Teaching “Screenagers” and the iGeneration

“Students, as you leave class, use your phone to take a picture of the code posted by the doorway.”

What? Cell phones in the classroom? I thought we were banning those! I mean, can’t kids use them for cheating, texting each other, and gasp, sexting?

The Cell Phone as the Swiss Army Knife of Digital Learning Tools

The cover of the February issue of Educational Leadership caught my attention: “Teaching Screenagers.” Yes! That is who we are teaching – the iGeneration.

As you probably know already, the debates surrounding the best way to approach this generation and their increasing number of tech-tools continue to rage on, with few clear-cut answers.

Some parents and teachers want to control and heavily limit the use of technology, especially smart phones. Others believe that rather than spend valuable classroom time confiscating their phones, we can use them as versatile tools for learning.

The quotation from Liz Kolb’s article from Educational Leadership in the opening of this post is an example of the latter group, an attempt at positive use of cell phones in the classroom.

Kolb continues, “As students left class, the teacher told them to use their phones to take a picture of the bar code she had posted by the doorway. When they did so, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and a short video from Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War appeared on their phones, along with their homework assignment—read the text, watch the video, and then send a 140-character text-message summary of the Gettysburg Address to the class brainstorming board. The next day in class, the students would compare and evaluate the various summaries.”

Is this the best we can do, then? Accept the trend and try to use it for good?

Preparing Students for 21st Century Jobs

Many educators will answer yes to that question. After all, technology isn’t going anywhere.

Look at the typical teenager, they argue, and you will see them multi-tasking with a phone. For them it is a tool to stay connected with their friends. Most likely they don’t view it as possible on-the-job training.

Yet their ability to text messages, connect photos and videos to the Internet, network, organize, and communicate data with their phone may be requirements for a future job. So, the argue goes, let’s use these tools in class and teach them to use them responsibly.

Hook, Line, and Sinker

While I am always an advocate of teaching valuable lessons about responsibility and certainly do recognize the power for good that can come with technology, I caution educators to do their research before jumping head first into the technology ocean.

In my most recent newsletter and blog, I wrote about a fascinating book called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, a book that describes the often-overlooked negatives regarding the Internet’s effect on our brains, especially our students’ brains.

I do not want to repeat myself here, so I will share a couple of points I did not include in the original article.

Various studies have shown that the use of the Internet, rich media, and hypertext rarely lead to storage in long-term memory. This is true for adults as well as children.

Technology proponents used to praise the coming advantages of using multi-media over linear book reading and traditional learning.

Yet the reality is now clear: multi-tasking ends up over-loading the brain and prevents a cohesive narrative from forming that can be moved from working memory into long-term memory schemas.

What the Internet does positively is it promotes brain activity associated with problem solving and decision-making. Similar to a crossword puzzle.

What the Internet does not do is stimulate concentrated, uninterrupted thought. The more we turn our attention to the Internet as the only source of information, the more we rewire our brains for the type of thinking it promotes. As Carr writes,

“Such intensive exercise, when it becomes our primary mode of thought, can impede deep learning and thinking. Try reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle. That’s the intellectual environment of the Internet” (126).

“Are You Saying We Should Ban Technology?”

No, I am not saying that.

Like Carr, I do not want to demonize technology or demand its removal from our schools and classrooms. I am only asking that it be used with wisdom, caution, and serious research.

Return to the earlier example of the teacher who used cell phones proactively in the classroom. Obviously, her students will likely enjoy the assignment and might even find it “cool.” But that does not mean the learning ends when technology exits.

We are too quick to give in to fads, especially when resistance means tension with our fad-loving children and students.

We are the adults; so we must be informed. Use technology. Figure out creative ways to incorporate its use into the classroom.

Just do so with balance. That’s the key.

The teacher who gained the students’ interest by use of cell phones cannot then rely solely on technology to hold the students’ attention. To do so would promote certain types of thinking to the neglect of others.

The plasticity of the brain means it can change shapes quickly to adapt to new demands and ways of operating. It also means that the more one path is reinforced over another, the deeper that path is etched into our physical brain and the more difficult it is to remap our minds.

If this teacher worked for me, I would make sure she followed-up this lesson with prolonged silent reading and face-to-face discussion. It seems as though she did this, and for that she should be applauded.

The cell phone idea is the hook. The catch is when the students move past “oh cool” into deeper levels of thinking that only come with sustained, uninterrupted thought – which the Internet is not very useful at stimulating.

If You Abuse It, You Lose It

As we incorporate technology into the classroom, the are other issues of responsibility to keep in mind.

Like all privileges, using cell phones for learning comes with a condition: If you abuse it, you lose it.

The earlier cited article provides practical suggestions for doing so, such as keeping parents informed of any cell phone activities that the class is conducting through the use of permission forms, parent information nights, and inviting parents to participate via their own cell phones.

Teaching Life Skills

Most importantly, students need to be made aware that they leave a digital trail that will follow them for life. Teenagers often do not have the ability to see the long range consequences of their actions.

We have to train and prepare them. Show and discuss the short video Digital Dossier, which describes all the digital records that accumulate from birth to death—to make a student aware of their life-long digital footsteps that leave a permanent trail for life.

The Future is Upon Us

The future is here. What started out as a luxury, a convenience, a way to keep track of our kids has escalated into a nightmare of wondering where-in-the-world could our child go online with that cell phone.

As with anything, it can be a tool for good, but also for evil. Let’s train our students how to use it as a tool to learn, make wise decisions, and prepare for the 21st century.

The Internet’s Effects on Students’ Brains

This post originally appeared on my newsletter, which you can sign up for on my main website www.jodycapehart.com

Brain research is one of the new cutting-edge fields in education. Every day we are making new discoveries that have a significant impact on the way we teach.

A more controversial and still under-explored and under-researched area is the effect the Internet is having on our students’ brains.

In 2008, tech-author Nicholas Carr wrote an article entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Carr’s 2010 follow-up to the article is the book entitled The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

Carr’s argument in a nutshell is that the very nature of the Internet, with all of its distractions and tendency to promote short, easy-to-find content, promotes surface thinking and discourages reflection, contemplation, and concentration. With the ever-increasing ubiquity of the Internet – which has become the primary medium for work, entertainment, socializing, and educational research – the result will be a radical shift in the very way we think.

Needless to say, after the article’s publication many Internet enthusiasts jumped on Carr as being anti-technology, accusing him of failing to credit the many advantages the Internet has provided us.

In The Shallows Carr admits the Internet has its advantages. Yet he refuses to rescind his fears concerning the potential disadvantages the Internet may have on us.

My concern is primarily for our children and students, which is why I bring all this up in the first place.

At the risk of sounding like a fellow fuddy-duddy, I too fear the direction our culture is moving. Even more alarming, I worry about the long-term effects that our technologically saturated society will have on the brains of our younger generations. And I do mean brains.

Many parents protect the minds of their children by monitoring content. But Carr’s point is that the very nature of the Internet – on the whole – encourages shallower thinking over the type of in-depth thinking promoted by things such as book reading.

Yes, the Internet provides access to information at the press of a button. But access to information is not the same thing as being able to assimilate that information.

What children’s brains need most is interactive learning and language experiences to enhance brain connections and cognitive growth in order to build long-term memory.

I have always been an advocate of classical music in the development of children’s brains. Recently I wrote about this on my parenting blog because it is Brain Awareness Week.

Over and over again studies show that children’s brains develop best when there is actual interaction with an adult, especially in the area of language. When supported with frequent feedback, emotional support, and exposure to enriched environments, learning is enhanced. Spending ‘face-to-face’ time with an adult reading, talking, walking, and interacting are all invaluable for brain development.

I will be interested to see what studies reveal as a result of concentrated research and experimental study groups looking into the long-term effects the Internet has on our brains versus more traditional ways that have proven positives for our brains.

In closing, I want to add that I am not trying to demonize the Internet or technology. Rather, I want parents and schools to be wise as they implement technology and Internet use into the home and classrooms.

The point is not to remove these tools, but to use them wisely. They have many important advantages that we ought to incorporate in responsible ways. At the same time, we need to be aware of the effects that technologies such as the Internet have on young minds.

Ours, too. The Internet is not going anywhere. So let’s make sure we are integrating their use with wisdom and balance. Studies reveal that book reading is decreasing. This breaks my heart, and I am committed to helping parents and teachers change this.

So remember to read to your children and students. And not just blogs or articles online :)

Open up a book and encourage them to think long and hard about something for more than the few seconds that go by before we click a new link.

Upcoming News: BASS Convention and The School Whisperer

The past few weeks I have been busy with some very exciting things that I would like to share with you.

March 3-5, I am a keynote speaker at the annual BASS Church Workers Convention in California. My keynotes and sessions include some of my favorite topics such as:

  • How Children Learn
  • Creative Bible Teaching
  • Ants in Their Pants
  • Discipline by Design
  • Cherishing and Challenging Your Children

If you are interested in having me come to your church, school, or parent group to speak on one of these topics – or any other one you want – send me an email at jody.capehart@jodycapehart.com.

After I return, I will begin pouring myself into my new business as The School Whisperer.

My passion and goal is to take my experiences and wisdom from almost 40 years in education as a school founder, head of school, principal, director of children’s ministry, counselor, author, and speaker in order to help other private schools and churches get the most out of their organizations.

I have started several schools in the DFW area, including Grace Academy of Dallas, Prestonwood Christian Academy of Plano, and Legacy Christian Academy of Frisco. I served as director of children’s ministries at Grace Bible Church in Dallas.

Too often I have seen even the best visions and leaders become overwhelmed by the burden of carrying the leadership load. It truly breaks my heart to see a school or church not live up to its potential or, even worse, have to close its doors.

I have put together three different packages in order to help these organizations through a mixture of on-site visit consultations and follow-up communication via email, phone, and Skype. To download this document with Word, just click here and email at jody.capehart@jodycapehart.com to learn more details.

In addition to those three packages, a fourth option exists, too. Over the years I have put together around 150 speaking topics, all of which are listed on my website. I can come to your church, MOPS group, or school to train your parents, teachers, and/or administration on any topics you choose. You can even customize your own presentation to meet your specific needs.

You may contact me for a FREE 15-30 minute consultation to determine whether I can be of service to you and which route is the best to take for your organization.

I look forward to hearing from you at jody.capehart@jodycapehart.com!

Winners vs. Whiners: Comparing Two Teachers

This year I watched a certain football team I won’t mention here – cough, Cowboys, cough – go from whiners to winners, all in one season. Unfortunately, by the time they got a new coach and became winners, the season was half over.

It is amazing what a difference a new coaching style made with a good team.

Climate. Coaching. Conditioning. Who provides this? The leader.

In the case of the classroom, that leader is the teacher. He or she is responsible for the climate created in their classroom.

This past week two teacher events caught my attention.

You Are Winners

The first was a teacher, Kim Slyman, at our school, Legacy Christian Academy, who received a prestigious award: Christian radio station KLTY’s “Teacher of the Year” Award!

Here are just a few of the many ways parents described her classroom. “It is set up like a Starbucks coffee shop so it doesn’t look like a regular old classroom.  It is creative. The students are encouraged. She always has a smile on her face like she is happy to be there. She is joyful and it is contagious to the students. She keeps the room smelling wonderful with potpourri. Her enthusiasm puts the class in a good mood and gets them energized for all the creative things she has in store. She has incentives for the ‘Early Birds’ who turn in their homework early.”

This classroom climate says, “I’m happy to be here. I want to teach you. I believe you can do it. Let’s do our best. And in the process, let’s enjoy ourselves.” It is contagious. Kim absolutely deserves this award!

As a Christian school, she also includes worship, prayer, scripture memory, and much more. For purposes of this blog, however, I am going to focus on the things she did that can be replicated in any classroom in any school in America.

Lazy Whiners Blog

Now to the teacher in suburban Philadelphia, Ms. Munroe, who made national news when she was suspended for a profanity-laced blog in which she called her young charges “disengaged, lazy whiners” who are unmotivated to learn.

“My students are out of control,” Munroe wrote in one post. “They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.”

Compare and Contrast

In a perfect world and to be completely fair, the best compare and contrast analysis could only be possible if I observed in Ms. Munroe’s classroom.

Whereas I have been in Mrs. Slyman’s classroom on countless occasions under a number of circumstances with both ‘easy’ students as well as more challenging students. Yes, even private schools get their share of students who are more difficult to teach and reach.

Mrs. Slyman’s teaching style remained consistent. Here are a few of the observable ‘secrets’ of her success with the students:

A: As a teacher, she knew that her attitude set the atmosphere for the classroom. Even if she was dealing with tough personal issues such as a child with serious health issues, she adjusted her attitude and gave her full attention to the students.

B: She believed that every student was bright, could learn, and would achieve success if taught the way they learned best.

C: She cared deeply for each student and it showed. She cultivated a classroom climate that was conducive to learning. It was calm because of her soft voice. It was creative and kept the student’s interest and curiosity.

D: Mrs. Slyman provided the security of a well-disciplined classroom. She did this by defining the boundaries, redirecting in positive ways, demonstrating love, being diligent in planning ahead, deciding to respond and not react, differentiating between what is important and what is not, and determining appropriate consequences to retrain the brain and change the heart.

E: Kim Slyman encouraged, energized, and equipped each student by teaching not only academics, but also good manners, life skills, strong work habits, and successful study strategies.

She accomplished this in a joyful way that said, “I love you and I am so happy to be your teacher. Let’s go climb these mountains together!”

Wherein Lies the Truth

So did one teacher get lucky with all the ‘good’ students while the other teacher got the ‘bad ones’ dumped into her classroom? Perhaps you would argue it is because one group of students are older and another younger.

But the truth is that kids of any age these days can hand out attitude. And no age range or institution has only ‘easy students.’

Having served as a school administrator of an elementary school as well as a high school, I will say it goes beyond the students and has so much to do with the attitude of the teacher and the climate that teacher cultivates in the classroom.

Are there kids who are rude, whine, complain, and have an entitlement attitude? Absolutely. Where did this come from? Yes, much of it is from the home, and our culture supports it.

But what teachers like Kim Slyman understand is that the cycle does not end there. More can be done, especially through the influence of a teacher who is a leader.

Some may wonder whether Kim could handle Ms. Munroe’s students. As I said before, I have never observed Ms. Munroe, so I cannot say anything too definitive. But my gut tells me that yes, Kim could handle the situation better.

I say this with all sincerity because I know how hard Kim works to do her job with excellence. It is always easier to take the easy way out. It is always easier to complain about things rather than correct them. I have never seen Kim display anything but diligence, professionalism, and joy – even when faced with challenging students and situations.

Believe me, I have seen more than my fair share of difficult students. I am not trying to say that teaching is easy if you just put on a happy face. Far from it.

Yet I do know that the teacher is the leader. I have observed teachers whose own attitudes negatively affect the climate in their classroom, and what is often excused as ‘venting’ by the teacher is itself as full of immaturity and negativity as anything the students display.

So, we can start the cycle of the blame game and let that whirl around in circles and solve nothing. Or, we can move on to solve the problem.

I prefer solutions. As did the Cowboys.

Past Excuses and Straight to Solutions

In a time of teacher surplus, let’s find the teachers who want to be there, who believe kids can learn, who will go the extra mile to create a classroom climate conducive to learning.

Do I believe teachers – good teachers – work hard and are not fairly compensated? Oh, yes.  As I often say to teachers, “You may be over-worked, but at least you’re underpaid.” Smile…

That’s why the cliché is true: teaching is a calling, and great teachers can change our country by instilling a love of learning, a desire for discipline, and a hope for their future.

Who wants to go to work at a place where you feel defeated and drained each day? You can change it by taking that first step to cultivating a new climate in your classroom. Light that fire, warm up your classroom that, in turn, ignites the minds of your students, and in so doing, you will discover that you have changed yourself.

Please share with us how you have modeled leadership as a teacher in the face of difficult situations.

“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” W.B. Yeats

10 Tips for Teachers’ Tones

People always ask me, “What is your secret in hiring great teachers?”

I promise to answer that question. But first I need to tell you about Mrs. Moe, my elementary school teacher…long ago.

Mrs. Moe’s voice was like velvet and set the mood for the classroom. It was warm, inviting, safe, encouraging, fun, and always kept the interest of the class.

That was over fifty years ago and I can still remember the classroom climate that she cultivated, and in so doing, created a passion in me to teach.

But then I had Mrs. Anderson. She was the antithesis of Mrs. Moe. That year, I began to create my list of what not to do when I was a teacher.

My Catalogue of Teachers

Over the years, I had:

  • The “Sweetie Pies” who were ever-so-sweet, but couldn’t discipline a classroom. Thus, the sweetness was wasted because the classroom became a zoo.
  • There were the “Mr. B.N. Control” teachers who ran class like Marine Boot Camp, and that wasn’t effective either. Oh, sure, we had classroom control, but the climate was rigid and no one could relax enough to actually want to learn.
  • Of course, the “Mr. or Ms. I.M. Fun” teachers would pop up from time to time, and they were usually young and quite idealistic. The first week of class with them was a lot of fun, and then the chaos set in. Kids actually do want to learn, I observed.
  • The “Old Yellers”? Well, it may make for a great classic book, but the ‘yellers’ in the classroom make a child’s life miserable.  My catalog file continued to grow.

The Power of the Teacher’s Voice

Now to answer the question, “What is your secret in hiring great teachers?”

As I carefully catalogued what worked and what didn’t work, my system for hiring teachers was forming. Of course, I didn’t realize this at the time.

But one common characteristic kept popping up that I have relied on for years and years – and that is their voice.

The power of the teacher’s voice cannot be underestimated. By ‘power’, I am not referring to volume, but rather, the importance of their voice.

Let’s face it, students have to listen to this voice all day long. I remember being in classrooms where the voice was so loud, annoying, or condescending that I couldn’t ‘hear’ what I was supposed to learn. Inadvertently, I began to catalogue voices as well.

Best Kept Secret for Teachers

I want to share a secret that successful teachers do when it comes to discipline. They stair-step their voice down when telling or asking a student to do a task, or are carrying out a procedure.

Since I have a soft voice, I had to learn this one the hard way. If you don’t lower your voice, children won’t take you seriously.

As women, we don’t realize it, but when we get the tiniest bit upset or frustrated, our voices begin to go up. I am not referring to volume, although that could be true. I am referring to the pitch. And for some crazy reason, we tack on an “o-KAY?” at the end, which weakens our position further.

Have someone observe you if you need further documentation. Having observed hundreds of teachers over the years, I have found this to be true.

For example, I can be observing a potentially great teacher, doing everything right, but she can’t cultivate the perfect classroom mood because her voice keeps ascending. As her voice goes up, so do the behavior issues.

Practice lowering your voice. Stair-step it down and you will be amazed at the difference it makes in your classroom. It may seem little, but it is mighty.

The Top 10 List Promised in the Title:

Here are 10 other effective ways to use your voice to create the climate you want in your classroom:

  1. Be affirming and not agitated.
  2. Show that you believe in your students, but do not belittle them.
  3. Cultivate a classroom climate where you challenge your students, but they know they are uniquely cherished. A big part of this is never be condescending toward them.
  4. Be decisive and disciplined in your actions. Never let your voice be degrading toward a student.
  5. Be encouraging; never embarrass a student.
  6. Be fun, as long as you are firm. Never communicate unnecessary fear in your classroom by your tone of voice.
  7. Be interesting and inspiring. Don’t let impatience creep into your class.
  8. Your voice should be pleasing and personal, and never patronizing.
  9. Be refreshing and respectful to your students. Make sure you never model rudeness.
  10. Use a soft voice, but be sure it is stimulating. You don’t want to put them to sleep.

Bonus: And y’all…never, ever yell. Instead, be loving and willing to listen with your heart.

What other tips have you learned as a teacher? Share them with all of us in the comments below!

You can read all of Jody’s blogs at www.jodycapehart.com, as well as find Jody’s books and other resources.

It’s the ‘Principal’ of the Thing – Top Ten List

As a principal, you will hear just about everything under the sun.

In this blog, I am starting the “Top Ten” series which will include:

  • 10 Funny Things About Being a Principal
  • 10 Not-So-Funny Things About Being a Principal
  • 10 Reasons Kids Get Sent to the Principal’s Office
  • 10 Things Not to Put in Your Lesson Plans for Your Principal
  • 10 Reasons Kids Don’t Like Schools
  • 10 Ways Principals Can Help Kids Love School
  • 10 Ways to Help Kids Love Their Principal
  • 10 Reasons Kids Don’t Like Their Principal
  • 10 Reasons Kids Don’t Turn in Their Homework on Time
  • 10 Ways Principals Can Help Homework Get Turned in on Time
  • 10 Reasons Parents Need to Come and Talk to the Principal
  • 10 Things Parents Do Not Need to Talk to the Principal About
  • 10 Times Parent Do Not Need to Call the Principal
  • 10 Things to Look for in Hiring Teachers
  • 10 Reasons Not to Hire a Teacher
  • 10 Funniest Things Principals Have Ever Heard
  • 10 Reasons Why Principals Should Put People Before Paper
  • 10 Reasons Why Principals Need to Pay Attention to the Perennial Pile of Paper
  • 10 Best TV Principles (yep, the other kind) of All Times
  • 10 Best Teaching Commercials of All Times

I would love to hear from you! What TOP TEN would you like to see? Some will be serious and some will be funny. So, ‘bring it on’!

The 3 Things I Look for in Teacher Evaluations

(credit: blog.telenav.com)

“Good composition is like a suspension bridge—each line adds strength and takes none away.”  Robert Henri

Smiling, I said, “So, I’ll see you about 10:00, like you’re so worried about me coming into your classroom. No problem with job security…ha, ha, ha!”

I could see the red splotches begin to form on the ‘teacher of the year’s’ neck. Looking more closely, I asked, “Hey, you’re not really worried about me coming to observe, are you? It’s just a formality, you know? Remember, you are teacher of the year…glowing reviews…”

I kept trying to find a point of connection and interject a little humor.

But she was genuinely nervous. I made a big ‘note to self’ that day: teachers dislike being observed and evaluated – even the best ones.

What Am I Looking For in Teachers?

In my nearly 40 years of serving as an administrator, mentoring student teachers, and as a school consultant, I have observed hundreds of teachers. And yes, some have gotten some ‘less than stellar reviews’. Likewise, I have worked with many excellent teachers.

The evaluation form may include a number of factors, but I am looking for three key qualities.

1)      Is the teacher in charge. Are they cultivating the classroom climate they want?

2)      Do they genuinely care about the students? Do the students feel, know, and trust in this unconditional love?

3)      Is the teacher creating bridges to reach and teach each learner? Is the teacher actively seeking to vary their teaching style in order to reach all learning styles?

A Rose by Any Other Name Is Still a Rose

Obviously, a lot can be said about each point.

Our topic for today is #3: the value of incorporating learning styles into the curriculum and teaching.

Back in my Special Education days, we individualized for each student. For years, I trained teachers on learning styles and how to build bridges to each learner.

Now it is known as helping differentiate in the classroom. The common denominators are similar. Strong teachers have intuitively understood this for years regardless of what it is called.

Those are the teachers I have hired over the years.

What Does This Look Like in the Classroom

Let’s start with what it does not look like. It does not mean having everyone on page 87 at 10:32 a.m. perfectly according to plan.

A great teacher’s classroom is something so powerful, so palpable, that you know you are in one the minute you set foot in the door. There is an atmosphere of love, a climate of control, and a unique style of learning that separate it from the ordinary.

What creates your teaching style?  These major factors combine to create texture to your teaching and together create a pattern:

  • How you perceive information
  • How you process that information
  • How you personalize that information
  • How you pass it along to your students.

For example, if you perceive information on the visual track, process it in your brain visually, you tend to personalize it visually as you pass it along to your students with visual teaching systems and comments such as, “I see what you mean.”

You may be naturally inclined to teach with visual aids; have your students read, write, create a PowerPoint, outline, design, and mind-map; and use other related visual activities. It is your comfort zone.

Subconsciously, you assume that if these techniques help you to learn, it will work for your students as well.

As a bridge-building teacher who is seeking to reach and teach to all learners, I look for teachers that can “speak” the learning language of different learners, such as those who are more auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic.

Or, let’s take it a step further. Is a student a more analytic (linear, step-by-step) or a global (big picture) learner?

A veteran teacher teaches to the multiple layers of learning by presenting the material in this fashion:

“This is the big picture of what this concept is about (global) and now, here are the component parts (analytic) that we will be studying.”

“This is what it looks like (visual), and as I explain it to you, I will let you verbally interact with the material (auditory) and tangibly work with it in a hands-on manner (tactile-kinesthetic).”

“Some of you prefer to learn from your text or lab manual (concrete sequential) and I will provide those opportunities. If you prefer to work alone, I can set up your assignments with you (abstract sequential). I can tell by the look on some of your faces that you only want to work with a partner or in small groups (abstract random); while others think ‘outside the box’ and need to create a project to ‘get it’ (concrete random).”

If you are reading this and it seems like a bunch of gibberish, I understand. I am using terms that may not be familiar to you and reducing master teaching to the simplest of terms to illustrate a point.

When I train teachers, I create a form for them that actually does follow that formula – without being too formulaic.

At first the teacher may seem robotic but in a short while, it becomes almost like a professional athlete, musician, or ballerina. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In my upcoming February newsletter, which you can sign up for on my website, you will find that ‘form’.

If this is new for you, try it out. If the terms are new for you, stick with me for a while, and if I may be so bold, try reading my books. Watch for some videos that are coming to illustrate these teaching techniques as well.

If you have me come out to your school to speak or do a teacher training, I can train your teachers in this technique.

I call it the ‘treasured teaching technique.’ It works. I have seen it succeed in schools, grades Pre-K to grade 12 and in all subjects.

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

We will be taking each of these terms and developing them in this blog. We will define each one, unpack them, and provide specific teaching strategies.

Treasured teachers reach beyond their comfort zone to maximize the learning experience for each kind of learner.

Respecting Teachers as Nation Builders

I had every intention of writing a follow-up to one of the three keys to great teaching I discussed last week.

Monday I will deliver that promised follow-up. But something else has been weighing on my mind that I wanted to share with you…

There was a time when being a teacher brought you respect. The very title inferred that you were worthy of being treated with dignity.

Sadly, that time seems to be passing.

Teachers are the cornerstone of our culture. We stand today on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, paving the way intellectually by teaching us and challenging us to think and to learn.

Metaphors about teaching abound because they create word pictures that paint the portrait of the profession sometimes better than words:

A teacher plants the seed of knowledge and trusts they will bear fruit.

Teaching is the mother profession that gives birth to all other professions.

Robert Frost said it well, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”

It is possible you may have had a teacher who did not exemplify all that is noble about the teaching profession. Or perhaps, you are experiencing that now.

On behalf of all the great teachers who I know who would die on their swords for their students to truly ‘get it’, I apologize.

Please don’t give up on teachers. Or on education.


May I challenge you to simply show respect to teachers in your world. Thank them for their work. Respect their time by asking for an appointment if you have a concern. Treat them with dignity, as you would like to be treated. Speak respectfully of your child’s teacher so that your child learns the importance of respect for a teacher.

May I also lovingly suggest that this could change your view of teachers, and perhaps a particular teacher you are having problems with at this time.

I would love to hear from you about progress in your relationship. Leave a comment here or on Facebook or Twitter.


In the State of the Union speech, President Obama made reference to Korea viewing their teachers as “nation builders” and that we needed to show this respect to our teachers.

My ears perked up since education is my passion. I began to write out my own thoughts, thinking I would post a blog on the topic.

Fortunately and out of curiosity, I ‘googled’ “teachers as nation builders” before I posted my blog and discovered that others had written on it far more eloquently than I.

And so it is with a humble spirit that I share one with you from Dowell Oba:

“The Teacher as a Nation Builder” by Dowell Oba


To Be or Not To Be…an Administrator

(credit: www.thelittleredtruck.com)

When I was a teacher, I knew these three things clearly:

  1. I loved being a teacher.
  2. I loved kids.
  3. I neverwanted to be an administrator.

Since I have been an administrator for nearly 40 years, I figured something got lost in the translation. I have tried the “never say never” formula on my weight…“I never want to be thin.” But alas, the ‘never’ principle only seemed to work on the ‘principal’ issue.

It’s the Principal of the Thing

So, how did this happen? I would like to think that if I had remained in public schools, I would not have become a principal. I love the classroom too much.

However, in my quest to find a school for the severally handicapped children I was working with at the time decades ago, I ended up starting my first school. I simply wanted a school where I could teach my students so they would not become institutionalized. I somehow ‘forgot’ that meant I had to be the principal.

Teaching Principles to Principals

For over 30 years I’ve mentored other principals, which I always found amusing in light of my original premise never to be one.

But we won’t take time for that particular chuckle now because I am going to fast-forward to my time of taking graduate-level courses on School Leadership, and later teaching them. I wanted those starry-eyed people to really know what they were in for before they walked into the office with the “Principal” sign.

Here’s a few of those principles for the principals:

1. Your time is not your own. I would open with a little monologue/skit about time. I would role-play the “Perfect Principal” going in early to get a ‘run on the day’ with a prioritized, color-coded schedule and to-do list. Oh, and also, a clean desk. Then I began to parody how quickly they would lose control of all those items as the day unfolded! The revolving door of people, the endless problems – from a broken copier to a child’s broken life, the ever-ringing phone (to which we can now add texts and tweets), the endless emails, and the perennial pile of paper.

2. After that joyful entry, I would proceed to share about how we are there for the people, and people take lots of time. I often thought the job seemed more like a counselor than an administrator. Which means people skills are essential if you want to be a good principal.

3. It is an intensely detailed job as well, so you better be organized or you can quickly go down in the quick-sand and come out looking like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. And that’s just not professional, you know? (Oh yes, in a future blog, we are going to come back to that pesky ‘perennial pile of paper’ issue)

4. Be on the forefront of educational issues. The world of education is changing so fast. In the world of BC (Before Computers), I felt like I had a realistic handle on things; I could keep up. But with the ever-increasing speed of the internet came the escalating number of sources and resources one had to read, keep up with, synthesize, and possibly implement in your own school. Or risk having to answer why you aren’t doing such-and-such new program already.

5. The “D” word—discipline. Students never seemed to remember to ‘act up’ according my preferred schedule. I allotted time each day from 10:20-10:40 to ‘deal with discipline’. No one ever showed up during their scheduled time. Instead, they shared their ‘joy-bubbles’ for the high-pressure times of my day, such as when I was to meet with a difficult parent, right before a school board meeting, or during a difficult negotiation with a teacher. Discipline is never easy. In the middle of a hectic day, it is exponentially more difficult.

6. All day, you juggle multiple tasks. And somehow, everyone expects you to be good at all of them. Sort of like a pastor or a president. And did I mention, you rarely get thanked or appreciated for the ones you did really well. But you do get noted for the balls you dropped. You know? Balls # 87 and 104? Those two are hard to keep in line with the other 123 you had going in perfect formation. Little stinkers.

7. There will always be difficult people to deal with. At first I became afraid or angry when someone came in upset, all huffing and puffing. (Oh, and those are the ones who never seem to make an appointment first, so you have no time to gather up the facts and be forewarned or prepared). I learned several things over the painful years:

  • Don’t ‘see’ the anger’ or allow it to go into you. Hear only their fear. Anger usually covers up fear. They are afraid of something. If you hear their fear, you will respond differently. If you react to their anger, you will be as angry as they are and then no one wins.
  • See them for a few minutes. Don’t argue. Hear with your heart. Then say, “I can see that you are really frustrated and if I were you, I would probably be just as frustrated. Let’s schedule a time when I can give you my full attention and we will work toward a solution.”  If I tried to send them on their way without anything, the situation escalated. If they felt ‘heard’, even if only for 5 minutes, sometimes that is all it took. If they do come back for the full appointment, they will come back a different person because you took a few minutes to ‘hear’ them. Meanwhile, you can gather the facts.

8. Boards and Budgets. Well, what can I say? It just goes with the job. Too much to fit it all here. Future blog or maybe I’ll start another blog just for them! :)

9. Don’t lose sight of your mission and vision. There are so many days where we almost drown in the minutia that we lose sight of why we decided to do this in the first place. Put your mission/vision in a strategic place in your office where your eyes can see it often. Or under your desk…and hide there.

10.  Pray, ponder, and persevere. If you work in a Christian school, begin each meeting, appointment and yes, interruption, with a prayer. It creates the climate. It changes people. It puts the guidance of God the Father, the love of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the middle of the muddle. It moves us out of the way and God works through us. It is transforming, and then you will remember why you chose to take on this task.

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” Robert Frost

I like this one, too.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” Victor Hugo

More administrative-related posts coming next week, so check back then…or subscribe by email so you can have yet another email sent to your inbox – only this one would be a positive for once!

Jody Capehart is the author or several books on education and has started a number of private schools in the Dallas area. To learn more about her visit www.jodycapehart.com or her school consulting website www.schoolwhisperer.com

The 3 Keys to Great Teaching

It’s a good thing Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, so when we get a good idea, we can shout, “Got it!” Which just sounds better than “Stupid fire, why won’t you light?!…hold on…hold on…I think we’ve got something…nope, went out…oh wait, no it’s there, I can see a little flame!”

Not as catchy, huh? And it definitely wouldn’t make a good t-shirt.

But in education, we cherish both the light bulb moments and the fire moment.

As W. B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”

Having worked with teachers from preschool to high school, universities to seminaries, schools to churches, I see a common thread when I ask them this question: “What is your greatest fulfillment as a teacher?”

Across the board, the answer is, “When my students get it!”

Whether it’s helping them learn how to finally defeat the dreaded long-division, showing them that they can think for themselves and have capabilities they didn’t know were there, or deepening their understanding of themselves and the world around them, the goal of every teacher should be about one thing: illumination. When that light bulb goes on, the heart of a teacher glows with the eternal flame of encouragement. (Sure I mixed metaphors, but I needed to keep both analogies going!)

 A lot has to happen, of course, before that light bulb/fire moment can ever occur, and while my educational journey has taken a few twists and turns, my core convictions have remained consistent. Amidst the myriad of elements that unify the art of teaching and illumination, I have found three keys that consistently emerge as the most important.

Illumination Key #1: Know Your Craft

Whether you teach in a public, private, non-traditional, specialized, AP, or classical school, you cannot get around this one: you must know your craft. If you don’t, you will be found out, possibly fired, and you will never light one fire or turn on one light bulb for even one student. Besides showing them how not to teach.

I think knowing your craft goes far beyond getting a degree.

The heart of education is a love for learning. There is nothing more contagious to a student than a teacher who loves their subject, is always learning more about their field, and is genuinely excited to bring it to their level so they can fully understand it. After all, it’s quite difficult to convince students to do something you don’t do yourself.

The thing about students, whether they are little ones, sixth graders, or high schoolers, is they can sniff out a fraud. Immediately. Week one and they already know if you have control of your class, if you care about them, and if you know what you’re talking about. This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement on the teacher’s part. It does mean that if you aren’t prepared to be a great teacher, you won’t be.

Some teachers, unfortunately, are okay with that.

 There is nothing more vulnerable than standing in front of a class full of students and trying to fill the day with meaningful activities and discussions all while maintaining a climate conducive to learning. This process begins with knowing your craft.

For a teacher, there are two crafts to master: your subject, and your profession. It is not enough just to know a lot about physics or how to teach reading. If you have not taken the time to learn the material yourself, anticipated all the questions, thoughtfully prepared your lesson plans, and come to class organized, you will not reach your potential as an educator. Regardless of your intellect, your magnetic personality, or your firm hand as a disciplinarian, you will fall short of your potential.


Illumination Key #2: Embrace Every Unique Learner

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but I will say it just in case…by ‘embrace’ I do not mean you must physically embrace each student every day! Hugs, given in the right way and at the right time, can be effective. Trust me, I hug constantly. Students know they cannot get past me without one.

A teacher can get away with not hugging, of course. What they cannot get away with is ignoring this simple fact: not every student learns the same way. So you must learn to embrace every unique learner.

Corollary: not every student learns the way you do.

The subject of learning styles has been a passion of mine for years. The topic has worked its way into nearly every book I have written on education, teaching, and parenting. (You can have a free ebook on it by clicking here). The point is, I believe in it strongly. And here is why:

You can love the students, know your craft, have complete control over your classroom environment, but if you are not varying your teaching style to accommodate the intricacies and particulars of every student, you will not illuminate or reach your students to the degree that you desire.

A good teacher who ignores this fact is like a great athlete who does not care for their body. Eventually, the body will break down, and regardless of work ethic and talent, the athlete will no longer perform at their highest level.

You must begin with knowing your craft. A lesson plan full of love only just won’t cut it. After that, you must tailor that lesson plan to meet the learning style needs of each student. For many teachers, this can be uncomfortable, because most teachers were good students themselves who teach in the learning style they learn in best. Yet, just as you must continue to challenge yourself to know your discipline better, you must challenge yourself to understand your students better.


Illumination Key #3: Cultivate the Climate

Bad teachers fail because they never learn their craft. Good teachers come up short when they neglect to alter their teaching style to meet the variety of learning styles in their classroom.

But all teachers can fail if they do not have mastery over their classroom climate.

The great ones? This is where they excel. All you have to do is spend five minutes in their class to know whether the teacher is in charge and leading everyone in learning…or whether the inmates are running the asylum.

Just as two restaurants could be identical in food, in the same neighborhood, and in the same price range, you may consistently choose one over the other. Why? The environment.

A treasured teacher understands how to cultivate the classroom climate to be a rich learning culture. There are a number of ways to enrich the environment. We will touch on them in upcoming blogs, but for now suffice it to say that cultivating the climate you want is both the foot of the hill as well as the mountain top.

A lack of control can undermine even the best, most prepared, most caring teacher in the world, while a classroom that reflects not only discipline and order but one that uses the entire environment to ignite creativity and joy in learning, that is a class where illumination is happening daily.

Administrators – I’m Here for You, too!

This blog is called “Equipping Educators” for a reason: in order to include headmasters, principals, and all the other key role players integral to the process of educating our children. There will be weekly blogs for you, too. But still pay attention to the ones for teachers, so you can teach the lessons you learn to your faculty. There will be others tailored to the unique position you hold in your school. So check back soon. Or subscribe to the blog by email!

Jody Capehart is the author of several books on parenting and education www.jodycapehart.com and is known as the School Whisperer – for more information click here