Sunday, September 24, 2023

Quality Over Quantity

In education, there is never a lack of ideas on how to improve teaching, learning and leadership. Most would agree that they are a dime a dozen. Over the years, I have been writing extensively about efficacy-based pathways that have led to proven results. While innovation is a lofty goal, we must be cognizant of what we are trying to accomplish. Too many balls in the area can have an adverse impact on focus, derailing what we are trying to improve.

Quality over quantity matters when it comes to implementing new ideas because it is more important to have a few well-thought-out and well-executed strategies than to have a large number of thoughts that could be better developed, something that I emphasize in Digital Leadership.  Of course, quantity does play a role in the creative process. The more ideas you generate, the more likely you are to come up with a good one. However, it is essential to strike a balance between quantity and quality. If you focus too much on quantity, you may end up with many ideas that could be better.

Below are ten reasons why quality almost always trumps quantity.

  1. Effectiveness: Implementing a small number of sound ideas is often more effective than attempting to execute a large number of mediocre or poorly thought-out ideas. Quality ideas are more likely to address specific problems or opportunities and deliver meaningful results effectively. When it comes to professional learning, this is critical. 
  2. Resource Allocation: Resources such as time, money, and peoplepower are finite. Focusing on a smaller number of high-quality ideas allows you to allocate these resources more efficiently and ensure they are used where they can have the most significant impact.
  3. Risk Management: High-quality ideas are typically better researched, planned, and tested, which reduces the inherent risks associated with implementing new concepts. Rushing into numerous things at once can result in failure, wasted resources, and potentially harm your district, school, or classroom culture.
  4. Learning and Adaptation: When prioritizing quality, you can invest more time and effort into learning from each idea's implementation. This allows you to gather valuable feedback and insights that can inform future initiatives and increase the likelihood of success over time.
  5. Focus and Clarity: Pursuing too many ideas at once can lead to confusion and dilution of efforts. High-quality ideas are more likely to have a clear vision and purpose, making it easier for your team to stay focused and aligned.
  6. Educator Satisfaction: High-quality ideas are more likely to address your student's or staff's needs and preferences. This leads to higher satisfaction and loyalty, which can translate into long-term success.
  7. Competitive Advantage: Implementing a few high-quality ideas can set you and your school or district apart from others pursuing a quantity-based approach. Quality innovations can become unique elements of the learning culture that set your learners up for success compared to other schools or districts chasing the next shiny thing. 
  8. Sustainable Growth: Quality ideas are more likely to have a long-lasting impact on growth and sustainability. They can lay the foundation for ongoing success and adaptation to a rapidly changing society because of disruptive forces.
  9. Reputation and Branding: Successful implementation of high-quality ideas can enhance your reputation and brand image. In BrandED, we illustrated how It signals to stakeholders that you are committed to delivering excellence and innovation to support all learners. 
  10. Engagement: Focusing on quality can boost staff morale and engagement. Educators are more likely to feel motivated and fulfilled when working on meaningful, well-executed initiatives.

Here are some more tips for implementing new ideas with a focus on quality:

  • Take the time to define the problem or opportunity that you are trying to address. The more specific you can be, the better.
  • Generate a variety of ideas, but be critical of them. Don't just accept every idea that comes to mind. Think about each idea's feasibility, potential impact, and potential risks.
  • Select the best ideas and develop them further. Conduct research, get feedback from others, and ensure your ideas are well thought out.
  • Implement your ideas in a phased approach. This will allow you to learn from your mistakes and make adjustments as needed.
  • Measure the results of your ideas and make adjustments as needed. This will help you ensure that your ideas have the desired impact.

Don’t get caught up in the hoopla that seems to surround the latest pedagogical fads and technology. While it may be tempting to pursue a large number of new ideas, prioritizing quality over quantity is often the wiser approach. High-quality ideas are more likely to deliver the desired results, effectively use resources, and contribute to long-term success and growth.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Making Learning Personal: 5 Steps for Success

Learning is a deeply personal journey and tailoring it to individual needs and preferences is essential for fostering meaningful and effective education. Personalized learning increases engagement and helps learners develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter. It all begins with understanding the learner's interests, something I dive deeply into in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. What are they passionate about? What do they want to learn more about? Once you know the learner's interests, you can tailor the learning experience to them.

Below are five things to consider, which can help make learning personal and empower students to take ownership of their education.

Establish Clarity

To make learning personal, educators should establish clear learning targets that are both challenging and achievable for students. These should align with the standard(s) being addressed and the student’s current knowledge and skills, ensuring they feel the appropriate cognitive flexibility without becoming overwhelmed. Clarity provides a sense of purpose, direction, and motivation, allowing students to measure their progress and take pride in their accomplishments. When facilitating Tier 1 instruction, look to impart relevance during the opening minutes through a well-designed anticipatory set. At the conclusion, have the students reflect on how they will use what they learned outside the classroom as part of a closure task.

Determine Individual Needs

Data is the best tool educators can use to determine what a learner needs to succeed. There are so many sources to pull from, such as common formative assessments, routine benchmarks, and adaptive tools. You can even leverage data from exit tickets. By identifying both areas for growth and strengths, educators can begin to map out specific personalized pedagogical pathways that focus on customized supports. They can also adapt their teaching methods and materials to cater to the diverse needs of their students.

Emphasize choice and autonomy

Empowering students with choice and autonomy is a fundamental aspect of personalized learning. When students have the freedom to choose topics, tasks, projects, or how to demonstrate understanding, they become more invested in their learning. Educators can provide a range of options within the curriculum, allowing students to pursue their passions and explore their strengths while meeting educational objectives through choice activities, playlists, specific digital tools, dry-erase surfaces, and must-do/may-do options. This fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning.

Provide Continuous Feedback and Support

Learning that is personal ensures continuous feedback and support to students. Constructive feedback helps learners understand their strengths and areas for improvement, allowing them to adjust their strategies and take initiative in their learning journey. It should be timely, specific, and practical, where educators maintain open lines of communication, offering guidance and resources tailored to each student's needs. Also, fostering a growth mindset, where students understand that learning involves setbacks and challenges, can help them persevere and succeed.

Adapt and Evolve

Making learning personal is an ongoing process that requires adaptability, evolution, and growth. As students grow and change, so should their educational experiences. Educators should be willing to adapt their teaching methods and materials based on feedback and assessment results while connecting relevant trends and issues. Technology can also play a significant role in creating a personal touch, offering adaptive learning platforms and tools that cater to individual progress and needs.

The best classroom management strategy is sound pedagogy. Making learning personal can help establish attentive behavior while creating an environment where students want to work. Here are some practical tips that can be leveraged during every lesson:

  • Integrate a hook at the beginning of class.
  • Use technology to create interactive and engaging learning experiences.
  • Connect learning to the learner's real-world experiences.
  • Encourage learners to reflect on their learning and set goals for themselves.
  • Celebrate the learner's successes.

Personalized learning is a powerful approach to education that recognizes the uniqueness of each student. Educators can create an environment where students are actively engaged and take ownership of their learning by assessing learning preferences, establishing clarity, offering choice and autonomy, providing continuous feedback and support, and adapting to changing needs. Ultimately, personalized learning enhances academic achievement and fosters a love for learning that extends beyond the classroom.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Developing Learning Walk Protocols

As I work with leaders across the globe, I am always careful with my words. There are rarely absolutes when it comes to educational leadership and ushering in meaningful change. The best course of action depends on the situation and context, which is rarely the same for different administrators. However, I am direct when it comes to what can be controlled. As a leader, you can control whether you make the time to visit classrooms to provide valuable feedback to your staff. So why does this matter in the larger scheme of things? I pulled the following from some research on the topic (Hardavella et al., 2017).

If we do not give feedback, this will come with a cost. The learner can assume that everything is fine and will continue practicing in the same way. This leads to a false assessment of their own skills and abilities and builds up a false perception.

It is hard to debate the value of learning walks when it comes to improving practice. In a previous post, I elaborated on the rationale for making them a consistent component of a leader’s day:

The process of learning walks, or walk-throughs as many schools refer to them, is to get a glimpse of what is happening in classrooms to then provide non-evaluative feedback for improvement. They serve an integral role as “soft” accountability mechanisms to spark conversations and reflections on practice. The more we observe and talk about practice, the better equipped we are to make and lead change. Another positive outcome of learning walks is the building of better relationships since the non-evaluative nature of the process focuses on meaningful growth around targeted look-fors.

When developing a learning walk protocol, consider the following:


Determine a realistic number of practices that you would like to see during visits. These should be identified in your strategic plan for the academic year. Keeping things more general is also a good idea, as you can flesh out specifics during feedback conversations. When I facilitate learning walks with leaders that I support, I keep my list to five (5). However, you might find more value in focusing on less. Another good idea is to elicit input from teachers on where they feel feedback and support is needed.


Try to align the look-fors to elements of the formal observation tool you use and expect to see routinely. We found that our teachers greatly appreciated that they would be receiving consistent support to prepare them for their three unannounced observations. My leadership team and I pulled specific elements that were core components of Tier 1 instruction. 


Create an easy-to-use form based on the look-fors that you establish. Google Forms are great for this as they can be set up to instantly graph the data, which can be shared with staff. In my coaching work with leaders, I help them develop a coding system for the strategies they are targeting, as this helps to make qualitative data collection much more manageable. 


Once you determine the focus for your learning walks, share the rationale and form with your staff. If educators are unclear or must guess what administrators are looking for, the process diminishes in value. Transparency helps to build trust and relationships in the process. Both will pay dividends during feedback conversations.

Inter-rater reliability

Everyone conducting learning walks must be on the same page. In addition to coming to a consensus on the areas of focus and co-developing the form, make the time to visit classrooms with a peer and then discuss what you saw and why. Regular leadership meetings can also be leveraged to ensure everyone is in lockstep. 


Once all the items above are addressed, it is time to get into classrooms regularly. Develop a schedule and stick to it as best you can. My admin team and I had to conduct five walks a day. Between the four of us, this came out to 100 visits a week, which resulted in a wealth of data to unpack. 


The entire purpose of learning walks is to help educators grow through non-evaluative feedback. If you visit classrooms and never engage in a dialogue about practices embedded in your strategic plan, then all you have accomplished is management by walking around. Determine how feedback will be provided to your staff. I suggest a two-pronged approach. First, curate the data collected and present during your faculty meetings, highlighting commendations and areas to consider for growth. Second, reach out to individuals where you have either seen outstanding practices in action or something that really needs attention from an improvement standpoint. Face-to-face conversations are typically the best, but you can also utilize phone calls, paper notes, or video conference tools. Try to limit feedback through email. 

While I have found the elements above to be highly effective in my work with leaders to develop a learning walk process, keep in mind that you might find value in additional components. Regardless of what you settle on, flexibility is key. I shared the following in Digital Leadership

With any learning walk form or tool, there must be a great deal of flexibility regarding how you use it. The most critical aspect of the learning walk process is what is done afterward to improve practice. Collaborative discussion as a leadership team about what can be improved as well as timely feedback to teachers are both crucial for success.

Getting into classrooms regularly was the best part of my day as a principal. It is also a highlight of the work I am blessed to engage in with leaders currently. Reflect on where you are with the learning walk process and how to make it a success. If I or my team at Aspire Change EDU can be of assistance, be sure to reach out (

Hardavella G, Aamli-Gaagnat A, Saad N, Rousalova I, Sreter KB. How to give and receive 
feedback effectively. Breathe (Sheff). 2017 Dec;13(4):327-333.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

The Role of Content in Classrooms Today

Reflecting on my days as a student, I recall how the subject matter was the primary focus in every class. Whether delivered through lectures in college, direct instruction during K-12 education, or occasionally gleaned from textbooks and encyclopedias, it permeated every aspect of learning. Upon closer examination, it becomes evident that information, in the form of content, held a central role in all my classes. The routine was consistent: my peers and I would receive information and then be assigned tasks to showcase our comprehension, occasionally even constructing new knowledge. Essentially, the objective was to excel in exams.

I don't intend to undermine the value of content or curriculum; it serves as the foundation for progressing from basic to advanced learning levels. Indeed, mastering essentials such as letters and numbers is crucial for delving into language arts and mathematics, respectively. However, with the advancement of technology, learners can easily access content and information using various devices as they move through the education system. When considering artificial intelligence (AI), Alexa, Siri, and well-thought-out Internet searches, there is no end to how readily content can be accessed. This prompts the question: How significant is content truly in a knowledge-driven economy evolving rapidly due to technological strides?

Contemporary learners exhibit less compliance and conformity compared to earlier generations, and rightfully so. Whether engaged in authentic or pertinent learning, students naturally seek the underlying purpose and justification, an entirely reasonable sentiment. When content is imbued with purpose and applied in authentic ways to foster fresh insights, learners can articulate:

  • What they've learned
  • The rationale behind their learning
  • The practical application of this knowledge both within and outside of educational contexts

Pertinent and purposeful instruction empowers students to leverage their knowledge to tackle multifaceted real-world challenges, often possessing multiple solutions. This shift in approach is pivotal and represents a move from instruction (what the teacher does) to learning (what the student does). Engaging in learning encourages students not merely to accumulate knowledge but to employ it for practical ends. Many aspire to apply their knowledge to address intricate real-world issues, creating projects, designs, and other tangible outcomes applicable to real-life scenarios. As I shared in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, the value of content is intrinsically linked to how it's utilized to foster purpose-driven thinking and application, which are both hallmarks of personalized learning.

While being adept at trivia might be advantageous for a game show like Jeopardy, its utility in real life is limited. Given the heightened stakes of today, it's imperative that we critically assess our methods to facilitate growth and enhancement. Nurturing a sense of purpose among our learners is a collective objective that will undeniably yield enduring benefits for their future endeavors.