Commitment versus Compliance

Struggle Street

When I first became a site administrator I was intimidated by our administrators meetings.  There were a few women principals but most of the administrators at the district level were men.  Mentoring and helping the newby was not part of the code book.  Telling you how it was done, was the norm.

At one meeting we were listening to a lecture on how to write our school plans.  I thought that a school plan was a great idea.  I thought that  having a plan would guide us and keep us on the straight and narrow path to achieving our goals.  Since I was the Assistant Principal at the time, my Principal thought it would be a good project for me!  At first, I was quite thrilled to create a vision and goals for our school.  Interestingly though, my first clue should have been that I had been a teacher at this school for several years and had never seen the “School Plan” or had any idea what was in it.

As the district administrator poured over the requirements that needed to be in the plan, I started to get the picture.  This was a document that was designed to comply with laws and regulations that were designed in Washington and the state capitol, not a process document that would be a road map  to greater student achievement.

One of the Principals seemed to sense my anxiety about being in charge of this document.  He leaned over to me and whispered,  “I always write ___(an expletive not suitable for this blog) in the middle of a sentence and I bury it the middle of the document just to see if anyone reads what I wrote.  No one has ever called me on it in the last 20 years.  Don’t sweat it”.

We are really good at churning out plans that comply with all the laws and regulations, but are they helping to improve student achievement?

As strategic planning and other forms of participatory processes have evolved in the last several years,   even plans that have to be compliant have a place for some collaboration.  Most vision statements reflect  rigorous actions to improve achievement for all students. I have also seen  more actions focused on Social Emotion Learning and developing character.

I do notice, however, that sometimes the plans are not the guiding roadmap for improving student achievement. Sometimes the plans sit on the shelf and don’t get implemented. When we are trying to put together plans, visions, and actions we need to remember that it is hard for people to be committed to someone elses goals.  It is also especially hard for people to be committed to someone elses strategies for accomplishing those goals.

We have  gotten better at engaging stakeholders. We still have much to learn. However, collaboration takes a lot of time but it pays off in the implementation.

I recently read a great book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling.  You will find lots of great advice for how to get your goals  accomplished and actions implemented. This book might even help you define your goals for 2017-2018.


Fake News

Just ran across a great place to help kids be more discerning in their use of internet news.  It won’t solve all the issues surrounding “fake news” but its a start.

Here are a few recommended questions to start with as students are searching the internet:

Who made this?
Who is the target audience?
Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if you click on this?
Who might benefit or be harmed by this message?
What is left out of this message that might be important?
Is this credible (and what makes you think that)?
(Thanks to Project Look Sharp for these questions.)

Helping our students critically read and reflect on their own thinking is a tall order but a worthwhile project.


Workplace Stress for Principals

I recently read an article called “Principals Under Threat.”

The article,,

stated the stress rates in Principals in Australia, has risen significantly in the last few years. Principals are often bullied, threatened and experience threats of violence. This does not surprise me nor would it surprise any acting School Leader in any country. The Principals and administrators that I work with, juggle multiple demands all day long.

Interestingly, Principals in Australia, reported that despite the increases in offensive behavior, principals still rate their biggest contributors to workplace stress as the sheer quantity of work, meeting multiple agendas and lack of time to dedicate to being effective instructional leaders. Examples of sources of stress included issues of supporting and dealing with student and staff mental health issues, developing and paying for resources, and responding and complying with laws and government initiatives. The following are some of the recommendations for improving education and reducing stress for leaders:


  • Government: Adopt a long term approach to education budgets and stop looking for short-term quick fixes.
  • Employers: Reduce job demands or increase resources to cope with increased workloads and work towards building trust in the system as a whole and between those who work in it.
  • Professional associations and unions: Depoliticize the education community and speak with one voice about the education system to inform policy.
  • Community: Support local schools and stop the offensive behavior.
  • Schools: Increase internal social capital through learning from other Australian schools that have made progress in this space. Collaboration both inside and across schools is key.
  • Educators: Respectfully speak back when faced with moral harassment and take responsibility for your personal work-life balance.
  • Research community: Provide better longitudinal evidence of the differential impact of all the influences on education to provide better insight into the most effective policies, processes and procedures in Australia’s differing contexts.

I thought that this was well rounded and touched on all the education stakeholders and how they can support education.  It certainly applied to many of our issues here in the United States. The article concludes that leaders need support.

Overall, however the report does note that in general Principal job satisfaction is holding steady and even rising a bit.  I think this means that even though educators deal with many constraints they are able to wade through them and keep students’ success foremost in their minds and hearts.  When the constraints get you down, remember what you really believe in and why you come to work each day.  Spread your “why” across your school site.  You get to inspire teachers who touch the students each day.  Teachers are stressed too but that’s another post.


The full report can be found at http://www.principalhealthorg/au






Effective Feedback

Success FailureFeedback isn’t criticism and feedback isn’t praise.  Feedback tells you specifically what you did well and what if anything would make your learning stronger or better. Good feedback encourages you to keep going even when you feel lost.

Before you learn something new you need to know specifically what you are going to learn and how you will know if you learned it. The most effective feedback is ongoing during learning or as soon as possible after instruction.  For example, I am currently going to a trainer for strength training.  I always thought I could just add a few reps with some weights, do a few sit ups and a few other things and I would be fine. Unfortunately, I ended up hurting myself several times(including a frozen shoulder)and finally just gave up.  I am an avid walker but something told me I still needed to add strength training.  I found a trainer that I really liked and she was excellent at giving feedback.  I had no idea I was holding the weights wrong.  I needed to back up and go slowly.    Before we start something new she always demonstrates what we will do.  I practice with her guiding me and when she catches me doing something wrong she will take hold of my arm for example and guide it. Then I start on my own and she watches me like a hawk to make sure I don’t hurt myself and am using the proper form and timing.  Somethings have taken me a very long time to accomplish.  After several months I have gotten so much stronger.  This kind of coaching with effective, specific and timely feedback is what has made the difference. My trainer lets me know what I am accomplishing too. “You held plank for 30 seconds.  I know you can do more.  You are doing very well with the 5 pound weights. Your form is great.  Lets try the 6 pound weights next time.”

As teachers we give feedback all day long.  If you are a teacher and see that some of your students are stuck, check in with your feedback.  Is it timely? Is it specific? Does it encourage your student to take on new challenges?  For example if you are a kindergarten teacher, you need to employ specific feedback almost immediately.  When I taught kindergarten, I made the mistake of giving a paper back the next day.  A few of the students recognized that it was theirs but most denied it outright!  If you are a high school English teacher you can wait a bit to return something to students with feedback and you may still get results.  Just remember that feedback must be specific.  A grade alone does not support deep learning.  Neither does, “good job!” Comment about what exactly  your student did  well.  Specific feedback on a piece of writing, would be something like, ” I like your idea. You captured my interest in the introduction with your questions and anecdote.”  If you just said good job, your student may not understand that they now know how to write an introduction that captures the audience. The more specific feedback you can give while students are practicing and trying it on their own, the more likely they will be to learn the objective. The more students know what they are doing right and what still needs work, the more likely they will be to challenge themselves to keep going.

If you are the learner, and are struggling with something, think about the kind of feedback your are getting.  Is it timely?  Is it specific? Does it encourage you to take on more challenges or do you just want to give up in frustration.

The other day, I held plank for one minute and ten seconds.  That was record for me.  My shoulders are doing much better and my goal is 10 pound weights with proper form.


What is your learning style?

Educatonal literature has many definitions of learning style. Figuring out what works best for you is an invaluable skill. Learning theory suggests that we are visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners. As a teacher and educator for many years I have found that trying to identify students learning styles in order to determine the best instructional strategies to employ is a tall order.

What I know about instruction has a great influence on my own style. What I have noticed in my students and in myself is that my learning style is different based on the task or content I am trying to learn. For some things I can pick up a book, read the directions and do it. A recipe for example. Anything I have a lot of background knowledge about is easy for me to read, listen to and do it. Things that challenge me more require that I interact with the content in some way. Sketch it out in a mind map, write down what I have learned, or perhaps talk about it with someone. For the most challenging learning, usually something I have little background knowledge about, I need an explanation, a demonstration,  practice that is guided and a chance to use the knowledge in an authentic way.

However, the  most important element of learning for me is getting effective feedback. The more constructive feedback I get along the way the more I learn and the longer I can persist without giving up. Without good  feedback, I can flounder and not be very productive  I need feedback even for easy learning such as following a recipe.  Comments like, wow this tastes great, sends the message that this recipe is worth trying again. Another form of feedback that is equally important is when I make a mistake, perhaps the time I accidentally substituted salt for sugar is a good example! With effective feedback I can learn from my mistakes and persist through frustration

How to deliver effective feedback is the title for another post!


Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously!

Mauka Meadows 008This is a picture of a place on the Big Island of Hawaii.  It is part of a coffee plantation, Mauka Meadows.  I took this picture on a visit with some friends. At the time I was an assistant superintendent of schools. It was a big job and often took a lot out of me. One of our friends said as he looked over this beautiful view, “Everyone needs to come here at least once a year so that you learn not to take yourself so seriously.” It was just the advice I needed at the time. Sometimes we get so caught up in the day to day solving of problems, juggling all sorts of details and events that we forget how to stop and realize that we are only a small part of this amazing planet.  As an educator I am very passionate about the opportunities that education provides.  I want everyone to have a great education!  What my friend was trying to tell me was that I couldn’t do all and change the world by myself. I now know  that we have to work together to create sustainable change.

Sometimes, we really need to get away from our daily routine, step back and see where we fit in the world. Do you have a place to go where you are so amazed by the beauty of nature that it reminds you to be grateful and not take yourself so seriously?  You don’t need to go to Hawaii.  It might be to stand over your sleeping child or having your dog or cat greet you at the door after a long day.

We get caught up in trying to make the world a better place.  We get frustrated by the constraints that stop us from making our vision into a reality.  Every job has constraints.  Ask any of your friends and acquaintances what constraints do they deal with in their work, that makes them crazy.  Everyone has a list.

As part of my new year’s goals I am going to keep a gratitude journal. I will let you know how it goes.  Happy New Year Everyone.

New Year New Learning

I have been absent from blogging for a while. I am ready to begin again. I am excited about taking a course from WordPress, Blogging 101.
Alexander Learns is a  blog is about learning. I have been an educator for 40 years and I am passionate about education and helping and encouraging educators to make the most of their practice.  Teachers and teaching matters. Educators enable students to learn at high levels, to communicate, to collaborate and to create. 

 I am also interested in learning how to help students use their voices through blogging. Many of the posts will be specifically for educators.  Some will be for students, some for parents and some for anyone who is interested in learning something new and sharing learning. 


Practice Self Compassion and Compassion for Others

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” ― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

I am enrolled in a blogging class. One of our assignments was to read other blogs,  comment on them,  then create a blog of our own based on a blog that we read. I read a great blog by a gentleman, queasy paddy, whose blog is called A Drop in the Ocean.  He is sharing his journey as he tries to improve his health as part of a news years resolution. He is taking a break from alcohol. He is also a great poet. You can read about his journey  here.
Reading his journey made me think about how much we don’t know about each other. We don’t know the struggles that everyone we  meet and everyone we deal with each day are facing.  As teachers we often see our students struggles reflected in their behavior. Everyday we have to dig deep to ensure that we have enough compassion, love and patience to help but not enable.  That is sometimes a tough order, especially on days when our struggles are pulling at us.

Please don’t give up on yourself or your students.

Are You an Exhausted Educator?

DangerDid you know that a lot of research has been done on educator energy dips.  Between Halloween and Christmas is one of the lowest dips for educators. A study done for the Beginning Teacher program in California(BTSA) found that beginning teachers go through several stages during the year.  It has been my experience that many of these stages apply to all educators regardless of your role or experience.  Here is a graphic describing the phases:



It’s really time to take care of yourself.  You know what that means: eat right, exercise(even just a little will help), sleep,etc! When school starts we are all usually filled with excitement and energized by the challenge of the new year.  It takes so much energy to get everything up and running.  If you are an administrator, for example, you spend countless hours organizing everything, keeping things under control, building supportive and caring relationships and monitoring and adjusting everything.  If you are a teacher, you have spent the last three months creating a classroom climate that functions smoothly.  You started with nothing and made it happen.  This is exhausting.  You most likely have come a long way teaching and reinforcing  rules and procedures as well as creating a climate that is rich in productive and positive relationships.  You may also not be quite where you need your students to be. This can be discouraging. It seems like you are rolling a boulder up hill! November and December can be trying times in schools.

If you can, take a little time to reflect.  Work on your own growth mindset! Monitor your own self-talk just as you do for your students or staff.  Perhaps you could employ the power of YET!

Try Saying:

My students do understand multiplying fractions yet!

My classroom does not function as smoothly as possible yet!

My staff is not functioning as a productive Professional Learning Community  yet!

You might also try creating your own set of beliefs that can serve as guideposts for improving your practice.

I believe that through practice, perseverance and hard work my students will learn.

I believe that I can encourage my students to accept challenges.

I believe that I can create a climate where my students will take risks and learn from mistakes.

Every classroom, school, district and state has unique sets of problems, issues and challenges.  We have to remember that we can only create change though our circle of influence, but it may be bigger than we think.

Circle of Influence




How to Inspire a Growth Mindset: Part 1

If our students have a growth mindset they embrace challenges. They know that they can learn new things.  That’s a huge boost to motivation and engagement.  It’s really a freeing experience to look forward to a challenge.

Students with a fixed mindset feel that their learning ability is fixed.  They think that they do not have the talent to succeed and excel in some subjects or tasks.  They might say things like:

  1. “I’m not good at Math”
  2. “I’m not an athlete.”
  3. “I can’t write.”

As parents, teachers and coaches we can change and develop mindsets.  One of the first things to think about is how we dole out praise.  Here is a link to some videos that  illustrate the point.

One of the best ways that Carol Dweck suggests we can influence a growth mindset, is to focus on the process used to learn rather than the finished product or result.

For example highlight strategies, effort or choices:

  1. “You put a lot of effort into that.”
  2. “I like the choices you made.”
  3. “That extra practice really helped you improve!”
  4. “How did you do that”?
  5. “How many times did you try it before it turned out the way you wanted it?”

Check on yourself.

  1. Which brain illustration represents a fixed mindset, blue or green?
  2. Which brain illustration represents a growth mindset, blue or green?

Mindset Static or Developed

answer:  blue = fixed, green =growth