Monday, January 2, 2017

Why Relationships Are the Foundation of Education

When I first started teaching, I wasn’t very good.  I had no teaching experience and really no interest in being a teacher.  I never really had a positive school experience in the different schools I went to.  I attended private schools for over 19 years of my schooling throughout my childhood and into adulthood.  During those years, I honestly thought a good education could be summed up into 3 areas:
  1. Teachers having control over the classroom and students;
  2. Writing notes and doing it as fast as you could was the recipe for success;
  3. Never question the teacher’s or professor’s knowledge or teaching practices.
When you attend private schools for all of those years and see the same practices and rules over and over again, that’s really all you know about education.   I believed that was the way teaching was done everywhere and how everyone had to learn in order to be successful.

Believe it or not, there is research and data that supports the theory that many teachers teach  the same way they were taught to when they were in school if the practice was successful for them.   As you can imagine (and is usually the case with many educators), when I first began teaching, I taught the same way as the teachers did when I was in school:
  1. I dictated and controlled the learning environment;
  2. I presented information to students the way I wanted it presented and in the manner which was most comfortable to me; and
  3. I expected students to memorize the information I had given them and regurgitate it to me when we had assessments.
Thus, I was sharing my awful learning experiences with my students.  Sort of taking it out on them.  That’s all I knew about education.


While my methods needed a lot of work and my expectations for students were out of touch with reality, there was one area where I was progressing nicely.  During my life, I have always been a pretty good judge of people.  I have also been able to build relationships with many different people throughout my life.  While I had a lot of work to do when it came time to presenting content in an engaging learning environment, I was pretty good at building relationships with students.  So while I felt I had a long way to go to be a good teacher, I knew I could relate to students and staff members.  The ability to relate and work with students and staff really kept me in teaching.  It pushed me to get better because I wanted to be the best for the people who counted on me each day to be the best.

I will always remember one student I had in particular during my teaching days.  He was a transfer student and this was his third school to date and it was only November.  His appearance was different than the rest of the student body: piercings, tattoos, hair over his eyes, black leather clothing.  He was distant and kept to himself.  In a small community, I’m sure it was difficult for him to make friends at all, let alone with one person.
The student was in my Web Design class and had academic success in the class.  He completed projects, he took notes while watching online videos to learn how to create better graphics, and he was always respectful and polite to me and the other students.  In his other classes, he was completely the opposite.  It seemed no other staff members could reach him and connect with him.  Once grades came out, he was failing all of his classes, except Web Design and my wife’s class (who is a master at building relationships).

One of his other teachers asked me what I was doing to get results from him.  I didn’t have much to say, I told her “Nothing.”  She replied, “Well, you must be doing something.”  I said, “Well, I treat him like a human being.”  The teacher laughed and said, “We all are doing that.”  I replied, “I disagree.  In my daily conversations with him, I’ve never heard him mention another staff member’s name or anything about his other classes that he enjoys.”  As you can imagine, that wasn’t taken very well, but it was the truth.

The point of the story is to show sometimes it just gets down to treating people the way we want to be treated and want our children or family members to be treated.  While I wasn’t the greatest teacher, even in my own department, I utilized my ability to build relationships to help others and help me get better.  Let’s take a look at 4 key aspects I always keep in mind when it comes to creating meaningful relationships:

  1. Don’t make excuses
I don’t think making excuses helps anybody in education.  We can’t say, “I have over 150 students each day, I can’t build relationships with everyone.”  Each student is an individual.  Each parent of our students expects their student to be given the best learning environment as possible.  We need to make that happen each day.

    2.  Listen, Respond, Ask Questions, Repeat
Every student has a story.  Instead of always thinking the worst, we need to listen to students to feel where they are.  Model the behavior we expect to see from our students.

    3.  Compassion
At some point in all of our lives, we have needed something.  Someone has had to help us out at some point.  Always remember this when working with students.  Instead of initially feeling students are trying to take advantage of us, let’s look at it as students are reaching out for help.

    4. Sacrifice
How much time and investment do you put in each day for students and other staff members?  If our job as educators was easy, everyone would be doing it.  To be the best, in any endeavor or occupation, you have to make sacrifices.  Whether it is before school or after school sessions, being a part of teams and committees, or advising a club, we all need to make a sacrifice for your students and/or staff.  It will make a difference.


The above quote by Robert Meehan really does say it all.  The little things add up to a lot in education.  Little things are what make relationships successful.  Its our job to find the little things that help build relationships with students and staff.  Try making building relationships with students and staff a daily exercise and practice in order to improve the culture of your school and classroom.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

How to Gain More Social Media Followers When You Need To

I know, I know.  Anyone who has a social media presence in leadership and does it for the right reasons knows that its not about how many followers you have on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or how many “Likes” you get on Facebook.  The quote above says it perfectly.   Leading and growing is about inspiring and leading staff, students/clients and community/stakeholders.    But at times, having more followers can be more important that inspiring and leading.  The number of followers you have dictates how many you can lead and inspire.  Increasing the number of followers and/or subscribers to a social media account will actually help this cause.

In many positions, it can be difficult to inform people of a new hire’s social media presence.    That’s why it is important to follow some strategies to increase stakeholder’s awareness of a new social media opportunity that can help increase their knowledge base while also inspiring and helping others.  For example, when new personnel are hired in school districts, especially large districts, it can be difficult to make others aware of the new personnel’s social media presence.  If you follow the different strategies listed below, this will help increase awareness and help gain traction to increase followers and ultimately help tell your story:

Own and Know How to Use a Smartphone/Mobile Device - I put this first because it may be the most important aspect of increasing social media presence.  Being able to post and tweet instantly has a huge advantage over waiting to post when you get back to your office or have access to a computer.  Having AND knowing how to use a Smartphone or mobile device allows you instant access to posting and sharing information with stakeholders.  Having the ability to take pictures, tell a story and immediately upload to social media sets the stage to increasing everyone’s presence on social media.

Follow Others - Whether it is Twitter or Pinterest, it is imperative to follow others who are using social media in your business, organization and/or district.  This may require you to search a staff member’s name and type “Twitter” and/or “Pinterest” next to their name while searching, but it will give you more people to follow who already work in your organization and can help spread your message. More times than not, people you follow will follow you back.

Share ideas, tweet links/post links to articles/posts - Brad Currie, Billy Krakower and Scott Rocco said it best in their book 140 Twitter Tips for Educators, “A way to gain followers is by sharing ideas. Tweet links to articles and blog posts you find interesting, share quotes, facts, or simply a note about something awesome that just happened in your school/district.  As you consistently share relevant information and interesting ideas, more people will want to follow you” (p. 24).  A great way to do this is by using Flipboard (website or app) to create magazines of articles/posts of your favorite topics.  You can share these through your social media accounts and tag people, companies, and organizations.  I would also suggest finding hashtags and including them in your posts to allow more users to see the posts. Here is a video on how to use Flipboard:

Participate in Twitter chats - I still tell people to this day when I speak at various conferences and keynotes, the key to my growth as an educator has always been participating in chats, especially #satchat and #ohedchat.  Chats allow you to share your educational philosophies and beliefs with others while gaining large amounts of professional development in a short amount of time.  The key is not to just “lurk” in chats (watch the conversation and don’t participate), but to get involved and share resources while creating dialogue.  As the authors of 140 Twitter Tips for Educators state, “The more you participate in a Twitter discussion like #satchat, the more likely you are to gain followers, especially if your message resonates with participants” (p. 24).

Connect with Others Who Use Social Media - It really is simple math: when a person Retweets a tweet and has 1,000 followers, more people will see the tweet than when a person who has 10 followers Retweets the same tweet.  Connecting with others who actually use social media will help your social media presence.  Find the people in your organization/business who use social media and connect with them.

Tweet/Tag Local Businesses, Companies, Government - Our local businesses and government entities do a great deal for all organizations.  Use social media to keep them aware of the great things you and your staff are doing.  Find ways to thank them for all of their contributions to your cause and tag them in posts.  A simple Retweet or Like by their organization will greatly increase your presence. For example, I regularly tag @CityOfGahanna in tweets about our @LincolnFabLab or events we have going on at school.

Tweet/Post Athletic Scores and Performing Art Events - As 140 Twitter Tips for Educators explains, “Twitter has become such a prevalent part of our culture that professional and school athletic departments, teams, and athletes now keep their fans up-to-date on the latest news in 140 characters or less” (p. 45).  Use your business/organization/school district social media accounts and hashtags while posting the events.  Also tag local media outlets (radio stations, TV stations) to keep them aware of the events.  They will often Retweet or re-post to share with thousands of their followers.

Tweet/Post Great Things Happening in Your Organization - This is a no brainer.  Tell your story because you don’t want someone else doing it for you.  Let everyone know how proud you are of the great things going on.

Have Others Tag You in Tweets - Sometimes it may be awkward to ask others to “Share the Love!”, but sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do.  If people in your organization are using social media, simply ask them to include you on tweets/posts.  Please don’t be shy in this area.  If you are serious about helping others and increasing your presence to do so, then have the conversation.

Share Your Business/District/Building Account - If possible, it is important to share administrator rights to your business/school/district social media accounts.  I realize this may not be possible for everyone, but if you have ability to gain access to your business/district account as an administrator, I highly suggest you do that.  Many times I will post something I see in the classroom or in a performance on my personal account and also tag my school in the same post  Using my smartphone, I switch to my school account (in the matter of 2 clicks) and repeat the same post on the school account under my personal account.  While I don’t do this on purpose, it does increase the amount of followers on both ends.

Start a Blog - In my opinion, reflection is a key component in the growth of any professional.  Creating a blog and sharing your reflections will not only help you, but also help others.  Create blog posts and share your blog on social media (tweet, post, and pin the link to your blog).  Tag people in your organization and community.  Also tag professionals that you admire and have the same philosophy as you.  They may also share your post, thus allowing more social media users to see it.

Create Your Own Quotes - While I am not a big fan of this one, it does work.  You can use sites and apps like Canva to type in your own quote (or others) with a background image, tag others in the post, and share it on social media outlets.  Your quotes could help others think differently about a topic and reveal your insights on different areas.

Include All of Your Social Media Accounts in Your Email Signature - We all send email to large groups of stakeholders.  Why not include all of the ways that your stakeholders can connect with you in the signature of your email?  An example of mine is below:

Bobby Dodd
Gahanna Lincoln High School

Twitter: @bobby__dodd
School Twitter: @GLHSLions
RemindHQ: Text the number "81010" w/ the message "@glhsinfo" to receive text messages
Instagram: bobby__dodd


If you are not going to use social media, then you are not going to have a social media presence.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to increase your followers if you are doing it for the right reasons.  Use the strategies above to get you started.  Find a few of them and really focus on using them to help tell your story.  You may actually be surprised who is listening.


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.