5 Challenges We Overcame Moving To A Flipped Staff Meeting

flipped-staff-meeting-FIHow–And Why–We Flipped Our Teacher Staff Meetings

contributed by Amy Arbogash

Staff Meeting.

There are often no more dreaded words in a teacher’s vocabulary than those. The time we all get together to hear the principal talk about due dates, important initiatives, and the increasing workload on our plate. The place where teachers show up with papers to grade, emails to send, and conversations to catch up on. The one thing sure to not be tackled is the true task of schools –  changing a teacher’s practice and improving student learning.

So if staff meetings tend to be ineffective, boring, and repetitive, why do we continue to run them the way they have always been run?

What if teachers could go to staff meetings and be actively collaborating? What if teachers looked forward to going to staff meetings? What if teachers could leave a staff meeting having been fully engaged for its entire duration? What if staff meetings were the place to learn, innovate, and transform teaching practices?

Our schools, and education in general, are being met with transformative times. Teachers’ roles and the demand to meet the needs of all aspects of student and school life are increasing each year. Teachers are finding the need to learn new methods of teaching, including ones utilizing technology. But with change and transformation comes the need for time. Time has become an elusive resource among the educational community, and any way that we can gain time we must use to our advantage.

Working as a technology integration specialist in a middle school that is going through a digital transformation required me and my administration to look differently at the time our staff spends together. The drastic change in learning in a 1:1 classroom has been met with the need for our teachers to have time to not only learn the devices, but also write lessons, research tools, and learn new teaching methods. In order to gain the time we so desperately needed and use it more efficiently and effectively, we started flipping our staff meetings.

The teaching method of flipping classes is not new to teachers. This concept has been around for awhile, giving teachers the ability to pull informational sit-and-get out of their class time so students spend more time being active, collaborative, and creative in the classroom. So we thought why not use that same concept with teachers?

Three years ago I began working with my administration to flip our staff meetings. We record a screencast that includes all the information from the traditional staff meeting plus any staff meeting prep work and send out to the teachers the week before the meeting. Teachers watch the screencast prior to the staff meeting and get all the information they need.

This way when we gather together, the teachers are able to spend their time collaborating with colleagues on things they truly need for their classroom. This active collaboration time has revolutionized teaching and learning in our classrooms. By changing the way we deliver our staff meetings, we were able to gain 25 hours of time. Using these 25 hours over the last three years, we have effectively implemented Google Apps for Education, Schoology, 1:1 classroom iPads, flipped and blended learning, SAMR, self-pacing, twitter, and even our new school safety program.

The idea of flipping staff meetings is so flexible, it allows you to use the extra time you gain for virtually any initiative your district or school has. But one of the best aspects of being able to flip meetings is giving freedom, choice, and leadership opportunities to the teachers themselves. They gain a voice in a place where traditionally the agenda and floor was dominated by administration. Teachers actually like our staff meetings, often choosing to stay after the meeting is over to continue work or conversations. They are engaged, not just some of the time, but all of the time. Staff meetings are meaningful, helpful, productive, and relevant. They have become the place to learn, collaborate, create, and innovate.

Now I know what you are thinking. If staff meetings are so wonderfully innovative, why don’t more schools do them? Any time I have shared our work on flipping staff meetings, concerns have been raised about the challenges related to flipping staff meetings. We have also encountered these challenges, but believe working through them is worth it.

Here are some common challenges and ways we have worked to overcome them.

5 Challenges We Overcame Moving To A Flipped Staff Meeting

#1: It’s too much work.

It is a lot of work, but it’s meaningful, important work.

Like teaching and learning are transforming, so is the role of the administrator from a manager to an instructional leader. Teachers need this type of leadership now more than ever. But the good news is the principal doesn’t have to do it alone. Develop a leadership team. Teachers want to lead. Your capacity will expand with those on your team who can help to implement your ideas, and improve as a team in the process.

#2: “What will we do during the staff meeting?”

We too struggled with this in the beginning. Twenty five hours is a lot of time! Spend some time with your leadership team figuring out what is important to your school and developing a vision.

Are there initiatives that need to be implemented? Are there things teachers need to learn? What do the teachers want and/or need? Our need was in technology, but yours might be literacy or 21st-century skills or data. Once you have your vision and topics, find ways to include collaboration, active learning, creation, and teacher leaders. The important thing about flipping staff meetings is to do things during the meeting that teachers can’t do alone.

Avoid lecture at all costs.

#3: The staff won’t like it, do the work, will push back, etc.

Change is difficult.

Changing the way you do staff meetings is going to be a mindset shift for everyone. Attending a traditional staff meeting, although boring, tends to be pretty easy. You just have to sit there. And now teachers will not only have to be active during the staff meeting, but also watch a screencast prior to the meeting. My advice is to trust the process. Once everyone realizes the benefits of flipping staff meetings, people’s mindset will begin to change.

#4: “What we have always done works.”

Has it really?

Often we believe that what we do in staff meetings is helpful and beneficial for teachers, but that just isn’t the case. Ask teachers their honest opinion about staff meetings, and you don’t usually get positive answers. Ask any administrator who a staff meeting actually benefits, and if they are honest with themselves, they would say the principal–or no one at all. It makes sense to center staff meetings around, well–the staff. Administration needs to become a model and advocate for teaching and learning. Staff meetings need to change from being stagnant sit-and-get to active, collaborative, innovative work, just like we expect classrooms to be.

#5: “My principal isn’t interested in flipping staff meetings.”

This is the most difficult of all the challenges. I am very lucky to have two principals who believe in the benefits of flipping staff meetings and have stuck with it in order to see those benefits over and over again. Many principals see the above challenges and take the easy way out. So how do you convince a principal to change?

Teachers need to step up and be leaders. Bring up the idea at a committee meeting. Talk to the principal directly about initiatives teachers need time to work on. Offer your help and expertise. Talk to other teachers about the idea and form a team. Find a way to bring about change. Wherever you see an opening to advocate for the time flipping staff meetings gives you, take it. And when your principal gives it a try, be their cheerleader and positive voice in your school.

To flip or not to flip shouldn’t be the question. Instead ask yourself what you can do with all the time gained through flipping staff meetings. Time is a precious commodity that is limited. You can never get it back. It’s never too late to start using time more effectively and efficiently. Give it a try. Flip your staff meetings and watch your school transform before your very eyes.

5 Challenges We Overcame Moving To A Flipped Staff Meeting


Exactly Where To Start With School Improvement


Exactly Where To Start With School Improvement

by Terry Heick

Education is a series of learning experiences informed by policy, and actuated by teachers.

Policy, by its very nature, is sweeping and ambitious. It is designed to work on various scales, is well-intentioned, and often difficult to fault on paper. The teachers aren’t really much different. They are ambitious, designed to work on various scales, and are commissioned (quite literally) to enact the policies that govern the institutions (schools) they work in.

The wrinkles arise however as teachers strive to realize a vision for education that is, as things are, entirely impossible: For every student to master every academic standard.

No matter the starting literacy level, emotional intelligence, goals in life, family history, socioeconomic background, learning and thinking habits, or academic ambition, the same result is expected of all students–and increasingly troublesome word stuffed full of connotation and implication.


And perhaps worst of all, this inclusive scale of proficiency is regarded not as a necessary evil, but the noblest of goals–equality manifest as democracy itself.

Equality In Learning

Equality in learning can mean anything. Same spending. Same resources–or rather, same fulfillment of relative needs. Same expectations.

Fair doesn’t always mean equal, as many will correctly reason, but as we seek to democratize the learning process, we end up with scripted responses to unscripted circumstances, and as a result the homogenization of something that has no business being homogenized.

But equality in learning is a dangerous chase to give, full of dead-ends, rhetoric, and, at times, waste.

Learning is messy and personal–messy because it’s personal, in fact. And it’s wasteful for many of the same reasons. Not because people learn differently, but because education often tries to impose ‘sameness’ on it all. And when that approach doesn’t work, gobs (and gobs) of resources are spent troubleshooting, ‘remediating,’ and erstwhile tail-chasing.

Learning can be frustrating for the same reasons it’s compelling–because it’s instinctive and primal. It starts out as play, and then quickly turns more formal as self-directed experimentation turns into sterile academia. Schools–well-intentioned–care so much for the learning that they pull out every stop: sirens, meters, and relief valves to let us know what’s going on at all times.

This, however, is a (small) part of the problem, like checking a rubric and data during your first date to see how things are going. That doesn’t mean there is no place for data and rubrics, but it just might be that, in pursuit of proficiency we’ve found dull edges.

And in pursuit of excellence we’ve found mediocrity.

Not An Argument For Learning Models

At this point, this is usually where the conversation turns to learning models–entrepreneurial learning, self-directed learning, mobile learning, play-based learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, blended learning.

And so on.

And this is all pertinent and felicitous–all screaming for thinking, integration, and revision. But instead, a more immediate focus of our scope might be the way teachers and teacher systems push back on one another in the vast majority of public schools today.

The Systems

So what are these ‘systems’?

District walkthroughs and their ‘non-negotiables.’

Professional growth plans.

Professional learning communities.

Data teams.

District and school-sponsored professional development.

News media publishing of test scores.

Actually, let’s stop and look at that one for a moment.

Public Reporting Of Test Scores

The publishing of test scores isn’t the problem–it’s the void of context most people have for internalizing those data. The public sees in more binary terms–failing school and performing school. Maybe improving school. That’s it.

Never failing test, performing attention to literacy, or on the rise community support. Schools are not seen as completely interdependent with society, but rather widget factories, and are thus judged by their widgets. And perhaps worst of all, these widgets are children.

Why this is a problem has to do with connotation and loaded language–old-guard advertising tricks to get people to care. A widget is cold, but a child is a living, breathing, blinking thing that deserves the best possible future–and the best from us today to help make that happen.

And of course that’s true.

Vague & Emotionally Loaded Language

So when we talk, our language can be empty and generalized. We talk about the future, the learning, of our collective and unyielding intent to ‘do right by these kids.’ We make decisions that ‘are best for the kids,’ rather than the adults, because what adult would propose the opposite?

But it’s exactly through this selfless ambition and pathos-based grandstanding that we get ourselves in trouble. We simply cannot consistently fulfill what we promise, and, puzzled, turn to professional development to solve our woes.

If school is an analogue of post-modern industrialism–and it shouldn’t be but it currently operates as exactly that–then teachers and administrators are the ones that operate the levers and the presses. We create the molds, fill the conveyors with widgets, fill the pallets, operate the forklifts, and take very serious notes on our clipboards as we watch with equally serious eyes.

But it’s the teachers and administrators, tirelessly planning and revising while the entire operation teeters, that are wheezing and chuffing. We promise and swear in both creed and policy to help every single child meet their potential as human beings. The pressure–and hubris–of that promise!

We add empowering signatures on our email, ‘Failure is not an option,’ or ‘Preparing children for the future,’ and then ‘recharge our batteries’ during weekends and holidays so that on Monday afternoons we can sit erect in two hour staff meetings that rob us of any bit of innovative spirit we had managed to restore.

We invite the parents into school every quarter with the promise of bake sales or a school play and other extracurricular events, pretending not to notice how awkward it all is—how we both are raising different parts of their children but barely know one another.

How we stubbornly continue to teach children as an industry produces goods.

How we fail to connect organizations with families and schools and universities and cultural programs and community centers in any compelling way because, as schools, we insist on going alone, only opening the doors on our schedule and our terms to help us do what we want to do because we wrote the book on what needs to be done.

We use language and processes of education that are completely alien to most families. And in the process, we create a completely unsustainable–and morbidly private–system of learning that reduces the capacity of families and communities while we toil away in proud martyrdom, never realizing that our ambition is costing us everything.

If schools serve students, and students are deeply embedded in the fabric of communities, how can we serve those students without knowing those communities? Let’s open our school and classroom doors for meaningful interaction with families and communities on equal terms not at an extracurricular level, but a curricular level.

School improvement conversations could do worse than start there.

Image attribution flickr user woodleywonderworks; Exactly Where To Start With School Improvement


8 Alternatives To School Staff Meetings

8 Alternatives To Teacher Staff Meetings

by TeachThought Staff

We were recently admin’ing the TeachThought twitter feed when we saw four tweets in six minutes regarding ‘tips’ for ‘paying closer attention’ in staff meetings. There is a lot implied in this kind of thinking, namely:

1. Schools have a lot of meetings

2. Educators (of all position) have trouble paying attention in said meetings

3. Teachers lack the professionalism to focus on what’s most important, or that the content in the meetings isn’t really that important

4. Improving “focus” for said unengaged educators is a matter of listing tips, rules, and ‘norms’

It’s unclear why we just accept that meetings are, in general, boring and inefficient and ‘that’s just the way it is’? We’ve talked about boring staff meetings before (seemingly a sore spot for us). So we asked our followers–perhaps rhetorically–what would make it better, and got a simple, but authentic response.

When we’ve brought this up before, we’ve gotten pushback with many teachers saying their meetings are useful and engaging. It could well be that we expect too much of them or just had bad luck. Nonetheless, a few tips on how we could improve school staff meetings–and in some places replace them altogether–appear below.

Note, one big idea may be to simply be smarter from the top-down by creating less wasteful and redundant district and state ‘policies’ that make said time wasting a matter of law. Make the product, effect, or big idea a matter of policy, not the paperwork and physical presence. We do the same with students. This is why attendance and behavior aren’t matters of school accountability, but assessment performance is.

8 Alternatives To School Staff Meetings

1. Empower small groups for quicker, more personalized and adaptive meetings.

Consider technology like Skype for small groups meetings based on who needs to know what–they don’t even have to be in the same room, or even on computers. Video conferencing–use the data team or lit circle format if you’d like. Live stream it if you must. Every teacher has a role. Notes get uploaded and tagged. Admins and group leaders get cc’d.

2. Use a project-management platforms.

Another alternative to school staff meetings is to use a project-management platform like Trello, Slack, or Redbooth on an ongoing basis.

Many of these have advanced assignment features, messaging, user tagging, and even video meeting. A clearly organized board makes sure everyone is literally on the same page and allows teachers to access the data anytime, from anywhere. Build in usability, accountability, communication, and task distribution however you’d like.

3. Workshop-style, ‘PD meetings’

This is a kind of hybrid approach to school staff meetings where information is distributed while teachers help other teachers learn important things that (ideally) help them become better teachers. It’s like taking the current model of teacher staff meetings and embedding some PD within.

4. Lean more heavily on direct communication technology (not email).

Use direct communication technology like Voxer. Think of it like voice text messaging, with sent receipts, offline use, image support, groups, and more. No, Voxer can’t replace a meeting as they exist today, but used well, it (and Trello and Slack) can greatly reduce the need to meet and change the nature of the face-to-fact interactions altogether.

5. Use email–but more efficiently!

Use bulletpoint mass emails with need-to-know info, and clear, specific call-to-actions for response.

6. Use Facebook Groups

Create a closed Facebook Group to communicate, share, document, and curate training, info exchange, etc. This would operate like a closed-circuit online group. If you’re concerned about data privacy and have tech-savvy teachers, it’s not at all difficult to create your own on a private server.

7. Use twitter

Use an ongoing, school or department-specific twitter hashtag to promote conversations where comments are aggregated and automatically embedded in a mass document for ‘accountability.’ Again, you won’t be able to discuss private information or share specific data on a public social media platform, but like Voxer, this is a technology that can reduce the frequency of the ‘normal meetings.’

If it’s done well and has buy-in from staff. If not, this one has the most potential to be a collosal waste of time.

8. Consider webinars

Need something more robust? Consider a platform like gotomeetings that allow for webinar-style digital interaction.

These platforms, while expensive, have a lot of built-in tools and features to potentially increase the effectiveness (which is different than efficiency) of your school staff meetings. And like all the rest, how functional it would be in this capacity depends entirely on the specific genius of your use and your ability to get staff ‘on board’ with the whole idea–which often boils down to the perceived utility of the meetings.

While none of these alternatives to school staff meetings can neatly replace existing meetings with exact function and form, before you dismiss this thinking (or your own better thinking) because teachers ‘won’t use it,’ ask yourself how closely teachers are using the meetings as you have them today.


8 Sneaky But Effective Simple School-Improvement Strategies

8 Sneaky But Effective Simple School-Improvement Strategies

by Terry Heick

Education reform is tricky.

For one, so many teachers are wary of change. Not improvement, mind you, but change for the sake of change–shifting from one program or “research-based strategy” to another, endlessly. Year after year.

So many trends in learning are simply repackaged approaches teachers have seen before, and even when that trend is indeed something different, it’s really not.

Everything old is new again.

And even when it is indeed something markedly different, “new stuff” in the past has yielded very little movement of the proverbial needle, so we hesitate. Teacher “buy-in” is hard to come by, and for good reason. Credibility matters.

Complicating the matter is increased pressure for compliance in many districts, with documents, walk-throughs, “non-negotiables,” and comprehensive policies policing it all. Never mind that “same pageness” is challenging across 5 or more content areas and multiple grade levels and dozens of committees, departments, CSIP, CDIPS, and so on.

8 Strategies To Improve Your School Without Anyone Noticing

1. Start small

The idea you’ve been eyeing on project-based learning with + coding and maker learning with every Friday across all English-Language Arts classrooms 9-12 makes sense on paper, but take a second and think. Start first with your classroom, or yours and one more. Work together with a friend, find out what works, focus on the students, iron out the bugs–and do so quietly.

Don’t tweet about your success, or run your mouth about it all at staff meeting. For now, just do it.

See also What Is Genius Hour?

2. Forget about policies

There may be a time when the change needs to become a matter of ‘policy,’ but there are few ways to more quickly ruin a good idea than to make it a ‘policy.’ Forget about making it a matter of legal documents, and just worry about making it work.

3. Know who to avoid

If you know your resident cantankerous curmudgeon who wouldn’t like a winning lottery ticket, much less you and your dag-bern ideas to let kids play with cell phones in class, stay off their lawn. Way off.

4. Pick your battles

Sometimes, you may have to discuss the thinking behind the change you’re making. And that discussion might encounter some resistance. Know when to listen and when to talk (and be sure to really listen) and understand the value of timing.

5. Don’t start a clique

Don’t be that group of teachers that whispers in staff meetings, offers fake smiles in the hallways, and eats lunch together in the same room every day with the door closed. You know who you are. Once people start tying new thinking to individuals and cliques, it’s hopeless.

6. Honor divergent thinking

Disagreement is okay. Use seemingly opposing ideas to better understand the change, how it’s perceived, and what others might ‘need’ to make the change widely successful. If everyone agrees, they’re either lying, or don’t care enough to make it work.

7. Start now

Don’t wait for the planets to align. If you want to change something start small, but start now. Greatness (usually) comes from iteration, not inspiration. Take the rapid prototype approach and get something going sooner rather than later.

5. Work to eventually grow your team

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. For now, you’re small. Eventually, there will be more of you. Plan for growth.

The Ed Reform Ninja: 8 Sneaky Strategies For Change In Your School


8 Simple Ways To Make Teachers Feel Appreciated

8 Simple Ways To Make Teachers Feel Appreciated

contributed by Anne Davis

The best administrators already work hard to ensure that their teachers are not just happy and content but well-supported and respected.


A lot of this can be reduced to making teacher happiness an actual goal. While the goal of a school isn’t ‘to make teachers happy,’ a school full of unhappy teachers can’t accomplish its primary goal: to improve the lives of children.

Whether a teacher or professional in another field, Over and over again studies have shown that the happier an employee is, the better they will be. As an education administrator, you can help with that by showing your teachers that you actually care about them and their lives.

8 Simple Ways To Make Teachers Feel Appreciated

1. Know, recognize, and engage with every teacher individually

This doesn’t mean that you have to become ‘personal’ with your staff but it. It also helps if you are open about how appreciative you are of the things that teachers do for you and your school. Expressing even a little appreciation goes a long way. 

2. Celebrate growth and achievement

Simple enough: Rather than handing out ‘teacher of the year’ awards, celebrate the growth and achievement of teachers over time.

3. Ask them for their ideas–and then listen

When teachers are able to provide their experience and expertise, not only can they feel appreciated, but they can do so for the right reasons: their ability and passion for teaching.

4. Be honest

One way to think about this one: Few things can do the opposite of making someone feel appreciated more quickly than dishonesty. Honesty is central to respect and respect is central to mutual appreciation.

5. Share their success outside the school

Whether bragging about the work of a committee or leadership during a student project-based learning unit, sharing a teacher’s success outside the school–to parents, other teachers in other schools, district administrators, local media, or your global professional learning network, recognizing the effort and ability of your teachers motivates teachers but more critically, is the right thing to do.

6. Team-build at an event 

Whether it’s a staff meeting that you turn into something fun or a one-off luncheon, scheduling an event for your teachers can relieve stress, let your teachers know that you care about their well-being, and give them a chance to interact with one another in a not-about-school way. If you don’t have time to set it all up yourself, look for a company that specializes in corporate event planning. They can customize an event to meet your needs.

By socializing together with your school staff, it lets them see you as a real person, not just an administrator. Feeling like part of a team can help teachers deal with setbacks when the load is shared by many and not just on their shoulders.

7. Leave thank you notes

Showing appreciation for teachers doesn’t always require money, events, announcements, social media, or an awards ceremony. An authentic expression of gratitude for even a minor ‘thing’ you noticed on a post-it note left on their desk when they’re not in the room can go a long way in communicating appreciating and respect.

8. Help them learn, develop, and grow

No one wants to feel like they are in a dead-end job with no room for growth or improvement.

It is a good idea, as a school or district leader, to help teachers learn, develop, and grow. Whether that’s encouraging teachers to attend workshops or helping them take courses and related teacher professional development, these initiatives help build capacity and confidence that leads to teachers that feel able, supported, and appreciated.

By showing you believe they can do more, they probably will.


27 Ways To Engage Teachers At Your Next Faculty Meeting

27 Ways To Engage Teachers At Your Next Faculty Meeting

by TeachThought Staff

Engaging teachers at staff meetings matters.

The explanation goes something like this:

Teachers work hard.

While teachers are professionals and professionals often have to perform under less-than-ideal circumstances, all human beings have a finite amount of energy and focus each day.

Teachers are human beings. Therefore, teachers have a finite amount of energy and focus each day.

Staff meetings are often held at the end of the work day—a day that sees said inherently-energy-limited human beings perform an extremely demanding and mentally taxing job.

An underlying assumption of a staff meeting is that important information is going to be presented and explored. This means that teachers are going to interface with critical information at a time when they’re not at their best.

While we’ve long held that technology can be used to reduce the number and length of teacher staff meetings, in many states and districts there are actual requirements for how many hours a week or month teachers must meet and ‘be developed.’

One response has been ‘PD-style’ staff meetings that seeks to kill two birds with one stone. The very least an administrator can do for teachers, it would seem, is to create a staff meeting that is actually useful for teachers that has a clear relationship to student learning.

But there are ways to spice up even the most bane staff meeting, and below infographic creator Mia MacMeekin offers 27 ways to make your next staff meeting more interesting—and engaging—for teachers.

27 Ideas To Engage Teachers At Your Next Faculty Meeting

1. Gamify it

2. Skype or stream

3. Use food

4. Clarify norms and rules that work

5. Do a walk & talk

6. Use QR codes

7. Lose the chairs

8. Source the wisdom of the crowd (the teachers)

9. Be brief

10. Give everyone a voice

11. Flip the meeting

12. Use school-to-school conversations

13. Try a book club

14. Consider ‘gamestorming’

15. Model best practices

16. Itemize and separate issues and priorities

17. Leverage conflict

18. Invite the community in

19. Cut it short

20. Dream

21. Step outside

22. Have different voices lead each time

23. Create a mentoring program

24. Experiment with new technology or thinking

25. Act or role-play

26. Live stream it

27. Use games (team-building games, for example)

For a more colorful, visual arrangement of ways to engage teachers at a school staff meeting, see the full graphic below.

27 Ideas To Engage Teachers At Your Next Faculty Meeting

TeachThought Updates & Events

Introducing Project-Based Learning Workshops By TeachThought

Introducing Project-Based Learning Workshops By TeachThought

by TeachThought Staff

Did you know that TeachThought Professional Development offers project-based learning workshops?

Project-Based Learning isn’t any more complex than other trends in education, but there are a lot of misconceptions about roles, work, process, and authenticity that can affect whether or not ‘it work’ in your school or district. This makes professional development in pursuit of its integration especially useful.

As opposed to twitter chats, blog content, videos, and even books, on-hand, face-to-face work with our experts allows teachers to immerse themselves workshop-style in project-based learning.

The intended effect of our PD is, of course, the sustainable growth and development of capacity in teachers over time–who in turn are able to grow children.

Educator Janet Jenkins, a participant in one of our PBL workshops, offered her perspective on the work.

“The teachers were inspired and ready to begin the year with one PBL unit in place. They thanked me for a workshop with meaning, structure, and support for innovative teaching that was useful for them in the classroom. We all absolutely loved Kris! I can’t thank you all enough for providing such an amazing presenter! I can’t wait to see all this hard work from our teachers translate into the classroom experience. Again, a big shout out for Kris and the TeachThought team. You definitely helped our teachers grow!”

You can read more about TeachThought PBL workshops on our professional development website

Introducing Project-Based Learning Workshops By TeachThought


30 Questions Teachers Could Ask At Their Next Job Interview

30 Questions Teachers Could Ask At Their Next Job Interview

by Terry Heick

So you’re considering taking a teaching job? Or at least interviewing?

What should you be asking to make sure it’s a good fit for both you and the school?

Understanding The Point Of The Interview

First, understand that you are interviewing the school and district as much as they are interviewing you, and this isn’t a power play of some kind. The goal of a teacher placement should be a pairing between school (and administrators from that school and district) and teacher that is sustainable and serves students.

I’ll talk more about tips for teacher job interviews in a separate post (including researching the school and seeing yourself as ‘a fit’ or ‘not a fit’ rather than ‘qualified’ or ‘not qualified’/‘good teacher’ or ‘bad teacher’). The goal of that post would be to help you ‘get the job’ for a position you’re already sure you want.

Obviously, you can’t simply take a list like this and start reading them off to a principal or–well, you’re probably not going to get the job (assuming they even let you finish the interview). The point here is to think carefully about what you’re getting yourself into–to explore the school and climate and context from several angles beyond ‘job opening.’ To think past the interview to the school year ahead so that you can find the job that allows you to grow as a teacher, which is obviously what best serves students too.

Even if you aren’t concerned with the idea of ‘fit’ and will take any job offered your way, questions like this can help demonstrate your thoughtfulness as a professional educator to those you interview with–and help improve your interviewing skills for future openings throughout your career.

I’ve separated them into two categories–practical and pedagogical. The ‘practical’ questions are more about the job itself–salary, insurance, placement, etc. I’ve probably missed some obvious ones because these kinds of questions vary wildly from one position to the next. Something absolutely crucial in one country or state or district may be far less so in another.

The second category focuses more on the nature of pedagogy itself, and while still relative, should be a bit more universal. For now, 30 questions to ask at your next teacher job interview with a school or district.

30 Questions Teachers Could Ask At Their Next Job Interview

Practical Interview Questions For Teachers

1. In terms of deliverables—visible outcomes—what is expected of every teacher every day? What are the school and district ‘non-negotiables’? That is, what are the things—behaviors and general expectations—that are in place for every teacher, every day universally and across the board without negotiation or flexibility? (This sounds like a weird question, but in general, it boils down to how the school/district ‘does things’, and can have a big effect on the fit between the teacher and the job being interviewed for.)

2. What are the lesson plan/curriculum requirements—in terms of formatting, approval, collaboration, standards, publishing, etc.? This is similar to #1 but is focused exclusively on unit, lesson, and assessment design and the school’s procedures therein. For example, are the lessons scripted? If so, is there any flexibility? If not, what are the ‘expectations’ for collaboration between teachers? Is there a pacing guide? How is it used? How can and should data impact pacing guides and curriculum maps and so on?

3. What is the school behavior model and plan? How do teachers and staff work together to support both students and teachers to create a physical and intellectually safe and loving and forward-thinking environment for learning?

4. What are the extra-curricular opportunities and requirements for teachers?

5. What is the attendance/sick day/snow day policy for teachers?

6. How much will I earn? What is the pay scale and how does it change annually? What insurance and related benefits are there for teachers? How often are teachers paid? Is direct deposit available? What about a cafeteria plan?

7. Is there a teacher’s union? Is it mandatory? What is the history of the relationship between any teacher’s union and

8. What committees are there in this school, and how effective have they been in achieving their purpose? How can I contribute to their continued growth over time?

9. How is this school/district different than it was ten years ago? What data is there to support that? (Careful asking the second part, but know for sure that a school or district wouldn’t think twice before asking a teacher something similar.)

10. What compelling opportunities are there for me to improve my craft in this school or district?

11. How strong is the school/district IT department? Are they well-staffed and sufficiently-funded? What about the district internet filter—is that designed to support student learning?

12. What role does this librarian/media specialist play in the average classroom on a daily basis? (This can be telling in a number of ways.)

13. Is there an instructional coach or curriculum expert that can help me grow? Or are they used punitively to ‘catch me doing it wrong’? (Don’t ask the second part.)

14. How do I know that I’m safe here—physically, professionally, emotionally, and otherwise?

Pedagogical Interview Questions For Teachers

15. How is student achievement defined and measured?

16. What learning models are used in this school/district? Which have been found the most effective? How could I contribute to that moving forward?

17. How is technology used to support students? Personalize learning?

18. Would this position encourage me to focus on student strengths or weaknesses?

19. What is the school mission, and how do the curriculum, students, and staff fit together to help realize it?

20. How is data used to support teachers and students? How accurate are the measurements tools used to extract that data?

21. Do students like going to school here?

22. Do teachers like teaching here? What kinds of collaboration between teachers are ‘required’? Encouraged? Supported?

23. Do parents feel welcome here?

24. Does the school have a ‘growth mindset‘? The district? Or is it pressure, pressure, say nice and well-intentioned things, pressure, pressure?

25. How do different assessment forms and data sources

26. Are the arts valued here? Humanities in general?

27. How do curriculum, curriulum maps, pacing guides, units, lessons, and any district/state level assessments work together? Are each flexible enough to do so?

28. How do innovation and tradition work together to serve students?

29. Where do teachers have autonomy? How is the capacity of teachers nurtured and grown throughout the year?

30. How likely is it that a student might ‘graduate’ from this school (having performed well academically) and still have very little hope for their own future? Put another way, how does the learning here actually improve the lives and arcs of students’ lives? How do we know?

Bonus: In this position, would I teach content or teach thought?


7 Ways To Improve Parental Involvement In The Classroom


7 Ways To Improve Parental Involvement In The Classroom 

by TeachThought Staff

If it’s not obvious enough by watching and seeing and experiencing in your own classroom, there are studies describing the importance and significance of getting parents on board in a child’s learning (here’s one).

Besides which, it’s just plain and simple common sense that tells us the same. But despite these strong assertions, as a busy teacher, it’s easy to let these relationships slide and forget how important communication with parents can be. When such moments happen, its necessary to take a step back and refocus on how much there is to be gained by them.

Above is a reasonably crude summation of parent-teacher interactions, and the consequences therein. In each of the scenarios, the further from the center they find themselves, the more pronounced the students feel the effect. Let’s assume that Lonely Linda is a very isolated and rare case (you wouldn’t be reading this if that was your teaching style), and many teachers could relate to the Resilient Ryan scenario, having tried in vain to contact and get a parent’s support regarding a student, and then desisting in further attempts.

We can all also relate to Hopeful Harry’s plight, with mainly time constraints preventing many teachers from engaging in more consistent communication with the receptive home. But we obviously all aspire to create a similar context to that enjoyed by Successful Sarah.

So how can we move it all into Sarah’s quadrant, considering the teacher’s greatest enemy–time? Try these ideas to make Sarah’s situation the norm. 

7 Ways To Improve Parental Involvement In The Classroom 

To increase communication and gain from the relationship we can…

1. Understand what communication involves

Parent involvement doesn’t mean constant talking to parents on the phone or via email. It also doesn’t mean only speaking when things go wrong. It means letting parents in on what is happening in the classroom with much greater frequency. This can happen in numerous ways, which may and will include emails and occasional phone calls, but may take the form of having a really good homework app, or apps that communicate day to day behavior or assessment for learning results. Exporting a student’s contribution to questions contributed to GoFormative for example, and emailing to individual parents opens a conversation at home, a conversation that reinforces what you’ve done in class. 

2. Beg for more time

For any school and teacher, time is the number one enemy. There simply isn’t enough in the day to achieve all that is necessary, especially if teachers are expected to simply ‘bolt on’ parent communication to their existing workload. But if a better relationship with a parent will ultimately benefit your teaching and your students’ results, beg for the time to be able to make it happen. Speak firmly and with confidence at faculty and staff meetings, asking for at least an extra hour a week to participate in parent communication. It may not happen in this year, now that timetables are secured, but things must begin somewhere, and next year will be here before we know it.

3. Run a trial

Unfortunately, schools are at the mercy of miserly funding, and are squeezed and continually wrung out to get every drop from the time they have. In such a context, it is indeed unlikely that a school will decide to give every teacher less chalk face time. But if you ask to set up a trial of such a strategy, with all your positive and instructive findings being documented and presented after a set time, including enormously persuasive parent testimonials, the school will be more likely to reconsider their existing policy. The school may then need to creatively manipulate their current system to accommodate change, but schools are creative places, and will rise to the challenge, especially when increased student performance is the reward.

4. Communicate well

Many schools and parents assume that being able to successfully interact with parents is a given. However, there are a multitude of factors that can affect the ability to communicate with parents, and many of them can seemingly render communication impossible. But for every scenario you may have encountered with an unresponsive parent, someone out there would have found a way passed it. Lucky for us, teachers like to share, so just ask, or do some research in your network.

5. Invest in professional development

Always with the understanding in the back of your mind of how useful it can be to have parents supporting your classroom, organize some professional development on the topic. Your school will be happy for you to go to a conference on this subject, assuming you will return and promote your knowledge to others. If this isn’t possible, then suggest to your line manager or principal a session based on it in your next professional development day; and even better, present the session yourself – that way you’ll learn a lot more about it, and become much better at it.

6. Design work that connects classrooms to communities

If you design learning experiences that naturally connects the classroom to the communities students live in, the relationship between schools and parents will be more authentic, rather than a one way transaction based entirely on notions of academic success.

7. Keep it positive! 

Don’t let bad experiences destroy the potential of more frequent communicating.  We have all come across overly active parents who seem to over step the boundaries of our personal time. This is why it is very important to learn how to set clear boundaries with parents. Establishing time limits before a meeting begins, and providing generic information about a class via a blog or class webpage can decrease parents’ expectations of your time.

Everyone agrees that getting parents more involved in student learning is important, and in fact a key factor in their success. Making it actually happen however is a different story, and most teachers feel frustrated that a lack of time prevents them from engaging in the practice more, especially in the promotion of positive student efforts. The key to achieving it more consistently however is not such an impossible dream, and may in fact only require just a slight change of focus and direction for it to become reality.

7 Ways To Improve Parental Involvement In The Classroom 


The TeachThought Podcast Ep. 125 Mindshifting School Leadership

The TeachThought Podcast Episode 125: Mindshifting School Leadership

Drew Perkins talks with Heather Warrell about using digital tools and shifting mindset to help school leaders improve workflow and transparency in their schools.

Links & Resources Mentioned In This Episode:

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When Principal Leadership Is Missing At Your School

When Principal Leadership Is Missing At Your School

contributed by Tamara Fyke

A few years ago, while working with the Center for Safe & Supportive Schools at Vanderbilt University, there was a question I frequently received from teachers: “What do I do if my principal isn’t leading?” 

If this is the case in your school, there could be a variety of reasons or some combination of factors.  Perhaps the principal is young, new, absent, retiring or authoritarian.  A young principal may lack confidence.  There is a certain amount of wisdom and stability that only comes with experience.  Likewise, a new principal may feel unsure about the dynamics of the school and how to get started. 

An absent principal, one who continually hides in the office or leaves the building for meetings, may not be best suited for this leadership role.  A retiring principalmay check out emotionally even before the official day.  An authoritarian principal may think fear is the best motivator.  All of these scenarios can make it difficult for teachers to stay motivated and focused with the students.  So, what can you do if your principal isn’t leading?

Firstly, you need to take care of yourself personally.  You cannot do your job of teaching students if you are neglecting yourself.  Consider your physical and emotional health.  Are you eating and sleeping well?  Are you exercising regularly?  If not, think about the changes in your routine that need to be made.  How are you feeling emotionally?  Name what you are feeling.  Whether it is calm, angry, depressed, or resigned, it is important to put a label on what you are feeling so you can deal with it.  If you are having difficulty identifying your emotions, perhaps it would be helpful to talk with a friend or journal about your experiences. 

Professionally, remember to keep a positive attitude and use encouraging language.  Yes, you may share your frustrations with your colleagues.  However, say it in a way that reframes instead of blames.  For example, if you are serving under a new principal who has not communicated a vision for the school, you may feel like saying “This new leader has no idea what he’s doing.”  Instead, you could say, “Our leader is learning.  I wonder what we can do to help establish a vision for our school.  Perhaps I’ll ask him if he’d like help leading a discussion about our vision and mission statements.”  One statement attacks; the other helps. 

Keeping a positive attitude and using encouraging language is a way to honor your leader.  Whether you agree with everything he says or not, he is the leader.  Your job is to help him fulfill his purpose at the school.  You can do this by showing up for your students, both physically and emotionally.  Come to work.  Be on time.  Be present with your colleagues and students.  This is easier said than done when you are working with an undesirable principal.  However, that is why you are called a professional.  Do your best…for the sake of the children.  And, as your mother used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say it at all”.  Schools are famous for being gossip mills, but you don’t have to participate.  Hold your tongue.  It is not your place to point out your leader’s mistakes.  You are there to get a job done…do it.

Your job is to teach your students.  Stay focused on them.  Remember why you got into teaching in the first place.  You wanted to make a difference in the lives of children.  You can do that even if your principal is not ideal.  Create opportunities to connect with your students through stories, projects and events.  You can model strong leadership and healthy communication in your classroom even if there are problems with school climate.  The challenge is not to isolate yourself and your students. 

You need to stay connected with your colleagues, those on your grade level team and those throughout the building.  Chances are that you are not alone in your experience and perception.  Take time to hear others’ concerns.  Listen well, but set a time limit.  You don’t need to get caught in an hour-long negative conversation.  Again, be sure that what you say to your colleagues about your leader is reframed positively.  As with your students, create opportunities to connect with your fellow teachers.  Perhaps, you can host a potluck lunch, night out after work, or secret pals.  Find ways to build camaraderie and bolster spirits. 

When faced with a poor leadership situation, you have a choice to make.  No, you can’t single-handedly fix the situation…that burden falls to your principal. However, you can choose to do what only you can do.  You can use your professionalism and positive attitude to influence your schools, your peers, and your leaders to move in the right direction. Use your power for good.  Make a difference where you are by staying focused on why you do what you do…helping children grow and learn.

Tamara Fyke (@entrprenurgirl) is a creative educator and entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities, and is the creator/author and brand manager for the Love In A Big World social-emotional learning and character education curriculum. She received her master’s degree in education from Peabody at Vanderbilt. Tamara lives in Nashville with her three amazing children she adopted.


Sleeping Giants: 4 Under-Appreciated Factors Of School Improvement

Sleeping Giants: 4 Under-Appreciated Factors Of School Improvement

contributed by Aaron Smith

America’s public schools are flawed in many ways, not the least of which are impossible expectations are placed on students and staff.

High-stakes standardized tests, coupled with uncooperative parents with the expectation of doing more with less deter the brightest and most experienced educators to solve the complex issues our youth experience every day.

Instead of teaming together for the common goal, we defer our responsibility to social media, society and our streets to develop our most precious resource. When these elements are misused, they create the perfect storm.

Every year thousands of students end up in one or more of these categories: jail, pregnant, dropping out, gangs or dead. This vicious cycle will only get worse until a national catastrophe occurs unless someone else changes this concept of thinking.

The general mission of most modern schools is simple: Students will go to college, enlist in the military or find a job after graduation. To fulfill school’s purpose, we must remove all obstacles and excuses so the essence of education will thrive once again.

Help teachers teach, allow students to explore, use the most sophisticated technology and the best resources available, so everyone succeeds. The result will not only produce a highly functioning graduate but hope. If and when our children graduate with the skills and competency ready for the workforce, crime statistics reduce, and higher paying wages replace those in poverty and unemployment.

The time is here. The time is now. Be the change. Give all schools the autonomy to make all children succeed. For when schools possess this power, it will change the course of a child and will also prosperously influence communities, corporations and the economy.

To build the perfect public school, we must revamp four critical components: Parents, students, teachers and staff and logistics.

Sleeping Giants: 4 Under-Appreciated Factors Of School Improvement

1. Parents

Parents must be active stakeholders in this transformation. Without them, the learning that has taken place in class otherwise becomes a moot point. At home, students are reinforcing not only favorable characteristics such as manners, responsibility, and self-esteem but ensure that the well-being of a child maximizes their potential.

At home, parents and guardians should listen and follow the recommendations of the teachers and staff with a direct connection with their child. Whether they are just sitting down with them and checking their homework or communication with the school, every part at home is just as important as the lessons at school.

2. Students

Research has shown that when students are engaged in active learning, their academics reflect higher grades. To make this happen, students must overhaul what has become a norm today.

It begins with their appearance. Students who enter schools sagging or dressed inappropriately create distractions. Communication within the school that includes written, spoken and informal should resemble that of a professional setting.

Supplies, assignments and other items are prepared in advance and brought in when requested by the instructor. Social media is checked in at the door and schools are deemed as a bully-free zone. The responsibility of a student lies in their hands and should be only guided by the staff.

3. Teachers & staff

It starts here with finding the teachers who dare students to dream about careers. Time is allotted to students who can pursue an internship and remain in constant contact with parents about their child’s academic progress and their career interests.

Only assess when needed. However, it is essential that data be used periodically to target specific skills missed. Cumulating activities using a rubric can replace standardized testing.

STEM and CTE classes become a cornerstone of all courses and not thought of as an extra resource.

Teachers engage in self-driven professional development and are not wasting time with useless meetings, tasks or other canned professional developments they already know.

The latest technology is incorporated into the classes that facilitate critical thinking.

All lessons encompass around the notion that lessons are student-centered and not teacher lecture-driven.

4. Logistics

Buildings are modern with a fresh and inviting appeal to all who enter the building. After hours, middle and high school students live in dorms where they live distraction free. On the weekends, they can go to their homes or remain in their dorms.

Students can learn more about various cultures where diversity is celebrated. From tasting foods from far away to listening to music from a different country, students will enjoy a positive and nurturing environment.

Inside the schools, students can enter a career corner in the main traffic areas and interact with multiple visitors from professions and schools across the country.

In the dorms and inside the schools, students utilize 3D printer labs, makerspaces, and Smartboards where they can have access to these tools. There students can interact amongst themselves or post a question for staff or others to see and provide the feedback.


Countries like Finland and Japan are already on this new trend but still far from perfect. America has to wipe the slate clean and revamp the whole education system as they have the most resources available to make it happen. Should this initiative take ground, it is most certain that the United States will regain its title as one of the best in the world leading to a promising economic future with bright and hopeful careers for students.

Help us visualize the perfect public school as if we had a blank check. It is in this shared vision where we can effect change. No matter where you are, no matter what you do, you can make a difference! Be the change by getting involved. I invite you to join me on this journey as we can help transform a broken education system into a live and thriving learning center.

Sleeping Giants: 4 Under-Appreciated Factors Of School Improvement


When We Ask African American Teachers To Discipline African American Students Because They’re African American

When We Ask African American Teachers To Discipline African American Students Students Because They’re African American

by Anthony Conwright, TeachThought

“Anthony, we don’t do anything.”

I was the dean of students; I was in charge of safety and discipline at a progressive charter school in San Diego. A female student of color, Janet, is in my office to explain to me why she ditched her advisory. The purpose of the advisory program is for students to have a connection with an adult and establish relationships with students from different grade-levels. “All the students sit in different groups, do their own thing, and I’m left out,” Janet said. Her advisor is a white male, and the students in her advisory are primarily white. 

When I walk into her advisory, I saw what she described: students separated into groups, not making connections, or doing much at all. I talked to the advisor in private and let him know how Janet was feeling. He said he would make changes. I spoke to Janet and let her know it’s not okay to skip class and talking about her concerns with adults is always the best course of action. Janet and the teacher spoke, but nothing changed.

See also Reaching The African American Male In The Classroom

Janet continued to feel excluded and eventually asked me if she could join my advisory. When I spoke to her advisor, he told me he did not want her to switch. Her advisor wanted me to send a clear message to her that she had to be in his advisory and that if she did not stay, there would be harsh consequences. Despite my attempts to explain why a student of color would avoid a space in which they feel excluded, especially if that space felt white, he did not budge.

I was an African-American male in a position of power, but it was at a school where there was a discrepancy in the demographics of the student body and the majority white staff. As an administrator and the only black male in the school, I was continually enforcing the behavioral expectations of white teachers who showed disregard to how students of color feel about inequitable systems and expectations in the school. I often felt suffocated, alienated and unsuccessful because it was impossible to please my white colleagues if I did not discipline the way they saw fit.

Black Muscle, White Skin: When African-Americans As Disciplinarians

Like so many students of color, I stopped wanting to be present and eventually left the school: it was clear to me that my presence was to be white muscle disguised in black skin.  

It is nearly impossible to separate the current practices of the American education system from the nation’s habit of preserving white supremacy through oppressive practices. In matters of school discipline the American education system has maintained a relationship with black educators and students that has continued one of the country’s social dynamics from slavery: Make people of color discipline other people of color.

Set in the antebellum South, Nate Parker’s, Birth of a Nation depicts the story of Nat Turner, a literate slave, and preacher whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer from a religious cleric, reverend Walthall, to use Nat’s preaching to keep slaves inured to their bondage.

The scene in which Turner accepts the proposal of Rev. Walthall parallels the way school leaders maneuver black educators into disciplinarian roles:

I gotta say, Sam, your slaves sure do know how to behave. More impressed by ‘em ever’ time I make it ‘round. (beat) Old Ben would be proud.

They God fearing. Simple as that. Gotta colored preacher that keeps ‘em reminded.

A colored preacher? That the remedy?

That’s it.

Despite its cinematic depiction, the “remedy” of empowered whites using the social clout of African Americans to convince blacks to acquiesce to discipline follows an enduring legacy of education’s marriage to racist practices.

In an 1892 Atlantic Monthly essay titled “The Education of the Negro,” William T. Harris, commissioner of education from 1889-1906, wrote, “The chief problem of negroes of the south was retaining the Anglo-Saxon consciousness and cultural prosperity obtained by domestic slavery.”  

Harris was examining how to get black students to assimilate to European culture, and he was keen on using education to do it.

Philip A. Bruce, the editor of the Atlantic, wrote a footnote to Harris to suggest that it was vital to improve the character of “negro preachers” because black preachers had social clout in black communities. Bruce knew assimilating black educators would be a challenge because white pedagogical leaders could not select black preachers the same way they could select black teachers:

“The improvement of the character of the negro preachers is even more important than the improvement of the character of the negro teachers; but it is an end more difficult to reach, because the preachers cannot be selected, like the teachers. The most feasible plan for promoting this improvement of character seems to be the establishment of a large number of seminaries, to be controlled absolutely by the white religious denominations.”

The idea was to use black leaders to help white educators superimpose white ideals of a well behaved African-American onto the black community. The strategy follows a method used by former Senator, slave owner, and teacher, James Henry Hammond, who wrote a manual on how to use slave drivers to manage slaves on a plantation:

“The head driver is the most important negro on the plantation and is not required to work like the other hands. He is to be treated with more respect than any other negro by both master & overseer. He is required to maintain proper discipline at all times. To see that no negro idles or does bad work in the field, & to punish it with discretion on the spot. ”

The duty of black slave drivers who had an ordinance to maintain “proper” discipline for slaves at all times is analogous to black educators tasked with the responsibility of using their influence as a way to keep the behavior of black students in check.

See also No Student Is Unreachable

It isn’t surprising today’s well-meaning white and black pedagogical leaders embrace the narrative of empowering black educators by enforcing “black-on-black” discipline, especially considering it has been an ethos in black-white relationships in America. On the surface, the calculation makes sense. Research shows that black children are three times more likely to be placed in gifted-education programs if they have a black teacher, and studies show students prefer teachers of color, so why not leverage the connection African-American adults make with African-American students to enforce discipline?

To the contrary, the way pedagogical leaders put the research into practice is flawed.

It has been well-documented that despite the rising population of black students, black educators have left the profession due to the expectation that they use their blackness as a way to enforce discipline on students of color.

Former U.S. education secretary, John King, calls the problem “The Invisible Tax.”  King’s article, “The invisible Tax on Teachers of Color,” describes the way in which black educators are posited to play the role of disciplinarian for white educators:

“According to some African American male teachers, the ‘invisible tax’ is imposed on them when they are the only or one of only a few nonwhite male educators in the building. It is paid, for example, when these teachers, who make up only 2 percent of the teaching force nationally, are expected to serve as school disciplinarians based on the assumption that they will be better able to communicate with African American boys with behavior issues.”

The premise of the invisible tax relies on black men to be exemplars of success; but, in this context, black educators are confining students to punitive punishments and not using their influence to liberate black students from ‘tough’ love narratives.

Using African-American educators as a force for punishment is a tactic that belies research that shows Black administrators can be role models for minority students because Black educators can empathize with the experiences of students of color in a way that positively influences students of color academic expectations and aspirations.

It is because of this familiarity black educators should be used to empower students of color and not reinforce zero tolerance policies.

Typically issues of school discipline focus on the role of black males, however, black women are not immune from being used as authoritarians in today’s educational context. I spoke with an African-American female educator, on the condition of anonymity, who was a dean of students at one of New York City’s well-known charter schools. Speaking about the school, which has a predominantly Black and Latino student body, the teachers said, “In general, across the school, your principal was white, the special education director was white, the teachers were white, and the dean team was black,” she said. “We were the muscle.”

Initially, her role as a dean was to coach teachers on matters of discipline, but during a meeting the organization had with the deans, something changed. “We had a meeting, and we were told the deans would no longer be responsible for teacher development. We were just going to manage kids and behavior.“ The educator who would later leave her role as dean said, “I was livid. It didn’t seem equitable in terms of what people of color are valued for.”

When I asked her why she stopped working as a dean, she said “I got tired of being the muscle. I have a brain.”

Christopher Johnson, the black founding principal of Science Leadership Academy at Beeber in Philadelphia said his philosophy as a principal is colored more by his upbringing than it is his race but also admits that his experience as a black male student in Philadelphia’s public schools has influenced his leadership style.

Johnson, who was a student in the same community as Beeber, was suspended 25 times in the fifth and sixth-grade despite having zero physical altercations.

In a profession that is dominated by racial hegemony, Johnson, who has been named one of Philadelphia’s best principals, is an example of how empowered black educators can make decisions to disrupt oppressive practices used to control African-American behavior. Johnson’s does not criminalize, students at Beeber—the majority of whom are black—for non-criminal behavior. “I’m not going to suspend a kid for wearing a hat. I’m not going to suspend a kid because they have on inappropriate clothing.”

For black educators to empower, they must go beyond the role of enforcer; instead, they need to be in a leadership position to make decisions about the implementation of discipline. Black educators need discretion not solely orders.  

But according to a report by the AFL-CIO, in 2015 only 13.4 percent of education administrators were black or African American.

Adults are the ones who, after all, make decisions that impact a child’s future and hold the keys to choices that can empower students and educators of color, but history has demonstrated that if noncompliant students of color step out of line, the system will chew you up and spit you out. And as for teachers of color, if they don’t like the zero tolerance method of managing black students in education, then, they can leave too.

If the American education system is truly interested in 21st  Century skills, it may be prudent to annex the historical contexts and experiences of the 18th century; but, progress in terms of removing narratives of oppression has yet to be seen.

When We Ask African American Teachers To Discipline African American Students Students Because They’re African American; featured image attribution flickr user tulanepublicrelations


The TeachThought Podcast Ep. 105 Debating The Impact Of Scholarship Tax Credits

Drew Perkins talks with Senior Policy Analyst at The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Anna Baumann, and Associate Professor of Educational Administration, Leadership, & Research at Western Kentucky University and member of the Kentucky Board of Education, Gary Houchens, about the impact of proposed legislation to allow scholarship tax credits for non-public school students.

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Let’s Develop A New Standard For School Security


Let’s Develop A New Standard For School Security

contributed by Jeff Green

This post has been updated and republished in light of the recent shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida

As a former elementary principal and a father, December 14, 2012 had more than a great impact on me.

While I was in my office on that cold and cloudy day, I learned of the Sandy Hook tragedy that took the lives of 20 students and six staff members. Instantly, I, like most parents, thought of my own kids and worried about their safety. I had that luxury. The families of those who lost their lives did not.

I thought of the law enforcement officers and EMTs and how their lives would forever be changed by what they saw. The shooting was a tragedy far beyond 26 deaths. I sat in my office as the gray sky turned black analyzing our school safety plan. As a principal of my own school, I looked at our amazing building and started to see it differently.

I didn’t see the all of the windows surrounding our cafeteria as a great way to connect to the outside; I saw it as an easy way for someone to shoot into my building.

I didn’t see our entry way that forced visitors into the office before accessing the school as a great safety measure; I saw our entry way as a funnel to make our secretaries the first target and slow down or eliminate our ability to inform staff of the crisis through our intercom.

I didn’t see our colorful hallways as a bright and open connection to student learning; I saw them as an incredibly easy walk way to access all of our students.

For the first time as a father and principal, I felt helpless.

Schools Changed For Fire Safety—Why Not Gun Safety?

I was afraid I couldn’t protect my students. I was left with two choices: do nothing or do something. I chose the latter. I started to research school tragedies. I didn’t just focus on shootings or violent events, I looked at fires, storms, freak accidents – anything I could find. Some things really stood out. Incredibly, there has not been a student death in a school fire since December 1958. Why? Because we changed.

We changed the materials schools were constructed from. We required alarms and suppression systems. We required more exits and fire drills. Lives were saved because we changed. Because of student deaths from heart issues, many schools now have AEDs. We now have the ability to perform incredible medical interventions once only available at hospitals from trained doctors. We changed and now we are saving lives.

First Response

Since Columbine, law enforcement has changed. They changed how they respond to a crisis at a school. They no longer wait for a large team to assemble before going in. In many cases, the first officer on the scene goes in with or without backup. They have changed and lives are being saved. School staff are still trying to figure out how and what to change. They are working to keep our kids safe and not lose sight of the purpose of education.


A lot of money is being spent on the perimeter of the building and upgrading camera systems. Useful yes, but not a change that will save lives.

Mental Health Communication

Schools need to coordinate with and be allowed to share information and support mental health services in schools and homes. Schools need to treat the issues before a tragedy, not after. We also need to protect our students where they are most vulnerable, in the school itself.

Aggressively Vetting Threats

Adam Lanza (the teenage shooter at Sandy Hook) was an anomaly. He was not connected to Sandy Hook anymore. That is rare for an active shooter situation. The more likely threat to our children will come from within. Someone who is supposed to be there–someone we let in. That is something new–another factor to adjust for in the ongoing effort to protect our students.

Run, Hide, or Fight

After the shooting, I changed. I left my position as principal at the end of my contract, specifically I left to help find a better way to protect students. My own kids have changed. I teach them to look for exits. I give them scenarios like, “If a bad guy comes through that door what would you do?” My kids know to run, to hide or if no other options exist, to fight.

Let’s Create A New Standard

This isn’t an article about how exactly what should be done, but rather that something has to be done, and that starts not with piecemeal, knee-jerk responses, but rethinking school security altogether.

Lives have certainly been changed from that tragedy that fell on Dec. 14, 2012 and in countless shootings since. I had to learn to accept that, at the time, there was little I could’ve done differently. The tragedy changed changed me, and education as a whole. It would be a huge dishonor to those who died if we, as an industry, did not change in response by becoming more serious about how we protect the students in our care.

This is a call to not simply respond with new policies, but to create a new standard for school security.

Jeff is a former school principal and current Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas, and founder of Safe Defend, a modern protection system for schools; Let’s Develop A New Standard For School Security; image attribution flickr user kateterhaar


The TeachThought Podcast Ep. 104 Education Budgets And Legislative Priorities

Drew Perkins talks with Kentucky superintendents Dr. Nick Brake and Matt Robbins about education budget cuts, their potential impact on teaching and learning, and the legislative priorities laid out by the collaborative efforts between their districts.

Links & Resources Mentioned In This Episode:


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A Common Language: 30 Public Education Terms Defined

graphic-notes-6-fiA Common Language: 30 Public Education Terms Defined 

by TeachThought Staff

Communication depends on a common language.

In any field, knowing what a colleague means when they use a term or phrase is the difference between talking about ideas and exchanging ideas. So the following list of public education terms is useful not so much for the definitions, but for the credibility (or at least authority) of the definitions, as they are sourced from the Department of Education itself, in this case in regards to clarify Race to the Top language and meaning.

For us, they’re informative for other reasons:

  • To see language and patterns is to see priority and thought. Put another way, you can’t discuss and likely don’t value what you haven’t identified and named.
  • To see how many factors impact a child’s education
  • To clarify your own misconceptions
  • To prioritize your own work
  • To share with colleagues

We’ve included most of the definitions they provided, but left a few out that were only narrowly useful. You can find the full list here.

A Common Language: 30 Public Education Terms Defined 

1. Achievement gap

The difference in the performance between each ESEA subgroup (as defined in this document) within a participating LEA or school and the statewide average performance of the LEA’s or tate’s highest achieving subgroups in reading/language arts and mathematics as measured by the assessments required under the ESEA.

2. College and career-ready graduation requirements

Minimum high school graduation expectations (e.g., completion of a minimum course of study, content mastery, proficiency on college- and career-ready assessments, etc.) that include rigorous, robust, and well-rounded curriculum aligned with college- and career-ready standards (as defined in this document) that cover a wide range of academic and technical knowledge and skills to ensure that students leave high school ready for college and careers.

3. College- and career-ready standards

Content standards for kindergarten through 12th grade that build towards college- and career-ready graduation requirements (as defined in this document) by the time of high school graduation. A State’s college- and career-ready standards must be either (1) standards that are common to a significant number of States; or (2) standards that are approved by a State network of institutions of higher education, which must certify that students who meet the standards will not need remedial course work at the post-secondary level.

4. College enrollment

The enrollment in college of students who graduate from high school consistent with 34 CFR 200.19(b)(1) and who enroll in an institution of higher education (as defined in section 101 of the Higher Education Act, P.L. 105-244, 20 U.S.C. 1001) within 16 months of graduation.

Core educational assurance areas:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

5. Digital learning content

Learning materials and resources that can be displayed on a digital device and shared electronically with other users. Digital learning content includes both open and or commercial content. In order to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, any digital learning content used by grantees must be accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use screen readers. For additional information regarding their application to technology, please refer to and

6. Educators 

All education professionals and paraprofessionals working in participating schools (as defined in this document), including principals or other heads of a school, teachers, other professional instructional staff (e.g. staff involved in curriculum development, staff development, or operating library, media and computer centers), pupil support services staff (e.g. guidance counselors, nurses, speech pathologists, etc.), other administrators (e.g. assistant principals, discipline specialists.), and paraprofessionals (e.g. assistant teachers, instructional aides).

7. Graduation rate 

The four-year or extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rate as defined by 34 CFR 200.19(b)(1).

8. High-needs students 

Students at risk of educational failure or otherwise in need of special assistance and support, such as students who are living in poverty, who attend high-minority schools (as defined in the Race to the Top application), who are far below grade level, who have left school before receiving a regular high school diploma, who are at risk of not graduating with a diploma on time, who are homeless, who are in foster care, who have been incarcerated, who have disabilities, or who are English learners.

9. Interoperable data system 

System that uses common, established structure such that data can easily flow from one system to another and in which data are in a non-proprietary, open format.

10. Local educational agency 

As defined in ESEA, a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or for a combination of school districts or counties that is recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools.

11. Low-performing schools 

Schools that are in the bottom 10 percent of performance in the State, or who have significant achievement gaps, based on student academic performance in reading/language arts and mathematics on the assessments required under the ESEA or graduation rates (as defined in this document).

12. Metadata about content alignment 

Information about how digital learning content assesses, teaches, and depends on (requires) common content standards such as State academic standards.

13. On-track indicator 

A measure, available at a time sufficiently early to allow for intervention, of a single student characteristic (e.g., number of days absent, number of discipline referrals, number of credits earned), or a composite of multiple characteristics, that is both predictive of student success (e.g., students demonstrating the measure graduate at an 80 percent rate) and comprehensive of students who succeed (e.g., of all graduates, 90 percent demonstrated the indicator). Using multiple indicators that are collectively comprehensive but vary by student characteristics may be an appropriate alternative to a single indicator that applies to all students.

14. Participating schools 

Schools that are identified by the LEA or consortium and choose to work with the LEA to implement the LEA(s)’ Race to the Top plan, either in a specific grade span or subject area or in the entire school.

15. Participating students 

Students enrolled in a participating school (as defined in this document), grades, or subject areas and directly served by a Race to the Top District plan.

16. Persistently lowest-achieving schools 

As determined by the State, consistent with the requirements of the School Improvement Grants program authorized by section 1003(g) of the ESEA,

  1. Any Title I school in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring that (a) Is among the lowest-achieving five percent of Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring or the lowest-achieving five Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring in the State, whichever number of schools is greater; or (b) Is a high school that has had a graduation rate as defined in 34 CFR 200.19(b) that is less than 60 percent over a number of years; and
  2. Any secondary school that is eligible for, but does not receive, Title I funds that (a) Is among the lowest-achieving five percent of secondary schools or the lowest-achieving five secondary schools in the State that are eligible for, but do not receive, Title I funds, whichever number of schools is greater; or (b) Is a high school that has had a graduation rate as defined in 34 CFR 200.19(b) that is less than 60 percent over a number of years.
  3. To identify the lowest-achieving schools, a State must take into account both (i) The academic achievement of the “all students” group in a school in terms of proficiency on the State’s assessments under section 1111(b)(3) of the ESEA in reading/language arts and mathematics combined; and (ii) The school’s lack of progress on those assessments over a number of years in the “all students” group.

17. Personalized learning plan 

A formal document, available in digital and other formats both in and out of school to students, parents, and teachers, that, at a minimum: establishes student learning goals based on academic and career objectives and personal interests; sequences content and skill development to achieve those learning goals and ensure that a student can graduate on-time college- and career-ready; and is updated based on information about student performance on a variety of activities and assessments that indicate progress towards goals.

18. Principal evaluation system 

A system that: (1) will be used for continual improvement of instruction; (2) meaningfully differentiates performance using at least three performance levels; (3) uses multiple valid measures in determining performance levels, including as a significant factor data on student growth(as defined in this document) for all students (including English learners and students with disabilities), and other measures of professional practice (which may be gathered through multiple formats and sources, such as observations based on rigorous leadership performance standards, teacher evaluation data, and student and parent surveys); (4) evaluates principals on a regular basis; (5) provides clear, timely, and useful feedback, including feedback that identifies needs for and guides professional development; and (6) will be used to inform personnel decisions.

19. School board evaluation 

An assessment of the LEA school board that both evaluates performance and encourages professional growth. This evaluation system rating should reflect both (1) the feedback of many stakeholders, including but not limited to educators and parents; and (2) student outcomes performance in order to provide a detailed and accurate picture of the board’s performance.

20. School leadership team 

A team that is composed of the principal or other head of a school, teachers and other educators, and, as applicable, other school employees, parents, students, and other community members, and leads the implementation of improvement and other initiatives at the school. In cases where statute or local policy, including collective bargaining agreements, call for such a body, that body shall serve the school leadership team for the purpose of this program.

21. Student attendance 

During the regular school year, the average percentage of days that students are present for school. Students should not be considered present for excused absences, unexcused absences, or any period of time that they are out of their regularly assigned classrooms due to discipline measures (i.e., in- or out-of-school suspension).

22. Student survey 

Measures students’ perspectives on teaching, learning, and related supports in their classrooms and schools. The surveys must be research-based, valid, and reliable. Over time these results should be predictive of rates of student growth.

23. Student Growth 

The change in student achievement for an individual student between two or more points in time, defined as—

  1. For grades and subjects in which assessments are required under ESEA section 1111(b)(3): (1) a student’s score on such assessments and (2) other measures of student learning, such as those described in the second bullet, provided they are rigorous and comparable across schools within an LEA.
  2. For grades and subjects in which assessments are not required under ESEA section 1111(b)(3): alternative measures of student learning and performance, such as student results on pre-tests, end-of-course tests, and objective performance-based assessments; performance against student learning objectives; student performance on English language proficiency assessments; and other measures of student achievement that are rigorous and comparable across schools within an LEA.

24. Student-level data 

Demographic, performance, and other information that pertains to a single student but cannot be attributed to a specific student.

25. Student performance data 

Information about the academic progress of a single student, such as formative and summative assessment data, coursework, instructor observations, information about student engagement and time on task, and similar information.

26. Subgroup 

Each category of students identified under ESEA section 1111(b)(2)(C)(v)(II).

27. Superintendent evaluation 

Rigorous, transparent, and fair annual evaluation for the LEA superintendent that provides an assessment of performance and encourages professional growth. This evaluation rating should reflect (1) the feedback of many stakeholders, including but not limited to educators, principals, and parents; and (2) student outcomes performance in order to provide a detailed and accurate picture of the superintendent’s performance.

28. Teacher attendance 

During the regular school year, the average percentage of days that teachers are present when they would otherwise be expected to be teaching students in an assigned class. Teachers should not be considered present for days taken for sick leave and/or personal leave. Personal leave includes voluntary absences for reasons other than sick leave.

29. Teacher evaluation system 

System that: (1) will be used for continual improvement of instruction; (2) meaningfully differentiates performance using at least three performance levels; (3) uses multiple valid measures in determining performance levels, including as a significant factor data on student growth (as defined in this document) for all students (including English learners and students with disabilities), and other measures of professional practice (which may be gathered through multiple formats and sources, such as observations based on rigorous teacher performance standards, teacher portfolios, and student and parent surveys); (4) evaluates teachers on a regular basis; (5) provide clear, timely, and useful feedback, including feedback that identifies needs and guides professional development; and (6) will be used to inform personnel decisions.

30. Turnaround strategy 

As defined by the School Improvement Grant (SIG) regulations, published in the Federal Register on October 28, 2010 (75 FR 66363), turnaround model, restart model, school closure, or transformational model.

image attribution  data source


Reclaiming Your Day: 3 Simple Digital Efficiency Hacks For School Principals

Reclaiming Your Day: 3 Simple Digital Efficiency Hacks For School Principals

by Heather Warrell, TeachThought PD Leadership Workshop Facilitator

Let’s be honest—while school leadership can be highly rewarding, it can, at times, be absolutely brutal.

From juggling district demands, to tracking data, to cooling down angry parents, to drowning in emails (gag), to attempting  to make ‘an appearance’ at the countless number of extracurricular activities—it can be really tough.

The truth is, principal burnout is real. I can still remember going to work (in the dark) and getting home (in the dark) at 10:30 PM after my own kids had been in bed for several hours. 14 hour work day? Yes. Mom of the year? No. Those were some dark days (both literally and figuratively), but I absolutely loved being a school leader. Inspiring my teachers and students to learn/grow/ innovate, nurturing a caring school culture, calling the students’ names on graduation day—these memories still warm my heart and make me smile to this very day (tear).

So then, how can we, as school leaders, ‘work smarter not harder’ and balance a career we love and the families we love? Digital tools for the win! At my former school, I was blessed to co-pilot with a remarkable school leader, Wes Bradley, and together we sought to leverage the power of digital tools to create systems of efficiency that allowed our school to rapidly grow while giving time back to our own families.

So here’s my gift to you, school principals, 3 simple efficiency hacks using digital tools that will help you work “smarter not harder” and get some of that time back for who and what you love outside of your work:

1. Create a ‘Living Calendar’ via a Google Doc and share it with your team.

By giving them editing rights, your staff members can enter in  their own events instead of emailing them to you. One principal told me that this simple system gave him two hours back with his own family every Sunday night.  Previously, he had synthesized his announcements into a ‘Week at a Glance’ into a document that he would then attach to an email (silo) while he watched his kids play every Sunday.  

Now, the workload is distributed and ‘many hands make light work’ for this principal. Win for his team and a win for his family. His staff can get what they need on the school calendar without having to go through a ‘middle man.’

Scared to give editing rights to everyone at first? Start by just sharing it with your admin team, secretaries, food service director, library media specialist, and athletic director. I share more about “Living Calendars” and teach how to create one here.

2. Create “Living Morning Announcements” via Google Slides and share them with your team. To me, morning announcements were one of the most stressful aspects of being a school leader. Why? Because before school it seems everyone needs you for something and you absolutely must try and get the announcements going on time so your teachers can make magic.  

Plus, how do most people get the announcements to you? Post-its, emails, and inevitably while you’re saying the Pledge of Allegiance, someone almost always runs in and tries to whisper one in your ear. I lost years on my life because of morning announcements!

So, try this: create a slide set (of five slides-one for each day of the week) and name it ‘Morning Announcements”’ and then share it with your entire staff. Now, you have to stand firm. Tell your staff that only announcements added to this slide set will be read. Building a digital culture is tough at first, but after you’ve been doing this for a year, you will thank me!  

Click here to see an example of morning announcements via Google slides.  

3. Create a Digital Infrastructure to pull it all together via Blogger and share an invitation for your staff to be blog authors.  

Now I know this one doesn’t sound easy, but once you create all of these other systems of efficiency, you will need a place to connect them all together. Blogger is a great tool that you can lock down to only your school staff. It also allows you to create a ‘one stop shop’ that puts all of the items your staff needs at their fingertips.  You will link both your ‘Living Calendar’ and your ‘Living Announcements’ to this blog so that your teachers aren’t fumbling around looking for these systems in their Google Drives.

Let’s face it, if it takes me more than two clicks to get what I need, I’m frustrated, and your teachers will be too!  Create a simple digital infrastructure to connect this all together and voila! Your teachers stay off the frustration bus. Learn more about using Blogger as a digital infrastructure from principal Wes Bradley here and learn how to create a blog for your staff from me here.

I’ve facilitated in over 100 school districts and I can honestly say, these three efficiency hacks are by far the most popular! Reach out to me at @heatherwarrell and let me know how these systems of efficiency are impacting your work and most importantly your life!  

Go team!

Learn more about Heather’s Creating Digital Workflow For Efficiency and Transparency Workshop >>