Sunday, December 21, 2014

Harnessing the "Unbroken"

I cannot wait to see "Unbroken" when it comes out in theaters on Christmas day. The movie was written based on the book by Laura Hildebrand, that tells the story of American Hero, Louis Zamperini. Louis, who passed away just this past summer, has one of the most awe inspiring, unbelievable stories of all time. So much so, that if I were to tell you it was true, you would have to look him up to make sure I wasn't messing with you.

Louis grew up in Torrance, California, where he learned to love the sport of running. He was so talented that he earned a scholarship to USC in the 1930's. At USC, he was one of the fastest young men in the nation, giving him an opportunity to try out for the Olympic team. When he made the team in 1936, the destination was Berlin, Germany near the pinnacle of the Nazi rise to power.

He ran so well at the 1936 Olympics, that Hitler demanded to meet this young boy with the "fast finish." He didn't medal but he was close and this pushed him to train harder for the next olympics. The only problem was that the world was thrown into war and so was he, so he didn't have his chance. Instead, Louis was enlisted and became an airman.

Flying over the Pacific, his plane was shot down somewhere near the Marshall Islands. Louis, along with only one of his partners, survived 47 days at sea, fighting off sharks, hunger, heat, and deliriousness. When they finally hit land, they were captured and held in prison for months. In prison, Louis was tortured and beaten. However, he was tough and had enough attitude to keep him alive. When he was saved, his story became world famous during the post war era. It has recently just been brought back to life.

When I think about Louis, I think about so many of the students that I know and have known. What I didn't tell you about the story was that Louis got into a lot of trouble at school. He should have been kicked out several times. But he found what he loved thanks to some people who encouraged and redirected him. The "bad boy" image that he had, would later serve him well as a survivor. Though most people though he would end up in prison, they had no idea the how great the context of that prediction would make him. Once he found his passion and got focused, his life headed in an incredible direction. It is hard and there is not always a happy ending, but we have a chance to help young people do great things. So the next time you have a student or know a kid who is a really tough cookie, remember that they could be the next Louis Zamperini. Leading is Teaching.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Put Down the Turkey and Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is naturally the time to reflect on all of the things that make our life wonderful. For me, this includes my wife, my soon to be first child, my family, my home, and my job. Today, I really want to focus on why my job, has helped shape me as a person and why I am thankful for that transformation.

Things I am thankful for:

1) Not becoming a sports radio host.

No offense to sports radio hosts, but if I would have stuck with that major, I would not be the person I am today. I have had hundreds of cherished memories with kids since I decided to become a history teacher. I have laughed harder than you could imagine, cried secretly when I witness one of my students overcome hardship to succeed, and worry endlessly about students as I think about the decisions they will inevitably make. However, if I wouldn't have decided not to pursue journalism, I would not have the privilege to feel the pride and inspiration in knowing that I had some small role in making a better tomorrow by providing for student needs today.

2) The student that made my first day more difficult than I would have liked.

I was so excited to complete my first day of teaching. I was almost there when a student stayed back as the class left. The student proceeded to talk to me about the struggles they had gone through and how they had contemplated suicide. In that moment, I began to realize that teaching was much more than the subject being taught. Teaching is about helping, mentoring, and preparing students for life. Sometimes this is difficult as we have students from difficult home lives, backgrounds and experiences. But teachers are on the front lines, ready to work with kids no matter what the day looks like. I am so thankful for that experience.

3) Learning from the learner.

I learned more about history, research, writing, presenting, and group work once I became a teacher than I ever knew before. Students have the most incredible minds and they question everything. This forces teachers to think on their toes, and make sure they come to every class with their A game. I learn something everyday from a student even as a principal. We are incredibly fortunate to see these young minds at work. And this is not just from the straight A student or the ASB President. These ideas and questions come from all of the young minds that come to us on a daily basis. This place of learning is truly inspiring.

4) People who want to teach despite all of the naysayers.

Teaching is a gift. Teachers are my superheroes. This is a job with a higher calling and I am so thankful to witness greatness in the field on a daily basis. This job has a direct impact on the future and despite all of the obstacles, great people still feel lead to take on this profession. Since the beginning of history, teachers have been instrumental in the fate of humans. This has never been more true than now.

5) The community rallies behind a school

I am so thankful for the families, businesses, organizations, and community members that volunteer
 their time and commit their finances to ensure student success. I get to meet people from all fields and backgrounds with the common goal of making great things happen for kids. I am so thankful for these opportunities and the dedication of the whole community. That is a great lesson for our kids to learn. It truly takes a village.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Edupreneurship is a Must!

One of the big focus areas in the education world is Career Technical Education. This encompasses a variety of classes that focus on career skills, hands on learning, work experience, and preparing students to work right away upon graduation. This provides students the opportunity to find skills that can allow for them to be employable and adaptable in the job market. Most would agree that their local schools could use more of these types of programs. I would strongly agree with that too. However, there is one thing lacking in our schools that would make this process even better. Our students, not just those involved in CTE programs, should be required to learn finance, entrepreneurship, and marketing before leaving our schools.

It is time that we start teaching our students business skills in school. We all know that there is a strong need for personal finance education in schools, but we also need to teach them how to start and run their own business. There is a different language to finance, business, and economics that our students do not know. We are teaching them to write in schools but are we teaching them to write in a variety of ways that will lead them directly to success in the workforce?

The United States is at a turning point in our economic future. We will need more business to be established and successfully run than ever before. That is why our students must learn these skills in our classrooms. They should be required to:
1) Create a resume, a professional website which includes a professional portfolio, and a social media profile that connects them with others in their desired field.
2) Write a business plan that will be edited by peers, the teacher, and a local community member.
3) Build a prototype or design a sample for their classmates and community to see.
4) Balance a budget to determine their costs versus their projected revenue.
5) Attempt to start their business before graduating.

We you look at the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, it lines up with what we want from our students. An entrepreneur is self motivated and driven to find success no matter what challenges come their way. An entrepreneur is willing to take risks but is focused on taking calculated risks that will pay off. An entrepreneur is articulate, social, involved in the community, and connect to several other professionals. An entrepreneur never makes the same mistake twice. An entrepreneur is well rounded and makes a difference in the economic success of the community. These are all characteristics that I would like to see in my students.

To some people this list of requirements may seem crazy. To me, I think these are essential skills for the success of our students. We can use state standards and core curriculum to teach these skills. However, schools have never fully taken these concepts and implemented them school wide. This is a step we all must take. We cannot simply rely on the limited amount of business and economics to teach our students these skills. We can set them up for success by teaching them to be entrepreneurs now.

Leading is Teaching

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Creativity...The Key to Challenging Students to be Their Best

I have to admit, I could never color inside the lines as a child. My colorings or drawings were never neat and my glue jobs were even worse. I don't know if it was some kind of early non-conformist act of trying to move beyond the lines of confinement, but I am pretty sure I was just horrible in art. As I was told that we were being "creative" I looked at my neighbors drawing and then mine, and concluded that there was no way that hers and mine could both be "creative," so I guessed that mine was not. As a result, I was convinced that people were either creative or not. In fact, I truly believe that I was not even though I desperately wanted to be. However, when I look back on my education and I look at schools today, I am struck by the thought that we have neglected to truly teach our students the importance and the structure of the creative process.

Creativity has been misused for far too long in our schools. Even now, as it is included in the Four C's as one of the most important 21st Century skills, it is often looked upon as a side note rather than a focus. Creativity is reserved for electives and projects at the end of the semester when everyone has completed their coursework. Most people associate creativity with art, media, drama, and maybe creative writing courses. The perception is that creativity is the glitter you sprinkle on top after completing all of the "real work." We have to break this cycle of thinking.

The truth is that creativity is the key to unlocking the maximum capacity of our students. We have to understand that creativity is the launching point for our students to be engaged, motivated, challenged, and to feel a sense of accomplishment when they complete their work. We as humans are naturally inclined to want to solve problems creatively, come up with creative conclusions to challenging questions, or create things that improve the processes of our lives. If we design projects in our schools where the problem is meaningful, the methods by which the problems are solved are left to the student being challenged, and the outcome is important, the sky is the limit for what a young mind can do.

In his book, "Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire," Bruce Nussbaum explains that great design and innovation come from Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making, and Pivoting (adjusting for growth and change). This is not free time. This is a structured creative process that we all should implement in our classrooms and schools. Knowledge Mining is the all important skill of researching. Framing includes finding out the problem and the need for a solution within the context. Playing involves the testing of theories, trail and error, and design. Making is the finishing of the product or the answering of the question. Pivoting is making your answer, invention, design, or outcome meaningful to the current climate and purpose. For example, it could be making your design into a business venture.

Why are we not using these fundamental processes of creation in our classrooms today?

In history, there have been great military leaders, athletes, musicians, inventors, scientists, artists, and architects who would be considered children today. These young people achieved greatness because they saw the need for greatness and used their creativity to seize it. Are we asking our students to do these things today? What are we asking them to do with their creativity? They are entering one of the most economically uncertain times in American history, into a workforce that none of us can realistically predict, and into a world that is more globalized than ever before. How do we prepare them for something so intimidating and unpredictable? We have to harness the power of creativity to teach them how to be critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, and community members. They have to be competent in their ability to problem solve using their creativity. Instead of asking if our classes are rigorous, we should ask if our classes involve the creative process. Because if they do, there is no question about how challenging and worthwhile the learning is. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Teach a Kid to Fish

There are many things students can learn from Kindergarten to their Senior year. They will have between 30 to 40 different teachers in that time span depending on where they go to school. They will additionally have coaches, trainers, tutors, counselors, principals, and more during that time. So the areas in which the students focus their learning are likely diverse due to school philosophies, teacher personalities, student interest, and community identity. Every student will take their core classes of English, Science, Social Science, and Math, but even those subjects can vary in approach and execution from teacher to teacher. However, our students, through all of these years and all of these different teachers, rarely are taught "how to fish."

I don't mean that we are obligated to teach our students literally how to fish. Although I think that is a pretty useful skill. What I mean can easily be described by looking no further than the polynesians. I am a big fan of Hawaiian history because it is part of my ancestry and culture. And I know, as do you, that fundamentally, Hawaiian life is built from the water. By studying Hawaiian history, it is clear to me that Hawaiian's taught their children how to fish. Without that ability, food would not be available and the people would suffer. It simply would not be sustainable. We as modern Americans have a different task with the same importance.

College loan debt and credit card debt amongst young people are growing epidemics in the United States. When you consider that only 60% of college students graduate within 6 years, that is a staggering fact (Friedman, 2008) and that 40 million Americans have college debt (McCarthy, 2014), those are staggering numbers. Yet, are we teaching our students in Middle School and High School to be financially responsible? Their entire life will depend on their ability to provide themselves and their families through financial means. But this curriculum is missing from our classrooms.

The cost of college is climbing daily. The availability of jobs has declined in the last five years. It is more important than ever to "teach our students to fish." We need to teach them what is wise and what is not when working with credit cards. We need to teach them about interest and investment so that they don't bury themselves before they get started. We live in a time where a person can spend most of their working life paying of credit card debt and college loan debt. This doesn't even count home loans and car loans. Financially literacy should be on every student's schedule at least once throughout their time in school. If our job is to prepare them to be successful in life, which it is, then we NEED to teach these skills.

There are two ways in which our schools can do this. First, schools can adopt financial literacy skills that they believe are essential. Then they can implement these skills into projects in English classes and math classes. For example students could write a comparative essay on the use of loans for college as opposed to taking a different route. They could compare mortgages and do a case study on the factors that lead to lower interest rates. Another way that schools could implement this is by taking courses like health, geography, and life skills, and gearing them more toward financial literacy. Design curriculum and courses that allow students to create budgets and set financial goals. Student could work on projects that give them real experience working with realities that will hit them as soon as they leave our schools. All schools would better serve our students and communities by making the change.

It is our responsibility to teach financial literacy to our students. They need to know what is ahead of them. They need to understand what choosing the "right school" or the "right career" truly means. They need to be encouraged to follow their passions, but given guiding steps to not fall face first in their pursuits. Of course English, Math, Science, and History are important. But could we not add financial literacy in that same category of core skills? We have the power to help our students be financially educated adults who understand the negative and positive consequences of their financial decisions. We need to teach them how to fish. Leading is Teaching.


     Friedman, T. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

     McCarthy, K. (2014, January 22). 10 Fun Facts About the Student Debt Crisis. Retrieved October 11, 2014, from

Sunday, September 28, 2014

More Time or More Efficiency?

I have always struggled with the notion that hard work is equated with how much time someone puts into a task. There is certainly some value to the idea that the more time you put into a task, the better the outcome. However, efficiency is always more important than time. Time is relative to each task and more time does not necessarily mean a better outcome. For instance, if an apprentice spends hours upon hours studying the manual, but does not get to the hands-on, guided experience with the instructor, he/she will not ever become a master. If the athlete watches film, runs drills, but never gets to run the plays full speed, he/she will not become a great player. These examples are true no matter how much time one puts into studying theory. There has to be efficient time spent performing the experience related task to become successful in that area.

So many times we look at rigor the very same way. Our traditional notion of rigor is spending a lot of time studying. This can be true sometimes as it takes a certain amount of knowledge before someone can put anything into practice. However, spending the short class time we have with an experienced instructor simply listening to them talk is not exactly the true definition of rigor. I have taken classes where I have recorded hundreds of pages of notes but would certainly not consider them rigorous. However, the interpretation of many is that more homework equals more rigor. This could not be further from the truth, especially in middle school and high school classroom.

Teachers are the experts in their field. Time in class is precious. It is not good enough to give direct instruction the whole class period and then send students home to do the actual work. We have to break from this way of thinking. In class, students should be guided into doing hands-on, involved, meaningful work while the teacher is their for support. This is called efficiency and is far better than expecting students to learn by having them spend more time on it at home.

There is nothing wrong with homework. In fact, I think it is a great concept. The problem is that in many settings, it is misused. Homework should enhance the learning experience rather than replace it. Class time has to be the most efficient, effective, and important time in the learning process. Homework, should be expand the learning opportunities and allow for discovery. It shouldn't just be more time. It should actually be beneficial to students rather than an excuse to do more work. Many worry about preparing students for college (how college needs to change is a whole different story). However, teaching students how to research, write, organize, collaborate, and communicate, will prepare them. We will teach them to be intrinsically motivated by teaching them to love learning rather than obscurely tying their achievement to "more time." Students who know how to learn, will be successful in college. They will have the right skills. At that point, they will just have to try.

Our goal is to be more efficient and effective in our classrooms so that students can learn outside of them as well. Leading is Teaching.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Change is a Good Thing. We Make it That Way.

Change is inevitable. It is a part of every person's life and is something that many of us never get used to. We are creatures of habit and it is easiest to live within our comfort zone. We are naturally resistant to change because we feel more comfortable in the way it has always been and most feel like there is little risk in keeping things the way they are. Little do we know that by maintaining status quo, we put our chances of success, adventure, accomplishment, and fulfillment at risk.

Leadership takes the courage, fortitude, and mindset to accept change. Every major movement that has shaped our world has started with a leader who understood the need for change and pursued it rather than running from it. The book, "Three Cups of Tea" is about a man named Greg Mortensen who accepted change after being inspired by people in a small village in mountains of Pakistan. He recognized that the children there needed education to improve their living conditions. Rather than dismiss this idea with excuses like, terrorist threats, lack of infrastructure, and cultural constraints, Mortensen challenged the way things have been by fighting to establish a school for boys and girls to learn. He could have thrown money at the problem like people have in the past, but instead he took a risk and invested into something that he felt was worthy of pursuing. This is a great model for those of us that are afraid of change.

We find comfort in the success of the past. We feel that if it was successful in the past, it can happen again. However, like every good historian would tell you, context changes and therefore so should our approach. Change will happen, but our ability to adapt to it will determine how much success we have beyond it. Embracing change is easier said than done but leaders and change agents are prepared for it.

I think about the ability to change every day that I walk onto my campus. I believe that we are living in the most rapidly changing time the world has ever seen since its creation. Our students are stepping into this world and looking at us to prepare them for it. It is vital to their future that we prepare them for the changes that will inevitably come. There is no pre-packaged curriculum to accomplish this. But great teachers will rise up and create projects and learning opportunities for students that help them to be "change ready." They will teach them the process of inquiry, organization, and execution. They will teach them to work as a team and use their creativity to solve problems.

I want my students to embrace change. I want them to take on every challenge as an adventure and be fully equipped to persist through it. The result of change lies in their reaction to it. Change is a good thing. We make it that way. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Put Your Mind To It!

We want our students to be the kind of leaders that are not afraid of things getting tough. We want them to be the ones that stay focused and execute their goals without being deterred. We want our students to believe, "you can do anything if you put your mind to it." It sounds cliche but at the end of the day, don't we want them to believe this? I mean, if they do believe it, then they are headed for a life of success right? But I think there is one problem with this notion in education. We never teach our students how to specifically, "put their mind to it."

How do you teach students to "put their mind to it?" It starts with setting the example. Putting your mind to it means having a positive outlook on all things. We need to teach young people that situations and events out of our control will happen consistently throughout their lives. But the outcome of those events is up to us and how we respond. Essentially, "putting our mind to it" is preparing ourselves to stay on track towards our mission regardless of the events that happen along the way. This mindset prepares us for challenges, mistakes, mishaps, accidents, and natural disasters. Because our minds are set on the end goal rather than the things that happen in between.

How is this taught in the classroom? This is taught through inquiry, feedback, and encouragement. We cannot have classrooms in which there is always one answer and the first person to raise their hand is the one who has it. We have to design our lessons to encourage students to ask questions, organize their thoughts, collaborate with others, and reflect on their performance. these tools help students develop skills that will enable them to "put their mind to it" because they will know how to overcome obstacles as they come. If our classes are "one answer" classes, then students will be tempted to stop their journey once they don't know the answer. Not our students. Our students will expect the challenges obstacles and immediately implement their strategies to get past them.

We inadvertently teach students not to "put their mind to it" all of the time. When we respond to something negatively, lose control of our emotions, complain, become lazy, or prepare a lackluster lesson, we are showing our students that we are "not putting our mind to it." Success comes from the ability to capitalize on mistakes and be unrelenting in our quest to accomplish our goals. We have to teach students that mindset on a daily basis. And we have to tell them that we are teaching them that. Because negative adults who think that things "happen" to them to put them in their current position are not the kind of adults that we want our students to emulate.

We need to start teaching our students to put their mind to it! Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Groundhog Day

Somewhere along the way, someone convinced American society that breadth is far more important than depth. That same person also convinced everyone that academics and enjoyment are two different things. In their minds, students should have their nose in the books, cramming for a big test, and praying that nothing weird happens to throw them off on the test day. This has come to be known as rigor. I would like to find that person, point my finger at them aggressively, and say, "shame on you."

There is nothing wrong with research, reading a crazy amount of books (one of my favorite past times), and studying all night for a test. But when this kind of activity arbitrarily takes the place of hands on, practical, experience based learning, there is something wrong. It is no wonder our drop out rates are high in both high school and college. Kids have at least 13 years of the same thing over and over. We are still functioning on an industrial education model and an agrarian calendar that says, all students learn the same, curriculum should be separated into subjects that don't intersect, and everyday should be broken up into periods that end and being with a bell. This model makes it extremely difficult to foster creativity, cross curricular work, hands on learning, and spontaneity.

Admittedly, as a principal and a teacher, I struggle to break from this model. Our whole education system is built upon it. But what we should be asking ourselves is, "how can I break up the monotony and avoid education groundhog day?" We can start by getting with other teachers and planning to do projects that involve more than just one area of content and one skill. We can have our students work together collaboratively (with a productive structure) to accomplish big goals. We can change our bell schedule every so often to allow for creative time, outdoor activities, field trips, and more. In other words we can make school feel more like life.

We all have an idea of college and high school that is strong in our minds. We base our perception of education on our experience. However, just because we learned a certain way and had to go through high school according to a certain pattern, doesn't mean it is what is right for our students today. In fact it means the opposite. If we teach like we have been taught, then we have failed. Because we teach in a new context, with new students, and a new reality of how the world functions.

Fun, spontaneity, creativity, outdoor activity, group work, and projects does not mean that the work is not rigorous. It simply means that the students are engaged and involved. Sure, this will not always be the case, but just like you and I, when we enjoy something, we are more likely to work harder for it. It is time for us to break free from Groundhog Day. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Time to Reflect and Improve

We were raised in the drill and kill classroom. We were introduced to a topic, we heard a lecture, we read a textbook, we filled out a worksheet, and then we took a test. Guess what happened if we failed the test... We moved on to Unit 2. We have also been, in many ways, trained to teach this way. We have a pacing guide that leaves very little room for reflection, remediation, enrichment, creativity, or student feedback. We built our classrooms on a sequence that is actually counter intuitive to learning. Some students are able to keep up based on their particular skill set, while others are left in the dust. Even the students that keep up with the grueling unit march through the year, do not have a chance to learn on a deep level or express their learning in a way that involved creative intelligence.

It is extremely difficult to break this cycle. After all, everything we know of what school is supposed to be is set up like this. Schools were designed off of the industrial model of efficiency. In essence, we push students through the system, using the same exact method over time with the same goal for the "product." We treat our students as if they were the same inventory coming through our system each day. The problem is that our students are products of different home environments, different skill sets, and different interests. The same approach does not work on each student. Additionally, the factory style system of education leaves no room for students to actually learn on a deep level.

I am a strong believer in the fact that we are on to something big in education. We have an opportunity to revolutionize education. In fact, I believe we have to in order to survive and thrive. The world in which our students are entering simply does not fit into the box that the education system tries to create around learning. There are many reasons why I believe this and many methods by which I think it can happen but for the sake of brevity, lets talk about two. We can change education through Technology and Project Based Learning (and every form of it including Challenge Based Learning and Inquiry Based Learning).

Technology. I am not saying that technology will teach our classes for us or that it will solve all of our problems. But technology opens doors to information, creation, and collaboration that we could never have dreamed of when we were kids. If used by teachers correctly, we can reach students at their level using their talents and interests as the driving force behind the learning. We can teach students not to simply retain and repeat information but to be able to qualify and quantify research from around the world. Our students can be publishers, producers, and professionals, no matter what grade they are in. This kind of education will change lives.

Project Based Learning. Project Based Learning will need to be mastered by our teachers. Through detailed and articulated project design, teachers will offer our students opportunities to become problem solvers who won't shy away from challenges. Through project design we will teach our students to ask questions and ask others questions in their pursuit of finding truth. Students who for years have been failed by our industrial system, will be reawakened by the opportunity to final use the skill set they were born with. And for goodness sake, our students will have fun with us!

We have to make it our goal to implement this approach in the new school year. Many students will resist at first because they are not used to asking questions and being challenged. But as we all know, when they start to understand that true learning is happening, the rest will be history. Lets revolutionize our classrooms this year. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Breaking Normal

There is one common element to the story of every great achievement, movement, or person. The common element is the struggle to "break normal" or overcome the status quo. It is never easy, but in the end, great accomplishments are well worth the struggle. This is true whether we are talking about the Civil Rights Movement, the American Revolution, the experience of Paul the Apostle, or the development of the West Coast Offense. No matter how big or small, great things happen because of those who are willing to push beyond what is normal.

One of the struggles in education are the initiatives to standardize education from the federal and state level. Whether it is Common Core or NCLB, there is a desire from many to find the magic bullet of what teaching is, and disperse that method across the board in order to come up with standardized data. It is true that this is the most efficient way to collect and read data in a timely matter but the problem is that this is not how teaching or learning actually works. It is a bit more complicated.

The pressure on schools to perform has led to many school leaders and teachers buying in to the notion that whatever teaching strategies and practices that come from the top down are the actual practices and strategies that best suit our students. This is what has become "normal." However, great schools are breaking normal.

I am not suggesting that schools ignore state assessments or don't stay current in their knowledge of expected performance outcomes at the state and federal level. What I am suggesting is that schools take the approach that, "We will not base everything we do on performing well on tests. We will base everything we do on preparing students for college and career, providing social and educational opportunities for them to thrive, teach in a way that is truly based on solid pedagogy, challenge students to work with others, think critically, and create meaningful projects. And as a result of this approach, we will excel on state assessments. Not because it is our main objective, but because our students are actually learning." This is what breaking normal is all about.

So my suggestion for communities, schools, and teachers to spend their time working on expanding opportunities for students, providing opportunities for teachers to engage in professional learning opportunities, and pushing the envelope to create the best schools they can. We need to break normal once in for all if we truly want our kids to thrive! Leading is Teaching.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

From Engagement to Curiosity

Curiosity is a powerful thing. As human beings, we have an innate desire to understand the world around us. We all have different interests and world views, but curiosity is truly what drives our learning process. Whether it be through trial and error, research, experimentation, or through the lens of another person's experience, curiosity is essential to gain knowledge and understanding. Take a young child for example. As soon as they can speak, they begin to ask their parents and all adults a barrage of questions every time they get the opportunity. They are using questioning to learn about the world they are growing up in. This is the essence of learning.

Recently, a colleague of mine said something that has stuck in my mind. He pointed out that schools need to move from their attempt to engage students toward a mission to inspire curiosity amongst their students. That resonates with me strongly. Engagement is an important part of the classroom. After all, a teacher wants her students to listen and pay attention while in her classroom. But is that really enough? Is engagement what our ultimate goal should be? I think it is a good start but should not be our end goal. Our mission should be to inspire our students to have curious minds that will last a life time. How do we do that?

The most important factor in a successful classroom that is truly teaching to be inquisitive, lifelong learners is questioning. Not just simple questioning whether the teacher asks students to recall information. I am talking about deep and meaningful questions. Students should have a choice and an interest in the knowledge they seek, so it is up to the teachers and schools to facilitate that by creating projects that will feed this curiosity. In other words, students should be "engaged" in a project that challenges them, interests them, and does not necessarily always end in a clear cut answer. This kind of project design will help our students find that curiosity that they once had and that they probably still have outside of our schools.

It is time for us to step up and create classrooms like this. For far too long our schools have taken away the curiosity from the classroom. We need not look any farther than the scientific method for this approach. The scientific method, starts with a question and builds from there. Are our lessons full of student driven questions? If not, we are not truly inspiring curiosity.

When students leave my school, I want them to be problem solvers. I don't want them to shy away from a challenge or an obstacle that requires an inquisitive mind and hard work. If we continue to work together and design our classes to facilitate this kind of curiosity, I believe these goals will be met. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Leave Room For Learning

Learning doesn't happen in a box. It comes in all shapes and size. I just returned from a trip to Greece and Italy with students this summer so I would like to use that as an example. We had an incredible time and the kids learned so many valuable things on the trip. Yes they learned about Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Warfare, Politics, Architecture and more. But it was more about the little things that the students learned that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. For the first time, they experienced a different culture than there own on a large scale in another country. They recognized differences in language, customs, food, routines, pop culture and more. Most were away from their parents for the first time for that long and definitely most were that far away from the norms they are used in the United States. It was learning to the maximum and the students will never lose what they were able to gain on this trip. So how do we capture that in our schools and classrooms?

Exploration- I did not, nor did I want to hold my students hand as they traveled abroad.
 The first way we even come close to capturing that type of learning is to understand that learning happens in an incredible variety of ways. Students all learn differently and there is not one magic way for it to happen. But one common ingredient to learning is the exploration. We should design our teaching in a way that allows students to explore and discover things on their own. Learning requires engagement and the desire to find answers. If we create projects where students can make choices and discover truths by exploring, learning will be maximized.

Asking Questions- My students had to ask questions to learn and operate in a foreign country.
If your students are not asking significant questions then you are doing it wrong. Learning is all about driving questions. We want our students to struggle with things and be forced to accept the challenge of finding the truth. We want them to research. We want them to ask questions that lead to more questions. Everything great that mankind has ever accomplished has started with a question. We need to teach our students that those questions are the beginning of greatness and that if you work for it, you will find answers to them.

Find Meaning in Everything- The students had to communicate and read a map to get by.
My students read a paper map and talked to people in broken English, not because they wanted to but because they had to. We always have to articulate the meaning and reason behind our teaching. The classic "because I said so" approach does not instill a desire to learn in our young ones. Our projects should be designed to teach skills that will lead to our next project that teaches skills that lead to our next project and so on. We cannot design lessons where we say, "one day this will come in handy." We should make it come in handy now. If we don't, then it goes in one ear and out the other. Every instance of true learning starts with relevancy, usefulness, and meaning. If you don't have that, you don't have the desire to learn.

Friendship and Camaraderie- If they were traveling with Debbie Downer, they wouldn't want to go.
We should never forget that we are the leader, we set the pace, and we demand high expectations. But along with that we should never forget that we love these kids and we should enjoy our time with them. The great ones can provide structure and expectations while also having fun and bonding with the students. You are taking them on a journey. If you are grumpy, boring, or not excited, the journey will not be pleasant and you will lose many off the wagon on the way to your destination.

Traveling with students is blessing- I was tired but I had a blast!
We have a difficult job. But we have a great job! Never forget it! Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Gift of Students

As I looked upon the graduates of 2014 two nights ago, I couldn't help but think to myself, "life as an educator is good." There are so many conflicting emotions at a graduation when you are on educator. You are shocked because you can't believe after all the work and dedication you put in, the year is suddenly over. You are sad because students who have been a huge part of your everyday life will now move on. You are excited because all of the mentoring and guidance you have given to your students will now be put to the test in the great big world outside your school. But the one thing that remains constant is the fact that there are few things more rewarding than the gift of students.

The school experience is not the same for all students. Some students struggle everyday to make it to school, turn in their work on time, and overcome the pressures of being a teenager. Some students are like machines in their ability to balance their school work with extra curricular activities and community involvement. Some students focus most of their attention in one area that they know they will pursue beyond their school years. Others are still figuring it out. But when they are on the graduation stage, the only thing that matters is that those students have finished and are successful. The fact that educators play a role in all of those students lives is a true gift.

We have poured hours into these students. We have been there for their good days and their bad days. We have seen them work through challenges. We have seen them compete at their highest level. We see them in the wake of a family member passing as often as we have seen them accepting a scholarship. Either way, we are there for them. Our job is so much more than the description reads. All of this is not to brag that educators are over worked and under paid. In fact I think our payment is one of the best forms of compensation that you could ask for. We do this because we love our students, we want to help them find success, and we feel there is a greater purpose for our efforts that far outweighs any difficulties we may face in our careers.

Students are a gift. Parents and guardians trust us with their children. In some cases, we are some of the only "family" that our students have. That is a gift. That is a gift that almost brings me to tears when I really reflect on it. Whatever our students go on to do, the influence that has been granted to us will have an impact. We are able to work with students in their formidable years and truly play a role in the person they become. We are responsible for guiding the future of not only our students but the world in which they enter. To me this is one of the greatest gifts you could ask for.

I will miss the class of 2014 deeply. But my excitement for the adventures to come in their lives trumps that easily. The chance to work with them for the past four years has been a gift to me. And that gift is truly inspiring. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Students Become Community Members

Schools are communities unto themselves. Of course most schools are a key part of a larger community and represent the families in the surrounding area. But schools have their own culture, environment, and day to day activity to create a uniquely different community. So in essence our students are community members of our schools. The question is are we fostering an environment where our students are active community members who take pride in their school? I see a lot of parallels here.

I live in a small community in the Sierras of Central California. The town has a rich history involving the Mono Indians, the logging industry, the forest service, and much more. Since the mill was closed in the 1990's, the town has suffered economically. We have been forced to change our direction and seek a new path and identity. This has challenged many individuals to put more time in keeping the town clean, safe, economically headed in the right direction, and inviting to other community members. From the tribe, to the artists, to the business owners, to the teachers, to the real estate agents, to the families, everyone has had to do their part to keep the town going in the right direction. However, in most cases, we are still very far behind in that effort. It feels overwhelming sometimes to picture how much work it will continue to take to keep our town on track. However, there is truly only one ingredient that is needed more than anything else. That is participation and action. We need people who care and people who have skills that they can bring to the table. We have a lot of people that can and do participate. But we need more and we need more variety.

So what does this have to do with education? Essentially, we are preparing students to be community members. We are preparing students who care about their school, are active in clubs, sports, activities, and in the classroom. We are preparing students who think critically to solve problems and students who are creative and skilled in the art of promoting and marketing. We are teaching students who work hard not because of an external reward, but to make a difference for others.

So many towns and schools have people who are not involved. Time is always a concern. But if we encourage and recruit our students to be active and involved, they will do the same in our community. They will live a life of purpose and a life that impacts the lives of others. Our future depends on schools producing these types of citizens. Whether it be a big city, a small town, a farming community, or a state, we need people who care. That starts in families and schools. You cannot force someone to care but someone who has been on a team, in an orchestra, part of an art show, or led a major project in the classroom, is going to know what it takes to make a community successful.

I have faith that my town will continue to grow and recover. I believe we will produce students with innovative minds and caring hearts to build our community back to what it was and beyond that. I have to believe that. That is why I work in education. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Technology is a Big Factor...But it is Not the Only One

If you have children in school or you work in education, you have had this conversation before. Some will say that technology is a major distraction and takes away from learning. Some will tell you that their school is getting iPads next year so the class will be learning more than ever. Some schools are buying technology just for testing and some schools are holding off till the bitter end to make the jump to technology integration. The reality is that if we want to make our students successful in the world they live in rather than the world we lived in, we have to teach them how to work on a day to day basis with technology. However, to successfully do this, a mind shift is in order.

Don't cut them off from the world they live in.
I feel foolish talking about technology this way. It is kind of redundant right? I mean, technology is all around us and to speak of it as if it is some secret is silly, right? Well in many schools, this is still the case. Students are still accessing technology in a small lab and are told to keep their smart phones at home. Following that logic, we should just give teenagers licenses after they pass their written exams. Rather than allowing them time behind the wheel or testing them on how well they actually drive, we could just hand them over the keys after answer multiple choice questions correctly. Wouldn't that be ridiculous? I feel that many teachers and schools are doing this today.

Technology is not a distraction. Distractions are distractions.
To say that technology is a distraction is interesting to me. First of all, when I have access to every resource imaginable and every networking capability known to man at the touch of my fingers, I will be a little distracted when I am forced to read a static textbook that is probably behind the latest research the minute it is printed. Technology can be a distraction. Just like doodling, day dreaming, spit wads, and making signs across the room to your buddy. That is the reason why we have a teacher in the classroom.

Let them use their powers for good.
News flash....students are going to be online and using technology regardless of what we do. They will be engaging in social networking, research topics of interest, and finding entertainment. Because that is what they do. We have to teach them to use their power for good. If we ignore it, they ignore us. We must make them successful in balancing play and work and by giving them the tools to use technology in a productive way.

Teachers have to teach.
Great teachers are great. If you give a great teacher a kazoo, they can teach a unit on the French Revolution. Maybe not, but you get the point. If you give a teacher technology and they are not bound and determined to challenge their students and design engaging lessons to maximize their potential, students will be distracted. A great teacher will take these amazing tools and motivate, articulate, model, and execute a successful learning environment for their students. Technology alone is not transformation. Teachers have to teach and they have to shift the way they teach to truly implement a successful technology environment.

You can't make the shift halfway.
 If teachers are going to lecture continuously. If they are going to ask their students to fill out digital worksheets, they might as well not even have technology. We have to think bigger. We have to ask our students to create, collaborate, communicate, and think critically. We have to prepare them for a working environment with deadlines that require creativity and detail. We have to facilitate their exploration and inspire them to ask the big questions.

Technology alone will not make our students successful. But great teaching and technology will make our students unstoppable. Isn't that what we want? I think it is time to stop debating over what we want and start allowing ourselves to implement what the students need. A mind shift is needed. Leading is Teaching.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling has been an invaluable element of the human experience since the dawn of mankind. Every culture places a high value on telling stories whether it be for entertainment, education, teaching values, or to protect those who would listen from repeating mistakes of the past. All of us can remember at least in some small way how story telling has played a role in our upbringing.

In the classroom, the art of storytelling has been misinterpreted in many classes for many years. Somehow, storytelling has turned into lecture, vocabulary, and textbooks. Developing the skills for storytelling has turned into students reading bullet points on a PowerPoint. Students are not asked to "work a room," be entertaining, make profound statements while also backing them up, or simply teaching their classmates about a subject that they know little about. Instead, teachers and students participate in a monotonous exchange of talk and take notes. New flash...this is not storytelling!

So why is storytelling important? You would be hard pressed to find many jobs where you are not required to communicate effectively. In most jobs, you are asked to either sell something or convince someone what the value of your product or your work is. These are the skills developed in storytelling. You have a message, you develop a interesting package in which to deliver it, you tell your story in a way that is compelling and believable, and you are confident in doing this. If our students can develop these skills, they will be competitive in the job market.

This is not reserved for students that are outgoing or funny. There are many ways, shapes and forms to excel in storytelling. Give students choice in how they deliver. This could take shape in the form of writing, media, art, and more. If they nurture these skills, they will blossom in this area down the road. We need to teach them how to deliver and sell the message they are putting forward. Thinking of how many areas in your life where that skill is a must.

So what does lecture become? Lecture turns into teachers using storytelling to model what it looks like for students. Every great teacher you have had was a master at this. Make your stories interesting. Make the idea of being a great storyteller compelling. Put passion into your delivery. Because whatever you model, is what you are going to receive in return. Teach students that they don't need a lot of text on a slide when they present. Teach them the skill of presence and delivery. If you you read bullet points on a regular basis, don't be surprised when they do the same thing.

Our students will be better in interviews, in business deals, as parents, and as life long learners if we teach them the value of storytelling. There is a reason why it has been an important part of human history. Great teachers are great storytellers, who teach their students to become great storytellers as well. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Students Leading Innovation: How Social Media Empowers our Youth

It never fails. Every time I bring up Social Media use in schools in front of a big group, there are naysayers in the crowd. There are questions of legality, questions about inappropriate behavior, statements about the line between personal and professional, and much more. Many people tend to automatically go to that negative and precautionary space before giving the idea a chance. Well, I want to start this off with a question. If we don't teach our youth how to engage in Social Media for positive, productive, and professional use, then who will?

The students we have in class have grown up with social media. It is a significant part of their life if we like it or not. You can argue that much of their daily life revolves around posting pictures, sharing video, liking their friends post, or following hashtags. Rather than fighting it, why don't we use it in a way that will educate them? Social Media is powerful. It is not negative or positive unto itself. It just is. So what will we do with it?

I have had the experience of witnessing my students use social media in positive, productive, and professional ways. I have seen a student write a literature blog and then be contacted by publishers to review books. I have seen a student who wrote game reviews for a company who noticed his blog. I have seen students create videos that ended up getting national recognition and used for non-profit marketing through social media. I have seen students organize educational and philanthropic events with hundreds of people in attendance because they leveraged social media for marketing. I have seen students get jobs in marketing while going to college because they had experience using social media professionally. These examples are just from my school. Students know the power they possess and it is up to us to direct them in a way that will make them successful.

Every teacher knows that to reach students academically, you have to first establish a relationship with them. The classic ways to do this is of course through dialogue in the classroom but also through going to their games, watching their performances and supporting them in their pursuits. However, social media has became another way to connect with them. If a students friends you or follows you, they are trusting you to see their daily posts. They are letting you in to a piece of their life. We can use this and make significant gains in our relationships with them through social media. If we get them to post about school or their classes, this is a big victory for all. Because that means that what they are learning, is relevant to their world. Rather than cutting them off from it, we are embracing their world en route to educating them.

It is not a question as to if they are using social media in schools. The question we have to ask is, are we making school engaging and important enough to them to be part of that world. Social Media is a tool that we can use to help our students accomplish things that we never dreamed of when we were in school. They can access the world around them and bring that into our classrooms on a daily basis. What will you do with this tool? How can we help our kids to commit to a positive, productive, and professional digital footprint? Leading is Teaching.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Taking Talent and Passion to a Professional Level

Young people are inspiring. That is a fact. I see students from all walks of life, with all kinds of talents, and with the kind of energy that is enviable to most adults. Whether they are in pre-school or on the cusp of graduating from high school, they are full of curiosity, creativity, opinions, and questions. The key for educators, mentors, and family members, is to help our young people harness all of these characteristics to lead them to success. Unfortunately, in many schools, our kids are not given this opportunity.

For far too long, interests in art, writing, music, design, performance, gaming, and many similar pursuits have been labeled as alternative paths in life. Sure, most people enjoy seeing students involved in these categories and funding has even been provided for many of these areas. However, the problem with this stance is it gives students the impression that these interests are not worthy of pursuing in terms of post secondary education or as careers. Let's face it, when people hear that a student is going to art school or interested in design, most family members frown on the notion. We have to break this mold and come to the understanding that these passions, are not only worth pursuing, but are incredibly advantageous to our student's futures as professionals.

The United States is the land of innovation. Our future relies on our ability to be adaptable, creative, collaborative, and driven to overcome obstacles and challenges that face us. So, why would we discourage our students from pursuing their passions.? Instead, we should teach them to harness these creative talents and passions to become professionals.

I was inspired yet again last night as I sat through scholarship interviews at our school. We have worked hard to foster creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking at our school through our project based learning environment. We have used our one to one laptop and iPad format to teach students how to become professionals. As I sat and observed students who have designed their own websites, worked with professionals on meaningful projects, and used their talents to become professionals themselves, I realized that our mission has not been in vain.

I have been inspired by our students in the fact that they have leveraged their creative talents to shatter old norms. Rather than just being a talented art student, the students I observed used their art to create logos for business, digital posters for community events, websites to benefit non-profit organizations, videos to educate the public on meaningful causes and much more. In essence, our students have become professionals without even knowing it. Our students have become well rounded citizens who rather than being convinced that their interests were futile, have harnessed the power of their passions to set themselves up for success. In other words, whether they become teachers, doctors, contractors, social workers, or business owners, they will know that passion, drive, ambition, and creativity will make them successful no matter what.

Our school is not perfect and not all students fully capture this magic, but it is happening at a higher level and more frequently than ever. This is what we should pursue with our students. This is why our job is so important. Our young people are looking to us to guide them. Successful people find their passion and their talents and make a life out of them. If we give our students the technological skills, learning skills, and life skills that are relevant to their generation, their pursuits will shine through. We need to take their talent and passion and turn it into professionalism long before they leave our schools. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Dynamic Teacher

This is a call for dynamic teachers. Dynamic is defined as something or someone that is characterized by constant change, activity, or progress. As I hope we all know, the idea that you would be a practitioner of a practice simply because it had been done that way for years does not work in education. Like I have said many times before, there are tried and true educational practices and learning processes that are timeless. However, in an age of exponentially growing innovation, the idea that you would not be willing to change or progress in order to become more effective in education is simply obsolete. We need dynamic teachers.

If you read carefully, you will notice that I did not say dynamic speakers. I have seen some amazing speakers in my time and I have received great motivation and ideas from these speakers over time. However, it is much different when you spend as much time as a teacher does with her students. Dynamic speaking only lasts so long before it become more about the speaker than the audience. We need our teachers to have engaging personalities, make jokes, relate to students, give proper direction, and inspire the students on a regular basis. We need their presence to be felt in class and when the teacher speaks, we want our students to truly feel that what they are saying is important. But there is much more to a dynamic teacher.

A dynamic teacher demonstrates the characteristics of a great speaker but that should always lead into activity. We need teachers who introduce topics, skills, and projects in an engaging and understandable way, but we need teachers who understand that the students, should be active as well. A dynamic teacher understands this and spend time designing lessons that will engage, challenge, and inspire students to be creative while also allowing for collaboration. The dynamic teacher is able to seamlessly make the transition from being an engaging speaker to helpful facilitator. In essence, the dynamic teacher maintains her presence through all of these transitions.

The dynamic teacher understands the value of communication and feedback. Students feel comfortable in asking questions and know that their work will always be reviewed and edited by their teacher. The class is in constant workshop and improvement mode. After all, almost every successful business in the world is operated this way. The students feel good about their work because their is a process in getting to their end goal rather than simply turning something in and never hearing back from their teacher. Imaging spending a significant amount of time on a project for work and then never getting any feedback on how you did or how you can improve. You would soon become jaded.

The dynamic teacher works at being this way over time. She takes risks and never makes the same mistake twice. The dynamic teacher is the ultimate model because she is a lifelong learner and pushes herself to improve each and every day. The minute that you set foot in the room of a dynamic teacher, you will know. There is nothing like it.

The dynamic teacher understands the power behind her position. The dynamic teacher can make positive change in our families, communities, and our world. This is not an easy task. It is not for the faint of heart. But the dynamic teacher thrives on this idea. We need more dynamic teachers! Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Work Smarter Not Harder: Rigor Reimagined

The age old American vision of academics is fairly vivid in most of our heads. Student in a quiet library, with her nose in the books, meticulously writing notes for hours. A student pulling an "all nighter" reading their textbook and studying flashcards a three in the morning. I know that there were times in college for me, that were spent exactly this way. However, somewhere along the way, these images became what American society has used to measure how rigorous or challenging learning is at a school. Don't get me wrong, reading books by insightful and highly qualified authors is an important practice that I make sure to engage in on a regular basis. But is that age old college study session, what we should be using to gauge what learning looks like?

I was a history major in college. I read so many books during that time, that I think I acquired an addiction through the process. I spent time pouring over these books so that I could retain the information necessary to pass a written test or write a paper on my findings. I sat through hours of lecture from some incredibly knowledgeable professors. However, when I think about the elements of my education that have lasted long term, it has nothing to do with any of this. I remember the subjects I was most interested in. I remember my senior paper that I spent three months working on. I remember, when I had to present in front of a class of critics. I remember group work that required me to communicate and collaborate with people outside of my comfort zone. But most of all, I have retained and understood the most after teaching. After designing lesson plans, collaborating with peers, engaging with students, designing guides to help them in project creation, I feel I have learned more about history than ever.

We have to move beyond this idea that students need piles of homework in order to call their learning experience rigorous. If a student is passively sitting in class taking notes, or filling out a worksheet or something that is not challenging them on an intellectual level, this process is not rigorous no matter how much homework you give. What if we required our students to provide their own thoughts? What if we forced them to work with others, design projects that pushed them to their creative limits, and developed courses that forced them to step outside of the "old school" comfort zone. That is rigorous.

We recently had a student complete his Senior Legacy Experience through music. He is a motivated up and coming musician. So he chose to put on the full version of Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon." He had to promote the event online and in person, he had to recruit several different musicians (if you have heard the album you know how diverse that is), he had to plan and execute rehearsal, he had to keep track of ticket sales, and he brought in professional lighting equipment personnel to make it happen. It was a huge success. Now, can you tell me that it is more rigorous to write a five page essay about Pink Floyd or do what this student did. This is a rhetorical question. Our students want to be challenged intellectually and creatively.

We need to move away from this idea that homework drill and kill is rigorous. The truth is, the Dark Side of the Moon, student will be successful no matter if he is in college, working or pursuing a music career. Because he has been inspired and he has completed meaningful work. We are in a world where communication, collaboration, adaptability, quick response, and technology skills are the keys to success. We need to create these environments in our classroom rather forcing them into piles of work that are not significant to anyone but the teacher. We need to rethink what rigor means to us in education. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Ultimate Model

In teaching, one of the key words that always comes up in instructional strategies is modeling. Teachers should demonstrate what it looks like so that the students have a reference point to be successful. In writing, a teacher would provide an example of a sound thesis statement. In Physical Education, the teacher would teach the students how to stretch properly by showing them what it looks like rather than simply giving them verbal instruction. This is obviously sound teaching and in addition to showing the students how to carry out tasks, it gives them confidence to begin. This really is teaching 101.

However, I would like to propose that modeling is much more than that. We as committed educators, parents, and communicators want to be the ultimate models. We strive to inspire our students to be risk takers, ambitious leaders, innovative thinkers, and creative producers of high quality products. So we have to strive to do more than just model the task at hand. We have to be models of several things.

Think about this scenario. A teacher is in front of the class giving instructions on a writing assignment that the students will do about a foreign country. She provides an example of an introductory paragraph with a solid thesis, and a conclusion based on supporting evidence. After providing this, she tells the students what country they will be researching and then tells them to begin. She walks to her desk, sits down, and begins grading papers from another. class. This is a regular part of her routine and other than leaving right at the bell everyday, the students don't much at all about their teacher.

Sure the teacher modeled the assignment. And of course she has the right to grade papers. However, this is the old form of modeling we have to shatter. We have to inspire our students to explore the amazing culture and history of other countries. We have to share our experience of travel with students no matter what that may consist of. We have to go participate in things that challenge us professionally and come to our classrooms invigorated with what we learned. We have to be life long learners and people who demonstrate a love for teaching and for students.

The ultimate model is the teacher you still remember and love from high school. The ultimate model inspires not just quality work but curiosity and creativity. Our lives should be models of success, passion and love to our students. We need to be ultimate models. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Genius Inside

Have you ever seen the movie Good Will Hunting? You know the one with Matt Damon, where he is a janitor at MIT, and he ends up solving an incredibly complex math problem on the wall, leading him from rough, Boston kid, to math genius? If you haven't seen the movie, you should definitely check it out. But this blog is not about that movie. What I get from that movie is an idea that is far too often deemed impossible. Don't get me wrong, the idea of me being a math genius, is definitely impossible. But the story about a kid who is given an opportunity to show his/her ability in an unlikely scenario and proven his/her talent in a specific field is not impossible.

Each year, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, Cal Tech, and other prestigious schools admit thousands of students. These are the "best of the best." These are students with high SAT scores and GPAs well above 4.0, from every AP or IB class imaginable. Most of these students are on a steady path to success from the day they are admitted. By all traditional standards, these students are considered the most "intelligent." In the minds of students, these are the smart kids. But what if we looked at it differently.

Howard Gardner proposed the model of multiple intelligences in 1983. The theory is fairly easy to explain and believe. In a nutshell it states that there are several intelligences that people can have including but not limited to verbal-linguistic, musical-rhythmic, visual-spacial, interpersonal, kinesthetic among others. So in other words, there is not one type of intelligence. So the questions that arise from this are how do we teach students to find their intelligence and how are we as a society or in the education field, measuring this?

It is the sad truth that we only measure a few types of these intelligences in education. We tell students that they should go to college, but the only way that we give them a chance to get there, is by measuring a select few intelligences. Therefore, a large cross section of students are not given a chance to reveal their intelligence and are not given a chance to expand their ability in that area. If they are not college bound, they have to sit idly by to wait for their time to thrive. We as teachers, schools, and parents, need to do all we can to change this.

Schools should become places where students find their intelligences rather than finding out that they are "not intelligent." We need to give kids choices and opportunities to expand their horizons, understand their opportunities and begin to practice those skills. For too long we have held students back from doing this. We have prepared them for tests, given them meaningless homework, and ranked them by their GPAs. There are so many examples of success in the world from welders, to artists, to cooks, to heavy equipment operators, and more. What if they discovered this earlier and had a chance to explore while still in school. We have to push to make this happen in our schools.

We definitely won't all end up like Matt Damon did in Good Will Hunting. But we can give kids a similar story in that they will find their intelligence and thrive. We have to give them the opportunity and spread the message that the world doesn't consist of intelligent people and unintelligent people. We need to challenge the college bound students while also challenging the work bound students. The world is made up of people who found their intelligence and are using it and people who have not found it yet or are not using. Where do our kids fall? Leading is Teaching.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Would But...

"I would but." How often do we use that phrase in some way shape or form? Whether it be in our personal lives or at work, we say this or something like this right before we give an excuse. I believe that more often than not, this phrase is hurtful to us. This is especially true in education, where many teachers, administrators, and school leaders allow this phrase to hold them back.

What are the negative results of the "I would but" phrase? It gives us an excuse to not take risks. It prevents us from trying something new even if we think that it could be great. It represents us telling ourselves and our students that things would be better if only our situation was different. And that take all of our power away. "I would but administration does not support me." "I would but the school board has a different vision." "I would but the state is not giving us the funding we need." "I would but the students just won't listen." "I would but our kids just wouldn't know how to do that." These are things we say all of the time and don't realize how damaging this mindset is to our classrooms and our schools.

We want our students to be risk takers and relentless in the quest for success in life. We want them to take control of their future and to do everything in their power to be great. We want kids to work hard and not make excuses when things get tough. Someday our students will be wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, leaders, community members, business owners, and managers who will do whatever it takes to lead with integrity and drive. We can't do this without modeling this behavior ourselves.

Times have been tough with funding. We have more pressure than ever to implement state standard based curriculum. We are faced with whatever political trend is thrown our way in schools. But the constant is always going to be, "How are we going to make it happen for kids"? We have to apply for grants. We have to be willing to try new things that could very well fail. We have to connect with kids outside the classroom. We have to learn how to teach our kids about things that are relevant to them. We have to embrace the social media that is such a huge part of our student's lives. We have to do everything we can for our students because their success is our job and it is our future. We cannot teach kids that success lies in the hands of others. We must teach them that we are the ones in control of that. So lets replace "I would but" with "How are we going to make it happen for kids?"
Leading is Teaching.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Student Centered Authoring: iBooks Author

Education is rapidly transforming to keep up with the world today. The world in which our students are entering is one filled with uncertainty. We are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet and in many cases we are preparing them for several different careers within their lifetime. It is up to teachers and schools to change their environments to be more conducive to this reality. Students will need to be creators, critical thinkers, collaborators, and effective researchers. It is our job to find the resources and tools to make this mission a reality. I believe that iBooks Author is the kind of tool to do this.

Gone are the days when teachers pass out textbooks and ask the students to find the answers within its pages. Now, teachers are called upon to be guides in the classroom and allow students to seek the answers themselves and then determine whether their sources were accurate. Their is more media and sources than ever before. With the use of iBooks Author, teachers and students are able to create custom textbooks to both learn and teach what they are researching.

With iBooks Author, students and teachers can create interactive books with video, essays, presentations, interactive maps, quizzes, audio clips and more. Teachers can design books customized to their specific classroom which dig far deeper and are much more engaging than in books from the past. The Common Core asks us to teach students to work with multiple sources. Using iBooks Author, we can do this and more!

Can you imagine the power of students publishing their own novel? How about students making books highlighting local history? Wouldn’t it be awesome if our students could publish a book on how we can improve water storage to help in the California Drought? These are just a few of the possibilities with iBooks Author. And the great thing is, even if you aren’t in a one to one setting, you can still create an interactive book for student learning.

You can be very basic and just write an iBook consisting of text. But you can also create more advanced books using and other sites to add YouTube, Google Maps, and more. I believe that this is the future of our classrooms. iTunes U and iBooks are tools that can help our students go big and go pro! Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Asking Questions

If you have ever spent time around children ages 3 to 8 (or maybe even earlier or later) you know the same thing that I do. Kids this age ask a ton of questions. "Why do stars shine?" "Why does dad have a mustache and you don't?" Why does the cat meow?" Where do babies come from?" And sometimes simply, "Why?" repeatedly. Well, there is a reason for all of these questions. Kids are learning all of the basic things that one needs to know in life and the easiest way to learn is to ask questions. All of that to say, questions are the source of learning.

True learning starts with a question. You have heard this before on various levels including the scientific method and the Socratic method. But I really just want to make it simple by stating that questions are what lead us to truth and learning. If we don't ask some sort of question, whether out loud or in our head, we are not really seeking to learn anything. If you want to build a wood shed for the first time, you will ask questions. If you want to learn to ice skate at a high level, you will ask questions. Sometimes, if not many times, these questions are subconscious. Like in ice skating you may not think you are asking questions but your mind is wondering why you keep falling! Either way, the source of learning, improvement, or progress is to ask questions and find solutions.

Somewhere along the way, we have "streamlined" education so much that we have slowly strangled questions out of our classrooms. Think about it. If a teacher consistently lecture without giving the students the opportunity to share in the process, the students are being robbed of maximized learning. Don't get me wrong, the student asks questions sometimes in that scenario but when questions aren't a driving force behind the activity, students are not learning at a maximum level. Lecture starts with the notion that, for efficiency sake, I am going to cut out the lengthy questioning portion of class and just tell them everything. The only problem is that then the "learning" becomes memorizing and doesn't allow the student to truly learn to their potential. Don't get me wrong, we have all been guilty of this.

However, I believe that we need to move towards more inquiry based and question based learning methods. Our students have access to millions of resources other than ourselves. They can access information at the drop of a time. So it is critical that we teach them to ask questions. Because if their interpretation of learning is just to "know," then they will become what we are all afraid of...simply....googlers. We need to teach our students to think critically and to seek true knowledge rather than just search for facts.

Questioning should play a huge role in our classrooms. Not yes or no questions, but why questions. We should make it our goal to teach our students how to ask questions and how to answer questions. We need to teach them that sometimes answers are not so easy to find or understand. We need to teach them that we do not know everything, and that is okay because we are modeling life long learning.

We have reached a point where our students just want to know what to do and when to turn it in. We have to shift that notion of learning if we want them to be successful. We as educators have to become the 4 year old kid who is constantly asking "why?" If we teach our students to question and to seek answers, they will becoming true learners and seek knowledge on a deeper level. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

5 Essentials of a Good Project

There is a big difference between designing a project and designing a class to center around the philosophy of Project Based Learning. Project Based Learning takes a healthy amount of structure while also providing for plenty of student choice, critical thinking, and creativity. As schools infuse more technology into their classrooms and aim to implement higher level thinking with their students, Project Based Learning methods will be important for schools to train their teachers on. As I have said before in this blog, Project Based Learning is not all fun and games and if teachers don't understand how to implement it in the classroom, we will not be utilizing the technology to its full capability. Essentially we will be left with very expensive worksheets rather than the laptops and tablets that we signed up for. So in an attempt to summarize the process I wanted to give some tips for designing a classroom to be Project Based.

#1 Modeling and Providing Quality Instruction Throughout

Regardless of what some may think, project based learning requires the teacher to give some direct instruction and model the process. If students are not clear on what is expected or how to get to the finish line, they will give up. Think about it. You are asking students to do things they have never done before in an age of multiple choice questioning. Provide students with written, verbal, and repeated instruction while also revealing to them an example of what the product might look like. This routine will help your student performing better and will give them confidence with your safety net. Don't forget to provide repeated instruction throughout.

#2 Scaffolding From One Project to Another
Always build from one project to the next. Think of this in terms of the use of tools (Keynote, iMovie, Blogger, Google Sites) and in terms of skills (presentation, collaboration, writing) so that each time you do another project, your students will have measurable gains. Teachers should up the ante each time on a project so that students improve and expand their capabilities. If you are not pushing for this, things will grow stagnant, students will work the system, and none of us will be challenged.

#3 Provide Check Points Throughout
We can't design a project, explain it, and then give them the due date. We have to build projects that provide students with check points. In other words, break your project into segments that can be edited and shared. For example, when students are researching, you should have them organize them and present them to you before moving on. When students have manageable short term goals, they are more likely to succeed. When we roll out a huge project and give them a due date, all they see is an insurmountable mountain. This ability should be the end goal but we have to build up to that. Project Checkpoints help in that mission.

#4 Provide for Student Choice and Student Voice
The key to learning is engagement. Our students need to have a voice in our classroom and they need to have a choice in the process. A project menu can be very effective and allow students to choose the subject or method in which they deliver the project will get them to buy in much more than telling them exactly what they HAVE TO DO. You will see students come alive in your classroom if they are able to have a say in their project. You will be preparing them for success in life if they are given the opportunity to work hard on something they are interested in. Student choice and voice are ESSENTIAL to success in a Project Based Learning Environment.

#5 Give Feedback
This is all for naught if students aren't provided with feedback. I don't mean a letter grade here. I mean meeting with students and letting them know where they are strong and what they need to improve on. Can you imagine just receiving good or bad marks on your job performance but never hearing why? We need to communicate throughout the project with our students on how well they are doing and how they can improve. Create rubrics that are clear and understood amongst students. In fact a good exercise is to create a rubric with them. Our students want our approval and it is our duty to provide it to them so they can grow.

Leading is Teaching

Friday, February 28, 2014

Students are the Locomotive, We Are the Tracks

    The greatest people in history have been those who have asked questions, tested theories, and dared to try again despite numerous failures. The best teachers in history have been those who have guided their pupils to greatness rather than simply trying to tell them how to get there. The tracks were laid first, but the the cargo does not reach the final destination without the power of the locomotive. Our students have talent, skills, and interests that are waiting to be fostered and directed. Some are harder to discover but they are all there.

This is where the problem lies in many of our schools today. We have made our schools so dependent on “one size fits all” instructional strategies, that we have robbed our teachers and students of the most fundamental element of learning…interest. Do you really think Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci, the Wright Brothers, Michael Jordan or Mozart would have accomplished revolutionary things if they were doing it through multiple test choice.

At the school where I work we have made it a goal to provide students with the opportunities to find their uncovered talents, skills, and interests. We have by no means mastered that goal but we are making progress. I have seen so many examples of students taking an interest of theirs (art, photography, writing, the outdoors) and leveraged that into well rounded success. I have seen students become professionals with my own eyes before they even leave high school. The good news is we are not the only school doing this and there is a big movement toward providing students with the kind of powerful education they will need to live in today’s world.

In our country, we have taken schools who are “failing” with high drop out rates and low test scores and tried to fix them by given them more of the same thing. You think a student who is on the verge of dropping out and is struggling with math is going to have a great turn around because you gave him/her another dry math class…..No! How about appealing to that student’s interest in mechanics or robotics? Because the only way someone becomes successful, is by that person having a vested interest in the process.

Teachers, we cannot stand in front of our classes and deliver content as if we are the only person on the planet who knows the information. We need to allow our students to get their hands dirty. I did not learn to change the oil by hearing a lecture from my father. I learned by actually doing it and then I taught my sister. We are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet, so our best bet is to teach them to organize, think critically, collaborate, write, present, market themselves, and preserver throughout struggles.

We can teach them skills through interesting, scaffolded, challenging projects that force them to ask questions and provide them with choices. We must remember that we are the tracks and they are the locomotive. Both rely on each other to get the job done but the train itself is where the power comes from. Leading is Teaching.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Learning From a Pirate

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a workshop with Dave Burgess, the author of "Teach Like a Pirate." Myself and ten of my colleagues joined with a neighboring district in this fantastic experience, giving us a second wind of inspiration for the rest of the year and beyond. If you have never had the chance to read this book or see Dave in person and you are attached to the education field, you must act quick. The framework that he lays out is inspiring, practical, and at the core of why I endeavored into  education in the first place.

There is always some skepticism when trusting a pirate but Dave quickly disproved any gimmick theories. He laid out some important elements of great teaching. First he talked about passion. In his book Dave states that a teacher must bring passion each and every day to the classroom. This has to come from one of three areas on any given day: 1) passion for the content you are teaching that day 2) passion for your role as an educator 3) passion related to your personality of life interests. He told us that without one of those three, your students will know that you are not fully engaged in the class that day and they will follow suit.

After about one minute of being in the audience, I thought, "I wish I was in his class." He gave us several of his "hooks" for how to start lessons. Hooks are how we start the class and get our student's attention by mixing an activity, a joke, or a creative exercise with the content you are teaching that day. This takes energy and creativity but if done right you can "trick" your students into learning. He explained that every class should be a performance and as a teacher you should always ask yourself two questions: 1) If they didn't have to come, would they? 2) Could you sell tickets to your class? These may be ambitious questions to ask yourself 180 days a year but he offers an important point. How can we expect great things from our students if we don't model that behavior ourselves? In other words, if more than a few students are not engaged, it is our responsibility to hold their attention. Rather than focusing on classroom management, why don't we spend that time creating lessons that keep their attention. And as Dave says, we will inevitably fail as teachers but the key is taking risks to provide students with a fantastic educational experience.

Dave described the times where he woke up in the middle of the night and tried to sneak out of the house unsuccessfully without his wife noticing to run down to Wal-Mart to pick up materials for his next lesson. He explained that he carried around a notepad to jot down all of his ideas over the years. In his words, half of them sucked but some of them turned out to be great lessons that made a huge impact with his students. This is the point when he proclaimed his frustration with people who claim that they are not creative. He gets particularly frustrated when teachers tell him, "Its easy for you, you are creative." Dave explained that this statement discredits the eleven years he has worked tirelessly in designing lessons, taking risks, going out on a limb, bringing 100% energy, and learning from mistakes. This is what makes great teachers and if we all spent time infusing our passion into our teaching we would prove that all of us are creative.

We left this workshop feeling inspired for so many reasons. First, it helped us realize that great teaching and making truly significant gains with students take a great amount of effort. This is not always popular and can be met with a great deal of resistance from those that want to maintain the status quo. Second, teaching is not a perfect science, but taking risks and failing is part of improving in everything that you do. If we are not doing this, we are not doing enough. Third, we are all creative and the old rule that you must draw a hard line between your working life and your personal life puts us at a disadvantage. True learning takes trust and personalization. If our personality or interests are not mixed with our classrooms, we are not offering our full passionate self to our students. Last, our students deserve our best everyday. They will meet our enthusiasm and if your enthusiasm is a rare sight in your class, they will know that it is not real or sustainable.

We need passionate teachers like Dave Burgess everywhere. We need students to talk about our class when they are not in it. We need students to fight to get in our classroom because they are afraid of missing something great. Can you imagine if our schools were like this throughout the country. Dave reminded me that we have a noble purpose that should not be taken lightly. We hold the future in our hands and if we put our passion, creativity, and energy into our classrooms, we can make an impact that will resound for generations. If teaching like a Pirate is what it takes, then we all must buy an eye patch. Leading is Teaching.