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Friday, December 5, 2014

Share the Successful Stories – Just Change the Names

Most teachers have heard at least one terrifying story about that one kid who was so horrible, so difficult, he would have challenged anyone. But what about the stories with that same kid, but with a different outcome thanks to the hard work of a fantastic teacher? Maybe we should start sharing those stories instead…

Eric never had a chance, at the age of four Eric watched in horror as his father shot his mother, and then himself in their family’s dining room after a heated argument about infidelity. Eric was placed in three foster homes before kindergarten, and by the start of first grade had a reputation throughout his elementary school as the most challenging kid to ever step foot on campus. In essence, at six years old, many teachers had already written Eric off as a failure. As each year ended, the next year’s grade level teachers would argue and fight over who would “get stuck” with Eric the next school year; usually drawing straws was the solution. The fourth grade team even decided to divide the duties among them, each taking a turn watching Eric by having him trade teachers for each subject area.

By the end of Eric’s challenging fourth grade year, he was suspended twice for fighting with others, swearing, throwing objects and using profane language. He had lunch detention almost every day, and rarely spent recess off the bench by the teachers. Eric had been given many titles by teachers, parents, and students: Unmotivated, challenging, horrible, a bully, a jerk, a waste of energy, slow, stupid, fat, loud, obnoxious, a waste of tax dollars, a drain…. Is it any wonder Eric struggled to find success in school?

Before fifth grade started, a new teacher named Mrs. Johnson decided she wanted to accept the challenge and teach Eric that next year. Despite having only one year of teaching experience under her belt, her teammates didn’t put up a fight; quietly they took the proverbial step back, and allowed Mrs. Johnson to step forward. During the summer, Mrs. Johnson wrote a letter to Eric and his current foster parents saying how excited she was to have Eric in her class.

On the first day of school, every student had an assigned seat, and for the first time in six years, Eric found his name in the middle of the class, in a group with other students. Eric wasn’t sure how to take Mrs. Johnson, so he did what he had always done, he pushed expectations, tested the water, and tried to rattle Mrs. Johnson by using bad language, talking aloud, and arguing with her about anything available. Yet, to Eric’s amazement, the consequences for his actions didn’t include lunch detention, trips to the office, or missing out on recess, instead, they resulted in one-on-one time with Mrs. Johnson before and after school. It wasn’t fun for Eric by any means, but for the first time Eric could remember, he truly felt that someone cared. Mrs. Johnson would talk about actions, what they meant to others, and how Eric, “Could be anything he wanted to be, and do anything he wanted to do if he was willing to try.” This speech was not the magic solution; Eric still turned in bad work, only to see the phrase, “I know you can do better” on the top of his paper instead of the typical F in the upper right-hand corner.

By midyear Eric stopped fighting it, and finally accepted the fact that Mrs. Johnson not only cared about him, but was not going to give up like his other teachers had done. Eric started working harder, paying more attention, and decided school really wasn’t the best place for bad language and fighting. Eric was finding success, and by the end of the year he found a level of self-efficacy he never had before. He wasn’t the perfect child, he still argued and made mistakes, but a teacher cared, so maybe other teachers would to…

Mrs. Johnson wrote a letter to Eric’s future middle school teachers, stating the following: “Eric isn’t perfect, he is going to make mistakes, he is going to push your buttons, and he is going to stretch the limit of your patience. But don’t give up, show him you care, and he will surprise you, he will reach your expectations, and he will be successful.”

Such a perfect message for all of us isn’t it? Don’t give up, show them you care, and they will surprise you…they WILL reach your expectations, and they WILL be successful.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Leveling the Playing Field

The transformation from library to Learning Commons has been a challenging, exciting, difficult, worth-while, and an amazing experience. Seeing students utilizing the once quiet space for learning, collaborating, and lots of risk-turned-failure-turned-knowledge has been very worth the time and energy spent.

Yesterday I was walking by and noticed dozens of students working on things like Lego Robotics, Makey-Markey, Play Ozmo, Chrome Books, and Cardboard Creations in the Learning Commons and it hit me...we have finally found a way to level the playing field.

One of the most challenging things we deal with as a Title 1 school is the lack of background knowledge and experiences our students come in with. We spend so much time talking today on blogs and Twitter, about how we are living in a digital world, that students come to us hard-wired to use and understand technology. But guess what? Many of my students have not experienced the many technological advances that are often assumed to be the new norm. Computers, smart-phones, even prior history.

So as I walked by the learning Commons, and stopped to see learning in action, I was blown away to see that a design challenge could be completed, could be a learning experience, could open the door to collaboration for ALL kids. It didn't matter what a child had at home, or what he/she had experienced before…creating the largest machine that could transport a golf ball three feet is challenging for all, and every student has something valuable to share.

In the Learning Commons it doesn't matter how much money you have, where you come from, what technology you own, how many parents you have, what you did or didn’t get for dinner...all that matters if the great brain you bring to school each day is filled with great ideas you are ready to share. Everyone takes risk; everyone learns from failure, everyone gets the same great experience.

In essence, the playing field is equalized, and everyone is welcome to play.

Check it out at:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Example of Taking a Risk in Education -

One of the things I constantly encourage my teachers to do is take a risk in the name of student success. I even changed my blog address from the very long-winded “LessonsInLearningWithRyanSteele” to “RiskToLearn” – but then I have to ask myself, what does taking a risk even mean?

So, I am going to go with a very overarching broad brush stroke method to answer this: Taking a risk in education means you are doing something you are not 100 percent sure is going to work, but you know it would benefit your students. EVEN if it is out of our comfort zone. Here is an example from a friend in Atlanta:

My friend was at his wits end, his ninth grade history class was unruly, and despite all the detentions and referrals to the office, his students just didn’t want to behave. He wanted to put his students into six groups, but even when divided by six, he couldn’t find a combination of students that would work well together. In a class that started out as 36, four students had already been expelled for using weapons on campus, and three others dropped out of school by the start of the second semester. This left him with 29 students, 29 students who loved to fight, swear, argue, and ignore anything, and everything, he had to say.

The easy solution was to give up, to sit in the front of the room, let his kids do what they wanted until the bell rang, it’s not like his administrators were checking up on him anyway…The standardized test scores didn’t matter, no one expected his kids to pass, so it would be so easy to sit back and just give up. However, that was not his style, he just couldn’t give up, but what he could do didn’t seem to matter. So like all good teachers, he took a risk, and came to school three weeks later with a new plan in place.

His students waltzed into class, tardy as usual, only to find a note on the whiteboard that said the following: “Please join me on the football field, Mrs. Erickson is waiting in the hallway to escort you personally." Each student groaned and sighed, yet had some interest in this sudden change of environment. They marched outside, only to stop in awe as they saw their teacher standing in the middle of 30 manikins, borrowed from his local department store, covered in washable red paint and old clothes he bought from the Salvation Army.

“Welcome to the Revolutionary War! You just came home to find 30 of your closest friends and family killed by the British army! What are you doing to do?” he shouted.

“Kill them!” said Cain, a typically quiet student.

“How are you going to do that Cain? They are thousands of them, and only 29 of you…” “I don’t care, I could take them!” replied Cain.

“Really? Look around.”

My friend raised a starter pistol and fired one shot. From behind the bleachers came nearly 100 parents, volunteers from his wife’s workplace, and the school’s three administrators. “Cain, how can you take this many people all with guns pointing at you? How can you win a war when you are this outnumbered?”

My friend then went into detail about the use of gorilla warfare. He brought out dozens of large boxes he received from numerous stores, and used them as trees and rocks in order to have the students physically get into hiding positions. While the students where hiding, the parents and volunteers marched across the field in the same style of the British solders, only to find they were not able to see the students.

This was a magical day. Not because his students were great from that day forward, because they weren’t. Not because he build a bridge between some parents and the school, which he did. Not because he gained positive praise from his administrative team, which he also did. For my friend, this day was magical because from that day forward his students paid more attention, and bought into a subject they didn’t seem to care about just the day before. It was hard work, took time and planning, but at the end of the year, his students still were talking about the day their teacher killed 30 manikins in order to teach a lesson.

We get one opportunity to make a difference – but that difference can be huge, gigantic, immeasurable, life-changing, earth-shattering, amazing…

Taking risks just might help make that amazing difference in a child’s life.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Time for Christie to Start Talking SAMR

Here is a great article introducing the SAMR model -

More to come soon!

Monday, October 20, 2014

It’s Not About Me

I am not sure why it is such a challenge. Maybe it is ego, maybe pride, maybe human nature – either way, remembering it is not about me may be the most important thing I remember each day.

The other day a good friend of mine came to see the new Learning Commons and as she sat down in my office she said, “You need to take down that sign.”

I looked up and above my desk there are, now were, two signs…One says, “It’s Not About Me:” and the other said, “It’s About My Amazing Teachers and Students.” It only took me a second to realize that by adding the word MY in the second sign I was once again…making it about me.

In this profession I think it is easy to want to share, even brag, about the good things that happen. As a principal, when something bad happens, it is on you. So, as a principal, I think it is easy to want something good that happens to also be on you…yet, it can’t be.

There are so many amazing things happening this year – Technology integration, risks being taken, class blogs, green screens, Christie Learning Commons, etc….And here is the secret…It’s not because of me, I am not the one on the front lines…it is the teachers. BUT, here is the KEY I have learned, while it’s not about me; it comes from me…support. My teachers know I support them, I support taking risks in the name of student achievement, I support them as they ask for grants, think outside of the proverbial box, ask questions that are self-reflective in nature to become better at their craft, and I listen to each idea, every time.

It’s not about me, it’s about the teachers and students…and you know what? I think I prefer it that way…

Monday, October 6, 2014

21st Century Learning Points

21st CENTURY STATEMENT OF TEACHER RESPONSIBILITIES: In order to adequately prepare today's students for their future, teachers must effectively participate in professional learning networks, share and model the use of current internet tools, lead authentic, integrated project-based learning activities, assist students as they establish their own learning networks and digital footprint, learn alongside our students as they create, collaborate, and share, provide sufficient learning opportunities for students to become digitally literate and fluent, while also inspiring each child to be quality, digital, global citizens. (

List of 21st Century Skills from •Problem solving •Synthesizing across content areas •Interpersonal communication •Search strategies •Information credibility •Dealing with information overload •How to write for an online, rather than print, environment •Computerized presentation skills •Workspace ergonomics •Basic debugging •Basic understanding of usability concepts •Reflection •Cross-cultural communication •Authentic Learning

Attributes of a 21st Century Learner from: A 21st Century Learner… •is curious; •asks questions; •accesses information from a variety of sources; •analyzes information for quality; •communicates using a variety of media; •gathers and communicates information and employs technology ethically; •adapts to an ever changing information landscape; •needs a supportive network; •is a partner in his/her education; •manages time effectively; and •has the ability to prioritize and plan effectively.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Adding the A to STEM...STEAM

STEAM Education aims to bring Functional literacy to all. It promotes bridging the gap between business and educational goals to create a more productive and sustainable global culture based on teamwork. This educational framework is for all disciplines and types of learners with the goal of being more engaging and naturally successful for all members of any educational system.

Read more at:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Faith, Family, Staff and Students

Faith, Family, Staff and students - it is in this order I place the values and important areas of my life. It's what keeps me grounded, centered, and ready for each day. The challenge comes when my faith and family start to slide down that priority list. I have been given an amazing gift from PISD, the gift to be the principal of the best school in the district. Granted, I am extremely biased.

I have always liked this illustration. Used in lots of places, but this comes from:

You have three jars, each one partially filled, one with sand, one with water, and one with large rocks. The challenge? Fit the contents of all three jars into only one. Some people might start with the sand because it would seem to take up less space.

But when you try to put the rocks in, guess what? There's no room

But if you start with the rocks, and then add the sand, you'll find that it fills the crevices around the rocks. The jar looks full, but even now there's room for the water to leach through the tiny spaces between the rocks and sand.

It all fits – as long as you begin with the big things.

The takeaway is pretty obvious. We have to focus on the important things and let everything else fit into the cracks that remain.

For me, the most important things are God and my wife and kids. From there, I try to let the Lord guide me each day and help me keep the main things the main thing.

There are days when the clamor of competing obligations distracts me from where my focus ought to be. But this illustration reminds me that if I mix up the order of importance, nothing will fit well – and I risk losing relationships with those who matter most.

For me this is a good reminder - no matter what your priorities might be, keeping them in order is extremely important.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Not Just Words

I sent this email a few weeks ago, but I wanted to share this out again. I am so thankful to my amazing teachers and my equally amazing new assistant principal De'Cole. The email went like this -

I walked though the door of my house a few minutes ago, sat down in the dark living room, and quickly realized just how exhausted I am.

My wife came in, sat beside me, and simply asked, "How was night three?"

I smiled and replied, "I love my teachers, I love my staff, how did I get so lucky?"

For the last few days I have been trying to think of the right thing to say, the right words to use, so that when I tell you just how much I appreciate what you all do: the time spent, worry and care you put in, setting up your room, quickly getting to know new students, reaching out to parents, staying late, and trying to figure out how to implement the new changes the crazy new principal wants to implement...when I tell you how much I care about you all, how much I appreciate you, what could I say so it's not just words...

It's no secret L left very big shoes to fill. I know I will never be able to fill them, and that's ok...all I can do is be me. As you probably know by now... I am transparent, I am straight forward, and I will always do what I think is best for you and our students. Always, and unapologetically.

I have big plans for this school, I have big plans for all of you, I have hope for building a stronger community, and I have dreams of a campus that works hard, takes risks, loves our kids, and does what is right...even when it is hard.

I appreciate you, I thank you, from the bottom of heart. You have been flexible, willing to go with me, and for that I am grateful.

De'Cole coming to Christie has been an amazing gift. She may be the most passionate person I have ever met when it comes to loving kids. She wants to support you and help you, as do I. Not only is she excited to learn about STEM, the learning commons, and what makes Christie different...but she brings a wealth of knowledge and ideas to make this campus even stronger.

You all have been so positive, so supportive, and I thank you.

Thank you for what you do each day. This is a thankless job sometimes, I hope you will always hear a thank you from me, and know it's not just words.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Something to Think About

You’ll be amazed, perhaps astounded to learn that many of today’s classrooms look completely – like the ones you sat in five, 10, or even 50 years ago. Despite revolutionary technology, the information explosion, and an interconnected planet, not to mention improved teaching and learning methods, the typical college classroom is fixed in time like a museum diorama. Sure, there’s often a computer in the corner that can pull up a YouTube video, maybe even an electronic whiteboard. But the scene rarely changes: rows of hard chairs with little tablet arms, a writing board attached to the wall, an instructor’s lectern – in short, everything geared to the lecture format developed back when the only iPad was a chalk slate.

Can 19th century classroom design be the best way to prepare students for the 21st century knowledge economy? Now that would be amazing. A few classrooms, however, are escaping the educational equivalent of a land time forgot. You’ll find these innovative spaces at well-known schools such as Arizona State University, the University of Michigan, and Stanford University, as well as at small community colleges you may not have heard of before. These schools are reconsidering the relationships between classroom space, furniture, technology, and pedagogy and seeing great results.

Many educators say it’s about time. “A lot of classrooms, in terms of flexibility, ease of use, comfort, proper lighting, I’d give a failing grade,” says Dominique Laroche, director, Office of the University Architect at Arizona State University (ASU) and a faculty associate with the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. “Technology is light years ahead of us. The infrastructure and the classrooms are lagging behind.”

“Students today are far more connected, far more facile with technology than students 30 years ago, but schools haven’t accommodated what kids can do, or adjusted what we try to do with them. You see students using laptops or other devices, but the instruction often isn’t designed to take up on the fact that they’re coming to class with those tools instead of binders and pencils,” says Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan (U of M) and a prominent researcher in effective teaching methods.

To read more go to…

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I Love Our Teachers and PTA

No matter what school you go to I have no doubt the principal is thinking, I have great teachers...and that may be true...but they are not as great as mine.

I am truly amazed by the love, respect, caring attitude, and belief our teachers have for our kids. They work so hard, every single day, and they do it smiling, always working hard, and always giving thier best.

I love our PTA. I came to them full steam ahead ready to try something new. Ready to change the library, and oh by the way...I needed help funding my goals and aspirations. They have supported me, and for that I am greatful.

So here is what I am thinking...great teachers + a great PTA = well...the sky's the limit isn't it?

Monday, August 25, 2014

And We Are Off…

Well, we are off and running. Thank you to our teachers and amazing Christie Staff for such smooth start to this school year! I can’t wait to see all the different blog posts, tweets, and PLNs created this year from our staff! More to come…

Friday, August 8, 2014

What If I Told You...

What it I told you our kids can do anything? Would you believe me? What if anything wasn’t about passing the STAAR test? Although that is important…What if it wasn’t about having great MAP scores? Although again, that is important…

What if anything meant success? Can they be anything they want to be? Can they accomplish anything they set their mind to? Can they be the very best at something?

Here is the rub, you have two choices…Yes or No. There isn’t a maybe here. There isn’t room for I don’t know, maybe if parents were more involved, maybe if they had a better head-start program, maybe if I had more technology, more stuff, better toys… Because maybe = No.

Yes or No, if I told you our kids can do anything would you believe me? I choose Yes –

Next question: How do we do that? How do we help our kids do anything they want? It all starts with one word: Believe …it’s a small step…

Success will happen together, but you need to have faith and believe the answer to that first question is a resounding yes… From there, together, anything is possible.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Learning Commons

Christie Elementary is taking a big leap forward in the area of innovation and hands-on learning. As a Title I school, we have many challenges - That said, we believe every child can and will learn, be successful, and leave with a foundation for a future of excellence. One core belief we hold dear is that students need to learn how to think, create, and apply. By implementing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) educational practices in all classrooms last year, we took one step towards this belief. Our next step is to build a specific environment that fosters this core belief, and for us, that will be our Learning Commons. By repurposing the existing space in our library, we created a large area for our Learning Commons. This area will house eight different learning labs where students will use creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

Lab One: Maker Space/Reverse Engineering – This lab fosters play and exploration through hands on tinkering and creation. Students will take things apart, learn how they work, and create new devices or objects based on their interests.

Lab Two: Little Bits - Little Bits is an open source library of electronic modules that snap together with magnets for prototyping, learning, and fun. In essence, students will generate robotic type creations in order to learn and create new objects in a collaborative atmosphere.

Lab Three: iPads and Tangible Play – An iPad tech bar in an elementary school? Of course! With all the new aps and programs available to students, having the technology to implement these programs is a must-have.

Lab Four: Hexbugs – Cleverly designed tiny toy robots. Students can create and build all kinds of obstacles, mazes, and challenges for these tiny robots.

Lab Five: Lego Robotics – It’s one thing to build things with Legos, it’s another to add robotics. The sky is the limit with Legos and students working together to engineer and design new creations and inventions.

Lab Six: Scratch Coding –MIT students have created a computer coding program that enables students to write and create their own computer programs.

Lab Seven: iMovie Studio – Students will work together to create videos such as book trailers, puppet shows, morning news stories, and much with the use of cameras and software.

Lab Eight: Cardboard Creation Station – It’s amazing what kids can do with cardboard, tape, scissors, and their ideas. At Christie, kids have created arcade games, desktop golf courses, and much more.

Other ideas include: Christie Question Board, Research Lab, Drama Area for Puppet Shows, and a Makey Makey lab -

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Blogs in Education

Here is a great link to an article about the use of blogs in education -

Monday, May 26, 2014

Leaders are Agents of Change

Lorraine sent this great post my way, wanted to share -

Sunday, May 25, 2014

13 Must Follows on Twitter

For those on Twitter, and those who need to get on...


From Why STEM?

STEM is the future. STEM learning is an economic imperative. Experts say that technological innovation accounted for almost half of U.S. economic growth over the past 50 years, and almost all of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the next decade will require at least some background in STEM. Yet as many STEMtisticsSM show, our country is falling behind in science, technology, engineering and mathematics:

•In 2009, just 34 percent of U.S. 8th graders were rated proficient or higher in a national math assessment, and more than one in four scored below the basic level.

•In an international exam given to 15 year olds in 2009, U.S. high school students ranked significantly behind 12 industrialized nations in science and 17 in math. Students in only 4 industrialized nations scored lower in math.

•Only 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates in 2011 were ready for college work in math and 30 percent were ready in science. (Data sources)

For more, research and data that guides the STEM conversation, check STEMtisticsSM. STEM literacy has a profound and growing impact on our day-to-day lives. It helps us make critical decisions about our health care, our finances and our retirement. It illuminates the ever more complex issues that govern the future of our democracy, and it reveals to us the beauty and power of the world we inhabit. A literate nation not only reads. It computes, investigates and innovates.