The Illusion of Objectivity in Schools & A Case For Letting ‘Gray’ Have a Say

“Objective” Assessment

I had the pleasure of hearing Jess Mitchell  deliver a keynote the other day (link coming soon) in which she discussed the illusion of objectivity in our educational practices; in the realm of assessment in particular.  Consider Jess’s notion:  We educators spend lots of time, energy, and resources calibrating, validating, aligning, and analyzing our assessment practices to give ourselves a comfortable illusion that our assessment practices are objective.  But are our educational systems – the systems we collectively create with each decision -truly fair?

Our students are unique people with different backgrounds, experiences, tolerance for risk, preferences, upbringings, supports, and personal definitions of success.  I’m realizing that these differences (that I discuss in more detail in The Open Mindset) are the very reason why a one-size-fits-all vision of success – and a clearly defined, rigid, “objective” measure of success can never be truly fair.   As we make educational decisisons (large & small), we must recognize that our innate (or acquired) bias and privilege influence our thought patterns.  When we don’t consciously include other voices in our design decisions, these biases have the power to make teaching & learning inherently ‘closed’ practices.


” We must realize that the systems we’ve designed in schools are, in fact, anything but objective and are far from fair

Not to mention . . . our quest for objectivity may actually undermine our goal.

Sometimes our ‘objective’ practices in schools are actually counterintuitive to our ultimate goal (see “You Just Can’t UnHear That – How Assigning Homework Shoots Ourselves in the Foot“).

  • We outline crystal clear parameters/expectations for student work, yet we tell students we want them to be creative.
  • We say that we want students to focus on continuous growth, self-reflection, and learning, yet we assign grades that distract students from this very premise.
  • We continually define ‘success’ for our students based on our own assumptions and backgrounds, then wonder why we can’t always bring all to ‘proficiency’.
  • We claim to value diversity in thought, variation in product, and flexibility in approach, but the systems we create often struggle to bring these sentiments to life, and worse – provide advantage to some over others.
  • We claim to value the skills & dispositions associated with life long learning and becoming great people, yet typically only assess and report on those that are quantifiable.



Andria Zafirakou, the 2018 winner of the Global Teacher Prize, says it well :

“With art it’s not about the end product, it’s the process, the journey, it’s the skills and knowledge children learn on the way to get to that final outcome. From that, they are able to identify who they are, what excites them, what triggers them and they can make their own mark in school and in society.”

“We need to take that same approach to the other subjects, because our children are leaving secondary school and all they’re able to do is regurgitate information. They find it hard to think in a creative way or to find solutions to problems because their brains haven’t been trained like that.”

Magic is Tough to Measure

Sometimes I walk into one of our student teacher’s classrooms or a collegue’s classroom and can’t help but think:  “Man – I’d love to be a student in this class”.  The way the teacher connects with students as people; the way he/she facilitates experiences in their lesson; the amount of SMILING going on – all make me think:  “He’s got it” – “She has the magic combination of ingredients whose solution changes lives”.  “They’ve got it. . . ”

What is ‘it’ that great teachers have?  (I’ve been thinking about it, and although I think ‘it’ is unique for each, I think it typically includes some combination of passion, grace, commitment, positivity, fun, and love).  How much do we value these intangible ingredients that are such difference makers in our classrooms?  Are these traits specifically taught, modelled, and reflected on?  Do our preservice & inservice experiences help folks develop, then tend to these traits throughout our careers?

Super Soft Skills

I don’t think anyone would argue that these ‘soft skills’ are crucial in every profession – no, in every person – and so needed in our broken world, so why do they often take a back seat to ‘hard’ quantitative data points (just calling these traits ‘soft’ has a connotation of ‘less important’, doesn’t it?) when it comes to determining “success”?   If these intangible traits (empathy, persistence, drive, creativity) are so important, why does our assessment system (grades, tests, rubrics, & scores)  boil students’ ‘abilities’ down to only those that can be captured numerically?

Many educators realize that our well calibrated, validated, reliable, analytic assessment tools can’t quite capture magic. George Couros calls ‘data-driven decision making’ “the stupidest term in education” noting that “when we always focus on numbers, we have kids learning about things they don’t care about in hopes that they will each a certain ‘grade’ to justify our work“.  Instead, he argues for “people-driven decision-making”, honoring the softer, difficult to measure, and oh-so-important people skills.

Jesse Stommel & Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab share similar sentiments in “Teaching the Students we Have, Not the Students we Wish We Had“, noting that “The work of all of education has to begin with a deep respect for students. They are not mere data points, not just rows in an online grade book”.  To me, seeing our students – seeing them for the people they are (not just our idea of who they should become) is a great first step to beginning to honor the magic skills in our classrooms.

Gray Should Have a Say

How can we collectively honor the beautiful diverse gray (variations in race, gender, skills, experience, goals)  that makes our students and collegues unique?  Gray allows for personalization.  For variation.  For mutliple definitions of ‘success’.  For diversity in style, preference, and need.  Embracing gray makes room for recognizing, teaching, and even measuring the life skills that are exactly what our marketplace – and world – needs:

“The marketplace isn’t seeking ‘best fit’ – it seeks to hire for diversity of thought” –

Divergent and flexible thinkers that embrace the gray, and “design decisions” that honor voices of those of diverse race, need, experience, background, viewpoints can help us move beyond the illusion of ‘fair’ and ‘objective’ and take steps toward true equity.


PS:  EVERY decision is a ‘design decision’ – 



The Open Mindset

This week I had the privilege of attending the #OpenEd18 conference in Niagara Falls.  This conference (centered on the leverage of Open Education Resources to freely share content, expand learning opportunities, and lower costs for learners of all ages) was challenging – troubling – and encouraging all in one.

At the three day conference I had the opportunity to listen to, and even participate in, several thought pushing discussions.  Sessions from @saratrettin , @thatpsychprof , @NicholasColvard , and @new_edu filled my Open toolkit while discussions from @ckmcguire @jesshmitchell & @txtbks pushed the edges of my understanding and grated against my comfort zone.  In the traditional sense, I felt privileged to attend and grateful for the chance to be surrounded by such engaging and thoughtful contributors and disruptors in our field.   Some self reflection and consideration early on though, highlighted just how privileged I am.  My conference attendance was made possible because of the privileges that my background, history, context, race, health, and social status all afford me.  My race, social class, and family history afforded me the opportunity to serve in a position that sponsored my travel, registration, and accommodations, making getting to the conference relatively easy.  I now have the blessing and benefit of continuing to connect with conference presenters and attendees thanks to readily available reliable internet access, on demand content on a variety of devices, and a healthy profile that allows me to access all of this with ease.

I’m left considering how my innate (or acquired) bias and privilege influence my thought patterns, my interactions with others . . . and make my teaching. . . inherently ‘closed’.

The mission behind the work we do in our field is closely related to Open Education (the ‘opening’ of educational resources and practices to enhance accessibility, spark creativity, improve depth of understanding, and promote equity).  Education’s purpose, after all, is to help prepare each learner to valuably and uniquely contribute to their community, family, workplace, and our democratic society.  Each learner.  

How often do our individual experiences and backgrounds (and the inherent biases that accompany them) contribute to classroom practices that actual ‘close’ off learning for some of our students?

Common Classroom Procedures that May Perpetuate Inequity

  • Homework:  Homework is one of the few school requirements that transcends the boundary between students’ home and school lives (@realhomeworkldy).  Because students do not have equitable access to resources, assistance, support, or time in their homes, homework assignments often contribute to the equity gap already present in schools (@joboaler).
  • Traditional Questioning Techniques:  When teachers pose questions to a large group of students and call on those who raise their hands (or cold call on unprepared students), we unintentionally exclude some from participating in class discussions (and often from earning high class participation grades).  Meaningful class discussions and the connections they facilitate may be inaccessible or ‘closed’ to students who need longer think time, additional scaffolds to make connections, or who battle social emotional hurdles.
  • Presentation of Content:  When we present content to students in singular modalities (solely visual or auditory presentations for example), we close off access to the content to students who need or prefer content presented in other ways.
  • Traditional Grading Practices:  Grading and late work policies that expect all students to achieve the same standard in the same amount of time place value on completion and compliance (over learning) and may further perpetuate inequity in our classrooms.

Overcome with Open

Ways OPEN can help us overcome:

  • Present in Open Forums:  Present in open spaces (blog, publish work under a Creative Commons open license, or tweet content) in a way that invites critical feedback.  Invite others to comment on your work and value diverse perspectives on your contributions.
  • See Learning as Iterative:  Humbly accept that true understanding adapts, molds, flexes, and grows over time.  Be humble enough to accept that our current iteration of understanding is not final.
  • Ask for diverse perspectives:  Actively seek diverse perspectives on our thought patterns and educational practices.  Ask parents, students, and colleagues for their perspectives on our classroom procedures.  Seek diverse vantage points on the learning tasks we assign and the content reading we promote.  Resist the urge to pretend to know what we cannot know due to inherent bias and unique experience.
  • Identify inherent bias: Find ways to engage in critical self reflection.  Consider videotaping lessons to analyze instructional strategies.  Do we favor certain learners or groups of learners?  Do we unknowingly prohibit some from participating in our lessons?
  • Embrace the uncomfortable:  Invest time in (or at least don’t shy from) uncomfortable conversations and instructional strategies.  Recognize the exponential learning that comes from stretching past tradition, what you’ve always thought’, or ‘how it’s always been done’.
  • Embrace empathy:  Great teaching requires a relational commitment to our learners.  Listen to their diverse perspectives, interests, likes, dislikes, needs, and wants with respect and empathy.  Seek to understand:  it’s their learning, after all.

Mission > Me

When looking for open practices and resources to include in my courses or suggest to schools, I often find myself asking ‘is this idea/resource open?’ to assess how useful certain resources might be for the task I’m looking to complete.  OpenEd18 and @txtbks challenged me to shift our mindsets from ‘me’ to ‘mission’ and consider instead, ‘how open is this resource/practice?’ and ‘for whom is it open?’.  This shift in thought moves the focus from me to mission – and pushes against the limits of my understanding and comforts.

The challenging, rewarding, frustrating, oh so important work of teaching and learning has immense value and promise.  It is high stakes work that necessitates a commitment to others.  Let us see that opening education for all is a mission bigger than our own comfort levels, and greater than our biases may allow us to see.



*Diverse & multiple perspectives on this post wanted! My thinking on this has only just begun!

The Power of Connections

“The positive shifts we have seen in education in the last few years are not because we have access to information; it is because we have access to each other”

George Couros

Connecting & Sharing.  Sharing & Connecting.

Our connections with one another have fueled some wonderful advances in our field – in that these connections have supported remarkable amounts of sharing.  

It is connecting & sharing, [not programs, technology, or initiatives], but sharing & connecting that make information, ideas, approaches, and tools meaningful.

Cycles of connecting and sharing with one another through the building of meaningful relationships with others, the leveraging of technology to share and develop ideas, and the creation of renewable learning experiences that give back to our field, are what make the Edu world ‘go round’ – and go forward.   


Working together in open spaces – connecting, collaborating, creating, reflecting, sharing, and repeating – supports our personal growth, holds us accountable for continuous improvement, accentuates our strengths, revitalizes and energizes our work, fuels our ideas, nurtures and develops relationships with one another, and gives back to our field. 

Connecting & sharing amplifies the great work  happening in the classrooms of excellent educators all over the world. 

Sharing & connecting provides fuel for one another’s learning cycles and, as a result, places emphasis on the elements of our profession that are most meaningful:  fostering and facilitating collaboration, promoting equity, making meaning, fueling passions, and inviting empowerment. 

Common Edu Over-Prescriptions

Some magical shifts are occurring in our field.  Transitions that are shifting the focus of our work from:freedom

Teacher to Learner
Product to Process
Compliance to Empowerment
Rigidity to Flexibility


When Habit Strikes

I’m struck tonight by @kalebrashad ‘s wisdom around the epidemic of “over-prescription” in our field (Check out his insight shared in #IMMOOC Season 4, Episode 4) and how our nature to control can stifle these important shifts described above.

Consider the ways we overcontrol and overprescribe learning opportunities for our staff and students – sometimes so much so that we actually contradict our very message around creativity, empowerment, flexibility, and innovation.

Common Edu Over-Prescriptions

  • Common Assessments |  Although designed with good intentions, common assessments imply that all learners should learn the same things, at the same pace, so they may be assessed in the same way, at the same time.  These commonalities (sometimes expected across classrooms and of all students) don’t allow space for diverse need or level of thought, and stamp out opportunity for student voice, self-assessment, and empowerment.
  • Writing & Reading |  What kids write and read is epically over-prescribed in our schools.  By consistently telling students what to write about, we slowly diminish their perception of their ability to generate their own creative ideas.  When we over-prescribe texts for students to read, we rob them of the opportunity to use reading as an avenue to chase their passions.  Each of these habits contradict the very point of asking students to read and write in the first place – so they become readers & writers – regardless of the content.
  • Lesson Planning |  The art of crafting a quality lesson plan is a part of nearly every teacher preparation program.  While it is true that we want our preservice teachers to  exemplify elements of great pedagogy that traditional lesson plans call for, we must consider how our immense focus on inputs might contradict our call for an innovative mindset that screams “follow your students’ lead” & “give students voice in what they want to learn”.
  • Daily Schedules |  Both teachers’ & students’ days are largely prescribed.  Our traditional schedules demand a certain number of minutes spent in prescribed activities each day, often arranged for us with the sounding of a bell.  Rigidity in our school days can contradict our efforts to empower staff and students on their own personalized learning journeys. (Listen to how @drchagala leveraged his schedule to captivate the hearts & minds of his teachers and students).

This anecdote shared by @katiemartinedu offers a good measuring stick for over-prescription:  Katie says that she knows her professional instruction has gone awry when educators in her professional learning sessions ask her completion oriented questions like “what would you like me to do?”  or “how do you want  _____to look?”  Staff and students looking to us for the recipe to their success is a sign that we may have inadvertently stifled their creativity & freedom.

Let’s help our own cause by committing to exploring ways to reduce over-prescription in our own organizations.  Doing so will help us better align our habits & practice with our commitment to creativity, passion, and innovation.


Actionable Ideas for Innovating Inside Our Box

” Be Vocal!  |  Take a Risk!  |  Be Creative!  |  Innovate!  |  Share with Others! “

Let’s be honest – Innovation in our schools can be… well… scary.  We are housed in a rather rigid system in which our work must operate – a defined system built largely on a foundation of standard expectations, inflexible rules, and deep deep tradition that is difficult to challenge.  These factors make it difficult, scary, and sometimes even risky to step outside the box.  The rules of school are so clearly defined and routinely practiced that reshaping those rules can seem difficult, foreign, or impossible.  Comparison to others, nerves, fear of failure, tradition, and a host of other factors can limit our willingness to break away from the norm.

Negativity Demands Attention . . .

It is easy to focus on constraints, obstacles, and challenges; in fact, it’s hard not to – they are right in front of us!  When something goes wrong, the unexpected happens, or things go south, our attention is demanded.  Let’s face it – it’s really hard to shift our attention away when difficult things happen (consider how hard it is to stop thinking about situations that cause you hurt, embarrassment, or sadness).  In contrast, innovation and creativity offer an invitation for our focus and attention – and are easier to set aside for another day; a day when our plates are a little more clear.

But, just as AJ Juliani & John Spencer suggest in Empower, as innovative educators, we must agree to “focus on the areas of our work in which we have control and influence”.  Let’s recognize that there are some things we won’t likely change in our school boxes (or at least not quickly), and let’s set those aside.  In exchange, let’s take @gcouros‘s advice and allocate our precious attentional resources on innovating WITHIN the box we are given.

 . . . But Innovation Ignites Empowerment

LearnerCenteredInnovationImage shared by @burgessdave

The amazing #IMMOOC crew has been sharing some inspiring ways in which we can all begin to innovate inside the confines of the boxes in which we operate.  These educators are operating within the confines and rigidity of ‘school’ to set sparks of creativity and innovation that empower those they serve.  So, when the confines of our boxes make it difficult to shout from the rooftops, let our actions speak for us.

Actionable Ways to Innovate Inside our Box

  • Required to Assign Homework?

Rethink the nature of homework assignments.  For instance, consider tasking students with serving others as their ‘work from home’.  Every night, each student must meet at least one need of another.  Ask students to document their act of service and report back to the class.

  • Must Use Traditional Grades?

Switch to a learning MINDSET in preparation for a time when the documentation of learning follows suit.  In other words, encourage reflection, revision & reiterations so much so that assigned ‘grades’ fade into the background.  Consider redesigning assessment processes as David Dutrow did, to include learners as integral players.


  • Little Time for Collaboration?

Open your door to your colleagues! As Jennifer Gonzalez reminds us in her still relevant 2013 post:  Open Your Door: Why We Need To See Each Other Teach, the benefits of watching one another succeed, fail, & risk take are immeasurable.  No need to wait for official peer observation to be scheduled either – Spend 15 minutes of one prep period a week working in the back of a colleague’s classroom and spread the word that your classroom is an open door as well!

  • Social Media Restrictions?

A student of mine, came up with a wonderful idea that might help connect students’ lives outside of school (and might help overcome some restrictions on social media use).  Instead of creating a traditional classroom social media account run by students, invite families to contribute to a class instagram account where parents, guardians, and students can share experiences that happen outside of school.  Use the images to help students make connections between the learning experiences they experience in and out of the classroom.

  • Little Funding for Flexible Seating Options?

As @TopDogTeaching would tell you, flexible seating is about a flexible mindset – a mindset than can be adopted with or without fancy furniture to support it.  Help students self assess their productivity, creativity, and effectiveness in various learning situations and support them in beginning to advocate for the learning environments they need to be most successful in each scenario.  Although alternative furniture might support this thinking, providing students choice in simply sitting or laying on the floor, standing, collaborating, and/or working independently is a great start.

  • Schedule Won’t Allow for 20% Time?

With or without a dedicated 20% time, innovative teachers are beginning to weave student choice and voice into their regular (and often required) routines.  Check out how @MrsJankord uses her required guided reading groups to provide a consistent time of choice for her students.  What other parts of our prescribed school days could we build in consistent student choice?



  • No Funding for a New Playground?

Ask students what it is that would help spur their creativity while at recess.  Consider using this dedicated time to spark students’ passions through community, service, or collaborative projects.  Check out how @KLHouston3 is overcoming obstacles to provide creative space for her students.


  • Mundane PD Sessions?

Take charge of your own PD, or suggest an EdCamp for your school’s next inservice day like @SteinbrinkLaura did!




Let Our Actions Be Our Anthem

These IMMOCers inspire me to tear my focus away from the obstacles, challenges, and negativity present in my ‘box’, and to instead, center my attention on what I have the power to control.  Let’s let our innovative actions shout our anthem from the rooftops!


Learners > Students

My daughter is a great student.  She arrives on time, is prepared for class, follows all the school rules (even the ones she hates like “no dropping off your school books in your locker before lunch”), and works well with her peers.  She is quiet in the halls, raises her hand to speak, and returns her homework on time.  Her teachers regularly comment on her positive behavior and attentiveness.  In some ways – all of this makes me proud.  It’s true that some of the traits my husband and I hope to foster in our kids (timeliness, reliability, honoring commitment, and kindness & respect) center around some of the skills targeted in school rules- and for this reason, I’m happy that she is a good student.

I’m always struck, though, at the disconnect between what our schools expect of students’ behaviors and the conditions that truly support learning.  While my daughter is an excellent student (with the grades to prove it), she actually has much growing to do as a learner.  Thinking deeply, finding and solving open ended problems, making connections across contents, applying thoughts to novel scenarios, and thinking creatively are all areas that create stumbling blocks for her – struggles that are masked in her ability to play the game of school quite well.

My daughter’s experience reminds me that optimal conditions for innovation & learning are not fostered through conformity.  In fact, as @gcouros often reminds us, conformity can actually do quite the opposite.


Image from

Sometimes schools fall back on compliance, rules, and conformity in the name of ‘preparing students for the real world’ – for the responsibilities that will come when they leave our classrooms.  While it’s true that our society does have rules and deadlines,  Dr. Justin Tarte thoughtfully reminds us that “responsibility and accountability could never be taught through a gradebook” and that as educators, we need to discern what we are truly assessing/fostering through grades and rules.



I do believe that schools are recognizing this disconnect and are working hard to focus less on rewarding ‘school-like behaviors’ in their students in exchange for a focus on the conditions and opportunities that allow learners to emerge.

One significant step we can take in this process is to embrace the notion of personalization and individualization that true learning necessitates.  Fostering an environment conducive of innovation, creativity, and learning requires a degree of customization that blanket rules can’t provide.  As educators, we must create systems that allow for flexibility and individualization in our approach to developing learners – something that Proactive Coaching says cannot be achieved through rules.  Bruce Brown, founder of Proactive Coaching, notes that rules create rigid boundaries that tend to box coaches (and educators) into a corner and leave little room for discretion.   Exchanging rigid rules for high standards (especially when set by someone students have developed a positive, authentic relationship with) though, allows educators the freedom to look at each situation differently; to customize and personalize their responses based on what each student needs, and most importantly, “provides students a chance for growth” that rules can’t provide.

Box students in


Together, let’s commit to valuing:

Standards over rules.

Creativity over conformity.

Learners over students.

STUDENT VOICE. Our Schools’ Most Underutilized Resource

Schools are designed for students.  Curriculum and programming are selected as tools to impact student learning.  Special events are intended to support students’ growth as learners, peers, and people.  Why is it then, that adults in our school buildings so often take the lead on decision making efforts (that often directly affect our students) without including our…. students in the process?

George Couros calls student voice our schools’ most underutilized resource in this regard.  Teams of well-intentioned adults regularly plan programming, classes, activities, interventions, enrichments, supports, assemblies, and events for our students- often without including these students’ voices in our planning, or better yet – letting them take the lead in planning efforts.   Meghan Lawson considers why this might be, and shares her students’ voices in her post:  The Most Underutilized Resource in Our Schools.   Her students’ voices are so powerful and, to me, provide a direct line into one of the best resources we have when planning for kids – the kids themselves:

“I am more than a number.”

“We deserve more than 23 minutes to eat our lunches.”

“Our desks are uncomfortable, and I’m sitting at a desk ALL day.”

“You preach preparation for the real world, but you give us busy work.”

“I have one hour of homework for your class each night, but I have 7 classes…”

“Why can’t I use the bathroom when needed?”

“I only have one remaining credit for graduation. I would love the opportunity to do some internships. I want help getting out into the real world to learn some stuff.”

“We don’t have to run the same schedule every day or every week.”



Barbara Bray, (in concert with Kathleen McClaskey & Sylvia Duckworth) provides a visual ‘Continuum of Student Voice’, illustrating classroom environments that span from teacher-centered to learner-driven.  As George notes, these learning environments are a key component in helping progress the focus in our classrooms from student choice, to student voice, and ultimately, student empowerment.


Have You Asked The Kids?

I recently attended a community gathering of parents organized by our District Superintendent.  The topic for discussion was “What’s Working Well in Our Schools? What Needs More Focus?”  While I was thrilled for the opportunity to provide my perspective as a mother of school aged students, I left the meeting wishing that students had been a part of the discussion.  After all, is school meant to work well for us parents, or our precious kids?

When was the last time we asked our students:  “What’s Going Well in Our Classroom?”  “What’s Not Working For You?”.   The answers to these questions might reinforce the wonderful things happening in our classrooms, or they might downright scare us.  Or – even better – perhaps asking the questions would open the door to climbing Barbara’s Continuum of Voice in our classrooms.



Promote Student Metacognition:  Ask students to reflect on their understanding often.  What has come easily today? What was more challenging? Ask students to set personal and academic goals for an upcoming term, quarter, year.  Invite students to share these goals with others.

Learning Inventories:  Help your students reflect on what they need to learn best.  Help them identify the environments and learning activities that they find exciting, rich, boring, challenging, overwhelming, etc.  Invite them to share their reflections with their peers.


Poll Student Satisfaction:  Use surveys to poll student satisfaction after events, lessons, or changes in schedule.  Specifically ask what could be done differently to improve their experience in the future.

Exit Interviews: Hold End of Term/Year/Course Exit Interviews to poll students about their experiences.  Use this information to inform and guide future planning.


Student Representatives:  Invite student representatives to sit on the planning committees for special events (assemblies, fund raisers, etc).  Ask a student representative to attend portions of department/grade level meetings or add an S to your PTO by inviting student representatives to participate in regular PTSO meetings.  Welcome these student representatives as voting members of the team, there not to simply consume information, but to contribute to the team’s work.


Student Advisory Committees: Create Grade Level Student Advisory Committees.  Partner with the student advisory committee to draft on schedules, fine tune ideas, and mold plans before enacting them.  Working through a dilemma as a team/department?  Bring it to your student advisory team to unpack together.

Curriculum Direction:  Collaborate with your students to design curriculum plans.  Create space that allows your students’ interests and talents to drive the direction of your next learning segment.


Flexible Seating:  Facilitate opportunities in which students can advocate for their learning needs, including the freedom to design a learning environment most effective for them.

Student Advocates:  Use a student advocate team to help troubleshoot specific dilemmas faced by other students.  This group (with rotating student membership) can investigate peer dilemmas, research potential solutions, then make and support recommendations to the referring student.


Student Leadership Academy:  Support students in the development of student leadership teams that tackle community (the school’s, the town’s or the world’s) dilemmas.  Entirely student run, these groups self-identify the goals and focus of the group, as well as the social dilemmas they tackle.


Thank you for providing students opportunities to participate in their own learning.  Thank you for creating spaces where students are able to practice and develop the skills of activism and leadership that this world desperately needs.

A commitment to fostering student voice in our learning spaces is a commitment to empowering children to become the activists and leaders this world desperately needs.







Bray, B. & McClaskey, K. (2016, January 10). Continuum of voice: What it means for the      learner.  Retrieved from

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.  San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Lawson, M. (2017, October 18).  The most underutilized resource in our schools. Retrieved from


The little big things. . .

This week I had a stark reminder about what’s important in this life; What’s truly worth our attention, our thoughts, our time.

My friend Amanda texted me on Sunday afternoon – telling me that she wouldn’t be able to come by the next day because she had been diagnosed with the flu at a local Urgent Care.  “Yikes! Feel better soon” was my response.  To which she said:  “Thank you! :)”

On Wednesday morning, Amanda crossed my mind:  “I should text her and see how she’s feeling”… but as sometimes happens in the hustle of my morning routine, I let the thought slip away without action.

Thursday morning I heard the shocking news.  Amanda passed away on Wednesday evening during transport from our small community hospital to a larger medical center.  She was a healthy 38 year old mother of four.  Her husband, who was following the ambulance in their family car, said goodbye to her on the side of a snowy back country road.

As I work to process this horrible week: “Is this real?”  “Amanda’s not really gone, right?” “How did this happen?”- I am realizing some ultimate truths that I vow to now keep ever present in my life.

It’s the little things in life that are actually the big things.

We have a tendency to give copious amounts of attention to certain parts of life (namely wealth, possessions, status, and power) that can actually be a distraction to our true work here on Earth (which I believe is simply to serve others so that you may leave more in this world than you received).  Today’s culture makes these big things in our lives by reinforcing the idea that without accumulating them, success cannot be achieved.

Consider, for a moment:  What would you like your legacy to be?  What is it about yourself that you would like to live on- long after your time here on Earth? For most, this legacy doesn’t include mention of possessions, wealth, status, or power.  It is not these that people long for more of in their final days.

Rather- it is life’s little things that are truly important:  connections with others, building relationships, quality time, spreading love. These are what matter at the end of the day.  Not having power, wealth, or prestige.  Not being the best, fastest, or strongest.

If we want to be the best at something this week, this year, in this life: let’s be best at the little, big things. Be the best parent. Spouse. Friend. Colleague. Teammate.  LOVE.  Be the best at that.

Doing the Little Things Best | In the Classroom

How can we intentionally focus on doing the little things best in our classrooms?

  1. Value process over product.  Shift your focus away from the products your students produce.  Focus less on the grades they earn and the assessment scores they acquire, and instead, place it on to the process of learning.  Then work to replace the traditional school norms and systems that tell students it is grades and not learning that is most important.
  2. Spend time with your students.  Get to know your students as learners, yes – but also as people.  Spend time with them in an effort to foster true, meaningful relationships.   Check out @lauriesmith1995 ‘s amazing reflection on relationship building and the idea of seizing each opportunity we have with our learners.
  3. Show students their value.  Help students see the value they bring to this world.  Provide learning opportunities that highlight your students’ strengths (not their weaknesses).  Authentically build their confidence by reminding them of their unique value and just how much they matter.
  4. Spread love.  Be a model of love and kindness, yes – but also help spread that love with intentional action.  Help students experience the joy that comes from spreading love to others by facilitating opportunities for them to do so.   Check out @lauriesmacintosh ‘s intentional focus on teaching her students how to love one another:TWEET3TWEET1



Amanda was intentional in her work here on Earth.  She looked me in the eyes when she talked to me.  She never rushed through our conversations.  She spent quality time building relationships.  She loved hard and served others relentlessly.

Amanda did life’s little, big things well & as a result, her legacy message is clear:

Love and serve others with intentional focus and you will find success.

Is that a Twitter in your hand, son?

Have you ever felt so ‘out of the loop’ that it paralyzed you?

Sometimes the pace of change in our field (especially in the technology arena) makes me feel like an outsider.  (Cue absurd thoughts as illustration:  “Is that a Twitter he was holding?” … “Can you Voxer on that?”  …”I need to try that SeeSawGridLet” quickly followed by thoughts of:  “But I mean – I’m not thaaaaat old” … “How did the world move on so quickly?”  “When did I get left behind?”

Today’s endless buffet of new learning tools, approaches, devices, and apps combined with intuitive and convenient ways to connect and share with others is certainly exciting.   I worry, though, about the risk of paralysis that comes with being out of one’s comfort zone.

We certainly know the benefits of time spent outside of our comfort zones.  It is said that this is where the true learning, or “the magic” happens.  This, of course, makes sense – as the safety of our own comfort zones does little to push the limits of our learning.

Image result for sylvia duckworth comfort zone

via @sylviaduckworth

Although I’m typically excited to leave my comfort zone, to try new things, and to explore how new ideas might fit into my current schemas and practices, I do sometimes feel so ‘out of the loop’ that it paralyzes me.  Not to mention, that putting yourself out there while simultaneously trying something new can be very difficult.  For me, too much new at once can cause Action Paralysis.

Vox Paralysis

This was my first week participating in a large Voxer community (if people even call it that).  The group I joined (EduMatch, created by Sarah Thomas & introduced to me by #DitchSummit) is made up of educators from all over the country (and maybe the world) who share stories and resources, ask questions, debate and discuss, and connect with one another.

Although nothing about the group is all that scary in reality, the unknown of public Voxer etiquette combined with the task of sharing my unrehearsed ideas with a large group of strangers, paralyzed me.  I actually sat for a full 3 minutes with my thumb hovering above the ‘talk’ button before my first Vox.

If, like me, the idea of many unknowns is causing you to feel overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, or even paralyzed, consider these strategies for breaking free:

Overcoming Paralysis

Select Tools Intentionally.  Not every new tool or app is for you.  Know your personal learning targets and thoughtfully choose the tools that help you reach specific goals.  Just as we thoughtfully integrate tech based on, not what is new and shiny, but what will truly amplify our teaching (@HollyClarkEdu), we must choose the learning tools that will truly enhance our professional growth.  Reduce overwhelming thoughts by selecting tools because they amplify your personal learning, not because you feel you should try something new.

Explore in Safety.  Give yourself the time and space to explore new apps and tools in a risk free zone.  Ask a friend to ‘figure it out with you’ or create a mock or test account before going live.  Before joining a larger Voxer community, I began using the tool with a colleague.   This allowed me to get comfortable with its features and learn the nuances of the app.  Next, we began using a Voxer group to connect our staff in a in between face to face meetings.  While these baby steps didn’t take away all of my anxiety around contributing to a larger public group, they did allow me the confidence to eventually do so.

Set a Time Goal.  Set time goals for yourself when it comes to exploring a new tool.  Just like children must try a new food hundreds of times before determining an accurate opinion of it, you too must allow yourself the time to gain comfort and skill with a new tool.  Increase the likelihood of providing yourself that time by setting parameters around your learning.  Commit to “10 minutes a day on Twitter for three weeks” or “blogging once a week for three months” before making a determination about whether or not the tool is a good fit.

Allow Yourself GRACE.  Shift your goals from pursuing perfection to garnering growth.  Perfection is a myth that hinders risk taking and stalls authentic growth.  Rather, it is the process of making mistakes – trying and retrying that feeds our creativity, determination, and inspiration.

Allowing ourselves the grace to grow gives us permission to play in the unknown and sets us up for contributing what only we can where it is needed most.








Grace | #Oneword2018

I’ve spent the first few days of the new year pondering my #oneword2018 choice.  This is my first time participating in a #oneword selection, and I want my choice to be intentional (I love the idea of setting clear intentions for the new year), meaningful, and memorable.

Last week our 18 month old burnt his hands on our gas fireplace.

That night, after finally getting him to sleep, I wept.  Tears of fear, and sadness, and lots of guilt.  How could I have let this happen?  What kind of parent doesn’t have the fireplace guard on during the coldest day of the winter? I should have been closer, paying more attention, more diligent.

Enter:  G R A C E  – My 2018 #oneword choice.


What I love About /Grace/

1. We all need it.

We need grace.  Grace from God, grace from others, and grace for ourselves.  None of us (nope, not one) are perfect.  Our intentions for the year ahead will occasionally fall short. We may not always bring our A game.  We will fail.  In 2018, istead of focusing on our inadequacies & guilt, let’s commit to embracing our imperfections, celebrating our failures, and granting ourselves grace.

If you and I are in need of grace, then others in our lives are as well.  This means our friends, students, colleagues, administrators, community members – and even our enemies – are all in need of the grace of others.  Why not be the one to offer it in 2018?

2.  Grace is undeserved.

What makes grace a wonderful (and sometimes difficult) gift is that, by it’s very nature, it is given to the undeserving.  The students, colleagues, and strangers that come into our lives in 2018 will, at some point, be undeserving of our grace.  They will yell, say rude things, refuse to listen, whine, and break their promises.  They will argue with us, ignore us, and give us less than their best.  It is in these moments, when grace is needed the most.  Consider how wonderful and unexpected a gift of grace (kindness, courtesy, & clemency) would be in these circumstances.

3.  Grace is the cousin to empathy.

Empathy, the ‘Not So Secret’ key ingredient to being an innovative educator (and all around good person), sets the stage for grace.

It is empathy that fosters thought patterns of love and equity.

It is only with an empathetic heart that we can consider offering grace to those around us.

4.  Grace is not a free pass.

Offering grace to others (and to ourselves), does not equate to handing out free passes for any behavior.  Instead, it opens the door for ourselves and others to try again.  Consider a violent student or a negative colleague.  Grace says “let me understand”, not “I agree with your choices”.  The same is true of ourselves.  When failure and disaster strike in 2018, grace says “this happened, but it doesn’t have to happen again”;  “This does not define you”.  Grace opens the door to a fresh start, another try, a next attempt.


G R A C E 

is what I believe will be a difference maker in our classrooms, and our world