Saturday, December 28, 2013

Thanks Cale - Chain Blogging into 2014

            Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow. Especially when it's harmless and a little enjoyable (especially reading about other people's quirky facts and interesting responses to even quirkier questions). Confused? Let me backtrack. My friend and colleague, Cale Birk, received a challenge that is making the rounds via Twitter. Not one to simply enjoy this himself, he had to "play it forward to another dozen educators. Well my friend, challenge accepted. I need to identify 11 "facts" about myself, respond to Cale's 11 questions, then pose 11 new questions to 11 others. For those about to receive this, blame Cale (or Patrick or Bill or…).

My 11 Random Facts
  1. I am the sixth of eight siblings.
  2. I was born in Montreal, Quebec and am a diehard Montreal Canadiens fan as a result.
  3. I am a marathoner and have completed 45 of the 26.2 mile (42.2 kilometre) races.
  4. I like wearing socks with attitude.
  5. I am thrilled to be Grandpa to Isabella, Leah, Liam, and Kaiden.
  6. I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" every year and still well up.
  7. I won the teen version of a popular TV game show in British Columbia.
  8. I once ran in a parking lot with Ozzy Osbourne.
  9. I played in the NBA (Nelson Basketball Association).
  10. I once had a cigarette kicked out of my mouth by the World Tae Kwon Do champion.
  11. I led members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra through a song.
Cale's Questions
  1. Ketchup, salsa, or hot sauce? Salsa.
  2. What is one thing that you are a part of (or believe in) that is 'bigger than you'? Public education.
  3. What do you do that is great?  Not 'good', GREAT. I nap better than most folks. I have two speeds - flat out or flat out.
  4. If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why? Where I am now. The west coast of Canada satisfies all of my needs and I love coming home after travelling.
  5. If you were a breakfast cereal, which one would it be?  How come? Holy Crap (a local crafted breakfast cereal), because that's what I want people to say after we spend time together.
  6. What is the one thing (outside of your family) that you absolutely make time for--no matter what?  Running, never leave home without my shoes.
  7. If ________ could be eliminated from your life, you would be stress-free. Delayed flights. 
  8. What is a talent that you have that would surprise those that think they know you well? Deconstructing (okay, demolishing) houses.
  9. If you were to give yourself a cool pen name or pseudonym, what would it be? Frank Talk
  10. Your favorite movie is? It's A Wonderful Life
  11. "If schools closed tomorrow, I would go and be a ____________?" Sports announcer.
My questions
  1. What was your favourite TV show as a child?
  2. What cartoon character do you most identify with?
  3. What ability would you like to have that you don't currently possess?
  4. What did you pick as your last meal?
  5. What was the best present you ever received?
  6. If you could spend one hour talking with one person (living or dead) who would it be?
  7. What would you buy if money was not a concern?
  8. What's the best sport to watch live?
  9. What animal would you be and why?
  10. What age would you remain at and why?
  11. What is the best book you ever read?
The 11 victims of my chain blog
  1. Greg Wolcott
  2. Don Mrozik
  3. Tarah Tesmer
  4. Ken Williams
  5. Rosa Isiah
  6. Jill Gough
  7. Kelly Morton
  8. Harold Freiter
  9. Rene Gaudreau
  10. Carmela Ianni
  11. Gerry Varty
I hope you'll enjoy the homework assignment as much as I did.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.

This opening line from an oft-quoted section of Ecclesiastes is resonating with me at this time of the year. I’ve been away from a “regular” school district position for more than two school years and I’m slowly making the transition to the “year” as traditionally defined by the twelve calendar months. For most of my life I have defined the year as the bridging between two calendars – the school year. This “year” would have been 2013-14 as all of my educator colleagues can attest. My season as a public school employee has concluded and this new season of presenting and facilitating has brought so much satisfaction and I’m glad I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities.
As I look back on 2013, I am reminded that educators NEVER take a break! Every month has been full with opportunities to engage with colleagues and with working towards improving outcomes for their students. This has definitely been the season of presenting and facilitating the growth of colleagues with 165 days spent in the company of dedicated educators. My reflections on the year remind me that I have been fortunate to visit many new communities and experience many new things. While I’ll never revel in the joy of driving around Los Angeles, it was an eye opener to start a day there and end it on a lonely stretch of highway driving to Lloydminster. I also think I’m likely the only person to visit Yorkton and Stockton on consecutive days. From small towns in rural Alabama to even smaller towns in rural Manitoba, this year was full of learning opportunities. It was also full of positive connections made with educators striving to do more. I won’t be disingenuous and say that every interaction was positive and without challenge. I can say that every interaction was an honest one. I grew quite fond of saying “If we aren’t struggling, we aren’t trying hard enough.” I appreciated the responses that generally ensued.
With 2013 coming to a close, this “season of presenting/facilitating” will continue and expand in 2014 with the release of a number of books (more on that in my next post). I want to thank the hundreds of educators, students, parents, and community members that I’ve been fortunate to meet and wish you all the joys of this Christmas season. However you choose to celebrate, or take advantage of the break, please also take a moment to thank someone who has been significant to you. Thanks for reading, and we’ll connect again really soon.

Monday, December 2, 2013

I Am the Future

Being an educator is hard work. It is a profession driven by, and fueled by, passion. It demands the very best people, and the very best from those people. It requires change that reflects the changes all around us. It requires consistency borne out of doing the right thing for the right outcomes. Mostly, it requires listening and responding to the needs of students.

It seems obvious but is worth stating again.  We all have employment as educators because parents are sending us their kids - all of their kids, not just the easy to reach, easy to teach ones. I also know that our promise to the students has changed. I started teaching thirty years ago and it really was all about teaching. That was the most important idea. My daughter has just completed her teacher education program and our discussions now center on the really important idea - student learning. She knows it is not enough that she teaches an outstanding lesson. She is focused on making sure every student learns the lesson. The shift from student as spectator (teacher as the guru on the mountain top) in the learning process to student as participant (teacher as the Sherpa) in the learning process is evident in classrooms today.

It’s important that we keep as our primary focus that every day, in every class, in every school, our future appears before us. Those smiling faces (and even the blank ones or sullen ones) represent all of the future holders of every job and profession in each of our communities. The one thing we do not have control over is their birthdays. They will get a year older each year. Let’s recognize this and arm each one of them with the most skills, so they can make the best transition to the next phase. The final page from the book “I Am the Future”  accurately summarizes what we need to keep in mind as we help students to learn and grow:

A colleague, Derrick Cameron recently sent me this message in regards to the book:

We had “education week” in Saskatchewan a couple of weeks ago and the focus was on reading.  Some of the Central Office staff were asked to come to one of the schools and read to groups of students.  I read your book “I Am the Future” and I just wanted you to know that the students loved it and have sent me a number of cards where they have identified that they are indeed “the future”. 

It reminded me of this truism in education - Being an educator is hard work – it’s also heart work. Thanks for all you do to connect the head and heart.

“I Am the Future” by Tom and David Hierck with illustrations by Selina Mitchell
available for $10 by contacting

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dis-connect To Connect

            One of my latest “bug bears” is the proliferation of people being plugged in. It seems to be at the detriment of their being connected to all that is going on around them. Many of you who know me also know that I love to run. I am becoming part of a dwindling minority of runners who are not plugged in or have their devices along for every step. I enjoy greeting people as I run past them and now see very few folks that even hear my greeting, let alone acknowledge it.

            I also see more people looking at their devices while trying to walk and this usually leads to disastrous consequences. A recent example at the airport in San Francisco highlighted this. One person with ear buds firmly rooted, device in left hand, steaming coffee in right hand bumps into another person toting luggage and yells “idiot” at him after impact. Those are the times when I wish there was video replay so that it could reveal, as I’m sure it would have in this case, that the idiot in question was not the bumper, but the “bumpee”. He had no idea that he was veering but could tell you what song he was listening to and who he was talking to at the time. 

Martin Luther King once commented, “We have guided missiles and misguided men.” In today’s world I might paraphrase that to “We have connected devices and disconnected people”. I believe that folks communicate more but talk less. If collaboration and cooperation are two of the essential skills educators believe students will need to make successful transitions, we'll need to provide authentic opportunities for that to occur. It amazes me how much time two students can spend online with each other and yet still feel awkward when needing to work and talk together in class. 

I embrace all that today’s technologies have to offer and love how much of the world of education and educators has been opened up to me. I also know how much I enjoy being dis-connected and away from that same world. So next time you’re out for a walk and a runner zips past, pull out the ear buds and say “Hi”. It will do a world of good for both of us.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Reflections Of A Road Trip

On the road again -
Just can't wait to get on the road again.

            I don’t think I can fully endorse the sentiments that Willie Nelson expressed in his hit single, and a recent three week road trip that covered 20,000 km of air travel and a few more by car, has me really pondering what he was thinking! The reality is, however, there are aspects of this lifestyle I really love. They are very simply defined by the people I come in contact with. I feel truly blessed to be in the company, regularly and frequently, of quality, compassionate educators who are committed to making a difference for kids. As I reflect on this recent sojourn, that’s what keeps coming back to me.

            The trip began with a day in Los Banos, CA where I had the privilege of joining school-based administrators and district leaders on walkthroughs in a number of their schools. We were peeking in on classes to see how some of their newly designed RCD units were rolling out. There were many positive moments and mentioning one is arbitrary on my part but it was great to see how Corey led his algebra class through a lesson on Pythagorean theory and rates by engaging his students in a real world experience of being on the beach and wanting to get the shortest distance to the taco truck. Excellent kid talk that has them process math concepts while storing away the knowledge gained for a future time when they would be on the beach with a friend and know how they could get their tacos first (and maybe free depending on a friendly wager with an unsuspecting friend who wasn’t in their algebra class!).

            I followed that up with a day in Fontana where I have the good fortune of working with teachers who are using the RCD process to create new units of instruction in ELA. What’s inspiring about the work there is the collaborative nature of the group. They don’t shy away from challenges and engage in great collegial dialogue focused on making the highest quality learning experiences for their students. They do this while also placing a high premium on having fun and I benefit from their wisdom whenever we meet.

            From there, it was off to Woodridge, IL where I continued the ongoing RCD work with teachers as we revisited and refined the work already created. They’ve recognized that creating quality is not a finite process. Assistant Superintendent Greg Wolcott leads by example and is at all of the training sessions and has become as expert in the work as anyone I’ve encountered. That’s modeling the expectations and emphasizing the definition of team.

I did manage to squeeze in three days of rest so my wife and I could visit Chicago and I could run the marathon. The time went by quickly (although my race pace is slowing for some reason!).

I went back out to Woodridge for a two-day workshop on my 7 Keys book with a number of educators I was familiar with from the RCD work plus many others from neighboring districts. The group numbered over 100 and it was awesome to see how they processed the work and contextualized what I, and my co-authors (Charlie Coleman and Chris Weber), had put in print. I look forward to seeing the work these folks create when they get back to their school sites and do further planning with their colleagues.

From Chicago it was off to Toronto where I had the honor of being part of the inaugural Hulley Center event. A small but enthusiastic crowd embraced the sessions offered by this team:


My tweet of the conference was a comment shared by Ken Williams:

Does that kid believe you believe in him? @unfoldthesoul #bbsti

There will be many great conversations occurring in schools as a result of this event. I can’t help but feel inspired every time I’m in the company of Wayne Hulley. He has set the gold standard for educators in Canada and reminds me of what’s possible when you build your work on the foundation of strong relationships.

            Being a Grandpa is one of the coolest things. Liam’s first birthday was too important an event to miss so I caught the flight from Toronto to Vancouver so I could enjoy the festivities. After the celebration, it was back east through Toronto to the Assessment Now conference in Atlanta.

            I enjoyed the opportunity to present four breakout sessions and to keynote alongside Marzano, Heflebower, Kanold, Fisher, and Guskey. The participants came from all across the United States and also had a strong Francophone contingent from the Ottawa region as well as a group of educators from Singapore. Some of the comments that generated further discussion, both at the conference and on Twitter, included:

Tom Hierck made the point that we have to meet people who resist change where they are.  Put the research on assessment in front of them and have conversations shift from default practices to practices that use the research about what's best for students.
We need to change. WHY? Because we R leaving 25% of stds behind in school..stds who don't graduate. #asmtNOW @thierck

                        TeachLearn68 ‏@TeachLearn68
As educators we have a greater impact than we know. Our impact lasts in student's hearts longer than the stuff we teach. @thierck   #AsmtNOW

                        @thierckTime is precious- spend it doing things that matter such as feedback & formative assessment #AsmtNow

                        need to push the conversation on assessment to focus on student learning. #asmtNOW Use our knowledge of teaching & learning.

You know your kids better than anyone else. Context matters.                                           Take what you learn & make it work for & in your community. ‪#AsmtNOW‬‬‬   

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It Would Be So Easy If...

I’m writing this aboard another plane heading to another spot away from home. As much as I am not enamored with time in planes, airports, and hotel rooms, I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to work with, and learn from, so many talented and gifted educators. That I get invited to your workplaces, to your conversations, and to your challenges is a real honor.
Just as I think I did some of my best teaching with my most reluctant learners, I find that working with colleagues as they deal with their reluctant learners is the most satisfying. The dynamic has taken on greater importance as the options available to students who don’t experience success are getting slimmer and slimmer. Recent statistics indicate that a high school dropout is not eligible for 90% of the jobs in today’s workforce. When you couple that with the statistic that says the 50 largest cities in the United States had a graduation rate less than 60%, the challenges mount. Where once, rightly or wrongly, a person could leave school and find “living wage” work, those days are gone. In fact many currently employed folks struggle to get by on the wage they earn. High school plus further training is the minimum requirement for many jobs today.
What then, can we do for those kids who struggle - the kids who take up most of our time but seem to generate little success? These are the kids who periodically cross our minds when we think if I didn’t have them in my class, I could offer the others so much more and could yield better results. But here’s the catch – I just don’t know with any certainty which of those kids can be turned around because an adult invested in them. I do know this. Left unchecked and in the absence of any intervention by caring and compassionate adults, I can easily predict the options available to those kids. And so can you.
As Ron Edmonds noted in 1979,

“We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us; we already know more than we need to do that; whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven't so far.”

Perhaps the sense of urgency wasn’t as profound in that time, and society on the whole was able to absorb low graduation rates with significant employment in manufacturing and agricultural sectors. This new urgency compels us to go further, do more, and push through our frustrations to minimize theirs and set them on a path to making a less bumpy transition to work or further training.
            I’m sure most readers are familiar with the story of the starfish on the beach. While we may not be able to save them all, start with one. It would be so easy if they were clearly labeled. In the absence of that begin with the first one you see whether it's starfish on the beach or kids in your school.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Choice Not Chance

Another school year has arrived and with it comes the optimism of a fresh start and the promise of many positive outcomes. While our energy reserves are high after a period of rest and recharge, the true measure of a successful school year resides in how we feel at the end of the school year. While I will always expect that educators “leave it all in the classroom”, I would not want to see anyone struggling to make it to the end of the year physically and mentally worn. There’s a big difference between positive and healthy tiredness and sheer exhaustion. How, then, do we ensure the former?

My guiding light in education over the bulk of my career has been Wayne Hulley. His emphasis on the power of relationship and the connections we make has always resonated with me. He advocates a model that he simply terms See-Do-Get.  In this cycle, how we see things - our belief systems, habits and culture – determines what we do. As a result of the things we do, we get the results we deserve. If you are after meaningful change you must first see things in a new way and then do something different that will lead to altered and hopefully, improved, results. I can’t help but see the world through this lens, which compels me to own the results I currently am getting.

A recent example occurred as I was in the midst of another road trip that took me through Phoenix. For those familiar with the area, you are likely aware of the dust storms that occasionally kick up. Called haboobs, they are a spectacle to behold. As we were coming in to land our pilot directed our attention to such a storm brewing in the distance. At the time we did not realize how quickly it would close in. Waiting in the terminal for my next flight, I sat by the window so I could watch the planes. I noticed the wind picking up and a brown cloud emerging. In a matter of two minutes the entire airport was enveloped in dust ( For many of us, this was a fascinating experience. Our “See” led us to take numerous pictures and video (our “Do”) and what we got was a sense of camaraderie as we remarked about the event unfolding and agreed to swap our best photos. However, not everyone had the same “See” and one passenger in particular became quite irate and was directing his frustration at the counter agent with an expectation that she could stop the storm, get the boarding process complete, and ensure departure as he “had places to be”. His “See” denied him a wonderful visual experience, an opportunity to connect with others, and a “Get” that was now more negative than anyone else’s. We all boarded our flight 90 minutes late but most were still talking about the unique event. His anger left him unable to take that in.

With the onset of the school year, what will your “See” be? Will you start the year off with carryover from last year about certain students? About kids in general? Will you long for the good old days and the kids you used to have? Will your focus be on all of the negative externals? Or will you look at every student as a success story waiting to be told? Will you enter the year with a focus to make this the best experience for your students and yourself? It’s not about being a Pollyanna or na├»ve to the challenges that being an educator entails. It is about exercising choice and not leaving things to chance. Your students this year deserve the best teacher you can be. You deserve the best year of your career. It all starts with what you choose to see.

As an aside, many of you who have taken advantage of Wayne Hulley’s wisdom over the years may be aware of a great opportunity to do just that at his inaugural Hulley Centre Conference in October ( Three days of very practical work with the focus of building better schools together. The work is truly derived from his passion to see every student reach their potential and every adult play a significant role in making that happen. I’ll be there and look forward to connecting with you then.