New Job Prerequisite: Failure



I ran across this poster from Startup Vitamins about a year ago when I toured the T-Rex complex in downtown St. Louis.  My copy of it now stands on display behind my desk.  It reminds me to take a chance, to push myself outside my comfort zone, and to take the occasional risk.

I think the teaching community needs to add a prerequisite onto all our job descriptions – a criteria that needs to be met before a candidate can even apply for his/her first job:  “A successful candidate must be willing to take a chance, and to have experienced a painful failure at least once in their life.”  By talking in the interview about how the candidate learned from that failure will speak volumes about their character, and about how they will approach the challenges of their career.  I would rather hire a teacher who had started out as an entrepreneur and had lost everything than someone who had never missed an ‘A’ in school.

There is something to be said for being able to get up, dust yourself off, and get right back in there teaching big and on the edge again, teetering between epic fail and epic win.

Who fails? The teacher.  Who wins? The teacher AND all his/her students.

To me there is no alternative.

Teacher Challenge: No Worksheet Week

After all the hubbub of the Midwest Educational Technology Conference in St. Louis a couple weeks ago, I finally sat down – I think I was actually in my car, it’s where I do some of my best thinking – and reflected.  Besides winning the lottery and bringing my whole District to METC15, how can I work to move my teachers forward in their thinking?

The result of my drive/thinking time/epiphany was to challenge the teachers to a Worksheet-Free Week.  One day is too easy.  Two weeks is too long.  A full week after the State Testing period would do perfectly in my quest to move instructional pedagogy forward.  It’s quite simiple, really, with just two rules:

  1. No pre-copied sheets of paper where kids fill in answers on the sheet of paper.
  2. Take the same number of grades in each subject(s) during that week that you normally would.

After running the idea past our two curriculum councils (comprised of teacher leaders in the district), I figured I would have to water it down a bit – give some options.  Hence, the Olympic-themed Gold, Silver, and Bronze levels:

  • GOLD – 5 days of no worksheets
  • SILVER – 5 days of no worksheets, except in math
  • BRONZE – 5 days of no worksheets in one subject

The reflection/culmination activity will be a luncheon provided by the district the following week on an early release/school improvement day.  During that time, we will reflect on challenges, successes, and how this might be carried out in everyday instruction.

It would be great if other districts would join in.  We could set up a collaborative buddy system, and really start something new!  Let me know if you’d like to join in.Image

UPDATE 3/1/14:

Rae Fearing (@RaeFearing) of Crescent City, CA took the idea and added another dimension: badges!

Ms. Fearing also expanded the idea to incorporate Junior High and High School teachers:  The GOLD level is still a full week of no worksheets in any class.  SILVER is 5 days of no worksheets in all subjects but math (elementary) or in at least 2 periods (junior high/high school), while the BRONZE is 5 days of no worksheets in one subject (elementary) or in one class period (junior high/high school).

Brilliant!  Just another example of the power of collaboration and my PLN!  I’m so glad I joined Twitter and am a Connected Educator.  Thanks, Rae!

If you would like to join us, leave your name (individual, school, or district) in the Comments, below.  Let’s get this going worldwide!




UPDATE 3/23/14:  Seems that it’s now a ‘movement’ according to +Dan Gibson in his blog post #noworksheetweek.  Check out his slideshow summarizing the concept.

Changing Teachers’ Expectations of Teaching

If we are going to rethink/re-imagine/reform schools, we need to start by changing what teachers expect out of education.  And by ‘education’ I mean teaching: its impacts, its pedagogy, and itself as a career choice.  The public has new expectations, the students have the ability to develop expectations, lawmakers have new expectations, lead-learners in schools have a new vision, but the vast majority of teachers need to re-examine what they expect out of their chosen career.  Education as a commodity and as a profession is evolving, but the practitioners themselves are holding it back.

  • teacher tenure is out of date and should never be an expectation.
  • teachers should expect a fair salary, but not a guaranteed raise every year.
  • teachers should always want to improve and learn.  Ask questions.  “I haven’t received training on {insert variable}” or “I’m too old” is NEVER an excuse for not doing.
  • Schools should be on the frontier of innovation.  People who do not like change should choose another profession.
  • Teaching is a difficult profession that should prepare people for such.  Teacher training should be longer and more intense/immersive, should only happen at the beginning of the school year, and only with cooperating teachers who are good role models.

If we can develop a strong cadre of teaching professionals who will constantly work to better the profession as a whole, high-stakes testing will not hold schools captive for a month because real, authentic learning will happen every day.  Ineffective teachers will not be allowed to stay in the classroom.  And most importantly, American Public Education will once again have a leadership position in advancing global citizenship.


EdCampSTL – My First Brush With an UNconference

Twitter Feed EdCampSTL

TRUTH:  True learning comes when you want (feel you NEED) to learn something.

TRUTH:  Collaboration takes your places you never dreamed you could go on your own.

TRUTH:  Satisfaction comes from stretching yourself, pushing boundaries, and coming away invigorated.

Today was my first EdCamp.  Apparently, they occur all over the country in large cities.  Chicago had one today, too, and the official Dallas EdCamp Twitter member checked in online.  The best part about an EdCamp?  It’s an UNconference.

An unconference at it’s beginning is just a place with meeting spaces – some are smaller and more intimate for smaller conversations, some are larger to accommodate large audiences.  There is tech support, coffee and bagels, and a roster of people who have signed up (for FREE!) to attend.  That’s it.  No keynote speaker, no multi-page handout of breakout sessions with their descriptions.  No formality of sign-up sheets and stuck-in-the-boring-meetings.

Attendees check in, have an hour or so to mingle, and (most importantly) sign up to conduct the sessions.

Signing Up to Facilitate/Present

That means (gulp!) that if no one is willing to present something they are proud of or wanting to share, then there won’t be any sessions.

Fortunately, plenty of people signed up to present.  After much internal struggle, I, too, signed up.  I figured that if I weren’t going to expand out of my comfort zone of just watching, my experience would be lacking.  And what an experience it turned out to be!  We had a great discussion of what schools will have to look like as they evolve to meet the needs of the students, the teachers, and the community.

We started with literacy.  What will it mean to be ‘literate’ in 1, 5, or 10 years?  What is the future of textbooks?  That, of course, led to a discussion on authentic lessons, what the purpose of schools will be (training for jobs?  college prep?  education as a requirement for citizenship in a democracy?).  As with all discussions, the end point was not where I expected it to be, but it was the journey that mattered.

Thanks to all who participated in my session, more thanks to the organizers of EdCampSTL, and for everyone else, I hope you are able to attend an UNconference soon.

TRUTH: Professional Development should be inspirational and meaningful on a personal level – just like education.


Storybird: Writing Children’s Stories Just Got Easier

Just how easy is it to write a children’s story with  Ridiculously easy – and ridiculously addictive.  I learned about this on twitter from @Lyn_H and have been cursing her ever since!  Check out this 3-minute screencast introducing
The first night I found this program, I wrote two books (click on the image to read them on


Children’s literature can be used in the classroom to teach a wealth of topics:

PLOT:  As a Language Arts teacher, I often had the kids write a children’s story as we discussed plot.  Well-written kids’ books have all the aspects of a well-developed plot in a novel or a short story:  the character is introduced, the conflict between the main character and whoever (or whatever) is then explained, often all on the same page.  Conflict keeps building until the end, when there is resolution, and the message/moral of the story becomes clear.

VERBS:  To make an interesting children’s story, the verbs have to be unique but not too difficult to read.  It’s a great way to have young writers find just the right verb to replace ‘be’, ‘got’, ‘have’, etc.

FUN STUFF:  Many kids’ books have wonderful examples of onomatopoaeia, personification, alliteration, and rhyme.  In order for these techniques to be seemlessly woven throughout a book takes a skillful writer.  I always had my students made a diagram of their plot, figure out their characters and conflict, and then once they had finished the ‘meat & potatoes part, then they could ‘accessorize’ with all of the ‘fun stuff’.

Storybird offers an additional challenge to the writer.  While the traditional process is to write and then illustrate, with Storybird, there is a finite set of illustrations that the writing must then fit.  I think it would be fantastic to have an entire class use one artist’s work, and show the kids just how many DIFFERENT stories can be created.  Discussions on creativity, and how inspiration and creativity are different for each person, and how a person’s creativity depends so much on past experiences, etc.  I’ll bet kids could even make pretty accurate guesses if all their classmates’  names were kept off the books, and the students were then asked to match authors to their stories. I think they would discover that every author leaves a bit of them behind in their story.

(Of course this would then lead to lessons in author’s voice…)

If I Were to Start Teaching Again….

It’s been three years since I left the classroom.  Three years since I joined the ‘dark side’ and became an Assistant Principal in a junior high.  Sometimes I love administration, and some days I don’t.  Those are the days when I think about going back in the classroom.

But so much has changed in those three years!  Education has changed, teaching has changed, and society’s expectations have also changed.  And, yes, so have I.

My mantra used to be that all teachers should be parents, and that all parents should be teachers.  Then my view widened.  Now all teachers should be administrators, too.  After having gone through the proverbial foot-wetting in the administration of public education, there are three main changes I would make to my teaching.

1.  Keep the big picture in mind.  Too often, lesson plans, classroom management, and incessant interactions with students tunneled my view as a teacher.  While I was the first in my building to use lit circles, and the first to experiment with inquiry-based learning and backward design, the drive to persevere past the initial excitement dwindled in the daily minutae.  Understanding where education has come from and the current forces acting upon it, forcing change is vital to surviving.  One cannot teach effectively with blinders on and their classroom door closed.

2.  Infuse technology into my classroom Use technology as my teaching platform.  Three years ago, I was one of the first in the building to experiment with a mobile SMART board, and 10 years ago, I can remember having to pirate a copy of an electronic gradebook…  Now we’re on our third student management software program, and SMART boards are in almost every classroom.  I mainly used an overhead projector and collected worksheets printed on paper.  In short, I taught the way I had been taught back in the 70s.   Now, my class would be ‘flipped’ to have the lecture delivered electronically at home, allowing me to double the amount of one-on-one writing conferencing in English, and tripling the amount of lab time in science.  Students would submit assignments electronically, there would be quick, electronic formative assessments, collected quickly and often, creating a large database on which I could make real, effective decisions.  The Common Core would be easy to implement because I already teach reading and writing in my science classes.  Students would progress on their own, finding aspects of our topics they find fascinating.  They could blog about it, commenting on their peers’ education as well, creating an academic comaraderie as well as a social network.  They would learn through Open Source and Crowd-Sourced information/websites.  Technology wouldn’t be something to try and introduce – it’s an all-or-nothing deal.

3.  Create a PLN (Professional Learning Network).  I admit it.  I was guilty of the biggest sin most teachers commit:  stagnation.  But now there is Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and blogging (just to name a few!) which allow an individucal to reach out other like-minded people and make connections.  I can (and do!) give my staff professional development articles to read, and I solicit comments and feedback on an individual level, usually in the form of real, live conversations.  But in the few months since joining a network of other administrators and exciting teachers through technology and social media, my world has exponentially expanded.  I have read more educational books, and have surfed more educational websites since school started four months ago than I did in my entire ten years as a teacher.

One of the main reasons I left the classroom and joined administration was so that I could have a more far-reaching impact on a larger number of students.  While I truly believe that I could return to the classroom as a much better teacher, I am staying in administration.  But I will always have an eye on the bigger picture, technology is now a way of life, and giving up my PLN would give me the shakes and make me break into a cold sweat.  As we segue into 2012, I hope you’ll join my PLN, and we can continue to learn and grow together.