It’s Time For The Field of Education to Step Up To The Plate

It’s Time For the Field of Education to Step Up To the Plate


One of the best parts about being an instructional coach is learning from other teachers. Like today, when one of our math and STEM teachers, Fil Dudic, stopped by to talk about two of our favorite topics: education and The Chicago Cubs.


Ok, I admit, I’m not a die-hard Cubs fan like the rest of my family, but I certainly like all that goes along with the Cubs: hot dogs, getting sunburnt in the bleachers, singing Go, Cubs, Go. But, until this conversation with Fil piqued my interest, I knew very little about the team or the game of baseball in general.


As Fil and I discussed the Cubs, Fil quoted Cubs Coach Joe Madden’s statement about themes for the Cubs 2017 season, “It’s really important to be uncomfortable. If you become a comfortable person, I think that subtracts growth from the equation” Fil was stuck by this comment as it also applies to much of the work we are currently doing in the field of education.


As Fil and I dove down the rabbit hole of educational topics we have grown so fond of visiting, we landed again on one of our favorite topics: the application of research and use of data in education.


I told Fil about a compelling Ted Talk I watched recently Our failing schools. Enough is Enough!  by Geoffrey Canada. In his Ted Talk, Canada gives a compelling call-to-action, urging us to look critically at our system and practices:


Look, you go into a place that’s failed kids for 50 years, and you say, “So what’s the plan?” And they say, “We’ll, we’re going to do what we did last year this year.” What kind of business model is that? Banks used to open and operate between 10 and 3. They operated 10 to 3. They were closed for lunch hour. Now, who can bank between 10 and 3?  The unemployed. They don’t need banks. They got no money in the banks. Who created that business model? Right? And it went on for decades. You know why? Because they didn’t care. It wasn’t about the customers. It was about bankers. They created something that worked for them. How could you go to the bank when you were at work? It didn’t matter. And they don’t care, —one day, some crazy banker had an idea. Maybe we should keep the bank open when people come home from work.


Why don’t we [do this in education]? Because our business has refused to use science.As a profession, we have to stop this. The science is clear.”


Canada made it seem so simple, the evidence is clear, we need to change.


So, why then, does the business of education, in large part, turn a blind eye to science?


This was the question I asked Fil and proposed a simple answer. That being, there are some deep-rooted reasons for resistance, the most prominent one being nostalgia.


Using science to inform educational practice would undoubtedly tell us we desperately need to do something different. But, that is uncomfortable and intimidating. But, when we start contemplating what change entails, inevitably our heads start to hurt thinking about all of the systemic shifts, bureaucratic hurdles, and fear of doing something wrong.


We start telling ourselves, “things are fine the way they are. Students have gone through systems like this for years and they are fine.” And, to truly convince ourselves of this sentiment, our minds start producing examples of fond memories of our own school days, and before we know it, we are lost in a sea of nostalgia…”those were the days….” and we stop thinking a change is needed, we may even convince ourselves the science is flawed, not the system.


At this point, Fil  brought the conversation back to baseball. He pointed that baseball could possibly the most nostalgia-inducing pastime in America.  


I agreed, at this point, not quite seeing the connection until Fil told me about the book Ahead The Curve: Inside The Baseball Revolution where author Brian Kenny illustrates how some of baseball’s common practices (fielding errors, MVP election, pitching win-loss record, and more) are exercises in tradition rather than effectiveness.  And, moreover, Kenny articulates how baseball hasn’t changed, but our thinking about the game has evolved. For example, 150 years ago, walks were tabulated as an error for the pitcher, and today, pitching a “walk”  is considered a highly-cultivated skill


Ok and what does this have to do with education?

As the understanding of the game of baseball evolved, there was quite a bit of resistance from baseball fans. In the 19th and early 20th century, batters could request pitcher throw a certain type of pitch. Therefore, if a pitcher threw a “walk” it was an error as that was not the request.  But, then in 1900 some savvy pitchers realized throwing walks could be advantageous and strategically threw them. The MLB and fans were outraged. “Throwing walks is unfair!” people shouted. These pitchers’ tactics were not well-received and were considered an example of “gaming the system.”


Over time, as most things do, emotions died down and walks became an acceptable strategy. And, the most interesting thing about this? The number of walks thrown when throwing was considered an error is higher than when it became considered a strategic play (Kenny, 113).


“But, it’s not fair” is commonly and frequently cited by some educators, parents, and students in regard to standards based grading, differentiation, no counting homework, and more. But, fair, as baseball teaches us is a state of mind, just as our understanding of the game of baseball has evolved, so is our changing perception of the game of education. And, with that, we must remember to be patient. Change does not happen overnight, but over years.


As another baseball great, Hall-Of-Famer, Branch Ricky said, “Baseball people, and that includes myself, are slow to change and accept ideas. I remember that it took years to persuade them to put numbers on uniforms.


Lisa Westman is a passionate educator and instructional coach in the Chicago, IL area. For more by by Lisa check out her site at 

Sputnik Moment 2.0

There is an amazing scene in the Space Flight Epic film, “The Right Stuff.” Actor Jeff Goldblum, in the role of a slightly hapless government official, is rushing down the corridor of a federal building and breaks into a some sort of top secret meeting and yells, “It’s called Sputnik!” This scene depicting America’s entry into the Space Race due to the launch of the Soviet Union’s first satellite has always stayed with me in an amusing manner.


Flash forward to several years later and I am sitting in one of my classes for “Principal School.” (a.k.a. Graduate School for School Administration.) I was in reverie of sorts when the word “Sputnik” jolted me back to reality. I anticipated Jeff Goldblum to burst into the classroom followed by a fleet of NASA engineers and the Original Project Mercury Astronauts. What followed was my edification into the meaning of the “Sputnik Moment.” I knew that the Soviet Union’s launch of this puny satellite was the equivalent of some type of foreboding Death Star attack on the United States. This satellite launch compelled the United States to enter the Space Race and led to Manned Space Flight and beyond for our country. What I did not know was that Sputnik led to the a radical re-structuring of the American Educational System. Officials noticed a glaring omission of an emphasis on Math and Science in the Schoolhouse. A paradigm shift occurred in how instruction was delivered in Math and Science for students. Education in this country was flipped all due to the fear of a Soviet-created tin can. A “Sputnik Moment” is seen as any kind of “A-Ha!” Moment or epiphany that leads to monumental action or change.


Upon learning of how a “Sputnik Moment” applies to Education, I find myself wondering what other events have served in a similar capacity. I look to the skies and ponder what global event has compelled our noble profession of education to shift to a more positive and meaningful ethos for our students, families and educators. Arguments can be made for events such as the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall or 9/11. One can also make an assertion that innovations from the iPhone to Augmented Reality serve as the ignition for Sputnik Moments in Education. Innovators from Steve Jobs to Marva Collins to the myriad of voices in TED Talks may serve as catalysts for “Sputnik Moments.”


I find myself in my humble reflection not coming up with a definitive historical moment to stand as  Sputnik Moment 2.0.


Perhaps, there are a myriad of Sputnik Moments hiding in plain sight in Education. These are the postings on Twitter by a 4th Grade Teacher in Baltimore sharing how her students are promoting compassion in the schoolhouse. It is the reflective blog posted by an instructional coach in Iowa. It is an Assistant Superintendent shadowing a student in Ohio in order to model the importance of empathy. Maybe, it is a couple of educators sharing their love of music and celebrating educators with random messages of support and acknowledgement.  It might even be the wise reflections of a band of educators in a Voxer Group sharing and supporting each other in a sincere way.


All of these moments do serve as sparks to create and ignite change in the schoolhouse. We have the potential to be Sputnik Moment in avenues such as Twitter and Voxer. These vehicles create a pathway to  conversation, collaboration and change in a level that is still hard to fathom within its magnitude. The sharing that is embedded within connections from EdCamps to Voxer Group ultimately serve, support and empower our students and educators.


Why wait for Sputnik when a paradigm shift for Education is a Tweet, Vox or Conversation away with the press of a click or the movement of a footstep?


Sean Gaillard is Principal/Lead Learner at John F. Kennedy HighSchool in Winston-Salem, NC. He is the co-host/founder of #EdBeat, a weekly positive chat for educators. Sean is also the founder of #CelebrateMonday. At the center of his life is his wife and their three daughters.


A year after launching #Leadupchat on Twitter (eventually becoming part of a larger movement, LeadUpNow) we are celebrating the tremendous successes and stories of leadership and growth amongst our fellow colleagues and friends. As we reflect on these successes, we immediately conclude that one powerful aspect has been a continual strand through it all. The tribe.


What are tribes? Tribes are powerful connective entities, analogous to synchronization, chain reactions, and storytelling.


Connectivity. At first glance from an outsider’s lens, there is a clique-like connotation surrounding the induction into such a group. Or that it’s an inwardly focused endeavor concerning your goals and your individual growth. Leadership today truly is about connecting like minded people together. Everyone wants to contribute to something, it resonates at a soul satisfying level when we know that we have added value to an ideal or vision larger than ourselves. Today’s relational economy increasingly will be founded in this concept of tribe, the power of a collective over that of the lone wolf.


We’ve discovered It’s truly about illuminating others in the tribe, and furthering the tribe’s influence and impact.  For educators it’s all about the impact on our students. In turn, we receive support, affirmation, Tribes Quoteencouragement from our tribe. As one of our fellow tribe mates routine expresses it is only as lonely at the top as you allow it to be. With a tribe no one is ever alone.


Synchronization. The synchronization of a tribe is analogous to honey bees determining where to build their beehive. When a bee scout discovers a promising site for a potential home, it returns back to the waiting cluster of bees and performs a “bee dance.” The dance is essentially a cryptic description of the site. Other bees will fly out to the site themselves and report back to the cluster via the bee dance. Bees that discover the more desirable sites dance longer, ergo influencing more bees to check out their site. Returning scouts will also head-butt other scouts to stop dance-promoting others sites. The entire swarm of bees will mobilize to their new home based on this process of nest selection. Interestingly, the queen does not make the final decision or weigh the options.


Tribes are synchronized much like the bee hive decision making phenomenon.  Tribes make collective decisions by information gathering (shared personal experiences), weighing options together, and collectively choosing a destination that is most attractive.


Chain Reactions. A runaway chain reaction describes a reaction that occurs when one single nuclear reaction causes one or more subsequent nuclear reactions, thus leading to self-propagating series of these reactions. A nuclear chain reaction releases several million times more energy per reaction than any one chemical reaction. When a tribe member shares a personal experience or blog posts, it becomes a nuclear chain reaction. That one reaction inspires others to change direction, inspires a another blog post, or provokes thinking which leads to new action.


Storytelling. Campfire stories may seem like an esoteric example, but let’s examine further. Stories told around the campfire range from whimsical to legendary, from inspirational to fear mongering.  We distill these stories into bits of wisdom, inspiration, and learning. They get passed from generation to generation. Their story became our story. The stories of successes and failures from our tribe become part of each of us. They become part of our story. We’re not merely telling our story (that becomes an abstraction), we are co-sharing and engaging in dialogue about our experiences as they parallel to our unique circumstances. People learn, not because we’ve expertly imparted our knowledge, but because we’ve experienced the stories together.


At the end of the day, our job is to create a place where the tribe can come to share with one another and support something we believe in. A tribe will continue to impact change as long as there is a constant synergy of new ideas, creative leadership, and renewed vision. A tribe is a dynamic connected movement with a commitment beyond oneself. At Leadup we will continue to be committed to moving the conversation about education forward in a way that will empower edleaders to effect change in their sphere of influence.


What is your tribe? What are you doing to build it?


Nathan Lang and Jeff Veal are the co-founders of and #Leadupchat. For more info...

Time Capsule

How Nine-Year-Old Me Taught Me What’s Important in Education

by Justin Birckbichler


Over the holidays, my mother approached me holding a small, red cylinder. As I took it from her, I realized it was my time capsule I had hidden in our attic in 2000, when I was nine.


As I rummaged through the contents, I saw some artifacts that were crucial and meaningful to my childhood, while others left me wondering why I included them (as a colorblind person, I’m not sure why I included crayons in there?)


Little did I know that nine-year-old me was about to give some insight to me. Many of the items now held vastly different meanings to me as an educator.


  1. 1. Second Place Ribbon:
  • WHAT IT MEANT THEN: A memento of my glorious achievement of second place in the tug-of-war
  • WHAT IT MEANS NOW: I wrote that last sentence firmly tongue-in-cheek and my family and I laughed that I chose to include this ribbon rather than a first place ribbon. However, as I am reflecting now, it carries a lot of meaning. It’s ok to not always be first, and we should celebrate all serious efforts. My thoughts on “everybody gets a trophy” vary, but honest and best effort should always be recognized. We must show students we appreciate their work more than just the final outcome.


  1. 2. Jeff Gordon Trading Card:
  • THEN: A card displaying stats of my all-time favorite athlete – NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon
  • NOW: Whereas Jeff Gordon (and Ricky Bobby) both “wanna go fast,” sometimes we need to slow down in education. Facing over over 100 standards between all subject areas, this seems like an impossible task, but it’s the students who miss out. We must slow down the pace to help our students develop strong and meaningful connections.


  1. 3. Boy’s Life Magazine:
  • THEN: A magazine that I received by being a Boy Scout. I frequently flipped to the back (where the comics were) and worked my way forward.
  • NOW: Of all the items in the time capsule, this one holds the most literal meaning. I hated Boy Scouts when I was in it, but looking back, the ideals helped shape the teacher I am today. The Boy Scout motto is “Do You Best.” I aim to do this everyday and instill it with my students. Many of the virtues of Boy Scouts – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, and brave – are ideals we should instill in all students. Character education cannot take a back seat to content.


  1. 4. Pokemon Card:
  • THEN: A card and video game that ruled my pre-teen years. I was constantly on a quest to locate Charizard.
  • NOW: We must always be evolving. I have been teaching for three years, and my instruction changes every year. The students change, and we much change with them. The myth that “teachers plan once, and then repeat” must be dispelled. All teachers must take risks and try new things. Sure, it could go terribly wrong, but students are forgiving and it is a great way to model a growth mindset. On the other hand, it could be an amazing experience which will have a large impact on your students’ lives.


5.Tickets to a Phillies game, DisneyWorld, and SeaWorld:

  • THEN: Reminders of travels to long ago to far-off destinations. Also, I must have done a lot of traveling that year!
  • NOW: We must take our students on adventures frequently. This does not have to always involve physically going places on field trips, but we need to develop a strong sense of adventure and wonder in our classrooms. Take students on virtual field trips or reimagine your room as a desired destination. The world is getting smaller with the continued growth of technology. Your classroom doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) restrained by the four walls.


  1. 6. Listing of My Favorite Books:
  • THEN: Books were a critical component of my childhood. I was an avid reader, choosing titles such as Harry Potter, Junie B. Jones, and many other classic series
  • NOW: As I said, I loved reading as a child. As a teen, I hated it. Why? My teachers told me what to read. I hated reading in general based on this fact. I made a vow to minimize lack of choices in my classroom. When students have choices, they stay more engaged in the learning. One of my favorite class memories this year is when we all read our own choice books. Students (and I) were completely engrossed in their books for the entire 40 minutes – something I would never have achieved if I assigned what they read.


  1. 7. Tommy Pickles from the Rugrats:
  • THEN: My favorite character from my favorite childhood show
  • NOW: Always see education from the eyes of a child. Tommy could turn a boring day into an adventure, just by letting his imagination lead the way. We must let our inner child lead our lessons. In any other industry, service and satisfaction are determined by the customer. Students are our customers. We must give them the product they want and deserve.


  1. 8. Sunglasses:
  • THEN: I constantly wore sunglasses a kid, thinking they made me look really cool
  • NOW: We can’t worry about being the coolest person in our classroom. In fact, if you ask my students, I am probably the weirdest and most embarrassing member of our classroom family. However, I am entirely ok with this. It gets the students laughing and engaged in learning, and gives them the chance to be the cool ones. We must leave our egos at the door.

I still have no idea why I included the crayon, but after reflecting, it was clear that nine-year-old me had a plan and a purpose for each of these objects. Fifteen years later, past me took present me to school.


jbThink back to your childhood. What would you have left for your present self? What would your present self leave for your future self?


Today’s post is by Justin Birckbichler, a passionate 4th grade teacher in Virginia. He is also the co-host of @eduroadtrip and the founder of #flyhighfri and #teach20s.


To read more by Justin.

Will The Real Disruptive Educators Please Stand Up?

Today’s post is by Dr. Sanee Bell, a highly impactful elementary lead learner/principal in Katy, TX. 

hoffer quote

As educators, when we hear the word disruptive, our minds usually reflect on students in the past who have misbehaved in school. The word disruptive often has a negative connotation associated with its use. It is synonymous with words like troublemaking, disturbing, distracting, and unruly. However, the beauty of the English language is that we have multiple meanings for words. When I searched Google for the meaning of disruptive, the search engine returned two meanings:

1.) causing or tending to cause disruption

        “disruptive and delinquent children”

2.) innovative or groundbreaking

       “breaking a disruptive technology into the market is never easy”                  

To frame this post, I want to focus on the second meaning of the word as I define and illustrate the meaning of a disruptive educator.

Disruptors Innovate

Disruptive educators are innovators. They are chasers of the breakthrough, and they are driven by groundbreaking discoveries. They don’t know when the breakthrough may come, but they continue to disrupt the status quo in an effort to innovate. Disruptive educators are committed to radically changing our profession by creating a new way of thinking about how we educate students, and how we grow professionally. They are the early innovators and early adopters who have the courage to explore something new. Simon Sinek references the Law of Diffusion of Innovation in his How Great Leaders Inspire Action TED talk. Disruptive educators fall into the 15.5% of the profession who are either the innovators, or who are the early adopters of the innovations.

Disruptive educators have a drive, a different speed that is driven by a purpose, an attitude, and an unrelenting sense of determination to contribute to a greater good. Being a disruptive educator is a way of life. It is a thought-process and a state-of-being. Disruptive educators need push back to challenge their thinking. In fact, disruptive educators welcome the challenge from those who are not quite sold on their innovative ideas. They need the early and late majority who challenge and question their innovations. It is this questioning and challenging that helps them refine and improve their thinking. If the innovation is real, it will eventually reach the tipping point and become a new way of doing business.

Disruptors Find Their People

Disruptive educators are connected. They are not lone rangers. A lone disruptor may be viewed as a nuisance, a troublemaker, or a radical who others may not take seriously; but a connected disruptor is part of a movement others want to join. Disruptive educators are contributors and collaborators. They seek to disrupt, not for notoriety or fame, but because they see a need and want to make a difference. More often than not, disruptive educators are not self-proclaimed. Others have identified them as disruptors because of their openness and willingness to share. Disruptive educators are committed to making great things happen for students. They understand that BIG things don’t happen with small thinking.

Disruptors Move Beyond the Conversation

Disruptive educators choose to be bothered and challenged by what others believe to be impossible. They have bold dreams and the courage to not only pursue their dreams, but to make their dreams a reality. Disruptive educators are writing a story and acting it out simultaneously. They are key players in the story they are writing, and they live in a state of constant revision. They don’t know how the story will end, but they write the story with such purpose and passion that the journey is worth more than the final destination. They try, they fail and they try again. They are persistent, courageous, and so necessary to our profession. Disruptors not only join the conversation, but they turn the conversation into action.

I am Sanée Bell, and I am a disruptive educator. From one disruptive educator to another, I challenge you to disrupt yourself. Our profession and our students deserve it. So I ask again, will the real disruptive educators please stand up?

For more by Sanee check out her blog