Would you enjoy reading student work if you didn’t have to?

Change. A word used all the time. An action pushed upon educators time and time again. Change is an important word to break down because if we don’t have a why and purpose change can lead us down the wrong path.

In the simplest term I can come up, I think asking yourself the following question leads to whether or not you(educators) should change is to ask yourself:

Would you enjoy reading student work if you didn’t have to?

Before I go any further I think this question tackles the fundamental principles to change in education. If we can answer YES, then we have something good and worthwhile for both educators and students and we have a win win situation.

If you answer NO, then perhaps it is time for change. If you answer NO after making the change, then perhaps you made change for the wrong reason.

In the book Innovator’s Mindset by George C0uros he defines innovation “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better“.

If we go with this definition of innovation and keep the concept of change in the forefront of our thoughts, then what are some examples that are considered innovative?  How is it new and better than what previously existed?

These are very important questions for us to tackle and process. Anytime we think of innovation and change we must first think about how we teach, the way we conduct our classroom, and more importantly how do both the teachers and the students learn?

Time and time again we see examples of change happening all over the nation(primarily technology), but because they have not changed practice, pedagogy, and focused on the WHY of the change nothing really happens. As George states in the book, “we have many twenty-first-century schools with twentieth-century learning.”

What happens is that paper worksheets simply move to a digital version. The same old seat work of low level work, uninspired purposeful learning continues, but we convince ourselves we are doing innovative work. It instantly makes me think of a book idea I have called QR Codes Kill Education where I have examples of technology being used in useless ways. One example I see time and time again is student work hung in the hallways with QR codes attached, but never seeing a person scan the code because

  • there is a “no cell phone policy” in the school making it useless
  • in reality what parents or visitors of schools have QR codes on their phones?

Or why is it that children enter school loaded with a million questions, but by the time they reach the secondary level they have that zombie look where all life has been sucked out of them? We as educators must work to keep the flame of inquiry alive and burning so that we can all benefit from the learning process.

What I am challenging educators is to work towards purposeful innovation. If we remain innovative, then the result will be that students will create innovative work. This begins in the culture of the building. It cannot be something told to teachers and then expected they figure out on their own time. It should be built into the school culture. PD should be devoted to innovation. It should be part of the school day and if teachers want to explore further they can and should be allowed to as part of their professional learning and growth. And I would bet money that most teachers will devote more time because that is just who they are and how they operate.

Another way to push towards an innovators mindset is to focus on the possibility of innovative thinking. What happens when we think as a manager and not a leader(a whole other topic for another time) is we spend our time on all the bad and all the things we don’t want students to do. Instead of complaining about kids will do this and kids will do that, why don’t we focus on what kids will be able to do in a positive light?

 When schools roll out devices, technology, tablets, or whatever the product of the year is don’t spend time coming up with a telephone book of rules. Don’t spend time dwelling on all the bad. Why do this? All you are doing is ensuring that nothing will really change and therefore we have 20th century operations in a 21st century.

As I continue to read the book and process what I think is needed in schools and innovation I keep coming back to the idea that I wrote about earlier this year that average does not exist. Teaching is the most human connecting thing we do. We must make sure that we don’t simply reduce learning to letters and numbers. I was just discussing with an amazing teacher about how important it is to refresh ideas for teachers to tackle mental health, poverty, and all the factors that students deal with on a daily basis. Learning is more than numbers. We must connect with students as people. If we can do that, then innovation will start to grow and develop. I love the part of the book where Dr. Joe Martin says so well, “No teacher has ever had a former student return to say a standardized test changed his or her life.”

 Here are few ideas to help ensure innovation can occur.
  1. Leaders of the building(admin and teachers) must build and develop systems of support so everyone knows that the innovation is supported through the good and bad.
  2. Value and emphasis is placed on the process and not the end product.
  3. Moving away from simply focusing on obedience and letter grades
  4. Shifting the work to real world applications
  5. Raising expectations of what students can accomplish
  6. Asking more questions vs. spewing answer
John Maxwell who is one of my favorite authors is quoted as saying , “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” We can lead a horse to water, but cannot make the horse drink. The same is true for students and teachers. What we must create is an environment where the water(innovation/change) is so inviting that more and more want to jump in and drink it up.
It is time we model the way. It is time to celebrate. We(educators) must be the leaders in innovation. We have to model for the students what we want in order for them to understand. Simply paying lip service is not enough.
So as you stare down at the stack of student work, would you grade them if you were not required to to provide grades?
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Reflecting on Reflection, Learning, Connecting, and More #ITECIA

Two days after ITEC my head is still processing all the good that comes from ITEC. Each year I spend countless hours stressing over my materials, slides, presentations, and more. In the end none of this matters as much as the connections and being present with educators.

Don’t get me wrong, I care deeply about running quality sessions as well as attending quality sessions. I view my chance to lead sessions as a way for me to produce a quality lesson plan. Can I still deliver a lesson that is engaging where the audience walks away with solid ideas, expansion of their thinking, and motivation to learn more? That is the reason I share. It challenges me. It stresses me out. It pushes me out of my comfort zone.

It allows me to grow as a person.

As I drove home from Des Moines(the second time) I drove in silence for a good hour. I allowed my brain to process. No music, no notes, no tech. Just me and my thoughts.

It is tough. It reminds me of the Twenty One Pilots song, Car Radio

Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel
I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence
While I was driving I reflected on what I learned. I was able to be mesmerized by Pernille Ripp during her early 8 am session. Her demeanor and candid talk spoke to me. I am so impressed by all that she does while still being in the classroom changing lives. She really is the real deal. Her ingite talk was just as powerful and really had me stop and pause about perspective in life and learning.
I reflected on the message of George Couros during his keynote that was amazing as well. I was talking with him via Voxer just before while driving into town as part of the #IMMOOC Voxer group where we were having powerful conversations. I was already being challenged by him before I actually saw him in person and keynote. The beauty of technology has now leveraged the playing field for connecting. His message spoke to me several times and helped ignite a flame back in my soul to continue to push for necessary change in education despite the stumbling blocks that lay ahead.
I reflected on a session I lead on the first day that I was not satisfied with personally. I felt like it was not as good as I had thought it would be. It was not the great feeling I had hoped for and it sucked my energy right out of me. I learned how to bounce back and get back to my A game for the second day of presenting. As people we stumble and we must reflect, recognize, and own the moment. Listening to George reminded me to get back up and try again. All will be okay.
I reflected on the importance of sharing. So often we think that what we know everyone else already knows. Time and time again I picked up a new idea from someone and hopefully others learned from me. We can no longer assume that we don’t have value to share. Someone can benefit greatly from our experiences and insights.
I reflected on my personal goals. I developed over 200 pages of typed words for guidebooks for my sessions, created over 500 slides between the workshop and sessions, and built out some new web pages. A bit overboard perhaps, but I wanted to develop resources that have a lasting impact. 50 – 110 minutes is not a long time. I wanted to ignite the curiosity and then provide enough help for people to go back and do. I also wanted to force myself to begin to my ideas down into the written word. So hard. So incredibly hard
I reflected on my next steps. I challenged others to go back and move into action. I did the same. I had to transition straight to teaching and leading as I had to get a podcast ready for students before the newspaper ran an article. Talk about tight deadlines. But to work with an educator that challenges how we teach and how kids can learn is exciting.
Because of that awesome joy of kids creating quality work I stayed up late Wednesday night build a new podcast on YouTube, Speedgeeking with Coffeechug
In 2014 I challenged myself at ITEC to create an Iowa Educator Voxer group and to be honest this has probably been one of the most powerful PLN groups to challenge my thinking, keep me grounded in reality, and forcing me to really think through my ideas. Over the summer it sort of died down a bit where I thought about closing it down completely.
After seeing so many wonderful people at ITEC I want to get it back up and running. There are some of you already involved, but we want to get new voices and more voices engaged in the conversation. Reach out to me to join and maybe this link will work as well. This is open to all educators not just ones from Iowa.
Finally, I want to say thank you. As I reflect on it all I cannot help but be amazed by what educators are doing. You are awesome. You are a source of motivation to so many. I encourage you all to keep sharing, to keep experimenting, and asking What If?
I promise that next year I will be rocking super duper awesome bowties BOTH days and will bring my A game both days as well. In the meantime we must stay connected and continue to support and learn from one another.
Reflections, Links, and Resources

And in the end, maybe driving in silence is a good thing because I was able to sit back and appreciate the opportunity my school gave me in coming to ITEC. Now I have the pleasure to come back to Bettendorf and share what I learned and continue to push my thinking and learning.

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Why is “innovation” crucial to education today? Or maybe it isn’t? #IMMOOC

Why is “innovation” so crucial in education? What impact do you see it having on our students and ourselves long term?

These are questions that plague my brain. At one end of the spectrum I see innovation being the epicenter of much of what I try to instill in my philosophy of education as a teacher, coach, mentor, father, and husband. Much of what I try to create in students is an innovative mindset for them to believe that they can indeed solve complex problems.


I struggle with the concept. I struggle because I want everyone who walks into my room to be innovative. As much as I know that we want EVERY child to be proficient, competent, innovative, growth mindset, have grit, etc. I realize that being innovative can be something that we try to accomplish. In the end not everyone will be innovative. It is not how the world works. I believe that everyone has POTENTIAL to be innovative, but for many it will never move beyond potential into TALENT.

Ponder this…..

Jonathan Huebner states in his paper titled, “A possible declining trend for worldwide innovation” that:

The rate of innovation peaked in the year 1873 and is now rapidly declining. He defines innovation as “The number of important technological developments per year divided by the world population.”


It is important to read the paper, but basically it boils down to the fact that innovation is declining. It peaked a hundred years ago and continues to decline because we are reaching our limits. Now because of this he asks some powerful questions that I believe could spark the next wave of innovation in face of saving innovation.

  • What are the implications for the economy, government and society of declining rates of innovation?
  • What standard of living corresponds to the economic limit of technology?
  • Will the level of technology reach a maximum and then decline as in the Dark Ages?
  • Did the failure of ancient people to invent the printing press cause the Dark Ages?
  • Are there any key inventions that could reverse the current decline in the rate of innovation?
  • Are improvements in the flow and processing of information the primary sources for increases in the rate of innovation?
  • Are there any other reasons for the decline in the rate of innovation during the 20th century besides the approach of an economic limit of technology or a limit of the human brain?
  • What is the relationship between innovation and democracy?
  • Does democracy depend upon innovation?

But I don’t think all is lost either. I am currently reading Kevin Kelly’s new book The Inevitable and he brings up a different mindset from the study above. In chapter one he discusses the internet and how 20 years ago today if you would have said there would be the Internet as we know people would have laughed at you. It simply was not imaginable that people would do all this work for free as we have down to crowdsource the Internet that contains 60 trillion web pages.

Think about this as he reminds us this has all been created in 8000 days. People would have lost their mind to have the power of the Internet back in the day. Because of this we are reminded that indeed, “the impossible is more plausible than it appears.”

The Internet is just getting started and how it operate, look, and function in another 30 years will be mind-blowing. We cannot fathom the concept yet because all we know is what we know. The day will come where we can search literally anything about anything whenever we want. The internet is in its infancy as we speak.

As he closes a chapter he states, “Right now, today, in 2016 si the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more opening, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk rations. better returns, greater upside than now.”

With this thought we must ask ourselves what are we doing to tap into this moment ourselves and with our students? Are we truly doing all that we should to take advantage of the moment?


Innovation cannot be a goal because I feel it is a natural outcome of many circumstances. We must work to develop the mindset that allows for innovation to take place. We must provide the context for students to push to new limits. We must model and mentor how to think, how to learn, and how the world operates so they can begin to truly ask, “What if?”

Innovation is amazing when it happens which is why it is called innovation. Innovation itself is not crucial, but providing the environments, atmospheres, confidence, and skills to allow innovation to happen is crucial.

Students must be given the chance. Innovation cannot be a grade. It cannot be an expectation. It cannot be something that is written up into a recipe. It just is and happens when it happens.

However, teaching the same, teaching to the middle, teaching wth practices we know are not what is best while we know it is not what is best, will not lead to innovation.

I guess in the end does your learning conditions allow students to innovate or suffocate?

If only education were that simple that it could be boiled down to a yes or no option. You see, I believe that all ideas in education are good in the land of theory. I have read more than my share of books and research and each time I read one I can see how it would work……

Until you put it into practice in a real classroom of one adult, 30+ kids of which half have a need that really must be adhered to all times, and a mixed bag of other variables depending on the school, time of year, and time of day.

This is where it gets muddy. Technology is not an answer. A new system of “x” is not the answer. Competition is not the answer. Unions are not the answer. Standardized tests are not the answer. Nor are they they problem either.

What works best for me as a student cannot be applied to everyone. We are all different. We are all trying hard. We are all trying to make sense of the world as it changes, as people change, as our needs change, and doing so in a time where teachers have never been asked to carry so much upon their shoulders.

If innovation was easy and readily available these issues would be solved. And this is why we must nurture the minds of the youth so they believe they can innovative and help to one day be part of a solution…….. and perhaps that solution is the answer to one of your problems if you happen to be so lucky.

Regardless of your opinion if you think innovation is declining with little hope or you have the optimistic mindset that the moment is now you are pushing for innovation. Both mindsets require and are asking for innovation to either save us or to take advantage. We are all in this together striving for the same thing. The question now becomes HOW?





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