4 Skills Every Student Needs

4 skills every student needs

One of the things I miss the most about the classroom is discussing novels with students and the way that set students up to thoughtfully approach tough conversations. We’d open up The Great Gatsby or Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Invisible Man and dive headlong into some of life’s biggest questions.

We’d talk about what it means to be valued as a person and walk through how easy it is to devalue someone and how hard it is to rebuild someone who has felt less than.

We’d spend time talking about the American Dream–what it meant to them, what it meant to characters in the text–and talk about whether it is alive today (and if it’s alive in the same way for everyone in our diverse classroom).

We’d invest time in serious conversation about those who are invisible among us. Those who might identify with the narrator of Invisible Man who declares that he is “invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see” him.

There’s a lot there, and that only scratches the surface of everything we would get into. It was great conversation, but it was even better knowing that I was sending students out confident that they knew how to engage with their peers and their community for the better.

Though the conversations focused either on the literature or on its implications, students acquired a number of soft skills through the process that were as valuable as the content of the exchanges. Removed from those conversations, I think our students’ education is incomplete without these skills.

Don’t hear me saying that these can only be developed over in discussion of literature. That’s not reality for many teachers, and it’s no longer my reality. Still, students with these four abilities have the skills to create peace, stability, and hope where it is lacking. If that’s not worth pursuing, I don’t know what is.


Disagree with an idea instead of a person. Too often, we treat this as an all or nothing. We mistake an opinion for an individual, and if we’re not careful, we miss out on a chance to learn something different. I think we’re pretty bad about this as adults. We have work to do to be the models we need to be, but I think it can be done. This, like many of these traits, is remarkable when it shows up. People notice. Look for opportunities to shed light on this concept for your students and peers.

Repay wrongdoing with kindness. This doesn’t fit with much of our mythology. Ours is a story of getting the most, getting the best, getting even, getting what you deserve. But at home, I ask my boys to do this. They’re 2 and 4, and although I believe that consequences are part of our actions, they’re learning from that I don’t care who started it. When wrong has been done, they repay it with kindness (and so does the one who bit his brother, for what it’s worth). I think there’s incredible potential for modeling this as adults. What power we could bring to students. What an alternative to lashing out. I’m not asking anyone to get walked on here. I’m just trying to imagine a better way.

See a situation from another person’s perspective. I loved asking questions that teased out this conversation (especially when students thought they had things figured out). I’m not big on ranking or creating a hierarchy of soft skills, but the ability to step into another person’s point of view, see things from his or her perspective, and respond differently to a situation as a result has to be up near the top. It’s not something that can be forced, and it’s rarely developed as quickly as we would like (or as would be beneficial for those who interact with the learner). But it is an absolute necessity to have this skill. Graduation requirements should be incomplete without it.

Find hope, even when it’s tough to see it. I’m not asking you to be Pollyanna, nor am I asking you to look past a situation that calls for grief or sorrow. What I do think is valuable is to train ourselves to find hope in situations where it is apparent and to quickly move toward it after we have walked through a valley. We know that our brains like patterns, and everything I’ve seen and experienced indicates that the positive patterns take more time to develop than their negative counterparts. So take time to find hope daily. Talk about it with your students. It matters so deeply.

These skills aren’t magic. They don’t eliminate hurt or sorrow or loss, and I would never claim they would. What they do is give us the power to navigate tough conversations with human responses. Responses that need to press into vulnerable spaces in conversations where we have to pursue understanding long before we seek to respond. But these are just four ideas. What else do you believe we need to instill in our students? When they leave your campus, what do they need to be successful, productive members of society?

4 Invitations for Students

4 invitations for students afhogan

Educators work in a seemingly contradictory space. All at once we are surround by people and secluded from our peers. For the vast majority of the day, we are literally walled off from each other in most schools. This undoubtedly impacts campus culture.

I recently wrote about the power of an invitation, especially in view of this isolated life that educators often live. After reading, Bill Ferriter challenged me to take this treatment that I had originally targeted adults with and extend it to the classroom.

I loved the challenge!

Or at least the idea of it.

The more I reflected on this shift in focus, the more I began to realize that each invitation we might extend to students requires a certain amount of vulnerability. I’ve long been a believer that as the adult in the room, we should be the ones placing ourselves at the most vulnerable place in the conversation, but believing that and living that out are different experiences. The reality is that leading new, risky, “out their” change will almost always involve operating out of a vulnerable posture. Embrace it. (Just so you know, I’m telling myself as much as I’m telling you.)

Here are a few ways we can engage students in an invitation into something more. They start out relatively easy, but the level of vulnerability required feels like it exponentially increases as the invitations continue.

Invite Students To Share Your Story

I love the way that I have heard about other educators inviting students into the process of sharing the school’s story online. Adam Welcome even uses students as social media interns on his campus. There is such tremendous value in telling the story of our school (or of your classroom) online, and I love the idea of inviting students into that space. How great would it be to ask students to pay attention to the ways we celebrate our successes at school and value others by sharing about their accomplishments? I’m going to try this next year with the 5th and 6th graders I serve, and I’m excited to see how this invitation goes.

Invite Students to Teach

Many of us have had this experience: There’s a student in class who you think genuinely might know more about a given topic than you know as the teacher, and you have to “teach” him or her. Why not embrace that, model humility, and invite that student into a place to share his or her expertise? I think it would be great! A little out of the comfort zone for most teachers, but a valuable invitation to validate students and share the stage in your classroom.

Invite Students to Share Their Interests in Your Content

I came across these two tweets recently, and I don’t know if I can capture how much I really like this idea!

What would change if we operated out of this posture? What would we do differently? There would be practices we adopt and practices we shelve (some for the rest of our career). We would learn a great deal about what we’re trying to fish for most of the time–what’s engaging to students. I think it’s worth extending the invitation, but I’ll be the first to admit, it takes a leap of faith to put yourself out there for this sort of input.

Invite Students to Coach You

Alright. Stick with me. Some of the easier suggestions seem risky (at least to me), but this seems pretty out there.

I think it could work though.

You would need some clear scaffolding and some specific structures in place to make it work, but think of the power of inviting a student to speak into your life as a professional. There’s a part of me that thinks this is just too risky. Or too much work. Or just too much to fit into an already busy school year. Or just too scary.

I think the ceiling is pretty high on how beneficial this could be though. Even if you just brought in a former student (which might be even better), I think it would be a powerful invitation that would lead to a remarkable experience for both student and teacher.

Still, this seems like a big risk to take, and I want to acknowledge that here. There are well worn practices that could be overturned here. We could learn that a strength really presents to our audience as a weakness. We could find that our assumptions, in all sorts of directions, were off base.

And that’s hard. Don’t hear me oversimplify this. It’s hard. Really hard. But like most experiences that require us to step into vulnerability, it’s worth it.

I thought that this blog post was done here initially. Turns out it wasn’t. I’m going to share the rest here.

I truly see my role as an assistant principal as a teacher of teachers. Thankfully, I’m quite content to not be the sage on the stage. I sure don’t have all the answers even in the conversations I’m most comfortable engaging, and there are just so much that I defer to the expertise of others. Even if I wanted to, I’m not equipped to be the keeper of knowledge.

So, as I look toward next year, I feel the weight of these invitations in a very real way:

  • Invite teachers to share our school’s story
  • Invite teachers to teach our staff
  • Invite teachers to share their interest in what I have to share
  • Invite teachers to coach me (current or former or both)

All of a sudden, I feel the weight of these suggestions.

As a leader, I feel a great deal of pressure to get this right. After all, if my claim is that students will benefit from the ways their teachers live this out, I think that holds true for the adult learners as well.

I’m certainly not claiming to have all the answers or anything like that, but seeing these invitations in a different light reminds me of how important they each are. I’m glad to be reminded of it. It keeps me from thinking life is as simple as a list on a blog post can seem.

Beyond that, it energizes me to lean into vulnerability required from leaders (titled and untitled) as we do what we know is best for learners in our schools. It makes me excited for the next year, and it motivates me to be my best.

So, in whatever role you find yourself next year, find those invitations that need to be extended to those around you. Best of luck in your invitations! Such great growth awaits!

Make an Impact

Make an Impact

I don’t think anyone gets started in education without the hope of making a difference, but some sure seem to make more of an impact than others.

Why is that?

Even among the well meaning, I see a range of successes.

Like most people, when I think back on the teachers I had, I had good teachers and bad teachers, memorable teachers and forgettable teachers. I spent some time today thinking through what pushed teachers to the positive two extremes for me. Happily, the good, memorable teacher was not terribly elusive to me; still, I think it’s worth the effort to dig into what sets apart those teachers who end up being more memorable than the rest.

This motivated me to do all I could to be the teacher who made a difference.

If I could go back to first year teacher me, I would have a lot to say. These five suggestions would be part of that conversation.

Invest Time In Relationships

This should go without saying, but there are more possibilities for this to go awry than I’d like to leave it up to chance. I think it’s important for students to see teachers as professionals; I really do. Many teachers (especially those early in their experience as educators) err on the side of being the “friend” teacher. Don’t get me wrong–the relationships are key, but I think they are key in a different way. One part of the real power of the relationships comes from having a clear role as the teacher in the class and being someone who will care for the prerequisite needs of students in addition to those explicitly academic needs. These teachers make students feel welcome in class and create an environment that helps students know there will are consequences for failure (but one of those consequences is that we’re going to pick ourselves up and keep learning).

Listen Without Judgment

As a high school English teacher, there were a lot of opportunities for me to explain ideas in an official capacity. As the teacher, the onus was on me to answer questions like “What did the author mean when he did X?” or “What’s the author saying about the state of society today when her characters respond like that?” Rather than answering those questions myself, I tried to model the struggle the authors were often encouraging readers to grapple with and pushed the responsibility for answering the question out to the students. Then, my role shifted from question answerer to conversation facilitator (which I greatly preferred). Like it or not, students found themselves free to sort through their beliefs lived out in the context of the narratives we encountered. I usually saw some who seemed so sure of themselves quickly left stuck really considering the implications of their positions, but more I often was floored by the quiet student who, given the chance, took the opportunity to share his or her brilliance with the class. This doesn’t happen if we’re giving them the answers.

Extend Grace

I’m a firm believer that students benefit from high expectations. But more than sending out individuals capable of meeting and exceeding the highest expectations from life’s next challenges, I hope that we send out young people who are ready to make the human decision when the time calls for it. Learning doesn’t happen in a linear fashion for most students. I certainly can’t draw a linear timeline to tie many of my own learning experiences together. And yet too often, I get the feeling that teachers feel they don’t have permission to yield to their better judgment and extend grace to a student. I don’t mean to say that we have armies of teachers out there waiting to enforce rules simply because they are the rules, but I don’t think we can do any harm by taking the pressure off (because as school progresses, we all know it is most certainly on) some of our students with the opportunity to experience a bit of grace under extenuating circumstances. It makes a huge impact.

Notice When It’s An Off Day

Students rarely enter the room and announce that their day isn’t going well. At least not in as many words, right? It comes in all sorts of other forms. Listing those off isn’t necessary here, but it is important to consider how we respond when we notice it. One day I came back from being out, and a student in my first period told me this: “Mr. Hogan, I was having a bad day, but you weren’t here. You always seem to notice it and make those days better.” As a fairly introverted teacher, I was always just looking for things I could make conversation about. I had no idea the impact I was having. I’ll never forget that.

Admit Your Failures

Somehow part of being a leader has morphed into being (or at least presenting yourself as) flawless. I can’t stand that. Reality is that we all are making plenty of mistakes. Not careless ones–just regular, everyday, accidental mistakes. If we don’t show our students a model for taking ownership of our mistakes, what are we saying to them about how they should handle this in the future. It’s important in all contexts, but it’s a special priority of mine to make sure young men see grown men take ownership of their actions–no matter how big or small they may be–and respond appropriately. So many teachers do a great job of this, but the impact is only increased as more educators step into that place of vulnerability talking about our missteps. It’s not always fun, but it’s always worth it.

These five suggestions aren’t magic. In fact, they’re far from it. If you try these out, it will make your job more complicated, more involved, but it will also make it more rewarding. Your impact as an educator doesn’t happen by accident. What are you doing this summer to make sure you make the impact you want next year? What else should we add to this list?

The Power of an Invitation


There is such great power in an invitation.

A while back, someone invited me in to help support a new chat that was starting up. I had spent time in a few chats, but although I knew it felt like I was learning a great deal, I sure didn’t think anything special was coming out of my engaging online that would make someone notice let alone recognize and invite me into a new chat. But someone saw something in me and asked me to be part of something new.

As a result, I’ll never be the same. And not just as an educator.

I think we underestimate our power as educators, as people to speak powerfully into another person. At least I do at times. And on the one hand, it feels like nothing, right? An invitation to join in seems so insignificant that I forget the power that we have to speak hope into situations, to speak life into those we are in contact with until I’m on the receiving end of the conversation. But I can think of several times when something that probably seemed like nothing to the speaker left significant, positive, life-giving impact on me, and I know that I need to stop erring on the side of caution, of reluctance to step out into a bit of vulnerability, and make this a significant part of my regular routine.

But I don’t want to just leave it at that. Acknowledging that invitations are powerful and that change is needed isn’t enough. I need to make a habit of including this communication, and I’d like to share a few ways I think we can make a positive impact with a simple invitation.

AnInvitationIn (2)

Invite someone to critique something you are working on

It’s not always fun to have a critical eye on your work, but asking someone to look over your shoulder to help you refine something that’s important to you is a big deal. To me, it’s a great honor to help someone accomplish a goal that has personal or professional important, and so often as educators our work has both components.

Ask someone to share their voice and expertise in conversation

I host a weekly Twitter chat with my friend and colleague Jeremy Stewart, so this is an easy place, but it’s still one I’ve neglected. I need to be better about thinking through the topics we are discussing and intentionally engaging those who have so much to offer in that conversation. Understandably, most people aren’t hosting chats, but I think there’s an easy face to face parallel; as conversations come up on campus, bring those informed voices into the conversation and take a moment to explain why you brought that person in before or after. It’ll make a difference.

If you blog, invite someone to write with you or to guest post on your blog

Most educators who are blogging are doing so to share the ideas they’ve been mulling over or sort through their learning. I’ve been awful at doing this, so I’m sharing it not only as an idea for others, but also as a call to action for myself. What a great opportunity to share that space and encourage another educator to connect and share!

Here’s our reality: We cannot do our work in isolation. We fool ourselves into thinking we can from time to time, but each time, after we’ve hit the wall (again), we remember that we need others. Take time to get ahead of the curve and invite others into something that matters to you.

When You Know Better #KidsDeserveIt

When You Know Better

This post initially appeared on the Kids Deserve It blog. To find out more about Kids Deserve It, take a look at #KidsDeserveIt on Twitter or check out their newly released book here

When we meet students under the most ideal circumstances, we know a lot about them. We know about their interests, their family life, their academic performance history, and their behavior at school. We know about what books they like, what works for them, what not to try with them, and what might really push their buttons. When we’re working in the ideal, we know enough that we don’t have to make any assumptions as we prepare to educate the student.

But, all too often, life is not so ideal.

So we set out to do our best with less than an ideal amount of information about students. We try to get to know them as well as we can as soon as possible. We try our best, and in most cases, achieve remarkable results in rapid time. Teachers–you are incredible in your ability to work with so many variables that seem to always be changing as you educate the students you are given.

At some point, though, assumptions begin to creep in and fill the gaps in what we know about our students. I think they’re even made with the best of motivations so that we can serve students as well as we can as soon as we can.

Maybe it’s when things get busy. Maybe it’s when we get tired. At some point, we slip up and do the thing we said we wouldn’t–make an incorrect assumption about the student, and we have to work our way out of the unintended consequences of that assumption.

I’m not going to spend time listing out the ill advised assumptions that are sometimes made. They are out there, and they are too common. What I’d rather focus on is what we can do differently.

What if we committed to making these two assumptions about everyone we interact with at school?

People are doing the best they can.

When you know better, you do better.

I’m not asking you to be naive or to live with your head in the sand. I know that there are exceptions to nearly every rule, but this isn’t a post about those outliers. This is about the everyday. This is about how granting grace to each and every person with whom we interact–even if they’re the fiftieth person who’s doing that thing that annoys us that day.

Operating out of these two assumptions is about not letting little things get to us. It’s about believing that kids can (and will) do better when we teach them. It’s about how we should stop looking at the half empty/half full glass and get busy filling people up.

What if you approached each and every day with the attitude that students were doing the best they can? What would change?

Think about it. Tomorrow, what would change if you moved through your day with those two assumptions?

People are doing the best they can.

When you know better, you do better.

How would you respond to misbehavior?

How would you intervene when you noticed academic struggle?

How would you handle minor misbehaviors that you allow to get to you over time?

I’ll be the first to admit that changing a habit isn’t easy. But this is worth it.

If we made this change, I think our schools would be different. I think they would be better.

Even if things aren’t bad now–even if they’re great now–defaulting to these two assumptions changes our posture as we educate students. Every kid deserves a fresh start with us each morning. Every kid deserves a chance to learn in an environment that’s going to push him and support him as he takes on new challenges. Every kid deserves to be known. Each kid deserves a chance.

We can be the ones to make the difference. We can imagine it better. We can change their world for the better at our schools. Our kids deserve it.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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