Saturday, April 30, 2011

“Smart” people ask good questions

Good%20question One of the educator’s most favorite pieces of advice for students is, “There are no bad questions.”  I’ve said it.  You have probably said it.  Someone has likely said it to you.  I agree that there are really no dumb questions, but I also think that the questions you ask says plenty about how involved one is in the issue at hand.

There is also a misguided assumption that the smarter one is, the fewer questions he or she asks.  That misguided assumption is based on the confusion between being smart and being a “know it all.”  In my experiences, those who project themselves as having all the answers are typically trying to distract others from the fact that they really have no idea what they are talking about.  On the other hand, I have found that most people that are inquisitive and look to expand their understanding ask good questions.  Regardless of IQ, I classify the latter to be the “smarter” of the two groups.

“Smart” people ask good questions

I am NOT implying that the opposite is true – that “dumb” people ask bad questions.  Remember, “THERE ARE NO BAD QUESTIONS” (see above).  There are questions and there are good questions.  Some questions may be invalid or unreliable, but they do serve a purpose under different circumstances.

I have quite a bit of formal education and a good number of years of experience.  While I am fairly knowledgeable of many aspects of education and educational leadership, I find myself much more inquisitive as I grow more experienced.  It is as if my growing understanding of education and my expanding body of research is leading me to more focused and defined questions rather than a laundry list of answers.  As I grow smarter, I not only have more questions, but my questions are better.

Teachers ask questions also.  I get many questions on a daily basis.  Some questions require deep thought and reflection, others are simply for clarification and information.  Over the course of time, I have found that the “smarter” teacher – those who are actively engaged in professional development and collegial discourse – ask good questions.  Teachers who are actively engaged rarely ask questions that were already answered in the numerous emails and daily announcements.

Fully invested students also ask good questions.  These questions are reflections of a student trying to synthesize various points to create a new idea.  Good questions by students demonstrate creative and critical thinking.  “Do we need this for the test?” or “Should we take notes?” are examples of more mundane questions that students ask.  They are sometimes important questions, but rarely are they good questions.

During interviews, I always ask the interviewee if he or she has any questions.  This is often the most enlightening part of the interview.  The type of questions asked provides a window into the engagement and interest of the applicant.  These questions also can shine some light on the type of questions this applicant may ask students.  Interviews that include good questions are usually followed up on for further conversation.

All questions have their place in schools.  From the ordinary and expected to the truly enlightening and exploratory, questions are essential to the educational process.  As educational leaders, we should pay attention to the questions we hear and ask.  The amount of time spent answering and asking “smarter” questions may provide an interesting insight into how engaged your teachers, parents, and students are in the learning process.  Paying attention to the frequency and quality of questions asked in schools can help educational leaders be more effective in supporting the needs of the school community.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The benefits of getting connected for educational leaders

World_Connected I began blogging last summer as a way to get some ideas out of my head, see if anyone else had any interest in them, and hopefully spark a few conversations.  After some time, I noticed that I was not generating much traffic at all and considered the idea a bust.

A friend suggested that I use a more comprehensive approach which led to my sharing via Twitter (@DrTroyRoddy) and Facebook (Troy P. Roddy, Ph.D.).  Since then, I have had a satisfying flow of visitors as well as “followers” and “likes.”

The point of this post is not to promote social networking, but rather to explain how my work to engage and develop a digital footprint has had an effect on my daily face-to-face work.  Here is a list of ways that I feel I have changed for the better.

  • My writing is better because I am doing so much more of it.  This improvement is felt in my emails and letters to parents, not just my blogging.
  • I am learning new ideas and am forced to reflect on my beliefs.  This is the only way I can gather relevant points to share in this blog.
  • My need to share has increased.  I no longer feel that my work is isolated or isolating.  Once I began to experience the joys of sharing, I wanted to do more.
  • My personal vision has changed because I feel more opportunities are available.
  • My anxieties about whether or not my ideas were valid have greatly disappeared.
  • I am in the process of writing two books.  One of which is a collection of thoughts and essays based on my better blogging efforts.  As a result, I already have close to 24,000 words on the page.
  • My desire to be a better leader in teacher training and professional development has increased.
  • I have presented at one conference and am waiting approval of another proposal for the fall.
  • I have developed a responsibility to uphold a standard to sharing for those who are willing to accept what I have to offer.  In other words, the connections I have made through these networks are important to me and I endeavor to serve them as best I can when I hit the publish button for this blog.

Of all the points listed above, the most surprising to me is the last.  The others were anticipated, if I chose to stick with the blogging, etc.  The final one was not expected.  I think this benefit has been the most powerful because it has caused me to reframe my role as an educational leader to include an audience that I may never meet.  This idea can be very overwhelming, but I am finding that the satisfaction of knowing others are listening and are taking something away from this exercise is still worth the effort.   

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Are you full of “…ble”?

bull Attention educational leaders!

Do you wonder why their feels like a disconnect between you and your teaching staff?

Are you confused as to why the room gets very quiet when you enter?

Would some suggestions about how to re-discover the joys of education that motivated you to join the teaching profession?

May I suggest that you may need to get more “full of …ble”?  Yes, you may need to develop a greater appreciation for “..ble”.

What is “…ble” you ask?  “…ble” can be many things like:

  • AVAILAble – Can teachers find you and talk to you?
  • APPROACHAble – Do you project a genuinely welcoming atmosphere?
  • CAPAble – Are you knowledgeable and current in your area?  Can you get the job done?
  • VISIble – Is your presence felt all over the campus?
  • HUMble – Are you quick to praise and slow to accept it?

Feel free to add your own list of “…ble” in the comments section.

Creating the “solution” mentality with teachers

solutions%20website%20image One of the more challenging aspects of assuming a formal leadership role as a school administrator is how to address difficult issues with the faculty.  This is even more difficult when the issue has the potential to create an “us (faculty) vs. them (administration)” mentality.

Avoiding a “confrontational” mentality is not the same as avoiding confrontation.  Developing a “solution” mentality is critical to moving forward productively.  Setting the right tone also develops the collegial environment necessary to inspire innovation and motivate others to be part of the solution rather than contributors to the problem.

So, we call a faculty meeting and need to address the issue.  How can educational leaders introduce the issue with the best chance of creating a “solution” mentality rather than a “confrontational” mentality?  Your choice of words and areas of emphasis will speak volumes about the atmosphere you create.

One thing to accept is that as the leader, you have a great deal of influence on the atmosphere surrounding a difficult issue.  You will set the tone with what you address with the faculty and how you communicate that message.  The leader does not have the luxury of divorcing herself from the emotional impact of the issue.

Second, remember your role.  One of the most important functions of the administrator is to SUPPORT the faculty so they can do the good work they were hired to do.  Recognize that with difficult initiatives, the message is that you are WITH them and your want to be part of the solution that is most effective without being most intrusive.  It is also a positive step to explain how committed you are to making this positive change.  This message must be accompanied by a description of HOW you are going to support the faculty’s efforts and WHAT you intend to do to make it successful.

Reinforce that the change or actions needed are for the benefit of the students and, therefore, a benefit to the faculty.  When students are better served, the faculty is cast in a positive light.

In my mind, this is neither top-down nor bottom-up thinking.  It is creating a collective solution creating engine.  It is empowerment.  It is investing in the TEAM. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Starting off on the right foot

Tomorrow, many of us will go back to our schools with varying degrees of enthusiasm and optimism.  We have good days and bad ones.  Often our day is shaped greatly by the first few experiences we have once we arrive.

So, here is a list of ways I hope our days begin in order to set a positive tone.

  1. A student smiles and wishes you, “Good morning.”
  2. A fellow teacher compliments you on a recent accomplishment.
  3. You get a, “Thank you” email from a parent of a child that you have been spending extra time helping.
  4. An administrator recognizes your efforts in the classroom.
  5. Your student government serves free pancakes in the dining hall.

While I wish any one of these for you, feel free to accept any combination of the above items for extra credit!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Loyalty as an aspect of educational leadership

loyalty_rewards_dog If you are a current or aspiring educational leader looking for a great resource for leadership, I strongly suggest visiting and subscribing to Lisa Petrilli’s C-Level Strategies and joining in on the #LeadershipChat sessions via Twitter on Tuesdays at 8:00 pm EST.  While the focus is more business oriented, I have found Lisa’s site and chats to be a source of great information and inspiration for leaders of all sorts.

In a recent article, Lisa writes about being loyal to yourself as a foundation for building loyalty in your organization.  She asserts that loyalty to self includes:

  • Personal Vision – knowing it and living it with conviction
  • Ensuring that our vision is tied to what makes us passionate in life
  • Committing time each day to listening to ourselves – I’ve discovered over the past few months that it’s in the quiet moments I reserve for myself that answers to questions of magnitude finally emerge in my brain…having traveled straight from my heart
  • Taking care of ourselves so we can, in turn, take care of others
  • Making decisions that are true to our values
  • Being honest with ourselves first

Loyalty in schools is an often overlooked value.  Educational leaders focus so much time on managing faculty, staff, parents, students, etc. that it is easy to forget how important it is to remain loyal to the essentials in order to live and lead your school towards a shared vision that is mission based, student centered, and grounded in pedagogically sound beliefs.

Leadership in schools can follow a top-down approach, a bottom-up approach, or a mix of each (according to the situation).  If we want to be the type of school leader who “sets out on an untraveled path and inspires others to join in the cause or simply to follow with unrivaled loyalty” then we may want to begin from within.


Leadership and Loyalty: Why It Must Start Within You

Friday, April 22, 2011

Finding technology’s place in education is not the first cultural shift driven by a younger generation

Elvis001b In the 1950’s, the emergence of rock and roll onto the music scene changed pop culture in the United States and the world forever.  This cultural shift was greatly the result of its huge popularity and ability to connect to a younger audience.  Rock and Roll’s influence, both good and bad, is an example of how a younger generation, mostly kids, drove the rest of society to find their place among the more established (and older) community.

Today, many of the shifts in education due to emerging technologies are also the result of the younger generation’s effort to find their place and contribute to their world.  Rock and roll allowed the child of the 50’s to make a stronger connection to their known community – town, neighborhood, school, etc.  Today, that community is global.  It’s boundaries are determined solely by the touch of a keystroke and the click of a mouse.

Rock and roll found its place in the music world.  It took some time, but it is no loner viewed as the subversive and counter-productive force that many adults considered it to be. 

Technology, and specifically the internet, is going through a similar process in education.  Mostly a younger generationally driven shift, technology has been and will continue to gain credibility among professionals in the field.  It will find its place, much like rock and roll.Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart mozart_ico05

If I had any advice to give, it would be to caution the most staunch proponents of emerging technologies in education to not cast this shift as a complete overhaul of how teaching is done.  If we use the rock and roll example, we can clearly see that it did not eliminate the value of other forms of music (classical for example).  Rather, it has become part of a rich landscape of musical form that contributes to the culture and works to draw those to music in a way that would be impossible without rock and roll’s existence.

Technology in schools should compliment the work of the teacher, not replace it.  A great lecture will always be a great lecture.  An engaging Socratic conversation will always add value to a course.  Using technology to teach should operate under that same umbrella.

Somewhere in heaven, Elvis and Mozart may be sharing a drink and wishing they had been around to own an iPod.  That shouldn’t make their contribution to music less valuable. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

“Where do you want to go?” – a follow up to “Why are you here?”

West Cork feature_______ Signs of West Cork.I recently wrote a post in which I describe an exercise I had with students titled, “Why are you here?”  That post had the most views in one day than any I have written since starting this blog.  Since then, I have wondered if the actual question is the attraction or the exercise involved in reflecting and trying to answer the question.

Contrary to “Why are you here?”, this post is not an example of something I have done recently, but it is another example of a question that I believe will spark conversation, especially among teachers.

“Where do you want to go?”

This is an important question for a number of reasons.

First, this is a standard question to answer in order to establish a strategic approach to realizing your school’s preferred future.  If you do not know where you want to go, you’ll never get there.

Second, in order to answer this question, you also must reflect on where you currently are.  The assumption is that there is some distance between these two points.

Third, the distance between the two will help clarify your goals and benchmarks.  The difference between where you are and where you want to be must be articulated in manageable and systematic pieces in order to recognize progress along the way.  Do not forget to celebrate progress.  Often we want to wait until we get to the end to rejoice.  You still can, but the little victories along the way add up!

Fourth, the question is applicable to both groups and individuals.  “You” can refer to either and the conversation needs to include both.

Fifth, the entire conversation also implies movement from one place to another.  Movement implies action.  This conversation and the answers it uncovers are only as valuable as they are put into action.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

“Why are you here?”

Super%20Why I began my 7th grade history class today with this question, “Why are you here?”  The response most often reported was, “To learn.”  Now, I was actually pretty pleased to hear that.  After all, I could have gotten: “because I have to come here, my parents made me”, etc.  So, I was happy to hear that learning seemed important.

As we continued to talk, we realized a few other pieces to the puzzle.  Here are a few of them in no particular order.

  • We cannot possible learn everything
  • Of what we do learn, we sometimes forget pieces
  • Even when we learn, we sometimes revert back to old habits that are less effective

I challenged the class to answer, “If we cannot learn everything and we forget some of what we learn; then how do we decide what needs to be learned and how can we measure that you actually learned anything?”

I was impressed with the level of sophistication and thought that these students engaged in this conversation.  It provided a great insight into how they think about school and learning.  What I walked away with are these points that the students helped guide me towards:

  • Smart people are thinkers and they practice thinking often
  • Thinkers like to be engaged with other people who think
  • In order to get the most out of and contribute to any conversation, you need to draw upon a body of knowledge that is engaging
  • We need to accept that sometimes learning is about knowing facts – we cannot rely solely on the internet to provide our content knowledge – we should be our own best computer
  • Access to information is better today than ever before, but so is the necessity to be more sophisticated and prudent in using that information
  • We are here to learn because by learning we develop the breath and depth of our knowledge and, therefore, are able to think wider and deeper.  The result of learning is the development of a “smarter” person who is capable of engaging others in a way that stimulates further engagement and a self-sustaining process of more learning.

If you are looking for a question to stimulate your class discussion, try, “Why are you here?”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Repeating mistakes: Lessons from the cardinal

Northern_Cardinal_Male-27527 I do not mind mistakes.  As a matter of fact, mistakes are valuable opportunities for growth.  The issue that concerns me is that in order for a mistake to become an opportunity to grow, there has to be a conscious effort to actually learn from the mistake and endeavor to not repeat it.  So why do we see so many examples of people repeating the same mistake over and over again.  In schools, I’m sure we can think of the teacher who continued to make the same mistake with parent communication, student evaluation, lesson planning, etc.  We end up asking ourselves, “Why are you doing that again?  Didn’t you learn from last time that that is a bad idea?”  While I generally believe that we humans are among the more intelligent species (insert laugh here :), I think I have learned more about this issue from quite literally a “bird brain” – the cardinal who insists on visiting my house every morning.

My “visitor” is a bright red male cardinal who lands on the front porch before taking flight and smacking into the front window…repeatedly.  That’s not all.  This cardinal then flies down to my car and repeats this same behavior on my right side rear-view mirror.  Once he finishes, he comes back to the house and performs his front widow attack at various intervals for at least the next few hours.

I am not an ornithologist, but I suspect the cardinal is crashing into my window because he is programmed to protect his territory and his reflection is viewed as a threat. 

On the other hand, what if he just enjoys beating his head against the glass?  After all, he gets my attention, even a little blog space.  The problem with enjoying the act of hitting the glass, though, is that if he were ever successful and broke the window,it would likely kill him.

As school leaders, do we know of anyone who continues to “hit their head against the glass?”  Do they feel threatened and are acting out of impulse or are they getting the necessary attention they deserve?

Teachers have the capacity to change their behaviors and learn from their mistakes.  There may eventually be consequences for those who do not. 

Smart people are good at telling good stories

storyteller Being an educator, I meet many very smart people.  I have learned much from them and I find myself seeking audiences of smart people with whom to share my own experiences.  Let me also state that I do not consider myself some sort of “intellectual snob.”  It is not as if my friends and acquaintances must meet some minimum IQ.  I am simply saying that, generally speaking, I get much satisfaction from engaging with smart people.

The topics of my recent reflections are smart people and the things they do.  Thinking about this question, I found myself thinking quite a bit about my past teachers, current colleagues, and a sprinkling of smart historical figures.  One common activity among many of these people is that they tell good stories, especially among the teachers.  Looking back on my experiences, the teachers whose intelligence I respect the most are those who were able to use stories very effectively.  This requires two similar, yet distinct criteria.

  1. The story was, in and of itself, a good story
  2. They told the story well

For teachers, both criteria are important.  A good story told poorly and a bad story (even told well) both confuse and miss their audience.  The points are unclear and the audience leaves thinking something like, “Well, that was time I can never get back!”  Again, for teachers, this would not be the reaction you want your students to have after your lesson.

Smart people are not perfect, though.  For example, I would consider George Lucas a pretty smart guy.  The original Star Wars trilogy is considered, in many circles, a masterpiece of story telling and film making.  These first three films had a great story to tell and were told through excellent writing, acting, directing, etc.  The result being highly respected and critically acclaimed movies.

On the other hand, there are the series of prequels that, in the same circles, do not enjoy nearly the level of critical acclaim as the first three films.  Lucas is no less smart, but his stories (still at their core good tales) were not nearly told with the quality of the first three.  Sure, the technological tools were more advanced, but the writing, acting, directing, etc. were not of high enough quality to do the stories justice.

Recognizing their imperfections, smart people learn from earlier misfires and work to make adjustments.  The end result, when good, is likely the result of various trials and amendments.  Smart people also, though, know when a good story needs to be “put to rest.”  “Dipping into the same well” too often may create a staleness that begins to erode the value of the initial tale (you can pick your own example of rehashing a story that has no reason to be told again).

Stories can be a powerful tool for leading and teaching.  Be smart and use them wisely and effectively.      

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Learning communities of the future

In 2010, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) published A 21st Century Imperative: A Guide for Becoming a School of the Future.  In that document, there is a section on Learning Communities in which the following comments are made:

Teachers are the key to school transformation. When asked to describe “the teacher of the future,” i.e., that individual who can deliver an education for our times, each head of school focused on the same qualities:

• Deep domain knowledge

• A commitment to ongoing professional development

• Significant career and life experience outside of education

• A greater interest in what is learned than in what is taught

• An ability to work as part of a team

Schools have always valued teachers who are deeply and broadly educated. Yet at a time when the knowledge base is changing so rapidly, especially in technical fields, deep domain knowledge is more than ever a prerequisite to effective teaching. A teacher must be able to keep abreast of complex developments in his or her field, sort through extensive bodies of information to select the foundational concepts and knowledge to teach, and adapt curriculum quickly and effectively to assure students are prepared for college and careers (p. 29).

Over the past few months, I have become more convinced that school leaders need to begin shifting the paradigm of professional development.  This new paradigm is rooted in the development of teachers of the future as described in the NAIS report.  In a time that calls for schools to support the development of students’ creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking, schools must look to their faculties to teach their classes and provide opportunities for students to engage and refine these qualities.  Strategically thinking, schools need to assess teachers’ abilities to deliver curriculum and instruct using 21st century mindsets and methods.  Where support is needed, support must be given. 

The qualities listed above align themselves well with the 21st century skills for students.  It would be rare that a teacher, for whom the description above applies, would be greatly challenged to appreciate and design a class that embraces, supports, and develops communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking because the commitment to professional development must be a commitment to understanding and incorporating these skills in the classroom.

Herein lies the challenge.  Designing a focused professional development program that is structured to ensure clarity of purpose and sensitive to the individual teacher’s needs.  This general approach may not be new, but the specific areas of focus have shifted towards developing more creative, collaborative, communicative, and critically thinking educators in order to lead classes that not only espouse such qualities for students, but actually deliver on that claim.

In an effort to collect a list of professional development resources for “teachers of the future”, I have created this document.  Please feel free to contribute to the table.

Carry-overs from 20th century teaching worth carrying over?

In Twenty Principles for Teaching Excellence: The Teacher’s Workbook (1992), Dr. M. Walker Buckalew walks teachers through the following summarized list of teaching principles:
  1. Academically authoritative
  2. Current in fields of academic expertise
  3. Hold high expectations of students
  4. Set high standards  for all students
  5. Student time on task is no less than 50% of class time
  6. One minute of test prep per 2 minutes of test time
  7. View test prep as integral to teaching
  8. Grading includes subjectivity and psychological reinforcement principles
  9. Classroom behavior control is both fair and humane
  10. Classroom behavior control approach is consistent, rigorous, and based on individual equity
  11. Endeavor to be professionally/emotionally involved with students outside of class
  12. Display interest in students' outside of class lives
  13. Teaching approach includes providing responsibility and adult type roles
  14. Goals and standards for student performance is taught in a planned progression
  15. Treat students as individuals within common frames of reference
  16. Lead student awareness beyond self and toward the community
  17. Recognize and reinforce excellence privately and publicly
  18. Recognize and reinforce notable effort
  19. Understand psychological reinforcement principles in depth
  20. Implementation of psychological reinforcement principles is regular component to teaching (p. 147-150).
I reference this list because it is quite exhaustive and speaks to an approach to teaching espoused near the end of the 20th century (1992).  Nineteen years later, our schools are still populated with teachers fro whom these principles, in some manner, likely made an impact on their professional development and identity.

Given this look back, can we say that any of these principles are dated?  Are there any carry-overs that should be carried over or have changes in the educational landscape made any of these principles obsolete?

We look to the future, but a reflection on the past can provide an interesting insight into the challenges we face and the opportunities we may be overlooking.

What would be our list today?

Twenty Principles for Teaching Excellence: The Teacher's Workbook

Monday, April 11, 2011

Changing HOW or changing WHO? A question for 21st century professional development

selfimage I know how to do a few things.  Among these are paint a room, change a light bulb, unclog a sink, hit a baseball, and sew a button.  That does not make me a painter, plumber, electrician, slugger, or tailor.  I have, along the way, developed a few skills that come in handy once in a while, but on the whole, they do not define me or have a significant part in creating my own self-image.  The essence of my being is not attached to any of them.  They are not the cultivators of my ethos.

I am an educator.  My identity is attached to a different set of skills, beliefs, and characteristics.

So, what does that have to do with educational leadership?  I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the nature of professional development and the need to re-examine “PD” given the needs of the 21st century school and student.  The teachers will need to deliver on those needs and the development of teachers must align itself with these challenges.  One such challenge, I find, is addressing the difference between changing HOW teachers approach their craft and changing WHO teachers are in the 21st century school.  This is a critical question to answer and the manner in which educational leaders choose to view this issue can potentially make an impact on how well our teachers serve our schools and students.

Changing “HOW”

To me, HOW is answered by focusing PD on new methods of instruction that fit the 21st century needs.  How to be more collaborative, how to be more globally aware, how to be more sustainable, how to instruct for diverse learners, how to employ more multi-media into the lesson, how to become producers of knowledge rather than just consumers, etc.

These are skills learned and accessible.  Professional development for the HOW is about introducing, supporting, and refining new methods.  

Changing “WHO”

Changing WHO is a totally different question.  It speaks of self-image.  It implies a change in definition.  Changing WHO addresses the ethos of an educator.  Answering this question can be quite personal and emotional.

There are those who claim that we cannot really change WHO we are.  I do not necessarily agree with that, but I do agree that to do so requires a serious commitment to learning and an open mind to the possibilities.  This is not to say that everything must change or even should change.  There are a number of beliefs, characteristics, qualities, etc, of great teachers that must remain in place in order for any teacher to be effective.  What does change is the way we sometimes view change as an outside-in process based on in-service and conference seminars to an inside-out method of PD that involves self-motivation and self-direction.


Both HOW and WHO use the same letters.  For educational leaders, an approach that aligns both HOW and WHO together to create a dynamic and engaging climate of professional self-actualization is likely to deliver outstanding results.  For some, the HOW will move the WHO.  For others, adjusting WHO is the key to developing the HOW.

Leaders WHO understand and appreciate that teachers are individuals with specific (and sometimes unique) needs are in the best position to know HOW to address those needs.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Teacher development for the 21st century

A little while back, I raised the topic of teacher professional development and training in the 21st century as part of my involvement in the TED-ED Brain Trust.  The framework of my thread was that given the changes and expected student outcomes in the 21st century (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, etc.), shouldn’t there be at least an equal emphasis on redesigning or refocusing our teacher training programs?

I have had good responses and the topic is somewhat “hot” on the TED-ED Forum.  Many responders talk about the role of technology in teacher development.  I think that is a given and not necessarily innovative.  After all, many teachers engage in technologically based PD on a daily basis – they blog, Tweet, take course, etc.  What I found missing was some insights in to the objectives of teacher PD for the 21st century.

After reflecting on this topic for a number of days, I have the following items to suggest.  All of them, as I see it, are part of the redesign of teacher development for the 21st century.  Feel free to add to the list as it is not intended to be exhaustive.

Professional Development for the 21st century?

1.  How to nurture a love for learning in your class while preparing students to "stand and deliver" on tests (let us assume standardized testing is not going anywhere in the near future)

2.  Teachers as communication experts (written and oral) and relationship builders - emphasis on human resource frame thinking (see Bolman and Deal, 2003)

3.  Educators as drivers of productive, ethical, and positive social networking

4.  Stressing the difference between collaboration/collegiality and congeniality

5.  Measuring and developing creativity and critical thinking skills of the teacher as standard operation in PD

6.  Redirect training from what students should learn to how students learn best

Leadership density and pitfalls to avoid

It has become a generally positive attribute for leaders who work to identify, nurture, and build a “leadership density” within their schools.  In graduate school, I actually had a professor state that a sign of an outstanding leader is that when the leader is not present the school continues to operate without a hitch.  In other words – hire great people, put them in position to be successful, and your school will operate exceedingly well.  For the most part, I do not have any issues with this idea as long as we recognize a few other considerations.leadership2
One item to consider is the potential pitfall of complacency.  School leaders who lose sight of their own influence due to overreliance on the “leadership density” may soon find themselves in a difficult position especially when an issue related to the leader’s responsibilities is questioned.  I have stated many times that a leader can (and should) delegate authority to others, but the leader cannot delegate responsibility.  When leaders become complacent from relying on others, they risk losing a key component to effective leadership – credibility.  Leaders must be present.  People want to feel secure and confident that at the end of the day, if the chips are down, they can count on their leader to step up and provide necessary guidance and support.  Striking the proper balance between building the leadership capacity within the school and maintaining clearly defined roles and responsibilities is essential.
Another factor to remember is that, for the most part, good leadership is hard to find and even harder to hold onto.  School leaders with outstanding leaders working with them will likely not have them for long.  One friend of mine, a head of an independent school for boys, told me that one of his division heads was always being approached about taking the next step to a headship.  His response:  “I’m thrilled to have her, but I know the day will come when she will take the next step.  She’s too good and good leaders are hard to find.”
I asked him how that made him feel.  He said that good leaders recognize that when a member of their team is called to move up and lead another school, it should be a great honor for the leader knowing that he was able to help develop another generation of leadership for our schools.  He also said that, in his opinion, a leader who sees a team member’s opportunity as an affront or gets personally upset is someone the team member may want to avoid (long term) anyway.
Finally, school leaders who get “lost” in building leadership density risk “dulling their knife.”  In other words, the leader needs to stay active in order to employ the skills that helped get her the leadership role to begin with.  Leadership must stay active.  They must stay fresh and current.  Often, this can only be accomplished by getting your hands dirty.
Building the leadership capacity within your school is an important piece to effective leadership.  When done well, the leadership density that emerges is a powerful component to success and innovation.  On the other hand, there are some pitfalls that can easily derail genuine leadership and cause confusion.  Wise leaders are adept at navigating the balance between building capacity and clouding roles and responsibilities.
Items to avoid when building leadership density
  • Complacency – depending too much on the leadership density to do all the leading
  • Confusing delegation of authority with responsibility
  • Thinking that your good leaders will stay forever - good leaders developed under you will eventually leave to take on their own leadership role
  • Negative feelings when your developing leaders are recognized and approached about taking the next step
  • Dulling your own leadership skills
  • Avoiding the hard/difficult work
  • Forgetting to stay current and fresh
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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Conference preview: Using Twitter for Professional Development

On Saturday, I am presenting Using Twitter for Professional Development at the VAIS (Virginia Association of Independent Schools) Technology Conference.

I want to send a most sincere “Thank You” to all the wonderful people who contributed to my Google Doc. I hope to represent all of your thoughts at the conference.

Below is a copy of the Prezi I prepared for my presentation.

The “45% Rule” – Enhancing your classroom “Presence”

normal curve The ability of a teacher to effectively engage a class is somewhat dependant on establishing a level of mutual respect.  Students respect the teacher’s role as head of the class.  Teachers respect the role of the student as developing learners.  This, obviously, is an  oversimplification of the relationship between student and teacher, but it helps describe the basic conditions from which an engaging and effective learning environment emerges.

One quality I have noticed about teachers who are adept at establishing this environment is their ability to exhibit a “presence” in class.  This “presence” is hard to define.  It is similar to the description of pornography given by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart - “I know it when I see it.”

Therefore, I have taken this difficult situation and reflected on a method by which to examine the level of “presence” a teacher brings to the class.  Based on these reflections, I offer what I call the 45% rule.  This method may be useful for those who are searching for a frame of mind to take into their classrooms to enhance their “presence.”

The 45% rule states that:

Teachers who assume their students own about 45% of any factor that leads to the creation of an effective classroom environment will be more effective in establishing a “presence” and culture of mutual respect. 

For example, the level of understanding of any topic discussed begins with the assumption that students already “get” 45% of the topic or when designing expectations for behavior, students will completely buy into 45% of the plan right away.  The starting assumption is 45% students 55% teacher.

The 45% figure, quite honestly, was not derived scientifically.  It is purely a number that is both easy to remember and also appropriate to setting the stage for an effective relationship between teacher and student.  The logic behind the 45% rule is explained below.  If we assume the range of possible combinations of student-teacher influence on environment is similar to the distribution of a normal curve, then a ratio of …

10% students: 90% teacher

…establishes a very autocratic environment in which student input is minimized.  This is akin to an extreme of the more traditional classroom model with the teacher being in absolute control.  Students respect the teacher in as much as the teacher is in charge, but this respect is superficial and based solely on formal roles and inherent power.  The teacher, whether he recognizes this or not, has little respect for the students, and exhibits this lack of respect by assuming the students to be mostly ignorant and dependent on her lesson for knowledge.

30% student: 70% teacher

…is a false sense of student respect.  The teacher has a few methods that appear to be respectful of students, but these are done only for the sake of being able to say, “Here are examples of how much I respect the students.”  Students are led to believe they have real influence, but soon realize they do not.  In the long run, teacher credibility is questioned after students no longer engage in meaningless and superficial exercises to establish the class culture.

50% student: 50% teacher

…is too finite to maintain long term.  This situation leaves no room for situations that tend to move away from perfect equilibrium.  There can be no grey areas because to have any, by definition, eliminates the balance of influence.  I also find these compromises theoretically acceptable, but not practical.  Every factor would need an equal and opposite factor to maintain the balance and that cannot be sustained.

70% student: 30% teacher

…establishes a major voice for students, but at the cost of minimizing the teacher.  While the teacher is involved, her influence is minimal and likely isolated to factors the students chose not be influence.  Respect is great for students, but students are still unsure of where the teacher stands.  Manipulated classroom environments with the mirage of appropriate balance is present.

90% student: 10% teacher

…creates an environment in which the students are determining practically all factors of classroom environment.  The teacher is minimized, and not in a positive/productive manner.  This class borders on becoming directionless because there is no constant factor (the teacher) to guide and focus efforts on any common element.  The students probably “like” this class, but they will also indicate a low level of professional respect for the teacher, whom they look to for guidance, and find little.

The 45% Rule

After examining the ranges above, I am drawn to suggest a marker that assumes appropriate student influence yet leaves enough for the teacher to affirm the distinct roles of teacher and student.  Students may not always admit it, but they like and need the teacher to have a “presence” – confident, purposeful, and respectful.  Teachers assuming 45% of students are assuming much more than blank slates without overestimating.  The 45% rule leaves no doubt that the teacher is setting the course and guiding the class, but the students are active and engaged in the process.  Respect is mutual and appropriate because each has roles in the creation of the classroom environment that respect and recognize the distinct values each group (student and teacher) brings into the situation.

If you are looking for a tip on how to enhance your classroom “presence” for the purpose of creating a respectful and productive environment, try shifting your assumptions about students to the 45% rule.  If you do, let me know how it worked for you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Kids teaching kids – my thoughts and response to a recent article

Once in a while I read an article that seems to illicit a response that I find hard to categorize.  When this happens, I let it sit for a day or so before making any judgments.  If after a few days (and a few more reads) I still fell uneasy, I consider writing about it.  This post is a result of one of those situations.

On March 29th, an article by Mr. Larry MacDonald, President of Edison Innovations, Inc.,  titled, Educational Technology Breakthrough: Let Kids Teach Each Other appeared on  In that article, Mr. MacDonald makes his case for supporting the use of student produced videos as a breakthrough in educational technology.  He references Khan Academy and Kids Teaching Kids.

Before I discuss some concerns I have about the article, I want to state up front that the field of education is well served by passionate people, like Mr. MacDonald, who care deeply about student achievement.  I am also a huge proponent of creative thinking and interesting ideas.  Mr. MacDonald certainly outlines a creative and interesting idea in his article.

On the other hand, I am compelled to point out a few concerns I have after reading.  For each, I will include the quoted item from the article (in italics) with my reaction below it.

“ In this budget cutting environment, a vast, valuable resource has been overlooked in the quest to reduce the cost of education: the kids.”

I guess I get somewhat uneasy when students are mentioned so obviously (and early on in the article) as a cost-cutting resource.  Not referred to as any experts or effective voice, the article begins with students in terms of dollar savings.  I know this is an emotional rather than logical objection, but it is an objection none the less.

“Kids Teaching Kids has developed a free service that will ultimately allow any kid with access to a cell phone or computer to watch a video teaching how to solve every problem in every textbook.

Does that sound impossible? Consider these statistics: YouTube now has two billion, views a day; every day 35,000 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.”

It does sound impossible because I think there is an assumption that the textbook problems are static.  As textbooks are developed (I would also assume textbook providers are paying very close attention to the digital movement!), the information will be hard to keep up with.  The stats about YouTube are hard to correlate to the proposed project.  Most videos on YouTube are not necessarily “educational” and therefore the stats about their numbers or views do not quite match up in my mind.  I can’t see the connection between YouTube’s popularity and establishing videos that answer every textbook problem.

“For centuries adults have thought they were smarter than kids, and perhaps were, but now the kids are smarter than the adults. Have you tried playing the current computer online games? Good luck.”

Smart can be a relative term.  I’m sure that there are some kids who are “smarter” than some adults.  I don’t think using computer online games is a valid instrument to measure how “smart” anyone is.  Technologically savvy?  Maybe.  Smarter?  I’m not sold.  Also, the language is quite decisive.  “..the kids are smarter than the adults.”  Not necessarily true (and possibly insulting to the audience from whom he is seeking support).

“When all the educational material you ever want is available for free on your cell phone and computer, do you think home schooling will increase? Do you think teachers will become more effective given unlimited entertaining, multisensory teaching materials produced by kids for kids?”

Since he asks…the material is and has been available on the internet.  That is nothing radically different.  There may be a rise in home schooling in some areas of the country, but I doubt that the use of cell phones and computers is much more of a factor than anything else.  Will teachers be more effective, I don’t know.  What I do know is that teacher effectiveness is probably not going to be linked to how often they use student produced videos.

My Final Thoughts

I applaud Mr. MacDonald’s efforts and vision to place kids in a more formal position to help other kids.  I have seen great results with student tutoring programs.  Video lessons are becoming a standard tool for educators.  While video itself is nothing new, the availability and variety associated with the internet is different than the old VHS tapes.

On the other hand, I have too much respect for the training and commitment of good teachers to use the term “teacher” for a child who produces a good tutorial video.  Video is impersonal, learning is very personal.  Recent studies suggest that a major factor in student achievement is the relationship built between teacher and student.  Video cannot replicate that relationship.

Mr. MacDonald states that kids would rather watch kids than adults.  I think he is on to something there, but from the wrong perspective.  Kids want to watch and be a part of things that interest them – that are interesting.  Adults can be interesting when they engage in good teaching practices and instruct with the students in mind.  Simply being an adult does not make one boring – they way one teaches determines the degree of interest of students.

Video tutorials and lesson enhancements are good ideas.  I’m just not convinced that student produced ones are necessarily and inherently better – just different.

I am interested to watch this idea grow.  It certainly makes for a good research project – which Mr. MacDonald could use to help strengthen his argument.   

Evidence of your leadership effectiveness

effective When I think about leadership effectiveness in schools, I am usually persuaded to reflect on context, situation, and the orientation of how leaders think.  I have a more pragmatic side also.  That part of me simply says that leadership effectiveness is determined by how much further a leader moves her school along its chosen path.  That path is most often defined by mission statements, strategic plans, and the like.  Measurements of these items usually takes the form of tests scores, attendance records, benchmarks, and other descriptive data used to compare where a school is currently compared to a pre-determined time in the past.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s set aside a discussion of the actual research concerning leadership effectiveness, the differences between espoused and actual leadership effectiveness, and the various markers used to measure school leadership effectiveness.  I can (and plan to) write about these concepts in later posts.

If we agree to do the above, then we can take a look at some practical signs that your leadership is, most likely, more effective than not.  If you notice some of these in your school, then you are on the right track.

Evidence of effectiveness


1.  Teachers seek your counsel, ask questions, and propose new ideas. If you were not being effective, teachers would be avoiding you or waiting to just do as they are told.
2.  Students are smiling and happy. Ineffective leadership is felt throughout the school.  Eventually the discontent pools up among the student body.
3.  Parents identify teachers as professional educators, not glorified babysitters. We have a saying in South Louisiana (where I was born and raised), “A fish stinks from its head.”  Bad leadership will be the source of poor opinions of those on the team.
4.  Former teachers are now administrators or are established in formal leadership roles. Effective leadership inspires others to lead.  Building leadership density is a good sign that you are effective.
5.  At the end of the day, your default descriptions are “accomplished and satisfied.”  As an effective leader, you probably hold yourself to a very high standard.  If you are ending each day feeling proud of your work and generally satisfied with your efforts, then you are meeting your own personal criteria for effectiveness.


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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Talent and Patience


“Good things come to those who wait.”

All of us have likely heard that phrase used a few times.  To me, this implies that exhibiting a little patience is a condition from which positive outcomes emerge.  On the other hand, I do NOT believe that this phrase implies the opposite to be true – that by not waiting, bad things will happen.

As a father of two children under 6, I imagine the origin of the phrase has something to do with a parent desperately trying to address the “I wants” or the “Can I’s” of raising kids.

Of course a more adult version of this phrase is “patience is a virtue.”  I say adult version because I’m not sure why anyone would want to explain what a virtue is to a small child under the circumstances in which you find yourself needing the use the phrase!


Recently, I wrote a blog post in which I discuss untapped talent.  In schools, we are mindful of helping students (and teachers) discover and share their special gifts with the larger community.  While there are instances in which talent is immediately noticeable, most of us have to spend time and work hard to truly discover our passions and refine our skills to the point of being comfortable referring to these skills as talents.

There is also, it would appear, a greater motivation to discover and display talent than patience.  Schools hold talent shows, science fairs, history projects, art shows, theatre productions, athletic contests, etc.  All of which are essential to the health and development of your school’s identity.  What is often lost is the time and patience it takes to get to that point.

Patience is also a virtue when trying to handle challenging and/or nearly impossible situations.  These situations can be academic difficulties, social issues, disciplinary problems, classroom management, etc.  I have found that when I mention patience in schools, this is the type of patience most teachers are referring to, not the patience needed to refine talented students.  One type of patience is easy to display, the other, not so easy.  Either way, patience requires time.

Time is a finite resource.  Schools only have a limited number of hours each day to find, cultivate, refine, and display student talent.  As a matter of fact, in the course of a person’s life, the amount of time actually spent in school is so small that it is amazing that schools are able to do as much as they do with students (read Robert Evans’ book, Seven Secrets of the Savvy School Leader: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving to find out more about the actual time spent in school).

As school leaders, can we discover anything about our organizational health by examining how much time our schools use to exhibit talent vs. how much time we exhaust on showing the “more difficult” type of patience.  Can an investment in cultivating and showing off our talents correlate to a decrease in time needed to handle difficult issues?

It is generally accepted that children who are able to delay gratification (exhibit patience) are more likely to be more positive, persistent, and self-motivated later in life than those less patient.  The benefits of both talent and patience are numerous and worthy of attention.  Are we doing enough to recognize and celebrate both in schools?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Reflecting on good ideas


Many of the most effective leaders I know are good “ideas” people.  By “ideas” I refer to:

  1. the ability to listen to and consider multiple options
  2. present a new option that synthesizes previous ideas
  3. does this in a way that moves the issue at hand further along towards realizing its potential

An interesting piece to the effectiveness of leaders and their ability to generate ideas is that good ideas potentially guide others to generate additional ideas.  In other words, effective leadership that generates good ideas often inspire innovation.  Unfortunately, good ideas represent only half of the equation.  Good ideas also need to be put into action.

Without action, good ideas are only good in theory.  Once applied, good ideas move from theory to practice.  It is only then that the value of good ideas becomes apparent.  It is this value, gleaned from practical application, that reveals any necessary adjustments and, thus, opens the door for additional good ideas.

In schools, I do not see any lack of good ideas in theory.  What is less noticeable, or at least publicized in the mass media, are the good ideas in practice – those ideas that have delivered on their hope, are universally valued, and move the educational field closer to its fulfilled vision.

Maybe, as the video above suggests, these good ideas in theory are in their “slow hunch” phase, waiting to join up with other good ideas to become a synthesized action.  Are we waiting for an effective leader (or leaders) to make this happen?  Are we working in our schools to deliver on the good ideas from within?

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