Let’s Keep Learning (Even When It’s Less Convenient)

December is nearly upon us, and as we work through the last few weeks of the semester in what can often feel like a sprint to the finish, I think it’s important for us to remember that if we expect our students to continue their learning, it only makes sense that we should lead in that way as well.

That’s easier said than done (for both students and for educators), but it’s a worthwhile goal nonetheless.

Goals like this don’t just happen, though. If we want to look back on the next three weeks and be able to say we thrived during this time rather than that we simply survived the time between our breaks, we need a plan.

Reading is something that has really helped me slow down when the pace of life feels too fast. Finding that time away, that white space as I’ve come to call it after a series of especially impactful #leadupchat conversations over the past few weeks (Here’s the LINK to the storify from the chat that kicked that conversation if you’re interested.)

We can find white space to grow through what we read.

That’s not a revolutionary idea, but it’s one that we’ll let busy schedules push to the margins until we forget we ever thought it. Below is a list of 9 titles of varying lengths that might help you find that book that will push you to continue your learning over the next few weeks.

9 Titles to Push Your Thinking (separated by length)

200-250 PAGES (to be read over a few weeks)
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.

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.

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.

100-150 PAGES (to be read in a few sittings)
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. I recently reread this, and I was both encouraged by my own growth throughout the last year and challenged by the number of simple reminders that I’m not living out.

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.

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.

NOT MANY PAGES (to be read in one sitting)
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. At 48 pages, it’s the shortest title in this list, but there’s still plenty here to push your thinking.


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.

3 Ways To Embrace Vulnerability

3 Ways To Embrace Vulnerability (1)There’s a lot of buzz in education right now about vulnerability. Many are talking about how it impacts leaders and their ability to connect with others, and more are talking about the trust that’s required for school wide risk taking to become a reality.

If you ask me, we’re starting the right conversations.

One of my favorite lines that I’ve come across as I’ve navigated the vulnerability/risk taking conversation is by Brené Brown. From her perspective (and more and more, I’m becoming a believer and adopting this mindset as well), “Vulnerability is not weakness, rather it is our most accurate measurement of courage and the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

Hers is a pretty bold claim. Think about what’s really at stake in that line. She’s saying that three of those things that seem non-negotiable for student success–innovation, creativity, and change–they’re an impossibility without embracing vulnerability.

So, it’s good that we’re talking about it.

My worry is that when it comes to vulnerability, we’re getting better at talking about it than at actually living it out. It’s certainly easier to talk a good vulnerability game than it is to live (or start) a life lived vulnerably.

With that in mind, here are three ways we can embrace vulnerability, not just as an idea, but as a week-in, week-out practice at school.

ASK FOR CRITICISM

We all like to think we are open, available, and easy to talk to. More often than not, though, I’m betting we give ourselves more benefit of the doubt here than we should.

Inviting some criticism shows that we really believe that getting better involves having hard conversations, and asking others on campus for their feedback in those moments values the feedback and perspective of the others with whom we often interact.

Asking for feedback without giving any parameters is likely to yield either overly general feedback or overly specific feedback. Give people a couple of choices or maybe even give them a template to work with to help direct their feedback. That also helps ease toward the deep end of vulnerability without having to open up areas of ourselves where we’re less than comfortable venturing in those first conversations.

TRY SOMETHING NEW

Putting your money where your mouth is by taking on something new–especially something that’s a challenge, that might not work–lets you really indicate that it’s okay for others to tackle that idea that maybe only has a 50/50 shot of working.

A lot of educators probably bury ideas because they’re not sure how to work through something that might fail. Your work can serve as a great model (one that you don’t have to nail down the first time; it can be a work in progress, too) for others who are looking for someone who’s willing to take on a new idea, work through the mess, and come out better for it on the other side.

OWN YOUR MISTAKES

Mistakes are inevitable. We have to be willing to own them and use them as the point of departure for productive growth in ourselves. That’s an idea that’s easy to nod your head along to, but it’s tougher to live that out.

In those time where we make tough decisions that impact others and things don’t turn out, I think it’s important for others to hear us and see us take responsibility. That’s not a popular narrative for most. Strength is all about covering up mistakes and appearing flawless and faultless for many. If we really want to bring people together and foster the kind of campus culture that brings people together rather than pushing people apart, then we have to be willing to have take this sort of action at every level of leadership on campus.

Because It’s Worth It…

Not only is there far too much on the line for us to blink past the necessity of living vulnerable lives in our schools, but there is also so much up side in taking on even just one of these challenges. Neglecting to pursue this is a recipe for stagnation and regression.

It’s not easy. It won’t always be much fun. But the work to open yourself to others, regardless of your role on campus, makes you a leader.

Two Important Phrases

Two Important PhrasesMy oldest, Graham, is four (and he’s awesome) and over the past few weeks, he’s said two things to me that I think aren’t just what four year olds need to hear; they’re what all people need to hear.

Here’s how it played out:

In general, Graham is a pretty good listener. He knows where the boundaries are and generally follows our set expectations. Even on the best of his days, there’s always the wild card at the end of the day–the time that could just go any number of ways–bed time. It’s easily of the toughest times for Graham to keep it together. We have a decent bedtime routine, and he knows the expectations for him once we’ve tucked him in, but it’s still tough. Each night, after we review his bedtime expectations, he’ll repeat them back to me

“Look at the stars (his nightlight), be quiet, be still, no getting out of bed.”

Everything but the last line (which was his addition to the list–one that get’s no arguments from me) is phrased positively and clearly reviewed, but he just can’t bring himself to consistently stay in bed when it’s time.

After a few days of unsuccessful attempts to get him to sleep quickly, he just nailed it. One of those things where you forget that you were worrying about it because he’s just taken care of business and nearly drifted off to sleep.

So, I peek in his room, inadvertently startle the little guy, and he’s looking right at me–half asleep, half awake–and I lean in and tell him that I’m proud of him for choosing to go to sleep so quickly. He smiles, asks for a hug, and as I’m leaving the room, he whispers for me to come back to tell him something. As I lean over to him, he says, “Can you tell mom what you said to me?”

Confused, I stumble through a few questions to figure out what he means until it dawns on me and I ask, “You want me to let mom know I told you that I was proud of you, don’t you?

And with the biggest smile on his face he nods with exaggeration and hugs me as tight as his four year old arms will allow. It’s sweet to know that he sees that his dad is proud of him, and as much as that seems to fill him up, I think it does more for me than for him.

CRAFT (2)

Then there’s the other phrase.

A few nights later, Graham and I are circling around and around in conversation about something that ends up amounting to a “The adult gets to make the rule, not the four year old” situation, and I raised my voice as I conclude the conversation with some finality, again reviewing his bedtime expectations.

I’m really not one to get agitated. Ask my wife, ask the folks I work with–they’ll all tell you that I’m the last guy to raise my voice about anything. But here, I did.

Feeling a bit sheepish about it all, I went back in to check on him about ten minutes later, and he asks me to sit on the bed. When I do, he pulls on my arm to draw my head closer to his, and he whispers, “Dad, say you’re sorry.

And, of course, I do.

And in the sweet way that a child knows, he reaches up, hugs me, and offers a four year old’s restoration.

CRAFT (1)

Not long after that, I begin to wonder how much good would be done if we made sure these phrases were said more often.

What if the 14 year olds in our school heard the same two phrases–I’m proud of you, I’m sorry–when the appropriate time came?

What if students could expect to see adults own mistakes and apologize, providing a glimpse of vulnerability that comes with growth through big and small challenges?

What if students knew that they would hear genuine praise from their teachers, more than what they receive in grades, so that they would know that there are people at school who are proud of what they’ve accomplished, proud of the risks they’ve taken, proud of the changes they’ve made or the character they’ve shown?

I can’t think of a thing that would be hurt by us giving this a try. As you move through the coming days, look for opportunities to speak into the lives of your students and situations where you may need to, in humility, embrace a misstep you may have made while serving others.

Educational Lifelines (aka Check Out These Blogs)

Throughout October, educators in our school district have been challenged to tweet once every weekday. We’ve had daily topics to help ease people in to that process, and things have been going well so far.

Today I woke up to this question:

CQynFhiWEAEWaZS

I just don’t feel I can do this question justice in only a tweet, so here I am writing a post about a few sites I can’t live without. (It’s worth noting that I can’t in any way provide anything close to a comprehensive answer in a blog post either, but at least I can do a little more justice to the question.)

While there are certainly a lot of well known websites out there that put out invaluable content for teachers, I’d like to highlight a few of the personal sites of educators here. I’ve learned so much from each of these educators over the past year. I’m intentionally going to leave you with a very brief summary of what you might find on each of their sites; take time to investigate their writing and engage in the conversations each of these folks are having.

Educational Blogs I Learn From Every Week

A.J. Juliani (blog, Twitter) writes a blog that will help you explore innovation and creativity in everyday situations you may come across as an educator.

Starr Sackstein (blog, Twitter) writes on a variety of topics. I’m most thankful for her example as a blogger, as this blog would not exist without this book she wrote on blogging and her blog that puts the ideas she shared in the book into action.

Pernille Ripp (blog, Twitter) writes with such passion for her work; it’s so easy to see she not only loves what she is doing, but she also wants to help others grow and has high expectations for the work that teachers do. Her work will push you and grow you as an educator. She also has another blog, Ms. Ripp Reads, that’s worth checking out if you’re ever needing to help students find something great to read.

Jon Harper (blog, Twitter) blogs about education and about his kids. His writing is a great reminder to me of the balance we have to keep between our professional and personal lives.

For me, both Jeff Zoul (blog, Twitter) and Jimmy Casas (blog, Twitter) serve as models of what effective leadership as a connected educator looks like in practice. Their writing is authentic, genuine, and challenging for me as a leader.

Kids Deserve It (blog, Twitter) is a fantastic blog that focuses on just what it sounds like–doing the things to serve our kids the way we should be. Todd Nesloney (Twitter) and Adam Welcome (Twitter) are a great combination of encouragement, challenges, and inspiration.

Leadupnow (blog, Twitter) brings together a group of growing education leaders who look at things differently. I’ve had the opportunity to write for them, and I enjoy the weekly pieces they publish.

Vicki Davis (blog, Twitter) writes with such contagious optimism and passion for her work and her students. She writes on a wide range of topics, and her blog is the perfect balance of pick me up and challenge for moving forward in the right direction.

I’m to the point now where if I get questions about anything regarding Google Apps for Education, I visit Alice Keeler‘s blog first for solutions (blog, Twitter). Her work is clear, concise, and incredibly helpful for educators trying to get the most out of GAFE.

So, there’s a few sites to keep you filled with great resources to read throughout the year. What do you like to read? Leave me a comment with what I should check out!

5 Ways To Spread Optimism in Times of Change

5 Ways To Spread Optimism in Times of Change (1)

This post originally appeared here as a guest post on A.J. Juliani’s blog.

In all likelihood, you know a few yabbits. They’re the people who can counter any great idea with “yeah, but…” before you’ve even finished presenting it. They don’t often like to change, or grow, or learn, and it’s hard to know how to respond to them at times. If you’re not careful, interactions with them can really rob you of your excitement for creativity and change in education.

Now I don’t think they’re in every school, but I’m comfortable claiming that they are in far more schools than they should be. As widespread as the yabbit seems to be, we need a plan.

I’d like to offer up 5 familiar “yeah, but…” phrases and explore a few hopeful suggestions for interacting with those colleagues who sometimes offer more negativity than you might like.

But here’s the thing about the plan: if we’re going to look at ways to turn folks around, we have to believe the best about them. We have to believe that people can change. It’s worth mentioning that that doesn’t mean we move forward naively. We certainly don’t need to assume that in 900 words I can turn around all the negativity on your campus or mine, but we do have to believe that with growth, we can do better (yes, we, even that teacher).

With that in mind, here are 5 common “yeah, but” phrases and a few hopeful ways to positively interact with those who choose negativity.

1) “Yeah, but we’ve always done it this way.”

You would be hard pressed to find a phrase that more clearly demonstrates fixed mindset in an educator that this. Although a lot of work has been done to clarify the ways that students benefit from growth mindset, when this rationale creeps up, it’s time for us to investigate how to develop a growth mindset in our staff. Here’s a great resource for ideas for doing just that. In addition, as an individual, think about ways you can help celebrate successes on your campus, especially when they result from trying something new that served students really well.

2) “Yeah, but I will have to work more.”

Unfortunately, the path of least resistance is well worn for some. This statement less likely to be communicated verbally and more likely to be seen in action. For that teacher who you notice continually puts in the bare minimum, think about asking him or her to collaborate on something that could benefit both of your students. Make sure you ask for help on something that you know that teacher feels capable at. Go out of your way to genuinely thank that person after the fact.

3) “Yeah, but it won’t work because of a problem with part X.”

Critical feedback, as long as it’s not negativity for negativity’s sake, can be a great filter for new ideas. This person is at least thinking critically about the ideas that have been presented at some point. Ask that person to help troubleshoot a new idea. If the person is any good at it, make that his or her job. If he or she is not, then coach that person up into a person who could make meaningful contributions to a team on campus. Making that person part of the team instead of a person who likely exists on the fringes could have a profound impact.

4) “Yeah, but I don’t benefit from that.”

The person who says this is at least thinking carefully enough to make this sort of assessment. Drive conversations back to the WHY that your school adopts. Maybe it’s a mission or vision statement. Maybe it’s a personal reason why you (or why the colleague) started teaching. Find an idea worth chasing and use it to re-center yourself and ask the colleague to join you.

5) “Yeah, but I don’t want to get better.”

Ok. They’re probably not actually going to say this out loud, but without using these words, they’re going to be saying this over and over. Try to start a conversation about what you’re learning. It might not even be something related to education at first. See if you can find common ground that relates to personal interests. Most people have something they enjoy that they like getting better at. That could be a place to start.

Here’s a quick check: Did you think “yeah, but…” as I asked you to think about adopting a new mindset for interacting with these comments from negative colleagues? If so, remember that. Even with the best intentions, it’s tough to change old habits. Doing so will take time and a combination of effort faith from you and the other person. While I hope that these ideas jumpstart conversations of hope for you, I know they’re not magic suggestions that make this effortless and immediately fruitful. For me, though, the growth over the long haul is worth it.

If you’re willing to take an active role in this process, you have the chance to redefine yourself at school and to help others redefine themselves as well. You have the power to be someone who positively and proactively interacts with others.

Before you move on to the rest of your day, think of one person who you can consider differently. Write down a name, and commit to growing yourself as you grow others.

Teach. And Teach Well.

Kyle Lake, the late former pastor at a church in Waco, TX, passed away suddenly in 2005, and what follows is the conclusion to the last sermon he prepared. It’s one of the most hopeful texts I’ve ever come across, and, at least for me this week, it’s been an antidote of sorts to the situations I cannot control. Here’s what he said:

“Live. And Live Well.

BREATHE. Breathe in and Breathe deeply.

Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now.

On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the windows and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun.

If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a cool Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not just be alarmed, be ALIVE.

Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time.

If you bike, pedal HARDER and if you crash then crash well.

Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done-a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed.

If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old’s nose, don’t be disgusted if the Kleenex didn’t catch it all because soon he’ll be wiping his own.

If you’ve recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And Grieve well.

At the table with friends and family, LAUGH.

If you’re eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke.

And if you eat, then SMELL.

The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee beans freshly ground, cookies in the oven.

And TASTE.

Taste every ounce of flavor.

Taste every ounce of friendship.

Taste every ounce of Life.

Because-it-is-most-definitely-a-Gift.”

I think that’s great, and I considered just posting that. But as I read and reread it, I couldn’t help but think that I had something to say to teachers. You see I miss the classroom. A lot. I love my job now, but (like most people who’ve worked two jobs they like) I’d love the chance to take the best parts of each and do that each day. You, too? Right.TEACHSo, I decided to write this (relying heavily on Lake’s text as a model) for teachers.

Teach. And Teach Well.

On the first day of school, try something you’ve never tried before.

Take a RISK. Take a CHANCE. Do something that will stretch you.

Do something crazy. Grade differently. Don’t grade at all. Ask the students what they want to learn. Try out that idea you’ve always wanted to explore—yes, I mean the one you’re not sure will work.

Share those ideas you think are ordinary. They’ll inspire others more than you know.

Give kids a second chance—not just on the first day, but over and over. They’re going to fail (and so are you, and so will I, and it’s ok). And when they fail, let them fail, but teach them that failure is part of their learning and part of your learning. It’s part of mine.

If your students have never experienced success, make their first steps easy.

If your students have experienced nothing but success, push them til they fall on their faces. Their education is incomplete without a chance to learn they can get back up after pushing past their current limits.

In everything you are doing, make the human choice.

Choose to care for a student who is in a tough situation. Choose to help that student be a reader. Choose to help the student who others think doesn’t deserve another chance, another shot, another bit of grace. Choose to ask the tough question, to speak that comment you could pass over, to see the best in others, to extend the benefit of the doubt.

And take care of yourself. You’re teaching students about how hard it is to balance meaningful work with meaningful relationships in a world where 24 hours just don’t seem enough and a time turner seems like a necessity.

Teachers—your job is the hardest job I know of. Your desire to do this the right way and your passion for the young people who walk our halls color our school with contagious optimism.

I’m inspired by your dedication and honored to serve students alongside you.

Thank you for all you do. It is most definitely a gift.

Teachers, I hope you have a wonderful year!