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#TeamHabits Review

Some visualization prototyping.

Some visualization prototyping.

TeamHabits Review

The visual alphabet I wrote about the other day remains an important and valuable piece of information for me as I continue to process my two days at the New Team Habits workshop put on by Education Elements. This was a powerful learning opportunity.

I like to think of myself as someone with a growth mindset, but while there, I realized that I actually have a fixed mindset when it comes to anything artistic. I used to think artsy was the same thing as being creative. I learned a few years ago that is not the case. I learned this week that I can be visually fluent as well. This is a big step for me, and I’m very grateful for that. My drawings are probably not going to ever be amazing, because I doubt I will ever have the desire to put the time and energy in to make them amazing. I’m ok with that.

What I can do, however, is write and add visual notes to the things that I do write. This can be a powerful practice.

Drawing, sketching, or doodling isn’t about being perfectly artistic, but it is about conveying ideas. That’s my wheelhouse, and if I can communicate with visuals more effectively, it will be much better.

So, what else did we do?

Well, in true Ed Elements fashion, we had an interactive and educational environment where we could learn how to work better as teams.

The topic was the team habits we need to have in place to be effective teams. There are a lot of reasons why things fail, and we never want to be one of them, right?

The habits part of this workshop is really important. You need to make these things habits, because if they are habits, they can make many things much better.

We read a great summary of goals vs habits from Farnham Street. Here are a couple things about habits:
- They are for life. You don’t just gain a habit and then move on. It’s a habit because you continue to do it.
- Habits are easy to complete. Running a marathon is not a habit. Running every day is a habit.
- Habits can be as small as necessary. In this training, the three habits are very small indeed. In fact, they are so small, you might wonder if they really are that important.
- Habits can compound. Duhigg calls habits that have a wider impact on our lives keystone habits.
A quick story from my own life. As I started reading scriptures every day, I was thinking about things in a spiritual nature. By reading scriptures daily, my mind was focused on learning spiritual truths. This helped implement those spiritual truths more effectively in my life. And so, I was more patient, more kind, more helpful, less selfish, more considerate. Not that I was making it a point to be any of those things, but that my keystone habit compounded others things that made my life more meaningful.

Team Habit 1: We talk about our mistakes

This section talked a lot about psychological safety. If you listened to my interview with Keara Mascarenaz  released this week, this was the bulk of our conversations. Psychological safety is when people feel safe being vulnerable with each other and talking about mistakes without fear of reprimands or getting blamed for failures.

We talk about mistakes to model vulnerability so that our team learns and grows together

This habit can be especially hard in schools where we are very much people pleases and suffer from a culture of nice. This habit also seems to reinforce the culture of nice by not immediately punishing someone for their mistakes. But I don’t think that’s what it looks like. What it really looks like is holding people accountable for their mistakes without punishing them. This is how I deal with kids as a principal. If you make a mistake, we are going to talk about it, but we are going to use it as a learning opportunity. That’s the whole point. How do we learn as an organization? We talk about our mistakes. If we don’t talk about our mistakes, how can we ever expect to learn? It just won’t happen. We learn through mistakes.

Team Habit 2: Meetings—we lead check-ins.

This seems so small that it might not even be important. But it is! When we have check-ins, we talk about ourselves and not just about our work. Even in a couple short exercises, we learned things about people that we would want to follow up with them about and be able to share the things that we learned with them.
So, why do we have check-ins?

We lead check-ins to increase presence so that our team has more engagement and equal talk time in meetings.

And what are check-ins?
They are simple ways to start a meeting. I think most of us would say this is the SEL part of meetings for adults. When we check-in appropriately, we give people space to express what they are feeling and start the meeting appropriately.

There are a whole bunch of ways to do check-ins. You can ask a questions to get at how someone is feeling now. Or you could ask a question that goes deep and gets at inner conflicts and feelings people could be experiencing. Or you could do something fun which would invite people to enjoy the sharing.

A check-in for now could be something like: “What are you bringing with you to this meeting?”
A check-in for deep could be something like: “What brings you joy?”
A check-in for fun could be something like writing how you’re going to show up on your partner’s back. Yes, sounds weird, but was actually fun. Probably not fun for those who don’t like touching people. :)

Team Habit 3: Projects—we kick them off.

This habit is also very simplistic. They shared a hilarious video that was so true you could only laugh. Crying is the only other alternative. How many times have you been involved in a project launch where there was no purpose, no roles, no end date, no defined win? I’ve been in those launches so many times I can’t even call them launches, because we didn’t launch anything.

We kick off work to increase clarity on purpose, roles, and roadmap so that our team is more agile in adjusting our plans to meet our purpose

It’s important to note here, that not everything is a project. Projects have an end date. An early reading initiative that helps kids learn to read pretty much forever, is not a project. It’s part of our daily operations! Training everyone the first time we rollout a new curriculum for that early reading initiative is a project.

Kicking off projects simply means that we define everything that we can. Part of the problem with projects is that they can get behind schedule and instead of giving up on them, we keep going! Sometimes we need to throw in the towel!

I read a great book on this topic called Scope by Basecamp. They have a great process place for kicking off projects, and deciding what to work on.

At first I was skeptical about this habit, thinking that it would only apply to district level personnel, but I see how teachers involved in committees and in doing their own projects would really benefit from implementing this habit.

I’m committed to doing this work in my new role at work, and I hope you’ll take some time to think about it as well. You can get the book “The New Team Habits” on Amazon.

And, as a side note: This book is a workbook. The intention is that you write in it and make notes as you go through it with your team. I love writing in books, and it is even better when they are designed to be written in!

Reflections on Day 1 of #TeamHabits Training

Right now, I'm in Denver at a training for the Team Habits training by Ed Elements. The training is based on a book by Anthony Kim, Kawai Lai, and Keara Mascareñez.

So far, the training is really great, as are all the trainings by Ed Elements.

Here are my two big takeaways.

Visuals They shared a "visual alphabet" which is a square, circle, triangle, line (straight or squiggly), and a cloud. They taught us how to draw stick figures, and shared 3 "thinking visuals". I've always been a doodler, but not very artistic. These three simple suggestions have been powerful in note taking already.

You can see them below:


Why did they teach visuals and why is that my takeaway? Because communicating visually is really powerful. We remember things we see much better than things we hear or things we read. It can be really powerful in communicating ideas with your team.

Second Takeaway

Apparently, I look like Patton Oswalt. Who knew?


Sage On The Stage < Guide On The Side < Compass

Here’s one of the things I love about Twitter, short conversations spark longer discussions. Will Richardson posted this on Twitter:

Great point. We need to get out of the way. And then David Truss posted this:

And then David wrote a great blog post here.

He wrote:

However, ‘Teacher as compass’ works very well with inquiry-based learning. Students will do projects where they become more knowledgeable than the teacher in a specific area of content. If teachers are trying to be the content providers for students who are all on different learning voyages, the teachers will fail. However, if teachers are guiding their students, helping them seek out information, and expertise, and supporting them in creating a learning plan… if they are the compass… then they can support students on their individual learning journeys.

This is powerful thinking. I love it. It brings an idea to my mind that I have had for a long time. We talk about one-size-fits-all curriculum. If we have a curriculum that is geared towards the average student, that is a waste, because we don’t have any average students.

What we need is a framework that adapts to every student. We don’t need curriculum (the materials) that is one size fits all. We need a framework that gives teachers power to support every single student, no matter how strong or weak they may be in particular areas.

David speaks about inquiry-based learning as possibly providing that approach, and I think he’s on the right track.

After reading his post, I posted this on Twitter:

Now I just need something visual to represent this.

What matters?

Sometimes, you will go through a big trial, especially a trial at work, and it will seem like that is the only thing that exists in the world.

It's not. There is so much more out there that you can't even fathom.

Last night, I was reading this book: Creative Calling: Establish a Daily Practice, Infuse Your World with Meaning, and Succeed in Work + Life

Chase was in an avalanche!

That was his work trial. What did that teach him? To go back and take bigger risks.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger is the old adage. I think it's true.

How we got class sizes down to 13!

Ask any teacher, and they’ll probably tell you that class sizes are the most important thing for the learning of their students. Teachers want smaller classes. So do I.

Unfortunately, small class sizes really don’t make as much difference as you would think. Spoiler alert, it’s because practices don’t change with smaller numbers. Again, it’s about the people in front of the kids!

This article by Peter M. DeWitt in EdWeek discusses the research and gives ideas powerfully. He summarizes Hattie’s research (and surprise) that lower class sizes don’t have a larger effect size when it comes to student learning. Peter says,

Hattie has a “hinge point” of 0.4. Anything that falls below that hinge point does not have a large effect on student achievement. An effect size of above 1.0 actually is equivalent to a year’s worth of growth. Hattie’s research gives class size an effect of 0.21.

So, essentially, “the research” is saying that smaller class sizes don’t matter. DeWitt, Hattie, and I would all argue that we shouldn’t be loading tons of kids into classes, but let’s think about this a little differently.

What if you had a school that was not a traditional school where students are sitting before their teacher all day long? What if, instead of focusing on class sizes, you focused on student to adult ratios?

Instead of only caring about how many students you had for each teacher, you thought about how many students you had for each adult? At my school, that’s the approach we took. We had the distinct advantage of saying that everyone in our building was an educator. If you wanted to work in a school, you recognized that you were part of the school and would work with kids.

From our admin secretary to our aides to everyone else, everyone took time during the week to support kids directly.

So, what was our “class size” during this time when everyone was focused on supporting kids?


We took our existing structure, with all the support staff, and we made sure that our average class size was 13.

Some were bigger, some were smaller. In fact, just a couple teachers taking more kids made all the others significantly smaller. Imagine what you could do if you were just working with 10 kids directly during a concentrated time.

Our focus was, “How do we support kids in the best way possible?”

We had to teach differently, and the results were awesome.

When our AMAZING science teacher was working with kids, she could easily manage 30+. When our secretary was working with kids, she could manage 2! But, she had a way to support them that made those two kids feel special and like someone cared about them, and they could still accomplish something meaningful. Even if all she was doing was checking to make sure they did math on a worksheet (that’s not what happened) that would be more attention than they would get in a typical class of 30.

Our assistant principal was a rockstar at management and could engage 25 kids. I worked with a group of 8 kids as the principal. One of our special education aides worked with four typical peers and the student he was assigned to assist.

Our prevention intervention specialist worked with a group of about 12 students.

Think of all the good you can do if you are focused on meeting the needs of all the kids with all the staff you have.

Count up the staff at your school. Include every adult that could work with a group of kids (we left out our custodian because our time to do this was right after lunch, but don’t make excuses!).

Divide your student body (we had 400) by all your staff (we had 30) and you get your average class size if everyone is engaged. 400 / 30 = 13.3

Let me know what your number is (email or Twitter) and I’ll help you find ways to utilize all those people to help your students.

Time for a Grade Audit!

Most schools around the country (and globe) are right about at the end of the first quarter. Now, 1/4 of the way through the year, is a great time to ask yourself if the grades you’re giving out to students reflect your values?

Well, actually, your grades are your values. The marks your students receive are a reflection of what the teachers value.

This is a good time to see if your vision is matching reality.

Let’s see what a grade audit would look like depending on your grade level.


If you’re using an RTI or MTSS model, you should probably expect to see about 80-95% of your student with B’s & A’s. About 10-20% could be in C-D range and only about 5-10% should be receiving F’s.

Screenshot 2019-10-24 10.42.48.png

Standards-based Grading

If you’re grading based on end-of-year grade level standards, you likely would be seeing low scores now on most of your standards because the year just started.

That is if you are actually entering evidence or scores which you may not be, yet. For example, if you’re teaching Pythagorean theorem later this year, you would have no evidence entered right now.

If you’ve touched on it, but haven’t gone deep into it, you might have some evidence of kids achieving it, but maybe not. You might also see some kids with evidence of things you haven’t covered yet, which is not a bad thing. At least now you can start making some plans for how to address these students when you get to that content.

It is possible that could have No Evidence for a student for the whole first quarter. That would be more appropriate than an F with 5%, but still there are major concerns that would need to be addressed.

Bell curve

If you’re grading on a bell curve, you shoul see about the same number of kids with F’s as you do A’s. This isn’t a great practice, but it is better than the inverse bell curve or YouTube grading, which only has thumbs up or thumbs down.

Screenshot 2019-10-24 10.43.02.png

YouTube Grading Or Inverse Bell Curve

You know how on YouTube there are thumbs up and thumbs down for rating videos. It’s all or nothing for those videos, and some classes are like this also. You’ll see the vast majority of kids with either an A or an F, and very little in between. So, what can you interpret from these grades? In my experience, I typically can interpret that the teacher has a mindset set of, “It’s my job to teach, and the student’s job to learn [in the way I teach it].” What you’ll often see are students with grades that are either incredibly low, I’m talking single digit percentage F grades or just barely not a D-, something like 58.5%.

Other Considerations

You might have some teachers in your school that are giving out a lot of F's. Is there a teacher that may have way more F's than other students.

One thing you can do is determine what percentage of her students have an F, and see what that looks like. If it's above 5%, it's worth a conversation. If it's above 25%, you've got some major problems that you really need to address.

Another concern is if every student has 100%. You might want to look into that, too.


One thing that I always tell my teachers when I’m in a traditional grading school is “F means the teacher failed, D means the student failed.”

As a parent, seeing an F on my child’s report card means that my child’s teacher has written them off and given up on them.

Stop rescuing kids

I often hear parents make comments about their kids, “I don’t want my child to experience hard things” is typically the refrain that I see.

I often see parents and teachers attempt to rescue kids when they don’t show up prepared.

Parents often go far above and beyond to help their kids. I was meeting a close friend after not seeing her kids for quite some time. I started asking the high school age son how things were and what he was interested in.

Rather than bear the silence that comes with good thinking time, the well-meaning parent answered all the questions for her son.

I saw it in his eyes: “My mom is going to talk so I don’t have to say anything!” And he didn’t. He didn’t answer any more of my questions because his mom did it for him.

We have got to give our kids the time and space to be themselves. This mom, concerned about her child’s shy demeanor, let her overbearing personality take over for him. He didn’t stand a chance.

Rethinking Coding Education

I downloaded an app called Grasshopper to learn some coding skills.

I know the best way to learn something is to have a project to code. This app makes a little project, and in an effort to make it accessible makes it totally inmemorable.

The project is to make a Gabonese Flag. That’s cool, but the setup is for me to just tap the functions that I will need to make the different colors.

I think for teaching kids to code, we need to expose them to coding a small project so they can have a quick win.

As with most things in education, I don’t think mass deployments of technology is going to be the answer.

To me, the answer is taking time with kids and someone who knows what they are doing to help coach a student to their success.

So, what does this look like?

A person who knows what they are doing asks kids what kinds of things they would like to build. Let’s say they want to make a game. The person who knows what they are doing sets the kids up for success by giving them parameters and ideas they can actually accomplish.

She challenges the kids’ ideas and gets them to go smaller and within a scope that they can see success.

She also points them to resources that will help them accomplish that task, and gives them a playground to make those ideas come to life, and be shared with someone else.

Once the kids have that small success, they can be energized about learning something that is challenging and complex.

Does something like this exist already?

How My Son Overcame His School Anxiety Without Drugs, Counseling, Or Fighting.

My wife told me she just couldn't do it anymore. "It's too hard," she said. "Every time I drop him off, the tears, the yelling, and the crying. I just can't take him to school anymore. We've got to figure something out."

We had talked about different things, from counseling to medication to other options.

For the time being, our solution was that I would drop him off at school. For some reason, his reactions to his anxiety seemed to be less when dad dropped him off.

Any parent who has experienced this knows how difficult it is to deal with the intensity of the emotions on a daily basis.

This was especially challenging for me, because I struggled with this as well. All the way until I was 19, any new change was especially difficult. My heart broke for him every day, because I knew how powerless he felt.

When he started kindergarten, we were living on a small island in the gulf of Alaska, and the community didn’t have the resources to offer a lot of help.

We did all kinds of things to try and help, meditation apps, calming techniques, praying, blessings, and more, and nothing really seemed to work.

When we moved to Fairbanks, we were ready to get more serious, but then he took care of this himself.

Before I get to what actually happened, let me back up a bit.

I read a book when I was 21 called “Write it down. Make it Happen.” Actually, I think I just read the first chapter or so. That was all I needed. It talks about the power of writing things down to make them come to fruition.

Well, I wrote down a bunch of goals that I wanted to accomplish when I turned 30, and guess what? I accomplished them all.

I’ve been a big believer in goals for a long time, and this really solidified what I knew.

So, I decided to start setting goals with my family each week. My four kids would set their own goals every week, and my wife and I would set our goals. We share them with each other and track them on a piece of paper.

Eventually, that has now grown into yearly and monthly goals we set with each other, and help hold each other accountable.

Back to my son. We had set goals as a family for a couple years, and after we moved to Fairbanks, he started taking an interest in setting meaningful goals for himself.

It started with little goals.


We are pretty strict that we don’t tell the kids what goals they should set, but rather help them set their own goals.

So, my son spent some time setting little goals like play with certain toys each day, or do his chores when he first got up, or play Minecraft.

Then, one day, it happened.

“My goal this week is to go to school without complaining.”

My wife and I looked at each other in stunned silence. For over two years, this had been a battle, and now, he was saying he wasn’t going to complain.

We played it cool, and said, “Good goal. Let’s see how it goes.”

Honestly, we didn’t think he would do it.

But sure enough, he got out of the car on Monday, without a single complaint. And each day after that, he has done the same.

I’m not going to lie, having some AMAZING teachers who really cared about him and helped him has been a really powerful experience. But the thing that really made the difference has been him setting his own goal to be in control of his life.

Click here to download our goal-setting template so you can start setting goals with your family.

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    1000 true fans of your school

    There is a popular phrase used in the digital marketing world that relates to having all you ever need. The idea is that if you get 1000 true fans, 1000 people who will support you, you will be able to live a good life, provide for your family, and serve a small group that is big enough to support you.

    Today, on Seth Godin’s podcast, Akimbo, he talks about how large business (Heinz and Proctor & Gamble, for example) are struggling because what they are built on is no longer possible. Companies are not selling to average people anymore. People are filtering out what they don’t want and companies need to be adaptive to this new way of doing business.

    This is just as true in the education field. Think about your school. How many students are in it right now? What if you had 1000 raving fans of your school that were beating down your door to enroll? What if you had 1000 raving families who wanted their children to go to no other school than your own?

    There is real opportunity for developing this in education. If schools can manage to promote themselves in a way that says “You 1000 people, please join us!” They will likely find those 1000 people.

    Our real problem right now is that we too often see ourselves as just another school. People come to our school because that is their boundary. This is not the case with magnet, charter, and private schools. They need to differentiate themselves in some way to make it so people want to come to them!

    And it is high time for all schools to take this approach. Why would someone want to come to your school?