Need Proof that Your Homework isn’t Fair?

I had an interesting conversation this week with a buddy of mine.  Both of us joked about being “single parents” for a few days — meaning we were completely in charge of our kids and our households while our partners were doing other things.

We both ended the week overwhelmed and completely exhausted. 

Sure, our kids were washed and fed and warm from the beginning to the end of our stints as single parents, but we’re both behind in our professional responsibilities, our living rooms aren’t particularly clean, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot of “Leave it to Beaver” moments going on in our homes over the last few days.

Kristopher Roller

What struck both of us was how ridiculous our “challenging week” really was.

We are both well paid professionals who didn’t have to worry about where the money for meals was going to come from and with the flexibility in our schedules to sneak out of work early if needed to tackle family tasks that didn’t get done the night before.  Our kids are healthy, we have reliable transportation, and we live in safe neighborhoods where it is easy to access everyday needs like groceries.

And most importantly, we knew that our single parenting experience was going to come to an end in just a few short days.  While we both walked into Friday completely wiped out, neither of us had to sustain that same level of parenting momentum over the long term.

The entire experience has gotten me thinking about all of the single parent families that I serve.

If I struggled as the sole parent and provider of my family for just a few days, imagine how hard things must be for moms and dads who have raised kids alone for years and years.  The daily GRIND that left me overwhelmed in a week is a daily REALITY for parents raising kids without partners.

And that daily reality is only compounded by poverty.  When you lack access to reliable transportation or ready groceries or the resources to pay for the basic needs that middle class families take for granted, simple parenting tasks like feeding the kids becomes exponentially more difficult.

Given those circumstances, can we REALLY be surprised when some of the students in our classrooms struggle to complete the homework that we assign them?

We huff and puff about the importance of every project that we assign.  We make a big deal about missing tasks.  We say things like “homework teaches responsibility” and “in the real world you won’t get away without completing assignments given to you by your bosses” without any real sense for the inherent challenges that some of our families face.

YOU try getting your kid to complete some random worksheet on fractions after working for ten hours and then catching the #6 bus to the Central Terminal for a 10 minute walk to your apartment.  Or YOU try getting your kid to complete a ten slide presentation on an important moment during the Civil War when you aren’t sure how you are going to pay the electric bill this month.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that homework is inherently unfair.

Kids lucky enough to live in stable families with two parents and enough resources to make daily survival a given are far more likely to complete the tasks that you expect them to complete.  Their dioramas will be perfect, their papers will be wrinkle-free and neatly stored in the proper sections of their binders, and their dinner table conversation will enrich and extend the learning that they are doing at school.

Kids with single parents who are working long hours to pay the bills are far more likely to struggle to give your tasks the time and attention that YOU think they deserve — and that has nothing to do with intellectual ability, moral character, or inherent desire.  Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that “the real world” is a helluva’ lot harder for some families than it is for others.



Related Radical Reads:

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

“We Have a Life Beyond School.”

Giving Zeros Just Doesn’t Work.

The Transparency of Parenting





Three Things I Want Folks Beyond the Classroom to Know about Teaching.

Over the last few days, I’ve been having a conversation with a few close friends about the differences between the work of classroom teachers and the work of educational professionals in positions beyond the classroom.  

Perhaps the most important conclusion that we came to was that regardless of position, there are good people doing important work in both places.  The primary difference in our roles rests not in the demands of our jobs or the importance of our contributions, but instead in our preference for having a deep and meaningful impact on one small group of students or having a broader impact on the students of an entire school or district.

William Iven

Personally, I’m incredibly thankful for everyone who is willing to lead from beyond the classroom — whether as an instructional technology coach, a media specialist, a social worker, a guidance counselor or an administrator. 

I recognize that all of those roles accomplish important tasks for a system oftentimes without direct access to a single group of students — and it’s that direct impact that I personally crave the most.

I couldn’t imagine working in education without the positive feedback that I get from the day-to-day interactions with a single group of students.  I can see and feel the difference that I am making in the lives of kids because they are having a-ha moments in front of me all of the time.  People beyond the classroom have to look for evidence of the impact that they are having in other — and to me, less rewarding — places.

And because of the part time work that I do as a school improvement consultant and trainer, I know full well how difficult it is to move individual teachers, learning teams, and schools forward.  “School change” is REALLY nothing more than changing individuals — and changing individuals isn’t easy.  That means people working beyond the classroom require a patience and determination gifted by God to accomplish their work.

Need proof of just how hard it is to “change individuals?”

Try to get your life partner to change ANYTHING about their personal actions and habits and then get back to me.

More importantly, remember that helping teachers to change actions and habits is like 90 percent of the work done by people in roles beyond the classroom every single day.  ANY success is a small miracle when your primary responsibility is to change the actions and habits of adults.


But there really ARE three things that I wish every person working beyond the classroom would know (remember?) about being a classroom teacher.

(1). I really can’t check my email and respond to you during “the workday.”  One of the defining characteristics of my work is that I don’t have any flexibility during the bulk of my school day.  My students roll through my classroom door at 7:45 and — with the exception of 16 minutes for lunch — don’t leave again until 1:30.

That entire period of time is a whirlwind for me.

I’m trying to deliver good instruction. I’m trying to answer a thousand questions.  I’m trying to collect missing work.  I’m opening stuck lockers.  I’m helping students find missing phones.  I’m soothing frayed emotions and negotiating conflict between both individuals and social groups.

What that means is if you are trying to get information from me, you are going to have to wait until my one free period of the day — which doesn’t start until every single kid is gone AND I’ve had the chance to hit the bathroom!

Sometimes, I think people working beyond the classroom — who generally have more flexibility and control over their schedules because they aren’t teaching an individual group of students who attend classes on a specific schedule — forget that.  Heck, just yesterday, I disappointed a colleague in a position beyond the classroom by not having something completed for them by the end of the workday.

“Didn’t you get my email?” she asked.  “I sent it at 10:38 this morning.”

My answer:  “Nope.  I was teaching students until five minutes ago.”


(2). I’m responsible for moving the work of a TON of other people forward, too:  One of the hardest things about being a classroom teacher is that I almost always feel buried under a never-ending list of tasks that I need to complete for people working in positions beyond the classroom.

The Equity Team needs me to fill out a survey about my perceptions on the role that race plays in my work.  The school improvement team needs me to fill out a survey on my thoughts regarding our school’s results from recent testing.  The PBIS team wants me to continue making positive contacts with the parents of students demonstrating the kinds of behaviors that we encourage in our building.

I have questions to answer about the progress that I’m making towards meeting my individual and team goals for this school year.  I have chapters to read for a book study that I am participating in.  I have to generate a new list of students with medical needs and then add that list to the materials that I leave for substitute teachers.  I have to pull work together for a student who is home bound for medical reasons.

My learning team’s benchmark has to be written — and then I have to meet with our school’s technology specialist to get that benchmark prepared properly so that we can track progress by student and standard.  I’ve got a list of students who are currently struggling in class that I need to develop individual intervention plans for.  I have to nail down a plan for delivering a universal screening assessment for my entire team in the next few weeks.

What that means is that there are going to be times when you aren’t getting my best effort and thinking, no matter what your role is or what task you are asking me to complete.

That’s not because I’m a slacker who doesn’t care or a difficult guy that doesn’t respect the importance of the work that you are trying to do.

That’s because there are twelve other people counting on me to complete items as a part of their area of focus.  In every circumstance, moving that work forward can only happen after consulting with me — but because EVERYONE relies on responses from me, I’m always behind or I’m always giving some tasks more of my mental attention than others.

Sometimes, I think people working beyond the classroom — who, in many cases, have the wonderful opportunity to focus deeply on one specific aspect of moving our building forward — forget that.


(3). Working directly with kids is still my first priority:  Probably the most important thing to remember as you work with me is that the day to day interactions that I have with students are ALWAYS going to be my first priority.

That’s for obvious reasons:  I really do have kids rolling through my classroom door every morning.  If I’m not prepared with engaging lessons, my day is going to be a huge grind!

But it’s for philosophical reasons, too:  I CHOSE to stay in the classroom with kids because those direct interactions mean more to me than anything.  Making them smile and helping them learn and seeing them succeed are the rewards that keep ME moving forward.

Here’s how that plays out in my own thinking: When I’m deciding how to use the limited time that I have for responding to demands for my time and attention, I’m prioritizing based on my own belief of the potential positive impact that individual tasks might have on MY work with MY kids.

Planning and preparation and responding to parents will always come first.  I know those actions matter.  I can see their impact on my students and families every single day.

From there, I’m ranking and sorting everything else that lands on my to-do list.  Some tasks get done quickly and with full attention and effort.  Others sit on my to-do list forever — or at least until I get a second (or third.  or fourth.  or fifth) email reminder that they need to be completed.

What that means is if you want me to prioritize your work, you need to do a REALLY good job selling me on the impact that your area of focus is going to have on my students.  I need a “convincing kid-centered why” before I’m going to give ANY new task my full professional attention simply because I’m ALWAYS buried in new tasks.

Sometimes I think people working beyond the classroom — who ALREADY understand just how powerful their area of focus — forget that.

Because they can already see the convincing kid-centered why behind the work they are doing, they assume that I can see it, too.  The truth is far more complicated than that.  Most teachers can see SOME value in ALL of the tasks they are being asked to complete — but if you want YOUR tasks to matter most to us, you need to find ways to show us the direct impact that your work will have on our kids.

Only then will you move us from simple compliance to full commitment — and only then will you start to see your work move up on our list of priorities.

Does any of this make sense?

Again — I know full well just how hard the work that people beyond the classroom are trying to pull off can be.  I do that work, too.  I’ve been a consultant in schools and districts for the better part of the last decade.  What’s more, I know the sacrifices people make when they move into positions beyond the classroom.  When you walk away from having a direct impact on a single group of students, it’s harder to find evidence that you are making a meaningful difference in the lives of kids.

That’s a trade-off I’m not willing to make — so I’m grateful for everyone else who HAS made that trade-off.

My goal with this post is simply to help people working beyond the classroom to better understand the reactions you are getting from teachers.  


Related Radical Reads:

This is Why I Teach.

Does YOUR School Have an “Avoid at All Costs’ List?

Pockets of Innovation = Lack of Focus

Three Reasons YOU Should Be Hashtagging Your Curriculum.

Late last school year, I jumped feet first into a project called #hashtag180.

First proposed by Kyle Hamstra, #hashtag180 encourages teachers to grab and share images and video of either the work they are doing in their classrooms or the real world application of content that they are expected to teach.  The key, however, is to then add a hashtag representing the specific curriculum standard that the content being shared represents.

Here’s a sample:

Do you see the #sci6p31 hashtag at the end of the message?

THAT’s what makes #hashtag180 work different from the sharing we have always done in social spaces.  It represents the specific curriculum objective that my Tweet was designed to teach — and by adding it, I’ve made this content searchable by standard.

That means when I’m teaching this same content next year, I can easily find the strategies that I used to engage my kids.  Just as importantly, that means OTHER TEACHERS who are teaching the same content can easily find the strategies that I’m using to engage my kids.

So why should other teachers consider hashtagging their curriculum?  

Here’s three reasons:

You will learn your curriculum inside out:  If you are anything like me, you probably don’t spend a ton of time in your standards documents.  You know what units you are expected to teach. You have a good sense for what topics need to be addressed in those units.  And if you’ve been at it for a while, you even know the activities that you use to teach each of those topics.

But here’s the thing:  If you aren’t regularly reviewing your curriculum, you may be making a whole ton of faulty assumptions about just what it is that your kids are expected to know and be able to do.

Just because you’ve taught a unit or a topic for years doesn’t mean that unit or topic is an essential part of the required curriculum for the kids in your care.

When you start hashtagging your curriculum, however, you are automatically forced to revisit your curriculum documents to ensure that you are adding the right tag to the messages that you are sharing.  That constant revisiting means you will always be fully aware of whether or not the content you are teaching is actually in your curriculum — and that’s a really good thing.


You can build a digital portfolio detailing your mastery of your content area:  Regardless of the state, province or country that you work in, there’s a good chance that your teacher evaluation protocols require you to demonstrate a deep and meaningful understanding of the content that you teach.  You are also probably expected to have a strong sense of content specific pedagogy — or the best ways to teach the concepts in your curriculum to your students.

Every time that you hashtag your curriculum, you are creating evidence — sorted by standard — of just what YOU know and can do with your curriculum.

Imagine walking into your next teacher evaluation meeting with your supervisor or your next interview with a new school and being able to quickly search for specific examples of your teaching strategies by each individual standard in your required curriculum.

Or imagine how impressive you would be if you created a digital portfolio like mine that included every #hashtag180 post you’ve ever made — and they were all sorted by the standards you are required to teach.

Talk about an impressive professional behavior, right?


You can begin sharing engaging academic content to your school’s social media profiles:  Go take a look at your school’s Facebook page or Twitterstream.  Now, check out what pops up when you use your school’s dedicated hashtag.

If your school is anything like most schools, there are probably a TON of calendar updates and/or generic celebrations.  Your band guy has probably posted a picture of his jazz ensemble at a competition.  Your athletic director has probably posted the final score of the most recent basketball game.  Your principal has probably posted a picture of a smiling kid walking in from carpool.

But can you find anything that is directly and explicitly tied to the way that teachers are delivering the required curriculum?

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

And that’s one of the reasons that I share every one of my #hashtag180 posts to our schools #salemproud stream.  The way that I see it, if parents are able to see me thinking about and explaining my curriculum in our social spaces, they will begin to see our school as a place where curriculum is just as important as the jazz band competitions or the final scores of our basketball games.

Sharing academic content that is directly connected to the required curriculum sends the message that (1). academics matter here and (2). our teachers are geeked about their curriculum.  Those are important messages to share.

Long story short: There are a thousand reasons why hashtagging your curriculum make sense.  It’s a practice that every teacher ought to think about embracing.


Related Radical Reads:

Will You Join Me in the Hashtag 180 Challenge?

More on My #Hashtag180 Work.

Turning #hashtag180 Posts into a Digital Portfolio


Simple Truth: Trying Kids Need Love, Too.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the interactions that I’ve had over the course of my career with ‘trying’ kids.  

You know the ones I’m talking about:  They talk over their peers, they use unkind words, and they show up late for class.  They sit in other people’s seats and refuse to move.  They seem to find a way to break rules at every turn.  You think about them all of the time — worried about what they are going to do next and you spend TONS of time talking to colleagues about the new and interesting ways that they’ve driven you nuts from day to day.

Used to be, I’d go full on Enforcer on those kids.  Punishment was my primary intervention.

Want to blurt out in class?  You’d better be ready to have your Pride Guide signed.  Using unkind words in class?  I’m going to fuss at you until you cry to show you what unkind words look and feel like.  Determined to break rules that other kids follow without question?  I’m calling you out in front of everyone, calling the principal, and then calling your parents.

Then — just to rub salt in the wound — I’d use condescending language like, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to follow the rules?” or “Sooner or later, you are going to figure it out.”

Most of the time, I believed that punishment mattered for trying kids — and I believed I was the right person to deliver those punishments.  “If these kids don’t learn how to behave,” I’d say, “they are NEVER going to succeed in life.  SOMEONE has to teach them that there are consequences for their actions.  SOMEONE has to hold them accountable — and if their parents can’t do it, I will.”


What I didn’t bother thinking a whole lot about was an argument that my friend Chris Tuttell makes all the time:  Trying kids aren’t TRYING to be difficult. 

Chris rightly believes that no child wakes up in the morning intending to be unkind or to use hurtful language or to be in trouble at every single turn.  And more importantly, kids who are struggling to meet our behavioral expectations have the same mental and emotional needs as the kids who please you the most day in and day out.

She writes:

Read that again, guys:  ALL kids want praise.  ALL kids want acceptance.  ALL kids want hugs and love and to know that someone is proud of them.  

More importantly, all kids DESERVE praise and acceptance and hugs and love and to know that someone is proud of them.

But is that what happens in our buildings?  ARE we taking steps to let every kid know that they have value and that we believe in them?  Or is our pride and praise reserved for the small handful of kids who act in ways that we expect?


The good news is that this is an easy fix. 

Find a trying kid today.  Take a minute to tell him the things that you love the most about him.  When you see him following rules, celebrate him — and make sure it happens in front of his peers, who have probably come to see him as more of a pest than a partner.  Call home and let his mom know that you believe in him and love him and are excited to have him in your class.

Doing so will help to redefine that child in the eyes of everyone. 

His peers will see him as an equal instead of as an annoyance.  His parents will appreciate and support you when you need their help.  And HE will start to see HIMSELF differently.  Because he feels acceptance from you, he will be less restless in your classroom and he’ll try harder to meet your expectations because he won’t want to let you down.

Doing so will also give you the emotional leverage to be heard in the moments where you have to deliver correction.  It’s a heck of a lot easier to point out misbehavior or to get trying kids to invest effort in changing when they realize they aren’t your target anymore.

But most importantly, YOU will stop seeing the trying kids in your class as annoyances and start seeing them as the amazing, inspiring people that they have been all along.

That matters.


Related Radical Reads:

Is Your School a “Rules First” or “Relationships First” Community?

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

Simple Truth:  Kids Want to Be Noticed.

Tutorials on Blogging, Managing Bookmarks, and Sharing to Social Streams.

Over the last few days, I’ve had the incredible honor to learn alongside the remarkable people that serve as Solution Tree PLC Associates.  These are the folks who are helping schools to improve results for students through collaboration.

One of the things I was asked to speak about is the role that technology plays in my own reflection and writing. 

To facilitate that work, I made a series of 2-4 minute tutorials this morning that attempt to capture some of my writing and reflection routines.  Thought you might dig seeing those tutorials, too, even though they were created for a very specific audience:

Tutorials on Blogging: 

These tutorials cover everything from the reasons that I think every practitioner should be blogging (hint: it’s about reflection) to how to find a blog service (hint: use WordPress).

When you are done watching them, you should have enough know-how to create your blog and make a post!

Tutorial 1:  Why Blog

Tutorial 2: Finding a Blog Service

Tutorial 3:  Creating a Post in a Blog Service


Tutorials on Using Pocket to Organize Potential Blog Topics:

Let’s face it:  The reason most people don’t write more regularly is because they don’t think they have anything to write about.  But here’s the thing:  We are all CONSTANTLY reading, aren’t we?  And the bits that we read can become potential blog topics in no time.  We just have to organize them in a way that we can find them later when we feel stuck.  I use Pocket —  a service introduced in the tutorials below — to do that work.

When you are done watching them, you’ll know how to bookmark and tag things that you are reading online, how to find those bookmarks later, and how Pocket can help you to quickly find information related to your own interests and areas of study.

Tutorial 1:  Introduction to Pocket

Tutorial 2: Managing your Pocket Bookmarks

Tutorial 3: Exploring Popular and Related Bookmarks in Pocket


Tutorials on Sharing Content to Audiences using Buffer:

One of the easiest ways to add value to your audiences — whether they are people that you work with on a regular basis or people that have been inspired by you somewhere in the past — is to share both the content that you are creating and the content that you are consuming with them.  By sharing that content, you are helping people to access important ideas without having to do a lot of work.

The good news is that sharing important content is a BREEZE as long as you use a service like Buffer — which allows you to schedule posts to all of your important social spaces in advance.

By the time you are done watching the tutorials below, you’ll know how to share posts in Buffer, how to see some simple analytics on the posts you share through Buffer, and how Buffer can help you to find new content that is worth both consuming and then sharing back out to your audiences.

Tutorial 1: Introduction to Buffer (and Why Your Finds Matter to Your Audiences)

Tutorial 2: Adding New Finds to Your Buffer Queue

Tutorial 3: Managing Your Buffer Posting Schedule

Tutorial 4: Using the Paid Features in Buffer to Maximize your Reading and Sharing

Hope this helps you to get started!  And let me know if you have any questions.