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Testing and What is Good for Kids

It may be cliché to say that all the important things in life are really learned in kindergarten, but what my daughter learned on her first day – how to get through testing and evaluation – will only prepare her for a long career "doing school," not a lifetime of delighting in learning and discovery.

It is good for kids to use their time efficiently in school. It is good for kids to know where they are at. It is good for kids to be assessed early. It is good for kids to not be assessed early.

When the argument is always "We do what is good for kids" and conflicting choices can both be good for kids, it is hard to make a decision.

This is a good example of that. It is not always easy to do the right thing, and depending on what you value, "good for kids" has a different definition.

Via Andy Greene

Jethro Jones

Kodiak Middle School Quote podcast, inspired by you!

International Podcast Day is coming up on September 30th! The students at my school are going to make a quote podcast so middle schoolers everywhere have an inspiring quote to listen to every single day.

We need your help.

Please record yourself reading your favorite quote and send it to me. Please include your name in the recording. First name is fine. 

You can email it to

You can upload it to this link (password is forjethro).

Please take a minute or two to record your favorite quote so we can have it for our students.

If you don't want to record it, you can just send me your favorite quote in an email, on Twitter (@jethrojones), or on Facebook. 

Thanks so much.

Best. Day. Ever.

A few months ago, I was away for a few days and I texted my wife and asked how the day was. She said that our girls had a really rough day filled with meltdowns, tears, fights, and frustration. I felt for her as I can only imagine how hard it is for my wife to run her business and look after twin preschoolers by herself… especially during a day full of meltdowns and tears. The interesting thing was that when I Facetimed my girls at bedtime, it was a very different story of the day. They eagerly told me they went for a bike ride, they swam, they baked cookies, they read stories… and they told me it was “The Best. Day. Ever!!!”.

Teaching and parenting are truly difficult. But kids are amazing and typically see the best in the world. Oh, that we could all be like that.

Adult Discipline

Don’t solve problems with more rules. Take a quick look at many school’s code of conduct, and I’m sure you can look at some of the rules and think, “Someone did something to create that rule.” Instead, look at patterns of behaviors and situations, and ask how adults can change their behavior to create the conditions that would make it easier for students to meet expectations. A simple example – every year, we notice that students are starting to stretch the time in between classes. Rather than make draconian rules, we make it a point of being at the door, greeting students. And teachers who aren’t teaching that band make a point of being in the halls at the change of classes. And every year, we forget… and we see the problem again, and we tighten up our own behaviors.

There is so much power in simple rules. Our school rules are "Be Safe. Be Respectful. Be Responsible." If your doing something that is not one of those things, we have a discussion. Usually we ask, "Is that being safe? What would it look like to do that safely?" It is very effective.

Ditching Bad Teaching Behaviors

So many of us teach the way we were taught. We may not even realize we’re doing it. And that means certain practices get passed down year after year without question, methods that are such a normal part of the way we do school, we perpetuate them without realizing there are better alternatives.

You need pencils? I'll buy you as many as you need!

✓ Home Visits!

On August 19th, 14 dedicated teachers, 3 super-star paraprofessionals, and a mental health clinician joined Assistant Principal Damon Hargraves and myself as we visited the homes of all 435 students in our school! We originally got this idea from the1199 and added our own Kodiak twist to it.

It was amazing.


We wanted to make sure that every student had a positive interaction with an adult before school started.

There was a little surprise and skepticism that we could actually pull it off, but I knew we had enough dedicated staff to be sure we would make it happen.

We delivered planners, a bookmark, and a ticket for a free smoothie on the first day of school if kids answered one of four questions.


Take a look at our facebook page to see some of the positive feedback we got. Students and parents alike were very happy to see us. Many people commented that they saw us out and about.


We let people know about it by creating a communication calendar. We used social media, a presentation to the board, and an all call to make sure the word got out. The school board supported the idea.

Coast Guard

Normal civilians are not allowed on the Coast Guard base without an escort. Thankfully, we had two teachers who are Coast Guard dependents who volunteered to be the escorts for me and Mr. Hargraves. We notified the CO of the Coast Guard early on to make sure we would be able to come visit, and they were very supportive of the visits.


Oh, man, this was crazy. We had to figure out how to visit 435 homes with limited staff and a largish geographical area, including a Coast Guard base.

We worked with our student information system managers to export a list (CSV) of students from the system which included:

  • Student name
  • Address
  • Zip code
  • Phone number
  • Dad name
  • Mom name

We added a couple checkboxes to the end to track if the student was home or not.

After the export was completed the information manager for the district found a way to place all the students’ names on a map on Google Earth. It was amazing. Sadly, the file got corrupted, and we had to start that process over. We used a web site called batchgeo to do the same thing. The free version is limited to 250 addresses, so we had to run two of them. When you download a map for Google Earth, you need to place a “kml” in the URL after the /map/, as seen in this support article. This was difficult to find, but eventually we figured it out. We just opened up that file, and it overlaid on the map in Google Earth.

There was a problem with the output file in that it didn’t have the addresses labeled on the map. What I mean is there weren’t student names visible on the map. To rectify this, I opened the KML file in TextWrangler and did a find for:


and replaced it with:


The only way I knew about that was because I compared the code between what the information manager had done with a non-corrupted KML file he had sent earlier said and what the one said that we downloaded from geobatch. #pointStyleMap for the win!

Once we had a map with marks for all their houses, and student names visible, we took screenshots of what we thought would be good routes and printed those out for our teachers to carry around with them.

After all the routes were printed out, we had to arrange the students. We went back to the spreadsheet and and added a column that designated route. Damon took the map, and typed the names into a Google Doc, while I had the Google Doc open behind the spreadsheet and searched for the student names, and added the correct route to the spreadsheet for that student. What? Are we crazy? Yes. Yes we are! At first Damon was reading the names to me, but it went much faster to have him type them and we could each go at our own speed. Each route took about 10 minutes to type up once we figured out the right way to do it!

When all the names had a route, we had a few that didn’t show up on the Google Earth screenshot. They didn’t show up because we didn’t know where the address was, or because they were overlapping. So, we just looked at those ~20 addresses and made a call for the route.

Then we sorted the spreadsheet by the route column and made sure every group had a manageable number of students to visit. I think 75 was our highest number of students on a route.

We gave everyone a map with student names on it, their list, and their goodies to hand out and sent them on their way.

Mission Accomplished

All in all, it took 18 adults from 9 am to 2:30 pm to visit all the homes in our district. Organization and effort on the part of Damon and me ensured that teachers got out of the school on time and were able to get to the houses quickly. A couple people finished before lunch, and the rest finished after lunch. The fact that we finished in less than a school day is pretty amazing.

Planning for the future

There are a couple things that would have made things easier. Here are lessons learned:

  • Plan earlier - we are going to do this again next year. And, knowing that, we can make some plans beforehand. Teachers will be able to go to kids they actually teach. We would also like to give students their schedules at this time.
  • Include more teachers - By planning earlier, we can help teachers know what will be happening before school starts. Many teachers wanted to do this, but were unable because of their travel plans.
  • Coast Guard Escorts - next time, we will ask the Coast Guard to supply escorts. They said they would, but I thought it would be easier with our Coast Guard dependent teachers. It worked, but there were a few places that people from the Coast Guard could have helped us find a little faster.
  • Provide more goodies/prestuff goodies - it would be nice to have some more fun things to give students, like school supplies, or something like that. It would be especially cool if we could give them some KMS Grizzly Gear. We will have to work on relationships with community organizations to make that happen, probably.

Some good things we did that we want to remember to do next year:

  • The day before New Teacher Orientation is a good way to get the new teachers to be able to join in on the fun. I’m glad we did it that day.
  • Wearing KMS shirts. All our staff wore KMS shirts and this let the community know that we were out in force!
  • Tell everyone. We told a lot of people what we were doing. There was a time that I wanted to forget about it and not do it, because it was hard. But, do you know what? We can do hard things.
  • Outreach. Reaching out to our students to say we love you is amazing. We are so glad that we did this. It was not only fun, but very rewarding. We built some great relationships. One student was waiting for us to get there, and was super excited to see us.


Want to see what we did? Here are some uploads:

On Changes in Education and Hurting Others' Feelings

Karl Fisch on why we don't pursue change in education, even when we know it is what is best for students:

The second concern is a bit more personal in the sense that we're worried about hurting someone's feelings. We're concerned that they will take our proposal for change as a personal attack, or as criticism that they aren't performing their job well. We generally like our colleagues, we know they care about our students and our community, and we know they work hard. So we don't want to cause them emotional pain, and we don't want to criticize or undermine their commitment and the hard work they are putting in.

This made me think of Seth Godin's post about Empathy a few days ago:

The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

We need to do a better job of trusting where people are coming from in education. There is too much suspicion of ulterior motives, rotten agendas, and self-preservation. The focus should be on the students, and making sure they are getting the best we have to offer.

Worthless College Degrees

Such nuances elude policymakers, who can’t shake the notion that tech-centered instruction is the only sure ticket to success. President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for more spending on tech-focused high schools.

I feel like we are constantly chasing the wrong thing in education. "We need more tech-qualified graduates, so let's focus on that." Meanwhile, what we really need is something else. What we really need is to educate students to make good decisions: for their health, for their finances, for their relationships, everything.

As much as we like to think we know what the future job market is for our students, we don't know. We guess. Some people may be good at it. But nobody ever knows what it is for one individual kid. And nobody ever will. So let's teach them how to make good, healthy, responsible choices.

Listening to ALL Voxes Without Unlocking Your Phone

Twitter Version: this little hack allows you to tap settings, then Members and listen to all your unheard Voxes.

I really like Voxer. It is a great app that allows you to communicate with anyone who has the app via voice and text. Sure, there are other ways to do that same thing, but this is a worthwhile different way to connect. I use it mostly for group chats, which can be super overwhelming, especially when you fall behind in your listening. What's worse, if you have a lot to listen to, and your screen locks, you have to unlock it and press a tiny little play button! It is annoying.

Today I stumbled on a fix!

If you are in a group, tap settings (top right) then tap members, and lock your phone, or use another app. Voxer will continue playing all the missed Voxes even though you aren't in the app anymore! This will make my phone dry while walking to work in the rain, and make me drive safer by not having to look at my phone.

As a bonus, I have a better chance of staying up to date!

If you would like to connect with me on Voxer, my username is jethrojones. Also, I am doing a book chat with the book "Influencers" right now. Let me know if you would like to join.