Don’t Tell Them Your Plans

There is a saying that goes, “Don’t tell them your plans.  Show them your results.”  No idea who said it or where it came from.  In general, I agree, but probably only because I’m an ask-forgiveness-not-permission kind of guy. This summer, however, I realized that it is a load of (insert your colloquial noun here). In this quick post, I’m going to tell you my plans and tell you why.

Throughout my teaching career, I have had some innovative, even risky, ideas to radically change my classroom.  Sometimes I’ll jump into those things with gusto, and then come up against opposition or realize just how much work it is going to take.  At that point, it’s really easy to abandon the idea because no one really knew I was doing it anyway.

I’ve latched onto three things this summer that have changed this for me; podcasts, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters, and Feedback that Moves Writers Forward.

Here are my plans:

  1. Have my advanced ELA class podcast all year.
  2. Each ELA student will have a notebook and will actively track standards mastery and feedback.
  3. Begin a robotics club at our middle school.
  4. Radically change the way I approach reading education.

I promised this was a quick post, so I won’t go into all the details yet.  However, feel free to follow along as I undergo this transformation.

I’m going to do it.  I’m going to blog about it (maybe podcast). Hold me accountable.  Do not let me get up against difficulty with this and take an easy way out.

Are you serious?

Ok, I get it.  I’m a conservative in a very liberal profession. I know it, and I accept it. I have managed to surround myself with fellow conservative teachers, so sometimes I forget just how over the top “educators” can be. I receive the newsletters and emails from the NEA and OEA. The assumptions they make that all of their members think like that are staggering to me.  I follow a few different education sites on Twitter because I want to stay at the top of my craft.  Unfortunately, those sites often push political agendas instead of good pedagogy.

Today, one of the sites I follow was promoting a “First Person” editorial called “I Am Scared to Walk Into a Classroom” accompanied by a scary picture of a handgun and scattered yellow pencils. It was written by a preservice teacher about gun violence and how politicians aren’t doing enough to protect teachers and the awesomeness of the #ArmMeWith hashtag project. And how she just doesn’t know how she’s going to answer her student’s questions about gun violence. And that she’s having to “grasp” that she might be able to carry a weapon. And..on And…on. And no, I’m not going to link to it here.

Of course I didn’t dare comment on the article because having an opinion that opposes their agenda is unacceptable and they really aren’t looking for a real conversation anyway.  However, it was so irritating that I thought I would just get it off my chest here.

As I read it, all I could really think was, “Of course you’re scared.  Two years ago you were probably crying in a safe room on campus because your candidate lost.” If all of the next generation of teachers has this mindset, we truly are in trouble. She is “increasingly terrified to enter a school professionally” because of the extremely remote possibility of gun violence in her school, yet she had no problem driving there?  According to this article on, she has a 1 in 108 chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident.  Dying in a mass shooting? 1 in 11,125.  I’ll take my chances at school.

If this is truly what she spends her time worrying about, and this wasn’t just some attention-grabbing, political agenda editorial,  I hope she never enters a classroom professionally. I especially hope she is never a colleague of mine.

Here let me add to the hashtag project. #ArmMeWith colleagues with common sense.pexels-photo-270271.jpeg


The Dare That Changed His Life

Out in Arizona there is a high-school football player who has been arrested for indecent exposure, 69 counts of indecent exposure, one for every member in the football team picture with him.  You can read about it here.  Basically this kid was dared to expose his private parts during the team photo.  He’s in the second row and the two players in front of him conveniently separated a bit more than any other two players on the front row. This picture was featured in programs all season long.  It made it into the yearbook.  The yearbook was distributed.  Someone finally complained.  After confirming that yes, indeed, he had fulfilled the dare, he was arrested.  Oh, and he was 18 when he did it.

In the world of social media and sex offender status, this choice will have far-reaching consequences.

Kids do stupid stuff every day.  Every day.  I thank God above there was no social media when I was in high school and college.  I can’t imagine what would be out there FOREVER with my name attached to it.

But that isn’t what prompted me to write this.  His arrest and subsequent media coverage has unleashed the typical commenters on the various websites where this story is appearing.  I get it.  People are appalled that a senior prank is going to ruin this kid’s life.

There are two asinine lines of thought running through the comment threads.  One is that this isn’t really his fault.  The blame lies with the school or the editors of the yearbook.  Certainly someone should have caught this.  Trust me; It would have taken someone with a magnifying glass to catch this.  The second thread is that the blame lies with the kids who dared him.

Regardless, there are scores of commenters out there who feel this kid owes little responsibility for his choice.

What is wrong with our society?  Should this young man have his life ruined? No.  Absolutely not.  69 counts against him?  Ridiculous.  But pretending that he isn’t responsible?  Come on.

No doubt, several kids are complicit in this.  The kids who cooked it up and dared him?  They’re a lot more dangerous than this kid. Those two kids in the front row who moved aside?  Yep, they were in on it.  Will any punishment land on them?  Will they jump out to future employers searching social media for job applicants?  Probably not.

Another thought came to mind.  There were 70 kids in that picture.  They knew which one to dare.  They knew which one would do it.  Probably not his first rodeo riding the stupid prank bull.  Don’t be that kid if you don’t want to end up being THAT kid. He deserves punishment.  He’s responsible for his choice.

Parents, talk to your kids.  Kids please understand that social media ups the ante on senior pranks and spur-of-the-moment decisions.  Be smart.  Surround yourself with good friends.

And for those out there passing judgement who were blessed enough to get through college before the Internet, STOP.  Just STOP.  Which one of your dumb moves are you happiest wasn’t preserved for posterity?

The Joy of Eddie the Eagle





I went to watch Joy this morning.  It is an inspiring story of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop and many other things.  She faced incredible adversity and fought through it.  She risked everything.  Everyone except a very few opposed her.  No one paved the way for her.

One of the previews before the movie was for Eddie the Eagle. This is the story of a British ski jumper.  From the previews it seems he was mercilessly bullied by peers and adults because of his lack of athleticism among other things.  It was obvious that the more he was bullied and told he couldn’t accomplish his dreams, the more he was driven to succeed.

Here’s what I see every day.  Zero tolerance bullying policies that go way beyond bullying. Bulldozer parents that pave the way and fix everything for their kids. Sports leagues where every kid is given a trophy and told they did a good job whether they did or not.

When I look back through history at some of the greatest stories, they are people who were failures and then picked themselves up.  Generals, presidents, inventors, artists…so many stories of adversity overcome.

Are they going to write books and movies about this generation if we continue not allowing them to fail?


Something Tangible

2015-01-13 16.25.35

There is a scramble going on in Buckeye Nation today.  There is evidence of it all over social media.  One post that I read said, “Help! Meijer is sold out of today’s Dispatch.  Where can I get one???”  In the wake of the Buckeyes’ stunning victory in last night’s CFP Championship Game, people are looking for a copy of the morning paper.

They aren’t taking screenshots of the Dispatch’s website or saving it to favorites.  They want something tangible. They want something they can hold in their hands, put in a scrapbook, tuck away in a hope chest, or frame on the wall.  They want something they can pull out years later and read through, relive the memories, and share with their grandkids.  I wonder if it will always be like that?

I worry about today’s kids.  In our world of texts and tweets, are they going to have anything to take out years from now to relive these times?  My wife and I have boxes of letters we wrote to each other when we were long-distance dating at different colleges.  It’s awesome to pull one of those boxes out of the closet, sit on the floor, and get all sentimental.

One of my most cherished possessions is a collection of letters my dad wrote to my mom before they were married when he was a solder in Africa and France during WWII.  Will my son’s children or grandchildren have anything like that for posterity?

Come on kids.  When you’re communicating with that person who may just become your “til death do you part”, put away the electronics and create something tangible.  Send a card.  Write a letter.  Write notes to each other instead of scheduling an “I love you” text with Hootsuite. One day you’ll want to be able to hold those in your hand and remember.

School Shootings and School Prayer

Yet two more school shootings today.  On Dec. 24, 2012, I wrote the following on another blog that I write.  Thought I would dust it off.  If you happened to read it two years ago, my apologies for bringing you here to read it again.

After recent events, I’ve been thinking about this concept of prayer in schools.  I’m a bit irritated that taking prayer out of schools is one of the things being blamed for what happened.  I’m a teacher and I’m a Christian.  I will tell you up front that those are my only two qualifications to speak on this subject.

There are three sections of scripture I’d like to throw out there to start with:

John 9:31  Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.

Matthew 6:5-7 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (6) But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (7) But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

So, what exactly are the spokesmen of the Religious Right asking for or complaining about when they clamor about prayer in schools?  Remember this, if you get prayer in school, you’re going to get all religions praying in school.  Are you ready for the principal to read a Christian prayer, followed by a Muslim prayer, then followed by a Wiccan prayer? I know I’m not ready for that.

But, I digress.  Let’s get back to my thoughts.  Considering the three scriptures above, what would be the point of an unsaved principal, or an unsaved teacher, beginning the school day by standing in front of the class repeating a prayer?  God doesn’t hear him.  How many times when a prayer is allowed by a chaplain or other figurehead does he end up reading it from something he prepared earlier? Sounds like vain repetition to me.

Let me shock you a bit.  There is prayer in my classroom.  No, not from me standing up in front of the class putting on a show.  But from me before school.  And during the day with a prayerful attitude. Occasionally at lunch.  And guess what else…I’ve seen 5th graders in my room bow their heads before a test or even during a hard test, close their eyes and silently offer up a prayer.  Funny that “taking prayer out of schools” didn’t stop them from doing it.

Let me boil this down for you.  This whole fight over prayer in schools is just another attempt to avoid responsibility.  It is an individual’s responsibility to take prayer into school. You want God in school?  Take him there in your heart.  Parents, you want God in school? Train your child in the way they should go and have them take God there in their hearts.  No one is stopping them from praying in school.  Yes, they aren’t allowed to make a big show of it, but Matthew 6 pretty much tells you not to do that anyway.

How to Grow Even the Highest Students

There is a lot of pressure to show growth in our students. (Value added is similar, but it uses a convoluted formula that no one really understands.) Last time I talked about merit pay and gave you the golf coach example.  That example was merit pay based on achievement.  Growth is totally different.  That same golf coach would never want Rory McIlroy.  Rory is the number one player in the world.  The ONLY way to show growth is if he is still number one next year.  He could win five tournaments, but slip to number two because someone won six tournaments.  In the education world, that coach didn’t grow him a year.

I teach ELA to a largely gifted group of students.  If I have a student who enters my class reading in the 99th percentile, he has to be reading in the 99th percentile at the end of the year.  Otherwise, he is considered to have not grown a full year. I’m often asked to explain how my students consistently show growth.

These are the things I can put my finger on.

Teach to the top 

Differentiation is a major buzzword BINGO term right now.  In my opinion, it’s a certain amount of hogwash.  I teach to the top of my class.  Find out what the highest student can handle and teach up there.  Use questioning techniques that make the highest students work to answer. The lower students will sweep along with the wake.  Certainly, it’s necessary to swing the boat around and pick them up once in awhile, but never teach the whole class with a lower throttle.

Be excited about your material and ENTERTAIN

Some of you are thinking, I shouldn’t have to entertain them.  They should want to learn. Really?  Been in a church service lately? Watched any TV aimed at adults lately? What was the last big blockbuster movie you went to that was black and white without any special effects?  If you, as an adult, have to be entertained to sit still for an hour, how can you expect a 10-year old to be any different?

If you don’t love what you’re teaching, the kids will know it.  If you can’t get excited about your material, which the kids will join you in that excitement, you better reevaluate your job.

Quick-write notebooks and Question/All-writes

In my entire master’s degree program, these were the two strategies that I learned and truly believe in.  You have to make kids THINK about the material you’re covering.  Quick-write notebooks are exactly what they say, a quick write after covering something.  For instance, after reading an article on 9/11, the kids did a quick write in their notebooks.  They have five options: a summary of the material, a connection to their life, a question they had while reading, an illustration about the reading, or an equation using numbers from the reading.  After a few moments of writing, they share with their table, and then a few share for the class.  Questions get explored and answers found. In this case, they made connections to stories their parents told them, drew pictures of the burning buildings, asked tough questions about why?, made equations from the casualties, and a few even summarized the events of that day.

You know those students.  You’ve just asked a brilliant, probing, thought-provoking question and they just sit there.  They have no intention of thinking that hard.  They’ve learned from years past that they have a 1 in 28 chance of being called to answer.  If they are called, they know that an “I don’t know” and some uncomfortable silence will get the teacher to move on to someone else.  Enter the Question/All-write.  Ask that probing question and then be quiet.  Once the kids learn that you aren’t moving on till everyone writes an answer, you know you have everyone working on an answer.  Cruise the room, verify that everyone is giving quality thought, THEN call on someone, or have them share answers with their table before you have someone answer aloud to the class.

Build rapport

This is a huge time and personal investment, but it pays incredible dividends.  This comes from my days in school.  If I liked a teacher, I would walk through a wall to do well in his class.  If I didn’t like a teacher, you couldn’t get me to do anything in that class.  Also, a kid who wants to come to school every day is there for more of your instruction than the kid who fakes stomachaches to stay home from school.

It takes a lot of work to grow your students a full year, especially the ones at the top of the percentiles.  However, if you’re willing to work, to be tired at the end of the day, to not mail it in, you can grow any student.