Give Them Chores

Not long I was talking with a friend about raising kids, carpooling everywhere, working, fixing meals, and all the things that fill our hours between wake and sleep.  As I explained the chores list on our refrigerator that our children are expected to do to help make the family run, she was aghast.  “My job as a parent is to allow them to be children, so I do those things for them,” she said.  I was aghast right back, having never considered that being a child meant being void of responsibilities.  I really believe that chores are good for kids and should be part of childhood, not just to help parents and families, but to build skills that seem to be lagging in a society that increasingly values immediate gratification and unbalanced return on minimal investment.


When a child is taught how to do a chore, he learns a skill for being responsible.  When a child is taught how to break chores into smaller pieces, she learns sequencing and analyzing.  When a child is expected to care for his belongings, he learns the value of things.  When a child is taught the end goal of a task, then experiences the success of completing it, the dopamine rush in the brain actually becomes addictive to the experience of setting and reaching goals.  When a child is faced with a hard chore, she learns teamwork, problem-solving, and perseverance to complete them.  When a child is expected to balance work and play, he learns time management.

I do believe in play-based learning throughout life, but not in the absence of responsibility.  When we expect little to nothing, but for our kids to play at leisure or busy themselves with sports teams or a screened device, because it is undoubtedly an easier way to parent, we are unintentionally training their brains into patterns that not only handicap them in the school and workplace, but fail to serve them later in life.

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Book Review: Dispositions

Art Costa is one of the originators of the Cognitive Coaching practices that I’ve trained in for helping people move their thinking, so it was clear that when he put out a book all about Dispositions, I was dying to read it…but there’s only so much time so it took about a year before I got to it, but I’m certainly glad I did.


Costa and Kallick have identified dispositions as “tendencies toward particular patterns of intellectual behavior.”  I’ve written about the dispositions of teacher leadership in previous posts, which directly stems from Costa’s influence on my work and thinking about people and their thinking over the past few years.  Being aware of these tendencies and identifying them for success patterns helps us help each other…kids, teachers, principals, district administrators…spouses.  It’s so useful to understand how others approach their circumstances if you wish to be an active part of the experience with them.  It’s critical if you wish to help them move through the experience be it individual learning or solving group problems.

I was pleased to find this book pulls not only from Costa’s previous work in Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coaching, but also from more recent research in social thinking, such as Malcom Gladwell’s analysis of Outliers, Carol Dweck’s research on Growth Mindset, and Paul Tough’s work on grit and perseverance.  The overlap made this an easy-to-read book if you’ve experienced any of those listed.

What sets this book apart though, is that after defining dispositions and giving examples in a plentitude of ways, they go on to provide articulate steps for identifying with your group which dispositions are necessary to build up in your environment (personally or socially).  Then they break a process down for exploring, defining, and building these over sustained time.  It becomes apparent that the focus is quality, not quantity and learning, not knowing.

This book pulled together my thinking about individual learning patterns, positive behavior supports, and interventions to improve academics that are not content driven, but disposition-driven. It emphasized for me that teaching metacognition is one of the most important skills we can support at all levels…even adults…maybe especially adults.

I give this one 5 Sutterstars for the depth and breadth in inspires.

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Book Review: The Power of Positive Deviance


Here’s another book that I read, two pages at a time for more than a year.  I found it while researching for my own work on collaborative professional learning.  Positive Deviance is the concept of coaching a community (social or professional) to confront their own intractable problems by identifying those within their own group, who have the same resources and same challenges, but fare better than most.  The group then takes these lessons and grows them to overcome, or reduce the effects of, their collective challenges.

The book defines these situations and the Positive Deviance (PD) approach through a series of vignettes ranging from malnutrition in third-world countries, to overcoming cultural practices of female genitalia mutilation, to improving pharmaceutical sales in a global corporation.  The variety of contexts show that the lessons of PD are not limited to one field, and that technical solutions of efficiency or effectiveness will not resolve adaptive problems, that is problems that are socially complex and require changes in behavior.  The authors confirm that expert consultants are not the most effective for these situations which inevitably have unintended consequences that expertise cannot predict.

Obviously, PD gets a rap for being inefficient, however when pursued from within it is an extremely effective form of continuous improvement.  Thus, while it sounds like a tinge of Management 101, a true leader would need to approach this book with a imaginative and open mind and must leave any sensibility of top-down management at the door.  This fits my paradigm of leadership, which is organic, embedded, and quite frankly the messy work of helping people get where they want to be. The authors also speak to the problems of taking this type of improvement process to scale, which is a concept I struggle to accept as effective…the larger we attempt to control, the more problems we create to solve.

What particularly interested me as I perused the book each night, was the overlap in cognitive science that I saw displayed through social experiments and change.  Groups of people do function like an individual brain in many situations, and this can be guided metacognitively to good ends.  My favorite quote, “The good news: once people have tasted self-generated success and flourished from their own wisdom, the foundation for learning is laid.”  As a teacher, this resonates how we experience the learning with one student, ourselves, or our larger group.

I give this book 4 Sutterstars for its content, but expect it to become redundant in vignette towards the end.  The first three quarters provides the meat to understand PD.

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Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning

I came across this book in a pile of freebies in a staff room last December, fifty-five years after Viktor Frankl first published it!  I’d heard the title for sure along the way, but the small print of “A new forward by Harold S. Kushner” is what caught my eye.  I’d read his books (When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, and When Bad Things Happen to Good People) as a teenager and recall these giving me a great spiritual perspective about the universe, even as a youngster.  So, I took the book to read over Christmas break.

This is an amazing piece of psychological science theory conveyed through narrative in the first half, then explained directly in the second half.  That second, heady half was the original book that Frankl had in manuscript when he was forced into concentration camps and the Nazi’s destroyed his work…which led to the creation of the first half of the book which is the narrative of how he personally tested his work to literally survive a four-year ordeal.

He names this theory logotherapy, which in short is a focus on finding personal meaning versus commonly understood psychotherapy, which focuses on analyzing past experience in order to move forward.  So goes his narrative, identifying much of the loss and trauma experienced in the camps, but spending more time describing the behaviors and activities he pursued which actually kept him alive, recalling and mentally rewriting this book being one of them.


Before I got to, or realized, there was a second half of psycho-babble explanation, I was able to pull out some key ideas transferable to any of our lives that enable us to find meaning and get through situations, usually not as dire as the holocaust.  I began listing these cornerstones of our human spirit in the back cover of my copy as I inferred them.  Things we focus on, or return to, for renewal are: love, laughter, art, friendship, caring for others, and working toward personal goals.  When you consider those you’ve known who are doing well or not so well on the mental/emotional side of life, it becomes clear that one of these meanings may be currently missing or underexposed.  This quest for meaning is a key to mental health.

With a huge title as Man’s Search for Meaning, some may think it’s a proposed holy grail that may answer questions of biblical proportion.  Perhaps this is a companion text to your own religious doctrine because after studying Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, I can see how Frankl’s work supports the basic tenets of each.  But even for those who aren’t particularly religious, I think it’s a human trait to wonder about life’s meaning.  Frankl leads us to consider not asking the meaning of life, rather allow life to ask us and we can only respond by identifying the meanings in our own life, then being responsible to them.

This book receives a solid 4 Sutterstars!

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#MIpubED Community Concerns

As March 2015 winds to a close, the #MIpubED Twitter chats have uncovered more questions than answers…such is learning.  In just a month we have discussed standards, high-stakes tests, and the creation of an online community where educators and their communities learn together about the challenges set forth.  There is so much more and each day I come across experiences where I find myself wishing parents and community members knew some of the details educators face each day while trying to teach our kids.

The conflicts frequently come down to organization theories: natural vs. rational systems.  Systems that are natural, such as public schools, are complex entities relying not only on the technologies used to accomplish our work, but also on the subtle social elements such as relationships, uncontrolled inputs, and public policy that affect our work.  Systems that are rational, such as engineering or accounting, have complex and logical technologies to accomplish and measure their intended outcomes.  Public schools cannot avoid their natural structure while increasingly expected to apply rational solutions.  Therein lies the challenge, but educators have chosen to confront it and will continue to need community involved in these hard dialogues.

Following our previous chats at #MIpubED, here is a grab-bag of questions we’ll explore this week to see what teachers, parents, and community members are thinking about some other issues:

Q1: What is a teacher leader?

Q2:How do schools balance resources to be sure we are doing right by all students?

Q3:How do educators support those with no educational experience who create education policy?

Q4:How do we encourage and support the best and brightest to become teachers?

Q5:What are the pros and cons of for-profit schools?

Q6:How do educators explain standards-based grading to parents?

Q7:Parents, what do you want to know from educators?

Q8:What are the pros and cons of Schools of Choice?

Q9:What’s going right in your school?

Please join us and bring a friend to the Twitter chat at #MIpubED, Tuesday at 8:30pm!

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#MIpubED High-Stakes Tests

Let’s be clear that assessments are not the standards and vice versa.  When I was changing careers years ago and had to do a teaching internship, I had this great idea of gathering stories from educators about the trials and trivia of high-stakes tests and publishing a book.  Some of their experiences were so fascinating and foreign to me.  I’ve since gained plenty familiarity and that book still needs to be written, but those stories need to be followed with reason.

Here are Michigan facts, reasoning, and sources about high-stakes testing:

  • The Fall MEAP test is being replaced by the M-Step test in Spring 2015
  • The M-Step test requires 7-11 hours of computer seat time per student
    • This does not include technology hardware management and instructional preparation time for schools and students
  • M-Step is created and delivered by the makers of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which is projected to replace the M-Step in 2016
  • MEAP cut scores (or levels indicating proficiency) were increased in 2011 in advance of these tests to prepare for perceived dips that new test formats expect
    • Determining cut scores in either direction is “a matter of values, not an empirical truth…reasonable people will disagree.”
  • SBAC field tests project that more than 50% of students will be not reach “proficiency” on these tests
    • These projections have been confirmed by hundreds of educators based on the rigor of the tests (the PR task is to help others understand why)
  • New tests represent a different type of rigor that will definitely effect classroom teaching (e.g. performance tasks vs multiple choice)
    • Over time results should better indicate higher understanding and ability
    • Students report: 10th grader – “it’s hard because if you didn’t know the answer you couldn’t guess”; 6th grader – “first test I’ve taken where I actually learned something while taking it.”
  • Michigan schools are required by the ESEA Act of 2001 (No Child Left Behind) to test 95% of enrolled students
    • “Opting out” of high-stakes tests is a movement parents and educators are exploring across the nation
    • Michigan Department of Education’s response to parent “opt out” and federal law is neutral and left to local districts
  • High-stakes testing has multiple purposes: evaluating curriculum, assessing student achievement, evaluating teacher performance, financing local schools, ensuring equitable education
    • Quality assessment is part of the teaching/learning cycle and student achievement data is important to inform instruction

Obviously, the news isn’t all bad but is worth talking about.  Please find non-educators and parents to join the #MIpubED Twitter chat this Tuesday, March 17 at 8:30pm to talk about high-stakes tests and our kids.

Questions for the chat will be:

  • How is assessment part of the teaching/learning cycle?
  • How are you feeling about the MStep/SBAC test starting next month?
  • What do you think about the 50% proficiency expectations for MStep?
  • How can these tests be used to improve instruction?
  • What are some benefits of high-stakes tests?
  • What are benefits of assessments that accurately represent learning?
  • What are negative consequences of high-stakes tests? #
  • How do you think the opt-out movement will effect public education?
  • What are some alternatives for ensuring equity and improving all schools?
  • What is your largest area of interest/concern regarding what’s going on in public education?
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#MIpubED Common Core/Higher Standards

Two years ago at a community conversation, a highly-educated and evidently highly-conservative parent asked me to assure him that I would not adhere to the Common Core State Standards because, he believed, it would require that I “teach history about homosexuals and blacks”, to which he was vehemently opposed.  Flabbergasted, I breathed in and out before clarifying for him that the CCSS only cover English Language Arts and Mathematics.  Through this conversation it became clear how much conversation was needed among educators and the community to really understand topics before we make evaluations of them.

Two weeks ago, it was confirmed that we still need this dialogue.  Fairleigh Dickinson University released a survey showing that, more than four years after adoption, 52% of Americans claim to know “little or nothing” about the CCSS.  Along these lines, 54% of those polled who disapprove of the CCSS had complete misconception about the content that was in them.  Debates are raging on the Internet and in school districts about the Federal government’s overreach into education, confusing Common Core learning targets with high-stakes tests or curriculum, and of course conspiracies of what money is exchanged to make decisions for all children.

Dialogue to understand the standards themselves and the outcomes we expect remains missing from the debates.  As a parent and educator, I can get behind someone teaching and expecting my child to think critically…or on some days just to think!  When 60% of college freshmen students require remedial coursework and “87% of recent HS grads say they’d have worked harder if their school had set higher expectations for them” (thank you @EdTrust), it’s clear that higher standards for thinking might benefit a learning society.  If you read the CCSS, it becomes apparent that thinking is central to how they’re written.  Are they flawed?  Sure, they’re man-made.  Do they set targets for building thinkers?  Yes, and this is what we need to talk about before we evaluate them on misinformation.

This week’s #MIpubED chat will be to learn about the CCSS from both educators and non-educators, with the hope of understanding differently than when we began.  Please join us and bring a non-educator friend on Tuesday, March 10 at 8:30pm.  If you need help getting on Twitter to understand what a Twitter chat is, email me at or @sutterlearn for a personal coaching session so you can join the conversation!

Read the standards at

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#MIpubED Community Chat

There is so much going on with public education these days that now is a perfect time to really connect educators with the community members we service (parents, business partners, academia, and basically anyone with a vested interest in our kids). While many people revere their teachers in specific, both educators and our communities are commonly guilty of misunderstanding one another’s concerns as opportunities for dialogue about large issues are frequently absent.  So much of the dialogue about what’s happening in schools occurs in isolated silos where we end up creating our own meaning of things, often based on limited or incorrect information and biased sources.

Nearly every topic that graces a newspaper headline regarding public education has an often unexplored consequence in each child’s classroom.  Teachers can forecast many of these problems – and potential solutions – if they are engaged in the conversations early enough.  Community stakeholders can inform educators of purposes that we don’t immediately consider from our classroom.  Both can inform policy more wisely if we just talk a little more and seek to understand.

Many educators are using Twitter as a platform to chat and make connections that strengthen our practice, but if we only talk with each other we’re only able to affect our reactions to large issues.  #MIpubED is an opportunity to encourage Michigan educators to use Twitter as a forum for joining educators and non-educators in dialogue.  There will be four scheduled Twitter chats at 8:30pm on Tuesdays in March, using the hashtag #MIpubED to learn about the following topics:

March 3, 2015 – Creating #MIpubED Community – 8:30 p.m.

March 10, 2015 – Higher Standards/Common Core – 8:30 p.m.

March 17, 2015 – High Stakes Tests (are not Common Core) – 8:30 p.m.

March 24, 2015 – Community Concerns – 8:30 p.m.

Of course, time doesn’t need to bind learning anymore, so the hashtag is always available for anyone to submit questions, comments, or solicit educator opinions about any topic around Michigan public education! If you don’t feel comfortable asking staff at your building, find other educators at #MIpubED…if you want to know what a sample of Michigan educators think about an issue, find willing opinions at #MIpubED…if you have an idea and want a school (or company or citizen) to pitch it to, create a relationship with educators or the community at #MIpubED!

The purpose of the #MIpubED is to provide a location for the community to engage with public educators in an effort to understand collective interests in Michigan’s public education.

Join me on Twitter @sutterlearn or #MIpubED.

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Book Review: All The Roads

I don’t read nearly enough fiction, so when a colleague and close friend, Jessica Cotter, recently self-published her first book, I devoured it…uncomfortably because of our friendship.  At times it felt like I was walking around in parts of her brain where I shouldn’t be!  Alas, this is the risk authors take by putting themselves into a work, and that she has done.

“All The Roads” is marked with richly authentic characters, Jay and Elle, whose roads cross at romance – or is it? J. Cotter takes readers down these roads and builds anticipation of what these two characters learn during a specific time in their lives. Audiences for this novel could as easily be the twenty-something navigating that space between independence and interdependence, as much as for mature audiences looking back at the connectedness of life’s events that don’t seem so when we’re living them. For all, it is an emotional journey down the winding paths of relationship and our own place within them.

While it should not be, in this day and age, self-published thought articulated so carefully and intricately continues to be a charming surprise! I give this 4 SutterStars! Get a copy soon and support indie publishing:


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An Education Allegory

The fourth-grade safety patrol tells his side of the story like this:  “I told this second-grade girl that she needed to stay off the snow on the sidewalk because that’s the rule.  Then she asked me where she was supposed to walk because there was snow all over the sidewalk.  I told her to walk on the edge of the street and she got an attitude and told me it was dumb and dangerous to walk where cars drive.  I was just doing my job and she was being mean and not listening to me.”

As I listened to his interpretation of the dialogue, I knew he wanted validation for his valiant efforts upholding the school rule.  He wanted vindication that he was right.  He wanted intervention because he was older and had the orange vest, but no real authority.

He came to me for support and he didn’t want to hear that sometimes the rule doesn’t make sense.  He didn’t want to consider that perhaps someone he perceived as below himself might have sound logic.  He wasn’t ready to look for alternatives, compromises, or pragmatic solutions.

The fourth-grade safety patrol, who in class would gladly listen to reason, only saw his side of the story, because we gave him a title, a post, and an orange vest.  But I thanked him, no less, for enduring my questions and allowing me to push him toward empathy and a little common sense with that second-grade girl.

Then I walked away thinking how ironically close his story is to our own story in the world of education.

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