Tag Archives: leadership

How to Be the Best in Your Freshman Year

We are almost half way through the freshman year.  It seemed like just yesterday when students arrived with high hopes and dreams, and a little apprehension. As the weeks progressed, many kids fell into their old study habits.   The old habits work for some; and a few need to change their habits.  In a few more weeks it will be exam time,  and exams are something new to many of the kids. Science teachers will give review packets full of the terms and information they studied all semester.  Math teachers will give hundreds times hundreds of math problems.  History teachers will hand out packets full of questions about who killed whom or what happened in ancient times (when the teacher was a kid).   I will hand out a half sheet of paper that informs kids to use handouts I have already given them or resources they can find on the World Wide Web, which I invented.  (Just reviewing fiction there.)

Besides preparing for exams I have also recognized 5 ways for freshman to succeed:

1. Don’t let fear rule.  It is difficult being a freshman.   You are the new kid, going through changes that can be confusing.  Facing the fear and gaining confidence is the #1 success driver.  Every one of the hundreds of classes I have taught has had a student who started out shy and unsure.  Then, he or she begins to participate in the small groups, gains confidence when others ask for help, and then adds to the whole class discussion.  Too often we think we have to be ready to present an idea to a large group.  Instead, talk to one or two people.  Speak up in a small group assignment.  Others do want to listen.  I remember Janie.  She would was quiet during our first class discussion, but once she was in a group of 4-5 people, she was a born leader.  She was in her comfort zone.  After gaining confidence, she joined Mock Trial and performed the role of attorney in front of many people.

2. Network.  Make friends with successful students.   Schools don’t like to label kids so they give reading groups nondescript names like blue group, red group, etc.  However, the kids know who the better readers are.  Being nice to someone who is better in math or science or English can help a person learn new ways to study.  I remember Jared and Nick, who did not know each other.  They were paired together for a Study Buddy activity.  They became close friends, met others, and their grades began to improve because they enlarged their network and added to their support system.

3. Smile and say hi to people.  Smiling is contagious.  Too many kids walk through the halls or sit in classrooms and feel lonely.  I know from personal experience.  When I was a student, I waited for others to say hi to me first.  At a class reunion a classmate told me she thought I was stuck-up.  I did not think about how others saw me.  I expected others to make me smile.  I realized the happiness comes from making someone else smile.  Now, I say “Hi” to as many students as I can.  Sadly, some kids may go through the whole day without someone talking with them, even for a moment.  The most successful students I see are the ones who smile and say hello to others.

4. Leave  your options open.  Explore topics in classes.  Take time to learn more on your own.  I remember Jenny who enjoyed acting out scenes from Romeo and Juliet in class.  The next year she went out for the school play and got a major part.  Another student, who loved art class, noticed all of the art work depicting scenes from mythology.  He started researching more and more about how different artists in different time periods depicted the gods.  Now, his goal is to work in an art museum.

5. Know what is expected.   Pay attention to what the class wants.  Of course, I am referring to behavior and assignment expectations the teacher has.  However, the others in the room have expectations.  To truly be successful with others, you have to be cognizant of their expectations.  Being the class clown may get you laughs, but it won’t get you classmates who want to work with you, unless, of course, the grade is based on laughs.  The other morning, I had the class answer a question about our reading and present it to the class.  One group had the class clown, a student who did not do the reading in it, and a student who wanted to get a good grade.  The concientious student asked to move groups and I allowed it.  I felt the clown and slacker earned the right to flounder together, with the clown having to do all of the work.  The funny thing is the next day the clown made sure he had his work completed and asked to be in different group.  Will he continue to improve and take his work more seriously?  I hope he does and continues to be a clown because he is funny.  We may be watching on the Tonight Show or watching his TV show one day.




Filed under Business, Education, Learning, Lessons from students, Uncategorized

School is like a Business?

At the start of this school year, I wrote about Jamie Vollmer who shared with our district personnel his great story about how schools are not a business.  I have always agreed with that idea; nonetheless, I do see similarities in the philosophies and methods of running schools and businesses.

Look at what is happening in the country.  The education system is perceived as bad.  The economy is bad.  Some teachers and business people might throw up their hands and give up.  However, most of the educators and business owners I know are not giving up.  I see the smartest ones looking for new ideas, finding ways to keep clients happy, and learning better ways to lead their schools and companies.

Recently, the teachers at our school took inventory of the strengths within our curriculum and the challenges we are facing as we implement the Nation’s Core Curriculum.  We are asking ourselves, “What areas are we weakest in?  Do we need a better understanding of the data we get from standardized tests and our own assessments?  Do our current teaching methods work?  How can we refine our current methods to challenge more students?  What problems might be encountered?  What resources are available to help us solve any problems, teach struggling students, or push students to new heights?”

Business people I know reflect on similar ideas.  They examine their strengths to learn if they are strongest in customer service, customer satisfaction, quality of product, etc.  They ask themselves if they need a better understanding of their numbers or data?  They look at their sales techniques to see if they need some work.   Business owners search for available resources that will aid them in increasing productivity, increasing customer satisfaction, increasing sales, and increasing profits.

An example of the changes teachers and business people are making would be using Twitter.  I know Cold Stone Creamery in our home town tweets sales and coupon deals.  I, and several other teachers, tweet assignments.  Our clients use twitter, and teachers and businesses want to reach those clients in many ways.  We desire to make improvements to be successful.  The difference between the two is the definition of success.  As Jamie Vollmer tells it, teachers can’t throw out the less-than-perfect blueberries.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Business, Education

Deep Learning for the 21st Century

At the beginning of the school year,  I spent part of a day in meetings with other freshmen teachers to discuss “Deep Learning”.  As anyone can guess, it is the opposite of shallow learning.  To quote one handout, “Deep learning promotes understanding and application for life.”  This reminds me of what John Dewey, a late 19th century-early 20th century educator and philosopher, said, ” Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”  Life is full of conflict or problems.  Dewey made a point to say, “We only think when confronted with a problem.”  This must explain why my brain hurt so much after math class.  It had to have been all of the problems.

In this way our schools have not changed much; we are still trying to get our students to solve problems.  At our meeting, I laughed because of this lack of change.  Someone wants to reinvent the wheel with new educational jargon.  The truth is “a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” Teachers today are doing a great job of challenging the students to think.

For example, one teacher showed us her website  http://HarrisEnglish.weebly.com/ she uses for her lesson plans and to communicate with parents.  And, we found out we can have students blog on it, which is Deep Learning.  Students will have to think about what they write, communicate effectively, collaborate with others, and analyze the topic to a point that they truly understand what they are writing about.  I have set up a blog using http://wallwishers.com for students in several of our English classes to discuss To Kill A Mockingbird.   

Only fear prevents some teachers from shifting the way they challenge students to learn deeply.   We must not forget another John Dewey philosophy: “The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made.  It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs.”  By embracing the technology available to us, by listening to the younger generation, and by accepting change, we can succeed and learn.


Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Measuring Student Success

How to Have A Productive Meeting

“I can’t wait until our in service meeting today!  It is going to be awesome to learn more about the CORE curriculum we will be using.” exclaimed Bob.

“Like, OMG, it is going to be totally Swag!!!” squealed Robin.

“I concur,”  Tim stated in his big-man-on-campus collegiate voice as he ran to the meeting.

Melissa’s eyes lit up as if she were told she was having triplets, and she shouted, “whoopee!”  

And, young Ben, the new guy in the hall, shouted “Yippie!” as he skipped to the meeting. 

“Wake up Dave!  Dave, wake up!” Sam repeated as he nudged me in the arm.  “You fell asleep during the principal’s introduction and overview on what we would be doing today.”

“Did I miss anything, Sam?” I asked as I wiped the drool from my chin.

“No.”  She basically told us why we were having meetings.

So, That brings me to Rule #1 to a productive meeting.  Attend well rested.  Research has shown taking naps is better than drinking a cup of coffee, and this must be true because I read it on the Internet.

It also demonstrates Rule #2: do not have a meeting to explain why you will be having a meeting.  

These two rules seem like common sense, but we all know that common sense is not so common.  Face it, common sense should have told me that having children would cause me to spend money on toys I don’t play with, go to more doctor appointments for illnesses I don’t have, and  be more responsible by not eating candy for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, and pop tarts for dinner.  But, no, I did not listen to common sense.  Of course, I eventually figured it out, after the fourth child.

Luckily, today, we did not have four meetings to tell us what we were meeting about.  We stopped at two.  So, Rule #3: Never have a second meeting to explain why there was a first meeting that explained what the purpose of the meetings will be.   After all, redundancies can be boring.  Let me repeat myself, don’t keep restating the same information over and over again.

After our second meeting, we moved to smaller groups to concentrate on one grade level.  These smaller groups were then broken down further into twos or threes to work on one standard of the curriculum.  For example, my partner and I examined the standard on informational text, three others looked at the literature standard, and another group analyzed writing.  Why was this part of the meeting productive?  One element would have to be the fact that we had one of our own teachers as a facilitator, and she did not try to be a know-it-all.  She took notes to allow others the time to research the answers.  Therefore, Rule #4 is to break tasks into smaller chunks.  Feeling overwhelmed tends to cause some folks to shut down.  In addition, Rule #5 is to utilize your own people, someone who is respected by coworkers.  

Once we completed our analysis of the changes we would need to implement, we were ready for lunch.  Rule #6, of course, is to never try to be productive on an empty stomach.   Public schools provide the opportunity for breakfast and lunch for students because research has shown kids learn better when they are not thinking about eating.  At least, that is what I read in some text-book in college.  I know I work better without a “rumbly” in my tummy.

After a filling lunch of pizza and salad, we returned to our meeting room to share our thoughts.  Rule #7 has to be to allow people to share ideas.  Instead of all of us doing the same work, we outsourced parts to each other, then shared our evaluations.  All of our sharing was completed quickly.  Therefore, Rule #8 is to make sure participants keep it brief.  Do not be afraid to allow the facilitator to thank a person for sharing while telling him or her to sit down and shut up.  Even though the bruise under my eye will heal soon, throwing a book at someone is not an acceptable way to stop him from sharing important information.

Of course, Rule #9 is to end the meeting when the work is completed, not when the time you allotted is over.  By giving the participants the opportunity to work efficiently and expeditiously, they will be more productive in the completion of other tasks, like creating new lesson plans.


Filed under Business, Education, Humor

Leadership, Listening, and Learning (and how to spy on your teenage daughter)

Good managers and teachers try to connect with those they are leading.  Learning about a person’s family, interests, or opinions is a good start to making connections.   Placing value on a person’s life outside of the office or classroom makes many of us feel appreciated; consequently, we want to try harder or work better.

I have to admit that during my last 22 years of teaching, I have not always been very good at this.  My first few years of teaching I was only five years older than most of my students.  Therefore, I did not feel comfortable making a close connection.  I still attended sporting events and learned about the kids during structured discussions or the occasional free time at the end of the period.  However, I was not part of the community, nor did I know any of the parents.

My middle years of teaching had me treading water in my own little pond with the births of our four kids.  Nonetheless, connections started to form.  I was teaching my friends’ kids and getting to know the students who were on the summer swim team that I coached.  I even started to see the students in many different places: the grocery store, church, my children’s schools, music recitals, sporting events, and even my neighborhood.

In addition, this year has given me more optimism about making more connections.  Perhaps it is because my daughter is a freshman, and I am curious about the kids she knows.  (To be more truthful, I am very interested in any boys who appear interested in her.)  Another advantage has been changing our schedule from forty minute periods to fifty minute periods.  The feeling of rush, rush, rush has left me and reduced some stress.  Now,  I feel like I can walk around the room and discuss writing skills with students.  These conferences give me the opening to ask a few questions, sit back and listen, and get to know the kids better.

Take time to listen today.  I know I will.

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Filed under Business, Education, Goals, Measuring Student Success

Ingratitude and Group Projects

Ingratitude.  A noun.  The state of being not grateful.

This was one of the vocabulary words today.  I thought I could count on the students to discuss for a few minutes what they were grateful for.  (Look!  I ended a sentence in a preposition!  see yesterday’s post).

Instead, I began the day with Mary asking, “What’s grateful mean?”  As I tried to hide my original feeling of surprise, which quickly turned to incredulousness, and ended with complete and utter angst that a student would not know the word grateful, another student nonchalantly came her rescue.

“It means thankful,” Scott interceded.

A student helping another student is not anything new.  When I was a student, I had one group project, and it was in my freshman English class.  We created a slide show of whales using a 35 mm camera and slide film.  Then, we found a song of whale sounds to accompany it.  This was our symbolic interpretation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  I am not sure of my grade, but I doubt it was good since I am still in freshman English.  Of course, all of my other teachers made us work by ourselves.

Over the last twenty-three years of my career, teachers have tried to incorporate teamwork and collaboration into lessons.  As a freshmen teacher, I have had to deal with students being able to get to get together with classmates outside of school.  I have also had to deal with one kid being a slacker, one person doing all of the work , and, of course, the one who could only give orders or negative feedback.  Next, I had to explain my logic in the grades to the parents.  The group project usually ended up with the parent, the student, and myself unhappy and full of ingratitude for the lesson.

I have found the best collaborative lessons to be similar to the impromptu lesson this morning: a student helping a student.  I can expand on the lesson by having each student in a group create a clause to use in a sentence with a vocabulary word or individually revise a paragraph then team up with others to discuss the best revision ideas or have a small group create thoughtful questions for a socratic discussion.

All of these ideas do not require time outside of class, nor do they require a complicated rubric to make sure everyone does his or her share.  These lessons require me to listen and observe.  It is not a perfect system, but neither is the work place.  There are committees or work groups everywhere that have slackers or people trying to make others look bad.  The lack of productivity will catch up with the person.  If a person hardly does any work on his or her own, I would be skeptical that he or she suddenly becomes the model student or employee when in a group.

The best collaboration brings out ideas or leads to more questions.  It is not always about producing a project or product.

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Filed under Business, Education, Lesson Plans, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success

Write Right

“”Why do we have to write this essay?”

“How long does it have to be?”

“When is it due?”

Teaching writing to ninth graders takes patience and perseverance because kids come to class with a range of abilities. Most of the students arrive already knowing how to write a five paragraph essay complete with an attention grabbing introduction, thesis statement, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion.  Meanwhile, some students show up not sure what a thesis statement is or how to begin in a manner that grabs the attention of the reader.  A few students still do not understand what a paragraph is.  And one or two still have not figured out how to bring a pen or pencil to class.

Nevertheless, I begin the writing process, which is a lot more complicated than when I was a freshman.  I remember using the most amazing gadget ever invented to write my essays – the erasable ink pen!  I could wake up at 5 a.m. and ink out a “B” paper in an hour and a half.  Now, I show examples of essays to the students, help them brainstorm ideas, give them time to write rough drafts, and then take them to a computer lab to type the essays.  Of course, the kids today run into the problems of not being able to log on to the school’s server, the keyboards having the letters in a different order because of someone’s idea of a joke, or even having the entire school’s server down.

This week we suffered through the problems in the computer lab with some students having to improvise and write in ink on notebook paper.  It felt so “old school,” without the erasable ink, though.  I wonder whatever happened to those kind of pens?  

Needless to say, most of the kids did a great job of adapting to the problems and coming up with solutions.  Some figured out how to log on using the generic “student” account.  Those who were able to log on emailed their work to themselves.  I was proud of the kids for their patience and perseverance.

As any manager or boss knows, some workers will show up knowing how to do the job, some will have an idea, and some will be clueless.  Some employees will have a problem and fix it themselves, some will seek your help, and one or two will not even notice there is a problem.

We encourage and compliment those who arrive prepared with knowledge and show initiative; we guide and lead those who need it; and we begin the firing (or flunking) process with the guy with the pencil up his nose.

This morning, I saw all of this.  Well, not the pencil up the nose, but one young man was trying to watch YouTube instead of writing.  Since I cannot fire him, he gets extra special time after school with me to make up his lost work time.  (See my earlier post “Detention Again.”)

According to statistics from the federal government, so they must be accurate, 85% of jobs require writing.  However, a more important lesson was how to deal with adversity and to be able to adapt, improvise, and overcome the obstacles thrown before them.



Filed under 21st century skills, Business, Education, Lessons from students

Detention Again

I am the detention supervisor at school.  When kids are late to school or class, they serve a half hour with me after school.  In the business world, we would pretend to be Donald Trump and tell them, “You’re fired!”  However, we can’t fire students.  We can only try to help them change their behaviors.

I also monitor what the school calls Quiet Study Time or QST.  Basically, it is a 105 minute detention.   Imagine the movie Breakfast Club; kids receive QST for chronic tardiness or class disruptions.  The only difference with the movie is that I never leave the room.  Students have to work on school work or work I provide.  They do not eat, sleep, text, listen to ipods, talk, or exchange notes.  Last week I had to kick three guys out; two for sleeping/putting their heads down and one for eating candy.

I usually see students who serve once and learn to change their behaviors.  Nevertheless, I have also seen the same kids for the same reasons.  One young man even called me “Coach” as if this was his extracurricular activity.  It sounds funny, but when he was with me, he did complete his homework.  There were others like him who seemed to only do work when they were serving their detentions and QSTs.  Then, I invited them to come in to do their work even when they were not in trouble.  They laughed at first, but I told them that they would be allowed to go as soon as they finished their work.  After all, they were not in trouble.  I think they told their friends they were in trouble and got their work finished.  For some, getting in trouble, or looking like it is cool.

Another benefit is I am able to help students with their English and history homework.  Today, I had a young lady ask me for help in math.  I looked at the letters and numbers, and they did not spell any known word I have ever seen.  Since there were only three of us in the room, I escorted her to her math teacher.  She was able to get correct homework help and come back.  She was thrilled that she was able to finish her work.

So, should a person who makes a mistake be immediately terminated?  Or, should he or she be forgiven?  It is a difficult decision every boss asks.  My experience has been to get to know the person.  There may be something causing the attention-getting behavior.  So, we try a new approach to manage the person.  If the behavior does not change, then termination will have to happen.  Sometimes, we have to admit that a leopard does not change its spots.


Filed under Business, Education, Lessons from students

Technology Guru

When I first came to Pickerington, I was amazed that it had a computer lab that was open to students during their study halls and lunches.  I was thrilled when I learned that English teachers monitored the lab as a duty, instead of monitoring study hall or lunch.   I guess we were chosen because the computers were only being used for writing back then.  There was no Internet connection.

Our technology department did not trust us to do anything with the computers.  If one printer broke down we were not supposed to switch the computer preferences to the other printer.  They even went so far as to try to password protect it.  It is not a good idea to choose a password from Greek mythology and then assign a mythology nerd to monitor the lab.  I figured out the password twice and was then told to stop.  We were even micro managed to the point that if a printer ran out of paper, we were not to load it because we might break it.  The technology department lost the focus on the computer labs purpose.  It became something to control and make us all look with wonder and awe at the great job they were doing.

Besides cracking codes and passwords, I had fun in the lab.  I enjoyed the duty because I was able to grade essays, help kids with writing assignments, and get to know students in a different way.  Some students came to the lab to avoid study hall.  Some students only came to type an essay.  And some students lived in the lab and came during study halls and lunch.  One young man was Pat.

Pat was a great kid.  He was not a trouble maker, but he did enjoy trying to fix printers and computers with the technology departments knowledge.  I encouraged him to take things apart and try.  I was taught if something is broken then try to fix it.  If you are not successful there is nothing lost; so it is still broken.    I also looked at it as an educational experience for Pat.  This was his passion.  Why not let him learn in school about something he loved?   Lastly, I knew it might make the micromanager mad.  (We all have a little rebel in us.)  Well, Pat fixed many computer and printer problems.  Teachers would ask him for help before they went to the technology department.

When we do not allow people to think for themselves, they do not grow.  By encouraging Pat to fix problems even though it may have been against the wishes of someone else, I was allowing him to learn through his own experiences.  Micromanaging only creates blind followers, not innovators or thinkers or risk-takers.  No successful business can last with only one person thinking for everyone.  It takes the creativity and diversity of many.

What happened to Pat?  The last I heard was he was on the West Coast working for Apple.  I wonder what Igadget he is working on…


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Filed under 21st century skills, Business, Education, Measuring Student Success

When are you happiest?

When am I happiest?  What a great question!  I could use it in a Socratic discussion at school and  learn learn about the students.   We do it at our dinner table with questions like: “What is your favorite animal and why?” or “Which TV or movie character is most like you?”

I am going to take the Charlie Brown-wishy-washy-way out of answering the question.  I am happy with a cup of coffee in the morning and the newspaper or blogs to read.  I am happy playing soccer or light saber fighting or board games or video games with my boys, and I am happy swimming laps with my daughter.  I am very happy cooking dinner, even if the kids don’t like it.  (After all, that is why PB&J was invented, right?)  Of course,  I am happy discussing our daily schedule, future plans, hopes, and dreams with my wife.

I also love my job.  I am happy talking to freshman, teaching them writing skills and helping them appreciate a variety of stories.  I enjoy sneaking in lessons that make them contemplate their own values, and I love making them think – in the hope that they will solve all of our problems one day.

I guess I am usually happy.

Of course, I do have unhappy moments.  My kids misbehave occasionally, my wife gets mad at me, and I even make dinners I don’t like once in a while.

Nevertheless, everyone has happy and sad days.  When I began teaching, I told a mentor that I would mark on a calendar if the day was good or bad.  If too many days were bad, I would find another profession (probably one that made more money).  So far, my calendars are overwhelmingly good.

It is how we deal with the bad days that make us stronger.  We have to adapt, improvise, and overcome our unhappy days, whether it is at home or work.

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