Saturday, February 22, 2014

Are you a praise junkie?

Do you ever catch yourself doing something and it bugs you?  Maybe internally you say, why did I do that?  

Last week our Warner Elementary Minecraft Club kicked-off.  After a few minutes of getting students onto the server and going over some logistics I began to rotate around the room.  Some students needed minor assistance and others wanted to show me what they were up to.  

As I moved about the room I began to see some really cool creations.  One student was in the midst of creating a castle, another student was making a zoo and others were building their own houses.  The creativity and imagination in the room was amazing!  Every so often I would stop and watch.  I would say, "That's cool!" and "Great job!"  Then it hit me!  I was being, "A PRAISE JUNKIE."  I went over to help a little guy place blocks and learn the correct keys for movement, and as I assisted him I thought to myself...STOP, these students need specific feedback, not just random praise.

We've all heard and read the research about the power of Acknowledging Children's Positive Behaviors .  I do believe adults do this pretty well when there is a certain student behaving in an extreme manner.  Yet what often happens is the behavior begins to improve and we as adults move on to the next emergency.  Unfortunately kids who lack consistent attention will often return to negative behaviors.  That is why I believe ALL people deserve our Specific Feedback.  A couple guidelines to keep in mind when we give feedback are:

1)  Show authentic appreciation

2)  Acknowledge Positive Behavior in a behaviorally specific manner:
       - Super Effort!
       - Awesome answer!
       - Terrific start!
3)  Avoid Generalities - 
       - Good Work!
       - Way To Go!
       - Great!
       - Fantastic!
       - Terrific!
       - Super!
       - WOW!
       - Awesome!
(I believe this feedback has a positive intent, but this feedback is general in nature and we must be more specific in our message.  We don't simply want to be praise junkies.)

Effective praise is specific, it means something to the person.  This type of praise takes more effort on our part because we must attentively listen and watch.  I can also turn it around on myself. When I receive praise it means more to me when it is specific.  To simply hear someone say, "Nice Job" just doesn't mean as much as when someone may say, "I was really impressed by how you handled __________.  Keep it up!"  This praise is specific and meaningful, and the other praise is surface oriented and lacks depth.  Don't get me wrong, praise is typically a good thing. I simply believe we owe it to people to be as specific as possible.

Here's an example about Specific Positive Feedback.  Last week as I was visiting classrooms I heard a teacher say, "You complimented two of your group members during the activity, I could tell it made them feel good and it really made me proud!"  This is much more specific than a simple "Great job".  

I believe it is important to be more specific with our feedback, not only towards students but also with adults.  Currently we are in the midst of Mid-Year Evaluations and my goal has been to have a conversation.  How has the year been?  How do you feel about the goals you set in the fall?  What are you hoping to sustain or improve from now to the end of the school year?  Throughout this process I try to listen, encourage and give honest feedback.  

My point is this: EVERYONE needs and deserves honest and specific feedback.  As we move forward I encourage all of you to take the time to make your feedback specific.

This Week's Big Question:  What type of feedback do you crave?


Monday, February 24th:  Peer 2 Peer Classroom visits begin
Monday, February 24th:  NWEA Webinar at Admin 9:30am
Monday, February 24th:  1:1 Tech Meeting at 1pm
Monday, February 24th:  4pm Minecraft Club
Tuesday, February 25th:  Kimble Camp Meeting
Tuesday, February 25th:  Peer 2 Peer Classroom visits continue
Tuesday, February 25th:  4pm Minecraft Club
Wednesday, February 26th:  Grades K-2 assembly in cafeteria 8:45
Wednesday, February 26th:  Peer 2 Peer Classroom visits continue
Wednesday, February 26th:  3pm Minecraft Club
Wednesday, February 26th:  Professional Development with Brad Wilson on Video Discussion Board
Thursday, February 27th:  Lockdown Drill in the PM
Friday, February 28th:  Happy Bday to Nancy Bunker
Friday, February 28th:  Happy Bday to DeAnna Struck
Friday, February 28th:  Elementary Carnival Night

*  With this being the last week of February I will be scheduling Mid-Year Meetings with anyone that hasn't nailed down a time with me.
*  Last week we had our first ever Warner Lock-In.  I believe it was a tremendous success!  We had over 150 kids and so many were laughing, dancing and playing.  Thank you for coming out and offering your support.  I'm extremely grateful.

Articles Worth Reading:

20 Tips For a More Organized Classroom +TeachThought @TeachThought

Secrets of teachers who love their jobs; always be a learner +Angela Watson @Angela_Watson

Reading is Bigger Than Us +Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp

New APP: @TellAboutThis - a creative way to inspire... +Erin Klein @KleinErin

Wait Time...It Matters +Joan Young @flourishingkids

Gamifying Education: Do we really know how to gamify the classroom? +Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher

What motivates You? (Probably not grades) +Kristen Swanson @kristenswanson

Are You a Yeller? HUSH! +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

The small ripple +George Couros @gcouros

No Words Necessary @Jonharper70b

Taking the "Book" to the next level by Patrick Andrus #nerdybookclub

A Runner's Enemy @ShutUpRun

That Sinking Feeling +Arin Kress @ArinKress

20 Things That Belong on Everyone's To-Don't List +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Kids Re-Enact 2014 Oscar Films (4 min)

Failing until you Succeed (20 min)

Marathon couple gets a huge surprise from Ellen! (4 min)

REMC Connected Educator Series with +Mr. Abud @MR_ABUD (14 min)

Just Dance Video! All I gotta say is...Warner Lock-In (4 min)

I had a cool opportunity last week to share the positives of Warner Elementary.  The radio interview was with @Joesanfelippofc and @TonySinanis 

Feel free to listen to the podcast at - BrandED Podcast

Friday, February 14, 2014

Something to Hang Your Hat On

Years ago I remember doing a project with my 5th graders.  I loved this project. It was titled the Career Project (I know, real catchy).  Students went down to our computer lab and took a 30 question survey on their interests.  When they finished they received a printout of 40 possible careers that they may be interested in.  My expectation was this: Students had a tri-fold board, each section was designed to highlight a different career.  Section 1 was any career of their choice.  Section 2 was a career I chose for the students that was on their printout.  Section 3 was a career of a family member.  These projects typically turned out extremely well.  Students shared the boards with classmates and explained lots of interesting information that they learned about each career.  The boards were aesthetically pleasing and often contained pictures, objects and colors that pulled in the audience.  I was very proud of these projects.  In fact I saved many over the years.  Recently I bumped into a former student who has made me super proud.  She is headed to college soon to become an engineer.  Recently she was recognized for her work on the Career Center Robotics Team.  This got her an invitation to the State of the State with Governor Snyder ( @onetoughnerd ). I wanted to surprise Holly.  I found her 5th grade Career Project and took it to her current job.  She couldn't stop smiling!  I look back very fondly at the Career Projects, but I also remember the students that struggled to choose a career.  The idea was to get students thinking of their future.  The premise was a good one, but I've also learned over time that not every student is ready for this in 5th grade.

I say all that as a lead into what I've been doing with students all year.  I've taken a new approach when students come to the office for a "not-so-positive-reason".  I've always been a believer in understanding, not simply punishing.  My routine is to sit down with students.  I first try to figure out two things:  1- Is the student in a State of Mind to discuss the issue? 2- Is this a first time chat or is this a repeat offender?

Once we begin to talk I have taken a new approach.  I now ask a series of questions that give me deeper insight into the student.

Question 1:  What is your favorite thing about school?
Question 2:  What do YOU think is YOUR best quality?
Question 3:  What is one thing you hope for when you get older?

These questions are powerful. I get real insight into how students see themselves.  What these conversations have taught me is this:  Elementary students often don't dream of a specific career (except the few that say they will be professional athletes or singers).  I can sum up what they do dream of...they dream of happiness.

My students have taught me an important lesson.  The goal is happiness, how we get there is unique to each individual.  I do believe it's important that students understand certain qualities can help them be successful and happy.  These qualities are:

1)  Effort/Hard Work
2)  Honesty
3)  Communication
4)  Perseverance
5)  Drive

Now the aha moment.  I used to push students into thinking long term.  Now my goal has shifted.  I believe it is more important to help students find something to hang their hat on.  That is, a skill, quality or activity that they feel is theirs.  For some it may be reading.  For others it may be dancing or ballet. For even others it could be a sport.  Students that excel at something learn valuable qualities.  They learn to work hard, to persevere and they have an internal drive to improve.  What I typically find is...Success breeds Success.  I rarely worried about my students that put in good effort, persevered and were driven to succeed.  The students I always worried about were the ones that didn't.  The ones that couldn't name a good quality about themselves.  The ones that never were willing to work hard.  The ones that had nothing they were proud of.

Instead of asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, let's shift the conversation to what are you passionate about?  What are you proud of?  What is the best thing about you?  Let's try to give our students something to hang their hat on.

This Week's Big Question(s):  When you were a student, what did you hang your hat on?  What was the best thing about you?


Monday, February 17th:  No School/Presidents Day
Tuesday, February 18th:  9am Admin Meeting
Tuesday, February 18th:  Minecraft Club Kicks-off after school 4pm-5pm
Wednesday, February 19th:  Minecraft and String Team After School Clubs 3pm-4pm
Wednesday, February 19th:  2nd grade to JCC
Wednesday, February 19th:  Tennis Assembly Grades 3-5 in the Gym 8:45
Thursday, February 20th: 1:15pm Crisis Response Meeting
Thursday, February 20th:  CP Federal Credit Union 2pm - 3pm
Thursday, February 20th:  4:15 after school meeting
Friday, February 21st:  Lock-In 5:30-9pm
Friday, February 21st:  Mrs. Gibbs to the Cascades Humane Shelter

*  All-Staff - please schedule a time to meet for mid-year meetings.

Articles Worth Reading:

This Sucks! by @Jonharper70bd

Wrestling with Feedback +Jessica Johnson @PrincipalJ

Clutter Free Classroom (Anti-Bullying Ideas) shared by +Breanna Davey @studiobree

Improvement is the Goal +Shannon Degan @shannondegan

Best & Next in Education +A.J. Juliani @ajjuliani

EDUTECH Musings by @cfanch

Being Normal +Tony Sinanis @TonySinanis

The ONE quality that distinguishes great leaders shared by +Joe Sanfelippo @Joesanfelippofc

The Best Teachers Don't Do What They're Told +Terry Heick @TeachThought

What becomes of the Lonely Teachers? +Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp

Where are all the dads? +Justin Tarte @justintarte

9 Good Signs You Are In The Right Relationship +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

This kid is cool!  It's all about 3-5 likes. (4 min)

Lego Movie Trailer.  I first thought this movie was completely odd.  Now I must admit, the message is powerful.  I didn't get it until the next day.  (Made me think)  (3 min)

Be Kind To One Another!  Wonderful Story on +TheEllenShow  (5 min)

Whoa.  What. A. Week.  On the bright side (and I always try to look at the bright side) I learned a lot and that's what is truly important.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Somebody to Lean On...

There are times in your life that you don't know how much you need someone until you do...

I remember it like it was yesterday.  Our team qualified for Nationals in West Palm Beach.  We were all thrilled by the opportunity.  Following the first day of competition we were 14th out of 24 teams. We were in real danger of missing the cut.  

Day two arrived and it was a day of redemption.  

My teammates and I had a goal, we were going to make the cut.  I had a personal goal, I was going to end my mini-funk and play to my potential.  I was paired with an All-American from Oklahoma and I wanted nothing more than to show I belonged.  Throughout the round I caught glimpses of teammates, coaches and parents.  I had a good idea that we were playing well. We had put ourselves in position to advance.  

Then I got to the 14th hole.  I was 5 over par.  I was grinding, struggling, but trying my best to hang-in there for my team.  My coach, Bill SanGiacomo, came up to me as I walked off the 14th green.  "How are you?"  he said.  I responded with a simple, 5 over.  He began chewing on his fingers.  

Four holes to go.  I played the 15th hole well, I knocked it on two putted for par.  Next came the long par three 16th.  I hit a decent shot but came up some 50 feet short of the pin.  My first putt was woefully short, but I dug in and poured in a 15 footer to save par.  Next came the 17th hole.  I hit a poor drive up the left side, followed by a shaky recovery that ended up in the sand trap.  As I approached the bunker I could tell my team needed me.  My coach was approaching from the next hole over, he was fidgety and anxious.  I dug in and blasted it out.  The ball landed like a butterfly and trickled into the cup!  I was pumped and now I was back to 4 over par. I had a jump in my step as I went to the 18th tee.  I ripped a drive down the middle and then stood in the fairway just a few feet from my coach.  The gallery behind the green looked enormous.  I had my favorite yardage for my wedge.  I took dead aim and stuck it within inches of the flag.  The crowd erupted behind the green!  My coach had tears in his eyes as he shook my hand. I tapped in for a solid round of 75.  After the round I was congratulated by my teammates, my parents were thrilled and my coach could only muster one word...gutsy.  

I should have been thrilled...but something was missing.  It was my future wife.  I remember getting back to the room and calling her, I shared the story and then I told her that I wished she could have been there.  That was the first time I truly understood how much I need her.

I believe we all have someone that we lean on.  It's different for all of us.  That person can make all the difference.  They are our unsung heroes. 

Having someone to lean on in moments of success and struggles matters.  I feel a strong sense of pride when I enter classrooms and teachers share success stories.  These stories lift me up.  I also take a lot of pride in trying to support teachers and staff through the challenging moments.  We've laughed, we've cried and through it we've become stronger.  

Many of the educators I know have behind the scenes support systems.  Being an educator requires lots of hours, extensive planning and communication.  Without someone to lean on many of us would crumble.  I know I would.

We've just passed half-way in our school year.  Parents are expecting our magic wands to fix all problems and we have to balance honesty with empathy.  This is a stressful balance that all educators face.  As you encounter these challenges I hope you have someone you can lean on.  

I feel fortunate to have a staff that puts their heart into everything.  With that being said, I also know that this is hard, sometimes we feel unappreciated or beaten down. We are all dedicated, loving and focused on kids, yet somedays doesn't it feel like we take two steps forward and three steps back?  That is when we need someone to lean on.

I'm grateful for many things.  I'm grateful for my PLN, my administrative team, my teachers and staff and most of all I'm grateful for my wife.  I wouldn't be the person I am today without a supportive team. My hope is simply this, don't try to be a lone ranger, find someone to lean on...we all need someone to lean on.

This Week's Big Question:  Do you have someone you can lean on?


Monday, February 10th:  PBL Meeting in the MS 2:40pm
Monday, February 10th:  3:45 1:1 Tech Meeting in the boardroom
Tuesday, February 11th:  Panther Pride
Tuesday, February 11th:  PTO meeting at 7pm
Wednesday, February 12th:  Assembly in the cafeteria Grades 3-5 from 8:45-9:20  Grades K-2 assembly from 9:25-9:40 (MIS visit...Emily Garrison)
Wednesday, February 12th:  TAT 3pm
Wednesday, February 12th:  Happy Bday to Shirley Campbell
Wednesday, February 12th:  Professional Development on Screencasting with +Stacey Schuh
Thursday, February 13th:  Valentine Parties in the PM
Friday, February 14th:  No School
Saturday, February 15th:  Happy Bday to Amber O'Rourke

Articles Worth Reading:

More humor w/your leadership, Please +Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza

The More I Lecture, The Less I Know If They Understand @grantwiggins @TeachThought

The "C" Words of Education +Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

Fun Math practice @Splashmath for grades 1-5 +Erin Klein @KleinErin

3 Tips To Communicate More Effectively Via Social Media @TeachThought

Highest Result of Education is Tolerance +Terry Heick @TeachThought

Dean Shareski: What Ever Happened To Joy In Education? +Andy Losik +Dean Shareski @mrlosik

7 Stressful Things To Start Ignoring +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Top 10 Practices for Principals to Promote Literacy +Donalyn Miller

20 Things No One Tells You About Running @ShutUpRun

Training the Brain To Listen +Edutopia @edutopia

Educon: Game Changer +Tony Sinanis @TonySinanis

Videos Worth Watching:

This is terrific! Who do you lean on? Speak-Life student created video.  This is #PBL #GeniusHour (7 min)

Who do you lean on?  Touching Olympic Commercial (2 min)

Who do you lean on?  End of an Era with Jay Leno...this was really genuine. (6 min)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Fifty Separate or One United?

As you read this post, you may wonder if the #PolarVortex has frozen my's is possible.

The story begins 18 years ago.  I was in the midst of earning my elementary education degree at Tri-State University (now known as Trine University in Angola, Indiana).  My advisor Dr. Van Wagner was explaining the licensing process for teachers.  As she explained this to us I admittedly felt confusion.  At the time I was going to have to take the Indiana Educational Assessment to become a certified Elementary Teacher.  Dr. Van Wagner then informed me that my license would be valid in 24 of the 50 states.  She said many states have a reciprocity and only ask for provisional certificates to teach in other states.  I reflected, 24-50 states?  Less than half?  Then I asked her if one of those 24 States was Michigan, the answer was no.  Michigan at the time had almost no reciprocity with any other states.  I was going to have to take the computer based test to get my Michigan Teaching License. At the time I voiced my confusion and I also consulted some teachers and administrators.  In every instance they all agreed that the system is poorly run.

(Fast forward three years)
Now in my third year as a fifth grade teacher I was reminded that I needed six graduate hours every five years to keep my license current.  At first I thought this was simply a "right of passage" thing. Then after getting into it I started to become irritated with the system.  I thought...Let me get this straight, I put in 60+ hours of professional development, I attend conferences, I put my heart into my teaching, planning & students and now I have to pay for credits.  It just doesn't seem right.  Am I off-base?

(Fast forward seven years)
I had completed my Masters in Education from Spring Arbor University.  In the end I felt as though I gained knowledge and insight into several areas.  In short, I grew as a person and educator.  Then I was selected to be the Principal at Warner Elementary school.  Everything appeared positive until I discovered that to be an administrator in Michigan (possibly other places) your Masters degree had to be in Educational Leadership.  Really? My Masters is in Education.  By now I can only say...Ridiculous!  So I did the dance, I went to classes at night and on weekends, I typed up paper after paper and completed project after project.  Then after three years I earned my Educational Leadership Certificate.

(Fast forward to today)
We are now in a time that educators have information at their fingertips.  Twitter chats take place each day, EdCamps are free opportunities for professional development, professional articles and blogs are a source of constant learning, growth and reflection...yet we still require hours on top of hours for educators.  I believe the system needs a drastic overhaul.  Why is it that a class taught by a single instructor is more valuable than #edchat or EdCamp?

So last week as I was freezing (like many of you), I decided to do a search.  I wanted to see if there were any Elementary Principal openings in Hawaii.  I know, I know, dream on!  Funny thing is I found there are tons of openings nation wide.  First of all, I'm not going anywhere (Sometimes it's just fun to see what's out there, especially in Hawaii!)  Second, I discovered a slightly disturbing fact.  Nearly every State required a current license from that particular State.

(What does it mean?)
The way I read it is, if an educator wants to move from one State to another he/she would have to file for a provisional license.  Essentially it is difficult to move State to State.  This is my problem, we are in an era of Common Core Standards, we are more connected today than we have ever been before...yet our educational licenses don't travel?  Makes no sense.

I feel compelled to clarify that I don't believe the Federal Government should have complete control over education, in fact local control appeals to me the most.  Ultimately, in my opinion, the way things have always been done is a crime.  Requiring educators to pay for continuing education credits and to sacrifice time and family just doesn't make sense.  The goal should be to promote education, and to encourage our best to be educators.  We're missing the boat, educational salaries are way down the list and on top of that educators consistently sacrifice time and money to keep their licenses up to date. Something needs to be done.

If you've ever read my posts I hope you know that I believe a persons attitude is the single greatest factor to how they go about living.  It's tough to have a good attitude when the system is unwilling to do what is best for educators and our future.

(Can it be fixed?)
In short, yes.  The rat race for professional hours needs to stop.  I know my story is not unique, I don't have all the answers.  I know this much, it isn't educator friendly.

This Week's Big Question(s):  Would you make any changes to the system?  If so, how would you begin?


Monday, February 3rd:  11am Math Expressions Meeting
Monday, February 3rd:  1:1 Tech meeting at 1pm
Wednesday, February 5th:  Jump Rope for Heart Assembly in gym 8:45am
Wednesday, February 5th:  Digital Learning Day!
Wednesday, February 5th:  String Team second semester begins
Wednesday, February 5th:  Last Day for Time For Kids turn-in
Thursday, February 6th:  SIP meeting 4pm in Boardroom
Friday, February 7th:  Pizza Kit pick-up 3pm-6pm

Articles Worth Reading:

Passion Driven or Project Driven? by +Angela Maiers @AngelaMaiers

Mental Illness Among Teens by @joykelly05

Reform & Engineering Systems @palan57

Love Ninja: Mom shares teacher's amazing strategy... by Glennon Doyle Melton

Digital Learning Day is Coming +Steven Anderson @web20classroom

8 Things We Know Better But Do Anyway... +Justin Tarte @justintarte

5 Ways to Stay Connected to the Olympics in Class +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

Michigan's Educational Achievement Authority: Dismal... @DianeRavitch

The Hidden Importance of Teaching With Stories +A.J. Juliani @ajjuliani

50 Things To Let Go Of Before Your Next Birthday +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Love the Auto Carrot! (4 min)

Choices!  You ARE who you associate with... (2 min)

Differentiated Instruction in the Elementary... (5 min)