Thursday, November 20, 2014

He's a Bad Kid

The best part of my mornings are getting to fix my three boys breakfast. Raising three boys you're just never sure what is going to happen while they are eating breakfast. My kids major in randomness. The other morning my youngest son started telling me about how he was missing a boy who was no longer in his kindergarten class. I told him that I was sorry that he missed him and asked him if they were his friends. He quickly responded, "No, he's not my friend. He's a bad kid. He gets on red every day."

I was taken back and honestly saddened by his comment about his classmate. You see, like many classrooms, my son starts his day on a certain color. If his behavior is defined as good behavior, then he gets to move up a color. If his behavior is defined as bad behavior, then he has to go down a color. Most days when I ask him how his day was he will reply, "I was on (fill in the color)." Here is what bothered me about this conversation at breakfast and what bothers me about frequent conversations after school.

  • He frequently defines the success or failure of his day strictly by what color he is on when the day ended. 
  • He judged a fellow classmate as a "bad kid" based on what color he perceived that student regularly ended his day on. 
Now let me say this as clearly as I can. This is not a complaint against his current teacher or school. My boys are having a great year. They have great teachers. They are all learning and happy. This post has been a long time coming. In fact, I spoke with my son's teacher today about it and got her permission to share the story about my son. Really made me even happier about her as a teacher. I love her openness and willingness to be a reflective educator. 

I was recently quoted in a piece about Class Dojo in the New York Times.  I was probably on the phone for over an hour with the reporter and it was a very pleasant conversation. The interview, a twitter conversation I got involved in, the subsequent NYT rebuttal from Class Dojo, a Skype session with somebody from Class Dojo, and then this conversation with my son all happened right on top of each other. All of this has my mind going and I had to blog about it. So here are some observations and things that I'm wondering about. 

Do tools like class dojo and using colors to track behavior build a positive classroom culture?

Culture is everything! Read Anthony Muhammad's books and you'll see what I mean.  Here is the thinking that I think public displays of rewards and punishments reinforces. 
  • Class favorites and class pets. "Oh Mr. Clark always gives Johnny Dojo points. He's his favorite." A lot of students already struggle with this mindset. Let's not reinforce it with bad classroom management practices.
  • This kid is a bad kid. As you know, I've seen this in my own son. He couldn't tell me anything else about that student except for his name and that he was a bad student. He based that on what somebody else in authority label that student. Inadvertently or not, it doesn't matter. 
  • Us vs Them. Is the way we handle classroom management bringing us closer together with our students or pushing us apart? Perception is reality. If our students view us as having it out for them or that "we never liked them", it doesn't matter how accurate or inaccurate it is, that's a hard mountain to climb. 
What message are we sending our students? 

One of my biggest complaints about Class Dojo is the imagery of little monsters being used to represent our students. I personally am not comfortable with it. I don't want my son to be depicted as a little monster. I don't want my students to be depicted as little monsters. 

My second biggest complaint with Class Dojo is that it's designed to be displayed. Now I know that teachers don't have to display it. Just like I know that teachers don't have to use the negative marks and the sound effects. However, the fact that those features exist promotes the public displaying of what should remain private information. 

Technology isn't neutral. You can take a piece of technology and use it differently than how it was designed but it was designed for a purpose. It's like the idea that guns aren't a part of the problem, just the people who misuse them. (My goodness, why am I putting this in here?) Give a group of kids a set of toy guns and see what game they'll play with them. Will they play "war" or will they play "peace". No kid says, "hey look at these toy guns we just got, lets go play peace with our friends." Yes, you can take almost any tool and use it in a beneficial way but that doesn't change how it was designed to be used. 

In a recent conversation I made the suggestion of removing the public and negative features from Class Dojo. The idea was rebuffed because half of the users would probably leave the platform. Now in all fairness, the ideas were written down. 

Ok, I'll get off of Class Dojo because I think they have good people working for them and they have been very open to conversations. You can use their product in a positive way.  Plus, I'd rather this conversation be more about the overall idea of classroom management, than just a single platform. 

Who owns the learning? 

If we as educators are defining what is good and bad behavior for them then when are we giving our students the chance to define their behavior themselves? More than just letting our students be involved in the creation of classroom expectations. We've got to get our students reflecting on their own actions and making their own course corrections as needed. 

Are we setting up our teachers and students for failure?

If you give out a reward or punishment for a certain behavior then you better be ready to give out that reward or punishment every single time that same event occurs again. That's an impossible task but the moment you stop, you've just sent a message to the student that the rules have changed. I do believe in the idea that we can punish by rewards.

Where do we go from here?

Ok, I've got to land this plane. Let me give you two easy suggestions on how I think we can all do a better job with classroom management. 

  1. Worry more about classroom engagement and less about classroom management. I've been saying for years that an active, engaging classroom and a mobile teacher are teachers' two best tools for classroom management. Be relevant, be engaging, be personable, and be empowering. 
  2. Keep discipline and rewards private. Especially discipline. If you see me pulled over on the side of the road, you can speculate all you want but you don't know why that cop pulled me over. Cops don't stop all of traffic just to deal with one violator. We shouldn't stop all learning just so we can deal with one student. If you're going to give rewards publicly then the rewards should be decided upon by the public for specific reasons to avoid the ideas of teachers having their favorites and popularity contest. 

Finally, let me leave you with two other great blog post. 



What do you think? How do you handle classroom management?  Am I completely off my rocker? 

Friday, August 15, 2014

It Starts with Listening #ferguson

I want to say thanks to my friend Chris Lehmann for pushing me to write this post. I don't often write about social issues, even though I have opinions, and I certainly have a voice. I guess it's just my own fear about how my voice will be received and probably about my own personal doubts that usually keep me from writing about social issues.

Another reason I think I shy away from social issues is because it's impossible for me to separate how I feel about social issues without including my religious views. I'm not ashamed about what I believe and I certainly make no apologies for my faith. I feel there is a time and place to share those views and I don't often bring those views to my blog.

However, last night after teaching my middle school class at my church and reading blog post from my friends on the topic of #ferguson, I found a point of intersection.

It's this idea that everything starts with our ability to hear. Of all of my senses, I think losing my hearing would be the worse to lose. I had this discussion with my class last night. Why do deaf people struggle with speaking? There's nothing wrong with their mouth or vocal chords. It's because they can't hear.

The same is true as you grow into adulthood. How can you truly speak on a situation if at first you don't listen? Check out this tweet from my good friend Bob Dillon.
I can't say for certain I know how this is all going to end. I do, however, have a suggestion with how this all should begin. It has to start with people learning how to listen.

When having these hard discussions with your students, start by listening to their hopes and fears. Start by listening to the voices from both sides of the situation before forming an opinion. Of course, I don't always get why there are even two sides to begin with but that's just me.

Move beyond speaking for just a moment. Think about how our ability to hear gives us direction. When the room is dark and you can't see your hand in front of your face, you stop and listen for a sound that tells you which way to turn. How can you truly know which way to turn and have direction if at first you don't listen? Play a little Marco Polo and you'll know that many times which way we turn starts with our ability to listen.

I finish with a personal story.

Most of my Saturdays I go to Beecher Terrace in Louisville, KY. It seems like each week there are violent crimes in that neighborhood. It breaks my heart as my wife, three children, and I walk through the apartment complex inviting people to church. It would be easy to spend all day there because the people who are there will talk your leg off. Probably because they aren't use to people actually listening to them and their needs.

It's not uncommon to have somebody thank me for being there. Sometimes it's just in word but I have been hugged a time or two. I've been warned by the guys on the corner when I walk up to them that I'm risking getting arrested if I'm seen with them but I stand there for a minute anyway. I just listen to what they have to say.

I'm not tooting my own horn here or bragging about my involvement because I fall short every week. I'm not making near the difference that I want to make. I'm not changing near enough lives and too many people are waking up to the same bleak reality the fell asleep to the night before.

If you don't think you have a neighborhood in your city like Beecher Terrace or you don't have kids in your schools that fear a situation like the one with Mike Brown will happen to them, then you are kidding yourself and you're not listening.

So I invite you to listen. Listen to your students, listen to your families, listen to the voices of great educators who wrote far more powerful pieces than this one.

Learning starts with listening. Change starts with listening. Hope starts with listening.

Thank you for taking the time to listening to me.

#ferguson

For more on this situation, please read the following post.

When Can We Talk About Race? by Jose Vilson
Conversations With My Son Regarding the Mike Brown Murder by Rafranz Davis
Just Start by Jenna Shaw
If this is the Goal of Education by John Spencer
What Do We Teach About Ferguson, MO? by Chris Lehman
What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying? by Chris Lehmann
#Ferguson by Bill Ferriter 
To Be A Better Teacher, A Better Person by Philip Cummings

Friday, July 11, 2014

Feedback Needed: Creating the Right Professional Development Plan

DISCLAIMER: IF YOU ARE FROM MY DISTRICT, THESE ARE JUST THOUGHTS I'M GETTING FEEDBACK ON AND NOT SET IN STONE. 

I repeat, this is just a plan that I'm looking at and seeking feedback on.

The 2014-2015 school year is approaching quickly. As I enter my second full year as a technology director I have been thinking a lot about vision, branding, and professional development. My boss challenged me to put together a strong professional development plan for this school year. I recently shared my proposed plan with her and my team. 

I hope that you will take some time to: 

  • look at the highlights of the plan.
  • provide feedback.
  • make suggestions.
I am not looking for a pat on the back or affirmation. I need to be challenged and pushed in my thinking. I just finished my third year out of the classroom and I want to make sure my thoughts are still relevant to the teachers and students I serve. 

Data Driven Decision Making

First of all, you need to know that last year we sent out a massive survey called "GCCS Needs Assessment". It was a huge list of "I can" statements revolving around using the different technology tools available to our teachers. Our amazing principals also did walkthroughs all year long and every time they did a walkthrough they submitted a google form about what they saw. A big portion of my thought process was based on these two pieces of data, conversations I've had with teachers/admins/students, and other personal observations. 

eLearning Coaches

I am very fortunate to work with 3 amazing eLearning Coaches. They all 3 work with 6/7 schools a piece. Yes, I know we need more...we're working on it. Here is how I see them being utilized going into year 2 of their position. 


  • eLearning Coaches will base weekly PD on Needs Assessment, Goal Clarity Windows (Curriculum Maps), and the district weekly PD focus (pedagogy, literacy, balanced math, and College & Career Readiness).
  • eLearning Coaches will work with Director of Technology and building principals to develop a plan and times when coaches will work with staff through Period Zeros, team planning period, personal planning periods, and co-teaching opportunities

TEaCHing Tuesdays

Throughout my first full year we had great conversation about how technology should be invisible. It is not the focus of the work we do. What we do is about teaching and learning. I just believe in the power in leveraging technology in the pursuit of learning.

I am working with a couple of friends to come up with a graphic for "Teaching Tuesdays" where the letters for "tech" stand out in the work "teaching" to indicate that tech is integrated into teaching. They are not two separate things.


  • Teaching Tuesdays will occur most Tuesdays after normal school hours. (Actual time/location TBD)
  • Teaching Tuesdays will offer breakout sessions, both virtual and face to face.
  • Breakout sessions will center around integrating GAFE, MBC, web-based tools, ActivInspire and PowerSchool into teaching. Pedagogy will be a huge focus at these PD sessions. 
  • One session will always be an open session where teachers can come and work on lesson plans with a coach. 
  • Sessions will primarily be led by Director of Technology and eLearning coaches but could also be led by Teacher-Librarians, STCs (School Technology Contact), other certified staff members, and/or vendor-partners.

eLearning Website/Blog

    • eLearning Team will finish developing help websites with contact information and tutorials on the different tools we use in our district.
    • eLearning Team will provide a weekly blog post by a team member.
    • eLearning Team will promote and participate in Connected Educator month in October, Digital Learning Day/Month in February, and conduct a 15 Day eLearning Challenge.
        20% Time

        • 20% Time is the philosophy that gives employees the opportunity to work on a project of their choosing.
        • Each eLearning Coach would develop, document, and implement a 20% time project.
        • The project can be with a class, a school, or district wide.
        • Projects must be approved by Director of Technology and Executive Director for Educational Services.
        • eLearning Coaches will document his/her experience through a blog.
        • eLearning Coaches will be given a budget to work on their 20% time project.
        • eLearning Coaches will pick one day a week to work on their 20% time project.
        Teacher-Librarians

        One of the exciting I've got be a part of is the opportunity to work with passionate people and reimagine with them the work they do. After working with our media-center specialist, we decided their roles needed redefining. Two are biggest initiatives in our district are literacy and technology integration. Our media-centers should be the center of these initiatives. With some help from our current media-center specialist and the amazing Shannon Miller, we rewrote the job description and have started the process of transitioning to this rebranded position called Teacher-Librarian. This is the outline of my plan to work with them.


          • Throughout the school year the teacher-librarians will transition to the new job description.
          • The Director of Technology will meet monthly with Teacher-Librarians to assist in the transition to these new roles/responsibilities.
          • The Director of Technology and eLearning Coaches will provide PD opportunities and connect teacher-librarians to other teacher-librarians from around the country.
          We're also interested in rebranding the media-centers themselves. I'm thinking about the name "learning-centers". What do y'all think?

          Technology Strategic Plan

          Now my district already has a strategic plan. I just want to beef up the technology piece of it and help create a better vision and brand.


            • Purpose: To build upon the current district strategic plan and create ownership across all stakeholders.
            • A Technology Strategic Plan Committee will be formed with a representative from each building, at least 5 parents, at least 5 students, eLearning Coaches, tech service members, at least 1 school board member, and administrators.
            • Committee will meet regularly throughout the year and develop a plan around these 5 pillars.
              • Academics
              • Infrastructure
              • Digital Citizenship
              • Professional Development
              • Financial/Budget

            Feedback Needed

                Ok, this is where you come in. What do you think? What do you like? What would you change? What would you add? What would you take away? Does this help all of my stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, admins, school board members and community)?

                Thank you for taking the time to read all of this and for leaving comments!

                              Tuesday, March 18, 2014

                              Cause Over Competition




                              Sometimes I enjoy learning about myself more than anyone or anything else. I know. That sounds pretty arrogant, but I'm continuously amazed at how much I still have to learn about myself.

                              For example, if you want me to shut down, it's easy--put me in a competition. It's just not in me to be competitive against other people.  This is one of the many reasons I stopped playing sports at a young age; I make a much better fan than a player. I'll cheer for my team, and I'll analyze their actions and think of how they can improve. Of course, I'll do that for the opposing teams as well. 

                              Not that long ago I was playing basketball, and I was guarding a friend who is a lot better than I am. (Hint: most people are.) It was my job to guard him, so I was going to do everything in my power to stop him. However, he was draining every shot that night. If I guarded him closely, he just drove past. If I gave him space, he just shot over me. The thing is, every time he hit a shot, I felt good for him. It didn't bother me that he was embarrassing me. I was honestly happy for the guy.  I think I even gave him a high-five after a couple shots. It's not uncommon for a teammate to ask me if I know whose team I'm on because I'm happy either way, no matter who wins.

                              The last time I played organized sports is when I was in 7th grade. I played football. At the end of the year I was given the sportsmanship award. I will never forget about what my coach said about me.
                              "What I love about Brett is that even though he was a starter, he never complained one time when I took him out of a game. When I wanted to put him back in, he was easy to find because he was right next to me cheering on his teammates." 
                              None of this is to brag. It's just who I am. I am only in competition with one person, myself. The only person I want to be better than is the person I was yesterday.  It is what I loved most about Matthew McConaughey's speech when he won his Oscar. He said that the person he is chasing is himself 10 years from now.





                              This is what bothers me about the current state of education and what goes on in a lot of other areas as well. Everything is a competition. I constantly come across the mentality that if you don't give somebody a person to compete against, then they won't strive to compete at all. I push back against that mentality.

                              I want to give people a cause to fight for, more than a person to fight against.  

                              When you are fighting for a cause, you always have something to compete for or against. People win enough championships, they eventually win enough awards, and they will walk away from competition. I don't know many people who walk away from causes.

                              This mentality drives so many of my decisions. This is why I tell my own kids they have my permission to not take their state exams seriously because I don't let them get pulled into this competition to have the highest test score. And we don't talk about grades in my house. I will sign a report card if I have to, but I will probably only skim it, if I read it at all. When my sons' state test scores come in the mail later this year, they will immediately find their way in the trash can without being opened. They don't get to compare grades or test scores with each other. I don't put my kids in competition. I just ask them that they be the best them they can be, and be better than they were yesterday.

                              One of the hardest times in my career was at the end of my first year of being an eLearning Coach. We had a team of 15 and my boss was given the task by his boss to rank us 1-15 because they were going to be cutting our team down by a number that not even my boss knew. Each one of us had to go in for an interview and just talk about the work we were doing. I thought long and hard about just bowing out and heading back to the classroom.  I loved my classroom, and I miss it dearly every day. I will miss that role until the day I retire. My best years are ahead of me, but I fear my favorite years are behind me.

                              I hated what we were being asked to do, go in and fight to beat out others, because our team was not in competition with each other. We were collaborators! We were brothers and sisters! But here we were trying to fight to stay in our position. So why didn't I just back down? Because of the cause. I love education and want to make our schools the best they can be. It's something that is etched in my heart.

                              So I went into that interview with the mentality that I was going to refuse to place myself above anybody else on my team. For the majority of the interview I talked about what each person on the team brought to the table. I talked about the different gifts each of us had and how well they complemented each one of us. I honestly tried to give my boss every reason to keep other people on the team over me.

                              The day I got picked to stay on the team, and five of my teammates were cut, was one of the hardest days of my career. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to fight for my cause, but I was crushed that my colleagues, my friends, had an opportunity to think less of themselves.

                              That is what happens when you make things a competition. You always have a winner, and you always have a loser. You give somebody a reason to feel good about themselves, and you give somebody a reason to feel bad and defeated.

                              When you have a cause, you are taking a situation that is already struggling and you're trying to turn it around. Let me say it this way: you are taking a situation where people already feel like they are losing and you're helping them turn into winners. Nobody looses when you fight for a cause.

                              We need cause-driven leadership! 

                              We need leaders who will have their people take on a cause and not a competition. I remember working in a school district where the mission statement was "Equity and Excellence for All Children". That's a cause I can get behind and I can fight to provide. The district I am in now is "Bridging Excellence and Opportunities". My current superintendent often talks about being the bridge between college and career readiness. Again, that's a cause I can get behind. It's not for me to decide where my students end up. I'm just going to be the best bridge I can be to help them get there. I'm not out to build a bigger and better bridge than other school districts. I cheering for those guys and gals. I'm pulling for each district around the state and beyond! We are all pulling the same direction. At least, we're suppose to be.

                              Not really sure how to wrap up this post. I could spend more time on cause-driven leadership and maybe I will soon. This post was more for me than anything. It's my 100th post on my blog. I'm a little bummed that it's taken me this long to click on "publish" 100 times, but here we are. I hope to get better at this, and I hope to write more often because I know I can. Me 10 years from now is blogging a lot more than I am today. Me 10 years from now has written a book and has his doctorate degree.

                              The causes that I am fighting for will still be there 10 years from now. I am not sure how much of dent I will make in them over the next 10 years, but I will make a bigger dent in them today than I did yesterday and it will be the best dent I can make. In the end, that's the only competition I need.