Saturday, December 17, 2016

Time For These Seven Edu Funerals

Only in education, do we continue to try to breathe life into things that may never have been successful - and most certainly are not now. These things are so embedded in the culture, frameworks, policies, practice and mindsets of our schools and educational organizations, that many educators just blindly accept them, implement them and perpetuate them…..all regardless of their lack of success. Indeed, there is often overwhelming data or evidence that these things are not only unsuccessful, but often counterproductive.


So, let’s have the funeral. Let’s start the fire. Let’s bury these SEVEN forever.
They are:

  • Homework As We Know It. The idea of independent practice as a means of increasing skill mastery sounds appealing and necessary. But homework, as it’s become known, does not do this. Indeed, homework has become mundane and repetitive work not grounded in increasing skill development, but rather compliance. It’s time to re-think the whole thing. Let’s come up with not only a new name, but a whole new approach. Most of us can remember when our work outside of class - homework - became meaningful, successful and relevant. And that’s when we got engaged in a project or deeper learning. We then chose, on our own, to perfect or improve our work.
  • Lecturing, Note Taking. It’s long been researched, evaluated and established that this represents the lowest form of learning. Whether we’re using Bloom’s Taxonomy or other models, it is very obvious that we are operating at the ground level of learning if this is what we’re having our students do with any content or information. Students need to apply, inquire, create and be critically engaged with any knowledge in order to not only retain it, but to truly understand it. We know this. We know this. We know this. But still, we ignore it and allow many of our classrooms at both the secondary and post-secondary levels to operate with lecture and note-taking as their primary pedagogical approach to learning.
  • Non-Digital Approaches. I’m not saying that there is still not a place, in some instances, for paper, pen and printed books. However, that being said, our dominant tools and resources should be digital. I’m ashamed that on the eve of 2017, we are still debating or considering anything but digital. All professional work and the entire global economy are digital. Having our students not work primarily in digital formats shortchanges them. Additionally, the resources and applications expand daily and we need to use them to maximize student experiences and opportunities.
  • Textbooks - Digital or Not.. Since the advent of the internet, we should have abandoned the dependency on a single text. Regardless of subject, there are endless types of reliable, relevant and ever-developing resources. To be critical thinkers and true problems solvers, our students should be seeking the best and brightest information from these sources in all of their academic endeavors. The idea of a textbook, digital or not, is a holdover to outdated curriculum. Single source curriculum is dead. What professional, scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, or researcher would use only one text in their professional environments? The answer is none, especially with the quality and quantity of online resources today.
  • Factory-Style Classrooms. Many educators, as well as students, parents, industry professionals and others have long acknowledged that too many of our classrooms still resemble those of the last century, as well as the factory floors that inspired them. It’s not just aesthetics or style, it’s directly related to the instructional models of the past. When we are in seated individually in rows facing the front of the classrooms, the mode of instruction is dominated by lecture pedagogy. Our classroom environments, layout and design need to resemble those that our students need to be successful in a new, more globalized and digital economy. These include, but are not limited to classroom configurations that are collaborative, comfortable, high tech, friendly, warm, inviting, friendly, flexible and ultimately conducive to project-based work.
  • Final Exams. I do not mean that we should not have culminating activities or projects that are reflective, summative or comprehensive. But I am talking about the final exam. This is the 100-question multiple choice, short answer traditional final still given in thousands of high school and college courses across the country. They create an environment where students cram in order to regurgitate material versus applying that material in some meaningful way. They were designed with grades, teachers and structure in mind and not learning or students. Our finals need to be presentation type that includes like one’s digital portfolio, defense of learning, showcases & exhibitions, and more.

  • Fear & Compliance. Finally, we need an entirely new cultural approach to learning and school. The system that depended on fear and compliance has long worn out its stay. We used to often tell new teachers to “not smile until Christmas” or “don’t be friendly as the students will see that as a sign of weakness.” These are not only archaic, but truly counterproductive to teaching and learning. Teaching and learning are relationship endeavors. Students need and require teachers that are excited, passionate, communicative, flexible, available, caring, creative, innovative and forever working on connecting to their students. Anything less will not produce anything more than sub-par results. Our students need and deserve authenticity versus authority. Current or future teachers not up for being in a relationship business need to find another career. There is no people-oriented pursuit that that of teaching and learning.

(Photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay and Other Public Domain Image Collections)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Want Real Ed Reform? 5 Ways Students Should Be Included

As a graduate journalism student over 20 years ago, I worked on a thesis project centered on education reform news reporting. I was analyzing how often education reporters included students in their stories about education. Probably no surprise….it was almost non-existent.
Traditionally, no entity has ignored their primary customer, consumer or constituent more than education with students. I was fortunate enough early on as a beginning teacher to discover the power of student voice and student-generated ideas. Throughout my career, I have always benefited from asking my students what they thought, what they are interested in and where would they like things to go.
If we are serious about providing each and every student a truly transformational 21st century education, then we may want to consider the following five areas for asking our students what they think should be done:

Learning Feedback
Having our students reflect on their learning and learning experiences are crucial to both student development, as well as instructional growth. As teachers, we do a lot of things to improve our craft. But again, we rarely ask our students what is working for them and what we can do to help improve their learning experiences. In general, students are both honest and willing to discuss what is going on on with their education. Great teachers have always probably asked - formally or informally - how their students are doing and what can be better. But it’s time to make this a standard. We now have the ability for all educators to regularly engage all of their students about their learning. If we want higher levels of learning, critical thinking and skills, we’re going to all need to learn to get regular feedback from the most important player in education - the student.

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Curricular Choice
With the onset of personalized tech and learning, we now have unlimited number of ways for us to offer choice to our students. Higher forms of learning are predicated on the learner owning larger aspects of the learning itself. This happens through choice. If it’s a project, let’s offer different ways of delivering the final product. If it’s a research topic, let’s offer choices on various options. If it’s something to read, let’s not have students read the same thing, but rather read different things and then compare. Choice not only creates buy-in and ownership necessary for higher level learning, but creates an environment and learning culture that fosters innovation, confidence, risk taking and other necessary future skills. Efforts like #20 Time Projects (, Genius Hour and more are also great example of allowing students greater freedom in the authentic learning they pursue.

School Governance
Traditionally, our student involvement in school governance has been limited to cursory efforts such as Associated Student Body and somewhat token officers who have limited access to site leaders. Many districts also have a student on their governing boards, but again these are usually merely symbolic gestures. But with the onset of real democratization in schools, at what levels could our students be involved in the school decisions that do ultimately affect them? Can our could the be involved on curriculum committees, reform efforts, leadership teams, budget committees, professional learning communities and more? This might seem like something unrealistic or impossible to some, but it’s really not. If we value their opinion in the classroom, we can also value it out of the classroom when decisions are being crafted that affect the classroom. I believe that our students are capable, ready and desperately needed.
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Staffing / Hiring
Schools may not have a more important task or duty than hiring their teachers. And yet again, how often do we consult the primary constituent of teachers (students)? Typically, we don’t. But as a high school principal of a new, 1:1, project-based school (, we did just that. From almost day one, we include two students on every interview panel - whether that was for teachers, classified positions, coaches or other. Indeed, we went one step further. When we had competitive teacher interviews with outstanding finalists, we invited them back for a second interview that included a live teaching demo with some of our students who in turn provided immediate feedback to the learning activities, structure, engagement and more. As one can imagine, the students and their opinions were were not only vital, but truly insightful. And what a different school culture we enjoyed when students knew that our teaching staff had been selected with student opinion, input and participation.

Schoolwide Needs / Problems /Challenges
I have personally experienced the success of this many times. Again, we rarely consult the primary people who ultimately experience the results of decisions we make when addressing school wide issues, concerns, or problems. But regardless of our challenge, we should ask students for their input. Not only will they have good ideas, they can be the agents to ultimately implement any ideas. For example, can adults solve or resolve bullying alone? No, we need student participation and leadership to ultimately address these types of things. I have always believed, and have had confirmed many times, that most students truly not only care about their learning, but also their learning environment. If they are trusted and respected appropriately, they can become supporters of our desires to have safe, clean, positive and nurturing learning environments. As a journalism teacher, I always involved them not only in story ideation, but also how to respond to public criticism, school reactions, faculty response and more. As a student leadership advisor, I had great success with challenging students to come up with creative solutions to everything from embracing diversity to special education inclusion and more. I used to challenge all of my students to create and implement School Improvement Projects are part of their semester final. They created events, programs and outreach efforts to address dozens of issues that the adults never would have had the time or capacity for in the least. They can often do what we can’t. Let’s involve them.
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If we truly want change in our schools, as well as a new type of learner who embraces the skill set we expect from our future learners workers, we better learn to include them in the discussion.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Four Ways For Educators To Stay Young (Will Work For Non-Educators Too)

Most of us (if you are over 40) are inundated with emails, messages, posts and more related to maintaining what is left of our youth. Almost all of these focus on diet, exercise, supplements or other physiological manipulation.
However, if you are in education, you may be missing the most powerful method of staying young overall - staying connected to young people. Regardless of your job as an educator, of even if you are not an educator at all, here are some easy tips that could make a big difference.

  1. Ask Students What They Think. Seems simple right? But do we realize how little we do this? Students have great ideas about everything, but we rarely consult them. My dominant complaint ever since I became a teacher was how we don’t ask the students what they think. Students have great ideas about everything, but we rarely consult them. This includes about their own learning and education. But regardless of the subject, ask students for their opinion. If you haven’t done this much, it will take awhile for them to believe you actually care and for you to actually hear/listen.
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  1. Listen To Their Music. Naturally, most educators, or adults (older people), have different musical tastes in general. My best memory of my late grandfather was that he took interest in my music. When I was a fourteen year old aspiring hard rocker, he made an effort to listen and ask questions. I’m sure he didn’t understand, appreciate or grow accustomed to much of it. But he tried very hard and that’s what mattered. Today’s young people, like all young people ever, use music to comprehend and connect with the world. It’s their identity just like it was ours. If we dismiss their music, we are dismissing them. There has been lots of music my students listened to that I didn’t like or connect with very much. But when I tried harder to listen, and even more importantly to talk to them about it, I learned two things. One, there was always something creative, interesting and relevant in the music. Two, it was the beginning of a further connection between myself and my students.

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  1. Spend Time With Them Outside Of Class. I realized early on that it was an honor to just hang out with my students. Yes, we had class time together and even beyond class time (project work, practices, rehearsals, etc.). But what about unstructured time? Good teachers realized long ago that if you open up your room or space at lunch, they will come. I always loved taking students to competitions, conferences or other events because we got to travel and hang together. That’s when you learn a lot about them and who they are. And they are interesting people. There are too many teachers that have never spent a single moment with their students outside of class. There are many ways to do this, but good teachers, especially those that want to be successful (as well as stay young), find ways to not only do this, but maximize this.

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  1. Be A Mentor.  This is not an automatic for all educators. Indeed, many educators never even thought about this element when entering the profession. We have lots of teachers, but fewer mentors. To be a mentor, one has to be interested in the relationship you curate and appreciate with one’s students. More than anything, young people are eternally seeking mentors beyond their families and immediate circles. Your mentoring skills and influences will have more long-term impact than any curriculum. Plus, real learning is reciprocal. When you mentor, you will learn as well. Being a mentor is not about telling students what to do, but rather getting to know them and letting them know you are willing to support them with what they want to do. Finally, those we mentor do not need to be in our classrooms. Mentoring opportunities await all of us - inside and outside of education.

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So to wrap up, let’s forget about anti-oxidants, vitamin supplements and yoga. Rather, get to know your students and stay connected to them. Yes, youth is often wasted on the young. But it is also squandered by the old.

*(photos courtesy of Teach Thought, Foter, Image Stock)

Monday, September 5, 2016

21st Century Education Certification Checklist

Ever since the the Partnership for 21st Century Schools (P21) was created, as well as the transition into the new millennium, many schools, districts and educators have bandied about the term “21st Century School” or “21st Century Skills.”
This is done to brand or identify one’s school, district or program as being relevant, current, progressive, future-oriented and more. I know because I’ve done the same thing. I was part of opening a new project-based, high tech high school in 2008 (Minarets HS/Minarets Charter HS) and we used the moniker “A 21st Century School” from day one. Naturally, we believed we were accurate and still do.
I can see the attraction. Afterall, most of our schools are still living in the 20th century attempting to perfect a 19th century model. However, “21st Century” has become cliched and now requires some sort of verification and certification. Who better than me to do that? That’s right, I’ve declared myself the one to create the list to use to certify whether something is 21st century when it comes to education. And in case you haven’t figured it out, many who identify as such will not meet these standards. Here is your 21ST CENTURY EDUCATION CHECKLIST:

(You need to meet all of these to be certified 21st Century)

  1. Instructional Foundation is Digital. There are no textbooks.  If you are buying a textbook and using a single source for curriculum in 2016, you should not only re-think your entire approach, but also not be able to use anything that says “21st Century.” This does not mean that teachers and students cannot use books such as novels, non-fiction, etc. - either in print or digital. But it does mean that your classes do not use or rely on one printed, official textbook. If I have to explain this, you are also not 21st Century.
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  1. Project-Based is Dominant Pedagogy. You can call it whatever you want - PBL, Place-Based, Challenge-Based, Problem-Based, Design-Based and many others. But the bottom line is that the students, with their teachers’ facilitation, embark on real world educational endeavors that include, but are not limited to student voice and choice, collaboration (peer and professional), community or work-based connections, presentation, publishing, digital portfolios, showcases/exhibitions and more.
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  1. Democratization (Student Voice). Students have a voice in all aspects of the school. They have input on their project choices, school governance, school policies, hiring and more. All students should be surveyed about their educational and cultural experiences on a regular basis. Students should be able to voice concerns about all aspects of their educational environment. Students will be represented on all interview panels. Get the idea?
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  1. Contemporary School Policies/Procedures. If you can’t fit your rules, expectations, dress code or other on one document equaling a single page, it does not meet the 21st century standard.
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  1. Social Media/New Literacies. If you block or ban social media use on campus, you’re out as a 21st century educational entity. Yes, you can have parameters and expectations, but more importantly all teachers and classrooms should model on a regular basis the professional and educational use and application of social media tools. Today and tomorrow’s companies, leaders and professionals will define much of what they do, make, sell, create and design through social media.
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  1. Culture of Learning. There is a clear and obvious culture of learning where all of the adults model lifelong learning. They don’t say it but do it. Teachers and staff are actively engaged in their communities and their profession. They are involved in professional reading, writing, blogging, publishing, presenting, speaking or something. If the teachers or leaders disappear over the summer and don’t respond to emails, texts, direct messages or something, then it’s not a 21st century program.
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  1. Cell Phones. It’s simple. If you allow them and use them like in professional environments, then you can be 21st century. If you don’t, you’re not. Easy….
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  1. Accessability. If students can dialogue and communicate with teachers and staff via text, email, cell, instant messenger or something similar, then you’re good. If not, you’re not 21st century.
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  1. Community Connections. This can be done through many vehicles, but is an imperative. For high schools, it can be work-based such as internships, externships, job shadows, professional mentors and more. For all K-12, it can be partnerships with local non-profits, advisory groups, expert presentations in classrooms, project feedback from professionals, solving local needs through client-based relationships and work and more.
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  1. Continuous Innovation. The days of being enamored with tradition are gone. We need to enamored with embracing continuous change through innovation. Our students are entering an economy and world that will continue to go through rapid change. Our only hope to prepare them is to model that for them each and everyday at school. This means that each new year, each new teacher, each new class, each new day and each new project needs to build on the past, but not be satisfied just repeating it. We need to constantly ask large questions and embrace bold possibilities. We need to challenge our educators to get away from lesson and activity design, and rather focus on project design. If so, regardless of the question or challenge, innovation and “new” will always rise to the top.
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I’m not going to pretend this certification list is perfect or complete, but we need to collectively develop some common definition of “21 century” in terms of actual implementation and what it looks like. My current estimation is many that are calling themselves “21 century” are not meeting this above standard or even necessarily aware of all of these.
(photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabary)

Monday, August 8, 2016

The New Education Power Standard: BADASS

Our educational system seems to have an obsession with both standards and assessment. And while it is understandable that we try to systematize ways to establish what we learn and how we we evaluate if we learn it, it also seems that our obsession here may also impedes true creativity, innovation and success. It’s with this in mind, that I’d like to establish a new 21st century standard: BADASS.
If we look outside of education, it seems that quality, or even success, are more obvious and accepted on some basic badass qualities. What are they and how can we use them to evaluate the success of our learning and educational endeavors?
Here are five indicators of what one is doing is BADASS? I think if we can agree it’s badass, it’s probably exceeding many standards and regular assessments?
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Here you go:

  1. Media Coverage: if an idea, a product or piece of work gets media coverage - whether local, regional, national or international - it seems to have some credibility. One of my colleagues often said that if a project or lesson in school could make the New York Times, would that be the ultimate assessment? We know media coverage can now be accomplished in many ways including social media. But the bottom line is that someone out there in the world with some expertise or credibility in a given arena acknowledges our work. That make it badass.
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  1. The Critics: Speaking of expertise and credibility, what about a panel of experts evaluating or judging our work? Movies are judged by movie critics, music is judged by music writers, food is judged by foodies and food critics, etc. Why can’t we do that in education? What if teachers and schools brought in panels of experts in the respective areas to evaluate our lessons and projects? Maybe engineers should look at our math lessons and projects. Maybe researchers should look at our students’ work in history. Maybe scientists can come to our science classes? You get the idea. All communities have professionals and many of them would love to be involved in our schools. Maybe they help decide if our learning is relevant and successful. Afterall, they know what’s badass in the real world. For the record, there are already schools doing this in some capacity.

  1. General Public Acclaim: We also judge success by the number of everyday supporters - whether they are fans, customers or other - who support an idea or project. They do this by purchasing or buying in, but they also do it by writing reviews and liking/following, etc. on social media. When a great video hits YouTube, there is a response. Our lessons and projects can be the same way. If we do something amazing at school, do our parents and community members, as well as students, know it and recognize it? They can do this is many ways, but will only do it when it’s amazing or exceptional. So, if we want to know if our learning and outcomes are exceeding standards and scoring well, why don’t we take a look at our fans in the general public? Chances are the same old work sheet, exam, notes or other will not garner that attention or support. And maybe that’s what we should be aware of responding to.
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  1. Replication/Duplication: there is an old saying that I won’t repeat. But in business and most of the real world, we can gauge success of an idea often by how many others begin to adopt. Think about new food or restaurant success, it’s almost always replicated by others. When you see one food truck, you usually see many more. You get the idea. So, what if we applied this to education? What if teachers began implementing learning methods and projects based on what they see their colleagues having success in? Seems so simple, but so elusive too. Every school has a handful of really badass teachers, but we often don’t try to replicate them. We often don’t turn to them and challenge one another to do what they do. And these days, one’s colleagues can be on the same site, same district or anywhere in the international education community you want to go online.

  1. Students - This is the ultimate badass barometer and the obvious best for last. How often do students come home and rave about their learning? How often do they share publicly on social media that they are excited about their learning and outcomes? Answer is simple: not often enough. Indeed, in many cases never. That’s a problem. Our students should be excited and engaged enough about their learning that they talk about it. Sharing and reflecting on our own learning is evidence of higher levels of learning. As educators, we should care about what our students are saying about their learning and be very concerned if they rarely talk about if at all. It’s easy to compare the difference when someone is truly engaged and when someone is not. Students, like everyone else, know when something is badass. They will let you know. If we don’t hear from them, it’s not badass. It’s that simple. One, we need to ask for their opinion. Two, we need to create something that will elicit a positive one.

For some, this may seem too simple, vague or non-academic. However, if real world is our barometer, then here is yet another example of education’s disconnect. We have created lots of different standards and ways to assess those standards. But few of them are transformative because few of them, if any, are BADASS.

(images courtesy of Foter, Pixabay)