August 20, 2017

A Blurry Focus

Ask any educator what their focus is and I imagine most would tell you the focus is always: learning.  Yea, that’s got to be the most common answer.  Yet, if you take a look at some common practices through the lens of learning, I think it would reveal a blurry focus, at best.


Here is a list of common classroom practices that we should all reconsider this year.  If you’re brave enough to reconsider these practices, you’ll find yourself taking steps to bring the focus of your classroom on learning.

  • Extra points for limited bathroom trips.  If you’re students claim that mother nature calls every day during your class, giving extra points in an effort to stymie mother nature is definitely blurring the focus in your classroom.  Especially in the secondary level, school is too often viewed as a game to students.  Those who win are good at leveling up, collecting extra points, and taking advantage of silly bonuses like this one.  Great teachers don’t have to give extra points to keep kids from hiding in the bathrooms during their class.
  • Handing out participation points.  So you say the focus is on learning?  Do you know what those daily participation points do to a student’s grade?  The answer many teachers would give is just unfortunate: it gives some kids a boost at the end of the grading period.  That response is not one that reflects a focus on learning.  It reflects a focus on giving As.  Stay with me till the end here.
  • Detailed rubrics for A-B-C-D-F handed out in the syllabus at the beginning of the year.  I know what you’re thinking, “hey now, I’m just being clear about what it takes to get an A.”  You are clear, and now the game is on.  I guess it’s possible to clearly state your tolerances for mastery in a detailed rubric like that, but I haven’t seen one.  Far too often I find those rubrics have the silliest language about numbers of sentences, numbers of problems, time spent on _____, etc.

So what is more effective than those practices?  I’m no psychologist but I think a lot of times the thing that blurs the focus in many classrooms is the teacher’s need for control.  You can sharpen the focus on learning by giving up control.  It almost sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?  It may sound scary too, but it’s true.  Instead of detailed rubrics spelling out the limits for A-B-C-D-F, let’s be sure your grades reflect evidence of, you guessed it, learning.  What evidence of learning does a participation grade reflect?  If teachers are brave enough to look in the mirror, they’ll eventually admit that participation grades are used as a classroom management tool to bait students into participating in their class.  Think about it, the only way you can get kids to pay attention is to hand out points for it?  Sitting quietly and breathing doesn’t reflect learning and it shouldn’t impact a student’s grade.

I’m not suggesting you keep the requirements for an A a mystery till the end, but classrooms with a true focus on learning put the responsibility for establishing the bar in the hands of the students.  Classrooms with a focus on learning have clearly defined learning targets that students can articulate.  The tests align with those pre-established learning targets.  Here’s a challenge for you, during your next class, ask your students what mastery would look like for any of your learning targets.  Can they articulate it?  If not, the focus is blurry.  If your students can provide evidence of what mastery would look like, your focus is on learning.  When your students complete an assessment, do they get an opportunity for a retake ?  Is their actionable descriptive feedback provided?  If not, the focus isn’t on learning.

I’d love to hear from you.  Leave a comment or a tweet about your thoughts.


July 6, 2017

Spark Excitement Leading Up To Your PD

Ever read the announcement for school or district provided professional development and let out a big sigh?  When you hear about professional development, what emotions rise to the surface?  I have heard plenty of teachers clammer over the thought of attending PD.  I also know many teachers who look forward to the learning opportunities in their school or district.  Either way, I hope your professional learning experiences don’t elicit this feeling:

Source Unknown

I want to arm school and district leaders with ways they can engage their participants before their PD events in order to generate excitement, ignite the conversation, and spark momentum heading into their professional learning experience.


Flipgrid is on fire!  Matt Miller put together this awesome blog post including 15 ways Flipgrid can be used in the classroom.  Consider this number 16!

I launched a Flipgrid topic to the #wvedchat network recently.  West Virginia’s statewide technology conference is coming up July 18 and I used Flipgrid to encourage conference-goers to record a short video response sharing what they are excited about for this year’s conference.  We’ve received some great responses so far and you can view them or respond here.  Consider using Flipgrid to generate some excitement leading up to your next professional development event.  Your session leaders could even record a mini-commercial detailing what participants will learn by attending their session.  Or you could use Flipgrid after your event to collect feedback or testimonies about what your participants will take back to their classrooms and schools.  Finally, you could require participants record their video response in order to be entered into a door-prize drawing during your PD event.  Flipgrid offers a great opportunity to increase the energy heading into your professional development sessions.

#The Hashtag#

Every conference or professional development event should be using a backchannel.  Recently, I was fortunate enough to follow the learning at two huge educational conferences by following the conversations across the conference hashtags: #ISTE17 & #ModelSchools.  I’ve never been to either conference, though they’re definitely on my edu-conference bucket list!  School and district leaders have a great opportunity to model an effective instructional practice by encouraging participants to exercise their voice across the event hashtag.  The hashtag also provides participants an opportunity to share their learning during the event.  Using curation tools like Storify, educators can capture their learning during the event and use that archive as evidence of their growth during evaluation conversations with school or district leaders.  I love what Dwight Carter did during Model Schools to reflect on what he learned during various sessions.  You can view this reflection by clicking here.


There are advantages to using Facebook and one of them is that nearly everyone is already there.  Meet your event participants where they are and create a Facebook event for your professional development dates.  You can use the comment sections in the event posting to generate excitement, provide thought-provoking questions, or preview some details about your event using pictures/videos.

May 15, 2017

The World According to Larry

Back in February of 2015 I read an amazing blog post by Jimmy Casas.  Jimmy wrote about a particularly moving experience he had with the driver of a shuttle van while at a conference in Atlanta.  The blog post struck me to the core, and I had only read about this man named Rodd.  I am nearing the completion of my first year in administration.  For some time now, my perspective and view of school leadership has been shaped and driven by the work of guys like Jimmy and the rest of the WGEDD crew: Joe Sanfelippo, Jeff Zoul, and Todd Whitaker.  I got to meet these guys for the first time at WGEDD in Wheeling, West Virginia back in December.  I knew right away the things I had read weren’t just words but they were action.  Jimmy greeted conference attendees with a high five as they signed in at the registration table.  Jimmy walked around and spoke to everyone, no doubt, making a point to make some kind of contact with each and every attendee.  I watched, with purpose.  As other speakers took the stage and presented, Jimmy didn’t disappear as if he were bigger than what was being shared.  Jimmy didn’t talk to his buddies in the back, browse social media from his phone, or read the newspaper.  Jimmy stood in the doorway during Todd Whitaker’s keynote and soaked it in just like the rest of us.  I imagine there may have been opportunities he missed, but to my keen eye, Jimmy didn’t miss many opportunities to lift up someone else.  His efforts weren’t lost on me, not at all.

I study, read, and even listen to what others have to say about the service of people.  I subscribe to the notion that my primary job as assistant principal or principal of the school is to serve.  I believe trust is the oxygen that all educators breathe and that trust is earned through genuine action to build and nurture relationships.  Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess, authors of Lead Like A Pirate published this image last year and it’s been the single response I give when someone asks me what I do.  

Tuning in and living an outwardly focused life isn’t easy for me.  I don’t believe it’s in my nature to look to others first.  I can admit that’s an area of weakness and one that I have to be intentional about improving.  Mark Batterson’s book The Grave Robber recently reminded me of the famous study where viewers were asked to watch a 1 minute clip of people standing in a circle passing a basketball.  Viewers were asked to count the number of passes made by people wearing white shirts.  About 30 seconds into the clip, a woman wearing a full gorilla suit walks into the frame, beats her chest a few times, then walks out.  After the clip ends, viewers were asked if they saw a gorilla.  About 50% of the viewers said they did not see a gorilla.  The researchers concluded that inattentional blindness explains why some viewers didn’t see a gorilla that walked right in front of them.  I concluded that I’m afflicted with inattentional blindness far too often, missing opportunities to serve and lift up others, even when they are right in front of my face.

This past Thursday and Friday I chaperoned a senior trip to Washington DC.  The driver of our charter bus was named Larry.  I greeted Larry as soon as he picked us up at 1:30am Thursday morning.  Larry and I were packing duffle bags and suit cases in the bottom storage when I introduced myself.  I sat in the front seat of the bus and my wife, Julie, sat right behind Larry.  Larry struck up some conversation with Julie and I, as well as the rest of the chaperones seated near us.  It’s funny now, but I remember several chaperones and I remarking about how incredible Larry’s hearing must have been because he chimed in on conversations even when we thought he couldn’t hear us or wasn’t listening.  It was apparent Larry was a great listener.  My wife, Julie, is pregnant and due in August.  Needless to say, walking 10+ miles in the rain Thursday touring DC was taxing on my body and I’m not carrying an extra!  Larry was always quick to ask about Julie as she got back in the bus each time, often calling her super-mom!  Larry asked about our daughter Miley.  He asked how old she was (5 years old) and if she was ready for the new baby.  Larry laughed at the stories we told and he even shared some stories of his grandkids.  Before the bus arrived back at my school at 1:00am Saturday morning, Larry asked if he could speak to my wife and I before we got off the bus.  Julie and I waited up front as our students exited one by one.  Larry proceeded to offer to pray for us and remarked about how friendly we were to him during the trip.  Larry said the most thoughtful prayer, even considering to pray for my daughter Miley as she would have to adjust to the newborn baby entering our family.  We thanked Larry over and over, overwhelmed by his kindness at the time.  Immediately, the memories of Larry’s small actions flooded my mind in that moment as I began to realize all the selfless, outwardly focused actions I had witnessed from Larry during our trip.  I was impacted, to the core, by Larry’s kindness and his genuine service of other people.  I have never driven a charter bus.  In fact, I’ve not been behind the wheel of any motor vehicle of that size.  As we drove through Thursday morning traffic getting into DC, it was easy for me to imagine how focused a charter bus driver must be in order to safely navigate such a large vehicle.  I noticed Larry used a Garmin GPS and his cell phone to plug in destinations in order to aid his directions.  The Garmin GPS provided a trucker’s route, avoiding bridges that don’t meet capacity, low overhangs, and other obstacles the average driver never considers.  I can’t fathom the effort required to drive a 55 passenger charter bus in the middle of DC traffic.  My point is, Larry had every reason to be focused and tuned in to driving that bus, yet he still managed to connect and serve those in his seats.  In my opinion, Larry is a man with great vision, overcoming inattentional blindness and truly tuning in to the opportunities around him to serve and connect with others.

February 9, 2017

Professional Learning: Discipline Over Default

I’m a huge fan of the content produced by the Focus 3 team of Tim and Brian Kight.  They recently started releasing podcast episodes and they are fantastic!  I’ve read the book Above The Line but I’ve yet to see Tim or Brian in person.  This morning I listened to episode 2 of the podcast, titled Discipline Over Default.  Tim and Brian struck me this morning because the topic related so much to the journey of my own learning.

Let’s review the history of professional learning for educators.  In fact, let’s separate periods of history into pre-internet and post-internet.  Both periods of history have this one thing in common.  Educators have always been provided learning opportunities by the school-district.  Professional learning days have always appeared in the calendar year.  Those days are typically called professional development.  Before the boom of social media, educators also attended conferences, read books, or subscribed to education literature.  The connection to other educators primarily took the form of face to face collaboration that appeared in various formats within schools.  The disciplined educator became a disciple of their craft by engaging in those learning opportunities and sharing their learning with others, given opportunities to do so.

Since the boom of social media, professional learning opportunities have skyrocketed.  I’m learning via the podcast produced by Tim and Brian and I’m sharing my learning via this blog I created.  That’s just an example of opportunities that didn’t exist for educators of the 20th century.  Listening to the podcast episode just reminded me that the real barrier in education is still the same as it was yesterday.  The barrier is discipline over default.

A disciplined educator feeds intention over impulse.  Auto-pilot for educators is simply relying on whatever learning opportunities the school and district provides, but as many education leaders have been proclaiming for years now, we’re experiencing rapid change in the way technology impacts our learners.  If we aren’t discipline driven in pursuing improvement, we are rapidly approaching irrelevance.

January 27, 2017

What Do I Do Now?

What do I do once I have damaged that relationship?  This question was born out of a recent conversation with a student-teacher in my building.  It was a great thought and one that every educator should be considering.  I have to imagine that even the best managers of classrooms have messed up and damaged a relationship with a student before.  We’re human, after all.  So let’s set the stage a bit.  That one student who has been tip-toeing the line for several days or even weeks, decides to jump over the line head first one day.  The irritation overcomes you and you lay down some punishment.  The next day the student comes in with a chip on his/her shoulder and you are forced to dig deep into your toolbox in a relentless search to engage that student, but your efforts are to no avail.  So you’re left wondering, “how long will he/she come to my room with a negative attitude?  Do I just let this student have his/her space?  If I ignore them, I’m afraid they’ll just distract others.”  Chances are, they will distract others.  That student is seeking an audience and will do what they can to pull more students to their side (there are sides now, you know).  So what do I do now?

Let’s say for sake of this post, this student is Jeremy.  This, in my opinion, is the best piece of advice I can offer to the teacher in this situation: DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO PREVENT MORE JEREMYS FROM APPEARING IN YOUR CLASS.  Right now, you’ve only got one Jeremy.  But, if you do nothing, more will appear.  So what can you do to prevent Jeremy from multiplying?

No doubt, in this situation, Jeremy already has some followers or at least some people that may be considering joining the fold.  You better seek those students out like a Sidewinder missile!  Now, you have to do more than identify them.  Start recognizing anything even remotely positive that those students are doing in your class.  “I appreciate how you came in and got your stuff out so you’re ready to go, great job man!”  “Hey Daniel, I’ve never seen someone persevere over one problem quite like you have! Way to go!”  “Chasity, thank you for picking that pencil up off the floor for me!”  With each of those praises, you look them in the eye and dap, shake their hand, or high-five.  Make a positive contact if possible.  

Next, go the extra mile.  Don’t just rest on a positive praise that requires 5 seconds of your time.  Write those students a handwritten note and deliver it to them.  Make a phone call home and tell mom or dad how much you appreciate that specific behavior you observed in their child.  You want those behaviors to continue, right?  Then put in the effort.  It’s worth it!  Meet those students as they arrive at school early in the morning.  Talk to them.  If your schedule permits, see them at lunch and sit with them, talk to them.  Great relationships with tough kids don’t happen by accident.  If you’re willing to do the things few educators are doing, you’ll reach the kids few educators are reaching.

If you follow through with these actions, chances are great that you have done well to prevent more Jeremys from appearing your class.  Read my next post to determine what to do with the original Jeremy.

January 20, 2017

Improving the way we measure and communicate learning

We recently carved out 30 minutes of time for teacher learning every Friday around our lunch hour.  These lunch & learn sessions are short, but they are what we have to work with at this point, so it’s been my challenge to maximize the value of these opportunities.  I want to share just how we’ve been able to align and model a learning path that mirrors the path of learning for students.  Our target has been to improve the way we measure and communicate learning.  That’s been the driving force behind the opportunities provided for my teachers.  With a clear target in mind, I decided to plan backwards and model this process throughout our time together.

My plan would follow and align with the template I created here.  This template will eventually be shared with my teachers.  In fact, this template is the evidence that I’ll solicit from my teachers later.

I identified needs through walkthroughs and various conversations with teachers.  My school, not unlike others, has a lot of missing assignments, low motivation from students, teachers working harder than kids, and lots of grades.  We have classic signs that point to a grading and assessment problem.

Here is the document detailing our learning path as a staff.  I would love your feedback on the plan.  Feel free to ask any questions.

December 27, 2016


This is a collaborative blog post from Derek Oldfield, Jodie Pierpoint, and Paul Bailey.

Paul Bailey, Jodie Pierpoint, and I are in a Voxer book chat group reading Kids Deserve It with some other friends.  The three of us were Voxing each other recently about developing authentic relationships with students.  Born out of our conversation is this fun challenge we considered posing to our PLN via Twitter.  Our purpose is to get more educators engaged in the extra effort that is required to build true relationships with tough students through positivity.

We have designed a challenge where educators keep track of “positivity points” daily by giving high fives, writing handwritten notes, or making positive phone calls home.  We use the word points loosely because we will not be posting a leaderboard, giving away a million dollars, or any other award.  The only reward given will be a smile on a kids face, the gift of being a champion for a kid, or joy from the happiness in a parent’s voice.  Utilizing points will provide feedback for the participants to track if they are being positive throughout the school days.  The hashtag #high5challenge can be used to post photos, point totals and/or goals and gain ideas of how others are promoting positivity within their buildings.

We value the power in turning negative behavior through a simple high five or a sincere handwritten note.  In a lot of ways, managing tough kids isn’t hard, it just requires effort that few people are willing to put forth.  Meeting that tough kid in the parking lot as they get off the bus in the morning, just to slap him five and tell him you’re glad he’s here, doesn’t require a PD session or a training day.  These simple gestures send messages to kids and we believe every kid deserves to be recognized.  This is not designed to be a competition among adults.  It is set up to be an easy challenge for individuals to begin promoting positivity within their building.  Fourteen points one day with a goal of twenty the next ultimately means there will be more positivity shared. However, individuals are not to be discouraged if a colleague earns fifty points in a day.  Together 64 points (plus the points of other staff members in the building) of positivity were shared in one building on one day.

November 10, 2016

Learning with EdPuzzle

Jennifer Hogan’s recent post inspired me to write about my experience with EdPuzzle.

I’ve used EdPuzzle in facilitating PD.  We may use it a bit more as a staff later this year.  Edpuzzle is really powerful.  It allows you to clip videos, add in audio, and insert questions directly into an instructional video, providing an opportunity for formative assessment.  There are a number of “channels” available to pick and choose videos.

I signed up as a teacher using my Google account.  I used the one-click Google button to sign in.  You can see from the image below there are a variety of channels available.







In the next image, you’ll see the dashboard.  From here you can apply due dates to the assignments (videos) you create.  You can also view the progress of students who have completed the assignment, and you can prevent or allow skipping (fast fwd) during the video.


In the next image you see who has watched the video till the end and you’ll see their score.  By clicking on a name you get a more detailed view of their responses, how many times they’ve viewed the video, etc.


This is an individual student’s view provided to the teacher.  You can see this student of mine viewed this video 2 times after the question was proposed.  You are not limited by the numbers of questions you can ask.


So here’s the most important question: why would a teacher incorporate videos into their instruction?

  • Videos give students an opportunity to learn in ways that are relevant and important in the year 2016 and beyond.  Ask your students how many have watched a video to figure out how to fix a 4-wheeler, braid hair, or flip a bottle.  Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.
  • Videos can liberate you to provide the support that is difficult to provide when you’re instructing the whole class.  So many times I hear teachers say it’s difficult to teach their class because the skill level gap is so wide.  Videos can actually carve out MORE time for you to do what you do best, support students. 
  • EdPuzzle is like videos on steroids because you can insert questions to check for understanding and guide thinking.  The charts that are provided after your learners complete the videos can inform you about what to do next. 
September 13, 2016

Just Serve


I’m one month in to my first year as assistant principal.  I’m thankful to have a network of people I can call on for support.  Within my first week, I had several great friends and edu-heroes check in with me to see how things were going.  I actually told my friend, Jodie Pierpoint, yesterday that I feel like I’ve been so busy I haven’t had any inspiration to blog.  I’ve actually entered a stretch here where I feel either so disoriented that I can’t locate my target, or perhaps I don’t have a target.  I imagine it’s a feeling only school administrators can understand.  I typically attack or pursue education activity like a wild dog.  I’m often my own worst enemy because I lose sight of small victories or my zeal pushes people too far.  But recently I have struggled to focus in on one thing.  I feel as if I’m bringing little value to my school.


My advice to other educators that may be in a situation where they feel like they don’t know what to do: just serve.  Serving others is like defense and rebounding.  Those two things don’t require near the amount of skill as scoring, they just require focused effort!  I realized that in the midst of my frustration about not knowing what to do, or deciding how to address this need or that need, I just needed to take a deep breath and go serve people.  It doesn’t require much thought to check in on teachers between classes.  It doesn’t require much preparation to greet teachers in the morning and ask if they need anything.  It doesn’t require any planning for me to write teachers a thank you note.  These may seem like small, menial tasks to some.  You’re right!  Those aren’t the kinds of things I aspire to do after reading the latest blog post from my edu-heroes or listening to a recent podcast on my way to school.  But I think it’s important to note that I won’t get to see the results I’d like to see if I’m not serving others.  I needed the reminder that I didn’t have to be engaged in a furious pursuit of the next staff meeting or professional development session in order to have an impact on my school.  And neither do you.  Just serve.  The relationships you build as a result will yield far more impact in the long run.



August 8, 2016

Did I Leave Too Early?

Photo by Derek Oldfield 7/16/16

Photo by Derek Oldfield 7/16/16

I feel like that photo represents my career right now.  I’m stepping out of the classroom and into school administration.  This passion has been something I’ve invested in heavily over the last couple years.  I feel as if I’m looking back, through the side mirror, at a beautiful sunset!  What lies ahead is a bit dark and my way isn’t nearly as clear as it used to be.  I’m writing this as dusk falls on my time in the classroom.  It’s really bittersweet.  On one hand, I need this.  It’s possible my principal from last year may feel a sense of relief.  I look at nearly every event that occurs during the school day through the lens of a school leader.  The inbox of my principal will be lighter next year as I won’t be there to share my reflections, the questions that resulted in books I read or blog posts shared the night before.  My activity over Twitter, the blog posts and books I read, and the edchats in which I engaged, have had a rather narrow focus lately: school leadership.

On the other hand, as I look back at that beautiful sunset I’m reminded of things that I feel were left unfinished.  I didn’t meet my goal last year for #goodcallshome.  I just spent an hour reviewing student blogs and screencasts they submitted.  I remember embarking on the mission to establish portfolios of learning just two years ago.  That mission is not complete.  Last year I placed an emphasis on asking students to demonstrate learning and understanding at a deeper level.  I told myself that I would no longer tolerate rote memorization and regurgitation of procedures and algorithms as “learning”.  So I spent some time reviewing the assessments I created and the evidence my learners submitted.

Desmaze Example 1

Megan MarbleSlides

Pacman Example 1

Keela Inequality Screencast

I reviewed some of the Kahoots students created, then shared with their class as a means to prepare for upcoming assessments.  Just last week I had an opportunity to share with teachers how I intentionally reach the hearts of my learners during the first week and throughout the rest of the school year.



I’m worried that my relentless pursuit for the highest quality learning experiences for students may weaken as a result of the limited opportunities school leadership may provide for me to teach.  As a practitioner, I remained in a constant state of improvement.  I spent every ounce of down time seeking after ways to better reach my learners.  I had a 50 minute drive to work every day last year.  I must have listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, Youtube videos, and audiobooks while on the road.  I pride myself on my instructional knowledge and the art that allowed me to inspire learners to drive their learning and reflect on how they were learning.   Will stepping out of the classroom still provide me with opportunities to unleash experiences on students (teachers) then reflect on how to improve those experiences the next time?  I hope so.  Did I leave the classroom too early?  I hope not.  I invite your feedback, especially from other school leaders.