Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Two suggestions for principals: (1) Give away a DVD with free ebooks and videos to parents and (2) Hang posters to nurture a conversation about the culture of learning

Suggestions for Principals  
Transforming Teachers, Transforming Schools:
Turning "Sages" into "Guides on the Side"
By Steve McCrea, M.P.A.
Instructor, Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Many teachers teach the way they were taught. If asked to explain why they lecture to their students, the response is often, "My teachers wrote on the board and I took notes. It worked for me." Brain research indicates that other techniques increase blood flow to parts of the brain associated with cognition. This presentation provides anecdotal evidence about the impact of this research when applied to a single classroom or in online classes. When a teacher becomes a "guide on the side," there is a change in the school's culture that can be measured. This presentation is extracted from four books:  57 Free Posters to Transform Schools,  How To Be a Virtual Mentor and Let's Lecture Less, edited by Steve McCrea ( and Mario Joel Llorente Leyva (  A book for parents called Ten Videos, Ten Ebooks and Ten Websites sets the stage for teachers to distribute a DVD for parents and students to use for random learning away from school.

          The idea for the website and books Guide On the Side and Let’s Lecture Less came when I realized that students were clamoring to get into my classes (I was teaching an intensive three-week English language program in Fort Lauderdale). Three teachers (who were escorting their students from Italy) asked to sit in my lessons. They took notes. Something was going on here.  Something I had done or read had changed me so that my classes were somehow magnetic. This article shares with you what happened to me.
          I was a lecturer for the first nine years of my teaching career. From 1996 to 2005, I worked as a teacher of English to adults and I spent every class giving lectures. Then I heard a remarkable interview on National Public Radio with Dennis Littky, founder of the Met Center in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.  “Until we learn what the student’s passions and interests, it’s just school.  After we start teaching to the student’s passions and interests, there is nothing to stop them from wanting to learn more and to connect the schoolwork to their future lives” (Littky, 2004, page 34).

Dennis Littky's Seven Points 
          Go to the website of Littky’s school,, or search "NPR Littky April 2005." You will have the direct experience that I did and you might be impelled to put into practice the seven key points mentioned by Littky: 
- students learn through projects; 
- teachers get to know the students (eating dinner at least once every two months in their homes); 
- teachers teach every subject (yes, math teachers teach literature, science teachers teach art, French teachers teach math and science); 
- quotes are placed on walls to encourage random learning; 
- tests are "stand-up" exhibitions; students go on internships and report back to the school what they learned; 
- every student writes a 75-page biography about their family members (we all need to know where we came from, what our families did and how they got here); and 
- grading is with a narrative every eight weeks.  A student said, "I'm more than a letter in the alphabet," and that inspired Littky to require teachers to write and talk to kids about what they did, how they could improve their work and what will be the next challenges in the next eight weeks. 
          Daniel Pink (2011), the award-winning author of books about business trends, gives similar educational advice.  What motivates people to complete a task?  “As long as a task is routine, monetary rewards produce what we would expect.  Offer more money and you’ll get more work done.  However, those if-then rewards often destroy creativity. The secret to high performance isn't rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive -- the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things because they matter.” (TED talk transcript from Pink’s TED Talk).

Pink asks teachers to design school work that connects students to what motivates people (autonomy, mastery and purpose), not a higher grade-point-average or other extrinsic factors.  Guides on the side should choose instead to teach toward inner sources of motivation. 
          Isn’t this what we mean when we recommend “differentiation of the lessons”?  We want to adapt the lesson to the needs of the individuals in the class.  We want to personalize the curriculum.
Great Teachers are Born, Not Made (oh?)
          One way to become a great “guide on the side” is to stop preaching and teaching and instead listen better (Postman, 1969). Become a facilitator, arrange the classroom to follow the principles that Littky demonstrates, that Dennis Yuzenas (a teacher in Palm Beach Florida) uses, that dozens of innovative schools have as part of their curriculum. It's not WHAT is taught but rather how students are encouraged to find ways to get the material presented to them.  Ken Robinson (2009) points out that a class of seven-year-olds will all put up their hands if you ask, "Who likes to draw?" Ask the same question in a class of 16-year-olds and only a minority will raise their hands. Hmmm. How has the school so effectively weeded out the drive to create?  How can we teachers encourage creativity?
          Here are techniques to encourage creativity that Gerald Aungst (2011) recommends:
Plant the seed. Instead of a vague “be creative,” tell someone, “give me an idea that only you could come up with.”. 
Make it messy. Creativity is squashed when people feel like they are looking for one right answer. For students, give them problems that have multiple solutions
Never accept the first answer. It sets an expectation that one answer, even if it works, isn’t the end of the process but just the beginning. 
Teach creativity techniques. Techniques can give people a concrete handle on something that can seem abstract and complicated. 
Reverse the roles. Instead of giving an assignment to students, ask them to tell you what they would do if they were the teacher. 
Get out. Changing the location of the class can change students’ thinking (from Aungst's blog). 

          Teachers who are not familiar with project-based learning or with constructivist approaches (that build the curriculum around the individual student) might ask, "But how do students get the information if I'm not lecturing to them? Who will present the information?"  I ask teachers to read Abraham Fischler's description of the role of the computer in the classroom (computer-assisted instruction or CAI):
          Our schools will turn out to be better schools if we design the schools and the curriculum to be more responsive to the client. Right now most of our schools are responsive to the class. Unless we change the organization and structure, there are limits to how we can do better with one teacher and 25 or 22 students. The teacher is teaching the 22 or 25 students as a class. But with the introduction of technology that is responsive to the student, then you can open up the class to make time the variable. 
          It's not a major shift. We're just utilizing modern technology instead of the teacher as the presenter of core information. CAI also gives students even when they are not at the same level the opportunity to form groups. We make sure that each group has a responsive, bright kid, who can give leadership to the group of three. Everyone in the group ought to be able to provide some input to the resolution of what they are working on.
          These are not profound changes. Teachers can't continue to be the presenters to the class because not everyone in the class is ready to receive what the teachers say. When talking about English and Math (and certain aspects of social studies and science), the students are generally at different levels of comprehension because they are individuals and they have different talents and they learn at different rates. It's simple. If you know that people have different talents and learn at different rates, why wouldn't you make the student the class? (excerpted from by A. S. Fischler). 

One way of highlighting the key difference between a traditional school (where teachers talk, learners listen) and a transformed school is to write "teaching is listening; learning is talking" on a poster.

          Other sources of information are videos, ebooks and audio CDs. Why not do what many professors at Stanford University are doing and put your lectures on videos and send them home with your students?  Students are expected to review the videos before the class and arrive reading to discuss the themes of the day (Fellet, 2011).  Class time turns into "Question and Answer" sessions where students "perform their understanding" (Howard Gardner's term) and the teacher checks for misconceptions.  The concept of "flipping the classroom" is easily conveyed to parents and students with Katie Gimbar's YouTube performance (search "Katie Gimbar flip classroom").  A collection of videos directed at parents could supplement what is sent home for students to watch.

Seventeen Quotations
          Perhaps the most effective strategy that emerged from my classroom is the use of quotations.  Instead of asking students to change their behaviors, I presented these quotations to the students.  After they had studied the quotations, several students asked that I continue with the “new” method of letting them decide individually what they would work on during the week.  Less lecturing, more independent projects;  fewer tests, more exhibitions (“stand up and deliver some information”).  Here are some quotes that guide me in becoming a facilitator.
 “The teacher of the future is a GUIDE on the SIDE, not a sage on the stage.” Aphorism
 “Education is NOT the filling of a pail, but rather the LIGHTING of a FIRE.”  Yeats, also attributed to Plutarch
 “Most students might forget what you taught them, but they will always remember how you treated them.” -- often stated in teacher-training seminars.
 “I never let school get in the way of my education.” Mark Twain
 “Drive out fear.” W. Edwards Deming
 “Keep Talking Time" to a minimum.” - dictum in the CELTA teacher training course
Learn more about these posters
 “Schools teach children to obey. But we need creative answers to the challenges of our times. Many of the people who've had the greatest influence on our times were failures in school.”  Ken Robinson
 “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, The children are now working as if I did not exist.” Maria Montessori
 “Let’s create people who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done.” Jean Piaget
 “Innovative schools offer small classes, individualized instruction, and flexible curricula which can accommodate the child. The same teacher stays with the same group of children for as many as eight grades. The teacher has to grow and learn with the children.”  Dennis Littky
 “Many teachers believe that they need to control how they teach and how they test. Other teachers negotiate with their students what they will learn, when they will learn it and how we will check that they have learned it.”  Dennis Yuzenas
 “Unfortunately, to most people, teaching is the giving of knowledge. What are you going to tell the students? What is your expertise? But teaching is really about bringing out what's already inside people.”  Dennis Littky
Learn more about these posters
 “If individuals have different kinds of minds, with varied strengths, interests and strategies, then could biology, math and history be taught AND ASSESSED in a variety of ways?”  Howard Gardner
 “Trust. Truth. No Put-downs. Active Listening. Personal Best.”

Clark’s Two-Factor Rule for Posters:  I place these quotations on walls, I assemble them on a single page and lead a workshop with parents, I send the quotes home and ask parents to talk about the quotes with their children, I call each home and talk with the parents about what ideas they have after reading the quotes.   In other words, posters (when properly formatted) help me confront questionable assumptions that students have about education (see Clark, 2004) and flip the classroom.  The posters conform to Richard Clark's two-factor rule:  a)  posters should have an easily remembered analogy and b) posters should go beyond merely drawing attention to an issue and should give specific procedures to follow (Clark, personal communication, February 8, 2013).  Academics have become about 25 percent of my class work, since nutrition, physical health, emotional health and the “spirits” of my students are now together taking up three-quarters of my time as a teacher.  I'm spending more time looking for and talking with mentors for my students than I am spending as a traditional teacher (writing lesson plans, developing tests and assigning grades).  The list of "survival skills" (Tony Wagner, who interpreted a list from gives a lens that helps students focus on what they should pull out of each lesson, each ebook, each video, and each activity that I send home. 

          Become an ex-teacher.  Become a facilitator.  Read these quotations daily with your students (in online classes, distribute one or two of the quotations and ask students to reflect on how we can apply procedures in the class to meet the aims of the quotations). Paste the words on walls (or in email messages) and ask students to rewrite the ideas in their own words. "Let's gradually transfer the responsibility for their learning to the students" (a quotation by John Gardner). The mantram is “NO MORE BORING LESSONS” (A mantram is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation" -- Wikipedia)Using Clark’s rule, we should add a specific procedure:  “personalize the curriculum by setting up personal learning plans for each student.”  Let's see how transforming one teacher can transform a school.  Download ebooks and videos on a DVD or USB flash drive and send your lessons home. If your students have a robust connection to the Internet at home, then compile lists of websites and videos that they can watch with their parents (starting with Ten Videos, Ten Ebooks and Ten Websites). Observe what happens, write your anecdotal evidence and send your observations to You are invited to spread this virus of guiding on the side.


Aungst, G. (3 October 2011). "Don't be creative."  Retrieved at  on 24 October 2011.

Clark, R. and Feldon, D. (2004).  "Five Common but Questionable Principles of Multimedia Learning."  Retrieved at

Fellet, M. (2011).  “Faculty collaborate to improve online education.”  Stanford Report (newspaper, June 28).  Retrieved at  on 24 October 2011.

Fischler, A. (July 2006). "My vision."  (blog). Also at

Gardner, H. (1994). Intelligence reframed. New York:  Basic Books.

Gimbar, K. (2009).  Why I flipped my classroom.  

King, A. (1993).  “From sage on the stage to guide on the side.”  College Teaching 41(1), 30-35.

Littky, D. (2004). The Big Picture: Education is everybody's business. Alexandria, Va.:

McCrea, S. and Llorente, M. (2011). Let's Lecture Less. 

Pink, D. (2010).  Drive:  The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York:  Penguin Group.

Pink, D. (2009).  TED Talk. The Puzzle of Motivation, retrieved from

Postman, N. and Weingartner, C. (1971)  Teaching as a subversive activity.  New York:  Dell Books.  

Robinson, K. (2009).  The element.  New York:  Penguin Group.

Stanford University (2009).   “Faculty collaborate to improve online education.”  Retrieved from the Internet  on 24 October 2011.

Wagner, T. (2009)  The Seven Survival Skills.

Yuzenas, D. (2011). "Motivation," an article in Guide On The Side. Fort Lauderdale, FL: Sundial Press.

Steve McCrea is founder of (BIB), a charity inspired by the lifework of Brooks Emeny (a pioneer in international relations).  BIB promotes wider use of social networks and computer-based discussions in classrooms and homes through He is a part-time instructor at a charter school and at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale. He is currently coordinating the translation of his book Let's Lecture Less (which prints pieces of his website into eight languages and the translation of Dennis Littky's book The Big Picture into Spanish and Arabic. He wrote a curriculum for a project-based learning high school ( Eight people have taken his online workshop to become qualified as Visual and Active Teachers (VATT) and his Certificate of Applied Instructional Technologies is offered through the University of Havana.   He is a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University.   He can be reached at,    and by mobile at +1 (954) 646.8246.  The posters and ebooks mentioned in this article are available for download at and he will send a free copy of the "DVD for Parents" (with videos, ebooks and audio files) on request ($2 to cover the cost of duplication and shipping is appreciated).  The 4 gigabytes of files can also be transferred via a strong Skype connection (Steve’s Skype account is SteveEnglishTeacher).

Free Ebooks available at  and on the “DVD for Parents.”
Ten Videos, Ten Ebooks, Ten Websites
Let’s Lecture Less
Guide on the Side
Dominos for Schools
Building Better Schools by Abraham S. Fischler (edited by S. McCrea)

Free Posters

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