The 16th Friday: Our Holiday Presents? Our Presence!

 “…When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so sad.”

Rodgers & Hammerstein

The catchy tune, “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music at times garners attention as a holiday song. At this time of year, it is indeed appropriate that we focus on all the “favorite things” in our own lives. Among my most favorite things are working with outstanding educators across our school district and visiting our classrooms to observe these amazing educators teaching and learning alongside equally-amazing young students. Truly, when I am “feeling sad,” all I need do is visit any classroom in the district to be immediately uplifted and—voila!—then I “don’t feel so bad.”

Educators in our district--and around the world--have this same impact upon the students with whom they interact. Many students are at their happiest when they are in your classrooms. You affect them in this way not only by teaching important content, but also by teaching them who you are through your stories, your actions, your unspoken attention, your laughter. Master teachers are passionate about the content they teach, but even more passionate about the students to whom they are gearing their instruction. I thank you for all you have done in service to your students this school year and wish each of you the happiest and healthiest of holidays. May you spend time with your families and friends in joyful mirth. 

In our district, one small way we thank our amazing staff members is through the "Holiday Presence" idea we started last year. In short, it works like this: the 21 administrators in our district each select a name of a staff member at random whose job they will then cover for a day in the new year, giving the winning staff member a day off as a small token of appreciation for the good work they do day in, day out. Several folks in my PLN asked about this when we posted photos of administrators drawing names last week, so I am including below an email I sent to staff explaining the process for those interested in replicating this in their own school or district. Although our administrative presence on these days is always a great deal of fun, what I really admire about the administrators in our district is that they are present in classrooms on a regular basis. In some schools/districts, this is the exception, not the norm; I am proud to say it is the norm in our district. Our administrators spend a great deal of time where their presence is most meaningful: classrooms. As for me, I am looking forward to spending more time in classrooms in 2015....and, thanks to our Holiday Presence program, I will be spending one full day teaching PE for one of our fantastic teachers!

Wherever you serve as an educator, thank you for caring, thank you for persevering through difficult and stressful times. Thank you for making time to intentionally celebrate your successes and each other. God Bless Us Everyone!



"Holiday Presence" Idea:

Seasons Greetings! Can Brian Bullis (@bbbullis) actually teach 1st grade all day without pulling out what little hair he has remaining? Is it even safe for him to do so? Can Jenell Mroz (@MrozjMroz) possibly do the Herculean  tasks of a school nurse for a day without blowing her top? Can Eileen Brett (@EileenBrett) conceivably teach at the middle school level? Can Dr. Lubelfeld (@mikelubelfeld) do anything without endangering everyone/everything in his immediate proximity??! We shall soon find out!

As a fun way to honor our staff this holiday season, the DPS 109 admin team would like to once again invite everyone to participate in a chance to win a day off--with one of us covering your class or job station for one day next semester. We have 21 administrators who will take your place for one day anytime between January and the end of the school year. Winning staff members will work with the winning (?) administrator to find a mutually-agreeable date for the administrator to take over for him/her as a small token of our appreciation for the jobs that each of our district team members does every day of the year.

Here is how it will work:

Starting tomorrow, we will be placing 21 bags at each campus with the name of one of our 21 building or central office administrators on each. These will likely be stapled on a bulletin board wall in  a staff lounge or some such set up, much like last year. For the next week--if you want to be considered for a chance at winning a day off--place a slip of paper with your name, school, and job title into as many bags as you like. You may well want to put a slip of paper into all 21 bags to increase your odds of winning, but if you would not be comfortable with, say, an incompetent knucklehead like Jeff Zoul covering your class, you can certainly choose to place your name only in the bags of those who you are confident could sub for you effectively. Although you may place 1 slip in each of the 21 bags, please place no more than 1 slip in any one bag.

Then, on On Wednesday, December 17 at noon, all bags will be collected from all schools and brought back to the district center where we will combine the slips of paper from each school for each administrator into 21 total bags with the names of staff across the district who put their name into the mix to win.

Each of the 21 administrators will draw the name of one lucky winner out of their respective bag. The name each of us pulls will be the person whose classroom or other position we cover (secretary, TA, classroom teacher, etc.) for 1 day sometime next semester.

We will work with the winning staff member to schedule the day anytime between January and the end of the school year.

So, in total, 21 staff members will receive a free day's coverage from one of us as a fun Holiday gift!


  • It may well be that you will have someone covering for you from another building (e.g., Rachel Aspinall @aspinall_rachel may teach a 1st grade class at Wilmot one day if she pulls that name).
  • You should only place your name one time in as many of the 21 bags as you choose.
  • We cannot be responsible for what happens wherever Dr. Lubelfeld finds himself "working."
  • We will notify everyone of the 21 winners next Thursday!
Thanks so much; please let me know if you have any questions. We really are grateful for the work that each of you does and hope this small, fun token of our appreciation reflects that gratitude during the holiday season and beyond. Cheers!

The 15th Friday: A Culture of Learning

…Ultimately, a school’s culture has far more influence on life and learning in the schoolhouse than the state department of education, the superintendent, the school board, or even the principal can ever have.”
Roland Barth

A school’s culture can indeed be a powerful thing. It can include many things and can be defined in different ways. Barth’s simplest definition of school culture is, “The way we do things around here.” In schools with positive cultures, these “things” are primarily focused on student learning. A culture that consistently focuses on student learning must possess the following characteristics (Barth, 2002):

  • A clear purpose
  • A collaborative environment
  • Frequent discussions centered on best teaching practices
  • A commitment to continuous improvement
  • A results orientation
  • Administrators who empower teachers
  • A willingness to confront and overcome adversity
  • A staff that always has the best interests of students at heart

Everything we do begins with a clear purpose, or mission. An organization’s mission answers the question why it exists—what, precisely, is its core purpose? Of course, at any school, the core responsibility of educators serving there is to ensure student learning, but in highly effective schools and districts, guaranteeing superior learning experiences is not only our responsibility, but our passion!

Many of our students will be receiving gifts during the holiday season but none of these gifts can be as valuable as the gifts our teachers give them throughout the year and which last a lifetime—most importantly, the gift of lifelong learning. Ron Brandt (1998) wrote a book called Powerful Learning in which he summarized the learning process to include ten crucial statements. These ten essential fundamentals of learning apply to individual students as well as entire organizations and serve as reminders of how students learn and how we can optimize their ability to achieve at their highest possible levels. Take a look at these statements and see if you agree:

  1. People learn what is personally meaningful to them;
  2. People learn when they accept challenging, but achievable, goals;
  3. Learning is developmental;
  4. Individuals learn differently;
  5. People construct new knowledge by building their current knowledge
  6. Much learning occurs through social interaction
  7. People need feedback in order to learn;
  8. Successful learning involves the use of strategies—which themselves must be learned;
  9. A positive emotional climate strengthens learning;
  10. Learning is influenced by total environment.
As I continue to observe in classrooms throughout our own district, I notice kids learning at high levels because these ten crucial statements are being considered as lessons are planned and as meetings are convened to reflect on our practices.

As we near the end of another calendar year of teaching and learning, I hope you take a moment to reflect on Barth’s eight characteristics of a positive school culture and Brandt’s ten characteristics of powerful learning. Do you agree that these statements capture the essence of culture and learning? Which are most/least important? How are we doing in our classrooms, schools, and districts in relation to these indicators of positive culture and powerful learning? I hope you give yourselves high marks; at the same time, one reason excellent educators are so good at what they do is that they always strive to get better still, and it is worth noting Barth’s emphasis on a commitment to continuous improvement.

Thanks for giving the most powerful gift of all each day to the students you serve—the gift of learning. Incorporating powerful learning practices into our daily lessons and working together to build a positive school culture are two ways we Teach with Passion each day!

Book Bits…

As I have mentioned previously, O’Connor devotes a chapter each to 15 “broken” grading practices, offering a “fix” for each problem. This week, we look at the fifteenth—and final—problem, along with his fix:

Grades are broken when teachers “run the show” when it comes to grading and assessing and do not involve students in this critical area of learning. The fix is to ensure that students play key roles in assessment and grading that promote achievement. Make sure that students understand how their grades have been determined and to involve them as much as possible in all phases of learning and assessment. “We must constantly remind ourselves that the ultimate purpose of evaluation is to enable students to evaluate themselves” (Costa, 1991).

The 14th Friday: Reimagining Learning

…there’s a more serious digital divide in the country and that is the divide between those who use technology to reimagine learning and those who simply use technology to digitize traditional learning practices.”
Richard Culatta

This post is a reflection on a powerful TED Talk I watched last week by Richard Culatta, the Director of the Office of EducationTechnology with the US Department of Education. I first met Richard in person last January when I heard him speak at Educon. Ironically, I have viewed this talk before; however, when I re-visited his TED Talk just last week, I was stunned by the degree to which it resonated with me now. Perhaps this is because our district is in its first year as a fully 1:1 school district and I am starting to observe first-hand how learning is being “reimagined,” as Culatta suggests, in many of our classrooms. Still, in our district and in every other school district around the world that is using technology to enhance learning, Culatta’s question remains and is one which we must continuously re-visit:

Are we using technology to replicate traditional learning in a digitized way or are we using technology to truly reimagine learning experiences for our students?

I urge you to view Richard’s talk and see if it resonates with you like it did with me. I’ll let his message speak for itself on this video, but here is just a quick preview: Culatta suggests that we, in education, face three key challenges that technology can actually solve:

Challenge #1: We treat all learners the same despite their unique needs and challenges.
Challenge #2: We hold the school schedule constant and allow the learning to vary.
Challenge #3: Our performance data comes too late to be useful to the learner.

Obviously, we will not solve these challenges—even by implementing a 1:1 environment—alone or overnight. I do concur wholeheartedly, though, that over time we will see technology dramatically impacting the way we address these three very real challenges around our nation, as we begin to truly reimagine how our students learn and how we teach. Ultimately, technology allows us to solve these three particular challenges.

We solve these challenges by making learning for students more “personalized,” meaning providing learning experiences, instructionalapproaches, and support intended to address the distinct learning needs,interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students. When we personalize learning with technology (as, Fullan says, the "accelerator," not the "driver"), Culatta sees several benefits:

  • We can provide real-time feedback to students, an “LPS” version of a GPS system in which we—and our students—know where every individual learner is currently at and where each needs to go next.
  • We can tailor the pacing of instruction to the needs of each learner.
  • We can provide students with agency, empowering them to make decisions about how they want to learn.
  • We can “create creators” more effectively and efficiently, allowing our students to become not only meaning seekers, but meaning makers.
  • We can radically improve access to a wide variety of learning opportunities to an increasing number of students who need and want them.
What would you add to this sampling of Richard’s list; how else can technology exist to personalize learning for our students? I hope you enjoy this video as much as I have; let me know what you think:

Reflecting on what we currently do and imagining how we might do it even better to meet the needs of our students in a rapidly-changing society is yet another example of how we Teach with Passion each day!

Book Bits…

A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor

As I have mentioned previously, O’Connor devotes a chapter each to 15 “broken” grading practices, offering a “fix” for each problem. This week, we look at the fourteenth problem, along with his fix:

Grades are broken when learning is developmental (likely to improve over time with practice and repeated opportunities) and the final grade does not recognize the student’s final level of proficiency.

The fix for this type of broken grade is that for any developmental learning we must emphasize the more recent evidence and allow new evidence to replace, not simply be added to, old evidence. “What matters is not what you have at the starting point, but whether and how well you finish” (Gardner, 2002).

Cultures of Excellence

“ Culture is what enables teams of people to defy the odds and achieve the remarkable. ”  from the NfX Company Culture Manual “Culture”...