Browsing articles in "Thoughts"
Feb 21, 2011

Engaging the Un-engagable?

Maybe it’s time to stop talking about engagement like it is a little something we can slip into our lesson and then students will become engaged in their learning.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the nature of student engagement.  I’ve been reading about strategies and techniques that will transform the disengaged into engaged super-learners.  I’ve tried to rationalize it with the gaming culture.

It can’t be that easy.

It isn’t that easy.

So what’s the fix?

In truth, I’m still thinking.  I don’t think there is an easy answer.  Heck, I’m not sure there is an answer.  The thing that keeps coming to the forefront of my head is that each student needs something personal.

There are no one-size fits all options.

Feb 10, 2011

Being Prepared to Not Be Prepared

In a classroom that is student-centered, what does it mean for the teacher to be prepared for class?

If students are the harbingers of learning that we/I promote them to be, the minute I rely on the lesson plan ideal, I’ve already lost sight of the ultimate autonomy of the student.  What does it look like to be prepared to not be prepared?

In a room with twenty students who are looking to make independent learning choices, which we want them to do, once they’ve embraced that control, what does preparation for class look like?

When we transform assessment and evaluation to an on-going constant feedback loop, rather than a one-time test/exam or even mandated assignments, a teacher’s time is spent purely on feedback preparation rather then lesson preparation.  This, I think, is a major shift.  Major.

If we change the dynamic of “handing in an assignment” to “taking an opportunity” doesn’t that change the nature of how a teacher prepares themselves for class.

As I’ve moved away from a classic teacher-centered classroom, these questions keep floating to the top of my head. How do you get ready for a period of completely messy independent student-centred learning?

Feb 9, 2011
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Who Doesn’t Want Their Kid to Learn?

Too often I hear that what we do must be counted and numbered.  Even and void of difference because of parents.

I don’t buy it.

I have never talked to a parent, outlined my ideas, explained my thoughts on a student as a learner, and had them get upset.

In fact, I’ve seen more parents upset because of the randomness of numbers that teachers throw out to try to explain what goes on in the classroom.

Let’s stop using parents as the reason for the need for standardized testing and lock-step building of courses and standards.  It is not the parents.

Parents want their kids to learn, become curious, and enjoy the process of going to school.  Parents want their child to achieve a mastery at the skills our society has deemed important.  However, they are willing to listen.

I got a message from a parent today that wanted to thank me for changing what school was about for their son.  She said, “I think it is because you focused less on the number that the number went up.  _______ could just do the work and worry about building the skills.”  Her words.  It blew me away when I got the message.

Now this is a parent that I communicated with regularly, kept her abreast with her son’s progress.  I didn’t meet her on Parent’s Night (one of my pet peeves), but instead developed an authentic working relationship.  Our work, help her son learn.  This is what parents are looking for.

If we stop focusing on the easiest, quickest way of informing parents of their child’s performance, we do away with standard paperwork and report cards and instead foster open, working relationships, we move learning to the centre.

And, who doesn’t want their kid to learn?

Feb 7, 2011
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The Little BIG Things of Education

I just finished reading Tom Peters’ book, “The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence” which he outlines a variety of small things that people can do in business and in life that make huge positive impact on customers and colleagues.

A few of them I was stymied how I could relate it to education.  But most of them, there was a direct link.  Things like:

“So quantify quality all you want (please do, please do!) … but don’t forget that quality is equally — nay,primarily — determined by something that is elusive, mysterious, emotional, indefinable. And…in the eye of the beholder.”


“Most of us believe in and spend our time doing on-the-cheap, rapid experimentation, picking off the “low-hanging fruit,” muddling our way through big change.”


“Keep the new inputs pouring in; they’re the best path to a sustaining top-line obsession, marked by a constant string of new products and services. … That is, ‘surrounded by new inputs-ideas-people’ becomes ‘the new normal.’ It becomes odd not to be bombarded by new ideas and their proponents.”


“We became labor because they stamped us, ‘You are labor.’ We forgot that we are entrepreneurs.”


“As information and intelligence become the domain of computers, society will place new value on the one human ability that cannot be automated: emotion.”


“implementation of anything is about 95 percent politics.”


“It is not enough to do your best — you must succeed in doing what is necessary.”


“She or he who tries the most stuff — wins!”


“You can’t be a serious innovator unless and until you are ready, willing and able to seriously play. ‘Serious play’ is not an oxymoron; it is te essence of innovation.”


“I believe that the Mother of [Almost] All Innovation is …fury. Abiding anger at the way things are … coupled with an ‘irrational’ (statistically inappropriate) determination to beat back the innumerable protectors of the status quo and find and implement a better way.”


This books struck me that being an effective educator is a balancing act of ‘soft’ skills.  But it also made me wonder…

What are the little BIG things specific to education?

What are the little things we can do / improve on, as a system or as a professional to more greatly impact student learning?

This will be the beginning of a blog series…stay tuned.

Feb 2, 2011
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An Additional Phrase for Education

After I finished my last post, I decided that a fourth phrase is needed:

“So, who’s with me?”

Feb 1, 2011
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Three Phrases that Change Education

To really move education, maybe it takes three phrases.

To change the landscape of a classroom, maybe it takes just three phrases.

To empower, engage, excite, energize a student it might just take three phrases.


Phrase 1:  “What do you think?”

This phrase is probably used often enough, but if given a different context it changes everything.

This is NOT a question about literary analysis or looking for the answer that is floating in your head.

This is when we ask and empower students to change the direction of their learning.

This is the question to ask teachers about school policies and culture.  This is the question we ask parents about the way our school runs.  This is a phrase of empowerment.  True educational leaders empower learning, this phrase emphasizes it.

This phrase bursts the edu-bubble.  No one has all the answers, it is together where we can move toward true learning environment.  By asking this phrase to non-educators, we are provided with insights and ideas that build our collective abilities and environments.


Phrase 2: “Thank you.”

Gratitude defines culture.  It changes the nature of relationships.  It is time that teachers, genuinely, appreciate what students bring into the classroom.

This phrase changes the nature of power.  When a teacher is genuinely thankful for the talents, intelligence, and innovation of their students, learning changes.

It is about recognizing what each member of our community brings to the table.  Gratitude defines intention.

This phrase is not to be taken lightly.


Phrase 3: “It’s worth a shot.”

No matter your philosophy and pedagogy around learning, we all know true lessons come after mistakes are made.  It is this phrase that encourages risk and diminishes the harsh fallout of risk-taking.

Teachers need to hear this.  They need to know that trying something ‘outside the norm’, a little radical, or even completely unconventional is expected.

Students need to hear this.  They need to know that learning comes from taking the shot.  No matter the circumstances, making mistakes is always better for learning then perfection.  We need to ensure our students know this.


This post was inspired, in part, by the section entitled Words, in Tom Peters’ book, The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence.

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