36 Days & Counting

Do not let the title fool you. The last thing I am doing is counting down the days of school that remain. As of today there are “36 days & counting”. For those of you who are counting them down…shame on you. Please stop.

I have been writing this post in my head for the last week or so and as I have been editing draft after draft, I have been able to read some great posts from other educators who share my sentiments for counting down the final days of school. We collectively agree. DO NOT DO IT. I appreciate the transparency Pernille demonstrates in her post below. Be honest. We have all counted down at some point in our careers. I cannot put my finger on when my mindset shifted, but it has. Has yours? Will yours?

Pernille Ripp“On Counting Down the Days”

Adopt another approach to the “36 days & counting” mindset. It starts with leadership. I do my best to model the mindset. We all know this time of year can be difficult. Students can be emotionally drained. Teachers can be emotionally drained. Leaders can be too. Amber does a great job of pointing this out in her article referenced here.

Amber Teamann“It’s Spring…How Can You Support Teacher’s When They’re Tired?

She says, “It’s OK for passionate, committed people to be tired. That doesn’t make you any less awesome. It makes you human.” She is right. Recognize when you are tired and drained and do something to fill yourself back up. In my case, as a leader, I need to check myself. I need to recognize when I am tired and refuel so I am able to help refuel others.

Ultimately we have a decision to make. With “36 days & counting” I see two options.

Option 1

Count down the days, each day drawing closer to the end. In doing so, the message delivered to staff, teachers, & students is that the year is “basically” over and what we are doing now is not as important as what we did earlier in the year. After spending the year educating students about the importance of perseverance and grit you begin to model the exact things you fought so hard to overcome. What you once valued as a learning community has diminished and collaboration has turned into busy work. The message of being a life long learner has fallen short, taking time off as the summer quickly approaches.

Option 2

Seek to build momentum as you head into the off-season or what is otherwise known as summer. As an athlete and sports nut, I view the final “36 days & counting” as the home stretch, the 4th quarter, the bell lap, or the bottom of the ninth. Continue to create lasting relationships. Keep motivating your students and colleagues, inspiring change. Teach and learn from the group of students you have poured into all year. Make your own momentum.

Building Momentum

As a sports season comes to an end you will hear coaches comment on building momentum heading into the off-season. I believe the same can be said about education.  Buildings, teacher teams and students can use the remaining days as a spring board into the next school year. Buildings can begin laying the groundwork for efforts that will carry them forward into the next school year. Teacher teams can reflect on practices and begin making positive changes that will carry over into the next school year. Students can strengthen their foundation of learning making the transition into a new grade level less of a leap and more of a skip.

There are “36 days & counting”. We have a decision to make. Which option do you choose? What mindset will you adopt? Do you show up for game 7 and look to hit the winning shot? Or do you embrace the remaining days and “make it count” as Paige Givens inspires us do to below?

Paige Givens“7 More Weeks”

I hope you choose to join me and the authors referenced above this spring. Let’s rally, lifting one another up so we may continue to inspire positive change in our schools and be the change we want to see in others. The final 36 days of school could be the best 36 days of the year. If you want them to be.

Feedback is a GIFT

“That’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.” Remember when Eddie shared this memorable quote in Christmas Vacation? Needless to say, he was not talking about feedback. As you know, he was referencing the Jelly of the Month club. As principals, leaders and teachers, we know that Feedback is a GIFT. Feedback is a GIFT that keeps giving the whole year. If you give it. @matthew_arend

This past week feedback has been on my mind. I have been getting ready for my end of year conferences with teachers. During these conferences, feedback will be very important as we lift up and celebrate what has gone well this year, review areas of refinement and set a direction for the next school year. I want to say just the right things, recognizing the efforts of teachers. I also want to provide encouragement and inspiration to keep them learning and growing.

As my week went on, it became more clear, this was a topic I was needing to write about. As I entered into a training session on Thursday, the following image was displayed midway through the morning.

Did this image speak to you like it did to me? I have never underestimated the power of feedback, but I will be honest and tell you my feedback can certainly improve. I am going to use this as a jumping off point to intentionally improve my feedback between now and the end of the year and of course for many years to come.

Regardless of the position you hold, these four statements speak truth into the relationships that exist. George Couros reminds us in the Innovator’s Mindset that it is all about “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships.” Whether you are a leader speaking with teachers or a teacher speaking with students, trusting and authentic relationships must be present for feedback to be effective. 

Given with Permission

“In through one ear and out of the other.” I vividly recall being in situations where I was providing feedback and the person who I had wished heard it, was not ready to hear it. Whether they were upset, in denial or just not ready to hear what I had to say, I did not have their permission to share. Before obtaining permission, relationships must be developed, cultivated and nurtured. Trust must be developed so when feedback is sought out or shared, it is given with permission. If someone does not come to you specifically asking for feedback, consider asking someone if you can provide feedback, before you just give it.

Intent is for Growth

Feedback needs to be articulated in a way that moves us forward. As a leader, I need to be mindful of this. I can dwell on what has occurred or I can use what has occurred to guide our next steps. Learning from our past helps us set a clearer path for the future. If success is the ultimate goal, then we must grow.

My reading this week for #IMMOOC including the following statement:

We only get better when we find those who truly elevate us. Look for mentors who will push you to come up with better and brighter ideas and be that person for your followers. Leaders are meant to unleash talent by bringing their people’s strengths to life, not ignoring them. 

The above excerpt is an excellent measuring stick for the effectiveness of my feedback. If the feedback I am giving meets what George highlighted above, my intent is for growth. The one nugget that should not be overshadowed is if you are giving feedback, you should have someone providing feedback to you also. Feedback is by no means a one way street. We all need someone to “push us to come up with better and brighter ideas.”

For the Person, Not About the Person

I cannot think of a quicker way to damage the relationships that have been established than making your feedback personal. Recently at a principal’s meeting, we shared feedback with teachers after a brief presentation they shared. Instead of beginning our sentence with the word “you” we were instructed to to specifically state the teachers name. While this seemed bizarre, speaking about someone who was clearly sitting in front of us, it removed the “personal” aspect of the feedback making the feedback more for the person than about the person.

Technology Supports Feedback

I was able to attend a professional learning session this weekend hosted by Alice Keeler. While the focus of much of the morning was on how to best use Google products to enhance learning experiences for students, we also discussed how the same tools could provide feedback to students…instantly. Whether you are using Google products to provide your feedback or using a more traditional face to face model, the graphic below serves as a terrific reminder to provide feedback promptly. Teachers need feedback from peers and leaders in a timely fashion so they can be affirmed of the decisions they are making. Timely feedback also supports teachers in reflecting on decisions should adjustments need to be made. These adjustments may warrant a higher level of success. Feedback for students needs to be timely and shared while student interest is high. While they are giving permission for feedback to be shared. As students seek feedback amidst their engagement, we must follow through. Waiting to respond when it is convenient, tells the student what they are working on is not valued equally, leading to a decrease in their interest, empowerment and engagement. Keeler’s focus on using technology to provide feedback to students also empowers students to give feedback to the teachers. Receiving specific responses, allows for individualized feedback. Just make sure it is for the student and not about the student.

When you ask question to the class and choose one student to respond, you know what one student is thinking. When you ask the question digitally, all students can respond. Instantly.

– Alice Keeler

Targeted for Success

You are on target for success when your feedback is given with permission, the intent is for growth and it is focused for the person and not about the person. The important piece to remember is that feedback is ongoing. As I head into my end of year conferences, I need to be mindful of the fact that success does not happen in one conference. Feedback needs to be on-going and followed up on. Success is a journey. Honestly, there is not a final destination. Just when you feel you have arrived, our best will find another area they want to improve upon. Thus, keeping the need for feedback to be constant and on-going.

As I look to “empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity” as the Innovator’s Mindset calls us to do, I aim to do so through modeling, but also through my feedback to teachers and our teacher’s feedback to our students. Taking risks and attempting to approaching learning with new and better ways can be trepidatious. I need to be sure I am giving the gift that will support the work, lift up teachers and keep them moving forward. I need to remember, feedback is a GIFT.


Two Perspectives, One Vision, Leading to a Student-Centered Classroom

#IMMOOC Week 4

Teri Bauerly

My first year of teaching middle school I thought I was “in charge”. I thought I needed to have control over my students for them to learn. What I really wanted was for my students to complete the things I told them to, within a given time frame, while being respectfully quiet.

I was always nervous for evaluations and observations. I thought I had to prepare a special lesson for my administrator to observe. I was worried about what they would think and how I would do. Whenever an administrator walked into my classroom I wondered what they wanted and worried about what my students were doing.

The way I was trying to ‘run’ my class were at odds with my desire to engage my students in learning and wanting to build relationships with them. The next year I began teaching STEM courses as well as “Educational Technology”. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could better reach my students. The STEM courses were the spark that lit a fire in me, and that fire was student engagement.

My thinking shifted from “What am I expected to do as the teacher?” to “What purpose does this serve for the students?” “Is this going to help my students learn?” “Why would students need to do this?” That fire within me also burned down the mental platform that was in my head. I had this idea that the teacher was supposed to be the tallest person in the room, standing on a platform front & center. Students should have to look up to me, that I should be stationary and imposing.

With that idea gone I was thinking of myself less and my students more. I started by asking students what they thought about projects, assignments, and how class was structured– and I listened. Whenever I could make a change to an assignment that would make it more interesting for my students, I would do it. As students started to have more choice and voice in class it became a more exciting and interesting place to be.

Listening to my students and providing more choices is what really set me down a path to building relationships. Being open to conversations with my students about the learning and teaching happening in our classroom was the first steps towards my understanding that we are all learners together. The STEM curriculum that I use provides a lot of opportunities for students to develop their critical thinking skills, to find problems, and create their own solutions.

Students often complete self-reflections or self-scoring after projects in class. The only person who sees these documents is the student and myself. The areas I hope to improve in next year are Connected Learners- providing the opportunity for students to connect with a global, authentic audience and Opportunities for Innovation- focusing less on close-ended questions, right or wrong answers, and memorization of information and more on creation.

The professional learning community that Twitter provides has given me the encouragement and information I needed to foster a more innovative classroom. Reading the Innovator’s Mindset helped me realize that the learning experiences I expect for my students I should expect for myself, and vice-versa. If I think social media is a powerful learning platform then I should be helping my students learn how to leverage that tool as well. If I think that my students should spend time reflecting and self-assessing then I should be taking the time to do that as well.

Now, I see my students and myself as learners and that the classroom is our shared space. I am no longer nervous or anxious for evaluations. The project my students are ready for on the day my administrator wants to observe is the project my administrator observes. The conversation with my administrator has shifted too. We talk about the opportunities for students and their levels of engagement. We also talk about my goals as a professional and what I will plan to do as a teacher leader to help others in our school.

Some of the best things that have happened in our classroom these past few years has been deeper relationships with students, conversations focused on learning (I don’t get asked how many points something is or what grade someone earned very often), and the development of learning spaces that are student-centered. Learning about and being intentional with trying to build an innovative classroom has made me a better educator. At the center of it all I keep my students, they are my inspiration and foundation.

Matt Arend

Interesting perspective through the eyes of a teacher. Agreed? The beauty in this week’s #IMMOOC Blog Buddy Challenge connected me with Teri Bauerly a middle school educator in South Dakota. Throughout IMMOOC Season 2, we have helped hold one another accountable. I have appreciated her insight from the classroom as I view innovation and the 8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classroom through the lens of an elementary school principal in Texas.

If you are familiar with education in Texas, you may recall hearing about a new appraisal instrument being used in most school districts this year. T-TESS or the Texas Teacher Evaluation & Support System. While I may not agree with all of the educational platforms we have adopted within the state of Texas, I do believe our new evaluation and support system for teachers is a step in the right direction. A big step.

As I read Teri’s thoughts above, I believe she gets it, but she is the first to tell you she hasn’t always got it. There was a time when the 8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classroom would have been considered eight additional things she has “to do” in her classroom. Truth be told, there was a time in my career, that I would have agreed with her. Who has time for all of this. I have to teach. (My sincere apologies to the students I taught my first year of teaching.)

As I prepare for my end of year T-TESS conferences and continue to analyze our new scoring rubric, the 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom are no longer things teachers could be doing, they are the things teachers should be doing and are embedded throughout our new evaluation tool. Let me break this down.

(Keep in mind on our new evaluation rubric, the scale moves from right to left. The farther right you move indicates the classroom is student-centered vs. teacher centered. The essence of the 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom encourage teachers to create a student-centered environment. Teachers can receive one of five scores:  Improvement Needed, Developing, Proficient, Accomplished or Distinguished.)

Domain 1 – Voice, Choice, Time for Reflection, Critical Thinkers, Problem Solvers/Finders, Self-Assessment

In just the first of the four domains, six of the eight “Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” are referenced. As teachers are planning, long before instruction is delivered, students should be on their mind. Not on their mind in regards to it’s who they are teaching, rather “How can I empower students through these modern learning approaches.” Student voice, problem solving and critical thinking should be on display as highlighted with this statement: Opportunities for students to generate questions that lead to further inquiry and promote complex, higher-order thinking, problem solving and real-world application. Who is asking the questions in your classroom? As you can see, teachers can support students in the development of questions that lead to new lines of inquiry rather than the teacher needing a lesson plan full of level one, two and three questions. Additionally, students should be setting goals, reflecting on their progress and evaluating the effectiveness of their plan to achieve their goals, holding one another accountable along the way, taking ownership of the individual choices they are afforded. Speaking of taking ownership, how about self-assessment. Self-assessment by itself can be a valuable tool but when utilized you embed student voice and choice into your student centered classroom. Sound like your classroom as a student? Not mine. Sounds like a student-centered environment to me.

Statements from Domain 1

Opportunities for students to generate questions that lead to further inquiry and promote complex, higher-order thinking, problem solving and real-world application

The ability for all students to set goals, reflect on, evaluate and hold each other accountable within instructional groups.

Instructional groups based on the needs of all students, and allows for students to take ownership of group and individual accountability.

Guidance for students to apply their strengths, background knowledge, life experiences and skills to enhance each other’s learning.

Opportunities for students to utilize their individual learning patterns, habits and needs to achieve high levels of academic and social-emotional success.

All activities, materials and assessments that:̊provide appropriate time for student work, student reflection, lesson and lesson closure

Formal and informal assessments to monitor progress of all students, shares appropriate diagnostic, formative and summative assessment data with students to engage them in self-assessment, build awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses and track their own progress

Domain 2 – Voice, Choice, Opportunities for Innovation, Critical Thinkers

After planning instruction follows, which is the focus on Domain 2. Teachers interested in receiving a score that reflects a student-centered classroom need to do more than just plan for it. They have to make it happen. In Texas, there are up to 22 students in a classroom and each of those 22 students have a voice, which means as teacher, we should be gathering input from each of them for their instruction. Interest surveys, relationships and getting to know your learners support the types of experiences you can design for them. By utilizing their input, teachers create differentiated learning opportunities meant to empower learning, not just engage the learners. Easy? No. Can it be replicated year to year? Students change and their interests will too. Pinterest and TPT have ideas, but guess what? Your students do too. Start with them.

Statements from Domain 2

Systematically gathers input from students in order to monitor and adjust instruction, activities or pacing to respond to differences in student needs.

Establishes classroom practices that encourage all students to communicate safely and effectively using a variety of tools and methods with the teacher and their peers.

Skillfully provokes and guides discussion to pique curiosity and inspire student-led learning of meaningful and challenging content.

Always provides differentiated instructional methods and content to ensure students have the opportunity to master what is being taught.

Consistently provides opportunities for students to use different types of thinking (e.g.,analytical, practical, creative and research-based)

Domain 3 – Voice & Choice

Domain 3 focuses on the learning environment. So let me ask, “Who is the learning environment for?” Is it for teachers to learn or for the students to learn? Recently I was in a staff development session in a room full of principals and we were being led by teachers. Specifically teachers who had transformed their learning environments for students. Their classrooms were not set up to accommodate their own needs. The teacher at my table shared how she had turned the reigns over to students through a design challenge with the winning design being how the classroom would be set up. Ultimately, two different student groups projects were selected and collaboratively, the two groups worked towards one design for the classroom learning environment. Just imagine how empowered you would be each day walking into your place of work knowing you designed it for your learning style. Talk about ownership.

Statements from Domain 3

Students and the teacher create, adopt and maintain classroom behavior standards.

Establishes and uses effective routines, transitions and procedures that primarily rely on student leadership and responsibility.

Students take primary leadership and responsibility for managing student groups, supplies, and/or equipment.

Domain 4 – Voice, Time for Reflection, Self-Assessment, Connected Educator

The final domain, Domain 4 is all about the teacher and their responsibilities and professional learning. The statement, for things to change I must change, comes to mind. Transforming a classroom from a teacher-centered learning environment to a student-centered learning environment may begin right here. George Couros talks about the difference in a school teacher vs. a classroom teacher and in this domain the teachers find their voice for ALL students within their school. As a building leader, I will not ask my teachers to do anything I am not willing to do myself and I believe the same should be said about teachers in regards to their students. You want students to reflect? Do you? Do you share your reflections with them? As a professional, reflection in paramount to growth. Through reflection, do teachers self-assess? This year in Texas, teachers each had to write a specific goal for themselves and map out the action steps that will help them accomplish their goal. Sounds very similar to the goal setting process we highlighted in Domain 1. As a part a teacher’s goal, they are empowered to reflect, assess and connect. All things we want to see in classrooms.

Statements from Domain 4

Advocates for the needs of all students in the classroom and campus.

Consistently sets, modifies and meets short- and long-term professional goals based on self-assessment, reflection, peer and supervisor feedback, contemporary research and analysis of student learning.

Leads colleagues collaboratively in and beyond the school to identify professional development needs through detailed data analysis and self-reflection.

Seeks resources and collaboratively fosters faculty knowledge and skills.

Develops and fulfills the school and district improvement plans through professional learning communities, grade- or subject level team leadership, committee leadership or other opportunities beyond the campus.

Initiates collaborative efforts that enhance student learning and growth.
My hat goes off to Teri Bauerly. She is on her way. She along with many other teachers have realized these 8 Things to Look for in Classrooms are not eight additional things they need to be doing, but they ARE the “8 Things” students/teachers should be doing in classrooms. I’m also excited to be in a place (State of TX) where we realize this is what teachers should be striving to accomplish with their students. Remember, we are all on the journey. To quote Amber Teamann, “Sprint, walk or crawl…let’s go.”

I Was Afraid…Until I Wasn’t

Fear can be paralyzing.

Recently I have taken up Cross Fit as a means of exercise. As I pour through Cross Fit routines, there are some workouts that scare me to death. How could I do that? There is no way I can do this workout in the time given. I started slow and began choosing workouts that just covered the basics; sit-ups, push-ups, squats & pull-ups. As my confidence grew, I was prepared to take on the more challenging workouts. Even with an increased confidence, there was one workout I was still afraid of. Take a look at the following image to see the cause of my fear. I did muster up the courage to attempt this workout once or twice over the next couple of months, improving the time it took me with each opportunity. It was not until last weekend, when I entered the gym with this workout on my mind that I realized I was afraid…until I wasn’t. I shaved an additional four minutes off my time and have an even higher level of confidence.

My son Cooper is currently experiencing a similar situation. For the last four weeks now, Cooper has been desperately avoiding the reality that one of his two front teeth needs to fall out. It could not be more loose without falling out at this point. He is scared to death. Completely afraid. Afraid it will hurt. Afraid he will swallow it. Just down right afraid. I have seen a change in him though over the last several weeks. On the night he discovered his tooth was loose he cried. He screamed. He would let me or his mom even look at it. In the following days, it was more of the same, We soon had a breakthrough. He began to realize we could look at it without causing him pain and eventually he realized he could even wiggle his tooth with his finger and tongue. He was afraid…until he wasn’t. Now, almost four weeks later, the tooth remains in his mouth, but our routine every night before he goes to bed includes wiggling his tooth just a bit making a little more loose each night. (Man, I hope that tooth falls out soon!)

I cannot keep all of this fear to myself, so it would only be right if I shared my fear with others. Yes, I am writing this and sharing it with you, but that is not what I was referring to. Each spring, as hiring season comes, I find myself placing fear in the hearts and minds of some teachers in my building as we discuss growth opportunities for the upcoming school year. I don’t set out to intentionally scare teachers, but I do want to challenge them and help them grow with new opportunities. Recently in a discussion with one staff member the topic of fear came up as we discussed a potential change for next year. It made me realize just how paralyzing fear can be. If we allow it to, it can stop us dead in our tracks. Fear can prevent us from moving forward. It can stop us from growing. Fear can keep us in our comfort zone…if we allow it to.

Connection to Innovation

Doing what we know as familiar is comfortable. Whether its going to the gym and completing a familiar workout each time, refusing to pullout a tooth or staying in a position professionally each can provide a certain level of comfort. You know what else is comfortable? Choosing not to be innovative. Innovation is a word that can make educators afraid. Trying things that are new in an effort to make something better takes a level of risk we are not all comfortable which, hence the fear. The fear of the unknown outcome. The fear of being judge by others. The fear of not having all the answers. The fear of not getting it right the first time. While all of these fears may be legit, I have learned a two things about being afraid as I have been processing this post.

  1. Unless you are talking about my fear of heights and snakes, being afraid is something that can be minimized over time. Taking the risk just once, may not help you over come your fear, but being innovative repeatedly over time makes it less of a “thing” and more of a mindset, leading to you overcoming your fear.
  2. Surrounding oneself with accountability helps overcome fear. My #fitleaders family has been a great support group in helping me push my fitness and take on challenges in the gym I would otherwise not have the courage to try. Cooper has the support of his parents, which slowly but surely is making him more brave. Even tonight he said, “I don’t do this anymore.” (Referring to a head gesture he would make when someone would go to wiggle his tooth) Even the teachers who are fearful of making a change at work will find support among their colleagues, teachers who have made a change similar or through continue conversations with administrators as the decision to make the move becomes more clear.

Educators find themselves at a unique time and place. Educators can be afraid or they cannot. Educators can choose to remain status quo, paralyzed by the fear and do what they have always done, getting the results they have always got or they can take the risks knowing they have surrounded themselves with accountability and support. Doing that latter ensures we may have once been afraid, but soon we will not.


Silencing the Critics, as an Innovator

This week as a “bonus” challenge #IMMOOC’ers were encourage to right a blog with a buddy. I had the opportunity to team up with elementary principal Amber Teamann an innovative leader in a near by district. Together we pose critiques and rebuttals encouraging our readers to always keep moving forward!

Last week, GC posted an image with the quote, If I had to choose one, I would rather be a CREATOR than a CRITIC. Below we highlight a critic’s comment  to the “8 Things to Look for In Today’s Classroom” and a creator’s Innovative Mindset response.


Amber as the Critic: Share their learning? I need my students quiet and focused. I’m the expert in the learning and need my students to sit and learn as I teach them.

Matt as the Creator: Whoa! The teacher is the expert huh. Teacher, let yourself off the hook. You do not need to be the expert.  Students can learn from teachers and teachers can learn from students, (principals can learn from students too) if we are willing to give students a voice. Student voice can be utilized throughout a school, not just in the classroom. Student tour guides, student panels, student advisory groups and simply asking students for their feedback and opinions regarding what takes place at school are all ways students can be given a voice. It is time to stop doing things to students at school and start doing things with them.


Matt as the Critic: We have a curriculum to follow and students need to be doing what I want them to do.

Amber as the Creator: Life is about choices. There is always an opportunity to allow students to exercise some form of choice in our classroom! Don’t hear what I am not saying…you still have a curriculum and standards that you’re going to be expected to teach. However, take a look at what/how you’re asking your students to “prove” that they know what you are teaching, or how you are assessing their knowledge. Could they create a video instead of a written summary of a book? Could they recreate a lesson reviewing the days/weeks science concepts? Instead of answering questions, could they come up with their own? There are opportunities everywhere for you to allow student choice…you just have to be OK with giving it to them!                                       

Time for Reflection

Amber as the Critic: I teach children, reflection is a skill that is not in my curriculum, I don’t have time to be able to adequately teach my students to do this too!

Matt as the Creator: Reflection can look many different ways and yes, I would argue it is in the curriculum. Reflection is thinking. Reflection is learning. We want students to be thinking and learning. ALWAYS. Thinking about how they did on their last project. Thinking about how they can improve for next time. Thinking about what they did to find success. Thinking about what they just read. Thinking about new content that was just introduced. Thinking about what they learned on any given day.  It is all reflection. Reflection could be written out on a blog or even on a worksheet, but it doesn’t have to be. Students can reflect on their learning through discussion, question stems, or even through video. As a teacher, how do you know what students are learning, capable of learning or if they are learning at all, if you do not give them time to reflect on their experiences?

Opportunities for Innovation

Matt as the Critic: We have to get students prepared to take a test.

Amber as the Creator: There is a difference in preparing students to be assessed and teaching to a test. Too often we fall into the trap in thinking that we’re in our classrooms for the sole purpose of seeing how students score at the end of the year. If that’s the environment that you find yourself in, I am so sorry. You are not there to earn an arbitrary score at the end of the year, you are there to GROW learners. By creating a high energy, high performing classroom/campus, where students are challenged and allowed to be creative, where students are able to take risks and learn to LOVE to learn…you will see gains. That is what you as an educator should want…students who love to learn. Now, am I saying you shouldn’t care about a test? Of course not, you are also responsible for ensuring that students know the rules of the game that they are playing. What I am saying that is that there is no need to sacrifice opportunities for innovation, for the sake of a test. You CAN balance both…there are educators doing so all over the country. YOU just have to find that balance. Start small…the benefits you see will give you confidence to try something more.

Critical Thinkers

Amber as the Critic: This is the way we do things. As the teacher, I need to know the answers to the questions students may ask me, otherwise I am not going to look like I know what I’m doing.

Matt as the Creator: Critical Thinkers ask questions. Recently I read a statistic from John Hattie stating, “Teachers ask 200-300 questions a day, while most students may only ask 2.” In order to establish critical thinking, students must be explicitly taught the act of asking questions and teachers/leaders need to be able to discern the difference between a student asking a question to challenge an adult vs. a question that challenges status quo. Whether you are using Bloom’s Taxonomy or Costa’s Levels of Questions students need to be generate the questions. Not the teachers. Ready to challenge the status quo? When was the last time you gave a test to students with all the correct answers? Try it. Have students tell you WHY the answers are correct instead of simply finding the correct answers.

Problem Solvers/Finders

Matt as the Critic: Problem solving is such a difficult thing for students to figure out. The product of their work in the past has been sub-par.

Amber as the Creator: There are many initiatives that allow students to develop the skills needed to problem solve at varying levels. EduBreakout and Makerspaces are two that are on the rise. Both are organic, efficient and authentic…spaces that allow students to collaborate, problem solve and work together. They allow students to be up, be moving, communicating in a manner that allows for problem solving at their own pace. You would be amazed at what your students can do, if you get out of their way and let them. The skills needed to be successful in both of those “extras” directly transfer to your academic core as well. It helps children with challenges, and to overcome obstacles. There are moments of success and frustration. Intrinsically, if students are challenged and enjoying being challenged and overcoming that obstacle, you can dial into energy that for your classroom. Struggles in learning occur every day…allowing students to see that that is a natural part of education, and not to be feared, will be an incredible LIFE lesson!

Self Assessment

Amber as the Critic: When do I have time to allow students to self assess? It’s already stressful enough getting papers/projects and graded, and entered in the grade book as it is!

Matt as the Creator: Self-assessment does not need to be one more thing. George Couros talks about the importance of developing a digital portfolio to share student work samples over time. The work samples are going to be available already. Students will always have work samples. The question that needs to be asked is, “What happens to the work sample upon completion?” If placed in a digital portfolio students and teachers can reflect on student growth other time and determine what they learned, growth that has been shown and areas that still need to be developed. In using self-assessment, students are determining their path & grade instead of a teacher telling them what they earned. What sounds more powerful to you?

Connected Learning

Matt as the Critic: Parents in my school/classroom or district prohibit social media and I cannot share their work.
Amber as the Creator: There are two kinds of connected learning. While George references bringing in experts, never underestimate your own experiences and the opportunities you being connected can bring to your students. Some of the best and the brightest are on twitter. You will be challenged, inspired, and motivated beyond what you could ever imagine. Now, when it comes to sharing what you are doing in your classroom, you need to start where you are. I am always able to ensure to my parents/families that anything shared will be celebratory and positive. I use these spaces to BRAG and love on our students. I don’t always use their names. I don’t always use their faces. You can find a way to make this work in your room/building…if you want too. I have permission slips/letters/fun “safe” facts…please reach out. Please don’t let your fear of what “could” go wrong be the reason you don’t share you and your student’s genius with the world!

As someone who wants to be an innovative educator, remember that you’re never going to just BE there. It’s hopefully going to be a journey…one that you’re always on. Recognizing that there are always going to be critics allows to get your mind wrapped around a way that you can respond and be true to who you are. None of us have the answers, & all of us will have missteps. That’s ok…those are just minor detours on this journey. You’re allowed to have detours and still get to where you want to be.

Getting Past the Tipping Point

The tipping point can be defined as a collection of subtle moments which become more significant causing a less subtle change. According to our friends at Merriam Webster the definition of tipping point is: the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place. 

In a time where critics of education are plenty, I choose to believe differently. I believe education is at the tipping point. Awesome is happening in schools across the country.

The question that begs to be asked is, “How do we get past the tipping point?”  @matthew_arend

The power of relationships and turning engagement into empowerment has been the focus for #IMMOOC’ers this past week. While hundreds of educators across our country and world have been by reading Innovator’s Mindset, participating in Twitter Chats and blogging (3 times this week #IMMOOCBC1, #IMMOOCBC2 & IMMOOCBC3) there are thousands more who are not.

How do we move beyond our current efforts and make this “mindset” the “unstoppable event that takes place”? How do we get past the tipping point?

As a building leader, I know I need to continue pushing teachers just beyond their level of comfort. As Amber Teamann, stated this week, “…I am ok with their pace, as long as they are moving forward.” Status quo will not get us past the tipping point. We ALL need to be moving forward.

I have personally shared my copy of Innovator’s Mindset, had a second copy shared with me and just placed an order for a third. While, I am not asking you to go buy additional copies, I am asking you to share. Share what you have learned, share has what inspired you and leverage the relationships you have cultivated to get us past the tipping point.

“How are you planning to get past the tipping point?” I would love for you to share your ideas in the comments below.

Let’s empower one another and create more significant moments leading to something great for education.



Rethinking Empowerment #IMMOOC #IMMOOCBC2

At some point last school year and at the beginning of this school year, I shared the graphic below with our teachers.

When I shared this originally, it was my attempt at telling our teachers, “It’s ok to try these things, take a risk.” I knew some teachers had already been using some of these tools and I knew some needed a nudge to try them.

Throughout the rest of the school year I would be in classrooms and see teachers trying to integrate these tools into their instruction. In most cases, this document was pinned to the bulletin board at their desk or taped to a cabinet near by.

In August, the following year, I passed this same document out again. I had the teachers cross out what they had tried last year and circle a couple of things they wanted to try this year.

It was while reading the most recent chapters of the Innovator’s Mindset that I realized the mistake I had made. Yes, teachers were empowered to make decisions, take risks and blend technologies into their instruction, but we were leaving out the most important voice in the room…the students.

I am rethinking empowerment. @matthew_arend !ref I recently read a post by Cathy Brophy, a fellow IMMOOC’ers which you can read here. Her final line was, “In the end, empowering kids cannot start until we empower the grownups we work with.”

“In the end, empowering kids cannot start until we empower the grownups we work with.” – Cathy Brophy

I am ready and our teachers are ready for the next step. As spring arrives and I begin to tentatively lay out plans for next fall, I am rethinking empowerment. It is time to empower our students. @matthew_arend !ref The new handout may look something like this…but given to students from their teachers.

(No disrespect to Austin Gagnier or Sylvia Duckworth for changing the title. I love the thinking and have used it multiple times. I am just rethinking empowerment.)


Is Self-Consciousness the Death of Innovation? – #IMMOOCBC1

It’s funny how many parallels you can draw from life when you are immersed in something. Over the course of the last three weeks, I have been immersed in the #IMMOOC. I found another parallel to the Innovator’s Mindset yesterday as I was driving in the car. I was listening to a podcast when the author shared the following quote from Tom Hanks. “Self-consciousness is the death of art.” In this quote, Hanks was alluding to the fact that when filming movies, he rarely acts out a scene for a second time. In his mind the subsequent takes add to his level of self-conscious therefore making them worse than the first.

This got me wondering, “Is self-consciousness the death of innovation?” @matthew_arend !refAs I walk in and out of classrooms I see teachers who boldly find ways to make learning new and better for their students. Teachers take these risks well knowing they could fail. It begs to question, are there teachers who do not take the same risks because they are self-conscious? Does their self-consciousness limit innovation?

This week our #IMMOOC focus was on relationships, relationships & relationships. As a building leader my goal is to develop relationships, empower teachers and students and ensure that self-consciousness does not become the death of innovation. Hear more about that by watching #IMMOOC Live Episode 3.

How do you ensure relationships are in place so self-consciousness does not become the death of innovation in your classroom, grade level, department or building?

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Unbridled Foolishness #IMMOOC

“Unbridled innovation is dangerous, foolish.” Those words were sent to me in a tweet this past weekend. Literally slapped me in the face.

I had been participating in a Twitter chat and @PrincipalPaul a member of my PLN had tweeted out the following, “We wouldn’t let surgeons/pilots consciously leave the best technology on shelves collecting dust. Why do we let educators?” In response to his comment (which I agree with) I replied, “The same can be said about professional learning. We don’t want our doctors using same practices year after year.” Understanding the 140 characters within a tweet can be limiting, let me explain. Research and advancements in medicine happen at a rapid clip. Doctors can continue to practice traditional methods or change their practices based on the latest technologies, advancements & practices. As an educator, I want the same for our profession. Teachers and leaders need to be learning. Regularly!

Here’s an example…My dad had a hip replacement surgery a year ago last November. When he went to meet his surgeon, the original plan was to undergo a traditional hip replacement surgery. Being an active guy as my dad is, he asked questions. My dad wanted to recovery quickly and get back on his bicycle ASAP. His questions helped him discover an alternative to the traditional approach. He discovered minimally invasive hip replacement. Ultimately, the implants used are the same, however the approach is totally different. Enter innovation via interation. (a change of something that already exists)

This minimally invasive approach has not been around forever. I will not pretend to be in medical school. I will save the who discovered it and when it was discovered for someone who is. What I do know is that it started somewhere. This new and better approach started with someone asking a question leading to a new and better way to perform surgery. Just so you know, less than one month later, I was able to attend a spin class with my dad. He was not yet at 100%, but goodness…he was spinning one month after a hip replacement.

You can see how my 140 character response may not get to the point. The response I received and subsequent dialogue that ensued challenged my thinking.  The gentleman I was engaged with asked, “How can profession regulate tide of untested approaches, willy nilly adoption of ideas?” My response, “term regulate confines us to “a way” of doing things. Does ed need to be regulated or innovative?”

We continued back and forth and agreed that education cannot be confined or put in a box. When education is put in a box, creativity dies. This is where I appreciate the push from George Couros, encouraging educators to find ways to innovate inside the box. Just as we agreed education not be confined to a box, he responded with the words, “…I would still assert that unbridled innovation is dangerous, foolish.” It was then I realized, I am not convincing or changing this man’s mind 140 characters at a time. I responded with one last thought and then bid him farewell. “We may disagree, but understand it’s unbridled foolishness that will uncover the next big thing.” @matthew_arend

As the Twitter chat ended, I began to doubt myself. Is innovation dangerous? Is it unbridled foolishness? Do others feel this way?

I go back to George’s definition of innovation, a way of thinking that creates something new and betterDoes doing something new or doing something better take some unbridled foolishness? I bet Blockbuster wishes they had spent some time with unbridled foolishness. Does education need regulation? Sure. Innovation and the creation of new and better ideas? You tell me.

24 hours removed from the Twitter chat, still wondering if I really believed the words I had tweeted, “unbridled foolishness will uncover the next big thing” I tuned into the #IMMOOC YouTube Live Session 2 w/ Katie Martin, George Couros & special guest Sarah Thomas. I sat up a little bit taller as these three unpacked the first chapters of the Innovator’s Mindset. Their words affirmed my belief. The belief that I want teachers innovating with an unbridled foolishness, waiting to discover the next big thing. It may be appropriate to note, in my opinion, the difference between unbridled foolishness and willy-nilly ideas is simply the reflection that follows said ideas and whether the ideas create a new path for students to learn.

Specific statements made throughout the night simply spoke to me. The statements captured in the images you see reinforced my beliefs, served as a source of inspiration and encouraged me to return to my staff and students to innovate with an unbridled foolishness. The smallest idea may be the next big thing. @matthew_arend

What did this experience teach me?

  1. Believe in yourself. Do not back down when someone challenges your thinking. Listen and be open to their point of view and then be willing to defend yours if you believe it to be best for students.
  2. There is work to do. For every educator out there who “gets it” there are still many who do not. It becomes the job of those who do to educate those who do not. The innovative ideas yet to be discovered count on it.
  3. Surround yourself with people who do and do not think like you. You will receive the affirmation you need, but will also have your thinking challenged. The challenge makes you just uncomfortable enough to grow. Thank you #IMMOOC.

Hope you join us on this #IMMOOC journey!


Time to Reflect w/ Video Update #IMMOOC

March is one of my favorite times of year. As a school principal it may be the busiest time of year, but I love it. March Madness is probably one of the big reasons as I am a huge sports fan and I enjoy watching the upsets and buzzer beaters that seem to accompany the road to the final four. Yet another big reason March is one of my favorite times of year is Spring Break. Not because we get five days off of work, but because it allows for some down time. It allows for time to think. It allows for time to reflect.

George Couros started the second round of #IMMOOC this week which I am excited to be participating in. Hopefully at a deeper level than the first round. (Help hold me accountable.) As a part of the #IMMOOC, each week there is a YouTube Live Episode.  John Spencer and AJ Juliani kicked off week one and led us through some thought provoking conversation. Towards the end of the session, AJ Juliani commented about the power of reflection and giving people time to reflect. I am terrible at that as a leader. I need to be better at giving my teachers time to reflect. If we do not intentionally set time aside to reflect, will reflection really occur?

A couple of weeks ago I was encouraged by my boss to consider recommending our campus for the Schools Transforming Learning Designation Program through the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute. My original inclination was to say, “No thank you” and focus on the task at hand. Little did I know, this was a nudge. An intentional nudge that would require me to reflect.

As a part of the submission nominees had to create a 3-5 minute video capturing how school buildings were walking out the mission within the Visioning Document. I chose to highlight a specific article within the document, Article 5: Organizational Transformation.

Organizational transformation is the re-engineering of current structures and practices, resulting in a paradigm shift in our culture, vision, and trajectory, so that our purpose becomes empowering our learning community to collaboratively design profound, meaningful learning experiences throughout the educational journey.

– Plano Leadership Visioning Institute

This definition has been the driving force behind the work the staff at Sigler Elementary has been a part of. The last word of this definition is the most impactful for me and serves as a frequent reminder. We are on a journey. Many of us on the staff are in different spots along the journey. Some are farther along then others, but what I have come to realize is that no one is at the same spot they once were. I wonder…have I allowed them time to reflect on this journey?

As I jump back into the #IMMOOC I am reminded how innovation is not separate and apart from the journey, but it ultimately is the journey. As GC says..it’s a mindset. It’s through innovation that the organizational transformation continues and it’s through reflection we navigate the March Madness and head towards the next destination along our journey.

Interested in seeing the video we submitted…As promised.

Sigler Elementary: Schools Transforming Learning