6 changes I made to show more respect

  1. I told my students what I was trying to do with each class. Simple, but just showing that I was actually trying to accomplish something for them showed respect for their time.  This one’s easy – if you don’t do this, just start tomorrow.
  2. I asked my students for feedback and made changes to the class where I felt I could.  Discussing how they were feeling about the class showed respect for them as learners.
  3. I did a lot of work preparing questions and activities that would never leave any students hanging with no graceful path to follow.  Students who know they won’t look stupid can engage more easily.
  4. When I posed a question to the whole class, I gave everyone time to prepare answers before calling on anyone.  I avoided asking questions with quick, pre-determined answers. I showed that I take questions seriously, and don’t just use them as a device to keep underlings on task.
  5. I followed a predictable structure and didn’t change it without warning and discussion.  Giving them input about how they spend their time showed respect for them as people.
  6. I expected them to show respect for me and for each other. Holding them to high standards showed them I think they can meet high standards.

Working to really SHOW respect has two purposes.

It supports a group of people (children) who are just now earning respect for themselves.  They aren’t necessarily very receptive to respect yet, so being obvious about it can help.

It also teaches THEM to show respect. Which might be even more important than teaching them trigonometry.

6 Ways I Disrespected My Students

  1. I have assigned homework without a clear idea of what good it would do them
  2. I gave tests that permanently affected their lives without being ultra-clear about my expectations
  3. I have written things in grade reports to parents that I had not yet told the students
  4. I changed my expectations and grading policies mid-semester
  5. I steered conversations toward lesson goals while pretending it was an open-ended investigation

The thing is, I did all of these things without really thinking of them as disrespectful. Once I realized that my students were people in the prime of their health, trusting hundreds of hours of their youth to me… it was easier to get my copies done on time.

I was eager to correct my attitude, but in my eagerness I made another mistake.

  1. I overreacted and put too much pressure on the students to be their own guides. I forgot that 15-year-olds do still need guidance, and left them to unguided exploration that left them feeling lost and foolish.


Being George Jetson won’t be an option.

This shopping cart  can follow you around a store by itself.  When you put items in it, it can cross them off your grocery list.  How long can it be until the groceries just show up on your counter when you’re ready to cook?  What will happen to the clerks, and janitors, and stockers, and delivery men and women? The store manager? The shopping center?


George Jetson commutes to work on a little air scooter to push a single button for an hour a week.  It’s hard to imagine what George might do instead of pushing the button – to find a new way to be helpful, he’s going to need skills and passion that I just don’t see in him yet.  Everything else he could do – every job he’d get such simple instructions for – has been automated.  He’s going to have to change completely, from a routine-following technophobe to a self-directed instigator – and it’s going to be COMPETITIVE.

He should start now, while button tech is still primitive!

Jobs that can be automated may simply disappear for our students and their offspring.  There may be no truck drivers, or factory workers, or cashiers. Most of our office jobs can be automated too, so watch out, middle class.  Wealth is already being concentrated by this stuff.

I’m focusing on helping kids be adaptable and incisive. They are NOT going to be hired to push a button all day.

DIY Learning

My PLC was the best professional development of my life. A group of five teachers got together once a week to improve our assessment skills and strategies.  I was interested, they were interested, and I learned a lot.

I’ve been to a dozen conferences for PD too – sitting in on lectures about why lectures aren’t effective, and filling out worksheets about adding creativity to the classroom.  The PLC, and my blog, always stand out as the work I’m most proud of and that improved me most as a teacher.

Iowa is getting excited about competency-based education, which would let students follow their own interests and strengths around the school instead of following their age group.  We would stop wasting students’ time by giving them C after C and meet them where they a) are and b) want to be.

There’s a lot to think about. What if we end up with a bunch of expert skate boarders and none of the doctors we want? After all, my school set up this PLC to make us better teachers, and it interested me so much I quit my teaching job so I could work on it all the time. Giving up control has the downside that you have to give up control.  If we let students study their interests, do we have the faith that presenting them with smart, helpful role models and the world’s information will be good for the society we want to have?

You met our expectations.

A grade represents the level to which you met your teacher’s expectations of you.  If you do what your teacher wants, you get an A.  Right? Even if this teacher is a passionate mentor who gives credit for creativity and investigation and doesn’t care whether or not you type your papers, an A still means that he approves of your work.

Leaving school, grades are the only thing they give you to take with you on your way.  Your diploma is an acknowledgement that you collected a sufficient number of acceptable grades.  The big symbol they send with you, after TWELVE YEARS OF YOUR YOUTH, says “you met our expectations!”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask kids to meet our expectations. The thing is, when the ONLY symbol we really celebrate is about meeting expectations, we’re saying implicitly that that’s the most important thing.

And I want to celebrate compassion, creativity, problem solving, problem finding, ingenuity, leadership, stewardship, responsibility, hard work, open minds, beauty, longevity, partnership, communication, intelligence, technical skills, and self-sufficiency WAY MORE than I want to celebrate obedience.

Lessons In the Medium

I think that how we teach affects people more than what we teach.

We can teach from the front of the room, giving our students the knowledge we’ve earned over our years. But if we only give information, we’re only telling – we’re never showing how to learn.  We say learning is important, but we never do it in front of them. What conclusions do they draw from that?

In ten years, when our students are working on problems that have never occurred to us, they’ll need more than even our very best classes have given them.  They’ll need to ask their own questions, and teach themselves their own, wiser lessons.

We have to give them more than what we know!


Now Hiring

When I was in school, I had a GPA of about 2.0. Teachers said in reports that I had neglected to turn in almost all of the work they assigned to me – a missing physics notebook, a missing English report, and in one case, a missing term paper. We’d been working on that term paper for two months, supposedly.

I spent my afternoons with the ultimate frisbee club I started with my friends. I spent my evenings on the computer. Can you picture me on the computer, my notes and books open next to me?  So I could pretend I was doing my homework?

Can you picture my parents getting these teacher reports?

My GPA was 2.0 from 3rd grade to 16th, so you can infer that I know almost nothing. I lose at every trivia game. My wife will pick up crossword puzzles, and I’ll just get out a book or check my blogs.

And yet, in the last 18 months I’ve formed a company with three employees, and single-handedly written a program that handles thousands of users and over 750,000 pieces of assessment data – scores and ratings and comments. All without knowing anything!

Here’s the thing: the technology we’re using to create ActiveGrade was released in 2008. Even if I HAD studied in school… I graduated in 2005.  Knowing things isn’t enough. Maybe, knowing specifics is less important than ever – if I knew more history I might back that up more convincingly.

ActiveGrade is hiring, and what will we put in the developer job description? We can’t require experience – the tools we’re using were invented three years ago, and a tiny fraction of the population knows how to use them. You all know how I feel about tests – I’m not going to hire someone based on a test score when I care about creativity, compassion, and hard work.

I want to hire someone with the things I got out of my childhood INSTEAD of knowledge: curiosity, fun, tinkering skills, trouble-shooting skills, communication skills.

Knowledge is A LOT CHEAPER than it was when we were in school. Casual Obedience is NOT THAT IMPORTANT. I hope that the grades we give out are not based on knowledge and obedience.  I hope we’re not misleading our children to think that obedience is our biggest goal.