Reasons Why I Love My Job

SelfieI am an elementary principal, and I have been posting on Facebook and Twitter for some time a segment I like to call “Reasons Why I Love My Job.” It seems to have generated some interest and most importantly, educators can relate to the day-to-day life of school.  So, here are some of the reasons I love my job.  Hope you enjoy.  Share if you like, and feel free to add some of your own in the comment section.

At the beginning of this year, a 3rd grade student said, “Mr Johnson, you look the same as last year.”

Me: “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Student: “Oh, it’s a good thing.” (Pause)

Student: “You also smell like my dad.”

Me: “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Student: “That’s also good.”

I got called into the teacher’s lounge. They said they needed a “strong man.” I ended up opening a bottle of ranch.

I did recess duty for 2nd grade and heard “Mr. Johnson, watch this!” at least a thousand times in 15 minutes.

I was sporting new glasses. I felt really good, like I had chosen the right ones. Then a 4th grader saw me and said, “Hey, my grandma has that same pair!”

2nd grader: Is it Friday?

Me: Yep, it sure is.

2nd grader: Darn. I wish it was Tuesday.

Me: Why?

2nd grader: Cuz then I could keep being in school and learning new things.

A 5th grader while reading a math problem: “A cricket, a rabbit, a mouse, and a turtle were in a race….Wait a minute. Are they serious?  How could that even happen?”

After I walked through the lunchroom, a kindergarten student stood up, put her hand on her hip, tilted her head, snapped her fingers and said, “That Mr. Johnson is so handsome!”

At the end of the day, I hugged a kindergarten student who said, “Wow! Your armpits smell really good!”

Kindergarten student: “Mr. Johnson, my shoulder really hurts today.”

Me: “Oh, no! Why is that?”

Kindergarten student: “I think I must have woke up crooked.”

Today a student sincerely asked how to spell “YMCA.”

Two girls were in the hallway.

The first girl said, “Mr Johnson, Ashley is crazy.”

I said, “If you mean crazy awesome, then I agree.”

Hi-fives were shared all around.

I was having a very bad day. A first grader came into my office, laid his head on my shoulder and scratched my back. Day instantly improved.

And lastly…

After an assembly, a parent told me, “It’s nice to see a principal be as immature as his students.”

What I Learned about Teaching from Playing Golf


(Click here to listen to the audio version of this blog.)

When I was a kid my father used to take me to the golf course so I could walk along the ditch as he played.  I got 25¢ for every golf ball I found. 50¢ if it was a keeper. I remember thinking that it looked like a fun game to play, but also wondered why so many golfers would want to hit their balls into the ditch so much.  It seemed like you had much better odds if you hit the fairway, but what did I know.  I was just a kid.

Now that I’m 43, I have taken up golf as a habit, and a pretty consistent habit at that.  For the past two years, I have gone to the golf course and worked on my game. I read golf magazines, watch the Golf Channel religiously, joined a league, and even listen to audio golf books. I have downloaded a golf app to keep track of my scores, the number of fairways I hit, the numbers of green I hit in regulation, and the number of putts I make.

I have knocked off 11 strokes from my score. Before you get too excited, you must realize that my score was pretty high to begin with, so that’s not as much of an accomplishment as you might think. It has, however, caused me to love (and hate) the game more than ever, and each day I want to get just a little better.  The recent obsession with golf has caused me to realize how much it reminds me of teaching.

There are days when I just hate being on the course because I am hitting the ball so horribly. For whatever reason, I just can’t get my game together, and it’s a miserable feeling.  Balls are shanking off my club, I’m slicing into the trees, missing every green, and leaving putts short.  But then, out of nowhere, I hit a 5-wood off the fairway and it soars beautifully into the air.  It generates a natural fade, lands three feet short of the green, rolling up within a few feet of the hole. A smile curves up on my lips, and I love the game again. That one shot is enough to keep me going for the rest of the round, and wanting more the next day.

Its just the same with teaching.  You can be having a horrible day. The morning calendar routine wasn’t clicking, the chemistry experiment bombed (maybe literally), the kids aren’t engaged in the chapter book. But then, during math, while teaching a difficult concept, one student raises her hand and yells, “I got it!” She’s almost dancing in her seat with excitement, and a smile curls up on your lips.  You love teaching again, and you can’t wait for the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

So how many good shots does it take to keep you in the classroom?  All you need is one.

The Only Thing A Principal Needs To Know


I taught in the classroom for twelve years before I became a principal, which I have been doing for eight years. If you do the math (which isn’t that difficult) I have been involved in education as a career for 20 years. I have learned a lot in those years, and I still have plenty left to learn. But there is one thing I know as a principal that has helped me exponentially. It is the only thing I need to know. It is the one thing that has helped me the most as a leader. But I’ll get to that in just a bit.

While I was a teacher I had the time of my life. I felt like I was doing exactly what I had been called to do. Everyday I walked into the school and entered my classroom it felt like I was going to my second home. I was so comfortable being around students everyday, and they were comfortable being around me. Many days they didn’t even want to go out to recess. They would rather stay inside and help me or just talk. Those of course were the days when I didn’t go out to recess myself and play football or four-square or jump rope with them. I enjoyed every day. Even the challenging ones. I couldn’t wait to get to school, and I was sad when the day ended.

Now that I’m a principal I find that I enjoy each day just as much as I did as a teacher. However, my job description has changed considerably.  I am now in charge of not only my schedule, but the schedule of each teacher in the building.  I have to make budget decisions, implement school-wide discipline, lead meetings, attend meetings, track data, analyze data, conduct walk-throughs, evaluate teachers, and basically know what is happening in and around the building every second of every day.  All that being said, I absolutely love what I do.

If you are considering the principalship one day, let me encourage you to jump in and take the plunge.  It will be an incredibly rewarding experience.  But before you do, let me give you some advice. You will read tons of articles and books and blogs and “The Top 10 Things You Need To Know” about the principalship and being a leader.  Most of the things you read will be extremely helpful.  But let me tell you right now the only thing a principal needs to know: NEVER, EVER FORGET WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE A TEACHER.

That’s it.  That’s all you need to know. Paste it above your door. Write it down on a piece of paper and carry it around. Tattoo it on your arm.  Always keep a teacher’s perspective, because if you can remember that one simple thing when you need to make decisions that affect teachers and students in your building, you will be successful. Trust me.

This blog is by Mark Anthony Johnson. You can also find him on Twitter @mc_bossy

Photo Credit on Flickr: Silke Seybold

“I Want You To Save A Date”


At kindergarten graduation, the last chance I had to formally address the parents at the school where I served as principal, this is what I said:

“I want you to save a date. It is 12 years from now. I don’t know the exact date. But it will be 12 years from now. It’s important. Make a note of it. Don’t lose sight of it. Keep talking with your children about it.  It’s important because we are going to do this again. It will be in a different school. Your kids won’t be quite as cute as they are today. They will be much taller. And you will be so proud. 12 years from now let’s make sure they have a diploma in their hands.”

I didn’t have a kindergarten graduation. I met the requirements to be promoted to First Grade but kindergarten graduation was not something we did at Broadview Elementary. It would have been an interesting ceremony to see. If my memory serves me correctly I was in a class of one. I might have had more classmates but its hard to remember. Broadview was a two room school house. Students in kindergarten through second grade were housed in one of the rooms so my kindergarten memory can’t always sort out who exactly was in kindergarten with me. In addition to the K-2 variables I also had classmates that moved in and out on occasion. I believe that the most peers I ever had in my grade with me during my elementary years was 3 or maybe 4.  But I have a pretty distinct memory of showing up the first day of school for kindergarten and being quite the novelty as the entire kindergarten class. Given what would be charitably described as my precocious nature as a child I ate that attention up. Kindergarten was my jam. And if Broadview Elementary would have seen fit to hold commencement ceremonies for the Kindergarten class of 1979 on the stage in the basement I would have been beaming with delight as the sole honoree.  But we didn’t.  As it turns out I was none the worse for wear.

Both of my parents, Joe and Sally, were high school and college graduates. Both are exceptionally intelligent, hard working, and a bit unconventional. Upon completion of their postsecondary education neither entered the workforce in occupations that were even close to the degrees they had earned. They started family. They worked the farm where my dad grew up. They worked second and third jobs in kitchens and meat packing plants. My mom eventually worked her way from the kitchen to an administrative position in a nursing home.  Under her leadership they set some kind of state record for consecutive perfect scores on state inspections.  She also provided a loving environment for a whole lot of people when they needed it most. She also fought through two separate cancer diagnoses successfully.  My dad became a lawyer. For 3 years he ran the family farm while community 2 hours a day to attend law school.  Eventually served as the U.S. Attorney for Nebraska. I had some good models to follow for success. From Joe and Sally I learned that a job that pays the bills is never beneath you. I learned that getting up early, working hard. and doing more than is expected of you is a pretty powerful combination. I also learned that if you have respectable brain power you owe it to yourself to set goals and put yourself in a position to make use of that gift. Was I set up to graduate high school? You bet. College? No doubt. Was I equipped to handle challenges and failures along the way? They didn’t slow Joe and Sally down. They were not going to stop me, either. The absence of a kindergarten graduation ceremony certainly didn’t derail me, either.

My experience is not representative of that of the kindergarten students I have served. About all I can count on being the same is that we all started around age 5 or 6. Some have a Joe and Sally. Some have a decidedly different dynamic at home. The obstacles they face and the assets they possess are varied beyond any measure I can perceive or even hope to control. I cannot give each student a Joe and Sally. What I can do is foster a team of teachers that knows every day from kindergarten on is building towards graduation. Every child we serve is a graduate waiting to happen.  Every day is progress towards a diploma. Every interaction with a child and with a child’s family is a step towards those last few steps across the stage to shake a hand and accept a diploma. We can model and foster the importance, the investment, the work ethic, the value, the grit, and countless other qualities that our student need in our interactions every day.

My Kindergarten teachers put up a sign in our gym for the ceremony that read “Graduation Starts With Kindergarten.” It surely does.


Image Credit: dafnecholet on Flickr

So You Want To Be A Teacher?

PortraitTeaching is the most important profession in the world. I may be biased in my opinion, but I’m also right. There is no other profession that touches more lives than teaching. The difference a teacher can make can span across generations. Others have careers and have pursued their dreams because of the education they received, and that education they received was most likely the result of a teacher. Even the Bible has some words about the teaching profession: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)

One of my favorite poems is “so you want to be a writer” by Charles Bukowski. If you have not read it, you can find the link here. It is a wonderful challenge to those who want to pursue writing as a career. I have used the idea behind that poem to write my own simple challenge to those that think they want to enter the teaching profession.

So You Want To Be A Teacher?

If you want a job where you work 8:00 – 5:00,

then don’t do it.

There are plenty of other opportunities

out there where you can keep your work day

nice and tidy.


If you are becoming a teacher because you

like the content you will be teaching

you get excited about hearing the sound of your voice

sharing your knowledge with the masses,

then don’t do it.

There are other places you can go and talk about

things you know,

and plenty of other people who might want to hear it.

But a classroom of students year after year

will not be one of those places.


If you are becoming a teacher because you

don’t know what else to do,

don’t do it.

The future of our children can’t afford the time

it might take you to figure out what to do

with your life.


If you are getting into teaching because you

“just love kids,”

then that’s a good beginning.

If you like your students

you are well on your way to

building positive relationships.

And it might buy you a few years,

but that alone is not going to carry you through

an entire career.


If you were inspired by a teacher

when you were younger,

a teacher that made you question the world,

made you think,

made you laugh,

made you cry,

made you want to become a better version of


then hold onto that.

Inspiration is a great way to start any adventure.


You will know you

really want to be a teacher

because you will feel a passion

burning inside of you that you have never felt before.

When every decision you make is

filtered through the question -

Is this the best thing for my students?

When you can’t imagine yourself doing

anything else

in the whole word.

You will know when you can’t wait to

wake up in the morning,

when you can’t sleep at night,

when your every minute is consumed

by how you can help your students

learn more,

be more,

achieve more.

That’s when you will know.

And when you know,

don’t ever stop


Photo : Flikr – No known copyright restrictions

Competition vs. Cooperation: What Is Better For Our Schools?


Over Easter vacation a few weeks ago, something happened that I can’t get out of my mind.  My wife’s family conducted the annual egg hunt for all of the children, ranging in ages from seven to seventeen. The plastic eggs were hidden all over the yard, some filled with candy and others filled with various amounts of money. The kids scrambled all over the yard, screaming with delight as their baskets were filling to the brim. When the hunt was over, they all came inside and emptied their eggs onto the floor, looking over the newly found loot.

Grandma had an idea in her head about how this was going to go down.  She had a vision of all of the kids emptying their money into one big pile, and in the end, dividing it out equally among all of the children.  It was a good thought, and one that expressed the idea of cooperation. I have to give her credit, because she believes in a world where everyone gets along and we all help each other.  Boy, was she ever wrong.

When she announced her idea, the looks on the children’s faces turned from elation at finding their new treasures, to fear at having to give up what was clearly theirs and theirs alone. In fact, I witnessed one of the younger children pocket some of the money he found, not willing to give up all of his stash. He figured there was no way the pool of money would surpass what he was already in possession of, and therefore sharing was not going to be an option. Grandma’s vision of cooperation quickly turned to one of competition. They had an inner desire to have more and be better than everyone else around them, so no one agreed to the combining of the money. What most of them didn’t realize, especially the young boy who hid his money, was that if he would have put his money in the pile with everyone else’s, he would have actually ended up with more.

This got me thinking about how things run in our education system. It’s a system based on competition.  We like our schools to be the very best, and with that mindset, unfortunately, comes the need for a rank/order system so we can prove that indeed, some schools are the best.  And what about those schools that rank lower on the list?  Clearly they aren’t doing their jobs. Something must be done about it, and many times what we feel are desperate times should result in desperate measures.  There are stories and rumors of school principals being fired, teachers being let go, parents pulling their kids out of one school and placing them in another.  But is this really the best way to go?

The idea of competition implies there is a winner and a loser.  If a “winning” school wants to keep that distinction, they will need to keep their innovative ideas and teaching strategies to themselves, like the young boy hoarding his money. That’s the only way to stay on top.  If those schools, or any schools for that matter, share their ideas with others, then what’s to become of that?  In a nutshell, we would all learn more, have more, become greater. And what of the ranking systems? I believe they would become null and void.

Is that what we really want? To ALL be great together? To have a nation filled with schools that are all working together for the greater good of students everywhere? I think the way you answer that question defines who we are as a nation, as an educator, and at it’s very core, as a person.

Image Credit: Philip on Flickr

4 Habits of Teachers That Just Have “It” – Part 4

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 10.35.03 AM

Time. It’s one thing we all have in common. Everyone has 24 hours in their day.  No more, no less.  But when we are speaking of teachers, it feels like they have less time than others. Many of them don’t even have time for a bathroom break during the day. They are masters of maximizing every second of their day, making sure even transition times are measured down to the second to protect the learning time they need for their students. If you ask a teacher, they will tell you they don’t have any time to spare.

Teachers spend at least 7 hours a day with their students. But this is just an estimate.  This doesn’t include before school duties or after school activities or coaching or music programs or all of the other things a teacher does for their students.  However, teachers who have “it” make sure all this time they spend with their students is an investment towards building and maintaining a positive relationship with them.

 “You have no business complaining about the behavior issues in your classroom if you are not at the door greeting your students every day.”

One way I tried to spend extra time with my students was during recess. I liked to interact with them on the playground because the way they behaved in the classroom was significantly different than the way they behaved outside. Without the confines of walls and routine, they really opened themselves up. I know there are specific ways to monitor a playground. I’ve even been subjected to training videos on how to use my peripheral vision most effectively when monitoring a large group of students in an open field. However, I found the most effective use of my time outside with students was to play with them. I walked around and joined whatever activity they were doing: jump rope, shoot out, football, swings, whatever. The kids would get crazy happy when their teacher joined in with them.  And monitoring them became that much easier. I knew it made a difference with them when parents would tell me the best part of their child’s year was when their teacher let loose and played with them.

Another way for teachers to spend time indirectly with their students is watching them outside of school in extracurricular activities. Have you ever been asked by a student to attend their soccer game, or watch their dance recital, or their speech competition? And when they ask, you immediately start thinking about how busy you are and make excuses about how there is no way you can make it, but you will really try? What I’m suggesting is that you do more than try. All you need to do is make an appearance. Just stand on the sidelines for one quarter of the game. Stand in the back and watch one performance. You don’t need to give up your entire night or weekend. Just five minutes will do. The next morning when you tell the student how great you thought they were and say something specific about that event, their eyes will bulge with awe. And even more powerful, if that student catches your eye while you are actually there…that’s an investment in their life that might last a lifetime.

I once heard it said by a speaker at a conference that you have no business complaining about the behavior issues in your classroom if you are not at the door greeting your students every day. That was over ten years ago when I first heard that, and it has stuck with me ever since.  It just makes sense.  If children arrive to school and see you waiting to welcome them into their classroom, they are much more likely to want to be there, and to start their day off on the right foot.

If you think about it, standing at the door and greeting your students combines all four habits together.  (If you haven’t had a chance to read the first three habits, you can find them here, and here  and here. Standing at the door and greeting your students means you give them direct eye contact, you smile, you touch them through a handshake, high five or hug, and you spend a moment in time with each student individually before the day even begins.  If you are a teacher with a classroom, this can happen right outside the door.  If you are a principal, it can be the front doors.  If you don’t have a classroom, find a high traffic area in the hallway each morning.  It doesn’t matter where it is.  What matters is that you are making a very intentional effort each and every day to make a child’s life better, to let them know they matter to you.

You might already feel like you are a teacher who has “it.” But why not increase your chances of success with your students by establishing these positive relationship building habits? I know you’ve heard the old adage: “They don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Whether you agree with it or not, it rings true for many of our students.  And that’s reason enough for me.

Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen on Flickr

4 Habits Of Teachers That Just Have “It” – Part 2

Isaiah Early

Last week’s article focused on how using eye contact can help significantly when building relationships with your students. How just a few seconds of looking into someone’s eyes can give them the feeling of comfort and care, and let’s them know you are thinking about them and focusing on them. Nothing else matters for that brief moment except them. Teachers who have “it” make this a priority in their lives, because they know that attention is important for their students.

The next “it” factor for this week’s blog can be paired along very nicely with eye contact.  It is something that when you give it away, you usually get it in return, almost immediately.  It is something that can brighten someone’s day and give them a shot of energy, especially when they are feeling down or tired or alone.  It is something that is free and is scientifically proven to give you health benefits and can possibly extend your life. Turn up the corners of your mouth, show your teeth, and you’ll see what I mean.  Feels good, doesn’t it?

I remember when I first got hired as a teacher.  I was scared to death.  My biggest concern was behavior management. So I did some research and read some articles about the best strategies out there that could help me right off the bat.  The one thing I latched on to was this philosophy/manta: “Don’t Smile Until Christmas.” For some reason, that made sense to me.  If I’m going to set up the rules in the classroom, I’m going to do it right. I’m going to be strict, I’m going to be all business, and the kids are going to know my classroom is a place for work – not fun.  What I knew before I read the behavior management materials was that I’m a pretty happy guy. Smiling comes fairly easily for me.  To try and fight against my very nature was harder than I thought it would be, and felt very uncomfortable.  But the person who wrote the article was a Doctor of Education, so I figured he knew a lot more than me.

It only lasted two weeks. While writing on the board with my back turned, one of my students responded to a question using a weird voice.  While I don’t remember what he said,  I do remember that I thought it was hilarious, so I started laughing.  Instantly I started to panic because I knew this was well before Christmas.  I had a long way to go if I was going to make this work.  But when I started laughing, the class started laughing, too.  I turned around and laughed some more.  I saw a classroom full of smiles and laughter. So I gave in to my natural tendencies, and my panic turned to full on laughter, and ended in liberation. The best part is, do you know what I discovered? Mass chaos did not ensue. The students did not revolt. Rules were still followed.  Life went on as usual. And everyone was much much happier.

But we’re not just talking about smiling when you are happy or in a good mood, because let’s be honest – there are things that happen in your day that really make it difficult. And it is okay to be transparent and honest around your students. There are times you will cry with them, or be upset with them, or feel completely exhausted with their behavior.  However, as Sam mentioned in a previous blog, for many of our students, school is their “one best place.” So while there are times that you may not feel like smiling, remember that some students don’t experience much joy when they leave your classroom. For eight hours of their day, we have the power to make it as happy of a place as we possibly can. Even when disciplining a student, we can smile and show them we love them, and will help them learn through the mistake they may have made.

I mean, think about it?  What place do you want to work where there are no smiles? No laughter? I can’t think of one.  Especially not a school! And this has nothing to do with charisma.  You don’t have to be particularly charismatic to smile at someone.  But a teacher who smiles is a teacher who shows she cares without saying a thing. It is a powerful tool a teacher can use that speaks volumes to a student in a matter of seconds.  And those seconds matter more than you know.

Photo Credit: KZAflicks on Flickr

What Happens in Vegas Should Be Used in Your Classroom

I recently went to Las Vegas with my wife and some good friends, including Sam (@samuelstecher), my colleague and cofounder of “Mission Monday.” We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and left on a Sunday morning.  That left us three glorious nights in lovely Las Vegas.  If you haven’t been there before, I would encourage you to go just once.  Seeing all of the eclectic people on The Strip is worth the trip alone.  During the trip, I realized something very profound: Las Vegas can teach us something about how to become a more effective teacher.

These three lessons I am going to pass along to you, because I think they will benefit not only you, but the thousands of people you will recommend to this blog (hint, hint). But on a more important note, these three lesson correlate splendidly with education in three specific areas: Resources, Behavior, and Instruction.


 When we first arrived in Vegas, our friends decided to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel.  My wife and I had already prepaid for shuttle service, so I figured we might as well use it.  Besides, how much longer would it be? The answer is – 1 ½ hours longer. Our friends checked in the hotel, changed clothes, and already hit the lobby casino before we even made it to the hotel.  We were left behind and frustrated and inwardly knew they were already having much more fun than us.

 That’s exactly the way it is with technology and the resources we choose to use.  It is time to enter the 21st Century, folks.  Please don’t hold on to your old methods of teaching students anymore.  They learn in many different ways, and technology is one of those ways that can reach many students.  It also helps tremendously when keeping track of students and monitoring their progress. Plus, you can use it to connect and collaborate with students and teachers all over the world! Don’t sit back and be stubborn and stick to your old ways. Because trust me, the others who have embraced it are moving forward and getting places faster and having a lot more fun.


I’ve been to Vegas a few times but have never really participated in the gambling side of things.  However, this time I thought I would give it a try and see how things turned out. There are hundreds of different slot machines and tables to play on, which include easy-to-understand games like BlackJack, and near impossible games, like Craps.  I ended up playing some roulette, but then I happened upon an Elvis slot machine that played music and showed videos and I was hooked.  I played it a few times and what I found out is, the more you win, the more you want to win.  And the more you want to win, the more you keep pushing that button hoping to get more.  Your emotions run high and all logic goes out the window. But eventually, you will keep pushing it to the point that you will be out of money and you will leave the game disappointed. And broke.

 Sometimes when you are working with a student on a behavior issue, you get involved in a power struggle with the student.  The more they push your button, the more you push their button. Your emotions start to run high, and you lose sense of logic or fairness.  At this point it all becomes about winning. I’ve even seen teachers reach a point of understanding with a student, but yet they continue to push and push even after they have apologized and tried to make things right.  The lesson is, when you are working through an issue with a student, and you have reached a point where you both can be satisfied, walk away.  Let it go.  Don’t try to get more. Be okay with the solution.  If you keep pushing and try to win, the sad truth is, you both will lose.  The relationship might be broken and irreparable, forever.


When you go on a vacation with friends, chances are you will all have something that you are hoping to get accomplished. Even if you go everywhere together, you will all have your own perspectives and take something different away from the trip.  While in Vegas, everyone had something on their list that they wanted to see and do.  One person wanted to go to a show, one wanted to go to a comedy club, one wanted to eat at a particular restaurant, one wanted to shop on The Strip, and one wanted to see the dueling pianos. Each person had something in mind, and each person wanted to experience Vegas in their own special way.

This is exactly the way it is with students and how they learn.  We could have a classroom filled with 25 students, and each student is going to interpret and analyze and have their own personal perspective and experience each time they are in our classroom.    We’ve all heard of the “multiple intelligences” and differentiated instruction and how each child is unique in the way they learn. If I could, I would give every child his/her own individualized IEP. More and more teachers are learning about different ways to teach children and trying to tap into the way the student learns best.


We are in an amazing place in education, and our students are benefiting from our efforts. We are using technology in ways we never thought possible, and we have only scratched the surface.   We are working with all students, and using those tough situations to build positive relationships with them. Especially the tough situations. And we are constantly searching for ways to meet the needs of all of our students, never giving up until we find that one thing that resonates with them and opens up a new passion for learning.  We are in the best profession in the world, and I would never gamble it away for anything else.

Random Acts of Kindness Will Not Produce Consistent Sunshine

I get it. I understand the allure. It drips with serendipity. Some noble Samaritan bestows the ideal gesture of compassion and grace upon the weary and wayward when the need is at its sharpest expecting nothing in return, not even recognition, and in doing so provides the oomph that motivates perseverance for yet another day of service. Listen closely and you can even hear the string section slowly rising for such Random Acts of Kindness call for their own soundtrack.

I am a fan of Random Acts of Kindness. My head has certainly been kept above water by someone doing an unexpected solid for me. And when I have capitalized on the opportunity to pass it on and pay it forward I feel like all is right on the Mothership Earth.

But I also have a fundamental problem with Random Acts of Kindness. It is that they are so…. random. No, it is worse than that. Random isn’t ideal but it’s serviceable.  The problem is that what is engineered as random gets applied sporadically.  That’s it. What most people perceive as Random Acts of Kindness are actually Sporadic Acts of Expected Polite Behavior. If you are starting a Random Acts of Kindness as a school community climate intervention I applaud your enthusiasm and good intentions. You will without question makes someone’s day here and there.  But it is unlikely you will have a true and sustainable impact.

I have trouble thinking of any goal we would aspire to reach that can be attained through randomly applied interventions.  We wouldn’t seek to improve our students’ reading comprehension though a Random Acts of Reading program. If we were to attempt to address obesity concerns we wouldn’t rely on Random Acts of Fitness as a result producing remedy. It wouldn’t be advisable to implement a Random Acts of Communication as a method to keep parents informed.  I have seen a lot of publicity about a big game this Sunday.  I doubt either team made it this far through Random Acts of Football Practice.

Follow me here as wee look at climate in the literal sense as in weather. I would like consistently sunny, but the weather of my great state of Nebraska could be described as random. Recently we had gorgeous day of 55 degrees in January, followed by snow. And a drop of 50 degrees. Definitely not consistently sunny. Certainly random.

Global warming not withstanding we can’t impact the weather. But our classroom climate? We certainly can.  But random won’t get us the consistent climate we need to for a positive, productive learning environment to take place. We need consistent acts of kindness and compassion and empathy and discipline. The list goes on and on. How are you interacting with your students, parents, and coworkers consistently? If you plan on making those interactions happen consistently and intentionally, not randomly, those interactions become habit.  They become part of your culture.

I think it would be sweet if you practiced Random Acts of Kindness. They are worth it.  But the students we serve deserve that kind of kindness consistently. So do you.

What My Teenage Son Thinks About School

teenagesonMy son, Sammy, asked me what my next blog topic was going to be, and I told him I didn’t have any ideas yet.  He said he would help, so he grabbed my computer and typed for a bit.  When he handed it back, this is what he had written: “School is very boring. Here, let me prove to you how boring it is – Seven Crap Hours Of Our Lives.”

Now, before you jump to any conclusions or judge my parenting methods, let me tell you a little bit about my son. First of all, he is a freshman in high school.  Secondly, he is a teenager.  Thirdly, he thinks he is pretty funny. Last of all, he really does like school, but only on two conditions.

Condition One:

He has to know that the teacher likes him.  This has always been the case for him.  He will not try in a class if he feels like the teacher does not care about him. He will sit there, fake attention, not contribute, and give the minimal amount of effort required each day. However, on the flip side, if he knows the teacher does like him, he will go out of his way to prove his worth.  He will always be to class on time, he will study hard, he will share his thoughts, and he will share funny stories about class after school.

Condition Two:

He likes to be interested in what he is learning. When he was much younger, he loved football like crazy.  He used to collect football cards and read about the players and watch as much sports on TV as possible.  He could rattle off stats about almost any team and player.  He didn’t even have to try to remember all of this information.  It was just fun for him so it came easy for him.  That’s exactly the way it is for him now.  The subjects he likes in school, he devours.  But if he is bored or doesn’t care about what he is learning, it’s like pulling teeth to get him to study.

One of these conditions is more important than the other one.  If only condition two were in place, Sammy’s success would be dependent upon whether or not he liked the subject. Each semester he likes about half of the subjects he is required to take.  With those odds, he would only pass half of his classes.  But if only condition one were in place, regardless if he liked the subject, he would still work hard because of the relationship he has with his teacher.

I don’t think this is exclusively true for my son.  I think many students operate under these conditions.  And I think most students are craving teachers who like them. Teachers who don’t have favorites, but who genuinely care for each and every one of their students. So if you are that kind of a teacher, thank you.  Sammy can’t wait to get to your class.

Photo: Flikr – ©Patchou Patrick



aRTs Roundtable 46: Expanding Your Teacher Reach

This week on the aRTs Roundtable  we discuss how to expand your teacher reach outside the classroom. It starts with our students and their work. The sharing and communicating with other educators on a personal level, leads to many more opportunities for you and your students.

Show Host: Carol Broos

Show Contributors: Tricia FuglestadJennifer Kolze and Brenda Muench 

Leave us some feedback!

Contact us with any questions or comments-

The Continuum of Education: Are You a Bump or a Dip?

1090693102_868a7f25bb_bThink back to your school days.  Try to remember your teachers, your friends, the subjects you had throughout the day.  Chances are you do remember some things about that time in your life; some positive, some negative.  And you know you learned something during all those years of school.  You had to have learned something; otherwise the teachers wouldn’t have passed you on to the next grade.  But what did you learn?  I bet the specifics elude you. For example, I bet you can still do long division, but you probably don’t remember which teacher introduced it to you or how that skill was taught to you.

I remember my third grade teacher.  Her name was Mrs. Wallingford.  She was the first girl I ever had a crush on.  She had auburn hair that bounced on her shoulders, and always wore just a little too much rouge.  I would have walked on fire for her.  One day she announced we would have a contest:  the boy and girl who tested on their multiplication facts the fastest would get to go bowling with her one night after school.  That was absolutely the only motivation I needed.  It wasn’t long before I was watching her roll a strike at the local alley.

Here are some other things I can recall from elementary school:  I got my first kiss on the cheek from a girl named Shelby in first grade. In fourth grade, I attempted to show a card trick for the talent show, but it completely bombed.  In fifth grade I remember being the editor of the school newspaper, and also getting my name written on the board for throwing an eraser.  In sixth grade, I melted crayons on the radiator, and got a zero on a Weekly Reader Quiz for showing my answers to the little blonde girl sitting next to me.

So what is the point of all this rambling?  Only to convey this message:  I learned a lot of academics in this process but I can’t pinpoint what I learned in most grades (except, of course, for the multiplication facts).  And when I was a teacher, I wasn’t so naïve to think that the students I had each year would remember everything that I taught them.  However, I did know the curriculum I taught each year was vitally important. I also knew learning goals were important, and I wrote them on the board so my students could see exactly what we would be learning each day. I taught routines, procedures, rules, math, reading, writing, social studies, etc. I also introduced my students to Elvis Presley and played his music throughout the day.

When my past students see me, they don’t thank me for teaching them about the Revolutionary War.  They don’t write me letters praising my ability to teach them the associative property.  What they do is always ask me one question: “Hey Mr. Johnson, do you still listen to Elvis?”

What I have come to realize is that the educational process is a continuum.  As a teacher, you fall somewhere along that continuum.  When the students reach you, they will either have a positive or a negative experience.  I call it either a “bump” or a “dip” along the continuum.  It’s your job as a teacher to make sure that the students hit a bump.

How do you become a bump?  Simply put, you build positive, intentional relationships with your students.  You let them into your world, and you find a way to get into theirs.  You try and make every day count.  You build traditions with them in your classroom, and make memories they will carry forever.  You teach them to think, to dream, to reach for their goals, to get up when they get knocked down, and to have faith in themselves and each other.  They might not remember exactly what you taught them, but they will remember that their 8th grade teacher was the “bomb” and always wore a tie and told funny jokes to start the day. And this memory might have been the thing that kept them going when things got tough.

It boils down to this:  Do whatever you can to be a bump on the continuum for your students, because otherwise you will be a dip. And no one wants to be a dip.

Image Credit: Ksilvennoinen on Flickr

aRTs Roundtable 45: Creating the “Quiet Train” in your Arts Classroom

This week on the aRTs Roundtable  Carol Broos discusses  her ride on the “quiet train,” to work suggests do we, can we, should we have a complete silence opportunity for our students in the arts. Tricia Fuglestad talks about the blah, blah, oops video created by too much talking and not enough focus. Jennifer Kolze and Brenda Muench talk about how best they and their students work with noise and chatter. This discussion will surprise you. It will question whether you help or hinder your students in the creative process with sound and/or noise.

Show Host: Carol Broos

Show Contributors: Tricia FuglestadJennifer Kolze and Brenda Muench 

Leave us some feedback!

Contact us with any questions or comments-

iDig Video #37: Cool Holiday Tech Gifts from $7K to FREE!

The holidays are right around the corner and the iDig Video team presents their annual wish list for Tech Gifts!  We’ve looked at techie reviews and come up with our own dream list for what we’d like to receive (and give!) for the holidays. While there are a few high ticket items, we found some very affordable and innovative ideas for presents. Some items on the list have been around for a while, but they’ve proven to be reliable and highly desirable in terms of their performance records. Happy Holidays to all our listeners.

Show Hosts: Jonathan Furst, Jim Crawford   

Here’s our Show Notes

Give us some feedback! Email to send us a note. Or leave a comment below. 

The Power of Saying “OK”

MM logo144One of our most recent Mission Monday assignments for the students was to teach them to simply say “OK.”  Saying “OK” can be a very powerful strategy to teach children.

Let’s say your child is playing with toys on the living room floor and you would like them picked up so they can get ready for bed.  Now, there are many strategies a parent can implement in this situation. One of them involves giving the students a choice: “You can pick up your toys in five minutes or in ten minutes. You choose.”  One of them involves establishing consequences.  “When you go to bed, any of the toys you pick up you get to keep.  Any toys left behind, I get to keep.”  These are both great options when working with your child on how to make decisions when asked to do a task, and giving them some power in the process.

However, one of the simplest things you can teach a child to say is “OK” when you ask them to do something.  It would sound like this:

“Hey buddy, I need you to pick up your toys and get ready for bed.”


See how that works?  Let’s try that again:

“Honey, it’s time to pick up your toys and put them away.  Bed time is in ten minutes.”


Did you get that?  The child is still making a choice: to comply or not to comply.  The child is deciding if they want to whine, or negotiate for more time, or just simply ignore you.  And if whining starts, or negotiations, then you are finding yourself in an argument and getting frustrated and laying on consequences. However, if all you hear is “OK” and the task gets started immediately, then all of those arguments and frustrations go out the door.

This works in a classroom, too.  Especially when you need to give a consequence.  If an assignment is not turned in, and you say, “Carson, you’ll need to stay inside for recess and complete this assignment” (or whatever it is), and the student responds with “OK,” then it’s done and you both can move on.

That’s the power of “OK.”  You don’t need the last word, you don’t need to fight for your cause, or make an excuse, or put blame on others.  You can simply say “OK,” accept it, and move on.  Wow.  Could it really be that simple?

P.S.  This works with adults, too.  Try it sometime, OK?

Positive Climate: First Impressions

MM logo144Have you ever heard that you can tell the climate of a school building within ten minutes after you walk in the front door?  It’s true.  If you don’t believe it, try it sometime.  You will know exactly what I mean. And honestly, I don’t think it takes ten minutes. It can be done in two or less.

In the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, he states that more often than not, you make judgments about something within two seconds of exposure, or within the blink of an eye.  Think back to a time when you had that certain feeling deep down inside about something or someone, almost immediately. Some people might call it a “gut feeling.”  However, most people don’t act on it right away.  They shake it off and try to gather more evidence. After all, can you really know someone within such a short time frame?  But you would be surprised about how many times that feeling is right.  Because upon further review, you find yourself right back where you started.

I recently had the privilege of visiting two schools within my state. I got to meet the staff and talked with them about the great things that are happening for kids.  I was extremely impressed with both schools, and I felt so good about the experience these schools were providing the students. I took pages of notes and left with many ideas that I wanted to take back to my own school.

However, the thing that struck me most was the feeling I got the moment I walked into each building.  Within minutes of stepping in the front door, I started making judgments about the climate of the school. And in both cases, after hours of talking and probing and gathering information, I was right.

At the first building I was greeted by the secretary with a big smile.  She escorted me to the library where I met the principal who had a big, boisterous laugh. She offered me some bagels in crumpled paper bags and introduced some teachers.  As the slide show rolled, everyone contributed, chiming in their thoughts and sharing personal stories about the school.  There was banter and laughter and honest discussion about the successes and frustrations about teaching.  The students knew the mission of the school by heart, and could even tell me what it meant in their own words. My initial feeling was right: this was a school with an attitude of fun, built upon a culture of collaboration.

In the second building I was greeted by a secretary who seemed wary of my presence. She escorted me to a back conference room where I was met by the principal who offered a perfect display of rolls and fruit and introduced me to her team. As the slide show rolled, each person took his or her turn, carefully following a certain order of speaking. There were also personal stories shared, sprinkled within data and numbers and spreadsheets. The students could recite the academic goals for their classrooms, and knew exactly what percentage they needed to reach by school’s end. My initial feeling about this school was also right: this was a school with an attitude of business, built upon a culture of learning.

I’m not here to say one school was better than the other. Both schools were doing what they felt was best for kids, and both schools were producing some incredible results.  But it got me thinking…what is the climate of my school? What kind of vibe, or gut feeling, do people get when they walk in the front doors of our building?

This is where you come in. Please share your own ideas about what makes one school’s climate different than another. And more importantly, what is the one factor that creates a positive climate for all visitors to your school? Because the truth is, they are making judgments about your school within seconds after entering. How can you ensure that it will be a positive one?

-Mark Johnson

Are Parent/Teacher Conferences Worth Your Time?

MM logo144I remember as a kid waiting for my parents to get home from parent/teacher conferences. I would try and watch TV or read a book or play on the Atari, (yes, I said Atari) but I just couldn’t concentrate.  I was too worried about what my teachers were going to say.  Even though I knew exactly what my teachers were going to say.  I knew this because they said the same thing every year to my parents. It went something like this: “Mark is doing fine in school. His grades are good.  We aren’t worried about that.  He does, however, talk a lot.  A lot, a lot. So if you could help us to get him to talk less, that would be amazing.”

That’s how it went almost my entire school career.  Then I became a teacher and got to see things from the other side of the table.  I remember being very nervous before conferences the first couple of years.  I tried to share the right things at the right time. Start with the positives, slide in concerns, end with some more positives.  Show some work, explain some data, yada yada yada….20 minutes is up.

And then I also became a parent (while also being a teacher and now a principal) and get to experience conferences again from yet another side of the table.  However, this time around I’m much more analytical about the conference.  And for my high school son and middle school daughter, the conference isn’t just with one teacher…it’s with four or five. And they are all scrambling for time and reading off their notes and trying to give me a cram session on my kid in 20 minutes, all waiting their turn to talk, while I am equally waiting my turn, and next thing I know it’s “Thank you for coming, Mr. Johnson.  Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.”

We recently sat down for a podcast with our good friend and colleague, Roan Howard, and talked about the value of time, especially during parent/teacher conferences.  If you haven’t listened to it yet, shame on you. But you’re in luck.  All you gotta do is click here and you’re in business:

When it comes to parent/teacher conferences, there is no way we can say all that needs to be said in five minutes, ten minutes, or even twenty minutes. We shouldn’t be withholding information about children until conference night, or until report card time, or progress reports, or whatever.  I believe we need to be in constant communication with parents. It can be done in a variety of ways: through email, twitter, phone calls, face-to-face, a note in a planner, a text message. The method you choose doesn’t matter.

What matters is that parents see that their child and their time has value well beyond the two nights set aside for conferences. And if you can, imagine the value parents would see and feel when we care enough to come along side them, share information, celebrate successes as well as concerns, and ask them to be a part of the journey, all year long.