The Queen?

Photo Credit: me

Photo Credit: me

You’ve all heard of Dairy Queen, right? You know, nearly 6,000 stores in more than a dozen countries and most of them in Texas (Yes, I put TX after “countries” on purpose. You know how us Texans are.). $2.5 billion dollars in revenue each year. Quite a successful chain that you can buy franchises to be a part of. Or, not.

Have you heard about Daisy Queen? Or what about Dairy DeQueen? Didn’t think so. These DQ wannabes are just that: wannabes. While they might be good in their own right, they prefer to attempt to confuse customers enough to bring them in the door based on the reputation of others who have worked very hard to be a success. Taking shortcuts.

So my questions to you are these: Are you straight up about your offerings in your classroom when you are sharing it with others? Or, do you instead ride on the backs of others to get credibility? In other words, do you practice what you preach?


Photo Credit: Les_Stockton

Shooting across the northern part of Arkansas on our way to a full day of fly fishing in the Norfork River, I passed a business just off the highway. The reason I know it was a business is because it had a giant sign out front grabbing your attention and letting you know it. It had the name of the company in huge letters: MOWERS. Then, beneath the sign was a lot full of mowers….hidden within the confines of three foot tall grass and weeds.

So, my question to you is this: Do you practice what you preach?


Photo Credit: me

Photo Credit: me

Over the next several posts I am going to share with you my collection of wonderings that came to mind while wandering the backroads of Arkansas and Oklahoma during our family vacation this summer. They were things that caught my attention and gave me immediate pause as to how the apparent lesson can be applied to education and what many of us do as teachers, presenters, and leaders.

For the record, I chose the photo of my son’s Border Collie (Jesse) because these dogs are everything many of us aspire to be: intelligent, methodical, fun loving, hard working, devoted, and dedicated. Well, I aspire to be those things, at least.

Well. Said.

I found this video and short article and had to share it. Chris Lehmann is the principal at Science Leadership Academy. I highly respect the work Chris has done in cultivating the community they call SLA. I am proud to call him a friend, and one of these days we will be able to schedule Chris into coming south to Texas to share some of his work with us personally.

Re-Education | from News21 – S.I. Newhouse School on Vimeo.

While reporting on youth and technology in Philadelphia, one thing we reported on more than anything was education and the city’s school system.

Meet Marcie Hull. She is the technology coordinator and the digital arts teacher at Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a brand-new, one-to-one-laptop Philadelphia magnet school for science, technology, mathematics, and entrepreneurship.

Around the country, educators like Hull are trying whatever they can think of to reform (inner-city) public school systems and boost up standardize test scores.

The one-to-one laptop initiative is one of many recent examples.

Since the new millennium started, Philadelphia has been going through one of the most aggressive and ambitious school reform in the country.

And while reporting in Philly, we spent lots of hours in lots of schools all around the city witnessing this colossal enterprise.

These were mostly inner-city schools, with all the problems of typical inner-city schools: guettoization, extreme poverty, lousy school infrastructure, broken homes, neighborhood rivalry, teen pregnancy, gang activities, violence, drugs etc.

SLA was different: it wasn’t just the curriculum, the building, or the demographics of the student body. It wasn’t even the exceptionally high-and-soaring test scores.

So why in the end this school enjoyed so much more success than many other public schools in Philadelphia?

At first glance, the school appears to be a vivid symbol of what could be achieve with technology.

“But it’s not about technology,” Hull says.

Paradoxically, the idea behind a technological school like SLA is that it is not about technology.

Teachers at SLA built their curriculum around one main pillar: relationships

“The first thing we teach our student,” Hull says, “is the ethic of care. You have to care about somebody.”

It has become the school’s mantra.

And in fact, the most striking thing about the SLA is that it is an exceptionally happy school. There’s no other way to describe it. Everything is happy.

A lot of it has to do with the educators that work there: visionaries, relentless out-of-the-box thinkers, with boundless passion for kids. People like Hull and the philosophy they bring to the classroom and its students.

All were committed to raise student achievement level. All were educators that care.

And in many regards, these educators are changing the way school classroom instruction is done around the country.

A school without walls is how Hull describes it.


This is a video from, a and project.

Electronic Portfolios and the Thoughts of Educator

I sent this email recently to some in my district. I thought I would post it here to gather feedback from my PLN if any of you see fit.


Earlier this year we began in earnest a push toward integrating electronic portoflios (ePortfolios) with staff and students at the middle school level using blogs and the intermediate level using USB flash drives. There is an article in T.H.E. Journal that cites studies from Gartner supporting our choice in this.

While we are in the infant stages of ePortfolios, we are indeed headed in the right direction. I feel we should consider expanding this program into more grades to further enhance our goal of graduating 21st Century enabled students under the direction of 21st Century enabled staff.

The article states:

“And the holy grail is a personal digital portfolio, where you can store your accomplishments and have them verified by your mentors, teachers, or employers, and then take it all with you wherever you go. We’re nowhere near that at the moment.”

White Oak ISD is at that point now. We have the technology tools in place and the training available to implement this at all grade levels.

Please read the article if you have a chance. While it focuses on several software solutions, it also shares what others are doing and the possibilities. We are still fully capable of handing EVERY graduating senior from White Oak High School a flash drive with their entire eportfolio on it to be used anywhere they would like. Imagine the power of that if they are starting those in their earliest years in WOISD and maintaining it throughout.

I am always willing to discuss our ideas and goals with anyone at anytime.

Keyboarding, or the lack thereof.

Photo Credit: Me

I have had an idea for a post mulling around in my mind since May. I had even gotten some research from a friend to help me figure out the advice I need to give to our curriculum department.

I asked Gary Stager via Twitter his thoughts on keyboarding:

“What priority do you place on keyboarding skills with kids today?”

His quick reply was: “Huge waste of scarce resources – focus on mechanics rather than anything meaningful”

Then he sent me this link: (notice the date of the research he quotes and then his commentary at the top of the page). In the research found there, Steve Shuller points out a very interesting and important observation:

Keyboarding is seen as a way to input information into a computer so that it can be manipulated. Thus, initial accuracy is less important than speed, ability to manipulate text is more important than formatting skills for specific types of documents, and composing is more important than transcribing (so it does not matter so much if the typist looks at the keys).

These distinctions recognize important changes in the purposes for which people type on Industrial Age typewriters and on Information Age computer keyboards. Yet, if we look closely at the keyboarding programs proposed by business educators, we find a methodology geared to the Industrial Age purpose of transcribing rather than the Information Age purpose of composing (Freyd and Kahn 1989).

Now, both of these are valid points to consider in today’s course offerings for students. Yet, Freyd and Kahn made those points in 1989. If it was valid in 1989, is it not more valid in today’s times when most kids walking the halls have more computing power in their pockets than we had in buildings in 1989?

I then shared my position on the subject in a conversation with another colleague:

I know your concerns about student keyboarding skills are serious. While blogging in and of itself will not cure the keyboarding woes, it is one method of allowing students to become more familiar with the keyboard and its functionality as it pertains to their uses of the technology. When you add in email, productivity software, and many online tools our students are now using, their skill set should be increasing in quality.  I do know that others have worked hard to get the students more computer time on other campuses through authentic learning situations such as problem/project based learning.

I do not pretend to know all I need to know about how kids are learning these days. They are changing so quickly.  I most assuredly do not know what they need for every class we teach in WOISD. I just wanted to provide you with some support of what I was saying earlier about how the shift is occurring away from direct instruction of keyboarding to a more functional approach as it pertains to authentic use AND integration into the normal instruction whether core area or elective.

As usual with my PLN, somebody has also been pondering the same topic and blogged about it recently. Thanks to Jeff Utecht for doing the dirty work for me this time with his post “When or do we teach typing?” As I read through, all I could say was, “Yep. That’s what I was thinking.” He even believes, as do I, that we are wasting time teaching cursive during writing time. His idea of replacing cursive writing time with keyboard seat time is dead-on, but his idea of putting cursive writing into an arts course is a new one to me. I think it is as good a place as any, if it has to be taught. Jeff shares his beliefs:

So here’s what I believe:

  • We should expose students to the keyboard as much as possible!
  • Every student starting in Kindergarten should be exposed to a keyboard as often as possible. 15 minutes three times a week would be preferred.
  • In 1st grade the focus would be to have student use two hands on the keyboard.
  • By 3rd grade typing should be part of the writing curriculum. The time spent on cursive writing should be replaces with keyboard time (cursive writing is an art form and should be part of art… opinion and my opinion only!).
  • By 5th grade students should be required to turn in at least one type written assignment a week and spend no less then 120 minutes a week exposed to a computer keyboard.

I talked to a couple 6th grade teachers last week who both told me that they only have students type assignments to be handed in. That they have not accepted hand-written work for two years now.

I currently have three staff members at the middle school level building curriculum to go paperless next year. I know they will find the skills of their students increase as the year progresses. I also believe that our high school teachers will notice an increase in student keyboarding skills as those kids move on to that campus. That is, unless they force them to use the home row and industrial Age-style keyboarding requirements.

Now where can I buy a USB/bluetooth keyboard the size of a cell phone keypad with built-in predictive text?

NECC Conversations: from the room to the poster

It’s a funny thing being a presenter. While I really work hard to make my own presentations engaging (and fail at times, I’m sure) I find myself more critical of others. Now, by critical, I mean both good and bad. I am always looking to see what makes one a better presenter over another and also what was the “thing” that released the crowd from the stream of thought so they would day dream instead.

With that in mind, several posts and conversations were had this year at NECC that I took notice of. While Scott McLeod and Doug Johnson do nice jobs of sharing their thoughts and even offering suggestions, one of the things that got my attention was a conversation had at the Google gathering with several others including Scott Meech and Dean Shareski.

Standard sessions have turned into sit and gets and have lost their luster. Poster sessions might be the better option. What makes one better than the other? The conversations. My presentation this year was changed from a standard session to a poster session. At first it was mixed feelings, but after having gone through my two hours of the poster session, it is all good. I was able to have deeper conversations with more people than if I had stood in front of an audience sharing the same information. The engagement for both me as a presenter and them as an audience was a far better experience than I have had in other settings. Dean noted that he felt it might be the better route to have the session conversations take place (as opposed to the unconference sessions conversations).

While many of us say the best PD takes place in the halls of the conference, maybe the poster session is the next best thing. Should that idea be expanded?

Now, let’s take ourselves from the position of teacher/learners at a conference and move into the position of learner in a school setting. Yeah, I would have preferred this type of setting in school as well.

Hiring the Right Staff…Or Not

Photo Credits: Me

With NECC coming up sooner than it seems, and Malcolm Gladwell being the keynote speaker, I decided I had to make a move to learn a little more about this guy. 

I finally had some time to read through Malcom Gladwell‘s article in the New Yorker titled “Most Likely to Succeed.” I was excited about the possibilities after reading the tag line “How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?” My hope that I would finally learn the secrets to hiring the right staff was short lived as I read through the article, though.

Once you get through the overly done metaphor of scouting a quarterback being compared to finding the right teacher, you find that Gladwell builds on a number of misguided beliefs bantered around already far too much in political circles as foundations of good education.

First of all, Gladwell jumps right into the fire by saying that “one of the most important tools in contemporary educational research is ‘value added’ analysis.” As he says, it uses standardized tests to determine the connection between a student’s test scores and a classroom teacher’s performance. More specifically, he uses a class average as the comparison between two third grade teachers. Not only does he not take into consideration the different make-up of student needs, he goes so far as to name the kids “Janes, Lucys, Johns, and Roberts.” That extends his description of the students as average with the use of average names.  When was the last time any teacher walked into a classroom full of kids with names like that?

I give Gladwell credit for the admission, “It’s only a crude measurement. A teacher is not solely responsible for how much is learned in a classroom, and not everything of value that a teacher imparts to his or her students can be captured on a standardized test.” Yet, he jumps right back into the poor side of the argument using the term “nonetheless.” Why nonetheless? Why not, “Standardized tests just don’t cut it.” Nope. He decides that it is just okay to base teacher performance on student tests. We will find out whether a teacher is “good or poor” based on one test on one day.

He then extends that argument even more giving it credence by sharing input given by an economist who talks about ranking our kids against other countries. That again? When other countries test their kids, ALL of their kids, like we do (or vice versa) then we can have this discussion. Until then, it is an apples and oranges comparison and not worthy of more print. I prefer to not create a nation of standardized test takers anyway.

As an added bonus, the economist shares that we can increase test scores by replacing the bottom six to ten percent of our teachers with teachers of “average quality.” Would this argument not continue through infinity? It’s like saying we need to bring up those below average. Won’t half the population always be below average?

After some more drivel about scouting, he gets back to some real research about what makes a good teacher. “Withitness.” Now, as stupid as that sounds, it is pretty accurate. It might be the teacher who allows the little kids at reading time to get excited about the book and lean in toward the book even though it might be against normal class procedure. She is identifying a level of engagement and running with it. It might also be the teacher who stops one of the kids as he/she heads out the door to make sure everything is okay after noticing odd behavior in the classroom. Or it might be the teacher who mentions student names and specific honors seen over the weekend at the academic event or ball field.  Or it might be all of the above and then some, which is far more likely, but that is withitness. 

I had the opportunity to testify before an Interim Select Committee on Accountability in Austin, Texas, last spring. Near the end of my testimony, the chairman of the committee asked me a simple question: “What makes a teacher a good teacher?” My answer was just as simple, but not really: “I know it when I see it.” While it may seem an odd answer, those of us in education realize that it is VERY difficult to vocalize what a good teacher is doing that makes a good teacher. Sure, we can do checklists all day long. What is missing is what that truly looks like in a good teacher. A poor teacher can get through a checklist. It takes experience to know the difference.

This is where Gladwell allows some good ideas to come through even if he did not extend them to logical possibilities. He is absolutely correct that our government is too busy trying to certify every Tom, Dick, and Mary that wants to be called a teacher. Then they complain that teacher quality is low. Gladwell brings in an example of financial advisers and training and yada, yada, yada. Basically, the financial companies spend about $150,000 over three or four years to train up each finalist for financial adviser positions with mentors working with them, yet they still have a lower than expected success rate. He even admits that it is a tough sell for schools to pull that off. I have several issues with this model.

For one thing, the poor kids in those classrooms will suffer. Consider that the “teacher” just cannot cut it. He/she has ruined three or four years worth of kids in that subject. Obviously, not all of the kids would suffer, but for the sake of argument, we can all agree they got cheated in some form or fashion. And, on top of that, schools do not have that type of money to waste on a bet like that.

So why would I hammer Gladwell over trying to get schools to do an internship/apprenticeship like this? Well, it seems as though he suggests that we do this AFTER college. I don’t get that. Why would we not “cull the herd,” if you will, BEFORE they get to the classroom?

I happened to go through a program just like that, and cull they did. In a program at the University of Texas at Tyler that limited entry to thirty students, our graduating class only had eleven left. The program had us in classrooms in Title 1 campuses from the second semester on. Internships and apprenticeships are a part of that program. Well, were a part of that program. It was expensive to do. UTT did it for as long as they could before they did away with it and settled for a hybrid version for the entire education program. While that brought up the quality of the larger program, it dropped the quality compared to that which most of us experienced prior to the change. It was hard. It had rigor. It had high expectations. Most of all, it got respect. A graduate of that program, aptly called Professional Development School, from an experience standpoint was not considered a first year teacher once entering his or her own classroom. Mentors from both the university and the schools in which we worked during our program spent countless hours helping develop professionals and counseling those who had no business in the classroom.

That is the model we should be using. I am all for internships and apprenticeships in pre-service programs. I think it would be the best investment most universities could make in improving the quality of their programs and graduates, ultimately improving the quality of teachers overall. 

I also find Gladwell’s mention of the financial industries “Million Dollar Round Tables” out of place. The round table award is for successful financial advisors.  I am guessing he thinks there should be something similar in education. Wonderful. I’d love to see it.  If so, how do you determine the recipients? Please don’t tell me standardized test scores. There are too many issues with that thinking. The vast majority of kids in a state take the same test regardless of the fact that they are dyslexic, recent to the country, too low to qualify for special ed, mother died the week before, came to school sick as a dog, etc.  And even the university group that Gladwell discusses clearly shows how abstract good teacher qualities are with the term “withitness.” Standardized test that one for me.

Gladwell does end with a very profound statement before moving back into his football example:

What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?

So my takeaways from this article are these:

  • We need to improve our higher ed programs in the area of pre-service teacher training. Interneships and apprenticeships are great ways to do just that due to the fact that mentors will get to see candidates in real world situations.
  • Internships and apprenticeships are expensive. The public is not willing to pay for schools to do it, and frankly, my personal opinion is that waiting that long is too late anyway. The state should be paying to develop these programs at the university level.
  • Regardless of the fact that companies make widgets and are profit machines to generate further advances in their field and schools are far different from that, we will continue to see folks making that comparison in order to sell books, generate high paying speaking engagements.
  • Upon reflection, I cannot believe that Gladwell offered this article up as any part of a solution. It was more of a conversation starter.

So, let’s get to the point of that conversation. We are here for student academic achievement. What is the best way to insure that that happens at the highest level? How do we get to that end through hiring staff? I’m not sure I got much out of this article to move us in that direction.

I’m Now a Mechanic…Sort of

I was reading a post from Vicki Davis in my feed reader tonight when I came across this post that “analyzes” me based on my writing in my blog. So I figured I would give it a shot. I would say that it is a fairly accurate read of my personality. Those who know me would agree with most of it. Those who will be getting to know me in my new leadership endeavors with TCEA will probably recognize much of it as well in the near future. Since this is looking at writing I have done over a variety of topics through the past year and a half, I think it had a decent chance of gathering accurate data.

Agree or not, here I am according to Typealyzer:

ISTP – The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment and are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like to seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.


This show what parts of the brain that were dominant during writing:

This would be great to do this same analysis on some of our students’ self-directed writing and then on writing we require them to do (for test prep more than likely).