Here’s to a “promising” 2014!

I held fast to December, but 2014 is upon us and I am determined to welcome it with my full enthusiasm.  While I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, I think it’s a good practice for educators to look inward at key points during the year.  January is a good time to reflect on what the second half of the school year will bring.

When I reflect on the remaining months of the school year, I wonder what significant contributions I can make to my school community.  What can I do for students, teachers, and families that will make a difference to them? After almost 27 years in education, I still question whether I make a difference.  I know it will be time to retire if I ever stop asking that question.  So, here is what I will try to do. You can call it a list of resolutions, but it is really a list of promises.

-Show up. Okay, that sounds weak, but our profession requires our presence. Outside of my family, my school has to be my biggest priority.  Schools require leadership that is consistent and supportive.  I will be there for my students, teachers, and families.

-Make decisions based on what is best for children. This seems like another obvious promise, but I’m sure that my colleagues have been challenged by all of the external factors that can cloud a school leader’s vision. I will keep my focus on children first and handle the adult issues within the context of what is best for children.

-Listen before problem solving. I have the word “listen” taped to the wall I face when I sit at my desk. School leaders are (or at least should be) natural problem solvers. Often, however, we try to get right to the bottom of an issue so that we can solve it as quickly as possible. The first step to helping someone is truly LISTENING to their concerns. I will give my full attention to students, teachers, and parents BEFORE assisting them with their challenges.

-Bring joy to my work. This is not hard. I LOVE what I do. Oh, I don’t love it every day, but I love it most days. School leaders who bring joy to their schools set a tone that permeates every fiber of their buildings. When students, teachers, and families feel that joy, they pass it on and it multiplies. I will try, every day, to bring joy to my students, teachers, and parents.

That’s it, just four simple promises (resolutions). If I can do those four things then everything else should fall in line, right? Maybe I’ll print this out and tape it to my wall.

Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen, Oh My!

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the factors that lead to the explosion of an idea or social behavior.  He specifically addresses three types of people who make things happen in society.  Gladwell calls them connectors, mavens, and salesmen.  While he doesn’t discuss these terms in relation to education, his ideas translate well to our profession.  Let’s first consider how Gladwell describes the people who make things happen.

Connectors know lots of people, in fact, they seem to know everyone.  They have an instinctive and natural gift for making social connections.  They know lots of people by occupying many different worlds, subcultures, and niches.  Connectors are curious, self-confident, and energetic.

Mavens are knowledge accumulators.  Once they discover something they want to share it with everyone.  They want to educate and help.  They have a message to share with anyone wise enough to listen.  To be a maven is to be a teacher and a student.

Salesmen are persuaders.  The have an innate ability to convince you that what they are selling is worth buying.  They use verbal and non-verbal communication to bring people around to their way of thinking.  Great salesmen sell you things you didn’t even know you needed.

Mavens are data banks.  They provide the message.  Connectors are the social glue.  They spread the message.  Salesmen get you to “buy” the idea.

If we see ourselves as connectors, mavens, and salesmen, we can turn the tide of school reform in favor of those who actually work with children.  If we resolve to become connectors, mavens, and salesmen, we can spend more time on the things that matter to students and their learning.  Let’s co-opt Gladwell’s ideas for education and redefine them.

Educational Connectors
Educational connectors attend conferences and collaborate with educators from all content areas and levels.  Educational connectors know that their professional knowledge depends on their willingness to share ideas with others.  They spend time spreading the word when they uncover exciting ideas.

Educational Mavens
Educational mavens see learning as a lifelong process.  They take personal responsibility for learning as much as they can about their profession.  They are both teacher and student because they recognize what they don’t know.  Educational mavens are voracious readers.  They wake up at night and write down ideas that come to them in their dreams.  You’ll know that you’ve met an educational maven because they exude passion when talking about anything that is related to teaching and learning.

Educational Salesmen
Connectors and mavens are often one and the same.  Salesmen are a different breed.  They have a knack for communicating ideas in ways that leave the average person in awe.  Educational salesmen are unique beings.  When I think of educational salesmen I think of Todd Whitaker, Annette Breaux, Dave Burgess, Eric Jensen, Michael Fullan, Daniel Pink, Peter DeWitt, Adam Saenz, Freeman Hrabowski, Chris Lehman, and Kate Roberts.  They are just a few of the educational salesmen who always leave you wanting more.  They contribute to their profession by “selling” you on the value of what they are truly passionate about.

Imagine what would happen if each of us resolved to being educational connectors, mavens, and salesmen.  Are we so caught up in the day to day management of our positions that we are unable to contribute to the greater good of our chosen profession?  School leaders often remind their teachers that they can’t work in isolation.  That’s advice they need to internalize.  The principalship can be a lonely position.  Principals who see themselves as connectors, mavens, and salesmen increase their individual potential.  That can only be a good thing for their schools and their students.

Showing Up Is Important- Guest Blog by Debbie Wooleyhand

Promises and resolutions mark the start of the calendar year.  January is a great time for schools to review behavioral expectations with students and families.  One of the most important expectations a school can set is regular attendance.  Habits form early and parents are a child’s first teacher.  Educators need to empower parents and encourage them to teach their children about the importance of going to school.

Showing up is the greatest contribution a child can make to the classroom.  Typically, when a student is absent, the teacher will send home “make up” work.  Yet, there are events that occur in a classroom that can’t be sent home.  The calm that falls over a class when the teacher reads a story aloud, the spontaneous song that breaks out occasionally, or the shared laughter when something silly happens in the classroom- these are intangible moments.  They are the events that help create a special bond between teacher and students.  They are the moments that move a classroom from school-like to family-like.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t put those feelings in a backpack and send them home.

What message can school leaders share?  Tell your teachers about the power of a phone call home when a child is absent.  It lets the parent and child know you care and that it matters when they are not in school.  Let parents know that we really do want the best for their children, not just today, but every day and that begins by building good habits.  Other messages to share about attendance include:

  • Good attendance helps children do well in school and eventually on the job
  • Attendance matters as early as kindergarten
  • Sporadic absences matter. Before you know it, a child has missed 10 percent of the school year
  • Don’t let your child stay home unless he is truly sick.  Complaints about a headache or stomach ache can be a sign of anxiety and not a reason to keep your child home from school
  • Avoid medical appointments and extended trips when school is in session

Lastly, attending school regularly helps children feel better about school and themselves.  My resolution for 2014 is to share the message of the importance of school attendance.  I resolve to talk about it every day. See you in school!

Information contained in this blog came from

Debbie Wooleyhand is a veteran educator and pupil personnel worker in a school district with over 70,000 students.  She can be followed on Twitter @ppw78.

Hold Fast to December

I have always enjoyed the month of December.  There is no better place to be during the holidays than an elementary school.  Hopeful young faces spark warm feelings of seasonal spirit in jaded adults.  Excited children make December the best month of the school year.  Instrumental and choral performances liven up the schoolhouse.  December makes us young again.  Memories of holidays past come flooding back with every simple sight and smell.  Hold fast to December.

For teachers, December is the calm before the storm.  They embrace December because they know what happens in January.  Every day is a step closer to the second half of the school year.  Time accelerates after December.  December is a fun and family-centered time.  Even the “busyness” of December is slower than the pace of days from January to June.  In December, I pretend that January isn’t coming.  It makes me feel better.

Hold fast to December.  Drink piping mugs of hot chocolate with dollops of whipped cream.  Wear your pajamas all day and do nothing.  Read a book.  Take your dog for a walk.  Have a staring contest with your cat.  Visit family members.  Check on your neighbors.  The joys of December are limitless.  January will come.  The approaching year will be easier to celebrate if you get everything out of December.  Make plans.  Go slow. Go fast.  Just go.  Hold fast to December.

Meet Cybraryman- Jerry Blumengarten

Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) is guest hosting #mdeschat this Thursday, December 12th at 9 p.m. ET.  We “sat down” with Jerry to learn a little more about him and his awesome website:

1. What would people be surprised to know about you?

I have a Maryland connection.  My daughter attended the University of Maryland – College Park.  She met her future husband (who is awesome) there. He is from Perry Hall.  They were married at the chapel on the campus and the reception was held at the Alumni Center.  Our Friday night gathering was at our favorite restaurant- Sir Walter Raleigh Inn in the Maryland Sports room.

We owned a townhouse in College Park during her years there.  Not only did I teach, but I wrote for a company (30+ years) that provided educational materials for the utility industry.  I did research at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt and at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

2.  What year did you start using Twitter? How has Twitter changed since you began using it?

I signed onto Twitter in May of 2009, but did not start using it until that summer and I stumbled on #edchat.  The first people I followed were @coolcatteacher @web20classroom @shellterrell @tomwhitby

The biggest change, aside from more educators using Twitter, is the explosion of chats that now cover most subjects & grades as well as states.

3.  What would you tell people who say they don’t have time for Twitter?

First you have to introduce Twitter without saying the name: “Do you know about “The Free Educational Support & Discussion Media System?”  You cannot force anyone to take the time to go on.  Show them the advantages.

4.  Why did you start your website?

After being a classroom teacher (grades 6-9) for 20 years (mostly Social Studies) I was asked to take over the library.  I decided to start a library website for the students, parents and school staff. I wanted a one-stop educational place where they could find useful information in all subject areas.  After I retired I expanded the site to include all grade levels and subject areas.

5.  Who inspires you?

My greatest idols before Twitter were Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa who gave their lives to help others.  Today, I have so many educators and those interested in education on Twitter who inspire me.

6.  Can you share 5 great resources for teaching the Common Core?

My Common Core page:

My Common Core Math page:

My Nonfiction and Common Core page:

My Common Core Argumentative Writing page:

My Keyboarding page:

7.  You retired after teaching in NY for 32 years.  What advice do you have for new teachers?

  • First, get yourself in the best possible physical condition.
  • Observe other teachers.
  • Form a PLN in your school and online.

My New Teachers page:

8.  What advice do you have for people who are new to Twitter?

Find and then follow the educational hashtags for your grade level or subject area. It is okay to start out by lurking.  Do not be afraid to ask for help or share on Twitter.  The Twitter educational community care, share and support one another.

More about me can be found here:

All About Cybrary Man

Thanks, Jerry!  We appreciate your contributions to the Twitter-verse and beyond!

P.E.R.F.E.C.T.I.O.N. in Teaching

Is perfection your goal as an educator?  Most of us strive to be the best we can be.  It is hard to truly reach perfection, but it is certainly an admirable goal.  Whether you consider yourself a great teacher or not, you may recognize these characteristics associated with educational “perfection.”

Great teachers view their work from a professional paradigm.  They consider their role the highest calling.  They are constantly seeking to grow in their pedagogical knowledge.

Have you ever met a great teacher who was not effusive about teaching?  They bring their students to life because they want nothing more than to share the joy of learning.  You’ll know you’ve met this teacher when you leave their classroom feeling more energized than when you entered.

Teaching without reflection is like eating without tasting.  You get the calories, but none of the joy.  Reflective teachers never say, “That was a great lesson!”  They immediately know that even the best lesson needs tweaking.  More importantly, they know that students are a variable in every lesson and how they respond is more important than the content covered.

Teachers who are flexible are never thrown off their “game” by the unsettled nature of education.  Flexible teachers allow for teachable moments and going off script.  Students need flexible teachers because they provide stability.

Great teachers take responsibility for their education.  They seek advanced degrees, attend conferences, and read everything they can get their hands on.  They stay ahead of the rapid changes occurring in their profession.  They are never caught off guard by the educational pendulum.

Teaching requires creativity today more than ever.  Great teachers are either highly creative or they know how to “borrow” ideas.  They use their resources and colleagues to create engaging lessons.  Creative teachers consistently ask themselves how to make their teaching fun!

Technologically Savvy
The use of technology in teaching has become an assumption.  Administrators who observe teachers expect to see technology used to support instruction.  Teachers who use technology effectively use the SAMR model when planning lessons.

The best teachers are the most innovative.  Innovative teachers are better able to reach all of their learners.  When an innovative teacher hits a roadblock she immediately goes into problem solving mode.

Yes, great teachers are also oppositional.  They are confident enough to question their own teaching as well as the beliefs of others, including their supervisors.  They place student learning first.  This makes them comfortable when questioning the “why” behind what they are asked to do.  They are not “Debbie Downers,” but they are unafraid when the needs of their students are at stake.

Great teachers are networked within and outside of their classroom walls.  They form PLCs with the teachers in their buildings and PLNs with those around the world.  The best teachers are incredibly humble and recognize how much they can learn from their colleagues.

The “perfection” described above is achievable by any teacher who wants to be great at what they do.  The pursuit of lifelong learning is really perfection itself.  Standing still is never tenable.  By seeking perfection you are always moving forward.  It is that pursuit that makes teaching a profession and and a wonderful journey.

Will PISA Results Raise US Inferiority Complex?

“Why is a country the size of New Mexico beating the U.S. in academic performance?”

The headline above is from Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet column in today’s Washington Post.  The article contains a piece by Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, and Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s Trade Union of Education.  They write about the PISA (Program for International Student Assessments) results, which will be released tomorrow, and discuss how they impact views on American education.

I have grown weary of the Finland/United States comparisons.  I think America is a unique country that is hard to compare to others.  Van Roekel and Luukkainen, however, are savvy educators who challenge our thinking when it comes to using Finland’s approach to improving the American education system.

They are clear and correct to point out that Finland’s 4% poverty rate strongly affects their student achievement results.  We could stop right there and say any further comparisons are without merit; however, Van Roekel and Luukkainen identify six points that are worth considering:

1-Teachers in Finland are recruited from the top 10% of high school graduates.
2-Teacher pay is commensurate with other professions with similar education requirements.
3-Teacher certification is more narrowly defined with few alternative routes to the profession.
4-Standardized testing does not begin until the end of high school.
5-Essay tests are valued above multiple choice/computer graded assessments.
6-Teacher autonomy and trust are high in Finland.

Can you imagine what would happen if those six points were the focus of education reformers in America?  If we recruited from the “cream of the crop” and paid teachers at the same level of other fields, we could raise the bar for the entire profession.  If we reduced the number of watered-down teaching programs we could certainly improve instruction.  Do the growing number of online programs and short-term master’s degree programs lead to a richer pool of teaching candidates?

Finland recognizes that standardized tests have no place in education until students are fully prepared to take them.  How much better would American teachers be if they weren’t constantly preparing students for developmentally inappropriate assessments?  When they do test, Finland understands that multiple choice tests are of little value when compared to extended writing tasks.

If those first five areas were addressed, teacher autonomy would soar and America would once again place its trust in educators.  We don’t need to become Finland, but we certainly can adopt practices that lead to the success of our students.

Full Washington Post Article:


Common Core Causes the Flu

Okay, the Common Core doesn’t really cause the flu, but it seems to be making a lot people sick anyway.  What the Common Core really has is a major public relations problem.  If you follow any of the major or local newspapers you have likely read some of these headlines:

NY Times
“At Forums, New York State Education Commissioner Faces a Barrage of Complaints”
“Caution and the Common Core”
“A Tough New Test Spurs Protest and Tears”
“Who’s Minding the Schools?”

Washington Post
“More states delay Common Core testing as concerns grow”
“Following Common Core money: Where are millions of dollars going?”

Dallas News
“Common Core critics see examples of agenda in class assignments”

Baltimore Sun
“Marylanders Protest Common Core”

Leesville Daily Leader
“Parents, students speak out against Common Core Standards”

It doesn’t help when Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, puts his foot in his mouth and offends mothers across the U.S.  The hysteria surrounding the Common Core is exasperating, especially if you’re an elementary principal who is already knee-deep in rolling out the standards.  As a veteran educator, I am worried that the polarized discussions on the Common Core are clouding the issues.

Teaching continues all across the United States every day.  The debate and gnashing of teeth over the CCSS hasn’t stopped teachers from doing their jobs and it certainly isn’t keeping students from learning.  So what’s all the fuss then?  The fuss is really all about testing, not teaching or learning.  While there has been, and will continue to be, discussion on the content of the standards, most of the heated discussions going on now are about testing.

I am hopeful that parents, teachers, and politicians can separate their concerns enough to realize that, right now, it really is about testing.  Demonizing the standards is just a way to muddy the conversation.  Now, if you agree that testing is the real problem with the CCSS, then there is an easy solution to that…stop testing.

Is that too radical?  I don’t think so.  I don’t consider myself an educational radical.  I’m just a simple principal who thinks teachers and students deserve more time to figure out the CCSS before they’re held accountable for them.  Imagine how quickly that solution would reduce the stress being placed on students and teachers.  The headline I am waiting to read is:  “CCSS Testing Moratorium Announced Until 2016.”  That would give states the time they need to train teachers and prepare students.

The Death and Life of Creativity in the Classroom

(The title of this post was inspired by Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System)

Creativity in education is dying a slow and painful death.  From the signing of NCLB, to the carrot and stick approach of Race to the Top, there are numerous reasons for the grave state of creativity and innovation in American schools.  Our education system is far too politicized.  Who is to blame for the homogenization of the American school system?  The hard answer is that we are all to blame.

Railing against the system is a futile pursuit for those who work closest with children.  It is a poor use of our time and energy.  If teachers and parents are waiting for the federal and state government to get education right, they will be waiting a long time.  Few state and federal initiatives have ever led to significant gains in student achievement.  While the Civil Rights Act of 1972, the ESEA of 1975, Title IX, and the Bilingual Education Act improved educational access for under-represented groups, they did not lead to significant increases in academic achievement.

The current drama regarding the Common Core is a colossal waste of time for those on both sides of the argument.  Standards are a starting point for teaching.  They provide direction and structure, but they are not the bar.  When teachers focus solely on the standards, they leave something very important out of the equation, the students.  This is where creativity is lost.  Teachers must have the freedom to teach based on the needs of the students in front of them, not on a preconceived notion of where students should be.

So, what’s the solution for bringing creativity and innovation back to the classroom?  The solution is as simple as it is complex.  Let our teachers teach.  Train them, support them, pay them well, and let them do their job.  The federal and state government needs to step back and out of a profession they are mostly untrained for.

What would happen if all states were funded fairly using an accepted formula that is not tied to incentives and compliance?  What would happen if states and local education agencies had the discretion to use funds as they see fit?  Teacher creativity and innovation would likely explode and rigor in the classroom could truly be raised.

An educational revolution is unnecessary.  Schools need not rebel against the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  In fact, their response should be just the opposite.  Teachers and principals should become experts on the new standards.  Schools should embrace the standards with a critical eye and make adjustments based on their knowledge of good instruction.

With a strong knowledge of the standards, schools can approach instruction through multi-disciplinary, cross-curricular means.  Creativity and innovation can be returned to the classroom by teachers who are able to provide meaningful learning that is connected to real-life applications.  The possibilities are endless when teachers are set free to use their knowledge and experience.

Education- A Thankful Profession

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have many reasons to give thanks for being in the education profession.

Teachers Still Matter

No matter what changes have come, or will come our way, teachers still matter.  In fact, they matter now more than ever.  Teaching is about relationships.  The best teachers are those who figure out how to connect with each and every student.  Changes in curricula, pedagogy, technology, and standards will never supersede the critical role of teachers in making learning meaningful. The best indicator of student success is still the teacher who stands in front of the classroom every day.  I am thankful for that.

Principals Still Matter

Effective leadership remains central to the success of our schools.  Principals must provide support to students, families, and teachers.  When they do, there is no limit to the good things that can happen.  The role of the modern principal is complex. The changes taking place in education can make one’s head spin.  Good principals ensure that teachers are not overwhelmed by the external pressures placed on them.  They provide stability and reassurance when they are needed most.  I am thankful for that.

Parents Still Matter

The partnership between schools and families is as important today as it was fifty years ago.  Parents send their best to our schools everyday.  They trust us to protect and educate their children.  That trust is humbling when you think of the challenge it presents.  Nevertheless, when parents and schools collaborate, students achieve at higher levels.  Parent involvement remains a key indicator of student success.  I am thankful for that.

Students Still Matter

Watching students enter the building every day is one of the most satisfying parts of my day.  At the elementary level, students run and even skip to the front door.  They say good morning (most of them).  They smile, they hug you, and they tell their teachers how much they love them.  The other day one of our second grade students sent out this tweet:

“i love this school and i will never forget my time i love my teacher…shes the most awsome teacher in the world.”

Does it get much better than that?  The hopes and dreams of our students are as strong today as ever.  I am thankful for that.

Education Still Matters

I am blessed to work in a field that serves as the starting point for all professions and careers.  I get to see children learn and grow every day.  When teachers, principals, parents, and students work together it’s like a symphony concert.  The “music” that is made in these schools is passionate and enduring.  The education profession still matters.  I am most thankful for that.