That Kid with the Jacket on in Your Classroom.

You know the girl I’m talking about, right?

The one with the winter coat on in April?

Guess what? 

While she may be quiet in class, that coat — the one with the grimy cuffs and the hood that she turns into a cave the moment she sits down in your classroom —  is speaking loud and clear.

Need proof?  Check out this image that’s making the rounds in Twitter:

So instead of getting all cranked up because she’s wearing the same coat for the forty-third straight day or because you’ve told her to put it away over and over again and she still won’t listen, dig a little deeper.

Because that coat isn’t a sign of a kid who is disobedient or irresponsible or quirky or just too darn lazy to change their clothes each morning.  And it’s not a sign of parents who clearly don’t care that their child is coming to school every day with a poor attitude and a dirty jacket.

It’s a sign of a kid who is hurting in some way.

Maybe that hurt was caused by you.  Maybe you’ve failed to create a learning space that is safe for every student.  Maybe your words and actions have made her feel like an “other.”  Someone who is less than.  Someone who doesn’t belong or who can’t earn your recognition and respect.  Someone that you have given up on.

Maybe that hurt was caused by the other students in your classroom or your school.  Maybe they have turned her into a target.  Maybe she’s become a punching bag, taking shots from everyone all the time because she’s different in some way.  Maybe she’s hiding in her hood because it’s her only hope of making it through the day unscathed.

Or maybe that hurt has been caused by a lifetime of adverse childhood experiences.   Maybe she’s struggling with physical or emotional neglect at home.  Maybe she’s seen her mother physically or verbally assaulted.  Maybe her family has gone through a brutal divorce and she thinks that she’s the reason her mother and father aren’t together anymore.

Whatever the cause, she needs you. 

She may not have said that out loud, but her coat is telling you everything that you need to know.



Related Radical Reads:

Three Promises I’m Making to the Parents of Quirky Kids.


Simple Truth: Kids Want to Be Noticed.


Simple Truth: Trying Kids Need Love, Too.



More on Posting Daily Objectives.

As an extension of the conversation I started in last week’s Lead Smarter post, I shared the following thought in Twitter:

The conversation took off from there — both online and offline.  I wanted to address two uncomfortable truths that came up time and time again:

Teachers don’t always recognize the purpose behind posting daily objectives:  The vast majority of teachers that I have interacted with over the last week were JAZZED with my tweet because they saw it is a condemnation of a common practice that leaves them frustrated.  “Posting objectives is a complete waste of time,” one teacher told me.  “Glad you called it out.”

But here’s the thing that many teachers missed in my Tweet:  Communicating expectations to students — the fundamental purpose behind requirements that teachers post daily objectives on the board — ISN’T a “complete waste of time.”  In fact, clarity around outcomes — for both teachers and students — is one of the MOST IMPORTANT things that we can do.

Ask Hattie.

My position is that principals SHOULD require teachers to develop a strategy for communicating expectations to students — but posting daily objectives isn’t the ONLY way to accomplish that goal.  The goal of administration shouldn’t be to require teachers to comply with a directive around communicating outcomes to kids.  The goal should be to encourage teachers to design and test several practices for making outcomes explicit to kids.

And my message to teachers who hate posting their objective each day is, “Great.  So what IS your strategy for communicating outcomes to your kids?  Because that IS a nonnegotiable.”

Lots of principals have forgotten the primary purpose behind posting daily objectives:  The most common response that principals have had to my tweet is, “Bill — Teachers aren’t posting their objectives for their students.  They are posting them for other visitors that come to the classroom and want to know what it is that students are studying.  If I walk into the classroom, I can instantly evaluate the effectiveness of the lesson better when I know what the expected outcome of the lesson is.  That’s why posting objectives is a best practice.”

With all due respect, THAT’s the kind of thinking that drives teachers nuts — and it’s the reason that so many teachers resist what seems to be such a simple request.

If you are asking me to post objectives on the board in order to help students become more active participants in their own learning — to give them a sense for where they are going and a chance to see how they are doing — I’m all in.  That makes sense to me.  It has value to my kids.  It improves learning in my classroom.

But if posting objectives is primarily about making it easier for YOU to figure out what it is that I am teaching, that’s a waste of my time.  More importantly, that thinking is a distortion of the research around the reasons why teacher clarity matters so much.  There is no evidence that making outcomes explicit for school leaders makes a difference in student learning even if it DOES make evaluation easier.

So ask yourself a simple question:  Is posting daily objectives on the board a current requirement in your school or district?

If you answered yes, you might want to reflect on the messaging around that particular practice.

Teachers need to know that the requirement is tied to the notion of communicating expectations to students in an effort to turn them into learning partners who have a clear sense of what it is that they are supposed to learn.  And principals need to know that posting objectives has nothing to do with making teacher evaluation easier.

But make no mistake about it:  There really is a TON of confusion in the minds of both teachers and principals around the purpose of an incredibly common practice in schools.


Related Radical Reads:

Lead Smarter, Not Harder Tip 7: Ditch the Checklists and Ask Some Questions.


Using Unit Overview Sheets to Help EVERY Student See Progress.


My Middle Schoolers Actually LOVE Our Unit Overview Sheets!



Lead Smarter, Not Harder Tip 7: Ditch the Checklists and Ask Some Questions.

For the last fifteen years of my career, I’ve fought an almost constant battle with school leaders over one simple practice:  Posting my daily objective on the board of my classroom — a practice that is almost always required by my bosses and that I NEVER do.

The result:  I almost always get dinged on my evaluation for skipping this required practice each time that someone in a position of authority observes me for the first time.  “Posting your objective is a best practice, Bill,” they’ll say.  “Research shows that when students are aware of what you are expecting them to learn, they achieve at higher rates.”

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Can you spot the problem in that statement, y’all? 

Posting your objective on the board ISN’T a best practice.

Making students aware of what they are expected to learn IS a best practice.

Those AREN’T the same thing.

Take my classroom for example:  I use Unit Overview Sheets to communicate expected outcomes to my students.  These sheets include student friendly descriptions of each of the standards covered in a unit, all of the required vocabulary for a unit, and “doing tasks” for each outcome that can be used by students as demonstrations of mastery.  They also include spaces for students to track their own progress towards mastering each outcome and to record scores earned on assignments tied to each outcome.

These sheets come out in my room two or three times a week.  Students review the outcomes that we are about to study OR that we have just finished studying.  Then, they record ideas in “proof boxes” on their Unit Overview Sheets as evidence of things that they have mastered and reflect on both where they are going and how they are doing.

Isn’t that a helluva’ lot better than just posting my objective on the board each day?

Not only am I meeting my administration’s expectation that teachers will communicate their essential outcomes to students, I’m providing students with chances to assess their own progress towards mastery — another research based practice that has a significant impact on student learning.  I’m also giving every student — including kids who struggle to make As and Bs — multiple chances to see that they ARE making progress as learners.

Heck — the way I see it, I should be getting bonus points on my evaluation for going BEYOND expectations.  Instead, I get dinged because my bosses don’t see my objective written on the board in my classroom.

So why does this stuff happen?

Here’s why:  Principals — like durn near everyone in education — are overworked.

In addition to keeping the building running and handling student discipline issues, they are tasked with supervising dozens and dozens of employees each year.  To make this work more manageable, they turn teacher evaluation into a series of simple, observable steps that I like to think of as “checklist leadership.”

Does the teacher have high enough test scores?


Does the teacher post their objective on the board?


Does the teacher use technology in their lessons?


Does the teacher use a complex text in their lesson?


But here’s the thing:  Those behaviors might be easy to observe, but none of them matter if they aren’t paired with a clear understanding of — and commitment to — the purpose behind the practice.

Here’s an example: Years ago, one of my administrators called me into her office and told me that she wanted me to go and visit one of my colleagues for advice.  “Bill, I want you to go talk to Peggy.  She posts her objective on the board every day.  She can tell you how important it is.”

So I stopped by Peggy’s room.  Her objective read, “The students will be able to self-select grade level reading materials to use during silent reading with 80 percent accuracy.”

Think about that for a minute, would you?

It doesn’t make any sense as written, does it?  Taken at face value, it means that a student will successfully choose a book to use during silent reading four days of the week — but on the fifth, they might pick up a stapler or a calculator instead.


When I asked Peggy about her objective, she said, “Oh that’s been up there for months.  I just have it up in case I get observed.  Nobody asks about it anyway.  They just want to see something written on the board.”

THAT’s what happens when you slip into checklist leadership, y’all.

Teachers stop thinking about the reasons behind your requests and start finding ways to follow your rules.  And unless you start asking probing questions, you might just end up convinced that a teacher is doing all the right things when in reality, they are doing the bare minimum because they know that your observation consists of nothing more than looking for — instead of encouraging the development of — core practices.

How do you avoid all of this?  

Start asking lots of questions of your teachers.

“Your objective wasn’t on the board,” can become, “How do you make students aware of what they are supposed to be learning during your lessons?”

“You weren’t using technology,” can become, “How do you personalize learning in your lessons?”

“Your test scores aren’t as high as the scores of your peers,” can become, “What outcomes do you think you are really effective at helping students to master?  Which do you struggle to help students master?”

Long story short:  Questions asked in formal and informal conversations  — instead of simple checklists used during mandatory evaluations — are the only way to really see what your teachers know and can do.  




Related Radical Reads:

Using Unit Overview Sheets to Help EVERY Student See Progress.

Leadership Lesson from Band of Brothers


More on Classroom Walkthroughs and Teacher Evaluation




The Inadvertent Dangers of Snowplow Schooling.

I stumbled across a great article in the New York Times this week titled How Parents are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood.  It was written in response to the college admission scandal that has swept up all kinds of high income Americans willing to do darn near anything to get their kids into the colleges of their choice.

Photo by Oscar Nilsson on Unsplash

In the article, authors Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich argue that the people charged in the scandal had gone way beyond helicopter parenting:  

“Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.”

Snowplow parenting is an awesome analogy, isn’t it? 

There really ARE, as Julie Lythcott-Haims — the former dean of freshmen at Stanford — argues later in the article,  parents who believe it is their job to prepare the road for their child instead of preparing their child for the road.  If you’ve spent any length of time working in schools, you’ve probably encountered parents chugging ahead like machines in order to clear obstacles — poor grades, difficult assignments, consequences for poor choices — from their children’s path.

But here’s what I’m wrestling with today:  Aren’t teachers and/or schools sometimes just as guilty of plowing obstacles out of the way for our students?

If I’m being honest, I know that is probably true in my classroom.

Here’s an example: I’m super flexible about deadlines and due dates with my students — willing to take work almost anytime.  My reasoning is that our kids live busy lives away from school — so expecting them to always hit every deadline feels unreasonable.  And given that there are seldom rigid deadlines in the professional world that I work in beyond school, it seems hypocritical to demand something different from my students.

Isn’t that a form of snowplow schooling?

Here’s another example:  When my kids are missing work, I do darn near everything to help them to finish the assignments that they haven’t completed.  I make extra copies of necessary materials.  I post reminders on our team’s message board.  I call students aside during my regular class period and point out times when they can come and work on the task.  I give up my lunch period almost every day to create space and time for students to get caught up.

And when a student earns a score on an assignment that they are unhappy with, I create a ton of different opportunities for them to rework those tasks and raise their grades.  Those opportunities range from reworking the original task to choosing from a list of two or three alternative activities that allow students to interact with the same content in a different way.  Several times per quarter, I regrade those tasks or score new work samples in an effort to give every kid as many chances as possible to demonstrate mastery and earn the marks that matter most to them.

Isn’t that a form of snowplow schooling?

Here’s one final example: In the back of my professional mind, I’m trying my durndest to figure out how to make personalized learning a reality.  I really see it as a goal of mine to do a better job of differentiating everything — both based on student interest and ability.  I beat myself up when my lessons are exclusively “one size fits all”, even though I am often overwhelmed by the incredible academic, social and economic diversity in each and every classroom.  I feel like a failure because I couldn’t find some lesson or strategy to engage every single kid in my classroom.

Isn’t that a form of snowplow schooling?

Now I get it:  This isn’t an “all or nothing” conversation.

Teachers can create a supportive environment for students AND help the kids in their classrooms to become independent, responsible learners all at the same time.  That’s the professional sweet spot that we all shoot for, isn’t it?

But I do think that some of the core practices that I believe in deeply — lots of reworks, flexible deadlines, differentiated lessons based on interest and ability — could inadvertently rob my students of life lessons that they will need in adulthood if I’m not careful.  My goal has to be to pair those practices with deliberate instruction in — and ongoing feedback around — the development of skills like project planning and scheduling and in work behaviors like punctuality and responsibility and determination to “go beyond the basics.”

Any of this make sense to you? 

What are you doing to maintain balance between preparing your classroom for your kids and preparing your kids for your classroom?  How are you ensuring that you aren’t leaning too far in either direction?


Related Radical Reads:

Waiting to be Torched. . .


Pushing Back the Flames. . .


Separating Work Behaviors from Academics


And I Repeat: I’m Not Preparing Kids for High School. . .


Is On-Demand Thinking Changing Our Kids?

My middle school starts every morning with a short, character-themed announcement generated by a company called Project Wisdom

Sometimes the announcements encourage kids to show kindness to others or respect their elders.  Other times, they encourage kids to think about the role that forgiveness or frustration are playing in their lives.  All are designed to start conversations about what “being a kid of character” looks like in action.

(Photo by on Unsplash)

Today’s message was about punctuality. 

The gist was a simple one:  Showing up on time is a simple way to respect the people who are counting on you or learning alongside you or trying to coach you or teach you.

But the message still has me thinking.

“How would you feel if you showed up to a department store and it didn’t open on time?” it read.  “Or if the movie that you were trying to watch didn’t start on time?  Or if your favorite television show didn’t start on time?  You’d be frustrated, wouldn’t you — and those businesses would lose you as a customer.”

Can you see what’s sticking in my intellectual craw?

We DON’T go to department stores anymore.  Instead, we shop online and have our packages delivered to our doorsteps.  We DON’T wait for movies or television shows to start.  Instead, we stay home and stream them or record them on our DVRs.  We skip through commercials. We watch on multiple devices and from multiple places.  We pause them when we want and restart them when we want.

We call the grocery store or the Target or the Walmart and have a friendly associate pick out our shopping list and bring it to our car in the parking lot.  Honk for service, right?  Heck — we don’t even wait in lines to see Santa or Mickey Mouse.  We “fast-pass” our way to the front of them.

That HAS to be having an impact on kids growing up in today’s world, doesn’t it?  

Isn’t it possible that their notions about the importance of being punctual are shaped by living life in a world where we can almost always get what we want whenever we want it?

I know that I see that kind of “on-demand” thinking in my students.

Here’s an example:  Today, I was reading The Hunger Games aloud during our school’s enrichment period.  I was at the most poignant part of the story — the moment when Rue is wounded and Katniss sings to her as she lay dying.  I was crying while reading — It’s the Hufflepuff in me, y’all — and the students listening were hooked.  You could hear the proverbial pin drop in my room.

Right at that moment, a boy from another class came into my room, walked up to sniffling, blubbering ol’ me and asked for a paper that he had missed because he was absent.


And he was confused when I fussed at him for interrupting.  “I’m just trying to get my work,” he said.  “Isn’t that what you want me to do?”


Spend some time in front of a middle school classroom and you will quickly discover that “on-demand” thinking happens a thousand times a day:  Students will stand up in the middle of a lesson and hand you a paper that is four days late or ask to go and get a drink of water.  Hands will raise right after you ask a pivotal question during a lesson.  You’ll call on a student and get, “When is our field trip again?” or “Is Friday an early release day?”

I used to think that those kinds of moments were evidence of immaturity or selfishness.  I do teach middle schoolers, after all.  They still aren’t great at seeing beyond themselves.

But now I’m wondering if those moments are just a reflection of the world that we live in.  Maybe today’s kids don’t see a need to wait — to get a drink, to get their question answered, to go to their lockers, to turn in papers — because in so many of the spaces where they spend their time, waiting just isn’t a thing.

Whaddya’ think?  

(And more importantly, what do we do about it?!)


Related Radical Reads:

Is it Time for A La Carte Education?


The Price of Student 2.0?