Basic practice vs. professional practice.

One of the things that happens when one reads, grows, learns, challenges, and reflects on practice is old notions fall away.  I saw a tweet recently that went something like, “I would be horrified if I was still teaching the same way I did when I started.”  That would be true for me.  That would have meant that over 34 years so far….I’ve learned nothing about the art and science of teaching.  Early in the career, so many professional conversations did not happen.  So many opportunities to read and discuss did not happen.

When one knows better, one must do better.

Recently I shared a draft graphic with two principals and a veteran teacher.  I was exploring some of the practices in the classroom that separated professional educator practice from basic educator practice.  The 3 other educators were not shy in giving opinions and input.  Thank you to Mark Beddes, Mark Robinson, and Kirk Dodge.

One of the first changes was examining the differences in practice, not educators.  We had a very healthy conversation about desks being in rows.  A strong opinion held that desks in rows weren’t automatically a bad thing.  So that language was sculpted into a more flexible representation.

Here’s the chart: Screen Shot 2018-03-12 at 7.26.18 AM

These practices are a few off the top of the head.  Obviously there are a lot more.  One thing I can say for sure is, that if I had known then, what I know now….I would have been a much stronger teacher for more kids.

When one knows better…..


Distracted because of a device?

Eric Sheninger tweeted a provocative tweet.

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Excellent, thoughtful (mostly) replies, comments, and conversation followed.

Then George Couros added to the thinking and conversation via his blog, encouraging us to think about ‘learners’, not just kids.  This would then include educators.

Both of these educational thinkers challenge my thinking and help me grow.  Reviewing the comments from Eric’s original tweet, one of the replies really caught my attention. “The cheating is uncontrollable with devices”. Hmmm.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this ‘cheating’ notion lately.  I’m wondering if we’re asking kids wrong questions if the whole point is ‘an answer’ that can be easily accessed by a device…and then that’s called cheating. Perhaps we need to think of better questions that require better answers.

Another cheating idea that seems tenuous; checking with another kid via a device for ‘the answer’.  Might actually be an opportunity for collaboration if there were better questions.  In a non-school setting, trying to solve a problem, working with other people, is a good thing.

And finally, plagiarism. A biggie. A legitimate problem that is rightfully labeled as cheating.  I wonder how questions might be reworked to develop future (and present) skill needs that require kids to critically think, collaborate, communicate, and create answers, rather than grabbing entire sections of text via a device to answer a question. For example, instead of tasking kids with a question like, “What is the dominant theme in To Kill a Mockingbird?”, we ask, “Use your device to find two conflicting statements about the dominant theme in To Kill a Mockingbird, then discuss the differences.  Be sure to cite your sources.  Which of the statements of theme do you find to be the most credible, in your opinion, and why?”

Lots to ponder.  I love that I’m pondering with others. Twitter and blogging are two of my favorite professional learning resources.

No answers yet, but lots of good questions.  Lots of good opportunities to learn and grow.

And I did all of this using a device.

A Day of Learning.

Our district has added a number of Professional Learning Days.  We eliminated the words ‘Professional Development’ in favor of Professional Learning in our Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Actually wrote about the difference between these two ideas.

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 11.51.39 AMToday is one of our Professional Learning Days.  And here’s how it went.  Each of our schools selected the topics most relevant to them, their learners, and their educators.  Some did this via survey.  Others through Instructional Leadership Teams.  None of them were told what to do by ‘the district’.  Two of our elementary schools chose to learn and work together. Among other things, they were working on DOK and standards based grading. Our high school chose to do a Poverty Simulation.  We arrived in time to hear the debrief of the morning.  Clearly had an effect on the good hearts of the educators.  Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 11.52.34 AM.png

Our primary school and middle school were both working on Learning Targets.  What makes a good one.  How what a kid is supposed to be ‘doing’ is different than what a kid is supposed to be ‘learning’.  This turn of phrase changes the whole question you ask a kid.  What are you learning today vs. what are you doing today?  What does it look and sound like to a kid/teacher when the student has hit the learning target?  What does it look and sound like to a kid/teacher when a kid is approaching hitting the learning target?  The conversations around these topics were rich, deep, and powerful.

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Our junior high staff members were sharing work.  Looking at and sharing WICOR strategies.  Learning and sharing with each other.  Because it’s important and relevant to the work they are doing with their kids at their school with each other.

Our educators are learning leaders.  They get it.  They don’t wait for someone to ‘develop’ them.  They have college degrees, know their students, and know what they need to know more about to give more kids better opportunities to learn and grow.

Sounds about right.

The Power of a Learning Leader

Yesterday was a fun day at our middle school.  The principal, Mark Beddes, decided to spend professional learning time with the teachers learning about the potential of Twitter and ongoing, self-directed, personal, professional learning.  He shared his own story of initial misunderstanding about Twitter, but how he has come to realize its potential for professional learning and growth.

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 9.09.34 AM.pngAs we learned earlier, there are several powerful activities leaders can utilize to impact student achievement.  The top activity is: Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development (effect size = 0.84): Leadership that not only promotes but directly participates with teachers in formal and informal professional learning.

This principal has had his own professional learning hugely impacted by the Professional Learning Network (PLN) he is developing.  He has directly connected with other thought leaders around the world, opening up new ideas and ways of doing business, all of which is in service of improving the lives of the students at the middle school.

This leader literally promoted and participated in teacher learning and development.  My own twitter feed was going nuts with new teachers adding accounts and growing their own PLNs.  The staff set up and used #SLMSStaffchat. It was awesome!

Welcome aboard to all our new learners.  The ride ahead is going to be a blast!

Um. Ed Tech in the classroom ain’t new.

Rolled into work this morning.  End of semester one, teachers are getting it all wrapped up and gearing up for semester two.  So I took a glance at tweetdeck and found out that Ed Tech in the classroom ain’t new (great article from Education Rickshaw). Not at all. Allow me to share and elaborate.

Here’s Skinner’s teaching machine from the 1920s. “The instructional potential of the teaching machine stemmed from several factors: it provided automatic, immediate and regular reinforcement without the use of aversive control; the material presented was coherent, yet varied and novel; the pace of learning could be adjusted to suit the individual. As a result, students were interested, attentive, and learned efficiently by producing the desired behavior, “learning by doing”.


So why didn’t it take off?  Why isn’t this very attractive box sitting in every classroom?  My guess is because it wasn’t about the machine.  Even almost 100 years ago.  It’s still about the teacher.  Was then.  Is now.  Will be tomorrow.

Here’s a graph.

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If you know about John Hattie’s work, this graph will make sense.  Basically anything north of the .40 hinge point is significant.  Collective Teacher Efficacy, for example is usually number one or two in impact.  Recently scored a whopping 1.57 in effect size.  That big time significant.  But what about technology?  In and of itself?  Not huge.  Dr. Sonny Magana reports that the 50 year average impact of technology is .34.  He says, “Perhaps the main reason for this disappointing impact is that the inclusion of technologies has done little to change the “tell and practice” approach to teaching and learning — the predominant pedagogical practice of our time. In this model, teachers tell students what knowledge is and what knowledge is worth knowing; students meanwhile invest their vast capacity for creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration by memorizing and practicing what they were told. The overarching goal of this model is simply for students to accurately repeat the information they were told.”  He continues, “If the tell and practice model of schooling does not change, then we should expect the same meager impact of new and emerging technologies on instructional quality and student achievement for the next 50 years or more. That is clearly not a desired destination.”

However…throw in a teacher and a framework for learning, and the effect size jumps to 1.6. Dr. Magana sets forward the T3 framework as a way to look at technology and learning. Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 8.02.16 AM.png

Teachers + Technology + Framework = 1.6

Ed Tech in the classroom ain’t new.  It wasn’t about the device then.  It ain’t now.  It’s what a great teacher does with it.


Leaders That Model Learning.

Earlier in the year, I came across 5 research based leadership practices that impact student learning. The book is called Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Professional Practice by Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack.  I sent the 5 practices out to all of our building leaders asking them to take a guess at which practice might have the most impact.  This highest impact practice has an effect size of .84.  Twice the impact of the next two practices combined.  I’ve highlighted the practice that has the most impact.  Leaders modeling and joining in on learning.  Boom!

“Robinson, Höhepa, and Lloyd (2009) conducted a comprehensive research review on the impacts of leadership on student achievement, with the goal of identifying a set of evidence-based leadership practices that ratchet up the quality of classroom and school practice and that ultimately lead to student achievement.”

They identified the most impactful leadership dimensions and quantified them by effect size. Five leadership dimensions emerged as especially powerful and significant:

  1. Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development (effect size = 0.84): Leadership that not only promotes but directly participates with teachers in formal and informal professional learning.

  2. Establishing goals and expectations (effect size = 0.42): Includes the setting, communicating, and monitoring of learning goals, standards, and expectations and the involvement of staff and others in the process so that there is clarity and consensus about goals.

  3. Planning, coordinating, and evaluating teaching and the curriculum (effect size = 0.42): Direct involvement in teaching through regular classroom visits and the provision of feedback to teachers. Direct oversight of curriculum through schoolwide coordination across classes and grades and alignment to school goals.

  4. Strategic resourcing (effect size = 0.31): Involves aligning resource selection and allocation to priority teaching goals.

  5. Ensuring an orderly and supportive environment (effect size = 0.27): Protecting time for teaching and learning by reducing external pressures and interruptions and establishing an orderly and supportive environment both inside and outside classrooms.

Great Student Interview Questions!

Reading a pretty interesting article called “The Top Behavioral Interview Questions’.  It’s focused on adults getting jobs and some questions that 1300 hiring managers have shared as their top interview questions.  They are great questions.  As I was reading them, I was was struck that, with a little tweaking, they could be very interesting questions for students to consider.

The questions focus on adaptability, culture fit, and collaboration.  Three of the most important ‘soft skills’ in hiring.

Here they are.  It would be fun to ask kids these questions!


  1.  Talk about a time you were asked to do something you had never done before.
  2.  Describe a time in which you embraced a new idea, process, or technology, at school that was a real change from how you had done things before.

Culture fit

  1. What are the three things that are most important to you as a student?
  2. Talk about a time in the last week when you’ve been satisfied, energized, and productive at school.  What were you doing?


  1.  How do you work with a person who is difficult to work with?
  2.  Talk about one of your favorite experiences working with a group and your contribution to the group.

In addition to these being great questions for kids to consider, thinking about and answering these questions is a work life skill!