What About Kindergarten?

The United States House of Representatives and Senate are currently considering separate bills on strengthening pre-kindergarten programs across the United States.  On the surface, this sounds like great news.  Who would argue against providing educational opportunities to four-year-olds?

There is, however, (at least) one problem.  The House and Senate bills do not address the need to provide all day kindergarten in all fifty states.  President Obama’s initial proposal included funds for all-day kindergarten.  The House and Senate proposals lack that element and include funding formulas that are discretionary (Alyson Klein, Edweek Blog, November 13, 2013).

This could lead to the age-old problem of unfunded mandates.  By the eighth year of the proposed Senate bill, states would be responsible for providing 50% of the cost of their pre-kindergarten programs.  Where that money would come from is a mystery.

So, as exciting as funding for pre-kindergarten sounds, we are still a nation without full-day kindergarten in all fifty states.  In fact, only ten (10) states and DC offer full day kindergarten programs.  Thirty-four (34) states offer half day kindergarten programs and six (6) have no requirement for kindergarten attendance.  In addition, many of the states that offer kindergarten programs do so without making attendance mandatory (childrensdefense.org).

Any bill being proposed to build pre-kindergarten programs must include funding for mandatory full-day kindergarten programs in all fifty states first.  Can you imagine states developing strong pre-kindergarten programs and then sending their students to kindergarten programs that are half day and/or optional?

We should applaud the President, the Senate, and the House for making early childhood education a priority.  Those who work in primary level schools can tell you that the earlier we get children in school, the bigger impact we can make.  The opportunity to reach out to four-year-olds and their families is exciting.  It is, however, tempered by the knowledge that as a nation we have yet to fully commit to the education of our five-year-olds.  Let’s get that right first and then address the pre-kindergarten dilemma.

Related links:




Extending the Edcamp Philosophy to School-based PD

I recently attended EdCampBmore at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. This was a wonderfully organized and attended event.  There were educators from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even New Hampshire in attendance.  These committed professionals gave up a Saturday to share their expertise with like-minded peers.

If you are unfamiliar with the edcamp philosophy, the following explanation appears on edcampbmore’s website:

“An unconference is an open, participant-driven conference. The content is proposed and provided by the participants, and is often determined on the day of the event. This style of learning is not new. It stems from the model of barcamps, which were originally focused on software, web applications, and open source technology. Unconferences rely heavily on the passions and interests of the participants. Because of this, unconferences have become an extremely popular form of professional development.”

The website also includes this table that explains the differences between traditional conferences and edcamps:

Conference vs Edcamp

Baltimore’s edcamp was organized by Shannon Montague (@montysays), Molly Smith(@historyfriend), Jenna Shaw (@teachbaltshaw), Jen Filosa (@jafilosa), Chris Shriver (@ccshriver), and Margaret Roth (@teachingdaisy).  These amazing ladies pulled together the resources to provide an exceptional professional development experience for those in attendance.

The range of topics covered included:

  • flipping professional development
  • project-based learning
  • school leadership
  • chromebooks
  • student behavior
  • standards-based grading
  • school culture
  • social media community building
  • CCSS
  • early childhood technology
  • blended classrooms
  • engaging students through gaming
  • genius hour
  • maker spaces
  • the role of the school counselor
  • student entrepreneurship
  • thinning the classroom walls

I had trouble getting to sleep that evening because it occurred to me that the edcamp philosophy could easily be translated to school-level professional development.  As a firm believer in the collective intelligence of schools, it concerns me that we don’t always tap into the knowledge of the teachers in our buildings.  In fact, one of the most popular forms of PD over the past 30 years has been the use of outside experts to train teachers in the pedagogy du jour.

The edcamp philosophy eschews this approach in favor of professional development that is created by, and shared with, those working in the field.  Our teachers have interests and strengths that can be enhanced when they are given opportunities to discuss their practices.  So much of the time that we give teachers for planning is taken by the functional aspects of teaching.  Very little of it is spent in fostering creativity and improving the profession.

The edcamp approach to professional development could be a great way to inject excitement back into the profession.  How much stronger could our schools become if the teachers in the building were given the chance to share their knowledge with their peers in deep and meaningful ways?  I don’t know the exact answer, but I plan to find out.  Don’t tell my teachers, but we’re about to plan our first school-based edcamp.  Now I’ll never get to sleep!

A Shifting the Monkey Primer for #mdeschat

Key Ideas from Shifting the Monkey

Here are a few takeaways from Shifting the Monkey.  While the book is not written specifically for educators, it has great value for anyone seeking to cultivate and reward organizational excellence.

  • There will always be workers who shirk their responsibilities
  • These shirkers constantly seek to shift their responsibilities, duties, and problems to others
  • The shifting of these “monkeys” creates stress on organizations
  • We give negative, poor performing employees, too much time and attention
  • Leaders can reward good, hardworking employees by shifting monkeys off their backs
  • Tier 3 leaders hold ineffective people accountable so that they behave themselves even when the boss isn’t looking
  • Effective leaders treat everyone well
  • Effective leaders don’t accept excuses from marginal employees, they don’t sympathize, and they don’t argue
  • Ineffective employees need to be handled on a one/one basis
  • Good leaders are constantly reflecting on what they’re doing and how things are going

This should be enough to get you started, buy the book to get the full picture.

Here are some additional resources for Shifting the Monkey:

Book Review by B. Curran:


Blog about Todd Whitaker and Shifting the Monkey:


Jason Fountain blog about Shifting the Monkey


Todd Whitaker’s Website:


Raising Resilient Children

My father was 21 and my mother 19 when they married in 1962.  My mother gave my father an ultimatum.  He could choose her, or he could choose the Navy.  He chose her, then later joined the Navy.  I can remember my mother telling stories about how she would look for spare change in parking lots while my dad was serving at the Virginia Beach Naval Base.

I have three brothers.  We were born between 1963 and 1969.  We were poor by any measure, but we were not raised to wallow in pity for the things we didn’t have.  We were part of the “tough love” generation.  You got what you got and you were grateful for it.  You didn’t show off.  Humility was instilled by your relatives, sometimes in quick and painful ways.  While we didn’t realize it then, our parents raised us to be resilient.

Children today seem to lack resilience.  They struggle when things don’t go their way and seem to have few strategies for dealing with the roadblocks that life places before them.  While the challenges of growing up in the new millennium are much different than in the 60s, resilience seems to be more important now than ever.

One can speculate on why things have changed.  Do modern parents give their children too much?  Do they go to great measures to keep from disappointing them?  Do they run interference for any and every problem they face?  The answer to all three questions is probably, yes.

The reasons why children lack resilience are intriguing. It’s more productive, however, to focus on building resilience in the modern child.  What tools can we give children so they are better able to handle the stress of growing up in today’s world?

Margarita Tartakovsky provides tips for raising resilient children at psychcentral.com.

Tartakovsky’s advice includes:

-Help them become problem solvers- they’ll need lots of practice
-Don’t give them everything, or give in to everything they demand
-Don’t give them all the answers
-Let them make mistakes
-Model resilience

What seems certain is that parents and schools will need to partner in their resilience-building efforts.  By working together, parents and educators can provide children with opportunities to demonstrate their resilience skills in safe and supportive settings.

See the links below for more information on helping children be more resilient:



The Maker Movement and Genius Hour

School leaders have a responsibility to stay abreast of cutting edge approaches to teaching.  They should push, prod, and motivate their teachers toward finding the best practices for their students.  If you have been in education long enough, you have seen the pendulum swing back and forth several times as it relates to effective teaching.  The high-stakes testing era essentially eliminated teacher creativity and forced schools to abandon engaging methods of instruction.

With a swing back toward rigor and the introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards, we may now begin to revisit teaching methodologies that celebrate real-world, hands-on learning.  In the past year or so, there are two growing movements that may have a significant impact on all levels of instruction.  These movements are so exciting and filled with possibility that school leaders and teachers should consider investigating them further and now.

The Maker Movement and Genius Hour offer two viable ways of integrating STEM practices throughout all instructional content.  These initiatives are about getting students to take ownership of their learning.  They empower students to investigate the world and share their learning with others.

In August, Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager wrote about the Maker Movement and noted that, “(the) Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards emphasize critical thinking, creativity and 21st-century skills. To achieve these goals requires taking a hard look at both what we teach and how we teach it. The Maker Movement offers lessons, tools and technology to steer a new course to more relevant, engaging learning experiences for all students.”

The Genius Hour concept grew out of Google’s practice of letting their engineers spend 20% of their time working on their own pet projects.  Their website states that, “Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.”

When educators question how they will meet the rigor of new standards, they need look no further than these two promising resources for active engagement and real-world connections.  We have an opportunity to bring back passion and excitement to the teaching and learning process.  Let’s get going before the pendulum swings back in the other direction.

Will Other States Follow NY’s Testing Scale-back?

The state of New York continues to serve as a sign of what is to come for districts that have adopted the Common Core State Standards.  In Javier Hernandez’s New York Times article yesterday (New York State Seeks to Scale Back Student Testing) we learn that state commissioner John B. King Jr. is offering concessions on testing.

The commissioner, who recently has been criticized by parents and educators, acknowledged in the article that, “The amount of testing should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making.”  That statement alone should give hope to those who are cynical of the current state of testing.

Hernandez wrote, “The proposals are modest, but they represent a rare concession from state leaders, who have faced attacks from parents and teachers in recent weeks over the rollout of a tougher set of standards known as the Common Core.”

In the article, Jane Hirschmann, co-chairwoman of Time Out From Testing, stated that,“All this emphasis is being put on testing, instead of developing an enriched curriculum that produces real learning for children.”  Hirschmann also indicated that the commissioner’s concessions would not satisfy those critical of the level of testing associated with the Common Core.

So what does all of this mean for those outside of New York?  It means that one of the largest adopters of the CCSS is experiencing significant growing pains.  It means that despite the federal government’s attempt to homogenize education, states are beginning to adjust teaching and testing to meet the needs of their students.

Let’s hope that the other states that are a step behind New York in adopting the Common Core State Standards are paying attention.  If so, they can avoid making the same missteps and foster a smoother adoption of the standards.

Link to full article in NY Times:


Let’s Challenge the “Testing Juggernaut”

Arnold Dodge and Charles Lavine have an article in Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet column in today’s Washington Post.  It’s titled, “Legislator, educator challenging ‘testing juggernaut’.”  Dodge is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration at Long Island University-Post.  Lavine is a member of the New York State Assembly.  It is rare to have educators and politicians collaborate.  Their article speaks to the growing number of parents and teachers who continue to question the state of testing in America.

Dodge and Lavine write:

“The current testing regimes, which impact every facet of school life, are crippling our students’ ability to learn, grow and develop. A recent national poll by PDK/Gallup found the public less than enthusiastic about significant increases in testing, with 41% of respondents saying that additional testing made no difference in school performance and 36% responding that it had hurt school performance.”

At what point will federal and state education officials realize that NCLB and Race to the Top were, and are, poor initiatives that have led to little or no change in the academic achievement of our students?  How long will it take until we realize that we are over-testing our students?

Dodge and Lavine argue that, “We need a rich curriculum, assessment and measurements that are formative and diagnostic for teacher use, an honest look at our current strengths in the worldwide education stage, and an understanding that stressed out kids will not be successful learners.”

Teachers and school leaders embrace the idea that assessment is critical to their profession.  Teachers use data on a daily basis.  Formative assessment is the cornerstone of differentiated instruction.  Imagine, however, what teachers in America could do if all of the money that is spent on paying testing companies was, instead, spent on teacher training and materials of instruction?

We need more advocates like Dodge and Lavine.  We need governors and state education heads to stand up for their children.

Article link:


Danny Brassell Discusses Reading on #mdeschat

Thanks to Danny Brassell for joining us on #mdeschat tonight!  Here is an expanded version of Danny’s responses to our questions and some ways to connect with him below:

What are some ways to engage reluctant readers?

Two rules to engaging reluctant readers:

Rule #1 Find books based on readers’ interests

Rule #2 Remember rule #1

What are the top three things that great teachers do when teaching reading?

1. Great reading teachers love to read themselves and their students feel their passion.

2. Great reading teachers read aloud to students every day, no matter how young or old.

3. Great reading teachers provide students with time to read and plenty of reading choices.

How do we involve parents in teaching their children to read?

Remind parents that they are their children’s most important teachers.

Communicate simple reading tips for parents: read aloud every night, provide lots of books at home etc.

You wrote the book Bringing Joy Back Into the Classroom, give us some advice on making learning joyful.

Start by taking your two index fingers, putting them on the sides of your mouth and pushing up. SMILE!!!

Incorporate your passions and interests into your teaching.  You and your students will be happier and more productive.

Simple phrase I use to remember Maslow’s Social Hierarchy of Needs: “P.S., I Love You.”  Different needs include:

P= physiological needs


I= “eye” above pyramid on back of $1bill- self-actualization

Love= love and belonging

You= self esteem

Fulfill these needs and reach the top of the pyramid, and you will truly make learning joyful to your students.

What are other countries doing better than us when it comes to reading instruction?

Not testing every other day.  Not labeling kids at an early age.  Not allowing their federal government to bully their educators.

Danny’s final thoughts:

The Gladstone/Disraeli Paradox

Queen Victoria was asked about the difference between Prime Minister Gladstone and Prime Minister Disraeli.  Her answer provides an important life lesson.  She said that whenever she spoke to PM Gladstone she thought he was the most interesting person she had ever met.  Whenever she left a meeting with PM Disraeli she thought she was the most interesting person he had ever met.  The lesson?  Everybody wants to feel important.  What do we do to encourage reluctant readers, weary teachers, and frustrated parents?

Other Ways to Connect with Danny

YouTube Videos Starring Danny:



Danny’s website:


Danny’s books:


Get FREE cool, short book recommendations
at: www.lazyreaders.com

“Like” his Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/dannybrassell

Connect on LinkedIn:

Follow him on
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DannyBrassell

Are Teacher-led Schools Viable?

The October edition of Educational Leadership focused on leveraging teacher leadership.  This is a topic near and dear to my heart.  I am convinced that growing teacher leadership is the key to raising the level of instruction in our nation’s schools.  I also believe that principals are responsible for making this happen.  I was, therefore, intrigued with Lori Nazareno’s article titled, Portrait of a Teacher-Led School.

In her article, Nazareno describes the teacher-led school she opened in Denver, Colorado.  According to her, “(they) have consciously created an environment that requires all teachers to lead in a climate in which everyone owns student learning.”  The school reports that is uses teacher teams as well as peer observation and evaluation to guide instruction.

The article gives a balanced view of the innovation that can be fostered in a teacher-led school, while also outlining the challenges of leadership in a “flat” organization.  Nazareno isn’t suggesting that all schools can make do without a principal.

New ideas in teaching and school leadership are needed and should be welcomed.  If a teacher-led school model fosters increased academic achievement, then we should embrace it.  Nazareno, however, doesn’t offer any data to tout her school’s success.  It would be interesting to see a longitudinal study conducted on the efficacy of teacher-led schools.  Of course, there is more to a school’s success than student performance data.

After reading the article, I still feel strongly that teacher leadership should be able to thrive regardless of whether a school is led by a principal or by a lead-teacher.  In fact, a strong, collaborative principal can foster a level of leadership that empowers teachers to make the same instructional decisions that are made in teacher-led schools.  Principals are also skilled at protecting teachers from administrative tasks that can sidetrack their instructional focus.

Frankly, the concept of teacher-led schools also makes me a little sad.  Has the state of education reached such a low point that principals are now seen as obstacles to the learning process?  I also find it a little ironic that when you visit the website for Nazareno’s school*, the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, they list a principal and a lead teacher as staff members.  This would suggest that maybe the packaging was changed, but the contents are the same.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of the teacher-led movement is that the term lead-learner has become popular.  If a principal sees himself or herself as the lead learner, then it won’t matter what other titles he or she may hold.  Teacher-led schools are unlikely to replace principal-led schools, but maybe their ideology can influence school leaders to be more collaborative and team-centered.

* As noted in the article, Nazareno left the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy for a position as a teacher-in-residence with the Center for Teaching Quality in Conifer, Colorado.

ASCD members and EL subscribers can access Nazareno’s article at the following link:


Sharpening the Saw- Ode to Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey would have celebrated his 81st birthday on Thursday.  His passing in 2012 left a void that few can fill.  I often return to his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  It provides comfort and wisdom that stands the test of time.  With the stress that comes with being a modern educator, Covey’s thoughts on “sharpening the saw” are worth re-reading.

According to Covey, sharpening the saw means, “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.”

Covey cites the following as examples of activities in each area:

Physical:  Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting

Social/Emotional:  Making social and meaningful connections with others

Mental:  Learning, reading, writing, and teaching

Spiritual:  Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, or service

School leaders need to spend as much time in supporting their teachers with sharpening their saws as they do in developing their pedagogical skills.  Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but not all staff development needs to be focused on the act of teaching.

Our teachers work hard.  They balance the demands of family life with a profession that seems to be more challenging every year.  As they attempt to be the best teachers they can be, they often ignore their own needs for the benefit of their loved ones and their career.

Principals not only have an obligation to remind teachers about the importance of sharpening their saws, they must provide opportunities and activities that lead them in that direction.  When principals promote the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health of their teachers they strengthen their learning community. Teachers are better at what they do when their lives are in balance.

What can you start doing tomorrow to help your teachers sharpen their saws?  Here are a few simple ideas:

Monthly birthday celebrations

Fitness activities led by staff (yoga, Zumba, volleyball, kickball, etc.)

Running Club

Book studies (voluntary)

Staff hikes

Social hours outside of school

Weekly recognitions

Dress down days

Dress up days

School spirit days

No meeting days

The possibilities are only limited by your creativity.  If you run out of ideas, ask the teachers.  I bet you’ll get some interesting suggestions.