Tag Archives: Elementary Principal

Feed Me Coach

26 Jun

Authors and management experts Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson claim that “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” This expression exemplifies the essence of current  research which illustrates how corrective, timely and specific feedback increases performance.  Effective feedback is  a component which propels us forward. This propulsion enables us to attain higher goals, achieve greater learning gains, and become more productive in the workplace and at home. Feedback is one of those things that simply makes the world go ‘round.

The concept of giving feedback, constructive criticism, tips, and pointers is not new. Any athlete or coach can attest to the vital importance of feedback.  Imagine watching a major league manager, or coach, walk into a practice, without talking. Imagine what would happen if the coaches were silent?  What if managers let those ball  players just “do their thing?” What if coaches claimed since all the plays and  skills were previously taught, it’s the players responsibility to simply remember? If this were the case, professional baseball would suffer a ridiculous demise. We’d never  buy another bag of peanuts or a foam finger ever again.

So, what does this segue into the seventh inning stretch have to do with education? Everything.  Just as coaches know the importance of routine, timely, specific, and skills-based feedback, we too must adopt this style of interactive dialogue with all our students. This crucial component is clearly articulated in one of my favorite professional texts:

  • Classroom Instruction That Works with English Language Learners, by Jane D. Hill & Kathleen M. Flynn

In this 12 chapter text, authors and educators Hill & Flynn identify several components of effective practice targeted toward English Language Learners. Chapter 3: Setting Objectives & Providing Feedback outlines a simple synthesis of best of research on the topic:

  1. Feedback should be corrective in nature.
  2. Feedback should be timely.
  3. Feedback should be criterion-referenced. (Give specifics based on skills & performance rather than a numbered or letter grade which may not have any meaning to the student).
  4. Incorporate opportunities for students to self-evaluate learning.

As in great baseball performance, effective learning requires great feedback. Adopt a coach-like attitude and share relevant, useful, and timely feedback with students. Use this as a way to create a dialogue in which each student has a chance to grow, improve, and learn. Just as that coach uses his or her expertise to engage in critical dialogue aimed toward improved performance, you too can do the same.  Our students deserve our very best, and our best includes giving feedback.  So, now that we know,  let’s go feed those students the breakfast they deserve…let’s make  learning champions out of them. And who knows, someday we too may work our way to Fenway Park, coaching the majors.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

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The Infinite Probability of Success

16 Jun

The infinite monkey theorem[1] states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

In this context, “almost surely” is a mathematical term with a precise meaning, and the “monkey” is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for an abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters ad infinitum. The theorem illustrates the perils of reasoning about infinity by imagining a vast but finite number, and vice versa.

This  leads me to roll the following thoughts around in my rock tumbler…

This infinite monkey theorem demonstrates how we could theoretically experience success if we kept up an attempt, forever. Now if success is possible when given infinite opportunity, it begs the question, who has that much time?  I don’t know about you, but as a school administrator, I must rely on a more practical measure.  It’s imperative we look for shorter term gains, rather than hoping  for success via the theoretical and probable accident. The truth is, we don’t have unlimited time to hunt and peck, one unsuccessful keystroke at a time.  We busy educators need results, sooner than later.

When I need results, I turn to research. I turn to the folks in white lab coats who have more theories, time, and money than me. I turn to experts who study and publish work straight from the think tanks.  A great deal of this research tells us that targeted goal setting, coupled with specific, manageable, and tangible action moves us toward success.

So, what’s this mean for us as professionals? We need practical strategy. Some of my favorite goal-setting tips come from the following books:

  • Strategic Acceleration, by Tony Jeary
  • The Power of Focus, by J. Canfield, M. Hansen, and L. Hewitt

In these texts, we glean these strategies:

  1. Clearly articulate one professional goal. Give it a timeline and purpose.  Make sure  the goal aligns with your core values. If not, chuck it, and start over.
  2. Determine why this professional goal matters. Remember, it only has to matter to you. Don’t be swayed by the next best thing. Bandwagons come and go. March to your own professional drum (even when off-beat).
  3. Determine what needs to be accomplished this month,  this week, and tomorrow. Write it down.
  4. Write a daily behavior which will move you one step closer to this goal. Write it in your daily agenda, calendar, or write it in Sharpie marker on your hand. Do whatever it takes to follow through with the behavior. Think about how you will hold yourself accountable for completing this goal.

These simple steps won’t require you to break a sweat, but will require a bit of brain power, which is a good thing in my book. Let’s be purposeful and not rely on the statistical probability that we could create a masterpiece when given an infinite amount of time. We don’t need a theoretical accident, nor typewriting primate, we just need good strategy–one keystroke at a time. Begin by planning, and acting upon, a daily strategy which will  ensure success, sooner than later.  Here’s to making each keystroke count.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.


[1] Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2004, July 22). FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved June 16, 2010, from http://www.wikipedia.org

But I Don’t Have Time to Read

15 Jun

This is a common lament of busy professionals everywhere. It’s the frustration felt when urgent demands of  day-to-day work trump everything else…especially reading for professional practice.  So, what’s one to do?

Keep it simple.

Simplicity starts by choosing the right books. Focus on interesting, practical, non-fiction text which won’t require cover-to-cover reading, or in which chapters must only be read in sequence.  Educational journals, and  short, narrative vignettes shine just for this purpose. Start with just 5 minutes a day. Think about fitting reading into your every day life.  Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth, or checking email. Imagine the time it takes  to eat half a bagel, swig down a cup of espresso, or download 3  favorite NPR podcasts.  Now imagine changing your educational practice by purposefully reading professional text in this same time-frame.

Here are 3 examples of non-fiction books suitable for those interested in beginning a practice of professional reading on 5 minutes a day:

  • The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Telling Ain’t Training, by H. Stolovitch & E. Keeps
  • Brain Rules, by John Medina

So now that you know, in only  5 minutes a day, you’ll quickly add  a new title to your professional repertoire every 6-10 weeks. This roughly translates to 5-7 professional texts a year. Chances are, that’s probably a few more texts than you’re currently consuming. There’s no time like the present to get started. Get reading. Time is ticking.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.