How to watch & learn from your peer teachers this week

image by: remixed by  Darren Kuropatwa . Original image via  WayneKLin . From TEDxNYED 2010, which I helped cofound.

image by: remixed by Darren Kuropatwa. Original image via WayneKLin. From TEDxNYED 2010, which I helped cofound.

I visit many classrooms at my school and other schools. I visit for formal observations, other times for drop-ins, or sometimes just as a guest. Each time, I leave with an idea for my own classroom. I expect that of myself.

To me, teaching is both an art and science. Methods and skills mixed with creative madness. When I am in someone else's classroom, I focus deeply on the science side - the methods they use to engage their class.

Some of the things I look out for:

  • how did they structure the lesson?
  • what are students doing?
  • how much is the teacher talking?
  • how to students demonstrate their understanding?
  • what pieces engage the students most?
  • what students are left out/seem not to understand?
  • what materials are the students using?

When I look out for these, I want to find the most powerful teaching moments and share them back with the teacher, so they can make sure to keep doing them and make more of them. 

Equally importantly, I also learn strategies for my own classes. I cannot tell you how much better a teacher my peers have made me by their example. 

If you want to be a great teacher, you need role models. Practice what they do. Make it your own, certainly, but great teachers are great for very, very good reasons. Do not overvalue the art in teaching. Know that it also requires very practical methods - methods that great teacher employ.

Your challenge: set up a visit to another teacher's class. Pick someone that you know is a strong teacher.

I will make it easy for you. Send them this e-mail:

subject: can I visit your class this week?

Dear [insert their name here],

I would love to come visit your class this (insert a few specific options of days/times here). 

I am trying to improve my classroom practice and feel like I could learn a lot about how you work with [insert grade number] graders by visiting you. 

I will stop by and see you later in case scheduling is just easier in person.

Thanks, in advance,
[insert your name]

Leave a comment if you are up for the challenge. I can't wait to hear from you.


Give your students half a sheet of paper, 10x your teaching quality

Did you ever have one of those classes where everything just went great? Your explanations were elegant and succinct. Students were volunteering left and right. Group work moved like a well-oiled machine? Those are the days I live for.

Sadly, those come along only once in a while. Often, I would feel good, but leave class somewhat unsure as to how a few students are doing. 

I love this simple method for avoiding that less-than-desirable feeling:

Hand each student a half-sheet of paper with the following questions on them:

1. Name (optional)

2. What is one idea from today's class that you feel like you really understood well?

3. What is one idea from today's class that you need more help with?

4. What is one question you would like me to explain next class?

Try it 5 full minutes before class ends. Student can leave after they complete this "exit ticket" and put it directly in your hand.

Try it every day, in every class, for one week. Let us know what happened in the comments below.

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Teachers: how to stop using sarcasm and start building better relationships with students

Great teachers have outstanding relationships with their students. 

Never underestimate the value of these relationships. Whenever you approach a student, start with the heart. That phrase comes from one of my all-time-favorite books, Crucial Conversation, Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High (referral link). And make no mistake, stakes are always high when a teacher approaches a student.

Start with the heart refers to the idea that healthy dialog starts with good motives. Before you enter a conversation, take an intentional moment to ask yourself what you hope to get out of the conversation. When you approach the student, first identify your shared goals and then your intention:

Jay, both you and I want you to get the most you can out of this project, and want the process to be as easy as it can for you. I broke the project up into small pieces so that it is easy for you to complete each part. Yesterday, when you did not submit your outline, I began to worry about whether you would be able to keep up with the project. Can you help me understand what happened? How can I help you get this outline completed and submitted?

Note the difference between the above approach and a common misstep below:

Jay, where is your outline? You will lose 10 points per every day that it is late and I will not accept it after Friday. I also am e-mailing your mom so she is going to ask you about it tonight. I expect it on my desk tomorrow.

The latter example may occasionally get the outline turned in, but it never gets the relationship strengthened. You want both. Do not settle for less.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, do not use sarcasm. Not ever. Especially avoid sarcasm with anyone below high school, but even in high school, sarcasm is a terrible, yes terrible, communications method. The Crucial team identifies sarcasm as a form of violence, and the Greek root means to tear flesh. Sarcasm is, by definition, not genuine. Healthy relationships thrive from genuine communication. Do not get caught in this trap.

If you need a trick to work on your sarcasm, try wearing a rubber band around your wrist for about a week. Each time you see it, remember that you are trying to avoid sarcasm. When you are teaching, or in a meeting, and your hand flashes in front of your face as you gesture, let it remind you of trying to be more straightforward and clear with your students and peers.


Try this for one week. Give it your full effort. Come back and let us know how the experiment worked.

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I fall in and out of love with blogging. I always love teaching and being a teacher leader. And more than anything, getting better.

This blog has had many iterations. Today I'm shifting towards being a resource for modern educators as they strive to be the best teacher leaders they can be. Do you want to be a better teacher leader?

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Sign up for my e-mail newsletter today, and let's get going. Together. I am looking forward to journeying with you. And if you know  a fantastic teacher who needs a connection, please hit the share buttons to send it to them.

College presidents debating the future of higher education at #NAISAC15

I was in attendance when four current and former college presidents discussed and debated the future of higher ed. I was beyond stunned by the future-minded ideas of Southern New Hampshire president Paul LeBlanc. The other presidents painted a familiar, but improving version of the current status quo. Mr. LeBlanc, however, discussed a complete "unbundling" of the college experiences from courses to residential programs to assessments.

One of his most compelling points cited that most colleges say that most of their students are ready for the workforce upon graduation, but that most companies say relatively few students are - no matter the numbers, there is something to deal with in that.

I'd love to hear your thoughts