Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Monkey Madness (part 6)

Okay, so let's look at some questions that students could bring up in a science classroom that would further a scientific discussion. Notice I didn't say "religious" discussion. Remember, my concern here is with the science that is taught in the classroom. In fact, I encourage students to be the ones to help redirect teachers away from discussions that focus on religion when it comes to this topic.

  • Did Charles Darwin believe that there would be evidence in the fossil record to substantiate the theory of evolution? Is that still the belief among most scientists today? If so, what are some examples of the evidence? If not, why not?
  • What sparked Stephen Jay Gould's desire to devise a "punctuated equilibrium" (or equilibria) theory? How does this position contrast with Darwinian evolution? Who supports/opposes it?
  • Generally, does the fossil record show transitional species or intermediates (so called "missing links"), or does it show fully-formed, complex creatures?
  • Would you explain how some "missing links" have been shown to be frauds, like "Nebraska Man" and "Piltdown Man" and the "Archaeoraptor"? Why do you think some scientists feel it is necessary to make up evidence to prove evolution?
  • How would the fossil record differ from what we see now if a global flood had actually taken place and evolution between species did not occur?
  • Ernst Haeckel's drawings illustrating "embryonic recapitulation" in the 1860's were exposed as frauds by university science professors the same year they were fabricated. Still, well over a century later, prominent evolutionists, textbooks, and other publications promote his drawings as "proof" of evolution despite knowing they are false. Why? (Again, why is it necessary to fabricate evidence if there is abundant proof for the theory of evolution?)
  • When similarities in genetic makeup are noticed between species, what makes a common ancestor more plausible than a common designer from a "quantity of evidence" standpoint?
  • Biogenesis (life being produced by other life) is observable reality. Never has life been observed to arise from nonliving material. Doesn't the origin of life theory associated with evolution defy this scientific axiom?
  • What role do genetic mutations play in the theory of evolution? Do mutations ever add information or make things more complex? If so, when and how?
  • What is your position on the Anthropic Principle?
  • What are your thoughts about the Cosmological Constant related to Einstein's work?
  • Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Monkey Madness (part 5)

According to the National Geographic article by David Quammen in 2004 (to which I referenced in one of my previous posts), a staggering percentage of the American population do not accept the theory of evolution. The statistics were actually quite surprising to me, but they provide another opportunity for more questions.

A question I would love to hear students asking in response to these kinds of findings might be, Why do you think roughly half of Americans believe that God created people sometime within the last 10,000 years? This question isn't so much to make an argument against anything, but it is important to realize the underlying assumptions of both sides in this debate.

When teachers make any kind of statements about religion, the Bible, or creationism, it should be fair for a student to ask, What does taking the Scriptures (or tenets of said faith) literally teach us about creation and the origin of life?

Some things to ponder when considering source evidence:
  • New discoveries and understandings lead to changes in the theory of evolution. The creation story as told in Genesis has never had to be revised due to new findings.
  • The Bible is written by about 40 different authors over a 1500 year time span on three different continents from people of all ranks of society. There is simply no other work, sacred or secular, that has even close to such an incredible story of formation and preservation.
  • The Bible is the best selling book in the world. Its historical accuracy is remarkable. Archaeologists uphold its claims time and time again.
Please note that none of these facts mean that the Bible is divinely inspired, or the "word of God." That belief still requires faith. However, it also makes no sense to entirely dismiss a source that is the most scrutinized, analyzed, and critiqued literary and historical work ever known to mankind. The time and careful process the Bible went through as it was developed and compiled through the ages is unmatched.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Monkey Madness - The Creation/Evolution Debate Rages On (part 4)

In case anyone wonders if this topic is still timely, here is one of the featured videos on the MSN website for today, August 4, 2012. Enough said!

You can't even make this stuff up. Watch this clip about the "randomness and nastiness of evolution" (their words, not mine) if you want and ask yourself, Does this sound like science or science fiction? By the way, the second video on the site is "Humans vs. Aliens." I have to give it to them. If they can't be scientific, then at least be entertaining. I guess that's what Morgan Freeman's voice is for. Maybe it is their attempt to add scientific credibility to their position. You know, because famous Hollywood movie stars do that.

The third video is just as fun. I wish I could have been in the room while Morgan Freeman was recording it so I could occasionally interrupt and ask, "Could you say that last sentence out loud again?"

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Monkey Madness (part 3)

The following link is an article that launched a series I presented at my local church at the time (almost 8 years ago). It lays out a four-fold argument in favor of Darwinian evolution. What interests me about this article is that the points the author uses are rather easy to refute by merely setting out a few facts with only a small amount of research, which could be done by just about anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Besides the interesting selection of points, this article is also entertaining because of the "artistic" description of the theory of evolution. The sentences below offer one example.

"Evolutionary theory, though, is a bit different. It's such a dangerously wonderful and far-reaching view of life that some people find it unacceptable, despite the vast body of supporting evidence."

Dangerously wonderful? Despite the vast body of supporting evidence?
Students need to be trained to read critically and recognize the bias of authors, teachers, etc. If you read the article, then you will find many other not-so-subtle jabs that paint critics of evolution as religious nuts or ignorant fools with covert brush strokes. This is a common tactic of people that lack substance in their position on the real issue.

What makes a scientific theory "dangerously wonderful" anyway?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Monkey Madness (part 2)

Question #1

Student: "My theory, or belief, for how life began involves a supernatural act. I believe God, a divine being, created all plant, animal, and human life on this planet in the beginning of time on Earth. I realize that this view is sometimes ridiculed and labeled as a "myth" or "fairy tale." I would like it if you, Mr./Ms. ____ (professor/teacher/indocrinator), would just give me a simple summary of how you think life began on this planet."

Thoughts to Consider
No one was there when it all started. Whether it was billions of years ago or 6000 years ago, we can still be confident that no one alive today was anywhere close to the events that launched this whole process! Therefore, right off the bat, we know one thing for sure. Everything about the origins of life is educated guesswork at best. Theory! Neither side can be dogmatic about much of anything. So, then, it comes down to how evidence is interpreted.
This leads to some follow-up questions that students can always ask, all based on whether evidence is interpreted in an objective, sensible manner.

Now, when a teacher does honestly answer this student's question and includes things like life arising from nonliving matter, primordial soup, a moon-like object breaking apart and then combining with other "space rocks" to form another ball of rock that continues to grow and morph into a suddenly life-sustaining planet on a defined orbit (another proposal I've heard), etc., then it will be up to that student to determine whether the answer sounds more like science or science fiction.

Below is an excerpt from a PBS website that is about a NOVA special considering how life began:

In a nutshell, what is the process? How does life form?
The short answer is we don't really know how life originated on this planet. There have been a variety of experiments that tell us some possible roads, but we remain in substantial ignorance. That said, I think what we're looking for is some kind of molecule that is simple enough that it can be made by physical processes on the young Earth, yet complicated enough that it can take charge of making more of itself. That, I think, is the moment when we cross that great divide and start moving toward something that most people would recognize as living.

The truth is that the more you read responses from evolutionists about how life may have begun, the more you will find there is great uncertainty, and even disagreement, among many of them. Of course, to their defense, there can't be much certainty about something no one was around to observe.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Monkey Madness - The Creation/Evolution Debate Rages On (part 1)

At one time, I was really big into Christian apologetics (defending the Christian faith). While I am still interested in some of the arguments out there on all sides, I'm just not as concerned now with the idea of having to "defend" Christianity. Christianity, as a religion, actually may not be all that defensible anyway. At least not anymore than any other religion. Jesus, on the other hand, is still worthy of worship and allegiance. I like Carl Medearis' book, Speaking of Jesus, on this matter.

There is, however, still one topic that has quite a strong hold on me when it comes to defending biblical history. The funny thing is that it is not so much about my desire to defend anything religious or spiritual as much as it is a preoccupation with simply standing for truth. When it comes to learning, people should be entitled to draw their own conclusions when presented with facts objectively. Granted, that rarely happens these days, but we can still fight for it.

So, what is the one topic? It is that hairy, controversial, highly politicized and grossly misrepresented debate of creation vs. evolution. It is hard to say exactly why this topic still matters so much to me. I believe it has something to do with how aggressively and pervasively the unscientific theory of evolution has been pushed on this generation. Personally, as a parent, I am simply hoping for one thing when my daughter enters a science classroom - that they will teach her science!

In our efforts to make a much greater place for the next generation to become free and fruitful, there must be assurance that children and youth will have the freedom and opportunity to explore science and history and other areas in an honest manner.

Along these lines, here is the start of a series of posts related to thoughts about the entire creation vs. evolution debate, how it affects public education, and questions that students may consider asking their teachers in a variety of settings when challenged with particular assumptions.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Christian Leadership

I usually like to do more than just share another person's blog post, but this one by Frank Viola entitled "The Myth of Christian Leadership" is so good at explaining such a valuable truth in a succinct, yet thorough, manner. So, you might consider checking it out.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Synchroblog Activity - "What Would You Say?"

Today's post is a "synchroblog" activity from the blog of Frank Viola. Read through it and consider posting a comment on his blog, or responding to my comment on my blog. Hope you find it thought-provoking.

The following exercise is from the synchroblog at

Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.

One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.

Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.

Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.

Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.

Recently Fielding asked this question:
When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)

Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.

Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.

Question: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What is Your Guiding Vision?

Staying with themes from Warren Bennis' book, On Becoming a Leader, today's post is about one of the most critical. I confess that this topic is written about abundantly and sometimes it seems like overkill, but nonetheless it is extremely important. It is the subject of what Bennis calls guiding vision, and appropriately it is in a chapter with the title, "Understanding the Basics." Bennis describes this aspect as the first ingredient of leadership, and goes on to write, "The leader has a clear idea of what he or she wants to do - professionally and personally - and the strength to persist in the face of setbacks, even failures" (p. 33).

It sounds like it would be a quick, easy task to identify and proclaim your personal guiding vision. I mean, this should be the driving force in your life, yet I have found that this is one of the most difficult challenges for me. Moreover, with each new phase of life or career change there is a sense to recalibrate, or at least, re-evaluate one's current guiding vision. Still, despite the transitions and crises that come up in life, there is probably one, central drive to each person's life. Some call it passion. Some call it vision. To others it is a calling. It is that reason we exist. We may build differently on it at times, but at its foundation there is very little change over time (barring a radical, spiritual transformation or something of that sort).

For me, my personal guiding vision is clear. My purpose is to spur on radical reformation of public education, the church, and myself to promote a free and fruitful generation.

That is my foundation. It is my overarching vision that guides everything else (or so it should, but sometimes laziness and apathy get the better of me). Now, I have to build relational priorities, professional goals, physical habits, family values, etc. on that foundation. That is where the vision gets fleshed out on practical levels.

I am challenged at this level in two areas right now. (Well, more than two, but only two that I want to concentrate on for now.) One is related to my profession as an educator. The other is related to a ministry I am trying to create with my niece aimed at young people.

My call to action for anyone reading this post is to ask where you might be struggling to clearly articulate your vision. Could it be as a spouse, parent, follow of Jesus, manager at work, U.S. citizen, social justice advocate, community volunteer, etc.? In what ways do the different areas, or roles, that you come up with tie in to a bigger, overarching vision for your whole life?

My next couple posts will be places where I share my conclusions in these two areas and offer some things to think about in formulating your own vision.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who Do You Think You Are to Speak Up?!

Returning to Warren Bennis' book, On Becoming a Leader, here is another comment that I believe is paramount. "No one is more valuable to the organization than the subordinate willing to speak truth to power." 

I have to contend that fear is the only thing that makes this declaration hard to accept because on paper it is obvious. If you map out any organization or system, of course the people closest to the issues can speak to the reality of daily operations and their effects more accurately than anyone else. In fact, this is often explicitly stated in systems thinking in this way: The person closest to the problem probably has the best answer to solve it.

This thought raises many questions for me, such as how we define subordinate (and why we even use the word in the first place) or what it means to truly wield power. When considering how much greater we can make the world of the next generation in the future, we cannot help but consider how much greater we can make the current institutions in which they are participating. Within these organizations, there must be people who are willing to speak truth regardless of their position!

It takes no courage to complain to those around us without authority to change things. In fact, it may even soothe our egos to know they agree with us. On the other hand, the courageous act is to speak up even when you know it will be uncomfortable. I admit that there have been times I have stood up and respectfully done just that, and there are also times I have shrunk back.

What I am finding is that a steady resolve for doing what is best for kids helps me to speak up more than shrink back. Of course, as with anything, when there are other "subordinates" who are encouragers and allies willing to speak up together, that is the best case scenario.

Thought for today: What truth do I need to speak to the powers around me? If I am in a position of power, then am I listening honestly to the truth being said to me no matter where it is coming from?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nothing to Prove

Over the next few posts, I want to share brief reflections on what I consider profound points from a book I recently read, entitled On Becoming a Leader (2009) by Warren Bennis. This work, which a friend of mine told me is basically the standard "go to" guide on leadership, has actually been around for decades. After being updated only a few years ago, it is a terrific resource.

Here is the statement from the introduction of the book that captures my interest today: "Leaders have no interest in proving themselves, but an abiding interest in expressing themselves."

I wish I could cling to this attitude everyday. It is almost always when I get focused on proving myself to others or even myself that I get derailed. To simply express what I am convicted about, sure of, and committed to while being at peace with where the chips may fall seems so much better. It seems right...on all kinds of levels. It seems inspired; more spiritual; more beyond ourselves, if you will.

Who am I trying to prove myself to anyway? Why?

And you? Does this idea resonate with you at all?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Would the Bible be Rated?

(Most of this post is an old one that I never published.)

Today, I have been challenged to include a "call to action" at the end of my blog post. (Well, technically, I was given this challenge almost two weeks ago. I'm a little behind...)

I am really starting to be somewhat dismayed by my own cynical, sarcastic side. Sometimes, even I am thinking, Gosh Marc, that's a pretty ugly part of who you are!

At this point, I could ask for forgiveness and seek to cleanse that negative characteristic from my personality or I could pass on the ugliness to others and further perpetuate the problem.

Today, this blog post is my attempt to do the latter. Just think of it as my contribution to world restoration.

So, my recent thought was in response to a discussion a few people were having about what children are exposed to in the media. Specifically, they were complaining that parents had brought their children to see a particular movie. (Here comes my mischievous thought.)

I thought about interjecting, "It's okay. They can go home afterward and comfort them with peaceful and wholesome images while reading the Bible together. Maybe parts of Genesis, like when God floods the whole world and all people of all ages drown or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are many tame parts to choose from that merely involve minor, unobjectionable events like rape, murder, kidnapping, or war. And plagues are always good.
There's a little something for the whole family." (See what I mean! Why am I being like this?)
Seriously, this question came up recently for me anyway because my 10-year old daughter has been reading through the Bible from the beginning. Now, she is leading our simple church group through a study and discussion of Genesis. We raise a lot of questions together.

But I can't help but wonder if I should be "covering her eyes" for the "scary parts" of this movie we call Scripture. Then, I doubt myself for even considering such an action. Who am I to deprive her of divine revelation? So, is the good parenting move to expose her to it all no holds barred or to shield her from all that evil deeds recorded for who knows what reason?

I wonder what today's MPAA rating system would rate the Bible if it were turned into a feature film in 2012.

So, back to the "call to action" challenge. My call to action for you is very simple. Give me your opinion. What do you think the Bible would be rated? If you want to go above and beyond, then link to some related information or justification for your answer. This is call to participate in what is, ultimately, a fruitless conversation, I know.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Reality from My Perspective

"Just keep describing reality from your perspective without laying blame and you will be fine."

These words caught my attention as I recently listened to a presentation by Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations (2002) and Fierce Leadership (2009), while she listed various pieces of advice.

It stood out to me because I believe it is true, but moreover, I want to believe it is true. It's one of those ideals that makes one think, If this could work, then just maybe the world ain't so bad. Maybe it is possible to enact change without leaving a trail of victims and scapegoats along the way.

I have to admit that the "your perspective" part gives me pause. Then, I wonder, Is it ever really possible to describe reality from anyone else's perspective other than your own?

Also, is it appropriate, or even honest, to end any piece of advice with "you'll be fine"? From my experience and observation, this sentiment just doesn't ring true. The fact is that consistently describing a reality that is uncomfortable for someone to deal with, whether that be an individual, committee, or organization can be a tough process. It can leave you alienated, disillusioned, unpopular.

Perhaps, if the reality from "your perspective" is indeed reality, period, then maybe the mere awareness of that is the same as being "fine" within your heart. Maybe the integrity of staying true to convictions regardless of how uneasy they make anyone feel (even you) is what it means to "be fine" in the end. You might not be fine with everyone, but which of us ever is?

So, let me take a stab at this. Reality from my perspective says that this admonition is misleading. My reality is that many people actually want to lay blame rather than just face facts and deal with issues objectively. And, of course, I wonder whose fault that is. ;)

Having said all that, though, I think this is an area in which the vision of the ideal must trump all else. It's kind of like Mother Teresa's "Anyway" poem. In the end, the truth may very well be that defining reality from your perspective without laying blame does not mean you'll be fine. It might mean hurts along the way. It might mean distractions. It might mean more work. It might mean misunderstandings, and it is never fun to be misunderstood, especially in your motives.

Still, my experience also tells me that despite all these legitimate concerns, this charge to define reality without laying blame is indeed the best action to take, particularly if you are in any kind of work with shaping culture that impacts the next generation (what this blog is intended to be all about).

There is no better option for those of us in public schools or ministries to families and young people or church reform settings than to define the reality that exists no matter what it is, and in turn, do so without laying blame. Admittedly, this is no small task. This is difficult!

Be the broken record, if necessary, but consistently, relentlessly, passionately help others to see the reality for what it is while pressing on to create a new, better reality.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Book Review: Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design

I just finished another book. Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design, by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe, sets out to help educators with "connecting content and kids."

Right now I appreciate our district's emphasis on beginning with the end in mind when it comes to instructional practices and school systems. This book focuses on an approach to teaching and learning that utilizes what is called "backward design." It was a very timely read for me as I just participated in a focus group looking at the most important standards to pass on to teachers that are new to our district.

I'd like to share a few of my major take-aways from this book. First, learning happens within students, not to them. Treating education as though it is all about what the teacher brings to the environment is simply insufficient. There is not much to elaborate on here, just a fact that needs to be reiterated frequently lest we neglect the obvious.

Second, the authors discuss the "twin sins" of teaching. One is being activity-oriented without a clear purpose. The other is an obsession with coverage. These two "sins" run rampant in our school system. I confess that I have committed both at times. I seek forgiveness here and now. Fortunately, the authors also suggest a solution that can help me (and others) repent of these wicked ways. (Sorry, just having fun with the analogy.) They suggest a different mindset to instruction, one in which it is our goal not to cover the curriculum, but to "uncover" the content for our students. Think about it. We get to be the ones to unveil hidden knowledge and skills to students. Being armed with the new learning that we uncover and make available to them could completely change their lives. What a much more exciting endeavor than fulfilling a requirement to cover a certain amount of material within a set of dates.

Third, while there were many more valuable points made in the book, the biggest take-away of all is the overall approach. Regardless of the ages, ability levels, races, genders, or backgrounds of students, differentiation is much more possible with a consistent three-step approach.

1) Identify the desired results. This could apply to any lesson with kids in any subject area, but it could also apply to faculty meetings, parent conferences, and other activities. What is it we want to see?

2) Determine the acceptable evidence to show the desired results. This is the all-important question: How will we know when we get there? (One point to keep in mind is that it often takes multiple pieces of evidence to build a case. The authors suggest going for a photo album rather than a single snapshot.)

3) Plan instruction to help arrive at the desired results. How do we "get there"?

Education books like this one are not the kind that are going to necessarily fill one's heart with inspiration to change the world. However, the practical components of this book make it worthwhile. With the right practices in place, the change we want to see in education can begin to take shape. Ultimately, I like the book and consider it useful to professional development.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

To Mom

In honor of Mother's Day...

"To Mom"

I know what it means to show respect to others because of you.

I have a stronger faith in God because of you.

I recognize devotion and sacrifice when I see it because of you.

I know that a parent's love never ends because of you.

I am a better husband and dad because of you.

I realize that some people are not more important than others, but that everyone matters because of you.

I know falling down is okay but staying down isn't because of you.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Cool Math Site for Kids

Just have to share...

What an absolutely awesome math website/resource!

Now it has an extra 2-in-1 bonus! What used to be just a math dictionary site now has a site of tons of practical math charts.

I've been sharing this with my students. This resource alone could basically get a student through middle school math.

Check it out!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Alfie Kohn's Case Against Grading

Grading is such an embedded practice in our public education system. I have blogged about it a little before. It is a topic that interests me as I find out more and more what experts and gurus in academic assessment are saying. I recently contacted one who noted that grades are "artificial constructs."

No one has been as bold in criticizing our school system's grading practices as Alfie Kohn. This article by him will make clear just what I'm talking about.

This is the second part of my challenge for today to share resources with others that I think are interesting and useful. If you do read it, then please take a moment to comment what you think of it.

It's Worth a Flip!

So, my challenge today is to share a site, article, or resource that I find useful or interesting. I would like to recommend this great, easy read from Daniel Pink. It's a free eBook called Flip!

Any book that has the word "counterintuitive" in the subtitle has to be good.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Expectations vs. Wishes (part 4)

(...continued from part 3)

Handling Disappointments

Have you ever heard a speaker say, "If you don't remember anything else I say, then at least remember this one thing."? Well, pretend you hear me saying that in your ear right now while you read this last part. I cannot stress the significance of this final component enough, and it is my opinion that not taking this point into account is what causes many educators to retreat back into the world of wishes instead of holding students to clear, consistent expectations.

Here is the truth. If you have expectations, then there will be times when they are not met. Young people need to learn that an unmet expectation leads to disappointment.

If expectations are consistent and don't go away, then I can confidently tell you another expectation (something I am sure of) I have of myself. There will be times I will fall short and fail to meet an expectation. And I am confident that I am not alone. We all mess up.

Consider this analogy of my doctor's appointment. If I miss a doctor's appointment, there is usually a financial consequence (missed appointment fee) and a time consequence (re-schedule). Depending on the logistics that have to be worked out, there may be additional effects (securing childcare, missing more work, etc.). It does mean that I will have to make arrangements and change my plans (remember our criterion of an expectation). There will be a cost, or inconvenience.

It does NOT have to mean that I just give up altogether. I do not quit going to the doctor or ignore health care needs forever. It is not the end of the world. It is a setback.

We can help students mature as whole people if we help them equate "dis-appointment" with "miss-appointment." When a student fails to meet an expectation, then he needs to learn to "re-schedule an appointment" to make up for the disappointment. The more a student does this, the more he is able to take more ownership of "making it right" and grow from the experiences.

That is why this whole discussion of expectations and campus culture is critical. If we are too wishy-washy and inconsistent with expectations, then students have little direction and tend to make excuses for their own behaviors. On the other hand, if we compile a list of unrealistic expectations with no supports in place to help students meet them and then attach an equally long list of "gotcha!" punishments to it, then students will tend to disengage and resent the learning environment. Either way, we do a disservice to our primary stakeholders and run the risk of stunting their intellectual, social, and/or emotional development.

When it comes to building a school culture, it is necessary to keep in mind that expectations are aimed at creating an environment of safety and excellence for the whole community, not demanding perfection from individuals. To be honest about expectations (as they are described in this article) means we must also be honest about disappointment, which is the logical result of failing to meet an expectation. It will happen. Fortunately, it provides us with one of the richest teaching moments in our careers working with children and youth.
(To read this blog post in its entirety, go to )

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Expectations vs. Wishes (part 3)

(...continued from part 2)

Explicitly Communicating Expectations

There is a simple axiom that I wish (yes, wish; I don't expect it) was written across the front doors of all schools (and stores, businesses, houses, etc. for that matter): People cannot be held responsible for information they do not have.We spend a great deal of time in education, appropriately so, talking about learning targets and objectives. We stress the importance of clearly defining our expected outcomes. In fact, we have almost developed an entire vocabulary in our field just for this topic. Despite what we call them, the purpose is for teachers and students to know when they have met a particular objective and what it takes to show that they have met it.

If we do this with academic behaviors, then should it be any different with other behaviors? If not, then our premise is that for students to recognize and correct misbehavior, they must first be able to identify the expected behavior. A person only knows he missed a target if he can locate the target in the first place. It might be worth taking another look at just how clear we are being versus how clear we think we are being.

Before listing specific suggestions to help ensure that expectations are clear and explicit, there is one more important point. Contrary to the superstition attached to wishes ("Don't tell anyone or it won't come true."), there is a guarantee that goes with expectations. Don't tell everyone and it won't come true! If you want to ensure that people won't follow expectations, assume they already know them.

So, how can we create a culture built on common expectations that guide our daily work? Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling. (If you have other ideas, then include them in your comments.)

A great way to ensure fairness and safety in a school is to create expectations that apply to ALL people, regardless of age, gender, background, etc. It is true that the actual behavior in response to an expectation might look different from one individual to another. For example, a teacher will meet the expectation of being prepared for class in a different manner than a student. Still, the expectation of being prepared would apply to both stakeholders.
Some would challenge this suggestion by saying that adults and teachers should be held to different standards. Is it responsible, though, to expect something of children that you wouldn't expect of adults?

Rule of thumb: If breathing is not a prerequisite to following your rule or meeting your expectation for students, then change it. Too often, we define for students the exact behaviors we don't want to see from them. Don't talk. No horseplay. Don't get out of your seat. Don't be late to class. No running in the halls. (All things a dead man can do.) I catch myself doing this much more frequently than I'd like to admit. Instead of constantly making requests that don't require a pulse, I could clarify and model a positively stated expectation, and then, well, expect it.

Of course, we already do this in education. It is often just too late. I see positively stated expectations frequently on behavior contracts used as interventions with students for discipline reasons. There is nothing wrong with this practice. Indeed, it is helpful in many cases to offer students (and even adults) replacement behaviors. It is a quick way of telling kids, "Stop doing ___ and start doing ___ instead."

What about just having "placement" behaviors that are clearly defined up front for all students? Then, each person can know how to act in this "place" all the time. If behavior contracts have been shown to be constructive supports for student discipline, I can't help but wonder why a school with 1000 students wouldn't have 1000 behavior contracts.

This seems obvious, but can be tricky. Clarity with expectations usually is found in the action words. The most important words of our expectations might be the verbs and adverbs. The guiding question is, "What does that look like?" So, even with a broad expectation, such as Be Respectful, there need to be defined behaviors that demonstrate it.

In fact, a good check-for-understanding is to not only ask a student to tell you what an expectation is, but to also show you. If a young person can describe it in words yet has trouble getting his body to physically act it out, then we still have work to do in defining the expectation.

Another specific characteristic of true expectations is that they never go away. Sure, there are expectations that are particular to certain events or times, but in the context of developing a campus culture the emphasis should be on expectations that always guide daily routines. As educators, we might ask, "What is it that we expect from students and each other everyday, all day?" Consider these silly scenarios to make the point in the context of the following expectations.

Expectation = Be Productive: The high school principal is driving to work one day when he suddenly realizes, "Oh no! Today is Thursday! I forgot that my science department decided to not be productive on every other Thursday. I can't have that meeting with them after all."
Expectation = Be Prepared: The teachers didn't bother gathering for the called meeting because last time the assistant principal wasn't prepared. After that, a decision was made by central office that this particular AP didn't have to be prepared for any more meetings this grading period.

Expectation = Be Respectful: The faculty has decided that since Fridays after lunch are when students are most riled up and have difficulty following directions and settling down, they will have a ten-minute period after each lunch where students can go outside and yell at one another and push each other around to release some of their energy.
Admittedly, these are absurd accounts. But that is the point! If an expectation is good enough to have part of the time, then it is good enough to have all the time. Without consistent expectations, there would be chaos.

(to be continued...)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Expectations vs. Wishes (part 2)

(...continued from part 1)

"Close Your Eyes and Make a Wish"

A wish is what someone does when blowing out candles on a birthday cake, buying a lottery ticket, or bringing in the New Year. A wish is almost the opposite of an expectation because it precisely deals with wanting things to be different than they really are. Wishes do not lead to action because there is no serious belief that they will happen. To make the point, let's return to my analogy of going to work on Monday morning. I may wish I didn't have to go to work the entire weekend leading up to Monday, but come Monday morning I will find myself carrying out all the necessary plans to meet my expectations and arrive to work on time.

Expectations guide our plans because we are so sure they will happen. Wishes do not guide anything, but only offer distractions to the reality we face. Therefore, I submit that spending more professional time on wishes in our schools is a waste of time, at best, and more often worse, a hindrance to student learning.

Do Our Actions Betray Our Words?
Now, we may hone in on the implications of this discussion in our school settings. Consider these two examples. Reflect on whether you believe the teacher in each case is expressing a wish or an expectation.

  • A teacher encourages her students while passing out the unit test in math class, "I have faith in all of you. Remember, you have learned all the material on this test. Have confidence. I know you will all do well. I expect everyone to pass with flying colors!" Behind the teacher, on the front board, is a note including the date, time, and policy for test re-takes.
  • Students enter the classroom after greeting their teacher at the door. A starter, or warm-up activity, is projected on the screen. Most students quickly take their seats and begin working on the starter. When the bell rings, the teacher enters the room and closes the door behind her. She notices a couple boys standing near their desks with no supplies out, conversing about their favorite parts of a movie they saw over the weekend. She calmly says to them, "You know the routine for how we start class everyday. Now, instead of being able to take attendance right away, I am taking time to address you about what you should be doing." Then, she asks, "What is your assigned task right now?" One boy answers with an eyeroll, "Do the starter." The teacher responds, "Good. Then, please do so now. Thank you."
Let's approach it from a broader perspective. Read the following statements and decide if each item constitutes a wish or an expectation in your mind.

  • Students should have clean, organized lockers.
  • Students should be in class before the tardy bell rings.
  • Students need to show respect to adults by addressing them with words like "sir" and "ma'am."
  • Students are responsible for their own learning.
  • If students don't turn their work in on time, then they should fail.
Well, how did you label them? Was it difficult to fit any of them in one category or the other? What were your thoughts as you analyzed these beliefs?

(to be continued...)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Expectations vs. Wishes (part 1)

School leaders everywhere claim to hold high expectations of their students. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to claim otherwise. So, we see and hear the mantra in campus mission statements, superintendents' initiatives, and school board campaigns. Of course, this is how it should be! The debate is not whether we should declare to have high expectations of all students. My concern, quite frankly, is that we simply don't mean it.

Defining Expectations
Our problem is not that we intentionally hold low expectations of our students, but we fail to define exactly what it is we expect. By default, we go around repeating slogans that resemble "wishes" more than true, realisitic expectations.

To create an evnironment that truly nurtures high expectations, one must clearly define what expectations are in the first place. Being explicit about what an expectation is and is not, I believe, is one of the most concrete tasks that school leaders can perform to lay the foundation for successful student learning. Furthermore, this work at the "front end" will also support professional development and adult learning.
Let's begin, then, with a definition of expectation. An expectation is something anticipated, something we can look forward to, an event that one not only hopes for, but also trusts will happen. In our minds, a true expectation is so certain to occur that we make plans accordingly. For instance, I expect the sun to set this evening and to rise again tomorrow. I am so sure of it that I plan my eating and sleeping patterns (sometimes not all that consistently) based upon this expectation.

The key criterion of an expectation is that it is worth arranging one's life (or work or play, or in our case, class or school) around. In other words, to expect is to fully believe to the point of acting. On Monday morning, for example, I expect to still have my job. As a result of this expectation, I plan to wake up early, dress a certain way, leave an adequate time for the commute (another aspect dependent on real expectations of traffic flow, street lights functioning, etc.) and so on in order to arrive at my job.
The practical point here is that there are very real consequences to our plans if expectations are not met. Continuing with my previous illustration, if an unexpected delay arises, such as road construction or a car accident that I could not have foreseen, then I will be late to work, or at the very least, I will have to find another route. In short, my original plan will be insufficient and must change. Therefore, the first test to tell if a true expectation exists is whether plans will have to change as a result of it not occuring.

This, in turn, becomes the litmus test to determine if I truly hold an expectation of my students. If I think I expect something of them, then I can ask myself, "What changes in my plans does it create if they do not meet it?"
(to be continued...)

To read this blog post in its entirety, go to

Monday, April 2, 2012

Challenge #2 - Short-term & Long-term Goals

Here is the 2nd challenge from the April Platform Challenge from "My Name Is Not Bob."

By the way, I should have clarified that this is a challenge all about building a personal platform. It includes great exercises related to defining who you are, what you intend to accomplish, and how you will express yourself to the world. It is really a great exercise for anybody.

So, while I list some of my short-term and long-term goals here, maybe you can think of what would go on your list.

Short-Term Goals (personal & professional) - by end of June 2012 (unless otherwise noted)
· Record a series of reflections about implementing a new formative, student-guided, assessment system in my classes (which can serve as a "pilot" of a system to replace traditional grading).

· Write a guide for facilitating a student-run peer tutoring program at middle schools.

· Share my learning with faculty & staff from the “Beyond These Walls” experience.

· Lead a team of stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, administrators, etc.) through a process of shaping culture on a campus based on a few basic expectations.
· Apply and interview for an Asst. Principal position.
·Start a community service effort with my niece and other teenagers.

·Maintain blog with at least two entries a week.

·Volunteer at the Special Olympics.

·Lose 12 pounds.
·Submit at least 3 article queries (by end of summer).

·Start three new simple churches (by the end of summer).

·Read at least 15 more books (by end of this year).
Long-Term Goals 

· Rest in God's love and never again try earning it by being religious!

· Be out of all debt!

· Get published!
·Participate in radical reform of institutional Christianity and public education!

·Travel with my wife! (Give her the vacation of her dreams.)

·Watch both of my girls become whole, healthy women!