Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Flipped Learning.....What About Flipping Off Learning?

At the end of 2016, we were presented with a different type of story about the end of a semester. Instead of stories about finals, celebrations, grades or even holiday events, we heard a story about “quitting.” That’s right - QUITTING. It wasn’t about an educator quitting either. It was about a student quitting.
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Kansas State University Freshman Billy Willson finished his first, and his last, semester right before the end of 2016. In a Facebook post, he announced that he was dropping out, despite having earned a 4.0 grade point average. According to Willson, he was going to start his own business and learn more from that experience than anything he could hope to do at Kansas State, or any other higher institution for that matter.
He simultaneously set off a couple of controversies. One, he ran a photo of himself giving the finger to Kansas State which angered many in the education community who labeled him a spoiled and profane millennial. But more importantly, he also set off an even larger debate about the on-going question of the value of college and education in general.
Willson screamed out on Facebook call to action to his peers and let them know, “You are being scammed.” He went on a litany of issues related to the high cost, debt, textbook costs, poor instruction, outdated general education and more. But what he was really going after was RELEVANCY.
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The day has finally come. Educators and leaders have been talking about relevancy forever. Students have too, but less formally. But they are now drawing the line and creating a new front line in education. They are not afraid to use any means to let all of us know that our systems are not working and indeed failing them. When your customer thinks your product stinks and is not helpful, then the funeral march begins.
Indeed, Willson said he did the dramatic photo and used social media to draw more attention to the issue. He was not just doing this for himself, but rather he was challenging others to abandon the system as well.
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I have long been a proponent for student voice and choice. But I think we all need to begin to pay a lot more attention. Despite what some may believe, today’s students are more savvy, connected, enlightened and purposeful than ever before. They are aware that our systems are obsolete and they are not afraid to call us on it. That is not to say that we don’t have innovative, relevant educational programs out there. We do and there are some satisfied students finding their education relevant. However, if take higher education, for example, more and more students are questioning it, or even rejecting it. And they are not doing so because they haven’t played the game to qualify to get there. They have played the game and realize it is just that. It’s not going to get them where they want to go and they are not going to stand for it.
I have long argued that our system (s) won’t truly change or evolve until students essentially rise up and demand it. I know many in the field are trying, but the system (s) move slow and each student generation grows more impatient.
So, what should our system(s) response be to these concerns? In many cases, there are lots of people trying. We have lots of educators at all levels of education working hard to create new educational experiences for students that are engaging and ultimately relevant. But here are some things we can continue to do more and re-visit until we see wholesale changes:
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  1. Connect Education / Educators To Career: Address the disconnect between education and careers. Too many of our students are completing degrees and programs only to find that they are not effective, or even irrelevant once again, when it comes to finding meaningful and professional employment. Only half of the students who are attending our universities are completing with a bachelor’s degree. Of those, only half are finding employment that required that education. And the average time to complete that four-year degree is six years. And the cost, oh my god the cost. We need to educate all of our educators how flawed the current dominant paradigm is. We need to make all education, K-16 and beyond, about connecting learning to career. Career Preparation can not be a side project or afterthought. It has to be foundational in order for increased educational and economic success, as well as the means to be relevant to all.
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  1. Revamp General Education - It is becoming very frustrating to our college students, who are paying a lot of money and finding new global employment challenges, to embrace the general education course requirements. Afterall, they study most of these subjects several times in their K-12 education. We can argue all day long about the benefits of a liberal arts education. But given all we’ve already established, it’s lost on the students. What if we made their courses relevant to their majors? What if their English or Communication classes connected to their major or career interest? What if the social science classes were history of their career area? What if the math was stats class about their chosen career? You get the idea. We either need to drop it or change it. If we don’t, more and more will walking away like young Billy Willson.
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  1. Ditch The Textbook Forever - According to the College Board, the average college student spends an average of $1,200 a year on books and supplies. A single book can cost $200 or more. And it’s not just about the cost. Whether digital or not, we now have the online resources for students to access any and all information that we need for any subject or area of study. The textbook paradigm is problematic in two ways: (1) they are directly related to dying and irrelevant instructional model and (2) they are connected to an entire publishing industry with less than noble goals. If we ditch textbooks - print or digital - we will not only save our students money, but fundamentally change teaching and learning for the better.
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  1. PBL For All (Customize, Personalize & Innovate)  - Project-Based Learning needs to become the dominant pedagogy for all educational endeavors. We need students to be able to take ownership of their learning path through choice, voice and relevant applications of learning. We already have many major universities and online/hybrid programs that allow students to mix and match courses based on their individual career goals, skill development and interest. Technology can help this, but as usual, the real challenge is mindset. Whether it’s K-12 or higher education, why can’t students choose topics, projects and areas of interest within a discipline? Why can’t they choose how they will present and share their findings? Why can’t they essentially, with mentors and advisors, map out an individual program of learning that allows them to customize and personalize their experience? I don’t just mean choosing some electives. I mean choosing what their courses look like, feel like and are like. I mean they would individually negotiate with their instructors their pathway within a course. Again, we have the means to do this, but do we have the will? Essentially, we need to be project-based learning K-16 and beyond. PBL allows for all of this and more.
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  1. Not Just Degrees or Certificates - There is a movement now within education and training that is about the micro certificate. These are documentation of skill level in very specific areas of study. They are designed to give each student, as a professional, the ability to gain highly technical skills and have a way to demonstrate their skill on a standard platform. Whether it’s a digital badge representing a pro application certificate or an industry-specific one, it’s all the right direction. Our traditional bachelor’s degrees and associate's degrees are just as relevant to our students - both professionally in their careers and personally in their educational pursuits.

Naturally, I could go on and probably so could you. It’s not about completing the list per se, but rather about addressing the problem before it’s too late. The lives of our students, and our educational institutions, are both on the line. Both are relevant and need to be working together for the benefit of one another.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

10 Things That Must Change About Educators, Education


There are hundreds of things written daily regarding changes, reforms and new research in the profession of education. But much of this comes from outside entities (researchers, politicians, parents, leaders and others) aimed at educators. It’s time for educators to own the changes, thus owning the profession. We need to truly flip the whole concept of what it means to teach and be a true teacher.This can apply to all educators who understand that we have to redefine the profession.
     Here are my 10 things that must change about the profession and the practitioners:


  1. Professionalism - Teachers need to claim and lead the professional standards of their own profession. Just like in the profession of law enforcement, the system cannot tolerate or endure bad professionals. Cops need to police their own and so do teachers. For too long, we have collectively accepted that there are going to be a certain percentage of just plain “bad” teachers. The fact is that they not only harm the profession, they ultimately cheat students. And we should not tolerate that. Unions, tenure, contracts or whatever be damned. And with the teacher shortage at crisis levels, we cannot afford to continue this trend. The millennials will not flock to a profession that tolerates such an ethical divide where some teachers are not there with a moral purpose to help students and treat them well.
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  1. Community - Globalism has affected education in many ways. But to be honest, teaching has always been a community-oriented profession. The only way to have impact on students and learning is to be integrated into the community. This is why many teachers choose to coach teams, advise clubs, and lead extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. As teachers, we often complain about not having enough respect professionally from our society. And that is sadly true. But the only way to combat is to be leaders in our communities. This does not mean we cannot have private lives or that we have to live our profession 24/7. But it does mean that we cannot hide. Like we addressed above, we cannot have teachers that show up before school starts and leave when school is out and never engage with their communities. There are dozens of ways to do this and we have to do it in some way.
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  1. Innovative / Creative Mindset - Dave Burgess of the Teach Like A Pirate kingdom (http://daveburgess.com/) has often said it best. He says teachers will say it’s easy for him because he’s creative. The truth is, according to Dave, is that one has to work at being creative. It is like everything else - it has to be a focus and on-going effort. We all have different innate talents and abilities, but we can apply them creatively to our profession if it’s a priority. This does not mean we all have to be artists, but it does mean we have to continually re-imagining our instruction, curriculum and profession.
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  1. Relationship Masters - Personal friend and Edu Guru Jon Corippo (https://sites.google.com/site/mistercorippo/) said that he always viewed his role as a teacher was to be a “Maker of Kings.” In other words, it was his duty to treat every student with personal attention and take them to their personal optimization. This is only possible if we view ourselves as professionals focused on relationships. Too many teachers either see this as a pesky side note or sadly even irrelevant. Teaching is not primarily about content and curriculum, but it’s about connections. Students want to work for people, not systems. They want to perform for people that care about them and make daily effort to connect with them personally. We should know this because as educators we operate the same way. How to maximize relationships with students needs to be foundational in our teacher education programs and lifelong professional learning.
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  1. Advocacy - We can’t leave this to others. We all have to be advocates for all things education - funding, technology, autonomy, professional development, policy and more. But maybe most importantly, we all need to be the ultimate advocates for young people. Too many adults, including many educators, spend way too much time unnecessarily criticizing  and belittling young people. More than anything, students need someone who is consistently going to bat for them. Who better than teachers to serve in that role?
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  1. PD Patrons / Promoters / Purveyors - As part of our role as consummate professionals, we need to embrace Professional Development as a universal foundation of education. We cannot preach lifelong learning to students and not live it ourselves. PD cannot be viewed as something that administrators make us attend. It has to be something we take ownership in by leading PD, presenting at conferences, reading professional literature on our own, selecting PD options, partnering with colleagues, requesting more time to develop professionally on our own and so on. Too many educators view Professional Development like too many of our students view school - it’s something that happens to us and not with us. This has to change.
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  1. Curriculum Curators - The days of being textbook dependent are gone. We cannot be professionals if our curriculum is created by publishers, test makers or corporate entities. We have to own our curriculum which means we all have to individually and collectively be “curriculum folks.” With the world becoming more project-based, along with unlimited resources online, there really is not an excuse not to design curriculum for one’s current students based on their needs, interests, relevance and input. The digital world is our new textbook and it’s unlimited.
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  1. Consistent Collaborators - This is not an isolated thing. Indeed, it’s the top skill that employers are looking for in our current students. We have become a truly collaborative universe and we have to work this way - especially in education. The work is too demanding, evolving, specialized, customized and dynamic to work as solo artists. To be brilliant, we need one another. Collaboration can be with our with colleagues at our sites and all over the world thanks to social media. But we also need to view collaboration as beyond our colleagues. We need to collaborate with students, parents, community members, business leaders, politicians, volunteers, experts, professionals and all stakeholders.
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  1. Change Agents - All educators need to begin to view themselves as not captives of change, but masters of it. Change is inherent in learning and we need to model it. We should continually push for experimentation, risk taking, new approaches, new ideas, new skills, new levels of mastery, new models and new design. If we cannot embrace change, we need to get out. If we can, then we need to lead it. With the number of problems, issues and challenges that our students and world face, we have to know that change will be the only constant.


  1. Futurists - Teachers have traditionally had many responsibilities including, but not limited to lesson design, classroom management, assessment, parent communication and many others. However, most teachers have not seen themselves as students of the future. We cannot afford to leave this to the academics and the business leaders. Educators need to understand the quickly changing dynamics of our new globalized economy and digital planet. It’s not enough to know that things are changing, we need to understand why. We need to regularly study the trends, the data and the innovators. Much of the resistance in the teaching ranks towards technology, new standards and things like project-based learning are directly related to a disconnect to what is really transpiring in this new age.


Hope you enjoyed these 10 things that must change about educators and education. As usual, I’m confident the list is not comprehensive or complete. Like everything else, it will have to change.

(photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay, Pics4Learning)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Time For These Seven Edu Funerals

Only in education, do we continue to try to breathe life into things that may never have been successful - and most certainly are not now. These things are so embedded in the culture, frameworks, policies, practice and mindsets of our schools and educational organizations, that many educators just blindly accept them, implement them and perpetuate them…..all regardless of their lack of success. Indeed, there is often overwhelming data or evidence that these things are not only unsuccessful, but often counterproductive.

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So, let’s have the funeral. Let’s start the fire. Let’s bury these SEVEN forever.
They are:

  • Homework As We Know It. The idea of independent practice as a means of increasing skill mastery sounds appealing and necessary. But homework, as it’s become known, does not do this. Indeed, homework has become mundane and repetitive work not grounded in increasing skill development, but rather compliance. It’s time to re-think the whole thing. Let’s come up with not only a new name, but a whole new approach. Most of us can remember when our work outside of class - homework - became meaningful, successful and relevant. And that’s when we got engaged in a project or deeper learning. We then chose, on our own, to perfect or improve our work.
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  • Lecturing, Note Taking. It’s long been researched, evaluated and established that this represents the lowest form of learning. Whether we’re using Bloom’s Taxonomy or other models, it is very obvious that we are operating at the ground level of learning if this is what we’re having our students do with any content or information. Students need to apply, inquire, create and be critically engaged with any knowledge in order to not only retain it, but to truly understand it. We know this. We know this. We know this. But still, we ignore it and allow many of our classrooms at both the secondary and post-secondary levels to operate with lecture and note-taking as their primary pedagogical approach to learning.
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  • Non-Digital Approaches. I’m not saying that there is still not a place, in some instances, for paper, pen and printed books. However, that being said, our dominant tools and resources should be digital. I’m ashamed that on the eve of 2017, we are still debating or considering anything but digital. All professional work and the entire global economy are digital. Having our students not work primarily in digital formats shortchanges them. Additionally, the resources and applications expand daily and we need to use them to maximize student experiences and opportunities.
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  • Textbooks - Digital or Not.. Since the advent of the internet, we should have abandoned the dependency on a single text. Regardless of subject, there are endless types of reliable, relevant and ever-developing resources. To be critical thinkers and true problems solvers, our students should be seeking the best and brightest information from these sources in all of their academic endeavors. The idea of a textbook, digital or not, is a holdover to outdated curriculum. Single source curriculum is dead. What professional, scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, or researcher would use only one text in their professional environments? The answer is none, especially with the quality and quantity of online resources today.
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  • Factory-Style Classrooms. Many educators, as well as students, parents, industry professionals and others have long acknowledged that too many of our classrooms still resemble those of the last century, as well as the factory floors that inspired them. It’s not just aesthetics or style, it’s directly related to the instructional models of the past. When we are in seated individually in rows facing the front of the classrooms, the mode of instruction is dominated by lecture pedagogy. Our classroom environments, layout and design need to resemble those that our students need to be successful in a new, more globalized and digital economy. These include, but are not limited to classroom configurations that are collaborative, comfortable, high tech, friendly, warm, inviting, friendly, flexible and ultimately conducive to project-based work.
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  • Final Exams. I do not mean that we should not have culminating activities or projects that are reflective, summative or comprehensive. But I am talking about the final exam. This is the 100-question multiple choice, short answer traditional final still given in thousands of high school and college courses across the country. They create an environment where students cram in order to regurgitate material versus applying that material in some meaningful way. They were designed with grades, teachers and structure in mind and not learning or students. Our finals need to be presentation type that includes like one’s digital portfolio, defense of learning, showcases & exhibitions, and more.

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  • Fear & Compliance. Finally, we need an entirely new cultural approach to learning and school. The system that depended on fear and compliance has long worn out its stay. We used to often tell new teachers to “not smile until Christmas” or “don’t be friendly as the students will see that as a sign of weakness.” These are not only archaic, but truly counterproductive to teaching and learning. Teaching and learning are relationship endeavors. Students need and require teachers that are excited, passionate, communicative, flexible, available, caring, creative, innovative and forever working on connecting to their students. Anything less will not produce anything more than sub-par results. Our students need and deserve authenticity versus authority. Current or future teachers not up for being in a relationship business need to find another career. There is no people-oriented pursuit that that of teaching and learning.
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(Photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay and Other Public Domain Image Collections)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Want Real Ed Reform? 5 Ways Students Should Be Included

As a graduate journalism student over 20 years ago, I worked on a thesis project centered on education reform news reporting. I was analyzing how often education reporters included students in their stories about education. Probably no surprise….it was almost non-existent.
Traditionally, no entity has ignored their primary customer, consumer or constituent more than education with students. I was fortunate enough early on as a beginning teacher to discover the power of student voice and student-generated ideas. Throughout my career, I have always benefited from asking my students what they thought, what they are interested in and where would they like things to go.
If we are serious about providing each and every student a truly transformational 21st century education, then we may want to consider the following five areas for asking our students what they think should be done:

Learning Feedback
Having our students reflect on their learning and learning experiences are crucial to both student development, as well as instructional growth. As teachers, we do a lot of things to improve our craft. But again, we rarely ask our students what is working for them and what we can do to help improve their learning experiences. In general, students are both honest and willing to discuss what is going on on with their education. Great teachers have always probably asked - formally or informally - how their students are doing and what can be better. But it’s time to make this a standard. We now have the ability for all educators to regularly engage all of their students about their learning. If we want higher levels of learning, critical thinking and skills, we’re going to all need to learn to get regular feedback from the most important player in education - the student.

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Curricular Choice
With the onset of personalized tech and learning, we now have unlimited number of ways for us to offer choice to our students. Higher forms of learning are predicated on the learner owning larger aspects of the learning itself. This happens through choice. If it’s a project, let’s offer different ways of delivering the final product. If it’s a research topic, let’s offer choices on various options. If it’s something to read, let’s not have students read the same thing, but rather read different things and then compare. Choice not only creates buy-in and ownership necessary for higher level learning, but creates an environment and learning culture that fosters innovation, confidence, risk taking and other necessary future skills. Efforts like #20 Time Projects (http://www.20timeineducation.com/), Genius Hour and more are also great example of allowing students greater freedom in the authentic learning they pursue.
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School Governance
Traditionally, our student involvement in school governance has been limited to cursory efforts such as Associated Student Body and somewhat token officers who have limited access to site leaders. Many districts also have a student on their governing boards, but again these are usually merely symbolic gestures. But with the onset of real democratization in schools, at what levels could our students be involved in the school decisions that do ultimately affect them? Can our could the be involved on curriculum committees, reform efforts, leadership teams, budget committees, professional learning communities and more? This might seem like something unrealistic or impossible to some, but it’s really not. If we value their opinion in the classroom, we can also value it out of the classroom when decisions are being crafted that affect the classroom. I believe that our students are capable, ready and desperately needed.
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Staffing / Hiring
Schools may not have a more important task or duty than hiring their teachers. And yet again, how often do we consult the primary constituent of teachers (students)? Typically, we don’t. But as a high school principal of a new, 1:1, project-based school (www.minarets.us), we did just that. From almost day one, we include two students on every interview panel - whether that was for teachers, classified positions, coaches or other. Indeed, we went one step further. When we had competitive teacher interviews with outstanding finalists, we invited them back for a second interview that included a live teaching demo with some of our students who in turn provided immediate feedback to the learning activities, structure, engagement and more. As one can imagine, the students and their opinions were were not only vital, but truly insightful. And what a different school culture we enjoyed when students knew that our teaching staff had been selected with student opinion, input and participation.
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Schoolwide Needs / Problems /Challenges
I have personally experienced the success of this many times. Again, we rarely consult the primary people who ultimately experience the results of decisions we make when addressing school wide issues, concerns, or problems. But regardless of our challenge, we should ask students for their input. Not only will they have good ideas, they can be the agents to ultimately implement any ideas. For example, can adults solve or resolve bullying alone? No, we need student participation and leadership to ultimately address these types of things. I have always believed, and have had confirmed many times, that most students truly not only care about their learning, but also their learning environment. If they are trusted and respected appropriately, they can become supporters of our desires to have safe, clean, positive and nurturing learning environments. As a journalism teacher, I always involved them not only in story ideation, but also how to respond to public criticism, school reactions, faculty response and more. As a student leadership advisor, I had great success with challenging students to come up with creative solutions to everything from embracing diversity to special education inclusion and more. I used to challenge all of my students to create and implement School Improvement Projects are part of their semester final. They created events, programs and outreach efforts to address dozens of issues that the adults never would have had the time or capacity for in the least. They can often do what we can’t. Let’s involve them.
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If we truly want change in our schools, as well as a new type of learner who embraces the skill set we expect from our future learners workers, we better learn to include them in the discussion.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Four Ways For Educators To Stay Young (Will Work For Non-Educators Too)

Most of us (if you are over 40) are inundated with emails, messages, posts and more related to maintaining what is left of our youth. Almost all of these focus on diet, exercise, supplements or other physiological manipulation.
However, if you are in education, you may be missing the most powerful method of staying young overall - staying connected to young people. Regardless of your job as an educator, of even if you are not an educator at all, here are some easy tips that could make a big difference.


  1. Ask Students What They Think. Seems simple right? But do we realize how little we do this? Students have great ideas about everything, but we rarely consult them. My dominant complaint ever since I became a teacher was how we don’t ask the students what they think. Students have great ideas about everything, but we rarely consult them. This includes about their own learning and education. But regardless of the subject, ask students for their opinion. If you haven’t done this much, it will take awhile for them to believe you actually care and for you to actually hear/listen.
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  1. Listen To Their Music. Naturally, most educators, or adults (older people), have different musical tastes in general. My best memory of my late grandfather was that he took interest in my music. When I was a fourteen year old aspiring hard rocker, he made an effort to listen and ask questions. I’m sure he didn’t understand, appreciate or grow accustomed to much of it. But he tried very hard and that’s what mattered. Today’s young people, like all young people ever, use music to comprehend and connect with the world. It’s their identity just like it was ours. If we dismiss their music, we are dismissing them. There has been lots of music my students listened to that I didn’t like or connect with very much. But when I tried harder to listen, and even more importantly to talk to them about it, I learned two things. One, there was always something creative, interesting and relevant in the music. Two, it was the beginning of a further connection between myself and my students.


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  1. Spend Time With Them Outside Of Class. I realized early on that it was an honor to just hang out with my students. Yes, we had class time together and even beyond class time (project work, practices, rehearsals, etc.). But what about unstructured time? Good teachers realized long ago that if you open up your room or space at lunch, they will come. I always loved taking students to competitions, conferences or other events because we got to travel and hang together. That’s when you learn a lot about them and who they are. And they are interesting people. There are too many teachers that have never spent a single moment with their students outside of class. There are many ways to do this, but good teachers, especially those that want to be successful (as well as stay young), find ways to not only do this, but maximize this.


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  1. Be A Mentor.  This is not an automatic for all educators. Indeed, many educators never even thought about this element when entering the profession. We have lots of teachers, but fewer mentors. To be a mentor, one has to be interested in the relationship you curate and appreciate with one’s students. More than anything, young people are eternally seeking mentors beyond their families and immediate circles. Your mentoring skills and influences will have more long-term impact than any curriculum. Plus, real learning is reciprocal. When you mentor, you will learn as well. Being a mentor is not about telling students what to do, but rather getting to know them and letting them know you are willing to support them with what they want to do. Finally, those we mentor do not need to be in our classrooms. Mentoring opportunities await all of us - inside and outside of education.


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So to wrap up, let’s forget about anti-oxidants, vitamin supplements and yoga. Rather, get to know your students and stay connected to them. Yes, youth is often wasted on the young. But it is also squandered by the old.


*(photos courtesy of Teach Thought, Foter, Image Stock)