Vantage Point or Confessions of a 21st Century Teacher

Last week I was called by one of my son’s teachers because she felt disrespected by him. Later that evening as he and I discussed the situation, in all of his 16-year old self-focused wisdom, he could not understand how simply expressing himself was him being disrespectful. Rather than beat him down into submission with my words, I stopped, took a deep breath and silently asked myself “how can I get him to see someone else’s point of view?” And then the answer came to me.

I asked him, “Did you ever see the movie Vantage Point?” He opened his mouth to respond, became silent instead, then laughed. I asked, “Why are you laughing?” He replied, “Because I know what you are going to say.” I continued, “So do you understand your teacher’s point of view?” After a brief “lessons learned” discussion, he empathized with his teacher and indicated that he would apologize to her the next day.

Life’s experiences always prepares us for the next opportunity to learn. The next day I was reminded of Vantage Point.

In preparation for an upcoming book, I was gathering qualitative data from a teacher about her classroom practices on close reading. A few minutes into our time together, it became apparent that she needed to clear her mental space in order to be fully present with me. We agreed to 10 minutes of “clearing.” Her venting created a number of insights for me, one being, I wonder how her administrators view this scenario?

With her permission, I’m sharing a Part 1 of her “space clearing” today and Part 2 next week because I want all of us to have the opportunity to reflect on a number of points she implied. As such, I challenge you to reflect with these questions after you read:

  1. Is there such an undercurrent at my school?
  2. If I say no, how can I be sure?
  3. If I say yes, what can I do about it?

As you read her thoughts, please note that she is an effective teacher who demonstrates consistent growth annually, and exceeds her targets. She’s skilled at engaging traditionally low performing students in critical thinking, and has the ability to excite students about learning. I note this because some of her comments are normally attributed to “excuse makers.” This teacher works until 9PM weekday evenings and on Sundays to prepare for her students. She is no excuse maker.

Now that we are clear about her work ethics, here are the confessions of a 21st century teacher.

“So we had this PD the other day and in this PD I was listening to these teachers talk about this new program we’re using.” She held up a teacher’s manual to show what the PD was about and continued. “That’s the book we’re using. So it’s a nice simple book, right? It doesn’t seem like too much; however, there’s another book we have to use with this.”

“With that being said, I’m listening to these teachers in the PD because they went to the workshop to get the,” using air quotes and a hint of sarcasm, “training.”  “And they’re like,

Oh, I was “trained,” again she emphasized with air quotes.

“You weren’t trained. What you got was an overview. You weren’t really “trained” [air quotes again] because I don’t know how people can go to a one-day training and now ‘I know it.’ No. You have an overview. See and that speaks volumes about these products that people are selling and pushing because” and she leaned in toward me, “if you spent X amount of time developing this  product how can a person can come into your PD and do it in a couple of hours?” She fanned the idea off and leaned back in her chair with her head turned to the side.

Then looking directly at me she exclaimed, “It’s a scam. It’s a scam!”

The teacher took a breath to continue. “Okay so with all of that being said, with [vendor product name deleted] like many other products they give you so much material  and that’s great. But these teachers were talking about,” as she transformed her voice to sound nasally to imitate her colleagues while enumerating on her fingers,

I um…well first I scaffold my lesson, then I give a question, and then the question I put it in a separate time of the day and later after lunch we come back to the question because that means we’re still talking about the book and then I give them a question at home. So that means even when they’re home, they’re still talking about the book. They’re very…”

Ms. 21st Century Teacher returned to her own voice saying, “I’m listening to all this talk and I’m like they are not doing all of this. There is no way in the world they are doing all of this with their kids. They are lying. Then I looked around and realized that both APs (Assistant Principals) were in the room.”  

She looked up seemingly re-enacting her Aha-moment for me and said, “Yep! They are putting on a show. Okay. Yeah. I get it.”

“Because I’m like at the end of the day, when do we do all this?  You pull them out of this group, and you pull them out for that group.” She characterized the pulling of students with her hands as she moved her body from side to side. “And you pull them out of this group and make them do this, and then you pull them out of that group and make them do that and you do this activity and you do that activity and then you do this activity and then you do this group activity.” She opened her arms as if to emphasize a whole group activity. “Then you do—you’re doing this every single day? Every single day? And when they [the students] do that state exam, they [the leaders] want to know can I ask your kid a question and that kid  responds to the question in a complete set of sentences? If not, you wasted time with all these other THINGS” [things emphasized].

“In my head I’m thinking why are they…but then another teacher and I were both like, ‘Im not doing all that’,” she remarked as she shook her head and slightly glided her eyes toward the top right-hand corner of her eyelids. “No one cares. No one cares when you are doing all these great things.”

“I’m just venting right now,” Ms. 21st Century Teacher sighed.

But as quickly as she took her break to indicate she was venting, she rolled out the accompanying thought with as much exacerbation as before her sigh asserting, “And the evidence and the proof of that is…” now imitating an administrator on her classroom intercom, …”Ms. 21st Century Teacher will you please come into my office?”

“Beep,” the teacher imitated the intercom in her room. “Okay, I’m coming to your office.” She replied in a pollyannaish manner.

She shuffled then gathered a host of loose papers on a student’s desk where she sat and began to point to them while looking over her glasses as if she were the administrator and I was the teacher. She continued with her issue. “And then when you get to the office,” again imitating an administrator she declared, “Your scores for your students on the state exam are…” Ms. 21st Century Teacher paused as if to imply that the scores were all that was cared about. Then she tossed the papers to the side.

“No one talks to you about what you have them doing. No one talks to you about whether or not you’re doing a think-pair-share. No one talks to me about the fact that I have them using creative transitional words, that I have them learning how to do a grabber sentence, that I’m putting them…um…having them do a 5 paragraph essay in the third grade. Nobody cares about that.” She leaned over to the side, slammed her hands on the desk, grabbed the pieces of paper she previously threw down and asked while being back in character as the administrator, “What’s your state exam results?”  

The papers landed once more on the desk scattered by her frustration.

The venting progressed. “Nobody cares what I’m doing with my kids in Social Studies, nobody cares that my kids can say ‘I know who the prime minister of England is. I know how many countries there are in Africa. I know Africa is the second largest…’ They don’t care that the kids have this new body of knowledge. No one cares!”

“I’m saying all of that to say this. When you have teachers saying all of this bull@*%# about ‘I do this with my students…’ [breath.] Uhg!”

She paused as if she were complete. Then she continued.


Complex Text & The Struggling Learner: What’s a Teacher to Do?

With so much talk about close reading and complex texts, there are many misunderstood ideas. This week I’m choosing to share a thoughtful post on Teacher as Mediator of Complex Text. Consider its content and ask, “what am I doing to enhance the mediation of complex texts?”

via Complex Text & The Struggling Learner: What’s a Teacher to Do?.

Close Reading In the Parking Lot

Parking lot questions–those stuck on a Post-it® off to the side of the room–are just as important as those answered during a session, but unfortunately, time does not always allow for them to be addressed. Because of this, my promise to educators I serve through facilitating a professional learning session is to extend my personal one-on-one time with them by answering their questions that weren’t addressed during our face-to-face time together. That was the case recently in one of my Designing for Close Reading sessions. As I reflected on their questions, it occurred to me that many of the principals and teachers I have served tend to ask the same questions or variations of the same. That led me to think, “perhaps there are more educators with the same questions,” and so, this week I’m sharing the most recent Q&A  I created for administrators and teachers below.

If you’d like a pdf of this document, just let me know. If you’d like to schedule a session for your administrators and/or teachers, let me know that also. I have a few slots open for November and January, but they are filling up quickly, so contact me now.


Data the Ditch Driver

Jay's Seeds

This is a third grader’s response to a recent assessment. This is data, but unfortunately not the type of data we tend to see on “data walls” and in “war rooms.”

Data comes in both quantitative and qualitative forms. In our field, we are quite familiar with quantitative data. We use data dashboards, and deep dives, and drill downs so that data can drive everything we do. But if we only use quantitative data when analyzing the performance of human beings, then data can drive us into a ditch.

Quantitative data measures attributes and properties while qualitative characterizes them. Quantitative data defines while qualitative describes.  Among other things, analysis of qualitative data can help to accomplish the following:

  • Determine students’ intentions to explain causal relationships
  • Empathize with students to gain understanding of their perspectives
  • Make holistic observations of the total context (Gall, Gall, and Borg, 2006, p. 25)

Quantitative data is easier to analyze and manipulate because they are numerical. Qualitative data, on the other hand, is more challenging to analyze because they require you to seek out and generate accurate descriptions of what students think and feel. But qualitative data, when analyzed with quantitative data, tells a more complete story, and perhaps provides the opportunity for a more successful “drive.”

A cursory review of the student sample above can lead one to conclude that the student didn’t understand the problem; however, a more holistic analysis reveals some level of understanding. Without a holistic analysis a teacher can dive immediately into “reteach” mode without uncovering the real gaps in understanding.  (The Core Deconstructed can help you uncover gaps in understanding.)

Determining that the student did not master the standard is not enough. An understanding of how s/he processed the problem is necessary. This type of data analysis takes more time, but yields more substantive solutions. So here’s my question to you as a professional in the field of education: how are you using qualitative data to inform your data-driven decisions?



Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P. & Borg, W. R. (2006). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.). NY: Allyn and Bacon.

Value Creation: Focus Your Lens

Have you seen or experienced this? A group of educators conduct a class visit either for evaluative or peer-coaching purposes and the feedback generated after the event is scattered because of a vague focus or varying expectations.

Last week I was asked to serve as a guest lecturer for a class of aspiring and practicing school administrators on instructional rounds at George Washington University. I was asked to share how The Core Deconstructed (TCD) could be used with rounds. Given that I prefer to facilitate learning as opposed to lecture, I created an environment for a partially simulated instructional round.

Instructional rounds are great because they allow for thoughtful reflection on key work processes. To be clear, key work processes are,

Your organization’s most important internal value-creation processes. […] They are the processes that involve the majority of your organization’s workforce. Your key work processes frequently relate to your core competencies […] and the factors your senior leaders consider important for organizational growth. Your key work processes are always accomplished by your workforce (Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, p. 51, 2013.)

Two key work processes are obvious in our field: the process of lesson design and the process of lesson delivery.

In the class I introduced the TCD elements, created three teams, released them to engage in the simulated rounds while considering only one TCD element and reflected on the process. During the phase of the rounds where the learners discussed their observations, one team was off-focus, the second was partially focused and the third was fully focused. (That was an interesting dynamic to observe.)

Focusing feedback on the key work process that requires the most change should lead the agenda. In this case the planning of instructional activities was the challenge. Students in the observed simulated classroom were asked to complete activities that were outside of the text they were reading. Higher order thinking was present, but not germane to their text. This created a host of challenges in the simulated learning environment that resulted in unfocused feedback.

The desire to address all areas of concern in a classroom is understood, but unrealistic. It becomes overwhelming for the person who is responsible for creating value for the students–the teacher. It also devalues the experience for the participants.

Focus is necessary. During the reflection portion of the evening, a twelfth-year teacher said this:

I’m glad we did this because I see now how easy it is to get off track in instructional rounds. We really need to go in and stay focused on what we went in to observe. I’m also glad that we were introduced to The Core Deconstructed because it gives us the specifics we should be looking for that impact learning the most. It helped me focus on what learning should look like and what the evidence of the learning should look like.

Note: the learner who shared this comment was from a state that did not adopt the Common Core.

By now in the school year, you are well into rounds (or whatever reflective method you embrace), so I ask you to embrace this challenge. Engage in a pre-classroom visit session to strengthen your focus. You can create your own steps, or borrow the approach we used last week.

  1. Deconstruct the standard being taught in the class you will visit using the original TCD process
  2. Select an element of the TCD  to focus on (each team can select an element)
  3. Engage in your observation methodology of choice
  4. Make individual notes on individual post-its as you observe
  5. Regroup with your team the sort and categorize post-its
  6. Discuss the strengths and growth opportunities that emerged in your categories germane to the TCD elements
  7. Generate your report and hypothetical questions germane to the TCD focus for your simulated event

As shared by the students at George Washington University, focusing your lens with the The Core Deconstructed will certainly create value for the participants, the observed teacher and ultimately the students.



Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (2013). 2013 – 2014 Education criteria for performance excellence.

Eduvation: What is it and How to Make it Happen

“Eduvation” is a word I created to shorten and blend the use of the words innovation in education. (Perhaps the term already exists elsewhere, but I haven’t heard it used yet.)

Last week I witnessed a debate that stretched for 3 days at an 8-day Baldrige event. The topic? The meaning of innovation. The challenge was that the term was suffering from multiple interpretations. Given that we were at a Baldrige Performance Excellence event, the group decided to review the Baldrige definition of innovation in order to ensure a common understanding of the common term.

According to the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence (Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, 2013), the term innovation refers to,

Making meaningful change to improve programs, services, processes or organizational effectiveness and to create a new value for students and stakeholders. Innovation involves the adoption of an idea, process, technology, program, service or business model that is either new or new to its proposed application. The outcome of innovation is a discontinuous or break through change in results, programs or services.

Successful organizational innovation is a multistep process that involves development and knowledge sharing, a decision to implement, implementation, evaluation and learning. Although innovation is often associated with technological innovation, it is applicable to all key organizational processes that would benefit from change, whether through breakthrough improvement or a change in approach or outputs. It could include fundamental changes in organizational structure to more effectively accomplish the organization’s work.

Recently, I read a few articles about eduvation–innovation in education–and they all seemed to focus on either new technology or new models. I wondered, “were those the only key levers to collectively move us forward in education?” My answer was no.

The Baldrige definition provided six levers with one of them being processes. Furthermore, the definition states, “Although innovation is often associated with technological innovation, it is applicable to all key organizational processes that would benefit from change.” That being said, the questions for principals and teachers are, “what are all the key processes that would benefit from change, and particularly what are the key instructional and instructional leadership processes that would benefit from a change in thinking and practice?

The challenge this week is simple: engage in eduvation. The list below provides steps you can follow with your team and is followed by italicized examples.

  1. Sit with your professional journal to brainstorm changes that are required (blending professional best practices to deconstruct the standards)
  2. Collaborate with your peers to gather the collective thought and select the change that adds the most value (invest in The Core Deconstructed)
  3. Create your roadmap (create The Core Deconstructed matrix)
  4. Use technology to enhance the eduvation process (use the electronic template to later insert resources)
  5. Collaborate across departments or schools (share and refine your matricies)
  6. Communicate and eliminate barriers to the change (contact me for the next level and/or feedback)
  7. Keep it simple (keep it simple :-))
  8. Celebrate successes (share)

When you’re done, do #8 and let me know about your success!



Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (2013). 2013 – 2014 Education criteria for performance excellence.

WARNING: Poor Lesson Plans Mean Students Learn Poorly

What’s your process for designing learning experiences? Just today I engaged in dialogue with a group of senior leaders about  processes. Their responses were filled with great output examples, but no processes. The discussion mirrored conversations I had last week about the process of lesson design. Given today’s experiences and given the fact that we are still at the start of the school year, I chose to share a post that was written almost one year ago.

Lesson design is a process. Edward Deming once stated, If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” Clear processes lead to clear outcomes. When the process is unclear, then so goes the learning. Therefore, please note (and read)  the following –  WARNING: Poor Lesson Plans Mean Students Learn Poorly.