Archive | March 2013

Cancer Lessons

This post was written two years ago. I am happy to report my colleague is in remission and still teaching.

We are colleagues–teachers in the same building with some of the same students. Though we are not close friends, when I read her school-wide email announcing she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and soon would be having surgery as well as undergoing treatment, I was deeply saddened.

I had several thoughts. But, you’re only 37 years old. You’re the picture of health. I can’t believe this. What will you tell your students? How will you tell them?

When is the last time I had a mammogram?

Thinking she had sent the email from home, I was surprised when I saw her leaving her classroom at the end of the day. We looked at one another and I offered a hug. She smiled and I asked her how she was doing.

She explained she was doing well. The doctors were confident. She was confident. Everyone was determined to be positive.

“I will beat this thing,” she told me.

Knowing how much they loved her, I asked her how she would tell her students.

“I already have,” she said. “And the best thing is many of them are taking biology, so we were able to talk about cancer and cell division.”

“How did they take the news?” I asked processing that my colleague had actually turned her cancer into a biology lesson.

“Fine, though they are worried about me losing my hair, so I told them maybe I could wear one of their hats.”

We both laughed. My eyes filled with tears.

“You truly have a teacher’s heart,” I told her. “Wow…to make your cancer into a biology lesson…”

Together we walked the span of the hallway and said our good-byes.

And I thought about what an honor it is to work with a teacher who in even her darkest moment sees clearly the importance of doing what is best for kids.


How to be the best Positive Deviant possible

Dennis Sparks on re·sil·ience


In Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, physician Atul Gawande describes a talk he made to medical students addressing the topic, “How do I really matter?” He decided to offer “five suggestions for how one might make a worthy difference, for how one might become, in other words, a positive deviant.”

(In yesterday’s post I defined positive deviants as individuals who with the same resources available to their peers achieved more favorable outcomes. They do so through identifiable behaviors that distinguish their performance from that of others.)

In his talk Gawande suggested:

Ask an unscripted question. “You don’t have to come up with a deeper important question, just one that lets you make a human connection,” he wrote.

Don’t complain. “[N]othing in medicine is more dispiriting than hearing doctors complain.”

Count something. “It doesn’t really matter what you count… The only requirement is that…

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Are you a Positive Deviant?

Dennis Sparks on re·sil·ience


“We need to look at how individuals and organizations within our own systems achieved stellar results using the resources available to the system (and then duplicate then learn from that individual or organization),” reader Frances Miller said in a recent comment on  one of my blog posts. “Many times we spend our energy looking for outside experts when they are right there within our organization; we just have to learn how to develop a culture where others support their use.”

Miller’s comment brought to mind a 2004 JSD interview I did with Jerry Sternin. Sternin and his wife, Monique, had applied the concept of “positive deviance” to life-saving work they did for Save the Children in the villages of Vietnam and to solving other seemingly intractable problems, and I was curious about the implications of the practice in educational settings.

“Positive deviants are people whose behavior and practices produce solutions…

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So it is written…

PLN, Be sure and follow @tomwhitby if you aren’t already!

My Island View

After a marathon attendance at a number of education conferences this year I have stored up many observations on the approach these conferences use to engage educators in their profession. Since I began attending them over 35 years ago I do have some historical perspective. More often than not my experience on the planning of the “Education Conference” is: So it is written, so it shall be done! Many reshuffle the deck and deal out the same old hands. If we always plan conferences on what worked last year, progress will never catch up to relevance.

In our technology-driven society we have come to recognize that our students are learning differently. I would suggest that our educators are learning differently as well. That difference needs to be addressed by the conferences that help educate our educators. The reasons we as educators are reflecting and changing our methods of education to…

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If I had my way…

This blog post is a work in progress. Each Friday on Twitter, I encourage my PLN to brainstorm and post If I had my way… comments. The best part? We don’t have to agree on every suggestion. These are examples of what has been posted sofar. 

  • …the school year would be just that a year.
  • …Ts would visit Ss’ homes to engage Ps.
  • …all schools would have access to an Olympic-sized swimming pool and Ss would be taught to swim.
  • …1:1 would also represent the ratio of Planningto Teaching time.
  • …local school lunch programs would be curriculum-based with student managers/leaders/planners.
  • Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 7.54.49 AM

    We can’t forget the importance of Fine Arts.

  • …high school graduationrequirements would include participating in a high school theatrical production.

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  • To be continued…

Mr. Ukulele

I am a people person and I especially love engaging with fellow educators. This is just one more reason why Twitter rocks. #PLNImage

While enjoying day six of my Spring Break, a member of my PLN posted the USTREAM link to his classroom. Even though it was #napchat time, I opted to observe the next half hour or so of wonderfully riveting 6th grade interaction.

I could have watched all day long.

Initially, the classroom was silent except for the strumming of what I thought was a guitar but turned out to be a ukulele being played by an unseen teacher. In walked a student who addressed Mr. Ukulele with a big hello. Their conversation was easy and natural. As he strummed along, Mr. Ukulele asked about family and school. The student replied all was well and then happily continued back to his class.

In a matter of minutes the bell rang and the students for the next class came in excited about the day’s lesson. As Mr. Ukulele greeted the class, the 6th graders settled in for a quick video which set the tone for the day and is also featured on the class blog.

I observed seamless activities, respectful interaction, and engaged learning. The best part is the culture of respect and kindness was evident even before the students arrived.

I wouldn’t expect anything less from any teacher who plays the ukulele at school.

Thank you, Mr. Ukulele.

Mr. Ukulele is actually @wmchamerlain on Twitter and can be found at

Five Minute Friday: Celebratory Rest

I love this idea! Free write for 5 on Five Minute Friday!


It’s Five Minute Friday time!  Remember you too can join in this “writing flash mob” and/or do it with your students.  It’s a simple and quick free writing exercise.  Read my post introducing Five Minute Friday for details on how to participate.  Also, check out how to incorporate Five Minute Friday with creating interactive posters for the “Writing Process”.

Set aside five minutes of free writing time to join me on writing about “Rest”, today’s topic.  Remember I’m applying my Five Minute Friday posts toward education and work, but you can write about anything about “Home” that sparks your interest.


 Standing proud and tall, arms in air, and body as still as a statue, my smile softens the anxiety.  Our eyes meet in silent applause as I scan and make eye contact with each student!  The rush of adrenaline can be felt from head to toe making it…

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