Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Teaching Tip #55

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #55

What is your why?

This is a little bit like Lisa Earl McCloud’s Noble Selling Purpose (well, for us, it’s our noble teaching purpose).

The overall premise is this -

for those of us who want to have a lasting impact on others (and this could be for teachers, business people, leaders, parents), the key thing to realize yourself and to communicate to others is your “why.”

Sinek calls it the “golden circle.”

Think of a target.  The outer ring is your “what.”  We all know what we do.  For teachers, it’s produce students who are college and career ready (whatever that means, right?).

The next  circle is the “how.”  Most actually don’t give a lot of thought to this.  Again for teachers, “how” do we get our students college and career ready?  Boring lecture.  Prescripted curriculum packets?  Worksheets?  Group work projects?  Tests?  Cross-word puzzles?  Busy work?

Finally, in the center is the vital “why.”  Very few - according to Sinek - ever even think about this.  The point here is why do you exist?  Why do you do what you do?  Again for teachers, why do you wake up in the morning and go to school?

If that answer is to get a paycheck or summers off or to coach or something a long those lines, you aren’t going to inspire your students (or customers).

Nobody ever gets fired up (in any business or service industry) by people just “doing their job.”

And this is where most people and businesses screw it up.

They start with the what and work their way in (if they even know what their how and why are).

What people and businesses should do is start with their “why” first and then work their way out.

Sinek offers contrasting examples -

In the area of business -  TiVo vs. apple

TiVo has the best product on the market when it comes to recording live TV.  But they started with the “what.”  Their slogan was we have a device that lets you record live TV (their what).  You can skip over commercials and never miss any of your favorite shows (their unclear how).  Want to buy one (their very uninspiring why).

And TiVo has been a disaster, though their name is synonymous with recording live TV or every generic DVR.  I “TiVo” programs all the time on my craptacular DVR from Sjoberg’s all the time!

Now apple is a company that gets it right -

They could be tradition and start with the what (we produce elegant and remarkable devices).  They could list tech specs (remember when the Lisa came out Jobs had a 9 page add listing all the tech specs . . . and the Lisa - named after his daughter - was a total disaster and led to him getting canned form apple!).
Then they could hit you with their why (want to buy one?).

Instead they start with their why (and it’s not that they want you to buy one).  Apple’s why is this - If you are one of the few who think different, then we have a product for you.

Then they hit you with their how . . . with the iPhone or apple watch or MacBook Air or iPad you will be more creative, more independent, more rebellious, more human . . .

Finally, they hit you with their what: want to buy one?

And there is no question that apple has been insanely successful.

But this isn’t just for companies.  Google Samuel Peirpont Langley vs. the Wright brothers in the quest for flight.

Langley operated from what, how, and why (ultimately to get famous and rich).  The Wright brothers, though, operated from why (to be the first humans to achieve flight and to make the world a smaller place), how, and what.

And that’s why you likely have never ever heard of Langley!

So how does this apply to teaching?

As Sinek notes, companies and leaders that excel not only communicate their why successfully, but they also start with why and communicate from the inside out.

Traditionally, schools start with what, go to how, and (maybe) get to why.

What - graduate students who are college and career ready

How - Lectures, notes, tests, readings . . .

Why -  That’s who it’s always been done . . . That’s how we were taught . . .

Here is how it works with me -

My why - help students find their (and revel in) their elements.

My how - by reading and writing and discussing as much as we possibly can as co-learners (what I call “inspiration through perspiration”).

My what - linchpins who can survive the dips.

I share this with my students every day during the first week of class.  

So what is your why?  How do you communicate it to your students?  I’d love to hear from you!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ch. 2 - Master the Art of Storytelling

For this chapter, watch the clip below and leave brief feedback of whether or not Taylor Mali was able to nail the art of story telling.  I include this because I saw him perform this on Thursday afternoon.

Some things to think about?

1.  Does it come across as too "rehearsed"?
2.  How does Mali communicate his emotion?
3.  Does all of the practice he poured into this presentation pay off?
4.  Does he "sell" you on his idea?
5.  Are his examples effective?
6.  What is his strongest area? (emotion, novelty, or being memorable)?

 Do the same for the second talk embedded as well.  Is passion everything?

1.  What is his biggest mistake?
2.  He is clearly passionate, but why isn't passion enough?
3.  What could he have done better?
4.  Are his examples effective?
5.  Does he "sell" you on his idea?
6.  What is his strongest area? (emotion, lovely, or being memorable)?

Then leave two pieces of feedback to your peers.


Teaching Tip #54

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #54

Pre-plan your responses to bad news or tough situations.

Okay. I’m stealing this one from the one and only Zig Ziglar.  You see, Zig had his responses to most situations pre-planned.  He knew ahead of time how he would react to bad news, to delays, to unexpected windfalls, to betrayal, to disappointment, to blessings . . .

Here is a classic example.  Since Zig traveled so much, he spent a ton of time in airports.  So he knew that he’d run into his fair share of delays.  So he decided whenever that would occur, he’d make the most out of it and just get to work preparing early for his next speech or write a new chapter of his next book or knock off a couple chapters of whatever book he was reading.

So one time he was in an airport and the ticket agent informed him that his flight was going to be delayed at least two hours.

“Great!” Ziglar said, shocking the agent.


“I said that’s great!”


“Well, I’m in a 40,000 square foot office.  I have all of my work here in my bag.  I have access to the best coffee in the city and I have at least ten different places to eat.  This is a great opportunity for me!”

You see, he had that all practiced and planned.

So as teachers, what are we inevitably going to run into?

“Mr. Reynolds, I’m sorry I didn’t get the draft written.”

I’ve heard this a hundred time.  How can I react to that in a way that won’t embarrass or shame the student (that never ever works anyway) or make me come across as a jerk.  How can I grant them a little grace?  

Here is a golden moment to begin cementing culture in my classroom.

Here is my pre-determined response.  “Okay.  Why weren’t you able to get it done?”

This first let’s them know that I’m not mad.  Second, it is a chance for me to dig a little and get a window into their lives.

“We got back late from the game.”

“I see.  What time?”

This again reassures them, but it also let’s them know that I’m going to do a little follow up.  If they say two and I talk to the coach and it was only 11, well, now they’re caught in a lie.

“We didn’t get back to Thief until eleven, but I had to wait 45 minutes for my dad to pick me.  We didn’t get home until 12:30.”

“Wow.  That was late.  Let’s handle it like this - you get one Get out of Jail free card.  You can use it now and I won’t dock your draft.  Or you can save it for later, and I’ll dock the draft half credit.  Remember drafts are 10% of your grade.  It’s your call.  If I were you, I’d save that Get out of Jail Free card for a final draft, which makes up 70% of your grade.  Just take the half credit on this draft.  But know you’ll be behind now and not get a good jump start on this theme.  You’ll have to dig in and work extra hard on the draft in class and tonight at home.  Okay?”

That extends some grace, for I empathize with them. I give them options (suggesting which one I’d choose if I were in their shoes, which shows them I’m putting myself in their shoes).

Here’s another example - you know you’re going to get that call from a helicopter parent.  How do you plan to handle it?  Come up with a plan and the stick to it when they call.  There’s no need to worry or become apprehensive because you already know how you’re going to handle it.  No need to let your emotions get the best of you because, again, you’ve already planned it out ahead of time.

Coaches know all too well how this works.

If we score late, do we kick the extra point for a tie or go for two and the win?  And if we do go for two points, what play will we run?

If it’s fourth and less than a yard, we always go on two with a quarterback sneak.

If it’s fourth and long at midfield, we will run a fake punt.

That way you don’t have to let emotion get the best of you and make a rash decision that you’re going to later regret.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Teaching Tip #53

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #53

Default to “yes.”

Several years ago while hauling our patio furniture out of storage at my mother-in-law’s in Mayville, I found a great podcast by Guy Kawasaki, a former software evangelist for apple and now a business leader.

As he was talking about his excellent new book, Enchantment, he talked about a philosophy of his that totally transformed my responses to my colleagues.  He said if you want to build a stronger brand and have a great impact on those around you, you should always “default to yes.”

That simply means that whenever someone asks you for a favor or for help or if you want to be on a committee or involved in a project, instead of doing what most people do and say ‘no,’ Kawasaki argues that your default response should be to automatically say ‘yes,’ even though it will be more work for you in the long run.

Why would you ever want to do this?

There are several reasons -

First, this is a great way of pushing yourself of your comfort zone.  “No” always keeps you safe inside your comfort zone.  “Yes,’ though is demanding that you do something uncomfortable and grow. Or at least learn.  Even if the “yes” leads to a negative or less than satisfactory experience, you have learned something.  “No” causes you to learn little.

How this worked for me - I didn’t want to be part of the MNHS grant.  It was going to be a lot of extra work and reading.  But I defaulted to ‘yes’ when Mrs. Semanko suggested I join.  And it got me free trips to Boston and Atlanta as well as several lane changes because of the graduate credits I built up from Hamline.  Plus, I learned so much more about not only MN history but the history of our country.

Second, it builds reciprocity.  If I help you, one day you will help me.

How this worked for me - I have helped out staff members with technology problems and questions.  In turn, I have had many of them do the same for me when I was on the opposite end.

Third, you never know where it will lead you.  Isn’t that exciting.  You know where ‘no’ will lead you.  It’ll keep you right where you are.  But defaulting to ‘yes’ will take you in a number of directions.  

How this worked for me - I was terrified to teach the Teaching and Learning 250 class at UND when Dr. Holen first asked me about it.  But I denied the fear and said yes.  I have learned so much about the craft of teaching from my experiences in this class that it was maybe the smartest decision I have made in my career the last several years.

Fourth, it will lead to new connections.  By helping others out and getting out of your comfort zone, you will meet more people and become involved in more projects, thereby widening your network of connections.

How this worked for me - I was terrified to change my College Comp 2 final evaluation.  But I didn’t listen to the fear so I asked Mr. Zutz about doing mock interviews for our final evaluation with various members of the community, much like our mock interviews in social studies.

Mr. Zutz suggested that instead I talk to the HR department at Digi Key and have them interview my students.  I did that and I have made so many connections out there that I can’t imagine not having them.  I have had Sara Pederson and Kathy Fynbogh both in to speak to my classes as well as that led me to being involved in robotics (again something I wanted to say ‘no’ to).

So the next time a staff member or colleague asks you to be involved resist your gut instinct to say ‘no’ and instead default to ‘yes.’  Just do that for one single school year and see where it leads you.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Teaching Tip #52

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #52

This one is probably my biggest teaching tip, and I don’t know why I’m getting to it right now, but here it is: stay current with your professional reading.

Not only do I feel it’s vital for me to stay current in the world of English and composition as a professional, but it is also a great way for me to model one of the biggest things I want my students to learn from my classes: become a life long learner.

Since I’m revising how I teach College Comp, we will have daily silent sustained reading time and part of that time is devoted to sharing what we are reading.  This is going to give me a time to share with my class all of the reading (and learning) that I do.

In fact, the very reason I’m revising how I teach composition is because of a phenomenal book I read, Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them. I read it twice this summer and it made me realize I’ve been teaching like I’ve been asleep for a few years now.  It was the kick in the professional ass i needed.

So what books are you reading?  What podcasts are you listening to?  What videos are you watching?   

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Teaching Tip #51

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #51

Find different ways to motivate yourself 2.0.

The scenario from tip #50 worked well until I came up with another one.  This time (and this came about thanks to a conversation with a TA of mine three years ago) I came up with this scenario - Mr. Zutz announces that instead of following their regular schedule, students are free to go to whatever teacher’s room where they feel like their voice matters, where the classroom culture is healthy, where they love going every day . . .

If I walk into my room that day, how many students will I have?
That really motivates me.

Again, what motivates you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Teaching Tip #50

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #50

Find different ways to motivate yourself.

This isn’t always easy.  I used the scenario below for several years to motivate me every single day on the way to school -

Someone from UND or the U of M shows up and asks Mr. Zutz (our principal) to take him to his most innovative and challenging teachers.

If Mr. Zutz isn’t showing up to my room by the end of first block, I need to find a different job.

So what motivates you?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Teaching Tip #49

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #49

One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to actually have a student in your class to make an impact in their lives.

My third breakthrough story (continued from last week) is about a teacher, Mr. Piersol, who taught me that very lesson.

Mr. Piersol was our band teacher.  I had gotten to know him, though I wasn’t in band, because one of my best friends, Simon, dated his daughter.  So I began to spend a lot of time over at their house.

One day my sophomore year, I was eating lunch.  At our small high school, part of a teacher’s duties was lunch room monitor.  Mr. Piersol had that dreaded task my sophomore year.

As I was eating and horsing around with my friends, inevitably a minor food fight broke out.  

One of my friends hurled his milk at someone a few tables away.  It landed by me and splashed on my plate.

I quick look around and didn’t see anyone so I hurled a piece of cheese back at him.

Then the teachers came in and squashed the food fight.  Mr. Piersol sent my friend and someone else up to the office.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized he hadn’t seen me! I got away with it.

Then as I dumped my tray and headed out to my locker, Mr. Piersol came up next to me.


He put his arm around me and said, “Kurt, I saw you throw that food.”

I was embarrassed and felt like an idiot.  “Sorry,” I muttered.

Then Mr. Piersol said words that would greatly impact my life: “I didn’t send you to the office, though, because I know you’re better than that. I sent the other two because, quite frankly, I expected that out of them.  But not you.  You know you’re better than that too.”

He was right.  I felt guilt and shame burn in my chest and my cheeks.

“That won’t happen again, will it?” Mr. Piersol asked.

“No it won’t,” I said.

“Good,” he said and sent me on my way.

This impacted me because it showed me - for the fist time that I realized anyway - that other adults had expectations of me.  Though, apparently, I didn’t have any (at least any high expectations) of myself!

If Mr. Piersol expected more out of me, what about my parents and coaches and other teachers?

That was the first time that I can recall viewing myself from someone else’s point of view.  From that moment on, I began to imagine what I would look like from other peoples’ points of view.

Talk about an amazing lesson!

So now, I talk to my students about not only the expectations I have of them but the expectations they should have for themselves.