Taking the Road …not taken

I think for most of my life I’ve called this poem, “Two Roads Diverged in a Wood” I didn’t even get the first line right, never mind the title but I suspect that only matters if someone else tried to look it up, though Google will get you there even if you’re only close.   Choice, both as an opportunity and actually making a choice, has long been the point of the poem in my life.  There is regret in not being able to do everything.  Not necessarily in the choices we make, but in the fact that we can’t do it all right away.  Right now.  That reality doesn’t mean we can never, but then again as Frost suggests, “knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back” it does present a consequence that closes off one path with the taking of another.  A sense of loss swallowed up in the prospects of the possibilities and outcomes you do have as a result of the choices you make. 

In the end, to see, perhaps that should read seize, the road, to walk it, and live your life as it comes is the key.  Learning along the way, sharing with no regrets, seeking to draw from the interactions with the land, the people, the ways, to live deep as Thoreau suggested that seems to be the key.  I would suggest that it’s critical that we find opportunities to share what you learned on your road and thrill in the stories others learned on their path.  Not a bad way to spend a moment or two. 

So the poem is here…take a read, it’s unlikely it’s the first time but ok if that’s so.

DevinSupertramp, the youtube artist and filmmaker, has put the poem to a bit of a video tour of Ireland narrated in part by this classic poem – I’ve included the link to his video below, I think it’s rather spectacular.

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 
 

 

Searching for Clarity in the Muddy Waters of our Lives

This past summer (June/July 2019) Chauna and I had the opportunity to spend a bit of time in the Canyonlands of southern Utah and northern Arizona.  As we worked our way to Arches National Park, we found ourselves spending the night along the great Colorado River as we stayed the night in Moab.  The river was very high for late June, the locals were excited as the year before river tours had basically ended that same weekend.

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I like my river, lake and ocean water clear, the Colorado that day was anything but clear. The river water, brown and silt-laden, flowed quite rapidly past us as we boarded a riverboat for a sunset – early evening cruise up the canyon.  Earlier that day we’d driven up the canyon and observed more than a few people floating downstream, they certainly didn’t seem disturbed or distracted by what I saw as dirty water.

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Two days later and some 270mi/439km later we pulled into Page Arizona, the southern-most tip of Lake Powell a man-made lake filled by that very same Colorado river.  I’m not sure I can describe just how clear the water was in that lake, the colour, temperature, the entire experience was beautiful.  It’s obvious of course but it was essentially the same water.  I can’t tell you how long it takes the water to travel from Moab to Page, or how long it takes for a specific cup of that water to make its way through the dam at Page and continue on through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead.

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It is not rocket science, it’s pretty elementary stuff really, given time to settle, to calm down, if I’d scooped a bucket of water out of the Colorado River in Moab and let it sit, I’d eventually see the water for what it is, separated from the noise, silt and particles that clouded my view as it rushed by. Ryan Holiday (2019), in Stillness is the Key, wrote of this when he suggested, “The world is like muddy water. To see through it, we have to let things settle. We can’t be disturbed by initial appearances, and if we are patient and still, the truth will be revealed to us” (p. 47)

In our lives, well at least in my life, there are times where the flow of the day, the conversations with others their messages and directions leave you thinking you cannot see clearly.  It’s easy to say they are the problem but really folks do what they do.  It can be a boss, an organization you work with or for, your players, coaches, parents, teachers, students their actions and choices present a less than clear path in the moment.  They muddy the water in the relationship and in the work.  They may even be demanding an “immediate” decision or action on your part.

In the rush and pressure of the world, there’s no doubt that some decisions must be made in the immediate, but not most.  There is so much that some suggest has an urgency when really a bit of time for the dust to settle, adjust the pace, expand the depth of understanding for all involved and you’re likely to arrive at a much better position.  I’d say a better position for all but really sometimes folks seeking a decision for their own advantage will resist the push back that invites greater clarity. Push back just the same.  Legendary basketball coach John Wooden was fond of the adage, “Be quick, but don’t hurry”.  I suspect coach Wooden liked to be able to see clearly and had prepared to the point that even when others thought they saw chaos he saw structure.

As with the Colorado river – Lake Powell experience search for ways to slow down.  Seek a level of stillness that actually comes from depth of understanding.  Sure, it can be fun in the roiling river with category 5 or 6 rapids at times, but not for long, and not without some serious expertise.  Lake Powell has a maximum depth of 170m, over 500 feet, that depth contributes to the clarity of the water.  If you don’t have the depth of understanding to decide or take action, slow it down and dig for depth.

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One last point to ponder, all this moving water rushing, rising, settling works with everything it encounters to create the landscape in which it resides.  Antelope Canyon, just outside of Page, is created by all that interaction with water and wind.  As you push back on those pressing for decisions when your head is above water with a straw in murky water, remember that all this is part of the journey, everything is contributing to the final product that is you for that day, week, year and ultimately life.  Embrace the flow.

 

Holiday, R. (2019). Stillness is the key. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group.

On my bookshelf …Conceptual Understanding and Transfer of Learning Related

Over the past couple of years, Alberta has been engaged and continues to be so, in a large scale curriculum review and restructure for its k-12 curriculum.  Foundational to the work has been a determination to work toward a concept-based or concept-focused approach to instruction with an eye to supporting greater levels of engagement and transfer of learning over time, place, subject throughout life.  This work is research-based and certainly not isolated to Alberta. Many of the authors listed below are travelling the world sharing their work.

The work draws upon specific pedagogical approaches, work on enhancing thinking in the classroom, sound assessment practices and all aspects of what should make learning visible, teaching with greater clarity, and from a student’s point of view greatly enhancing the value of learning over time carrying over far beyond the grade or course completion date.    I will provide a link to some deeper dives into each of these books in the near future as part of the ARPDC (Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia) work in support of Curriculum and Instruction.  You can click here to access further resources at ARPDC related to the work in Alberta.

 

John Almarode’s “From Snorkelers to Scuba Divers” provides an extended metaphor of the process of taking students deeper into their learning and helping them make the connections from concept to concept as they expand their understanding.  A math science focus across all three books John’s also provided writing and a couple of videos on the importance of clarity, from the teacher, for the students to better succeed.  John’s website includes handouts, articles and blog posts – well worth the visit.

 

Lynn Erickson, Lois Lanning, Rachel French’s work is perhaps the foundational work in the field of Concept-based focused curriculum and instruction.  Lynn Erickson, in particular, pioneered the work and teamed up with Lois Lanning specifically as it connected with literacy.  Concept-based as a term has been foundational to their work, curriculum and unit planning.

 

Ron Ritchart’s work on Visible Thinking and Creating Cultures of Thinking are must-read books as you enter into the process of helping students see their thinking and wrestle through the relationships of various concepts across all subjects.  Visit Ron’s website to access many more articles and resources. Visit Project Zero – the deep dive into thinking classrooms – here.

Julie Stern has written two books, the first for elementary the second with a secondary approach that helps teachers with the operationalizing of concept-focused work in the day-to-day work of the classroom with examples across multiple subjects and a chapter in each book on assessment models.  (Another book is on the way as Julie’s writing a Social Studies edition for the Visible Learning series discussed later) One of the real strengths in these two books and Julie’s work is the focus on layering the work of concept-focused conversations within some of our other existing pedagogical approaches such as project-based work and the workshop model.  I particularly enjoy the notion that with a sound conceptual understanding (and all the aspects of learning that works from surface to deeper learning and transfer of understanding) students are better positioned to succeed in their project work with finished products they truly “own” and understand.  This makes the process of striving for conceptual understanding in anything we’re studying a key part of the engine of learning that is owned and operated by the student(s).  Come back to this idea when/if you find yourself reading, Ron Berger’s book “An Ethic of Excellence” discussed below. Visit Julie’s website “Education to Save the World” here.

Tiffanee Brown literacy

Tiffany Brown co-wrote this book with Lois Lanning helping teachers design lessons and units specifically with a literacy lens to the work of concept-based practice.   The grade range is a rather unique 4-10 providing middle school teachers with great work but foundational practices up through high school as well.  Tiffanee’s Website 

Inquiry French Marschall

Carla Marschall and Rachel French teamed up on this book which looks to merge Inquiry-based learning with Concept-based learning.  Foundational to this merger is the conversation around active questioning to drive the learning on the inquiry side of the merger while using the concept-based focus to help take the learning and discoveries of inquiry and better transfer that learning or understanding to a variety of new or related environments or situations.  As you work through parts of all these books you find common threads, which stands to reason naturally, I think the near and far transfer conversations in the visible learning books really help clarify that some of our advances on any concept or subject are very natural – rollover to crawl to pull yourself up to stagger a step  -baby steps of learning and some really challenge us to see how one idea bridges a large gap to connect to another.

Concept math

Secondary Math teachers here’s one just for you, Jennifer Wathall’s Concept-Based Mathematics: Teaching for Deep Understanding in Secondary Classrooms.  I freely acknowledge I’m much more of a humanities background soul but Jennifer provides concrete examples and guidance for teachers of Mathematics as they work at identifying concepts, building generalizations, assessing what students understand and can transfer with additional information on integrating technology thrown in for good measure.

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James Nottingham’s The Learning Challenge provides further understanding on the nature of teaching conceptually.  I enjoy his expended metaphor of the learning pit and the challenge for students to get into the process of their learning.  There are a couple of videos James has posted on YouTube included on my playlist linked below.  James’ Website is here.

John Hattie, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey

The Visible Learning “franchise” has three primary authors leading the way, John Hattie, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey.  These books provide excellent specific examples that enhance one’s understanding of how to operationalize learning for deeper understanding and transfer across and within-subjects.  Julie Stern is currently writing a Social Studies focused Visible Learning book for the series.   Doug and Nancy’s Teacher Clarity Handbook is an excellent resource with each chapter providing specific activities for educators.  Visit their website for further resources here.

Assessment brookhart

Julie Stern recommends Susan Brookhart’s How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Your Classroom as the go-to book for assessment practices in support of a concept focused lesson, unit or curriculum.  Susan has written several books and articles on the subject of assessment over her career as an educator and author.

ethic of excellence

Ron Berger – An Ethic of Excellence

And then there’s Ron Berger’s work that I believe really can be leveraged through a concept focused approach to take our collective learning to another level.  As a bit of an aside, I should point out that IB programs’ early years, middle school and IB at the high school level embrace much of what is foundational to a concept-based/concept focused approach to learning.  IB was not, and the early and middle years being school-wide programs highlight this, intended as an honours program, it’s a way of thinking, of teaching and learning.

Don’t try to eat the whole elephant in one bite – chapters – passages, even keyword searches if you’re reading the books on your e-reader, kindle etc.   There is a lot to digest but you’ll love the information and your students will benefit from the work.

Check out my YouTube playlist of concept-based/concept-focused videos here.

Cheers,
Rick

 

 

We don’t always see the ripples

Way back in the fall of 1975 my parents determined we’d move to Edmonton from Calgary, the move coincided with my grade 12 year and after playing volleyball for two years in grade 10 and 11 I decided I’d try out for football for grade 12 in my new school.  The school was Harry Ainlay and as luck would have it I made the team (most likely the last one on the roster) and was along for the ride as the Titans won their first Sr Football Championship.  The roster for 1976 was stronger (I think) and I had the opportunity to play several positions on defence and a bit of scout offence.

I like to joke that my coach, Bryan Anderson, had to choose between Dave Getty, son of the Premier of Alberta at the time and former Edmonton Eskimo QB on the Grey Cup teams of the 50’s, Matt Dean son of the principal at Lazerte High School (at the time) and former Edmonton Eskimo Center on those same teams, Jackie Parker Jr. son of Jackie Parker the “living legend” of the CFL and running back of those same three-peat Eskimos and Rick Gilson, son of Bob, recently moved in realtor.  There was really no comparison in the football talents and experience, I enjoyed learning the game, playing now and then generally helping out where I could. Two for two on the city championship front, high school football was pretty good for a kid who showed up at the parties with a 2L bottle of Orange crush and went home with a fair share of quarters.

1975 City Champs

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1976 City Champs

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76 champs

In late August 1981, I had returned from a two-year mission in Japan and was working at Prudham Building Supplies in charge of mixing cement in 1-meter trailer loads for home renovations.  Bryan Anderson drove up for a load of cement and asked me what I was up to.  I told him that I was starting a degree in education with an eye to being a Social Studies teacher.  Without missing a beat as I recall it he said, you should come coach this fall.  (He didn’t have to say where).  I was floored, why would he want someone who hardly played, so I asked and his reply was equally quick along the lines of you played safety, half, corner, outside linebacker and a bit of scout team and special teams on an undefeated team.  You can coach if you want to.

From 1981 through to today I’ve been blessed to coach 64 different football teams and next week I’ll start spring camp with my 65th team.  Those first four teams at Ainlay culminating with an undefeated first city championship in the school’s history for a junior team – one that gave up one point all season – were great learning opportunities.  I didn’t work directly with Bryan, Wayne Gallup and Bob Erichsen were the Head coaches of the junior team but Bryan was always available.  As I went on coaching in Grande Prairie Bryan was more than available he’d show up at our provincial games, and even brought Ainlay up for exhibition games a couple of times.

My football life has been a rich blessing, my life in education likewise a blessing in so many ways.  A handful of people, Dr. Bob Patterson, my parents, and Bryan Anderson most prominently included played significant roles impacting my career.

Water splashIn each other’s lives, we simply can’t always tell how far our actions will ripple out and affect lives.  I have no doubt Bryan never thought one invite would lead to whatever impact my own coaching career has had on players, fellow coaches and communities. For that matter that coaching impacted other opportunities for leadership that placed me in the position where I could positively, I think, impact the discussion around accommodations on diploma and PAT exams, the focus on mental health education, and so much more around sportsmanship, character and leadership education that has its foundation in 1975-76 and an invitation to coach football in the fall of 1981.

Yesterday the city of Edmonton dedicated an athletic field complex to Bryan Anderson.  Tonight, June 10, 2019 Bryan Anderson will be inducted into the City of Edmonton Hall of Fame.  I’ve long spoken about the importance of people having their own hall of fame, seeking out mentors and placing themselves in a position to mentor others.  Bryan Anderson has been in my personal Hall of Fame for a very long time.  I’m glad to see that the City of Edmonton has joined the party.   Thank you, Bryan and all the best to you for years to come. 

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No one gets there alone…

As the big 60 rushes up toward me this weekend I found myself reflecting repeatedly about all the people who have and continue to impact my life.

The last couple of days I read a book by Dr. Rob Bell entitled, “No One Get’s There Alone.” I really enjoyed the ideas Bell outlined, a series of short messages emphasizing the importance of drawing others into your circle of support and looking for ways to help all in your circle of influence. We rarely know the full measure of our influence on lives around us. A simple smile in the hallway at school – as a student, a teacher, an administrator, a caretaker, education assistant, coach…you just never really know, likewise a glare, a frown. Naturally those are just passing moments but as Chip and Dan Heath write in their excellent book, “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact” it’s moments, often small ones like a popsicle at the pool, that make a lasting impression or change the trajectory of a life or relationship.

For Bell, he suggests that relationships are like hinges, where in as we interact it provides a turn, a swing, in the direction of our lives hopefully for the good. In leadership literature generally speaking a transformational leader is seen as more positive than a leader who operates in a transactional manner. That said Bell suggests that transactions (interactions perhaps) can transform. I think ever transaction/interaction has the chance to be transformational, we don’t always know which acts or gestures will be the hinge positively (or possibly negatively) impacting the trajectory of those with whom we interact.

Consider for example the hinges, and there are a couple, in the conversation Will Smith’s character has with his son in, “The Pursuit of Happiness”. As you watch you’ll see a point where the father recognizes the impact his words have had. I’ve definitely had moments like this…though usually I’m much slower in the realization and the efforts to correct take longer, but Smith works to immediately fire the retro rockets and correct the course he recognizes he’s negatively impacted. Our words, our actions make a difference.

There’s much more to think about after reading this book, but for today, closing this post, I want to say thank you. Thank you to those who were key hinges at stages in my life Bob Patterson, who thought I should go into Education, Brian Anderson, who thought I should come coach football at Harry Ainlay while I was earning my education degree. My parents, my wife Chauna, Chauna, Chauna – what’s the sign for infinity…Chauna and our fascinatingly amazing challenging intriguing kids.

There are so many others, staff I worked with at Montrose, GPCHS, the staff at central office in GP and Westwind, and my current staff at SAPDC.

The coaches I’ve worked with over the years, the players I’ve been lucky enough to coach in basketball, volleyball, and of course football. The lessons continue to be learned every day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself”.

And so here I am this morning a couple of days from 60 and I know better than ever that: a) I’m a work in progress and hope there are still several years ahead to continue the learning and b) I’m blessed to have had so many people help me throughout my life. Quite simply it’s true, “No one gets there alone.”

Cheers,

Rick.

PS – Cheers to my own little “Christmas” birthday crew: Sheila G, Heather S, Sharon B, and Heather P.

Thank-you Tim Enger, the Players and Coaches of “Team Alberta”/Football Alberta over the years.

vxPttqsDQa2dSlGGYSg5lAThis past summer I once again had the opportunity to coach in Hawaii with the U17 Football Alberta all-star team. Since the early 90’s I have been richly blessed to coach on a handful of senior bowl teams, my last one being 2012, U18 Team Alberta 1999-2004 2 bronze, 2 gold, 1 silver, and the Hawaii trip teams on seven or eight occasions since 2007.  Each team presented different opportunities to work with coaches and athletes from across the province, some in one game situations, others in a national championship tournament and Team Alberta Hawaii in a mix of practices, controlled scrimmages and cultural experiences.

Like just about all good things, ultimately there comes a time where you need to step away and let others enjoy the experience.  To that end, I informed Tim Enger before our Hawaii trip that 2018 would be my last Football Alberta team and trip.  If there has to be a last Football Alberta experience, a U17 trip to Hawaii is an outstanding way to close this chapter of my football life.  I’d like to emphasize how grateful I am for the lessons I learned from all the coaches, players, and everyone who worked to support our teams over the years. Particular thanks go out to equipment support Al, trainer Nicole, team cook and grocery shopper extraordinaire Kirsten.

I’m grateful for all the coaches I’ve worked with over the years on Football Alberta programs.  Strong personalities, differences of opinion and approach certainly existed from time to time.  If everyone was the same and saw it the same way the opportunities for progress and learning would be greatly reduced.  There were plenty of opportunities to learn, and for that I’m grateful.

I particularly want to say thank you to all the players over the years I’ve had a chance to work with be it a weekend at the Senior Bowl, 10 days on Team Alberta in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Medicine Hat, or Ottawa or Team Alberta in Maui for 10 days.  Some of them have gone on to the pros, some have gone on to be coaches, a few are officials at the CFL level, and I hope that all of them have taken something from their experience as they’ve gone on to be excellent young men, husbands and fathers.

IMG_0202This year I had another excellent group of DB’s from Brooks, Lloydminster, Sherwood Park, St Albert and Calgary.  For the second year in a row, we went undefeated in three scrimmages with schools on the island of Maui.  Each school is unique in its composition but united in their love for football.

They play the game fast and hard in Hawaii.  Maui isn’t Honolulu with St. Louis High School (home of Marcus Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa), but over the years we’ve gone up against several Division I athletes. The scrimmages and those 8 am practices up at a small community field just part of the trip, a snorkel cruise, Marriott Luau, and time at the beach round out an excellent week.

All of this, from the first Senior bowl in 1990 to the present day have been the brainchild of Football Alberta’s Tim Enger.  First as Technical Director and now as Executive Director, Tim has been the driving force behind moving football forward across the province.  Tim proposed the Senior Bowl all-star team, then moved forward to challenge Manitoba and BC in individual games with the winning team from the Senior Bowl while working with Football Canada to develop the Canada Cup.  Canada Cup lead to Team Alberta, Team Alberta lead to U18 and U16 teams, exhibition games with US teams and International Bowls and yearly Hawaii football opportunities.

If that wasn’t enough Tim championed the idea that football should be included in the Alberta Summer Games, successfully added to the games it remains the single highest attended event at the games. Provincial championships in Minor football have evolved under Tim’s watch. The Alberta Schools Athletic Association (ASAA) has enjoyed an extremely supportive and positive relationship with Football Alberta working to ensure that the high school provincial draw is played on the best fields with the best officials possible.

When the province of Alberta had precious few Field Turf fields and championships were routinely played on frozen tundra Tim and the ASAA Football Commissioner at the time, Bill McConkey, proposed the Alberta Bowl allowing all four levels of high school football to play their championships at stadiums with proper fields, bleachers, and scouting booths.  At the time there was one venue in Edmonton, today fields in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Raymond, Fort McMurray, Lacombe, and Grande Prairie all meet the new standard.  With a handful of other communities installing some form of field turf, it’s been a huge benefit to the game of football and Tim’s lead the support and growth of the sport from day one.

So thank you, Tim, thanks to Football Alberta, the coaches, players and support staff over the years, it’s been a great ride.

Cheers,
Rick

Team Alberta Highlights 2001

 

Treat them all the same by…

Carol Ann Thomlinson is perhaps the world leader in differentiated instruction.

How to differentiate.pngHer most recent book on the subject, How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms 3rd Edition (2017) starts out with an explanation of what differentiation is and isn’t and proceeds to provide educators with a myriad of examples and thought processes by which they might better meet the needs of the students in their class.  Differentiation is scary stuff, the thought compels the teacher to consider how best to teach and support each student as an individual rather than teaching one lesson, designing one assignment or activity for all 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35…students in the classroom.  Differentiation is not 35, 30, 25, 20 …entirely different lessons, assignments or activities.

Steven Covey, in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) wrote,  “The Golden Rule says to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” While on the surface that could mean to do for them what you would like to have done for you, I think the more essential meaning is to understand them deeply as individuals, the way you would want to be understood, and then to treat them in terms of that understanding. As one successful parent said about raising children, “Treat them all the same by treating them differently.”  It is this notion of treating each individual the same by treating them all differently that I’d suggest is the foundation of a truly inclusive education system and one that his helped by an excellent understanding of differentiation as outlined by Tomlinson.

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The foundation of success is in knowing your students, knowing what makes them tick and tuning what we do, even fine-tuning the work to harmonize with and draw out the best in our students. Tomlinson, in chapter 9 uses the notion of a soundboard or equalizer to suggest that for some students we can slide up a bit here, draw back a bit there to get the perfect pitch, tune that draws out the best work.  Don’t panic, the students and parents are partners in this work. Tomlinson provides excellent examples of strategies that can make it work in classes big and small, diverse or homogenous.

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There are soundboard settings that can be one click and adjust a number of sliders, some can be pre-programmed and activated when the moment is right and in a differentiated classroom where the foundation has been set with students and teachers engaged in the conversation and routine development it’s clear that everyone can benefit from the collective attention to diversity in the room.

This makes sense or should make sense.  We are not all the same, we share many characteristics but like snowflakes no two are exactly alike, even identical twins need a variance.   Seems like a perfect place to revisit Todd Rose’s work on the Myth of Average.

Treat them all the same, by treating them differently.  It’s really an extension of the golden rule and the results help close the gap between the best version of each student and where they currently stand on their journey.