Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Failure is Not an Option or Is It

I originally wrote this for my posterous blog post.

Nobody wants to be a failure and the worst possible grade you could get in our current system is an F which stands for Fail.

It would seem that Failure is not something that we as educators should encourage.However I think we need to redefine what Failure is.

In the movie Apollo 13 when they said “Failure is Not an Option” what that meant is that they must succeed and come up with a solution. However in coming up with that solution they had minor setbacks or failures along the way but they didn’t give up.

I think that we as teachers need to define failure as part of the process that leads to success and that it is not the end of a journey but rather part of a process. Parenthetically that is why I think giving a student a F on something where he shuts down and does nothing go against everything we as teachers want to do. Therefore we need to help, teach, and show our students this new definition of failure.

If we want our students to take risks and push themselves beyond their comfort zone then they are going to fail along the way and we need to teach them that as long as they continue to try,a temporary failure is O.K. and often necessary in order to succeed.

Here are some quotes that I like about failure and believe that they describe and define Failure the way that we as educators need to view it.

“Failure is Success if we learn from it” – Malcom Forbes

“We seem to gain wisdom more readily through our failures than through our successes. We always think of failure as the antithesis of success, but it isn’t. Success often lies on the other side of failure.” Leo F. Buscaglia

“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” Sven Goren Errikson

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” Colin Powell

My Quick Thoughts


Monday, December 6, 2010

A Chanukah Message for All Educators

Today I RT the following tweet “@cleanapple Sir Ken Robinson: "If you work in education, you are in the miracle business."#TIES10 “
This got me thinking that during this time of year when we, Jews, celebrate the Miracle of the Oil and the Menorah that I would post a Chanukah message to educators.

There are many customs on Chanukah but only one mitzvah (commandment) and that is to light the Menorah. Some use olive oil but candles can also be used. There is something that is unique to a flame or a candle and that is no matter how many other wicks or candles it lights it still shines as bright as it did before. The Midrash uses this analogy when it describes Moshe’s (Moses’) feelings when he had to appoint the 70 Elders. The Rabbi’s teach us that even though he gave from himself some of his prophetic powers if you will he was not diminished in any way.

I think the message is clear for educators. No longer does the old model of “do it because I am the teacher” work with our students. We need to share with our students. Someone mentioned during the December Elluminate Session by Connected Principals that they have students teach the teachers about certain things with regard to technology. What a great idea and a great way to get students to be a part of the learning process.

However teachers are afraid to give up control of their classroom. They fear that they will be viewed as being vulnerable. I say the opposite is true. Your students will come to respect you more and having student buy in and engagement will only lead to less “control” issues in the classroom

Let’s remember the analogy of the candle. We need to give up some of our “power” and “control” and empower our students with that power. In the end this will allow our students to shine and we will still be shinning bright.

May we continue to light the way for our students and see the miracles of education daily

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Empowering Words

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Yesterday @amadacdykes blogged about “Empowering” and asked what is your empowering word. This got me thinking. What would I answer .Well my first step was to get a definition for the word empowering.
I found two:

1. Give authority to someone

2. To give somebody a greater sense of confidence or self esteem

Based on these two definitions it is clear to me that we as educators must be able to answer @amadacdykes question with regard to our students.

I am not sure if I have one but here are a few that come to mind based on these definitions

Lifelong learning
Choices- Control over his/her learning
Self- Confidence

These are my “Empowering” words when it comes to my students

Thank you to @amadacdykes for the inspiration for this post.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Thoughts On Effective Teaching

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This month’s Education Leadership magazine is devoted to the topic of Effective Teaching. Therefore I thought I would throw my hat into the rink and share with you my two cents.

I think for the most part if we had to give a definition of an effective teacher we would all come up with similar ideas:

An Effective Teacher is :
• A teacher that cares and connects with his/her students both inside and outside the classroom
• A teacher exhibits a love and joy for teaching and is enthusiastic about learning
• A teacher that instills in his/her students a love and joy for learning and the desire to be a lifelong learner
• A teacher that gives his/her students the skills needed to survive in today’s ever changing world
• A teacher that measures success in terms of a student’s growth in learning
• A teacher that creates an environment where students are pushed out of their comfort zone when it comes to learning
• A teacher that himself/herself is constantly wanting to grow and improve

How do we measure some of these qualities. I think we would all agree that standardized testing can’t be the only measure. A teacher who has a student who is two grades below grade level and brings that student up a grade level and has made a connection with that student wouldn't you say that,the teacher is an effective teacher?

I would like to quote to you what Thomas R. Hoerr wrote in this month’s Educational Leadership:
“Too often educators get sidetracked by focusing only on grades, grade- level equivalents, and percentiles. Those are all valid measures, but they are not the only ways to gauge growth. Part of the reason that our society gives so much attention to test scores is that we are so bad at measuring other, more amorphous qualities. That’s our fault. If enthusiasm for learning is important – and we know it is-we ought to be able to measure it. How might we do that? Certainly not with a multiple –choice enthusiasm test! Instead, we might examine student reflections in logs or journals or use rubrics to capture evidence of joyful learning.”

To me it is clear that we need ways to measure a teacher’s growth in all areas not only in the academic area but perhaps more importantly in the area of teacher effectiveness, and not necessarily to be evaluative but to truly be an effective teacher you want to be growing and we need to be able to measure that. As Thomas Hoerr says,"I want to know how good we are today so that in the future I can look back and see how we have improved.”

The challenge I know that I have is how do we effectively evaluate and measure what Hoerr calls the more amorphous qualities. Is that purely subjective or are there tools that we can use that can give us a more objective answer.
I am not sure what the answer is but it is certainly an area that we need to develop so that we can measure our effectiveness and "Look back and see how we have improved."


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Assessment Do’s and Don’ts

I had the chance on the day before Thanksgiving to Skype with two colleagues on the topic of assessment. Books have been written on this topic and I maybe one day I will write one about assessment and grading. However for the purpose of this blog I would just like to mention some Assessment Do’s and Don’ts. By no means is this a complete list and I encourage you to comment and add to the list.

Assessment Do’s

*Assessments need to incorporate Critical thinking skills and other higher order skills
*Assessments needs to demonstrate understanding and how to apply it - I often have my students right a guidebook about something as a way of demonstrating understanding
*Assessments should be tools that inform Student learning
*Assessments need to assess the lifelong skills we want our students to learn

Assessment Don’ts

*Assessments should be more than just fill in the blanks which test memory and not skills
*The purpose of Assessments should not be for the purpose of “Got You”
*Assessments need to match what skills were taught in class not the other way around (We should not teach to the test)

Again there is a lot more and the issue of assessments is very much related to the issue of grades which I as well as others have written about.

Bottom line the assessments need to be a tool to measure learning and growth and not as a way that set students up for failure. Assessments need to be used by the teacher as well as the student to guide student learning. Assessments are a tool not an end to themselves

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Different Type of Grading Scale

I have yet to understand what an “A” means or a 99 if you give a number. Does that mean that you don’t need to learn anymore? Or as I tweeted earlier this week “we grade our meat but we should teach our students.”

Therefore I would like to propose a different type of grading scale.

Editors Note: I know it may not be realistic given parent perception and the way colleges work but we need to stop defining our students based on grades.

There are two scales and each student gets a letter and a number

E- Excels and exceeds grade level benchmarks
G- Meets grade level benchmarks
A- Approaches grade level benchmarks
B- Is working below grade level

1- Is an enthusiastic learner and works out of his comfort zone
2- Has shown academic growth
3- Is willing to try and has started to make progress
4- Hasn’t shown any growth and only does what he needs to do

When using this system a student who is naturally smart but doesn’t do anything more could get a G-4 or an E-4 but a student who is not doing well academically but shows growth will receive a grade that reflects that.

I applaud schools that have a similar system. I would love for you to share what you are doing.

Note: We do grade based on grade level benchmarks until grade 3 in my current school.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What Leaders Need To Start Doing

I recently read Art Petty's post about 20 Things Leaders should stop doing (

Hers is my list of what Leaders should start doing in no particular order

1. Start collaborating with others and sharing ideas
2. Start active listening skills
3. Start to treat all people with respect
4. Start to be open and honest with people
5. Start to be willing to learn and accept ideas from everyone
6. Start to be humble
7. Start to show others that it is OK to fail as long as you learn from your mistakes
8. Start to admit that you are wrong
9. Start to believe in others
10. Be willing to give up some control
11. Start to recognize the potential inherit in each person.

Please comment and share your list

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lifelong Learners as a Pre- Requisite


Last night (October 26th) during Edchat there was a discussion about instilling the concept of being a lifelong learner into educators. Personally I am of the opinion that someone who has devoted their life to instilling a love of learning in others should be expected to be lifelong learner themselves. I do agree that there needs to be leadership to help educators grow and improve and even at times as @tomwhitby said “reignite that flame within educators.”

However the discussion got me thinking should there be pre-requisites for someone who wanted to be an educator. I am not referring to academic degrees but rather certain character traits and values. I think we would all agree that someone who doesn’t have a love of children and who is not a patient person probably shouldn't choose education as their profession.

I would add that being a lifelong learner falls into that category of pre- requisites. If student learning is the focus we must have as educators for our students then teacher/educator learning needs to be a focus we must insist on and have for our teachers/educators. How can we ask someone to teach and impart a skill in others that they themselves don’t have? I probably wouldn’t be a very good English Language teacher and I doubt many members in my PLN would make very good Judaic Studies teachers.

If we are trying to instill lifelong skills in our students than our teachers need to be lifelong learners as the ones responsible for teaching those skills.

We wouldn’t want to go to a doctor that stopped learning when they graduated medical school 10 years ago; Why would we want our teachers/ educators to stop learning?


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Aren't We All Leaders

I posted on my posterous blog a response of sorts to an article that I read entitled “The Four Capacities Every Leader Needs ( and very Few Have) BY FC EXPERT BLOGGER TONY SCHWARTZFri Oct 15, 2010
The focus of that blog was aimed at administrators and how they deal with their teachers. Here is a link to the original post:
Today I saw the following on Twitter from @LeadToday “Anyone that cares about people can lead and anyone that doesn't care about people can't.” This got me thinking that in reality this quote applies to teachers as well and therefore we are all leaders, and would all benefit these four capacities.
Therefore I have amen ended my original post to give you my two cents how these four ideas play an important role in the lives of educators.
1. Great leaders recognize strengths in us that we don't always yet fully see in ourselves- Educators need to realize that each student is unique and has special talents. It is our job to see those talents and recognize the strengths of each student so that they can succeed and learn.
2. Rather than simply trying to get more out of us, great leaders seek to understand and meet our needs, above all a compelling mission beyond our immediate self-interest, or theirs. - I saw a blog post/article that said that the classroom belongs to the students it is theirs not ours (the teachers) and therefore is the needs of the students that come first. We need to motivate them and engage them but it needs to be student driven.
3. Great leaders take the time to clearly define what success looks like, and then empower and trust us to figure out the best way to achieve it.- Students need to be given the tools to be successful in the 21st Century. They need to be empowered to become independent learns and apply what they have learned to real life situations.
4. The best of all leaders--a tiny fraction--have the capacity to embrace their own opposites, most notably vulnerability alongside strength, and confidence balanced by humility.- The classroom needs to be a safe place for our students a place they feel comfortable taking risks and a place where failure is seen a teachable moment which will lead to growth. That can only happen if the teacher is willing to give up some control and be willing to try new things even if they (the teacher) makes a mistake as well.

Remember we are more than teachers, more than educators, we are leaders and we are leading the future leaders of our society.

My 2 cents worth

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Educator’s Oath Revisited and My Oath as an Administrator

Today at our faculty meeting we discussed what we want a student after sixth grade to look like form a religious, social, emotional, academic perspective, and what skills should they have. This is a work in progress. However it got me thinking. I have said like many others that educators need to be constantly growing and learning, however how much do we need to grow in a year or two or three and so on and how is that growth measured.
In September I posted a blog about My Educator’s Oath, I thought that I would repost that now and update some of what I have done and areas that still need improvement as a way tracking my growth.

Blog post from Sept 8, 2010
A while ago I was reading a blog post from Mr. Rice entitled “My Educator's Oath" he ends his blog with the following "I challenge each of you to write your own educator’s oath. Forever consider it to be a work in progress. Revise it often. Throw it away and start over. As you evolve, it should too.

(Please note that the list is no particular order of importance since I believe that each point is important)

As an Educator I promise that I will:
1. Develop a close relationship with my students. I will know my students strengths and weaknesses and I will meet the needs of my students to the best of my ability and help each one realize and maximize his/her potential
2. I will love my students and treat each one fairly.
3. I will have a student centered classroom that engages students and pushes them to think and question.
4. I will incorporate technology in my classroom to help engage my students and bring the learning we do to life.
5. My classroom will be a safe place for students to learn and students will feel comfortable taking risks. Failure will be seen as a learning opportunity and not as a cause to be down on one's self
6. I will incorporate 21st Century skills and Differentiated instruction to meet the needs of more of my students
7. I will act as role model for my students and that my students will learn that I don’t know everything and it is OK to make mistakes and ask for help.
8. I will commit myself to always be growing and constantly learning
9. I will develop a PLN to help me grow.
10. I will be flexible and be willing to change and grow. I will also be flexible in my teaching approach knowing that at times I may need to change my lesson based on my students’ readiness.
End of Sept 8th post

Even though it has been only a little over a month since I have wrote my first educator’s oath, I am happy to say that through Twitter I have developed an amazing PLN and I am constantly learning. In that time I have joined EDU PLN and have started a group for Judaic Studies educators and I have become a member of Connected Principals. At the same time I haven’t incorporated technology as much as I wanted to in the classroom.

I realize know that my Educator’s Oath focused on my role as a teacher and yes student learning is the focus but as an administrator I need a oath that reflects my relationship with my teachers which in turn can effect student learning

I promise that I will:
1. Work with each teacher to help them realize and maximize his/her potential
2. I will give my teachers the skills and empower them to take control of their own classrooms
3. I will help create Teacher Leaders
4. I will create open communication with my teachers and communicate clearly the mission and vision of the school
5. I will be supportive

Over the next few months I hope to look back of these oaths and see in what areas I have grown and in what areas do I still need to strengthen.

What’s your oath and how do you or will you measure your growth as an educator?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Positive Steps for Educational Reform

Today people are blogging about positive steps we can take for educational reform. The truth of the matter is that since that very first Tweet that mentioned "Waiting for Superman"I have been promoting that we need to take a positive approach to the whole situation. Therefore here are the steps I believe we need to take.

1. Focus on the Positive- There are a number if not a majority of excellent teachers doing amazing things in their classrooms. Let us focus on what they are doing and model and promote those teachers rather than only hearing about all the negative
2. Empower teachers- Teachers need to be given the freedom and the power to create a certain environment in their own classroom that promotes learning without fear that they are going to be judged by what a bubble test shows.
3. Trust- All stakeholders need to be able to trust one another. We are all professionals and deserve a certain amount of trust that we know what we are doing.
4. Communication- Once you have developed trust we all need to communicate with one another in a respectful way to bring about the change we want
5. A willingness to grow and change - There needs to an understanding that movie or no movie we need to improve student learning and that means we need to change perhaps radically what we have been doing and here again this attitude needs to be adopted by all stakeholders.

I have said from the beginning that if we put student needs first and student learning was our true focus than I believe we can all agree on some very real and positive changes to help us accomplish that goal.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Helping Others to Reach Their Goals

I just read this post by Leadership Freak AKA Dan Rockwell about finding ones Sweet Spot.
Here are some quotes from the post:
“Finding the sweet spot may take patience and persistence.
Finding the sweet spot is about helping others reach their own goals and achieve their own dreams.
In my opinion, the greatest obstruction to finding another’s sweet spot is imposing our own agenda on others.”

I asked myself how can educators or more specifically Principals help teachers reach their own goals and achieve their own dreams?

Then as fate would have it I was listening to Deborah Kenny being interviewed by Bill Cosby and one of the points she made was about how she empowers her teachers to make certain decisions on their own about the curriculum etc.

Based on that interview and some of my own thoughts I came up with a list of what I can do as an administrator to help my teachers reach their goals without as Rockwell said imposing my own agenda on them.

1. Empower them. Let them have control over what goes on in their classroom
2. Find something they are passionate about and let them take the lead in that area. For example of one of the issues we have in my school is getting students more involved in our Prayer program ( we are a religious school) If a teacher had a certain passion about Prayer I would ask him/her to head up that committee
3. Offer choices for areas of Professional growth.
4. Be supportive
5 Value the contribution they make to the school and to the team. We are all individuals with different talents and everyone plays an important role. I often use a sports analogy in speaking with my students. Tom Brady may be a great quarterback but you can’t have a whole team of quarterbacks and if you do you probably wouldn’t win too many games. Every person is unique and important.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Can Anything be Taught?

At the start of every year I remind my teachers that we can’t take things for granted and assume that our students know things without being taught. Therefore especially when it comes to certain behaviors we shouldn’t assume our student know what the proper behavior is but that we as teachers need to model it and teach it. I don’t remember when I heard this idea nor when I actually believed it was true. I do believe it to be true but I was skeptical at first that anything and everything be taught. Can we teach kindness? Can we teach empathy? I believe we can model it give examples of it and yes for certain grades and ages we can “teach it”.

What about teachers. I have mentioned more than once that you need to lead by example and show your teachers what you want and except. However are there things that can’t be taught?

In the last few days there have been a number of tweets and blog posts about Passion and Enthusiasm, two things which I believe are crucial for a good teacher. However personally I am not sure that these two things can be taught. You either are passionate about what you do or you are not. You either enjoy and love teaching and instill this love and enthusiasm in your students or you don’t. I have heard some say that in the classroom they put on a good act and show enthusiasm. Honestly I think if you do that then you are selling your students short and aren’t given them enough credit. Students know when you truly love teaching and care and love them and when you are faking it.

Do you agree that you can’t teach Passion and Enthusiasm and are there other things we just can’t teach. Please share what you think

I promised myself I wouldn’t get sucked back into the debate about reform etc. I believe my feelings are clear on that. But before we talk about curriculum and before we talk about testing and NCLB or any of the other issues that have come up we need to in the words of Jim Collins get the right people on the bus and the bus pass must only be given to those who are truly passionate and enthusiastic about education and helping children grow and learn.

My thoughts

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thinking Out Loud

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Yesterday @BostonHistory posted a link to a blog which said that educators need to ask themselves the question, would they want their child to be in a class that:
“1. A majority of the instruction is focused on memorization and recall
2. If the teacher uses a single textbook for history and does not teach multiple perspectives”
There was a whole list.
I responded that the real question is what we as educators do when we answer NO, we wouldn’t want our children in this type of classroom.
However for me the questions took on a different meaning and resonated with me because what if the situation was that your child was in such a class and You the parent/ educator taught in the same school.
Over the years my family and I have lived in different communities almost always my children where in the same school where I taught. I wore many different hats; I was a teacher, sometimes an administrator, and parent all at the same time.
To be honest I believe I was not always the best advocate for my children.
For those that have read my blog posts before you know that I tend to take a less confrontational approach,this at times is probably one of my weaknesses, but here as well I learned some valuable lessons as an administrator and as an educational leader. None of what I am saying is new but at times I need to remind myself that even though in the short term I may not have helped my children I believe in the long term I not only helped them but others

1. Pick your battles – At times you may win a battle but lose the war
2. You gain more by being supportive and trying to help than you do when you confront someone
3. You need to teach and lead by example
4. You can only get people to grow and change when they trust you- You first need to develop a sense of trust

Thank you for letting me think out loud

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Taking the Next Step

Five months ago if you asked me about Twitter my answer would have been, Yeah I heard about it but it really isn’t for me. I probably would have answered the same thing if you asked me about started a blog and blogging.
That all changed four months ago when I began following educators on Twitter and a whole new world was opened to me and I was learning from educators all over the world. I learned about developing a PLN and I started following many of the people that were associated with Connected Principals. The next step on my journey was to share my ideas on Twitter. An amazing thing happened people were actually interested in what I had to say and that gave me the motivation to start blogging, which again surprised me that people actually valued what an Orthodox Rabbi in Memphis TN had top say about education. Before I knew it I was following over 1,500 people and had over 700 people are following me. One of the things that I preach and practice to both my students and my teachers is that one always needs to be learning and growing.
I asked myself what is the next step? I have always valued the members of Connected Principals and I wanted to know how I could be a member so that I could have more of an impact and help others the same way many of the Connected Principals helped me. Today through a series of Direct Messages and emails with George I took the next step and joined the Connected Principals. My other goal is to form a PLN of Judaic Studies teachers to help bridge 21st Century Skills with Judaic Studies.

The steps that I have taken haven’t been major ones nor have they radically uprooted the status quo. They have been small, measurable and achievable. Perhaps the simple small steps that I have taken over the last four months can serve as encouragement for all of us as we embark on ways to improve and meet the needs of our students.

I encourage you to join me on my journey to grow as a teacher, administrator, leader, and most importantly a person and in doing so help our students reach and maximize their potential.

Monday, September 27, 2010

We Need To Change Our Focus

I am sitting here writing this blog during The Sukkot holiday. We don’t have any school this week and during the holiday I have had the pleasure of spending time with my family and last night we had Phillip Cummings and his family for diner. Philip is a member of my PLN that I developed through Twitter and we all had a great time. It has given me some time to reflect what has been going lately on Twitter.
I have to tell you I am a bit frustrated. I understand the negative impact that all of these latest talk shows have had plus the release of the movie “Waiting for Superman”. I have also said that since I work in the Private sector some of the issues don’t affect me as they do some of my colleagues. That being said from my own informal poll and by reading some recent Tweets it would seem there are a large number of educators that I haven’t heard of the movie and are unaware of what has been happening in the media and on Twitter.

This leads to my frustration. I as well as many others have tried to shift the focus from what the media wants to talk about to what we as educators should be talking and thinking about.
Here are some of my ideas:
• We need to be highlighting the great things many of us are doing in our classrooms
• We need to be thinking of ways we can meet the needs of our students more often
• Administrators need to be educational leaders and help teachers grow
• Teachers need to willing to let go and accept change
• We need fair and appropriate ways to measure and make sure our students are learning
• We need a system that holds all stakeholders accountable for student learning
• We need to be talking and communicating with other educators. We all should have a PLN.

We should not be:
• Blaming and pointing the finger at others
• We should not be just focusing on the negative
• We should not be finding only problems without any discussion about solutions

The things we need to be doing to improve education and improve student learning existed way before the Movie and Oprah. We need to focus on what matters; Our Students and stop focusing on things we have no control over.
Let’s change the focus to what We as Educators Need to do from reacting to what others say we do or don’t do


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Enough is Enough

Before I begin I must make a disclaimer that I work in a Private school and we don’t have a union and we don’t have tenure either.Much of the debate doesn’t affect me as it effects many of the members of my PLN. That being said I think all educators need to speak up when something is wrong.
I just read the article from CBS News “Are Teachers making the Grade” and my reaction was Enough is Enough.
Teaching like any profession needs to have accountability and benchmarks to evaluate teacher performance. In my school we are using Kim Marshall’s rubric which is very detailed and allows for teacher growth at any level. After all isn’t our goal that we should all improve.
Just as mentioned in my last blog there are some Super Teachers, there are also some teachers that refuse to change and meet the needs of our students, and they are not willing to grow. Yes that is a bad thing and I believe everyone agrees there needs to be education reform.
In my opinion as a bit of an outsider the issue is not that teachers need to be accountable but to link that accountability to Standardized test scores is not only wrong but foolish.

1. Standardized Tests usually test memory and not learning. Good teachers want their students to learn, not only the material but skills for life and often those students who are actually learning what counts for life may not do as well on standardized tests
2. What do these test scores measure? What does 100 mean? Is anyone perfect? Again therefore it is flawed
3. Would you rather have your child in the class where the teacher cares about his/ her needs and meets them ( even at the risk of test scores) or would rather a teacher who just teaches the material to everyone so that they can do well on the Test
4. The tests to the best of my knowledge don’t take into account the different socio-economic background of the students.
I could go on.

No one believes that there doesn’t have to be reform but there are other ways that are fair and provide opportunity for growth that we could use to measure teacher performance.
Yes everyone needs accountability but rather than looking for the negative let’s find a way to recognize the excellent teachers that are out there and at the same time motivate and encourage all teachers to grow.

As the saying goes you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

For me enough is enough. Let’s think about where we would all be today without the teachers we had and let’s stop bashing a profession of dedicated individuals and look for some real ways to make significant changes in the system.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't let others define who you are!

On Twitter tonight there has been a lot of chatter about Oprah and “Waiting for Superman” To be honest I didn’t listen to Oprah nor would I let her define who I am. I know who I am. Do you want to know who I am; I have the best job in the world and impact the lives of my students every single day. There was a YouTube video where a teacher was asked “what do you make” The teacher goes on to say all the things that teachers do and the bottom line is (I hope this is right) he ends off by saying;”I make a difference what about you.” My message tonight on Twitter as it has been on my blog is that we can only control what goes on in our classroom. Yes there is a lot that needs to be changed and improved and it is going to take some real out of the box thinking and rather than blaming everyone we just need to work together to make those changes. Until that happens, or perhaps to facilitate that change, we can make those improvements and changes in our own classrooms. I know we are still limited since we have to adhere to school or district standards but where we can we need to be doing what we know is right for our students.

However I think we all need to take comfort in knowing that there is no need to wait and that there are some Supermen and Superwomen already in the classrooms.At the risk of leaving some out I would like to mention a few that I have come to respect through my PLN on Twitter. There are many others but here a just a few:
@wmchamberlain @Philip_Cummings
@ktenkely @tomaltepeter
@tcash @amandacdykes
@michellek107 @Becky_Ellis_

Not to mention all the principals associated with Connected Principals who are trying to bring about change and @tomwhitby and @ShellTerrell for their work with the EDU PLN and many others. I guess the wait is over the Super teachers are here

Therefore we need to hold our heads up and know that we can’t and won’t be defined by others and no matter what they say WE DO AND ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Putting Our Students First

If you asked to me what have been the main topics on Twitter this week (at least for me) I would say that it boils down to three.
1. The problem with teaching to the test and the fact that in some cases the tests we give set up kids to fail before they even begin
2. A related topic is that we should be focused student growth and not a number grade or a letter grade. What does a 100 or an A mean anyway. I don’t think it means you are perfect.
3. The use of technology. That technology is a tool for learning but the learning is still the key or the focus.

I believe that all three of these ideas while very important and need to be addressed can be boiled down further. The one person we need to focus on is our students.

1. What is my student going to gain from taking this test? Does his/ her success on this test show me that they learned or are there other ways that I can make sure that my students learned the material? Since we are not going to change the system overnight and you may need to give tests I urge to make them tests that incorporate critical thinking and other important skills and not just memorization.
2. Who Benefits from a grade or a number maybe in the short term the student but in the long term what does it tell them. You have a good memory and know 90% of the work. The last time I checked you need a bunch of other skills in the “real world”. It doesn’t say if you have taken risks, how well you can think, analyze and solve a problem, or any other worthwhile skill. Does 100 mean you can stop learning? Well we know that isn’t true or sound advice. Imagine every student who got a 100 in Third grade, we would be in worse shop compared to the world than we already are.
I believe grades are to make us feel good and the us I am talking about is more often than not are the parents. What is a report card was an anecdotal comment describing the whole child. The child’s weaknesses, strengths, and areas for growth wouldn’t our students benefit much more from that.
3. I just sent a Tweet if the focus is learning than we should use any and all tools available to help us accomplish our goal. Technology being one of those tools but we can never lose focus that the goal is Student learning

There are many things wrong and we may not to be able to change everything. However if at least in our classrooms we can make our decision based on putting the needs of our students first then we can be assured we are one step closer to making some real significant changes.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Differentiating for our Teachers/Goals vs. Curriculum

There has been a lot of talk on Twitter lately about assessing schools and coming up with goals for our schools. I had one of those eye opening experiences yesterday at a faculty meeting. (Note: This is not to be understood in a negative way but the same way we have to differentiate for our students we have to differentiate for our teachers and I misread or misjudged their readiness) As a school we have defined two areas of growth; one being technology and the other incorporating more 21st Century skills. To that end each of our classroom is equipped with a projector some had Smart boards and others have the Smart software but use a Smart slate. Using Hebrew with the Smart software is a bit tricky and at our faculty meeting I showed my teachers a Web site that has created Judaic Smart lesson plans in Hebrew ( there aren’t a lot but where we don’t have to recreate the wheel why should we) My presentation was followed by a discussion. The discussion had two themes:
1. Technology doesn’t fit in with the Hebrew Language curriculum we use. (We use a Hebrew immersion program which has a certain style and uses a unique approach. Also they have no Smart software available)
2. The focus needs to be the learning not the Technology.
It was clear to me two things from this conversation. That my teachers don’t know the vast benefits that using technology can have on student interest, engagement, and ultimately learning, and that there is some confusion about between curriculum and goals.
The first point is going to take time and practice on their part to become more comfortable with technology and to see the benefits of it. I did point out some immediate benefits but as an educational leader it is something that I will be working on with them during the course of the year.
To me the second point was more telling that to some they saw the curriculum as the be all and end all. To help deal with this problem I sent out the following email:

Dear Faculty,

At yesterday’s faculty meeting we spoke about the importance of using technology. The discussion that followed was about using technology given the Tal Am curriculum (Hebrew Language curriculum) and shouldn’t the goal be learning. Yes the goal should absolutely be learning and at the bottom of this email I have copied something a posted on my blog about that very point.
However what became clear to me is that we don’t have clear goals about what we want from our students. I know we are working on benchmarks but I think this discussion is just as important if not more important.
The goal we have for ourselves and our students Cannot be to teach the Tal Am Curriculum. Curriculum is a means to an end. For example if we want our students to be lifelong learners and be able to read and understand the Tannach (Bible) and mifarshim (commentaries on the Bible) in the original text, then we accomplish that by having an Ivrit (Hebrew) curriculum. If preparing our students for the skills they need for life means using technology than the same way we use to Tal Am to accomplish one goal we use technology to accomplish another goal.
Here is a quote about curriculum: More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given”- Bertrand Russell

I believe what Russell is saying is that more important than the curriculum is how we are teaching and what methods we are using to convey the material to the students.

What should our goals be and what drives that decision. The answer to that is our mission statement. The mission statement is something we need to use as a guide to school policies and what drives the decisions we make in the classroom. I will be sending you a Google Doc. with the mission statement and what I my goals are for our students based on the statement. I have bolded what I think are the key phrases in the statement. I would ask that over the next few weeks you add what you think should be our goals for our students based on the mission statement. I would like this to be the focus of our faculty meeting on October 19th.
As a reminder I would like your personal goals for the year after sukkot (Jewish Holiday).

Here is the piece about Technology

Technology A Means but Not an End
Today our in-service was devoted to learning about incorporating more technology into the classroom. We learned about using Jing, Voxi, Kerpoof, Google squared, as well as using Smart software in our classrooms more effectively.
The in-service as a whole was very informative and productive. Technology is very important in a 21st Century classroom. Technology helps with having the students more engaged and active participants in the learning process. Technology also allows us to make learning more relevant and tap into student interest.
My fear or concern is that certain teachers may see this as not only a means but an end.
What do I mean?
I have been in classrooms where the teachers use the Smart board and Smart board software as well as other technological tools in their classrooms but they still use assessments that test only memory as opposed to critical thinking skills. Or they use the technology but don't differentiate in other areas.
My previous post spoke about what makes a great teacher, in all the different answers that the faculty gave no one said that "using technology" is a quality needed to be a great teacher.
Rather technology is a means. Technology allows you to connect with your students, which is a quality of a great teacher. Technology allows you to differentiate to meet student needs, which again is a quality of a great teacher. Technology shows a willingness on the part of the teacher to grow as an educator, again a quality of a great teacher.
Therefore with all this talk about technology we need to remember that it is only a means to improving education but not an end. The focus must always be on the learning

Gmar Tov

P.S. I thought this was just a nice quote
If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

Ignacio Estrada quotes

End of email

This taught me two very important lessons:
1. We need to differentiate for our teachers just like we differentiate for our students
2. I wonder how many other teachers confuse curriculum with goals. I think we as administrators need to make clear to all our teachers that we need to be teaching,and our students need to learning the skills that we fell are important and meeting the goals that we as a school have established for our students. We accomplish that by using our curriculum but in no way should finishing a booklet as part of a curriculum or finishing a math unit be the goals we want for our students.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Sharing a successful moment

Over the last few years I have been pushing my teachers to focus more on learning than on teaching, and by doing so creating a child centered classroom rather than a teacher centered classroom. My teachers know that one on my pet peeves is when they give an assessment that is pure memorization without any type of thinking involved. This year the focus has been on technology and 21st century skills (not that those differ from child centered or critical thinking). To be honest it has been an uphill battle getting teacher buy in. They see and understand the benefits but as I mentioned in my previous post change is very hard, and until now I haven’t been using the term “to improve” but rather was focusing on change which was met with resistance and some skepticism.

However today I had a moment when it all seemed worth it. I walked into a first grade class and saw an engaged group of students learning, using whiteboards so that each student was engaged, and the use of the Smart Board. I sent an email to the teacher letting her know how I felt and to thank her.

Often we see and look at what is wrong with education; NCLB,RTTT,teaching for the test, teachers who force things on their students, testing for memory and not for skills, to name but a few. Yes there is a lot that needs to be fixed and I still have a lot of work to do in my own school, but I think every once in a while we need to share our success and know that we as administrators do make a difference and that we as educators are making a difference it may be one student, or one teacher at a time but we are succeeding.
Have a Great Day!
I encourage you to share your success stories

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Perhaps we need to improve and not change

I just finished reading “The Six Secrets of Change” by Michael Fullan. Before that I read “Who Killed Change” by Ken Blanchard. If you look at my bookshelves you will find books about leadership, education, and change. I would say that one of my goals is to be an educational change agent leader. I am not sure if that is the correct title but I think you get my drift. One of my first administrative positions was in a small Jewish Day school in Calgary Alberta. I was young and relatively new to administration and I wanted to come in and leave my mark on the school. As a staff project we read and discussed the book “Who moved my Cheese”, I thought that by reading that I could help them cope and understand the value to the changes I wanted to make. Now almost 10 years later I have learned that change is difficult and it takes more than reading a book together to even begin the process.

Here are Fullan’s Six Secrets

1. Love your employees
2. Connect peers with purpose
3. Capacity Building prevails
4. Learning is work
5. Transparency Rules
6. Systems learn

Based on this list I would like to offer a slight variation for educators. I will call my list

“Six Improvements we can make as educators”

1. Teachers need to love their students and administrators need to show teachers that they care about them
2. Everyone in the school needs to know the mission and vision of the school and buy into it
3. All stakeholders need to be motivated to work together for the ultimate good ( meeting the needs of our students)
4. We always be improving. We wouldn't want a surgeon using 20 year old techniques so why should we be using 20 year old techniques in the classroom
5. Teachers need to be open and honest with students. It is OK for a teacher not to know something. We need to do away with the top down approach to rules in the classroom. Administrators need to be open and honest with teachers.
6. We need to create a school culture that is focused on learning and the culture defines the organization regardless of who the current leader is.

Except for number six I think numbers 1-5 are doable and should be the goal for all teachers and administrators.

Truth be told I didn’t change very much of Fullan’s six secrets but just boiled them down a bit to be more practical.

If you look closer there is one important difference. I used the word improvement rather than change. If you ask someone do you want to improve at something the overwhelming majority of people would like to improve who wouldn’t? To use a sports analogy who wouldn’t want to improve their batting average by 200 points. However ask if you want to change you get a very different answer. Ask the same baseball player does he want to change his swing even though it will improve his batting average you will probably get a very different response.

I would consider myself a change agent, perhaps we need to change what words we use in order to achieve our goal. What if we used the word IMPROVE instead of Change.
Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A New Year's Resolution- My Personal Oath as an Educator

A while ago I was reading a blog post from Mr. Rice entitled “My Educator's Oath" he ends his blog with the following "I challenge each of you to write your own educator’s oath. Forever consider it to be a work in progress. Revise it often. Throw it away and start over. As you evolve, it should too."

Therefore as tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New, I thought it would be appropriate for me to make my New Year’s resolution today in the form of “My Personal Oath as an Educator”.

(Please note that the list is no particular order of importance since I believe that each point is important)

As an Educator I promise that I will:
1. Develop a close relationship with my students. I will know my students strengths and weaknesses and I will meet the needs of my students to the best of my ability and help each one realize and maximize his/her potential
2. I will love my students and treat each one fairly. Fairly but not necessarily equally. (I once heard a lecture on the concept of fair but not equal.)
3. I will have a student centered classroom that engages students and pushes them to think and question.
4. I will incorporate technology in my classroom to help engage them and bring the learning we do to life.
5. My classroom will be a safe place for students to learn and students will feel comfortable taking risks. Failure will be seen as a learning opportunity and not as a cause to be down on one's self
6. I will incorporate 21st Century skills and Differentiated instruction to meet the needs of more of my students
7. I will act as role model for my students and that my students will learn that I don’t know everything and it is OK to make mistakes and ask for help.
8. I will commit myself to always be growing and constantly learning
9. I will develop a PLN to help me grow.
10. I will be flexible and be willing to change and grow. I will also be flexible in my teaching approach knowing that at times I may need to change my lesson based on my students’ readiness.
As Mr. Rice` said I will be flexible in knowing that this oath will need to change as I grow and change.

As I enter into the days of Awe on the Jewish calendar I hope that I am able to fulfill my oath and that G-D gives me the strength, wisdom, and insight to continue to have a positive effect on the lives of the children that I teach.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Rosh Hashanah (New Year's) Message to Educators

This week Jews across the world will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I have been looking for an inspirational message for this time of year. The following is based on the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth. Rabbi Saks explains that even though Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the world and of man, the portion we read from the Torah (the Bible) is about the birth of Isaac. Rabbi Sacks comments that on this day one would think that we would read about G-D’s creation mainly creating the world and not about our creation (mans) in the birth of a child. We see from here that our relationship with G-D on this day is not as a creator but as a parent.

As I write this the next phase of Israeli- Arab peace talks are about to begin, the situation in Iran and how that will affect Israel and for that matter the entire world is very tenuous, not to mention the issues with the economy. How are we supposed to deal with and understand all of these complex issues? Rabbi Sacks says that the message that on Rosh Hashanah we read about the birth of Isaac gives of an insight of how we should approach these world issues. He says the following; “Don’t think about the past; or even present calculations of political interest or economic gain. Ask what impact this will have on future generation. Have in front of you the image of a single human child. The message of Rosh Hashanah is that greater than an understanding of creation is the ability to hear the cry of a child.”

I don’t think Rabbi Sacks wrote these words with educators in mind but as I read these powerful words I got my inspiration as an educator. As teachers we always have to have the image of our students in front of us at all times.

What important skills are we teaching our students?
How will the connection we make with our students change the rest of their lives?
What effect can we have on our students’ future?
Will we be able to hear the cries of our students?

As we celebrate Rosh Hashanah or as we begin the New School Year let us remember that we may not be able to deal with all or the global issues that we face nor do we have the capability of changing the past but we as educators do have the ability to think about what effect we have on future generations. May we always keep the image of our students on our minds and may we always be able to hear the cries of the children that need us.

Wishing you all a Happy and Healthy New Year (or School Year)

Friday, September 3, 2010

What I have Learned from Twitter

Over the last few months I have had many people comment about how much I am on Twitter. I think it especially freaks out my two teenage daughters. I am not sure if they are surprised since I am Orthodox Rabbi or if it is because many people think Twitter is about Justin Beeber or Britney Spears, and what would I be doing on Twitter. So I thought that I would blog about what I have learned from being on Twitter for almost four months.

1. It has made me a better educator- The amount of resources and ideas shared back in fourth in just four months is overwhelming. So much so that there are times I don’t know how I can keep up with it.

2. It has inspired me to push myself into areas that I would have never dreamed of. The whole concept of this blog came out of my experience on Twitter. I would have never thought about blogging before.

I don’t know if this should be number 3 so I will call it 2a- Encouragement- Through my PLN and my Twitter BFF’s I have been encouraged to blog more and tweet more about my views on life and education. Being an Orthodox Rabbi living in Memphis TN I don’t have much exposure to other educators from across the world and when people who have been doing this for much longer than I have comment about what I have to say it is encouraging.

4. The ability to constantly be learning from experts in the field.

If you look at my list we see the following Twitter has provided an opportunity for me to enhance my skills of being a lifelong learner, it has provided a safe environment for me to share ideas, it had inspired and encouraged me to push myself and take risks, and I have built up a network of friends (collaboration).

In essence twitter mirrors many of the skills that we want to provide for our students. We all know that experiencing learning is the goal so the next time someone asks me why I am on Twitter so much I will tell them so that I can experience the learning that I want to provide to my students.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I am Learning Together With You

Many people in my PLN on Twitter, including me , have written about the importance of making a connection with your students. In the past the connection I have made with my students has been through talking about sports, playing with them at recess, or having them over to my house for different occasions. All of which were very beneficial and made our learning experience together that much more enriched. However this year I have made a different connection with my students.

This year we have either Smart Boards or a Smart slate in every classroom. I have a Smart slate in my classroom. It takes time and skill to learn how to use a Smart board effectively, add to that learning how to write and use the slate effectively is even harder and more time consuming and now add to that trying to use the Smart slate and Smart software technology for Hebrew and you are talking about a whole new ball game. My challenge both as a teacher and as an educational leader in the school is to use and incorporate the Smart slate and the technology into a Judaic Studies class with the main language being Hebrew. I walked into class on the first day and told my class that when it comes to the Smart slate we are learning together. I wrote something on the slate and then I passed the slate around to each student. Some wrote diagonally the first time, some moved the cursor and got the eraser instead of the pen etc. I think you get the basic idea. We have been in school now for two weeks and I am happy to say that we have all gotten better but there are still those glitches that even I still have and all of us, teacher and students, in a nice way laugh and encourage one another. Every time I use the slate one student will say do you remember when student X did this or when Rabbi Greenblatt did that and we all chuckle and move on.

Education today is about connecting with students, and creating an atmosphere where students feel comfortable to learn. What better way is there to accomplish that than to learn together with your students


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Once a Master Teacher always A Master Teacher or...

A friend of mine asked me the following question; If you are a Master Teacher are you always a Master Teacher? I asked for some clarification. Well to make a long story short he said that he has a teacher who has been in his school for a number of years and came with great references and has even been a teacher mentor,and was said to be a Master Teacher, but he doesn't see that. He sees classroom management issues which leads to issues in discipline and he/she doesn't seem to be connecting with the students and is very old schooled. Bottom Line the current teacher he sees is not a master teacher.

I gave him the following two possibilities.

1. There is a difference between Teaching and Learning and therefore I would suggest a difference between Being a Teacher and being an Educator. What we need and should demand in our classrooms are Educators. Educators look at the child/ student as whole and work at making a connections with their students and therefore their classrooms are more child centered which leads to more engaged learning.
Teaching or just being a Teacher is as the name suggests focused on a Teacher centered approach and a more top down approach. Therefore to answer the question at hand. Yes this teacher may be a master teacher and be a mentor to give over the material etc. However when it comes to dealing with the students and the learning component, or in other words what makes an educator this person is not a Master.

Then tonight I was reading a blog post from Mr. Rice entitled " My Educator's Oath"
( I hope to give you my personal educator's oath in a future blog) he ends his blog with the following "I challenge each of you to write your own educator’s oath. Forever consider it to be a work in progress. Revise it often. Throw it away and start over. As you evolve, it should too." In order to be a Master Teacher or Educator you must be willing grow, progress and evolve. Therefore it would seem to me that the teacher in question was never truly a Master Teacher since he/she did not posses the ability to learn and grow.

To summarize a person can be a good or master teacher but not a good educator, or if you don't want to split hairs between teachers and educators, then if you are truly a master teacher you realize that you need to change and adopt to changing times and presumably will continue to learn and grow and will always be a master teacher. If not I would question if this person was ever truly a master teacher.

What do you think: Once a Master Teacher are you always a Master Teacher....


Friday, August 27, 2010

Seeing Theory in Action

Here is post I posted on my school blog to the parents. I think it is important for us as educators to share in each others success and hopefully just as I was inspired this post will inspire others.


Sharing success

When I created this blog I had in mind a number of things. First and foremost as a means of open communication between myself and the parents and secondly as a way of sharing with all of you the wonderful things that go on in our classroom. I have encouraged the teachers to email me their successes so that I can post them on the blog as well. I do feel a bit awkward that the first success that is shared happened to come from something I did in my class.

One of the things you often hear about in educational theory is the concept of an engaged learner and how important it is ,and it is very important. The other thing that people need to realize about an engaged classroom is that it could look and seem to be a bit out of control to an outsider. However it is a totally different experience when we see that theory in practice. Today I had such an experience.

I had the fourth and fifth grade today after davening for a half an hour. I decided to do a joint activity. I divided them randomly and put four shorashim ( Hebrew root words) on the board. I told each group to pick two shorashim (root words) and see how many words they could come up with. I told them they could use a siddur ( Prayer book), Chumash (Bible) , words around the room, or their own knowledge. They were all working and about half way into the activity they asked if they could do all the shorashim on the board. I was blown away that they wanted to do more than was necessary completely on their own. Each group came up with over 25 words. I must add there was no reward for winning or other external incentive, other than the joy of learning
They were definitely not quiet nor were they sitting nicely but they were learning and engaged.
The best thing for me as a educator is that other than coming up with the activity I had nothing else to do it with the outcome, it was completely student driven.

My hope is to share many more success stories with you through out the year.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We need to Embrace 21st Century Skills and D.I.

Inevitably almost anything you read today about education will be about 21st Century Skills or differentiated instruction. (I have written about 21st Century skills on this blog a number of times as well). I have heard from teachers the following: Well D.I. is a fad and in a few years there will be something newer and better. Can you really expect me to teach 30 individuals in one class? 21st Century skills are great but how can I make basic math facts exciting, or how can I let students choose what they want to learn.
Some of these points may be valid but they should not be roadblocks to implementation Simply put in today’s classroom D.I. and 21st Century skills = Good Teaching and Learning. However you don’t have to take my word for it. I would like you to take the following quiz. Please answer Yes or No to the following questions:
1. Do you think it is important to make a personal connection with your students?
2. Is it important to know your students strengths, weaknesses, and interests?
3. Do you want your student to be an engaged lifelong learner?
4. Is it important to meet the individual needs of your students?
5. Should one of our goals as teachers be to maximize each student's potential?
6. Should our students be given the tools they need to survive and be successful in the real world?
7. Should our teaching be more that just lecturing and having our student memorize and spit back what we said?
8. Should our students be encouraged to embrace technology and not fear it?
9. Should students play an active role in the learning process?
10. Should our focus as educators be on the students and learning?
(I could go on forever)
If you answered NO to any of these questions, then in my humble opinion you are in the wrong profession. However if you answered YES than Congratulations not only are you in right profession but you have also answered YES to differentiating and to incorporating 21st Century Skills.
Now that we all agree and accept the need for D.I. and 21st Century Skills let’s get started so when we answer the questions next time not only can we say Yes but we can Say We Did It!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My AHA moment for today

I had one of those AHA moments today. Today I reached sort of milestone, at least for me, I am following 600 and I have 250 followers on Twitter. I asked myself what makes twitter such a great tool for educators and such a popular PLN. There are probably many reasons and I would encourage you to share your own. As I was thinking about it I had my AHA moment. Twitter offers a place that educators can have a stimulating but safe conversation. People may disagree with someone and the conversations can be heated but at least in my experience none of the tweets are out right negative. They may offer constructive criticism but they don’t attack the person who sent it. In the course of tonight’s #edchat almost everyone agreed that in order to increase participation and let your guard down a little you need to feel safe. We as adults are no different than our students and we also need to feel safe as well in order to participate and take risks. I didn't start blogging until I got active in Twitter and the feedback I have gotten about my posts has only been encouraging and positive.
However too often whether it is between a teacher and a student or an administrator and a teacher we offer a compliment or say something positive followed by a negative or a “BUT”. I have been guilty of this at times as an administrator and I have also been on the receiving end of such a “compliment”. Let me tell you there is nothing that deflates a person and makes a person feel insecure than hearing that “BUT”
Therefore thank you to all my followers and those that I follow on Twitter for making it such a positive and worthwhile experience for me and my hope is that we all including me take what is so successful about Twitter and incorporate it into our classrooms and schools.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Balance between basic skills and 21st Century Skills

I have a dilemma. I believe that all schools need to move more towards 21st Century skills and creating an environment that is neither based on standardized tests or tests that see how much you can remember but rather on instilling skills to be lifelong learners. I have written that we need to make a connection to our students, have our students engaged and participate in the learning process and make the learning real. (There are other important factors which I haven’t mentioned) However this brings me to my dilemma. I am an educational leader for a small Jewish day school where half of our day is spent learning the Bible, Talmud and Jewish law. These are foundations of our faith and they must be included in our curriculum and taught. However how do we incorporate the above ideals in a text that is over 2,000 years old and how do we engage our students? Perhaps you might say well you can’t that is religious studies and we can’t put ancient studies into 21st Century learning. I will not and cannot accept that. First of all if we don’t engage our students and make them feel like they want to learn more about their religion they may forsake their religion all together, something as a Rabbi that troubles me greatly. Secondly I believe good teaching is good teaching and we must find ways to incorporate these skills into religious learning as well.
Here is the balance that I have tried to reach.
Students must be able to read and translate the text of the bible ( for our school in Hebrew) they must be aware of the commentaries and the views that certain Rabbi’s had in explaining the bible. They must also know the basic facts about the holidays etc. However there is much more that we could add as teachers. The Talmud itself is filled with analysis and critical thinking, therefore through teaching these texts we need to teach and show our students how to think critically and how to ask questions and be analytical.
We could also make learning real and come with real questions of Jewish law and ask our students how they would rule.
Truth of the matter is the sky’s the limit. So you might ask why am I posting a blog about religious education. I have two main reasons.
First of all I use this blog for me to express my ideas and thoughts and this is something that I deal with on a daily basis making Judaic studies engaging and interesting. However my second reason perhaps could apply to educators at large. As much as I think we talk about change and 21st century skills I think we need sometimes to take a deep breath and put things in perspective. While I think students should learn what they interested in and are passionate about and perhaps not everyone needs to read Shakespeare, nor do I think we should continue to test student’s memory over skills and judge student success by standardized tests. At the same time there are some basic skills that must be taught and for certain things there can’t be a choice or an opt out option. These basics may be different for different schools but even if you must teach these subjects I still believe we can and must teach it using 21st Century skills.
Those are my two cents

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflections on the First week

As I am sitting in my office at the end of the day on Friday and it give me cause to reflect on the First week of school ( sort of the students came in on Wednesday and before that we had in-service). No matter how much I prepare to get ready for the first day of school there is nothing like seeing the faces of the students at the opening assembly we had to welcome everyone. Another highlight of my week is standing outside at the end of day during carpool seeing those same smiling faces as they leave after having a day filled with learning ( I hope). I asked my self why do I feel this year got off to such a great start. ( I hope to be able to say the same thing next year and for many more years.)
Here are my ideas.
1. We as administrators practiced what we preached. What Do I mean. In a twitter conversation I had this week I realized that the things we want our teachers to be doing with our students (IE: engaging them differentiating, collaborating etc) we as administrators need to be doing with our teachers. Therefore our in service this year was set up to be more collaborative, more differentiated and more engaging

2. We focused on getting teacher buy in by posting things on a Wiki space, using google docs so that the teachers would feel and be part of the process.

3. The overall tone was positive and focused on goals, setting the bar higher, learning new things, using more technology and not just here are the rules and you all need to do A,B, C, D..

The results more enthusiastic teachers, more teacher buy in, better atmosphere which translates to better teaching and more learning
However in reflecting I know we still as a school, as teachers and me personally as an administrator still have a lot to learn and we all still need to grow professionally.

As much as we talk about Critical thinking and 21st Century skills it is still easier for many teachers to do things the "old way" and as an educational leader it is my job to help them grow out of that and see what the 21st century learner needs.
Twitter has opened up such a wonderful world to me and I need to show my teachers its benefits and get them to buy into it as well.

We had a great beginning and may it be only the start of a great year. As Alan Blankstein says in his book "Failure is Not an Option" that education is different than other fields if you fail in producing the next top of the line cell phone no problem people will just use an older model until you get it right but when we as educators fail lives and futures are at stake.

After the first week I am optimistic and at the same time I realize the importance and crucial role we play as educators.

Have a Great Weekend

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Letter to parents

Here is a letter I posted on my school blog to the parents after the first day of school:

Dear All,

Today was an amazing day. The excitement for me was building all week but there is nothing like seeing smiling and enthusiastic faces as the students enter school on the first day. What was even nicer was that those same smiles were there at the end of day. It truly was a Great Day!
Last night I participated in an online chat (through twitter) about improving teacher- student relationships. I don't recall what prompted my response but at some point I sent the following Tweet: The talmud quotes someone who says;I learned a lot form my teachers, even more from my friends but I learned the most from my students.
I shared this today with the boys after davening ( morning prayers). I believe this to be an important goal and that is that education and learning is a partnership it has to be a give and take with everyone wanting the same thing and that is for each and every person whether it be student or teacher to give their best effort in order to achieve success. One of the videos we saw during in service interviewed a teacher that said that the class knows that is Mrs "x" doesn't know something that is o.k. we will bring in an expert who does.
I think if our students see that we as teachers are striving to become life long learners they will follow, and that learning is a community in which everyone learns from each other and it is not a top down approach that says you do this because I am the teacher.
The journey that we embarked on today is going to a long one filled with ups and downs and I as told my fifth graders, (I don't know who said this ) "that in order to succeed you may (or must ) fail along the way" but in the end we will succeed because


I am excited and looking forward to taking this journey with you

Rabbi Greenblatt

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The focus needs to be on the Students

There has been a lot of chatting on Twitter about No Child left Behind, The Race to the Top, as well as standards and teaching to the Test.
To be honest I have only taught in the private sector and I am not sure what the Race to the top actually is. Besides getting some money from a NCLB grant I don't know much about that either, and we don't have district standards that we must meet.
However Here is what I do know:
1. The focus of our teaching has to be on each individual student and meeting the needs of our students
2. We should be more concerned in creating an atmosphere the enables our students to be life long learners and give them the skills they need for life.
3. We have to engage our students and make the learning real and not just teach for a pen and paper test.
4.No matter what the government says we need to insure the success of all of our students. As the famous quote from Apollo 13 "Failure is Not and Option"
5 We as teachers need to willing to adopt and`change and meet the needs of 21st Century learners.

There is a lot that needs to change in our education system and I certainly don't know enough about what needs to change nor do I have the answers. However in my opinion in we would focus on the five points I mentioned above I believe we will go a long way to helping our students which has to be our primary concern

Those are my thoughts

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Technology A Means but Not an End

Today our in-service was devoted to learning about incorporating more technology into the classroom. We leaned about using Jing, Voxi, Kerpoof, Google squared, as well as using Smart software in our classrooms more effectively.
The in-service as a whole was very informative and productive. Technology is very important in a 21st Century classroom. Technology helps with having the students more engaged and active participants in the learning process. Technology also allows us to make learning more relevant and tap into student interest.
My fear or concern is that certain teachers may see this as not only a means but and end.
What do I mean?
I have been in classrooms where the teachers use the Smartboard and Smartboard software as well as other technological tools in their classrooms but they still use assessments that test only memory as apposed to critical thinking skills. Or they use the technology but don't differentiate in other areas.
My previous post spoke about what makes a great teacher, in all the different answers that the faculty gave no one said that "using technology" is a quality needed to be a great teacher.
Rather technology is a means. Technology allows you to connect with your students,which is a quality of a great teacher. Technology allows you to differentiate and meet students needs, which again is a quality of a great teacher. Technology shows a willingness on the part of the teacher to grow as an educator, again a quality of a great teacher.
Therefore with all this talk about technology we need to remember that it is only a means to improving education but not an end


What makes a great Teacher

Yesterday as part of our in-service we were all asked to come up with five qualities that make a great teacher. Here are the five qualities that my group came up with
1 Connecting with your students
2. Passionate about what you do
3. Being a proper role model
4. Instilling in your students and in yourselves the desire to be life long learners
5. The willingness to grow and change

I know there are many others please let me know what your five are


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Editors Note

Tomorrow I begin in-service at school with school starting next week. Therefore I thought I would devote the next few blog posts to talk about professional development and the first day of school


The fifth block in Coach Wooden's pyramid is that of Loyalty. Coach Wooden says " No individual or team will become great without Loyalty" . He goes further and says that it is Loyalty that moves a person from an individual to be part of a team.
If you give a person your word than you are commit ed to doing it and therefore you are no longer just acting on your own but for others as well.
Loyalty is also something we talk about when it comes to values do we stick to our values and beliefs even in difficult times.
As educators perhaps the greatest role we play is that of role models and our students see how we act and not only towards them but towards others as well.
For a moment try to think about when someone gave you their word and didn't keep it and how you felt.
As educators we need to be very careful what we say to our students and if we try to patronize them and just tell them what they want to hear and not mean then we are failing in the quality of loyalty as well as integrity.
Loyalty is also important because it defines you as a person and who you really are and students are very perceptive about people more than we give them credit for.
Therefore as I often remind my teachers you don't get a second chance to make a good first impression


Monday, August 9, 2010

Friendship and cooperation

The next two blocks in John Wooden's pyramid of success are friendship and cooperation.
Wooden defines friendship as doing for others while they are doing for us. He says friendship is a two way street.
I would like to take it a step further and that a true friend is one who pushes you to be the best that you can be.
In a school environment we very much work as a team and we depend on each other. No one wants to get negative feedback but at Patrick Lenciconi said in his book " The Five dysfunctions of a team" for a team to be working effectively each member of the team needs to be able to call out another member when they are doing something wrong.
There is a difference between praise and feedback and while praise is important and often motivates us in order to grow we need feedback. I think you would all agree that if you are going to get feedback it is easier to get it from a friend. Therefore I believe for us to truly grow as educators friendship is important not just because we all need someone to talk to and vent to about our day but because we need someone who can push us to be our best.

Cooperation Wooden defines as working with others for the benefit of all.
I don't think much needs to be said here. We as educators need to be working first and foremost for the benefit of our students. If we are in teaching for our own glory than I believe you have chosen the wrong profession. What ever we do in our schools the question that drives us should be how are our students going to benefit from this. Therefore we all need to be working together to benefit all ( our students).
It is by no mistake that these first few blocks of success Coach Wooden placed on the bottom of the pyramid as the building blocks because without these basics we wouldn't be able to achieve anything.


Friday, August 6, 2010


Coach Wooden's second block is that of enthusiasm. He says, "With few exceptions unenthusiastic leaders keep those under their charge from achieving their best."

I think the message for educators is clear. Our students take their lead from us. If we are excited about what we are teaching then our students will feed off of that.
Unfortunately I have heard a number of teachers comment the following; We are going to be learning "X" because I was told I have to teach it. How many of those students actually cared about learning "X".
It is very hard for us to motivate others when we ourselves aren't completely motivated.
I may be unique but when asked what quality I look for when I hire a teacher one that is on the top of my list is some one who enjoys what they are doing and is motivated. A person like that would be more willing to learn and grow more than perhaps a more experienced teacher.

Coach Wooden cautions about one other thing and he says which I believe is true in almost all areas of life,is that ones enthusiasm needs to be in moderation. Too much enthusiasm isn't good because a person on such a high will inevitably have lows that follow but rather a person needs to be on an even keel.

We are all excited and eager at the start of the a new school year. The question is how can we tap into that enthusiasm in the middle of January and February.
Please share your comments
Have a Great Weekend!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The importance of Industriousness ( Hard Work)

This is the first block that John Wooden has in his pyramid of success. He divided this block into two parts. He says the two components are work and planning.
When it comes to work there are no short cuts Wooden writes " We might get by for a while but in the long run we wont fully develop our talents."
I believe the same is true for us as educators when it comes to our own professional growth or that of our students.
If we ant our students to be learners than we as educators must be committed to being life long learners and always looking for ways to improve our teaching. That takes a lot of work and for some of us it isn't easy admitting that after teaching for "x" number years there is more that I need to learn. However it is critical for us as educators to be on top of our game. There is a quote that we are educating our students for jobs that don't yet exist. Imagine if you went to a Dr that was still using techniques used 20 years a go and he refused to update and learn new ideas you probably wouldn't use that doctor. In order to develop our talents we need to be constantly learning and be willing to accept new ideas and advice from others. it says in the Ethics of our Fathers that who is truly wise is one who is willing to learn for everyone.
This idea of work can also be applied to what we except from our students. If we want our students to reach their talents they need to work hard. Often we as educators are afraid to push students either because we are afraid if the students don't do well at first it will reflect poorly on us and therefore we tend to make things easy for them. One of the things that bothers me the most is when teachers give tests that just test memory and how well students could spit back the information. You could probably train a parrot to do the same. We need to teach our students how to think and think critically and that isn't easy and takes hard work. The irony of it all is that in the end the students themselves often like to be pushed and feel better when they truly accomplish something.
In the book "Switch" the authors discuss how we need to build failure into the process of reaching our goals and achieving change. Failure is by no means the end result but it is something that is inevitable in the process. The same is true with our students in order for them to achieve success and reach their talents and grow they may fail along the way and we need to be there to pick them back up and make sure they achieve their goals. That takes hard work.
I believe the aspect of planning is one that is key to teaching and I don't think it needs to elaborated on here except for one point. That point is don't plan to the point that you put yourself in a box
What do I mean.
We all have this experience when I students either asks a question or makes a comment and based on that you now have one of those teachable moments.
What do you do?
option 1 Well it is not in my plan and I need to finish my lesson so I avoid that teachable moment
Option 2 You take advantage of the opportunity and you maximize the use of that Teachable moment
I vote for option Two

As always I appreciate your feedback

Friday, July 30, 2010

Pyramid for Success

Here is John Wooden's pyramid for success. I hope over the next few weeks to take each of his blocks and relate to something that we as educators could use in the classroom helping our students as well as ourselves achieve success.
Have a Great Weekend

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How Do We Define Success

In all areas of life we want to be successful. As adults we want to be successful in our jobs and with raising a family . We want our children to be successful in school and as educational leaders we want our students and our teachers to be successful.
However who and how do we define success. Is it Wall Street's definition or in the classroom is it getting straight A's or perhaps for our teachers it might raising his /her students test scores. All of these possibilities have one major flaw ( at least) and that is that depend on someone else or the definition of what someone else believes to be success . What cooperate America may define as success may not fit my value system, does that mean that I am not successful. As much as teachers give tests and have other data it has been my experience that the same student can be an A student for Teacher X and a B student for Teacher Y. Is that student not successful. And finally our teachers there has been much debate over test scores so should that define a successful teacher.
Therefore I believe that success is something personal and needs to be measured by each individual. For the C student who pulled himself up a got a B, that student was very successful.
Therefore I happen to like Coach Wooden's definition of success he says the following; "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming".

As many of us are preparing for the new school year and who doesn't want it to be a successful one let us keep this definition in mind in thinking about our own growth as educators and more importantly when looking at our students. If we want our students to be successful then we have to help them maximize their potential and become the best that they are capable of and for some students that might be an A but for others that might be a C.

May we all become the best that we are capable of and have successful school year

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Student's concerns

Here is a quote from "How To Deal with Parents who Are Angry, Troubled, Afraid or Just Plain Crazy", By Elaine McEwan:
“Don’t try to pass off complaints as unimportant or a figment of a child’s imagination. My experience…. Has shown me that children and sensitive human beings with important perceptions about their schooling experience. If for any reason they are not happy in school we need to do all we can to get to the bottom of their anxiety. Any problem faced by a child at school is a real problem that must be addressed. Sometimes, all we need to do is listen and empathize.”

I know through out my teaching career I have been guilty of doing this by telling a student not to worry it is nothing. However for them it is something and it has to be taken seriously. Often it could be as simple as saying I am sorry to hear that give me a few minutes and we can talk about it.
The following is a true story. Note: the teacher's first language is not English.
A student got a cut in class and asked the teachers if he/she could go to the office. The teacher who was in the middle of teaching told the student in dismissive way " OK good go to the office."
That night I got a call from the parent asking me why the teacher would say that is was good that my child got hurt. After investigating the situation I came to the following conclusion what the teacher wanted to say was OK you may go to the office but due to the language barrier used the word good. however it gave me the opportunity to mention to the teacher ( who was not having a successful year that year) that the students need to feel that you care about them and perhaps a more appropriate response would have been " Oh I am sorry do you want to go to the office"

So lets remember that our student's concern matter and if they are important to them then those concerns should be important to us.