More Summer Reading Options


by  Patrick Bassett  on 6/14/2013

​As is typical for my end-of-the-school-year blog, I share below some readings I believe are germane to, and useful for, the independent school community constituents committed to learning new strategies for the age-old task of getting better at what we do. Below you’ll find my “short takes” on a handful of books that fit that mold.

• Susan Eva Porter’s Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression Is Bad for Everyone is far from just another “little shop of horrors” accounting of the deleterious effects of bullying and the stern discipline and strictures adults should apply to stem it. In fact, it’s just the opposite: a contrarian view of the universal and timeless realities of childhood aggression, the damage adults do by overreacting to run-of-the-mill social tussles and micro-aggressions that are normal, and the deleterious impact of reducing admittedly painful playground conflicts into just three blanket categories: bully, victim, and bystander (the latter now instantly guilty by association, or by inaction to intervene).

Filled with scores of revealing case studies she has witnessed, or counseled about as a child and school psychologist, Porter’s huge contribution is an attempt to reverse the dangerous trend she sees that oversimplifies, misreads, and over-amplifies much of what is now called bullying — such as exclusion at the lunch table in the school cafeteria, or from the pick-up dodge ball game on the playground, or the smarmy cuts on social media. Moreover, when parents of kids who are the target of teasing, unkind remarks, social exclusion, or more serious bullying want a black and white “crime” with capital punishment (“throw them out of school”), and schools adopt inflexible and unrealistic “zero tolerance” policies, we now teach some kids that they are incorrigibly bad to the core and others that they are helpless victims, lessons that are both over-reactions and examples of unhealthy adult “fixed” mindsets rather than “growth” mindsets.

What truly hurts, social pain, is just another in a long list of what seems, at the time, cataclysmic challenges pre-adolescents and adolescents face, and for which they need the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop the “grittiness” necessary to survive the turbulence of life. For those who truly want to understand the subtleties of what bullying is about, Bully Nation is an important contribution to the canon. Reading the book to learn how the parable of Buddha, the suffering woman, and the mustard seed apply is worth the time and effort alone. And considering that the new and wildly expanded definition of bullying “is more about today’s parenting than about child aggression” is a worthy counterpoint to conventional wisdom on the subject, because adults now “conflate desire for children to behave well with children’s ability to do so.” This book is a must-read for parents and educators, who will learn the truth of Mark Twain’s observation that “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”

• Catherine Steiner-Adair, school and family psychologist and clinical instructor at the Department of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, offers in her new book, The Big Disconnect, a compelling accounting of how technology has become for families “our new home page,” the central organizing factor of our lives, focus, and relationships (or lack thereof). While Steiner-Adair acknowledges the advantages of the wired world, she develops convincingly the observation by psychiatrist Gene Cohen that technology’s powerful stimulation, hyper-connectivity, and interactivity are, for children and adolescents, like “chocolate to the brain,” and argues that parents unwittingly have accepted technology not just as the digital babysitter, but more disturbingly, allowed it to become “the third parent.” This book would be a great assignment for faculty/parent book clubs.

• Jim Collins’ Great by Choice presents the next leg in Collins’ journey to identify qualities shared by consistently high-performing companies. He defines them as 10xers: at least 10x better (up to 500x better) performance than their matched peers operating in the same industries, over 30 years, 1972 – 2002: i.e., Amgen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive Insurance, Southwest Airlines, Stryker.

This work takes the leadership factor we learned about in Good to Great, the Level V Ambition, and deconstructs it into three self-reinforcing attributes: i.) fanatic discipline; ii.) productive paranoia; and iii.) empirical creativity. The principle of fanatic discipline Collins defines as setting achievable performance markers; adopting self-imposed constraints; and projecting a proper timeframe. He notes that these three factors are all largely within any organization’s own control to set and achieve (in my opinion the most important insight of the book, since it means any organization, including all independent schools, can be “great by choice.”) The most compelling illustration in the book is the first one, the race to the South Pole, the story of Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott. Amundsen’s approach to the imposing and dangerous challenge to him and his team in October 1911 was to prepare via rigorous research and testing of conditions and equipment and to adopt what Collins uses subsequently as a metaphor for other organizations, “the discipline of the 20-mile march.” Collins reveals that Amundsen’s application of the three factors was decisive in making him the first to succeed in reaching the South Pole under highly adverse conditions. However, Robert Falcon Scott and his team — with the same starting line and time and conditions — relied on intuition rather than empirical testing, and haphazard daily goal setting, resulting in getting there second and exhausted, thereafter sadly losing all lives on the return trip.

One of Collins’ examples of productive paranoia is Bill Gates and Microsoft, legendary for maintaining hypervigilance in good times as well as bad, always entertaining the “nightmare scenarios,” always knowing that there is a 100 percent certainty that eventually conditions will, unpredictably at some time, turn against one’s fortunes. Just exactly the leadership lessons NAIS recommends in strategic thinking for schools: “Create conditions for the best” but “prepare for the worst.”

Finally, on empirical creativity, Collins illustrates via yet another compelling analogy: First “shoot bullets, not missiles,” since bullets are low cost, low risk, and low distraction to the current business, versus missiles, which are high cost, high risk, all in, with huge consequences for failure. Great by Choice is a terrific read for one’s administrative team and board, sure to offer plenty of applications for the changing landscape and the change agenda for independent schools.

• Timothy Quinn’s scholarly but succinct study, On Grades and Grading: Supporting Student Learning Through a More Transparent and Purposeful Use of Grades, provides educators and parents a wonderful window on the true purpose of grading, its misuse, and strategies to realign grading away from “sorting” of students for honor rolls and college admissions and back to providing data and feedback to students in service to their growth and progress along a learning continuum.

In Part I, the book makes the case for three purposes for the judicious use of grading: to generate data upon which decisions can be made about future practice; to motivate students; and to provide them with feedback. In doing so, Quinn addresses the challenges of preoccupation with grades (students, parents, and colleges) for sorting purposes, in which teachers should have little interest or commitment.

He shares useful distinctions on grades vs. assessments vs. feedback; on normative vs. formative assessments; on grades as motivator or de-motivators; on the effect of grades in promoting a fixed or growth mindset; etc.: i.e., this study is a comprehensive review of the controversies and conundrums regarding the topic.

His conclusion: By de-emphasizing grades (and emphasizing learning), the appropriate use of grades can paradoxically improve achievement, the difference between developing talent and selecting it. In Part II, Quinn elucidates clearly the various topics that educators endlessly debate: grade inflation; numbers vs. letter grades; summative grading; failing grades; retakes and rewrites; grading behavior and dispositions; grading collaborative work; self-grading; technology and grading. Overall, while definitely not beach reading, I’d grade the book as “Mastery (100 percent or A+).”

• There is a growing convergence in thoughtful schools around the advantages of “positive psychology” in teaching and learning. We see it in the “strengths movement” that advocates finding a student’s strengths rather than focusing on learning “deficiencies” as the key to strategies for overcoming learning challenges. We also find it in the nascent “mindfulness” movement, and we find it in the “appreciative inquiry” approach to diversity work and strategic planning.

Now we have the guide to implementing it at the earliest stages in Patty O’Grady’s Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom, a helpful read for parents and teachers who seek guidance along the path “from finding the golden mean of emotional regulation to finding a child’s potencies and golden self.” Core concepts help to explain how feelings permeate the brain, affecting children’s thoughts and actions, how insular neurons make us feel empathy and help us learn by observation, and how the frontal cortex is the brain’s hall monitor.

Neuroscience teaches us that there is no bad behavior per se, only poorly regulated emotions and underdeveloped strengths. O’Grady illustrates her themes via 12 practical techniques: greeting students as they enter class; conducting various kinds of classroom interactions from friendship circles to goal-setting meetings; committing via pledges, creeds, and agreements; reflective journals; organizing clubs and teams to teach academics and positive psychology simultaneously; learning centers that teach feelings, strengths, friendships, flow, and scaffolding of accomplishments; service learning to help others while practicing one’s own signature strengths; e-learning to engage thoughts and feelings in flow; using the arts to teach children emotional strengths; visualization and observation of strengths; self-assessment and self-awareness; self-talk via positive self-narratives.

• Abigail James’ The Parents’ Guide to Boys: Help Your Son Get the Most Out of School and Life is yet another tour de force entry in her pantheon of books on gender-specific insights on parenting and teaching, this one on boys, revealing that, to quote Plato, ” Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.” James’ work is Scout-handbook, chock-full of good guidance for parents of boys at all ages, “from 18 months to 90 years of age.” Given that boys are increasingly struggling at home and at school, this book arrives just in the nick of time for us to do something about the crisis. Nuggets include teaching your son that…

  • Failure is the first step towards success.
  • Getting your own way comes at a high cost — making others unhappy or angry.
  • Extrinsic motivation, like money, is temporary.
  • You are your son’s life teacher, not his academic coach.
  • You won’t do your son’s homework — since, like Tom Sawyer, if he can get someone else to do his work, he will.

James’ List of 10 Things to Do for Your Sons:

  • Read to your son every night.
  • Turn off the TV and computer (or at least limit the amount of access).
  • Talk and sing with your son.
  • Play games with him.
  • Let him play by himself or with others without adult interference.
  • Allow him to take risks.
  • Give him chores.
  • Teach him the value of money.
  • Teach him to respect others.
  • Make no threats, only promises.

So, dear reader, beyond my limited list above, let’s “crowd source” summer reading for our boards, faculty and staff, and parent communities. What are your recommendations?


ISM’s Summer Reading Suggestions 2013

Vol. 12 No. 4
Students aren’t the only ones who should take advantage of the summer break and dive into a few good books. Blogs across the Web agree it’s the perfect season for both pleasure reading and professional development. Articles have been popping up with suggestions (even Pinterest pages!), so we’ve done a little research and selected a few we think our readers would find most useful for their betterment in the private-independent school world.

21st Century Skills, Learning For Life In Our Times
by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel
The content includes the basic core subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also emphasizes global awareness, financial/economic literacy, and health issues. The skills fall into three categories: learning and innovation skills, digital literacy skills, and life and career skills. This book is filled with vignettes, international examples, and classroom samples that help illustrate the framework and provide an exciting view of 21 century teaching and learning.

Going Google: Powerful Tools for 21st Century Learning
by Jared J. Covilli
The author explores the wide array of Google tools and shows how to use them in the classroom to engage students and foster digital learning.

When Can Your Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education
by Daniel T. Willingham
Each year, teachers, administrators, and parents face a barrage of education software, games, workbooks, and professional development programs purporting to be “based on the latest research.” While some of these products are rooted in solid science, the research behind many others is grossly exaggerated. This book helps everyday teachers, administrators, and family members separate the wheat from the chaff and determine which educational approaches are scientifically supported and worth adopting.

The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck—101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers
by Ron Clark
In his New York Times bestseller The End of Molasses Classes, renowned educator Ron Clark challenged parents, teachers, and communities everywhere to make a real difference in the lives of our kids, offering revolutionary and classroom-tested ways to uplift, educate, and empower our children. Read this book to find out why so many across the country have embraced these powerful rules.

Leadership and the Art of Struggle: How Great Leaders Grow Through Challenge and Adversity
By Steven Snyder
Using real-life stories drawn from his extensive research studying 151 diverse episodes of leadership struggle—as well as from his experiences working with Bill Gates in the early years of Microsoft and as a CEO and executive coach—Snyder shows how to navigate intense challenges to achieve personal growth and organizational success. He details strategies for embracing struggle and offers a host of unique tools and hands-on practices to help you implement them. By mastering the art of struggle, you’ll be better equipped to meet life’s challenges and focus on what matters most.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
by Paul Tough
How Children Succeed introduces us to a new generation of researchers and educators, who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the mysteries of character. Through their stories—and the stories of the children they are trying to help—Tough reveals how this new knowledge can transform young people’s lives. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood. And he provides us with new insights into how to improve the lives of children growing up in poverty. This provocative and profoundly hopeful book will not only inspire and engage readers, it will also change our understanding of childhood itself.

Is College Worth It?: A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education
by Dr. William J. Bennett, David Wilezol
For many students, a bachelor’s degree is considered the golden ticket to a more financially and intellectually fulfilling life. But the disturbing reality is that debt, unemployment, and politically charged pseudo learning are more likely outcomes for many college students today than full-time employment and time-honored knowledge. This book uses personal experience, statistical analysis, and real-world interviews to provide answers to some of the most troubling social and economic problems of our time.

Transformative Leadership in Education: Equitable Change in an Uncertain and Complex World
by Carolyn M. Shields
In the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world of education today, leaders need to take an engaged, activist, and courageous approach to help build optimistic futures for all students. Transformative Leadership in Education presents an alternative approach to leadership for deep and equitable change. Using vignettes, stories, research, and drawing on scholarship from a range of disciplines, noted scholar Carolyn M. Shields explores the concept of transformative leadership and its potential to create learning environments that are just and inclusive. Drawing on examples from transformative school leaders, Shields demonstrates that this leadership can promote academic achievement, family and community empowerment, democratic engagement, and global citizenship.

Why 20% Time is Good for Schools


JUNE 25, 2013

A very interesting concept in support of providing regular time for students to be innovators, and to shape a portion of their education.  Perhaps our “Innovation Week” should evolve into providing weekly time or “genius hour” for students to innovate.

Have you ever met an adult who doesn’t really love what they do, but just goes through the motions in their job and everyday life? Have you spoken with men and women who constantly complain, showing no visible passion for anything in the world? I’m sure that, like me, you have met those people. I’ve also seen the making of these adults in schools across our country: students who are consistently being “prepared” for the next test, assessment, or grade level . . . only to find out after graduation that they don’t really know what they are passionate about. These are the same students who are never allowed to learn what they want in school. Forced down a curriculum path that we believe is “best for them,” they discover it is a path that offers very little choice in subject matter and learning outcomes.

Enter 20% time.

What 20% time allows students to do is pick their own project and learning outcomes, while still hitting all the standards and skills for their grade level. In fact, these students often go “above and beyond” their standards by reaching for a greater depth of knowledge than most curriculum tends to allow. The idea for 20% time in schools comes from Google’s own 20% policy, where employees are given twenty percent of their time to work and innovate on something else besides their current project. It’s been very successful in business practice, and now we can say that it has been wildly successful in education practice.

With 20% time, we can solve one society’s biggest problems by giving students a purpose for learning and a conduit for their passions and interests. If you listen to Sir Ken Robinson or Daniel Pink talk, you’ll discover this is an issue that starts with schooling. We spend 14,256 hours in school between kindergarten and graduation. If we can’t find a time for students to have some choice in their learning, then what are we doing with all those hours? There are many in education who are questioning “why 20% time would be good for schools,” so I’ve made it easy for each stakeholder to see the benefits.


It starts with the students. They are the reason we teach, and the future of our world. My daughter is four years old, and soon to be going through our public school system. I want her generation to have opportunities to explore, analyze and create projects that have unique meaning to each of them. Instead of answering a multiple choice test on The Great Gatsby, why can’t my daughter have the opportunity to write, collaborate, sing and produce a song that explains in detail the major themes of the story. Through 20% time, we give our students a voice in their own learning path, and allow them to go into depth in subjects that we may skim over in our curriculum.


We’ve got a tough but extremely rewarding job. Great teachers inspire and make a difference, but great classrooms have students inspiring each other. I’ve never received a better response from my students than when we did 20% time. Our class came together and learned everyone’s true interests and passions. We got over the fear of failing together. We cheered for each other during presentations, and picked each other up when things didn’t go as planned. We had conversations about standards, skills and learning goals. Using 20% time allowed me to “teach above the test,” and my students finally understood that learning doesn’t start or end with schooling.


Remember that conversation starter, “What’d you do in school today?” It will lead to an actual conversation during 20% time projects! I talked to a parent (who is also an elementary teacher) just last week about her daughter’s experience with Genius Hour. She said, “I always knew my daughter liked design and fashion magazines, but what girl doesn’t? When she came home making and creating her own clothes, I was shocked. I went to the store with her to pick out patterns, helped her sew, and actually make a few outfits!” We want our children to be successful. Sometimes we equate that with an “A” on a test. But what 20% time does is make success something tangible. It drives their hidden passions to the surface, and reinvigorates conversation about purpose in their lives.


Go watch the project presentations. When you see a tenth grader try to “clone a carnivorous plant,” or a ninth grader learn sign language to communicate with her deaf younger cousin, or a fourth grader produce his own movie, then you’ll know why 20% rocks. Sometimes as administrators, we can get lost in the numbers (test scores, graduation rates, etc), but 20% time and Genius Hour projects bring us back to why we got into education in the first place: to make a difference. My principal said those were the best presentations she ever saw — not because of the content, but because of the conviction the students had for their work. As an administrator, it is important to lead through support. Let your students and teachers make you proud by supporting these types of inquiry-based experiences.

Finally, take a minute to look at all of the great projects students have done in the past year or two during 20% time and Genius Hour. The research backsexperiential learning and user-generated education, but the projects show what research cannot: the passion and purpose of our students!

Microsoft Moves to Simplify 3-D Printing


JUNE 26, 2013


Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 8.1, will offer support for 3-D printers like this MakerBot Replicator.Robert Wright for The New York TimesMicrosoft’s new operating system, Windows 8.1, will offer support for 3-D printers like this MakerBot Replicator.
Back when digital cameras were the hot new Christmas gift, Apple zinged Microsoft with an ad suggesting that a computer running the Windows operating system could ruin the holidays.

The ad, in 2003, told a tale of how the joys of Christmas morning could be threatened. To get his new digital camera to work, a father might spend all day downloading Windows-compatible drivers — not exactly a great way to spend the holiday.

If today’s hot new technology, 3-D printers, starts showing up under Christmas trees this year, Microsoft has begun a pre-emptive strike against any such criticism. It announced that the newest version of the company’s operating system, Windows 8.1, will be the first to include built-in support for 3-D printers.

“It’s going to unlock huge potential for people all over the world,” said Shanen Boettcher, a general manager at Microsoft. Windows 8.1 is expected to be available later this year.

The idea is to make 3-D printing as easy as printing out a Word document. Plug in the printer, click “print,” and a 3-D printer can begin squirting out hot plastic to make your design real.

At the moment, however, things are not so easy.

3-D printing requires an array of different software packages, from design software to “slicing” software and separate programs that connect your home computer to each individual printer. All of these steps make getting started with 3-D printing cumbersome. And when any link in the chain breaks down, it can be maddening.

Just as you can plug in any standard paper printer to a desktop computer, Windows 8.1 allows users to plug in printers like the MakerBot Replicator,the Cube, the Fabbster and Up printers, as well as open-source models, to work with Windows straight out of the box.

Microsoft announced the move at its Build developer conference in San Francisco. The company is hoping that native support for 3-D printers will encourage developers to create easier-to-use 3-D printing software, while also taking advantage of the touch-screen capabilities of Windows 8, said Mr. Boettcher.

“It would be great to see virtual potter’s wheels, or block-builder apps,” he said. “I hope there’s a wide range of easy 3-D creation apps that are really optimized for printing objects.”

The 3-D support in Windows is not Microsoft’s only step in positioning itself as a leader in 3-D printing. Microsoft has also begun carrying the MakerBot Replicator, which costs $2,199, in its stores.

And the company’s Kinect motion sensor (originally developed for video games) could bring Microsoft an advantage by filling one of the most challenging issues of 3-D printing: how average people, without design or engineering degrees, can create computer models of complex objects.

In March, the company announced tools to use the Kinect as a kind of 3-D scanner, called Kinect Fusion. The tools can be used to create computer models of 3-D surfaces, as seen in the image below:

What developers create with these tools remains to be seen, but if they live up to Microsoft’s vision, we will be much closer to what’s been described as “the home manufacturing revolution.” For now, though, 3-D printing remains the realm of hobbyists and the do-it-yourself crowd.


Tips for Transitioning to Project-Based Learning

U.S. News and World Report

June 24, 2013 

President Barack Obama speaks with student Anh Ly about her robot project during a visit to Manor New Technology High School on May 9, 2013.President Barack Obama speaks with student Anh Ly about her robot project during a visit to Manor New Technology High School on May 9.

President Barack Obama lauded Manor New Technology High School last month, holding it up as a model for others to emulate.

The Texas school doesn’t use textbooks. It doesn’t offer Advanced Placement classes, either. Instead, itrelies 100 percent on project-based learning.

Rather than tacking a group project onto the end of a unit, this approach introduces a project at the beginning and uses it to drive the unit. Students at Manor New Tech complete 65 projects each year, capping each off with a public presentation.

The projects are aligned with state standards and tap into the local business community, said Steve Zipkes, the school’s founding principal, at the 2013 U.S. News STEM Solutions conference last week.

Project-based learning improves student engagement and prepares them for college and the workforce by incorporating 21st century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving, experts say. Transitioning to this teaching style requires training and support for teachers, as well as buy-in from students, parents and administrators.

Zipkes is not the only administrator pushing a project-based model. High Tech High in San Diego, Metro Early College High School in Ohio and City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco also subscribe to the teaching method.

These schools are in the minority nationwide, though, with roughly 1 percent of U.S. schools committed to project-based learning, according to a PBS NewsHour report.

The approach requires more work from teachers and students, which often results in pushback, says Deb Sachs, director of the Woodrow Wilson Indiana Teaching Fellows program at the University of Indianapolis. The teacher training program includes a sequence on project-based learning.

“A common refrain we hear is ‘Why aren’t you teaching me?'” she says, adding that students are not used to this type of learning. “You are, but you aren’t spoon feeding them.”

Building a project-based lesson is a process that requires collaboration, flexibility and – most importantly – practice, Sachs says.

“Like anything new, you’re going to get better at it the more you do it,” she says. “The first project you do will probably need significant revision, and that’s okay.”

Teachers need to solicit feedback from colleagues on proposed projects and discover how and what to revise. This collaboration helps teachers identify potential holes in their lessons, she says.

Those holes may be a poorly constructed driving question – which sets up a project by identifying a problem and prodding students to come up with a solution – or vague assessment measures, Sachs says.

Professional development is crucial to helping teachers transition away from textbooks and lectures, Sue Ramlo, a physics and education professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, said via email.

The training needs to be consistent and ongoing, “not just a webinar or a workshop that lasts for a few days,” notes Ramlo, who helped develop National Inventors’ Hall of Fame Middle and High Schools, also in Akron, which use primarily project-based learning.

Teachers at both schools do professional development through the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, she said. The Buck Institute for Education, a nonprofit, and Edutopia, an educational resource site from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, also provide quality project-based-learning resources for teachers, says Sachs, from the University of Indianapolis.

Beyond training and collaboration, using project-based instruction also requires trust that students can come up with the answers on their own, Ramlo said.

“If that trust is not present, then the teachers will be tempted to give students answers, resort to teaching lectures that are textbook dependent,” she notes, instead of “letting students explore the answers using the many resources available to them.”

How to give students a voice in their education

Smartblog on Education

By Pernille Ripp on June 21st, 2013

Those who know me, know that student voice is one of my biggest passions in education. And not just any student voice, but including the voice of my students, all students, in the education that is being done to them every day. And yet, when I discuss student voice, many people assume it is just another quaint term for student engagement. The truth is that it is so much more. Student voice means giving students power to change the way education is happening, to offer them an outlet and an audience, to have their voices heard. To change the way I teach.

I fight every day to include my students in their own educational experience. I fight the standards that tell us that yes, students should participate but here is how. I fight the prescribed curriculum that tells us when to stop and discuss and tells us when to keep on moving because there are too many pages to get through in today’s lesson. I fight the traditional way of teaching where the teacher is in locked control, holds all of the power, holds all of the knowledge and decides how and to whom they dispense these precious droplets. I fight because if I don’t fight, my students don’t stand a fighting chance to have their voice heard either.

So every year, I give the classroom back to my students. Every year, I have them blog, and not just what I ask them to write about but whatever they feel like. Then I give them an audience through #comments4kids and Twitter and anybody else who will listen to the voice of these fifth-graders with their grand ideas. I don’t shy away from hard topics; I don’t shy away from criticism. I cannot grow as a teacher if I do not ask my students how I am doing. How do they feel about the education that they are forced to be a part of? I give the classroom back by asking for their ideas, what their path to learning should look like and then actually incorporating that into how we do things. If lessons are boring, we don’t just get through it; we stop, reflect, and then we change it.

I say all this because it is easier than we think. Giving students a voice is not the hard part in education; listening to it is. You have to realize that when students tell you that something is boring, boring may mean that they just don’t understand, boring may mean that they are having a bad day, and yes, boring may mean that it is putting them to sleep. To facilitate a community where students actually have the guts, because it is indeed about guts here, to tell you how they feel about what you are doing — that is the sign of ultimate success in my classroom.  Not the grades, not the test scores, but the kid who raises their hand, looks me in the eye and says, “Excuse me, but could we change this, please?”

So how do you start? First, you give them an outlet. Give them a blog. Kidblog can be set up in less than five minutes. Give them a Twitter account to connect them with others. Set up classroom discussion time. Ask them  to make the rules of the classroom. When they criticize; listen and change, discuss their ideas and come to meaningful agreements. Your change will give them the confidence that you are not out to get them. After each unit, ask them what they liked, ask them how it should change. At the end of the year, survey them. What was the best and what was the worst. Ask the tough questions and be prepared for the honest answers. Thank them every time they criticize in a meaningful manner. Thank them every time they come up with a suggestion. Sometimes their change is not doable, but oftentimes it is; be open, be aware, and be a learner alongside them. Ask yourself: Would I like being  a student in this classroom? If the answer is no, then figure out where to start with your change.

Pernille Ripp is a passionate 5th grade teacher in Middleton, Wis., proud techy geek, and honest to a fault. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. She has no awards or accolades except for the light bulbs that go off in her students’ heads every day. Her first book about giving the classroom back to students is coming out in 2013 from PLPress, but until then she muses on education on her blog “Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension.” Follow her on Twitter@PernilleRipp.

Left-Brain Schools in a Right-Brain World

Tim Elmore

Founder and President of Growing Leaders, Best-Selling Author

The Huffington Post

Posted: 06/25/2013

I remember an activity from my early childhood.  When we were in elementary school, my sisters and I used to play “school.” We’d get the chalkboard, the chairs and a map out — and one of us would be the teacher. Sometimes, we’d get the G.I. Joe’s or stuffed animals involved, to enlarge the class size a bit. When we didn’t know what we were doing, we never lost our passion. We just got creative and made something up. It was a blast.

I noticed over time, my whole perspective changed. School became somewhat of a drudgery. I stopped “playing” school. More than that, however, I stopped looking forward to it and began looking for ways to get out of it. Sadly, I was like most kids. School and learning were fun when we were young, but eventually they came to mean toil and boredom. For many, school is even repulsive.

I know what some of you are thinking. Education isn’t meant to be fun. That’s not its purpose. I agree, education is not just entertainment. The purpose of school is not pleasure and amusement. However, based on our research, education that sticks in the minds of students is usually connected to three elements:

1. A healthy, trusting relationship with the teacher.
2. An interactive learning community.
3. Creativity and innovation that stimulate the “right-brain.”

Maya Angelou wrote, “We are all creative, but by the time we are three or four years old, someone has knocked the creativity out of us. Some people shut up the kids who start to tell stories. Kids dance in their cribs, but someone will insist they sit still. By the time the creative people are ten or twelve, they want to be like everyone else.”

Right Brain Students

Daniel Pink shares some helpful insights about how our brains function in his book, A Whole New Mind. He describes the difference between left-brain and right-brain thinking. He argues that the old world is a left-brain world. The new one is a right-brain world. Part of our dropout problem can be summarized in one phrase: we are preparing students in “Left-Brain” schools to enter a “Right-Brain” world. The school does not resemble the world they’ll enter after graduation. If they graduate at all.

The left-brain is about FACTS. The right-brain is about CREATIVITY. The left-brain is calculated and definitive. The right-brain is innovative and dynamic. Certainly both are necessary. But more and more, our world is driven by right-brain thought. Sadly, consider what’s happening today in schools. With a poor economy, budget cuts are being made across the country. The first courses dropped by public schools are right brain courses: art, music, and drama.

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” What he meant was this: knowledge is finite. Imagination can take a person into the infinite. Knowledge includes only what has been already developed. Imagination is about our dreams, which have no limits. Unfortunately, our educational institutions revolve around self-contained silos of existing information. They’re about lecture, drill and test. Testing involves students regurgitating facts they’ve heard from instructors that semester.

How about you?

When you teach students, are your more of a left-brain teacher or a right-brain teacher?

More on this next week.