Leverage the Grade Junkie’s Motivation

Tis’ the season. It’s around the interim benchmark in our semester and our students become anxious about the numerical representation of their learning that will be recorded in their report card comments. No matter how hard we try to recenter the focus and articulate the narrative of their learning, growth, and progress, students are typically hyper focused on the grade. Let’s face it: students care about it the number that is next to the course name.

I wonder… is that a bad thing?

Student to Me: how can I get a better grade in X class?
Me to the Student: it’s not about the grade; it’s about the learning. 
Student to Me: do Colleges, Graduate Programs, Companies ask about my learning or my grades – especially those in South Korea?
Me to the Student: Point well received. 
Student to Me: Annnnnnnnndif it’s about the learning in the class, can I prove that I have learned the unit now that I actually understand it? No. I cannot because we have grades and everything is finite. 

It really was an interesting perspective coming from a soon-to-be post-secondary learner. The world around us values a student’s learning when it’s rounded to the nearest decimal place. Grades are important and we, as educators, cannot ignore or devalue the importance of the world’s view of grades. However, we know that in the big picture, it’s imperative that students can do something with the knowledge and skills they have acquired. A student once told me, “what’s the purpose of learning, it you cannot help others with it.” 

  • How can we meet our students, who are growing up in a GPA-centric environment, in the middle?
  • How can students get the grades desired and achieve the learning that we want for each of them?
  • How can we leverage the grade junkie’s motivation?

3 Strategies To Leverage the Grade Junkie’s Motivation in Your Class

  1. Make the Promise – It’s okay to let the secret out of the bag and remind students that they cannot “go wrong” once they “go right.” I always tell students that the secret to good grades is good learning. I make them a promise that if they focus on the learning (gaps, extension, enrichment, etc.)  and honor the steps in the learning process with fidelity, they will definitively see an increase in their numerical achievement.
  2. Earn the Right To View – Before you show students their grade, make students earn the right to see it. For example, you may have them do a reflection form for their essay to ensure that they have internalized your comments and understand the root cause of their errors/successes. Another example is to have the students complete test corrections before you reveal their grade, which levels the playing field for all learners regardless of their grade on the assessment. Another example may be to have a conference with the student about their progress and achievement before revealing the grade calculation for the assessment.
  3. Walk the Talk – If you do not want students to be hyper focused on grades, do your assessment practices represent growth and mastery, or are your assessment practices trapped in numbers? Is learning a continuum within your course or a snapshot in time? It’s important that our philosophies and beliefs align with our practices. If we ask students to not be hyper focused on grades, we must remove the incentive and pressure that the grade calculations create.

Please share in the comment section or on Twitter: what’s your commitment to leverage the grade junkie’s motivation for good grades?



The Value of Reflection

Why is reflection always the first to be eliminated in teaching and learning?

Reflection, although emphasized as an essential component in learning, is frequently underutilized for its intended purpose. Often, we cite time constraints as a factor, and the reflection period in learning is removed from teaching, professional learning, and in our personal lives. It’s common to hear (or even say), “we are almost out of time and did not get to the reflection activity for the day.”

How can such a vital piece and core to learning be sacrificed?

If we truly understood and valued the power of reflection in learning, I am sure it would not be the dispensable element in the learning process. This is not to say that we do not think it’s significant – we definitely know its importance and it should not be the first thing to be sacrificed in teaching and learning when the pressures of time constraints arise. The word value, in this context, is action-oriented: intentionally utilizing the reflection process as an essential component of learning.

  • Don’t let time restraints impact the reflection period. Be responsible with others’ learning by designing time to think deeply about content acquisition. 
  • Find an appropriate point to pause the learning of new content to ensure learning is memorialized through reflection.
  • Model the value of reflection in teaching and learning – so that students (learners) can internalize the importance of the purpose.

If we truly want to cement the learning of new content, knowledge, and skills to leave a lasting impact, we must prioritize the importance of reflection – the stabilizer of learning.

Twitter Chats Unhinged: Rejuvenating the Purpose

Twitter Chats of the Past

Twitter chats have become one of the most popular edu-tools and catalysts for change in education. Professional networks, curated resources, realtime information, professional growth are power packed into 140 characters of learning. These events bring like-minded educators from all over the world to share and receive resources pertaining to a variety of educational topics. All good things, right?

My Frustration: What is the current state of Twitter chats?

Although designed with powerful potential, Twitter chats have become knowledge-based learning for educators. Understanding that knowledge-based activities are the foundation of learning, at what point do we increase the depth of learning and of sharing ideas within Twitter chats?  Many Twitter chats ask participants to list, identify, name, or define as a response. Rarely have I encountered a chat that calls for evaluating, creating meaning, constructing new ideas, etc. Benjamin Bloom would not be proud! Almost always a Twitter chat follows a Q1, Q2, A1, A2 format. But why? Why must we limit learning to six questions and six answers? Where is the negotiating of meaning on a Twitter chat? Why can’t a chat mirror the learning continuum – emphasizing that learning does not have a finite end – mimicking what we want to see in classrooms everyday?

The Solution: A genuine approach to planning and learning during Twitter Chats

  1. What do you want participants to understand  years from now?
  2. What are the driving questions to support the big picture (or the Understandings)?
  3. Select a Twitter format to support the purpose. (click on the link here to understand the types of formats)
    • Question & Answer
    • Topic & Conversation
    • Google Doc’ing (Curating Resources)
    • Problem & Solutions
    • Devil’s Advocate
    • EdCamp Style
  4. How will you measure information learned, shared, and applied?

Twitter Chats 2.0

Twitter Chats must move beyond being host-driven to participant-centered. We must design and measure learning in all arenas, including Twitter chats, to an educational best practice standard. Chats each week should be fluid and responsive to the needs of the audience/participants. Why wouldn’t responsive teaching apply to Twitter Chats? The next generation of edu-chats must mirror these best practices – what we know to be true in the classroom. The question is – who will accepted the challenge of changing the Twitter culture?

Twitter Chats Unhinged: Formats to Support Differentiation

In an effort to move beyond the traditional format (Q1, Q2, A1, A2) of Twitter Chats, I’d like to highlight a varied approach to Twitter chats.  I challenge you, as a Twitter chat host, to try something different…something that meets the purpose of your chat…to use a format that promotes a differentiated approach to the question & answer format.

Topic & Conversation
Purpose: To generate dialogue around a specific topic
Instructions: This Twitter Chat format will be “Topic & Conversation”. The moderator will pose a topic to the hashtag and participants will respond directly to other participants using the hashtag. This formats promotes unstructured conversation around a selected topic.

Google Doc’ing
Purpose: To curate a pool of ideas, resources, best practices, etc. around a topic
Instructions: This Twitter Chat format will be “Google Doc’ing” allowing participants to access and edit a Google Doc to support learning. Participants add to the Google Doc to curate appropriate information for the task/request presented. The Google Doc serves as the digital filing cabinet to be accessed regarding needs related to the purpose.

Problem & Solutions
Purpose: To curate a pool of potential solutions to solve an issue/problem
Instructions: This Twitter Chat format will be “Problem & Solutions” allowing participants to interact with each other to generate an assortment of solutions to resolve an issue/problem.

Devil’s Advocate
Purpose: Provides an opportunity to challenge an idea or topic from a variety of viewpoints
Instructions: This Twitter Chat format will be “Devil’s Advocate”, having participants challenge an idea or topic  by identifying potential threats and weaknesses that may hinder success. This type of chat allows the topic to be exposed by/from a variety of sources.

EdCamp Style
Purpose: Provides an opportunity for all participants to submit a topic of conversation to the audience/other participants
Instructions: This Twitter Chat format will be “EdCamp Style”, giving participants an open format to have a conversation with other participants about any topic of choice. Usually the topic is a question or a thought that allows for additional elaboration. This participant-driven experience allows everyone to have equally ownership and input in the chat.

Strategies for Designing a Successful Collaborative Experience for Learners

Five Questions to Ponder as Educators:

  • How often do you, as an educator, assign a group project or group work to students?
  • Have you taught your students how to collaborate? …how to learn from each other?
  • Is there an assumption that your students learned collaborative skills the year(s) prior?
  • Is collaboration vital to the learning and to the success of the project, or just a more interesting way to complete the project?
  • How do you assess individual learner growth and achievement in a  group project experience?

Five Principles of Collaborative Experiences:

  • Collaboration is designed to foster a shared experience within the learning process.
  • The focus on collaborative experiences is on what students learn and will do with others.
  • The educator must strategically and purposefully design collaborative elements  into group learning experiences.
  • The educator should always know a student’s individual progress within the learning process and for the product creation. 
  • Individualized feedback must be designed into collaborative learning experiences.

The Role of Checkpoints:

In order to assess effectiveness of collaborative design and individual achievement, there must be varied and appropriate benchmarks (checkpoints) throughout all collaborative work assigned:

  • Checkpoints must provide individualized learner feedback frequently.
  • Checkpoints must ensure progress on the process of learning (acquisition, mastery , meaning, content, knowledge, skill development, etc.) — such as peer-editing, daily formative assessments, learning conferences, group share, concept-based presentations, quizzes on learning progress, etc.
  • Checkpoints must ensure progress on the product creation/end result — such as practice performance assessments, product drafts, practice final presentations, rehearsal of knowledge acquired, pre-summative assessment, etc.

Strategies for Designing a Successful Collaborative Experience for Learners

  • Create and design interdependence within the collaborative experience for group members to depend on and draw from each other’s strengths and skills.
  • Create shared goals that can only be met through collaboration.
  • Assess with rubrics that measure acquisition and mastery, as well as measure individual and group contribution.
  • Create collaborative experiences that compel learners to share critical information and resources.
  • Support collaborative learning with assigned roles and/or social contracts.
  • Emphasize the practicality and future application of strong collaborative skills.
  • Don’t assume that learners know how to work and collaborate in groups. Devote time specifically to develop teamwork skills – such as how to explain ideas to each other, to listen to alternate ideas and perspectives, reach consensus, delegate responsibilities, and coordinate efforts.
  • Redefine group work for learners. Address prior negative experiences and misconceptions about collaborative work. Help learners start fresh.  
  • Roleplay and reinforce conflict resolution skills during the first few collaborative experiences.
  • The educator never waits until the summative assessment to evaluate progress. There are daily observations that helps identify and clarify learner progress.

An Open Letter to Coppell ISD

An open letter to Coppell ISD:

Writing is therapeutic and solidfies closure – this is necessary for my own sanity. 🙂 

Seven years ago, I started with a man – a mentor – at CMS West who interviewed me for “an opportunity” to impact thousands of lives in a bedroom community nestled in the heart of DFW. What I learned as I left CISD in an official capacity yesterday was that it had the biggest impact me. 

I confidently can say that God designed every step in this place that I called home – with every kid that I was blessed to smile at or high five; every lesson learned in the classroom and in life; every educator that I partnered with who cared deeply about each kid’s personal journey; or every laugh that left a lasting mark beyond that one moment. These powerful interactions with learners, parents, teammates, and community members flooded my heart as I left Coppell High School one last time as a professional partner of Coppell ISD. Only God can be so powerful to allow me such moments in life – moments that have shaped my standard for learning and human interaction. 

Thank you, Coppell ISD, for these immeasurably invaluable moments. 

Thank you to my peeps at CMS West. You allowed a 22 year old to be a part of a tight knit family of educators, pushing the envelope to develop well-rounded kids. To Vern, Rhonda, and Jeff, for pushing me to lead and design meaningfully – and when experiments failed, I appreciate you all giving me the feedback I needed to hear and mentoring me back to reality. Thanks to ‘that 8th grade team’ that not only said that every kid could learn, but meant it! To my dearest, closest friends from West (you know who you are!) – you helped me grow as an individual first then as a professional; you even fed me weekly (straight to my heart and my stomach). We all shared and celebrated life together. A special thanks to Sra. Stubblefield at North – I would not have survived my first year without her telling me that I was heading in the right direction. And, the most special thanks to my students at West. We had an interesting experience in that classroom. Learning was fun and unpredictable. I pushed you HARD because I needed each of you to be your best. Even when I was “the relentless Poullard” as some of you so affectionately coined me, I knew you trusted me with your learning and I cared for that trust very diligently. A special ShoutOut to my “High 5 Guys”, a male mentor program between 6th and 8th graders, established to support academic, social, and emotional needs of each kid. It was surreal to see my last group of mentors (some who were also mentees previously) graduate and my last group of mentees now as rising high school juniors. Thank you to the CMS West parents and community for allowing me to be more than just a Spanish teacher. 

To my community at Coppell High, thank you!!! It all started when I, while still at CMS West, interviewed ‘the Mike Jasso’ for a grad class during his first year as principal and I left thinking to myself, “I need to work for this guy someday!” A few months later, I stepped into two of the best years of my teaching career. Thank you to my Academy students. You didn’t shy away from a challenge as we, together, designed learning for ourselves. You all made each day unpredictably fun – with your shenanigans and foolery. #PouPad still exists on social media! Passion-driven learning was important to you and you weren’t afraid to lead forward with your passion. You allowed me to experience real learning in the classroom. The partnership of every Academy teacher made learning amazing and R.E.A.L. Teaching would have been incomplete without my amazing LOTE department. A special thanks to Holly for leading and demanding high expectations from each of us, but also for not stifling our creativity as professionals. A special thanks to Janine and Derryl for the best year of teaching. We rocked out the Spanish III classes and raised the bar each day for those kiddos – and they always met the mark. Thank you to my Spanish III PAP students for trusting us to guide you. It sounds so simple, but we taught radically different than imaginable and each of us, you included, rose to the occasion (plus, we really didn’t give you a choice). Thank you for your impact on my teaching. 

I enjoyed partnering with so many of you to lead professional learning (#CavPou), freshman transition program (A special shout out to Rhoda Hahn who slaved and partnered with me throughout the school year to lead a movement of change for freshman learners), and learning transformation (A special thanks to STAMI, who made me their “yes man” for learning experiments).

Many of you described me leaving the classroom to become an administrator as “going to the dark side”. Despite your perspective (whether accurate or not – no comment 😜), you expected and charged me to be a difference maker. I always tried to guide my day with three tenets: Think like a teacher, Serve like Christ, and Act like “Anthony” (good advice from a grad school buddy). I am so grateful because I was chosen to lead a campus with the best team in education:

Thank you Mr. Jasso – for leading and shaping my administrative perspective. Leadership lessons (convos, tweets, articles) were our common language. Thanks for always seamlessly making time for me – just to listen, give advice, or shoot the breeze – even when I know time was limited. 

Thank you Jamila – for the humor and professionalism that you always used. Although you harassed me majority of the time, I always appreciate your approach and good laughs. 

Thank you Jeremy – for being my sounding board and contributing to my moral compass. You taught me how to think critically in all decision-making about everyone and everything affected. 

Thank you Kayla – for modeling passion-driven leadership for me and being willing to share wisdom and experience while I was teaching and as an AP. Thanks for the good laughs and never wearing your radio. 

Thank you Melissa – for being my professional learning buddy, not just on campus with iLead, but also at EdCamps (where you pushed me to present with you). Most importantly, thanks for reminding me of the power of having fun.

Thank you Ryan – for modeling a genuine spirit and commitment to your craft. Your life experiences, although you kept them private from most, are nothing short of amazing. Our journey was solidified during the “spirit quest” last year and has only made me better. 

Thank you Sean – for being a solid rock for me over the last 4 years. You showed me the power of being yourself. You are genuine and that example pushes me to always be myself in leadership. 

Thank you Wes – for deep conversations that extended beyond philosophy and perspective. You never let me get away with status quo or a subpar approach. Thank you for the challenges. 

My admin team, including Z the latter part of this semester, did amazing things and put others at the forefront of decision-making. I am grateful to be a part of this legacy. A special shoutout to Ms. Moore and my English Department. The learning, depth and the camaraderie in the English department were second to none. I appreciate CLACI and Brooke/Kelly for helping me deepen the instructional side of leadership. Thanks to a campus liaison, Deana, who supported (and encouraged) my crazy ideas. Thanks Ms. Neel and Patcee for keeping me sane and for keeping the ship moving (the office life), when I feared it would “sank.”. And a final CHS thank you to Jason and Chasity for being patient counselors as I learned the way; and a special thanks Yolanda for rocking it out this year with me and our freshman learners.

Thanks to the district admin, old and new, for believing in me to get the job done. Thanks to my cohort of district APs, who weren’t afraid to “embrace the scary” and be change agents. I will miss you all. Thanks to a school board that actually knew me and supported me in the classroom as a teacher and in campus administration. Lastly, thanks to the parents – you trusted me with your prized possession and allowed me to nurture their love for language and for life. The parents are the biggest “wow” of my teaching and admin career. 

These are the memories — (via Twitter too #PoullardinKorea)! Thank you, Coppell ISD, for the trust, the love, and the experiences…until we meet again. 


The Power of NOW – No Opportunity Wasted

Rarely do I find myself drafting a blog post not knowing where it will begin or end.

A few months ago, I attended a Region 10 APLA (assistant principal leadership academy) training during which the presenter reminded us of the power of now – the power of being alive and present in the moments of life. He questioned, why wait/delay when now is the tangible reality? The idea of ‘no opportunity wasted’ resounds deeply as we do not know what plans life has for us.

This morning, I received this text from a friend reacting to very tragic news: “this really puts life into perspective of how small everything is around us.” This resonated with me as life frequently provides difficult reminders of the power of now. How many reminders does life have to give me before I listen? It’s easy to shape this into an educational post or even make it about me and my current situation. However, the reflection on “now” requires a deeper, introspective, and personalized approach that cannot be explained or designed via a blog post.

So I end with this: In the spirit of ‘now’, I challenged myself to explore opportunities in my life that cannot be wasted any longer – Family, Friends, Colleagues, Health, Faith, Relationships, Job, Passions.

The time is now.


Next Steps to Classroom Leadership

Look Differently - Take A Risk!-2

So often, the topic of classroom management dominates our conversation as the cornerstone of a productive learning environment. Speaking frankly – without classroom management, a learning environment could never fully realize maximum learning potential. But, is classroom management where the road stops?

Classroom leadership encapsulates a growth mindset required to foster an optimal learning environment. It’s easy to isolate the words: management and leadership, and become persuaded by the obvious embedded within the definitions. Although the differences are obvious on a surface level, the depth of this difference yields positive, actionable, “classroom culture”-based results.

I was first exposed to this underdeveloped layer of classroom environments by George Couros  in 2012 – based on the premise that inspiration to learn should be at core of the classroom. As a teacher, I thought, how do I design leadership and ownership of learning for my students? Taking this idea steps further, I’d like to highlight some practical next steps to engage the dormant layer of leadership that may lie within your classroom or within the classroom of another educator.

  1. Let Go and Let Students – Design opportunities that require less of your voice, input, and opinions, and instead, opportunities that ensure student-level influence.
    • Self Reflection: Why are you (the educator) leading the Q & A for the class? Why do students hear your voice more than theirs? Why do students get away with “I don’t know” in your class?
    • How?: Set expectations and train classroom facilitators for systematic, routine experiences in your class; Ask more questions and wait longer for students to respond (learn to love the awkward silence); Allow students to struggle with unknown content with the digital support of Google (train them how to use Google appropriately).
  2. Classes That Design Together, Stay Together – Bring students to the learning and assessment design tables, and work together to create authentic buy-in.
    • Self Reflection: When is the last time you listened to and incorporated your students’ opinions for their learning? Why are you creating engaging experiences for students without your students?  Will students say that they see themselves reflected in your lesson planning?
    • How?: Give students real Voice and real Choice (click to see blog post);  Partner with students to design the assessment; Get honest student feedback about an assessment.
  3. Never Settle for Less Than Ownership – Always reinforce that depth of learning lies only within the student’s control.
    • Self Reflection:  Would your students say that you are fair, equitable, and appropriate? Why do you accept a zero for work you deemed important enough to assign? Is the student’s lack of effort worth more than your learning expectation? When the students are asked, why does what they are learning matter, what do they say?  How do students know how to learn in your class?
    • How?: Teach learners how to ‘do learning’ in your class; Hold them accountable for learning (don’t just accept a zero); Continuously remind them of “the why”; Reinforce desired behavior; Set and expect leadership attributes from each student; Allow students to learn at different levels – even though it may require a bit more effort from you; Bring parents into the loop on the first onset of concern (parents are the best and most effective partners).

Reflect and try one of these. Share your thoughts about classroom leadership with me, por favor. Seek additional ways to foster inspiration in your class that help students have leadership, buy-in, and ownership of their learning. This is classroom leadership!

2016 #OneWord: heed

heed: to pay attention to ; to give consideration to

In seeing others’ posts, I wanted to join the conversation concerning my #OneWord for 2016 that I will use to calibrate my day-to-day endeavors. While it took a few weeks of thoughtful consideration, my goal this year is to pay closer attention to the environment around me. It’s no secret that we can easily become entrenched in our daily lives. However, I want to give special consideration to the aspects of my professional and personal lives that I may carelessly overlook (unintentionally).

relevant synonyms: to be aware, to be cognizant, to be conscious, to be mindful, to notice, to observe

Heed is #OneWord that will guide and shape my experiences this year. The synonyms above are the reminders of the power of this word. The intentionality of this word strengthens my ability to connect with others, reflect on my experiences, and make a meaningful difference in how I respond to the world around me.  My hope is that it naturally manifests itself into actions and responses within my daily interactions.

What does this look like for me ?

Listening more carefully to understand others and situations.
Being more empathetic and placing myself in the shoes of others.
Strategically abandoning excess to maximize output.
Setting more time aside to rejuvenate.


Is this what’s best for kids?!?

5 actionable steps to do what’s right for kids!

What's best for kids?-2.png

We must do what’s best for kids. Throughout any school, echoes of this statement permeate through the learning atmosphere. Teachers, campus admin, and district personnel live by “doing what’s best for kids.” How are we stacking up to our commitment?

I often question if we have misunderstood “what’s best for kids” or just replaced it with “what’s easier for now.” Somehow, we still end up over testing students, allowing grades to dominate learning, and watching parental pressures at home do more harm than good. Is this what is best for kids? I am sure that you as the reader and I, especially if you are an educator, would agree on the answer to this question. However, it’s easy to pass the blame, until we realize that we (I, included) are just as culpable.

“What’s best for kids” has lost its meaning!

Somehow, we teach something once or twice and remind the student that it’s his/her responsibility to learn it on his/her own from that point forward (caution: mini rant in progress — here are some of my favorite phrases that are generally partnered with this mentality: this is an honors level course; I must prepare him/her for the real world; I am teaching responsibility; and I am not a babysitter). Is this what is best for kids? We allow time to be the deciding factor for quick numerical feedback (88, 76, 50) instead of giving meaningful qualitative feedback which we know to be effective. We find ourselves blaming the prior years and prior teachers for a learner’s lack of academic progress. Is this what is best for kids? We allow the sausage factory model of education to impede progress; we shove kids in the system and hope they come out on the other end.  Even as an administrator, I too am guilty of allowing such a powerful phrase to become a cliche and negatively impact my decision-making.  Is this what is best for kids? I am sure I lost a few readers along the way.

If this is what’s best for kids, I am heartbroken. But, I know better!

Well, now what? This is the most important question and step. Let’s restore what is best for kids in our schools!

  • ASK! Am I (Are we) doing what’s best for kids? Ask the actual question!
  • REFLECT! Are you meeting each learner’s needs? Imagine that each student were your son/daughter under your instructional leadership – would you think that you are doing what’s best for him/her?
  • MAKE A DIFFERENCE!  Change things up. Do not feel stuck in the system. Be solution-oriented. Sometimes things will changes, other times the system will dominate. No matter what, you should know that you always try to do what’s right for kids.
  • COLLABORATE! Be a thought-partner with other educators and leaders. Question, reflect, and make a difference together.
  • EMPATHIZE! Remember the ultimate goal – to do what’s best for kids. Don’t ignore when someone else isn’t doing what’s best for kids. Step into their shoes to gain insight. Listen to understand. Contribute to their understanding to do what’s best for kids.

Change is slow and will not happen at once. But a step in the direction of restoring “what’s best for kids” can only positively affect our decision-making  and impact the students that we battle for each day.