Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

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