5 Golden Rings: A Gift All Students Should Receive

Guest post is by Steven Weber,  a passionate and innovative  Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction in Chapel Hill, NC.

We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. – President Frankin D. Roosevelt

How can we transform teaching and learning? As you reflect on 2015, what would you change in your school? Teachers and administrators often look for the silver bullet, the instructional strategy that will support all students. One flaw in current practice is that most educators design curriculum, instruction, and assessment with the 12th grade as the ‘end in mind.’ If our collective efforts are preparing students to graduate from high school, we may not achieve the desired results of preparing more students for success in college and university coursework. As we enter a new year, the focus is on college and career readiness.

“College and career readiness is not something that suddenly happens when a student graduates from high school but instead is the result of a process extending through all the years of a student’s education” (ACT, 2008, p. 3). As we enter the holiday season, I am reminded of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. In the spirit of giving gifts in December, I propose that every student receive five golden rings. If you purchase a diamond ring, the jeweler will introduce you to the 4 Cs: Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat-Weight. In 2016, teachers need to emphasize the 4 Cs: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. The 4 Cs are critically important if we are preparing students to graduate college and career ready. The 4 Cs, along with contribution, make the 5 Golden Rings.

5 Golden Rings

Critical Thinking

Do your students focus on finding the right answer for the test or asking questions? A class that emphasizes critical thinking includes student voice, inquiry learning, collaborative work, student-led assignments, project-based learning, writing, and analysis of more than one source. Critical thinkers are able to solve problems and think on their feet. Wiggins (2012), wrote, “If all I do is ‘teach’ you things and then you have to show me you ‘learned’ then, strictly speaking, there is no need for either of us to really think. A need to think only emerges when the work itself is designed to make us both question, really question what we are doing.” Skills such as critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge in new situations are emphasized by employers and universities.


Students rarely have the opportunity to practice communication skills in classrooms. The push to teach to the test narrowed the curriculum and most state tests did not assess communication skills. Employers seek high school graduates who have the ability to communicate with co-workers and customers.

Erik Palmer (TeachThought, 2014) wrote:

“How is it possible that students in their 17th year of schooling can be so unimpressive when asked to speak? In kindergarten they talked at circle time; in 1st grade they shared at show & tell; in 2nd and 3rd grade they did book shares; in 5th grade they presented their biome dioramas; in 7th grade they participated in poetry café; in 8th grade they did mock trials; in high school they presented lab reports, research results, biography projects, DECA projects. In other words, at every grade level, students were forced to speak—sometimes formally, most often informally, but they had to say something…..So why didn’t students master oral communication?”

Does your school have a rubric for communication skills at each grade level? What is the ‘end in mind?’ Do you have a plan for supporting communication skills? Reading and writing skills are emphasized in K-12, but communication skills have been ignored. Give your students the gift of communication.

When you observe students on a playground, you will see collaboration, communication, critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, citizenship, innovation, and community. Classrooms need to reflect playgrounds. Too often, class assignments focus on student’s existing strengths and pit students against one another. The workforce seeks employers who are able to collaborate within the organization and partners outside the organization. Several teachers have changed the arrangement in their classroom from straight rows to tables or groups of four students. However, the assignments still emphasizes individual work. Fast Company (2014) cited five skills graduates must have to land their first job. Collaboration was listed as one of the five skills. Will students learn to collaborate in your class or merely how to get along?


In the 1980’s, a student who was labeled creative was an artist or musician. Creativity was often associated with the arts. A creative student may not excel at math or science, but displayed giftedness in other areas. ‘Most Creative’ was akin to an honorable mention award. Creative students were not recognized if their creativity did not help them earn As. How do your assignments encourage and foster creativity? Price-Mitchell (2015) shares Six Ways To Boost Student Creativity. In a changing workforce, students will need to be adaptable. Students will not have one job for thirty years, like many of their parents and grandparents. Creativity is a college and career skill and it can no longer be reserved for the artist or musician.


A 5th ring is “Contribution.” As you reflect on 2015, ask “What was the ratio of compliance vs. contribution?” Many students enter kindergarten as risk takers and graduate high school as compliant learners who are seeking the answer that gives them an A. Do you see students writing blogs, experimenting, creating videos, designing apps, serving as leaders throughout the school, providing community service, challenging the status quo, and offering solutions through innovative research? Wiggins and McTighe (2005) described the Twin Sins of curriculum design: Activity-Focused and Coverage-Focused. If you see students engaged in activities but there is little contribution, then you should question the activities and purpose. In an era of standards-based teaching, if there seems to be little transfer then teachers may be focusing on the standards more than on what the students will be able to do as a result of implementing the standards.

Contribution is the missing link in many K-12 classrooms. “No longer an end point in the public education system, the American high school is now being asked to prepare all its students for the postsecondary schooling and training required for full economic and social participation in U.S. society” (Balfanz, 2009, p. 18).


Opportunity to Learn (OTL) means that all students will be provided the opportunity to learn key skills and concepts that prepare them for the next level. Teachers and administrators control OTL. If you are looking for that last-minute gift for your students, give each student 5 Golden Rings: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Contribution. You don’t need to purchase a program or determine how these skills align with high-stakes testing. Seventy five years ago, President Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future” (Address at University of Pennsylvania, September 20, 1940). Give the gift that keeps on giving – 5 Golden Rings

For more posts by Steven

Are You Leading with Questions?

Today’s post is by Rosa Isiah, a passionate lead learner/principal serving students daily at Lucille Smith Elementary School in California.

Are You Leading with Questions?

Think back to your last leadership or team meeting. As facilitator, did you create opportunities for the team to process and discuss questions? How did the team engage? Many of us walk into meetings with exhausting agendas that lack opportunities for dialogue or problem solving through questioning. Research indicates that questions, the right questions, can positively influence an organization in a variety of ways. A question has the power to identify problems, challenge the status quo, identify biases…all catalysts for creativity, collaboration, and change.

Asking the right questions after 22 years

After 22 years as an educator and educational leader, I’ve recently learned about the importance of effective questioning. I engage in the challenging and satisfying work of creating an organizational culture of risk-taking and problem-solving. I’ve learned to be mindful about asking questions in a number of settings and situations. My goal is to balance questioning with listening when engaging with students, teachers, and parents. The results are remarkable. The focus has shifted from what I think or want to what WE think and want for OUR school. I find myself doing less talking and becoming a deeper listener.

Who’s asking the questions?

If research indicates that questioning is transformational to an organization, why aren’t we doing more of it in the educational setting? Simply stated, our educational system does not foster, support, or encourage questioning. In a traditional system, the leader is the authority and keeper of knowledge. Questioning is often perceived as challenging authority. It’s impossible for an organization to identify problems and develop solutions when the team isn’t encouraged to think. Change the mindset and encourage your team members to take risks by asking questions. The entire organization will benefit.

Courageous Questions = Courageous Conversations

Questions challenge the status quo and disrupt dysfunctional systems. What if we didn’t go along with what’s always been done? Addressing achievement gaps, educational inequities, and a number of other educational and societal issues require us to ask courageous questions and engage in courageous conversations. We will continue to fail our neediest students if we lack the courage to ask “why?”

Inspire Creativity and Change

The most difficult part of our work is implementing change. Change requires one to release old habits and adopt new behaviors, forcing us out of our comfort zones. The process of change always begins with a great question and asking exploratory questions is crucial to problem solving and creativity. How might we begin to push our teams out of their comfort zones with the right questions? What are the right questions for change?

Our current educational system takes a solution-based approach to solving problems. We are eager to solve problems and provide solutions without dialogue and questioning. We are graded or evaluated based on coming up with solutions for problems that we may not necessarily need to solve. Asking the right questions has the power to transform not only our educational systems, but our lives. Questions spark innovation and creativity and challenge us to continue to improve our work. Great leaders lead by asking, not telling. Great leaders lead by asking the right questions, even if they do not have the answers.

How might you use questions to lead change in YOUR organization?

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” – Voltaire


Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question. New York, NY: Bloomsbury



Our guest post today is by Marlena Gross-Taylor, who has served as a teacher, K-12  administrator, and is currently an educational consultant based in Nashville, TN.

“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.” ~Edgar Cayce

Have you ever been to the movies by yourself?

Until this summer, I had never been to the theater solo, nor ever had a desire to do so.  I took a little road trip to Rocky Top to present at a conference, leaving the family back home.  My initial plans were to relax by the pool, shop a bit and participate in the conference group activities; however at the end of day one I found myself in a small theater excited to see the movie no one else in my family wanted to view – Tomorrowland.  And my world refocused.

“What if there’s a place, a secret place where nothing is impossible? A miraculous place where you could actually change the world.  You wanna go?”

To me, this wonderful, secret place isn’t such a secret.  Isn’t this the purpose of school?  It’s certainly not to take tests; however, since NCLB, high stakes testing has created extensive test preparation in schools significantly impacting instructional time and focus.  As I walked out of the theater, I immediately thought to myself that the shift of education must return whole-heartedly to authentic learning for students and meaningful professional development for teachers and leaders supporting innovation and creativity.

The workforce our students will be entering will consist of jobs that haven’t been created yet.  Businesses are actively seeking candidates whose skill sets are grounded in creativity and problem solving.  Colleges have begun to offer courses in creativity in response to this shift in the job market.  So what can we do in the K-12 realm to prepare our students for the 21st century?  Here are a few strategies to bring innovation back into the classroom.

Project Based Learning (PBL)

Thousands of teachers and school leaders have discovered the benefits of incorporating PBLs in their schools as a more effective way to engage students and deepen the learning experiences of students.  According to the Buck Institute for Education, PBL builds student success for college, career, and life in the 21st century by teaching students to incorporate multiple subject areas in order to solve problems, connecting them to their schools and community in a meaningful way. 

Maker’s Space

Probably the simplest way to reintroduce creativity is underscored in the Maker’s Space movement.  I vividly remember playing with Legos and electronic kits with my brothers for hours working diligently to re-create the images and ideas in my head.  Maker’s Space has revitalized the importance of having students create using various materials and their ingenuity much like my favorite TV character MacGyver

Google Classrooms

Our students are comprised of Gen Zers, which is characterized primarily by never knowing life without technology.  The evolution of technology integration in schools has been a slow one, but today’s students seamlessly integrate technology in every facet of their lives.  Incorporating Google Classrooms and other platforms allows students to simultaneously engage in rigorous discussion, work collaboratively on projects, and instantly access information for deeper understanding. 

As educators we must recommit ourselves to advocating for what is best for students and create learning environments that foster a love for learning and ingenuity.  School is the perfect forum to develop future game-changers and instill the mind-set of perseverance understanding mistakes are just an opportunity for continuous growth.  School must remain a viable experience for students in a modern world.

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