What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

When faced with what to do when you don’t know what to do…. begin by doing the next right thing.

For example, as a teacher, I can worry about whether or not my students will score well on the state testing or I can make sure that my instruction is differentiated, rigorous, engaging, and meets each student where they are.

In other words, my next step could be to know what I want students to learn. Or the next step could be to know if my students have learned. Or the next step could be to determine what I will do if they don’t learn. Or my next step may be to know what to do if they already know it.

Do the next right thing.

Something to think about,



Beyond Professional Development

Spend time creating conditions so that professional development is perceived as worthwhile, meaningful, and relevant for every participant. We want our teachers to leave the PD more excited to teach tomorrow than they were today. If PD is perceived as an isolated event that is boring, irrelevant, or just another thing we have to do, then CHANGE IT. It doesn’t have to be that way. In most cases, the resources to make this change a reality are free.

Now that you have changed the perception of your PD, spend your energy focusing on what takes place after the learning. Learning is useless if it isn’t applied. In other words, reading a recipe book is not the same as picking up a utensil and cooking.

Something to think about.

Thoughts On Teaching Writing

If we critiqued students’ reading every time they read, they would soon stop doing that too.

“Go add an appositive to that statement.” How about you show me an adult (outside of the English classroom) who would even know what that meant? The funny thing is… students use them in language all the time when talking.  Hummm

Research shows that the skill we obtain from diagramming sentences is…. are you ready for this?  How to diagram a sentence. Stop diagramming sentences!

I’ve learned that students want their work to be really good when writing for a real audience. I’ve also learned students strive for good enough when writing for one teacher.

Something to think about.


“Every day”

What you do every day matters more than what you do every 
once in a while. Review your goals and expectations. Add “every day” to the end of the statement and do it. Doing something every day versus every once in a while is the difference between good and great.

Something to think about.

The quality of a school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.

Effective principals work relentlessly to create a strong climate for quality instruction and to define in detail what their pedagogical expectations look, sound, and feel like in the classroom. To do this, principals must become intimately familiar with what is required to improve the quality of teaching and learning. In other words, knowing what you don’t want instructionally has very little impact on student learning. On the contrary, having a strong understanding of what you do want to see in every classroom can make change become a reality. How else can a principal model, implement, support, monitor, and communicate effectively?

Keep in mind, it’s unreasonable to ask a professional to change much more than ten percent a year, but it’s unprofessional to change by much less than ten percent a year. Great educators take responsibility for their own learning rather than waiting for their school district to tell them when and what to learn. As a principal, we must lead this effort. Otherwise, it will be difficult to assist teachers and to engage in relevant conversations.

Something to think about.

If You Are A Rock Star, Wouldn’t You Want A Big Audience?

I asked two teachers this question:

If teachers could choose their class size and were paid $3000 dollars per student, what do you think the average class size would be?

The first teacher automatically replied, “Fifteen… definitely fifteen. I am most effective when I have fifteen students in my classroom.”

After staring off in space as if she was computing, the second teacher responded, “I think I could take 32… maybe 33 students.”

These two teachers not only answered very differently, but also differ in teacher performance. Which teacher would you want for your child?

Something to think about.

Perception is reality. (The objective is to make them the same.)

I’ve often said that the five people who influence me the most and on a daily basis… I’ve never met. I’ve never met Lyn Hilt, a distinguished connected educator who blogs at Learning in Technicolor. I have been reading Lyn’s tweets since June of 2011. When she was a principal, I was fascinated and impressed with all the innovative learning experiences that seemed to permeate throughout her entire school. Then one day during a Google Hangout she said, “Shawn, I used to think the same as you. Just because you see it on social media doesn’t mean it’s the culture of the school. I have pockets of innovation happening at my school and this is what I choose to share. You will not see the poor classrooms.”

Many times the same is true when I speak with teachers.

“Teachers self-promote. In that, we’re no different than everyone else: proudly framing our breakthroughs, hiding our blunders in locked drawers, forever perfecting our oral résumés. This isn’t all bad. My colleagues probably have more to learn from my good habits (like the way I use pair work) than my bad ones (like my sloppy system of homework corrections), so I might as well share what’s useful. In an often-frustrating profession, we’re nourished by tales of triumph.” – Ben Orlin

If we truly want to offer value to those around us, we must create conditions so that teachers trust one another to share the most honest stories that we can tell. If we only reveal the good and disguise the bad and the ugly, we take the risk of maintaining a gap between perception and reality. More importantly, we take the risk of becoming comfortable, complacent, and stagnant. Let’s teach 25 years, not one year 25 times.

Something to think about.

Are we developing students who are more like calculators or mathematicians?

Do you have the ability to say “54” as soon as you hear the stimulus “9 x 6?”

Relying only on algorithms and procedures and focusing on shortcuts results in teaching efficiency, not mathematics. Memorization of rules and mastery of computation are not the same as true knowledge of mathematical concepts and ideas.

Most students can tell you how to divide one fraction by another:  flip the second fraction over and then multiply them together.  But if you ask them why it’s done that way, they have no idea.  They were given a bunch of tricks in order to yield the right answers –rather than to help them understand.

It’s also important to understand that not all right answers are equal:  some reflect mindless, short-term memorization and others reflect something much more.  Not all wrong answers are equal either:  some reflect sloppiness and others reflect a complete lack of understanding.

Something to think about.

Zeros Teach Responsibility

When I was in school many years ago, I remember a few students who frequently were given zeros for incomplete assignments throughout their elementary, middle school, and high school career.  Twenty years later, these same students grew up to become adults who cannot hold a job; who are unorganized; and who are extremely irresponsible.  According to some educators, these people should now be the most responsible people in the world.

Something to think about.



People Talking Without Speaking

The sound of silence… what a powerful thought. I’ve come to realize it’s the perfect sound for deep thinking; the perfect sound following a tough question; the perfect sound for the intent to understand. This sound, coupled with concentrated thought, happens often in great leader’s spaces. When life gets noisy, create silence by listening profoundly to understand reason. You’ll find that others will love to speak with you.

Something to think about.