Your Teaching Career May Be Defined By Who You Hang With

I recently came across this quote from Chris Emdin and I could not agree more with this perspective.  It comes from his book “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education“.

Take a second to read the featured image again…

I cannot agree more with this view.  For me when I reflect on this quote I never had more fun teaching when I was working with a team who was invested, dedicated, and having a blast.  The positive energy that I felt, even through the tough times, kept us all strong and we never lost sight of the end goals.

Think about the time when you were on the other side.  You worked with that teacher who did their job, but teaching was just that… a JOB.  How about the colleague who is a BLAST to be around outside of work but when within the walls of the school they have a negative attitude, no patience for their students, and always seem to provide a negative comment about something that is happening in the school.  Another personality is someone else on the team loved teaching, kids, and was a solid educator but they resisted change and transforming their classroom.

This type of behavior is addicting.  At first you might roll your eyes, shake your head, laugh with them because they are being funny.  The danger here is that this is addictive and WORDS HAVE POWER.  More power than most of us will ever give them credit for and eventually you will go from shaking your head to participating in the act.

Once you start down the path of negativity it can be hard to control and maintain.  It is unfair to expect that we all can avoid tripping up and needing an opportunity to vent, share disappointments, and just clear our minds of frustration.  It is how you move forward form that moment that counts.  Does this becoming a daily occurrence?  Do you start to take your frustrations home with you?  Do you take some of these frustrations to social media?

Some of you might be reading this and thinking that the teachers you hang with do not influence your impact.  I can appreciate that, you want to defend the people you hang with.  If this is you then my first thought is that this quote might be more true for you than you think.  Maybe one or a couple of the teachers on your team have the potential to be cancerous to the entire group OR maybe you can just see and feel that this might be happening at your campus.  What do you do?  Well if your career depends on it, and according to the quote from Chris it might, please take a second to think and reflect on what is best for your mindset.  This is crucial because your mindset will directly effect your students mindset and being anything but positive, kind, and empathetic, to me, is unacceptable.  If you are not then you might just miss out on a chance to “Flip a Kid”.  


Rethinking the Lesson Plan

Rethinking the Lesson Plan comes from one of my favorite ed minds, Katie Martin.  If you have not had a chance to follow her on Twitter, read her blog, or see her TEDTalk I would highly recommend her.  She does a wonderful job sharing her views, connecting them to research, and inspires her followers to be better educators.

For me just listening to her TEDTalk sold me on who she is as a person and educator because you can just feel her passion.  I also participated in IMMOOC with her and George Couros and wow do they do a great job covering, highlighting, and discussing The Innovators Mindset.  I would highly recommend you participate if they ever collaborate on Season 3!

So I am out in left field so back to this post from Katie!  This post is great because I believe that highlights what most of us feel about the lesson plan.  Some may think that a well thought out, document plan is fantastic but for me, quite honestly, it is a waste of time!  You can perform a well thought out, planned lesson without dedicating 30 minutes to an hour typing it all out, spell check, grammar check, all just to submit to an administrator (who probably does not review it) to verify that you are “prepared”.

My view is that we, as teachers, have SO many other things that we have to do each day so when planning a lesson, documenting EVERY step can be a waste of time.  If we simply step back, review the principals that Katie outlines in her post, and put our mind to what is best for our students vs. writing great lesson plans I believe you will make improvements as an educator.

One of my biggest take away’s is the discussion over engagement vs. empowerment.  As Katie references, it is talked about several times in The Innovators Mindset but if you sit back and think about how you learn doesn’t it make SO MUCH SENSE!?  I am engaged DAILY at work, doing my job, completing tasks on time, but I am never has happy as I am when I am empowered to do something different.  I can explore my passions and then maybe even find ways to bring it back to my work.  What if you find that your passions NEVER connect to your work, maybe a career change would also improve your lifestyle?  All of these questions and more can be discovered and answered just by taking time to be empowered vs. engaged.  Can’t we also do this for our kids while they learn?  Imagine what they could learn about themselves while also learning math, history, science, and english!

Katie discusses how we can potentially shift the gears and change this discussion.  You need to read her post for all the details but here are the highlights of the areas that she discusses:

  • From Engagement to Empowerment

  • From Standardization to Personalization

  • From Scaffolds to Agency

  • From Skills to Application

  • From classroom management to classroom community

  • Experimenting or Evolving?

Enjoy the read – you will not be disappointed and I hope that it opens your mind to potentially investigating other ways to do things while still getting a similar result!

Featured image was borrowed from her post which was borrowed from!

Competencies vs. Skills

Eric Sheninger writes one of my favorite blogs to follow.  I could probably share his post weekly!  This is post on “Competencies vs. Skills” was great because it is a widely discussed topic.  There are always posts about the skills students need to be successful in the 21st Century.  The challenge is that “skills” are great but they do not often lead to mastery.

Eric defines competencies and skills as such in his post,  “Competencies outline “how” the goals and objectives will be accomplished. They are more detailed and define the requirements for success in broader, more inclusive terms than skills do. There is also an increased level of depth that takes into account skills, knowledge and abilities. To succeed in the new world of work, students will need to demonstrate the right mix of skills, knowledge, and on-the-job ability. A skill is a practical or cognitive demonstration of what a student can do. Competency is the proven use of skills, knowledge, and abilities to illustrate mastery of learning by solving problems.”

The number one thing that I loved about the post is that Eric does a great job defining them but then stresses that while skills are great, we need to get beyond them!

What are your thoughts?

Featured imageLos borrowed from:



How To Weave Growth Mindset Into School Culture

This is a great post from Katrina Schwartz via Mind Shift.

I enjoyed this post because it discusses a real world scenario.  It highlights Adilene Rodriguez who is a senior at Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, California.  She highlights and talks about her time in high school and how one of her teachers, Jim Clark, educated her on the growth mindset and helped her to grow and believe in herself.

This story is one that could be shared with students all around the world so that they can see the power of the growth mindset.  This is one of my favorite topics in education to discuss so if your interested in more, check out my posts on the growth mindset.

Happy reading!!

Featured image is borrowed from the article.

8 digital life skills all children need – and a plan for teaching them

In today’s work is there anything more important than giving our students the ability to grow, learn, and be successful in the future?  When you look at mission statements for districts, as I do for my job as I tour the United States, SO many of them talk about digital citizenship, global citizenship, preparing students for success, etc.

Yuhyun Park recently addressed this topic in her post for the World Economic Forum called “8 digital life skills all children need – and a plan for teaching them”.

Here are the 8 digital skills:

  1. Digital citizen identity
  2. Screen time management
  3. Cyber-bullying management
  4. Cyber-security management
  5. Privacy management
  6. Critical thinking
  7. Digital footprints
  8. Digital empathy

Featured image is borrowed fro the post.

20 Strategies for Motivating Reluctant Learners

Katrina Schwartz highlights the work of Kathy Perez in her recent post “20 Strategies for Motivating Reluctant Learners” via MInd/Shift.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

“She’s a big proponent of brain breaks and getting kids moving around frequently during the day. She reminded educators that most kids’ attention spans are about as long in minutes as their age. So a third-grader can concentrate for about eight minutes before losing interest. It’s a teacher’s job to make sure there are lots of quick, effective brain breaks built into the lesson to give children a moment to re-calibrate. Perez says teachers must be prepared for a diverse cross section of learners with a large toolkit of strategies for teaching in multiple modalities, with many entry points to participation and content.”

I love some of these things that she highlights.  As someone who has taught for years we encounter PLENTY of these students.  The question is:

“Do you let them fall through the cracks or find ways to meet their needs?”

Some of Kathy’s ideas may sound like common sense but I have seen them overlooked hundreds of times.  Here are some of my favorites from her list; are empathize, focus on the ABC’s: acceptance, belonging, and community, give breaks, snowballs, and HOPE!  Another gem in the post is this video: Ned’s Great Eight to Heart.

Five Guidelines to Make School Innovation Successful.

Here is the introduction to the article written by Katrina Schwartz via Mind/Shift.

“Eleven years ago Chris Lehmann and a committed team of educators started Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a public magnet school in Philadelphia that focuses on student inquiry through projects in a community that cultivates a culture of care. The school has been so successful over the last decade that the district has tapped Lehmann to help other schools get started or transform themselves.”

I love the post because it highlights the basics of being a successful innovator and the first guideline is the most important to me.

Simplicity Matters

So many educators, when they decide to take the leap and try something new, attempt to develop the best lesson plan OF ALL TIME.  They want to showcase their new found pedagogy and they forget that doing too much the first time through might set them up for failure.  This is just part of the learning process (and a valuable one at that) because they will learn from their mistakes and it will make them better.  Change is not easy and it is not easy for your students either.  Keep it simple and make sure you provide not only your students to succeed but yourself as well.

The 6th guideline – my addition – is TALK ABOUT THE CHANGE WITH YOUR KIDS.  Prepare them for the change, let them know why your doing it, and sell them on the change!  Why not invest in some time to sell them on the idea first?  If they buy into the process then the chances of it being successful are even better.  I did this frequently as an educator and I found that: my students appreciated it, I was more successful, and most importantly is fostered a strong relationship between my students and myself.  They appreciated me treating them like adults, talking through things, and being a FAMILY.

The Power of Family

How many of you have been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of a “family”?  I use the quotations here because the term “family” has MANY variations.  Websters defines a family as: a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.  In school this would have a different meaning.  As educators, I believe that if we lead our students as we would lead our own family, relationships will blossom!  James Comer summarizes how the power of relationships will impact learning.

Isn’t this worth investing time in!? I recently had a revelation about the power of family and how it has influenced me.

I am the oldest/2nd oldest, on either side of my family and growing up was taught to provide a great example for my younger family members.  On my dad’s side of the family we have “family dinner” at my grandmother’s house EVERY Sunday.  People miss here and for different reasons but the beauty of this was talking with them about how my week was, what’s new, having a group to support me, etc.

It was here, in these moments, where I always wanted to have something great to say that would make me look good, feel good, but most importantly not disappoint anyone.  I was pretty good at being a role model, I believe, up until I started to disconnect myself from my family.  After college I got married which quickly turned into a divorce.  Suddenly I was no longer confident in my answers to how was your week, what’s new, etc.  I fell into a dark place for almost two years and always found salvation in teaching and my classroom family but was uncomfortable to share with my real family.

Then I met my wife, reconnected with family, created a family of my own (we have 3 beautiful girls), and have a job that I am passionate about.  It has completely restored my drive and desire to be a role model, leader, father, and husband.  I feel like I did when I was 18 but now have weathered some storms and feel stronger in my own skin that I ever have before.  I rediscovered who I am.

“Sooooooooo Justin, great story of redemption but what does this have to do with education?”

I believe that if we build families at school then our students will grow and behave similar to how I do with my own family.  If we want to significantly help our students grow and learn, this occurs with significant relationships.  As teachers, we have the ability to develop a family within our classrooms.  My goal as a teacher was to create an environment where my kids felt safe, appreciated, and most importantly, loved.  In Episode 1 of my podcast Perspectives in Education, I talk with a former student of mine and she reflects on what it was like to be a part of my “family” at school.   It takes time but the benefits are priceless.

I found that my students started to act like me when I was around my family.  They knew that each day I was there to greet them, be there for them, support them, but at the end of the day I was going to ask them how their day was.  They did not want to disappoint me so slowly I started to see growing as they learned more about themselves.  They were taking control of their lives in school, I feel, because of the power of family.  They wanted to share positive stories, try new things, and grow into someone that I and their classmates respected.

This is the power of family.  It is developing a group of people that support, love, believe, and listen to you.  Through these powerful relationships, your students can change, evolve, and grow.  Think back to a teacher that influenced you the most.  What did you love about them?  Did you ever want to disappoint them with behavior, not completing homework, or failing tests?  Odds are you did the best in those classes because of the relationship you built with them.  Don’t you want to be the one that your students still talk about 10, 20, 50 years from now?

Bottom Line

This is your chance!  Cultivate and plant family atmosphere with your students, water them daily with love, empathy, grace, and understanding, provide them a voice, and most importantly LISTEN, and watch your family grow!  It will change your life and the life of your students.  I am confident in it because of seen in first hand and also because family changed mine.



The 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time

In honor of the great Dr. Seuss and his birthday, I wanted to share with you Time Magazine’s list of The 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time.

Top 5:

  1. Where the Wild Things Are
  2. The Snowy Day
  3. Goodnight Moon
  4. Blueberries For Sal
  5. Little Bear

As a parent to 3 young girls I know the value of reading to them and still find myself struggling to make time.  Some days it is easy but most are HARD!  I was really good at it with my first daughter but have gotten worse over time.  How many of you experience this?

Well today is our day to change.  Today, I am making a pledge to be better and try harder to make sure that I set time aside each day to read to my children.  Who’s with me!?



New Report for Parents and Communities Opens Ideas on What is Possible with Personalized Learning

Susan Patrick shares with us the “New Report for Parents and Communities Opens Ideas on What is Possible with Personalized Learning” via the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Here is the introduction to the article – check it out for the details!

“Teachers, leaders, students and families in communities across the country are coming together to explore how schools can better prepare students to succeed after graduation

Together, they’re exploring big questions such as:

  • What must students know and do to be able to thrive in the modern world?
  • What learning experiences are necessary to ensure students graduate with these skills and traits?
  • How do schools better meet the needs and interests of students by providing personalized pathways toward graduation?
  • How must schools transform in order to create these new learning experiences and opportunities?”

Here is the link to the downloadable PDF!