How many decisions did you make today? This week? This year?

Were they the right ones? How do you know?

Better question, when will you know?

Are we basing our answers on short-term test and assessment scores? Do they measure what we really are about?

Schools are measuring what did the students learn. I understand that. I was part of a team that worked with the Senate HELP committee while ESSA was being drafted. Our focus was on assessments, and how the new law could possibly correct what we believed were flaws in NCLB that led to SBAC, PAARC and an overemphasis on short-term, high stakes testing. We celebrated when ESSA was signed into law by President Obama. We didn’t get all we wanted, but we understood that politics is the art of compromise. While we didn’t necessarily agree with the language of ESSA, we realized that is was an improvement over NCLB, doors leading toward authentic and competency-based assessements have been created.

While schools are asking what students learned, the world we are preparing our students for is asking can students learn.  There is a bit of a difference in priorities.

Luis E. Torres, an amazing educator and leader, recently reminded me that for many of his students, as with many of mine throughout my career, education is, at best, the 5th priority in their lives. It follows food, shelter, safety, and health. That is their reality. For too many of us, we believe that education should be the 1st priority in their lives. Someday, we will realize that we have to take care of the Maslow stuff before we can really worry about the Bloom stuff. We are now raising our students as much as we are teaching them, and many of us were not trained to do that. It isn’t in the Common Core, and it isn’t assessed in the annual School Improvement Plan.

We work at “engaging” our students, hoping to excite them about our content, our interests, and curricula that we know to be important.

School is no longer about passing the tests. It’s about survival. It’s about life.

I suggest that until we see our schools as the people who need us most see them, we are never going to be able to engage them.

This was brought home to me while listening to a TED talk presented by Kasim Reed, Mayor of the City of Atlanta. He shared a story about a visit to a home located in a rather interesting Atlanta neighborhood while he was running for the office. He gave Mrs. Owens his elevator speech about the booming Atlanta economy, how the city was home to the busiest passenger airport in the world, and was proud of the many fine restaurants located all over the city.

Sidebar – as a former resident of suburban Atlanta, I can vouch for his elevator speech, I could move back there in a heartbeat. End of Sidebar.

Mrs. Owens then invited the candidate to see the Atlanta she knew. She pointed to the city park across the street from her house, noting the boys shooting dice in a swimming pool that should have been filled with water, and the gang graffitied gazebo. She told Mr. Reed that she was a pretty good cook, so she didn’t eat at any of the fine restaurants, and didn’t feel very safe riding the bus after dark. She also didn’t fly, so the airport really didn’t matter to her. Mr. Reed left her house feeling that he didn’t get her vote. But he changed his approach, and won the election.

We need to change our approach.

With apologies to those of us who follow Charlotte Danielson, Robert Marzano, et al, we don’t need engaged students, we need empowered students.

We need to see our schools through their eyes, giving them the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions, their interests, and enable them to become the architects of their futures. We need to play with them in their world, not expect them to play with us in our world.

We empower others by listening to them. We need to listen to our students. And we need to listen to those who will eventually hire them. They don’t care as much about what kids know as they care about what kids can learn and do.

Ian Jukes captured it in his book Living on the Future Edge, “In a world where change is constant, you can’t trust your eyes. You think they are showing you reality, when, in fact, they are showing you history.”

And so it goes…

Bulletin Board Material

Back when I was smart, got to hang around with the good people at Microsoft every once in a while, including Bill. Had their ad slogan posted on my office whiteboard as a reminder of what we were about in our school: “What have you done to change the world today.”

We have the opportunity to do that, every day.

Today, I would have something else on my whiteboard.

“Let’s make a memory today.”

Will will do that, every day.

Just make sure it is a positive one.

And so it goes..

Best Evaluation – EVER

The common topic for the Compelled Tribe is evaluations.

During my career, I have been Hunterized, Marzano-ized, Danielson-ized, and MCREL-ized on various models of teacher evaluation.

Yet we are still looking for the best tool.

Do we really know what we want, what we are looking for? Are we looking for teacher inputs? Student outcomes? Student outputs? Education is a life-long process, can we really measure our effectiveness during a specific school year?

My career began by teaching junior high students band and orchestra in Kansas City,  Kansas. After my first 2 years in the school, our principal was retiring. Our new principal had worked in one of our feeder elementary schools, and the “music teacher network” was buzzing about him in order to give our Choir director and I, both relatively new teachers to the district, a heads up about what we could expect. I will admit, he had large footprints to fill. My first principal understood the value of the arts and was very supportive of our music programs.

The word on the street was that the new principal, Dr. Harold Frye, “couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but would support the program.”

Fair enough.

Being new to our school, policy required Dr. Frye to observe every teacher, regardless of whether we were scheduled for formal evaluation that year or not. At a staff meeting early in the year, he invited us to schedule him in to observe a class of our choosing.

I signed him up to observe a beginning strings class. We had just started using the bow, and I am confident that dogs within a three block radius of our school were going nuts for a couple of weeks.

At the appointed time, Dr. Frye came into class with a violin. He spent the period sitting with the other violin students and did everything they were doing, and I must admit, about as well as they did.

At our post-observation conversation, he shared that he knew little about how to teach music, but one of his sons was taking Suzuki violin lessons. That explained everything. In the Suzuki program, the parents take the lessons alongside their children. He was thrilled that I had signed him up for beginning strings class, as he felt that his skills and abilities were at about the same stage of proficiency as the rest of the class.

Then he said something I have never forgotten, “If you taught it to me, you probably taught it to them.”

One thing really struck me that day. He was more concerned with what the students learned than he was with my teaching behaviors. That wasn’t how the “game” had been played before, my formal evaluations were about what I was doing, not what the kids were producing. In my administrative preparation coursework, the old rules still applied, let’s observe the teacher more than we observe the learners.

DISCLAIMER: I taught a performance based class. Several times a year, my students performed in front of an auditorium filled with parents. While they weren’t “trained” evaluators, they knew if we sounded good or not. And they believed that the quality of our performance was a direct result of my abilities as a teacher. Music teachers all realize that our groups are only as good as our worst player, so our worst player better be pretty good. We have a standard of acceptable performance that every player must achieve. Anything below “proficient” was not acceptable. Now we call it “personalized, individualized instruction.” Back in the day, we called it survival.

That year with Dr. Frye was truly a joy. He certainly filled the footprints. I left the district after that year as my father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I took a job much closer to home in order to spend quality time with him.

As a principal, I tried never to forget what Dr. Frye taught me. Regardless of the model used in our district, it’s always about what the kids learn and can do. I hope that, like him, I was secure enough in my skills to be able to place myself in the “violin section” whenever I was in a classroom. If the teacher taught it to me, the kids probably learned it as well.

I am not convinced that there is a Holy Grail of Evaluation. We appear to be looking for a short term solution to a long term process. We seek engagement and too often confuse it with activity, never acknowleging empowerment. We give the learners answers to remember rather than problems to be solved. Life does not consist of situations with only one right answer, but our classrooms are filled with them.

We have all read volumes about what skills our students need in order to be successful after they leave us. They tend to focus on what we call the “soft skills.” But we don’t find them in our models of teacher evaluation.

You might want to try this exercise at an upcoming staff meeting, I used it in teacher trainings for years. Ask your teachers to think of the “best teacher they ever had as a student.” Then ask them to think of the one quality that set that teacher apart from every other teacher they ever had. Go around the room and list the one quality. Compare that list to the qualities you are looking at when you do an observation. I guarantee that you will find few matches.

The qualities provided by the teachers list what I have always called the “art” of teaching. It will include things like, “had a sense of humor,” really got to know me”, “cared about all of us,” things I don’t believe you can teach in preparation programs, simply because you can’t fake that stuff in front of a bunch of kids.

The qualities listed on your evaluation instrument are what I have always called the “science” of teaching. Those are things we can address in professional development.

But do they really matter, when we look at our classrooms from the “violin section?”

End the exercise by challenging your teachers, as they plan for their next class, to become the best teacher they ever had. After all, when the layers of the onion are peeled, that person had a lot to do with their decision to become a teacher in the first place.

I was honored more than once to work with staffs composed of both young teachers and some with some experience. The “best teacher I ever had” shared by a younger teacher happened to be one of the veteran teachers in the room. They had never shared that feeling with one another.

Talk about the power we have as teachers!

And that is the best evaluation – ever!

And so it goes…

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Oldie but still a goodie

Reflections and Rants from the Asst Principal

With all due respect.

Row gently down the stream, unless you want to change things. Significant change is seldom gentle, and usually accomplished by swimming upstream, against the prevailing currents.

Yes, row your boat. Don’t row somebody else’s boat, and don’t let anyone else row your boat for you. None of us want to be a cog in someone else’s machine.

Gently? When you argue with, or question reality, you tend to find new solutions and fresh ways of thinking.

Is it stressful?  Absolutely! But leaders do not find that anxious, they find it incredibly exciting.  To empower others to exceed beyond their expectations, to be able to share their growth and accomplishment, to help instill confidence, this is what learning and leadership is all about!

We need more of these….

After all, even a dead fish floats gently downstream.

And so it goes…

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One Word

My One Word for 2018 is Mistake.

With thanks to Neil Gaiman and the Old Farmers Almanac:

I hope that in the year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You are doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

May we all be blessed in the new year, and may all our problems last only as long as our resolutions.

And so it goes…

Taking Care of Number 1

What follows is an article taken from Fast Company.

In our many discussions of professional reading, I haven’t seen Fast Company mentioned. And it should be, it is considered the Journal of Innovation. Not targeted at education, but once educators can connect the dots between the discussions in the magazine to what we do every day, it can introduce amazing new perspectives to our conversations. Fast Company, along with Wired, have been part of my professional reading for over 20 years. I have been a subscriber to Wired since I was interviewed by a writer from the magazine in December, 1995 as part of a panel for an article which appeared in print in June, 1996. The topic was “The Future of School.” I was the only K-12 educator on the panel. We were considered “experts.” For some reason, the magazine is still in print…

But to the article below.  Love the concept of “ grateful recounting,” different from “ living in the past.” My graduate school adviser taught us to keep a “Purr File,” which contained notes and mementos from times we, and others, let us know that they sincerely appreciated something we had done. Something we could reference on those days we felt like a fire hydrant in a world populated by dogs. Classic lesson, served me well in my years as a school administrator. Always good to remember the blessings, too often, we only see the faults.

And so it goes…

How Making A “Reverse Bucket List” Can Make You Happier

Here’s a productive way to deal with FOMO.

How Making A “Reverse Bucket List” Can Make You Happier
[Photo: Sticker Mule]

This article originally appeared on Shine, a free daily motivational text, and is reprinted with permission. 

As someone who loves to travel, I have a pretty intense bucket list of places I want to go to, sights to see, and events to attend. Right now, I have about 10 different countries I want to visit, and I need to squeeze in a drawing class to better hone my artistic skills, too. I also want to challenge myself at work by pitching and writing for different publications, and there’s a handful of musicians I want to see perform live at least once in my lifetime. Oh, and did I mention that I someday want to try reading my poetry at an open mic night?

While my bucket list inspires me to take initiative, it can also make me feel, well, overwhelmed. Like a shame-y reminder of all the things I haven’t done. It can feel like I have so much left to accomplish–and that any moment I’m not doing something on the list isn’t a moment well spent.

Thankfully, in the midst of a recent wave of bucket-list anxiety, I learned about something called a reverse bucket list. It’s a mindfulness exercise that has been making the rounds on blogs lately.

The reverse bucket list is pretty straightforward: Rather than writing down all of the things you hope to one day achieve, you instead write down a list of all the things you’ve already accomplished, things that make you feel proud. It’s the exact opposite of a regular bucket list–and it’s an encouraging exercise.

Related: This Introvert’s Secret To Happiness: Be Less “Successful”


Researchers haven’t specifically looked into the benefits of a reverse bucket list, but the exercise taps into a couple of well-studied topics, including gratitude.

Gratitude is typically thought of as appreciating all that you have in a given moment, but it can also include appreciating all you have done and the experiences you’ve had in the past.

Related: The Short, Online Course In Gratitude That Can Make You A Better Boss

A 2015 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology looked into how “grateful recounting” enhances a person’s overall well-being. The study showed that participants who recalled three good things from the past 48 hours–and briefly wrote about them–every day for a week had an easier time accessing positive memories. And by routinely recalling positive experiences, it sparked an increase in their subjective well-being.

Think of a reverse bucket list as an exercise in grateful recounting: You’re basking in the pride of your experiences and accomplishments, and you’re taking time to get thankful for them.

Reverse bucket lists also tap into the power of nostalgia. Research shows that revisiting positive or meaningful experiences from the past–like that music festival you went to–can help counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety, as well as make people “more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders,” according to The New York Times. Creating a reverse bucket list is like creating a nostalgia playlist–it’s a collection of your greatest hits and memories.

Related: Why Everything We’ve Been Told About Happiness Is Flawed 

Finally, creating a reverse bucket list can give us a sense of progress. Traditional bucket lists can often feel like a daily to-do list–overwhelming and impossible. But taking stock of what you have accomplished can create a feeling of progress, which can boost self-esteem and motivation. It’s why productivity enthusiasts praise “done” lists–when we see that we’ve made progress, it’s more encouraging than feeling like we’re behind. And we can gain a major sense of fulfillment.


So, how do you create a reverse bucket list? It’s simple: Write down accomplishments from your past that you feel proud of. Boom–you’ve made a reverse bucket list.

There’s no official amount of examples you need, since this list is really your own to make use of. Some bloggers jotted down 50 or more accomplishments, but you can always write down 10 to 15 of your strongest memories if you don’t have time to write more.

If it’s hard to come up with examples, try looking through your social media for reminders of rewarding things you’ve done. If you did something that made you proud, you might have posted about it on Facebook or Instagram. A quick scroll through your timeline might remind you of teaching your niece to ride a bike or getting that big promotion at work.

You can also refer to your real-life social network and ask a close friend or family member to help you remember your proudest moments. Perhaps you’re too humble to remember scoring the winning goal at your rec soccer game last year, but your friend who was on the sidelines that day can help bring up the good memory.

Related: Four Daily Habits That Will Make You Happier 

If you still feel like you can’t find accomplishments for your list, try thinking smaller. Sure, big milestones are great additions to a reverse bucket list, but meaningful moments come in all sizes. Spending the holidays with your family, making a new friend as an adult (a goal that sometimes feels truly impossible)–that’s definitely reverse bucket list material.

When I created my reverse bucket list, I tried to alternate between big and small accomplishments. That way, I didn’t underestimate how the smaller things are just as important as the more significant.

Here are the first 10 items from my reverse bucket list:

1. I’ve had my work printed in a national magazine

2. I’ve allowed myself to dance and have fun at Zumba classes even though I’m not a great dancer

3. I’ve climbed the Thórsmörk mountain range in Iceland

4. I disciplined my spending habits and saved up for tattoos I want

5. I’ve scored a spot on both the dean’s and honor’s lists while studying at my university

6. I taught myself how to cut my own hair to save money between haircuts

7. I’ve traveled to foreign countries on my own

8. I was the featured guest on a podcast when I was 19 years old

9. I’ve performed on stage at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis—twice!

10. I’ve had the strength to walk away from a couple of toxic relationships in my life

After you’ve created your list, try placing it right next to your traditional bucket list or keep it as a note on your phone. It might feel like a “brag list”–and a bit uncomfortable to write at first–but know it’s okay to take pride in your accomplishments. This list is by you, for you, and to benefit you.

When I created my own reverse bucket list, I found it counteracted my bucket list shame. Instead of getting anxious about all the things I still have to do, I could look back with satisfaction and pride.

Just as bucket lists can inspire us for the future, reverse bucket lists can make us grateful for the now–for all we’ve experienced and all we’ve done. Create your own list, and see if it can make today feel a bit more meaningful.

Connections and Relationships

Read a facebook post this morning about making a difference with challenging students. It reminded me of a couple of practices that were incredibly successful in my schools during my career.

I started teaching in an inner-city Junior High in the late 1970’s. I wasn’t from the neighborhood, it was quite the culture shock for a this first year teacher from white bread southwest Kansas. The district was still under a court order for desegregation, our junior high drew students from eight different elementary schools. This meant that our students were from all over the city, and they hadn’t had the chance to get to know one another prior to coming to us in grade 7. There were seven new teachers in my “class” that year, and our principal impressed us from our first meeting with him about the importance of culture and getting to know our students as people. After school on Friday of the first week, we all had to report to his office with just a pen. No grade books or seating charts were allowed. He gave us a blank sheet of paper, we had to write down the first names of all the students in our first period class, followed by something uniquely personal about each of them, that had nothing to do with our first period class. I taught students in the bands and orchestras, my first period class was advanced band with an enrollment of about 80 musicians. While I still have unused first week lesson plans from that year, I did get very well acquainted with a wonderful group of kids that week. And in ways that never appeared in my lesson plans. Our principal’s point was powerful, every student in our school knew that at least on adult on the staff knew them as a human being, not as the kid who sat in the 5th seat in the 3rd row, with a reading level of….  Too often, the numbers define the students. There is something really wrong with that!

We are all somewhere in the middle of the second quarter, can you name each student?

I remembered that after I moved from the classroom to the office. And took it a step further. Most of my adminstrative career was spent in rural schools in economically challenged areas. This meant we hired a lot of first year teachers. They became my students. Which meant I had to walk my talk about the importance of contacting parents and working with them. After the first round of formal evaluation observations, and unknown to the teachers, I would send a letter to the parents of our new teachers, letting them know that their son/daughter was doing a fantastic job as a brand new teacher, all the sleepless nights and other sacrifices the parents made to get their child through college had paid off, we were thrilled to have their child on our staff. Will never forget the conversations I had with new teachers the day after the parents received my letter. Seems like the parents and kids shared a phone call. Teaching is tough enough, it gets a bit easier when you know you are both appreciated and respected. And when you work for people who aren’t afraid to share their appreciation and respect.

It isn’t so much about interventions used, Google docs shared, progress monitored as it is about the people. If you don’t know the people, what motivates and has shaped them, the other stuff won’t matter, much.

And so it goes…