Just one book…

The other day I was asked if I might be able to recommend one book, just one book, to be presented as a gift to some student teachers completing their final round of student teaching as they wrap up their degree and prepare for a career in education.  I had an instant reaction and replied, Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (2015).  Not an education methods, philosophy book at all.  However, it is a book I believe everyone could benefit from if they allow themselves to be the father, the central character in this tale, as he shares some thoughts about what it is to be a knight for his children prior to the next day’s battle where he’s certain he will die.  The development of personal character being the primary purpose from my point of view.  I’ve been an unpaid (and likely unknown to Ethan Hawke) personal promoter of this book for the past 18 months.  Must read material from my point of view but, the one book for a new teacher…maybe not.

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Returning to the question, one book, the best book for a new teacher, I found myself thinking about my library.  I have a lot of books, print and Kindle format.  After 32 years in education, coaching over 60 teams (mostly football), a Masters and a Doctorate in Education Leadership, there is a lot to choose from.  I believe deeply in trying to meet the needs of all students.  They come to our classes and schools in all shapes and sizes.  The exceptionally average, the high flyer, the kid where the school is her one refuge from an absolutely crappy life, the kid who at first glance one might think will never learn a thing…all kids.   To pick one book for the 2017 graduate I have to hope it’s a trigger book, one that lights a desire to get the second, third and so because there really isn’t one book that’s going to answer all the questions, provide all that a new teacher (or old) will need.  I think this is telling me I need to share more about the books I’ve read, books I’ve started, books others have told me you must read that have impacted me as I try to be the best teacher and leader I can be.  These books have impacted how I work with my fellow teachers, and how I work with anyone I have an opportunity to learn from and teach.

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Robert Marzano (2017) has written several editions of books that speak to the art of teaching while exploring the science that supports that art.  I’m a believer that if you don’t sense, feel, breathe and develop a personal passion for teaching, the art part of the work, you’re never going to be the best you can be for your students.  In the absence of the art, that passion for teaching, education is just a job.  If it’s just a job you will fall short of your potential to really maximize the learning experience for all your students.  If you fail to continue to learn, you cannot be the best teacher you can be.

I believe in a different twist on the saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. For me, it’s, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him thirsty”.  A thirsty horse will drink wherever there’s water.  To that end, I’d hope that reading this first book would help build the thirst that would lead to book after book to fully develop the art and science of teaching, assessment strategies, instructional strategies, literacy, numeracy, working with challenging students.  Do you think there’s a book for students about surviving challenging teachers?  You have to believe you can make a difference in the life of all your students, and your peers.  For me, in order to be your best you have to believe you can work miracles, and then learn how.

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            My first book for the new teacher (with lots more to follow) is Dave Burgess’ work, Teach Like a Pirate (Burgess, 2012).  Here’s one paragraph from Dave’s section on passion for you to ponder:

My professional passion sounds like this: I’m passionate about creating lifelong learners. I’m passionate about increasing the self-esteem and self-confidence of my students. I’m passionate about having students leave my class with a larger vision of what is possible for their lives. I enjoy helping students who are apathetic about school get excited about coming to school, even if it is just because of my class. I love developing the creative and innovative spirit of my students. I am passionate about not letting them fall victim to the horrific educational trends that would have us turn children into test-taking automatons who are able to spit out facts and trivia but are unable to speak about anything of significance or meaning. I want to model and inspire a spirit of entrepreneurship and drive for constant self-improvement in all areas of life. I am also passionate about developing engaging presentations for my material. (Kindle location 174-181)

I like the way Dave Burgess thinks, it reminds me of why I loved teaching the poetry and story of Dead Poet’s in English, or took students out to a farmer’s field and measured out the distance of the battlefield at Passchendaele in Social Studies.

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It’s probably why I so loved Richard Mulligan’s character, Herbert Gower, in the 1984 movie “Teachers” which was released during my last year in and my last student teaching round.  Yes, ancient history.

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We can all stand to teach a little like a Pirate, I wonder, restricted to just one book, what you’d want that new graduate in education to read?  Perhaps it’s a title I’ll be sharing in some of the posts to come.


Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Hawke, E. (2015). Rules for a knight: The last letter of Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Marzano, R. J. (2017). The new art and science of teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Dave’s website: http://daveburgess.com/


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Learning, Winning, and My Bad….

John Maxwell (2013) starts his book with a question, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail” (p.1)?  It’s certainly easier to cliff jump into a lake if you know it’s not going to hurt, the water will be warm, and there is no risk, no fear, no chance at failure, even if failure is a bit of a belly flop entrance to the water. But would it be the same experience?  The same challenge?

(this water was quite cold by the way…I’m 3rd from the top)

And sometimes more is learned than won….


Now, this isn’t about life-threatening experiences, it’s about the willingness to try, to reach, to succeed and ultimately to be willing to fail along the way to succeeding or perhaps as Maxwell later asks us to consider, “what do you learn when you fail”?  Stories, urban myth or otherwise are all around us of great inventors and the multiple times they failed in what they were working to develop before it worked.  They didn’t fail at say inventing the lightbulb, they learned a 100 or 1000 ways that the light bulb couldn’t be built and then…after all those lessons like magic, let there be light.  The overnight success has more than a few hours of learning process invested that on many occasions looked nothing like a success.  Somehow, we must ensure we, as the guides for our students and those who work with us in education, embrace the learning process for what it is, a collection of peaks and valleys wins, and losses that can hurt a bit and reward a bit along the way.

Along with that line of thinking, I like this podcast series I’ve come across recently and while the voices are mostly teachers and administrators I think all of us in education can identify and could probably find a story or two to share.  It’s called “My Bad…” you see it in sports, the QB or point guard makes a bad pass, the receiver drops a great ball, they point to themselves and say to the others, “my bad…” I messed up, I didn’t get that right, and of course, implied in the statement is the notion that they will get it right the next time as a result.  (Doesn’t always work that way but hey I did suggest there were a few 1000 my bad’s along the way to inventing the lightbulb).

The website for the My Bad podcast is here https://www.bamradionetwork.com/my-bad/ you can also find the My Bad podcast in iTunes podcast section.  Some stories may not apply to you, others can hit right between the chambers of your heart.  Check a couple out.  More importantly, recognize the theme of the podcast; we are in the work of learning from mistakes, most of what we do is formative and “My Bad” is a part of that formative process when we mindfully work to learn and improve.

Maxwell, J. C. (2013). Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn: Life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses. New York, NY: Center Street.

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Moving Forward or Falling Back

The Japanese have a saying, or at least when I was in Japan years ago a Japanese individual told me they have a saying that goes like this, “Shinpo shiite inai kagari dairaku shiite imasu”.  Now over the years my Japanese has faded a bit and I’ve spelled it the way I remember but the translation is relatively simple, “to the degree we are not progressing, we are falling back”.  There is no such thing in this life as standing still.  Even if standing still is measured as an opportunity lost.

Joe Paterno wrote, “Every kid who has ever played for me has heard me say this a thousand times: ‘You either get better or you get worse.’ You never stay the same.  You get better as a person or you get worse as a person.  You do something every day to make yourself a better person.  You go by and pick up a piece of paper and put it in the garbage can.  That makes you a better person.  The same is true for football (or any other sport or activity) When you go out to the practice field, you are not the same player you were the day before.  You are better or worse.  That is life.  If you go out and practice poorly, you start to go down.  Make the effort to be a better football player.  Do not just go out and practice.  Think about the practice.” (Browning, 2001, p. 168)

These words expand upon the Japanese concept and Coach Paterno provides a sad reminder that the words hold true for our entire lives.  A great career can be significantly, and to some extent irreparably, blighted when you fail to continue to progress and hold the character ground you’ve attained.  Looking the other way when what is called for is action, big or small, to ensure the right thing is done is, at an individual level, getting worse as a person.  We must work to have the courage to own our actions and our inactions.

What am I doing today that is helping me improve?

How do I react to the suggestion that I need to know more about something, or that I may be wrong in my understanding?

Is there something calling for action on my part that I’ve resisted acting upon?  What can I do to change that in the next hour, day or weeks ahead?


Browning, E. (Ed.) (2001). Coaching beyond the x’s and o’s: By the experts. Monterey, CA: Coaches Choice.

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Stay humble and kind…


A lady by the name of Lori McKenna wrote the song as a list of things she wanted to make sure she told her children. Not a bad list of things for all of us to remember particularly when we get just a bit too caught up in ourselves, in taking offence, finding offence, and forgetting to look for the good in others.

McGraw and others have had a hand in creating the Stay Humble website http://www.stayhumbleandkind.com/  Take a look, consider how you might make a difference in a world that, at least from my point of view, is increasingly challenged to consider others, stay humble and kind.

I found myself wanting a root beer popsicle….

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Change – Redesign – Rethinking Schools

I recently had the opportunity to present to three sessions of high school students who indicated that they might want to be teachers. Close to 80 high school students 5 young men and 75 young women (that’s something to be explored another time) shared a few of their thoughts about why they wanted to be teachers. I invited them to think about the classroom they would work in, the students they would work with and the difference, positive or negative they might be in those lives.

I also found myself pondering this in the process, I started teaching in the fall of 1985 Grade 9 Social Studies and English, I remember many of those students the band stream kids and the “Alternate” class on stream for a high school experience many of them in targeted for the “integrated occupations program” rather than the high school diploma program. 31 years later I feel like a lot has changed but then no, not so much or certainly not as much as perhaps things need to change.

My granddaughter started kindergarten this year and appears to be enjoying every minute…she will graduate in the spring of 2029 what will her learning be like? Her classrooms, her instruction models, her assessment models? How will they be tailored to her specific needs? My other grandchildren are each very different just as the student I taught and coached in my life were, and are individuals but did I consider enough their individual needs, will there be room to differentiate enough for them? Is this where technology can truly make a difference?

Those students I visited with, if a 30 year career follows 5 years of education and training will be teaching classes well into the 2050’s – care to guess what their classroom will look like, how classes will operate, instructional and assessment practices? How are we preparing today’s students to adapt?

This image has attained some level of notoriety, doubtful that it was Einstein’s actual words, but then again it doesn’t take an Einstein to know that assessing everyone in the same way does present more than a few problem regardless of the exam.


In fact I’d suggest it provided the basis for this presentation by Prince EA

It’s alright to have a little cognitive dissonance around what we’re doing as educators, parents, students, in this process of learning but it’s not ok to continue down a path built on an industrial model that is highly unlikely to meet the needs of students who will be expected to lead our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in the course of their own careers as educators.

All teachers and all education systems in the world make a difference…how would I explain the difference I’ve made?  How would you?

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Addiction, what’s my paradigm?

I find myself recently challenged about some of my thoughts, previously held dispositions around addictions and addicts. Having watched a couple of Ted Talks recently, and in consideration of some of the students and adults I work with IN ADDITION to reflecting on my own approach to Golf, Football, buying/reading books, and work this is really an area where the more I know the more I need to know more.

I’ll come back to this one but I’m using this post more like a short electronic bookmark/bookshelf.

Gabor Mate (author of “In the realm of hungry ghosts: close encounters with addiction”)  in addition to talking about addiction ties in the piece of responding to Trauma – what it is we need emotionally that we’ve somehow convinced ourselves can only be filled by our “addiction”.

What about the addiction to power, the addiction of those who are focused on getting “stuff” at the expense of others or making up for some real or perceived shortfall.  Insecure/inferior – historical examples discussed would open the door for a wide range of conversations.

Johann Hari provides further examples particularly about the void that addiction fills and how punishment – the go to move most often employed in our schools and countries – may be missing the mark.



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Failure is a moment…and then you decide

It has been far too long between posts. I could write about the many things that have been going on; the work, the family, the dissertation, the life, but really in the end I just haven’t made it a priority to gather my thoughts in this forum and write them down. I should have, if only for me, but if the best time to plant a tree is 20 or 40 years ago and the second best time is today (if you’re not deep in a Canadian winter) then the best time to start writing was yesterday and the second best time is today.

I love sports, pretty much all sports though I admit some are only highlights “SportsDesk” viewing for me, football and hockey I PVR and watch as much as I can, particularly the Edmonton Oilers, KC Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Eagles, Colts, Niners these have been my teams over the years but I enjoy great plays and great players across the NFL, CFL, NHL and NBA.  Lessons never cease to come from sports and are relatively easy to apply in our own lives.

Take a minute to consider Blair Walsh kicker for the Minnesota Vikings. In the first week of the 2015 season playoffs he had a chance to win the game for the Vikings and defeat the Seattle Seahawks, a relatively simple chip shot kick in a range where he has previously made 189 of 191 kicks from 27 yards or closer – in short Blair Walsh is money from this distance ALMOST a sure thing.  And then ALMOST happened, shanked it, pulled it wide left and now he’s 189 of 192 kicks and the Vikings season has ended. Failure…but no where near fatal and that’s a key difference.

Watch the video of the play – the Seahawks joyous, clearly recognizing their good fortune, stunned disbelief really the primary reaction of the Vikings, the joy for the Seahawks lasted about 7 days then they too lost and their season came to an end, that’s the way it works for all but one team every year in every league.

Take a minute to read the MMQB (Sports Illustrated Article)  by Peter King @SI_PeterKing a conversation with Blair Walsh and a great story of the support and reality check he received from a group of elementary students – would have been cool if it had come from a group of adults at some forward thinking corporation as well but perhaps us grown-ups need a reminder about perspective…ya think?

The President of Harvard wrote a letter a couple of years back suggesting that students of Harvard read, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz, I was lucky enough to be in the Harvard book store, read the letter and then read the book she wrote, “Twelve hundred years before Rene Descartes penned his famous “I think therefore I am” the philosopher and theologian (and eventual saint) Augustine wrote, “fallor ergo sum”: I err, therefore I am”.

Blair Walsh like 100% of the rest of us on this province made a mistake – in his case a very correctable mistake and that’s it, lesson learned a part of his life story but just a part, not even a chapter and he’s decided that after that moment of failure it’s move on, move up, and continue to work at being the best he can be.  I’d suggest on many levels as a fan and on a personal level related to the multitude of mistakes or failures we experience every day it’s a pretty good example to follow.



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This life is a time to….

We have this life on this earth, may last a day, may last 115 years, but this is the life.  What we do not get are “do-overs” in the sense that yesterday was and yesterday will not be again. This is not to say we can’t have a conversation about yesterday, or even where we were or where we were not before we came to this life – only that we cannot change our past.

What we do control is the next few minutes, hours, days, weeks, and however much time we are granted in this life.  In many respects it is the what’s next, the tomorrow’s, the application of lessons learned that frames our future and the invitation to mindfully ponder that future and work to make evermore wise decisions about our time and activities is at the core of Christensen’s book.

I think it instructive that the book provides a guide for moving forward, improving upon our individual condition through improving choices built upon improving results.

how will you measure your life

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A Christmas thought…with hopes of Peace for all.

In the days ahead Christians in the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world born as the son of God, the Father to earthly parents Mary and Joseph.  Other celebrations of the season and the new year will provide pause for reflection on the year past and commitments for the days ahead. We wish everyone the best as you enjoy the season.

The Christmas story as recorded in scripture can be read in Matthew Chapter 1 verses 18-25  and in Luke Chapter 2 verses 1 – 21.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints provides the following story of the Nativity as told in the Holy Bible:

Service perhaps the best way we can share the gift of Christmas

ThePianoGuys – O Come, Emmanuel – provides an interesting remembrance of the story of the birth of the Savior with scenes from the Nativity video above

A Christmas thought and wish from Rick and Chauna Gilson

Chauna and I would like to share our best wishes to friends and family alike for a wonderful Christmas season – we know that there are challenges in all of our lives, and certainly great challenges in a world that seems so determined to emphasize the differences, heighten distrust, and generally build as much enmity as possible between people. Examples such as those evidenced in conflicts with police and most often minorities, wars around the world, persistent struggles with race, failure to consider the feelings of others in social media and all our conversations highlight the need for us collectively around the world to understand that in a very real sense we are all family…with all the challenges that brings…and need to work harder at loving each other and seeing the good; the potential that each of us has. We cannot feel better about ourselves by trying to make others feel worse.  In so many ways it’s just a matter of making better choices. In so many other ways it’s a matter of looking for ways to make life a little easier for everyone with whom we have contact.

In the end it is critical that we replace love where hate reigns, patience over impatience, trust must trump distrust and seek to understand those different from ourselves rather than seek to judge or distance ourselves in a failed attempt at isolation in an increasingly open society.   In the book of John chapter 13 vs 34-35 we read the words of this same Jesus who is at the foundation of Christmas saying, “A new commandment I give you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”  We are confident that “peace on earth goodwill to man” can be much more than just words in a Christmas Carol.

Best wishes for the Christmas Season and Happy New Year to friends, family and anyone else who stumbles upon this Christmas Post.

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Stress Buster ….Embracing the Stress…and Providing the Service

It is not uncommon to feel a bit stressed. I frequently hear of students who suffer from stress, or anxiety – heck throw a math exam my way – never mind that it’s a grade 6 math test and watch the bullets of sweat bead up on my increasingly balding head.  This belies the fact that I did receive 100% in Math 30 back in the 70’s as I finished my high school math career. (That 48% the first year required a second effort and 52% in the second round to attain that 100% but still….who says traditional math instruction didn’t work).

Back to embracing stress…I have 3 daughters and 3 sons – the youngest is now 21 (I think) and all of them have their own unique ways of dealing with stress and anxiety.  Recently I had the opportunity to watch Kelly McGonigal (@kellymcgonigal and Kelly’s website with tips,videos, articles etc)  present at TED (not live I haven’t been that fortunate but on youtube). Check it out below.


Kelly McGonigal referred to a couple of studies in support of her work, here is a summary of the Keller, Litzelman study from the University of Wisconsin.

Jamieson, Mendes and Nock’s work on our choice to redirect our response to stress can be read here.   And a brief report of the study can be found here.   Jamieson, Mendes and Nock quote William James writing, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”  This aligns with my belief that we must never forget that our agency, our ability to choose is foundational in all that we do – that and the faith based notion that we will never be tested beyond what we are capable to endure.

Like any other skill or attribute our capacity to redirect or refocus stress and anxiety from debilitating to empowering or at least sustaining our work takes time, but like every other lesson it begins with a commitment to listen, read, and ponder the alternative responses and then giving it a try.

I particularly like the idea that service rendered to others, even when we feel caught up in our own tsunami of events and “stress” can provide us with a valuable stress buster and the capacity to get through the moment and increase our own capacity. I find myself challenged to be more mindful and keep my eyes open for opportunities to serve and support.

Check out Kelly McGonigal on twitter @kellymcgonigal and Kelly’s website with tips,videos, articles etc

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