Welcome to #SiglerNation

Each year principals and teachers across the country strive to create themes, motto’s and yes even hashtags that will inspire their campus community throughout the upcoming school year. Sound right? Been there? Done that? Me too!

We Are Sigler, Sigler State of Mind, Bright Future Campaign, #OwnIt, #IWill are all themes or hashtags that have been introduced at Sigler Elementary to provide teachers, staff and students with a platform to carry forward the great work they will embark upon during the school year. Each theme provided an opportunity to share in detail how a few words can inspire the Sigler community to come together.

As schools become more prolific with the use of social media and sharing their stories across a variety of mediums, you will find campuses and districts have hashtags to help share learning experiences and opportunities that exist both inside and outside of the school’s walls. Our campus is no different. (Read more about our story here.) Years ago #siglerlearns was introduced as our campus hashtag. Since it’s introduction it has been used to highlight the learning of our students and teachers as well unique experiences and opportunities our students and staff have been afforded. While #siglerlearns has it’s place, our campus has transformed over the years and we are ready for the next step. Do not worry…#siglerlearns is not going away. We are just going bigger.

As time was spent coming up with a theme for the upcoming school year it was as if I had an epiphany. While each of the themes mentioned earlier in the post served a purpose and were timely in their own respect, they each only lasted a single school year. The theme became something to rally around for a year. It was a tagline on a t-shirt. It was celebrated at pep-assemblies. It was mentioned in weekly publications to staff and the community and then with the final school bell of the year, it went away leaving people to wonder what next year’s theme would be.

We are going bigger. There will be a theme, but beyond a theme, we are growing something special at Sigler Elementary and it is time for everyone to be made aware. This is not going away. We are here to stay!

Welcome to the rebirth and re-branding of Sigler Elementary. Welcome to #SiglerNation.

The Faces of #SiglerNation

While schools spend a vast amount of time telling their story and sharing their school’s message we must not forget the faces behind the story. The image you see here captures the faces of #SiglerNation

The Faces of #SiglerNation

These faces represent the voices we want to amplify. We aspire to connect these voices with the voices of other students from across the nation and across the world. We aspire to give these voices a platform and a sincere opportunity to be heard. In the book Student Voice: The Instrument of Change the authors share, “…before there is an “I,” there is a “we.”” Together as students, teachers, parents, administrators and the community we will lift up these voices to connect, grow and be heard.

 The People of #SiglerNation

The great philosopher Aristotle said it best, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The staff at Sigler Elementary was strong when I was named principal at Sigler Elementary six years ago and since that time, we have only grown stronger. We have grown together. We have lifted each other up. We have empowered one another to reach new heights. The people of #SiglerNation have established new expectations for one another. Together we look to exceed these expectations not as individuals, but as a team, as a staff and as a family.

In the upcoming year, empowered staff from #SiglerNation will look to share their transformational story with other educators in an effort to inspire others to follow in their footsteps and unlock learning opportunities for students around the world. We share this knowing with each opportunity to share comes an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to grow. Sharing, learning & growing is what embodies #SiglerNation.

The people of #SiglerNation know teaching our students is not a job, it is a calling. We are called upon to do better and be better and together we have, we can and we will.

Proud to Represent #SiglerNation

In the end, this is what it comes down to…PRIDE. #SiglerNation was built upon years of relentless work, effort and an extreme sense of pride. We take pride in our approach to educating students. We take pride in our partnerships with parents and our community. We take pride in knowing we want to do school differently…and we do!

Our goal is for parents to choose Sigler Elementary. Our goal is for parents to want to enroll their children at Sigler Elementary; to become a part of #SiglerNation…and they are!

Our goal is for teachers to choose Sigler Elementary. Our goal is for teachers to want to work at Sigler Elementary; to become part of #SiglerNation…and they are!

Our goal is for students to choose Sigler Elementary. Our goal is for students to want to succeed at Sigler Elementary; to lift up and be champions for #SiglerNation…and they are!

We are going bigger and we want you to join us! Come be a part of #SiglerNation. It may mean your children enroll with us. It may mean you come work with us. It may mean you find a way to connect with us. Regardless of what it means for you, #SiglerNation is waiting. We are waiting for you! Throughout the upcoming school year we will seek you out. We will reach out. We want to share our story with you. Our students’ voices will be amplified and shared with any and all who will want to listen.

Are you listening? Are you joining us? What are you waiting for?

Welcome to #SiglerNation




“Buy-in.” I have heard this term a lot of over these last two weeks.

Leaders at a conference were brainstorming leadership characteristics and many felt one’s ability to get buy-in was important to leading change. In interviews I have heard candidates mention the importance of getting buy-in from stakeholders before introducing change whether it be first or second order change. Ask me about the importance of getting buy-in 10 years ago and I would have probably agreed with those who feel buy-in is necessary before moving forward with change. Today, I think differently.

Author Douglas Reeves states, “Don’t ask us to buy into your ideas for change; challenge us to envision a future that is better than today. Challenge us to consider improvements in our educational systems that will happen only if we replace the skepticism associated with the buy-in imperative with the hope and optimism associated with new ideas, practices, and policies.”

It’s June and build leaders around the country are attending conferences, reflecting, brainstorming and are in the initial stages of preparing for their back to school professional learning. Hopefully, many of us are designing opportunities that will challenge our teachers to move forward. Challenge our teachers to move past “that’s what we have always done”. Challenge our teachers to innovate in ways they have not thought of before. Building leaders need to be challenging teachers to transform learning.

As a building leader, could you imagine having to wait to implement these challenges until you had buy-in? From everyone?

Reeves goes on to state, “It is not rhetoric that persuades us, but evidence at a personal level.”

Educators need to see evidence that the time they invest in changing will warrant success. Educators need to see other’s having success amidst the change before changing themselves.

As I myself begin to brainstorm ideas for the upcoming school year, I seek input from my stakeholders, but I am not seeking permission nor buy-in. I want to listen and then I want to make decisions. Through seeking input and listening, I can begin to discover who my people are. I know who will get in at the ground level and I know who will need to see evidence of others having success. I am reminded of the graphic below:

Your innovators help you in leading the change. They do not require buy-in. To paraphrase a quote from the movie Moneyball, the first guy through the wall get bloody. These are our innovators. Trust me…everyone else is watching. What happens when others see our innovators having success? Their disbelief becomes belief. Their buy-in increases.

I do not believe it is healthy to have a building full of innovators. Balance is key. You need people who may say no the first time. When I hear no, it makes me rethink my “why”. It challenges my thinking. If I can rethink my why and am still compelled to move forward, those who are slower to change; the late majority or the laggards, they will come.

As Amber Teamann says:

As you prepare your professional learning, brainstorm ideas for change and continue to think how you will move your building forward, I encourage you to be the change you wish to see. Do not wait for those who surround you to buy-in. Give them a reason to buy-in. Inspire them! Challenge them! Support them!

Buy-in is not where you begin. Buy-in is the ultimate destination. @matthew_arend



Tell Our Story

The last day of school was this past Friday and one tradition I have grown to love is piecing together photos from throughout the year into a video and sharing all of these memories that tell our story during the final spirit assembly. While the video reminds this principal just how hard our teachers work and how we find the balance between pushing innovative practices and teaching students that 2+2=4 and learning to read it also serves another purpose.

The video capturing the highlights and memories of the year tell our story. Check it out!

You are probably asking, how do you capture nearly 180 days of instruction into a video at the end of the year? Well…thank you for asking.

We do it as a family! The Sigler community has bought into the notion we have heard so many share about.

“If you do not tell your story, someone else will…” – Eric Sheniger

We tell our story. Each grade level/department has a twitter account and we tell our story each day. We are proud of the work our students and teachers produce and we want our parents, community and the world to see it. In addition to the Twitter accounts, our campus hashtag #siglerlearns is used building wide to share our learning and the learning of others.
We have not always been where we are now. We have grown and developed into the campus we are today. The most important step we had to take was one I took first. I, the principal of the building, had to get comfortable with not being the only one sharing. I had to let go of the control and let the teachers/staff share right along with me. Since then, we have not looked back.
We share, we tweet, we learn. Most importantly, we tell our story. As summer is upon us this video serves as a PSA for anyone and everyone interested in checking us out. It is pinned to our @SiglerStars Twitter account as well as our Sigler Stars Facebook Page . It sits on our website and let’s everyone know what we are about at Sigler Elementary.
***Fast Forward to August***
New teachers arrive. The social media culture may be new to them. They have not been a part of our lifestyle yet. What’s one of the first things we do with them? Tell our story and show them this video of course. One of the things I point out at the conclusion of the video…
Every image in the video, came directly from our social media pages and hashtags.
Who do you let tell your story?
We hope you join us in telling the story and become a part of #SiglerNation.
The following accounts are all linked to #SiglerNation

Building School Culture – #SummerSelfieBingo

Building school culture is something I am passionate about and have been focused on since I walked into the door at Sigler Elementary six years ago. Author Baruti Kafele, in his book Closing the Attitude Gap reduces culture into one word: lifestyle. I want to love the lifestyle we cultivate and I want the amazing teachers who work here to love it too. I want folks who walk into our building to recognize the culture (lifestyle) we have created.

Building school culture does not just happen while school is in session. While led by the principal, developing a lifestyle within the walls of a classroom and school is a collective group effort; including the students, staff, teachers and community. Building school culture happens all year long. Yes, building school culture even takes place over the summer.

Welcome to our 2nd annual #SummerSelfieBingo challenge.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to participate in as many of the activities listed above, capturing yourself in the moment by taking a selfie! In our second year, we have some of the traditional summer activities returning with some new opportunities added to the bingo board as well.

New Activities Include:

360 Degree Video Selfie – Inspired by the work of Dora Deboer you are challenged to commemorate just the right event and complete a 360 degree video selfie.

Neighborhood Selfie – The communities educators serve are the lifeline of the school. I hope you spend some time in your school community this summer. Take a selfie in your neighborhood and let us know where you live. If you are local & happen to see a “We Support Sigler Elementary” sign, take a selfie showing just how much you #LoveSigler.

#SiglerNation Selfie – Next fall we are rolling out a new branding hashtag for our school community and we want you to be a part of #SiglerNation. This selfie can look very different. If you are local, come find us. Take a photo outside of our wonderful school. Even better, track down a staff member (look for us on Twitter) and take a selfie with one of us. If you are a current member of #SiglerNation, take a selfie in your Sigler spirit wear. As a bonus, complete one of the other selfies in your Sigler spirit wear and knock out two birds with one stone. Bottom line…we want to grow #SiglerNation and want you to join us!

The rules are simple.
  1. Get on Twitter. (Those new to Twitter can begin here)
  2. Share how great your summer is using the #SummerSelfieChallenge hashtag while you complete the selfies above.
  3. Use the Google Doc linked here to access your own game board. (It should open up as a copy thanks to my friend Ashley Helms.
  4. You cannot double up selfies unless you are partnering your selfie w/ #SiglerNation.
  5. Get a Bingo (or two or three)
  6. Have a great summer

Yes, summer is meant to relax, unplug, reflect and recharge, but while you are doing all of those important things, do not forget you are also building school culture. You have a lifestyle to create in your building. What are you waiting for?

We look forward to seeing your selfies!

What other selfies you would like added to the #SummerSelfieBingo challenge board? Comment below and we will add them for next year. 

Want to edit your own copy of the #SummerSelfieBingo board? Here is a collaborative link to Canva where it was originally created. 


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.