Friday, August 26, 2016

Education Design & Practice: Are you Changing Your Clubs?

As a golf fan, I can remember when the “long putters” were becoming all of the rage on the PGA and Senior Tours.  Early on, it seemed everyone was trying them out to see if they were the next great fix to their respective golf games and careers.    When you see the putters, they aren’t the prettiest looking clubs on the market.  The putters drew people’s attention because they didn’t look like the conventional golf club.  The clubs were different.  And when it comes to golf, the appearance of clubs rarely drastically change over the years.  Sounds a little like education doesn't it?

But that’s just it.  The players were not experimenting to be different or to say, “Hey, look at me!  I’m using a goofy looking 'long putter' to get attention and be different.”  They tried them to see if it improved their games and lowered their scores.  The players who became comfortable with the clubs and continued to use them did it because they started to see improvements in their putting. They eventually changed from the conventional putter to the "long putter" because they got better.

As we have started the new school year, I have been visiting classrooms and have seen many changes in design and practice.  The changes are similar to the “long putters” craze discussed above.  The educational design and practice hasn’t been done to change for the sake of change.  The changes have been for the benefit of students and the benefit of the staff.  While traditionalists in education may frown upon changes, the age we live in demands it. 

One example of change that I recently experienced was in Annie Prenoveau's (@MrsPrenoveau) class.  Annie teaches Algebra II and is an instructor in our GCS (Gahanna’s Commitment toward Success) program.  Annie’s classroom made a transformation this summer.  It went from the “traditional” classroom that we know (rows, metal chairs, metal desks) to a relaxing, comfortable learning environment for students.  Not only has this changed the way the room appears, but it has changed the way she teaches.  A collaborative environment allows teachers to become facilitators and assist with learning.  Teacher are now not the only person in the room who holds all of the information.  Collaborative spaces helps foster the distribution of information between student and teacher. 

When looking to change design and practice, it is important to focus on specific areas to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.  The areas below enable you do just that:

Do the Data: You have to know why you are changing what you do and how it looks.  If the why isn’t related to growth of students and staff, you are doing it for the wrong reasons.  There is no reason to start down the path of obtaining resources and making changes if you don’t know the why of different design and practices.  Collect your data.  Do your research.  Connect with your PLN.  

Listen to your Crew:  What are your students looking for?  What type of environment do they need to succeed? They are the people who will be impacted the most by the changes.  Focus on creating an innovative learning environment that will foster differentiation.  While many of our students appear the same, they do not learn the same.  Getting input from students will illustrate to you what type of environment you need for each class.  If you are not getting input from your students on design and practice, you are not making the greatest impact with your changes as you could be.  

Grind to Find the Resources: This is usually the biggest hurdle.  Its tough, time consuming, and the most common downfall for great ideas regarding design and practice.  It is easy for resources to become the biggest demise because it’s the easiest excuse.  We can’t let that dictate changing design and practice.  We need to utilize our connections and personal learning network to find resources.  Sometimes it really all comes down to how bad you want it and much of an impact you believe it can make with your students.

As mentioned above, Annie changed her design but didn’t let a lack of funds stand in her way.  She utilized to secure funding for her ideas.  She had many families and friends who saw her need and helped her.  There are other sites available like,,,, and RocketHub ( where you can ask for specific funds based on what you need.

That doesn’t even mention building relationships with local businesses and writing grants for specific projects.  While it may be a little bit of work, as you can see from Annie’s room, its worth it.

Remain Relevant and Alive as an Educator:   You have to be professionally relevant.  If you don't, like anything else in life, there are consequences.  Refusing to change or even consider changing design and/or practice can be percieved as if you don’t consider being relevant as a priority.  Students see right through that.  That is why the best teachers personalize their learning, learn from others, and find ways to make changes in design and practice based on student need.

While the “long putter” in golf has taken some heat lately in golf and lead to rule changes, players will continue to try to find ways to get better.  Educators and leaders need to have the same mentality.  We need to continue to test the waters in design and practice.  Creating collaborative environments and using teaching methods that promote collaboration will help our students for life after school.  As educators, the specific areas mentioned above are in our hands.  It’s on us to provide opportunities to change.  If not, our students lose out.  Changing clubs and trying out different clubs doesn’t always work out in the end.  But not even giving a change in design and practice a chance could leave you wondering what could have been.  Don’t be like the guys who didn’t even try the “long putter” because how it looked.  Be the person who at least gave it a try to see if it would make them better.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

4 Essentials to Improving Your Educational Programs and Classes This Summer

Starbucks.  Southwest Airlines.  Facebook.  Kahn Academy.  All successful brands and companies that produce quality service, products and programs.  We assume these companies are good because of their names and what they have done.   More times than not, we go to get our coffee at Starbucks or reserve our flights with Southwest simply because we know what we are going to get.  We don’t question the how and why we get what we need with great businesses and programs; we just expect to get what we want and need.  The expectations that they have molded in each of us are built on the foundation and culture within their organizations.

 The same goes for successful educational programs.  Many times we take them for granted because each year we know what we are going to get.  From the inside of the building or classroom, sometimes our staff and students almost make it look too easy.  They make pride, tradition and success look routine.  In reality, all of those things are anything but easy to duplicate. 

Great educational programs are lot like the successful brands above.  They are built on basic principles that stand the test of time.  When I think of success, I think of the performing arts at Gahanna Lincoln High School.   While all of the programs (theatre, band, choir, orchestra) are successful in their own rights, they all have foundation built on the same principles:

Relationships Are Vital
Everyone in the department and program needs to work together, even if they have different individual styles and personalities.  To have a successful program at any level, you need to have a foundation built on relationships.  Your department needs to have the same goal in mind: all students, our students.  Don’t focus on grade levels, focus on students.  Relationships stand the test of time when everyone has the same overall goal to achieve.

Communication Must Include Everyone
To have successful programs you need efficient and effective communication techniques.  Everyone within the department needs to know what the rest of the staff is doing.  For effective communication you need strong relationships.  When you are thinking about your own program, remember to make building strong relationships a priority in order to help the flow of communication.  When you care about others in your program, you will communicate better because you want to make sure everyone is informed.  You won’t do it because you feel you have to communicate to everyone.  You will communicate to make sure the relationships inside your department and program remain strong so everyone can achieve the ultimate goal of helping others.

Structure Can't Take Days Off
Create a structure for the entire program for everyone to follow.  Surprisingly, more structure allows for others to be more creative and flexible in their instruction.  You would think it would be the opposite, but it isn’t.  The formulated structure of a program allows for staff to step outside of the normal routine and try different methods.  If they work, the rest of the staff in the program can also use the methods and make improvements on their end.  If it doesn’t work, other members of the program can add input and everyone knows the new attempt wasn’t successful and can help make improvements to either use it or not use it.  That is only possible when a solid structure exists and all members have a part in creating the structure.

Success Breeds Success
Successful programs have a healthy culture.  Many times, a healthy culture has the foundation of a solid structure.   Besides culture and structure, successful programs also have talent.  But talent alone doesn’t create success.  A mixture of culture, talent and structure creates success.  Winners win!  We know that’s the case.  But there is always a foundation to a winner’s success story and it focuses around culture.

When you are thinking about your classroom, your building, your district, or even your business, remember what great organizations or programs represent.  Visualize how you can make improvements in your organization or program by focusing on the characteristics discussed above.  Use the next couple of months to figure out how you and your team will help transform your programs or classroom to be the best it can be.   Build a culture to make success the norm and not the exception. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

5 Foolproof Professional Development Tips for the Educational Offseason

You hear the quote all the time from athletes around the world, “Champions are made in the offseason.”  For athletes, the offseason (or preseason) is when they get stronger, smarter, and better.  During the season itself, there usually isn’t enough time to put the required amount of work into the areas mentioned above.  They are simply too busy competing in games and matches.  While athletes practice and compete during their respective seasons, the offseason has always been known as the time where the expectations are to work and learn to prepare for the upcoming season.

If you think about it, the offseason for educators is the same as athletes.  While we may call it summer break and use a portion of the summer to relax and recharge, we also have an obligation to use it as a time to get stronger, smarter and better in our field.  With the help of social media, connected educators continue to grow during the school year.  But the summer is definitely a time when we don’t have so many things going on and can really focus on growing and getting better.

Follow the five tips below to have a strong offseason and help you improve as an educator:

 1. Create a Plan for What You Want to Accomplish this Offseason

We are all well aware of the research that states you have a better chance of accomplishing a goal when it is written down.  Be creative and plan a method of attack for your offseason.  Write it down.  What do you want to accomplish?  What do you want to learn more about?  Where do you want to get better?  Create a plan based on goals and efficiency.  Figure out what you need to do to get better and expand your learning.  If you want to read a certain number of books, then write it down which books you want to read and read them.  If you want to attend certain conferences, then plan for it. 

2. Focus on the “3 R’s”
These aren’t your traditional 3 R’s.  I’m talking about read, read and read.  Plan to read as many books as you want.  Learn how to use Flipboard and create magazines you can read each day to learn more about your passion.  Share what you are reading with others.  Use social media to share your thoughts about your readings.  Or share posts and articles you read via email with your colleagues.  When you read, visualize how you can use what you are reading to help your classroom and/or building.  Dedicate a portion of each day during your offseason to reading.  I am reading The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity by Kory Kogon to help improve my productivity during each day.

3. Go to Conferences and EdCamps
Try to go to every conference and edcamp that you can.  The professional networking and opportunities to get better are limitless.  Whether the conferences are national or local, it doesn’t make a difference. They are opportunities to grow. 

My favorite form of professional development is participating in a couple of edcamps during the summer.  For example, this year I plan on participating in the international #EdCampLdr day on July 11th where there will be edcamps around the world focusing on leadership (Ohio’s#EdCampLdrOH will be at Clark Hall in Gahanna, OH once again!).  Take advantage of the opportunity to attend edcamps to learn from others in a nontraditional academic setting that will enable you to personalize your own professional learning.

4. Try Something New
At times, during the school year, we tend to backoff from trying new things because there is always a learning curve that takes time.  Find a new site to explore.  Work with some different apps to see if they can help you grow.  Look into different social media accounts to see if they can help your professionally (Hint: Facebook isn’t what it used to be.  Many people are now using it to grow professionally).  Try using Voxer to connect with others around the world to see what they are doing to grow this offseason.

5. Make Goals for the Upcoming School Year
Use the offseason to create goals for your classroom and/or building.  If you already have goals for next year, figure out an action plan for how you will accomplish your goals.  Think of the different evidence you will collect to accomplish your goals.  The offseason is the time to pinpoint which data you will collect during the year and how you will use it.  Don’t forget to focus on what you want to improve for the upcoming school year and research what you can use to make that happen. 

While I am definitely a beach guy and love to hit the sand and surf during the summer, I also know my offseason is approaching.  Its time to get better at what I do.  Learn more, grow more, and help my school and district get better.  Professional growth is always available.  As educators, we have to want to get better.  We have to want to be the best we can be for our students.  What better time to do that than the offseason.  Remember, all men are created equal, some just work harder in the preseason.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Everyone Needs to Know About Innovation

Have you ever wondered why educators are reluctant to make changes?  Whether it is changing instructional methods, changing educational mindsets, or changing what our classrooms look like each day, many educators stick to the same formula and don’t let go.  This mindset is ironic because we live in a world that is completely the opposite.  We live in a society where change occurs daily.  Yet as educators, we stick to what we are comfortable with everyday and avoid change. 

In my session “What Everyone Needs to Know About Innovation” at the 2016 Battelle for KidsConnect for Success Conference at the Ohio Union, we are going to change.  We will examine innovative educational practices and programs and break down how they originated and became successful.  Attendees will learn that creativity isn’t something that people are born with or inherit.  Creativity is a mindset that can change lives by building self-confidence and following certain protocols to create change. 

There are many resources available to help anyone become innovative.  We will examine resources such as George Couros’s (@gcouros) book TheInnovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent and Lead a Culture ofCreativity and The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley to learn more about how to be creative and innovative and how easy creativity will come to you. 

Everyone wants to be great at what they do.  It all starts with confidence and a desire to be great.  Developing that confidence will fuel your creativity.  Using creativity to find ways to offer innovative instructional practices, programs, and mindsets in classrooms and buildings will get everyone a step closer to being a great educator.

Sometime before you attend my session “What Everyone Needs to Know About Innovation” on June 13th, watch the video below and ask yourself, “What can I do differently to be a change agent and help people?”