Remember that children, marriages and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get. ~H. Jackson Brown, Jr. 

I love the sight of a pristine lawn.  It crazily reminds me of a school.  The students would be the blades of grass — all about the same but all so different.  Those of us who love the look of well-manicured lawns learn that lawn CARE is something required.  There are no short cuts, and there are some very specific needs that must happen in order to keep the lawn healthy and ready for action.

I know in our CARE for students, we have the similar parallels when it comes to behaviors that show us how to CARE for the lawn.  Todd Whitaker, author of several very insightful books shares two tips I want to share.  Please take some time to watch and reflect on this powerful information.  There are two very short clips.  It will make taking CARE of your lawn much easier and more enjoyable.

What Great Teachers Do Differently – Part One

What Great Teachers Do Differently – Part Two

Week 7 – A Look Ahead

This week in our administrative walkthroughs, we will look for and provide feedback on safety preparations.  Do you have your safety chart posted by your door?  Are you class rosters there?  Do you have your evacuation poster hanging near your classroom exit?

Wednesday – Super Assessment Day (see additional information in email)

Thursday – Students to MWSU for Convocation (see emailed listing)

Friday – Drug Free Superstar Interviews (see emailed listing/times)

~Excellence is a journey not a destination.~

Images are found in CC on Flickr:  “Weston Park” by hartlandmartin.

CARE Givers

Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible. ~Ronnie Oldham

As educators, we often find ourselves in the position of having to make tough decisions about children.  Those tough decisions are rarely black and white, so it’s often difficult to know what to do in response or reaction to the situations in which we find ourselves.  There are some who would default to, “we do what’s best for kids,” but honestly, you should not be in education if that is not your absolute fundamental tenet.  What causes each of us so much stress and concern or what drives the need for us to “take our work home with us” is trying to figure out exactly what is best for a child in each situation.  There are as many opinions for what is best as there are sands in an hourglass.  Options for solutions are a bit more limited.

As we focus on data teams, one area of decision-making that becomes clearer is how to improve the results of our work.  They key is to become smarter and more practiced in the data teams process.  In the book, Leaders Make it Happen: An Administrator’s Guide to Data Teams, authors McNulty and Besser state that many researchers found that, “the difference between the most effective classrooms and the least effective classrooms was attributable to the teacher.”  They also go on to share that, “the difference between the most effective teachers and the least effective teachers is not what they know, but rather what they do” (p. 17). The authors share research that explains it is tough for teachers to unlearn practices they have utilized for years or have been taught by college professors who practiced a decade ago.  There are so many reasons why.

One reason we find changing to be so tough is due to a system that seems resistant to change.  However, the ability to change – called second order change – is in the hands and mind of each teacher.  We have to limit our priorities and accept that premise.  We need to accept and expect a higher level of accountability.  Teaching is highly personal, so we must embrace collaboration then take that responsibility seriously and with dedication to our colleagues.  We have to believe in, rely on, and support each other, even more so when one of us is struggling.    We must CARE about each other and believe even when we can’t see.

Students then provide the canvas for us to express ourselves as professionals with our pedagogical paint.  We get nervous when we hold them accountable, when rigor pushes their thinking and when relevance is not obvious. This is where the juxtaposition comes in what is “best for kids” and what we believe in education about our practice.  Here’s where opinions are many and options seem limited.

The options do not have to be one or the other.  Often times the best solution is a combo of extremes. We need to be there for our kids – to listen and CARE.  We do not need to be their excuse. We should provide them supports to allow them to solve their problems.  We should not should not encourage them to “escape” from the tough academic situation they have worked themselves into. Data teams work is built on differentiation for learning needs.  How are you differentiating for students who struggle?   That struggle may not just be with your content.  More often it will be because they don’t come to school, forget to do or turn in their homework, or have troubles at home that block their focus on learning.  These are REAL blocks to learning for our kids.  Very real.  No matter the reason, the fact is they didn’t learn.  How can you help them problem solve and learn?  Is what you believe is “best for kids” that “failure is not an option?”  What would Benton look like if we believed that was best for our kids?  Think about that when you look at which of your students are failing.  I know you do your best.  I also know that excellence is a journey.  Reread the quote at the start of this blog.  Let’s make sure our excellence is grounded in caring more, risking more, dreaming more, and expecting more from us.  If we show our kids we are willing, they will follow our lead!

Week 6 – A Look Ahead

This week in our administrative walkthroughs, we will CONTINUE looking for and providing feedback on instructional questioning.  We will look for what questions you are asking your students – do they require higher order thinking or are they mostly operational for giving directions?

Monday – Data Teams departmental meetings

Wednesday – JEPD Red Day Schedule (Info on Super Assessment Day, Text Complexity JEPD & AdvancEd email from Dr. Smith)

Thursday – Bus Evacuation @ 9:15 a.m. (directions TBA)

Reminder:  Super Assessment Day will be Oct 3rd

~Excellence is a journey not a destination.~

All images available in CC from Flickr:  “Decisions, decisions” by Garrettc ; “Maze Puzzle (Blender) by FutUndBendl “customer-loyalty_retention.jpg by enriqueburgosgarcia. 




Taking CARE of Business

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have. ~Margaret Mead

It’s about this time of year that we start feeling pressure from all the expectations put on you in your classroom and beyond.  The pressure is legitimate.  When you CARE about the work you do in order to be the best you can be, you don’t take this pressure lightly.  It’s the nature of educators; we want to make a difference.  We want to help change our world because we care about those around us.  Everyone expects us to change the world.  We often know we can. And so we try…day after day. The pressure is legit.

The best analogy for this somewhat overwhelming time of year is best understood by comparing it to the feeling of eating at an appetizing dinner when you are super hungry and everything looks yummy. First of all, there’s the main course of the curriculum served up through the data teams process.  Then we load you up with side dishes where we expect you to take at least one serving of each.  Start with one large helping of transform and differentiate your instruction with digital tools and students’ digital exhibition artifacts on top.  Another dish, although not overwhelming, you must serve yourself is a good helping of our literacy plan implementation.  And you can’t skip the healthy, needed sides of grading and PowerTeacher, Schoolwires, your departmental best practices, text complexity PD implementation, upcoming Acuity training, and the upcoming new and improved taste of CAMP.  Yes, you have a LOT on your dinner plate.  Add to that the condiments for the meal to enhance the taste of your plateful of pressure.  Include a shake or two of the schedule with bell changes and a dollop of discipline, to name the favorites. And for those of you who enjoy and can’t get enough dessert, we have all those extra-duties –with sprinkles on top — whether paid or otherwise.  Yes, we realize you are full, and you are feeling it.  It takes strong dedication on your part to learn the processes thoroughly and to implement it with fidelity.  We want you to know we know, and we are here to help you digest it all.  The key for success is to take one bite at a time.  Strong and steady.  Manage your intake, and don’t overdo it.  Take a breath, laugh a lot (it helps make room for more), and share your dishes.  It’s amazing how much better a meal tastes when you sup with friends.

Week 4 in Review

Nice work on going over the student handbook and in your class meetings.  Hats off to all of you who took the time to talk through the rules with the students, answer their questions, and get clarification when you were not certain. Also great job on the class meetings.  I think our CAMP time was a highlight of the week.  I also appreciate everyone’s participation and attendance at our first faculty meeting of the year.  It was a heavy thirty minutes of work; there’s no doubt.  I loved the feedback that we should take that time to share celebrations as well.  Great idea! Consider that a new part of our meeting.  With that added, don’t forget to send me celebrations!  I have one to share next month that has to do with a staff member and socks. It will touch your heart! Bet you are wondering…what, what?  I also want to celebrate our teachers who continue to show they care by showing up at student activities after school and on weekends.  The students love it, and it’s very exciting to see such a supportive staff! Thank you so much for doing that for our kids!

Week 5: A Look Ahead

This week in our administrative walkthroughs, we will be looking for and providing feedback on instructional questioning.  We will look for what questions you are asking your students – do they require higher order thinking or are they mostly operational for giving directions?

Monday – sign handbook permission slips in CAMP and turn in right away.  If a student is absent, please fill in his/her name and note ABSENT at the top.

Wednesday – Job Embedded PD to start learning about the digital exhibition.  I will send out the white day locations to attend.  Benton Leadership Team (BLT) meets at 7:00 a.m.  in room 106.  Donuts anyone?

Thursday – we will have a modified schedule, which I will send out on Wednesday again.  We follow regular schedule except we will release early from 2R (10:15 bell) to go to CAMP.  Directions for viewing will come from Kelly.  Look for that and make sure you are ready to go.

Friday – Department PD for each dept in collab that day.  Each department should be prepared to share their Data Team work so far with admin, IC and any DLT team members who are able to attend. Pep Assembly schedule.

FYI on Monday – Complete department PD for each dept in collab that day.  Each department should be prepared to share their Data Team work so far with admin, IC and any DLT team members who are able to attend.

~Excellence is a journey not a destination.~

All images are available in Creative Commons from Flickr: “sphygmomanometer” by jasleen_kaur; “Dinner is served.” by jonesing1; “Red balloons” by Jakob E.


CARE to Listen. Ask to CARE.

One who cares is one who listens. ~ J. Richard Clarke

I spent nine years coaching boys and girls high school soccer– seventeen seasons total along with a decade of coaching a variety of youth and competitive teams – and I have never forgotten when things started turning around for me.  Oh sure, I went to many, many clinics to learn how to coach better.  I earned my national coaching license to become more proficient at my craft.  I even decided to certify as a referee just to understand that perspective of the game, but I will never forget the season I started one very simple and interesting tactic – I listened.  And I started asking questions.  It was amazing what I learned from my players when I let them give me information or repeat what I had asked them to accomplish.  It was amazing what I heard other coaches saying to their players or about the game.  That tactic, as simple as it was, changed the game for me so successfully and in a way no formal training had ever done.  When I took it to my classroom, the transformation was just as phenomenal.

Ask yourself, how much do I talk TO the students in a class period?  I’m guessing for most of us, it’s too much.  The reason that happens is we trust our extensive training.  We have to control the information.  We don’t necessarily trust our classroom management system yet.  I understand, but I also know we have never really practiced listening.  So, this week, I challenge you to try the simple tactic – listen. And ask your students good questions. Start by talking to each other in collaboration and ask for strategies that encourage productive student conversation.  One idea right off the top of my head is Think, Pair, Share.  How about notes comparison between students? Ever tried a Socratic seminar?  Listen to what you students are saying.  Get out from behind a desk or computer and ask students questions about the work you assign them to complete.  Ask students WHY they think what they do or WHY they answered the way they answered.

Have you ever sat in a classroom, church pew, or professional development session and found yourself nodding off?  I think we all have at one time or another.  You too have the perfect solution for classroom sleepiness; encourage your students to talk about their learning.  And be ready to be amazed at your success as a professional. This is a win-win scenario.

Week 3 in Review

I fell in love with our students again last week.  They never cease to amaze me in how much they love and trust us.  We had a great week for attendance and discipline – up and down respectively.  In a very B.F. Skinner fashion, please join Luke, Jeremy and me in giving lots of strong feedback to our students who are behaving in a fashion we want them to continue.  There is serious power in reinforcing the positive.  Thanks to all activities and sports teams for their efforts this week.  We took a few gut punches with events occurring out of our control and playing some pretty good teams, but our students showed great sporting behavior and never gave in.  Don’t measure the week by a few set backs.  Measure our level of CARdinal Excellence by the successes we found after we made it through those learning events.  A big thanks to Mrs. Roseberry, Ezzell and company for a great pep assembly.  Also, a great shout out to our nutrition and maintenance crew for their patience and support in yet another week where shifting to an early out put them under great pressure to adjust.  If you get a chance, give them a high five for a week well played!

Week 4:  A Look Ahead
By the end of this week we will have been in school one full month.  How can something that takes so long go so fast?  This week will keep you hopping.  We have numerous SCHOOL-WIDE events that we must all be on the same page to complete.  I will list the week’s events on your email for easy reference, but I want to share an overview here.  We will be having our first class meetings during CAMP.   Students will report to CAMP first for roll then an announcement will bring them to the auditorium.  We will also complete three days of STUDENT HANDBOOK REVIEW during CAMP.  Finally, this weekend is the Southside Carnival and Parade – Benton is a star in this event from students to teams to staff.  Make sure you somehow connect with this epic Southside event.  Remember, you ARE . . Southside!

~Excellence is a journey not a destination.~

Handle with CARE

The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena, who strive valiantly; who know the great enthusiasums, the great devotions, and spend themselves in a worthy cause; who at best know the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if they fail, fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

Week 2 in Review

After a second full week “in the arena,” I can see the results of our Benton valiance – our determination and courage to make this year better than our last.  I love our enthusiasm.  I love our devotion.  I am so humbled when I drive into our parking lot or leave it far too late to see all the cars that belong to the dedicated souls who “spend themselves in a worthy cause.”  From teachers to coaches to support staff, we are not timid nor afraid to make a difference for our students.

As I was thinking about our progress last week, I realized that we have some areas we need to firm up in our progress forward together.  Part of our learning in our pursuit of CARdinal Excellence is that when we make decisions as a school – whether by the students, the leadership team or departments – we must all follow them.  If one teacher cuts corners or tries to be “accommodating” or even thinks that doing something so small as letting students leave just a minute early from a class doesn’t really harm anyone, then the perspective of that adult is far too small.  Everyone remembers one of  Newton’s Laws of Motion, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action.”  This doesn’t just get spoken about in Mr. Reynold’s, Mrs. Gastler’s, or Mr. Gastineau’s Physics classes, it works metaphorically in considering school operations.  Be diligent to follow our systems of operations and follow through with all school-wide decisions and policies.  Believe it or not, this really is what it takes to go from good to great, when we are all on the same rope pulling in the same direction.  When one of us decides that our own personal direction is more important than our unit’s direction, it weakens the pull that we have collectively. Please understand, I am not asking you to forego being original or creative – feel free to sing or wear crazy socks (metaphorical yet again) while pulling on the rope – but please don’t let the go of the rope and DO keep pulling in the same direction as the rest of us.  We need you.

As school gets rolling again, I am still saddened by those who attempt to bring us down with their deleterious statements.  I hope everyone knows that if these statements come from someone outside what Teddy Roosevelt refers to as “actually in the arena,” then we know they do not understand what they speak or the damage they precipitate.  The comments that hurt our students and our school the most are the whispers that come from within.  I ask you – no, I implore you, do not be the dark whisperer of our school. Instead, challenge yourself to be the tie that binds us together with your words of affirmation and support.  It’s probably hard for some to believe, but for those of you who are spreading the good news about Benton, it’s working.  I hear so many more positive comments about our school this last year than I have in the previous five.  It’s working.  Be that great voice that tells others inside and outside our arena how great we are.  YOU are a part of us.  Be a strong part.  Be a strong voice.  And by the way,  it’s working.  I believe in you, and I believe my staff and students – our staff and students – really are amazing.  To quote a favorite movie line of mine: “Let it be written. Let it be done!”

Week 3:  A Look Ahead

It’s a short week packed full of excitement.  I hope some of you make this the week to attend a student event from play try-outs to athletic contests. If you are wondering what’s going on around BHS, check out Coach Ziesel’s activities site at  Have a great week!

Friday:  Pep Assembly schedule

Saturday:  September ACT test

Sunday:  Grandparents Day (a call or card would show you CARE!)

~Excellence is a journey not a destination.~

 “Handle with Care” signs available at