Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of the Year Thoughts

I first want to apologize that I won't be finishing the five part series on leadership. This post really applies to everyone and since we are all leaders in some way I think it counts. Tomorrow I hope to announce my next challenge. So stay tuned!

As I browsed my Zite, Twitter and Facebook feeds today its hard not to come across posts that talk about reflection, resolutions and just general summaries of the past year and what is in store for the coming year. 

I want to share with you four such posts and excerpts from each. 

First one is called Reflections on Leadership 
Here are some quotes from the Article:

"“There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything.”
Vince Lombardi
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
Theodore Roosevelt
“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”
Peter Drucker
You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership…Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.
Indira Gandhi
Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.
Steve Jobs
Leaders are the ones who keep faith with the past, keep step with the present, and keep the promise to posterity. …Leadership is not “magnetic personality” that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people” that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.
Peter F. Drucker
“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
Nelson Mandela
The following graphic comes from the post " There are 16 Attributes of  the Modern Educator"

Finally I would like to close with words from Lord Rabbi Saks in his post "Count your blessings and begin to change your life"
"Have you made your new year resolutions? If not, try the following. Each is potentially life changing.
1. Give thanks. Once a day take quiet time to feel gratitude for what you have, not impatience for what you don’t have. This alone will bring you halfway to happiness. We already have most of the ingredients of a happy life. It’s just that we tend to take these for granted and focus on unmet wants, unfulfilled desires. Giving thanks is better than shopping – and cheaper too.
2. Praise. Catch someone doing something right and say so....
3. Spend time with your family. Make sure that there is at least one time a week when you sit down to have a meal together with no distractions – no television, no phone, no e-mail, just being together and celebrating one another’s company. Happy marriages and healthy families need dedicated time.
4. Discover meaning. Take time out, once in a while, to ask: “Why am I here? What do I hope to achieve? How best can I use my gifts?.....Finding meaning is essential to a fulfilled life – and how can you find it ....
5. Live your values. Most of us believe in high ideals, but we act on them only sporadically....
6. Forgive. This is the emotional equivalent of losing excess weight. Life is too short to bear a grudge or seek revenge. Forgiving someone is good for them but even better for you. The bad has happened. It won’t be made better by your dwelling on it. Let it go. Move on.
7. Keep learning. I learnt this from Florence in Newcastle, whom I last met the day she celebrated her 105th birthday. She was still full of energy and fun. “What’s the secret?” I asked her. “Never be afraid to learn something new,” she said. Then I realised that if you are willing to learn, you can be 105 and still young. If you are not, you can be 25 and already old.
8. Learn to listen. Often in conversation we spend half our time thinking of what we want to say next instead of paying attention to what the other person is saying. Listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone else. It means that we are open to them, that we take them seriously and that we accept graciously their gift of words.
9. Create moments of silence in the soul. Liberate yourself, if only five minutes daily, from the tyranny of technology, the mobile phone, the laptop and all the other electronics...."
10. Transform suffering. When bad things happen, use them to sensitise you to the pain of others. The greatest people I know – people who survived tragedy and became stronger as a result – did not ask “Who did this to me?” Instead, they asked “What does this allow me to do that I could not have done before?”...."

I hope some of these ideas help you reflect on 2104 and help you enter 2015 with renewed energy. 
Here's to another great year 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014



Today we live unprecedented times and the access of information is overwhelming. Our children no longer just learn in their classroom, school, or community but rather the world is their classroom.  Technology has changed the way we view education and has made the ability of reaching all our students easier.

However there are certain things that can never be replaced with technology

On the top of list would be the ability to make a personal connection and role model for our students.

we are learn more when  we see things in action  and actually being modeled than by just reading about them.

It is our teachers and leaders that need to make those connections and model;


Just to name a few.

It is true the role of teachers and leaders has changed  due to the advances of technology and that we need to embrace that change but something never change and having teachers and leaders be those role models and make those personal connections is as valuable and important today as it ever ways.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Learning From Mistakes


Many posts have been written about Leadership and there are many recurring themes about what makes a great leader. One of those ideas is that Leaders are Human and make mistakes. The real question is what happens next. Do they admit they made a mistake? Do they learn from their mistakes? Or do they blame others. 
This week we read the weekly  Torah portion Vayigash, where Judah pleads to Joseph on behalf of Benjamin and when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brother. Last Year Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote the following article "The Unexpected Leader"

For many of you who have read my blog before know that I am big fan of Rabbi Sacks and he is true to mentor to me. I would like to share with you some his words. 

"Leaders make mistakes. That is an occupational hazard of the role. Managers follow the rules, but leaders find themselves in situations for which there are no rules. Do you declare a war in which people will die, or to you refrain from doing so at the risk of letting your enemy grow stronger with the result that more will die later? That was the dilemma faced by Chamberlain in 1939, and it was only some time later that it became clear that he was wrong and Churchill right.
But leaders are also human and they make mistakes that have nothing to do with leadership and everything to do with human weakness and temptation. The sexual conduct of John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton was less than perfect. Does this affect our judgment of them as leaders or not? Judaism suggests it should. The prophet Nathan was unsparing of King David when he sinned with another man’s wife.
What matters, suggests the Torah, is that you repent – you recognise and admit your wrong, and you change as a result. As Rav Soloveitchik pointed out, both Saul and David, Israel’s first two kings, sinned. Both were reprimanded by a prophet. Both said chatati, “I have sinned.” But their fates were radically different. Saul lost his throne, David did not. The reason, said the Rav, was that David confessed immediately. Saul prevaricated and made excuses before admitting his sin.
The stories of Judah and of his descendant David tell us that what mark a leader is not necessarily perfect righteousness. It is the ability to admit mistakes, to learn from them and grow from them. The Judah we see at the beginning of the story is not the man we see at the end, just as the Moses we see at the burning bush – stammering, hesitant – is not the mighty hero we see at the end, “his sight undimmed, his natural energy unabated.” A leader is one who, though he may stumble and fall, arises more honest, humble and courageous than he was before."

Let us remember that we all are human and we all will make mistakes the true sign of a great leader is what happens next 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What Qualities Do Leaders Need


This post was originally posted in 2010

During a recent #isedchat the topic focused on leadership qualities. This topic has been blogged about and discussed by many, myself included.
At times I know that for one reason or another I can get caught up in things and loose my focus about what true leadership means and what qualities are needed.
So here is my short refresher list.

Leadership Qualities:

Honesty/ Integrity
Listening to others
Admitting when you did something wrong/ Learning from your mistakes
Offers constructive feedback
Respectful of others
Willing to Learn and grow
Change Agent
Growth Mindset

Please add to my list

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Bottom Line


This is an  edited post from a post originally posted in 2013

This is last post in my series on Technology and blended learning and this in a series of educational topics. In previous posts we have discussed differentiation as well as creativity and innovation. I find it interesting tat when you peel away the layers all of these topics have a similar bottom line. I believe that line to be having students engaged  and in control of their learning so that learning is meeting their needs and that it allows for individual creativity and expression.

You cant talk about technology without mentioned blended learning. According to the Innosight Institute, a primer think tank looking to apply innovation to education, blended learning is “a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with somee element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace.” 
Blended learning is an educational approach that combines of teacher driven instruction and online learning.  To properly differentiate, we need to truly understand each student and tailor the blended learning program according to their needs. 

Rebecca Tomasini, the Founder and CEO of The Alvo Institute, believes that, “Blended Learning brings together the best from traditional instruction together with the most relevant and appropriate online and technology-supported instructional innovations to create a variety of integrated instructional experiences. In a blended model, teachers and students make decisions about a student’s instructional experiences based on close and regular analysis of real time student data.” 

According to the Avi Chai Foundation, blended learning makes individualization and differentiation easier, faster to implement and more cost-effective”( PEJE : “According To His Way: Blended Learning “;a white paper about how Jewish Day Schools are using blended learning)

In addition to traditional curriculum, online resources can open up many new instructional opportunities that otherwise could not be offered by some schools.

I would like to stop using the term blended learning. For many it has become a buzz word and for some it has become the be all and end all. I would rather look at the bottom line and focus on Student Learning 

We need ask ourselves; How can we maximize: 

  • Learning
  • Engagement
  • Creativity
  • Innovation 
  • Critical Thinking 
While meeting the needs of all of our students. 

It may very well be the blended model accomplishes that and for other schools it may be a 1:1 approach and yet for others it may look like a more traditional approach. 

All of these  are tools to accomplish our goals and my hope is we use these tools and perhaps a combination of these tools so that our students can learn and grow!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Personalizing Tech- Some Thoughts on Last Night's #Edtechbridge Chat


Last night I participated in #edtechbridge chat. The topic was using Tech in ECE ( Early Childhood Education).

I honestly didn't get it or missed something. Technology is a tool that helps with student engagement, meeting the needs of our students and learning outcomes.

Since one size doesn't  fits all, therefore technology and how its used will be different based on the grade level, subject and student needs.

I understand that ECE may be unique in that the students, as one participant commented to me last night, take naps and have other unique needs that we don't necessarily find in other grade levels.

I agree with that but by definition if technology is a tool it needs to be crafted and meet the needs of  students at any age and every grade level.

Therefore I believe technology and how it is use will be different but not only because of the age but because our goal is engage and meet  the unique needs of each student.

Would love to hear what you think

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Keeping The Focus


I have already written about the importance of keeping the focus on learning and student needs/ outcomes and not on technology. Perhaps this is most important when looking at the issue of blended of learning.

In preparing for this post I did a search on Slide share as well as YouTube for blended learning. It made me dizzy honestly.

However I found a short video on YouTube that I believe sums it up in a few words.

  1. What drives blended learning is meeting learning objectives 
  2. Blended learning is not "one size fits all"
  3. Must focus of individual learners needs and differences 
  4. Doesn't have to be confusing if you keep your eye on the prize which are your learning objectives. 
Here is the short YouTube video. Just like Blended learning isn't one size fits all this video is not the be all and end all and there are many different ideas and approaches that may fit your needs better. 

Bottom line what ever approach we use in our classroom it could be Blended, flipped, or the multiple  ways technology can improve learning we must keep the focus on what are our Learning Objectives!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Picture courtesy of

My next blog topic is on technology and blended learning. Here is a post I wrote in January of 2013

As many of you may know, I am active on twitter. I recently saw a tweet requesting that the educational community no longer refer to educational technology as “Ed Tech”, but rather just “education”. I completely agree with this sentiment since technology is not something extraneous to education. If used in the proper way, technology , it should be PART of education Just as we go about our everyday life utilizing technology to enhance access to our surroundings, so too technology, if used in the proper way, should be improving our children’s education.
@AngelaMaires a noted educator and author offers the following acronym to highlight how technology should be used in the RIGHT way.

R-Real: Technology must make the learning real
I-Impact: Technology must have an impact on our students
G-Global:Technology allows learning to be global and reach beyond the classroom walls
H-Honor: Technology allows our children to be passionate about their learning
T- Talent: Technology allows students who may struggle with traditional academic approaches to show their true talent and shine

Below are some of the ways that technology should and could be used to make it RIGHT

1. Learning is not confined to the classroom, but students connect to the outside world in ways never before possible. As an example skyping with the author of a book you just read.
2. Not only do student connect to the world, but they experience things through technology which would not be possible otherwise. Imagine exploring the surface of the moon through your web browser, swimming to the bottom of the ocean, or exploring the Temple.
3. Technology allows for opens lines of communication between administration, teachers, parents, and students.
4. Multimedia can enrich the overall learning experience. Math curriculum provides the students with hands on, interactive math lessons. Students record themselves reading as they read a story on the iPad downloaded on "audionote", student replays and judge themselves whether or not they used expression and how long it took them to read. After listening to the recording, students reread the paragraph and try to beat their initial time
5. Technology allows students to publish their work rather than just handing in a report. Students created a "Homophone Pictionary" in Publisher. To do this, the children merge language arts skills on homophones with hands on computer skills.
6. Technology allows students to take ownership of their learning and individualize their learning goals
7. Technology is a fundamental component of our world and our children are learning the relevant life skills to help them become contributing members of society.
8. Technology also allows children to engage in important traditional lessons such as increased collaboration and creativity. Setting up a classroom blog is another great example.

Our primary focus needs to be that ensure the well being of our students, to maximize our children’s learning, teach them to respect their peers and to expose them to the wonders of the world in which we live. We must remember that technology is simply a means to that goal.



My next topic in my blog series is on Technology and Blended learning. However I would like to start with a disclaimer.

 Technology helps with having our  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 see technology as the be all and end all. That as long as my students are using an iPad or I use the Smarboard I am using technology in my classroom.

I have been in classrooms where the teachers use the technology but their lessons and assessments are still old school and they are only replacing paper and pencil with an iPad. That is not integrating technology or using technology as a tool to improve learning.

Rather technology is a tool! Technology allows you to differentiate and meet students needs. Technology allows us to move beyond our classroom walls.
Therefore with all this talk about technology we need to remember that it is only a tool to improving education and student learning.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Common Denominator


I have been blogging for about four years but only recently have I gotten back into it with creating two personal challenges. The first was to blog once a day for thirty days, and the second is to take different topics and write five posts on that topic. I have now written over 200 blog posts and this is my last in the series on Creativity and Innovation.

For those of you familiar with my blog you will notice so  common themes and ideas. Some of these ideas include:

  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Inclusion
  • Creativity
  • Growth Mindset
  • Innovation 
  • Taking Risk and be willing to fail 
  • Meeting the needs of the diverse student population 
So is there a common thread or idea between many of these ideas, or is there some type of common denominator 

To be honest I think creativity and innovation is that common idea or theme. 

Creativity and Innovation are areas that require one to move out of their comfort zone and require one to be willing to take risks and fail. All of which requires that one posses a growth mindset and realize that one can grow and change. 

I have mentioned a number of times that we need to view creativity and innovation not just as add ons or when we have time but need to be incorporated into all areas of the curriculum. Creativity and Innovation are more than just the Arts but I think looking at  a STEAM approach is a good place to starts. 

This approach lends itself to more open ended projects with multi outcomes ( differentiated approach) and allows those students who don't excel in a standard academic  classroom may have a chance to excel in the area of the arts or in a more creative classroom. 

There are no silver bullets. Differentiation, Creativity, and Innovation aren't easy  nor are they the only answers. However if we are looking at the whole picture and we are looking at educating the whole child, one who is both academic and culturally diverse, how can we afford not to try to be more creative and innovative. 

One last thought. While this may scary and overwhelming to us as teachers this comes very naturally to kids. My proof is weak into any Early childhood class and see how creative that are and watch the following Caine's Arcade which illustrated a students natural ability to be creative. 

(PS A possible added benefit of us as teachers being more creative is that we give up control and learn something from our students. Just saying how great that would be ) 

Thursday, December 4, 2014



I wrote a post a while ago about BUZZ words in education.  BUZZ words are OK as long as we realize that what we are talking are not FADS but are necessities as we educated the future leaders of the 21st Century. 

Creativity and Innovation are two such words. They are not FADS but rather we need to be incorporating these elements into our daily curriculum. 

What is the difference between them? 

"There is a significant difference between creativity and innovation, according to Renee Hopkins, in her June 9th post to the IdeaFlow Weblog. The key distinction is that creativity is getting a great idea; innovation is creativity implemented." as stated in  The difference between creativity and innovation

We have discussed the importance of being creativity and some of the difficulties associated with that. However having the creative ideas are not enough we need to implement them which is what being innovative is all about. 

To be innovative means that you need to upset at times what is the accepted standard  and be open to change. This is very difficult given  the demands that teachers have with our standard grading system, and teaching to the test. 

 Terry Heick  in 12 Barriers To Innovation In Education  lists the 12 possible barriers to innovation. 
Here are some of the barriers mentioned :

  • Teacher Turnover

  •  Drive-by Professional Development

  • School and Community Climate

  • Traditional Report Cards

  • Scripted Curricula

How do we remove some of these barriers 

Well the simplest thing but not the easiest would be to remove or change some of the barriers: 

  • Provide ongoing and differentiated to meet the needs of teachers professional learning opportunities 
  • Change the culture and climate to embrace a growth mindset where risk taking is encouraged 
  • Change the grading system so that students are rewarded for effort creativity and innovative ideas. 
  • Be open to a more standard based curriculum.  Grant Wiggins, a learning expert, said the following “Why do people insist on viewing the Standards as inconsistent with teacher creativity and choice? I am baffled by such uncreative thinking. That’s like saying the architect cannot be creative because every house has to meet building code. Indeed, the whole point of mandating standards as opposed to curriculum is to free people up to create innovative curriculum that addresses the standards." ( Why Learning Innovation Can’t Come From Teachers Alone)
I will leave you with the question Heick's asks himself, "When is the last time you’ve walked into a classroom and seen real joy for learning and understanding? Not simply a fun activity, or students enjoying working together, or even vague engagement, but rather resonating, engrossed, curiosity-driven and rigorous learning that changes kids from the inside out?" ( Why Learning Innovation Can’t Come From Teachers Alone)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014



This was a tweet I saw from Dr Justin Tarte
He makes a great point. Walk into any Kindergarten classroom and you will see collaboration, creativity, cooperative learning, sharing of ideas, communication skills just to name a few. However to many thats fine in kindergarten because its ok to "play" and do all those things but once you get into elementary school and up thats when we need to focus on "real learning"
Who Says ?
Don't we want all of our students no matter what grade they are in to be creative and learn about collaboration etc.

So Why Aren't We More Creative?

Sir Ken Robinson on many occasion has said that "Schools Kill Creativity" ( see video below)

I would like to offer some possibilities as well:

  1. Teachers see creativity as extra and not part of the actual curriculum
  2. In a mode of standardized testing and teaching to the test creativity is hard to assess and often is not tested.
  3. Requires teachers to give up some control
  4. Requires risk taking
  5. It is harder to be creative and create creative assignments.
I would like to hear from you why we can be and are creative in Kindergarten and seem to loose that creativity once we enter Elementary school and beyond

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Creative Student

In my second post on the topic of Creativity and Innovation I went back to book I read a while ago for some inspiration. Today's post is based on the ideas found in the book "Sparking Student Creativity" by  P Drapeau 

If you ask a random number of students if they are creative, most will probably tell you that they are not. If you asked them who are the creative students they will tell you those that like art and music etc. 

Drapeau, quoting Csikszentmihalyi, says there are two types of creative people. The first kind are the ones who come up with the big ideas and whose work leads to change. He calls them Big C people, the second kind are those that use creativity  in their daily lives which he refers to a little C people. 
Drape says that when students realize that creativity donate mean coming up with those big one of kind ideas they are more open to the fact that they can be creative and are willing to try creative type activities. 

This requires the ability to take risks and to learn from your mistakes. Therefore as I have mentioned before creativity requires a growth mindset and those students with a growth mindset will be more engaged in creative projects. 

Drapeau ( page 6) offers the following checklist to describe students who think creatively:

  • "   Express ideas other students don't think of 
  • Like to choose their own way for demonstrating understanding
  • Ask questions that may seem off topic or silly 
  • Enjoy open ended assignments 
  • Prefer to discuss ideas rather than facts 
  • Prefer to try new ways of approaching a problem rather than the accepted way"
I would add 
  • Willing to take risks
  • Sees failure as an opportunity for growth 
  • Sees the big picture when it comes to learning 
  • Is interested in knowing the how and why 
Often  by introducing creativity into our lessons and engaging the creative student we motivate and engage not only the students who are naturally academically motivated but often creativity sparks motivation and engagement in students who don't excel in the traditional academic classroom. 

Drapeau make the following point:

"Scripted lessons are not motivating our students... Through creativity we can reach more of the learners more of the time. Creative thinking can be integrated into any content area - Sparking Student Creativity - P Drapeau

Thursday, November 20, 2014

An Intro to Creativity


Many of you are aware that a few months ago I started a 30 day blog challenge which I  successfully completed a while ago.  I got to feel a bit complacent and began a new challenge. My new challenge  is to write five blog posts on 4 different topics. My first top was differentiation and if you look at previous posts you will find 5 a posts on that topic. Today begins a series of posts on my second topic creativity and innovation.

As a first post I would like to use the article

"Fundamentals of Creativity" which was written in Feb 2013 and published in ASCD Educational Leadership magazine. 

What is creativity? Does it mean just not conforming to the way things were done, or by thinking out of the box. 

Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman the authors of the article say the following: 

"Creativity Takes More Than Originality

The first question educators should address is, What is creativity? People commonly think of creativity as the ability to think outside the box, be imaginative, or come up with original ideas. These are aspects of creativity, but they tell only half the story.
Scholars generally agree that creativity involves the combination of originality and task appropriateness(Kaufman & Sternberg, 2007; Plucker, Beghetto, & Dow, 2004). This combination may seem contradictory. How can something be original and at the same time conform to a set of task requirements? And isn't originality sufficient for something to be judged creative? Why must it also be task appropriate?
A quick example (adapted from Beghetto & Plucker, 2006) may help. Consider a teacher who wants students to express creativity in their science fair projects. Before assigning students to create their own projects, the teacher discusses the scientific conventions and requirements of the project. (For example, each project must pose a hypothesis, gather evidence to test the hypothesis, and explain whether the hypothesis has been supported.) Students are then invited to work within these conventions to create their own original, personally meaningful science fair projects.
Teachers who understand that creativity combines both originality and task appropriateness are in a better position to integrate student creativity into the everyday curriculum in ways that complement, rather than compete with, academic learning. For example, during a lesson on ancient Rome, students might create a diary for a person living during this time, with period-accurate details. A biology class might have students brainstorming about the conditions under which a plant might grow best. Or a math teacher might have students explore how many different ways they can solve an algebraic proof."

I believe this combination is important. Without it I fear that creativity could become a buzz word like technology. 
On more than one occasion I have asked teachers do they use technology and I also got a resounding  YES!. However when I would pop into the classroom the teacher was using the iPads but the lesson /activity was a simple pen and paper activity and the teacher replaces the paper with an iPad. That is not incorporating and using technology. If we don't incorporate creativity with appropriateness and meaning we will get similar answers and results. 

They continue to point out that: 

"Creativity Comes at a Cost

Creativity is often associated with fun, fluff, and frills. A quick Google image search on creativity yields a vast array of playful images, including laughing faces, smiling light bulbs, colorful arrays of crayons, and explosive bursts of paint. These images belie the more serious aspects of creativity. Creativity can have benefits that transcend temporary enjoyment. It can produce effective solutions to highly complex societal problems; lead to higher levels of career success; and create intense personal enjoyment, engagement, and meaning in life (Kaufman, 2009).
But the benefits come with a cost; creativity requires work, effort, and risk. Many years of painstaking effort are needed to develop the expertise to make creative contributions that go beyond the everyday level. Moreover, even everyday creativity takes effort, subject-matter understanding, the ability to put a new spin on the task at hand, and the willingness to share one's creative expression with others—risking rejection, ridicule, or worse.
When a young student shares a new and personally meaningful perspective on how to solve a math problem, she risks having her idea dismissed or misunderstood by her teacher. A student who volunteers to read a story in front of the class is taking the chance of being laughed at by his peers. It does not take many such incidents for a student to learn that it's not worth the effort and risk to share personal ideas—it's much easier to provide the answers that teachers and peers expect."
It should come to no surprise to many of you what I am going to say next. Creativity requires a culture of risk taking and one where its joke to fail In other words creativity is predicated on having a growth mindset. 
I believe there is another "cost" too often creativity is seen as a frill or if I have extra time we will do a creative project. This idea  I believe comes from the fact that creativity is subjective and is harder  to assess and definitely doesn't  fit into a culture  of standardized testing. Therefore teachers  see creativity as a "cost" in not being able to focus on the core curriculum. 
Again this idea and culture needs to be changed. Creativity is not an extra but needs to be incorporated  into all aspects of the curriculum. Creativity also affords us the ability to reach those students who may think more abstractly and tend not to do as well as  in the standardized environment many schools have created..

There is a lot to say about the topic and this was merely an intro. Stay tuned for more posts about creativity and innovation. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014



This is my last post in my series on differentiation.  I thought I would try to summarize  some of the key ideas  with this post.

To me there are a few bottom line and basic ideas that we need to remember

  1. Differentiation is Just Good Teaching 
  2. Fair doesn't mean Equal
  3. One Size Doesn't Fit All 
  4. Know Each child's story 
  5. The Importance of having a Growth Mindset 
I am sure there are others but those are my top five. However I think this is one over arching idea or theme that encompasses all five.

We need to remember that our job is to educate the whole child. Therefore we need to know their unique needs and background and each child is unique. We also need focus on more just the academics but a child's social and emotional well being is also going to play a role in their school experience and success or failure. 

There was one area related to differentiation that I did not  write about or focus on but if we are truly going to reach the Whole Child then it need to be mentioned and that is our grading system. There is a whole group on Facebook and Twitter about Teachers Throwing out grades and I have blogged about it myself but it worth mentioning in this context as well. 

Grades typically focus only on the academic success or our students but if we are truly going to differentiate and educate the Whole student then the feedback we give needs to take into account not only growth and effort in academic but non academic areas like the arts as well as the students emotional and social well being. 

I think all of us want all of our students to succeed and at the same time many of us seem scared by the idea of differentiating. So let's not call it differentiating  but rather we are focusing on meeting the individual needs of the WHOLE CHILD

Monday, November 17, 2014

Buzz Words and Silos Need to be Replaced with the Proper Motivation


I have been giving a lot of thought about writing this post. It may seem to some as being hypocritical and undermining what I have written or may write in this new series of posts that I hope to write on different educational topics. That being said I will admit I may be guilty of doing some of these things but I still feel its important for me to express my thoughts and feelings.

I once gave a presentation the focused on the fact that Differentiation and " 21st Century Skills" are not fads but are good teaching.

I  would like to see those 21st century skills called life skills since that is what they really are, and I have written how differentiation is just good teaching.

Unfortunately too many people get caught up in buzz words like differentiation, 21st century skills, educational technology, 1:1 programs, and blended learning.

These  words and ideas are very important and I am by no means making light of them.

At the same while people talk about collaboration and working together we tend to put up silos while preaching about transparency and collaboration. Just as example, I know of 5-6 different programs and organizations that are working on and claiming to be at the forefront of blended learning.  So while some may be collaborating there are still silos and territories being staked out and put up.


The buzz words and concepts are important and we should be and need to be focusing on them and talking about them.  I also think it's great that some many people are talking about  blended learning.

So what's my problem and what's my answer

To me the problem is what's behind it all. For too many  it's to be seen at the cutting edge of education. We throw around these terms and invest in something because if we don't we will be seen as old school and missing the latest trend. It may cost in getting students or getting funding and donors to invest in out program. However in reality they are paying lip service to the ideas.

The answer lies in the motivation as well.

Are we interested in meeting the needs of our students?
Do we want to know our students individual stories ?
Do we believe that things must be fair but not necessarily equal? 

There are others but that needs to be the motivation behind differentiation. I believe those questions and others need to drive many if not all of our decisions.

Why are we going to a 1:1 program? Will help meet the needs of our students? 
Is a blended environment best for our students and our school culture? Will more students needs be met in a blended classroom? 

Are these the motivating factors or are we just trying to fit in with the "Cool Group"

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Mindset for Differentiated Instruction


In the last two blog posts I have written about some of the ideas and techniques behind differentiating instruction. Truth be told there is no shortage of books articles and experts on the topic. Therefore when I saw the following I said I need to put this idea in a blog post. 

I saw the following article 

Response: Several Ways To Differentiate Instruction

"Rick Wormeli is a well-known author, workshop leader and educator. He has written books on the topic of differentiation, and I'd recommend you read another essay he's written titled Differentiated Instruction: Setting the Pedagogy Straight.
There is no one book, video, presenter, or Website that will show everyone how to differentiate instruction. Let's stop looking for it. One size rarely fits all. Our classrooms are too diverse and our communities too important for such simplistic notions.

Instead, let's realize what differentiation really is: highly effective teaching, which is complex and interwoven; no one element defining it. Reading multiple books and watching many videos on accomplished teaching as well as listening to presenters speak on effective teaching and augmenting all those insights with perspectives gained from on-line communities, faculty conversation, PLC's, and dedicated Websites prepares teachers best for teaching, i.e. differentiated instruction. 

Professor and differentiation expert, Diane Heacox, reminded me a few years ago that differentiation is foremost a mindset. It's only 10% craft and mechanics of pulling it off. If we're attentive to the results of formative assessments, for example, we realize that Michael needs 15 minutes with a mentor to review proper lab write-up procedures, LaShawn needs help with Punnett Squares in the Genetics unit, and Umber is ready to write something more compelling in her studies on political rhetoric. Without the focus on formative assessment and adjusting learning in response to what it reveals, however, these students drift with needs unmet, academic potential dwindling. Are our minds tuned to differentiation possibilities? 
In a successful differentiated class, we stop hiding behind the factory model of teaching. We teach in whatever way students best learn, even if that's different student to student, or different from the way we best learn ourselves. Many of us are guilty of that from time to time - teaching the way we best learn, not the way our students best learn, myself included. We can do better. We can embrace the root of differentiation: responsive teaching. As students' learning story is revealed, we adjust our instruction in order to maximize their learning. If a student needs more, less, or a different challenge, we provide it as we can. 
As institutions, they are designed to meet the needs of students who "get it" first or easiest. This curriculum-by-age approach protects the status quo, and it provides a false sense of orderly effectiveness. Since teaching and learning can be messy processes, we seek easy schematics; they make us feel like we know what we're doing and we are in control. As a consequence, we are our own worst enemies when we try to teach so students actually move content and skills into long-term memory. In order to live up to a school's mission, we sometimes have to part way with its protocols.

Accepting differentiation more as a collection of principles about responsive teaching than a collection of quick recipes for someone's diversity cookbook is my first piece of advice, as practical as those recipes may be. Mitigating the negative aspects of the factory model of schooling is my second. " 

It is worth it to read the entire article. However what caught my attention was the idea that differentiation  is rooted in a mindset, that we can meet the needs of our students. That ones ability is not fixed and that we can grow and change. Second is the idea that differentiation isn't a bunch of techniques to help only the weaker students but rather as Wormeli puts it is based on principles and a philosophy of knowing all your students and being responsive to the needs of your students. 

Nothing that I can write or say about differentiation is going to be new and as I mentioned before there are experts in the field far greater than me that I have spent their lives writing about differentiation and meeting student needs.  So accept this post as a reminder that if we believe in a growth mindset and that we can grow and change and our abilities are not fixed, and we want to be  responsive to the needs of all students then we have the building blocks and the foundation to differentiate. The rest is  just following a recipe. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Creating A Differentiated Classroom

Here is my second post on Differentiation

Another myth about differentiation is that teachers need to construct 30 different lessons if they have 30 kids in their class. 

In reality differentiation is about good teaching and wanting all of our students to succeed. 

Tomlinson, chair of educational leadership, foundations, and policy at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and perhaps on e of the foremost experts on differentiation says the following; “People differ in their gifts and talents; to teach them you have to start where they are.While she would never say that differentiating instruction “is a piece of cake,” Tomlinson believes the approach is a path to more expert teaching. Like someone asked to make a meal. You could have dinner with butter on toast with an egg. But if you want to grow as a cook, you need to expand your ingredients list.” 
“Her four “non-negotiables”—a high-quality curriculum with clear goals, the use of data to monitor and provide feedback on student learning, the ability to recognize when something isn’t jelling and modify it to fit the student, and the creation of an environment in which students are supported and challenged—she says, “are not about differentiation. They are about a good classroom. That is good teaching.” (  

When we break differentiation down even further she says there are three  areas within the curriculum that can be differentiated. Those areas are Content, Process and Product. 


Now that we have the areas within the curriculum what are some practical guidelines to help teachers not feel so overwhelmed. At the core of differentiation is knowing your students and knowing “their story” One size doesn’t  fit all.  Then there are some key sills that need to focused on and addressed in a differentiated classroom. They include but are not limited to Critical thinking, Creativity, collaboration, and questioning. 
There are there other crucial things to help transform your classroom into a differentiated classroom. They are; flexible grouping, assessments, and good classroom management. 
Here are some ideas from the follwing paper

  Flexible grouping is consistently used. Strategies for flexible grouping are essential. Learners are expected to interact and work together as they develop knowledge of new content. Teachers may conduct whole-class introductory discussions of content big ideas followed by small group or pair work. Student groups may be coached from within or by the teacher to complete assigned tasks. Grouping of students is not fixed. Based on the content, project, and on-going evaluations, grouping and regrouping must be a dynamic process as one of the foundations of differentiated instruction.
  Classroom management benefits students and teachers. Teachers must consider organization and instructional delivery strategies to effectively operate a classroom using differentiated instruction.
 Initial and on-going assessment of student readiness and growth are essential. Meaningful pre- assessment naturally leads to functional and successful differentiation. Assessments may be formal or informal, including interviews, surveys, performance assessments, and more formal evaluation procedures. Incorporating pre and on-going assessment informs teachers to better provide a menu of approaches, choices, and scaffolds for the varying needs, interests and abilities that exist in classrooms of diverse students. 

 Students are active and responsible explorers. Teacher’s respect that

  Use assessment as a teaching tool to extend versus merely measure instruction. Assessment should occur before, during, and following the instructional episode, and help to pose questions regarding student needs and optimal learning.
  Emphasize critical and creative thinking as a goal in lesson design. The tasks, activities, and procedures for students should require that students understand and apply meaning.
  Engaging all learners is essential. Teachers are encouraged to strive for development of lessons that are engaging and motivating for a diverse class of students. Vary tasks within instruction as well as across students. In other words, and entire session for students should not consist of all drill and practice, or any single structure or activity.
  Provide a balance between teacher-assigned and student-selected tasks. A balanced working structure is optimal in a differentiated classroom. Based on pre-assessment information, the balance will vary from class-to-class as well as lesson-to-lesson. Teachers should assure that students have choices in their learning

There is no one way to differentiate nor is it easy. However as Tomlinson said,differentiation isn't a tool or some type of fad but rather it is merely good teaching