Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Listening or Hearing?


19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV)

By Matt @ PEK from Taipei, Taiwan - Conversation, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30754121

In the short span of a week I was misunderstood three times. 

  • One was only half-listening to something I said, which became apparent when she asked a question that was completely opposite of what I had just told her. Based on her own experiences, she assumed mine, and asked a question that didn't make sense.
  • The second presumed that she knew me so well as to voice what I was thinking and feeling--and to other people. But it was not true.
  • The third heard what I was saying and jumped in to finish my thoughts, but she misunderstood and concluded incorrectly.


None of these situations was crushing or life-altering, just a little frustrating.

But as I thought about them, I wondered about conversations I have with people, particularly students (though it could apply to anyone): 


  • Do I want to listen or to hear?
  • While listening, am I spending my time thinking about what I will say next?
  • Do I assume that I know what my student is thinking, feeling or planning?
  • How can I avoid misunderstanding what he/she is telling me?
  • How can I practice being a better hearer?




In every relationship, in every circumstance, in every interaction there is an opportunity to listen, rather, to hear. I want to learn to hear better, to speak less, to build up relationships!



When have you been misunderstood (words, intentions, etc.)?


What is the best way you have learned to practice hearing?


What are the advantages of "hearing" and the disadvantages of "listening"?



"Sometimes words--especially words that describe emotions--don't communicate effectively because we are too quick to think we know what the other person means by their use of the word. For example, if I were to tell you that the only memory I have of those days was a deep, deep peace, you might smile and say, 'That's nice,' or even 'That's great!' And, I might respond with frustration that you didn't really understand what I was saying. This isn't your fault, of course, because how can any of us truly understand what another person has experienced? I'm not hoping you'll understand what I experienced; I'm simply hoping that you won't too quickly assume that you do understand and, by doing so, miss the power of what I'm attempting to describe." (John Stumbo)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Compelled...to Love


Wise words from my principal, Mr. Michael Ditzenberger.

As a member of the #CompelledTribe, my blog topic for August was to describe my "goals, actions, focus, etc. for the new school year". Although I am a goal-minded person (I have lists for everything), I had trouble defining what I most wanted to accomplish in the coming year. So, as is our human nature, I just put it out of my mind for a while.

Then I faced my first back-to-school challenge (two weeks before the year begins), and sought advice from my principal. He gave me a great gift, clarifying my purpose. He honored me greatly, and I cringe at sharing it--because I don't want to sound boastful about something so very gratifying and yet humbling at the same time, and because sometimes gifts like these are more precious as they are cherished without an audience. 

But his words are wise, and are applicable for all who work in education at all levels. 


So, I take the gift I have been given, and I share it with you:

“…I would suggest that you do what you do best—crush (Student) with kindness. Tell (Student) that you can’t wait to see (him/her) on the first day, and that all Spanish 3 students occupy a special part of your class in their commitment to reaching a little higher for success.”

Have you identified your goal(s) for this school year? 

What is your purpose?

What do you want to accomplish?

What do you want your students to say at the end of the school year? 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

My Parents' Makerspace Lessons (2)

>Note: I originally published this blog as "Learning Is a Messy Process" on another blog space: http://bkurtzlifelonglearn.blogspot.com/2015/09/learning-is-messy-process-not-tidy.html>



Learning Is a Messy Process, Not a Tidy Product

I am learning a lot about learning, and about teaching, by spending time working with my dad in his carpentry barn.


  As the end of the school year neared, I proposed some summer projects to my dad: a "covered bridge" birdhouse and bird feeder. My dad said, "See if you can find a pattern/plan on the internet". Easily done, right? No. There were photos but no design instructions (well, there were some plans, if I wanted to pay $80). I printed a few of the photos and sat down with my dad.

   For my dad this was not a problem. In his mind's eye, he already had some ideas, and he tried to help me visualize the end product as well: "How big do you want it?" "Do you want ramps, like the entrance/exit to the bridge?" "Do you want to hang it from a hook or mount it on a pole?" "What color do you want?" The questions came as he sketched a simple pattern and guesstimated the sizes. To finish he sent me home with a list of supplies to bring next time (Home Depot alert: there's a rookie wandering the aisles!).

   Throughout the summer we worked in the barn and I practiced my skills with the table saw and circular saw, the router, drill, sander and other tools. As I learned skills, I learned a lesson in thinking.

   My dad saw this project as a challenge--who needs a pattern, anyway? Here's just a portion of his learning process:

  • measure and think;
  • measure and think;
  • if using others' ideas, analyze what they did and see how you want to change or adapt;
  • begin creating;
  • stop and think;
  • saw, glue, nail, screw;
  • measure;
  • stop and think;
  • "tweak"
  • saw, glue, nail, screw;
  • find weaknesses or obstacles;
  • (start over if your daughter screws up too badly)
  • stop and think;
  • look at product, hold it, turn it, think;
  • try a solution;
  • undo and try another solution;
  • cut, glue, nail, screw;
  • sand, varnish, torch (who knew you could burn wood to give it great color?!);
  • inspect;
  • celebrate!

If only you could have seen me as I came home carrying my finished products!


The bird feeder almost finished

One of our side projects was creating and laying a new floor in the barn.

Learning is often messy, taking unexpected twists, turns, detours, and even restarts. It also involves a fair amount of creativity, supported by confidence: if this doesn't work, I'll try something else! Learning also is about the process more than the final product--my greatest joy was in sharing this time with my dad and learning from him. The experience would have been worth it even if I had never completed my project!

I need to provide more opportunities for my students to learn in this manner. To accomplish this, I must develop in them confidence so that they will try, support so that they can fail and restart, curiosity and creativity so that they will view the learning process as more important than the final learning itself.

Can I deal with the chaos of a "messy" learning process? 

Can I teach my students to do the same? 

I am certainly going to try!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

My Parents' Makerspace Lessons (1)

My parents were born during World War 2, 

children of the "Greatest Generation". 

My dad (top left) and five brothers served in the military, spanning World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Nephews and cousins also served. I think they are a pretty great generation, too!

Growing up, my parents learned to think for themselves, to improvise with resources at hand, to make (or fix) what they needed. My parents can:

  • prepare ground, plant and raise crops, fruit trees and grape vines, harvest and can the produce (making pie fillings, salsa, jam/jelly, applesauce...);
  • build: garage, deck, steps, benches, lamps, bookshelves, birdhouses, etc.;
  • complete basic automobile maintenance tasks and diagnose problems with vehicles of all types;
  • sew and create useful products: clothes, pillows, furniture covers, curtains...;
  • repair household problems: well pump, roofing, windows, sump pump, plumbing, etc.;
  • restore or repair furniture;
  • graft trees;
  • drive almost anything;
  • raise and care for animals of all types;
  • live "with" and live "without"

My dad and I built this light house together. Solar panels gather power all day, and my lighthouse is alight from dusk to dawn.


In case you think my parents are "mired" in a past era, you should know that they can also use the computer and internet, and install and uninstall programs. Though they don't use Facebook, my parents maintain a detailed family history through a popular genealogy site, play games on both laptops and tablets, and keep in touch with friends and family through email (and text messaging on their phones).

My dad built this Rabbit Run for his rabbits to get exercise. I helped finish it.


Their "Makerspaces" are born out of necessity, independence, and a healthy dose of willingness to try.


These days the "Makerspace" movement is gaining popularity, and it seeks to instill these same characteristics in the youth of today.

Isn't it funny, though we've "advanced" over the past 70+ years, our modern lifestyle has taken away a lot of our necessity for making things. Cell phones, air conditioning, internet, packaged foods, cable tv, microwaves, email, cell phones, fast food...

We're faced with an interesting tension: we want our students to "make," in other words, to think independently and critically, yet, in many ways we no longer have genuine necessity for "making". 


I confess that I don't have answers, just questions:


  • How can we make the most effective use of Makerspaces with the youth of today?
  • How can we use the Makerspaces to foster independence and willingness to try?
  • In what ways can we connect the youth of today to those who grew up in different generations? Can we capture and share stories, explore their lives, place our hands on their tools, identify the needs and the outcomes of their work?
  • Is there a place for mentoring within the Maker movement--by older, experienced Makers?


Another of our past projects was building oriole feeders. Mine was hugely successful until some critter stole the jelly holder!

For my classroom I have questions as well:


  • In what ways can I foster independent thinking and a willingness to try?
  • How can I share the lessons I've learned at the hands of my Maker parents?
  • Am I a Maker? Do I lead by example?

One winter we created this "Cat Condo" together.


In what ways are you encouraging your students to think independently, to create, to meet necessity with innovation? 


How are you a model of these attributes and actions? 


What advice do you have for others to try?

One summer project was a "covered bridge" bird feeder. **Did you know that you could burn wood to add beauty?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Still Learning From My Parents

This summer I have spent a lot of time with my parents. The time is precious. I am still learning from them. What a blessing these moments are! 

April 17, 1962

Some things I've learned/witnessed with my parents:

  • Faithful, loving companionship and care: 55 years married, my parents still fuss over, care for and worry about each other.
  • Neighborliness: my parents have neighbors they know by name, and one young man whom they mentor and love as "second parents" as well as neighbors.
  • "Let's see" attitude: my parents face challenges with thoughtful problem-solving rather than panic. (Coming soon: a "Makerspace" blog about my parents)
  • Humor in the face of difficulty: pain, physical or emotional, can be faced with humor.
  • Abundant love: my parents love me beyond reason; they are always delighted when I come, and they can't wait to see me again. 



July 28, 2007
My return to school is still a month away, though I'm beginning to prepare. My parents' lessons are resonating in my heart and mind, and I want to take these learning experiences into my classroom.

My students need people like my parents in their lives--

may that be me!

  • Faithful, loving companionship and care: I want to fuss over, care for and worry about my students.
  • Neighborliness: I want to know my students, invest in their lives, and mentor them.
  • "Let's see" attitude: I want to approach problems as opportunities.
  • Humor in the face of difficulty: I want to maintain my sense of humor, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Abundant love: I want my students to know that they are loved, that I am glad to see them, that I miss them when they are gone, and I can't wait to see them again.

Are you ready to return to school?

What attributes of your parents, heroes or role models do you want to imitate?

What student faces come to mind when you think of those who need you most?


2017-2018: BRING IT ON!


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Finishing the School Year: Grace in Action

The school year is nearly ended.

Teachers and students are tired.

     Nerves are frayed.

          Patience is in small supply.

               Demands are high but energy is low.

                    Some students seem to know just how 

                            to push us 

                                   beyond

                                          our ability 

                                               to cope.


How can we finish the year strongly?

  • Resolve to love every student: love is an ACT OF THE WILL, not an emotion.
  • Extend grace to forgive and extend trust to students again. 
  • Believe in and encourage the best in each student TODAY, regardless of yesterday.
  • Provide opportunities for each student to taste success.

As the school year closes, let us commit to extending grace again and again. Our toughest students are the ones who most need our patient endurance and gentle guidance.


  • Might we not need to practice these with our colleagues and family well?
  • Certainly they will need to do so for us, won't they?



Monday, April 17, 2017

Building Relationships: Practical Ideas to Implement in the Classroom

Tribe_Post_Relationships1 (2).jpg

It all goes back to relationships!


Relationships are the essential element in our schools. The old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is true especially in today’s society when kids are used to so much choice in their world. Also, in today’s busy world, it’s important for teachers and school staff to make positive connections with students. We must be intentional and taking time with these relationships must be purposeful.



Members of the Compelled Tribe have teamed up to share practical ways for educators to build relationships with students. As connected educators we also embrace the notion that it is the power of the team that drives much of what we do. How do you build relationships with those that you serve? See the list below for ideas to add to what you may be already doing in the buildings and districts in which you work. (I am selecting some to add to my practice. You'll see them in blue below.)


  1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them.
  2. Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year.
  3. Know your students families. As important as it is to know the students, make the connection to home. Great relationships with your kids starts where they kick off their day. As the year continues and both the good and bad arise, having that connection will be crucial to getting the results you are seeking.
  4. Journal writing is an activity to get to know your students well and give students a voice in the classroom.
  5. Make positive phone calls home especially within the first two weeks of the school year.
  6. Genius Hour/Passion Projects really give teachers an opportunity to learn about student passions.
  7. Have kids make something that represents them out of Play-dough and share.
  8. In the first couple of days of school, learn the first name of every student in your first class of the day, and something personal and unique about them that has nothing to do with your first class of the day.
  9. Be vulnerable!  Let your guard down and show your students that you are a learner, you make mistakes, and persevere.  They will see you as a person, opening the door for a relationship built on trust. Share stories about yourself as a learner or challenges you’ve faced when you were there age and help them see what it took to overcome it. It’s easy to forget how much a simple connection can make the difference.
  10. Eat together.  Have breakfast with a small group of kids or join them at the lunch table.  Gathering around meal time provides an informal way to have conversations and get to know your students.
  11. Hold Monday morning meetings (We call them “Weekend News Updates”).  Ask each student to share about their weekend - good or bad.  Ask questions.  Be sure to share about your weekend too!  Occasionally bring in breakfast or make hot chocolate.
  12. Laugh with them. Frequently. Show them that school, and your class, is just not about learning stuff. It is about sharing an experience. Tell them you missed them if they were out.
  13. Keep in touch with past students.  Show past students that you do not have a 1 year contract with them.  The ongoing relationship will also model to your current students the value of a positive classroom community.
  14. At the elementary level -- hold morning meeting everyday as a class and stick to the routine of greeting, sharing, team building activity, and morning message.  This is a sacred time to build and maintain a culture of risk tasking and building relationships.
  15. Send positive postcards home to every child. Have them address it on the first day of the quarter, keep them and challenge yourself to find at least one thing each quarter to celebrate about your students, let them and their parents know.
  16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
  17. Make personal phone calls to parents. Find one good thing to say about the children in your class.  It can be how they contributed to a class discussion or how well mannered they are in class or in the halls. For older students it can be how diligent a student is at learning challenging content.
  18. Share something about yourself that they will find relevant or interesting to extend your relationships with students.
  19. Tell a story from a time you were their age. This approach allows students to see teachers as they once were and make connections easier to establish and maintain.
  20. Create a unique handshake or symbol for each of your students.  Use it when you greet them at the door or say goodbye.
  21. Eat lunch with a group of kids throughout the week. They will enjoy a time dedicated just to them. (And you will enjoy a peaceful lunch!)
  22. As a school, hold monthly celebrations to recognize students and educators their accomplishments.
  23. Take pictures with students. Print. Write a special note on the back to the student.
  24. At the end of a term or year, write a thank you to students telling them what you have learned from them. Be specific and honest - authenticity goes a long way. Try to make the note handwritten if possible, but email works well too.
  25. Each day write two students a personal  note about something that you have noticed about them.  Go into some detail and be specific. Keep track of who you reach out to over the year and try and reach as many students as you can. The time you spend doing this will deepen connections and pay off 10 fold.
  26. Have dance parties! It is so fun to let loose and get down with students. Students love seeing you have fun with them, and the saying goes, “The class that dances together, stays together”.
  27. Play with students at recess or during a free time. Climb the monkey bars, play kickball, or tag. Students will never forget you connecting with them on the playground.
  28. Hang out in the hall to give high fives or to have quick conversations with students. Relationship-building can be squeezed into any time of the day.
  29. Notice students having a bad day. Ask questions without prying. Show that you care. Follow up the next day, week, etc.
  30. When a student is having a rough day, ask if he/she has eaten. We are all more unreasonable when we are hungry. Keep a supply of snacks on hand (ex: breakfast bars, crackers, etc).
  31. Go see students at their events: sports, theater, dance, volunteering. Meet parents and families.
  32. When a student stops to say “Hello” and has a friend in tow, introduce yourself and be sure that the guest feels important.
  33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
  34. Sing “Happy Birthday” to students; send birthday emails (I use “Boomerang” to schedule my birthday emails each month).
  35. Say “I missed you yesterday” when a student has been absent. Be sincere.
  36. We have to make time to grow relationships with our students. This time can not always be in a planner or a calendar. Sometimes, this simply means just being there for your students.
  37. Mail them a postcard for their birthday. They are always amazed to receive personal mail!
  38. In a leadership position, learn as many names as you can. Greet students by their name as often as you are able.
  39. Music! Bond with your students over music. Play soft classical music while they are working. Incorporate music/songs into special events or lessons.
  40. Classroom: Start a compliment jar. Share comments at the end of class or randomly throughout the day. School: Do shout-outs during morning (or afternoon) announcements/news show.
  41. Smile and make eye contact.  “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”.  Something as simple as a greeting in the hall with smile and eye contact conveys both warmth & safety.  Try it tomorrow.  
  42. First day of math class have them choose 10 numbers that are significant to them (3 for number of cats, 1 for brothers, 20 for number of hours they work, etc.).  Everyone shares out.  You will learn lots about all your students in one day.  
  43. Cut them some slack every now and then.  “What were you doing?  What should you have been doing?  Can you do that for me next time?”  We all make mistakes.  
  44. Hold class celebrations and have students develop unique cheers for various accomplishments...these can be anything from a sports team victory, to being selected for something, to earning a grade, and they need not be school related.
  45. Allen Mendler’s 2x10 strategy for challenging students. Spend 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days talking to a student about something not academic.
  46. Share your own goals, successes/failures. Don’t be a mystery to your students.
  47. After morning announcements have students participate in a daily discussion question.  Have a student read the question and set a timer for two and a half minutes.  Each person turns to a partner and answers the question then volunteers share with the whole class.  Each question, in some way, will help you get to know your students.
  48. Halfway through the year, have your parents and students fill out a feedback form.  In my classroom, these forms look different.  Allow them to evaluate you so you can keep what works and change things that aren’t working.
  49. In your summer introduction letter, include a letter asking parents to write about their children in 1,000,000 words or less.  Keep the assignment voluntary and open so they tell you what is most important to them.
  50. Don’t be too busy to truly listen.  Listen to understand, not to respond.  Are you starting a lesson when a student interrupts and tells you they are moving?  Take the minute to hear them out.  That time will mean more to the student than the first minute of the lesson ever will.
  51. When students get stuck in class, teach the other students to cheer them on.  We do a simple, “Come on, [Name], you can do it,” followed by three seconds of clapping.
  52. Teach students call and responses to uplift each other.  When a student responds with something profound and someone loves it, that student gets to start the cheer.
  53. When you check in with groups to give them feedback or see how it’s going, make sure you are seeing them eye-to-eye.  If they’re sitting, don’t stand.  Pull up a chair next to them.  If they’re sitting on the floor, sit down on the floor next to them to avoid standing over them.
  54. Give honest feedback even when it may not be positive.  Your students will appreciate that you expect more out of them than they’re showing.
  55. Create a “You Matter” wall.  Take fun pictures of each of your students.  Print each photo and put each student’s photo in an 8x10 frame.  Hang them all on your wall under a “You Matter” heading.  At the end of the year, send the photos home with students.
  56. Tell them what was hard for you when you went through school and how you worked to overcome the challenges.  It shows they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
  57. Defend your students in front of other people.
  58. Take risks so students feel comfortable doing the same.  Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
  59. Create something that is unique to your class.  For us, it’s a house competition.  It’s something that connects my past students and current students.  It’s also a family bond that only the students who have been in my class understand.
  60. Apologize when you make a mistake.
  61. Cook together and then you can eat family style in the classroom. Some fun and easy crockpot meals: applesauce, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings. Then, make cupcakes for dessert!
  62. Every so often, take the pulse of your building according to students. Convene a volunteer roundtable with student reps from various groups (athletes, scholars, quiet, loud) and ask them for critical feedback about topics you are working on. Some ideas I’ve seen discussed in this format include schoolwide incentives (assemblies, sledding event, etc.), dress code, and discussing recess options for winter.
  63. During your informal walk throughs, saddle up right next to students and ask them the purpose of the lesson they are involved in. Why do you think the teacher is asking you to work on this? You’ll be more than surprised with the honest feedback.
  64. Bring board games back! Add a few games like Checkers, Uno or Chess to your lunch table options. See if any students are willing to play a game or two with you and others.
  65. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the entry of your building with positive messages to students. Have teachers help you write and draw the notes!
  66. Leave nice notes on post-its for students on the outside of their lockers. Recruit other students to help spread the kindness throughout many lockers!
  67. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Remind them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Don’t hold grudges against misbehavior and don’t allow other adults to hold them either.
  68. Make time for dismissal. Tell them you can’t wait to see them tomorrow and share high fives on the way out!
  69. Notice which students still don’t have money to pay for lunch. Help them out when you can. Treat them to a snack they don’t usually get to purchase at lunch time.
  70. Find special projects that need to be done around school and recruit the most unlikely helpers.
  71. Remind your students you and your staff were all kids once too. Have your team bring in pictures of themselves as children (at the ages you have in your school). Post them and have a contest allowing students to guess which teacher is which. Those 80s pictures are the most popular!
  72. My favorite question to ask my students or any student I come in contact with is what are you into lately? This opens communication with your students and let's them know you are interested.
  73. Allow students to do a job shadow. Give them a peek into what you do and how you make daily decisions.
  74. Host an ice cream social for students that meet certain goals.
  75. Before standardized testing, write each student a note of encouragement telling the student you care and believe in them..
  76. Each month take pictures of the students and create a picture collage to post  like a family photo album.


The list will grow as our experiences and our connections grow. Feel free to reach out to any of the Tribe members listed below to learn more about the power of our team and how our tribe constantly supports each other in our teaching, leading and learning.


Compelled Tribe Contributors:


Jennifer Hogan, The Compelled Educator  @Jennifer_Hogan
Jonathon Wennstrom, Spark of Learning  @jon_wennstrom
Craig Vroom, Fueling Education, @Vroom6
Allyson Apsey, Serendipity in Education, @allysonapsey
Sandy King Inspiring The Light @sandeeteach
Jacie Maslyk   http://jaciemaslyk.blogspot.com/    @DrJacieMaslyk
Jodie Pierpoint  Journey In Learning @jodiepierpoint  
Jim Cordery   Mr. Cordery’s Blog  @jcordery
Allie Bond   The Positive Teacher @Abond013
Angie Murphy ConnectED to Learning @RoyalMurph_RRMS
Karen Wood https://karenwoodedu.wordpress.com/ @karenwoodedu
Lindsey Bohler lindseybohler.com @Lindsey_Bohler
Debbie Campbell The Curious Educator @DebraLCamp
Michael McDonough M Squared at the Microphone @m_squaredBHS
Barbara Kurtz bkurtzteachermentor.blogspot.com @BJKURTZ
Stephanie Jacobs www.thisblogiswhy.blogspot.com @MsClassNSession
Michael Todd Clinton Motivated teacher blog  @MotivatedThe
Cathy Jacobs https://cathyjacobs.org/ @cathyjacobs5
Reed Gillespie Mr. Gillespie’s Office @rggillespie
Molly Babcock Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree @MollyBabcock
Lisa Meade Reflections @LisaMeade23
LaLonnie King http://lalonniek.edublogs.org/ @LalonnieK


How do you build relationships with your students? 

What relationship-building advice do you have for others? 

How did teachers impact you?



Listening or Hearing?

19  Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person  be quick to hear,  slow to speak,  slow to anger;   20  for the anger of man does ...