Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Friday, December 16, 2011

What does it mean to be committed?

I'm so sorry for not posting since Monday.  Two weeks ago, we switched to a new cable/internet company so the guys in the house could get some new cable stations.  It was also to be more stable/faster internet.  Unfortunately, the service (including our home phone and even my mobile) has not been stable for 12 days now.  However, I'm hopeful today.  They have us up for 24 hours under test mode, and a district manager is here supervising all techs. Have you heard the traditional song, The 12 Days of Christmas?  Here's my version:

12 days of no service
11 one to two hour phone calls to tech support
10 minutes to visit, says one tech.  He never showed.
9 on site technician visits
8 on times my son hasn't been able to get on Facebook or YouTube
7 times 3 equals the number of times I've gone somewhere to get access
6 times we've explained the entire problem to someone here
5 times for outside, 5 for inside of techs blaming the other side
4 times 4 tweeting social media tech
3 times they responded with no result
2 days I said "tell them to take it out and give me back cable"
1 district manager who is committed to solving it no matter what!

One thing I've learned from this--all the excuses (even valid ones) don't matter.  All it takes to make a difference is someone committed to making it happen.  For us, we can have all kinds of reasons a student isn't learning.  Many of those are valid and true.  But a committed, persistent teacher/principal can make a difference, even if you don't see immediate results. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Goals...and Next Steps

On a visit to Reid Ross Classical School, I stepped into a seventh-grade classroom. A series of t-shirts caught my eye, and the students wanted to share their completed projects with me. A short conversation quickly turned into a modeling session with students wearing the shirts and showing off their dreams. Mrs. White explained that, as part of a celebration of Martin Luther King’s life, she discusses his dream for all people. Students are given project guidelines, and they have approximately a month to complete their shirts. On the front of the shirt they illustrate their dream using fabric paints, computer design graphics or any type of embroidery. On the back, students write the steps to achieving their goal, which is based on their own research. It was an excellent way for students to learn the next steps required to achieve their goals.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Can Resources Help with Student Motivation?

My first year teaching at-risk students, I asked my principal if we could use USA Today for reading. My students didn’t like carrying a different textbook, because other students knew if you carried the green book that meant you were in the “dumb” class. At that time, USA Today was new, and it was the only newspaper to print in color. My kids were excited to read “real stuff.”

Lennie was one of my most reluctant readers. He did not see the value of reading until he turned 15 and needed to take the test to get his driver’s permit. He discovered he needed to be able to study the manual to pass the test, so he asked me to teach him how to read the driver’s manual. I agreed, and that evolved into some effective lessons with all students. I talk to many teachers who don’t want to use anything other than a textbook, but that limits you and your students. Online sources, videos, blogs, tweets, magazines, newspapers, and even graphic novels can supplement and enhance your instruction.

What resources tap into the intrinsic characteristics of value and success for your students?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Social Proof--Negative or Postive (Guest Post from Bryan Harris)

One of Eye on Education's other authors, Bryan Harris, is a great resource for classroom management and engagement.  Here's a sample: 

Social proof is the tendency of individuals to look to others' behavior to help determine their own behavior. When we see others doing something or taking a course of action, it has tremendous influence in our own decision-making process. We see examples of social proof around us every day. Most of us want to see the latest movie everyone is talking about and drive with the flow of traffic regardless of the posted speed limit.

As educators, we sometimes resort to the use of negative social proof in an attempt to guide and influence student behavior. We lecture classes about missing homework, coming to class late, uncooperative behavior, or apathetic attitudes. We do this in an attempt to clarify right from wrong and acceptable from unacceptable. However, the practice of highlighting the negative behavior of a few students can actually backfire.

For the rest of the blog (thanks to ASCD), click here!
Bryan Harris is director of professional development for the Casa Grande Elementary School District in Arizona. He is the author of Battling Boredom. More information can be found at http://www.bryan-harris.com.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ratcheting Up Reviews

Looking for some new ideas for reviewing content for your students?  My December newsletter is out and there are strategies and resources for teachers, and a special plan for principals.  Sign up using the button on the right--I'll be resending it throughout the week to new subscribers.  Also, if you haven't seen the earlier issues on motivation and engagement as well as Rigor and the Common Core State Standards, click "View Our Archives" to check them out.  Have a great day knowing that you are making a difference for someone today!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Partnering with Parents

I'm often asked for the best strategies for working with parents.  One of my foundational beliefs is that it must be a true partnership, not a one-way street.  There are three questions that should frame your actions as you form partnerships with the parents in your students’ lives:
**For simplicity, I’m going to use the word parents, but these strategies apply to any of the caring adults in the student’s life.

1.  What can you learn from them to support your student better? This might include information about how the child learns best or any special interests and needs.

2.  How can you help them? Daniel enjoyed working on the school newspaper, particularly drawing editorial cartoons. His math teacher was a friend of mine, and she shared that Daniel did not always complete his homework, which caused him to fall behind. The three of us agreed that if he didn’t do his math homework, she would let me know about it and he would leave my class to go catch up his homework in her class. This worked especially well because journalism was an elective course, but the main reason it worked was that he wanted to be in my class, so he finished his homework.

3.  How can they help you? Several of my struggling readers played on our junior varsity football team. The students and I talked with their coach about what they needed to do in my class to be successful. He then monitored their progress in class, and checked in with me regularly to offer additional support. It was a turning point for those boys.

What are strategies that have worked for you?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Relevance of Teamwork

When I was teaching, I wanted my students to work together in groups. I have always believed that we learn more together than we do alone. But my students weren’t convinced. I heard more complaints about group work than anything else I did. One day, I shared a newspaper story that reported the number one reason people are fired from their job is because they can’t get along with their coworkers. My students didn’t believe it. They were convinced that people were fired because they couldn’t do the work, so hearing that getting along with others was an important part of working was new information to them. After that, I met less resistance to group activities.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Series of Posts on Rigor

I've been guest blogging over at Eye on Education.  My posts come out two Tuesdays a month.  Here's the start of a year-long focus on rigor:

Rigor, Vigor, or Rigor Mortis
Rigor and the Common Core State Standards
High Expectations, Really?
High Expectations, Don't Leave Me Out!

Enjoy, follow their blog, and leave me feedback! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Motivating Students with a Microphone

We hear over and over again how important relevance is to student motivation and engagement. Erin Owens uses a popular television show to inspire her first graders:

My students share a great deal. I have found that a microphone has played a key role in motivating them to produce quality work. First of all, they love the microphone, at first they say it is like “being on American Idol.” You can hear them more clearly and their voice is obviously amplified. This gains the attention of the audience more so than traditional sharing. After the “glamour” wears off, they begin to realize that they are showcasing their work each time they “step up to the microphone.” I began to see a major change in their motivation to produce the best work they were capable of to impress and entertain their peers.

Notice she uses something students can relate to, not to deliver content, but to help them with one of the processes of learning, in this case, speaking.  What a great idea!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

One of My Favorite Resources

Throughout December, I'm going to profile some of my favorite resources.  First up, organization and time management is always a struggle, isn't it?  No matter how much I try, my inbox is never empty, and I have a stack of papers on my desk.  Frank Buck, a friend and contributor to my books, helps me with these challenges. He's also trying to convince me to go paperless! Here's my summary of his resources:

For professional development to “stick,” there must be follow-up. That was the reason the “Get Organized!” blog was started over 6 years ago. Workshop participants can read additional content and interact long after the workshop is over. The focus of the blog is a nut-and-bolts approach to organization and time management. In a world that is becoming increasingly more digital, readers find simple solutions to harness common technology tools. The free e-mail newsletter is a once-per-month “breath of fresh air” which appears automatically appears in the reader’s Inbox. It’s attempt is to teach, inspire, and make navigating our work and personal loves a little easier.

To begin receiving the newsletter, visit FrankBuck.blogspot.com and look for a link on the right-hand side of the screen inviting you to subscribe.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Real Life Learning for Young Students

Students are never too young to experience real-life learning. Erin Owens creates a fun taste of reality for her first graders. As a culminating activity for an economics unit, the class takes a field trip to a Krispy Kreme (doughnut) store. They observe real-life examples of key concepts: marketing (posters and signs), jobs (cashier, doughnut maker, and manager), goods and services, and teamwork. To apply what they learned, they set up a class store. As a group, they determined the store name, what to sell, costs and needed materials, how to market the store, and the necessary jobs. “All of this took team- work and in the process, the students took ownership of their learning. It was amazing to see the application of concepts in progress. They had job applications, divided into teams, and thought of every- thing we would need to effectively run the store. I served as facilitator and material gatherer, they planned everything. At the end, the other first-grade classes came to purchase our bookmarks.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Remember Why You Like School?

Do you remember the first time you thought about being a teacher, principal, or another role as an educator? For me, I don't ever remember NOT wanting to be a teacher.  My parents even have a picture of me as a child teaching our kittens how to read!  But, there have been many times when I've forgotten that excitement and passion for teaching.  It's easy to do when we are bombarded by the challenges of accountability, a wide range of students, dealing with parents, and paperwork!

I'm going to take time this Thanksgiving weekend to rest and relax (it helps that I've finished all the revisions on my latest book, Rigor Made Easy).  However, there is one thing I'm going to take time for.  I'm going to write down why I decided to be a teacher (and teacher of teachers and leaders now) and then list at least 10 reasons that I made a good decision.  In fact, here's my starting list:

I decided to be a teacher to make a difference.

1.  During my second year of teaching, I helped my remedial students realize that just because the test labeled them "below level" didn't mean they couldn't learn and grow just like everyone else.
2. During my first year of teaching, one of my most problematic students wrote me a note at the end of the year saying she wished I could be her teacher again.
3.  One of my graduate students emailed me to say, "You sure were tough on me, but I'm using everything you taught.  I think we appreciate you more after we're finished with your classes."

What will be on your list?  Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Great Resource for Leaders

Have you read books by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner?  Their focus is leadership, and my dad called the other day highly recommending them.  A couple of the points he found pertinent:
5 PRACTICES of Leadership
  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Challenge the process
  4. Enable others to act
  5. Encourage the heart
You can also check out their website at


Monday, November 21, 2011

Students with Special Needs....and Rigor?

After my blog post mentioning that rigor is for everyone, including students with special needs, I've received lots of questions.  One was quite pointed--asking why I would think that students with special needs could ever be successful trying to meet higher expectations.  I asked Missy Miles, one of my former graduate student who now works specifically with students with special needs, to respond. She specifically addresses students with learning disabilities:

LD doesn’t mean below average IQ.  In fact, most LD students have average to above average IQ, just have a discrepancy in their achievement level.  If these students are not challenged, they will be quite complacent to be status quo (or even below).  These kids, more than anybody, need adults who believe in them by giving them challenging work and high expectations.  I do agree that, by holding them to a lower standard or giving them exemptions to the test, we would be communicating loudly and clearly that we do not believe they can do any better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Do expectations make a difference?

I've said it before, and we've all heard it from many sources--our expectations make the difference!

But in any case, I did poorly on the tests and so, in the first three years of school, I had teachers who thought I was stupid and when people think you're stupid, they have low expectations for you.
Robert Sternberg

Anything you need to do about that today?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Preparing Students for Life

How do we help prepare students for their futures?  In addition to teaching content, problem-solving, and teamwork, there are other ways to help students.  

Helping students make connections between their learning and real life is a foundational part of engaging classrooms. In Eric Robinson’s classes at Saluda Trail Middle School, he taught students how to write a resume. Then, he and his colleagues work together to show them how to select colleges/universities, the types of degrees, and job descriptions. "They do a rough draft of the resume, then after we work out the mistakes, the students type their resumes along with a cover letter. Once I approve the typed resume, the students set up an interview with an administrator or teacher who is part of the interview team. Prior to setting up an interview, each student has a class in interview etiquette. In this class, the students learn how to enter the door to the interview, how to talk, eye-to-eye contact, body posture, and good communication skills with the interviewer."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Down Time Can Lead to Discipline Problems

Beginning teachers often say they need to deal with discipline before they can focus on instruction. They quickly discover that if their instruction is busy and fast paced, many of the discipline problems disappear. Most discipline problems occur during down time—periods of time when students are not actively engaged in instruction, such as the start or end of class, during class changes, during lunch or recess, and during transitions between activities within your class. That’s why it is so important to keep your instruction moving at a rapid pace. Don’t go so fast you lose everyone, but keep it moving.

Jason Womack taught 50-minute high school classes. Each day the first task for students was to copy the schedule off the board. He organized his instruction around a theme for the day and always listed 5 to 12 activities. Typically, he scheduled 10, five-minute activities. He wanted students to see, hear, and touch something at least twice every day. In a typical day, they would “see something (watch me or data); hear about it (listen to me lecture or use the closed-eye process [tell 4–7 min. story with eyes closed]...touch some- thing (come back from wherever they went to [in their mind] and produce
something based on what they heard; draw, write it, make a video,...or a puppet show). My goal was to give them information and let them internalize and give it back; not just force-feed info and make them regurgitate it, but to give them an opportunity to internalize and express it.”

He also ensured that his students were constantly engaged in learning. Pacing is critical, as is keeping students engaged.  How can you improve what you are already doing to increase student engagement and keep discipline problems at bay?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November Newsletter is Out!

Did you receive your November e-newsletter? This issue focuses on rigor and the Common Core State Standards.  If you haven't signed up, use the link to the right. I'll resend throughout the week.  If you have signed up and didn't receive it, check your spam folder!  I'm in New York City today for a day off with my dad.  If you will be at Madison Square Garden tonight for the Duke/Michigan State game, we'll be cheering in the Duke section!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Do Routines Make a Difference?

I was reminded of the importance of routines last semester when one of my graduate students e-mailed me in a panic. The tenor of her class had changed dramatically when the students returned from the Christmas break. In her words, they were wild and completely out of control. As we e-mailed back and forth, I learned that only one thing had changed: Before the holiday, she used a warm-up activity to start each class. Students kept these in a notebook and turned them in at the end of the week. However, she was told by an administrator that she had to take them up each day, grade them, and return them the next day. You can imagine what happened. Along with the busyness of students entering her room, she was trying to hand back yesterday’s work while they were starting on today’s work, and chaos followed.

I suggested she start with entrance slips. Students had five minutes to write down what they learned from the prior day’s lesson and any home- work. While this was happening, she handed back the graded warm-up. Next, as they started on the new warm-up, she took up entrance slips and determined how much she needed to review before she started a new lesson.

By Friday, I received an e-mail update: “My week ended so much better than it began! Entrance and exit slips are now permanent fixtures in my class. The kids have adjusted to them well. I decided to implement the slips in all of my classes, and oh what a difference they have made. I also plan to start read alouds daily...just for 5 minutes. I will begin with something that relates to some of the problems that my students may be experiencing now. I actually felt as though I was about to jump off of a cliff on Monday.” Both she and her students responded well to returning to the routine with some minor adjustments.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stressed Today?

Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.
Marilu Henner

 Wow, I love this one!  I tend to hold myself to a standard of perfection, and I sometimes beat myself up for minor mistakes or for something that I had no control over, rather than just accepting them. I'm finding my stress level goes down when I accept that there are things I cannot control, and to focus on what I can control.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The #1 Point about the Common Core State Standards

I've heard so many people say that the CCSSs will solve all the problems with rigor in classrooms, that I was very relieved to hear what I knew--the standards are NOT about how teachers should teach.  The standards are rigorous, but the bottom line is what happens in the classroom with instruction.  That's always been my focus on rigor.  
Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

I wrote a four page research brief on this a few months ago.  Interested?

Don't forget to sign up for the November newsletter on the Common Core--link is to your right!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Take-Aways About the Common Core State Standards

**This month's newsletter comes out this week--topic--CCSS--just the beginning. Sign up to your right. 

Yesterday, I attended a day of training from ASCD and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction on the new Common Core State Standards. There's one key aspect they discussed at the beginning of the presentation, and I'll devote tomorrow's blog to that specific point.  Other than that, here's my major take-aways, with my opinion in italics:

1.  The CCSSs help answer the question:  how/why am I ever going to use this. Not sure that all students will agree, but hopefully it's better than before.

2. A set of common standards helps because expectations shouldn't be determined by a student's zip code. I have always thought it was unfair that depending on where a student lives, he or she gets a better or worse education--when I was teaching in the early years of the standards movement, our state definitely saw a positive change in this area.

3. It's critical to look at appendices in the standards--the Language Arts appendices include text and writing samples. They made the point the text samples should not be used as required reading lists, etc. The materials are Lexile-based, and that is both positive and negative.  There are very positive aspects to Lexiles--full disclosure, when I was working on my Ph.D., I worked with Metametrics on Lexiles--but it is critical to understand that they only look at one aspect of text difficulty.  Teachers must use their own judgement concerning developmental appropriateness, interest, etc.

4. There is a series of video vignettes available on YouTube and on the CCSSO.org website (choose digital resources) These appear to be helpful for a basic understanding.

5.  The national PTA has resource guides for parents--www.pta.org/parent guides.  These look GREAT!

6. No matter which of the two assessment systems your state is using (PARRC or SMARTER Balanced), check out the resources for both. This seems smart, given the information on each site.  Also, many states have not decided which to use.

Most of the rest of the day was NC specific, but it was interesting to listen to principals, district administrators, college professors, and teachers discuss their perspective.  Their major concerns:  more resources needed, especially time for teachers to work together; information about the assessments and how that will impact what they need to do; technological resources such as bandwidth in smaller/poorer districts to ensure the online testing will work; and clear communication with colleges to prepare future teachers AND to clarify if the changes will have college admission implications.

All in all, an informative day, and one in which I was able to talk with great educators making a difference for students.  And that makes it worth it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

All I Ever Needed to Know About Student Engagement

I recently read Robert Fulgham’s poem, All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I thought, all I ever needed to know about student engagement I learned watching a kindergarten teacher.

All I Ever Needed To Know About Student Engagement I Learned Watching a Kindergarten Teacher
Make it fun, and learning happens.
Build routines, and everyone knows what to expect.
Keep students involved, and they stay out of trouble.
Make it real, and students are interested.

Work together, and everyone accomplishes more.

Anything you would add?

Monday, November 7, 2011

What does student engagement look like?

What exactly is student engagement? I recently read a comment from a teacher on an Internet bulletin board. He said that his students seemed to be bored, and after talking with them, he realized that they were tired of just sitting and listening. He said they wanted to be more involved in their learning. I was excited to read further. The teacher said he decided then to “change how I teach, so now I make sure I do one activity each month with my class.” How sad. That means 19 days each month of class with no activities. Unfortunately, that describes many classrooms today.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is a place in teaching and learning for lectures and explanations and teacher-led discussions. But somehow, many teachers fall into the trap of believing that lecturing at or explaining to works. Perhaps it comes from our own experiences. Many of our teachers taught that way; it’s what we saw most of the time. But how many of those teachers were outstanding or inspiring educators? Not many. I had several great teachers, and none of them taught like that. What I do remember is that the older I got, the more I was talked at.

Where did that idea come from—the idea that as children grow up, they should be less involved in their own learning? Let’s be clear on some basic points:
§  Although kids can be engaged in reading, reading the textbook or the worksheet and answering questions is not necessarily engaging.
§  Although kids can be engaged in listening, most of what happens during a lecture isn’t engagement.
§  Although kids working together in small groups can be engaging, kids placed in groups to read silently and answer a question isn’t. Activities in groups where one or two students do the work aren’t engagement. Small groups don’t guarantee engagement just like large groups don’t automatically mean disengagement. 

So, what does it mean to be engaged in learning? In brief, it really boils down to what degree students are involved in and participating in the learning process. So, if I’m actively listening to a discussion, possibly writing down things to help me remember key points, I’m engaged. But if I’m really thinking about the latest video game and I’m nodding so you think I’m paying attention, then I’m not. It is that simple. Of course, the complexity is dealing with it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Expectations for Yourself!

What do you think about this quote?

And indeed if you think you're a genius at something, what you achieve is very much according to your expectations; if you think you're no good, you're not going to get anywhere.
Diana Wynne Jones

Expect the best from YOURSELF!  After all,  you make a difference everyday! 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Effective Praise for Students

Derwin Gray, former NFL player and founder of One Heart at a Time Ministries (http://www.oneheartatatime. org), explains the impact of negative words. He points out that when we say something negative to another person, it’s like hammering a nail into them. And even when we say we are sorry, which pulls the nail out, it still leaves a hole. Unfortunately, most students leave school each day with many holes in their hearts. Is that true for the students you teach?

The most visible shift you can make in your classroom is to increase the amount of praise you use with students. However, this doesn’t mean to make random affirmative comments. I was in one classroom where the teacher said, “Good job!” every three seconds. Her students rolled their eyes and made faces each time. Saying good things just to say them is like doing 50 practice problems just so you can say you did them. The kids see right through you. There’s a huge difference between mere catch phrases and true praise

P Personally meaningful

R Respectful of the individual
A Authentic
I Immediate

S Specific

E Encouraging

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Positive vs. Negative Comments

Whenever I taught adolescent development, I invite Suzanne Okey, a former special education teacher, to speak to my students about working with special needs students. Before she comes, they have one assignment: Pick a class (or one block of time) and count the number of positive and negative comments they make. They can make marks on a piece of paper, or they can use two colors of marbles and move them from one pocket to another. The process doesn’t matter as long as the teachers unobtrusively keep a count. When she starts her presentation, she asks them how they felt about the assignment. Most of the teachers say they were surprised; they didn’t realize how many negative comments they say.

Students recognize this far quicker than we do. Read one student’s perspective (http://www.whatkidscando.org): “What’s also discouraging is when people never mention the good things. Instead of saying ‘Our geometry grades are up, we’re sending kids to good colleges and stuff,’ you hear, ‘We only have 90% attendance, which means that 200 of you are absent.....’ You know, encouragement creates encouragement. What helps is having a powerful and honest leader that we support and who supports us.”

Think About It...
What is the ratio of positive to negative comments in your classroom?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Leadership and Humility

I asked Jeff Zoul, a friend who writes about school leadership, if there was advice he would share with the leaders who read my blog.  Enjoy!
Humility—and How I Achieved It!
Last week at our church, I was reminded of two key traits exhibited by hugely successful leaders, according to Jim Collins. In his blockbuster book, Collins famously posited that leaders at the very top of their game—those known as “Level 5” leaders—possess a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Our pastor was speaking on the topic of humility and began by explaining he had preached on the topic many times: in front of student groups, in several churches across the country, and in our own church. “In fact,” he said, with his characteristic wry smile, “I daresay that I am an expert on the topic.”

This elicited the intended chuckle and it also reminded me of how difficult it can be as a leader of a school—or any organization—to exude a driving will to succeed while simultaneously maintaining a personal aura of humbleness. Truly great school leaders are relentless, unyielding, hold fast to a clear vision, and expect others within the organization to follow their lead. They demonstrate, model, expect, and insist on a commitment to excellence and a will to achieve. At the same time, these same leaders exhibit personal humility, which John Stott defines as, “the noble choice to forego your status, deploy your resources, or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.” It strikes me that our very finest school leaders constantly demonstrate each of these three servant actions so that others (primarily teachers and students) can achieve great things.

I have worked with hundreds of principals across the nation in recent years, many of whom I admire for the humble way in which they deflect recognition for their schools’ success, attributing it instead to parents, teachers, other administrators, and students. One small, simple—yet powerful—way that many of these effective school leaders exhibit personal humility is through the language they employ, specifically their intentional pronoun use of “we” and “our” in place of “I” and “my.” For example, I often hear principals say things like, “I have faculty meetings every month” or “My math teachers are really doing a great job of…” Obviously, such comments do not suggest that these principals are wild megalomaniacs focused solely on themselves. In fact, many outstanding principals regularly make similar statements quite innocently when speaking about the schools they lead. Still, I think the subtle shift to, “We have faculty meetings every month” and “Our math teachers are really doing a great job of…” used consistently over time, creates an atmosphere of teamwork, collaboration, collegiality, and service, and is an admirable trait of humble servant leaders.

The way we use language can be powerful, behooving us to choose our words with intention. Of course, the trait of humility can be a tricky thing as our pastor reminded us, and the language we employ only goes so far. Merely changing the word “I” in this blog post to “we,” for example, does little toward communicating a message of true humility! Authentically humble leaders go beyond language and by their very nature forgo their status, deploy their resources, and use their influence on a regular basis for the good of those they lead. I have met so may school leaders I admire lately, many for their professional will and others for their genuine personal humility. Of course, the very finest among them, as Collins suggests, demonstrate both.

In closing, to paraphrase our pastor, since I’m writing about humility, I’m probably not qualified to do so; rather, I will leave you with a quote on the subject from Phillip Brooks, which was included in our pastor’s sermon notes:

“The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is."

You can follow Jeff @jeffzoul on Twitter

Monday, October 31, 2011

What's the best way to plan?

When I was working on my PhD, I learned about a planning model from the Dupont Corporation. The Task Cycle focuses on starting with the rationale (purpose) and desired result (product) before determining the process and resources needed. Think about how this would look in your classroom. Too often, we start with process (how to get there) and resources (what we use). We plan to have students read about spreadsheets (process) in chapter five of the textbook (resource). Then, we figure out what they should know at the end and how we’ll assess their success.

Think about a lesson you are planning, but this time, start with the fact that it’s important for students to understand how to create a spreadsheet because they can use it to plan a budget (purpose), and they’ll need to apply that knowledge when they get their first job (product). Now, to do that, students need to read about setting up a spreadsheet (how), but the textbook (resource) only includes a short description that provides a definition, but no instructions. So, we also ask students to use the help section of the computer spreadsheet program and show them real-life samples of finished spreadsheets.

Try it, see how it works, and let me know!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Teachers Have Power

Everything the teacher does, as well as the manner in which he [or she] does it, incites the child to respond in some way or another and each response tends to set the child’s attitude in some way or another.--John Dewey

WOW--isn't that a powerful thought?  Actually, isn't that an insightful thought about our power?  We have the power of our actions, which provoke a response, which affects a student's attitude.  That sequence can be positive, or negative.  And WE have that choice!  Remember, you do make a difference everyday.  Choose to be a positive influence!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How do I measure success?

Yesterday, we talked about measuring success.  For me, success is broader than a test score—it’s about how we look at and identify a student.  It's short and simple for me:

Achievement is...

S Showcasing the
U Unique

C Competency and
C Capabilities of
E Every
S Single
S Student

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Truly Measuring Student Growth

It’s important to remember that student growth is never completely measured on a test. Suzanne Okey, a former special education teacher, agrees:

Achievement is supposed to be a benchmark of where students are so we understand where they are learning and where they are in development. We measure infants in every checkup: Are their heads growing enough? Can we assume they are getting adequate nutrition? It’s like that in schools; we measure whether or not they get adequate nourishment, are they benefiting from what we are providing or are we doing one size fits all model and leaving lots behind? We are in the business of nourishing children; nourishing their minds, bodies, and social development. Achievement looks at the tunnel of academics only. This means we are not doing observation necessary to see if a child develops in all aspects. Then one day, you have a bright child who is doing well academically who falls off the planet because no one noticed social problems.

Our job is to help our students be successful in school, but more importantly, it’s about helping them be successful in life. Great teachers define success as more than the test, and they provide multiple opportunities for every student to succeed frequently. They know that success breeds success and that all students can learn. Great teachers also teach their students that attempting something new is valuable, because even if you fail, as long as you learn and grow from the experience, you are not a failure.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rigor for Students with Special Needs?

From IStock Photo, compliments of a dear friend, Rachel!
When I was in Everett, Washington last week, a teacher of students with special needs came up after the presentation.  She said, "Thank you for saying that my students need rigor too.  I hope everyone heard you."

Of course rigor is for students with special needs, just like it is for gifted students, at-risk students, and everyone else.  Rigor is about helping students move beyond where they are to a higher level, and that is for each student.  To deny some students that opportunity is to say, "you aren't worth it because you can't learn."  I have only heard that phrase once from a teacher (now a former teacher).  I hope to never hear it again. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Helping Students Develop High Expectations

Here's a great quote from Patricia Neal:

A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.

How do you help students awaken their own expectations?  We'll take a look at some examples next week.  Have a great weekend.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Great Leadership Resource

Ron Williamson is my co-author on several leadership books:  The Principalship from A to Z, Rigorous Schools and Classrooms:  Leading the Way, and the brand new book, Rigor in Your School:  A Toolkit for Leaders

He's a great resource when it comes to leadership issues, and he's and expert at facilitating long-term change for improving schools.  Here's how you can find him:


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Myths About Rigor

What are the four biggest myths about rigor?  Ron Williamson and I explain them: 

  • Myth #1: Lots of Homework is a Sign of Rigor - For many people this is the most prevalent indicator. Many teachers are proud of the amount of homework they expect of their students. It is often built on the idea that "more is better." Unfortunately the evidence is that "more" often means doing more low-level activities, often repetition of things done earlier. Because students learn differently it is important to vary the instruction with the student and to use homework as an opportunity to deepen understanding of what has been learned.
  • Myth #2: Rigor Means Doing More - There is also a belief that students need to do more than they are currently doing. Tony Wagner of Harvard found that classrooms are often characterized by low-level, rote activity. A study by Howard Johnston and Ron Williamson found that parents saw rigor as doing less but doing it more in-depth. That is often difficult for principals to reconcile when talking with teachers and other school personnel. True rigor is expecting every student to learn and perform at high levels and requires that students delve deeply into their learning, engage in critical thinking and problem solving, and be curious and imaginative.
  • Myth #3: Rigor is Not For Everyone - There is a belief that if everyone is engaging in rigorous activity, it somehow lowers standards and lessens the value. There is growing recognition that all students must be provided an opportunity for a rigorous educational experience that is more than just a set of courses. It is anchored in the belief that every student can be successful if given adequate time and sufficient support.
  • Myth #4: Providing Support Means Lessening Rigor - Rugged individualism characterizes the fourth myth. It is that if students are provided and accept support, it is a sign of weakness. We've found that providing support is an essential component of a rigorous school. Students are motivated to do well when they value what they are doing and when they believe they have a chance for success. When Howard and Ron talked with teachers and parents about their own rigorous experiences they invariably shared the support that they were provided.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Can't Do This

Yesterday we talked about the first key of intrinsic motivation for students, seeing the value of learning.  Today, we'll turn our attention to the second key:  success.  Students need to be successful, or feel like they have a chance to be successful.  How can we do this?  By providing the opportunity for each student to be successful.  There are several ways to do this. 

First, you can provide activities in which there is no wrong answer.  This may mean giving students a post-it note as they enter class and ask them to anonymously write down either something they learned the prior day, or something they don't understand.  Ask them to place their notes in two categories on your wall or dry erase board.  Then use their notes to review yesterday's class.  Also, you can ask them questions such as what is your favorite part of the book, ask students to go to four corners of the room after you give them four possibilities.  Then, re-explain the concept, and ask them to choose their corner again, allowing them to change corners if they would like.  Next, each group decides why they chose the answers they did, and in a positive way, guide them to the correct answer. 

Second, chunk larger activities into smaller steps, ensuring that students are successful at each step.  Helping them be successful in small ways gives them the confidence to try bigger tasks. 

How will you help each student be successful today?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Do I Have to Learn This?

Has a student ever asked, Why do I have to learn this?  Too often, we assume that students are just being disrespectful when they ask that question.  However, seeing the value in something is one of the two keys to intrinsic motivation.  We are all hardwired to look for the value in whatever we are doing.  And if we don't see the value, then we aren't as motivated. 

Imagine that your students have a radio station playing in their head--WII-FM. What's in it for me?  And two answers don't work.  Because it's on the test.  Because I said so.  It's important to find ways to help students see the value in learning.  I'd love for all students to be motivated to learn simply for the love of learning.  However, that's not true for many students. 

So we need to help them see the value in learning.  Sometimes that means showing students the relevance of the lesson, sometimes students value the relationship they have with you, or sometimes they see value in the type of activity you provide. 

How will you help students see the value of your lesson today?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Just a reminder....

Did you miss signing up for my first newsletter? The next one comes out in three weeks, and is on the Common Core State Standards. To sign up, use the link below or the signup to the right!


Stepping Stones Or Stumbling Blocks

I've been reminded lately of how often we face challenges--small and large.  When there are several that mount up, it can be overwhelming.  I've found that overcoming challenges starts with a choice.  Do I choose to view the challenge as a stumbling block that causes me to fall, or as a stepping stone to a new level?  Once I decide to look at the obstacles as stepping stones, then I can move forward by chunking tasks, and taking it one step at a time.

What about you?  What challenge are you facing right now that seems overwhelming?  Take time to reflect.  What is the worst thing that could happen?  Now, take a deep breath and recognize the worst probably won't happen.  Realize you can choose to see this as a stepping stone to something great.  And move forward with one small step at a time.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rigor for Gifted Students

Don't we already provide rigor for gifted students?  That's the question I received from a participant in my workshop earlier this week.  I think it depends on the teacher (doesn't it always).  I have seen many teachers of gifted or honors students who provide rigor for the students.  But I've also been in similar classrooms that were not rigorous.  For example, I've observed teachers who ask very high level questions, but who accept student responses that are simplistic.  I've also reviewed assessments and assignments for gifted students.  One in particular stands out. 

It was a project for a high school Advanced Placement course.  Students were to read ten current events articles and summarize each.  In addition to the assignment, students were given how the assignment would be graded.  X number of points for the number of articles read, x number of points for putting their name in the upper right hand corner, x number of points for legibility, x number of points for summaries, x number of points for listing the references and attaching the articles. 

Do you see the problems?  First, the grading is more about completion than it is about quality. Second, is summarizing really appropriate for AP high school students?  A more rigorous activity would require students to analyze and synthesize the articles, and make connections among articles, and to other outside readings and experiences. 

I'd like to add a special thanks to @jabbacrombie on Twitter for reminding me that I haven't written specifically about gifted students lately! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Common Core State Standards--Where should I start?

Last week, a group of teachers and principals asked me this question.  There is so much material on the CCSS, and so many unanswered questions.  So my answer was simple; start at the beginning.  First, read and unpack the standards for your subject/grade level. There are resources available for this; check yesterday's post for some examples.  Pay particular attention to the verbs (thanks @blairteach for that tip).   Next, compare the new standards with your current standards.  Look for gaps--concepts you aren't teaching now that will be expected in the new standards.  That will be important as students move to the next grade; especially if the standards will be introduced in multiple grades at the same time.  Finally, begin to create lessons and formative assessments for the new standards.  And remember, it can be overwhelming, so work through the process with other teachers.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Resources for the Common Core State Standards

Is your state adopting the CCSS?  Here's a variety of resources that I'm reading:

From the National PTA
From Education Northwest
Common Core Website 
Assessment Information (pdf)

A new report on implementation of the standards--Progress and Challenges

State Specific Sites.  Here are two samples, but please check your own state's website for more information:
North Carolina

There are many others, but I'm receiving so many questions, I wanted to provide a few starting points.  There's also a discussion on LinkedIn, and the Twitter hashtag is #ccss

Friday, October 7, 2011


One thing I always remembered when I was a teacher:  don't be discouraged if a strategy doesn't work with every student; unlocking each student's potential is individual.  The strategies in any books (including mine) are like keys--you may have to try more than one to find what works. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rigor? Yuck.

Want to know how people feel about rigor? Ask them three questions:

What is rigor?
What are students doing in a rigorous classroom?
What are teachers doing in a rigorous classroom?

See what you can learn!

Don't forget to sign up for my new e-newsletter. Use the form on the right top of the page.

RIP Steve Jobs

As many of you may have, I learned of Steve Jobs death on an iPhone. I remember the Apple IIC and then I taught with several Apple IIes. We moved our school newspaper from a typewriter to an Apple computer. I've never lost my love for creative products, and for an unwavering commitment to education. Steve Jobs inspired me by refusing to give up when everyone else said to quit. Second, I learned to have a vision, dream big, and move forward, no matter what. And now, I am privileged to watch how IPads, etc. are changing classrooms. I believe he changed how we view technology, especially in education. I wish peace and hope for his family and friends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Power of an Individual Teacher

Who was your best teacher?  I'm guessing that it wasn't hard for you to answer that question.  It's easy to name those memorable teachers from our lives.  One of the foundational beliefs that guides my work with teachers and leaders is the power of the individual teacher.  There are a myriad of suggestions for improving schools, and I'm not undervaluing those efforts.  But in the end, it boils down to what a teacher does in the classroom.

I was visiting a school where there had been an increase in learning and achievement scores.  As I talked with teachers, everyone said, "Oh, we improved because of a new computer program for reading we purchased (name deleted)." I understand the program helped, but it wasn't the program that increased scores--it was how teachers used it.  I worked for two educational publishers and one educational software company, and they would love for you to believe materials make a difference.

But here's the bottom line--the best program or materials in the hands of a poor teacher doesn't make much of a difference.  And the worst program or materials in the hands of a great teacher makes a positive difference.  The best program or materials in the hands of a great teacher is magic.

Implement strategies that make a difference, embrace reforms that work, use materials that help.  But never underestimate your role--you make the difference in your classroom!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Resource on Motivation, Expectations, Common Core State Standards

Tomorrow is Debut Day for my new e-newsletter! This issue focuses on motivation and engagement, with easy ideas you can implement today or tomorrow.  In addition to the short articles for teachers, there is a Principals' Perspective and Remarkable Resources.  Other monthly issues will focus on High Expectations, the Common Core State Standards, and Engaging and Rigorous Strategies for Reviewing Content.  If you haven't signed up, just look to the top right of the blog (sign up for e-newsletter as opposed to subscribe to this blog). I hope you'll take a look, try some ideas, and send me your tips and your feedback. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Does Rigor Have to Be Hard?

I was asked this question during a presentation last week.  When I was a college professor, I told my students "Don't make it harder than it has to be."  I feel the same way about rigor.  Between all the difference perspectives of rigor, the belief that rigor is only for advanced classes, the new Common Core State Standards, and general feelings of being overwhelmed, no wonder teachers think rigor is hard.

I believe rigor can be EASY.   Rigor is:
Engaging to all students.  The traditional model of "sit and get" does not actively engage students in learning, and will not allow them to apply the higher order thinking skills needed to meet the new Common Core State Standards.

Accommodating to all learners.  Rigor is for everyone, not just a certain group of students.  Rigor may look a bit different for honors students compared to students who are English language learners, but a rigorous environment provides for all groups.

Scaffolds learning.  If we simply raise the bar for students without providing the needed scaffolding and support, then we are setting them up for failure. 

Yields results.  Sometimes we are so focused on what we need to do to increase rigor, we forget the goal:  to help students learn at higher levels.  That's the ultimate focus of rigor.

Those four components can help you build a rigorous classroom.  And, you don't have to add extra to what you are doing now.  You are probably already focusing on improving student engagement, meeting the needs of all learners through support and scaffolding, and helping students learn.  And that is rigor!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Job vs. Gift

Love this quote by Dale Lumpa.  Replace your subject are for reading and writing if that's not what you teach!

Teaching students to read and write is a teacher's job.  Teaching students to love reading and writing is a teacher's gift.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Building Blocks for Success

Students are  motivated when they believe they have a chance to be successful.  Too often, we have students who have never been successful in a school setting. Students need to set and achieve goals in order to build a sense of confidence, which leads to a willingness to try something else, which in turn begins a cycle that leads to higher levels of success. Success leads to success, and the achievements of small goals are building blocks to larger goals.
Part of raising expectations is to help students believe they can be successful. There are many ways you can build students’ confidence in themselves.  Here's a few:

  • Provide questions or assignments that are open-ended and for which there is no wrong answer. This also provides another opportunity to get to know each student.
  • Provide additional support during lessons, such as graphic organizers, learning guides, etc.
  • Use multiple intelligences activities linked to students’ strengths.
  • Encourage students and provide feedback and praise that reinforces their efforts, not just the final product. 
How can you help a student be more successful, and therefore more confident in their learning?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Grand Conversations!

Talking with other students is a great way for students to think at higher levels, and apply what they are learning.  Connie Forrester describes one of her favorite activities:  Grand Conversations. Similar to Socratic Circles, take a look at her particular use of the method.
 “I would usually introduce this strategy in October during our Unit of Study on non-fiction.  To introduce the strategy, I would ask the children if they knew what the word conversation meant.  After some discussion, one child would usually come up with the fact that conversation is talking.  I would go on to tell the children that Grand Conversations are one strategy that the big kids use when they talk about books.  I would explain the ground rules to the children.  You would be amazed how quickly the children catch on and how much they enjoy this strategy.  They would beg to use it after we had read a book.  However, I found Grand Conversations worked best when used after a non-fiction text.”
Ground Rules for Grand Conversations
1-    One person talks at a time
2-    When you respond to a classmate, you make a comment, ask a question, or make a connection.  Your response must match the previous person’s train of thought.  (For instance, if we were having a conversation about a spider’s habitat and the next child began discussing what he had for dinner last night, the first child could pick someone else)
3-    No one raises his or her hands.  I explain to the children that when people have conversations no one raises their hands. (We would either toss a beach ball to the person to talk or the child would sit up very straight to be recognized.)

One of the interesting aspects of this activity--Connie teaches Kindergarten.  It's never too early to teach students to have higher level conversations!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Celebrating Progress

            One of the most important ways you can demonstrate high expectations as well as help your students raise their expectations of themselves is to celebrate progress as well as achievement. 
            In today’s schools, we tend to focus on whether students have achieved a certain standard or goal.  That’s great, but there are some students for whom that is an impossible benchmark.  I used to joke with my students that they couldn’t see past the end of their noses to look at our long-term goals (especially the year-end standardized test).  If you plan to help your students achieve, you’ll need to celebrate each step they make toward the goal. 
            One way to do this is to have a “Progress is Power” bulletin board.  You can track students’ improvements, and showcase the progress they are making.  In the classrooms I’ve visited, teachers use anything from train tracks to balloons to graphs to visually represent the progress of their students.  I’d offer one caution, though. Another way is to use tiger or lion paws to take time to "Paws for Progress". Stop, reflect on progress, and celebrate with those paws.  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Need a Boost of Motivation?

Feeling like you aren't making a difference?  Jacques Barzun reminds us "in teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work.  It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years."

You make a difference everyday--even when you don't feel like it, ESPECIALLY when you don't feel like it! 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's a Great Day to Be a Leader

Yesterday, I worked with a group of principals, district leaders, curriculum specialists, and teacher-leaders. I was reminded once again of the importance of shared leadership. Although one person can make a difference, getting others on board can help spur reform efforts. One of their favorite ideas was the concept of "name it, claim it, and explain it.". As you are in classrooms, take pictures or videos of effective practices. Start faculty meetings by showing it, and asking teachers to name it, claim it, and explain what they were doing. It puts a positive angle to walkthroughs and faculty meetings. And look for examples from everyone, not just your superstars. You'd be amazed what a difference it makes to celebrate the positive rather than focusing on the negative. You can make a difference today, you can say something positive today, and remember, that may be the only positive thing that persons hears!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is Everything that Seems to Be a Crisis Really One?

I just arrived in Reynoldsburg, OH for a two-day booking.  Wednesday, I'll do a keynote for leaders, then Thursday all day on "What does rigor look like in the classroom?"  By the way, there are still a couple of openings for that conference--provided FREE to teachers and leaders!  Email me if you want to come. 

Now to the point--our son called in a panic thirty minutes ago.  Without meaning to, he let our kitten outside, and now he can't find her.  Of course, it's dark and the kitten is black, so you can see the problem.  He was totally panicked and would not even tell me what happened.  His dad calmed him down, walked him through three steps to follow. 

It reminded me of my interactions with students.  At times, they totally panicked because they were overwhelmed or didn't understand what to do.  In that case, what they needed from me was to break the steps down, be sure they understood each step, and to remind them I believed they could be successful.  Is that true for you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Happens If We Don't Tell Students It's Too Hard?

I love the story of George Dantzig that Cynthia Kersey wrote about in Unstoppable. As a college student, George studied very hard and always late into the night. So late that he overslept one morning, arriving 20 minutes late for class. He quickly copied the two math problems on the board, assuming they were the homework assignment. It took him several days to work through the two problems, but finally he had a breakthrough and dropped the homework on the professor's desk the next day.

Later, on a Sunday morning, George was awakened at 6 a.m. by his excited professor. Since George was late for class, he hadn't heard the professor announce that the two unsolvable equations on the board were mathematical mind teasers that even Einstein hadn't been able to answer. But George Dantzig, working without any thoughts of limitation, had solved not one, but two problems that had stumped mathematicians for thousands of years.

Simply put, George solved the problems because he didn't know he couldn't.

Carston Cramer

Friday, September 16, 2011

High Expectations

This quote by an unknown author is a great summary of high expectations:

You must learn, you can learn, you will learn.  The fact that you have not yet learned means that I have not yet found the way to explain the subject so simply, so clearly, and so exactly that is is impossible for you to not understand.  But I will find the way.  I will not quit on you. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

HighExpectations, Part Two

Yesterday, I talked about high expectations for each student, as opposed to "all students".  The author pulls some points from a book .  Here's a few:

  • They have high expectations for their students.  ”They assume that their students are able to meet high standards and belive their job is to help their students get there.”  This goes beyond simply establishing expectations — it means providing the necessary supports for students to be successful.
  • They use data to focus on individual students, not just groups of students.  Learning is personalized.  For schools that beat the odds, it is not enough to have a general sense of how the school is performing, it is necessary to know how every student is progressing.
  • They make decisions on what is good for kids, not what is good for adults.  The “beat the odds” schools consistently based decision-making on the best interest of students.  This sounds like common sense, but it’s not as easy as it appears.  For every action and activity we must ask ourselves: (1) what is my purpose, (2) is this a good use of time/resources, (3) is this in the best interest of my students?
  • They establish an atmosphere of respect.  ”Students are treated with respect, teachers are treated with respect, and parents are treated with respect.”
  • They like kids.  I would hope that every educator likes kids (if you don’t, please find another profession).  However, we have all had those kids who make empathy a challenge.  Chenoweth makes a great observation about how these students are perceived at schools that are beating the odds, “the struggles that students have outside school only increase the regard teachers and principals have for what they are able to achieve in school.”

Notice how often they are talking about individual students, not the whole group.  And that is a major shift for many of us.  The model we may have seen most often is whole-group instruction/lecture with a bit of discussion thrown in--usually in the form of the teacher asking a question and one or two students responding.  That may work for us in terms of ease and convenience, but the reality is that in classes with high expectations, students are continually participating throughout the lesson--not just by "paying attention".  What is the level of interaction/participation for your class today?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

High Expectations for ALL or EACH?

Just read this blog post on high expectations:

I think most Educators have high expectations for themselves and for their students, but what I have really struggled with of late is if or whether we should personalize our expectations for our students. Should we "standardize" high expectations and expect all students to follow the same set of expectations, or should we "personalize" the expectations to meet our students at their own individual levels and abilities...?

I absolutely agree that high expectations are critical--it's the first part of my rigor definition (Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is held to high expectations, each student is supported to learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.)  When I was working with focus groups of teachers to refine my original, research-based definition, they all agreed on one change--use EACH student, not ALL students.  Their comments were--it must be individualized, if we say all students, some get lost, and do we really look at each student, or do we look at the class?

I believe there are standard practices that hold each student to high expectations.  For example, crafting lessons so that each student responds during the lesson on a regular basis rather than only one student responding.  This involves more pair shares, clickers, whiteboards, etc.  But I also know that for each student to truly learn at higher and higher levels, the specifics are customized. But, in the end, do you believe that each student in your class can and will learn at high levels?  And, more importantly, do you take the actions necessary to show them that and to help them get there?  That's the root of high expectations--and that is for EACH student. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Imagination and Rigor

"I believe that everyone has imagination.  What is sometimes not paid attention to is the rigor needed to fuel the imaginative energy."  Anna Deavere Smith (actor and playwright)

This quote is so applicable to any discussion of rigor.  It's not just making it harder, but it does include challenging students to get out of their comfort zone.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

New HS Curriculum--is that enough for rigor?

I just read an interesting blog post that was very informative. I thought the focus on the new curriculum, with a lot of supporting details, was great.  However, rigor is more than the curriculum, and we make a serious mistake when we assume a rigorous curriculum will help all our students be successful. Rigor is weaving together all aspects of the classroom climate, including instruction, assessment and curriculum.  But simply raising the bar does not help students succeed.  We must also provide scaffolding to help them move to those higher levels of learning, and we must provide opportunities for each student to demonstrate learning.  Too often, I am in classrooms where one student answers a question.  The rest "tune out" because they aren't required to respond.  There are so many easy ways to have each student respond--pair-shares, electronic clickers, small whiteboards, etc.  How long will it take for us to address all issues--particularly HOW the new Common Core State Standards (or anything else your state is using) will be implemented? 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rigor for Gifted Students

Just read this post (which is a bit old, but current in the topic).  Here's an excerpt from the post:
These terms are found when discussing curriculum for the gifted.  How do they apply?  For the gifted, relevance must precede rigor.  When the task is relevant, rigor ensues.  Students learn what their purpose for learning is. 

Hmmm..don't disagree, but once again, I find the conversation limiting. Here's my response:

 I agree, but would broaden your argument. First, I believe you simply can’t discuss rigor without addressing two interrelated concepts: student motivation and student engagement. Students must be motivated, and they are intrinsically motivated by value. I believe relevance is a subset of value, but at times, students are motivated by the relationship with the teacher, or their interest in a subject or type of classroom. The second intrinsic motivation characteristic is success. Students are more motivated when they are successful or believe they can be successful. And I taught gifted students who were more worried about success than struggling learners. Each student may need a different type of support, but that is also integral to a successful, rigorous classroom.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First day of School?

For many of you, now that Labor Day is over, it's back to school.  I never sleep well the night before the first day of school.  I love what my friend Jason Womack says--when I was teaching, I got nervous.  The trick is not to NOT have butterflies in  your stomach.  The trick is to keep those butterflies in formation! 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Blues or Blessings

Today is Labor Day and many of you are already teaching. Others start tomorrow. But if you are a teacher or principal, I'd like you to consider something--is your work filled with the blues or blessings. It's so easy to focus on the negatives, all the things that go wrong, all the mistakes students make, and all that you do wrong. While it's important to learn from our mistakes, your year will be more positive if you focus on the blessings, those times a student smilies,or really learns something--even if it's small, or the impact you have on students and teachers.

Did you know you can be a blessing just by saying something positive about your students when everyone else is complaining about theirs? Or by choosing to effectively praise as many students as possible? Or by just writing down three good things that happened to you each day? I hope this year you choose blessings, not blues. I'm doing the same!

Friday, September 2, 2011

What does it take to differentiate?

One thing I've learned:  you have to find out more about every student than you would ever think in order to make it happen!  Skills, interests, talents....so much more!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Teachers make a difference

From my wise husband: you know you are a lifeguard and you know you save kids. But how many others, like me, did you help conquer the deep end without realizing it.

Teacher, principals, any educators--as the school year starts, don't ever forget you make a difference.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Struggling with a quote from Twitter

Last week, I ran across this quote on Twitter--“Every day that you teach you have two options: be focused, passionate & caring, or to be focused, passionate & caring.”-Robert John Meehan

It bothered me, so I waited, then read it again.  I realized my discomfort was two-fold.  First, teachers do have two options--to be focused, passionate and caring, or NOT to be.  And, although rare, I do meet some who choose the latter.  The bottom line is, assuming everyone views being focused, passionate and caring as the only option isn't true.  We need to recognize that, and help those who are struggling.

Second, I hear teachers over and over tell me they don't feel like they have any choices--they are told what to do , when to do it, and how to do it.  I am always saying--you do have choices, even ones as simple as whether you smile or not, or whether your attitude is positive or negative.  I've been very careful in my workshops to offer true choices to teachers, so they make that decision rather than me making it for them.  Isn't that at the heart of motivation--to help someone be intrinsically motivated to change or improve?

I do like the spirit of the quote, and I've never met the author (although I do know he is a poet and is focused on teachers and teaching).  I'm just learning to pay attention to our words--and make sure there are no unintended consequences. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What are we teaching girls about themselves?

There is an interesting article over at the Huffington Post. When I was teaching at Winthrop University, my students analyzed the impact of the media on young adolescents.  The results were usually an eye-opener for the teachers as they realized the messages regarding sexuality, violence, language, and bullying that their students were exposed to.  This article specifically focuses on young girls:

"Study after study shows that girls believe how they look is the key to their popularity -- their self-esteem. They think how they look is who they are."

Are there really dangers in this message? After all, my niece loves to be a princess!  But I also have several friends who are anorexic, and many of their emotional issues stem from deeply held beliefs that they must be "skinny to be beautiful."

My takeaway from the article is that I need to be aware of the mixed messages young girls receive and that I need to make sure I'm using words that affirm looks, but focus on the talents, abilities, and uniqueness of the girls in my life.   

Monday, August 29, 2011

Misunderstanding Rigor

I just read a new report from the Department of Education.  As the article from Education Week notes,
"We’re actually seeing [states] increase the rigor of their cut scores, at least between 2007 and 2009,” Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said during a conference call with reporters. “That doesn’t fit into the narrative of states lowering their bars” in response to the performance pressures of the No Child Left Behind Act. Using the National Assessment of Educational Progress as a common yardstick, the analysis finds that during the 2007 to 2009 time period, eight states raised the cut score—the level students must reach to be deemed “proficient”—on one or more exams, while two states lowered them.

So in this case, rigor means raising the passing score on standardized testing.  The main question I'm asked by teachers is "what does rigor mean"?  Although the word is used in many ways, when it comes to your classroom, remember:
Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Friday, August 26, 2011

What do children need?

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.  Here's a great Friday quote from Carolyn Coats:

Children have more need of models than of critics!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Starting School from a Student's Perspective

My son starts 8th grade today, so I asked him a question--What are three things you would tell your teacher to do to start the school year off right?  Here are his answers, with my comments in italics.

1.  Be chill. He's had a stressful summer with some family illnesses and losing his foster brother.  He'll be stressed enough starting a new year, so he doesn't want his teacher to be stressed.  I wonder how many other students come to school with outside stresses?
2.  For the first couple of days, give us a break on homework.  It is sort of a bad start.  Of course students will say no homework, but his point is valid--give students a break every once in a while. When I was teaching struggling students, homework was always a battle.  So I explained to them that I would not give them homework every night, but when I gave it, it was important and needed to be done.  They asked for no homework on weekends and game nights (I had many football players) and I worked with that.  Homework became a learning activity, not something that HAD to be done every night.
3.  Get to know the kids more than just teaching at the start.  Don't we all know this?  The old adage, kids don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, is really true!  It's important to build relationships with your students, not only because you make a difference for your students, but also because the more you understand them, the more you can help them connect with learning.  

 What do you think?  How would your students respond to this question?  It might be worth asking them! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Report Highlights Skills Gap

Have you seen the new report from the National Skills Coalition?  The press release highlights key points:
"The report, which was released during the Annual Meeting, found that middle-skill jobs account for 51 percent of the region’s jobs today and will account for 44 percent of job openings in the next decade, making them the engine of the American South’s economy. But while 51 percent of current jobs are middle-skill, only 43 percent of the region’s workers are currently trained to the middle-skill level, a gap that threatens to undermine economic growth and innovation efforts."

Although it is focused on the South, it's an interesting report, detailed and with strong supporting data.  Most importantly, it raises questions about what schools need to do to prepare students for the workforce.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are you starting school this week?

My son goes back  to school Thursday, and I'm sure many of you have already gone back to school.  Others will start after Labor Day.  Here's one thing I want you to know:

You make a difference!  You matter to students, parents, and other teachers.  No matter how stressed you are, you can choose to stop, breathe, and put a smile on your face because you make a difference everyday--even when you don't feel like it--ESPECIALLY when you don't feel like it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rigor for Kindergarten?

Here's a link to the new Common Core Standards for kindergarten and what they will mean to schools in one district in Florida.   The chart at the end summarizes some changes:

Under Florida's Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (old standards):
  • Students count to 20
  • Ability to count forward from 1
  • Work on joining and separating numbers through 10 (introduction to addition and subtraction)
Under the Common Core State Standards (new standards):
  • Students count to 100 by tens and by ones
  • Ability to count forward from any given number
  • Fluent in addition and subtraction through 5
My niece could have easily handled this in kindergarten, my nephew, who was young when he started, would have struggled more.  As I've said many times before, rigor is more than just raising the standard expectations.  It's also supporting students so they can show they truly understand something as opposed to memorization.  For those of you who teach at the primary level, what do you think?