We Can’t Ignore Sleep

In a leadership meeting back in 2012 those of us gathered around the table were encouraged to think outside the box to explore ways to improve learning. I’d encountered multiple days trying to wake students and decided a lack of sleep was directly impacting their ability to learn.  I made this Sleep Brochure back then, placed it in our school lobby and distributed it to the counselors and faculty that they might mention it during parent/teacher conferences.  Validation was everywhere then but I didn’t feel that anyone thought something as simple as sleep might make a difference.

Currently, Matthew Walker of UC Berkeley has made several appearances on morning television to explain how important it is that we stop taking sleep for granted. I hope you will investigate his research and take heed.  It is quite a simple experiment to take a few weeks to set a sleep schedule, stick to it, and examine your own findings.

I wish my own sleepy child would read this. 🙂


No Phones 4 Kids

Today a teen wanted me to watch a helmet cam video of a motorcycle accident/death.  I would not watch and told the young man it is not good for him to view such things either.

This is only one of many events which has led to my conclusion that young people should not possess a phone.  Remember for a moment your school years; what did you do when your mind wandered from the lesson? I remember writing notes, whispering, and during one year a friend and I created elaborate mazes on paper to trade and solve.  I’m not proud of my distraction but give details to point out how limited my options were.  Now consider a child in school with a phone.  At the very least they are able to text which means they can effectively “hang out” with all their friends rather than pay attention.  Once a child has a phone with data or with wifi they add music, video, movies, games, enhanced social time, an infinite number of distractions with sophisticated media built to keep their attention.  The average child under 18 is more vulnerable to distraction as well as exposure to people or materials they aren’t equipped to know how to handle.

For the sake of their development and future, young people should not have a phone until they work a steady job and can afford to pay for it on their own (optimally 17 or 18 at the earliest).  Consider also health statistics for children.  Sedentary lifestyles have made 31% of 10-17 year olds overweight or obese.  If you note posture of many teens, they have a hunched back and neck enough to look osteoporotic when sitting.  Often in school a percentage of students have had inadequate sleep from media exposure and are not able to stay awake during class.  I further believe it is unhealthy for developing bodies to have extended exposure to cellular waves.  The zombie apocalypse is real; instead of flesh eaters we have phone zombies.

Even with filtering and monitoring, young people can easily get access and be exposed to inappropriate, explicit, or dangerous content.  Through video, games, and music they are bombarded with words and images and can be desensitized.  As mentioned in my intro, this teen had a perverse interest in sharing what I can only imagine was a truly disturbing video.  I honestly don’t know if he knew how to handle the images and wanted to show it, in part, to seek others reactions.  I don’t know the psychological long term effects of so much unfiltered exposure but it can’t be healthy.  Humans are naturally curious but for some the curiosity can become obsession/addiction.

The last reason young people shouldn’t have a phone (smart or other) is need.  As a society we have become comfortable with being able to reach anyone any time but when a young person’s “job” is to be in school to learn there is no need for a phone.  If parents must reach their child during the day, the office staff in a school is well equipped.

There are, of course, many positives for possessing a smart device.  My estimation from professional experience with young people is that fewer than 25% of 14-18 year olds have the maturity and ability to delay gratification in order to use a smart phone wisely.  Until this year my approach has been that young people need to have access so they can learn the responsibility.  This approach is flawed, teens need better “training wheels” to advance to mature utilization.  Smart phones can have as many or more unexpected outcomes as learning to drive and can be abused like drinking or drugs so parents need to take on the responsibility of teaching their child and limiting use.


Gov McCrory – Practice What You Preach

The education news for North Carolina in the last weeks has fueled a variety of emotions for those involved.  Our governor, Pat McCrory, is leading legislation which has, and will continue to make sweeping changes.  In the latest proposal the Governor announced, those teachers who are new and with less than 5 years experience will receive as much as a 14% pay increase for the next two years to cummulatively bring their pay to the national average.  There is no mention of the possibility of raises or even removing pay freezes for teachers with more than 5 years experience.  The governor already lead legislation to  phase out career status (tenure) and phase out pay for advanced degrees.

In light of theses changes if he would like to test the efficacy of his plan, I propose our Governor (and other legislators, as well) practice what he preaches.  For Governor McCrory, he has 15 years experience as a politician.  (His years as a councilman would not count since they would compare to student teaching which is unpaid and the probationary years of teaching.)  He would not be entitled to a raise because of his tenure and future salary is in question.  Just as the professionals over whom he is making decisions, he should accept no more than the $3304.17 per month that a teacher with his experience and educational level would receive.  He would, of course, be paid for twelve months due to the nature of his work and to be fair the salary would be $3965 per month(~$2688 net after taxes, ins., etc) since his yearly salary would not be a 10 month one divided by 12 monthly installments.  He would not receive any residual payments for housing.  If he would like to leave his office for a conference or meeting, he would need to apply for the ability to go and reimbursement money for travel.  He should keep in mind that no more than one conference per year is funded (if that) and that any other excursions will need to come from his own salary.  He will also need to take personal days which deduct from his salary for time away from the office without approval.  He often has evening events but just as extended conferences or working at sporting events are part of the job, they don’t earn compensatory or overtime.  There are other details which could be practiced but one full year with the above mentioned stipulations should be sufficient to gather some evidence based data about salary compared to experience.

There have been many leaders who are willing to “walk a mile in the shoes” of others to be able to make better decisions.  I hope the Governor and other legislators might consider my proposal to both assist in their decision making and save our great state even more money in the process.

Mike Rowe

Whether it be ingrained from teaching or motherly instinct, I often feel the need to say, “I’m proud of you!” to strangers when I learn of their good deeds or words. Mike Rowe is my latest recipient. It is both a tragedy and a blessing that his TED talk was emailed to me recently. The tragedy is that it is my first viewing since the talk aired in 2008. The blessing, of course, is it is still being passed from person to person and I didn’t miss out.

Mike Rowe’s reach is wide, but you will likely know him for Discovery’s Dirty Jobs. In his TED Talk he relays some of the epiphanies from his first seasons.  The talk opens with a particular job of sheep herding (which is probably not school material) but is used to prove his point that there is a sort of Cold War on work in our country.  I will let you watch yourself so I don’t water down the point.  It is absolutely true and sadly not improving greatly some five years after his speech.

How can teachers and parents help inspire students to get through the “dirty jobs” in learning so they reap the rewards? When I think back to my grade school days, it is sad to say I don’t remember very many teachers well. I’m in no way trying to slight the teachers I don’t remember well because I know I progressed each of the years (and truth be told, grade school was a LONG time ago). The teachers I do remember, though, were inspirational. They tantalized students with some knowledge, provided tools and nurtured the process to allow growth in the subject. Finally, they added feedback and encouragement to move forward. The topics weren’t easy, the rigor was part of the challenge. The key, was and still is, in making the topic relevant, and allowing for reflection to make the learning more personal.

What better way to make a one dimensional curriculum topic relevant than to relate it to real jobs? Giving students an opportunity to find the work/discipline which relates to an objective is a powerful learning experience as well. Another added benefit of relating work skills to curricula is that life is interdisciplinary. Seeing relationships to other subjects is only part of the collateral learning students discover when they learn more about real work and they may find an obscure job to inspire them to continue their education toward a career goal. Mike is advocating for more technical skills education and has some great resources and even scholarships available on his website, Profoundly Disconnected.
Thank you for your efforts Mike Rowe. I am proud of you.


Thank you to:

Ms. Bingham for being so loving and nurturing; Ms. Brooks for believing math is the most exciting concept in the universe; Mr. Tester for some many quirky exciting talents like being able to draw a perfect circle with a swing of your arm and knowing SO much about Algebra and cool spatial puzzles; Ms. White for grading my papers rather than how I looked or my behavior; Ms. Welborn for making old English literature interesting; and Ms. Benson for having us analyze contemporary songs as poems and  teaching that writing is a process and ensuring we practiced it often.

Open Letter to M Night Shyamalan

I Got Schooled

I Got Schooled

Dear Mr. Shyamalan,

My hope is that this will reach you if you are as obsessive and sentimental as you confess in your book.  I’m sure completion of any project of this magnitude is a cathartic process where you hope to move others to action.  I’d like to congratulate you on the thorough and professional research for I Got Schooled.  As a 20+ year veteran of teaching I am impressed with your depth of understanding of many educational issues.  I’m also impressed at the many things I learned through reading your book besides your goal of the five tenets.  I particularly like the overview of cognitive biases and the simplification of effect size (and Appendix B).  Adherence to the health tenets could go a long way to improving education too.  [For readers, Shyamalan learned from a doctor that there are five basic health tenets which, when adhered to in combination, sustain good health.  You can not ignore one, it’s an all or nothing.  The tenets are: eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, get eight hours sleep, and maintain reasonable stress levels.  Shyamalan posited that the keys in education may well be the same.  He offers five tenets which need to be offered in combination in order to close achievement gaps.]

I am writing you in an open letter so I won’t spoil the book completely for anyone who reads my blog.  I will say this book is definitely worthy of adding to anyone’s reading list.  We all know the reasons that schools and children struggle is a multifaceted problem so your systematic approach provides a template to succeed.  Although it is easy to look for scapegoats, no child wakes up saying, “I want to fail” and no teacher says, “I want to be a poor teacher”.  Your “no enemies” approach provides a no nonsense look at best practices. And Mr. Shyamalan, it may be impertinent for a complete stranger to assess your personality but I will venture to say you are doing your best to be a responsible citizen of the world (and thank you Bhavna for reinforcement).

I’d like to share some concerns for those who may read this book and hope to make  changes in their school.  Before I do, I sensed your concern that the book may insult or enrage people in education.  I don’t think any teacher worth their salt will be surprised or even bothered by any of the tenets.  Your revelation is in the combination of all five tenets.  As they say, the devil is in the details.

  • Schools are short on time and human capital so that reform is often in the form of pieces of good information rather than a systemic approach.  I’m afraid administrators will want to make changes but still not have the time, training, or resources to make comprehensive change.  That would be missing the point.
  • I’m sure it wasn’t the intent but I can envision misguided leaders expecting teachers to work and pace in classrooms like automatons.  Most people who want to teach and inspire children are lead by their heart.  It is a rare person who will also embrace data analysis over creative inspiration.  Part of this, of course, is a lack of educational measurement training or training on specific management strategies.  I am still an advocate of innovative freedom and a certain amount of autonomy in the classroom.  I do have to remind myself your book addresses how to solve the achievement gap rather than a blueprint for every teacher.
  • With tenet three, teachers and administrators need to be reminded that data and assessments don’t need to exclusively be multiple choice tests.  I fear with too many standardized assessments we are teaching children strategies to determine an answer when presented with a few choices rather than experiential learning with transference of knowledge outside a discipline.
  • Tenet four – I am all for more focus and more time for students.  I was fortunate to be a part of a year round program in the past and can report that children and teachers were happier and well adjusted in a nine week on three week off program.  In the three weeks off, there was a week of remediation and a week of enrichment activities.  Some children only took one week off every eleven weeks of school.  However, when it comes to extending school days, often the teachers are expected to do this duty with no additional pay.  There needs to be after school assistants.  Most people don’t realize the average teacher spends anywhere from 20 to 40 additional hours a week at home grading, planning, etc.  It truly takes a superhero to add to the contact hours and keep the pace of their usual “homework”.  As you say, it is not sustainable.

I don’t mean my comments to be a criticism at all, just thoughts and concerns after many years of seeing strategies come and go.  Overall I think you are spot on.  It is interesting that it has taken a story maker and film director to illuminate that education is the sum of its parts just like a movie and story line has to be more than a great highlight reel.  You accurately sum up teaching with, “I can report that the thing that makes teachers happiest is their students’ success in learning what they are being taught” (Shyamalan, p. 222)  I hope your book helps improve the conversation and ultimately remove the obstacles to the aforementioned happiness.  Thank you for your commitment and for writing I Got Schooled.

With warm regard,


Who Am I?

Who Am I is a great activity for students.  This activity requires students to synthesize their learning into several concise statements which build upon one another.

The result is an activity for one of their peers to solve too.

Try this creative way for students to demonstrate what they have learned.


Decide how many clues the students will provide in the presentation.  This will be the number of slides needed.  The presentation should have a  solid colored (usually white or black) background.  The picture selection comes next.  Take advantage of the DE image search!  Obviously this could be Who Am I?, Where Am I?, What Am I?, or When was it?

The image should be placed on the first slide.  Now, create a box, edit it to have no border and the fill is the solid color of the background.  Make the box cover a section of the image.  Create more boxes, moving them around to cover the image completely.  If you have five clues, you will need five boxes.

Once you have one slide with an image hidden under boxes, copy the entire slide and paste it for the number of clues (and boxes).  Finally, add a text box to each slide with a clue, and remove one box at a time for each clue and slide.  The final slide should show the answer, the full image, and add the citation form your image.

See the full example here.  Go to View and Present to see as a presentation.

Shut Down

I’m conflicted.

On one side, the federal government has been shut down for 14 days and I have seen no effect on my daily life.  Part of me thinks we can eliminate debt if all our federal dollars went to paying bills rather than the billions going to the stuff that I haven’t noticed is closed.  Of course I realize there are people involved who are helpless in this shutdown and that obviously we need government.  I’m not for anarchy!  The shutdown should force us to notice the negatives of our BIG government though and work to remedy it.

So if we aren’t for doing away with government we DO need it to work correctly.  I hear that republicans are taking the blame for the shutdown.  First, I blame both democrats and republicans, especially when I hear they aren’t willing to compromise for fear of their political ratings and possibility of being re-elected. (News flash! if you do your job you win the admiration of supporters)

I wonder if the average person realizes the republicans are attempting to make our country live on a reasonable budget? Not even a balanced one, just one that isn’t ticking off billions of new debt per day on an exponential curve skyward.  It seems that any parent would want the U.S. to reign in spending so our children will have a country rather than renting it from whomever owns our debt.  I was curious and found that about 34% of our debt is foreign owned, the rest we borrow from ourselves and programs like social security and retirement that we think we can count on. 

I have no conflict at all with wanting our lawmakers to reach compromise in order to both balance an ANNUAL budget and ensure a future for our children that doesn’t include so much indebtedness that they will never know what the American dream means.