14 Steps to Make a Great School Even Better

Can we do better?

I have worked in some really amazing schools. This fact gives me optimism in my students’ future and the future of the planet.

Alas, the school year is over.  I have had the time to breath and reflect on how we as a learning community can do even better.  The following is a personal body of thought upon making elementary schools not only brain-friendly but “human-friendly.” 

  1. A focus on Project-Based Learning. Read about the benefits of project-based learning here
  2. Each student composes music. Read about the effects of music on the brain here.
  3. The Arts… every day. View an inspiring news report here
  4. Life skills are not expected, but taught. UNICEF defines life skills as “psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. They are loosely grouped into three  broad categories of skills: cognitive skills for analyzing and using information, personal skills for developing personal agency and managing oneself, and inter-personal skills for communicating and interacting effectively with others.”
  5. Neurology Training: Teachers have a basic understanding of how the brain works. One of my favorite brain books is here.
  6. Maker Culture: Students create, disassemble and reassemble their own technology. Check out Maker magazine here.
  7. Teach kids financial literacy. Read 10 Steps to Teaching Your Kids to Become Entrepreneurs here.
  8. Chess tournaments. Check out the effects of Chess on the child brain. Chess is the “anti-Ritalin.”
  9. Poetry Matters: Poetry is all over the school. Read about my poetry heroine here.
  10. Classes are smaller: Class size is 16 kids per class. From my experience, this is the ideal class size for teaching 21st century students.
  11. More planning time:Student workweek is 4.5-days. Teachers workweek is 5.5 days.
  12. Balanced curriculum decisions: Curriculum is developed by children, parents and staff
  13. Stress is confronted: The CDC report on the dangers of toxic stress on children here.
  14. A shift in professional development. I believe that teachers are to choose more of their own avenues for professional development.


School Administrators: What I Have Learned.

After reading my mentor, Janet Abercrombie’s, latest posting on teacher meetings: I needed to think about excellence in school leadership.

I am quite appreciative of the many fine and the few poor administrators that I have been able to work with. Each has taught me a great deal. The best have taught me to treat education as a calling. The worst have taught me the true meaning of patience and compassion. The following is a body of thought on what I have learned from the truly great school administrators that I have come across.

Master administrators build relationships. I am a firm believer that education is fostering and maintaining,trusting relationships. Administrators worth their salt are by in large, positive and deservedly secure people. The finest administrators investigate, set goals and then celebrate achievement. The finest are data-driven to a degree. The finest take notes and respond to queries. The finest are people movers. The best administrators do not try to find fault.

The administrator is a role model. There are no two ways about it. The master administrator serves the community. The master administrator takes time to build people through showering praise for quality work. Authority is carefully delegated to teacher leaders and staff.  Development and analysis of brain-researched curriculum is on going. Parents are given a voice as well as, an avenue to support the community. Leaders show evidence of transparency, to a degree, in the decision-making process.

On any given day, Principals face frustrated parents, staff and teachers. The best administrators can look past any despair and offer an alternative view. Principals believe in change and that they are an effective change agent. The best principals have a very high opinion of themselves without being obnoxious or overbearing. The finest principals overlook the incredible demands they face and put forth a positive demeanor.

Many parents lose sleep worrying about their children. Some, tragically, do not lose any sleep. Students rightfully deserve a world-class, quality education each day, each lesson. Teachers provide group dynamic challenges unlike any other institution. Support staff needs are diverse and can easily be overlooked. Superintendents need to see tangible evidence of growth. These are all daunting and intimidating factors to consider before one critiques your local school leader.

It is my belief that the finest leaders steer those in their keep toward a shared, achievable goal. Master administrators recruit talented people and inspire them to greatness. They help those in the community find meaning. They are data driven and celebrate achievement. They push great teachers out the door to become school leaders, elsewhere.

They serve others to the extreme.

Teaching Technology to Expat Teachers

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Recently, I had the good fortune to attend the educational professional development course, Teaching Technology to Teachers. Justin Reich and Tom Daccord  led the class. The training was held at Harvard University’s Adolphus Busch Hall. Below are some notes and reflections I found useful for international educators. Additionally, I have provided some links from the course.

Justin clarified to me that effectual educational technology assists students to:

Collect information needed for understanding.

Relate to each other in collaborative learning groups.

Create meaningful, authentic performances of understanding.

Donate their work to a broader audience.

Moreover, Justin and Tom got me questioning my teaching habits, such as, “What is my educational technology mission statement? How do I spend my time? How specifically does my technology choices improve student learning? How do I differentiate my audiences’ level of technical comprehension?How can I use technology to more readily collaborate with my teammates and teachers?”

I envision that this class will help me prod my teammates to contemplate their own philosophies on use of educational technology. I hope to offer opportunities for students colleagues and parents to appreciate that technology is not a cure-all but rather a tool delivering content.

Reich and my cohorts shared teacher-tested professional development models including:

Digital Educator Academy: (Providing college credits for Ed Tech professional growth.)

Nine tech lunch talks throughout the school year

Ed Tech prize drawings provided throughout the school year

Bagels and Laptops: Monthly voluntary breakfast meetings where cohorts share tech secrets and successes

Tech Leader Representatives per Teaching Team or Department

Geek of the Week (I love this idea in spite of the label)

Technology in practice weekly blogs

Technology Fairs where teachers are given time to informally” test drive” tech ideas

Reich explained the rewards of challenges to inspire confidence to change. He presented digital challenges that show, and not tell, teachers the joys, benefits and relative ease in using technology.  A highly engaging challenge is here.Expat teachers can reach available protocols and tutorials to cut issues that will appear. You can use your students and teachers partners to develop tutorials and screencasts. Commoncraft is one such site that has a bevy of tutorials. Screencastomatic is a simple and free site that allows users to produce screencasts while instructing. They can later be linked to teachers’ websites for future viewing.

Upon reflection, the course, Teaching Technology to Teachers, will profoundly affect how I teach my students. Specifically, my students will more markedly share their work with fellow learners worldwide. This is a path to improving student learning.I strongly recommend that international educators consider enrolling with Justin and Tom in the future. I most definitely plan to attend again next summer. I am quite grateful for this time well spent.

Have a great year and I hope this helps. Below are some links that had a great deal of buzz:







Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Please write back.