Thank You, Teachers

This is a long overdue THANK YOU to teachers.

I began my journey as an educator 33 years ago. I taught in a high school in Dekalb County, worked full time for the University of Georgia, part time for the University of Alabama-Birmingham, taught at Collins Hill, served as a department chair, and I have worked as an assistant principal for the past ten years. During my entire tenure at CHHS, I have also taught part-time at the university level — either at UGA or at Piedmont College. So, it is fair to say that I have stayed connected.

As an administrator, I’ve worn many hats. I have worked with some defiant and troubled students when doing discipline related tasks. I’ve invested in our student leaders. I have stayed abreast of the latest research and trends. I have worked with many teachers both as a staff development coordinator, mentor, and evaluator. I’ve never felt that I “lost touch” with the classroom.

This year, while maintaining my administrative duties, I added teaching a class into my schedule. It has been fun, exhausting, and enlightening. What I’ve learned most is that it IS different teaching now. Technology has certainly brought new challenges, but that is not the most significant factor that I feel impacts teaching. Of most significance to me is that having 36 kids in a class DOES matter. And, it matters A LOT. Regardless of what the “research” says (that larger classes don’t negatively impact learning), burgeoning class sizes negatively impacts the teacher. Here are some observations I’ve made about overcrowding our classrooms:

1. I cannot move freely throughout the room. The addition of 6 to 8 desks and 6 to 8 adult-sized bodies makes it almost impossible to move around to everyone to check progress. I am stepping over book bags, legs, and feet and tripping over desks. I am honestly bruised because I hit my thigh, shins, and hips on a daily basis.
2. I cannot easily rearrange the room for various activities. Setting up for small groups (especially if I want to make them different sizes for different activities) or Socratic Seminars is cumbersome. And, because it is SO overcrowded once the kids arrive, I certainly cannot have them rearrange for me upon arrival.
3. It is very EASY to forget to take attendance. If we try to do all that we are supposed to do — greet at the door, have an icebreaker/warm-up posted, collect work as they walk in, hand items back during the warm-up so as not to waste class time, transition smoothly to the next activity, and have a closing activity — ding — the bell rings…I know that it is essential that we do it, but I also see how easy it is to let it slip away.
4. Adding 6 – 8 students per class makes assessment far more difficult at a time when we need to increase our use of formative assessments. Aside from not being able to even move around the room efficiently, adding upwards of 40 extra students to the grading load is almost unbearable. And, if your average class size has grown from 28-30 to 36 over the past decade, that IS the end result. Factor in 5 classes, and you have 30 to 40 additional papers, projects, tests, and quizzes to grade. A simple discussion post at one minute of reading per post adds 30 -40 minutes. Essays, research papers, projects, and tests — we are looking at HOURS of additional time. Let’s say it is a short, fairly easy paper to grade — 2 minutes per paper — you add another 80 minutes to each grading load. Suppose it is an essay at a speedy 5 minutes. Wow — that is 200 minutes. Let’s translate that folks — that is 3 hours and 20 minutes of extra grading time for just that one assignment. A research paper at 30 minutes per paper adds an overwhelming 20 hours. And, a new teacher, who may not be as adept at grading essays quickly, can feel literally buried under a mountain of papers.

There is much, much more that I have learned that I haven’t fully processed yet, but at this point, I just want to say THANK A TEACHER. Unless you’ve done the job, you have no idea. Don’t EVER say, “Well, at least you get the week of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summers off.” If you do make a blunder and say that, don’t be surprised by the look of disdain that you get in return. My dear teacher friends put in enough extra time on nights and weekends during the school year that it obliterates any time “off.” And, I assure you, many use that time “off” at Thanksgiving to catch up on grading and the time off at Christmas to plan for next semester. And, if they decide to use that time to spend with their families, they feel the pressure of unfinished piles of papers…Summers are filled with conferences, planning, and second jobs.

So, I would like to thank some of the most underappreciated people I know — the educators who invest their time, talent, and hearts in the lives of our children.

A New Year’s Resolution: Planning Great Hooks for Every Lesson

For teachers, we make our New Year’s Resolutions in August as we start another year. We are excited to greet our new students, reconnect with colleagues, and put into practice new ideas and strategies we learned over the summer. Many of us attend summer staff development, and we may encounter new techniques, acronyms, and buzzwords. Student engagement, especially since the release of Working on the Work by Phil Schlechty and the engagement research by John Antonetti and Jim Garver, has remained in the forefront for some time. A teacher once asked me, “Don’t you think that this too shall pass?” If you have been around education long enough, you recognize that as a valid question. We have seen so many trends and fads come and go. Yet, this time, I firmly believe that the answer is a resounding NO. I believe that student engagement is vital to deep learning and understanding, and I doubt that any teacher will ever remark, “I’m glad that engagement fad is over. I’m ready to bore my students again.” We must be as intentional about including engagement as a regular part of our lesson planning as we are about understanding our standards and content.

A critical component of interwoven instructional and engagement planning is deciding how you will hook them into the lesson. I try to think back to my 16 year-old self: “I am 16, I had to get up at 5:00 am to catch the 6:08 bus, and it is 1st period on a Monday morning. Does this activity at the start of class catch my attention, make me sit up straighter, and focus on the task at hand? If it is a fill-in-the blank worksheet, the answer is no.” On the flip side, as teachers, we can’t always be entertainers. So, what do we do? Creating engaging lessons day after day can be difficult and may stretch our creativity and ingenuity to the max. Fortunately, there are so many easily accessible resources at hand for helping you find engaging lesson hooks that intrigue students and garner their attention – especially when YOU are tired (you got up at 5:00 am, too) and just fresh out of fresh ideas.

Consider the topic of microbes. If I told you that you had to go back to grad school and take microbiology, you might not be thrilled. But, microbes can actually be fascinating – especially when the instructor makes them real and relevant to you. Mike Rutherford, author of the Artisan Teacher, gives an example where the teacher has her students take a “microbe personality” quiz at the start of the unit.  Students laughed and shared their microbe personality types with classmates. They were hooked. Contrast that with the lesson that begins, “Class, take out your notebooks. Today, we are going to learn about microbes. Microbes are defined as….” By the way, I took a microbe personality quiz and I am Fragilidium subglobosum.  Of course, I also learned from an online quiz that my mothering style is like that of Morticia from the Addams family, so who knows? But, what we do know is that these types of quizzes are abundant on social media, and students click on them frequently and share their results. So this is a socially relevant activity that also engages them in scientific content, especially since the personality types correspond with characteristics of the microbes.

Hooks can be high tech or low tech and only require a few minutes of time. An opening question shared via an electronic corkboard or electronic sticky notes, such as Padlet or Lino, is fun for the kids and quickly gives the teacher an overview of the students’ ideas. On the low tech end, Expo markers can be the spark . I was in a classroom recently where the teacher had categories written on a few desktops at the front of the room. Students used Expo markers to write their names under the category that they agreed with upon entering class. Students were engaged immediately upon entering, and there was something slightly daring about writing on the desks. Speaking of daring, have you ever considered showing the contents of your purse, backpack, or pockets? I did a lesson on observations where I did a “purse dump” at the start of class and let the students examine the contents of my purse. They were asked to make observations and draw inferences. Clearly, I did some manipulating of my purse contents, but they were intrigued just by looking at a key chain, seeing the store tags that hang from my key chain, noting that I had 10 different pens in my purse, seeing what kind of gum I like, examining the coupons that I had, etc.

Just remember, as you are planning for the introduction to a lesson, if you are bored writing it, they will be bored doing it. Some sites are included below if you are in need of some fresh ideas. Happy engagement planning!




Twitter for Educators

Twitter is actually a GREAT way to drive your own professional learning. For me, Facebook is more about social networking with friends and family while I use Twitter for  “content” or “issues.” For instance, on Twitter, I do not know most of the individuals I follow, yet we share similar professional interests. Below are some links to tutorials and sites that will help you  join the Twitterverse along with a list of people or organizations you might wish to follow.

I used the book What Connected Educators Do Differently by Zoul, Casas, and Whitaker to get started.

connected educatorsp

Suggestion: You might become addicted to Twitter and decide to expand your Twitter-verse. If you decide to use it for personal purposes in addition to professional, you might consider having separate accounts. Also, there are tools that you can use to help you manage your accounts or manage your streams of topics (ex: TweetDeck).

8-minute tutorial on Twitter for Beginners:

12-minute tutorial on Twitter for Teachers:


A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter for Educators

Edudemic’s Guide to Twitter

Twitter in Education

Kathy Schrock’s Twitter for Teachers

Twitter for Beginners

Education Chat Schedule

Twitter Cheat Sheet

Below is a list of educators or educational organizations you can follow to get started. One way to find others is to find someone you really enjoy following and look at his/her list of people they follow. You can see all of the groups and individuals that I follow by going to my twitter: @kimnichols412

EdSurge @EdSurge
K12Q Academics @K12academics
Larry Ferlazzo @Larryferlazzo
Jeff Zoul @Jeff_Zoul
Baruti K. Kafele @PrincipalKafele
EdWeek Teacher @EdWeekTeacher
Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy
Teacher Goals @teachergoals
Mike Rutherford @RLGMike
Todd @ToddWhitaker
edutopia @edutopia

Strategies for Getting Class Started

There are many names and types of activities for getting class started: warm-ups, sponge activities, activating strategies, etc. What I have found, regardless of the name or actual activity used, is that personal responses is key to promoting engagement and getting students interested in the lesson. Antonetti’s Learning Cube includes personal response as one of the 8 Engaging Qualities of Student Work. He explains what personal response is and is NOT. What it is not is a task that has one right answer or is simply recall of facts. Personal response is a task that allows students to evoke memories, make connections, share opinions, or make predictions. I often share this simple example as one that I used to lead into a lesson on photosynthesis. I posed the question: What is your favorite season of the year and list five quick reasons why. An answer might be winter with five reasons being fireplaces, Christmas, hot chocolate, boots, and snow days. Students individually write their answers, and then we do a quick Think-Pair-Share. I ask for how many wrote winter and ask each to share a reason why. We move to spring, summer, and end with fall. Invariably, someone who likes fall lists one reason as the changing of the leaves. BINGO! We’ve got a segue into why the leaves change and we move into photosynthesis. Note that there was no “right” answer. No season or reason is wrong, so every student feels that is a question that can be answered and all answers are valued. It has always worked, it is always fun, and we have a short trip down memory lane as we recall a past Christmas, a football game, or a trip to the beach.

Timed quick-writes are another strategy for activating student interest and getting a little writing in, as well. I saw a world-lit lesson where the teacher had students do a quick-write prior to reading a story about Ghana and the salt-gold trade. They were given 60 seconds to write as much as they could about either salt or gold. I participated, as well, and my salt quick-write was: “I love salt and I put salt on most everything that isn’t sweet. It frustrates my husband, the cook in the family, because he feels that he already seasoned the food properly. I enjoy salted nuts and salty chips. I also remember getting into the ocean to allow the salt water to soothe a bad case of poison ivy.” I enjoyed this quick-write because it allowed me to talk about how much I love salty food and to recall a memory from childhood. This quick-write was very effective because every student could write about one of the topics. After the timer rang, students first counted the number of words that they wrote and compared that number to previous quick-writes. The word comparison makes students compete with themselves to write more each time they do a quick-write. They don’t even realize that they are being tricked into wanting to write more! After word counting, students shared what they wrote, which led into the short piece they were reading on the salt-gold trade in Ghana. 

Additional examples include:

  • Ask students to write about a favorite childhood memory. This could lead into any story where childhood is recounted.
  • Ask students to discuss what frightened them the most as a child. This could be a lead in for many topics — reading a story written by Poe, a biology lesson on spiders, etc. If you ask 30 students, someone will pick the fear that ties into what you are studying (or, you can be ready to share a fear that you had that ties in).
  • Ask students to write about their favorite color and why. The Great Gatsby has a color motif…
  • Ask students to write about something that they are tempted to “overdo.” Examples: eat too many Oreos, spend too much time on social media, spend too much time watching Netflix, too much time video gaming, etc. Lead in? Dante’s Inferno.

You get the point. It is so easy to generate journal topics and quick-writes that serve the dual purpose of generating interest and getting kids to write. Please share some ideas in the comments section below.

Assessing Collaborative Work

Bill Farmer, in an EdWeek article titled Why Measure Student Learning, addresses the “3 Cs” of learning: creativity, communication, and collaboration. He writes, “All three of these traits require teachers to assess relevant processes, not just products. I offer students choices not on the content but the method of many assessments. Portfolios, student reflections, conferences, and multimedia project logs help me drive achievement much more than chapter tests alone. I evaluate my kids on their metacognitive steps, their thinking about my teaching strategies and the students’ own learning. I want to know, how did students prioritize and delegate responsibilities? What obstacles did they encounter as teams and as individuals? What further questions did they discover?” Farmer hits upon 3 of the 8 Engaging Qualities of Student Work (see the Learning Cube by John Antonetti and Jim Garver) :
· Choicelearning cube
· Learning with others
· Generating and testing hypothesis

Working as a team can be tricky — both for students and teachers. Some students prefer to work alone while teachers wonder how to fairly assess the contribution of each team member. But, we all recognize that in our globally competitive and interconnected society, we must facilitate the growth of our students as productive, contributing team members. Our school system superintendent often references a survey conducted with area business leaders emphasizing the importance of collaboration in the workplace. Leaders were asked to identify the most important skills that they were looking for from high school graduates. They identified two key skills:
1. The ability to communicate effectively —both verbally and in written form
2. The ability to work effectively as a member of a team

Most careers require that individuals be able to work as a part of a cohesive team. But, in the classroom, it does present challenges, such as assessing team progress, forming effective teams, assessing individual contributions within the group, etc. These are all valid concerns. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available—including great teachers who share their ideas through a variety of forums—that are rich with ideas and suggestions for using and assessing cooperative learning in the classroom (in fact, please send along any tips, ideas, assessment forms, etc. that you have used in your classes that you would be willing to share with others). There are many websites devoted to this topic, as well. For a sample, visit the Starting Point site for ideas and tools for building rubrics, using peer assessments, and much more.

During a visit to one of our math classrooms, I was able to watch a teacher, Trish Lee, engage students in group learning AND effectively and fairly assess their individual learning. Students in her trig class were taking a “group” quiz. While you may initially think, “Well, I bet one student did all of the work and everyone else copied,” let me assure you that was not the case. This was a dynamic learning environment where EVERY student was active in problem-solving and discussion. Students worked the problem individually and then discussed their answers and shared approaches that they used to tackle the problem. If everyone reached the same conclusion, then they knew that they were on the right track and they were able to move on to the next problem. If not, a lively discussion ensued that included peer-to-peer explaining and critiquing. At the end, each student turned in his/her own paper, but it was fine if everyone in the group arrived at the same answers; if they did, it meant that they reached consensus and likely knew how to solve the problem. If a student still felt that he/she had solved it correctly even though it was different from the rest of the group, that student was able to stick with his/her answer. I was just so impressed with the depth of thinking and discussion that was taking place. And, the teacher’s use of praise was spot on–she was specific and individual in her encouragement. When students were off-track, she guided them to explore other options.

There are just so many great activities going on–including lessons across subject areas that engage students in true collaborative work– in the local school building. While I know that we are all busy, one of the most rejuvenating things that you can do is to visit the classroom of a dynamic, energetic, creative colleague.  Take 5-10 minutes every couple of weeks during your planning or lunch to go into a neighbor’s room and see the teaching, collaboration, and learning that takes place every day in our schools. It reminds you of why you became a teacher in the first place.

Markers and Poster Board

We know that students need to be able to collaborate and work effectively in groups to be successful in today’s globally competitive society. We also know that working with others is one way to engage students in learning. Schlechty calls it affiliation and explains that affiliation is when “Students are provided opportunities to work with others (peers, parents, other adults, teachers, students from other schools or classrooms) on products, group performances, and exhibitions that they and others judge to be of significance.” I believe that the part about the work being something that “they and others judge to be of significance” is a critical, and often overlooked, component of this definition. Too often students are given a task, some markers, and a large sheet of paper, and we mark that off as “learning with others” on a walk-through form. Yet, a deeper look may show that few of the students are truly engaged in the task. Making a poster may involve one student drawing while the rest chat about an upcoming school event, sports, or music. Yes, that one student enjoys the opportunity for artistic expression, but the rest of the group is disengaged from the learning process. Students must see both the product and their role in creating it as significant. I recall one particularly disastrous lesson where one full class period was wasted on what I thought would be fun day of learning with others. I heard of an activity where students could create their own models of DNA using colored mini-marshmallows and toothpicks. At the end of the day, however, I was left with a sticky mess including smashed marshmallows, broken toothpicks, and limp “DNA strands” that look like poorly constructed ladders. Reflecting on the day, I would say that the students had fun, but they learned very little about DNA structure and function. Rather, they sorted marshmallows into little stacks by color, broke toothpicks, and chatted about teen-aged life while doing so. I only had so many days of learning with them, and I wasted one of the precious few. That was a turning point for me. I began to reconsider every activity in light of the amount of learning in relation to the precious time spent. I would ask myself: Will this be worth it for every student’s learning?

Here are a few tips that I feel can ensure that students truly learn together and engage in the work:

  1. Have clear learning targets so that students know what they are supposed to learn and why it is important.
  2. Be clear on how this lesson will help students hit the learning target(s).
  3. Consider whether the time allocated for the task is commiserate with the learning that will occur.
  4. Build accountability for every student into the assignment.
  5. If the assignment does take significant time, ensure that the rubric is clear and that there are self and peer assessment components.
  6. Take the time to monitor progress throughout the activity. It is so tempting to catch up on email or grading, but we have to remember that we are dealing with kids who just might stray off task!

If you are planning a long-term group assignment, I suggest reading Ron Berger’s book, An Ethic of Excellence. You will be inspired by the authentic, high-quality work that his 6th grade students produce.

I would love to hear your suggestions and ideas for ensuring student engagement and learning for all when asking students to work together.

Fostering Meaningful Classroom Discussion

When I was a student (in a time far, far away), classroom discussion often consisted of a lecture with a few rhetorical questions interspersed. Some questions would be answered, but often by the same few students. The rest of the class could slink deep into their seats and quietly disengage from any conversation. In “discussions” such as this, the voice of a few becomes the voice of the whole. The ideas of the teacher and the vocal few “bastardize” the thoughts of the rest of the class. The idea of thought “bastardizing” is one that I first heard of from a dear friend and student engagement expert, John Antonetti. He says that when we don’t give students the opportunity to process their own thinking, the ideas of others will take over. And, I agree. This is why I love think, pair, share activities and smaller group discussions. In a think-pair-share, each student has an opportunity to commit his or her ideas to paper before sharing with a partner. The pair then shares with another pair (actually a Think-Pair-Square-Share model) and/or with the whole group. In an extended classroom discussion, the lesson can be structured to similarly allow for individual thinking along with group collaboration.

In a globally competitive society, we know that our students must be able to creatively collaborate. They must contribute to discussions, offer fresh insights, and provide constructive feedback to others. At my school, just in recent weeks, I have seen some rich classroom discussions where students were leading the way. While these were done in a variety of different ways, the common denominator was that the teacher’s role was minimized and the role of each individual was maximized. The teacher either pulled out altogether or was just another learner in the room.

I have become a huge fan of the Socratic Seminar, and I enjoy seeing the creative spin that teachers will put on it based on the needs of their classes. A basic description of a Socratic Seminar is that a group of students are in the center circle discussing the topic, and the remainder of the class sits in an outer circle. The inner circle discusses for a set amount of time while the outer circle listens. The outer circle may be required to take notes and critique the inner circle. After the set time expires, the roles are reversed. The teacher typically observes the process.  A great example of this in action is found on The Teaching Channel (Socratic Seminars: Patience and Practice). The teacher in the video addresses some key issues: what do you do when the conversation stalls, how do you arrange the students, what are the expectations of those in the inner circle, expectations of those in the outer circle, and how are students assessed. I love the way that the Socratic Seminar is conducted in this classroom, but I needed an alternative for one of my college classes of 33 students. Many of the classes at my high school are over 30 students, as well. So, I needed to come up with a twist. To keep the inner circle within a good 8-12 student range, I put my college class (which is a group of veteran teachers working on their Master’s degrees) in triads. We arranged the class in three concentric circles, and I gave the triads 10 minutes to plan who would go first, second, and third in the inner circle, and to discuss key points that that wanted their group to address during the discussion. I then gave each group about 12 minutes in the inner circle. After the time elapsed, the triads had 3 minutes to debrief, using a rubric provided for assessing inner circle performance. Feedback was given to the person in the inner circle and the group determined key ideas that they still wanted to address. As the instructor, I just listened. And, it was a wonderful thing. The students had the opportunity to share their ideas without the teacher chiming in and “bastardizing” their thoughts. Students prepared ahead of time by reading the material, and writing down key ideas and questions that arose from the reading, so they were all prepared with talking points. To summarize what I believe made this so successful:

  • Each student read the material individually and prepared talking points — either ideas or questions from the text
  • Students had a chance to share their ideas with their triad
  • Students engaged in a small group discussion while in the inner circle
  • Students received feedback from their triad members after the inner circle
  • The whole group debriefed after the activity and we collectively summarized the ideas that were generated
  • Each student did a self assessment and a peer assessment of the other members of the triad
  • Each student wrote about ideas that he/she didn’t get a chance to express or points to ponder that arose from the discussion

There are so many other strategies that I have seen in classes in my building. I plan to share more and hope to hear of other ideas from the education community.

Staying Healthy in the New Year

Today, I read an excellent article by Lauren Quinn, titled Dear Teachers, It’s Time to Reset.  She reminds us that teaching is draining — physically, emotionally, and mentally– and that it is so important that we make time to take care of ourselves. As someone who works out regularly, I find it sad to watch the influx of people who commit to the gym in January – all decked out in their new workout gear – to find them absent come February. I reflected on why I have been able to stay committed to fitness for over nine years–despite my very busy schedule–and thought I’d share (for what it’s worth).

  • First, figure out why you’ve failed in the past. Is your goal so ambitious that failure is almost guaranteed? For instance, if you are new to working out, don’t set the goal of 5 times per week. Start modest, experience success and then more forward. Second, do you talk yourself out of it? If so, then maybe you need to find an accountability partner. Set a time and place to meet – you will go if you think someone else is counting on you to be there. Start a fitness group at your school, or meet up with a colleague in the school gym if you are at a high school with a weight room and track. Or, find a Zumba, Spin, or Yoga class that you  can attend after school.
  • Next, are you picking an activity that you hate? I have bad knees and find running super boring, so trying to run a half marathon is not a reasonable—or healthy– goal for me. Instead, I use the elliptical, the treadmill, the bike, and combine weight work. I move around and it keeps me interested, motivated, and strengthens my knees instead of wearing them out. On nice days, a brisk-paced 4-mile walk is a great alternative.
  • Next, do you pick something too expensive? Don’t invest in costly equipment thinking that the expense will motivate you to follow through! It will just make you feel guilty when you sell it for a fraction of the original price at a yard sale. If your school has a weight room, track, and/or walking trail, give that a try. Or, sign up for an inexpensive trial gym membership. You may find that packing your workout bag in the morning and heading straight to the gym after work is better for you; some people have a hard time motivating themselves to work out once they get home. Or, if you do think that you can stay committed to working out at home, the inexpensive trial gym membership will allow you to try different equipment to see what you like.
  • If you do plan to join a gym, consider what you need. For me, the $10 membership at Planet Fitness is great – it has everything I need although it might not be the fanciest.
  • So, bottom line: find something you like, set reasonable goals, determine what you need to stay committed (an accountability partner, a class, etc.), and GET FIT. You deserve it, and you will be a happier, healthier, less stressed educator.

What Teachers Can Take Away from a Coach’s Playbook

When we watch a practice run by a winning coaching staff, we will see a lot of “feedback” being given. You will hear hand clapping, “attaboys,” and “good job” comments; you will also hear a whole LOT of criticism. Precise criticism. Criticism designed to help the player be the very best he or she can be. Criticism that will help the player be an optimal contributor to the team. When praise does come, it is often specific. And, because it isn’t given flippantly, it is meaningful. When Nick Saban tells a player that he executed a play well, I imagine it means something to that player. That player will damn sure try his best to repeat that type of execution. For the coach and players, winning is why you play the game. You don’t play for moral victories or close losses. Yes, those will happen, and you review that film, figure out the mistakes, and learn from them. Losses and mistakes in life are valuable, but the greatest satisfaction comes when you learn the hard lessons and do it better the next time. Satisfaction comes when every player leaves it all on the field—giving his best effort, using what has been taught and practiced, playing as a cohesive unit, and getting the win. That is when you celebrate. You celebrate a best effort and a job well done. A victory.

I have been thinking a lot about this and how it relates to the classroom after a long conversation with my oldest son. When he was a first-year theatre teacher (one who loves football and theatre), he required that his students call him “coach.” This may seem quirky, but I think it fits. Great teachers are great coaches — whether in the classroom or on the field. And, I think that “coach” likely fit my son and how he ran his classroom. I have had the opportunity to actually watch him perform his craft, and his use of feedback grabbed my attention. His post-rehearsal notes are not sugar-coated and filled with platitudes. Rather, they are real, raw, rigorous, and right. Right because he encourages them to go deeper, work harder, get the performance RIGHT. He challenges the students to do more, do better, take risks, and push themselves. He told me one night about a conversation he had with a talented student in his class. The student confidently performed her monologue and returned to her seat anticipating nice comments. Instead, she was told that her performance lacked nuance, the character did not come alive, and it was a too safe—among other less-than-glowing comments. After class, she approached “Coach,” and asked if she got an F on the performance. Coach replied, “No, you still got an A. You met the requirements, but, YOU can do so much better. I expect a performance of much greater depth from you.” It is more than a grade; it is more than meeting the requirements. The expectation is that the bar is continually moving higher as you grow, refine, and improve. The greatest athletes know this as do the greatest performers. Do our students know this? Do they get this? Do we coach them as well as teach them?

Coaches and directors push so hard because you cannot accept mediocrity when the fruits of your efforts are put on a stage for an audience to see. Just like a college football coach, whose team may play before a national televised audience, a director’s work is on stage—up for review and critique. For those serious about their craft, the stakes are high—a losing sports program means job losses and a poor performance on Broadway means the show gets cancelled. Athletes don’t get the recognition they need to take it to the next level, and performers are passed over for future roles. It matters to everyone involved–the players, the coaches, the actors, the directors.

But, are the stakes any less high for our students? Do we coach them as if our lives, their lives, our jobs, and their jobs depend on it? I acknowledge that we are facing a generation of students who have been protected and shielded from criticism. We have heard this generation referred to as the iY Generation, the “Me” generation, the “Everyone Gets a Trophy” generation. And, this is true for many of them. But, we are doing our kids a disservice when we fail to hold them to high standards. It takes courage, especially when we get push back, to tell a student that he can do more and must do more. That you will not accept an effort less than his best. To tell a student that she needs to redo that assignment. To take the heat. To coach as if your team—your class—is playing for the National Championship.


Differentiated Instruction Tools

I wanted to pass along a link to a great little video on Differentiating Instruction. It is from the New Teacher Survival Guide series offered through The Teaching Channel. The Teaching Channel is one of my top resources for tips and strategies. It has a wealth of practical, concise teaching strategies from general teaching, classroom management, student engagement, to specific strategies for content areas and topics. And, the best part–it is FREE.Even if you are a veteran teacher, you will likely find this useful. Most teachers–regardless of years–are striving to improve in the area of differentiating instruction. The direct link to the video on differentiating instruction is below. There is a search feature on the site that will allow you to explore more viewing opportunities.