A full day of learning and sharing at #VAIS2016

I spent the day today attending and presenting at the Virginia Association of Independent Schools Leading Learning Conference (#VAIS2016) and had a blast! The day started with a thought-provoking keynote presentation from Jessica Lahey (@jesslahey), the author of the book The Gift of Failure. If you have not read her book, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy and share it with every parent and teacher that you know. I have given copies of the book to the parents of my advisees and will be facilitating a book club discussion on the book with our parents’ association this winter. My presentation on the neuroscience of learning followed Jessica and was well received by the crowd of approximately 350 Virginia educators who had assembled. After a couple of concurrent sessions that included a wide range of interesting and engaging topics, the day was over and I was exhausted. Exhausted but energized at the same time by the plethora of ideas that I came away with after engaging with fellow educators for an entire day of professional development. Kudos to the VAIS staff who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to put together and pull off a fantastic day of sharing and learning!

Now on to the Friday 4 items for the week.

  • Should School Be More Confusing? is a piece written by John Spencer (@spencerideas) that I serendipitously ran across this week that dovetails nicely with one of the themes of my talk, namely, desirable difficulties.
  • Are We Afraid to Let Students Make Mistakes? appeared on the Faculty Focus website this week. I bet Jessica Lahey would have a few things to say about the ideas in the piece! 😉
  • I found a new blog that I truly love this week after reading a piece shared by a member of my PLN. Here is one of my favorite posts from the site, Farnam Street, that really resonated with me. How To Think.
  • Here is a nice short piece from the teachthought website that is pretty self-explanatory: 20 Observable Characteristics Of Effective Teaching. How many of these characteristics are observable in your classroom?

Pre-Super Bowl Sunday “Snacks”


4fingersWant to add a little “mind food” into your pre-Super Bowl snack lineup? Try a few of the delectable items on this week’s Friday 4 menu before hunkering down for your marathon session of watching TV commercials and an occasional pass of a partially deflated pigskin by local hero, Tom Brady.

Enjoy your weekend!

A snowy day = shovelling and reading

4fingersThe snow has just about stopped, at least for now, which means that I will soon have to pull on my boots and go out and shovel the driveway. I actually truly enjoy days like this, ones during which I balance a little aerobic exercise clearing the snow with time reading in front of a toasty fire in the fireplace. Sounds pretty good, huh?

If you are looking for something to read between shovelling sessions, I present this week’s Friday 4 for your consideration. I know it is not Friday, but it is close enough! 😉

  •  I found this opinion piece Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others from last weekend’s NYT interesting as I thought about how I create collaborative groups in my classroom and contemplated ways in which I could better teach effective collaboration. My wife was certainly not surprised by the third characteristic of the smartest teams!
  • On a somewhat related note, the following piece crossed my Twitter stream this past week and caught my eye so I clicked on the link and actually read it. Student Success Better Predicted By Personalities Than Intelligence; Why Being Smart Isn’t Enough
  • Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb is a piece that appeared in the NYT recently that was written by one of my favorite authors and cognitive psychologists, Daniel Willingham. The piece addresses some common misconceptions about attention spans and electronic devices. The bottom line for me as a teacher is that I need to keep stepping up my game if I am going to capture and keep my students’ attention in class.
  • After reading the Willingham piece in the NYT, I realized that I had not checked out his blog recently and decided to stroll over and see what I may have missed of late. Daniel’s latest post was a perfect piece for this week’s Friday 4: Five mini book reviewsOf the 5 books he reviewed, I had already read 2 of them but was intrigued by the last one on the list, so I ordered it from Amazon using my school-provided professional development debit card. Too easy! I may not be able to read the book today, but in 2 days thanks to Amazon Prime, I will have another book to add to between-shovelling sessions in front of the fireplace. 


A Multi-tasking Friday 4

4fingersI am sitting in an afternoon session with our PRMT fellows down at UPENN and all of a sudden realized that it is Friday…where did the week go? I missed my Friday deadline last week and am determined not to miss another one! The past week has been a particularly busy one for all sorts of reasons and I have been leap-frogging from one meeting to another and feeling a bit disjointed. In this spirit, I present a Friday 4 with no real common thread or theme…sort of like my week. 😉 I hope that you find at least one of the pieces interesting and worth discussing with a colleague.


Is it really 2015 already?


Friday 4: Another year to get better

I am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions since I am not good at keeping them. I do, however, take time at the beginning of a new year to reflect on the year past and set some personal and professional goals for the upcoming year. I like the word “goals” rather than “resolutions” because, in my mind, goals can evolve and change as the circumstances change as opposed to resolutions that seem so rigid and unforgiving. Goals are also a desirable destination unlike many resolutions which are simply a laundry list of bad habits that one resolves to not do during the new year…too negative for me. I certainly hope that you have taken some time in these first few weeks of 2015 and thought about some personal professional goals that you are working towards. As teachers, we should all have things that we are working to improve or add to our educator toolbox. If you have not yet committed to some goals for 2015, perhaps this week’s Friday 4 will give you a few ideas to consider. Enjoy.

  • Using video to improve practice is a piece that appeared recently on the Teaching Channel website that makes a good case for why you should routinely videotape yourself in class. I am a huge believer of the power of videotaping and would encourage everyone to try it at least once in the coming year.
  • Top 10 Evidence Based Teaching Strategies is a piece from the Pinnacle Education website that I ran across that is spot on when it comes to impactful teaching strategies.
  • Why Understanding Obstacles is Essential to Achieving Goals is a piece from the Mind/Shift website that may be helpful when working with students or advisees who are in need of some motivation.
  • The Power of a Teacher is a piece from the Center for Teaching Quality that is a good reminder of the incredible responsibility we have as teachers, coaches and dorm folks in the lives of adolescents.


We made it!

4fingers Phew! As I sit down at 9:20 PM to craft this week’s Friday 4, I can finally put my feet up and breathe a heavy sigh of relief…I made it through the “gauntlet” that is known as the post Thanksgiving/pre winter break stretch of the academic calendar. The students have all scattered to the corners of the state and globe for vacation and the faculty holiday party is in the books. A perfect time to share some of this week’s finds with colleagues!

This time of year is replete with “Top 10” lists and “Best of 2014” posts and articles that afford me a chance to “find” some reads that I might have missed during the year. I actually look forward to these recap articles since during these next few weeks I actually have some time to get lost in reading without feeling that I am avoiding more pressing work. This week’s Friday 4 includes two such lists.

  • The Faculty Focus website recently published their 14 most popular articles from 2014 which can be found here and here. Regular readers of the Friday 4 will certainly recognize a few pieces that I have linked to in the past year.
  • The Ten Best Classroom Q & A Posts Of 2014 is from Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo) on the Education Week website.

  • How ‘Deprogramming’ Kids From How to ‘Do School’ Could Improve Learning appeared recently on the KQED Mind/Shift website and has the added bonus of being in both print form and available as an audio file for those of you who would prefer to listen to the article being read.
  • The last item for this week is a plug for an upcoming CAIS (CT Association of Independent Schools) Commission on Professional Development event on January 29 “What Works is Worth Sharing: Teachers Helping Teachers – Plugged, Unplugged…Whatever!” The event is one our most popular and boasts a great lineup of sessions that can be seen here. Why not make a commitment to your own professional learning for 2015 and join me on January 29?

Enjoy the break!


How many days until vacation?

4fingers For most educators, this is that crazy time of the year between Thanksgiving break and the winter holiday break. You know the drill…try to balance the desire to get a complete “unit” in before break with the inevitable onslaught of obstacles such as special schedules, holiday events, weather related cancellations of part or all of the school day and the general craziness that surrounds the holidays. If you teach seniors, you can throw in the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the release of early college acceptances.

Regardless of how frenetic the next week or two get for you, you have to remember to take time for yourself and recharge your professional batteries. To that end, I have 4 items this week that may serve as your elixir. I have two neat tools that recently crossed my desk that you may find could add a little pizzazz to your lessons in 2015. Why not spend some time over the winter break playing with a new toy (er, I mean “tool”)? The final two items are more reflective in nature and may help you to focus on the big picture for a bit and not get so caught up in the day to day rat race that teaching can sometimes feel like. Without further ado…

  • Have you ever wondered how you or your students could create those snazzy looking infographics that you frequently see in magazines or online? Well, there is a free online tool that can help you or your students actually create your own infographics. Piktochart is a website that will walk you through the steps to create visually appealing presentations that “make information beautiful.” Thanks to my colleague Meg Blunden for sharing this cool tool.
  • Tour Builder is a new way to show people the places you’ve visited and the experiences you had along the way using Google Earth. It lets you pick the locations right on the map, add in photos, text, and video, and then share your creation.” Think “virtual field trip” and you have a sense of what this tool allows you or your students to create. There is a brief video on the site from a history teacher who uses Tour Builder in his classroom that can be seen here.
  • Fostering Reflection is a piece from a past issue of Educational Leadership, the professional journal of ASCD that is a good reminder of a frequently omitted aspect of professional learning.
  • Golden Rules for Engaging Students in Learning Activities is a piece from the Edutopia website that will allow you to put your “reflective hat” on after the last article and put it to use.  😉


End of term time tidbits

4fingers For students and teachers, the month of November is a time of transition. The fall term is winding down which, for many of us, means that our students are preparing for exams and we are all eagerly looking forward to a well-deserved break that comes with the Thanksgiving holiday. To celebrate the end of fall, this week’s edition of the Friday Four features 2 items that all teachers can use with their students to help them be more reflective about the past term and to best prepare for any upcoming exams. With the prospect of a bit of down time on the horizon, I have also included 2 items for you to ponder over the mini break; one is a podcast interview with Elizabeth Green, the author of “Building a Better Teacher”, and the other is a call for proposals for an upcoming CAIS event.

  • Prompts to Help Students Reflect on How They Approach Learning is a piece that comes from the Faculty Focus website. The article provides many good prompts that can be used with students as they finish up the fall term to encourage them to be more metacognitive about their own learning.
  • Making it stick is a podcast of an interview with one of the authors of the book “Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning”. Students would be well served to employ several of the techniques mentioned in the podcast as they prepare for their upcoming final exams, and we should be sharing these tips with them.
  • What teachers need is another podcast from American RadioWorks that features Elizabeth Green. You will recognize Green from the New Yorker article that I included in last week’s Friday Four.
  • The CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) is holding the annual “Teachers Helping Teachers” workshop on January 29 and is now accepting proposals. This workshop is a popular event every year and is a wonderful opportunity to learn something new or to share something with fellow colleagues. I encourage you to take a look at the sessions that were offered in January 2014 and submit a proposal for a session for this year.


Professional Development Salad Bar

4fingers Not surprisingly given my role at Loomis Chaffee, I see and read a large number of articles, blog posts and books on the subject of professional development. I have a somewhat random mix of items this week that all have the theme of professional development running through them. I encourage you to read the pieces and then take the more important next step, namely, to take charge of your own professional development and commit to doing something that will foster your own grow as an educator.

  • A few weeks back in the Friday 4 I included a piece on Grant Wiggins’ (@grantwiggins) blog that described a colleague’s shadowing of 2 high school students. Grant posted a follow-up to that first post which is quite interesting and will certainly get you thinking about ways to improve and grow as an educator.
  • Connected Professional Development Is Now An Imperative is a recently published piece on the te@chthought website that makes the case for: “If Collaboration and Communication are two important 21st Century Skills, then educators should be the model for the way it works.”

  • The following New Yorker piece came to me from several colleagues that explores “How the ‘performance revolution’ came to athletics—and beyond.” One of the “beyonds” is education in general and teacher training in particular.
  • Practice what you preach is a thought provoking piece that contains several good reminders for how to constructively and productively receive feedback. Giving feedback is something that we are all quite familiar with as teachers, but we need to also be ready to receive feedback.

Enjoy. As always, I welcome and appreciate your feedback…good and bad!

An October Cornucopia

4fingersIt has been a busy week filled with videotaping colleagues in the classroom, attending a CAIS conference on Experiential Learning in the Science Classroom and participating in several Connected Educator Month events online. I ran across a bunch of interesting items during the week that do not really fit into a single theme so I am not going to try and pretend that they do. Here are a few…