November/December 2019
Volume XVI Issue XI


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Hot Topics:

Words of Wisdom


With so much information coming our way, it may be difficult to keep up with all the opinions/convictions being shared by fellow educators on topics that can impact how we carry out our work-related responsibilities. My goal in this newsletter is to update readers on educational issues through a series of questions coupled with answers from a variety of professionals, authors and bloggers. Hopefully these insights will help practitioners determine where they stand on a series of educational “hot topics.”

Does successful leadership have to be a complicated process?

“I absolutely believe that if, as a leader, you simply do the little things every day, there then are no big issues to overcome. Visibility, honesty, empowering others, keeping your word, never leveling anyone by job description, and saying a simple ‘thank you’ are the start of a positive formula, and each of your actions needs to be real, meaningful and sustainable. Lead with passion for the school community and watch everyone follow your lead.

– Joseph Erardi
Superintendent, Newton Public Schools,
Newton, Connecticut

What are behaviors teachers would like to see in their leaders?
“They use small moments to see us, to include us.They leave a note during a class visit, or ask us to share a thought during a faculty meeting. They design PD around our needs and include themselves in the learning. They learn our skills and passion and call us in to the cooperative work of running the school.”

Jonathon Medeiros,
Education Week Teacher

Are there certain things a teacher can do to improve student motivation?
“In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers identified three important qualities in a teaching style that promote students’ self-determination, a proven motivation builder:

  • Encourage autonomy and allow students to make key decisions about their learning
  • Provide positive feedback designed to support instead of control
  • Put yourself in your students’ shoes and attempt to see things from their point of view.

Virginia Journal of Education

How can we improve students’ writing skills?
“In many cases successful writing approaches will be exciting, social, noisy, but they should always be intentionally structured to build students’ skills, confidence and motivation. Motivation is particularly important. If students love to write, because their peers as well as their teachers are eager to see what they have to say, then they will write with energy and pleasure. Perhaps more than any other subject, writing demands a supportive environment in which students want to become better writers because they love the opportunity to express themselves and to interact in writing with valued peers and teachers.”

-Robert Slavin,
“Writing Approaches in Years 3 to 13”
Institute for Effective Education

Is there such a thing as being a born teacher?
“The idea that a great personality makes a great teacher is fantasy. The vibrancy we notice in an excellent teacher may really be a combination of skilled pedagogy, a highly developed awareness of the teacher’s presence, emotions, and needs, and the consciousness to attend to them as well as we all want to do for our students.”

Ariel Sacks
“What Makes A Great Teacher: Pedagogy or Personality?”
Education Week

Are benchmark assessments essential to improving student achievement?
“The bad news is that research on benchmark assessments shows that they make no difference on student performance on standardized tests. Zero. And benchmark tests take a lot of instructional time and gobble up district funds.”

Robert Slavin,
“Benchmark Assessments: Weighing the Pig More Often?”
Robert Slavin’s Blog

Should we be concerned about the training our potential teachers are receiving?
“There are 1,400 plus traditional teacher-prep institutions. With so little quality control being exercised and so little information available, key decisions are about as random as a coin toss.”

Kate Walsh,
President, National Council on Teacher Quality

How important is trust among educators?
“Though one of the hardest to build, trust is one of the most important components of classroom and school culture. Students and staff need to know that it’s okay to take risks, to make mistakes, and that others will be there to support them when in needs. Trust breeds creativity and creativity fuels excellence.”

Loryn Windwehen, Assistant Principal.
Northside Independent School District, San Antonio, Texas

Should student achievement be linked to how fast a learner can complete a test?
“Why do we believe that speed reflects intelligence? As teachers we see all sorts of students who work at different speeds, which produce both intelligent and not-so-intelligent results. Our emphasis on speed is antiethical to stimulating meaningful learning. It’s time to end timed tests.”

Alden Blodget
“Don’t Stop, Don’t Put Down Your Pencils: It’s Time to End Timed Tests.”
Education Week

Are schools emphasizing the right skills and knowledge?
“From kindergarten on, students spend thousands of hours studying subjects irrelevant to the modern labor market. What’s wrong with schooling isn’t its failure to meet the demands of the job market, but its failure to meet deep personal and societal needs.”

Valerie Strauss
“12 ideas that help explain what’s wrong with schooling today”
Washington Post

Has ESSA realized its fullest potential?
“Nowadays, thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), school system leaders are once again supposed to come up with creative ways to address local challenges. The shackles are off. Compliant is out; bold is in. Hallelujah! But for a whole generation of superintendents and system leaders, compliance is all they’ve ever known.”

Joshua P. Starr,
Phi Delta Kappan

Should schools be thinking more deeply about grading practices?
“…grading reform must be front and center in schools, districts, and teacher training programs. This is the only way schools will finally retire inaccurate, inequitable, antiquated paradigms of student assessment.”

-Brad Olsen and Rebecca Buchanan
“An Investigation of Teachers Encouraged to
Reform Grading Practices in Secondary Schools”
American Educational Research

How should we best address the needs of our problem students?
“We need to focus on looking at our kids as solutions and not the problem. Too many times I hear principals or superintendents say, ‘If I didn’t have this type of child in my system, I would be doing great.’ And my response to that is, ‘You do have that child, so let’s make sure your system is great because it’s supposed to be great for all kids.”

Angelica Infante-Green
Rhode Island Commission of Elementary and Secondary Education

What is the most important piece of advice a teacher can receive?
“My biggest piece of advice to teachers is to take control of your professional development. Constantly look in the mirror and assess your weaknesses, then find professional development opportunities that build up your weaknesses in the classroom.”

Rodney Robinson
National Teacher of the Year

Are textbooks really that essential to student learning?
“I feel social studies textbooks are useless. Way too much information. They mention everything therefore students remember noting. I believe without a shadow of a shred to a doubt that if you want students to think and analyze, you have to first master the basic content vocabulary and skills, and really practice them.”

Mark Ingerson,
Salem High School , Salem, Virgina

What can leaders do to promote literacy in their schools?
“It’s my job to support my teachers as they create literacy-rich classrooms. We do this by ensuring that all students, every day, are given explicit literacy instruction, read to read with, allowed ample time to practice reading and writing independently, talking about their thinking and learning and working with language.”

Fatima Cooke,
Principal, Chicago Public Schools


As educators, we have the responsibility of providing the best possible educational experience for our children. Therefore, it is essential that we take time to grapple with information coming our way in a fast and furious manner. Hopefully, these newsworthy excerpts have provided insights that will lead to better decisions in the future.





Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “Hot Topics: Words of Wisdom”  Just for the ASKing! November/December 2019. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. © 2019. All rights reserved. Available at