest book investigates what happens after we take the risks that are oh so popular for us to discuss. The reality is that we end up with what she describes as a moment where we are face down in the arena, and we have to be able to pick ourselves up and move forward, learning along the way. It’s an idea I think we all want to embrace, but the process of getting there (and I am by no means there) is less direct than we would like.

originalsOriginals is a book that challenged my thinking. Adam Grant explores a number of qualities we typically associate with being an original and does a little mythbusting along the way. Grant is a great storyteller, and he’s got a wealth of tales worth telling here. It’s worth noting that this is book is one that I listened to as an audiobook, and it presents well in that medium.

 

breaking nightI came across Breaking Night after hearing Liz Murray speak in my school district earlier this semester. To say the least, there’s a lot of story for her to tell; she manages the task brilliantly, and that makes her book both enjoyable and tough to take. Oversimplified, hers is the “Homeless to Harvard” story that’s the stuff of movies (literally–there’s a Lifetime movie that tells her story). But more than one of accomplishment, Murray’s is a story of the value of education and mentors and hope. Tough, but well worth the time it takes to invest.

sketchnoteThe Sketchnote Handbook is a great introduction to sketchnoting. Admittedly, I’m the guy who just needs to jump into something like sketchnoting; that being said, Mike Rohde’s book was just what I needed to develop a foundation of skills for myself. Can I sketchnote anything live? No. It looks like my 4 year old drew it. But given the time, I can put the ideas into practice and create something I’m proud of that I wouldn’t have dreamed of in the past. To me, that makes it worth it. Maybe you’ll think so, too.

Interested in more books to push your learning? Check out the first “Let’s Keep Learning” post here.


So, no excuses. Let’s be learners alongside our students, even when it’s less convenient.

no excuses. Let's be learners alongside our students, even when it's less convenient.

10 Big Ideas From #TCEA16

10 Big Ideas From #TCEA16

10 Big Ideas From #TCEA16

I recently had the chance to engage with so many influential educators at TCEA in Austin, and I have a lot floating around in my head that’s waiting to find a landing place. That conference is definitely one where part of the challenge is managing all the new ideas and considering what challenges you’ll accept before planning them all out over a period of time.

Since I find myself in the thick of wading through a sea of good ideas, I thought I would blog about it. I’ve picked ten ideas that stood out to me. These ten ideas stand out as concepts I’ll continue to come back to in order to push my thinking, especially with regard to technology in the classroom.

Admittedly, a lot could be done to unpack each of these ideas, but rather than sharing a series of mini posts, I simply wanted to share the big ideas that have stuck with me from my learning last week. So, here’s what’s on my mind lately.


“Our kids will not know the difference between a social media site and a website. It will all be the same.” – Kasey Bell

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“You may be sitting next to the smartest person you don’t know.” – Steven Anderson

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“We use social media for conversations because that’s how we learn.” – Steven Anderson

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“Twitter chats precede faculty meeting conversation by 12-18 months.” – Tom Whitby

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“Your comfort zone should never impede the learning of your students.” – Tom Whitby

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“Our technology decisions should be based on education and learning, not on business sense.” – George Couros

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“Quit telling people to think out of the box. It’s how you innovate inside the box that counts.” – George Couros

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“In education, how often does ‘data driven’ mean we become ‘weakness focused?'” – George Couros

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“Isolation is now a choice educators make.” – George Couros

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“The higher up we go in the traditional hierarchy, the more people we serve; not the other way around.” – George Couros

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So, there it is. There’s plenty to ponder, but I’m enjoying thinking through these ideas and considering how we can change to push student learning to a greater extent.

Help push my thinking. What do you agree with here? Disagree with? How are you making change happen based on these ideas?

Let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you!

We Don’t Have a Presentation #TCEA16

conversations

conversations

Heading into my time at TCEA, I knew that I was looking forward to a session called “Show How Awesome You Are and Tell Your Story with Social Media.” It seemed right up my alley. Though I feel confident in my ability to start that task and manage it well right now, this is area where I’m always looking to improve. As if the topic weren’t enough of a draw, Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) was scheduled to present and Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) joined him.

With such a high interest topic being presented by two educators who wrote the book on the topic (literally),  my nerdy educator heart was so excited to hear from them!

They delivered in a big way, but not for the reasons I expected.

As I’m getting ready to receive the knowledge, Anderson turned off the screen behind him and told us that he wasn’t going to give a presentation.

Instead, we were going to have a conversation.

WHY CONVERSATIONS MATTER
It was so validating to hear someone who is an undisputed expert in his field say that there was such great value in learning together through conversations. Think about what that statement is saying.

  1. It orients leaders so that they are learners alongside everyone else participating.
  2. It reminds us that learning can be messy and still be successful.
  3. It reiterates that we don’t have to have everything perfectly laid out to push our learning forward.
  4. It values the people with whom we connect (and makes us dependent on one another to truly move the conversation forward).

It’s such a simple idea, but it’s also pretty revolutionary.

Our ability to change how we learn is deeply tied to our ability to help other learners change their norms. If we want change for our students, if we want to challenge our teachers to do something different, if we want to do something different–we have to be willing to start making shifts like this.

CHANGE THAT IS WORTH IT
The more I thought about it, the more I remembered that that’s what I’m doing when I use social media to grow as an educator. Though I’m quite comfortable learning in that style on Twitter, I still expect to be talked at for much of my face to face professional learning.

The reality is that we all have something valuable to add in many of the conversations that are one way in education today. We cannot fail to consider a model that would open us up to hear from those around us.  As Steven Anderson put it, “You may be sitting next to the smartest person you don’t know.” Ask him or her to share.

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It’s worth mentioning that I’m not advocating for an across the board move to this model. I saw some of the best educational presentations from incredible educators who left me with so much to consider and rethink as I head back to reality. But the conversations I experienced show another way that we have to consider, and I’m motivated to empower others through similar experiences.

Share 6 Encouraging Words #6WordEncourage

#6WordEncourage encourage

The semester is moving right along, and we’re getting close to that point in the year where many could use a shot of confidence in the arm to help make the second month of the semester as successful and positive as the first.

It’s something we need to plan for. Testing is on the horizon for many, and it often seems like there is so long between breaks that many can become frustrated with where they find themselves. If we don’t do something to stay mindful of our own well being, we often neglect to care for ourselves as we continue to serve others.

So, let’s make an effort to change that.

FIND SIX ENCOURAGING WORDS

Take a little time to post that encouraging Tweet or share a thoughtful Facebook message with a few colleagues and extend a little encouragement their way. If it feels funny to try this over social media, grab a stack of sticky notes and start writing out positive thoughts for your peers. For an added challenge, try to do it in 6 words. Yes, six words is totally arbitrary (and it’s highly unlikely to be all you have to say), but I like the creativity required to work within a restriction like this, and I like that we can get across powerful encouragement in such a short message.

Don’t think it can be done? Here are a few things that I think people would like to hear that are communicated in six words:

You are good at your job.

The way you serve others inspires.

Thank you for serving so faithfully.

Your work leaves a profound impact.

You’re the teacher they will remember.

Thank you for always being positive!

Of course there is more that could be said that what you can pass along in six words, but each one of those statements are things that educators work hard to live into. They’re also really high marks for success. When we reach them, we need to celebrate that. When we’re still striving for them, we need not beat ourselves up. Far more important than getting this right in 6 words is getting the encouragement sent to those who need it most.

To the one who started out working tirelessly and is now exhausted.

To the one who can’t balance everything alone anymore.

To the one who lacks confidence in his work.

To the one who doesn’t see the greater good accomplished by her efforts.

To the one who helped students make remarkable progress but feels like a failure because they didn’t pass the test.

To those who want to get better but fear change.

To those who trusted before, got burned, and want to trust again.

Educators–we cannot afford to let time–especially this stressful, critical time– go by without investing in each other. Take time to encourage a colleague.

Please share examples of #6WordEncourage in the comments. Reading through the words others have to share is sure to jog our memory for new people I can seek to encourage.

Finally, to you–the one who will be pouring into others–thank you. You’re sustaining those who support so many.

My #6WordEncourage to you? >>> “Your work gives life to others.”

The Questioner and the Doubter

doubter questioner

doubter questioner

I’m all for healthy discontent. I think it’s helpful for us to think through and rethink through ideas. It’s often how innovation happens. It’s often how creativity happens. But there’s a real difference in being someone who is seeking to bring about positive change in a situation and being someone who is a curmudgeon.

So, what exactly do I mean?

Let me explain with an example from literature.

In Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited (which is excellent and well worth your time for more than just these few lines), two characters are engaged in a dialogue. The first mentions to the other, “I aint a doubter. But I am a questioner.” The other responds, skeptically, saying, “What’s the difference?” I love the way the first man replies: “Well, I think a questioner wants the truth. A doubter wants to be told there aint no such thing.”

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I love that distinction–that the questioner wants the truth. That’s so important to the way we approach problems, the way we try to resolve issues, the ways we try to move progress forward.

But it’s something we miss so often, even with the best of intentions.

That’s a problem to me.

We can’t have the hard work of many undone by a few dissenting doubters, and it’s our job as leaders (regardless of title) to help push people to become deeper questioners and infrequent doubters.

Here’s a few ways we can make sure we’re on the right side of this distinction.

A questioner is driven by wonder, but a doubter is blinded by limits.

Ask more questions. Think about what could be. Consider that biggest limit–the one that everyone knows about, the one that everyone thinks can’t change, the one that everyone believes is holding them back. Ask people what they would do if that obstacle were removed. Ask others to think up ways to creatively work inside the box while that road block persists. And ask others to commit to thinking of ways that you can see past the road block together.

A questioner knows he does not know; a doubter assumes he knows what can be known.

A doubter loves to try to paint questioners into a corner using a bunch of fast talking and quick questions (almost to the point that people begin to believe that this doubter may know something we all don’t know). More often than not, that doubter is stuck on the idea that we have to have things–all things… every last little thing–figured out before moving forward. This can happen so much so that the doubter feels petrified of moving forward without total, 100% certainty of the course of action and destination deviating from the current path will require. A questioner knows he does not know, and that sits okay with him. He’s pursuing a solution, thirsty for an answer; but that doesn’t cause him to dwell on the few gaps in current understanding.

A questioner seeks greater understanding, while a doubter discounts what he cannot understand.

A questioner genuinely wants to know and understand more, and at times, it’s not even for any purpose in particular. Many times, the questioner’s pursuit of new knowledge gives him a wide body of knowledge to which he can compare future solutions. It serves as a broad, varied sounding board for future ideas. As a questioner pursues the unknown, he embraces struggle and acknowledges his limits. A doubter’s faith is in himself. He fails to see the need to learn without a particular end in mind, and his perspective is closed not only by his attitude, but also by the shrunken scope of solutions that results from it.


Beyond anything the questioner can do alone, each questioner I know believes that there is such great power in the collective. Those questioners know the value of sharing their learning, asking big questions, connecting to others, and listening carefully as others share likewise. They spend more time listening and less time talking, and yet those with whom they interact end up rejuvenated and energized after their interactions.

So, take a few minutes before you click off to the rest of the internet and think about it. Are you a doubter or a questioner? How do you become more of what you want?