Engaging the Introverts

Every classroom has them.  The students who try their best to be invisible.  They hardly raise their hands, they hardly volunteer to read aloud or answer a question or lead a discussion.  They may be perfectly well-behaved and compliant, facing the teacher or the board, watching what the others are doing, or just sitting on their hands.  These are the kids whom many teachers speak about with a gleam in their eyes; the kids whom many teachers love to have in their classes because they are respectful rule-followers.

But are these kids engaged during meaningful discussions?  If you answered yes, how do you know?

Just because a student is “physically engaged” in the classroom does not mean he or she is “cognitively engaged.”  In other words, I could walk into a classroom and immediately pick out the physically engaged students. You know who they are – the kids sitting quietly, watching their teacher or seemingly paying attention to another student who is speaking.

But what I can’t do is walk into a classroom and immediately determine which of these students is actually listening, processing, making connections, questioning, or creating hypotheses.  The only way to know if these quiet kids are learning is to ask them what they are learning or thinking.

And there’s the rub with introverts – getting them to feel comfortable enough to speak in class or share what they are thinking.

During the last two week, I had two moments of clarity regarding introverted students.  First, I read a blog post written by Jennifer Gonzalez titled A Mild Case of Fisheye.  “Think all of your students are participating in class?  Take another look.”  Gonzalez’s lead-in grabbed me.  This is a great post describing how the best class discussions are only engaging for the extroverts.  A teacher asks a great question, a few students provide thoughtful, interesting, or provocative answers, and a discussion ensues – but only for those who are participating.  But what about the quiet ones?  The Introverts?  Are they engaged?  

Gonzalez expertly explains why equitable participation in classrooms is important.  As she writes, “The quiet ones must learn to speak.”  And, “The talkers must learn to listen.”  She provides good strategies to bring out the introverts in classrooms.

Additionally, Gonzalez has written another post titled The Big List of Classroom Discussion Strategies.  Here, she provides 15 highly discussion strategies for teachers to use to engage ALL students in the classroom.  This is a great read with terrific strategies.

Then, I read a blog post written by my esteemed colleague and good friend Dr. Brian B. Bullis on his The Principal’s Office blog.  Dr. Bullis is a self-proclaimed introvert working in a leadership position designed by and for extroverts.  As Brian writes:

As we all know, this profession really has little room for introverts.  I am expected to a be a dynamic public communicator who can give speeches at the drop of a hat.  I am expected to say the right things at the right times to keep students, teachers, parents, and the community motivated to passionately pursue our school’s mission and vision.

I would put good money on the probability that Brian was one of those quiet kids in class who did not raise his hand very often in class.
Introvert Care








Two weeks ago, our instructional coaches and I shared the two Gonzalez blog posts with the teachers in our school.  We asked each teacher to try one discussion strategy to engage all students in meaningful and thoughtful discussions.  I am pleased to report that the teachers came back with very positive comments regarding the strategies.  We put together of a shared document of all the successful strategies that I will share with the entire staff.  


The goal for us as a staff is to engage all kids – the introverts and the extroverts.

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A Sticky Predicament

I like a good piece of chewing gum after a meal or after a cup of coffee as much as the next guy. I happen to be partial to Wrigley’s 5 Cobalt Peppermint gum.  Great flavor that lasts forever.  

Anyway, the recent packs of this delicious gum include a little game printed on the wrappers called “Truth or Dare: Choose a Stick, Take a Chance.”  Sounds like fun, right?  That is what I thought, too.

So, I was floored when I pulled out a fresh stick last night after dinner, and I got this “Truth” statement:

Gum Wrapper

Really?  Tell the truth:  Would you rather go to the dentist or the principal’s office?  We principals are being compared against dentists who stick needles into our gums, use power tools to drill down to the nerve endings, and yank out our molars?  I certainly am not an anti-dentite; some of my good friends (and my brother-in-law) are dentists.  But, is going to the principal’s office really as bad as going to the dentist?  I think not.

If that is the case, then we principals have a lot of work to do to change our image.  The question is how do we do that?

Obviously, we still are living under the notion that the principal is the person to whom kids get sent when they are naughty; that’s his or her only job.  Back in the day, maybe that was true.  There used to be true fear in the idea of getting sent to the principal’s office.  It was that place way back in the corner of the main office where kids went in, but did not come out.

I still cringe when parents whom I am meeting for the first time tell their young children, right in front of me, “I don’t ever want you to go to HIS office!”  And that is the child’s first time meeting me. No wonder we are in this predicament!   

Upon reflecting back to my elementary school days, I hardly ever saw the principal in the classrooms, the halls, the lunchroom, or on the playground.  (Unfortunately, I did see him in his office a few times, but that is a topic for a different blog post).  Maybe if he had spent some time with the kids, they would have seen him as a regular guy who was personable, smiled, had a sense of humor, and cared about them.

So all you principals out there please join me in reshaping the public perception of the principalship.  (Check out any TV show or movie that has a school principal as one of the main characters.  How is he or she typically portrayed?)  Get out there and show the world that principals are people, too!  

We are currently in the middle of National Principals Month.  This is the perfect time to set the record straight – visiting with the principal is way more fun than going to the dentist!  

Remember – the Principal is your PAL!!  

Enjoy the month, my friends!

Using Twitter for School District PD

“Twitter is an amazing tool for educators!” – Anonymous  (at least I think someone might have said that.)

 Regardless of the source of that quote, I have come to believe this to be true.  When I first signed on to Twitter, I was not so sure, however.  I saw this cool new tool as another way to chat with people and share innocuous tidbits about their lives.

I now see Twitter as an invaluable source of information for educators.  The number of teachers and administrators using Twitter is growing exponentially, and these folks are writing about all of the important topics of the day. You can get opinions on all of these topics, and you can find amazing resources for teaching and learning.  Over the years, I have been to many, many professional workshops and conferences, and I have gained knowledge at these events.  However, I would argue that I have learned as much in the last few years on Twitter as I have in the last 29 years as an educator attending on-site professional development sessions.

Today was a watershed day in my life as a Tweeter.  Until today, I used Twitter on my own to connect with others around the globe, and I have participated in Twitter chats that I have found quite valuable. But, until today, I have done my Tweeting outside of the school day, on my own time.

Today was different.  We held an all-district inservice day for our teachers.  No students; only teachers. One of the scheduled activities for all staff members was to participate in a 30 minute Twitter chat that was led by administrators and instructional coaches.  Eight relevant topics were presented to staff to discuss.  Each chat was offered at two different times during the day.  Here are the topics:

Standards Based Grading #SBG109  

Project Based Learning #PBL109    

Classroom Management #MGT109

Connected Educators  #ConEd109  

Disciplinary Literacy   #LDC109  

Special Needs Topics #Sped109

ePortfolios   #ePort109   

Doing Things Differently #DTD109   

What a great idea for professional development within a school district!  (I can say that because it was not my idea!)  Because we all have so much to offer, discussing these topics in group chats had the potential to be valuable for all participants.  I can say that the chats in which I participated were terrific. I now can go back to each of these hashtags and read the string of comments to learn even more.  None of us would have been able to do that if we held in-person discussions in classrooms.  Furthermore, the discussions can continue forever if people choose to keep the chats going.  Finally, because these hashtags are public, we had other Tweeters from outside the school district joining our chats.  There is no way we could have gained insight from others if we held traditional face-to-face inservice meetings.

All-in-all, today’s experiment in Tweeting was a huge success from my point of view, and I would recommend that other school districts try this approach.  Feel free to check out our hashtags.  There were a lot of great thoughts shared regarding eight important educational topics.

For information on hundreds of ongoing educational chats on Twitter, check here.  Thanks to @Jeff_Zoul, @mfaust, @Arubin98, and @mikelubelfeld for bringing this idea to our school district!  Well done!

Have a Tweetful day!

Dave  @dbsherman

What is School For? I Dare You to Answer

Watch this video.  I dare you.  It will take 17 minutes of your day, but it will change the way you look at school in 2015.  

Why the dare?  Well, when someone challenges our thinking, better yet our entire way of life (professionally speaking), we often want to avoid looking the devil in the eye and admitting that he may be right.  Did I just call Seth Godin the devil?  Yes, but I really don’t mean it.  However, he sure does present some devilish thoughts about the current state of American education and why it is failing.  

For those of us who are deep into our careers as educators, listening to Godin speak is uncomfortable.  He challenges us with this simple question – What is School For?

How do you answer that question?  How might you answer that question after watching the video?

As Godin states, school was about teaching obedience and the #2 pencil.  The first American public schools were designed by Horace Mann to prepare workers for the industrial age.  Public education’s sole intent was to train people to work in a factory, to be obedient, to fit in, to become “interchangeable people” like assembly line parts.  Schools were the factories to build workers for the factories.  Is that the case today?

Think about what we ask kids to do in school on a daily basis:  Stand, face the flag, and state the Pledge of Allegiance in unison.  Talk about teaching obedience!  I am all for patriotism, and I love my country as much as the next principal, but maybe it is time to give kids a choice as to how they show their feelings about America.

And this is just the start to my thinking on this topic.  How many teachers are requiring kids to memorize facts that they can easily look up on any Internet-connected device?  BTW – what is the capital of Vermont?

Picture this  scenario – It is Tuesday morning, Period 2 English class. 27 high school freshman sitting in rows facing the teacher who is up at the front of the class.

Teacher:  Take out your #2 pencils, please.  You have exactly 30 minutes to complete this grammar test.  When you are finished, start reading chapter 11 of The Catcher in the Rye.  Remember, the test on the first 12 chapters is this Thursday.

Student:  Do we need to annotate this chapter?

When we associate reading a book with taking a test, we take all of the joy out of reading.  Is that what school is for?

According to Godin, when we have put kids in schools-like-factories we encourage work, not art.  I am starting to agree.  When our goal is to train people to become productive workers we are squashing their passion for learning, investigating, trying and failing.  The previous conversation from that high school English class, and thousands like it, are taking place in schools all over the country under the guise of good teaching.

Now that I have seen this video a few times, I have started reading Godin’s “Manifesto” Stop Stealing Dreams (What is School For?).  After the first few sections, I have a feeling I may be blogging about this topic some more in the near future.

Welcome New Staff!

I am proud to introduce these fine new educators who will be starting at South Park this year.  Actually, they wanted to introduce themselves!!  Please join me in welcoming them to South Park.

Kori Kelly – Kindergarten

Hi there! I’m Kori Kelly, and I am a new kindergarten teacher at South Park. Upon graduating from Indiana University in 2013, I had the privilege of working as a paraprofessional and then as a 4th grade teacher. I am beyond excited to teach kindergarten in this incredible district and can not wait to meet my new class! When I’m not at school, you can find me teaching dance to children of all ages. I look forward to working with the amazing staff, supportive families, and smiling students at South Park!


Jessica Morehead – First Grade

Hello! My name is Jessica Morehead. This school year I look forward to joining the South Park team and the opportunity to work with the wonderful community I grew up in. I received my Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education and Special Education from the University of Northern Iowa. I come to South Park with teaching experiences at various schools in Chicago. I have loved the opportunities to teach in multiple grades but I know my heart belongs in first grade. I look forward to meeting each of my students and their families in the next few weeks!

photo (1)

Nicole Marak – Third Grade

Hello, my name is Nicole Marak, and I am happy to be joining the third grade team at South Park!  In May, I graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in elementary education.  My student teaching experience took place in Wheeling, District 21, in a second grade classroom.  I was fortunate enough to take part in a year long student teaching program.  This past summer, I taught 7th grade language arts in Wheeling.  I am very excited to become a member of the South Park family.  I look forward to a year filled with lots of fun and learning.  I can’t wait to get to know all of my students and their families!

Introduction photo

Alison Alves – School Psychologist

Hello South Park community! I am Alison Alves, the new School Psychologist joining the South Park Team. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary and Special Education from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia before going on to teach English Language Learners and Special Education in Massachusetts. I moved to Chicago in 2010 to earn my doctorate in School Psychology from Loyola University, Chicago. I look forward to collaborating with this special team to support our students- cheers to a great year ahead!

Jenise Sterling – Helping Hands Pre-school

Hello, my name is Jenise Sterling and I’m excited to introduce myself as the new Helping Hands Preschool Teacher! I have my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Indiana University and I am currently working on my Master’s. This will be my first year as a classroom teacher in District 109 Helping Hands Preschool program, but I was a teaching assistant under Kat Armstrong, and I have spent the past two years teaching preschool for Carpentersville District 300. I am very excited to come back to District 109 and work with the amazing South Park Elementary Staff!  I look forward to creating a working partnership with families and a sense of community in the classroom while providing meaningful activities that my students can apply to real world situations. I believe in creating a classroom community based on empathy, kindness, and respect and I’m excited to support my students both as learners and citizens of the world.

We Are Building The Plane

This week we deployed about 200 iPads to our K-2 students and about 240 Chromebooks to our students in grades 3-5.  We are officially a1:1 school!  It is the start of a very exciting time in the school for the students and teachers.  But, the 1:1 deployment brings new and very different challenges for us as educators.

To get this school year started, I shared this video with our staff at our opening meeting, and I asked them to contemplate this question before watching it:  This video is an analogy for the new school year.  Why?   I used PollEv.com to tally their answers which were right on the money.  Here are some examples of what they wrote:

“Teaching kids with technology as we are learning how to use it also.”

 “Learning as you go and building knowledge as you work.”

“Teaching students with technology that we are still learning about.”

“This video is a metaphor for our school year because we are using and teaching with computers while we are learning ourselves.”

“We are preparing students for things that don’t yet exist”

“We don’t have the luxury of “building” before we start with students – We’ll be doing all the “building” and teaching at the same time.”

“We are total risk takers! And hope we land on our feet.”

“We’re gonna wing it this year:-)”

I absolutely loved their responses!!  Our teachers totally get the concept of taking risks on something so new and different that there is no perfect, prescribed way to do it.  We could easily have waited a year or more before implementing a 1:1 learning environment, but would we really be any wiser then?  The idea that we jumped in, ready to experiment and learn along with the students, is refreshing and invigorating for our school, and it is a critical to meeting students at their level of learning.

Sure, the last few days have been tiring as we have run into some bumps in the deployment road.  But we did it with a lot of help from a lot of people.  And, now that the devices are in the kids’ hands, we have our work cut out for us.  We now have the challenge of engaging, inspiring, and empowering our students to become self-directed, 21st century global learners.

What Really Engages All Students?

Is it a fun, friendly, and entertaining teacher?  Sure, for a while that works, until the novelty wears off.  Is it a rigorous curriculum that is filled with academic challenges?  No doubt, as long as the teacher is highly capable of differentiating for all learners.  Maybe it is the incorporation of a totally hands-on, manipulative-based classroom. Definitely.  Especially for those people who think in very concrete ways.  How about a classroom where singing, dancing, and drama are the focal points?  Have you ever heard me sing?  Enough said.
So what is the point of all these questions?  Simply, there is not one perfect teaching style or classroom environment for all students.  Yet, who would argue with the ideal that “no child should be left behind?” We are educators because we want to see all students learn, achieve, succeed, and grow.  I wish I could patent the way to incorporate all of the attributes listed above into one “super-teacher.”

I believe that the typical classrooms of our youth have outlived their usefulness.  No longer can the teacher be the all-knowing giver of the information; the Sage on the Stage.  Teachers need to move past using lecture and rote memorization, and instead, they need to let students take ownership of their learning.  No longer can our teachers do 80% of the talking in a school day.  21st Century students need access to information and they need access to the tools for learning.  Our job as educators is to help them sort it all out correctly.

So how do we do that?  We need to incorporate much more authentic learning into our classrooms.  We need to provide students with work that has intrinsic meaning and adds value to their lives.  For students to be engaged, self-directed learners, they must create projects and solve problems that connect to the world beyond the classroom.  Working with our students to solve authentic problems is what will engage them in learning.  This is what will engage them in substantive conversations and whet their appetites for a depth of knowledge never before seen in our schools.

True authentic learning will engage all learners because the topics will be real for them.  The academically gifted student, the musician, the artist, the athlete, the mechanically inclined child, and the highly dramatic kid, all can find success in a problem-based environment in which they are expected to work together and use their individual strengths to solve real problems.

In a few weeks, our students each will be handed their own personal learning device to be used in school and at home.  In my opinion, this will be the moment of truth for our teachers.  Why?  Because the students will have access to a wealth of information at their fingertips, and they no longer will need to depend on their teachers to feed them the facts.  Instead, students should be challenged to find the facts, and then use what they have discovered to collaborate, create, and solve real-world problems.

Teachers in the 21st Century must change and adapt to keep up with their students.  The time has come for teachers to move away from rote memorization, repetitive practice, silent study without conversation, and brief exposure to topics, and instead, move closer to authentic learning in a 1:1 learning environment.










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