If Its Not BLANK, Then They Won't Do It.

"If it's not graded, then they (students) won't do it."

This is something that I heard somebody say the other day and it really just rubbed me the wrong way. It's this idea that we have to use grades as some sort of negotiating tool to force students to complete task in our classrooms. It's cousin to the idea that teachers won't go to PD if we don't pay them. 

I believe that when we say that we have to use things like grades, mandates, authority, or pay in order to get somebody to complete a job, assignment,  or task then we are admitting that what we are asking to be done isn't relevant, engaging, and probably not necessary. At the very least, we are saying that we don't want to take the time to explain why it needs to be done. 

Here is the reality, it's not if it's not graded then they won't do it. Its if it's not relevant, interesting, necessary, fun, their choice, for the greater good, helpful, _______, then they won't do it. Nor should they have to. Come on folks, we are better than this. We don't have to use grades as leverage to force "engagement". 

I left a blank for you. How would you fill in the blank? 

UPDATE: Bill Ferriter wrote a great post about this conversation. You can read it here.  

See original image here
Also - the conversation made me think of this gem from my friend Bill Ferriter

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Making the Shift

This keynote is all about embracing change. Change is an emotional event for everyone. It can bring equal levels of fear, excitement, and uncertainty. Through practical examples, research driven implementation tools, and relationships we tackle the challenges of doing what's best for our students.

3 Keys to Unlocking Potential

In this keynote I will address what I believe are the 3 keys to unlocking potential. Potential in our students, our educators, and our community. Lets unlock the untapped potential in every individual together. 

What's Next in Learning

This keynote takes a fun and exciting look at the latest in learning. Join me as we learn how to dig through onslaught of educational buzzwords and the latest technologies to find the right fit for our students and community of learners.

Be the Light in Someone Else's Tunnel 

Relationships trump everything. You can master standardized test, embed the best teaching practices, and have the most state-of-the-art facilities but if you don't have relationships, then it won't last. Lets be reminded that students aren't numbers, teachers aren't tools, and we all need a little more light in our lives. 

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It's Just Citizenship

In this keynote we tear down the notion that somehow digital citizenship is something different than just being a good person. We'll look at building empathy, compassion, and respect in the classroom, the cafeteria, the community, and yes, even on social media. I will share examples and resources for parents and educators on how to help students become good citizens. 

What Do They Want?

What are we preparing students for? What are colleges and business leaders looking for in their next student/employee? In this keynote I will share the latest research around college and career readiness. We will examine what technical and soft skills are important and how we can engage our universities and local businesses to ensure we are preparing our students for their future in our community. 

Magnify Learning

Technology is not neutral and it has had a profound effect on our schools and community. This powerful and engaging keynote looks at how technology magnifies everything, for better or for worse. We will look at how we leverage technology for learning, use it to magnify our strengths, and overcome our weaknesses.


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  • Transformational Leadership
  • From Innovation to Implementation
  • Why People Should Follow You
  • Sustaining Initiatives
  • When Innovations Fail
  • Identifying Tools for My Classroom
  • Implementing Chromebooks
  • How G Suite It Is
  • What Does A Successful 1:1 Look Like...in my classroom...in my school...in my district?
  • 1:1 Classroom Management Tips & Tricks
  • Digital Citizenship and the Digital Native Myth 
  • Loud Noises, Bear Attacks, and Other Things That Distract Learners
  • Stay Fresh: How to stay in touch with the classroom once you've left it
  • Engaging Your Community
  • Creating Voice and Choice for Your Students...Your Teachers...Your Leaders
  • Building a Initiative Campaign
  • Project Based Learning is the Main Course, Not the Dessert
  • From Data Informed to Data Driven
  • Creating Meaningful Faculty Meetings
  • Team Building and Ice Breakers
  • Buzzword Balderdash: Finding the real meaning behind what your principal/superintendent is asking you to do.

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Ideas Worth Wrestling With

I'm really working hard on getting back in the habit of blogging. As last year came to a close, I just couldn't stand the fact that I wasn't writing as often as I had just a couple of years ago. If I'm being completely honest, I would admit that I had started to feel a little stagnate in my thinking. I needed to get my creative juices flowing again. I have a new logo, a new design, and now this is my fourth post this month.

It's not the redesign of the website that is getting me back into blogging, but it's a reminder about why I blog in the first place. I blog because I believe in the power of reflection, it forces me to wrestle with my own thinking, it makes me consider the viewpoint of my potential audience, and it simultaneously gives me a clearer view of the past, while shaping my view of the future.

Nobody has helped me come to this realization more than my good friend, Bill Ferriter. When I first started blogging several years ago I was very fortunate to have Bill come to the district that I was working in at the time. We got to hang out that night and I'll never forget some of the things he said to me that night. One of the most helpful things he said to me that night, and has repeated to me on several occasions since then is, "everything is a blog post".

When he told me that, I took it to heart. You can see it right here on this site. A couple of years ago, I had 50+ blog post. Then the following year I dropped to 21 blog post. The last two years I have written a combined 11 blog post for this website.

So what changed? I think I can point it to a couple of things.

  • I took a job as Director of Technology. It's not that the job took up more of my time and I didn't have time to blog but I became more self-conscience of the potential to say something wrong and offending somebody. I say self-conscience because I've never actually been called out on anything I've written or tweeted about. Maybe fearful of saying something wrong is a better way of saying it. However, in the end, I've probably done my district a disservice by not blogging more the past couple of years. There is such potential in the power of being an open, reflective, transparent leader. 
  • I started writing for somebody other than myself. I said in my last post that it's more important to know who you aren't than it is to know who you are. Well, I'm not a "tip of the week" kind of writer. I've tried that and if you look back at the year when I wrote 50+ blog post, you will find a decent chunk of "how to" post. 

All of that being said, the most important thing I've learned about blogging is this:

  • Blogging is for me. I know that sounds selfish but I need to blog for me. I need to be reflective so that I can grow and move forward. I need to wrestle with my ideas so I can find my footing around the issues I face. It's why I loved the post I recently read by George Couros. Check out how he started this blog post:
  • How awesome is that beginning?! It captures exactly why blogging is just as much, if not more, for the writer than the reader. Of course, I think we already knew this. I think back to how much I learned about math when I started teaching it because I had to reflect on my math background and teaching it forced me to wrestle with mathematical concepts. 
So I am going to write when I need to reflect on my learning and my leading. I am going to blog when I need to wrestle with an idea and flesh it out so I can find out how I truly feel about it. Even when I wrote my last post; I wrote it, went to bed with it scheduled to publish the next morning, reread it when I got up, took it down because I didn't really think it matched my ideas on the topic, rewrote it, and republished it.

Am I still worried about somebody taking something I post on here the wrong way. Sure, perhaps a little bit, but I'll filter my thoughts as I write. The idea of writing for myself but acknowledging the fact that I have an audience, forces me to think more critically about what I'm writing. It puts the appropriate level of constraints on me to force me to be a more creative writer and sharer of ideas. John Spencer recently put together this brilliant video on the power of creative constraint

For the first time in a long time, I feel very excited about my ability to keep up with my blog this year. My reviewed vision and passion for reflective and transparent leadership will help shape me as a blogger. 

If I have an audience and my blog helps me form a relationship with folks currently outside my circle of learners, great!  I'm sure these ramblings can help somebody. If my audience is just one person, me, then that's ok too because I know my writing helps me out, if nothing else. 

If you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. If you're a blogger, tell me why you blog and drop a link to your blog in the comment section. 

Two Questions You Have To Be Able To Answer

I have two questions to ask you that I think you need to be able to answer if you're going to unlock the leader inside of you and, ultimately, the leaders inside of others. 

*spoiler alert* - You might be tempted to think that the first question is the most important question, but it's not.

First question: Do you know who you are?

We have to know who we are if we are going to lead. I don't care if it's leading a district, a classroom, an athletic team, an academic team, or a fantasy team.

You have to know what makes you tick. In the book, "Talk Like TED" by Carmine Gallo, he says you have to answer the question, "What makes your heart sing?" I don't think you can effectively lead if what you're doing isn't your passion.

I don't know about you, but the hardest task for me to get done are those task that don't directly tie into what I'm passionate about. However, when it comes to something I'm passionate about, I can just get lost in it. 

Who doesn't want to follow somebody who can just get lost in what they are leading? There are things that I'm not passionate about, like grant writing, but I've worked with people who just love that challenge and I can't help but get sucked into their enthusiasm. I don't get why they're so excited by it, but I admire their passion. 

Here is my advice, don't take on a job, role, or position that you're not passionate about. In the end, no matter the money, you won't be happy and you certainly won't be effective. 

Ok, now for the more important question. As important as it is for you know who you are, this is more important. 

Second question: Do you know who you are not

More important than knowing who you are, is knowing who you are not. Too many of us end up spinning on our wheels and burn ourselves out by trying to be something or somebody we aren't. This is more than just knowing your weaknesses. You can't really be happy with you, are until you are ok with you are not. 

Here is what I know about myself. I am a middle school teacher. It's who I am. It's part of my gifting. I am also an administrator. It just fits me. I'm not saying I'm perfect in these roles and I certainly have room to grow. 

I once took a job as a high school teacher. Not because I wanted to teach high school, but because I wanted to live in that area. It almost crushed me and made me want to leave education all together. The problem is, I'm not a high school teacher. I remember being in college and applying for student teaching. I sat in a room being interviewed for the program and one of my professors asked me what middle school I might want to teach at next semester. I told her I wasn't going to go to a middle school, but that I was strictly going to be a high school teacher. She said, "I can't let you into student teaching then, because your are a middle school teacher if I've ever met one." Man, was she ever right about that, and I'm forever grateful for it. My last staff meeting as a high school teacher my principal was announcing that I had transferred to a middle school. My principal gave me a nice card and said to our staff of close to 100 teachers, "I think we all agree that Brett was meant to teach middle school." In other words, I was a really bad fit for high school. She was right. 

I feel the same way about my job now that I did about teaching middle school. This is who I am and it's where I belong. I couldn't imagine doing anything else right now. Maybe one day I'll be a principal, or even work my way up to a Superintendent. I honestly don't know. There are days when I think I'd really like to try my hands at those things. All I know right now is that I've never been happier or more excited about the work I get to be a part of every 

I admire people who recognize their place in the world and know where they belong and where they are better off leaving alone. I think of some of my very talented teacher friends, who would make great principals and district admins. Sometimes I know they get asked why they don't leave the classroom for an admin job. I know many of them know that even though they have the talent for the job, it's not their passion and it's not who they are. 

Just because you have the skill set to do a certain job, it doesn't mean you should be doing that job. 

In my lowest point of teaching, when I was looking at the possibility of leaving, I looked into what I could do with a degree in math. Let me tell you, there are some lucrative positions out there for a person with a degree in math. In the end, none of those options were the right fit, because that's not who I am. 

I use these answers to shape what I lead, where I lead, how I lead, and who I lead. I try to look to for people to learn from who are both who I am, and who I am not. I learn different things from those people. I grow under those people and I work on strengthening my strengths and minimizing my faults. 

I also make sure I have people working with me who aren't me. Sure, I could have a team full of Brett Clark clones. Maybe that would be easier and maybe we'd have less conflict. However, we'd also cover less ground, help less people and be less creative (because conflict is the birthplace of creativity). 

Does this make sense? Do you know who you are and who you are not? We should strive to be part of team that is working toward a common goal, is full of people who are in positions that match their passions, and a team where each others' strengths are the other team members' weaknesses.