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…


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…

Reflections on Leaving

I have spent the last 11 years working for a school district in Montana. During that time, my family was in Colorado. My wife was serving on the executive boards of both her state and national associations, so she was not able to join me in Montana. For whatever reasons, which may become more obvious if you read what follows, I was not able to find a school district position in Colorado. Although not living in the same house, we got together every month to 6 weeks during the school year, and I was able to spend my summer breaks in Colorado. We made it work. During my tenure with the Department of Defense schools, we lived in the same house, but I was usually there only on Saturdays. We also made that work.

After 11 years in Montana, I decided to resign from my district and move to Colorado. I had vested in the retirement system and had reached retirement age. I had missed too many family events, it was time to go home.

Not that the district in Montana will miss my contributions, they won’t. I believed that I had a lot to contribute. From 1988-2006, I worked in state, national, and international model schools in two different states and internationally. I helped craft legislation that has impacted the profession at both the state and national levels, including the Carl Perkins Act and ESSA. As Superintendent in the mid 1990’s, my district was a founding member of the Virtual High School Global Consortium. We helped create the model of virtual school now used in most every state and district virtual school programs. We had to invent and create a lot of things we take for granted today. The conversations among the founders were fascinating. And we changed the rules of the game for everyone. I was Principal of one of Willard Dagget’s National Model Schools. 60 Minutes profiled the district where I was working in senior leadership in 2001. We were elite schools, but more importantly, we knew why we were elite schools. I have been invited, and have presented at numerous state and national conferences. My PLC became twitter, and includes an amazing group of educators talking about things we weren’t doing in my district in Montana. The conversations have become reminiscent of the discussions we used to have with the VHS founders. My colleagues had not heard of very many of these people, nor were any of them on twitter.

I used to be smart.

And despite the names I could drop, publications and awards I could list as part of my “legacy,” I believe my “legacy” is that I made a difference in the lives of a few kids and teachers. I can live with that.

I looked back at notes from the District Leadership Team meetings I attended last year. We talked about things like what times cooks and custodians clocked in/clocked out; procedures for out of state student trips; student led recycling programs; and the excessive number of copies running through our district copy center, I’m sure that adopting the Engage NY math series had something to do with that one. A district-wide presentation before school started was called “Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.” Most of us caught the irony of that. It wasn’t the most productive inservice day in district history. My favorite instructional conversation quote came from our district curriculum director during a discussion about our District Improvement Plan, “Whatever the minimum we have to do with ESSA is our goal.” Very inspiring and uplifting.

In Montana, I “was not a good fit.”

Like most districts in America, it was a good district. Not great. Just good. Using the trailing edge indicators of test scores, the district could point to improvement. When the scores were broken out, however, the already high achieving students made significant gains. The lowest achieving students did not. When I would ask how many students regressed a level between spring and fall progress monitoring assessments, I was ignored. When I would ask how many of our students were at the lowest performance level for multiple years, and what we planned to do with the individual students who had been at the lowest performing level for several years, I was no longer invited to instructional meetings.

I “was not a good fit.”

I made a career of anticipating the world our students would live in when they were our age, not making incremental improvements in what school was like when we were their age. John Dewey was on target in 1915 when he said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

I was not satisfied with working in a good school. I was bringing a background of working in elite schools. And an understanding of what it took to become, and remain, an elite school.

The first thing we understood was that merely tweaking past practice might move us from good to great, but it would never make us elite. Old ways will never open new doors.

We recognized that the definition of “school” has fundamentally changed. Simply looking for the latest apps to load on the newest tablets and selling our souls to Google will not fundamentally change anything when using the future needs of current students as the determining filters.

Students lives changed dramatically during my tenure. I was Principal of an elementary school in South Central Colorado in the late 1980’s when we became a pilot school for state funded pre-school. Working with pre-schoolers was not part of the curriculum in my preparation classes. But it became part of my reality.

In my last district, between 1/3 and 1/2 of our K-8 students ate both breakfast and lunch at school, according to our food service reports. I am not pointing fingers at anyone who chooses to send their children to school for both breakfast and lunch. I am just acknowledging that it is the reality for many of our kids. I visited with a lot of the kids in my school, they told me that dinner on most nights was a drive thru from someplace. Activities like ball practices, dance classes, 4-H, etc made sitting down to dinner with the family a bit difficult. A lot of conversations about life and growing up tend to take place at mealtimes. For too many kids, those conversations are now with peers rather than with parents. Or other adults. Again, not pointing fingers, just accepting reality, through the eyes of the kids. And accepting that we are now raising the kids as much as teaching them.

I asked what we could do as a district to address this issue. Did we adjust to meet the new reality?


I “was not a good fit.”

Our role was seen as increasing test scores. I believed the only test we needed to prepare our kids for was the test of time. Their time, not ours. In the elite schools, we  never focused on test scores as goals. We focused on meeting the changing needs of our kids. We had to take care of the Maslow stuff before we could worry about the Blooms stuff. When we took care of our kids, the test scores took care of themselves.

I “was not a good fit.”

While meeting minimal expectations was our desired goal, we also had conversations about becoming “innovative.” Which meant more “technology” and new programs layered on top of existing programs. Laudable, but experiences taught me that innovation starts with a dream, not with a goal statement in the Holy Strategic Plan. In 1993, my district initiated our Student Centered School Project. From the proposal document, “We will create learner centered curriculum using technology, students as producers and teachers, and the concept of Just-In-Time Learning. The whole system is based on students’ acquiring and demonstrating the achievement of world class content skills at or beyond proposed state and national standards.” We kind of pre-dated the current conversations on personalized, blended and competency-based learning. And we pulled it off over the next few years.

As with most innovators we studied at the time, we started with identifying problems that needed solved. And the problems we identified did not include  performances on standardized tests. I know, this all happened before NCLB was a gleam in the eyes of Senator Kennedy and Soon To Become President Bush, and made too many of us focus on the scores rather than the needs of the kids. But we still tested them in 1993.

Our solutions required us to imagine the Paradigm of the Possible, not the Paradigm of the Present. Imagination comes from dreams, and in that district, we believed that we had Dreams for Sale. Every student and every teacher had a dream. Our role was to empower everyone to make their dreams become their reality. To become the Architects of Their Futures rather than the Victims of Fate. Given that 95% of our students qualified for free/reduced meals, this was a rather tall order, and few people took us seriously while we were building it.

We learned that reform is about individual people, not programs. Programs don’t teach kids, teachers do. The metrics of successful reform are not increases in one dimensional test scores, but are the growth of individuals. How do we measure talent? How do we measure the ability to continue to learn? Can all the qualities that define a successful student be reduced to a single score? The same algorithms that purport to measure student learning/growth are also used to predict the weather…

The traditional schools I worked in would aggregate, then analyze. The elite schools would analyze, then aggregate. They would find patterns within the individual rather than patterns within the group.

The forced ranking, stacked ranking, rank and yank, call it what you will, didn’t work in industry. The most successful businesses quickly moved away from it, and certainly stopped using the process to evaluate employee performance. In too many schools, we call it RTI. For the sake of my grandchildren, I hope their schools will follow the lead of the successful businesses.

Elite schools were not run by polls or consensus. They only perpetuate present practice and lead to mediocrity. Apple did not use focus groups. Apple didn’t break rules so much as they invented new ones. Focus groups could not guide them down the paths they had chosen. Staff were empowered rather than managed or controlled. My favorite Steve Jobs quote, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” In most schools, we trust our teachers with other peoples’ kids, then do things like make them turn in lesson plans for the following week, instead of freeing them up to adjust today’s activities to reflect what happened yesterday. That places the focus on the teacher’s input, not the student’s output. It sends a loud message that we do not assume good intentions from professionals, we have to check up on them. All in the name of “standardization of curriculum implementation.” I’ve seen standardized curriculum, standardized tests, in many schools, standardized dress. I have yet to see standardized students. Apple was one of the innovators we studied in 1992-1993. I tried to walk Steve Jobs talk. We intentionally moved people out of their comfort zones. Great things never happen there. And they amazed us with their creativity.

Did it work? I make no apologies for my resume. During my career, people have called me “jaded,” “arrogant,” “frustrated,” “angry,” a “disgruntled former employee,” a “visionary,” a “dreamer,” a “Level 5 leader,” and a “true servant leader.” All of them were correct. People tend to find exactly what they are looking for.

This is what I took to Montana.

I “was not a good fit.”

The best days of my life haven’t happened yet, and I don’t intend to spend them getting old.

As for Montana, I am done. Not mad, not sad, not envious, not in remorse, not spiteful. Just done.

I was brought up in a home with the freedom to question and discuss, accept little on face value. This was a time when society was going through some monumental upheavals with the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King had a dream, not a Strategic Plan; the Viet Nam protests, my number did not come up, and the impending impeachment and resignation of President Nixon.

The quote I selected for my senior yearbook was from George Bernard Shaw, “Some men see things as they are and ask why, I dream things that never were and ask why not.”

During one of the sleepless nights I created for myself during the mid-1990’s, I watched “The Man of LaMancha.” I paraphrased the Life As It Is speech:

“I’ve worked in education for nearly 40 years, and I’ve seen Life As It Is. Pain, misery, cruelty beyond belief. I’ve heard the voices of God’s noblest creatures, His children. I’ve been a student, teacher, and administrator. I’ve seen my colleagues at each level drop out, walk away, or die more slowly by putting in their time. I’ve held them as they’ve left. These were people who saw Life As It Is. They left despairingly, no commencement speeches, no retirement farewells. Only their eyes filled with confusion. Questioning why. I do not think they were questioning why they were leaving. But why they had come in the first place. What we do at times seems lunatic. But who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To seek treasure where there has only been poverty may be madness. To nurture hope where there has only been despair and resignation may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness. But maddest of all is to accept life as it is and not as it should be!”

Maybe, someplace, I will again be “a good fit.”

And so it goes…

Reflections on a Career – So Far

End of school year reflection time, this title could become a theme for the next few musings.

Looking back on what hasn’t changed during my lifetime as a learner:

  • length of the school day
  • length of the school year
  • schedules of the school day – self contained classes are still the predominant model in the younger grades, Frederick Taylor’s bell schedule still dominates the middle and high schools
  • teacher certification and endorsement still dictates who can teach what
  • Andrew Carnegie’s units are the measure of achievement

My lifetime as a learner began in Unified School District #443 in Dodge City, Kansas, very early in the 1960’s. Thanks to Jamie Vollmer, here is a short list of things we have added since I started:

  • In the 1960’s, we added AP programs, Head Start, Title I, Adult Ed, Consumer Ed, and Peace, Leisure and Recreation Ed.
  • In the 1970’s, we added Drug and Alcohol Abuse Ed, Parenting Ed, Behavior Adjustment Classes, Character Ed, Special Ed, Title IX, Environmental Ed, Women’s Studies, African-American Heritage Ed, and School Breakfast.
  • The surge tide came in during the 1980’s, we added Keyboarding and Computer Ed, Global Ed, Multicultural/Ethnic Ed, Nonsexist Ed, ESL/Bilingual Ed, Teen Pregnancy Awareness, Hispanic Awareness Ed, Early Childhood Ed, Jump Start, Early Start, Even Start, Prime Start, Full-Day Kindergarten, Pre-school programs for at-risk children, Alternative Education in various forms, and many more.
  • We didn’t slow down too much in the 1990’s, we added, among other things, Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation, HIV/AIDS education, Expanded Gifted and Talented Opportunities, Death Education, Tech Prep and School to Work, At Risk and Dropout Prevention, Homeless Education, America 2000 and Goals 2000 Initiatives, Distance Learning, Expanded Computer and Internet Education.
  • In the first decade of this century, we have added No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Bully Prevention, Anti-harassment policies, Early Childhood Wrap Around Programs, Health and Wellness Programs, and Media Literacy Development.

What have we taken off of our plates? Or have the serving portions just gotten smaller?

I have seen two significant changes during my career.

The first is the changing expectations of our graduates. Career/job opportunities for students leaving our schools without, or with only a high school diploma are almost non-existent. The American Dream in increasingly out of reach for many. Strange as it may sound, the outlook isn’t much better for college graduates. The percentage of careers/jobs that require a baccalaureate degree has remained constant at about 20% since the 1960’s. Balancing the salary of an entry level position with the student loan re-payment schedule is a challenge for all of us.

I have been able to spend more than a little bit of my time in the profession examining and working with those who will ultimately employ our graduates, be they from high school or post-secondary. At some point, all of our graduates need to be employable. There have been some very fascinating conversations about what the prospective employers are looking for in new employees. Academic GPA and class rank are not very high on the list of traits being looked at, the “soft skills” are at the top. Has your school made any changes to reflect the changing expectations?

I have kept my elementary school report cards. It is fun to look at them every once in a while. No letter grades were given, instead, we had the following “proficiencies:”

  • a Check in column 1 indicates child is doing outstanding work
  • a Check in column 2 indicates child is making satisfactory progress according to his ability
  • a Check in column 3 indicates child is making slow progress according to his ability
  • a Check in column 4 indicates child is making unsatisfactory progress

Pretty simple, but focused not on where the child is, but where the child is going, according to his ability. And Mom and Dad easily understood what it meant.

The Reading/Language Arts “standards” for grade one were:

  • Understands what he reads
  • Reads with good expression
  • Works out words independently
  • Knows letter names
  • Knows letter sounds
  • Shows ability to organize what he reads
  • Speaks clearly and distinctly
  • Expresses thoughts well orally
  • Takes effective part in discussion groups
  • Expresses thoughts well in writing
  • Learns words in spelling lesson
  • Spells correctly in written work
  • Is neat and legible in all written work
  • Forms letters correctly

Here were the arithmetic “standards,:

  • Knows number facts taught
  • Works accurately
  • Shows growth in reasoning ability
  • Finishes work on time
  • Understands meaning of numbers

Pretty basic stuff, and Mom and Dad understood all of it.

By sixth grade, a few things were added, and a few taken away. We were expected to know letter names and sounds, that wasn’t a 6th grade standard. Dictionary skills were expected, as well as following grammar and punctuation rules. In arithmetic, we were expected to be gaining skill in use of the fundamental processes. Mom and Dad understood that 6th grade math and language was certainly different from 1st grade math and reading, but the report card focused on how well we were applying what we were learning, they really didn’t need to know what the specific standards were. Like parents today, they were more concerned with what we were able to do with what we learned. And like today, the language of the standard would not have been understood by them.

The biggest change is the Kindergarten report card. No letter grades, but same rubric. The standards, however, look nothing like what my district shows on our Kindergarten report card.

We were scored on the following:

  • Be friendly
  • Respect the rights of others
  • Work and play well with others
  • Expresses himself
  • Keep emotions under control
  • Follow directions in work and play
  • Takes part in activities
  • Listens well
  • Recognize colors
  • Count
  • Color, cut and use materials
  • Adjust quickly and calmly to a new or unusual situation

Pretty much what employers are telling us they are looking for in prospective employees! They will teach the job specific skills, they are looking for the ability to continue to learn, and to work well with others.

The Kindergarten report card also had the following Message to Parents:

“The goals and purposes of the kindergarten are so different from those of the six elementary grades as to require a distinctly different kind of form for reporting the child’s progress to his parents. In the kindergarten we are not concerned with achievement in any formal body of subject matter; the kindergarten is designed to serve as a socializing agency. Its purpose is to teach the child to adjust himself easily and happily to group living. The kindergarten year is one of the most valuable and important years for building the foundation for a wholesome and worthwhile school life. If there is anything which you would like to talk over with the teacher please come to your school, visit the class, and ask the teacher to help you understand the kindergarten program.”

Needless to say, those days are long gone. But should they be?

The second big change I have seen through my years is in the way our current generation of students learns.

They, and their parents, no longer buy into the compliance model. They are not asking for relevance or engagement as much as they are demanding empowerment. The one-size-fits-all model is finally, hopefully, going by the wayside. We have the tools to individualize the experience for every student, or as was said in Dodge City, Kansas, in the early 1960’s, “making satisfactory progress according to his ability.”

We have the tools, do we have the commitment?

More to follow.

And so it goes…

Teacher Appreciation

Wow, lots of stuff to write about this week.

First, shout out and sincere thanks to all the teachers who have touched me, and shaped my life over 60+ years. Looking back, I had amazing teachers throughout my student career in Dodge City, Kansas during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. They helped me choose education as a career. Over nearly 40 years in the profession, I have had the honor of getting to know, and working with, some amazing educators. A few former students are today, teaching, would like to think that I had a small bit of something to do with that.

Like an award winner giving an acceptance speech, there are way too many to mention by name, and I would unintentionally leave out some very deserving people.

So I will call out only three. First and foremost, Buster and Dorothy, my parents. We pay lip service to “parents are the first teachers,” but it is certainly true. They did what all great  teachers do, they believed in me, loved me unconditionally, guided me, did their level best to teach me the right things to do, let me fail and learn some hard lessons without rescuing me from the consequences of some less than great choices, which taught personal accountability, one of the most valuable lessons of all.

Next on the list is my brother, Frank. He is four years older than I am, was my hero growing up, remains so today. A brilliant student, an exceptional human. A new, exciting and different approach to math education took root while Frank and I were in elementary school, cleverly called “New Math.” Dad and Mom didn’t really understand it, and how we were being taught to solve problems was very different from the methods they were taught and used. Understand, they were of the generation that had both survived the Great Depression and kicked the world’s butt by winning World War II, no small accomplishments. And they have every reason to have some swagger in their lives. But they didn’t get New Math. Many conversations were held around our dinner table. Not very different from conversations being held today between parents and children about Common Core Math…Frank “got” New Math, and he made sure that I did as well.

A lot was talked about, and learned, around our dinner table. Some of it actually had to do with what was going on at school.

Frank and I shared a remarkable English teacher when both of us were in 8th grade, Mr. Deyoe. He shaped both of us throughout our remaining school careers in Dodge City, and in my case, he still does. He, Dad and I were playing golf together one afternoon while I was still an undergrad in college. We were talking about teaching. He had just been named a Kansas Master Teacher, as if his credibility with with me needed a boost. I have never forgotten one of his comments, “There are great high school teachers, and there are great grade school teachers. But it takes someone special to be a great junior high teacher. Not everybody can do it well.” All of my classroom teaching experience included the junior high/middle school learners, and most of my building level administrative experience has as well. Mr. Deyoe wasn’t wrong then, and he is right today.

Mr. Deyoe was one of several outstanding humans who touched me as teachers. Several I have studied under or worked with have won numerous awards and are enshrined in various Educator Halls of Fame. I have kept my elementary school report cards, the memories of those teachers come back to life whenever I pull them out.

Not all have received the public accolades they earned, but they all mattered and made a difference.

To all, I extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation, and I dedicate the following to all teachers, from Dan Clark:

Quiet Heroes


The world is full of quiet heroes

Who never seek the praise.

They’re always back off in the shadows

They let us have the limelight days.

You’re the one that I look up to

Because of you I’m free.

You set an example I could follow

You helped me see my destiny.


I’ve had my share of broken dreams

But you said I could win.

You gave me the chance I always needed

To start my dreams again.

You took the time to teach and tutor

You showed me rules to rise.

You changed my fears to glory tears.

You’re an angel in disguise.


I wouldn’t be where I am today,

I’ve won my share of times.

Unless you coached me through the maze

And pushed me on the hardest climbs.

It’s just your style, the extra mile

No glory, must be tough.

You let me have the accolades,

A smile, you said, was just enough.


So even though my thanks don’t show

Unnoticed you will never go.

I need to say I love you so

You’re my hero.

Finishing the Year Strong

For many of us, the end of the school year is a mythical time. Our “calendars” do not hang on the wall, they overlap with planning and executing school events.

While this school year will end sometime in late May-early June, we have already begun planning for the next school year. Class registrations are under way, we are reviewing student work from this year in order to plan summer professional development and create the next School Improvement Plans, activity calendars are already being finalized, the list goes on. Throw in the end-of-year programs, projects that are due, final exams for those who still give them and the stress levels for students, parents, and staff are hitting the red lines. The days are long, and our patience and empathy tanks are beginning to run low.

It is easy for little things to become big things at this time of year.

Hopefully, we will not forget to take care of ourselves, and our personal well-being first. The same routines, like diet, exercise, reflecting that helped us get this far are easily pushed aside in the time crunch to “get everything done” before the students and staff leave.

I’ve found through the years that while it may be hard, leaving the school day in the parking lot every afternoon is more critical now than it was 3 months ago. I still have to drive into the parking lot every morning with my tanks full and ready for the new day.

The late Michael Conrad said it best…

And so it goes…

Memories and Changing Expectations

A Facebook memory popped up the other day, it marked the passing of Dr. Andrew Grove, the retired CEO of Intel.

In 1996, back when I was smart, I was invited by Compaq, Intel, and Microsoft to participate in a conference called Innovate Forum 97. The conference brought together representatives from around the world, from a variety of industries to discuss and share thoughts and ideas with leaders of technology industries. I was honored to be part of the education group.

Dr. Grove visited with us about his recently published book, Only the Paranoid Survive, released that year. In it, he writes about significant events that occur in the life of a business. He calls them Strategic Inflection Points.

“A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end. They are full-scale changes in the way business is conducted, so that simply adopting new technology or fighting the competition as you used to may be insufficient.”

Dr. Grove, working with Michael Porter of Harvard University, lists six factors that can cause a strategic inflection point. They are:

  1. Power, vigor, and competence of existing competitors;
  2. Power, vigor, and competence of complementors;
  3. Power, vigor, and competence of customers, I would add both internal and external customers;
  4. Power, vigor and competence of suppliers;
  5. Possibility that what your business is doing can be done in a different way; and
  6. Power, vigor, and competence of potential competitors.

While his book is not intended for the education market, I believe that there are parallels when we view education not as a legislated monopoly, but as a competitive business in an environment of expanding choice.

Since its inception, educators decided what was good and what wasn’t. We set our own quality levels and our own specifications to meet them. As a legislated monopoly, nobody ever questioned that we had the right to do that, and generally we were on target. But now, we are being openly questioned and challenged in the light of emerging technologies and the power of those tools to alter and enhance the teaching-learning process. Many critics point out that the  problems with our educational system are not that it is been doing its task poorly, rather, the schools have not responded in a timely and effective fashion.

We are being impacted by several of Dr. Groves’ inflection points, and too many of us still seeing them as threats to the status quo rather than opportunities to respond to the changing expectations being placed on our graduates.

I am currently serving as the Chair of the Montana ACT Council. In the past two weeks, that position has given me the opportunity to explore in depth how we can change to better meet the expectations of our “external customers,” those who hire our graduates.

I was honored to serve as Director of High School Programs at the Central Educational Center in Newnan, Georgia during the 2003-04 school year when we were named a National Model High School by the International Center for Leadership in Education. With an enrollment of approximately 1,100 students, and growing, we could boast a five year average graduation rate of 98%. Of that 98%, 100% of them were either full-time employed in their career of study, full-time enrolled in post-secondary schools, or a combination of both within 6 weeks of leaving us. And we guaranteed their knowledge and skills.

One of the keys to our success was our implementation of a Work Ethics curriculum. Every student was evaluated every day, in every class, on the following 10 traits:

  • Attendance
  • Character
  • Teamwork
  • Appearance
  • Attitude
  • Productivity
  • Organizational Skills
  • Communication
  • Cooperation
  • Respect

We believed then, and it remains true today, that more people are fired from jobs not because they lack the technical skills to perform them,  but that they lack the work ethic skills needed to be a valued employee.

The work ethic score was a separate line on both the quarterly report card and final transcript. What is important gets measured. We shared that these were important skills and attitudes by measuring them. How else would our students understand that they were important to their futures?  Each semester, potential employers would meet with our new students to explain the work ethics program, and impress upon our kids that they placed more importance on that score than on the GPA or class rank.

The academic score, to them, was only a snapshot of what the student knew at one point in time, it was not indicative of what could be learned. They explained that they would constantly be working with their employees to upgrade their technical skills. But if they could find employees with the necessary “soft skills,” it was a win-win for all. In other words, they expected to continually teach new skills. But they would not teach attitudes. Those had to come with the employee.

Two weeks ago, I spent several days in San Antonio attending the ACT State Organization Spring Summit. I devoted most of my breakout session time to immersion into what ACT calls their Holistic Framework.

We are all familiar with the ACT test we took as juniors and seniors in high school. The beauty of working with ACT in the council role is to discover the other tools they have developed to help us help our students (internal customers) for what life expects of them once they leave us. They holistic framework is one of those tools, and it parallels what we had in place at CEC.

It consists of 4 parts:

  • Core Academic Skills: knowledge and skills necessary to perform essential tasks in core academic content.
  • Cross-Cutting Capabilities: general knowledge and skills necessary to perform essential tasks across academic content areas.
  • Behavioral Skills: interpersonal, self-regulatory, and task-related behaviors important for adaptation to and successful performance in education and workplace settings.
  • Education and Career Navigation Skills: focuses on what individuals know about themselves and their environments, and how they use this information to make choices, plan actions, and move along their education and career paths.

There are significant parallels between education and work success, they are multi-dimensional, so readiness for both naturally should focus on diverse sets of knowledge and skills.

Last week, our Council presented our ACT Workplace Success Exemplar award to Boeing Helena in recognition of the work they do with the Helena School District, Helena College, and the greater Helena community. During our conversation with their leadership team, we asked what they looked for in employees. Not surprisingly, they told us the same things we had learned at CEC, skills will be continually taught and upgraded, attitudes need to be part of the hiring portfolio.

So how are we doing in this area? Are we focusing so much on the academics and test scores that we are short-changing the attitudes and traits the external customers need from our graduates?

This was weekend reading recently…http://www.digitaltonto.com/2017/these-3-technological-forces-that-are-changing-the-nature-of-work/

I suggest that SBAC, PAARC, ACT and SAT, with their focus on teaching and the acquisition of knowledge, aren’t going to help us prepare our graduates for this kind of work. But a multi-dimensional approach based on learning and the application of attitudes along with knowledge and skills will certainly help us better meet the needs of our external customers.

The good people in Helena, Montana get it! The discussion between the leadership at Boeing, the Helena School District and Helena College was about creating processes and programs that will ensure prepared graduates at every level, and will allow Boeing to continue to be an industry leader.

Hope springs eternal!

The Torch Is Passed

Little late getting this written for the #Compelled Tribe, but here is my vacation journal from Spring Break 2017.

This year, it was all about the KiddRock17 wedding in Yuma, Arizona. Sheila Kidd, the oldest daughter of my older brother, was joined in matrimony with Rocky Laguna, a fine American, a nephew to be very proud to have in our family.

My brother and I are all that’s left of our side of the family, our parents and sister having already passed. We get along famously, but distance between Montana, Colorado, and Arizona means we don’t see each other as often as we would like. KiddRock17 made is possible for the families to gather for something not called a “Celebration of Life,” an event all too common at our point in life.

This trip included Spring Training baseball in Phoenix with my youngest niece, Rockies/Royals, my two favorite teams. Unfortunately, one of them lost, but an afternoon at the ballpark with special people is never time wasted.

Our son, daughter-in-law, and youngest grandson joined us mid-week. Time on the golf course with your son is also always special. No birdie putts fell, but none were left short of the cup. And it is only March, lots of golf in our future.

Not that anyone enjoys getting up at 4:00am while on vacation, but when it means a hike up the mountains to see the sun rise over the desert with your sister-in-law, it was well worth missing a few hours of sleep. Time to talk, catch up on stuff, and be thankful for a glorious sun rise seen from the top of a mountain is a treasured memory.

The wedding was, as they all are, a very special time with family and friends. And it was a beautiful ceremony, held outside on the grounds of the Yuma Territorial Prison. Can only hope Rocky understands the metaphor….

Best of all was time with family. The oldest member of our branch of the family tree, age 93, was able to get acquainted with the youngest member of the branch, age 6 weeks. Grandson will remember the event only by looking at pictures and sharing in the stories, but that is how history is passed along.

New lives started that day, congratulations to the newlyweds. Two remarkable families became one, the Kidd family and the Laguna family are embarking on some amazing adventures. And one very special photograph has been added to the family history and tradition.

The torch has been passed to a new generation…


imageAnd so it goes…

On This Day

April 12, 1961 was a day that the world was forever changed.

In less than 2 hours , Yuri Gagarin  “slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.” *

I was an elementary school student that day, my eyes saw the reports of his flight.

My eyes have also seen all that followed. They were in the Lincoln Elementary School  gymnasium watching television on February 20, 1962, when John Glenn became the first American to orbit earth. They were in the gymnasium at the Chase Elementary School on January 28, 1986 when we watched Space Shuttle Challenger explode shortly after launch.

My eyes have seen both the triumphs and the tragedies.  They have shed tears at both.

Personal sidebar – our son started working for Lockheed-Martin after his high school graduation. His first project was to work with four men the ages of his parents to build heat shields for Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. These eyes also watched the reports as both landed successfully on the Martian surface. His heat shields worked. And our son, at age 18, built something that has littered another planet. We wouldn’t have thought that possible on the night he was born, but life has a way of changing from what we expect at some point in time.  End personal sidebar

They have seen many changes in many aspects of life, except for our schools.

I work in a middle school that is not fundamentally different from the junior high I attended. I have worked in elementary schools that were not fundamentally different from Lincoln Elementary School in the early 1960’s. We do some things differently, but schedules haven’t changed. Groupings of students haven’t changed. For the most part, attitudes haven’t changed.

I have also worked in schools that have been classified as “Pockets of Excellence.” They were fundamentally different from the schools I attended. Schedules were different, groupings were different, they were about learning more than they were about teaching. Because they were grounded in attitudes and beliefs that had changed. The irony is that they were considered Pockets of Excellence, not mainstream schools.

Every day, I am honored to be part of the lives of about 1,100 adolescents. What will their eyes have seen by the time they are the ages of their parents? What will they have seen by the time they are my age?

Are we preparing them to litter another planet?

Or pass a test?

“Up, up the long delirious burning blue, I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, where never lark, or even eagle, flew; and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God.” *

I want for our students what I wanted for our children. I hope we are creating more litterbugs.

And so it goes…

*High Flight – John G. Magee, Jr.