Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life



Sunday, August 31, 2014

Learning Should Be Fun

I saw the following article in my Zite feed this morning about motivating employees. Startup Staffing: 10 Things A Good Leader Can Do To Keep Their Employees Motivated ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/edmundingham/2014/08/31/start-up-staffing-10-things-a-good-leader-can-do-to-keep-their-employees-motivated/)

I believe the same to be true when it comes to teachers and students.. One of the ideas mentioned in the article is to have fun. 

I think for many as we celebrate Labor Day tomorrow which marks the end of the summer and the start of the school year it  also marks the end of the fun. The question is why. Why can't school be fun or better yet Learning should be fun and we need to put the Fun back into learning. 

So when we ask ourselves how can we help motivate our students lets ask how can we make what we are doing  fun 

So let's make an effort as we start the school year to have fun and let's make learning fun. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Honesty and Respect

Originally posted November 2011





picture: zazzy.com

In almost everything you read today about leadership you read about the importance of Transparency. To be honest the concepts scares some people. How can a be completely open and honest? Another common idea/question is How can I be open if that happens I will loose control.

I would argue that actually by being open and honest you gain respect and build trust amongst those that you lead.

Many times people think that his concept is reserved for corporate leaders and those that lead adults. I would argue that since all teachers are leaders therefore teachers need to be open and honest with their students. The top down approach to teaching " Do it because I am the teacher " should be some thing of the past.

I also believe that by being open and honest we actually build trust and respect with our students.

How can we do that. Perhaps the answer is just Be honest and be your self. Here is a short story that happened to me recently.

Editors Note: The purpose of the story is not to brag but rather just to show the importance of being honest.

Ar a recent Bar Mitzvah ( a celebration when a Jewish boy turns 13) I was asked to speak. This class has a boy that has physical challenges. In my speech I mentioned the Talmudic saying "That I have learned the most from my students" and that I learned from this class how to accept all students and that I was actually a bit scared before teaching this class, but after seeing how they just accept everyone made it easier.

My teenage daughters said to me " You really learned something from your students, and you admitted it" I said Yes it was true.

Truth of the matter is that I just said it without much thinking but realized afterwards that perhaps students aren't used to the fact that teachers can be ( and should be) open and honest.

If we treat our students and for that matter everyone in our lives with honesty and respect we will be treated with respect in return.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Leaving Your Footprints

Picture: www.amazon.com

A number of years ago I read the book " Angels don't leave footprints: Discovering what's right with yourself" by Rabbi Abraham J Twerski MD

The idea is that Angels have no free choice and can't grow and therefore don't leave their mark. However,we as humans who have free choice and the ability to change can and do leave our mark and we leave our footprints

At one point in my career, I wrote a yearbook message to  the graduates and used this idea as the premise of my message.

Today, however, as many of us are beginning the new school year I think we should think about what footprint to do we as teachers and educators want to leave and what footprint do we want our students to leave.

I would be interesting in hearing your thoughts. Look forward to reading your comments and thoughts.

As an aside, I do want to point out that whether we want to or not we leave a footprint. If we blog, send an email,  have a website those our footprints. Lets make sure the footprints we leave are ones, the others would want to follow


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Seeing the Whole Picture

I spent a large part of today on a train and inevitably you tend to watch people and see how they interact etc. 
That made me think about the the following story I heard at an administrators conference a number of years ago. 

A new teacher was up for a reward and needed to video one of his classes. He asked a mentor of his from graduate school to look and video and give some feedback. The student was so excited and when he gave his tape to his mentor mentioned what a great lesson it was. 
Well after the mentor watched it he didn't what to do. It wasn't a good lesson and didn't know what to tell his student. He  just put it off and one day the student called and asked him well did you watch  the video? Did you see how I was using different modalities, and was using all of these techniques. 

After that it clicked in the mentor's head what was going on. The student / new teacher saw the video and focused on himself the teaching while the mentor saw the students. One was bored and that one student was in the bathroom for 12 min and that the teacher called on only 5 different students. 
The mentor was looking at the learning in the classroom. 

When the the mentor told us the story he said that often teachers focus on the teaching which is what  they are doing in the class but often miss and don't focus on  if there is learning going on. To focus on the learning you need to look at what the students are doing. 

As I sat on the train looking and hearing different interactions we often don't see the whole picture and it reminded me that often we need to look at things with a wider lens and see the whole picture. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Culture of Being Open and Transparent

picture: www.dreamstime.com

In searching my Twitter feed I came across the following tweet

How Transparency Positively Impacts Your Workplace via

For those of that know me being open, transparent, and trusting is something that I take very seriously and perhaps to a fault. People have told me at times I am too trusting and too open and that may be true, but for me it is better than the alternative.
I think too often teachers in relationship with their students or administrators in relationships with teachers tend to keep things close and do not open up. Someone once told me the following 'Information is Power". In a school the culture should be of shared power and we need to be open with our students and our administrators with teachers.
Here are some thoughts from the article mentioned above:

" Transparency In The Workplace In addition to being open with customers and the public about company operations, fostering greater transparency within a business can contribute to a positive employee culture. Simply demonstrating that executives and stakeholders trust their workers with information about the organization’s successes and failures, strategies and goals helps to build up that social contract of trust and responsibility. Of course, there must always be prudence in determining how much and which information to divulge to the entire company, but greater transparency tends to make a positive impact on workers. Fortune explained that transparency involves factors such as practices, policies, algorithms, operating data and future plans. It means giving staff members the information they need to develop a deep understanding of what their company stands for and what its objectives are. This, in turn, can foster work pride and inspire innovation, loyalty, independence, positive co-worker dynamics and passion to meet common goals, the source added.

Sharing More information One place to start is with employee engagement survey results. Many leaders collect information about their workforce by distributing questionnaires and analyzing the responses, but workers are rarely informed about the results. Sharing this data not only helps create an environment of inclusiveness and teamwork, it also brings staff members on board to help solve some of the problems they identified. Letting them know the enterprise’s strengths is a great idea, too, since it can encourage them to continue doing whatever makes the company strong."

How many teachers involve students in class policies
How many teachers share with the students why we are learning something and its importance
How many students really have an understanding of the school vision and goals
How many teachers are involved in the strategic planning
How many teachers know the vision and mission of the school
How many administrators share survey data with teachers

As the article mentions we may think we are open and transparent, but we need to take a hard look sometimes ask can we be more open transparent and trusting


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CHATS

picture : www.ciol.com

I wrote a post a while ago that one of the great things about Twitter is that it is Professional Learning 24/7 ( for me 24/6). However, if I had to pinpoint a key learning experience I would say the Twitter chats are one of the most powerful tools for learning. The downside it that there are so many and they can be very overwhelming to someone new on twitter.

There are smaller ones and even in the larger chats I would say lurk and follow one or two people during the chats its an amazing experience.

I used to participate in a lot more chats to name some:
#edchat
#cpchat
#leadfromwithin
#edtechbridge
#sunchat

I even founded a chat with a few friends #jedchat- A chat for Jewish educators.

I understand the need to have many different chats,but at the same time we can all learn from each other. So I invite you all to join tonight's #JEDCHAT at 10pm ET as we discuss new ideas for the school year all are welcome to attend and share.

My hope is to once again become more active in the other chats mentioned

As if that wasn't enough I would like to start two other chats.
One a monthly chat related to the blog challenge I created for people to share and be inspired. Not sure if one exists and looking for a time and a good name
The second is a chat related to meeting the needs of more of our students through technology and differentiation Again, not sure one exists and open to a name and time

Please comment and share your ideas


Monday, August 25, 2014

Going Back Not Looking Back

I just got home after spending the weekend in Memphis. Everyone asked me how was it going back. My typical answer was it was nice but at times felt strange. 
I blogged before that one doesn't look back and I am not looking back but at times going back can be helpful. During this trip  I reconnected with friends and students and honestly it felt good to hear how much of  an impact I had and how things were different after I left. I say this not to stroke  my ego but I think it is important to reflect at times on the past since often we get caught up in the present and may loose sight of the good things that have happened to us. 

I am going to keep this short as I have spent 14 of the last 28 hours in a car driving. 

Bottom line is at times Going Back and reconnecting with out roots, our friends, and our past accomplishments can help motivate us to move forward. So while looking back and regretting is not healthy or advised but Going Back sometimes helps us Go Forward 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Anything is Possible

This weekend we went back to Memphis for the Bar Mitzvah of a former student. Over the years I have become close to the Bar Mitzvah boy, his siblings and family. That was part of the reason I came back. The other was to see the Bar Mitzvah get up there say the Haftorah ( read from the prophets) and speak. That was no easy feat. This particular individual has had to deal with multiple social emotional and academic issues. The theme of the Bar Mitzvah speeches was that with the drive and motivation anything is possible. Seeing him overcome those challenges was truly something special. 

I think seeing what he a 13 year old boy accomplished when he could have easily given up gave me the motivation and strength to continue to push and keep motivated as I continue to face my own struggles. 

As a teacher I told my kids the two words that I never wanted to hear was I Can't 

This weekend re-enforced that idea. 


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Keys to a school vision

Originally posted April 2012 



I vs WE

I think in any institution including or perhaps especially in schools there needs to be a sense of ownership. Schools are made up of Administrators, Teachers, support staff and other faculty members, Students, and Parents each has a stake in the well being of the school. Therefore the school doesn’t belong to one person or one group and even though it may sound somewhat insignificant when talking about the school Principals and teachers should model this by saying WE and not I or Mine.

By saying “WE’, we are expressing a shared sense of leadership and team work.

WHY
By no means is this the only why but I think this covers a number of key areas.

Schools should strive to meet the academic, social, emotional, and in my case the religious need of their students, and to help students maximize their potential. Schools need to create life long learners who are engaged in the 21st Century world in which they live. I would add for an orthodox day school, schools need to insure that their students have a love and commitment to Torah, Mitzvoth and Midenat Israel ( The State of Israel)I also schools and school leaders need to be willing to challenge the status quot.

WHAT and HOW
Here there is no silver bullet or one specific answer. So here is my list.

  • Differentiated Instruction
  • The use of Technology to help meet the needs of all learners
  • Making the learning real and relevant
  • Student centered learning
  • Teachers as the guide on the side and not the sage on the stage
  • Engaged learners


As I ( We ) embark on a new journey of leadership together I hope  to build on these ideas and add other ideas of how we can create future learners and leaders.

Friday, August 22, 2014

There is more to Education and School than Testing

"I believe that education should be an empowering process that allows and guides children to develop their passions, critical thinking, compassion, and orientation towards wisdom for timely action. " by Adam Burk 

I am reminded of another quote I believe from Curriculum 21 which said " School should not be about preparing students for a life of tests but rather preparing them for the test of life" 

I was reminded of these quotes after speaiking with  a friend who attended a 2 day back ot school professional development workshop were for many the focus was on standardized testing. She spoke up and rightfully so and mentioned that there is so much more we need to and should be doing to educate these  children and the focus should not be on the testing. 

As fate would have it I came across the following article on Zite  by  Dr Judy Willis "Preparing Your Students for the Challenges of Tomorrow" ( http://www.edutopia.org/blog/prepare-students-challenges-of-tomorrow-judy-willis)

Here are some of her thoughts:

   " Right now, you have students. Eventually, those students will become the citizens -- employers, employees, professionals, educators, and caretakers of our planet in 21st century. Beyond mastery of standards, what can you do to help prepare them? What can you promote to be sure they are equipped with the skill sets they will need to take on challenges and opportunities that we can't yet even imagine?

Following are six tips to guide you in preparing your students for what they're likely to face in the years and decades to come.

1. Teach Collaboration as a Value and Skill Set

Students of today need new skills for the coming century that will make them ready to collaborate with others on a global level. Whatever they do, we can expect their work to include finding creative solutions to emerging challenges.

2. Evaluate Information Accuracy

.

3. Teach Tolerance


4. Help Students Learn Through Their Strengths

Children are born with brains that want to learn. They're also born with different strengths -- and they grow best through those strengths. One size does not fit all in assessment and instruction. 

5. Use Learning Beyond the Classroom


6. Teach Students to Use Their Brain Owner's Manual"


I would add the following 

7. Take risks and learn from your mistakes

8 Be flexible and willing to change and grow 

9 Learning can happen anytime and from anyone 

10 Life is a journey and is a marathon and not a sprint so you need to prepare accordingly

So now we have a top 10 list

I would challenge anyone who has created such a list to find standardized testing on such a list. 
We need to understand that we have a tremendous challnege and responsibility and with it a tremendous reward  that we are educating the  citizens and leaders of tomorrow 





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pedagogy First

I will be spending most of the day in the car on Thursday as we complete the second the leg of our trip to Memphis.  I will post this as close to midnight if not right after as possible. 

I saw an article by Heidi Hayes Jacobs titled   Against Technology (the word)

Here is an excerpt  from her post: 
Ubiquitous in every sphere of education; the word “technology” is splattered loosely.    No subliminal messaging here, the term is to mean that schools with wifi, tablets, one to one laptop programs, and  smart boards are preparing students for the future.   Simply having a computer doesn’t mean that the curriculum and instruction are contemporary and relevant.    Students can be using the internet to research irrelevant and dated content. A word processor does not ensure quality writing competence.    When a group of middle school students runs around campus with flip cameras, it is unlikely they will produce a first rate documentary.    Perhaps there is some kind of magical thinking, that digital tools will prompt innovative outcomes.   I share this concern as a firmly committed advocate for the modernization of learning opportunities.    

 Most telling is our current obsession with dated assessment forms.  Teachers are not encouraged to innovate when their institutions are pushing time traveling to the past.  Although mission statements are packed with phrases like “tomorrow’s school” and “careers of the future” and “global preparedness”, the truth is that all fifty states in my country value assessments that are basically identical in format to those used thirty years ago.


I have had similar experiences where teachers have told me that they use technology and all they do is show a  you tube video or teachers who use the iPad instead of paper and pencil but the activity is not innovative at all. 

Technology is a tool but the pedagogy is what is the real  test of whether we are truly upgrading our curriculum and if we are truly schools of the future. 

Technology is a  great tool but it's just that a tool we can't forget that the pedagogy comes first and is the key in creating the students and schools that we want and need to educate the future leaders of tomorrow . 

Keeping It Simple

I am sitting here in my hotel room on my way to Memphis for the weekend. I am wriitting this on the blogger app on my ipad something I have only done once or twice. I dont know how to hyper link names or articles so for the next few days I will be keeping it simple. 
However that got me thinking. Sometimes the more complicated or fancy we get the more difficult things become while the simpler things are they are often less complicated and more effective. 
For example classroom rules. Some teachers like having a lot of rules and a whole intricate system of how he or she runs their classroom. I have found  more often than not this becomes impossible for two main reasons. First of all the kids tend to forget all the details and secondly it leaves a lot of room for "exceptions to the rule" and tends to be more complicated. I know many teachers that have 5 rules and some only have one "BE RESPECTFUL" and in reality that often works much better. 

Another goal/ dream of mine has been to write a book. However I have asked myself what can I add to the 100's of books out there and I dont have the time to do the research necessary. 

So coming off my 30 day blog challenge I think I will take my own advice and keep it simple and my next "challenge" will be to write a book. I have a tilte "Simple Thoughts from a Lifelong Learrner" . Now two more important things. I need to write it and secondly  find someone to publish it. I could use some help with the later. 

So here is to keeping things simple!

Monday, August 18, 2014

So What's Next

By the time I post this it will bee after midnight on the East Coast and day 30 of my 30 day blog challenge. Before I started this challenge which began after listening to a principal cast I hardly blogged regularly anymore and I felt bad about it. So I started this challenge to motivate myself. I sent out a tweet and mentioned something on Facebook and Jena Sherry replied and I her challenged her to join. Now we have about 5-6 people blogging some others lurking but we are all learning. 
So what's next ?
Well let me  first say thank you to all those that joined and have made this fun for me and a real learning experience. I have also increased my PLN and have made some great new friends 
Most importantly I got back into blogging. 
So the hour is late and I won't mention you all but I am grateful for our blog challenge group. 

So now what's next ?
Well I am not stopping maybe not every day and maybe not twice on Friday and definitely not on Jewish holiday but without the fanfare I hope to continue blogging daily. 
I will keep up the 30 day blog challenge page and will continue to post and tweet peoples blog 
I want to encourage others to join. It is a personal challenge and I and the others are here to encourage and help you. I would like to see people from other areas not just education join the challenge as well. 
Perhaps my next challenge will be to comment on at least one blog a day but no promises yet. 
Well it's 11:59 and I am about to hit send. 
This is not the end but rather just starting 
Thank you 

Educational Leadership

picture: 123rf.com

I think I have mentioned this before and I know in  one post I used a copy of my Kindle screen to show you what I was reading. If you would look at my Kindle, and my bookshelves you will find that they are predominantly made of up books about education and leadership. While I have also written that CEO's and educators are very different at the same time the need for teachers and educators to be leaders is super important, and the qualities needed to be a good leader more often than not are the same to be a good educator. Once again, my leadership PLN has supported this theory.  Frank Sonnenberg's post titled "Leadership Scorecard" mentions key qualities of a great leader. As you look at the list these same qualities are what make good educators and teacher leaders.
Here are some of the qualities mentioned in the post

   "  Straightforward and transparent  •  Honest and trustworthy  •  Ethical and principled   •  Focused  •  Determined  •  Realistic  •  Decisive and action-oriented  •  Fair and open-minded  •  Knowledgeable and experienced  •  Consistent and dependable  •  Confident and optimistic  •   Passionate  •  Empathetic and selfless  •  Flexible  •  Humble  •  Courageous  •  Hardworking"

I am sure there are others, but I think this is a great place to start. Let us remember that we are all leaders and the qualities that make up great leaders make  great educational leaders as well.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Questions without Answers



Picture : www.fastweb.com 



This week the Rabbi began his sermon by saying. I am going to ask you a question that I don't really have an answer for. That opening line reminded me of something I read in the book Making Thinking Visible by Ron Richhart. In the book he suggests that to really show the studetns the learning process he challenges teachers to ask questions that they themselves don't know the answer to and investigate and learn together with his/her students to find the answer.  Wow what a great way to model and show the learning process. I think as many in the blog challenge have written about we need at times to take a step back. We need to slow down and allow the natural learning proces to take effect. Learning dosn't happen in a rapid fire question and answer session or by memorizing facts that you could just rattle off. Leaning happens by asking question, when we don't know the answer. By investigating and by searching for the answers. Learning at times is trial and error and making mistakes is part of the process.                


So let's take a step back ask the questions even though we don't know the answers ans allow both we the teachers and out students to see true learning. 



Friday, August 15, 2014

Some Personal Reflections

As it is Friday I will post Saturday's post today.
This is a post I wrote almost three years ago in February of 2012. The funny part is some of what I wrote then is still important and applies today



 I would like to  share some personal thoughts and reflections. I think it is important and it is something that we can all learn from. Even if we can't learn from it it may be helpful and therapeutic for me to put my thoughts in writing.

The last two weeks have been very difficult for me. There have been a number of issues that I have had to deal with and in  the words of Todd Whitaker "I have a lot of Monkeys on my back" ( I happen to be in the middle of reading his book with a similar title "Shifting the Monkey") I have not finished the book but at times and especially this week my feeling has been “if I didn't step up or do something then at the end of the day it would be the students that suffer” and that is something no matter how many ‘Monkeys’ I have I am not willing to let happen.

Again I  was faced with that question of balance and how to deal with these issues and not get down or upset?

As I am fond of doing I like reading the writing of Lord Rabbi Sacks and when I checked out his website on Friday I found the following article. "Ways to achieve happiness beginning with thank you"

In this article Lord Rabbi Sacks outlines four ways to accomplish happiness.
Here are his thoughts:

"First, thank. Don’t just thank God: thank people. There is almost nothing you can do to bring warmth into someone else’s life than simple, honest recognition for something they have done, especially if it’s the kind of thing most people take for granted. Do it for your children’s teachers, your work colleagues, the person at the checkout counter, anyone who does the kind of work we often call “thankless.”

If you have a spare moment – you’re waiting in a queue somewhere – think back to someone who, many years ago, made a positive difference to your life and whom you didn’t thank at the time: a teacher who inspired you, perhaps, or a friend who gave you good advice or lifted you when you were low. Write to them and tell them so. This one act can transform a life, and giving a satisfaction to others is the best way of finding it yourself. Remember Paul McCartney’s words in Abbey Road: The love you take is equal to the love you make. Ditto for happiness.

Second, resolve to be active not passive. Be a doer, not a complainer. Light a candle, don’t curse the darkness. Don’t criticise leaders: lead. Don’t wait for something to happen: help bring it about. Life is too short to be a spectator rather than a player. So, sit less, exercise more. Drive less, walk more. Neuro scientists have made the heartening discovery that physical exertion renews our brain cells. It actually keeps us mentally as well as physically young. It also produces the endorphins that fight  depression and produce exhilaration. Moses Maimonides, the twelfth century rabbi who was also one of the leading physicians of his day, held that keeping fit was a religious duty. God gave us life and we honour Him by using it to the full.

Third, be part of a community. There is something trans formative about being part of a group who pray, celebrate, remember and hope together. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a community to reach a full flowering of happiness. Virtual communities linked by smart-phones are no substitute for real face-to-face encounter. Community is where our grief is halved and our joy doubled by being shared with others.

Fourth, make a thorough clear-out of negative emotions. Apologise to those you’ve wronged, and forgive those who have wronged you. Emotional energy is too precious to waste it on guilt on the one hand, resentment on the other."

These ideas really spoke to me.
I would like to express a Thank you to my family and friends for their constant support,advice and help. I would also like to thank all the teachers for all that they do on a daily basis on behalf of their students.

The second idea spoke to me even more during this current crisis. Complaining and criticizing others isn't going to accomplish anything and yes, it may make me feel better but at the end of the day it will not accomplish. So As Rabbi Saks pointed out I just need to lead. I will admit easier said than done.

His last idea is one that I have a tough time with. The need to move on and put out those negative feelings. Even harder but more important is to forgive those that have wronged you. As I was reminded by a friend that is doesn't do any good to worry about things that are out of our control.

I am by no means perfect and some these ideas while very true are  easier said than done and it probably won't make me feel any better but I know that the way I feel now is nor healthy for me, my family and especially my students.

The Importance of Listening

picture: www.onedesk.com

This weekend marks the 34th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah. The portion we read this week is the same one I read when I was 13. Therefore today's blog is related to this weeks Torah portion. When I look for insights on the weekly portion I look towards Rabbi Sacks for his insights since they are far better than mine.
This weeks article "To Lead is to Listen"  is once again spot on.

Let me share with you some of Rabbi Sacks' words:

There is no single English word that means to hear, to listen, to heed, to pay attention to, and to obey. Sh-m-a also means “to understand,” as in the story of the tower of Babel, when God says, Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand [yishme’u] each other” (Gen. 11: 7).

As I have argued elsewhere, one of the most striking facts about the Torah is that, although it contains 613 commands, it does not contain a word that means “to obey.” When such a word was needed in modern Hebrew, the verble-tzayet was borrowed from Aramaic. The verb used by the Torah in place of “to obey” is sh-m-a. This is of the highest possible significance. It means thatblind obedience is not a virtue in Judaism. God wants us to understand the laws He has commanded us. He wants us to reflect on why this law, not that. He wants us to listen, to reflect, to seek to understand, to internalise and to respond. He wants us to become a listening people.


It follows that in Judaism listening is a deeply spiritual act. To listen to God is to be open to God. That is what Moses is saying throughout Devarim: “If only you would listen.” So it is with leadership – indeed with all forms of interpersonal relationship. Often the greatest gift we can give someone is to listen to them."

In education and in life we talk about communication, collaboration, caring, and concern for others . A whole new set of "C" skills.  We also often focus on what is being said and how it is being said and at times during a conversation we are really thinking about what we are going to say and not what the other person is saying. 

In any type of relationship we need to remember  that listening is an equal part of having a conversation and that when we listen we show that the person we are listening to is important and that we care about that individual 


I ask this of myself as well, how many of us  truly listen to our spouses, friends, co-workers and maybe most importantly our students. 

So as Rabbi Sacks said " Often the greatest gift we can give someone is to listen to them "

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Differentiation= Successful Teaching"

picture:   www.primary-education-oasis.com


For those of you that have read my blog, attended my online presentations or have visited my Star Educational Consulting website, you know I am a  big believer in differentiation and meeting the needs of our students. Today, as I was going through my twitter feed I came across a tweet with a link to an article Carol Tomlinson, the expert on differentiation, wrote. The post is titled Inventing Differentiation: A Guest Blog by Carol Ann Tomlinson

One of the things that I have preached is that differentiation is not a fad, but rather at its core is just good teaching. Don’t we want all of our students to succeed in our classrooms, don’t we want to meet the needs of more if not all of our students.  To say that all the students walking into our classrooms are the same is absurd .Would  you want your  doctor to treat all of his patience the same way regardless of their needs.
Ok,well enough of me let’s hear from the expert. Here are some key points from the article:
“I’m puzzled, however, by how many classrooms still proceed as though the differences students bring to the classroom with them are either of little academic significance or an inconvenience.  It's not that we don't see the differences, it's that we often do little to respond to them.

Every significant endeavor seems too hard if we look only at the expert's product. In the beginning, golf pros once regularly hit divots, master chefs initially burned dinner, the wisest parents regularly said foolish things to their children, and renowned surgeons in an earlier time doubted their hands.  The success of all these "seasoned" people stemmed largely from three factors.  They started down a path.  They wanted to do better.  They kept working toward their goal. “
Editor’s Note:  For differentiation or any new endeavor to be successful I think at least two things need to be present. 1. A growth mindset, which tells us we can all change and grow and 2. A culture that supports risk taking and where failures are seen as a necessity to succeed.

“I'm often asked how to get started with differentiation.  I'm inclined to say, "It doesn't matter.  Just start."  That's not helpful, though.  A better answer is, "Study your students.  Work steadily to understand them better as individuals.  Observe what encourages and discourages them.  Listen to the stories they want to tell you.  See how they interact with peers and how the interactions appear to affect them.  Observe their success-to-effort ratio in your class, and how they respond to both errors and successes. Hone in on their strengths.  Get a sense of their fundamental "soundness" with foundational skills that support learning.  As we increasingly understand the distinctness of the humans in front of us, differentiation becomes an informed teaching.”
Editor’s note: See above the note about risk taking and failures. Also this emphasizes the notion that we need to know our students and that we are teaching people and not just subjects.
“We began with the conviction that we could not serve our obviously heterogeneous students if we taught them without regard to their differences.  From that launching pad, we came to five guiding principles.

1) We needed to teach what mattered most in the content for which we had responsibility and in a way that helped students see why it mattered.  We asked ourselves often, "Why are we asking the kids to learn this??"  Textbooks, grades and tests were not acceptable answers.

2) We needed to plan for student engagement.  There was an ad slogan at the time that said, "Medicine doesn't have to taste bad to be good."  We clung to the belief that we could be creative enough to teach whatever needed teaching in ways that appealed to young adolescents.
3) We had to build a sense of community--a team of learners--so that both teachers and students had partners for success.
4) We needed to emphasize the primacy of growth--for every student, every day……..
From those "givens," we made proposals.  "What if we try it this way?"  We shared successes--and lesson plans, and materials.  We became comfortable with saying, "That was a mess.  There's got to be a better way.  Let's look at why this approach worked, or didn't, and go from there."
……were unafraid to fail, and learned to think flexibly.  Everything else was an outgrowth of that sound footing.  The very diverse students who will join us at schools across the country and in much of the world this year need teachers who are determined inventors of mechanisms for helping every learner connect with the power of learning.  In the end, that's what differentiation is.  In the end, that's what successful teaching is.”


If you get nothing else know this Differentiation = Successful Teaching 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Having a Shared Purpose

picture: linkedin.com

I have written very often about my PLN and about how important they all have become in my life and that I am lucky to call them friends. I am also lucky that I have a diverse PLN. Another valued member of my PLN is LollyDaskal. Lolly, is the founder of Lead from Within: a successful leading firm that offers custom made programs in leadership and organizational development. She is recognized as a Top Thought Leader  In Business. Today she tweeted the following article, Make A Difference: Lead With A Noble Heart . I would recommend that every leader follows Lolly as she is someone who truly practices what she preaches.
Here are some key excerpts from her article:
   “Many of us lead, but not many of us lead with a noble heart.
There is a well-known anecdote related by Tom Peters about a hospital in the US that treats cancer. During a series of staff interviews, an interviewer asked the housekeeper what her job entailed.
She responded, “I help to cure cancer.” Somewhere in that hospital, a leader had connected the dots for this individual and made her feel that she was an integral part of the hospital’s mission.
Everyone wants to know that what they do matters.
Everyone craves a purpose.
Being noble in leadership is not so much about what you do but how you do it.
A leader with a noble heart can give us what we all search for—a sense of purpose, meaning, and nobility.”

Her words are so true for us as educators as well. I once read about a school that everyone from the Bus Driver to the Principle shared the vision and purpose of the schools mission.  We all need to feel that we are part of a greater whole as my friend Angela Maiers says “the smartest person in the room is the room and that YOU MATTER”
Too often I know teachers who close their doors both figuratively and literally to the outside world and treat their classroom as their own small kingdom. That no longer works because all of us, including our students need to feel that what  they are doing has a purpose.
If I had to compare the average CEO with the average educator, I would say that educators by nature are probably more adept to leading with a “noble heart” so let’s do it !

Let us make sure that we convey our purpose and mission so when anyone in our schools are asked they will answer educating future leaders .