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Volume IX Issue V

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You Can Quote Me on That!

Bruce Oliver

Bruce facilitating a Leading the Learning® workshop


They are everywhere. They appear on monuments, in news stories, on greeting cards, on billboards, in advertisements, on clothing, on the Internet and in historic documents.  Famous ones transcend time, are passed on from generation to generation, and are often included in great literature. I am speaking of quotes or quotations which are an omnipresent part of our everyday lives. Quotes can inspire, cause us to react emotionally, or even move to action.

Because quotes are all around us, they sometimes go unnoticed. Others might move us momentarily but are quickly forgotten. There are, however, spoken or written words that make us stop and react. We often read them a second time and perhaps write them down because we want to remember them. This issue features quotes from my log of meaningful quotes, notable to me because they caught my attention and influenced my thinking.

Robert Swan
Explorer and Environmentalist

“If you don’t understand what makes people tick, they won’t tick.”

It has always been puzzling to me that some individuals can be oblivious to the feelings, emotions, or reactions of the people around them. Some individuals are perplexed or confused when the people around them do not behave or respond in the way they expect. They might be overly judgmental, unconsciously aloof, seemingly preoccupied, mercurial, or come across as not caring about what others think. Whether it is a principal working with a faculty, a teacher working with a classroom of students, or educators working with their peers, they will never achieve professional fulfillment until they take the time to be introspective and reflect on their own behavior. They might have the power within themselves to set the tone in the classroom or the entire school in a new and refreshing way.

Morrie Schwartz
Former College Professor

“You have not lived a perfect day, even though you have earned your money, unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

The quote above comes from the 1997 nonfiction novel by author Mitch Albom entitled Tuesdays with Morrie. Morrie Schwartz was a 79-year-old sociology professor who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Morrie’s words inspire because there is no greater goal for an educator than to impact the life of a young person or co-worker in a positive and perhaps unexpected way. This quote brings to mind the many self-effacing educators who work with quiet dignity and humility, changing the lives of others for the better. Their stories of benevolence and magnanimity are often shared by colleagues who inadvertently heard about the selfless act. In most cases, it is likely that no one would ever know of the kindness or inspiration provided by these noble professionals had their story not accidentallly come forth. These amazing educators truly understand the bigger picture of our profession and that school is so much more than imparting one’s curriculum.

Joe DiMaggio
Baseball Legend

“There is always a kid who may be seeing me for the first time or last time. I owe him my best.”

As professionals, we should always take our responsibilities as educators seriously. The goal of bringing our “A” game to the classroom each day should be at the forefront of our thinking. If our lessons become rote, mechanical, and predictable with little or no passion, students may become listless, passive, and uninvolved. However, if each of us plans as if today will be the only day our students will learn from us, we can provide exciting and fulfilling experiences that will be memorable and open their minds to new learning. There is no doubt that our days are filled with challenges, interruptions, and sometimes unexpected disruptions. These realities should not deter us from giving our best each day.  

Dr. Anthony Jackson
School Superintendent

“We are good at setting up expectations but we must align behaviors with beliefs.”

In the field of education, we are constantly exposed to exciting ideas and new research.  There is never a dearth of possible options from which we can select new ways to improve instructional delivery and thus, improve student learning. As professionals, we attend conferences, participate in workshops, read books and journals, collaborate with our peers, and discover new ideas on the Internet. We gather lots of information and often take an abundance of notes, highlight extensive amounts of written materials, and use a plethora of sticky notes to remember what we have heard. What happens next is most important. As we return to our workplaces, the immediacy of the day’s events takes precedence; we often set aside the information we gathered to review as time allows. For some of us, that time never comes as the urgent supplants the importance. 

Two thoughts come to mind. Many of us use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals in the planning process. Simply establishing the goals does not do the trick. We must be passionate about taking SMART actions to ensure that the goals move student learning to higher levels. Second, the popular phrase, “Think outside the box,” is a noble prospect. However, as one administrator said, “It’s not good enough to think outside the box, we must act outside the box after we have the thought.” Simply nodding our heads in agreement when we hear good ideas is not sufficient; we must then transfer those ideas into classroom behaviors if we truly want to improve our craft.

Dr. Daniel Loretz
Harvard Education Professor

“If students score well on math tests, but appear to be bored, passive, or uninvolved with the curriculum, a test score may be an incomplete picture of a student’s motivation, willingness to learn, or maintain an open mind ready for a new challenge.”

Although Dr. Koretz’s quote specifically references math, it applies to any subject matter. It is frightening how some students figure out how to pass the test but quickly forget the content they mastered only for the moment, or in preparation for an annual standardized test. Put more succinctly, they are going through the motions but not learning. There is no doubt that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation caused us to pay more attention to the achievement of all children; it provided a wake-up call for us to take a realistic look at our achievement data and take actions to ensure that all students were learning at higher levels. As the years have passed, many teachers, schools, districts, and states have focused on test scores as an almost exclusive way to measure growth. In some situations, “achieving the score” has become the primary goal and cause for celebration. In some instances, test preparation has superseded creativity, skill drill has taken the place of active student learning, and factual learning has replaced critical thinking and real-world problem solving. Although some students have made progress as a result of these approaches, others have languished in mediocrity. If we take an honest look in classrooms and ask ourselves important questions, we might find that we are coming up short. Questions we might consider are:

  • Are the students bored or passive?
  • Are the lessons rigorous and relevant?
  • Is an overabundance of time spent on mundane lessons “prepping for the tests” or are the students experiencing powerful and engaging lessons that will undoubtedly lead to success anyway when the tests are administered?
  • Do students’ reactions to lessons help determine whether they are truly learning and growing?
  • And finally, if I were a student in this class, would I be interested, motivated, intrigued, and excited as a result of my daily learning opportunities?

Dr. Claus von Zastrow
Author and Director of Research for Change the Equation

“Any innovation, no matter how cool or sexy, will flounder on poor implementation.”

Some educators reject new leading or learning approaches, or procrastinate with their implementation of new ideas; others rush quickly to put new methods into practice. We, of course, should always have open minds because closed minds can be one of our greatest drawbacks.  On the other hand, acting on initial excitement, some may implement a new strategy too hastily and see it fall flat because they did not think through the implementation carefully and inadvertently omitted important steps or clear explanations of the purpose or outcome of the work. Education’s landscape is filled with powerful ideas that have been poorly implemented and thus summarily discarded. For example, Professional Learning Communities (PLC) have the potential to have a huge impact on student learning, but poorly investigated or carried out, the work may be viewed by some practitioners as a grandiose waste of time. Another example is differentiation of instruction, which is an absolute necessity in today’s classrooms. Hastily putting into practice a new idea to meet the diverse needs of learners without thinking through its purpose, the amount of instructional time it will take, or its connection to the required standards may lead to frustration and discouragement. The purpose of any new teaching or leading strategy must be clearly understood; those who take their time to work through all the necessary details are much more satisfied, and, as a result, students and staff are appropriately responsive.

Dr. Maya Angelou
Author and Educator

“When we know better, we do better.”

This seemingly simplistic but powerful quote has been shared on numerous occasions by a variety of people. Although sparse in words, it speaks volumes. When applied to the field of education, it can open our minds to new ideas, provide unforeseen possibilities, and help us develop a stronger sense of justice and tolerance. Lesson design and implementation can become static and stale if we are not exposed to new approaches which can make lessons more interesting and intriguing for students. The phrase, “we don’t know what we don’t know” describes our reality. Unless we are exposed to new possibilities, participate in ongoing professional learning opportunities, and interact regularly with our peers, our leadership and instructional approaches remain limited and repetitious. Simply stated, we must be exposed to new ways of thinking so that we will both “know better and do better.”

In our haste to get our jobs done, we may find that taking the time to stop and reflect is a fleeting and almost impossible option. But when we do take the time to stop, momentarily clear our minds, and take in the ideas around us, we may discover some exciting and inspiring possibilities. As for me, “I believe in the power of the written word to stimulate our imaginations and even encourage us to act in new ways.” You can quote me on that!

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. “You Can Quote Me on That!” Just for the ASKing! May 2012. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2012 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.

Free Top Ten Tips to Ask Myself as I Design Lessons

“These questions can be used to promote thinking about teaching and learning during the planning process, while teaching, and again when reflecting on the impact of the lesson either alone or with a mentor or supervisor.”

Top Ten Questions