Category Archives: Daniel Kerr

Defining Moments

So this week I’d like to talk a little bit about the defining moments in a student’s life, as well as the kind of “learning” that I believe to be the most profound, impactful, and enduring throughout a student’s education. I have to admit that I was inspired to write this post because of the experiences, the stories, and the anecdotes that came out of last week’s China Trips. It was so amazing to watch the students spill off the buses on Friday afternoon, and to hear them go on and on about how, “that trip was totally like the best week ever!”. Not only was the learning immeasurable for most of our students in my opinion, it was the type of learning which will resonate so deeply in their minds for a long time to come. These trips as you all know, are meant to push kids out of their comfort zones, and to give them life experiences that will shape who they are as young adults……..the team building opportunities, the service learning components, the eye opening visits to the orphanages, the chance to face adversity and to take risks…..and the opportunities to fail, and fail, and fail, and then to finally succeed. This learning isn’t necessarily what most people equate with “school” (the classroom concepts and lessons that we work so hard to engage our students with everyday) it’s another kind….a deeper kind that opens up a student’s heart and mind to the world, and to themselves, and to the beauty and the struggle of others……’s the good stuff…..the stuff that transcends the daily classroom experience and endures long past a High School graduation.

We often talk about standards and benchmarks and enduring understandings, but when you think about it, the true enduring takeaways from these trips are defining moments….literal life changing experiences that transform people profoundly forever. Experiences like turning a mountain side into rice terraces for a local Chinese village, and knowing in your heart that you’ve created a sustainable change in a community that will last for generations, and positively effect countless lives………Experiences like volunteering at an orphanage for severely physically challenged kids, with heart wrenching diseases like cerebral palsy, and getting to know them as people and watching how they manage to smile and overcome their adversity in ways that we could never imagine…….Experiences like the “face your fear” high ropes walks, and leap of faith jumps, and long nature hikes, and the team building exercises that make you give of yourself for the betterment of a group…….all of these experiences are defining moments for our young students, and it’s this kind of learning that real “education” is all about.

With all that said, and with the reality/difficulty that we only go on these trips for one week out of the year, the danger in my mind is that we might sit back and wait for this “week without walls” experience before the “good stuff” bubbles up. As I see it, we have the opportunity as educators to uncover these teachable moments everyday, and to find the hidden treasures of a child’s learning embedded in the daily grind of the school year……..through our advisory program, and our house system, and our service learning initiatives, and most importantly through our individual classes, we have ample opportunities to focus on the chance that a defining moment could happen at any time. We should always be armed and ready to teach kids about how to be empathic, and about how to respond to adversity, and about the importance of giving back to others, and about kindness, and about how their mood can effect their lives and the lives of others, and about forgiveness, and leadership, and passion and perseverance…….and so on and so on.

I’d like to ask that in the future, when you teach your students all about algebraic concepts or reading comprehension strategies and the writing process, or the proper format for research based citations, or any of the rest of it, that you keep your good eye wide open to the opportunities that present themselves each and every day……….opportunities to celebrate the failures…..opportunities to celebrate empathy and kindness and the taking of risks…….opportunities that if acted upon will define the lives of our students and shape who they are as people…….that’s where the real education lies in my opinion, in those life lessons that are very much the true enduring understandings. Welcome back everyone and thank you for all that you gave to our students this past week……the trips were a tremendous success and you all deserve a huge thank you from our community. Oh yeah, Happy Mother’s Day too! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week………
Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school – Albert Einstein

Article – Teaching Failure

This is Water – David Foster Wallace (Thank you Geoff Smith……poignant. Please watch this immediately! VPN in China)

TED Talk – In Search of the Man Who Broke My Neck (Joshua Prager)

Market Day Memory

So at last Friday’s Market Day I had a wonderful moment………one that’s going to stick with me for a long, long time to come. I was eating one of those deliciously fresh bagels that were on sale when I began looking around and reflecting on the journey that we’ve all been on this year together. It’s no secret that the vision that was rolled out at the beginning of the year was an ambitious one, and the effort and commitment that was asked of you all was enormous. We rolled out a few very important initiatives simultaneously as you all know, which were to have a tremendous impact on our school’s culture, our collective morale, and of course, student learning. Just to refresh your memory let’s take a look back………..we began our commitment to C.O.A.R, we rolled out the new report card, we implemented the word press student electronic portfolios, we started learning from each other in our monthly SIPS, we introduced our daily sustained silent reading program, we became a member of the National Junior Honors Society, we ramped up our commitment to service learning with two wildly successful fundraising campaigns, we started a recycling program, we went through our WASC accreditation self study, and we worked hard to align and articulate our curriculum…….all of this was going through my mind on Friday when I sat back and watched and listened and marveled at the school that we’ve become…….

Teachers were out in the courtyard enjoying the sun, as well as each other’s company……….students were smiling and playing and laughing out loud………parents were out and about speaking with friends, teachers and kids, and adding very much to the overall community feel…..and the seniors were celebrating their last day of High School before their IB exams. I got a little emotional honestly, because I know first hand what it took to get us to this point. If someone had asked me at the beginning of August what my idea of a successful year would be, I couldn’t have wished for anything more than where we are right now. Not only have we rolled out these initiatives successfully, we’ve managed to find a common purpose which is so difficult to develop in many schools. We have teachers not only owning what we’re trying to accomplish as a team, but flourishing as individual leaders as well……..with many of you being inspired and empowered to use your passion and expertise for the betterment of us all. We’ve had teachers lead EARCOS electronic portfolio workshops, we’ve had teachers organize a city wide Math Counts competition at our campus, we’ve had many teachers step up and deliver incredible Professional Development presentations to our faculty, we’ve had teachers spearhead wonderful service learning campaigns, we’ve had teachers commit to our growing House System, and advisory program, and NJHS, and student council, we’ve had teachers speak openly and honestly about where we need to focus our attention next, and we’ve had teachers find the educational courage to push back and have the hard conversations with me and each other in a respectful and professional manner………..I could go on and on and on………it’s been amazing.

In my opinion, it’s relatively easy to have an idea or a vision about how to bring a school to life, and it’s not that hard to “talk” about what needs to happen in order to turn a school from good to great………’s another thing altogether however (and ridiculously harder) to make the fairly tale come true. I know that we’re not where we ultimately want to be just yet, and I know there’s work left to be done…….but this week, before we all take off for China Trips, I’d like you all to reflect back on what you’ve accomplished this year. Ideas and visions cannot ever be realized unless you have the people who are willing to do the work……and the belief that the journey that you’re on is what’s best for our kids. To say that I’m proud of you all, and what we’ve accomplished this year, would be the world’s biggest understatement and really I cannot put my thanks for who you are into words. This year (as Bret likes to say) we’ve laced up the shoes so to speak. Next year we will take the time to tie the laces tight, and tie them into double knots so that what we’ve introduced this year will truly become the fabric of who we are…..then we can continue to look at the data to see the overall effect on student learning. We’re getting there everyone, and you should feel great about your contributions. I’m off to spend the afternoon with my family on this beautiful spring day and I cannot wipe the smile off my face. I won’t forget that Market Day for a long, long time everyone and I hope you feel that sense of pride like I do. Have a fantastic week and remember to be great for our students and good to each other….

Quote of the Week………
We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.
– Frederick Keonig

Attached Article #1 The Ideal Workplace (Marshall Memo) The Ideal Workplace
Attached Article #2 –  Four Keys to a Thriving Workforce (Marshall Memo) Four Keys to a Thriving Workforce

Article #3Essential Attributes and Characteristics of Successful Schools

TED  Talk – What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work (Dan Ariely)

The Power of a Smile

So this week I want to talk about the power of a smile. I know it’s been a difficult week with what’s been happening in Boston, and with yesterday’s earthquake in China’s Sichuan province, and I get that smiling might just be the last thing on your mind these days……..but I believe that it’s during times like these when a purposeful smile is needed the most. I’ve been reading a lot lately about the contagious qualities of a smile, or an attitude, and how a person’s mood directly impacts the lives of others around them. There have been many interesting studies conducted over the past few years which speak to the magic and power of a single smile, and how something so seemingly simple and effortless can inspire, affect, and set the tone of a person’s day. As you all know by now, I’m a climate and culture guy, and I believe strongly that the positive ethos of an environment and faculty is the cornerstone of a great school. A smile breaks down barriers, it diffuses tense or contentious situations, it fosters positive intent, and it inspires a student’s or colleague’s perception of who you are and how you feel about them.

One of my favorite all time song lyrics comes from Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s, “Wooden Ships”………it goes “if you smile at me I will understand, because that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language”, and that rings particularly true for our environment. When you start the day with a smile you affect your entire class…..and their day……and their approach to learning. Your smile is contagious, and if you take moment at the beginning of every school day to really look around you……with your eyes truly open……you’ll see that it’s almost impossible not to smile at something.  I love to start my days greeting the kids as they come off the buses, and to watch them sleepily meander their way across the courtyard. I love to watch their faces light up when they see their friends, and it makes me smile when they wish me good morning and react to the goofy comments that I make as they pass me by. Our students are beautiful young adults who are trying their best to find their way in the world, and if that doesn’t inspire you or make you smile then I don’t know what will.

We had the 5th Graders up in the Middle School last week going through the “6th Grader for a day” transition event, and I watched them intently all week to see how they were doing. I also made a point of asking them how they enjoyed their experience and almost every one of them commented on how friendly and happy everyone seemed to be. It made me so proud to know that the environment that we’ve all created together in the Middle School is one of smiles, happiness, support, and kindness. I want to make it clear to everyone that I’m writing this week about smiles not because I feel like we are lacking in this area, but because I want to celebrate how pervasive the smiles seem to be. I want to essentially thank you for the attitudes that you bring to work everyday, and to the effort that you’re all making to give our incredible kids happy and healthy experiences. A mood is contagious…. so is a smile…. so is an attitude, and a student’s want and approach to learning is directly affected by the way that we interact with them each day. Keep smiling everyone, and keep looking for those silver linings which make it easy to find joy in our daily lives. I know it’s been a hard week with all that went on around the world……find the positive in it all, and look for inspiration in the beauty that’s all around us, and in the faces and hearts of our kids……you’ll be sure to find a smile or two in there. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…….
A smile is something you can’t give away; it always comes back to you – Maya Angelou

TED Talk – Ron Gutman (The hidden power of Smiling)

NPR Sound bite and Article –

The Untapped Power of Smiling –

The Power of a Smile –

The Home Stretch

So here we are in the home stretch…….the Spring weather is here to stay, the fourth quarter is well underway, and the end is quickly coming into sight. In many ways this is my favorite time of the school year with our upcoming China Trips, the second round of the MAP tests (in which the comparative data is often times a true and tangible celebration of student growth and achievement), and the excitement of the end of the year graduation and its related festivities. The jackets are off, the shorts are on, the smiles are growing bigger and lingering a little longer, and there’s an extra hop in everyone’s step. For this year in particular, we have even more to celebrate as we head for home because of our successful WASC/NCCT accreditation visit that happened just last week. This rewarding and exciting culmination of over two years of hard self study work has made the home stretch even more inviting and pleasant for our entire community……but with that in mind I would like to issue a strong caution.

Sometimes, when schools and educators aren’t careful, there can be a tendency to take the foot off the gas so to speak when speeding toward the end of the year. It can become very easy to let complacency creep in, and to ease off on the work, the effort, and the attention to student learning. Losing focus and looking ahead to next year can quickly turn what has been a wonderful year into a disappointing end result simply because the finish wasn’t strong and the goals weren’t seen through to completion. I’d like to challenge us all over the next nine weeks to re-commit to our students, their learning, and to each other……..and to finish what we started. If you remember we began the year with an initiative (C.O.A.R), which was a clear attempt to bring us all together as a faculty and community, and to bring to life this incredible opportunity that we have to create something special for our kids. Well, we’re over three quarters of the way there, and in my opinion we’ve put ourselves in a great position to end the year on a high, and to be able to look back on the school year with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Enjoy the nice weather everyone, soak up the brightened smiles and lingering laughs, join in with the excitement that is emanating from our students, but don’t lose sight of the importance of what’s still left to do.

For those of you moving on to new adventures, remember that you’re only ever as good as your last exit…….and for those of us returning, know that students remember the educators that we are in June… let’s make sure they remember the best of what we have to offer. The WASC/NCCT team gave us many fantastic commendations and we should be proud, but they also cautioned us to not take the many wonderful things that we’re doing for granted. We’ve worked hard to become the team that we now are so let’s keep our foot on the gas as we rumble down the road to June. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other…….make the home stretch the best part of this year’s journey!

Quote of the Week……….
The fatigue was there, but some people understood that putting it aside was the single most important factor in succeeding -Seth Godin

Attached Article #1 Finishing The Year Strong Finishing The Year Strong
Attached Article #2Twelve Factors in a Strong School Culture Twelve Factors in a Strong School Culture
Attached Poem – Spring Morning by A.A. Milne Spring Morning by A

TED Talk – Try something new for 30 Days (Matt Cutts)

The Measure of Success

So I’ve been tremendously inspired lately by our students…….Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been blown away by what many of our kids have accomplished, and the various and very different ways that they are finding success. It got me thinking about how we measure success as educators and adults, and it got me wondering about whether or not we differentiate and prioritize what goes into our idea of a successful student. During last week’s student led conferences I asked a number of parents and students what their idea of success was, and I got some very interesting answers……

The majority of parents that I interviewed got stuck on the idea of grades, or academic achievement as the most important factor in determining success in a student, whereas the students (Middle School kids) that I asked thought that things like friendships, learning from their mistakes, academic growth, and whether or not they were liked by their peers were the most important factors……..I found myself siding with the kids answers honestly, but looking back I wish I had asked them the following follow up question…….what message are we sending to you as teachers? Do you think that the teachers or the adults in your life believe that grades, or making the honor role, or scoring better than your peers academically is the true definition and measure of success? I wonder………

Over the past few days I have watched our students succeed on the soccer field, in the pool, on the volleyball court, on the stage in the ridiculously good drama performance of Oliver, with their service learning responsibilities, and with the showcasing of their electronic portfolios during student led conferences. All in all, hundreds of young adults succeeding in so many different ways, and growing so immeasurably in ways and areas outside of the classroom. I guess for me, the idea or definition or measure of success cannot be simplified down to a single thing…… incorporates so many things…….so many aspects of a young person’s life……..and so many variables that go into shaping a young person’s character.

I think we need to be careful as adults and educators not to place too much of a priority on any one aspect of a student’s growth, and look to develop and celebrate the areas where a student is showing success in their lives. Kids, as you all know, go through various stages of maturation and development, and a students “time” may not be Middle School, or High School, or University for that matter. It’s no secret to the people who really know me, that I was very much a late bloomer when it came to academic success, but I found successes socially and on the athletic field which set me up for the person that I’ve become. I guess the true measure of success in my opinion, is whether or not a student is growing and learning. Is a student getting better academically? Socially? As a Teammate? As a person? If so, then we’re doing our jobs and we should celebrate these successes with each individual student……if not, we need to find out why and get those students on track.

Look at your students this week everyone, and measure them against themselves…….not their peers, or someone’s packaged idea of success…….and celebrate them. I cannot wait to speak with the “Oliver” kids, and to let them know how amazing they were up there on stage yesterday. They showed courage, teamwork, personal growth, academic  growth, and self confidence…….that to me is true success. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful – Herman Cain

Article Attachment #1 –
Nongognitive Factors As levers for Improving Academic Achievement (Marshall Memo) Noncognitive Factors As Levers for Improving Academic Achievement
Article Attachment #2– What Habits of Mind Do Students Need to Be Successful (Marshall Memo) What Habits of Mind Do Students Need to Be Successful
Article #3 – On Being a Student (Donald E. Simanek)

TEDx Nevada Talk – Logan LaPlante (Amazing 13 year old….please watch this!)

TED Talk – Richard St. John (Secrets of Success)

The Dictionary definition of Success:
The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.

Moral Purpose

So this week I’d like to talk about the idea of “moral purpose” in education……lately this term keeps coming up over and over again in my conversations with other Principals and teacher leaders, and it seems like these days I cannot read an article or watch a video about educational leadership without hearing about the importance and necessity of this notion. I even found myself just last week going on and on about how we all need a sense of moral purpose when I was speaking with a parent about our vision in the Middle School. I think this parent walked away feeling a little confused about the notion, and it got me thinking about what I was really talking about. What is moral purpose…… and how does it impact our lives as teachers, leaders, parents, and colleagues?

Interestingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot written yet about “moral purpose” in education, other than some interesting articles by leadership and change guru Michael Fullan. I did find some other helpful articles written on the topic from a business perspective however, and another one or two that had some pretty heavy religious connotations, but those didn’t really help clarify things in my mind. I finally stumbled upon some chapter excerpts from Will Ryan’s book, Leadership With A Moral Purpose: Turning Your School Inside Out, which started to help crystallize things for me, and break things down into simpler, digestible pieces. Essentially, for me it boils down to (in the simplest and purest terms)……….doing the right things for our students. There’s a great quote out there that says “managers do things right, but leaders do the right things”, and I think that pretty much says it all…….are we doing the right things for our kids?

We are all important leaders in some capacity……whether it’s leading our students through our daily teachings and/or professional habits, or leading our colleagues through the sharing of expertise and the positive, hopeful attitudes that create our climate and culture. We all have the power to affect change, and to contribute to this shared sense of moral purpose. Fullan talks about creating a shared vision, or mission, that rests on and stems from what’s best for students and student learning……doing the right things to create an environment where students feel safe and encouraged to take risks, where colleagues feel supported and valued, and where all leaders are researching, reflecting, and taking action in a constant attempt to make the school (and student learning opportunities) better. By the way, the best definition on moral purpose that I did find came from Springhead School in Northern England. Their definition reads, “Our moral purpose is an agreed set of principles that creates and leads our vision for the school. It stimulates reflection and review, and supports action. It defines the heart and soul of our school.  Our moral purpose acknowledges that there is a need for our pupils to be both challenged and supported if we are to enrich and enhance every child’s learning and life experiences, by breaking down barriers to learning and participation”……..nice.

This week I’d like us all to think about this notion of moral purpose, and what we can do as teachers to help bring ours to life. I love the tribe that we’ve built in the Middle School, and I love that we’re beginning to have the trust and educational courage to push back on things that don’t align with our shared vision, or our sense of what’s right. Lets’ do the right things for our kids, and not settle for other agendas that veer away from what’s best for student learning. In short, let’s be leaders…and do the right things. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other!

Quote of the Week……..
Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses or avoids. – Aristotle

Article #1 (attached)
Moral Purpose Writ Large (Michael Fullan) MORAL PURPOSE WRIT LARGE
Article #2The Realist’s Guide to Moral Purpose (Long and Business focused but a good read nevertheless)

TED Talk – Shane Koyczan (Moving and Beautiful)

Book SuggestionLeadership With A Moral Purpose: Turning Your School Inside Out – (Will Ryan)

The Importance of School Counselors

So over the past two or three weeks, a few different issues have come up with our students that have yet again highlighted for me the importance of our school counselors. If you take a step back and look at the weight of their vocation from a balcony view, it is staggering to see the positive scope of influence that can ripple throughout a school community because of their work. I spent the last few days thinking about all that goes into a counselor’s job description, and the affect that a quality counselor can have on the ethos of a school and the learning of its students. It has become clear to me that counselors are very much the mortar that holds a division together, as well as the purveyors of all things right in education. I think it is very easy for most of us to go through the school day and not give much thought to the life altering conversations that continuously take place in their office, or to the young lives that are forever shaped because of their insight and expertise. This week, I want to specifically acknowledge their efforts, and thank them for all that they do for our kids.

I’ve feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity over the last three years to work intimately with our own amazing school counselors, as well as the chance to learn deeply about the job through my wife, who recently began her Masters in Counseling back in September. I am constantly impressed and inspired by the amount of knowledge and strategies that they have to keep kids from falling through the cracks, and to get students learning up to their potential. It’s truly mind boggling to think of and see all the different issues, emergencies, and conflicts that they deal with on a daily basis……….and the fact that they continue to be unwavering student advocates throughout it all is ridiculously inspiring. Here’s just a brief and small sample look at what a school counselor has on his/her plate as the school day begins………

  • Individual and small group academic support
  • transition planning (5/6 and 8/9 and 12/College)
  • implementation of advisory program
  • consulting and collaboration with teachers/parents/administration
  • making appropriate referrals to specialists and outside organizations
  • scheduled/unscheduled issues such as abuse, depression, low self esteem, and bullying
  • supporting the extension of gifted and talented students
  • supporting the intervention of struggling students/students with special needs
  • constantly professionally developing themselves through research and reading

I could have easily gone on and on with that list but I think you get my point. Counselors play such an incredibly important role in the development of our students, the ethos and environment of our school, the community and culture of a division, and most importantly….student learning. It’s nice to know that if we face a difficult or unfamiliar situation, or if we need support as professionals dealing with a delicate or complicated issue, we have someone down the hall who can pick us up. I’d like to ask that you go out of your way this week to acknowledge or say thank you to Mark and Rafael for the incredible work that they do every day………it can easily get overlooked and we can easily take them for granted. Counselors change lives for the better everyday, and they emerge from heartbreaking conversations with poise, grace, and hope…and in some instances counselors save lives…….Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week………
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are – E.E. Cummings

American School Counselor Association Websites:

Other Useful Counseling Websites:

Article #1 – In Defense of School Counseling
Article #2 – School Counselors Play Key Role in Kids’ Futures
Article #3 – The Importance of School Counseling
Article #4 – The Role of School Counselors in Serving Students and Families


So a very good friend of mine is thinking about changing jobs….maybe even careers. He’s come to the sad conclusion that the hope that he had in his organization’s ability to do the right thing, and to lead with a sense of moral purpose is now gone. We got talking about this idea of “hope”, and the necessary role it plays in our lives as we look for inspiration and reward in all that we do. It became clear to both of us that hope is what drives us all to be better, and it inspires us all to be difference makers in the lives of others. Without that sense of hope there is no vision of what’s possible, and the seemingly unattainable goals that we set for ourselves, our students, and our world are just that…..unattainable… why even bother?

Hope is typically defined as the looking forward to something with confidence or expectation, but for many it’s way, way more that that. Hope for some people can be a lifeline, the light at the end of a dark tunnel, that needle in a haystack, or the only thing left when you feel as though everything is lost. If you think about it, hope might just be the most important word in the English language because without it, we’d never ever move forward. For quality educators, hope is tied to almost everything that we do, throughout every day of our teaching lives. Think about all the things that you hope for with your students, your colleagues, and your school as the kids begin to arrive in the morning. If you’re like me, you hope that all the hard work that we’ve put into creating a wonderful community and culture for students translates into learning. You also hope that the decisions that are made (which are sometimes out of your control) are made through the lens of what’s best for kids, student learning, and our community. You hope to be inspired by the people around you, and you hope that you can affect some sort of positive change……..hope is what transforms good schools into great schools, and hope is what drives you to be the best educator that you can be.

A few months ago I attended an amazing workshop put on by Alan November. Much of what he was discussing revolved around leadership, as well as the components of quality teaching. He suggested that the three most important attributes of all successful leaders are energy, enthusiasm, and hope. I thought about the kind of energy and enthusiasm that I was bringing to my job, and I wondered about how hopeful I was…….the great thing about this suggestion is that these three attributes are all things that we can control! I want to ask you all this week to think about that word…..hope…..and to let it shine through in all that you do, particularly when dealing with your students. The greatest message that we can deliver to our kids is that we are hopeful for them as learners. They need to know that we’ll never give up hope that they can become the person of their dreams, and we have to instill that hope in them. I’m hopeful for the future of our kids, and I’m hopeful that we can bring our Middle School fairy tale to life…….and I hope you are too. Have a great week everyone and remember to be hopeful for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…….
The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof – Barbara Kingsolver

Attachment #1 Hope in Education PDF Hope in Leadership

TED Talk #1  – Use Data to Build Better Schools (Andreas Schleicher)
TED Talk #2 – Hope (Sherwin Nuland)

Alan November’s Professional Website

Pay It Forward

So just over a week ago I decided to track down a old teacher of mine……I wanted to tell her that the incredibly positive influence that she had on me way back in High School is still resonating deeply in my life twenty five years later, and that who she is as a person and educator continues to inspire me greatly to this day. After I wrote that note, I started thinking about all the teachers that I’ve had in my life who have changed me in some way for the better…..or helped shape the person and educator that I am today. I thought about my grade school teachers, my university professors, and all the colleagues that I’ve had over the past 15 years in education, and I came up with a short list of people who have literally been searchlight souls throughout my career……and I wrote to them….. and I thanked them from the bottom of my heart.

As it turns out, every single one of them wrote back and said that my simple little email, which took me less than two minutes to write, had not only made their day but in some cases made their entire career! It struck me that the incredible and life changing work that great teachers do every day is often unrecognized and underappreciated….we all know this of course, and we certainly aren’t in this game for all the glamour and adulation but here’s the thing……when was the last time that you, the underappreciated educator, actually wrote to a teacher in your own life who has changed and inspired you in some simple way? Or some profound way? I bet if you took fifteen minutes at some point this week to think about all the educators that have passed through your life throughout your career you’d come up with a few who deserve a sincere thank you…so what’s stopping you?

Coincidentally, just this past week I had a former student of mine (who I taught years ago in third grade) pass through Shanghai and go out of her way to look me up…..I was thrilled, humbled, and I couldn’t shake the smile off my face all day! We’re in this profession to make a difference in the lives of our students, so when one actually validates the efforts that you’ve made there is no better feeling in the world in my opinion. I bet every one of you has had that feeling at some point, and if you’re like me you can last on that special moment for at least a month. Good teachers are true heroes in my mind….they wield such incredible influence and power in a child’s life and most of the time they do it unceremoniously. Well, for this week anyway let’s pay it forward……

I’m asking you all this week to send out one or two quick little emails and to make someone’s day (or career)……a teacher in your life who deserves to hear from you….you never know, you might just receive an email yourself! I’ve attached a few great links and articles below, which speak to the importance of saying thank you, and to the undeniable difference that good teachers make in the the lives of their students. The John Hattie attachment is particularly good and I implore you all to read it right away. Oh yeah, our own teacher appreciation week is coming up quick on March 4th through to the 8th. Make sure that you take advantage of all that our PAFA has planned, and let’s make sure to celebrate each other. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
A teacher affects eternity; you can never tell where the influence stops.
– Henry Adams

Online Articles –

Attachment #1 – Teachers Make a Difference, by John Hattie (This is ridiculously good…I love John Hattie’s work) hattie_teachersmakeadifference
Attachment #2 – Top Five Regrets of the Dying (Thanks to Kassi Cowles for this) Top five regrets of the dying Life and style

Pay it forward Website-

The Heart of the Matter

So this week I want to talk about struggling students, or more to the point, our responsibility as educators to truly get down to the heart of the matter when it comes to why kids aren’t learning. I firmly believe that every one of our students wants to achieve, and it’s not enough for us to say that they’re “just being lazy”, or “not applying themselves”, or “not living up to their potential”. Kids don’t come to school in the morning wanting to fail, or struggle, or feel like they’re dumb. Kids also don’t come to school in the morning looking to spend their day being bored or unchallenged…….it’s so easy for us to get frustrated with students who aren’t reaching our lofty expectations, without really making the effort to find out why, and it’s even easier to cop out and put the responsibility all on them to turn it around. We get frustrated when kids don’t finish their homework…..we get frustrated with kids when they act out and behave inappropriately…….we get frustrated with kids who consistently underachieve……..and often times in my opinion, we don’t dig deep enough below the surface to find out what’s really going on.

Think about all the things that can get in the way of student learning…..particularly throughout the pre-teen and teenage years. There are so many obstacles to learning that it’s a wonder how kids make through at all……depression, peer pressure, diagnosed and undiagnosed leaning disabilities, hormone changes, poor self esteem or a lack of self confidence, parental pressure, boredom, and a fear of failure just to name a few. It’s hard for many kids to “do school” the way we expect, and many of our students aren’t what some might call “school smart”. When it doesn’t come easy to them and they begin to struggle, they end up consistently hearing things like “you need to try harder”, or “you’re not taking your education seriously”, or “you need to start taking ownership of your learning”…….well, I think we all know as professionals that it’s not that simple. I just finished reading an amazing and enlightening book called Speaking of Boys by Michael Thompson, which opened up my eyes and heart to a number of things that I either didn’t know, had forgotten, or had been taking for granted. I had a lot of time early last week while I was traveling home from the recruiting fair to really think about our kids, and I looked deeply at our programs, our assessment expectations/practices, and the way in which we (as a collective faculty) approach our struggling students. Honestly, I am excited to make a few changes in my own approach and commitment to deciphering the mysteries of our “underachieving” kids, and I want to encourage and urge you all to do the same.

Over the next semester, let’s all take the extra time to truly get down to the heart of the matter……..and to find out what’s really blocking the pathway to learning. Talk to me,  the student support services team, your colleagues, the parents, and most importantly, to the student about what can be done and how we can help. Every student has their own story, and every student achieves at a different rate……let’s make sure that the obstacles in their way are removed (or at least identified) so we can maximize the opportunities for them to learn. I don’t think we should be satisfied until all of our kids are reaching the high expectations that we’ve set for them, or until we’ve at least identified the real reasons why they’re not. It’s a lofty goal I know, but one that is attainable and educationally responsible in my opinion. Please dig deeper everyone, and help turn our struggling students around into success stories. With the quality of educators currently on our faculty, and the incredibly inspiring young adults that come to our school, I am confident that we can get this done. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to dig deep for our students and be good to each other.

Quote of the Week………..
A student never forgets an encouraging private word, when it is given with sincere respect and admiration.
-William Lyon Phelps

Article #1 – A 3-Step Process for Achieving Success in Struggling Students (Marshall Memo) A 3 step process
Article #2 – A Seamless intervention System for struggling Students (Marshall Memo) A Seamless Intervention System for Struggling Students
Article #3 – Support struggling Students with Academic Rigor (ASCD) August 2012