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.


It all goes back to relationships!




Relationships are the essential element in our schools. The old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is true especially in today’s society when kids are used to so much choice in their world. Also, in today’s busy world, it’s important for teachers and school staff to make positive connections with students. We must be intentional and taking time with these relationships must be purposeful.


Members of the Compelled Tribe have teamed up to share practical ways for educators to build relationships with students. As connected educators we also embrace the notion that it is the power of the team that drives much of what we do. How do you build relationships with those that you serve? See the list below for ideas to add to what you may be already doing in the buildings and districts in which you work.


  1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them.
  2. Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year.
  3. Know your students families. As important as it is to know the students, make the connection to home. Great relationships with your kids starts where they kick off their day. As the year continues and both the good and bad arise, having that connection will be crucial to getting the results you are seeking.
  4. Journal writing is an activity to get to know your students well and give students a voice in the classroom.
  5. Make positive phone calls home especially within the first two weeks of the school year.
  6. Genius Hour/Passion Projects really give teachers an opportunity to learn about student passions.
  7. Have kids make something that represents them out of Play-dough and share.
  8. In the first couple of days of school, learn the first name of every student in your first class of the day, and something personal and unique about them that has nothing to do with your first class of the day.
  9. Be vulnerable!  Let your guard down and show your students that you are a learner, you make mistakes, and persevere.  They will see you as a person, opening the door for a relationship built on trust. Share stories about yourself as a learner or challenges you’ve faced when you were there age and help them see what it took to overcome it. It’s easy to forget how much a simple connection can make the difference.
  10. Eat together.  Have breakfast with a small group of kids or join them at the lunch table.  Gathering around meal time provides an informal way to have conversations and get to know your students.
  11. Hold Monday morning meetings (We call them “Weekend News Updates”).  Ask each student to share about their weekend – good or bad.  Ask questions.  Be sure to share about your weekend too!  Occasionally bring in breakfast or make hot chocolate.
  12. Laugh with them. Frequently. Show them that school, and your class, is just not about learning stuff. It is about sharing an experience. Tell them you missed them if they were out.
  13. Keep in touch with past students.  Show past students that you do not have a 1 year contract with them.  The ongoing relationship will also model to your current students the value of a positive classroom community.
  14. At the elementary level — hold morning meeting everyday as a class and stick to the routine of greeting, sharing, team building activity, and morning message.  This is a sacred time to build and maintain a culture of risk tasking and building relationships.
  15. Send positive postcards home to every child. Have them address it on the first day of the quarter, keep them and challenge yourself to find at least one thing each quarter to celebrate about your students, let them and their parents know.
  16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
  17. Make personal phone calls to parents. Find one good thing to say about the children in your class.  It can be how they contributed to a class discussion or how well mannered they are in class or in the halls. For older students it can be how diligent a student is at learning challenging content.
  18. Share something about yourself that they will find relevant or interesting to extend your relationships with students.
  19. Tell a story from a time you were their age. This approach allows students to see teachers as they once were and make connections easier to establish and maintain.
  20. Create a unique handshake or symbol for each of your students.  Use it when you greet them at the door or say goodbye.
  21. Eat lunch with a group of kids throughout the week. They will enjoy a time dedicated just to them. (And you will enjoy a peaceful lunch!)
  22. As a school, hold monthly celebrations to recognize students and educators their accomplishments.
  23. Take pictures with students. Print. Write a special note on the back to the student.
  24. At the end of a term or year, write a thank you to students telling them what you have learned from them. Be specific and honest – authenticity goes a long way. Try to make the note handwritten if possible, but email works well too.
  25. Each day write two students a personal  note about something that you have noticed about them.  Go into some detail and be specific. Keep track of who you reach out to over the year and try and reach as many students as you can. The time you spend doing this will deepen connections and pay off 10 fold.
  26. Have dance parties! It is so fun to let loose and get down with students. Students love seeing you have fun with them, and the saying goes, “The class that dances together, stays together”.
  27. Play with students at recess or during a free time. Climb the monkey bars, play kickball, or tag. Students will never forget you connecting with them on the playground.
  28. Hang out in the hall to give high fives or to have quick conversations with students. Relationship-building can be squeezed into any time of the day.
  29. Notice students having a bad day. Ask questions without prying. Show that you care. Follow up the next day, week, etc.
  30. When a student is having a rough day, ask if he/she has eaten. We are all more unreasonable when we are hungry. Keep a supply of snacks on hand (ex: breakfast bars, crackers, etc).
  31. Go see students at their events: sports, theater, dance, volunteering. Meet parents and families.
  32. When a student stops to say “Hello” and has a friend in tow, introduce yourself and be sure that the guest feels important.
  33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
  34. Sing “Happy Birthday” to students; send birthday emails (I use “Boomerang” to schedule my birthday emails each month).
  35. Say “I missed you yesterday” when a student has been absent. Be sincere.
  36. We have to make time to grow relationships with our students. This time can not always be in a planner or a calendar. Sometimes, this simply means just being there for your students.
  37. Mail them a postcard for their birthday. They are always amazed to receive personal mail!
  38. In a leadership position, learn as many names as you can. Greet students by their name as often as you are able.
  39. Music! Bond with your students over music. Play soft classical music while they are working. Incorporate music/songs into special events or lessons.
  40. Classroom: Start a compliment jar. Share comments at the end of class or randomly throughout the day. School: Do shout-outs during morning (or afternoon) announcements/news show.
  41. Smile and make eye contact.  “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”.  Something as simple as a greeting in the hall with smile and eye contact conveys both warmth & safety.  Try it tomorrow.
  42. First day of math class have them choose 10 numbers that are significant to them (3 for number of cats, 1 for brothers, 20 for number of hours they work, etc.).  Everyone shares out.  You will learn lots about all your students in one day.
  43. Cut them some slack every now and then.  “What were you doing?  What should you have been doing?  Can you do that for me next time?”  We all make mistakes.
  44. Hold class celebrations and have students develop unique cheers for various accomplishments…these can be anything from a sports team victory, to being selected for something, to earning a grade, and they need not be school related.
  45. Allen Mendler’s 2×10 strategy for challenging students. Spend 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days talking to a student about something not academic.
  46. Share your own goals, successes/failures. Don’t be a mystery to your students.
  47. After morning announcements have students participate in a daily discussion question.  Have a student read the question and set a timer for two and a half minutes.  Each person turns to a partner and answers the question then volunteers share with the whole class.  Each question, in some way, will help you get to know your students.
  48. Halfway through the year, have your parents and students fill out a feedback form.  In my classroom, these forms look different.  Allow them to evaluate you so you can keep what works and change things that aren’t working.
  49. In your summer introduction letter, include a letter asking parents to write about their children in 1,000,000 words or less.  Keep the assignment voluntary and open so they tell you what is most important to them.
  50. Don’t be too busy to truly listen.  Listen to understand, not to respond.  Are you starting a lesson when a student interrupts and tells you they are moving?  Take the minute to hear them out.  That time will mean more to the student than the first minute of the lesson ever will.
  51. When students get stuck in class, teach the other students to cheer them on.  We do a simple, “Come on, [Name], you can do it,” followed by three seconds of clapping.
  52. Teach students call and responses to uplift each other.  When a student responds with something profound and someone loves it, that student gets to start the cheer.
  53. When you check in with groups to give them feedback or see how it’s going, make sure you are seeing them eye-to-eye.  If they’re sitting, don’t stand.  Pull up a chair next to them.  If they’re sitting on the floor, sit down on the floor next to them to avoid standing over them.
  54. Give honest feedback even when it may not be positive.  Your students will appreciate that you expect more out of them than they’re showing.
  55. Create a “You Matter” wall.  Take fun pictures of each of your students.  Print each photo and put each student’s photo in an 8×10 frame.  Hang them all on your wall under a “You Matter” heading.  At the end of the year, send the photos home with students.
  56. Tell them what was hard for you when you went through school and how you worked to overcome the challenges.  It shows they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
  57. Defend your students in front of other people.
  58. Take risks so students feel comfortable doing the same.  Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
  59. Create something that is unique to your class.  For us, it’s a house competition.  It’s something that connects my past students and current students.  It’s also a family bond that only the students who have been in my class understand.
  60. Apologize when you make a mistake.
  61. Cook together and then you can eat family style in the classroom. Some fun and easy crockpot meals: applesauce, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings. Then, make cupcakes for dessert!
  62. Every so often, take the pulse of your building according to students. Convene a volunteer roundtable with student reps from various groups (athletes, scholars, quiet, loud) and ask them for critical feedback about topics you are working on. Some ideas I’ve seen discussed in this format include schoolwide incentives (assemblies, sledding event, etc.), dress code, and discussing recess options for winter.
  63. During your informal walk throughs, saddle up right next to students and ask them the purpose of the lesson they are involved in. Why do you think the teacher is asking you to work on this? You’ll be more than surprised with the honest feedback.
  64. Bring board games back! Add a few games like Checkers, Uno or Chess to your lunch table options. See if any students are willing to play a game or two with you and others.
  65. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the entry of your building with positive messages to students. Have teachers help you write and draw the notes!
  66. Leave nice notes on post-its for students on the outside of their lockers. Recruit other students to help spread the kindness throughout many lockers!
  67. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Remind them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Don’t hold grudges against misbehavior and don’t allow other adults to hold them either.
  68. Make time for dismissal. Tell them you can’t wait to see them tomorrow and share high fives on the way out!
  69. Notice which students still don’t have money to pay for lunch. Help them out when you can. Treat them to a snack they don’t usually get to purchase at lunch time.
  70. Find special projects that need to be done around school and recruit the most unlikely helpers.
  71. Remind your students you and your staff were all kids once too. Have your team bring in pictures of themselves as children (at the ages you have in your school). Post them and have a contest allowing students to guess which teacher is which. Those 80s pictures are the most popular!
  72. My favorite question to ask my students or any student I come in contact with is what are you into lately? This opens communication with your students and let’s them know you are interested.
  73. Allow students to do a job shadow. Give them a peek into what you do and how you make daily decisions.
  74. Host an ice cream social for students that meet certain goals.


The list will grow as our experiences and our connections grow. Feel free to reach out to any of the Tribe members listed below to learn more about the power of our team and how our tribe constantly supports each other in our teaching, leading and learning.


Compelled Tribe Contributors:


Jennifer Hogan, The Compelled Educator  @Jennifer_Hogan

Jonathon Wennstrom, Spark of Learning  @jon_wennstrom

Craig Vroom, Fueling Education, @Vroom6

Allyson Apsey, Serendipity in Education, @allysonapsey

Sandy King Inspiring The Light @sandeeteach

Gary Kidd Reflections and Rants from the Asst Principal, @hinotewailer

Jacie Maslyk   http://jaciemaslyk.blogspot.com/    @DrJacieMaslyk

Jodie Pierpoint  Journey In Learning @jodiepierpoint

Jim Cordery   Mr. Cordery’s Blog  @jcordery

Allie Bond   The Positive Teacher @Abond013

Angie Murphy ConnectED to Learning @RoyalMurph_RRMS

Karen Wood https://karenwoodedu.wordpress.com/ @karenwoodedu

Lindsey Bohler lindseybohler.com @Lindsey_Bohler

Starr Sackstein http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/work_in_progress/ @MsSackstein

Debbie Campbell The Curious Educator @DebraLCamp

Michael McDonough M Squared at the Microphone @m_squaredBHS

Barbara Kurtz bkurtzteachermentor.blogspot.com @BJKURTZ

Stephanie Jacobs www.thisblogiswhy.blogspot.com @MsClassNSession

Michael Todd Clinton Motivated teacher blog  @MotivatedThe

Cathy Jacobs https://cathyjacobs.org/ @cathyjacobs5

Reed Gillespie Mr. Gillespie’s Office @rggillespie

Molly Babcock Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree @MollyBabcock

Lisa Meade Reflections @LisaMeade23


Innovation and Imagination

Fascinating conversation in my office with a parent the other day.

“Some important decisions are made in this room”, he started. “I hope they are the right ones”, was my response. “I can’t imagine all you have to think about.” “In this room, you have to imagine it.”

My district has jumped the hoops, paid consultants, sought input and ideas from all stakeholders, crafted and adopted the Holy Strategic Plan.*

We are doing our best to prepare our students for the “real world” they will enter when they leave us.


*I have had the pleasure of sitting in Mike Schmoker’s presentation a couple of times. One of his slides says that strategic plans are about as effective as dancing naked around a campfire. He is spot on. The important lessons learned happen during the planning process, not in the implementation of the plan.

This wasn’t a consideration when we were developing our Strategic Plan. It should have been.

Twenty-five years ago, I was one of fifty principals from across Colorado who were invited to spend a week with IBM. It ranks as one of the most intense, and effective, professional learning experiences of my career. One of our days was spent talking about Visioning, and planning for the future.

We thought the planning equation was really quite simple. Past + Present = Future. What we have learned added to what we are learning allows us to create the future. Every teacher wants to create or touch the future.  Except that the world doesn’t work that way. The equation should look like this: Past + Imagined Future = Present.

We don’t prepare students for the present, we prepare learners for the imagined future. In order to prepare our students for their futures, we have to imagine them. The variable in the equation is the Present, what are we going to do today. And we all know that the equation can’t be solved unless the variable is isolated.

A recent post from Greg Satell, “Here’s Why You Should Think Twice Before Listening To Business Gurus” starts with this sentence – “Probably the hardest thing in business is to innovate consistently, year after year and decade after decade.” We have all had similar conversations in various leadership contexts. None of us want to work in a district or school that isn’t “Innovative!”

One of the lessons learned during the week with IBM is that innovation is all about creating systems and processes that did not exist at the time. They called them Zero-based systems, created from the ground up, not tweaking or adding on to something that was already in place.

In my experience, the innovations started by identifying problems that needed to be solved. I have written about that experience in a previous post. As stated in that post, not many schools were invested in technology integration in 1993. We didn’t do it because we wanted to buy a bunch of computers and stuff. We did it in order to meet our identified educational goals, and we believed the new tools would help us.

It worked.

Not because we had a bunch of cool new toys, but because a very dedicated group of professional educators, playing with those cool new toys, immersed in some very intensive staff development, created new ways to solve our problems and help us grow. We were able to consider new solutions and new courses of action.

We started by identifying problems to solve, then began dreaming of ways to approach them. At that time, we didn’t have a Strategic Plan. But we had some big dreams. None of which were in our budget.

We used dreams and vision interchangeably. We believed the budget should be a tool of our vision, it should not determine the extent of our vision. You can’t put a price on vision.

There is a big difference between dreams and goals. Like most creative functions, dreams are housed in the right hemisphere of the brain, along with passion, imagination, and emotions. Goals are formed in the left hemisphere. They are rational, linear, and measurable. The dream is the ideal state and the goal is the realistic state. The dream supplies the vigor, vision and direction; the goal, a specific, short-term target and the strategies for hitting it. The goal is a step toward the dream.

The dream is a goal with wings.

A dream supplies meaning and intrinsic value. It is our deepest expression of what we want, a declaration of a desired future. A dream is an ideal involving a sense of possibilities rather than probabilities, of potential rather than limits. The passion is missing when we work with only our rational left brain. Without passion, there is little enthusiasm and vitality. A dream is a wellspring of passion, giving us direction and pointing us to lofty heights. It is an expression of optimism, hope and values lofty enough to capture the imagination and engage the spirit. Dreams are capable of lifting us to new heights and overcoming self-imposed limitations. Dreams aren’t limited by what you think can or cannot be done, or by what your rational mind tells you is or isn’t possible. It represents something that you really want, as opposed to something you think you can get. Goals are tangible, dreams are intangible.

Dr. King said, “I have a dream.” He didn’t say, “I have a strategic plan.”

Dreams can empower people as nothing else. When we have a dream and pursue it, nothing is impossible. We tap into power, personal resources, and creativity that we never thought we had. We can accomplish what had previously been considered impossible.

Budgets and strategic plans are goals. Goals have a place, second place, following dreams. They serve a purpose, they give us something specific to shoot at and provide feedback to tell us how we are doing. They are a way of keeping score. But if goals are to be beneficial for enhancing performance, productivity, and motivation, they must be guided by something larger and more encompassing, something that inspires us and infuses us with passion, creativity, and courage. The tunnel vision of goals blinds us to opportunities for innovation and creativity. It prevents us from seeing other possibilities and options – alternative routes that may appear as a consequence of change, new technologies, or an unpredicted circumstance.

Effective schools are all about relationships. Programs don’t solve problems, people do.

Effective schools are filled with people who are not interested in red tape, fixed mindsets, low expectations, or blending in. They are solution seekers, ethical decision makers, communicators, creative thinkers, collaborators and innovators. They are building something exceptional. Every day, they bring the work of their hands, the wisdom of their minds, and the discernment of their hearts.

They imagine, and they dream.

And we are all better for them.

Admittedly, A Personal Problem

Like most districts, we have posted our beliefs and core values, we have a vision statement and a strategic plan. And to be honest, like most districts, many of us have not internalized those statements. We operate from our annual School Improvement Plans and trust that our actions will reflect our beliefs and values.

Our posted Values include:

  • Students as our priority;
  • Community and families as our partners; and
  • Our community’s acceptance of diversity.

Lofty, flowery language. Inspiring words. We talk the talk well.

As for walking the talk, we may need to consider adding a line or two.

One of our focus areas this year is training all of our staff in the Run, Lock, Fight program. Evidently, we also believe that some of our prioritized students, or partners in the community, are a threat to harm us.  So now many of us are teaching behind closed doors.

For purposes of full disclosure, our posted values also include:

  • Optimizing the highest levels of respect, responsibility and integrity for all; and
  • Learning and working in a safe environment

I have internalized these more along the lines of the “safe environment” being built on the values of respect, responsibility; the emotional aspects of life more than any threat of physical harm. In other words, we will respect our students as learners, hold them and ourselves responsible for the decisions we make, and always work from a foundation of integrity. We will not harm them, emotionally or physically as learners, they will respect us as adults who always have their best interests in mind.

Just as I trust that none in our student body or community poses an imminent threat to harm us, I also trust that we will also do no harm to them through our indifference, pride, vanity, complacency, certainty, or lack of imagination and creativity. I trust that we always remember that great schools are defined by quality of relationships, not by test scores.

Continuing the theme of full disclosure, for two years while I was employed by the Department of Defense Education Activity, I was assigned to the Ft. Knox Community Schools. My primary title was Instructional Systems Specialist-Curriculum and Instruction. I was also designated the Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Officer for the schools. The 9/11 attacks occurred while I was there. The Gold Depository was the target of an airliner that day, fortunately, that plane was grounded before it reached us. I understand how it feels to work in a place that many in the world refer to as “target.” Both our facilities and our people. We were trained to respond to both internal and external threats, and our training paid off both that day and in the weeks that followed.

We did not teach behind locked classroom doors.

Before we can unlock our classroom doors, we must unlock our attitudes, which will unlock our behavior.

Our District Leadership Team completed the Run, Lock, Fight training last August, before school opened. My session notes from that day started, with all due respect to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, with the following:

“There must be some kind of way out of here,

Said the Joker to the Thief.

There’s too much confusion,

I can’t get no relief.”

And so it goes…



Competition and Collaboration

In reading other Compelled Tribe posts on this topic, I was surprised that I did not see a reference to Alfie Kohn’s seminal The Case Against Competition, from 1987. www.alfiekohn.org/article/casecompetition/

I started with his paper as I outlined this post, seeing it as a foundation for a reflection on competition in schools, looking at his thoughts through the filter of what characteristics separate the highly successful schools from those which are not yet highly successful.

I consider the work of Bill Daggett and the International Center for Leadership in Education an excellent resource of what works in high performing schools.

SIDEBAR – I had the privilege of being Director of High School Programs at the Central Educational Center in Newnan, Georgia, when our school was named one of thirty National Model Schools by the ICLE in the 2003-2004 school year. We were able to get to know them and their work rather well. –  END SIDEBAR

According to Dr. Daggett, the most rapidly improving schools ask themselves three important questions:

  1. What do our students need to know to be successful in the world beyond school?
  2. What must our students do to succeed in the world beyond school?
  3. What must our students be like to succeed in the world beyond school?

I appreciate  the culture of growth mindset schools and their willingness to focus of preparing their students to be ready for the world after they leave school by anticipating and meeting employers expectations in 3-5 years. During my 15 years working in elementary and middle schools, we defined our growth mindset within the same 3-5 years, but our goal was preparing our students to be successful at the next level of their education. That was their “world beyond school.”

Our ultimate goal at all levels was to produce graduates who had skills, knowledge and attitudes to become accomplished citizens. In order to meet our goal, we had to bridge the gap between what is and what should be. This is, by definition, what the literature describes as an Adaptive Challenge, which requires a response outside the usual repertoire of most schools.

Both competition and collaboration play a role in the transformation.

Our competition is not other schools or districts, vouchers, or charter schools. The competition is ignorance or what learning should be and must become. It is composed of the internal factors of myopia, resistance to change, lethargy, confusion and arrogance. The external factors include uncertainty of the benefits of the new model.

We are not competing against each other, we are competing with ourselves for our own excellence. When you compete against others, your target is too low. You have only to be as good or better than them to win, and there is an ending. When you compete against yourself, there is no limitation to how good you can be. And there is no ending.

Schools, as traditionally structured, are not designed as collaborative systems. Capstone assessments are individual events. Collaboration in the workplace is essential to complete most tasks, collaboration in most classrooms, particularly when assessing learning, is considered cheating.

Rather than assessments of outcomes as measures of successful schools, may we continue to develop assessments of process.

All of us share the common vision of creating lifelong learners, yet we feel trapped by high stakes assessments designed to measure short-term goals, ie, raise math scores by a certain number, increase the graduation rate to…

By focusing our efforts on the soft skills that are required in the workplace, I believe we will find that our short term goals will take care of themselves.

We owe it to our students to spend more of our time shooting at the rim, and less of our time shooting at the scoreboard. First, we will be our best, only then will we worry about being the best.

The Ants Go Marching

I start my morning most days with bus duty.  While some of us complain whenever our duty week rolls around, I see it as a nice way to practice for my retirement job of Wal-Mart greeter, and it’s a beautiful start to my day. I have posted about it previously here. Life as we know it unfolds every morning as the Himalaya Mountains, or at least the Bridger Range, gets conquered by a whole bunch of excited kids. You can watch them here.

Somehow, The Ants Go Marching certainly springs to mind as I watch them, but then the pragmatic realist in me comes out, and different songs find my personal playlist.

While many artists have recorded “Try to Remember” and “The Way We Were,” I don’t think anyone has done it better than Gladys Knight and the Pips on a live recording. If I may paraphrase from the lyrics:

” Everybody is talking about the good old days, right. Everybody the good old days. Let’s talk about the good old days. Come to think of it, as bad as we think they are, these will become the good old days for our children. Why don’t we try to remember, the kind of September, when life was slow, and oh, so mellow. Try to remember, and if you remember, then, follow. Why does it seem that the past was always better? We look back and we think, the water was warmer, the grass was greener, the skies were bluer, and the smiles were….bright.”

How will our students look back on their good old days? What will they remember?

I’m afraid that too many will not look back with fondness. A few of us more experienced educators rallied around a Whitney Houston song, “The Greatest Love of All,” recorded and released in 1987. We could recite the first verse: “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride, to make it easier. Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”

Beautiful, isn’t it.

But the pragmatic realist in me hears more and more of our kids singing the second verse: “Everybody’s searching for a hero, people need someone to look up to. I never found anyone who fulfilled my need. A lonely place to be, and so I learned to depend on me. I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadow. If I fail, if I succeed, at least I lived as I believed. No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity. Because the greatest love of all, is happening to me. I’ve found the greatest love of all inside of me.”

Have we become so focused on raising test scores, getting the loudest bells and whistles into our classrooms, that we have forgotten that we are teaching children? Have we become so caught up in the problems of teaching in uncertain times that we have forgotten how difficult it still is to be 12 years old?

Many of our memories of our good old days include our teachers, indeed, they are why many of us are in the profession. I’m sure they faced many of the same challenges we are facing today. But I don’t remember that they ever brought them into our classrooms.

Through the years, I have shared “21 Memos From Your Child” with parent and teacher groups. I would like to share it with this audience.


21 Memos From Your Child1. Don’t spoil me. I know quite well that I ought not to have all that I ask for. I’m only testing you.2. Don’t be afraid to be firm with me. I prefer it, it makes me feel more secure.3. Don’t let me form bad habits. I have to rely on you to detect them in the early stages.4. Don’t make me feel smaller than I am. It only makes me behave stupidly “big”.5. Don’t correct me in front of other people, if you can help it. I’ll take much more notice if you talk with me in private.6. Don’t make me feel my mistakes are sins. It upsets my sense of values.7. Don’t protect me from consequences. I need to learn the painful way, sometimes.8. Don’t be too upset when I say “I hate you.” It isn’t you I hate, but your power to thwart me.9. Don’t take too much notice of my small ailments. Sometimes they get me the attention I need.10. Don’t nag. If you do, I shall have to protect myself by appearing deaf.11. Don’t forget that I cannot explain myself as well as I should like. This is why I’m not always very accurate.12. Don’t make rash promises. Remember that I feel badly let down when promises are broken.13. Don’t tax my honesty too much. I’m easily frightened into telling lies.14. Don’t be inconsistent. That completely confuses me and makes me lose faith in you.15. Don’t tell me my fears are silly. They are terribly real and you can do so much to reassure me if you understand.16. Don’t put me off when I ask questions. If you do, you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere.17. Don’t ever suggest that you are perfect or infallible. It gives me too great a shock when I discover that you are neither.18. Don’t ever think it is beneath your dignity to apologize to me. An honest apology makes me feel surprisingly warm toward you.19. Don’t forget how quickly I am growing up. It must be very difficult to keep pace with me, but please do try.20. Don’t forget I love experimenting. I couldn’t get on without it, so please put up with it.21. Don’t forget that I can’t thrive without lots of understanding love, but I don’t need to tell you, do I?

If I had permission from the artist, I would insert a powerful image here. It is of a student carrying three suitcases down a hallway. One suitcase is homelessness, one is hunger, the third is sickness. He asks, “Can someone help me with these, I’m late to math class.”

Does it matter what math level he is working on? If his scores are red, yellow or green?

But then it is 8:00 in the morning, the buses are pulling in, the Ants Are Marching. And I have one more song playing on my playlist. Thank God for the Oak Ridge Boys.

Again, all is well in my world, and I’m ready for whatever will cross my life today.

And so it goes…


It’s About Pedagogy, Stupid

From one of my favorite sources on all things ed tech:


It’s always been about evolving pedagogy. Not about the “stuff”, but about how we use incredibly powerful tools to create new opportunities for ourselves and our students. Too many technology plans are nothing more than shopping lists. Most of what I see in classrooms with carts filled with tablets is nothing more than expensive worksheets, activities still devoid of connections, collaboration, and creativity. We need more education plans infused with appropriate “technologies” and the required professional development and measures that include words other than “engagement” and fewer technology plans. I have said for nearly 25 years, any teacher who can be replaced by a computer should be. Let’s move beyond the machines and keep the “high touch” in the conversation with our “high tech.”

There, now I feel better.