School Culture Is the Responsibility of All of Us



I recently read an article about a school.  It was negative and very damning of some of the educators in the building.  The article outlines several negative instances that allegedly occurred in the school during the year.   I will not discuss the details of the article because it really isn’t important to my point – positive school culture.

Ask the experts on school culture and they will tell you it is the responsibility of the schools leaders to create a positive culture.  The  happiness of the teachers, students, and families are all  predicated on the tone set by school leaders.  While this is very true, I would like to add another consideration — the community. How do we speak about our schools?  How do we speak about the educators in the building? How do we describe the students who attend the school?  Our words matter.  Our intentions matter.  Even those persons on the outside of the school building can have a powerful effect on the culture inside the building without ever entering it.  Therefore, it is critical that uplift our schools while continuing to work on any issues.

Intentions can be good or bad. Personally, I believe most people wake each morning having the intention to do good things and send positive vibes into the world.  So as we go about our summer, let’s reflect on the positive aspects of schools.  Let’s speak positively about them and support the educators that work in them.  They are working each and everyday to create a positive experience for children. Let’s join them!


Be Good, Do Good, Be Thankful



I have always been a positive person.  Despite all the negativity in the world, I still believe in people and their capacity to do and be good.  Just the other day I was waiting in line at a Starbucks drive through.  I drove up to the window prepared to pay bill and retrieve my coffee.  As I handed the young lady my money, she happily told me she the person in front of me had already paid the bill.  I was surprised and thrilled at the same time.  I asked the young lady the cost of the person’s bill behind me and paid for it.  It felt great!  I went about my day as normal not really thinking much more about it.

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, I have thought about what it means to be thankful.  I am thankful for so many things.  First and foremost, I am thankful for my son.  I am thankful for my family, my career, and my friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I have had my share of hardships.  I  mourn the hard times in my life, learn from them, and move forward.   I never forget the negative times; I just choose to be positive.   I choose to live a life full of possibilities.

Life is hard.  It is unpredictable. There will be times in life when we all just want to give up. I just hope that we all choose to be better than the difficulties in our lives.  As we move through this holiday season, let’s all try to be good, do good, and be thankful.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.


5 Ways to Identify an Engaged Classroom


As a former English/language arts coach, I visited a great number of schools and classrooms.  During my first visit to a school, the principal or assistant principal would usually walk me around to different classrooms.  They would point out those teachers who were great and those teachers who might need assistance.  I began to notice the distinction between these classrooms would often be the level of noise in the room.  Those teachers were praised were usually teachers with quiet classrooms and students in straight rows.  All leaders want engaged classrooms in their schools.  They want classrooms where students enter the door wanting to learn.  So what do engaged classrooms look like?  Here are five ways to identify engagement in classrooms.

  1. Students are working

This doesn’t mean students are simply filling out worksheets.  Instead, students are designing and creating something.  Whether it is a new government in history class based on the qualities of government they have learned, writing a speech to argue for a cause, or using math to solve a problem, students are the ones doing the work.


  1. Students are talking

As an educator, nothing worries me more than a quiet classroom.  Of course during instruction, tests, and a few other situations, a class may be quiet.  However, they should   be noisy places where students are asking questions of their teacher and peers. Talking about the latest topic they just learned, and discussing ways they can do something with the new information.


  1. The teacher is listening and moving

Engaged classrooms require teachers to do their best work before class starts.  During the planning process, the teacher creates learning situations where students can become engaged. In class, the teacher moves from student to student or group to group to listen to students and guide their learning, or the teacher may be working with a small group of students. See how English teacher Sheila Kosoff encourages talk and engagement in the Teaching Channel video Inquiry-Based Teaching: Discussing Literature .


  1. Desk are not in rows

If your desks are in rows, your students are not talking.  If they are talking it is most likely not about your work.  For some teachers, having their students sit in rows is a management tool.  They want to limit student talk instead of using it to leverage student learning. Sitting in groups does not mean that on-task discussion will automatically happen.  Discussion is a skill that must be taught and practiced.  However, start with placing students into pairs or groups.


  1. Spontaneous things happen

Teachers will engaged classrooms allow for spontaneity.  They veer off of their lessons plans and allow students to take the lead in where the learning goes.  Teachers in engaged classrooms are not afraid of not knowing the answers.

No matter the school, engaged classrooms are busy classrooms.  They are loud, noisy, and productive spaces.  Students are doing the work, and teachers are facilitating that important work. Don’t be afraid to let students do the work.  You will be surprised at what they can do!


Forward Motion


A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of listening to George Couros at my state’s Fall ASCD conference.  He was inspiring.  It was just what I needed.  For  many weeks, it seemed that I had been a funk at work.  I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything or helping anyone.  It wasn’t until I listened to George and began tweeting with a hundred or so of my closest friends that I realized why I was feeling so professionally unfulfilled.  I can sum it up in two words…positive attitude.  The phrase may seem simple, but a positive attitude is often the difference between moving forward or moving backward.  That is what I found in that room.  I found people who were positive about education and the attempts they were making to move themselves, their schools, and communities forward.  For much of my career, I always had a few people around me who were positive and forward thinking.  However, as I have moved further away from the day to day classroom experience, I have found less and less positive thinking around me.  I realized that day that I have been surrounded by some who wanted to constantly criticize education and anyone’s idea of moving it forward.  It is draining to listen to all of the negative talk.  I found myself taking that negative perspective to work.  After some reflection, I realized that my negative attitude actually made me less productive.  I needed a change, and that’s what I found at the conference that day.  I was reminded of the collective power of positive people, positive thinking, and twitterverse.  Since then, I have returned to a few twitter chats and joined a couple of others.  The ideas, inspiration, and collective thought are so powerful.

Just today I read George Couros’ recent blog post Four Ways We Hold Others Back.   As I read his descriptions of the ways we can hold others back, I realized I could add one more way we hold others back — a negative attitude.  A negative attitude will get you nowhere.  It will not help you solve your problem, have a better life, or make a difference.  A positive attitude, however, will help you do those things and so much more!  Besides, if you don’t believe, who else will?  We all have to learn to move on, move forward!