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Posted by on in School Culture


I love what I teach, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. There is definitely something to be said for scholarly endeavor, and for instilling in students a lifelong passion for the liberal arts. All the same, it’s unfortunate that, by comparison, schools place so little stock in teaching kids other highly relevant life skills.  After all, it’s great to cultivate critical thinking skills through core academics, but as educators, let’s be honest with ourselves. We need to seriously rethink whether a turgid emphasis on scholarly pursuit alone really prepares students to prosper in the real world.

Here is my top-five list of what schools and teachers fail to do.

We fail at teaching students how to market themselves

If you think “marketing” is a dirty word, and that educators have no business teaching students how to do this, you need to reconsider your role. In today’s digital age, it may be true that plenty of students know how to create digital media, but too few know how to produce high-quality content, the kind that makes them stick out to not only college admission officers, but also potential employers. What does this involve? We need to teach and encourage students to post original, quality content to brand their unique identities in a sea of increasingly indistinguishable resumes—which are going the way of the typewriter. Last year, I encouraged a talented student-journalist to post his work on Pathbrite, an online electronic portfolio that showcases his diverse writing, broadcasting, and reporting talents. I am currently helping a talented student-photographer create her own site, which she will use to brand her creative identity. At the very least, I encourage all of my seniors to create a Linked-In page.

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Posted by on in School Culture


Can you remember being the new person at your school? Whether it was the beginning of your career and you were completely green or you switched schools and were learning the ropes of how this little community functions, each of us has been there. Hopefully, you were greeted by at least one person with a little more time than you, who just wanted to help.

Teaching is an incredibly complicated job. It is physically and emotionally taxing at times requiring us to be on our game as much as possible. When we work in a collegial environment, it is one that is nurturing and supportive.

There are 4 predictable stages of community that I learned about early on during summer training at my current school. (As a College Board school, we were required to meet over the summer for several weeks to team build and learn about a new way of teaching.) They are: pseudo-community, choas, emptiness and true community. Fluid phases that can often move quickly, until achieving true community, but it takes work. The definitions below are adapted from M. Scott Peck.

First in pseudo-community, we all pretend to get along, avoiding conflict wherever possible. We are kind because we want to be liked. When we first enter a school, we are eager to find out how the community works and so we, watch and agree to a lot of things. This never lasts because a lot of personalities in one place can't stand the facade.

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Posted by on in School Culture


Throughout my years in education I’ve been to a number of conferences, connected with many respected school leaders, and I’ve read countless articles and books relating to education.  One would think that in doing so I’ve been able to pin-point exactly what it is that sparks learning in humans.  I use the word humans simply because learning is not limited to students.  The principles that apply to student learning also apply to learning in adults.  I almost always walk away from conferences, conversations, and literature with the feeling like something was missed.

It is not something that is missed on purpose.  Every conference I’ve been to has been great.  I’ve connected with many wonderful administrators and I’ve read many scholarly books and articles.  But again, it’s not missed purposely.  We take it for granted.  We believe we are already doing it.  It’s something we don’t often think about, but I’m writing today to bring it back to the forefront of our minds and hearts.  This takes us back to Life 101 (if there is such a course).

We all perform better when we feel valued.  When we feel like we are a part of something and a contributor we will automatically rise and perform better.  Simply; when we are appreciated, feel loved, and cared about we will do better.  This I believe needs to happen in all of us.  But many of us believe we are already doing it, and because so, it is often taken for granted.  As educators we say “of course we value our students.” As human beings we say “of course we value our loved ones and the people we work with.”  We say it, but do we truly do it?

How does this impact our nation’s schools?  If our students feel valued; if they have a sense of self-worth, and they know that we care for them and believe in them – they will perform better.  From there we can help shape our students into being who they want to be.  We can facilitate a culture that embraces differences, and one that exists on the primary focus that every child can achieve at high levels.  Bringing in a curriculum or program that is proven to maximize learning for all will not be successful if our students do not feel valued.  The opposite can also happen when you have people engaged, appreciated, and valued; they can take a “not-so-great” program and turn it into something really special.

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Posted by on in School Culture


In room one twenty three...


We talk the talk

And walk the walk

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Posted by on in School Culture
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From Carina, a former student who is now a supply chain analyst for a global company

I received two very special emails over the weekend. The first came from a student I had ten years ago and just landed her first full-time job as a teacher. The second was from a student who was in a building where I was an administrator. He wrote me to say he's enjoying high school and that he was thankful for his experience. Both were equally cool, and both are equally appreciated in ways they will never imagine.

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From Kirsten, one of the best ELA teachers I have ever hired

This may sound corny, but I have kept various  thank-you notes over the years. It's hard to explain how such a few words on paper or typed mean.

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From various students from 2006 when they were in 9th grade

It started in East Brunswick, where students got one card to send a thank you to a teacher. You got about two sentences. Students got to do them for grades 5, 7, 9, and 12. I got 41 my first year (I taught 162 kids that year). I was so proud of them, I hung them in my classroom. I repeated the practice every year that I was at CJHS. I ran out of wall space to hang them. I wanted my students to see them; it was motivation to them. They liked pointing to them and me telling them a story about the student... or finding their siblings. Students even came back and pointed their cards out.

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From Sarah, currently a merchandising assistant for a Fortune 500 company

Thank yous can come in a myriad of forms; post-it notes, formal letters from parents, even a coloring page from a book. Those little things matter most.

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From a former student who just began her first year as an elementary teacher

When I made the switch to administration, I thought these days were sure;y going to be over. I was waiting for the barrage of angry emails, phone calls, and disagreements.  To my surprise, it was not as daily as I expected... AND... when the tough came along, thank you notes came along with it.

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