Sound bites from a day with Dr. Tom Guskey

Dr Guskey

Recently our district had the honor of hosting Dr. Tom Guskey from the University of Kentucky, College of Education. His presentation to our district faculty and staff was on the topic of Standards Based Grading and Reporting. As I sat in the auditorium, as close as I could get to the front…I listened intently to deepen my understanding of this practice and also to have my own thoughts validated! I took notes during the presentation in hopes of later rereading and synthesizing all of the important points of Standards Based Grading & Reporting.

Here are some of the sound bites from my day listening to Dr. Guskey:

“We don’t agree on the purpose of WHY we grade and report.”

“We also disagree on what counts for a grade as well.”

“Let’s bring this (disagreements) out in the open and deal with them first.”

“Checking is NOT grading.” Learning still in progress

“It’s what you do with the evidence that makes it formative; and what you do must be different then what you did before.”

“Method follows purpose.” Determine the purpose of a grade and then the best method of reporting.

“The more grading options (ie. A-F or 100-0) the greater subjectivity rate. No chance of teachers coming to the same grade on one students work.”

“Choose 4-6 standards to report. More is not needed. Break down standards and report by strand.”

“Mathematical precision does NOT yield fairer or more objective grades!”

“If you want to show what a student knows and can do, you won’t find out through mathematical precision.”

“Kids have figured out percentages before we have.”

“If you aced all the tests and quizzes and didn’t do any homework, would you not still deserve an ‘A’?”

“Professional judgment has greater impact on measuring true student proficiency.”

“Grading Criteria: Product, Process, Progress. Problem if they are all lumped together.” Pull them apart to measure each area separately.

“All parents want to know is, ‘Is my kid on track?’ and don’t wait until May to tell me he’s not.”

So what have I learned…like in everything else we do…

  • We need to understand the WHY…FIRST!!
  • We need to put our parents and students understanding first!
  • We are in the business of learning so we need to start measuring it.
  • We are professionals and need to start trusting ourselves, not publishers, for what is best to teach students.
  • We won’t get any further down this road unless we rely on and trust each other!! Notice each sentence starts with WE!

So what thoughts did I have validated…all this is possible with the courage to lead!

Disclaimer: I tried my best to capture his every word and quote accurately but in some cases I came very close 🙂

Don’t just be on a PLC team…BE THE PLC TRIBE!

the element“Finding your tribe can have transformative effects on your sense of identity and purpose. This is because of three powerful tribal dynamics: validation, inspiration, and what we’ll call here the “alchemy of synergy.” Sir Ken Robinson, The Element

 I’m in the process of reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element, and find his common sense, straight forward, logical thinking a breath of fresh air. The book is primarily about how to find your “Element”, the place in which you are your best self and feel passion and purpose in what you are naturally meant to do. The book outlines several ways in which people have gone about fining their element. Of particular interest to me, was this notion Robinson calls ‘finding your tribe.’ I immediately started to think about the connection a ‘tribe’ has with a ‘PLC’. He says that a crucial component to finding your element, is finding your tribe. What I find so interesting is that he says that it’s not essential for members of a tribe to share the same vision and can either be collaborative or competitive. He explains that what connects a tribe is the ‘common commitment’ they have to doing what they feel they were born to do. Like in the quote above, what a tribe does is validates your belonging to that commitment, inspires you to “raise the bar” of that commitment, and synergy to elevate that commitment together as a tribe to attain what is not otherwise possible alone.

I would absolutely say that finding your PLC ‘tribe’ would have “transformative effects on your sense of identity and purpose” both as an individual and as an educational system, if that is what you come looking for. If you find this tribe, Robinson assures us we will also more likely find our “element” where we are creative, dynamic, passionate, and do our most brilliant work. We need to stop looking at a PLC as simply a team we belong to but rather a place we come to be in our “Element’; a tribe where we validate and inspire each other and bring our individual passions and abilities to create a collaborative synergy that elevates the whole tribes work, and each individuals passion, higher then could be achieved alone. This is the type of PLC tribe that impacts student achievement and promotes quality teachers who continually grow and learn out of a desire and drive they feel…because they have found their “Element”!

Observe a PLC team next time through the lens of whether they are a tribe or just a team? If your wondering what to look for, here’s a start…they drive their own agendas, push themselves, always question to learn, and put words and thoughts into action to see students growing and learning. They look like a beehive at the height of the honey season…all a buzz, each working seamlessly for the good of the hive and their future potential to be great!

If you are part of a PLC team, ask yourself why you are there? Like in the quote above, are you there to validate your belonging to your common commitment? Are you there to inspire each other to “raise the bar” of that commitment? Are you there to be part of the synergy to elevate that commitment together as a tribe to attain what is not otherwise possible alone?

My wish for all of you is to find your tribe, be a part of a tribe, and allow your identity and purpose to be transformed. Don’t just be on a PLC team…BE THE PLC TRIBE!

Are we there yet?


When the kids were little, we use to drive the 21 hours from Chicago to Florida for our family vacation. Not an hour into the drive would one of the kids start with the oh-so-familiar phrase, “Are we there yet?” that would then be repeated for the remainder of the trip. My responses would begin with something mild and motherly like, “no honey, not yet, it’s going to take a long time” to a more impatient, “no, please stop asking, you’ll know when you see the beach”. Now the kids are grown and in our recent trip to visit my husband in Abu Dhabi, it struck me that not one of them ever asked the question! Not that I missed it, but it made me stop and reflect on why that might be and I made a connection to how people view a journey.

Personally, I feel there is great value in the process of a journey rather then the actual destination. When the kids were small and had little understanding of the process of taking a trip, they were not interested in how we get there but just that we get there. The importance was in the end product; beach, pool, and playing in the sand. I would have to say that working in education, many educators hold this same focus on the end result, rather then the journey we take together. The journey process holds the greatest capacity for learning; take for example a family vacation with little kids. Remember all that you learned about packing, mapping out the best route, the ideal time of day to leave so the kids would sleep most of the way, places to stop along the way to break up the trip, states to watch your speed (NEVER speed through Georgia!), car games to teach and play with the kids! Countless opportunities to learn, understand, and appreciate the journey.

If I viewed the adoption of the Common Core with the same regard, I could say as well that the journey to adopt and implement is full of learning! Teachers involved in every step of the process of unpacking and understanding a standards-based education, powering the standards with colleagues, rich conversations to prioritize the learning outcomes, articulating standards between grades to ensure fluid learning for students, mapping the power standards into quarters, using standards to design pre and post assessments to measure student learning, and reporting out to parents using a standards based report card. How rich are all of these opportunities for a system of educators to experience together. How often do we still hear the cry, “Are we there yet?” I’d like to presuppose why this phrase is used; the learning journey is hard! From sitting in a car as a child, for 21 hours not really knowing where it is you are going; to educators spending a substantial amount of time changing their mindset and practice to meet the new standards. It’s not easy…it’s hard…and worth it!

Why have my grown children now stopped asking the question? I would say it is because of all they learned about the process of a journey. They have an appreciation for and trust in the process enough to know that there is great value in how you get there, as in arriving! Just in this one trip alone we have met dynamic people from all walks of life that we will remember forever, who have confirmed in all of us how truly amazing peoples stories can be and how rich a journey is when we take time to notice and learn. Some examples; a 27 year old man who sat next to my son who was flying for the first time in a plane back home to New York for Christmas; the cab driver, Faisal, drove us from LaGuardia to JFK, one of 22 brothers and sisters native to North Sudan, who entertained my simple Arabic phrases and shared his view of the dyer situation currently gripping his nation (I could write a whole blog just on our conversation alone); the three Serbian (my national background) flight attendants on Emirates and the young man Amir, also Croatian, who all made the 12 hour flight more bearable by sharing in speaking (and me practicing) Serbian. Was the trip hard….YES…exhausting, frustrating, uncomfortable… but we are profoundly changed because of it!

I would encourage my colleagues to not be so concerned and quick to come to the end of their journey of just saying they have adopted the Common Core but rather to allow the uncomfortable, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating work to profoundly change how we teach! My hope for all of us would be to grow up, like my children, having an appreciation for and trust in the process of the journey…the reality is, if you’re too focused on just getting there, you miss many opportunities to venture off the path and deepen your learning as you go.

Bon Voyage!

I’m a teacher…I’m a leader…I’m a student

Golden Apples

The original name of this post was ” What do all high performing students around the world have?” I wrote the blog back in October after my very first #EdCamp experience. This weekend #EdcampChicago will be at Paletine HS.  I will not be a newbie, but I am just as excited to go and learn again. I thought you might enjoy reading this blog again or maybe for the first time. My hope is that it inspires you to always be a student!

 I attended an Ed Camp here in Chicago. I had heard many great things from my PLN  (Professional Learning Network: Twitter) community about these events. A sucker for PD, I signed up right away with fervor and eagerness to experience what others had said was life changing. I had the honor of interacting with and listening to many passionate teachers/leaders from all content areas. Some were first year teachers and some with many years under their belt; a plethora of knowledge and expertise surrounded me. If you have the opportunity to attend one, do yourself a favor and go! It is food for the learning soul!

As I attended each “organic” session topic, (formative assessment, standards based grading, quality picture books, authentic learning) and met faces I had only known from their Twitter picture (people are way more beautiful in person!), I was like a teacher with PTO money in a Lakeshore Learning store! At lunch, a new friend even noticed my wide eyes and wagging tail. My newness was exposed! The experience of owning my own learning for the day, interacting with colleagues who openly shared their knowledge, encouraged questions and clarification, openly solicited concerns and what-ifs, prompted me to reflect about the commonalities we all had today. We were all clearly highly qualified teachers with a passion and love for students and teaching!! It was one of those moments that I wished time froze for just a second so I could capture it and yell, “YES!! THIS IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT!!! YES!!

We know a lot about the research that speaks to the relationship between the quality of the teacher and the impact on student growth and learning. Yet do we feel what I felt today each and every time we walk into our schools and classrooms? Isn’t that what a community of learning is supposed to feel like? Isn’t that what high quality teacher’s look and sound like? YES! It is! All of the educators that came today and many others around the world, these highly qualified teachers, possess the ability to passionately energize, engage, and share their many gifts with their colleagues and students, I believe daily!! What highly qualified teachers have in common I witnessed today…passion, love, and urgency to make a difference in their student’s lives, with no reservation for perceived obstacles!  A simple answer to a complex question. Thank you and bravo to all educators who recognize the importance of their work and contribute to their learning communities. I celebrate each and every one of you!! Honored to be an educator with you!

PS. When’s the next one?!

Are you coaching yourself out of a job? STOP!


Coaching. What is it? What does it look like and sound like?  We know what it looks like from the side lines of a sports event; Ditka, in the day, screaming at his players or Bobby Knight throwing chairs at his. Calling plays, yelling, arguing with officials. In the health profession, fitness coaches who teach us how to work our bodies to the max (can’t move next day) and tell us what to eat and what not. Counting reps, encouraging us to hold it one more second, telling us to squeeze those cheeks (ok, maybe just me). Coaches exists now in almost every profession.

When it come to the field of education, what is it? What does it look like and sound like? There are many schools of thought about kinds of coaching; cognitive coaching (A.L. Costa & R.J. Garmston), instructional coaching (Jim Knight), student centered coaching (Dianne Sweeney), heavy or light coaching (J. Killion) all of which ARE coaching. It all looks the same; primarily a content coach sitting knee to knee, side by side, having conversations about the art of teaching and their students. Thinking, talking, brainstorming, laughing, crying…changing. Together. Now that we know what it is, how it looks and sounds. What is its purpose?

Although coaching in different fields looks, sounds, is different; is the purpose different? Doug Reeves made great impact on my thinking about coaching when I heard him speak at a Learning Forward conference. From his research, he wrote a great book called, Transforming Professional Development for Student Results, that talks just about that…the purpose. Well it’s really about immediate feedback… that is our coaching purpose! Job embedded immediate feedback. The best model of professional learning there is! In any coaching model, sport, music, education, health, its about the focus of the feedback that brings about change. Coaching is focused, immediate feedback to promote change. Change to want to be and do better for the greater good; whether it’s a sports team, office team, PLCs, choir, orchestra, opera, family, you see where I’m going with this…all of us and any of us. It is coaching to change for the greater good through reflection and feedback because that is how we are programmed, by nature, to want to and need to belong to a team. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at work.

So does it really matter in the world of educational coaching which one you are? (All due respect to Knight, Sweeney, Costa and the experts) Or is it more important to be the one your client needs you to be in order for them to meet their needs to change for the greater good? Our craft is learning about all models, building relationships based in trust and inquiry, and possessing a vision that is beyond our clients target.

Thought. What does coaching sound like to coaches? The one phrase that we need to change in the world of educational coaching is; Coaching ourselves out of a job. Really? Coaches out there, nod with me, I know you have heard this from leaders in the field, administration, conference sessions. I understand the purpose of the phrase, its meant to mean; to build autonomous teachers who can deliver best practice lessons and use strategies that provoke higher level thinking in our students and understand their students needs so they can differentiate and create formative assessments that inform their instruction and provide powerful growth producing feedback to their students and parents and work together all the while collaboratively as a team to look at data so instruction can be fluid and consistent for students. I hope you see my point.

There’s a great need for coaching during this EPIC time in education. Saying to a coach that their purpose is to work themselves out of a job, as their goal is not a good goal. How is that supposed to motivate and engage? How does that match what coaching is, supposed to look like and sound like, if that’s my goal? Of course we matter and our work is important, so please tell us that and build us in our craft. But don’t tell us to coach ourselves out of a job…its the wrong message. Tell us instead that we need to be Excellent in our content areas, Engaged in our work and others, and be Ethical in what we do by providing equity to all who want to be coached. This is how Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligence’s) defines what good work is with his research. I would add one more that Gardner is on the fence about and that would be, Empathy for those you work with. It’s the relationship piece Maslow helps us understand.

Tell us this and how by doing this we add value and leverage to our educational systems to help our community of learners, adults and students, achieve their best!


What’s the connection between my blog name, Carpe Diem, and what you will find here?

Intentional thinking and leading.

I will seize a thought in its infancy stages and develop it here with you. learn with you. and from you. I encourage you to leave me comments that will add and propel our thoughts forward. I don’t really know what topics will start to unravel on these pages but I will stick with topics I am passionate about, things that matter and impact change. I am in the education field and naturally you can assume that teaching and learning will be central to most of my posts.

I look forward to the relationships that will form here as we engage, encourage, and stretch each others ideas, visions, and perspectives.

Like all high functioning groups, we have some norms here to ensure it is a safe environment in which to learn from each other.

Read with an open mind to learn, Respect the gift of others views, Remember it’s not about you, so don’t take it personally.

Come, let’s seize the day!