Friday, October 29, 2010

Jack Berckemeyer at NYSMSA Conference

“It became apparent during the interview that humor would play a huge part in our team’s dynamics if I got the job. The interview was going along well until, while I was answering a question enthusiastically, a big drop of spit flew out of my mouth and landed well toward the middle of the table.”
Jack Berckemeyer

This past week I had the huge pleasure of listening to Jack Berckemeyer at the NYSMSA State Conference. Jack was an enthusiastic, motivating teacher from Colorado who spoke at the banquet dinner after a series of awards and short speeches. When it was his turn to be on stage, he nearly jumped out of his seat and before too long, I found that I was falling out of mine, laughing. Jack’s message was as straight to the point as it was funny.

Jack’s first rule in the classroom is to engage the students. Keep them moving. He described middle school students being like that of herded cats and movement helps to keep them focused. He continued to say that learning is a collaborative process; cooperative groups can be engaging for middle schoolers. His second rule is to show that you care for the students. Humor helps, but students can tell if you don’t want to be in there. He also discussed the learning environment and the effect it can have on students. These rules were discussed during his speech, but he goes well in-depth in his book, “Managing the Madness.” (I have a copy of the book – let me know if you’d like to borrow it.) His book provides many strategies and processes to reinforce his rules, in true Berckemeyer style.

During Jack’s talk to the assembled teachers, administrators, and honored guests, he rolled from one comical story to another; each tale seemed relatively familiar since most of us had spent time in a middle school, which made everything that much more humorous. At one point during the talk his voice calmed, the tone turned serious, and everyone leaned forward to hear. The message was clear – success in the classroom comes down to the relationships we form with the students. As he explained this, the gathered professionals were silent. Gradually, as the truth seemed to permeate our core, the applause began. Jack Berckemeyer understood the secret to the middle-level: Relationships. I found myself standing with ovation, appreciation, and agreement. The team from AAK knew this as the truth. I felt pride in being a part of that team which understood the power that Jack Berckemeyer spoke of.

Let’s keep building positive relationships with our students and enjoy your weekend.

Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Today, eight of our colleagues are standing out. They will be presenting their procedures, products, and programs before the masses at the New York State Middle School Association’s state conference. Still another member of our faculty will be presenting at another state-level conference in about a month. They have agreed to prepare and plan, then present a usable product for other educators to learn about. They have placed countless hours before computer screens making sure every nuance of their ‘show’ is perfect. I speculate that many have also practiced their talk in front of a mirror in the attempt to gauge their timing. This is extremely stressful and I commend them for it. However, I believe the real stress comes from standing out.

Early in my career I took a graduate class from one of our favorite college professors, Harvey Smith. Harvey told me that one of the components to being a leader is the ability to take risks. I didn’t understand this at that young age, but I certainly know now. In the various positions I’ve held throughout my career I’ve had to place myself on the front lines and stand out for one concern or another. There is a risk to leadership. Criticism and possible ridicule is always a hazard for those that stand out. Is this a reason not to stand out and stay in the shadow of conformity and capitulation?

There are both professional and personal rewards to placing yourself in a leadership position. Our nine colleagues will experience these rewards, most likely after their presentations; they will sense the professional and personal satisfaction that comes from standing out. AAK is looked at as being a leader in the forefront of middle-level education and these nine leaders confirm our standing as a School to Watch. Through the frustration of being a presenter, the rush of time since they agreed to placing themselves up on stage, and concern over leaving their class and finding the “right” outfit – they’ve come to understand that leaders don’t always have an easy path. Our nine colleagues are voluntarily placing themselves in positions of leadership.

AAK has experienced success in many areas. None of this would be possible without people voluntarily standing out. On Thursday I checked into this hotel I now write from. The desk clerk greeted me with a smile and asked me how my trip was. This clerk was a leader in his own right and made an impact on me. I felt that this person really cared about me and about placing the “best foot forward.” He stood out. As I walked away with a smile I thought about all the little tasks people do that make an impact on others. I thought about my dad telling me that a job worth doing was worth doing well. Our nine colleagues have decided to stand out and make a difference in other middle schools by telling them what we do well.

AAK can be proud of Doug, Randy, Corey, Denielle, Tommy, Mary, Kristen, Carol, and Chrystal. It’s never easy to stand out as leaders. We’re fortunate to have these professionals a part of our work family. We can take a lesson from them and stand out in our own ways.

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Long-Distance Running

In support of LEAN Challenge, I’ve decided to focus my thoughts on what I consider to be one of the most difficult sports to engage in. Few athletes have participated in long-distance running. Fewer still have mastered or even done well in this sport.

I’ve always been impressed with an athlete who can run a marathon, a half-marathon, or even a 10K. Personally, anything more than the required thirty minutes of activity three times a week is a struggle for me. There’s something about a long-distance runner that I admire; they can’t fake it. They either finish the race or stop. They can’t sit-back and be covered by a teammate. There are no “bad games” for a runner or everyone knows who’s at fault. I’m not looking down at team sports, in fact one of my favorite quotes is from Coach Mitchell, “All you need to know in life you learn playing basketball.” This may be true for some, but I played basketball and have had bad games – and still my team won. Rather, I’m speaking to the preparation that is required to run a marathon: planning, mind-set, pace, collaboration of information, discipline, and the ability to listen to a coach.

Coincidentally, this is also what it takes to be a great teacher.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The 17 Intentions of an Effective Teacher

Over past several weeks I’ve written about the concept of intentionality. I’ve stated my conviction regarding the necessity of intentionally creating positive relationships; however, there’s more to this concept. The 17 Intentions of an Effective Teacher was introduced to me when I was teaching mathematics at the high school and I often thought that it would be difficult to consistently implement into individual lessons. Well, you have proven me wrong. While visiting your classrooms I have ‘intentionally’ looked for and found specific evidence of these components. You have provided some highly successful learning experiences for your students.

I would encourage you to continue implementing these Intentions.

The Foundation-
Underlying classroom practices

1. Safe and nurturing environment – do you create a classroom environment where students feel free to think critically and express their views without fear?
2. Public speaking – do you structure lessons that require and nurture public speaking, in pairs and small groups as well as in front of the entire class?
3. Opportunities for success – do you provide every student with frequent opportunities to experience “success”?
4. Validation of student work and responses – do you let each student know when his or her efforts are praiseworthy?

The Exploratory Phase-
The beginning of the lesson or unit

5. Grab attention – do you begin class in a manner likely to encourage students to look forward to what comes next?
6. Prepare students to engage – do you create activities that focus student thinking, excite their imaginations, and prepare them to meet and exceed the learning standards.
7. Assess and access prior knowledge – do you design activities that will help students (and you) to access and assess their prior knowledge, interests, and needs?

The Discovery Phase-
The part of the lesson in which students learn and demonstrate they are meeting the learning objectives of the lesson

8. The learning objectives – do you clearly state the one, two, or three specific things you want your students to learn? Have you cast these specific objectives in terms of what your students will understand, relate to, perform or create? Are the objectives aligned with appropriate learning standards?
9. Authentic task – do you frame learning tasks that are as authentic as possible and that will allow students to demonstrate their skill with or understanding of the learning objective(s)?
10. Ownership – do you create learning tasks that enable students to feel pride and assume responsibility for their own learning?
11. Options – do you offer students optional ways to accomplish the learning task, and therefore reach the learning objectives(s)?
12. Multiple intelligences – do you offer students frequent opportunities to utilize their stronger intelligences (recognizing that there are going to be times when they will also have to rely on their weaker ones)?
13. Appropriate resources – do you make sure that the resources necessary to accomplish the assigned student-centered activities are available, or can be made available, to students?
14. Interventions – do you look for opportunities (teachable moments) to intervene either in response to student questions or in reaction to student work, by “working the room” while students are engaged in an activity?
15. Cognitively rich questions – do you seize every opportunity: to intervene in student work with questions that require students to think critically; to phrase task questions to require critical thinking; and to require students to create their own cognitively rich questions that create disequilibrium?
16. Reflection – do you, during a learning experience, create opportunities for students to think about their thinking, to assess their progress and their decisions thus far? Do you, at the end of each day’s lesson, provide students with a brief closure activity that elicits evidence of something students have learned as a result of the lesson?
17. Assessment measures – do you utilize multiple forms of assessment to judge student performance, including effective use of rubrics? Is instructional improvement the primary reason you assess students? Is teacher observation structured to be the most meaningful form of assessment?

Copyright (c) 2005, Institute for Learner Centered Education.