Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa NEUROMYTHS—Debunking False Ideas About The Brain

Now more than ever during the COVID19 worldwide pandemic our nation is experiencing the complexity of teaching. Parents, families, and student advocates have been forced to facilitate the role of the teacher while at home. With long days in isolation, student learning has become a family activity to help fill the time gap between morning and evening. Although whether you are a teacher or a parent, motivating a student to be engaged and actively participating virtually, teaching has become a challenge, learning an argument, and both often a point of contention.

Educational research on what works and is effective for teaching and learning is in abundance. The challenge for teachers and leaders, and now parents and families, often becomes finding the time to develop a deeper understanding of what educational research is true, what beliefs are held to be true, and what is false thinking.

The book by Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa, Neuromyths-Debunking False Ideas about The Brain is a tremendous resource for educators to better understand brain research shown to build students learning capacity. The author states, “A big part of understanding the brain is learning what it is, and isn’t, capable of doing. The Centre for Education Neuroscience at the University College of London says neuromyths are often ‘teaching practices, ideas, or techniques that do not actually have a scientific basis in neuroscience.’ Neuromyths are misunderstandings or misconceptions about the brain and how it functions that can limit human potential” (p. 11-12).

It is important to note that neuromyths have the potential to do harm by creating “false barriers to learning” e.g. boys are better at learning math and science. While at the same time they have the “potential to be an opportunity” (p. 12) by first eliminating myths and then using evidence-based teaching practices to better structure student learning. Tokuhama-Espinosa categories sixty-eight neuromyths into ten types of myths including; 

Brain Architecture and Structure
Teaching and Learning
Human Development
Learning Environments
Mind-Body Balance
Brain Plasticity
Language, Bilingualism, And Multilingualism

A few of the neuromyths caught my immediate attention and the impact they can have on learning especially now due to the limited amount of time teachers have with students during asynchronous and synchronous instruction. “Teacher’s time is much better spent working with what we know for certain about the brain, in a way that can really influence students’ learning outcomes” (p. 75).

Why This Is Good News for Teaching
“The fact that multiple intelligences cannot be proved in neuroscience without deciphering the complex sub-process of each intelligence is cause for celebration rather than lament. One of the best things that the Theory of Multiple Intelligence has done for education is to motivate teachers to vary their instructional patterns and to teach with multiple entry points for each class topic. While not the main object of the theory, this strengthens access to information by rehearsing distinct neural pathways to the same mental schema” (p. 75).

Why This Is Good News for Teaching
“There are no ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’ people. Humans have only one brain with two hemispheres that are used together in most functions” (p. 35). In addition, “Eliminating the myth of hemispheric dominance is helpful because it shows that the human brain is far more malleable than once thought. Ther are no parts of the brain for math or language, but rather multiple areas of the brain and dozen of networks that are relied upon to memorize, pay attention empathize, and interact with the world. It is great for teachers to know that networks, not localizationalism are at play because this can lead to more precisions in both activity choice and the diagnosis of learning delay” (p. 50).

Why This Is Good News for Teaching
“Many attention problems can be resolved with something as simple as a good night’s sleep or even a solid power nap. Teachers should realize that calling students’ attention to sleep problems can often be the first step towards remediating these problems” (p. 160).

Tokuhama-Espinosa concludes her findings on building awareness of neuromyths in education to improve teaching by considering the following:
  • Embrace Complexity!
  • Pursue Scientific Literacy!
  • Read More Diligently!
  • Get the Whole Story!
  • Set Personal Beliefs Aside!
  • Beware of the Placebo Effect!
  • Get Out of Your Comfort Zone!
  • Remember Your Students Are Not Rats!
  • Watch Out for Sparse Evidence: One Finding Does Not a Theory Make!
  • Correlation vs. Causation: Know the Difference!
  • Ind What Is, Not Just What Isn’t!
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm for Generalizations!
  • Don’t Assume Studies on Adults Will Apply to School-Age Children!
  • Remember That True in the Lab Isn’t Necessarily True in the Classroom!
  • Be a Critical Consumer of Information!If 
  • It Sounds Too Good to be True, It Probably Is!
  • Avoid Bandwagonitis!

“People naturally drift toward ideas they have read for reference, which means that reading widely and diligently is a key to staying abreast of the best information. ‘Diligence rather than inference’ should become one of the new mantras of teacher training” (p.180).

Sunday, July 26, 2020

What I Use To Do, But Now I Know Better

An Educator FORMER FAVORITE THINKING—What I Use To Do, But Now I Know Better

II can remember attending a leadership conference when I was fresh out of the classroom as an instructional coach. I recall feeling so grateful to be a member of the audience to listen and learn from experienced professionals in education. Being assigned to this new role was thrilling for me. I knew had a lot to learn about what supporting teachers in the classroom truly looked like. I was confident that the conference speaker’s insights would support my new role.

The keynote speaker was an author I knew well. I had their latest book in hand with my typical notes and highlights written all over the text. I leaned in, glossy-eyed, and listened in awe to their current research findings and the recommendations conference participants should consider doing differently, more of, or change altogether to support equitable outcomes for each of our students. I was excited and committed to utilizing and sharing their findings with teachers.

Years later I found this same author’s book now as a second edition on the top of my reading pile. It was published in 2018 and only just a few years old. Their first edition was a treasure and well-used as a tool to guide so many important conversations along my career pathway. I was looking forward to revising a former favorite and see what new insights had been added. I needed some fresh thinking to collaboratively lead a school headed into the fall of 2020 considering the COVID19 requirements and restrictions. 

Something significant happened as I turned the pages of this second edition of a former favorite go-to resource. I found it increasingly difficult to read. I found myself skimming through and noticing the names of the researchers and the dates of their findings. The majority of the reference dates were ten years old or older. To be fair many of the components this authored originally shared about teaching and learning current research still validates. Some of these powerful evidence-based strategies for teachers that were revisited included:

  • Sharing, posting, and referring to learning targets/objectives with students.
  • Checking for understanding and giving specific feedback to students.
  • Adjusting instruction including providing interventions for students.

Although I did notice some key instructional components missing Including when was the author going to...

  • Discuss the importance of addressing our student’s social and emotional health before we begin instruction? 
  • Talk about the value of creating a school culture where students feel included and valued for their strengths? 
  • Bring up on-going teacher collaboration to purposefully plan for student-driven learning experiences?

It was hard to put down an old favorite knowing what I use to do, but now I know better.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Read. Read. Read.

First Lady, Barbara Bush Narrated by Jean Becker PEARLS OF WISDOM—Little Pieces of Advice (That Go A Long Way)

When my sister shared the book Pearls of Wisdom, LIttle Pieces of Advice by First Lady Barbara Bush narrated and compiled by Jean Becker, I could feel her excitement over the phone. This compelling book is a collection of advice from First Lady Barbara Bush given throughout her lifetime to members of her large family, dear friends, political colleagues, and grateful employees. Her heartfelt and often direct counsel continues through the hearts and minds of those that knew her best but also can be appreciated by those who read her words and take to heart their meaning and message.

Readers will come away with more than a few ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ from First Lady Barbara Bush, but her drive for equity through literacy will be just as compelling. Her drive, her passion, her relentless pursuit to ensure each child and every adult has the opportunity to be readers was known by those who knew her best. She relentlessly shared this message with her children, grandchildren, colleagues, politicians, and those who came to listen to her speeches given world-wide. Read for fun. Read to others. Read to learn. Read.

There were many pieces of advice that will remain timeless including the real-life reminders hung on the back of each guest bedroom door for her visiting children and grandchildren. Notes that directed them to ”Please hang up damp towels and use twice if possible” and “Above all—have a great time.” Known as the Enforcer from those that knew her and loved her best she could also be quite direct with her counsel to  “Marry someone great!” and solemnly “If you can remain calm, you just don’t have all the facts.”

The tributes and memories shared by many of her closest and dearest friends, colleagues, and those who worked for her, included how the First Lady and her husband  President George H. W. Bush lived their life. “They led and taught by example—always living each day to the fullest with humor and dignity.”  Their love story started when she was 16 and continues in the hearts and minds of many after her death at the age of 92. Pearls of Wisdom include a written reflection from each of their children about their mom. Their son Governor Jed Bush thoughts mirror what his siblings shared about their mom and dad, “Our family has had a front seat to the most amazing love story….their love was the constant in our lives.”

The book was written to not only share her sometimes witty, sometimes direct, sometimes gracious words of wisdom but to continue to support programs and research for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. All the proceeds earned by the sale of this book will go towards promoting literacy for everyone. If the First Lady Barbar Bush was still alive today, one can imagine how pleased she would be with her life’s work continuing. Although ultimately if we each read more often and then read to the ones we are left in charge of instilling the love of reading with she would be thrilled!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Choose Happiness

Robert Dunlop STRIVE—For Happiness in Education

This summer I joined my very first #BookCampPD book study. The book selected for this round was STRIVE for HAPPINESS in EDUCATION written by Robert Dunlop. The online conversation was facilitated by the educator enthusiast Meredith Johnson who continues to inspire so many teachers and leaders to keep learning through reading and connecting.

Dunlop dropped into our twitter chats and like his book STRIVE you could feel his positivity vibe coming through his posts and reflections. In the preface of his book, he shares his thoughts on happiness. “It is essential to note that happiness is not something that you find or achieve, it is something that you constantly strive for. There are always going to be ups and downs. You will face challenges, and you will find success. You will have good days and bad. You will have great classes and ones that take you to your tipping point. The key is to make happiness a priority in education. This is the root of a healthy, fulfilling, and truly impactful career.”

With many of us now contemplating our next steps for continuing a modified Distance Learning experience for our students due to the COVID19 Pandemic, finding happiness will be a priority for the fall. Using the letters in the word STRIVE Dunlop demonstrates through stories and other classroom experiences how one can choose happiness by purposefully striving to prioritize students, teams, routines, innovation, viability, and yes being that extraordinary educator. There are many simple replicable take-aways for both teachers and leaders and heartfelt reminders of why striving for happiness matters for educators. I would add especially during a time of crisis. Dunlop reminders the reader, “Each journey is unique. The key is to look for opportunities that will allow you to dial into finding more joy one adjustment at a time.”

Here are a few key ideas I want to implement to purposefully keep happiness at the forefront of teaching and learning with staff, students, and families.

Staff-Random Acts of Recognition: “We need more moments where we feel appreciated and recognized for our many talents and the extra time we invest in our students, school, and the profession as a whole.”

Students-Ask Questions: I shared this graphic in a previous post, but Dunlop had the same idea. “Ask questions that will promote conversation and give you an avenue to get to know them better.” #Relationships #Relationships #Relationships

Families--Prized Possessions: “Learning how to gain and maintain the trust of a parent community can have an extremely positive effect on your experience at a school.”

At the end of his book, Dunlop encourages the reader to “Be That Teacher” that will be remembered for years to come. I will make the assumption that includes all educators who work to support and serve our students and their families “Someone who is happy, passionate, caring, and kind. Someone who inspires and leads. Someone who wants to make the world a better place. Someone who is extraordinary in their eyes. Someone they will never forget. Seize the opportunity and be that teacher.” Our kids deserved that joy, that passion, that experience.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Healing Loneliness Together

Vivek H. Murthy, MD TOGETHER—The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World

The soft-spoken voice of Dr. Vivek Murthy as he speaks on the topic of Loneliness is incredibly compelling. I first heard him speak with Dr. Brené Brown on her podcast Unlocking Us in late April, 2020. Dr. Brown is best known for sharing her research on vulnerability, empathy, and shame. Then later in early July, I listened to Dr. Murthy on the Next Big Idea Podcast with Dr. Susan Cain who wrote the book Quiet, a captivating book on how our society often undervalues introverts. In each of these reflective conversations and in his book Together, The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World Dr. Murthy speaks of the prevalence of loneliness in our society and the adverse effects it has not only on our health but in the connections we have with each other.

As our nation and the whole world are transitioning into implementing the public health requirements of the COVID19 pandemic, isolation has become a necessity for our own personal safety, the health of our families, closed friends, neighbors, and those that are most susceptible to illness who live in our communities. Starting in late March of 2020 the streets became empty, non-essential businesses closed, personal dwellings became a refuge, and we all watched and literally cheered as only the essential workers traveled back and forth from work to home. The rest of us were all then were forced to experience our own version of isolation, disconnectedness, and yes often loneliness.

Although isolation is not loneliness and Dr. Murthy clarifies the difference. He shares, “Many people think of loneliness as isolation, but the difference between these two terms is substantial! Loneliness is the subjective feeling that you’re lacking the social connections you need. It can feel like being stranded, abandoned, or cut off from the people with whom you belong--even if you’re surrounded by other people. What’s missing when you’re lonely is the feeling of closeness, trust, and the affection of genuine friends, loved ones, and community” (p. 8). The powerful component of the book Together is how Dr. Murthy further defines loneliness through relatable stories of friends, family, patients, and community members. 

The stories of Virta and Mychele told by Dr. Murthy are similar to those we might find about people in our own communities who quietly go about their daily lives regularly unnoticed and nearly invisible. Virta becomes lonely after complications from illness and Mychele is a lonely widow after many years of a close-knit marriage. Both of these women wandered through each of their days slowly losing their former lifeline connections. It was not until others reached out to them with love and compassion did they slowly began to reappear out of isolation and start to heal. They both gained a new sense of belonging by regularly connecting with those around them and eventually finding a new purpose by serving others. It did not happen quickly nor without setbacks but they emerged to start living a different way. 

I was extremely touched by Dr. Murthy’s story about his maternal grandfather and his brother Vasana. He explains there are those who experience unimaginable pain when losing someone they are deeply connected to. For most people, the pain subsides over time, but for others, the experience can be life alternating. The story of these two brothers started with their shared life experiences of on-going hardships in their early childhood. Neglected, mistreated, hungry and homeless… “they took care of each other when it seemed that no one else would” (p. 40). This closeness continued into adulthood for these two and when Dr. Murthry’s grandfather died his brother Vasana quickly followed him in death. Although incredibly sad, Dr. Murthy reminds the reader that “While loneliness has the potential to kill, connection has even more potential to heal” (p. 51). 

Dr. Murthy shares about the power of healing with Derek’s story. To start the story it is important to note, not only are we in the middle of a world-wide pandemic, the Black Lives Matter social reform movement is gaining momentum and attention across our nation. The hearts and minds of people living in the United States are slowly leaning in towards a much-needed change in our society due to unjust, often brutal, and deadly, outcomes of people of color in our communities. 

Derek’s story begins with details of his childhood including how his father was a leader and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Derek was homeschooled as a child and raised in a tight-knit extended family with their own sense of purpose and culture. With little, if any other life experience and beliefs other than what he was exposed to as a child he headed off to college. A brave task for any young adult heading away from home, but extremely difficult for Derek.

Dr. Murthy describes Derek as an inquisitive individual who wanted to not only connect with others in his new surroundings but wanted to understand and learn more about his college community. Realizing his background would be an area of contention for his new peers he hid this knowledge about his family from them. Eventually discovered he was “outed” publicly. Not only was Derek experiencing loneliness being away from home and family, but he was also now left without friends to support him through his college experience. A new type of deep loneliness emerged for Derek.

For many, this is where the story would end with no connections, no trust, and a lonely college experience. Fortunately for Derek, his story was different. “A few fellow students reached out to connect and have thoughtful conversations with him. Their willingness to listen and share with respect and compassion gradually changed Derek’s belief and help him realized how destructive his original values had been” (p. 68). Over time connections were developed, friendships created, and loneliness was not the outcome for Derek. I am wondering if the same approach today in light of the Black Lives Matter movement could follow this same path.

These are just a few of the stories Dr. Murthy shared on loneliness and the drive we all have as humans to connect even when faced with incredible diversity. During a pandemic, we are forced to stay in isolation, but the importance of continuing to reach out to others through kindness, compassion, and service is critical if we are all going to pull through this together. Hopefully with a renewed sense of the value of “connection in a sometimes lonely world.” The cure for loneliness does not occur in isolation but with the relationships, we purposefully cultivate with others.

Friday, July 3, 2020

“All learning is social and emotional.”

Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, Dominique Smith ALL LEARNING IS SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL—Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond

I read this book based on two recent pivoting experiences. The first occurred when both Dr. Douglas Fisher and Dr. Nancy Frey engaged our administrative teams in professional learning. The sessions highlighted teacher clarity and how to deepen our implementation of instructional strategies that have the greatest impact and ultimately better outcomes for kids. The caveat here was they presented on different days, but in my notes, there was a quote they both shared...“All learning is social and emotional.” 

The second experienced happened as one of our administrative teams began to plan for what teaching and learning would look like in the Fall of 2020 with the health restrictions of COVID19. This group of dedicated leaders unanimously agreed to start with prioritizing the social and emotional (SEL) student-focused systems first before creating schedules, establishing routines, determining curriculum, etc. All of which are incredibly valuable...but we agreed during the Coronavirus Pandemic our school systems and instructional action steps would be more aligned strategically to support each student’s social and emotional health as a top priority.

Early in the book, the authors shared, “It’s important to stress that social and emotional learning is about more than developing kids who are nice to one another, cooperative in class and civically engage, SEL is an equity issue...It is crucial for schools to implement systems that develop students’ social and emotional skills so that they can carry, practice, and use these throughout their day, at home when the school day is over, and for the rest of their lives” (p. 12). This is our work.

The authors also remind teachers and leaders that successful implementation of SEL programs does not come from a curriculum, a program, or happens by chance. The social and emotional development of the children in our classrooms should occur daily and be intentionally embedded in all that we do. “Their social and emotional development is too important to be an add-on or an afterthought, too important to be left to chance” (p. 17). They organized SEL into five categories that can and should overlap and support each other including; identity and agency, emotional regulation, cognitive regulation, social skills, and public spirit. 

We started this work in our school over the past couple of years but not to the depth where we want to be...yet. One of the biggest lessons I learned as a leader was to change our school-wide schedule that prioritized addressing the social and emotional health of our students at the very beginning of the school day. Each class, each child, each teacher gathers in a community circle, where students experience what it feels like to be in an inclusive trusting setting.

In these daily community circles, students are learning to “recognize, express, and regulate their emotions before they can be expected to interact with others” (p. 48) which helps them regulate their learning mindset for the day. In our school, we use the same Zones of Regulation Model the author’s referenced on page 50. 


Learning to not only recognize one’s own feelings but how to respond to those feelings is discuss and taught by their classroom teacher. Teachers also frequently use characters found in stories and through role-playing class scenarios to continue to develop their understanding of their own emotions and reactions as well as those of their peers. 

This past Spring during our on-line Distance Learning sessions with students each classroom teacher prioritized this practice. Students were given regular opportunities to identify, share, and use “their words” to express their feelings. After actively listening to each other similar to their morning circle routines, students offered suggestions and recommendations on what their peers could do at home to help them refocus or regulate their emotions. Student suggestions to their peers included taking a walk, getting outside, reading a book in a quiet corner, squeezing a squish ball, and on and on it went. 

There are many sections in this book that I intend to get back to once we are all back together. Fisher, Frey, and Smith also offered suggestions for restorative practices including questions to ask both the offender and the victim. Metacognition strategies were highlighted by the authors to foster through explicit instruction in order to provide students more opportunities to “think about their thinking.” They also included examples of how we can move students away from learned helplessness towards productive struggle in order to empower our students to leverage their own cognitive resources and skills. 

The last chapter of the book provided further ideas on how to purposefully plan for embedding SEL schoolwide. The ideas that most resonated with me and our school community Included building the capacity of others to increase understanding, collecting student, staff, and family data for decision-making, looking for patterns in the data with all stakeholders, and setting and monitoring goals were all important reminders. Although just as important to remember there are many effective SEL programs available but it’s not something you do in isolation but incorporated in all that you do as a cohesive learning community. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Questions to Consider


I must admit The Book of Beautiful Questions written by author Warren Berger has been sitting on my to-read list for quite a while now. It was a gift from a thoughtful colleague but it never got to the top of my pile of books until I listen to Daniel Pink’s Pincast 3.09 on intellectual humility. In his message, Pink asked the listener “do you have a willingness to recognize what you think, what you believe might be wrong.” Admittedly...this is a difficult question for many of us to ask and more importantly to then reflect on.

As a school leader with multiple decisions to make I often ask myself and others many, many questions before heading in one direction, But are they the right questions to ask to get the full understanding of the changes we need/want to make? Warren states, “To improve our decision-making capabilities, we need to sharpen our critical thinking. And to do that we must arm ourselves with a set of critical questions--and be willing to consistently ask and thoughtfully consider the questions before rendering judgment” (p. 18). 

In The Book of Beautiful Questions, Warren focuses on questions for better decision-making, addresses questions for creativity and innovation, frames how questions can support us truly connecting with others, and gives the reader questions to consider to develop stronger leadership skills. I highly recommend that those that read the book do so with a pen and notebook in hand. As you read write down those questions that can be utilized with humility to learn more from others who you serve, support, and yes love.

The initial list I created while reading consisted of twenty questions. I thought I could challenge myself to ask these on a regular basis. Reality check...not truly feasible considering the amount. I narrowed down my list by highlighting one in each of Berger’s categories and then condensed the list even more with just three questions and added one bonus question that acts more like a directive for myself for a total of four questions to consistently use. I selected the following.

A question to ask myself more often for self-reflection. 
Am I looking to protect and defend or seek to understand?

A question to ask teachers to gain their perspective and insights. 
Can one response really give me their entire perspective? What else do I need to know?

A question to ask students who often just make me laugh with their honesty.
Am I giving students opportunities to answer open-ended questions to share their thinking? 

A question to put on my computer monitor in my office to get me up and out!
Am I taking the time to connect with students, staff, and families?

Warren hares, “The challenge of leading, in almost any area, is becoming more complex and demanding” (p.16). Leading in isolation should not be an option for any school or organization. “From an individual career standpoint, continued success will depend on having the ability to keep learning while updating and adapting what we already know. We must continually invest or reinvent the work we do every day. None of this is possible without constant questioning” (p.14). 

With humility, ask, listen, reflect, learn, and change, in order to grow.