Sunday, August 29, 2021

The 6 Dimensions of Disruptive Thinkers

What is really needed for success in the world today?  I think this might be the million-dollar question. Even though it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the future, we can examine current trends and societal forces to determine the competencies that learners need to thrive.  While some will remain the same, others will evolve or change completely depending on the disruption at the moment. What I think we can all agree on is that in the face of disruptive forces, conditions in classrooms need to empower learners to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems.  This is how I define disruptive thinking.

On the front lines of this endeavor are educators tasked with balancing mandated curriculum and testing with the responsibility to prepare students for college and careers. The former can result in perceived roadblocks to accomplishing the latter.  Success relies on instructional strategies and pedagogical techniques that both engage and empower students to dive deep into standards and concepts while applying them in meaningful ways.  While there is a time and place for content to be disseminated through instruction, the key to accomplishing all that educators are tasked with is how the learning experience develops a student’s ability to think and do in relation to the current and future workforce.

In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I identified six dimensions of disruptive thinking. Now I didn’t refer to them as these in the book, but the purpose of my blogging is to share my reflections and expand on ideas. Maybe dimensions aren’t the proper term, but to create a culture of disruptive thinking in a classroom or school, learning should result in students developing into:

Creative scholars generate and explore ideas and make original con­nections. They try different ways to tackle a problem, working with others to find imaginative solutions and outcomes that are of value.

Reflective learners evaluate their strengths and limitations, setting realistic goals with criteria for success. They monitor their performance and progress, inviting feedback from others and making changes to fur­ther their learning.

Collaborative workers engage confidently with others, adapting to different contexts and taking responsibility for their own role on the team. They listen to and take into account different perspectives. They form collaborative relationships, resolving issues to reach agreed-upon outcomes.

Active engagers readily explore issues that affect them and those around them. They actively engage in the life of their school, college, workplace, or wider community by taking responsible action to improve others as well as themselves.

Self-directed managers organize themselves, showing personal responsibility, initiative, creativity, and enterprise with a commitment to learning and self-improvement. They actively embrace change, respond positively to new priorities, cope with challenges and look for growth opportunities.

Autonomous inquirers process and evaluate information in their investigations, planning what to do and how to go about it. They make informed and well-reasoned decisions while recognizing that others may have different beliefs and attitudes.

Preparation just for promotion, graduation, or an exam doesn’t serve the best interests of kids. Each of the dimensions above allows for students to explore the curriculum in relevant and authentic ways while more than adequately preparing them for any standardized test they are forced to take. Each plays a critical component in fostering a disruptive thinking mindset. More importantly, they empower learners to develop essential competencies that will serve them well no matter the chosen path in life.

Incorporating these are not as difficult as you think as they naturally result when sound pedagogical strategies are employed, such as cooperative, personalized, problem-based, blended, and project-based learning, just to name a few. Many can also be developed or amplified through extracurricular programs, virtual courses, independent study, and work-study options.  Disruptive thinkers are what the world will always need. Let’s make sure they are readily available.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

No Act of Kindness is a Wasted Effort

I fly a lot. Even during the heart of the pandemic, I was on the road coaching in numerous school districts as part of long-term projects.  Now things are absolutely crazy but in a good way. Job-embedded and ongoing professional learning is being prioritized in schools, which means my travel is back to pre-pandemic levels.  As much as I love what I do, being away from the comforts of home is stressful.  Any little perk I can get is well received as it makes it a tad bit easier to be away from home.  Herein lies the reason why I am loyal to one airline.

From my lens, loyalty has its benefits.  Thus, I tend to fly United no matter what. The only time a different airline is selected is because I have no other choice if I want to get to that location without having to drive a long distance once I land. On a recent Sunday, I headed from Houston, TX to Omaha, NE to kick off the year for Papillion La Vista Community Schools. Usually, I head out earlier in the day, but on this occasion, I opted to take a late flight out so I could spend time with my family.  Once on the plane, I did what I usually do – sleep. Work also manages to get done at some point, but for some reason, I am out cold taxiing to the runway.

I must have been extremely exhausted as I slept the entire flight.  As the plane landed, I quickly drank some water and gathered my belongings. A flight attendant named David handed me a postcard with a handwritten note and thanked me for my loyalty on the way out.  I can’t begin to express how much this meant to me. The life of a road warrior isn’t for the faint of heart.  It can actually get quite depressing at times as well as tiring.  David’s random act of kindness did not go unnoticed. In fact, it has been on my mind each time I board a United plane.  Below is a picture of the note.

Technology sometimes removes the human element from kind gestures.  The note David wrote would not have had the same impact or value if it had been in the form of an email or text.  Now I am not saying these gestures aren’t effective, but if you can go with a more traditional option the act of kindness can be amplified.  In our busy lives, we often overlook the little things. David took a few minutes out of his day to be kind, and it mattered.

Never miss an opportunity to show gratitude or bestow kindness on another person. Small, selfless acts like these don’t take much effort but can totally change the trajectory of other people and maybe even yours.

Whether you are a teacher or an administrator, the little time it takes to bestow kindness on a student, colleague, or parent could be the best few minutes of their day and possibly yours.  Even though texting and email are the convenient approaches, consider these options:

  • Handwritten note or Post It
  • Card with a personal message
  • Food, especially sweets
  • A small, inexpensive gift that has meaning
  • Phone or video call
  • Drop by a classroom, office, home, or anywhere else physically
  • Cover a class for a teacher or colleague

No act of kindness is a wasted effort. With the pandemic still negatively impacting the lives of so many, going the extra mile to be nice and show gratitude is worth its weight in gold. While the business of life often gets in the way, making consistent efforts to show kindness is what the world can always use a little bit more of, especially right now.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Disruptive Thinking: Making it a Reality

While COVID-19 represented the most disruptive force ever to impact the field of education, educators did what they always do – go above and beyond for kids and each other.  They consistently made lemonade out of a never-ending supply of lemons.  Challenges were once viewed as obstacles. Now they are seen as opportunities to innovate. Now educators are faced with another disruptive force: artificial intelligence (AI). Yet again, they will rise to the occasion. 

A golden age of transformation is upon us, and the time to act is now.  By leveraging the lessons learned during the pandemic as well as from recent disruptors such as Amazon, Netflix, Uber, DoorDash, and Airbnb, educators can plan and work to future-proof learning for all kids. To do so, the right mindset and strategies are needed to create classroom cultures where learners are empowered to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic solutions.  This is the essence of preparation for now, where AI is dominating the landscape and the unknown, something that is woven throughout Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. As I have said for years and emphasized in the book, “Don’t prepare learners for something. Prepare them for anything!”

When it comes to change, there is always a dominant focus on the why. At this point, I think every teacher and administrator has some context, especially in light of the pandemic, as to the need to rethink practice. Many people get hung up on how to effectively implement innovative strategies that lead to new and improved results aligned to research and based on actual evidence. Herein lies the driving force that compelled me to write the book.  

Below are some of the ways the book can help you make disruptive thinking a reality in your classroom, school, district, or organization.


Broken into four parts, this book combines stories, insight from thousands of school visits, practical strategies, research, lessons from the pandemic, and examples from classrooms to assist educators in transforming their practice. The parts are:

  1. Rethinking “normal”
  2. Rethinking learning
  3. Rethinking the learner
  4. Rethinking our mindset

Each chapter ends with a “disruptive challenge” designed to challenge educators to disrupt their current thinking or professional practices in some way.

Supplemental resources

Over time things change. Knowing this compelled me to reflect on how to create a relevant resource that would evolve over time. I have been blogging since the book was published to align updated content, ideas, and strategies to each chapter to deliver on this goal. I have also developed new graphics to support educators as they work to help their learners become disruptive thinkers.  To this end, a Pinterest board materialized that is updated regularly. As I learn and reflect through my work in schools, my goal is to keep this link fresh with innovative content.

Study guide

I can’t speak highly enough about ConnectEDD as they have been a true partner as a publisher. Not only do they support their authors, but they are building a vibrant community. To that end, a comprehensive study guide can be found on their site.  If you are looking to grow individually or collectively as part of a book study, be sure to have this resource on hand. Impressive bulk discounts are also available. For more information, email


Developing a short, catchy hashtag (#) that no one else is using extensively is a challenge these days. In the end, we came up with #DisruptiveThink. The overall purpose is for educators to share their questions, reflections, and innovative practices they have implemented on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It also represents a convenient way for me to interact with readers at any time, even if my social media handle isn’t included.

Disruption represents a continuous call to action, as forces that radically change society will always be in play. We have the ultimate antidote: employing a mindset and strategies that equip learners with the needed competencies and the ability to always be prepared. The solution is disruptive thinking.

Looking for professional learning when it comes to AI? Contact us today to learn how Aspire Change EDU can support your school, district, or organization with a focus on sound pedagogy, evidence-based practices, and professional growth -

Sunday, August 8, 2021

RTI and Personalization: A Dynamic Duo

Recently I was working with the leadership team at Moanalua Middle School (MMS) in Hawaii.  One of the coaching topics that came up was how to improve the Response to Intervention (RTI) process as a means to support learners.  It represents a multi-tiered process to identify the behavior and learning needs of struggling students early on and then provide specific support in the form of interventions.  Below is a quick summary of the RTI components:

  • Tier 1 – Teacher provides research-based instruction to the entire class using extensive checks for understanding as a means of formative assessment. This data and that collected through routine benchmarking are utilized to determine what supports are needed in Tier 2.  Behavior screenings are implemented as well.
  • Tier 2 – Targeted supports using the data collected from the Tier 1 interventions are used to provide small group instruction that focuses on specific learning and behavioral needs. 
  • Tier 3 – At this level, the most at-risk students are provided individualized support, typically in a one-on-one setting. 

In the past, Chris Weber provided a series of guest posts on the topic that I encourage you to take a look at as each contains a host of ideas and resources.  I can’t overstate the wealth of information Chris shared. He is my go-to thought leader on anything related to RTI and emphasizes the need for scaffolding, differentiation, and collaboration throughout the process.  

As we dove into the different tiers of support at MMS, I quickly made a connection to the essential elements and strategies inherent in personalization.  In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms I emphasized that the driving premise of personalized learning is a focus on student needs and interests to develop a greater sense of ownership of learning.  Core elements include making instruction, pedagogy, and curriculum personal for students, which aids in alleviating many behavioral issues that arise.  The use of data is also prevalent as a means to address individual weaknesses as well as build upon strengths.  Successful personalization hinges on the use of high-agency strategies such as voice, choice, path, pace, and place throughout a lesson or unit of study.  

Below I have taken the traditional RTI pyramid of supports and added how personalized learning strategies could be implemented to ensure better learners are getting what they need.

Tier 1 (Large group instruction with voice and choice)

While emphasizing the critical elements outlined at the beginning of this post, the teacher makes learning more personal through student voice. Digital tools or individual whiteboards are used so that each child can respond to various checks for understanding, which can also screen students to begin to determine Tier 2 supports.  Choice is provided by allowing students different ways to respond to questions to amplify strengths.  Benchmark assessments are provided at routine intervals to collect data for further screening. This can be done with or without technology.

Tier 2 (Targeted instruction, differentiation, and pacing via station rotation)

Data collected during Tier 1 is used to group students accordingly so the teacher can maximize available time to address both learning gaps and behavior issues in a station rotation model.  While the tasks in the other rotations can vary, in an RTI model, an adaptive learning tool should be used in one of them to address weaknesses while allowing other students to move ahead at their own pace and path.  If there is in-class support, a targeted support rotation could be established to either provide greater assistance or screening.

Tier 3 (1:1 intensive support while rest of students work on differentiated choice activities or playlists)

The use of choice boards, must-do/may-do activities, and playlists free up valuable time for the teacher to work with individual students. Data collected and the subsequent screening during Tiers 1 and 2 help identify the learners who need the most support.  As the teacher works with one student, the rest of the class progresses through activities at their own pace along a path that is aligned to both ability and interests.  

RTI has long been embraced as a strategy for students who either learn differently or have behavioral challenges that are stymying growth.  By taking a more personalized approach, empowerment, and ownership of learning help to alleviate many behavioral issues.  Additionally, a more pragmatic approach is taken to collect, analyze, and use data in ways to better screen and establish needed interventions.  Consistent check-ins on behavioral patterns and learner progress help to ensure no student falls through the cracks while personalization enhances and amplifies interventions.  Hence, RTI and personalized learning are a dynamic duo.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sparking Inquiry in the Classroom

As a kid, I loved nature.  Growing up in a rural part of New Jersey and spending summers at the beach probably played a significant role in developing this interest. My parents would buy me and my brother all sorts of field guides to help support our curiosity and genuine interest in living creatures.  We would venture out on routine quests to either observe or collect specimens for further study.  Each expedition was driven by both observations and questions.  While we loved looking at various creatures, especially those that were hard to find, such as certain salamanders and snakes, questions kept driving us to want to learn more.  

The short walk down memory lane depicted above is a reminder of one of many driving forces that compelled me to become a science teacher.  It also captures vital components of the scientific method, of which inquiry is the most critical component.  While making observations is the first step, it is the questions that are developed during the initial stages of the process that are the most important, in my opinion.  Without these, it is challenging to establish a working hypothesis to test out.  

No matter the subject taught or concepts explored, questions are more important than answers if inquiry is the goal. The reason being is that the process of developing them on behalf of the learner is typically driven by relevance.  Or a teacher can use a scaffolded approach to spark deeper exploration of a topic through knowledge construction and application.  No matter the chosen path, an inquiry-based approach can be used to cultivate ownership of learning through disruptive thinking.  I define this as replacing conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems.  

While creating tasks that empower learners to develop their own questions is the ultimate goal, teachers can use scaffolded stems to get the ball rolling.  Below is a version of a resource that can be found in Chapter 4 of Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms

Each level has numerous question stems that can assist teachers in developing checks for understanding, performance tasks, projects, and assessments.  The overall goal is to work from the base level 4 as this is where authentic inquiry resides.  In a disruptive world, preparing students for the present and future relies on fostering inquiry in the classroom. Every problem throughout history that has been solved with an innovative solution began with some sort of question that probably morphed over time as an inquiry-based approach was applied. Thus, educators can leverage this powerful catalyst to future-proof learning for all kids.