justinbaeder, Author at The Principal Center

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Marlena Hebern—The EduProtocol Field Guide: 16 Student-Centered Lesson Frames for Infinite Learning Possibilities

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Get the book, The EduProtocol Field Guide: 16 Student-Centered Lesson Frames for Infinite Learning Possibilities

Visit Marlena's Website

Visit the EduProtocols Website

Follow Marlena on Twitter @mhebern

About Marlena Hebern

Marlena Hebern is a Google Certified Innovator, Google Trainer, and co-founder of EdCamp Yosemite. She is the author, with Jon Corippo, of The EduProtocol Field Guide: 16 Student-Centered Lesson Frames for Infinite Learning Possibilities

1 Jack Jose and Krista Taylor—Angels and Superheroes Compassionate Educators in an Era of School Accountability

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Get the book, Angels and Superheroes Compassionate Educators in an Era of School Accountability

Visit the Angels and Superheroes website

About Jack Jose

Jack Jose is the Principal of Gamble Montessori High School in Cincinnati Public Schools. Before coming to Gamble he was an English teacher and Paideia Program facilitator at Hughes Center, a CPS school, for 13 years. He has presented at conferences for the Ohio Council of the International Reading Association, the Cincinnati Montessori Society, and the Ohio Montessori Alliance.

About Krista Taylor

Krista L. Taylor is an intervention specialist and CPS Lead Teacher with a passion for including students with a wide range of disabilities. In 2015, Krista was named the Western and Southern Lawrence C. Hawkins Educator of the Year in Cincinnati Public Schools.


Sonny Magana—Disruptive Classroom Technologies: A Framework for Innovation in Education

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Get the book, Disruptive Classroom Technologies: A Framework for Innovation in Education

Visit Sonny's Website

Follow Sonny on Twitter @SonnyMagana

Learn more about the Project-Based Learning Network

About Dr. Sonny Magana

Dr. Sonny Magana is Milken Award-winning educator, author, and ed tech researcher. A sought-after speaker and consultant, he's the author, with Robert Marzano, of Enhancing the Art & Science of Teaching with Technology, as well as Disruptive Classroom Technologies: A Framework for Innovation in Education.


Richard Gerver—Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today: Education – Our Children – Their Futures

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Get the book, Creating Tomorrow's Schools Today: Education. Our Children. Their Future

Visit Richard's Website

Follow Richard on Twitter @RichardGerver

About Richard Gerver

Richard Gerver is an internationally renowned educator, public speaker, and change expert. The author of three books, he is a former teacher and principal, and currently advises governments, corporations, and other large organizations on leadership, change, and innovation.


Jeff Bezos on Handstands and High Standards

What can the richest man in the world teach us about learning to do handstands?

And what does it have to do with making dramatic improvements to student learning, such as implementing high-performance PBL?

In a remarkable annual letter to Amazon shareholders (which is a normally-boring SEC requirement that I learned about from Dan Pink's excellent newsletter), Jeff Bezos shares his approach to high standards:

One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature.

People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’. I see that cycle of improvement happening at a faster rate than ever before.

You cannot rest on your laurels in this world. Customers won’t have it.

How do you stay ahead of ever-rising customer expectations? There’s no single way to do it – it’s a combination of many things. But high standards (widely deployed and at all levels of detail) are certainly a big part of it.

The same is true in schools. Our expectations for the learning experience should be going up.

And high standards—for ourselves as educators—are surely a big part of how to make it happen.

Regardless of your opinion about Amazon, I think we can agree that making “wow” learning experiences become normal and expected is worth the trouble.

In too many schools, kids are learning the way we learned decades ago. The textbooks are new (or maybe not), and the technology is new, but often the learning experience is the same.

I have enormous respect for educators, and certainly don't think teachers need to work any harder than they already are.

But the state of the art in our profession isn't advancing fast enough.

We aren't acting on what we know, and aren't implementing it with the speed our students deserve.

Yet there are encouraging bright spots. Anyone who has seen a Dave Burgess presentation or read his book Teach Like A Pirate! knows just how big a gap there is—and how big an opportunity to close that gap—between the way most students get to learn today, and what's happening in our best classrooms.

Dave asks the hard question: If students didn't have to show up to class, would they?

Students aren't exactly our customers, but they deserve our best. They deserve remarkable learning experiences, which we can only provide if we hold ourselves to high standards.

I believe one of the most promising—and most fundamental—changes we can make for students is to implement high-performance project-based learning in every school.

More on that in a moment, but first, let's look at what hasn't worked.

Misguided Attempts at High Standards

Let's talk about what has NOT brought about a revolution in engaging learning.

First, we've tried accountability.

I believe there's a role for accountability in ensuring quality learning outcomes for all students, but the net effect of the accountability movement—with its pressure to cover standards and prepare students for tests—has probably been to make learning LESS relevant, engaging, and enjoyable for students.

When we pressure educators to focus on getting kids to pass the test, the best parts of learning are often the first to go.

Second, we've tried a mind-numbing array of improvement initiatives. Teachers today have been through far more initiatives than ever before—many focused on instruction, and many others focused on other aspects of supporting student learning.

By and large, these are good improvements to make. As a profession, we're improving our schools faster than perhaps ever before.

But is the student learning experience improving? Are our customers' expectations being fulfilled?

If you visit a school today, you'll see largely the kinds of learning you saw 30 or 40 years ago.

Better, but not “Amazon Prime” better.

Remember ordering stuff by mail from catalogs and magazines? Remember “Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery”?

Last night, I noticed we needed more AAA rechargeable batteries for the kids' flashlights, so I ordered some, on my phone, from Amazon Prime. They'll be here tomorrow, with free shipping, and no need to go to the store. I could have put batteries on the shopping list for the week, but that would take just as long as actually buying them from Amazon.

Again, we can argue about whether this is good for society, the local economy, and so forth, but it's an undeniably better customer experience.

Are we giving students the same improvements in their learning experience?

Not yet. We need higher standards for our profession—not with more initiatives or more accountability or longer hours for teachers.

So how? Let's return to the Amazon CEO's annual letter.

How to Master the Perfect Handstand

Bezos writes:

A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good.

She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists.

In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.”

Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards.

To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.

I love that line: “you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be.”

I love it because it rings a curriculum and instruction bell for me as a principal.

When my school adopted Lucy Calkins' Units of Study for Teaching Writing (AKA the Teachers College Writer's Workshop curriculum), we knew it was going to be hard.

We knew it would represent a dramatic and fundamental shift in how we taught writing.

We knew it would take years of professional development, coaching, practice, and relentless attention to detail.

And it paid off marvelously. I saw third-grade essays that would get kids into most colleges.

So again, how do we make learning experiences like this the norm?

PBL and the Truth about High Standards

I think we often get high standards wrong—as if being hard on teachers, making them fear for their jobs, and making them cram more and more into their already-packed days is what it takes.

Bezos identifies four elements of high standards:

  • They are teachable
  • They are domain-specific
  • We must recognize them
  • We must coach people on their scope

In other words, we can bring about dramatic improvements, as long as we're willing to teach people what to do, and not assume that excellence in one area will spill over into excellence in another. When we know what we're looking for, and have a realistic sense of what it takes to get good, we can get good.

Again, I saw this firsthand with Writer's Workshop.

And I'm seeing it right now with Project-Based Learning (PBL).

Recently, one of the teacher teams Dr. Amy Baeder has been working with for the past two years completely “PBL-ified” their curriculum.

The whole thing—the entire year, across two teachers, three grade levels, and nine interdisciplinary projects—it's entirely project-based, standards-based, and aligned to the unique goals and resources of their school.

The projects students do are motivating, engaging, rigorous, and a whole lot of fun. More to the point, student learn incredibly well under these conditions.

As kids, few of us experienced learning like this.

And still today, few kids experience learning like this.

Why? Because it's hard. And too often, we don't really understand what that means for us as educators.

Understanding the Scope of “Hard But Worth It” Improvements

As administrators, we often downplay the hard work that will be involved in an improvement like PBL.

We know teachers generally go with the flow and figure it out whenever we promote a new idea. (As administrators, we do the same thing with district initiatives.)

And teachers generally know that any given initiative will be quickly followed by another, so why bother putting up a fight?

Well, here's why it's worth putting up a fight: if we want to do something hard and do it well, so students can benefit, we must be brutally honest about scope:

  • How much time will this take to master?
  • What will we need to say no to in order to succeed with this?
  • What resources will we need to allocate?

Again, it's easy for leaders to gloss over these questions, in the hopes that people will figure it out and make it work.

I don't know much about how Amazon works, but I'm pretty sure Bezos didn't sit down with one team of engineers and tell them

“OK everybody, let's design an e-reader, and a tablet, and a voice assistant, and a video streaming service. Those are all really important, so we're going to have to work really hard to make it all work. You have two weeks.”

No. He was probably very realistic about how much work it would take to develop the Kindle and the Kindle Fire and Alexa and all the many other projects Amazon has brought to life.

He had different teams of people working on these projects, over periods of years and even decades.

And you may be thinking “Yeah, but he has tons of money. Schools don't have those kinds of resources to throw at their initiatives, and we can't go that slow!”

Of course schools don't have the resources Amazon has, and that's precisely the point.

Our unique goals and constraints force us to be even more deliberate about defining the scope of our work.

The school Amy has been working with has succeeded at PBL because they knew the scope of what they were getting into, they committed to the work, they developed the skills, and they saw it though.

A Realistic Scope for PBL This Summer

This summer, your school can make dramatic advances in project-based learning by focusing on the domain-specific, teachable skills that teachers must master.

We can show you how to recognize these skills, and how to be realistic about the scope of the hard work that PBL entails.

If your school is relatively new to PBL, we recommend having teachers develop one high-quality PBL unit, from start to finish, this summer.

And in a free webinar, Dr. Amy Baeder will guide you through it, sharing her PBL roadmaps for both teachers and school leaders. You'll walk away from this webinar with a clear understanding of the scope of this work—it's hard, but worth it.

How You Can Build A High-Performance PBL Unit This Summer

In this webinar, you'll learn why summer is the perfect time to build a high-performance PBL unit from start to finish. We'll explore:

  • How to build a PBL unit without distractions, so you can offer an engaging, rigorous learning experience for students this fall
  • A roadmap for designing PBL units—and a PBL implementation roadmap for leaders
  • The 6 fundamental assumptions of high-performance PBL
  • The top 10 PBL DOs and DON'Ts (so you can learn from the experience of others)
  • Tools and next steps for developing your first high-performance PBL unit
Register »

Alex Kajitani—Multiplication Nation

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Visit the Multiplication Nation website

Visit Alex's website

About Alex Kajitani

Alex Kajitani is a California Teacher of the Year, and the author of three books. A sought-after speaker, he is the founder of Multiplication Nation, an online program to help students master their times tables and have fun doing it.


Jane Pollock—The i5 Approach: Lesson Planning That Teaches Thinking and Fosters Innovation

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Get the book, The i5 Approach: Lesson Planning That Teaches Thinking And Fosters Innovation

Visit the Learning Horizon website

About Jane E. Pollock, PhD

Jane E Pollock, Ph.D., is president of Learning Horizon. She is the co-author of the ASCD bestseller, Classroom Instruction That Works (2001), works worldwide with teachers, coaches and principals on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and supervision. Her work results in improved student achievement at the classroom and school levels. A former classroom and ESL teacher, Jane worked as a district administrator and Senior Researcher for McREL Research Laboratory.

The Project-Based Learning Curriculum Developer Certification Program

For more information about the upcoming Project-Based Learning Curriculum Developer Certification Program visit amybaeder.com/certification


Denver Fowler—The 21st Century School Leader: Leading Schools in Today’s World

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Follow Denver on Twitter @DenverJFowler

To pre-order the book, The 21st Century School Leader: Leading Schools in Today's World email [email protected]

About Dr. Denver J. Fowler

Dr. Denver J. Fowler is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State University, Sacramento. A career educator, he was previously honored as the Ohio nominee for the NASSP National Assistant Principal of the Year Award.

Barbara Blackburn—The Principalship from A to Z

Interview Notes, Resources, & Links

Follow Barbara on Twitter @BarbBlackburn

Visit Barbara's Website 

View a collection of Barbara's publications at Routledge.com

About Barbara Blackburn, PhD

Barbara Blackburn, PhD is the author of 18 books and a full-time consultant who works with schools around the world to help raise the level of rigor and motivation for professional educators and students alike. Dr. Blackburn has been named to the Top 30 Education Gurus by Global Gurus for 3 years running, and she’s co-author of the new book Advocacy A to Z.

The #AnnaKarenina Challenge

Announcing an all-new mini-challenge as part of the Instructional Leadership Challenge…

It's called the Anna Karenina Challenge, or #AKILC.

Tolstoy's 1878 novel, which has been called the greatest book ever written, starts with this unforgettable line:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

You might be wondering…what on earth does this have to do with the Instructional Leadership Challenge?

Here's the parallel:

It's teacher evaluation time—the home stretch.

Administrators are scrambling to conduct observations, schedule post-conferences, and…the kicker…write final evaluations.

We know it's coming, and it always brings a little bit of dread, because it's…

Such. A. Huge. Task.

Yes, you have to rate each teacher, but you also have to write a bit about each teacher…

You often have to write a blurb for each of several specific topics, such as:

  • Planning and preparation
  • Instruction
  • Classroom management
  • Assessment
  • Professional responsibilities

You can't just check a box that says “satisfactory” and move on.

It's like an essay test with 5 questions…that you have to take 30 times—once for each teacher.

Or…do you?

Think of Tolstoy's opening line again—let's start with the second part:

“every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

So yes—every struggling teacher is going to need a custom-tailored, carefully-written evaluation that's unique to their struggles.

But what about the “happy families”?

What about the strong teachers—are they all alike?

Not exactly, of course…

…but they're not 100% unique, either.

Think of it this way: in any given performance area, teachers fall into one of just a handful of “types.”

Remember those “Which Spice Girl Are You?” or “Which Ninja Turtle Are You?” online quizzes? Kind of like that.

Great teachers are a LOT alike within a specific area—let's take classroom management. What are the types?

  • Strict and no-nonsense, but still beloved
  • Wacky but warm and accepting, with endless patience
  • Not strict or wacky; just clear, consistent expectations

You can probably describe 80% of your staff with just 3-5 “styles” or “types” of classroom management.

For each type, you can just write one summary blurb:

“Mr. Baeder's classroom management is characterized by clear expectations, well-rehearsed routines and procedures, and a sense of humor that makes all students feel welcomed and accepted.”

If that's true for one teacher, it's probably true for a dozen others, too.

So re-use the blurb, because Mrs. Smith's classroom management is also characterized by clear expectations, well-rehearsed… etc. etc.

Then, you can do the same for their, say, planning and preparation skills.

3-5 types will cover most of the bases for a given area.

If you have to write blurbs about 5 areas per teacher, that's 15-25 blurbs in all—not the 150+ you'd normally write for 30 teachers.

These blurbs are the most time-consuming part of the writing process. So if we can save some time, it'll add up fast.

(The rest are likely your struggling teachers who will need much more customized language in their evaluations).

Now, can you just slap a label on a teacher and call it a day?

No, because teacher evaluations must be evidence-based.

So after the re-used blurb, you mention specific evidence from your observations:

“For example, on March 1, several students were off-task at the start of a lab activity, but they were immediately reminded of class expectations by their peers. This reflects Mr. Baeder's efforts to establish clear routines and procedures, and to create student ownership for them.”

If you have your observation notes in front of you, adding evidence should take about 90 seconds per blurb.

So here's where this is going to get fun…

We're building a collaborative list.

A list of areas of performance that you have to write about, with “types” ​for each area. ​​​​​​

You can see what others have added, and contribute your own ideas.

I've drafted the document hereregister for the Challenge, and we'll add you to the group as fast as we can, so you can edit the doc.

To summarize, the Anna Karenina Challenge is this:

Re-use your “blurbs” for teachers whose performance in a given area falls into the same category.

If two teachers are exactly alike in, say, their classroom management style, or their use of formative assessment, or their contribution to PLCs, you can use the same blurb to describe them both.

The evidence you provide will still be unique to each teacher.

But the hard part—the summary statement—can be re-used.

This can save you hours upon hours of writing…

Especially if we tackle it together.

Ready? Sign up for the Challenge here, we'll add you to the ILC group, and you can start contributing to—and getting ideas from—the collaborative document.

If you're already in the new ILC group, here's the doc to start editing.

I'd love to have your input on the “types,” especially if you're an instructional coach or classroom teacher. So sign up here—even if you don't actually evaluate teachers.

Part II

We're officially kicking off the Anna Karenina Challenge today!

If you evaluate teachers, here's your challenge:

Stereotype, then interrogate.

“Whoah, Justin, that sounds mean! What are you talking about?”

Now that I have your attention… 🙂

When doing teacher evaluations, you're making a lot of judgments about a lot of teachers in a lot of specific areas:
—Danielson: About 24 components
—Marzano: About 68, or perhaps 23 in the simplified model
—Marshall: About 60 components

If you have 30 teachers, and evaluate them on 23+ specific criteria, you're making at least 690 decisions as you
evaluate teachers.

But then…you have to write.

Exactly what you have to write about, and how much, depends on your district's policies and expectations.

But I'm guessing you have to write something for every teacher in each of several domains, like classroom management, or
planning & preparation.

What you write needs to be specific to each teacher…

But it doesn't need to be 100% “from-scratch” unique.

In fact, it's a huge waste of time to start your blurb-writing and summary-writing from scratch for every teacher.

Why? Because your great teachers have a lot in common.

As Tolstoy famously wrote, in the opening lines of Anna Karenina:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

For example, teachers who are great at classroom management fall into one of just a handful of “stereotypes” or rough
categories: —Warm demander —Loose and student-centered —Tightly organized but student-managed

You might be thinking “I don't like those categories.” And that's fine! Make up your own list.

But make your list, and you'll see what I mean: it's a short list.

Your 37 teachers do NOT have 37 totally unique general styles of classroom management.

So start with their general approach. Stereotype.

(And yes, I know stereotyping is usually a bad thing. But we're going to use it carefully, for positive purposes.)

Write about that stereotype—once—and use the same stem in each teacher's evaluation.

If you have 11 “warm demanders,” write the same blurb about each warm demander.

Then, interrogate your assumptions (not the teacher…your assumptions :).

This is where you make the language unique to the teacher—which is important.

I wasn't very clear about this in my earlier email—someone took issue with what I suggested, and wrote back with this:

I usually read your messages with delight. However, I'm saddened by this one. We've worked very hard over the past years
to personalize teacher evaluation and to make it a growth process based on an individual's area of focus and using
evidence and specific information to tell the story of evaluation. I think you missed the mark with this one.

Now, I'll take responsibility for that, because I wasn't very clear.

It's essential to add specific evidence for each teacher after the generic blurb.

For example, your generic “warm demander” blurb might be:

“__'s classroom environment is characterized by high expectations, mutual respect, and warmth. __ consistently teaches,
models, and reinforces expectations for student behavior that are conductive to learning and respectful of students as

You can use that same intro blurb for all of your warm demanders.

But then, you must add evidence.

An evaluation with no evidence is just an op-ed, and we owe teachers more than that. Fortunately, you have a lot of
evidence by this point in the year.

“For example, during my November 14 observation, Mr. Smith used proximity and nonverbal cues to redirect a group of
students who were off-task during work time. As a result, other students were not interrupted, and the off-task group
quickly got back to work.”

And as you add evidence, you'll be accountable to yourself for interrogating your initial stereotype.

“Hmm, maybe this shows that Mr. Smith really isn't a warm demander…he's a little bit different, and here's how…”

So you'll end up with written evaluations that are, in fact: —Unique for each teacher —Based on specific evidence from

So wait, what's the point again?

Your writing is vastly easier and faster when you start with generic blurbs, based on your general impression of each

You aren't starting with a blank slate for each teacher. You're starting with your intuitive, summative judgment, then
testing that judgment against the evidence you've collected.

If the evidence doesn't match your judgment, now you know—and you can change your judgment to fit the evidence.

And because you can quickly categorize—or stereotype—each teacher based on that intuitive judgment, you can crank
through your evaluations very quickly.

To turbo-charge this approach, make a spreadsheet:

Take The Challenge & Get The Spreadsheet »

The spreadsheet is ere in the Instructional Leadership Challenge group on Facebook.

(Register, request access, and we'll approve you ASAP)

So here's where this is going to get fun…

We're building a collaborative list of stereotypes and blurbs

…a list of areas of performance that you have to write about, with “types” ​for each area. ​​​​​​

You can see what others have added, and contribute your own ideas.

I've drafted the document here. Register for the Challenge, and we'll add you to the group as fast as we can, so you can edit the doc.

To summarize, the Anna Karenina Challenge is this:

Re-use your “blurbs” for teachers whose performance in a given area falls into the same category.

If two teachers are exactly alike in, say, their classroom management style, or their use of formative assessment, or their contribution to PLCs, you can use the same blurb to describe them both.

The evidence you provide will still be unique to each teacher.

But the hard part—the summary statement—can be re-used.

This can save you hours upon hours of writing…

Especially if we tackle it together.

Ready? Sign up for the Challenge here, download the spreadsheet, and get started with your stereotypes.

Then, share your language here in the collaborative doc. (Desktop only—this is a new FB Groups feature.)

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