Good to Great, 2 Shifts Any Teacher Make to Overcome Student Apathy

Student apathy is a hot topic. Students today aren’t as attentive in school and the problem continues to grow. One causes might include access to cell phones during school. Another might be economic deficits. However, we have examples of people from these circumstances be successful in school. So, why don’t more students just follow that path?
What is the barrier?
I believe all teachers come into the profession with intention to help all kids. Not some, but all. So what happens? Teachers are worn down by the job, it can be taxing to keep up the positive energy. We all know this challenge, but I think there is another challenge. The challenge what teachers believe about teaching. Didactic contract. This contract has been in place since the early days of school. In this contract teachers pass knowledge to students. Students are to listen, take notes, and practice the lessons. This was a solution in the past when knowledge was useful for decades. Now, we know that the world is changing too fast for this process to work for students. Also, with the amount of choices and access to knowledge, students will lose interest quickly.
How do great teachers handle this?
There are a few differences in how good teachers handle this new challenge, and how great teachers address it. Here are two:
Ask questions, don’t just look for answers. If you listen carefully, good teachers are asking questions to look for a certain answer. While great teachers are curious about student experiences and student thinking. This shift creates students who are more likely to actively participate during class. Students know their thoughts matter and the teacher is really listening.
Use a variety of strategies consistently. Most good teachers use direct instruction. Though this strategy can appear effective, it also creates students who forget how to think. Direct instruction also becomes predictable and soon students tune out because the teacher is doing all the work. Great teachers try to create experiences where students are doing most of the thinking. These teachers are willing to change things up, even though it might be uncomfortable. Students are more curious because they see the teacher as a learner as well, therefore the great teachers model the behavior they expect.
The primary goal of the great teacher is to pull out students strengths instead of trying to put knowledge into students.
How can leaders leverage these skills?
I know we want to highlight the great teacher and leverage them as models for the good teachers. But, consider this. Let’s learn to use the great teacher strategies on our good teachers. Instead of telling them what they can do differently, let’s ask good teachers questions. Questions that are curious about their experiences and thinking around teaching. How do you prepare for challenging students? What strategy did you choose for your students and Why? How would you rate your lesson? What choices would you make next time to make the lesson better? Through questions, I think we can learn more about our staff, show we believe in their ability, and find strategic ways to push them from good to great.
In conclusion, we all struggle with student apathy. As leaders we struggle with teacher apathy. So, let’s make it our mission to learn from our best teachers by asking more questions and using a variety of strategies. If we do this, then I believe we will shift our good teachers to great teachers, and successfully address the challenge of student apathy.


What is Didactic Teaching.  Retrieved from:






True Learning Isn’t Easy

“My kid is an A student.”  This statement makes parents around the county beam with pride.  How do I know?  Well, my parents would brag about me.  I was fortunate enough to be an “A” student during my secondary schooling.  There was a problem with this though my “A” came easy.  Why was this a problem?  Because I learned a few unproductive habits and beliefs that would inhibit my growth as I got older.

Number 1:  success should be easy.  Because of the continuous experiences I had during school, when things were hard, I would sometimes quit.  I shied away from challenges, especially in college.  I recall my senior year, I had to present a mini dissertation to the math department.  I did all I could to avoid class.  I did end up completing it, however I tried to avoid the entire thing.  We’ve all seen students avoiding class or challenging tasks during our career.  I believe this is a direct result of believing learning should be easy.

Number 2: procrastination of tasks. Since I did not need to work hard, I would wait to the last minute to complete assignments.  I only recall a few times when I didn’t still receive an A.  One of those times was in eight grade.  I had to do a science project involving a natural disaster.  I waited until the last minute and asked my older cousin for help.  He gave me the idea of using a monopoly house, water, a jar, and dishwashing soap.  From this I made a tornado, which was created when I shook the jar (embarrassing). When I did not receive a good grade I was allowed to redo the assignment because I was a “good student” and my mom asked.  I obtained a better grade on the redo, but learned procrastination had no consequences.  We have all had students who frustrate us by waiting until the last minute.  We see so much potential in them.

Number 3:  I learned to be dependent on external praise.  Since making an A was the main goal, I learned to enjoy the attention I received from that outcome.  I even craved it.  I recall my uncle giving me money for getting an A.  I know he was trying to be encouraging, but I think this reinforced my unproductive habits.  As a result, I noticed myself only working hard if it was for others.  For example, I was only getting A’s because I wanted to play sports.  My dad always said, “If you don’t get an A, then you can’t play.”  Therefore, the grade was not for the personal satisfaction for my own hard work, but because I was being rewarded.  Trying to please others always brought anxiety and worry, never true internal satisfaction.  We all have seen students who only care about the grade and not the learning experience.

So, what can we do to counteract these?

I believe we must provide more opportunities for our students to experience challenges during class.  Think the earlier, the better.  By providing these opportunities, students can learn the true satisfaction of working towards a goal.  Life is about challenges and learning to face and manage challenges effectively.  Think about your own personal challenges you have overcome.  I have learned much more from my challenges, than I did from anything that came easily.  Another benefit is ownership.  I relate this to doing chores at home.  I know I don’t like chores now because as a child I didn’t do many chores, but if I had done them earlier I would probably take more pride in the opportunity to do and complete a chore.  We all would like students to take more ownership and pride in their work.

In conclusion, as educators our responsibility is to provide students the skills needed for success in the future.  I believe this starts with the experiences we choose to give students.  We often want to give students things they “can do”.  An example would be our hesitation when saying “my kids can’t do that”.  We must also provide students with challenges that push them beyond their comfort zone.  I realize we all (teacher, student, and parent) might be uncomfortable with the change.  There might be pain, fear, and anger.  However, we must provide these opportunities so our students are ready for their future.

Let me know what you think!

1 Mindset Shift to Effective Classroom Management

“Don’t smile until after Christmas.”  Have you ever heard your colleagues say these words? At the age of twenty-one, I was unsure about classroom management, as this would be the first time I would have my own classroom of students.  When I heard these words, I was confused.  I thought our goal was to build relationships with our students.  Smiling and laughing is a huge part of who I am, so could I build a relationship without smiling.  What would I do?

I listened and did not smile until Christmas.  So, what happened?  Even though I worked hard, it was hard to connect with my students.  I felt like I was in control of the classroom, but I wondered if this was the right way.  Despite my thoughts, I continued to use this strategy early in my career.  Now reflecting back, I believe this choice had a negative effect on the success of my students.

So, recently I started thinking about our mindset as teachers.  Control of the classroom is perceived as a valuable teacher skill.  However, does control mean respect?  In particular, I have loose my cool when a student talked back during class.  I don’t think students could respect my anger, nor would I say my students could felt safe in a classroom where they couldn’t express themselves.  So, I have to change.  I decided I needed to share more about myself.  I needed to share my strengths and my challenges.  I needed to make a mindset shift and be more vulnerable.

As educators, we use the word mindset in many different forms, so in this blog I will use the following definition:

Mindset – a mental attitude that determines how a person response to situations

Key Shift:  Vulnerability

As a young teacher, it was a challenge for me to be vulnerable and I still struggle now.  Our challenge is knowing the line between revealing too much and sharing too little.  However, if we want to build relationships with students and effectively manage our classrooms, then we must be willing to share who we are and why we are teaching with our students.  Think about it, are you more willing to take advice from someone you know , or someone who is a unknown to you.  We listen more to people we know.  We also share more with people we know because we feel safe.

We all struggle with being vulnerable, but I have learned a few skills that help me with my fears.  For me, I learned to reveal who I am upfront and what I am about upfront. This way when problems occur, I can remind students where I stand, instead of trying to hide my needs. You may think you do this at the beginning of the school year, but most of us spend this time going over rules (syllabus) instead of stating personal principles.

Here is an example:  I use to say “Rule number one is respect, respect teacher, materials, each other and yourself.”  Now I might say, “I value each of you as individual, therefore if you have a concern with me or any other student, please address me one on one, before or after class.  This way, I can give you my full attention as we discuss the concern.”  In the first example, I was very vague and closed in my communication.  What does respect mean?  How would a student show a teacher respect?  However, the second communication was clear directions to what I care about (valuing students as individuals), and when, when, and how to address any concerns.  Clarity in who we are, and how we operate can be essential to vulnerability.  Through vulnerability you1 Mindset Shift to Effective Classroom Management build respectful and open environment for students to learn.

This is one component of vulnerability, however there are others that you might consider:

a) Being a curious more than certain

b) Talk about what students can do, more than what students can’t do

In conclusion, I think we all can have effective classroom management through vulnerability.  We all want our students to succeed academically and beyond.  So, for students to reach highest potential, they must feel safe and respected.  Strategies like refusing to smile before Christmas or stating a set of rules, my have some benefits, but ultimately can leave us without the connection needed to impact student learning.  So, let’s all take a deeper look at how we can be more vulnerable in our classrooms.  If we do, I believe we can have the classroom environment we have always desired, where learning, not control is at the center of the experience.

What shift do you believe supports effective classroom management?  Please share your comments below.  Looking forward to continuing the conversation.


I Have an Interview!! Now What??? Here’s a 3 Step Process to Give You an Advantage.

The interview process can be exciting and scary.  You know that the school appreciated your resume and cover letter enough to offer an interview, however you have to speak to your skills and experiences.  Personally, I have struggled with preparing for an interview, especially when I first started applying for school leadership positions.  There is more competition and educators that have the same and sometimes even more experiences than you. So, you definitely want to show them your best, but HOW?

For me, I believed in my ability to perform the role, however I wasn’t sure how to organize my thoughts. How do I prepare?  What might they ask?  I had concerns about preparing for the wrong questions. So, how could I clearly and concisely communicate my strengths?  Sound familiar??

Ed Muzio of Group Harmonics, shares a 3 step model, which I have adapted for school leaders.  I call this PAQ (Pack):

P – Plan

A – Answer practice questions

Q – Questions you will ask

First step is to plan, which you start by printing out the job description.   Your next task is to make a list of the skills/experiences listed in the posting.  Next, you will make a second list, which describes your skills/experiences.  For example, a skill might be effective communication, so I would connect the time I sent home weekly parent email to share the classroom events.  By directly matching your skills/experiences with the job description, you show you are ready to perform the duties of the role.

Step Two is to answering practice questions.  Every role contains common questions asked during the interview.  Therefore, I suggest using Google to find some samples, however I have a few topics I noticed during my interviews for school leadership positions.  The topics usually include: (a) Quality classroom instruction, (b) Handling disagreements between stakeholders, and (c) Strategies for closing achievement gap.  I know there are more, so I suggest finding samples and practicing.

The third step is creating a question to ask the interviewer.   Some people might not like this idea, but I do because creating a question, indicates you have done your research and want to learn more.  There are three places to find information to build your question:  (1) Vision/mission, (2) Performance data, and (3) School improvement plan.  I like to review these items because each contain information about school goals and strategies used to accomplish the goals.  A sample question I have created before is:

I noticed in you are incorporating Project Based Learning in your school improvement plan,  how is that strategy going to help your school close the achievement gap in Reading?

The key to success with the PAQ model is to connect every you say to the skills/experiences listed in the job description.  If you can do this effectively, you will clearly indicate you are the best candidate for the job!!!

Use this model during your next interview, and I know you will have an advantage on your competition.  Good luck on your next interview!

Do you have another strategy for preparing for an upcoming interview? If so, I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Finally, I invite you to join my exclusive Facebook group Get Better At Educational Leadership to get access to additional resources and collaborate with other school leaders just like you!

Remember, each of you have a special talent to support your school and I am here to support your goals as a school leader.


Muzio, E (2012, January 13).  How to prepare for a Job Interview.  Retrieved from:




Managing Up! How to give your supervisor feedback, WITHOUT getting in trouble?

Placeholder ImageA week ago, while talking to a fellow educator, we started to discuss the challenges of school leadership.  During the discussion, my friend, Bill, mentioned a struggle he was having with his current situation.

Bill described how he had a new supervisor, who got there a month after he was hired, and the situation was going well.  He is enjoying the new relationship and felt he was learning, however he is noticing some opportunities for improvement.  For example, after the last professional development on professional learning communities(PLC), Bill noticed that teachers were still resistant to setting aside time to meet as a PLC.  Bill felt the team could have focused on “Why”  teachers need to meet as a PLC, and this was a missed opportunity.  He wants to share his thoughts on next steps with his supervisor, so the next professional development session can shift teacher thinking.

So, Bill wondered, “How can I give feedback to my supervisor, without getting in trouble?”

Does this situation sound familiar?  If so, you are not alone.  We all want to make a positive impact, so why do we hesitate to provide feedback to our supervisor?

Why Don’t We Provide Feedback?

I think one main reason why we hesitate to provide feedback can be explained by an idea called Psychological Contracts.

Denise Rousseau, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, found schools/companies all have unwritten agreements, which she calls psychological contracts.  In the agreement, the supervisor gives the directions, while the employee follows the directions (Top Down Communication).

The unwritten agreement highlights the “standard” flow of communication, which can cause employees to hesitate when making suggestions to the supervisor.  The belief is fear can be one explanation for the pause.  I think we all felt the fear of being incorrectly labeled as a trouble maker or a complainer, so we decide not to say anything.

So, how can we provide the necessary feedback to improve our schools?

One suggestion is to use a script to frame the conversation.  An example of a script I have used is called the DESC (Desk) script.  I learned this from a communication coach, named Dan O’Conner.  Each letter represents the following:

D– Describe the problem

E– Effects of the problem

S– Say what you want

C– Consequences (Positive for your supervisor)

In my experience, there are two keys to a successful DESC script:

  1. Create one sentence for each letter/phrase (if you can’t, then delay the conversation until you can).
  2. Practice, practice, practice (with a friend, colleague, and/or spouse)

Here is an example of what I would do from Bill’s example:

(D) During our professional development last week, I noticed teachers were confused on why to use professional learning communities .  (E) Because of this, teachers may be hesitant to make the time to get together for the meeting. (S) In our next session, I would like to lead the discussion around why professional learning communities are important.  (C) By allowing me to take the lead, you can focus on other priorities, and just review the work I create.  Would that work for you?

Do you have strategies or scripts, that you want to share?  If so, I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Finally, I invite you to join my exclusive Facebook group Get Better At Educational Leadership to get access to additional resources and collaborate with other school leaders just like you!

Remember, each of you have a special talent to support your school and I am here to support your goals as a school leader.


O’Conner, D (2017, August 7).  Crucial Conversations:  How to Correct Employee Behavior.  Retrieved from:

Rousseau, D (2018, February 20).  5 Pages.  The Psychological Contract.  Retrieved from:


Balance or Priority, What is more important?

Last night, I stayed at work until midnight, and today my wife is upset with me, as she should be!  Why?  BALANCE!!

In my opinion, the best representation of balance is a scale.  One type of scale, if balanced, has the same weight on each side.  However, the scale example may not work because life is full multiple layer of complexity.  Objects  your wife, children, home, car, clothing, television, and even cell phones.

So, how possible is it to balance all those objects?  I personally don’t believe anyone should strive for balance. I believe balance is a false idea.  As an example, consider driving a car.  Have you ever started to day dream?  If so, let me tell you my idea I be thinking about, driving (hopefully), dinner, kids, work, wife, cell phones (hope not) and the list continues.  All that makes me exhausted.

Therefore, I choose to prioritize.  I believe my choices shape my reality, and it frees me from trying to do it all.  We all have this capability to decide what is most important in our lives.  Let me prioritize vacation instead of work constantly.  Let me prioritize quality time with my wife instead of watching TV.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to prioritize better in all situations.  It’s tough, but someone has to try it.  How about you?



The Pull Factor!! How do you manage the outside forces?

What are Pull Factors?

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt pressed to do something?  Where you felt like you were backed into a corner on a decision that you were asked to make?  Has anyone ever put you on the spot to answer a question you may not have an answer to?    How did you feel in those moments?  What actions did you take?

The questions listed above are things I encounter in my current role as an educational leader and I am sure that others at different levels of leadership feel the impact of the outside pressures on the decision they make everyday.

Personally, I had this happen to me today.  I received an email from a stakeholder, lets call him Bob.  Bob says the following in his email(paraphrase), “All the schools in our division will have access to a digital resource for reading, and I was wondering if you will be providing all of us a similar resource for mathematics?”  The wording of the request was stuck in my head, especially because the email started off by pointing out what another department was doing.  It made me feel like I was letting them down if I wasn’t doing the same as the other department. It made me feel as if I was not being fair by not providing the resource.  It made me feel pressured to take the same action as another department.

Why even mention them? What was the point?  On a side note:  I probably should not read emails when I can’t do anything about it, but I felt compelled to answer.  How would I answer?  I didn’t want to say yes, however I felt this sense of guilt for a second and I questioned my own sense of being fair.  Have you ever felt that way?

Then I remembered a book I am reading.  In the book, The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, Michael Fullan talks about the “pull factor.”  He describes this feeling as the outside forces that impact a principal’s day to day decision.  He also emphasizes how vital it is for a principal to be able to effectively navigate these muddy waters.

You might be asking, what are some examples of outside forces?

We make decisions everyday, especially where outside forces that pull at our thinking.  For example, if you have set an intention that eating healthy is part of your lifestyle, and someone in your school brings in desserts (cookies, cake, etc…).  You walk in the room and your colleague says, “I just made this dessert for everyone today, you should have a piece its delicious.”  What do you do?  Do you go get some because everyone else is getting it?  Do you decide not to get any at all and avoid the area?  Do you tell them no and potentially hurt their feelings?  To me this is just one example of an outside force.  The temptation of the item that someone else brought to your attention, so how do you make the decision on whether or not to eat the dessert?

In the education leadership world, this pull can be identified as any new opportunity.  One thing that I regularly get asked is to do is to evaluate new programs.  I get vendors coming to me constantly requesting a meeting for a new product that will be great for students and teachers.  Although these products might be good and I am sure they could all help in some way,  I know that jumping around from resource to resource would not be productive for anyone.  So, I have to decide to balance the evaluation of new resources with the priorities I set as a leader for the year.  The situation can become complex, as you may want to take the leap, however you can’t just do everything that comes to your attention, so what do you do?

Other examples of request are from parents.  Parents are great advocates for their child, which I believe is appropriate, and typically the parent doesn’t want the child to miss an opportunity.  So, a request from a parent could be about the child’s current class placement.  Typically the parent may say, “My child should be in this class because they are bored in the current class and need more of a challenge.”  As I hear the request, I sometimes feel I pressure to find the appropriate placement for the child and that if I don’t listen to the parent this could cause a negative relationship to form, which I don’t want to happen.  How could you navigate these muddy waters?

Request such as these can be tricky because of the pull to serve versus the balance of relationships.  As a leader, I am to support the community in which I serve, however I must have a plan for how I feel I can serve the community to the best of my ability.  I feel an obligation to fix the problems or meet the request because I want to be as helpful as possible.  Is feeling the need to fix the problem what I need to be feeling? If fixing the problem is my “job,” then how can I balance meeting the needs of others(outside noise) with reaching my goals?  I had to change my mindset to realize that I wasn’t really fixing problems of others, I was creating dependency and overwhelming myself at the same time.

So, how can you handle the outside noise?

Here’s the process that works for me.

The process is (RCSF):

  1. Reflect
  2. Connect
  3. Select
  4. Forget

Each letter represents the mental steps that I take when I am making a decision.   Here is how it works, I ask myself a series of questions:

Reflect –  A reminder of the larger purpose – What is my goal?  

I believe my role as a leader is to identify the things that fit with my larger goals. If I forget to check my vision, I feel as if I am just doing a bunch of random things, which leaves me feeling busy and not productive.  Very frustrating!!  I know that I don’t want to be doing things without a clear purpose.

Connect- Criteria used in decision – How does this fit into my goal?

The next thing I consider is my criteria for making the decision. My task is to be able to see a connection between the criteria I use and the goal.  One technique I try, is to think of these criteria prior to the situation.  If you haven’t noticed, we do this every moment of everyday.  For example, when I decide on which outfit I want to wear, I want to match, look professional, and feel good about myself (that’s my criteria).

Same thing goes for educational leadership.  If I am selecting new resources one of my criteria would be the need for an online component before I even consider the resource.  I believe it is an effective practice to check all your decisions against your predetermined criteria.  You are using the same techniques with every decision of your day, so try to apply this to your leadership role.   If the criteria I am using to decide does not connect to my goal, then I need to either use new criteria or come up with a new goal before I decide.

Select – Say YES or NO – What is my decision?

My decision is based on my reflection and connection.  If they align, then I will say “YES” and if they do not align I say “NO”.  It’s just that simple for me.  The ability to decide becomes easier and less agonizing for me, and I feel more confident that I am making the best decision for me at that moment.

Forget –  Do not harp on the decision – What are my next steps?

Once, I make the decision I try not to think about it either way.  I know sometimes we all regret a decision (I shouldn’t have eaten that cookie!).  Honestly, it can be a challenge, however I feel better if I know that I have evaluated the request to the best of my ability.  Another thing to consider, if you are worried that the decision wasn’t the right decision, you can always make another decision later.  We all have the power of choice!!

At this point you might be asking:

What if you don’t have any criteria and the situation is new?

My recommendation is to consider the following rule, “Say No First.” This is a idea from Brendon Burchard, who urges that this tactic is critical to the pursuit of your reaching your goals.  What if the person gets upset?  I usually say, “Let me think about it and I will get back to you.”    A softer approach usually does the trick.  Just make sure you get back to the person with a decision.  People don’t like to be left in the dark.

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical at first, but it really works because it gives me time to check the request against my criteria.  Also, I get an opportunity create criteria for the situation next time, thus learning a valuable lesson.

Be True to Yourself

The big idea to me is the importance of not comparing your path to the path of anyone else.  I think we get caught up in the idea of being better than the next person, school, or nation, which can cause us to get off the path of our goals.  Instead, consider your own goals, and how you might compete against yourself?  Get better at the things you feel are important!  If you set your own path, I promise you will feel more excited about what you do..  I know personally, as I see growth in my abilities, I have a more positive outlook on everything.

In conclusion, as an educational leader you have to expect many requests(pulls) to part of your role daily, and a large aspect of your role will be taking responsibilities for those decisions.  Your personal expectation to be responsive to the request of others will pull at you over and over again.   You may feel that you are letting others down by not meeting their demands.  The process to decide how you will respond may be overwhelming.  Just remember, you get to choose, so choose the things that fit with your goal, and try to avoid letting the trap of comparison effect the choices you make.

Now, I am interested in your thoughts.  What strategies might you use to manage the outside (pull factor) forces?  Please share your thought in the comment section below.  Also if you liked something that I shared, please let me know, so I can learn what was most valuable to you!




Burchard, B. (2015, February 28). How to stay focused.  Retrieved from:

Fullan, M. (2014). The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass