The person doing the work does the learning…


“The person doing the work does the learning.” That adage is as relevant today as it was when it was first spoken decades (or centuries) ago.

The “doing” of both simple and complex tasks promotes learning.

That’s why many teachers, myself included, report having learned so much more about the subject matter they taught through the complex process of teaching it than they did in universities.

To elaborate:

The person doing the explaining does the learning.

The person doing the planning does the learning.

The person doing the assessment of his or her own learning does the learning.

Consistently acting on this adage in every classroom and professional learning venue would change virtually everything.

And it would be a change for the better.

Cultivate empathy


Social and emotional intelligence are essential attributes of successful teaching and school leadership. And empathy is one of the most important of those skills.

Empathy means that we are able to see the world through the eyes of other people so well that they feel like you “get them.”

We understand what they think, feel, and want even though that may not be what we think, feel, and want.

Many of us resist having empathy with someone because it implies that we agree with them when perhaps we don’t.

Others lack empathy because they are unwilling to do the demanding work of trying to understand the world as others experience it.

When our colleagues feel like we understand their point of view they are more open to our perspective.

That means we are more likely to influence people with whom we have empathy than those with whom we don’t.

Fortunately, empathy can be cultivated. Its development requires intention, an openness to seeing the world through the eyes of others, and persistent practice.

It is a practice well worth the effort because when we give the gift of empathy, we give a gift that can be transformative to us, to others, and to our relationships.

Think like a teacher


Doctors not only learn medical terminology and procedures, but they also learn how to think like a doctor.

Lawyers learn legal terminology and procedures, and they learn how to think like lawyers.

And so on through the professions.

But do teachers learn to think like teachers?

Do teachers think about their classrooms and learning in ways that separate them from parents and others who care about the well being of young people?

I think that they do.

For instance, competent teachers plan with the end in mind. They visualize the classrooms they want for their students and create physical environments, routines, and rules that will create the desired classroom experience. The same is true when those teachers plan instruction.

What, in your experience, does it mean to think like a teacher?

Adult bullies…


Bullies come in all sizes and roles. There are playground bullies, cyber bullies, and  even faculty-meeting bullies.

When I was young someone older told me that the best way to deal with bullies was to stand up to them.

While that advice isn’t relevant for all types of bullying, it does apply to faculty meeting bullies. Someone standing up to him or her—one-to-one or in a group setting—is often all that’s required to end the bullying, or at least to blunt it.

Standing up to a bully, no matter the age of the bully, requires the exercise of courage in the face of our fear.

But fear is not a sufficient reason to allow bullies to destroy what others have worked hard to create—supportive relationships, teamwork, and improved teaching and learning.

Each of us has the capacity to act with courage in the face of destructive forces although it is seldom an easy thing to do.

It helps to prepare by becoming clear about what you want to say and when and where you want to say it. It’s also important to rehearse in a safe environment, perhaps with a trusted colleague, and to be ready for the emotional escalation some bullies apply to ensure they get their way.

Fortunately, each time we practice courage—like exercising a muscle—we become a bit stronger and more confident in future situations.

Unfortunately, it is likely that life will give you many opportunities to practice such courage in both professional and personal settings.

Being our best selves


Sometimes I compare myself unfavorably to others.  “Why can’t I be more like so-and-so?” I wonder.

And I’m sure that if I tried really hard I could be a bit more like that person.

But more often than not, I realize that it would be better for me to invest my time and energy in developing my unique talents rather than becoming a shadow of someone else.

All of us contribute more to the world, I believe, when we are our first rate selves rather than a second rate someone else.

Likewise, people of all ages thrive when they are encouraged to be their best selves.

People report that they are most satisfied with their work and lives when they use their talents for worthy purposes.

Just as we each have unique talents, we each have unique opportunities.

Because there is no one exactly like us in the particular situations in which we find ourselves, we each have unique opportunities that arise throughout our lives to make a difference that no one else can make.

When do you thrive?

What are the qualities of relationships that encourage you to  be your best self?

What other conditions promote those qualities?

Stretch yourself


Forty-seven years ago this month I began my teaching career. Over those years the challenges and opportunities of teaching, learning, leadership, and public education gradually became a part of my daily consciousness, whether I was “on the job” or not.

I started teaching in 1968 in a high school with team teaching and modular scheduling that allowed for the flexible grouping of students, which by their very nature immediately engaged me in collaboration and job-embedded professional learning, although both terms would have been foreign to me at that time.

In 1972 I was invited to participate in designing and implementing a public alternative high school for “disaffected youth.” I had not heard the term “teacher leader,” nor was I aware how rare it was for a teacher to be meaningfully engaged in creating such a school.

In 1978 I became director of a teacher center, again as a teacher leader. A year later I became a member of the National Staff Development Council (now Learning Forward).

I did not then know how my career was being subtly and irrevocably shaped by this succession of important and rare opportunities.

And in 1984 I became executive director of NSDC, a part-time position with an organization that at that time had just a few hundred members. For the next 23 years I had  the privilege of meeting outstanding educators from around the world and abundant opportunities to think deeply about professional learning.

What all of these things had in common is that they stretched me in ways I could not have anticipated and often did not desire. And, because I often worked outside my comfort zone, the fear of failure was a constant companion.

While I had not yet heard of the “impostor syndrome,” I lived it daily.

And in each setting —an innovative high school, an alternative program, a teacher center, and NSDC — I benefited from the support of respected colleagues who offered encouragement and mentoring along the way.

So what would I say to a teacher near the beginning of his or her career?

Look for and be open to opportunities and mentors who will challenge and stretch you. If you do, I predict that you will have a rich and fulfilling professional journey. I wish you well wherever you may be along that road….

Beliefs matter


Beliefs matter because they have a profound and often invisible effect on what teachers and administrators say and do each day.

Beliefs are also habitual, which means they are often applied to new situations without a full understanding of their consequences.

My three previous posts addressed professional learning, school culture, and teamwork, each of which has implicit beliefs that channel them in productive or unproductive ways.

For example:

• If school leaders believe that good teachers are born, not made, high-quality professional learning will have a low priority.

• If school leaders believe that new ideas and research-based practices should be sufficiently compelling in themselves for their full adoption, they will ignore the influence of school culture on innovation.

• If school leaders believe that professional learning and instructional improvement are the sole responsibility of teachers, they will fail to create the necessary structures and incentives that enable strong teamwork.

Left unexamined and unaltered, some beliefs may have a profound negative effect on student learning.

Here are several such beliefs I proposed in a previous post:

• Some students cannot be expected to learn very much because of their families, economic status, or race.

• Teaching is delivering, “telling,” and performing. Leadership is directing and motivating.

• Because teaching is telling/performing, content is “delivered,” leadership is directing, and the primary challenge of leadership is motivating teachers, continuous improvement results from telling/delivering/directing/motivating.

• Most significant questions and problems of teaching and learning have one right answer, and an “expert” knows it.

• The best means of “delivering” professional development “content” is through speakers, workshops, and courses. PowerPoints are essential to such delivery.

• It takes years to make significant and demonstrable improvements in the quality of professional learning, teaching, and student achievement.

Another example is leaders’ beliefs regarding teachers’ capacity for growth, which I wrote about here:

“Just as it’s essential for principals and teacher leaders to believe that student learning can be improved by skillful teaching, it’s essential that principals and teacher leaders believe that through well-designed professional development and teamwork virtually all teachers can become effective, if not masterful.

“Believing in the capacity of students to learn at higher levels without a parallel belief in the capacity of teachers to successfully teach them — given appropriate support — can only lead to frustration and failure.”

Yet another example is leaders’ beliefs regarding the qualities that are important in new teachers, a subject I address here.

(Other posts on the subject of teaching can be found here.)

Administrators and teacher leaders are not powerless to affect colleagues’ beliefs. In a post on “frames” I wrote:

“Put simply, frames are the mental frameworks we use to think about things. Our thinking, and hence our ability to change, is limited by these deeply rooted, beneath-the-surface systems of beliefs and ideas. While difficult to dispel, frames can be changed. The process begins with awareness of the dominant frame and its influence on practice and the ability to conceptualize alternative frames that better serve student learning.”

In that post I suggested two frames that I believe interfere with change and offer alternative ways to conceptualize them.

I closed that post by inviting readers to identify an existing frame that may be unconsciously preserving the status quo in in their setting.

I encourage you to do the same.

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