Will Making Kids Read Instill a Love of Reading?

origin_4351943418For years elementary teachers have been trying to sell the idea that if we assign nightly reading to students that it will make them learn to love reading. We tell our struggling readers, and their parents, if you read every night you’ll start to love reading.

Wait . . . really?

So if there’s a skill I don’t like and am not good at, practicing it will make me love it? I don’t buy it. Will practicing long division make me love long division? Will practicing doing the dishes make me love doing the dishes? Will practicing scrubbing bathrooms make me love scrubbing bathrooms? No, no, and no.

Will practicing a skill that I am not good at make me better at it? Of course it will. But we need to stop trying to sell the idea that practicing a skill will make kids love it. Given how much long division we make fourth graders do, you’d figure we’d see kids doing long division for fun in their free time – but we don’t. Because practicing a skill won’t make you love that skill.

Will practicing a difficult skill help you improve. Yes, of course. Will practicing a difficult skill make you love that skill? No, of course not. We need to stop telling people it will.

photo credit: Ðenise via photopin cc

Are You Just a Teacher or a Just Teacher?

origin_497731537Last week I read a blog post by Deborah Mills-Scofield on Switch & Shift called Are You Just a Leader or a Just Leader? Like many of the business leadership blog posts out there, it applies to teaching too. In fact, after reading it, I went back and reread it replacing “leader” with “teacher,” and “people” and “customer” with students. This left me with a great blog post, about management teaching.

Here’s some of the post, through an educator lens:

Being a leader teacher requires taking the right road, not the easy road. Treating our people students fairly requires judgment, subjectivity, and clear communication of expectations and goals on an ongoing basis since the world around us changes all the time. When we treat our people students equally but not fairly, we tell people our students it’s ok to underperform and under contribute undermining the morale of our dedicated and passionate people students and are then surprised when we get mediocre output and outcomes.

What if we modify the culture to recognize people students fairly, based on their work, effort, passion, and results – as individuals and teams? We will be surprised to see the positive difference it will make.

I versus You

…I often ask my corporate educator colleagues if focusing on ‘I’, on themselves, has really gotten them the career satisfaction they sought. As leaders teachers, we need to help our people students focus on the “You” – the customer student, the recipient of our services and products and you the employee. If we honestly ask ourselves who matters more, ‘I’, ourselves or ‘You’ our customers and people students, what is our answer?

A true leader teacher is a servant who leads. So, is the business education about our needs or the needs of ‘others’? Are we really focused on delighting our customers students (to quote my friend Steve Denning), which means we will delight our people students because they are working on meaningful, purposeful solutions to real needs (outcomes) that result revenues and profit (outputs) in learning that can be reinvested in the delighting our customers applied to their lives? Or, are we doing this for the next perk, the accolades from our peers, the prestige from our position? I’m not suggesting total altruism (though that’s not a bad idea!), but I am suggesting we ponder why we’re leading teaching and whom we’re leading teaching – is it about ‘I’ or about ‘You’? Can we really lead teach if it’s about us? Would we want to be led taught by someone who was all about himself? Does our leadership teaching truly reflect our why and who? If someone asked one of our people students who mattered to us, ‘I’ or ‘You’, what would they answer?

As we approach the middle of 2013 spring, ask yourself two questions: do you treat people students equally or fairly (or both) and does your leadership teaching, hence your classroom culture, value ‘You’ over ‘I’?

So, are you a just a teacher or a just teacher?

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“We,” “They,” and Schools

we they picIn January I read a blog post by Bill Powers about Daniel Pink‘s “Pronoun Test” from his book Drive. Basically, the Pronoun Test is about listening to employees talk about their organization and focusing on whether they refer to the organization as “we” or “they.” Mr. Powers wrote excitedly that his school was a “we” (our) school.

Over the past few months I’ve been kicking this idea of the Pronoun Test around in my head. I’ve decided that in education, the question of whether you work in a “we” or “they” organization isn’t that clear cut; it really depends on how you define “organization.” We have grade level or department teams that function like small organizations. We have schools level “organizations.” We have districts. We have Departments of Education at the state and national level. As educators, we aren’t just part of one “organization,” we’re part of many tiered organizations.

At the grade or department level we are (or at least I certainly hope are) working with a “we” organization. And with the recent NCLB and RTTT legislation I know a lot of educators see the US Department of Education as a “they.”

Somewhere between the grade level and the USDOE, the “we” becomes a “they.” Is your school a “we” or a “they”? What about your district? Your state Department of Education?

Somewhere things go from being done with you to to you.

Where does that change happen for you?

To Do List: Breathe, Play, Grow

For a long time I’ve kept lists posted on my refrigerator door: grocery lists, weekend to-do lists, don’t-forget-to-bring-things-to-school lists. Lately most of those have gone digital; my grocery list lives in Evernote now so that I am never without it. One list, however, remains on the fridge: my “things to do today” list.

The list began about ten years ago. I think the idea was to make sure I had some balance in my life, though honestly I don’t remember. The physical list has had to be rewritten a few times. It hasn’t survived every move. But more importantly, the list has become a part of who I am and how I manage my life. It’s become my day-to-day survival guide.

The list contains three items: breathe, play, grow. Sure, they’re broad and loosely defined, but they are all important. And each day the goal is check off all three items.

  • Breathe: Every day I want to take a moment to breathe, to slow down. I spend my days in a building full of children. It can be exhausting. I need a moment to breathe. And it may only be a few minutes. It’s important to have that time. Every day.
  • Play: Every day I want to do something fun. Part of life means that sometimes I have to do things I don’t want to do. And on some days it seems like I have to do a lot of those things. But it’s important to play, and have fun. Every day.
  • Grow: Every day I want to do something that makes be a stronger person. Challenge myself, learn. A good workout counts for this too. It’s too easy to coast. I don’t want to do that; I want to grow. Every day.

Of course, some activities can check off more than one item on the list. A nice easy run with friends might be both breathing and playing. Drafting a blog post during a hurricane-induced state of emergency might be both breathing and growing.

Or I might even get all three at one time. As an avid runner, an easy 20-mile run can be a chance to breathe, play, and grow. Twenty solo miles gives me time to breathe and reflect, but at the same time I get to do something I love to do, and you can bet my legs are getting stronger.

My list has three things on it: breathe, play, grow. What’s on your list? And how often is it all checked off at the end of the day?

Making Back to School Night More Meaningful

Success For EveryoneOver the past couple of years I’ve tried to change my back to school night. Historically it has been a night where I tell parents everything we are going to do in the upcoming year in third grade. I’d march through a curriculum summary and parents would leave with a packet of information that pretty much mirrored what I had said.

In recent years, as I worked toward my administrative license I began thinking about changing this. I began to see that I was, in essence, running the torturous staff meeting that I really wanted to avoid as a principal. You know the meeting, where you find yourself thinking “if you don’t need my input, and you can put it in an email, please do; don’t make me sit here for this.” Parents, sorry.

Last I officially changed the name from Curriculum NIght to Stakeholders Meeting. The official goal of the meeting was changed. It became to “have everyone walk away with a clear idea of how you can help your child through the experience we call ‘third grade’.”I talked less and listened more.

This year, I still wanted it to be different, so I took it an extra step. Before back to school night I sent an email to the parents of my third graders:


Over the past few years I’ve been trying to make Curriculum Night more meaningful for parents. I’ve been trying not to make it a torturous information dump full of things that I could put in an email or you could read on the classroom website. It’s the only time of the year when I get all of you in one place at one time and I’d rather not just talk at you (and frankly, if I were in your position I wouldn’t want to be just talked to either).

So, the plan for Monday night is more of a structured conversation where we can figure out how we can support each other as we try to collectively support 24 students navigating third grade. This means I don’t plan on going through the five core subjects and talking about what topics we’re planning to cover in the next 9 months. Don’t worry, all that information is on the classroom website, dallin.benschersten.com (note, there’s no “www” in that URL). In fact, if you read it beforehand and have questions, Monday will be a great venue for that!

So, if you get a chance to peruse the academics section of the classroom website this weekend, that would be great (or you can do it later, it’ll still be there). And I’ll see you all on Monday evening (6:30pm) where we’ll figure out how to make third grade the best experience it can be, for everyone.

Have a great weekend.


I stripped down my Keynote presentation to just conversational areas, no bulleted lists. I threw in some hand-drawn graphics (because trying something totally new and going in with little to no agenda wasn’t stressful enough, I wanted to showcase my not-so-artistic drawing abilities*).

And so I took a leap.

Thinking back, it went well. There was lots of discussion.I was able to talk even less and listen even more. A few parents approached me in the days following thanking me for the evening.

More importantly, on a suggestion from a parent, I changed something (which was really the point of the new format). I want my kids to be able to, without me, do some Internet searches for those Googlable questions that arise during the day. Alan November advocates a “researcher” job like this for students. The catch is pitching the idea to the parents of 8-year-olds. The suggestion from a parent was a robust Google Custom Search: pull together all the kid-friendly domains I could find and create an engine for that. It was a great idea; I’m working on it.

As I continue to reflect, I really liked the format. It was respectful of the parents, their time, and their ideas. Being able to take in their ideas allowed me to send the message that we’re in this together. Once a year I get all the parents in the same room at the same time; I can’t imagine a better message to send.


*Somehow the iOS app Paper makes my crude drawings look far more artistic than they really are.

Teachers as Soldiers?

Like many educators, I recently had that back-to-school inservice day where the district gathers in the high school auditorium to listen to the superintendent and other district leaders talk about the upcoming year. While sitting in the stiff wooden auditorium chairs I heard that familiar metaphor where teachers are compared to “soldiers in the trenches.” As soon as I heard it, it got me thinking: Am I really a soldier in a trench? Is war really the right metaphor to describe what I do?

soldiers in trench

My first thought was that I certainly hope my classroom is not a warzone? I don’t want to spend my days battling anyone or anything (and I certainly don’t want it to be a war). The last thing I want is for my students to think school is a battle; that doesn’t seem like a good way to instill the idea of lifelong learning. I want everyone (children and adults) in my room to want to be there, and I want everyone to leave each day thinking they have gained something.

And school’s these days don’t operate in the top-down fashion that comes to mind when I think of trench warfare. We (should) live in an educational world of collaboration. Administrators (officers?) make decisions collaboratively and trust teachers to make decisions and plan their days (missions?).

And I do more than just teach content (fight? That’s what teaching is in this metaphor, right?). I’m not just a soldier.

  • I lead.
  • I follow.
  • I collaborate.
  • I gather and evaluate intelligence.
  • I plan and make last-minute changes.
  • I counsel others.
  • I bandage wounds.
    the list goes on…

I do it all. We all do.

Teachers are not soldiers in the trenches, and we are not at war. If schools are something we can compare to warzones, then something profound needs to change about our schools. Immediately.

We need a new metaphor. Artists? Designers? Magicians? Miracle workers?

But if we must stay with the military metaphor, we’re not soldiers in the trenches, we’re so much more. We do so much more. We’re more like military jack-of-all-trades… secret agents. James Bond, maybe? If we’re going to stick with the military metaphor, I’d rather be compared to James Bond than to a soldier in the trenches. How about you?

photo credit: drakegoodman via photo pin cc