Subscribe to the Blog

Teacher Guilt

Teacher Guilt is something that afflicts every educator at some point in her career. Teachers grew up in and were trained in a system that set them up to believe certain things about education. Teacher Guilt is the idea that when teachers do something that is not traditional, they feel like they are missing out on doing what good teachers “should” do.

The best way to illustrate this is by giving a couple examples.

First, a school district adopts a curriculum and books that are not a good choice for kids to learn. Let’s say, for sake of the argument, that they are racially biased, portray dark-skinned people in a negative light, if portrayed at all, have few multicultural voices, and the content is too challenging for students in a teacher’s class. Even though Mrs. Jones knows that this curriculum is not a good match for her high-poverty, multicultural class, Mrs. Jones still goes back to the book again and again for her lessons, because she “has to follow the curriculum.” This is intentionally an extreme example, because most educators today understand that they need to supplement this curriculum, at the very least.

One district I worked with adopted a math curriculum that had lots of errors, taught advanced concepts before foundational concepts, and had many typos that hindered the work of the children. The math teacher consistently said for all the years that the textbook was adopted, “This book is no good, and I don’t like using it.” But she still did because it was the adopted curriculum. You see, she couldn’t overcome her teacher guilt and do the right thing.

Another area relates to grades. Great teachers all over the country are still using grades as punishment. I’ll talk more about this later in the Student Experience section, but for now, I’ll leave it at this: teachers give bad grades to students to “teach them a lesson” or “prepare them for the next level” or whatever. Rarely do school district policies outline how much of a percentage of the overall grade should be based on participation or homework or tests. And yet, teachers still feel the need to include all those metrics in a grade. One more example before I close. I’ve talked with many teachers who want to do innovative things in their classroom, but they are worried about the innovation parts taking too long, and not being able to cover all the content. It’s better if they are looking at standards than content, but the challenge still remains. “I’d like to engage my students in a project about how government works,” a teacher might say, “but I need to cover the civil war.” They feel a pressure to accomplish everything but they know they don’t have enough time, and so they feel guilty about it.

What are some other aspects of teacher guilt that you see?

An elementary school just acquired a startup!

Many educators today are worried about the competition they are getting from private schools, voucher options, and charter schools. In my research, the vast majority of these schools are still doing “school” essentially the same way. There’s a teacher up at the front of the room, teaching, and kids are “learning” from that teacher.

This is not that disruptive.

What is disruptive is something like this: WeWork’s WeGrow acquires education startup MissionU

You may have read that and thought I was speaking a foreign language.

WeWork is a company that allows people to come to their spaces and use them to work. This is a $20 billion company!

So, they started a school, much like an Acton Academy. It’s about creating a hyper-localized, student and family driven school that really meets the needs to kids.

Here’s this quote:

This fall, when $20 billion startup WeWork opens elementary school WeGrow, the 40 inaugural students will start their day with a laughing circle or a meditation session. At lunchtime, students will prepare meals using food grown on the farm they run, while live guitar and drums play. Throughout the day, there will be blocks of time set aside for the arts, including drama and dance. And during the week, there will be opportunities for students to meet with WeWork mentors, paired according to the students’ interests–or, in the parlance of WeGrow founder and CEO Rebekah Neumann, according to their “superpassions” and “superpowers.”>

There is the idea that a company can provide a better experience for their employees’ children than the school system can.

Imagine companies offering education of your children as a benefit, much like health insurance and retirement pensions used to be the big draws. And, it’s not just reading, writing, and arithmetic:

For example, WeGrow plans to include a parent lounge in the WeGrow school space that architect Bjarke Ingels is designing. The lounge will host programming for parents, as well as offer them a place to work while their child is in class. Parents will also be encouraged to engage with some practices, like meditation, alongside their children.>

The future is exciting, but we are not going to be able to continue doing education the way we always have.

And just in case you think this is crazy talk, Acton Academy has thousands of new applications each month to start satellite schools.

These are not scary things that are happening to us. These examples show me that there is a lot of ways to make sure that we are doing what is best for our students.

Turning Learning Upside Down

Twitter version: Read this book, and join me as I try to change education.

I have been trying to change education from the inside out for YEARS! Ever since I started, I have been poking and prodding and trying to change and adapt it to better meet the needs of our students.

It started with inner-city kids blogging on salvaged computers my first year teaching. Then, a standards-based RTI approach that allowed every student in my class for two years to pass successfully (400 kids!). When kids get D grades, they have failed their potential. When a student gets an F, it is the teacher who has failed the student.

After that, I sought to change libraries in a 33,000 student school district so that they were hubs of learning rather than just places to check out books.

Following that I moved to a curriculum specialist position that allowed me to coach teachers to implement a coteaching practice. We also created a middle school schedule that increased reading scores significantly.

Then, I started administration, and started focusing more on kids as individuals, hearing their concerns and treating them with respect, even though they were usually in trouble. We also raised attendance rates from 85% to 95% in a Title I elementary school by doing 1 simple trick.

In my next school, we added Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports to the school day, rather than forcing kids to be told they are dumb all day, only to be forced to attend an after-school program where they still felt dumb. Honestly, if we can't meet kids' needs during the 7 hours we have them each day, that's our fault.

At my current school, we are really upping the ante by making education personalized for our students. Not just lip service, which is what most personalized learning is. We are looking at big ideas to make things happen for kids in a powerful way.

Here's my Four Year Plan (TM haha):

 Click the image above to go to the podcast where I explain this in more detail. 

Click the image above to go to the podcast where I explain this in more detail. 

In the last month and a half, there has been a confluence of factors that have helped me see that it is truly possible to do what we need to do for our kids.

I'm a podcast nerd, so many of these links are to podcasts, which is worthwhile, because you get to hear the excitement in the voices as they talk about it.

I spoke a little bit about this passion in my podcast a couple weeks ago, where I suggested that we end college career readiness.

The dream I have had for education is already happening at a place called Acton Academy. At least a year and a half ago, Seth Godin suggested I talk with Jeff Sandefer, the co-founder (with his wife, Laura) of Acton Academy.

We really need to empower kids to make their own learning choices. I've been doing this with my kids for the last several months by just goal setting each week with them. It has been very powerful to see the goals they have set. Things that I have wanted for them for months they are choosing to do, without my involvement. It's awesome.

Last month, I interviewed Heather Staker for the Transformative Principal Podcast. That interview is not out yet, but you will enjoy it when it is, so please subscribe.

One of the things she said was that I must interview the Sanderfers and was kind enough to connect us.

While I was in the process of arranging that, the book Courage to Grow was released, and I bought it for me and my Mastermind right away. I suggest you buy it as well. I read it in two hours.

Soon after that, Laura was on The 1 Thing Podcastt. Listen here. I was on The 1 Thing podcast, too, btw.

Then I interviewed Jeff a couple weeks later. Here is the early release, unedited of that episode.

We can turn learning over to our students and really empower them in a powerful way.

So, how do we change education? We empower students to be the learners they are innately, and stop letting our public education put road blocks up that bore them and destroy their creativity.

Final Day of the Transformative Leadership Summit #TLS17

Can you believe it? Today is the last day of the Transformative Leadership Summit!

I hope that you have been inspired and uplifted by this Summit. I know I have. There have been so many people who have reached out on twitter to thank me. It has been amazing. I know this is truly impacting your life, and that means the world to me.

I’m all about improving. Could you give me some feedback here, please?

I want next year’s Transformative Leadership Summit to be even better. Please help me.

Let’s get to today’s videos!

William Parker, who rocked last year’s Summit with KRAs comes back this year with Messaging Matters. It really does. He talks about how to communicate the good story that is your school without letting someone else control the narrative. Even though I am not good at doing this, I am going to start a week-in-review email for my staff, parents, community, news outlets, and more so that they can have the story of my school as I want it told.

Yesterday, we learned from Katie Kinnaman about the importance of communicating and working with highly involved parents, and today, we are going to learn from Dr. Kashi Bazemore-Hall about her school in rural North Carolina and how she got parents involved, who would have never thought of sending their kids to a school in the white neighborhood. Really powerful stories from her.

Finally, Shane Safir will talk about the importance of doing community walks with your staff about your students. I really like her approach, and she really inspires you to get out and get to know your community. Last Saturday, I went to a community event about going back to school, and I saw a lot of people from different schools and it was a really great experience. We need to do more to make sure that we are truly connecting with our students, their families, and the culture they bring to our school which “enriches” our schools.

You can get your All Access Pass and watch all the past videos here!

And, please take a minute to give me some feedback on the Transformative Leadership Summit!

The Day of the Most-Watched #TLS17 Teaser Video is here!

I hope your Saturday schedule is cleared! Get your yard work done and enjoy this awesome day of learning. Get the All Access Pass Here

I wanted to share some statistics with you from the Transformative Leadership Summit. There are over 1000 people signed up for the free version of Transformative Leadership Summit. Of the 20 videos that have been launched before today, there have been over 2500 views on Vimeo and a total of over 9 days watched all in a row.

That is pretty amazing.

Tomorrow I am going to share a link to a survey with you to measure the impact of the Transformative Leadership Summit, so please look for that and help me measure how many people are really being impacted by this amazing experience.

Let’s get into today’s videos:

We often hear how we should be aware of how the brain works in order to teach kids effectively, but I haven’t heard anybody explain it as well as Zaretta Hammond. She talks about how to overcome the negativity bias by understanding collectivism and how the brain works. She provided a bonus for those who get the all access pass, which is the dimensions of equity, a handy description of the difference between multicultural education, social justice education, and culturally responsive pedagogy. I think you’ll like it.

Jimmy Casas talks about one of my favorite things, hiring effectively. He does such a good job and eventually I will be as good as he is. One thing I do is approach every interview with compassion and support, no matter what.

Chris Horton will talk about how to create a culture of learning. You will love his insights.

Frederick Lane talks about solving social media problems. A good rule of thumb is to always have two adults in every conversation that happens online with a student.

Finally, the most-watched teaser video is finally here! Amy Fast will talk about professional development and teacher voice. One thing I really love about this interview is that she talks about how innovation should be grassroots and it is up to the administrators to allow that to grow. It’s awesome.

My Teacher Experience: Day 5 of Transformative Leadership Summit #TLS17

Happy Friday, and welcome to the Teacher Experience!

The teacher experience is so important because as we learned in the previous four days of the Transformative Leadership Summit, teachers are an integral part in the culture of your school and what they can do for kids.

My teacher experience may mirror your teacher experience in some ways. I have heard this story from about 50% of the educators that I have talked to. Here it is:

My principal hired me, and didn’t know any answers to questions about pay, salary schedule placement, or anything related to the contract. She took me to my room, and said, “Here is your room, there are your books. Have a great year. [See you when your evaluation is due.]” She didn’t say that last part, but that’s pretty much what happened! You’ve been there, or at the very least worked with someone who had been there, right? Oh, yeah, your mentor is in that classroom, and she can answer all your questions. Don’t get me wrong, she was a great principal. It was her first year, and I like to think I didn’t need much guidance because, frankly, I didn’t want it. I got everything that I needed, even if I had to settle for less than I wanted. I started blogging with kids, before Blogger was even invented, let alone Wordpress.

The next year, I was transferred to another school, because…budget. Amiright?

It was like a different world.

He set the vision. Our interview consisted of “Jethro, we do teaming, we do PLCs, and we have a meeting after school every Monday, for an hour. And we do RTI. Can you commit to doing these things?” I didn’t know what teaming was, what PLCs were, how to do RTI, or anything like that. What I did know is that I wanted a job for my family so I agreed!

My principal still didn’t give me a lot of face time, but what he did do is give me permission. He pretty much said make sure good things happen for kids, and actually make sure that kids learn what they are supposed to learn.

This school set the stage for my career going forward. I saw what happens when teachers are given authority to make decisions, are held accountable to standards, and pushed. Pushed Hard. I worked my tail off for that principal and for those kids. I was given a vision of what our school was, and I was left to make decisions about how that worked. I screwed up a few times, but it was never held against me. We made some amazing gains at that school, bonded well as a team, and grew together. Did I mention I had 217 that I saw every day in 6 periods? That’s an average of 36 kids in each class. It was amazing. I miss it dearly.

What leaders do to set up the teacher experience really matters. What teachers do with their experience really matters.

Over the next two days, I hope you can find ways to improve the teacher experience. And, if you want to share these videos with a teacher you work with, please share it before they go down Saturday night.

Six amazing leaders are on the docket today! It’s going to be packed!

First up Justin Baeder talks about how important it is for a principal to be in classrooms every day. So make it happen. Get into 500 classrooms this year. And it is not about adding data to the evaluation!

Next, David Smith give three keys to making your observations successful.

Cindy Couchman takes a break from the evaluation process to talk about leading without a title.

Bill Ziegler recently released a book called Future Focused Leaders, which is a great read, and he talks about how to be a future focused leader for the benefit of your teachers.

Joe Sanfelippo is going to make you all jealous. His Teacher evaluation system is Amazing!

Tom Braddock is going to talk about how to create an ascending spiral of energy.

These will be great interviews to share with your staff, so please take a minute to grab the All Access Pass.

Day 4 of #TLS17 More on Improving the Student Experience

There’s still time to catch the webinar where you get to watch a live mastermind. If you’ve thought about joining the Mastermind, this is the chance for you to see it for yourself.

Tomorrow the price of the All Access Pass goes up, so be sure to get that today!

Today, we continue discussions about improving the Student Experience.

Mike Anderson: Social emotional learning is not an aside. We need to treat it as an important part of our teaching. Choice in what kids do, as well as incorporating what Allison Zmuda talked about yesterday, is a great way to get kids to increase their self-regulation and self-awareness. Mike talks about how SEL is embedded in the standards and his example is included as a bonus for those who purchase the All Access Pass.

Paul Erickson: What I love about this conversation is how real Paul gets about “that kid:” the only one that is going to get you called back to the school! Paul has a strategy for dealing with that student. A couple weeks ago, I was talking with my mom about my school years and how difficult I was as a student. She asked what the kids are like with me today, and if I have any that were like me. I told her that I do, but they are my favorite because they are a challenge to relate to and engage. I love Paul’s approach to force himself to be there for that kid.

Tomorrow, I am doing a special Q&A for All Access Pass Holders. Get the All Access Pass to join that Q&A.

Joshua Spodek: A university professor and entrepreneur is not the typical guest on the Transformative Leadership Summit, but he is a powerful example of learning from others. He learned about experiential learning from Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Since then, he changed his approach and does experiential learning in his university classes.

Kimberly Miles: A turnaround principal and someone you will meet on the webinar this morning in the Transformative Mastermind. A fellow Portlander called her the “Turnaround Queen!” Kimberly doesn’t like that much, but she knows how to bring increase the skills of low-performing kids.

Brian Edmister]( How do we start interconnecting subjects, even in elementary school? Brian will show you how. All teachers can contribute to the grading of students regardless of what they are teaching. This is pretty exciting. As a bonus for those All Access Pass holders, Brian has contributed his grade report for 4th grade, so you can see what it looks like.

Day 3 of the Transformative Leadership Summit

Today is the start of the Student Experience portion of the Transformative Leadership Summit. And it is going to be fantastic! I know you will love it!

Here are some highlights from yesterday from Twitter: "BEAUTIFUL post by @ChrisWejr. If you caught talk w/ @jethrojones at Transformative Leadership Summit, read this too. " - Jonathon.

Karl mentioned "Always excited for the summer PD that is the Transformative Leadership Summit by @jethrojones Check it out #TLS17"

And Jennifer Abrams herself even chimed in "No matter your role, you can be a catalyst for change at your school #Educators #Grow #TLS17" So True!!!

One teacher texted me the other day saying that she didn't realize there would be good stuff in here for teachers, too! But let me tell you, there is. And today, as we shift to the Student Experience, we are going to examine how to improve the school experience for our students.

Tomorrow, I am doing a live webinar for the Transformative Mastermind, which I would love to have you join. Each week in the mastermind, we talk about our strengths and struggles, and provide support to each other to make sure that we can move our schools forward.

We set goals, hold each other accountable, and otherwise have a great time. Make sure you sign up for the live webinar where you will be able to watch a mastermind as it happens. The power of what is happening in my mastermind every week is groundbreaking! If you've been wondering what it looks like, this will be your chance to see what goes on every week.

I’ll be opening up another slot soon after the Transformative Leadership Summit is over, and I’d love to invite you to the group. Feel free to give me a call about the Mastermind.

Today on the Transformative Leadership Summit, we will hear from five educators about the Student Experience.

Sylwia Denko will talk about the growth mindset and how to cultivate that in your students.

Mark Barnes, of HackLearning fame, is going to take the approach of finding ways to give kids more choice. One of the things we are so afraid of letting kids know that they are really the ones in control. Mark encourages us to give them that voice.

Keven Barker, a member of the Transformative Mastermind, is a master of inclusion for students with special needs. He helps them get on grade level and grow with their peers. It is powerful.

Margaret Wright, also a member of the Transformative Mastermind, will talk about her efforts with implementing a calm-down room in her school. What you don’t see in the interview is the process that she has gone through over the last four months to develop this idea and bring it to fruition. One of the amazing things about the Transformative Mastermind is that we get to see on a weekly basis the challenges that each other are facing and how they can overcome them.

Finally, I was cleaning off the bookshelf from the previous principal, and I found a book that I actually wanted to keep. It was called Transforming Schools, by Allison Zmuda and she is going to blow your mind a bit by requesting that we involve kids int he instructional design of our teaching. She challenges us to make kids the center, and that’s not lip service. She really means that they need to be part of the lesson planning, asking them questions like, “What’s the next best challenge, problem, question to put in front of this student?”

Please remember to sign up for the webinar tomorrow and watch a Mastermind as it really happens.

And don't forget, the All Access Pass will give you access to a private facebook group and a private voxer group to deepen the discussion about what you are learning.

Day 2 Of #TLS17 - Holy Moly

Today, the Transformative Leadership Summit is sponsored by GCI, a global communications company with headquarters in Anchorage, AK. They provide a lot of amazing resources and connectivity for schools, especially here in Alaska. If you’re interested in how they can help your school connect with the world around them, please go to for more information.

We have some fantastic sessions for you today where we will be diving deeper into the administrator experience which helps principals take what they learn and apply it!

Here's some feedback from yesterday:

"Powerful conversations about...talking failure with our students" - Martin

From Kimberly: "Holy Moly Anthony Muhammad's administrator's experience message on TLS--nailed it! Going to check out that book he recommended LEADING SCHOOLS IN A DATA RICH WORLD by Earl & Katz as well as going back and re-read chapter 7 in his book [Transforming School Culture]."

And one more from @fris_trex: ""Management builds a house, Leadership makes it a home" @ChrisWejr @jethrojones #LeadLAP #atplc #wgedd #trexcellent"

Such greaat conversations yesterday, followed up by great conversations today! If you haven't grabbed the All Access Pass, jump in there and get it so you can rewatch these powerful interviews.

Click here to watch today's sessions.

First up is Jeff Zoul, who will talk about relationships, and building a culture where diversity and dissent are valued and appreciated. He will also give some suggestions on how to curb bullying behavior by students, and you will be surprised by where he says that behavior starts!

Next we will hear from Jennifer Abrams. One of the bonuses she included for those who purchase the All Access Pass is a video about having hard conversations. And while she is one of Education’s experts on hard conversations, she knows how to have them appropriately and without modeling yelling and bullying.

Nicholas Fischer is going to talk about coaching teachers, training teachers to recognize behavior, and how to have hard conversations when others on your team are not able to have those hard conversations. He will talk about modeling for your teachers what you want them to do with your students.

Finally, Tom Hierck will talk about encouraging all the voices. In this video today, we will learn about how to get clarity around your WHY in your school. Here’s the truth, it takes time! So be prepared. But just because it takes time, doesn’t mean you can’t get started. All Access Pass Holders will get from Tom a study guide a nd excerpt from his book “Seven Keys to a Positive Learning Environment in Your Classroom” and a sample chapter from his book, “Starting a Movement” which he cowrote with Ken Williams.

On Thursday, I’ll be hosting another live webinar, and you will get to peek in on my Mastermind live and in person. You’ll see what we do and how we learn together. Register for that here

Get the All Access Pass

Amazing deal!!! Just click HERE to save $350 off the retail price of admission right now!

Right now you can get the All Access Pass at a steep discount!!!

Some of you will email me on August 2nd begging me for the discount price. I’d love to give it to you, but my word must mean something.

Tonight at midnight the price will be $177! Grab your all access pass here before the increase.