Tag Archives: Best Practices

School… a place for learning?

Dewey Quote

From: http://missklohnsclassroom.blogspot.com.eg/2012/10/what-weve-been-up-to.html

It has been a while! Last post – beginning of July. Now, I’m in Egypt and pondering the same questions with new friends!!!

So… How do we bridge the gap between what we know is best and the constraints of the current system that we are in?

A system that is largely dictated by university/college and employer expectations and guidelines as well as parent perspectives on what education/classroom learning SHOULD look like. Is this fair? Can we change this? Is it already changing?

Then, I come across Will Ferriter’s post on a Will Richardson TEDx Talk. Both are worthwhile to spend some time digesting and reflecting on! What resonated to me is the idea that, when something happens that makes us want to learn more… we dive in deep for the sake of our own curiosity. How can we, as educators, create those events that make students want to learn more about what we are TRYING to teach?
We have talked long and often about the disconnect between what we know about how learning best occurs and how we ‘do’ learning. So, let’s work on connecting some of these concepts, within the constraints that we face, as we work on eliminating the constraints.
Here are some concepts we can immediately use to engage our students more (many of these can be hit by developing Project-Based Learning activities – see previous posts on PBL):
  • Make it fun
  • Make it with a real world application
  • Make it relevant to young lives, now
  • Make it social
  • Make it for a real audience
  • Make it challenging
  • Make it from the ideas of our students!

8 ‘Look Fors’

Thank you George Couros and Sylvia Duckworth for this awesome visual reminder!

George Couros' 8 Classroom Look Fors

Check out George Couros’ blog for more words of ed leadership wisdom and Sylvia Duckworth’s Flickr page for great visuals!


Motivation… 1-2-3, P-B-L!

From: Race Walk Pictures at https://www.flickr.com/ photos/97321708@N07/ under CC license https://creativecommons.org/  licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

From: Race Walk Pictures at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ 97321708@N07/ under CC license https://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

We set the bar high and our students are expected to reach or exceed what might be very challenging heights of academic standards. What if they are just not motivated to try to reach those learning goals?

How do we keep our students motivated as they strive to meet increasingly challenging academic standards?

Actually, “Every student is motivated – just not necessarily in the way teachers hope” (Quate and McDermott, Sept. 2014). Two key factors are (1) helping students feel that teachers are committed to their potential AND (2) “making sure students feel intellectually challenged” (Ibid). When students know you support them and believe in them they are more motivated to do the work. Add to that (3) as many of the factors that go hand-in-hand with Project-Based Learning:

  1. Give students more voice and choice (still making it teacher-guided, though);
  2. Localize the project (for added relevance and personal connection);
  3. Keep it real (again, in relation to the student, personally);
  4. Launch the project with an entry event;
  5. Emphasize commitment to the team;
  6. Involve outside collaborators;
  7. Have students present their work to a public audience.

(From: John Larmer. “Boosting the Power of Projects.” Educational Leadership Sep. 2014: 42-46. Print.)

Now (1-2-3, P-B-L), we can sustain an environment of motivated learning! For immediately useful links related to PBL see my previous posts, “Stressed out about projects? Here’s a handy checklist!” and “More PBL Resources!

By incorporating Project-Based Learning into our instructional plans we can engage students to a degree that they may not normally have been, in the past. PBL is recognized ” as a way to boost students’ motivation to learn” (Larmer, Sept. 2014). Ideally, our students will happily choose to strive to meet and/or exceed those high standards and we can continue to support their optimum learning!


  • Larmer, John. “Boosting the Power of Projects.” Educational Leadership Sep. 2014: 42-46. Print.
  • Quate, Stevi and John McDermott. “The Just-Right Challenge.” Educational Leadership Sep. 2014: 61-65


More PBL Resources!

From: Andrew Miller’s post: “Resources for Getting Started With Project-Based Learning”

As y’all know I’m a big fan of Project-Based Learning. I’m also a big fan of Edutopia! Here’s a repost of one of their recent “News” emails…

Edutopia Newsletter

and… http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-getting-started-resources

I highly recommend Edutopia’s Newsletter! Enjoy!!!

3 Keys to Guiding School Culture… positively! :)

School Culture Wordle

  • Unquenchable desire to make things better;
  • Unwavering commitment to do what one must, to change;
  • Unstoppable will to try and try and try again to build a school culture that creates and sustains excellence!
(Deal, Terrence E., and Kent D. Peterson. The Principal’s Role in Shaping School Culture. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Programs for the Improvement of Practice, 1991. Print.)

Easy! Right? There’s no doubt that it takes hard work. Those three bullet-ed points boil down to staying the course with as much energy and enthusiasm as possible. Just as important (perhaps, more so!) is knowing where to focus your energy.

From Flickr user John Spooner-  https://www.flickr.com/ photos/johnspooner/2199685678/sizes/o/

From Flickr user John Spooner- https://www.flickr.com/ photos/johnspooner/2199685678/sizes/o/; License- https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Begin by asking these questions:

  • Do we know who we are as a school? What is our identity? What do we stand for?
  • Do we share common  values? What are our beliefs about students, education and learning?
  • Do we face our issues head-on? Can we build unity through resolved conflicts?
  • Do we ‘walk the talk‘? Does each of us model what we expect to see in others?
  • Do we have stories that exemplify who we are, who we want to be and how to become that?
  • Do our ceremonies, symbols and traditions illustrate and reflect our identity?

Develop a clear vision of our (your) mission. Make sure we (you) have the right people ‘on the bus’, respecting those who are better suited somewhere else. Look at ourselves (yourself) honestly and resolve disputes/conflict positively. “Be the change” we (you) want to see. Become a story-teller… of stories that sustain our (your) vision. Continually reflect on who we (you) are (as a school) and whether what we (you) say and do is aligned to who we (you) are and where we (you) are headed.

From Flickr user symphony of love- https://www.flickr.com/photos /pictoquotes/14601457842/sizes/l; License- https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

From Flickr user symphony of love- https://www.flickr.com/photos /pictoquotes/14601457842/sizes/l; License-

Let’s do it!

Teachers ARE Leaders!

The fact is, (supported by research provided by Robert Marzano, John Hattie, William Sanders, Sandra Horn and S. Paul Wright)  individual teachers can have a profound impact on student learning. For me, the operative word here is “can”. I’ve been reflecting recently on how to link this possibility with a concrete reality. How can we empower our teachers to develop the traits that will have a positive impact on learning? What are the key traits? Marzano (2003, What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action) identifies three key, interdependent, areas that, when employed effectively by teachers, have a positive impact on learning:

  • Instructional Strategies
  • Classroom Management
  • Classroom Curriculum Design

All three “teacher-level factors” must be effectively combined to improve student learning. Think about the expert teachers you have known (and, I distinguish ‘expert’ from ‘experienced’ – they’re not the same)… they are highly committed to improving themselves, seeking and offering feedback and helping fellow teachers. They are also thinkers! They model problem-solving and risk-taking, trying new assessment, instructional and behavioral strategies as needed.  They are, typically, recognized as informal leaders amongst fellow faculty.

These teacher-leaders model the traits that most agree education is supposed to develop in students: lifelong learning, tolerance, responsibility, and effective communication. Teachers ARE leaders! So… how do we empower ALL teachers to develop these traits? How can we build teacher leadership?

I read an article recently that highlighted the importance of having dynamic administrators or other role models during a teacher’s early ‘formative’ career years demonstrate those traits. It has a huge impact on whether they develop as teacher leaders. It made me think back to the role models, mentors and occasional excellent principals that I had when I first started teaching.

It’s simple, really…

Encourage and actively model the traits of teacher leadership that are so important for schools to develop and focus on those teachers who are still in their ‘formative’ years. Encourage the risk-taking, reflection, commitment to being involved and help teachers refine any areas of curriculum design, classroom management or instructional strategies that can be improved. Feedback, the number one factor influencing student learning… also can have an amazing impact on teacher learning and empowering teachers as leaders!