Note to Learning Teams: It’s Time to Complete Your Mid-Year Checkup

As a guy who has written and presented and consulted on the power of PLCs for over a decade, I’m always surprised by how little learning teams do to monitor their own health. 

We write norms and outline a plan of action for our meetings at staff development days in August — and then we file those norms and action plans away in our team folders, never to be opened again.

No wonder we get frustrated with the progress we are making together.  Without the regular implementation of clearly stated and agreed upon structures to govern our work, weekly meetings can end up feeling like a giant waste of time.

So here’s a challenge for you:  Sometime in the next two weeks, sit down with your colleagues and complete a mid-year checkup.

Clark Tibbs


Here’s how:

Step 1:  Have your team leader add all of your team’s commitments to the first column of this Team Meeting Evaluation Strip.  Include both norms that are supposed to be governing your team’s weekly meetings and any specific structures or plans that were important to your team back in August.  Here’s a sample of a completed Team Meeting Evaluation Strip.

Step 2: Set aside time for every teacher to reflect privately on whether or not your team is doing a good job honoring your commitments to one another.  Explain to team members that any “NO” votes need to be backed up with both reasoning and suggestions for improvement.

Step 3:  Copy your team’s commitments into the first column of this handout.  Hang a poster sized version of the handout in a private space that team members can access.  Ask team members to use sticky dots to indicate whether or not they think your team is honoring your commitments to one another.

Step 4: Use the completed “Sticky Dot Chart” to start conversations about the overall health of your learning team at your next meeting.  Areas receiving lots of “NO” votes need to be revisited. Why is it that your team is struggling with those commitments to one another?  What can be done to tighten your work in that area?

The simple truth is that the health of learning teams has to be monitored and addressed if collaboration is going to produce motivated teachers and meaningful results for kids. 

The time you invest in reviewing the commitments that you’ve made to one another is time you invest into making your team stronger.



Related Radical Reads:

Note to #atplc nation:  Norms Really DO Matter

The Importance of a Clear Vision

Just How Important IS the Composition of a Professional Learning Team?


More on the Role of Audience in Social Spaces.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a bit here on the Radical begging people to STOP pushing the notion of building an audience as the primary reason for blogging and sharing in social spaces.

My argument was a simple one:  When we push audience as a primary reason for blogging and sharing in social spaces, we forget that MOST participants in social spaces will never build significant audiences — and if they’ve heard people preach about audience as a primary reason for writing and sharing, they are bound to feel like failures.

That’s when Bob Schuetz — a longtime Radical reader and fantastic thinker — stopped by to push back.  

Kyle Glenn

Here’s a part of what Bob wrote:

Audience causes us to raise our game, take pride in what we share.

You speak eloquently because an audience is listening. You post and tweet in the hopes it makes a difference to someone besides yourself.

Normally I dig your riffs, however in this rare case, I can’t agree with your title or premise.

I am part of your audience, and we do matter.

In a lot of ways, Bob (and Kyle Hamstra — who’s thoughts on audience sparked this conversation) is right:  I do write and think and share differently because I know an audience is listening.

I proofread more than I would otherwise because I know an audience is listening.  I am also far more reasoned — “tempered” — in my positions online than I am in person.  I don’t want to put my name on a piece that is riddled with grammatical errors or a piece that fails to consider multiple viewpoints because I know that what I create becomes a permanent representation of who I am that others will be able to find forever on the web.

Those are tangible benefits of knowing that I am writing and sharing for an audience — and tangible examples of how having an audience changes everything for me.

The BEST example of how audiences change everything, however, is Bob’s comment — and this subsequent post — to begin with.

Because I shared publicly and because Bob took the time to push against my thinking, I’m sitting here this morning reflecting on and revising what I believe about the role of audience in the lives of those of us who write and share on the web.

That intellectual give and take between writers and readers is where the REAL potential rests in a “Web 2.0” world.  Before comment sections and social spaces, the thoughts of writers went unchallenged by readers.  Today, challenge CAN be the norm rather than the exception to the rule — and challenge is the “refining fire” that ideas must pass through in order to be fully polished.

But here’s the thing:  That intellectual give and take is painfully absent from today’s comment sections and social spaces.

Need proof?

Find your favorite blog right now.  Click on five posts.  How many comments do you find?  More specifically, how many comments challenge the central argument of the author?  Do the same thing with a few of the people that you follow in Twitter.  Check out their Tweets and Replies.  Chances are that you’ll see a TON of simple sharing and maybe a bunch of affirmation — “Great post!” or “Loved this!” or “Brilliant ideas!” — but challenge and true discourse will be nonexistent.

Need MORE proof?

When was the last time YOU left a comment challenging the thinking of a blogger or content shared by someone you follow in social spaces? 

I’ll bet the answer is the same:  You do a lot of reading in social spaces, but you rarely comment — and when you DO respond to the thinking of the people you are learning alongside, those comments tend to celebrate rather than challenge the authors.

Now, I’m not judging you.  People can use social spaces in any way that they want to.  It’s not for me to decide whether comments that challenge should be a core expectation of the people who are living intellectual lives online.

But we’ve got to stop telling people who are new to social spaces about the “power of audience” because the truth is that most of today’s audiences are muted at best, choosing consumption over participation in nine conversations out of ten.

Now, if you’ve read this far and you are STILL passionate about the power of an audience, here are a few tips for building one:

(1). Bring Your OWN Audience:  When people talk about “the power of audience,” they are generally referring to the hundreds of thousands of teachers all over the globe who are blogging and sharing in social spaces.  We stand in awe every time that we make a connection with someone a thousand miles away.

And don’t get me wrong:  That IS pretty darn cool.

But the most powerful members of your audience are those people that you ALREADY have an intellectual relationship with.  Maybe they are folks in your school that you have lunch with every day.  Maybe they are buddies from other schools in your district that you meet for beers a few times a month.  Maybe they are colleagues that you hang with once per year at teaching conferences around the country.

Those are the people who are the most likely to stop by your blog or respond to your Tweets and challenge your thinking — so instead of trying to build a huge audience of strangers, concentrate on building a small audience of peers.

(2). Be a Participating Member of Someone Else’s Audience:  The funny part of this whole conversation to me is that people in today’s social spaces are hell-bent on building their own audiences, and yet few recognize the importance of being participating members of someone else’s audience.  I see that as incredibly selfish.  We want the benefits that come along with having an audience without willingly passing those same benefits along to others.

What does that mean for you?

Start commenting on the work of others.  Start responding to people’s posts in Twitter.  Let people know that you are listening and learning from them.  Show gratitude for the time that they put into thinking and sharing transparently with others.  Provide challenge to their core ideas — and then push those ideas out through your networks.

Not only will you give someone else the intellectual benefits that you want for yourself, chances are that you’ll gain a new member of your own audience.

Do unto others, right?

(3). Draw attention to the ideas of your audience:  I want you to think about my buddy Bob for a minute.  He took his own time to read my original bit on audience.  Then, he took even more of his own time to craft a reply that challenged my thinking and articulated concepts that I hadn’t considered. Instead of spending that same time on his own growth, he was making an investment in me and in our intellectual relationship.

That matters, y’all — and I need to respect that investment in some way.  So I decided to sit down this morning and respond to his thinking here in a new post on my blog.  Not only will that give Bob’s thinking some of the attention that it deserves, it shows him that I’m listening — and that the time he spent challenging me really did have value because it led to a longer conversation.

The result:  Bob is more likely to comment on another post at some point in the future.

Does any of this make sense?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that building a big audience feels pretty pointless to me.  Given the option to have thousands of followers who I rarely interact with or ten readers who regularly challenge my thinking, I’d take the active audience any day because my goal in spaces like this is to learn — not to be recognized.



Related Radical Reads:

Audience Doesn’t Matter

Comment More.  Like Less.

The Digital Equivalent of Strip Malls.


Top Five Radical Reads of 2017

One of my favorite things about the end of December and the beginning of January are the summaries that bloggers share with their networks detailing the posts that drew the most attention in digital spaces.  By pulling the best pieces to the forefront, they make it easy for me to quickly find important thoughts that I missed in my feed reader during the course of the year.

Since 2011, I’ve done the same here on the Radical, spotlighting the five posts that had the highest number of page views during the previous calendar year.  

For 2017, those posts were:

Is Your School a “Rules First” or “Relationships First” Community?  —  Here’s a simple truth:  I spent the better part of 2017 struggling with the fact that most schools prioritize rules over relationships.  We spend tons of time talking about the best punishments for students who misbehave without recognizing that strong relationships with struggling students is the best “behavior management” strategy.  That’s what this bit is all about — and I hope it challenges you to question the kind of community that your classroom and/or school has become.

Want Better Faculty Meetings?  Start Here.  — Probably the biggest change in my practice during 2017 was my decision to start writing Kudos Cookies —  simple notes of praise and encouragement — to every kid in my classroom.  Watching the impact of those notes on my students has been awesome.  They smile and sit a little taller in their seats and thank me and put their notes in their binders or hang them on their lockers, jazzed to have been noticed.  It’s the best thing that I do every day.  In this bit, I push schools to make writing positive notes to students a part of every faculty meeting.

Writing Student Friendly Learning Goals — Written all the way back in 2008, this bit makes my Top Five Radical Reads list year after year.  It describes the reasoning behind both writing learning objectives in student friendly language and then sharing those learning objectives with students during the course of regular instruction.  It also shares a simple process for making that practice actionable.  I’m always jazzed to see that it remains one of the most popular Radical reads simply because it is the first step towards creating a culture of feedback in schools — a topic that I’m more than a little passionate about.

Need Proof that Your Homework Isn’t Fair? —  2017 has also been a year of deep reflection for me around issues related to equity.  I’m starting to realize just how difficult life really is for students living in poverty — and just how little schools are doing to create equitable learning opportunities for EVERY kid in their care.  One simple example: Our homework practices, which do little to acknowledge that completing tasks at home just isn’t a priority for families struggling to survive.  That’s what this piece is all about.

My Digital Portfolio Project Planning —  One of the neatest professional initiatives that I was a part of last year was as a member of a team of teachers working to think through the role that digital portfolios could play in our assessment practices.  Conceptually, digital portfolios resonate with me because they allow teachers and students to demonstrate both progress and mastery in different ways.  The hitch is making digital portfolios doable.  This bit introduces readers to some of the steps that I took to introduce portfolios to my students.

Some of my favorite posts of the year didn’t make it into the top five.  Give ’em a look, though.  You’ll get a sense for who I am as both a person and professional:

Good Teaching > Fidget Spinners

Grades AREN’T Motivating

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

Second Guessing Kids of Color

Turning #hashtag180 Posts into a Digital Portfolio

In the end, 2017 has been nothing short of a wild ride — filled with new opportunities, new instructional experiments and new lessons learned, both personally and professionally.

Through it all, Radical Nation has been there — reading and reflecting and challenging and questioning.  For that, I continue to be incredibly grateful.  Here’s to hoping that you’ll stick with me into 2017.  I’d miss you if you were gone.



Related Radical Reads:

Top Five Radical Reads of 2016

Top Five Radical Reads of 2015

Top Five Radical Reads of 2014

Top Five Radical Reads of 2013

Top Five Radical Reads of 2012

Top Five Radical Reads of 2011





Audience Doesn’t Matter.

In a bit of a serendipitous moment, Kyle Hamstra — a good friend who works up the road from me — reshared a post that he wrote back in October called #audiencematters.

In it, Kyle wrestles with whether or not we should focus on audience when we are sharing content — whether that sharing happens on blogs, in other social spaces, or in face to face presentations.

Nicholas Green

Let me answer that question for you:  For MOST* of us, audience DOESN’T matter.

Stop talking about it.  Period.  End of conversation.

Here are two reasons why:

(1). Focusing on audience draws attention away from the real reason that people should be blogging and sharing in social spaces.

For the vast majority of us practicing educator types, blogging and participating in social spaces is about reflection, plain and simple.  Every time that you sit down behind the keyboard for any reason — whether that’s to join in a Twitterchat, to read bits that appear in your social streams, or to create a new bit on your own blog, you are an active learner.

Articulation of ideas — whether it comes in the short form of a Tweet or the long form of a blog post — requires you to think carefully about what you THINK you know.  Finding the right words to express your core notions about teaching and learning forces you to wrestle with what you actually believe.

Every time we make the argument that audience matters, we forget that reflection matters more.  Our goal shouldn’t be to #becomepopular.  It should be to #becomebetter.  Blogging and sharing in social spaces can help us to do that whether anyone is listening or not.

(2). Focusing on audience is bound to leave writers discouraged.

Are you ready for an interesting confession:  “Radical Nation” really isn’t all that big!  I average about 120 views a day on my blog.  Yesterday, I had 37.  Today, I’ve got eight.  I have about about 400 subscribers.  When I share content out through Twitter, an average post gets ten clicks, five likes and three retweets.

And that’s for a guy who has been blogging for over a decade, who has written over a thousand posts, who has 25,000 followers in Twitter, and who has pretty strong connections to a bunch of really high-powered influencers in the #eduverse.

Do you see what that all means?

If audience is the metric that I use to judge the value of the time that I spend writing and sharing, I would have quit writing and sharing a long, long time ago.

The fact of the matter is that I spend about five or six hours a week on this stuff — including two or three hours every Saturday morning.  I get up at 5:30 AM and am banging away at the keys in the back of a Brueggers Bagels or a dirty McDonalds by 6 AM.  Every single week.  For over a decade.

All for ten clicks, five likes and three retweets?!

Try selling THAT to people new to blogging and sharing in social spaces.  “Hey!  If you spend five hours a week for a decade, you, too, can have days where you get ten clicks, five likes and three retweets!”

That’s why I hate it when we talk about audience. 

It focuses people who we want to encourage to join us in social spaces on the wrong end goal.  Worse yet, if they don’t get the traffic that they see other people getting, it leaves them convinced that they have nothing important to share.

What rookies in social spaces don’t realize is that “getting traffic” isn’t easy to do.  What us blogging old-timers learned a long time ago is that just because you are writing and sharing doesn’t mean that people are going to see the content that you are creating.

Audience is a function of the content that you create, the consistency of your creation patterns, the length of time that you’ve been creating, the opportunities that you have to be in front of audiences in the real world, the relationships that you have with people who have audiences larger than you do — and, as frustrating as it may seem, serendipity.

Content takes off sometimes because the right person happened to pull out their phone at the right time to see your post in their stream.  Similarly, really great bits are overlooked because they are missed in streams that are filled with thousands of other people who are creating and sharing content, too.

But if you don’t care about audience, none of that matters.

If you believe that the value of the time you spend behind the keyboard is measured in what you know and what you believe and what you can articulate to others instead of in clicks or retweets or likes or followers, you are WAY more likely to keep investing in your blog, in your social spaces, and in yourself.



(*Read: “Anyone who isn’t trying to build a career supporting schools from beyond the classroom.”)


Related Radical Reads:

Three Tips for Novice Bloggers

Lessons Learned from a Decade of Blogging

Why Blog?

Maybe There IS Some Value in Graphic Novels?

One of the most spirited conversations in Radical history started with a simple argument:  Graphic novels — which were the hot new genre back in 2011 — don’t require students to think as rigorously as more traditional forms of text.

From the moment that post went live, I was buried in comments from angry media specialists and graphic novel enthusiasts. 

People talked passionately about “reading between the panes,” suggesting that the content in graphic novels was just as complex as the content in more traditional forms of text because it forced readers to build — instead of simply consume — a story.  They talked passionately about the fact that graphic novels made challenging topics more approachable to students.  And they talked passionately about the fact that any text that was engaging to students had value regardless of format and complexity.

I walked away from that conversation (see here and here) just as skeptical as I entered it, convinced that graphic novels had the potential to turn kids into lazy readers who rarely tackled more complicated text simply because there was an entire shelf of easy reads waiting for them in the local library.

Aaron Burden

But something interesting is happening in my own family right now:  My beautiful eight year old daughter Reece has fallen in love with graphic novels!

That’s GOT to be Karma, right?!

She’s already churned through Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Sisters — and she’s asked for Ghost and Drama for Christmas.  She’s in love with Phoebe and her Unicorn.  She begged me to buy her Roller Girl the other day while we were in Target.  And she’s just learned about Sunny Side Up from a friend in her class.

What’s really cool is that she’s CONSTANTLY telling me about how much reading she’s getting done.  “Dad, I read for two hours last night so I might be tired at school today,” she’ll say when I call to check in on her in the morning.  Or, “Can you BELIEVE that I finished an entire book in one day?!”

Here’s why that’s important:  Reece has NEVER been a confident reader.

Letter sounds never came easy to her.  Fluency is a chore.  She’s constantly in the lowest reading group at school — and she knows it.  Meanwhile, her friends are all rock solid readers.  They read fluently and with the kind of emotion and passion that Reece can’t possibly pull off.

That leaves her embarrassed all the time.  Kids read out loud and she can see that she’s not as good as they are.  She reads out loud and the entire room has to wait while she slowly picks her way through pages worth of phonetic landmines just waiting to blow up her esteem in front of everyone she’s trying to impress.

Knowing full well that fluency is often a function of repeated practice, I’ve nudged and prodded Reece to read as much as possible.

I read with her every night.  I’ve tried to find high interest nonfiction for her — things like The True Tales of the Presidents as Kids or the Who Was _____ ? series have always caught her attention.  And I’ve fed her a steady stream of Kate DiCamillo books simply because they are full of odd ball characters that Reece can relate to.

But all of that reading has been side-by-side.  Reece has NEVER wanted to sit down and read silently before — and I think that’s because she knows full well that it will take her twenty or thirty minutes to battle through two or three pages.  Finishing an entire book will be a month-long grind, reinforcing the notion that she’s just “a bad reader.”

With graphic novels, however, she’s finishing “entire books” on her own in just a few days.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I still have my doubts about graphic novels. 

I’m not convinced that they are all that complex and I don’t buy the notion that there are all kinds of “visual literacy demands” that students can only learn by reading graphic novels.  I also think that graphic novels leave kids convinced that reading is always quick and easy — a dangerous take in a world where mental stamina matters more and more every year.  As a result, I’m going to work hard to smuggle more traditional texts into Reece’s reading routine over the next few months and years.

But right now, my kid is a proud reader for the first time in her life. 

Graphic novels have left her convinced that reading IS something that she can do.  She’s curling up in her bed with books.  She’s leaving her iPad home on long drives, jazzed instead that she has time to read her newest books.  She’s talking to friends about the books that she’s finished, joining conversations that she was previously left out of simply because she was never a reader.

All of that matters.  And all of it is thanks to a genre that I’ve never believed in. 



Related Radical Reads:

Wondering (Worrying?) about Graphic Novels.

Lessons Learned about Graphic Novels

Final Thoughts on Graphic Novels