Sunday, August 2, 2015


Have you ever really thought about the time that educators have to change the life of their students? Eric Jensen, in his book, Teaching With Poverty In Mind did. Here’s the thinking.

1. Every student in your classroom gets 168 hours each week. (7 days x 24 hours)
2. Subtract the time kids have for sleeping, eating, grooming, and their busy lives. (12-13 hours per day x 7 days= 84-91 hours)
3. That leaves each child with a maximum of 84 hours each week, or 4,368 hours each year. Out of that block, you get at most 30 school hours each week (6 hours x 5 days) for 36 to 42 weeks a year. At the high end, you get 1,260 hours each year (30 hours per week x 42 weeks) for changing a student's life.

Here's the key ratio: 1,260 hours out of a possible 4,368. You have 28 percent of a student's waking time. You are outnumbered by more than two to one. "With the small proportion of their lives that you do have access to, you cannot afford to waste a single class or school day. " Eric Jensen
As educators, where is our sense of URGENCY?
We have little to no control over what happens in a student's life outside of school. With the fraction of the time that we do have, we cannot afford to waste a single minute! Nearly a million students will drop out of school this year. This is unacceptable! The future of our country, and the freedoms that we enjoy depend on our people being educated. Thomas Jefferson said, "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people...They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." It is frightening to me that so many of our kids (yes, all kids are our kids) are finding school so disengaging that they are choosing to drop out. This decision is one that will negatively affect the rest of their lives and future generations. It's equally alarming that students are coming to my fifth-grade classroom without knowing how to read, write, and to do simple math problems. I'm no longer working in a high-poverty school. How is this happening? I started school last Monday. As I looked into the faces of my fifth-graders, I felt a sense of urgency. I have nine months to make a difference! Academically, they are low. How will I get them to be where they need to be? The responsibility I'm feeling is overwhelming. I have no time to waste! My students, our students, are depending and trusting us to prepare them for life and an uncertain future!

We cannot afford to:

Ignore the Power of Relationships: As Rita Pierson so eloquently expressed in her epic TED talk, "Every kid needs a champion!" Every child needs an adult in their life that wholeheartedly believes in them. They need to know that they matter and that someone in their life "has their back". Teachers cannot afford to worry more about covering their content than taking the time to know their students. It starts with knowing the student's name. Read this touching story by Matthew Arend, "What's My Name?" There can never be enough said about the importance of building relationships with our students. In fact, if you think about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, students will not be able to learn unless they feel safe and can trust the teacher and peers in the classroom. It is well worth the invested time to build rapport and a culture of community and caring.

Teach in "Traditional" Ways and Spaces: We are no longer at the beginning of a new century! We are teaching 21st-century learners with a 19-th, even 18-th century mindset. How long will we accept this? A small fraction of innovative teachers does amazing things to engage kids every day. Technology is often a tool. What about the rest? What needs to happen to move teachers forward? What will it take for the teachers still assigning worksheets or lecturing to rows of kids to change? Why don't they feel a sense of urgency?  In my opinion, it's largely due to not being a connected educator. Twitter has been a game changer for me, but so was Edmodo. Teachers need to find what works for them but be connected. I think it's impossible to have daily global conversations about education and to stay satisfied with the status quo. Connected educators share, collaborate, discuss, and challenge each others' thinking. They move forward. One of my passions is to get my colleagues connected and for them to develop their PLN. It's a slow process. Everyone learns at their own time and pace. But, I know that it will forever change them as professionals. The kids need to have their teachers and administrators connected! I don't think it's an option anymore. I think it's a professional responsibility.

Waste Time Disciplining: Bored kids misbehave. When kids are engaged in their learning, given choices, are self-directed and are empowered to seek their passions, there are no discipline problems. PBL, Genius Hour, Maker Spaces, and engaging lessons that immerse kids in learning make a difference! Children are innately curious and want to learn. Instead of professional development about how to control students, learning to make them more compliant, and implementing any number of classroom management programs, teachers should try engagement! Kids love hands-on learning experiences, simulations, creating, collaborating, using tech, and a high-energy teacher. Yes, it's hard work. But, don't our kids deserve it? Don't they deserve to be empowered in a student-centered classroom? Don't they deserve to be highly engaged in their learning? As Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like A Pirate asks about his lessons, "How can I make this lesson outrageously entertaining, engaging, and powerful so that my students will never forget it and will be desperate to come back for more?" Shouldn't other teachers ask the same question? I'm frustrated by teachers who continue to use outdated practices! I don't understand the satisfaction with mediocre and average. No wonder kids are bored! No wonder that they fail to see the relevance of being in school. Administrators are not off the hook. Teachers follow YOUR example. If you want student engagement and fewer discipline problems in your school, get up-to-date with how to motivate your teachers to improve their practice. Are your faculty meetings inspiring? We, as educators, need to stop doing "easy" and "convenient" for us. We need to do what's best for kids!

Think of PLCs as Irrelevant: All kids can learn and make progress! We need to know this, believe this, and ensure that it happens. Regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or socio-economic background, kids deserve a world-class education. We don't have the luxury of time to not work together as functioning teams. We can't spare the time it takes to not trust one another, to work in silos, and to complain. Data helps us to know our students better. It's a little piece of information that complements what teachers intuitively know from observations and other formative assessments. Common assessments allow a team to track progress and to support each other. We have to. We need to figure out what to do if kids don't grasp a concept. As educators, we can't move on and leave students behind. It's our responsibility to know the learner and find what works. The focus needs to shift from teaching to learning. Are we giving kids timely, specific, feedback? Are we setting them up for failure with grades, 0's, and no chances of redoing assignments or tests? We need to improve our practice. We can do better! We must do better! Our nation cannot afford to have a million kids drop out of school each year and others who slide through the system!

Have a Curriculum That Ignores Coding/Technology: Coding is part of being literate in the 21st century. Read this inspiring blog post by Dr. Ryan Jackson, "Code Talkers: Education's New Literacy". Every educator has the responsibility to teach their kids this important skill that will determine whether or not they are career ready. Tynker, Code Academy, and others have made learning to code so easy and enjoyable for kids that it is inexcusable for teachers not to have their students learn- beginning in Kindergarten and all the way through to 12th grade. We cannot afford to have our kids grow up without learning digital citizenship, media skills, and how to use technology for learning.

Abandon the Arts: Research proves the benefits of kids participating in music, art, dance, and theater. It's unsettling to see this important creative outlet and brain-friendly practice being squeezed out by the pressures to have higher test scores. The Arts give a voice to students. Whether it's through poetry, physical movement, or song, the voices of our students need to be heard. They need to be creating, collaborating, communicating and sharing their learning. Instruction with Arts integration makes neural connections to life experiences. This is how our students learn!

Not Take Time To Teach Empathy: We connect globally. Empathy is an important social-emotional skill that educators need to nurture. One way to teach this skill is through stories. Everyone has a story. Stories enable us to empathize and walk in another person's shoes who might have experiences different from our own. Along with empathy, students need opportunities to connect with their peers around the world. We can no longer afford to have our classroom bound by four walls. 

Keep a Fixed Mindset: Educators must model a growth mindset and teach this to their students. We must be willing to take risks, try new skills, get out of our comfort zones, and learn from our mistakes. We must be vulnerable, transparent, honest, and share our journeys. This is how we'll learn. This is how our students will learn. Students need high expectations, but they also need scaffolding. A growth mindset will help them keep focused, build perseverance, and reach their goals. 

The time is NOW! 

Twenty--eight percent (28%) is not much time to change a life!

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

Edward Everett Hale

I believe in focusing on priorities. My 6-word GPS drives me and helps me to set goals. I know that realistically that I won't reach every student in my class. But, I'm going to try! I owe them by best every day! Parents have entrusted their most precious and prized possession to me for nine months. It's an awesome responsibility! I must do whatever it takes! 

What are your thoughts? I would love you to share.


  1. Great stuff re urgency but relax and take a deep breath. Time seldom runs out, we do. Help people become more of a human being, not just a human doing. Consider how we might become the "Sapiens" part of our being. And when you realize it's all about relationships (teacher and student) you will know where to invest your time.

  2. Thanks for an insightful post Sandy. Perhaps teachers are struggling to teach to the child when so much focus is placed on a test. I know teachers who spend day in and day out teaching to and reviewing for a standardized test. I don't blame them, that's where so much focus is placed and what people equate the success of a school with, a single number, garnered from a dated 20th century test. There is much talk about innovation and an "innovators mindset" these days, but is it truly being embraced and practiced? Innovation is about change and making things better, moving forward and putting ideas into action. Here's a blog post that I've written recently about innovating for good in the classroom. Thought you might enjoy!