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This Is The Best Day Of My Life!

When I was a teacher, a group of my teacher friends and I organized 2 field trips a year for our 7th and 8th graders. Every Fall we would take a day trip to New York City. In the Spring we would rotate destinations between Washington DC, Baltimore, and Boston. We raised money for the trips and it was a real community event.

On one of the trips to New York City, I remember something that happened that changed my outlook on education forever.

The busses had stopped at a fast-food restaurant for breakfast. As the kids lined up to place their order, one of my kids was sitting alone in the corner of the dining room. I was worried that he did not have the extra cash to get the meal. His family was very poor and I know that he had never traveled more than 50 miles from his house. In a lot of ways, he represented our learners in the school district. At the time, our school district was the 10th poorest school district in Pennsylvania (out of 501 school districts at the time) so we did not have a lot of wealth in the district.

I slid in next to Joe and asked him why he wasn't in line to get breakfast. Not waiting for an answer, I told him that he could go up to the counter and order anything he wanted to and not to worry about money.

I will never forget what he said next...

It changed my life...

Joe looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, "Mr. Butler, I can't eat right now. I am so excited...this is the best day of my life."

I was floored...

Full stop.

You see, what Joe taught me is that experiences are what matters in life. Joe probably remembers less than one-tenth of what I "taught" him in Geography...but he has that trip to New York City as something he will always hold on to. 

As Learner-Centered Leaders, we must remember that this whole schooling thing is really about experiences for learners. It is not about academic standards (I wonder which ones we would have used to justify a trip to New York City in today's world?), it is not about "meeting kids where they are" for instruction, and it is absolutely not about what a kid gets on a test. New, novel, experiences are what matters for our learners. 

Creating experiences is more important now because there is so much information that kids can learn from Google or watching a YouTube video. Placing context and nuance around a learning experience is what makes it valuable for learners and it is what teachers are good at. 

Some things to think about as you encourage your staff to create learning experiences that are more creative than something that happens in a classroom.
  1. Bring your community into your school. When I was a superintendent we had a "farmer day" in the cafeteria. For that one day, all of the food served to the kids came from a local source. We coupled this idea with farmers conducting presentations about what they do to kids throughout the school day. Butchers and gardeners also came into the school and talked about their jobs. I learned from this experience that in rural Pennsylvania there were still kids that did not know where milk came from! YOU CAN DO SOMETHING THAT BRINGS YOUR COMMUNITY INTO THE SCHOOLS...NO EXCUSES!!
  2. Challenge your teachers to learn more about project-based learning. Specifically, encourage projects that will connect the school to what is happening in the real world. Teachers need your permission to go beyond the boring, standards-based instruction they were taught in college. Give them that permission along with the tools to accomplish it.
  3. Change your mindset. A mediocre leader looks at classroom instruction as a series of techniques or a checklist of activities that must occur in a given class period. Although this is important, IT IS NOT THE WAY TO CREATE THE BEST LEARNING EXPERIENCES! Have a mindset that is uncompromising toward creating learning experiences that can change the life trajectory of a learner. Your job is to have a positive impact on the learners in your school, to do this, you have to develop your thinking beyond the traditional classroom instructional model.
Go out and create "the best day of their life" for your learners.

P.S. On that trip to New York City with Joe, I will never forget his face as he stood on the sidewalk on a clear September day and looked up at the Twin Towers. The year was 1997. Do you think the events of 9/11 resonated more with him because of that experience standing at the foot of the Twin Towers or sitting in a room and learning about the geography of New York City?

In A World Where You Are Constantly "On", Let's Learn How To Stay Motivated

Staying motivated for your learners, staff, and parents is exhaustingly difficult during the pandemic. I read a great blog post about a simple way to stay motivated.

Traditionally, the way we view motivation looks something like this:

Emotional Inspiration → Motivation → Desirable Action

We wait to be inspired, that will motivate us, and then the desired action will result. I don't know about you, but I am just about at the bottom of my reserves for emotional inspiration. At times, just staying ahead of the next thing coming down the road is all I can muster.

Fortunately, there is another (more positive) way to view motivation. Instead of viewing motivation in a linear way like the example above, we can view it as interacting parts.
In this way, action, inspiration, and motivation work in an interconnected way. The author suggests two ways to use this formula to stay motivated,

1. Start with Action...Do Something! It is easier to just start working on your project, paper, lesson plans, or whatever you are doing than to wait to be inspired. I use this method all of the time. When I write this newsletter, I start by telling myself I am only going to begin the new newsletter by placing a new quote in the template. Invariably what happens is the act of doing something builds momentum for me to do even more. In most cases, I find myself two hours later with a completed newsletter. If I would have waited for "inspiration", I would still be watching the football game! Try this technique this week. When you are feeling particularly unmotivated, just do something!

2. Develop a Ritual. A great example is the 15 minutes of time I suggested you take every day in last week's newsletter. Once you have the discipline to create that time for a few weeks, it will become a ritual that allows you to think, plan, and reflect.

Do not be too concerned about what other people's rituals are...their ritual works for them. Experiment with what works for you. For example, some writers have a goal of writing so many words a day (when I was writing my book, my goal was 1,000 words), other writers write for a set number of hours a day. The ritual only works if it works for you!

So, learner-centered leader, pick something that has been on your "to-do" list for too long and DO SOMETHING toward getting it done this week. Please email me at to let me know what you have done! I respond to every single email.
Read the Blog Post

The Top 5 YouTube Channels

This is a continuation of last week's newsletter where my son shared with me his top 10 YouTube channels.

1. Veritasium. This channel leans heavily on explaining science and technology phenomena. The 10.1 million subscribers learn about 'The brilliance of 3-D printed rockets" (it's actually a real thing), why scorpions are fluorescent, and other neat things. I have watched a lot of these videos and I always think to myself, "Self, I wish I had these resources when I was a teacher!"

2. The Infographic Show. This channel, as the name suggests, relies heavily on animation to explain a host of different things. A recent video debunks the myth of the glory of being a sniper in the military. They tell the truth that it is a lot of hard work while being uncomfortable and sitting still for hours at a time. Some other topics covered include "the Chernobyl suicide squad",  "how I survived two nuclear bombs" , and "how a 1 in a billion chance crashed an airliner". This is a more eclectic channel than some of the other ones I have listed, but still very good. The 10.6 million subscribers attest to that fact.

3. Linus Tech Tips. This channel is self-explanatory...this is all about tips on any type of technology, although it leans heavily toward computers. A typical video will discuss motherboards, who has the best PC, or how to build a PC from scratch. The 13.9 million subscribers love what he has to say!

4. The Armchair Historian. In these animated videos, you will learn about very specific historical occurrences. For example, one video is about who had the better fighter squads in the Finnish/Soviet war that occurred in World War 2. Another video explains the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan. The videos range in length from 8 minutes to 40 minutes with an average of about 20 minutes in length. This is a great resource for history teachers.

5. Adam Savage Tested. Here is the blurb provided by the channel. (FYI, Adam Savage hosted a popular show on the Discovery Chanel for 15 years called "Mythbusters". He now has 5.56 million subscribers on his YouTube channel.)
Adam Savage’s Tested is a content platform and community playground for makers and curious minds. On, the highly-engaged Tested YouTube channel, and at conventions and events, dynamic makers share ideas and inspire each other to build their obsessions. Led by Adam Savage, the Tested team explores the intersection of science, popular culture, and emerging technology, showing how we are all makers. Adam also takes viewers behind the scenes of films, TV shows, theater, and museums, shining a spotlight on the craftspeople and artists who make the magic we all enjoy.
Food For Thought
"Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one's better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one's ideas, to take a calculated risk—and to act."
--André Malraux 
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