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This website contains ideas that are "in process." Simply put, what you read here may be just some random thoughts, rather than validated and final procedures. Mind you, aren't most ideas "in process?" The bulk of what you'll read here are answers to questions I am emailed or asked during presentations, or summaries of excellent ideas others share with me.

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Is Obama a socialist? Is Palin a fascist?

Yesterday I got an email which criticized our president for being a "socialist."  I've also seen writing that describes political celebrity Sarah Palin as a "fascist."  This kind of talk just boils my blood.

When people write this kind of stuff they do it to attach a whole lot of negative associations to their criticism. Thus, calling President Obama a socialist is also suggesting he's a communist, he's anti-democratic, he's anti-freedom, he's opposed to all that is good in the USA.

Calling Palin a fascist suggests that she believes in the superiority of one group or class of people over another, that she wants to win more than do right, that she will unite her people by leading them to hate others, that she's a racist, callous and cruel and that she's opposed to all that is good in the USA.

Now I don't care which side you're on or where you are in the middle, but this name-calling that is so prevalent in our discourse these days is very dangerous.  When you partake in this kind of hyperbolic slur, what you do is you close off dialogue at a time when we need more dialogue.  If you call Obama a a socialist, I'm pretty sure you're not going to want to hear my thoughts about my positive experiences with healthcare growing up in Canada. If you call Palin a fascist, you're probably not going to want to hear that I like that she is sensitive to needs of children with disabilities.

In his new book, How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins suggests that one of the signs of an organization in decline is that there is "a marked decline in the quality of debate and dialogue."  Name calling of this sort, automatically ends dialogue, and we need to avoid it in our lives as much as our political discourse.  We don't need to fabricate reasons to hate more people; what we need is more listening. And this applies to our lives in schools as much as it applies to our lives in society.

We no longer live in a black and white world.  Our lives are complex, filled with adaptive challenges, and while it feels good to reduce life down to simple explanations, what will move us forward in schools, for example, is not labeling parents, or teachers, or children, or unions, or principals, or superintendents, or politicians as the problem. What will move us forward is suspending our assumptions and listening.  And we can't wait for others to listen. We need to start with ourselves, as best we can.  I really think our children's future depends on it.


How can we be in two places at once?

This Thursday I had the impossible experience of having to be in two places at once, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.  As it turns, due to a mechanical breakdown on my Great West Airlines plane, I didn’t get to Wyoming, and found myself over night in Denver.  I still wasn’t in Pennsylvania, however, and I wanted to connect with a great group of coaches there.

Thanks to the perseverance of super-smart leader Joanne Romano, I found a way to be in both places.  The time difference allowed me to join the Pennsylvania group on Skype from Denver when it was 6:45 AM in Denver but 8:45 in Pennsylvania.

What Joanne did was pose a few questions that the group had identified at the start of the session.  Then people engaged in spirited dialogue at their tables.  Joanne then involved me and a panel experts in the dialogue. You can read a summary of the conversation here.

What I realized (as I’ve always noticed when I’ve used some form of video chat) was that video really does allow you a chance to see A LOT MORE than a telephone call.  Simply put: when you see people, you communicate a lot better.

For me, the session was a heck of a lot of fun, but it also suggested great potential for Skype or iChat to support coaching.  If a teacher was to record her/himself coaching, and email the recording to a coach, they could use Skype for the coaching conversations. This would be one way that a coach could be in multiple schools, or multiple districts for that matter, and still use their time efficiently.  I wonder if anyone has tried this out. If so, what worked, what didn’t work.  There’s no doubt that technology like Flip Cameras, Skype, and iPhones are opening up many new ways that we can all work together to improve instruction. If you’ve had an experiences with technology and coaching, I’d love to hear what you learned, so please post a comment!


How should a principal refer teachers to coaches?

Principal referral can be a powerful way to accelerate the impact of coaching in a school, but it has to be handled with care. If the partnership principles are ignored and struggling teachers are told they must work with the coach “or else,” coaching can be seen as a punishment, not a support, and future coaching opportunities may dry up.

 I suggest a different approach, one consistent with the partnership principles. Rather than telling teachers they must work with coaches, I suggest that principals focus on the teaching practice that must change, and offer the coach as one of several possible ways the teacher might bring about the change. Thus, a principal might say, “Sonny, when I observed your class, I noticed that 10 of your 24 students were off task during your lesson. You need to implement ways to keep those kids on task. Our coach Cher is great at time on task, and you might want to talk with her about this, but if you can find another way, that’s fine too. What matters is that more kids are learning. I’m going to check back frequently, so let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”

 In this way, the principal can put the onus on the teacher to change results while not dictating the solution. By offering coaching as one option, the principal increases the likelihood the teacher will see the coach not as an obstacle, but just one option—not a punishment, but as a lifeline.


Fear Factor Time Management

I read time management books the way some others read diet books.  Reading them makes me feel like I am actually doing something about time management, even if all I’m doing is reading a book.

            I have learned some good strategies, which I’ve written about in my other blog at  Recently, however, I’ve been trying out a new strategy, which seems to be working.  Since most who read this blog are probably feeling a bit like me—too much to do, too little time—I thought I’d share my new strategy here.

            I got this idea by reading Jim Collin’s ideas about leadership.  According to Collins, the most outstanding leaders all have one thing in common:  they do the hardest to do jobs first each day.

            That has not been my approach, I have to say, at all.  I dilly dally.  I check out my fantasy hockey team. I re-organize my iTunes playlist. I fritter away time.  Then I often tackle the most enjoyable tasks, first.  Consequently, the more complex and difficult tasks start to pile up and I find myself buried under a pile of tough stuff to do.  Of course, the fact that I’m not tackling these thorny problems eats away at my emotional well-being, and I always feel a little drained knowing that I am a little bit (or a lot) behind. Sometimes I feel worn out even before I start.

            So I have found a way to fix this problem, which I call Fear Factor Time Management. What I do now is list the challenges I face that are causing me the most stress.  That is, what are the challenges that I can do something about that are waking me up at night or are the first things that pop into my mind when I wake up.  These are the tasks, that if I complete them, will bring me a little peace of mind.

I list all these tasks, and then prioritize them according to how much better I’ll feel when they are done. Usually the least enjoyable tasks, when done, bring the most peace.

Let me give you an example from last week. At the top of my list were three (of 12) tasks:  creating a job description (which was long over due), reworking a scheduling conflict, and writing a project officer about getting some new equipment for a research project.  I have no real idea why I wasn’t tackling these tasks, but when I made my Fear-Factor Action List, they ended up on top.  Then I listed when I expected to tackle each fear task.  Those three I knocked off right away, and truly, I felt a real surge of energy knowing that I had dealt with them.  I’ve been sticking with this plan each day, and it is working wonders.

One caution:  I’m not suggesting that our time should be totally driven by fear.  We need to be intentional about long-range planning, building in time for joyful, life-giving creative activities, which can be accomplished by applying the strategies I’ve already written about at the NSDC blog.  But I’ve found that applying the Fear-Factor approach can be very helpful.  In fact, now that I’ve written this blog and posted it, I’m feeling a little better about my time management skills as I’ve knocked off another task on my list.


Finding Thinking Devices

I recently received an email asking a great question:  "Where can I find good Thinking Devices for my math class?"  Thinking Devices, in case you don't know, are provocative objects we share with students to create lively conversations in the classroom. In fact you can download a mini-manual for Thinking Devices at this link and read about and download other mini-coaching manuals at the Big Four Ning

Coincidently, the day I received that email, I was talking about the very same topic with Laura Parn, an instructional coach in Lincoln, NE.  Laura was looking for a video to use as a Thinking Device for her elementary students to talk about measurement.  What Laura did helped me understand how I could find good Thinking Devices. 

Laura told me she sat at her computer and took a few minutes to think about things students needed to measure and convert to other forms of measurement.  She said she wanted something that would be very familiar to her students, and she came up with something simple: pennies. So, she just googled pennies and video and a bunch of options came up.  In less than a minute she found a great thinking device for a lesson on measurement, you can view it here.

I decided to try out her strategy on a higher-level topic, and I chose statistics.  Again, in less than a minute, I found a famous, but great Thinking Device for my topic.  You've probably seen it before, but watch it again as a way to introduce statistics in a high school alebra class.  You can view it here.

So here's my advice. If you're looking for video Thinking Devices, all you have to do is go on You Tube, search for your topic, poke around a bit, and you should be able to find appropriate Thinking Devices.  And if you find any great ones, we'd love to see you post them on the Big Four Ning.  

By the way, a simple way to download video from You Tube, if you haven't tried it out, is Kick You Tube.