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Amazing times…. people lament “how they wish things were like they used to be,” but no matter who we try things will keep evolving and changing on its own momentum.  I’ll admit that quite often I will pause and reflect on who it would be nice to go back to do some Christmas shopping in a 1960’s version of my old hometown, but on reflection I know it was not a sweet as memories play it out to be.

Firstly, there were some tough things to deal with in that old small town setting.  Finding a place to park, braving the winter weather, and darting in and out of shops that had limited selection were the norm.  Plus, now if a local merchant does not stock something we can always order online- and it is at our door in two days or less.

Were those days better or worse?  I suppose it was just different.  When we look backwards into our youth there are great memories of growing up in what we feel were simpler times- however the adults of that era had their own struggles to contend with.  Savor the good memories, as it is good to stir up those warm fuzzy feelings of when we grew up.  Our parents were just as befuddled about raising us and the challenges of that time.  As you share “how it was’ with the youth around you it is fine to give them the talk on what was good about those times, but just remember that it was all tempered with the reality of the moment.

Look around at what we have in today’s world and be mindful that things will always change.  Some wring their hands over how to police social media, what IOS to embrace, how to make public places and homes more secure…. things so challenging that it often causes some heads to spin.  Rather than staying in the what if-bad zone, instead feel good about the new technology items that are making your life better- how did we ever live without cell phones, Amazon, Google search, social media, iPads….etc?   Temper your thoughts by realizing that in a couple of decades from now it will all be old hat as the “next new thing” will have consumed what you hold near and dear now.  Embrace the goodness of life and make what you have a positive to drive you forward!


Isn’t it interesting how the mood of our lives in our society seems to follow the ebb and flow of the seasons? We often are so consumed by just “doing our best” as we surf life from day-to-day that we are oblivious to the grand scheme of things that swirl about us making up the quilt of our lives. Life is punctuated by events that act like batons in a relay race as it keeps us in the race. Seasons, holiday dates, sporting schedules, new music, plays, movies or TV programs previewing, family milestones all energize us as me move in a fervor to immerse ourselves in the latest and greatest that has floated to the top. These are the things that make life worth living.

Think of what stands out head and shoulders above the mundane as you cast your mind backwards over what excited you during the past year. From “what are you doing New Years Eve” to the gifts that you juggled last Christmas, we are constantly driven by “the next big thing” on our agenda.

None of this was innate as our culture conditioned us to respond appropriately to what is expected of us in every social situation. Our elementary school days surrounded us with seasonal bulletin boards and a calendar built around holidays as they counted the quantity of days over the quality of the days. Secondary school upped the ante by adding in the mix of seasonal sports and getting a date for the next social dance to teach us how to behave in the right way at the right time. College days and the workplace added in the focus on the right career, right place to live, and how to raise a family in the right way. How long have we been “keeping up with the Joneses” in our struggle to keep the baton in play in our actual relay for life?

All of this sounds pre-packaged and industrialized when we feel like we have been pawns in a society that is centered on conditioning us to constantly behave in the appropriate way as we surf through the seasons of life. In real-time however, it is these ever-changing attention grabbers that instills in us a zest for life. Our money is spent on responding to the seasons in the right way, and it rewards us with good feelings as we sense that it has been a job well-done. Looking ahead to the “next big thing” is what keeps us driving ahead. the great by-product here is that this is the fuel that drives our economy, which in turn dives our jobs, which provides us with income to look to the next big thing and complete the circle. I’m sure you get the picture here. It is a case where the clinical actual is not what it seems, as ignoring the big picture and just living life is what gives us a smile and a glow.

If marching to the right beat and responding to the next big thing in the right way is the driving force of our economy and our very lives is it a good thing or bad? Our nation keeps rolling along as we strive to be fulfilled. We keep the baton in play, yet at times we wonder what would happen if we fumbled the hand off. Generation after generation pauses at times to lament the way things seem to be changing, yet society survives and we morph gently into another rendition of ourselves either through our work, our connections, and our family. Life happens all around us and we either embrace it and make the best of it, or we devour ourselves with resistance. What is your approach to the race? How do you handle the baton? Embrace the day, but do not lose site of the big picture as you are in charge of living your life to the fullest.

…and then there is reality television. Some things are just beyond explanation.

June 12, 2012


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Here’s a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)

When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether. Asked about the bat and the ball, we forget our arithmetic lessons and instead default to the answer that requires the least mental effort.

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From Classroom to Courthouse

AUGUST 31, 2012

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on August 15 against Van Devender Middle School and its administrators in Parkersburg, West Virginia, claiming gender discrimination. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a mother, identified only as Jane Doe, who has three daughters entering the seventh grade at the school. The ACLU seeks unspecified damages in the suit.

The lawsuit alleges sexual discrimination under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and Title IX, which prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating based on gender. The school in question began offering separate classes for sixth-grade girls and boys in reading, math, social studies and science during the 2010-11 school year. It was expanded to seventh graders last year and to eighth graders this year.

The placement of different genders in different classrooms began about a year after teachers from Van Devender attended a workshop conducted by Leonard Sax, a psychologist, physician, and author of three books on children and education, including Why Gender Matters. Sax, who runs a nonprofit group called the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, argues that same-sex classes help students shed inhibitions and stereotypes that they can face in coed classes.

The lawsuit explains that the program was implemented because students of both sexes were lagging behind their peers in Wood County based on standardized test scores. But the ACLU contends single-gender classes often are based on bogus stereotypes, faulty research and questionable science about how boys’ and girls’ brains develop.

Although involvement in single-sex classes was supposed to be voluntary, the lawsuit said, “at no time were parents of students assigned to the Van Devender single-sex classes asked to choose whether or not to enroll their children” in single-sex or co-educational classes in the four subjects.

During training sessions for the courses, teachers were told to use “gender-specific strategies” in their teaching, the lawsuit said. At Van Devender, “the boys’ and girls’ classrooms differ in their physical configuration in numerous ways,” the lawsuit said. “In the boys’ classrooms, the lights are brighter, the rooms are kept cooler, the desks are arranged side-by-side, and the boys have bean bag chairs in which they are allowed to sit during classes.

“The girls’ classrooms are more dimly lit, the rooms are kept warmer, the desks are arranged face-to-face, and the girls do not have bean bag chairs.”

The lawsuit further stated that male students can move about freely during class, while girls are expected to sit still. Boys’ classes have occasionally been held outdoors where exercise is permitted, while the girls have not been given the same opportunity, the lawsuit said.

“The girls have been denied opportunities available only to the boys,” the lawsuit said. “…The girls are obligated to sit still in class while the boys are not, and the girls are punished by reprimand or temporary expulsion from the classroom for behaving in a manner for which the boys are not punished.”

This all seems a bit byzantine to me and I’m not sure what to make of it. What do you think? Are these girls are being denied equal and fair treatment? Or is this just a silly squabble that would be best settled out of court?

J. Peterman


School’s out. And how’d we do?

Not great. Last week, the Department of Education released the results of its latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—the so-called Nation’s Report Card. This round was an evaluation of students’ knowledge and understanding of American history, in the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. The findings, like history itself, were open to interpretation, but basically the kids of today got a grade of Kids Today. They apparently don’t know what they’re supposed to know. For example, most high-school seniors have no idea that North Korea’s ally in the Korean War was China. That many otherwise competent adults don’t seem to know this, either, to go by an informal around-and-about poll, doesn’t mitigate the feeling that forgetting the particulars of the Forgotten War is a symptom of national decline. This is what happens when the kids aren’t watching “M*A*S*H.”

Can ignorance trickle up?……

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History Matters

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Norm Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, writes that history matters—and our students poor performance in the subject is cause for concern:

“It’s the other things that subjects like history impart: critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and cogently. Such skills are certainly important for those at the top, but in today’s economy they are fundamental to performance at nearly every level … . Now is a time to re-establish history’s importance in American education.”

Augustine’s not the first businessman to argue for history education because of the skills its study engenders—the so-called 21st century skills particularly important in the face of economic recession. But he understands rightly that only deep interaction with the content of history can build these skills. He writes, “Having traveled in 109 countries in this global economy, I have developed a considerable appreciation for the importance of knowing a country’s history and politics.”

In 1985, historian Paul Gagnon also made an argument for the study of history—but not because that particular generation of students needed it more than others. According to Gagnon, history’s offerings transcend generational needs:

“If American education is ever to be made democratic, so that, as deTocqueville said, democracy may be educated, nothing will be more crucial than a common, sequential study of history throughout the elementary and secondary years. Only history, and particularly the study of Western civilization, can begin to help us find who we are and what choices we have before us.”

Stephanie Porowski


What’s a Liberal Arts Education Really Worth?

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

In Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, philosopher Martha Nussbaum writes:

“With the rush to profitability in the global market, values precious for the future of democracy, especially in an era of religious and economic anxiety, are in danger of getting lost. … World history and economic understanding must be humanistic and critical if they are to be at all useful in forming intelligent global citizens, and they must be taught alongside the study of religion and of philosophical theories of justice. Only then will they supply a useful foundation for the public debates that we must have if we are to cooperate in solving major human problems.”

Yes, Kevin McCann, education is about “finding out what you want to do in the world.” It’s also about learning to pursue those desires with thoughtfulness and integrity. As Nussbaum also writes, “Knowledge is not a guarantee of good … behavior, but ignorance is a virtual guarantee of bad behavior. In a world full of simple stereotypes, we will only preserve democratic values of debate and mutual respect if we try hard to understand the past and the present.”

Our students need jobs. But do the requirements of a good job—at any level—necessarily exclude deep study of history, foreign language and art?

What’s your take on the purpose of education?

Thoughts on providing support and planning for improvement for a teacher having severe classroom or instructional issues.

Get to know your staff through frequent observations and interactions.

Set concrete documented expectations reflecting your standards with each instructor as well as all stakeholders in the learning community.

Administrators are the instructional leaders in their building, and are responsible to make sure “no child is left behind.”

Be constantly vigilant and in the hallways, classrooms, and all school functions.

Observe instruction both formally & informally.

Check lesson plans and grading on a regular basis to be aware of staff strengths and weaknesses.

Create an ongoing interactive supportive dialogue with parents.

Identify specific issues occurring with instructional delivery.

Offer support and guidance through 1:1 conferences, instructional strategy ideas, offers of visiting effective teachers in their field, readings, etc.

It is NOT about the teacher, it is about instruction.

Do NOT make it personal, as the goal is to improve teaching.

The administration must work together to avoid bias.

Administrators must be really willing to “go the distance” in regards to implementation of a formal plan of improvement to improve teaching and learning.

With veteran teachers who may be struggling administrators should review evaluations from last year (and earlier) to see if any issues were cited as areas of concern.  Check for commendations as well.  Analyze why these issues are present, and think about how these problems can be resolved to improve teaching and learning.

It is important to document the issue exactly and have all paperwork ready in a timely fashion on the key issues of concern.

The struggling teacher needs to be informed that the administrators have a specific concern(s) on a specific issue(s) involving the current instruction in that teacher’s classroom.

Identify in concrete terms the specific issues(s) where improvement must be made.

Administrators need to inform the struggling teacher that they are going to start to do observation/evaluations based on those areas of concern in compliance with Policy 5310 to begin a plan of improvement.

Be specific and make it clear that the intervention is not personal but to improve learning.

Both administrators do the evaluations and keep a common file in order to avoid bias.

As administrators commit to starting a teacher on an improvement plan through analysis of a deficiency by beginning to collect evidence through observations and written evaluations they should ask their supervisor for support and guidance.

Failure to address identified deficiencies identified by the teacher’s supervisor are grounds for intervention and possible loss of position.

It is in the best interest of all stakeholders for struggling teachers to improve, rather than to continue to be deficient.

Again, it is NOT about the teacher, it is about instruction.  Avoid personal issues.

It is important to remain mindful that our students deserve the best education we can provide, as facilitating a struggling teacher to a level of effectiveness can be a long process, but is worthwhile in achieving our mission.

Each season challenges, changes, and invigorates us all in a myriad of different ways.  After the memorable winter of 2009-2010 here on the east coast of America we seemingly spent weeks lamenting the fact that the snow and ice were incessant and that only if spring would arrive early our lives would be complete.   Days and weeks have flowed by, and here we are in the budding days of spring.   Have our attitudes changed?  Sunny days and new light green growth creeping along every pathway are having an effect of everyone’s countenance.

Dreams do come true, but as we realize they have come to fruition they usually don’t follow the mythical script we had envisioned as we wistfully had gazed in our crystal ball to the future that now is our reality.  Now spring is upon us, yet here in the public school we seem to have forgotten our promise to never complain again if only the weather would change.  Now we ramble about wondering if everything can be finished before spring break and how can we help the kids get ready for Westest…..ah, and that Spring Break.  Hallway utterances and praises are common as troopers in the trenches heave heavy signs and get a contorted look when they count down the few days remaining before a week off for spring break.

Our memories of  the chill, the icy roads, the loss of electricity, and the loss of instructional days that drove us to swear to never complain about anything again have dimmed and we have handed off the baton to a new round of stress-building complaints.

Perhaps lingering in the back of peoples minds is the spectre of Westest, the haunting device that serves as a double edge sword of success of failure to so many.  This is one of those “cup half empty or half full” dilemmas, as with the right attitude we can move mountains.

If we approach challenges positively we can twist a negative into something great, as an assessment  such as this can speak wonders reflecting well on what we’ve done.  Beyond the snow & ice, beyond the frustrations of the daily grind, if we seize upon a challenge as a positive it can drive things into a springtime of success.

Learning Focused Solutions has trained the majority of Fayette County teachers on instructional strategies to best meet the needs of learners and produce content mastery.  Although you may have been trained in Learning Focused techniques some time ago, the expectations remain that you continue to use those dynamic teaching techniques to meet the needs of our digital learners.  As our world changes due to technology creating a “flat earth” where success is more dependent on the ability to think outside the box than just memorizing the mundane, it is imperative that we change our methods to facilitate higher-level thought.  The West Virginia Department of Education has been moving along a parallel course to our LFS initiative as they have launched initiatives such as Teach 21 and now Global 21 to implement strategies to meet the changing needs of all learners.

Learning Focused is not “Dead in Fayette County,” as the strands planted in your methodology still exist to drive learning.  You should continue to write lesson plans in a format echoing the LFS model of acquisition plans and advancing to extended thought plans.  The online lesson plans you were introduced to last spring are an example of how the elements of LFS are expected to be pervasive in your delivery.  If you were wondering if we had “given up on LFS” because you have not had to be retrained, it is only that by now you are so familiar with the emphasis of LFS that it seems second nature in your style.  The first level of LFS is the initial training, and we have been in a support mode since you were trained.  Although we do not always label our ongoing trainings as LFS, they are designed to be supportive and provide a maintenance level to focus your work towards excellence.

As we move into the school year, we need continue to be using some basic classroom techniques that can help elevate achievement in our school.  Remember to incorporate the following every day in every class as improvement results from consistent and pervasive implementation of research based strategies!

Content Maps and Pacing Guides– Use the Fayette County Schools Content Map and Pacing Guide ( to plan your core area course and to generate your units and lessons.  Your essential questions, vocabulary, 21st Century techniques, and sequencing are prescribed here, and you take these basics and craft your classes with your personal professional delivery to facilitate mastery of content.  “Field test” these content maps in your classes and give us detailed input for adjusting and developing any needed changes to the devices to improve instruction.

Essential Question posted- this should be in a standard location in each classroom.  When possible change the EQ posting for each class to avoid confusion from a list for all classes.  Call attention to the EQ posting as you teach!  Tell them what you are going to teach, teach them the EQ content, and then summarize the EQ at the end of class to determine if instruction is taking place.

Word Wall & Evidence of Student Work Posted- Key vocabulary, content maps, and sample work all need to be visually evident.

Vocabulary, Vocabulary, Vocabulary in Context- Students must be so familiar with the basic jargon and terminology of each content area that it is second nature.  Westest will expect abstract thought, and mastery of vocabulary allows free thought.

“Bellringers”– We identified our areas of greatest need when we explored Westest data.  You can use this in an interdisciplinary fashion to place a problem or term on the board which students are directed to solve while you are taking roll and handling classroom management tasks.  Tie this in to use the bellringer to focus learning prior to instruction.

Activating Strategy- used to “kick off instruction”- (anticipation guides, graphic organizers, learning style targets such as kinesthetic, auditory, brainstorming, etc.) to involve, focus, and excite learners with new info prior to launching a lesson.

Use Higher Level Questioning Techniques- Rather than giving them the answer, use wait time and scaffolding to have them arrive at the solution.  Encourage “good questions” from students, as this leads to active thought.  Present information in a style to make the student generate the questions leading up to the details being taught.  Of course we have to teach basic organizational skills, but we need to incorporate strategies to move them to inquiry.  Curious learners find success as they become self-motivated to take on the burden of learning, which requires us to guide and facilitate their learning.

Teach Across the Curriculum- Collaborate with other disciplines in our teams to emphasize the importance of learning each subject by making mastery of areas of greatest need pervasive.

Graphic Organizers used pervasively geared to learners- also have students express learning graphically.  Incorporate graphic organizers in instruction, and students will begin to use them to express their thoughts in their notes and on expository exams.  Encourage learners to think by mapping out their thought process.

Summarizing Strategies– 1) Constantly stop and summarize as you teach!  2) Use a summarizer to kick off what the class did yesterday 3) Always use a summarizer before you release students!

Collaborative Pairs / Cooperative Learning Groups– Use this technique constantly to introduce, summarize, teach/re-teach, and to yield in-depth learning (extended & refining.)  Make sure learners know their FUNCTION in the group!

Differentiate- We must use different techniques to reach different learners.  We identified the bubble kids and our areas of greatest need for each core at the start of the school year, and we need to use this sort of data to drive our instruction.  Differentiate to meet the needs of all learners, and make notes of this in your plans for accountability.

Teach / Reteach– be able to explain how you do this in your class.  When a learner fails to master a lesson how do you scaffold them to bring them to a level ready to move to the next unit?

Product Learning– PBL- Have assignments where learners produce a tangible end result they can take ownership in- this can be in groups or individual work.  PBLs can be interdisciplinary or by subject area.

Rubrics used– Research driven tool for evaluation of PBL- it is a nice idea to keep samples of ones used with your plans.  Rubrics can be developed with the class and students need to understand how they are used for evaluation.

Lesson Plans on desk– containing elements expressing the points above (Contains Acquisition LP elements)

Substitute File on desk- Keep a substitute file (non LFS) on hand with generic lesson plans to reinforce your content area just in case you are unable to be in class for an emergency.  Substitutes should not be introducing new content nor going to computer labs unless you have prepared them for those lessons. This file should contain information to guide a new substitute through your class and school procedures.  It is important to communicate your rules and expectations while providing the details on lunch and bell procedures.

Class Data

1) Roll Taken- accurately & swiftly- try to put absences into GradeQuick within the first 10 minutes of class…be able to show that you are up to date with absences if asked=Accountability!

2) Grades– need to be up to date in GradeQuick- print reports regularly and keep on file= Accountability!  EDLine needs grades posted weekly, as parent and student access demands current data to

reinforce learning.

GSumner 2009