Author Archives: Mark Reardon

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About Mark Reardon

Mark Reardon is the Chief Learning Officer at Quantum Learning Education and has been with the company for more than 11 years. He was previously the founding principal at Classical Academy High School in Escondido, California.

Build a brand of educational excellence.

By Mark Reardon

Superintendents, principals, and teachers often let their brand develop haphazardly. But the most respected brands—the ones that communicate educational excellence—are intentional. As chief learning officer for Quantum Learning, I have helped many educators build their brand and understand how it’s important.

Brand redefined.

Your brand states the non-negotiable to which you are committed. The more clearly defined your values, the more pervasive and credible your brand will be.

Your brand though, is only as good as your culture. Your brand is what you value above all else, and culture is the expression of that brand.

To ensure your culture reflects your brand, follow this simple axiom: Experiences shape our expectations; expectations shape our expressions.

Brand of excellence.

Begin by evaluating the things people say and do in your classrooms, in your schools, and at the district office. These are your expressions.

Let’s say your organization values excellence, good qualities in high degree. You would expect to see excellence embodied at every level. You would see teachers attending professional development, parents engaged at meetings, students thinking at higher levels, and real estate agents praising the quality of education in the community.

In this example, the expressions reflect the organization’s non-negotiable values. They reflect a brand of excellence.

Next, discern what the expressions say about expectations. Our expectations shape our expressions, which are the synthesis of our perceptions, perspectives, mindsets and beliefs.

In a district defined by excellence you would notice that decisions are made and problems solved through a mindset of excellence that permeates classrooms, staff rooms and boardrooms.

Expectations are willed into being. Our expectations are shaped by our experiences.

Everything speaks.

At Quantum Learning, we teach, “everything speaks.”

When a district’s meetings respect opinions, encourage solution finding, and are well organized, attendees experience excellence. When classrooms buzz with curiosity, teachers acknowledge effort and everyone feels safe, kids are immersed in an experience that changes their perception about learning.

Nurturing the brand.

In the model we’ve presented, you build your brand by challenging the interactions students have with and within the school.

This is accomplished from the inside out. Brands are built from the organization’s culture out to the community and from you out to the organizations. You are your brand.

When you’re intentional with your brand, the positive effects will last for years to come.

To learn more about Quantum Learning: Development that Matters, visit www.quantumlearning.com.

 

Self-Induced Autism?

Raising two teenage boys and interacting with hundreds of school-age kids has led me to an intriguing question: Is it possible that some children develop autistic characteristics even though they have normal neurodevelopment? How does this happen? What are the symptoms and what can we do about it?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder with two distinguishing characteristics—a person with autism has deficient social skills and exhibits restricted behavior (hyper-focus). For example, individuals with autism rarely make eye contact when interacting with others and often do not respond to auditory stimuli like the calling of their name when focused during an activity. Autistic children are limited in their interests and activities, focusing on a single topic, program, toy or game. They get “lost” in what they’re doing. Have you seen these characteristics in children you know who are neurodevelopmentally normal? Probably.

help me

Let’s be honest—getting lost in a project, a movie, or a game and occasionally not responding to a familiar auditory cue like the calling of our name is something we’ve all experienced. We can thank our reticular activating system for helping us pay attention to what we think is important and for blocking out the thousands of sensory stimuli that surround us every moment. We have also not made eye contact with individuals in certain social settings. All normal, right?

What I’m experiencing, especially with pre-teens and teens, is a new normal. This new normal is much more akin to the hallmark characteristics of autism—social deficits and restricted behaviors. These manifestations have gone beyond the occasional to the habitual. My conjecture: The myriad invited stimuli and the constant competition among those stimuli to capture kids’ attention have caused children to adopt behaviors that mimic those of autistic individuals. I believe it’s self-induced because the stimuli are invited from the outside rather than stemming from an internal “neuro-anomaly.”

Why is this happening? Why are these social deficits and hyper-focus traits showing up in non-autistic kids like my boys?

Avoidance. Relating and communicating are hard. They require vulnerability and courage in an atmosphere of safety in the company of authentic role models. As long as I can stay focused on something else—lose myself in it—I can avoid the vulnerability of relating, and if I work hard enough I can develop the ability to tune people out even to the point of not hearing someone’s voice.

I could delve into the polyvagal nerve and its role in strengthening our ability to read social cues and capture sensory information so we feel empathy,or even explore the role of mirror neurons. We’ll save those for another time.

What can we do about our kids’ deficient social skills and hyper-focused tendencies? Here are two simple actions to get us started:

  1. Stop avoidance behaviors. What activities do we use as cocoons? Do we tune out particular kids? Let’s build awareness of our avoidance behaviors—and avoid them.
  2. Start connecting. Carve out time to sit side by side or face to face, or go on a walk with your child or student.  Ask about their interests—what’s capturing their attention? Inquire about their thoughts and feelings on issues at school, relationships with friends, what they’ve seen on YouTube,or the posts and tweets they’re reading.

Our kids need to reconnect to those in their lives. Let’s help them develop positive social skills so they get to know their teachers, their parents, and their peers. Someone did that for us—let’s pass it on.

 

What Can You Do In Five Minutes?

  • Listen to a songhigh five
  • Organize your desk
  • Read status updates on Facebook
  • Breathe and be thankful
  • Score a multiple-choice quiz
  • Brush your teeth
  • Eat your lunch ( if you had to J )
  • Check the weather
  • Download an e-book
  • Talk with a student about the effort they are showing and how it’s a sign of strong character

 

There are many actions we can take in a five-minute time period. Some of those actions we do out of necessity for ourselves, others we choose to do out of necessity for others. Our students—those eager to learn and those less eager to learn—crave acknowledgement. In the fast pace of curriculum expectations it’s easy to focus on the product of our teaching and neglect the person of our teaching.

Take a moment and find at least one student today who would benefit from your attention and acknowledge them for who they are.

That was Then. This is Now.

classroomOLDApproaching my 35th year as an educator brings me to a place of reflection—a series of comparison-contrast moments. Who was I as an educator then and who am I as an educator now? Sounds like an intriguing exploration.

Then, I acted like I was the sole influence on learning in my classroom. I knew the content. I loved the content. I taught the content.  Now, even on my best day I know that my influence is simply one of many.

Then, being the “cool” teacher was a personal hot pursuit. Now, the hot pursuit is discovering how cool each student is.

Then, I diligently marked up papers with comments and corrections so students could learn from their mistakes. Now, I know that in their drive to gain competence, students crave feedback and most often zero in on the greatest area of growth.

One of the professional habits I have developed over my years in education is to activetechnology_classroomly reflect as I go along. By decreasing the amount of time between my “then and now” comparisons, I am able to adjust more frequently and with a higher degree of effectiveness. It also allows me to model an active reflection process with those I teach. Tracking your own progress and making strategic adjustments as a learner is a hallmark of a professional educator. This is my encouragement to you: set aside a weekly, if not daily, time to reflect on your own classroom effectiveness.

One thing has remained constant from then until now: helping students discover who they are now and who they are becoming. And to think I get to influence that—this could be the most important work on the planet. Wouldn’t you agree?

How to Build a Brand of Educational Excellence—The Ultimate Guide

ELA TeacherWhat is your brand? You have one. We all do—brand is how our community perceives who we are and the work our organization does.

Administrators often let their brand develop haphazardly. But the most respected brands—the ones that communicate educational excellence—are intentional.

Defining Your Brand

Your brand is your core message. It states the non-negotiables to which you are unwaveringly committed. For some districts it’s achievement. For others it’s college readiness. The more clearly defined your values, the more pervasive and credible your brand will be.

A hallmark of a strong brand is common language—a consistent message embodied and expressed by each person in your organization. Consider crafting a memorable phrase that pays. At the Oceanside Unified School District, for example, former Superintendent Larry Perondi’s phrase was “Kids First.”

Shaping Culture to Match Brand

Your brand is only as good as your organizational culture. Your brand is what you value above all else, and culture is the expression of that brand.

To ensure your culture reflects your brand, follow this simple axiom: Experiences shape our expectations—expectations shape our expressions.

Expressions

Principal SignBegin by evaluating the things people say and do in your schools, at the district office, and throughout the community. These are your expressions.

Let’s say your organization values excellence—good qualities in high degree. You would expect to see excellence embodied at every level. You would see teachers attending professional development, parents engaged at meetings, students thinking at higher levels, and realtors praising the quality of education in the community.

In this example, the expressions reflect the organization’s non-negotiable values. They reflect a brand of excellence.

Expectations

Next, discern what the expressions say about expectations. Our expectations shape our expressions, which are the synthesis of our perceptions, perspectives, mindsets, and beliefs.

In a district defined by excellence, for example, you would notice that decisions are made and problems solved through a mindset of excellence that permeates classrooms, staff rooms, and board rooms.

Expectations are not willed into being. Our expectations are shaped by our experiences.

Experiences

Every activity, every interaction immerses people in what you value. At Quantum Learning, we teach that “everything speaks.”

When a district’s meetings respect opinions, encourage solution-finding, stay on topic, and are well organized, attendees experience excellence. When classrooms buzz with curiosity, teachers acknowledge effort, and everyone feels safe and supported, kids are enveloped in an experience of learning worth revisiting.

If what you see and hear in the community and throughout your district is incongruent with what your organization stands for, you’ve got work to do.

Educational Excellence Starts with You

Teachers of the YearOur first inclination is to address expressions directly. But in the model we’ve presented, you build your brand by changing the interactions people have with and within the district.

This is accomplished from the inside out. Brands are built from the organization’s culture out to the community and from you out to the organization. You are your brand.

Everything you say and do can add credibility to your brand. For example, Larry Perondi nurtured his brand through Quantum Learning’s 8 Keys of Excellence, which help him repeat his values consistently and often.

When you’re intentional with your brand, the positive effects will last for years to come.

Images from Ben Russell, Deval Patrick, and Tim

The Shocking Truth about Professional Development

Teachers are the Classroom's Chief Learners

Hate professional development days?

Then you’ll love this—research suggests that most PD has no lasting effect on classroom instruction or student achievement. But you already knew that from experience, didn’t you?

The shocking truth is that most teachers come to PD with a book or a computer or a grocery list—anything to occupy their time while they listen to boring, irrelevant information they’ll never apply in their classrooms.

In fact, teachers typically find more value in “common sense, intuition, word of mouth, personal experience, ideologically laden ideas about progressive or traditional instruction, the guidance of mentors, and folk wisdom” than they do in traditional PD programs—regardless of the fact that districts spend millions of dollars on PD each year.

No doubt this explains the phenomenal success of events like EdCamp. These informal, peer-driven “unconferences” cut through the nonsense and give teachers opportunities to share and connect in a rich, meaningful way. Teachers learn from each other, rather than a single presenter, and discuss the questions that interest them.

Why Most Professional Development FailsAppreciate teachers for the learners they are when developing PD programs

Many PD programs fail for the same reason traditional education often fails—neither one takes into consideration the way our brains naturally learn.

Think about it: What is PD if not another classroom environment? And what are educators attending PD if not learners? PD programs need to model the principles of good teaching, yet so often the presentation hinders learning rather than opening minds to new possibilities.

The brain has a natural craving to learn. However, emotions such as boredom, stress, and fear can easily cloud the brain, making it difficult to grasp and retain new information. The role of educators then—whether they are presenting to teachers or to students—is to support the brain so that it is able to do its job.

In this sense, the brain is like a climbing vine. The vine has an innate and tenacious drive to grow vertically, but it needs to be planted near the right kind of support in order to capitalize on that desire.

Teaching to the Brain’s Natural Learning Systems

To make PD more effective and less tedious, we need to teach to the brain’s natural learning systems, just as we would with students. Teachers, like all students, learn best when they are respected as learners and when their social, reflective, cognitive, physical, and emotional learning systems are attended to.

Incorporate motivational posters like these into your classroom and your PD programsHere are a few ways to do this in your district’s PD:

  • Instead of lecturing at teachers, engage them in meaningful conversations with the facilitator and one another.
  • Ask teachers to think deeply about their classroom experiences. What are they already doing well? Where could they improve?
  • Explore the neuroscience behind learning to help teachers understand how to orchestrate a dynamic classroom experience.
  • Give teachers the opportunity to stretch and move around the room at various points in the day.
  • Encourage feedback and questions after each segment.
  • Prepare the room with motivational posters similar to those you would use in your classroom—whatever will affirm teachers’ value and radiate positive energy.

Most importantly, find PD programs that take the expertise and systematic approach of traditional PD and combine it with the dynamic, participation-based approach of programs like EdCamp.

We want teachers to leave PD renewed and energized, with concrete takeaways they can apply in their classrooms—or even schoolwide—right away. PD programs should make a significant difference in the lives of students and teachers and continue to shape the learning experience long after the PD has ended.

8 Keys of Excellence that Build Resiliency & Grit

Imagine the level of resiliency children would have if they had a strong inner core of character. They would experience less bullying, less giving up, less self-destructive behaviors. They would live lives of greater confidence, greater peace and greater purpose.

Resiliency is the focus of Educational Leadership’s September 2013 issue. Research indicates that resiliency—a positive response to failure or adversity—is a major factor in students’ academic and personal success (O’Dourgherty, Masten and Narayan in Handbook of Resilience in Children). Positive, supportive school cultures and caring, motivating teachers can help build resiliency in students, especially in children who have been exposed to higher levels of risk.

How? First, resiliency is strengthened as children learn social-emotional strategies such as identifying personal values and conflict resolution. And that is a good start. Second, it’s about strong character—the inner core of who we are. Building character in children as they acquire strategies strengthens their sense of identity, personal resolve, internal motivation and ultimately, their success. This combination develops resilience at a deep level—at the level where grit lives. Grit is the combination of perseverance and passion on the way to a goal. It’s the stick-to-it-ness needed to enjoy the sweet smell of success.

8 Keys
The quintessential question, “Who am I?” drives a nearly insatiable desire to build a solid core of values—principles upon which we guide our thoughts and actions. The 8 Keys of Excellence is a set of guiding principles that build a foundation of excellence—good qualities in high degree—upon which grit an take root.

INTEGRITY – Match behavior with values.
Demonstrate your positive personal values in all you do and say. Be sincere and real.

FAILURE LEADS TO SUCCESS – Learn from mistakes. 
View failures as feedback that provides you with the information you need to learn, grow, and succeed. 

SPEAK WITH GOOD PURPOSE – Speak honestly and kindly. 
Think before you speak. Make sure your intention is positive and your words are sincere.

THIS IS IT! – Make the most of every moment.
Focus your attention on the present moment. Keep a positive attitude.

COMMITMENT – Make your dreams happen. 
Take positive action. Follow your vision without wavering.

OWNERSHIP – Take responsibility for actions. 
Be responsible for your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. “Own” the choices you make and the results that follow.

FLEXIBILITY – Be willing to do things differently.
Recognize what’s not working and be willing to change what you’re doing to achieve your goal.

BALANCE – Live your best life.
Be mindful of self and others while focusing on what’s meaningful and important in your life. Inner happiness and fulfillment come when your mind, body, and emotions are nurtured by the choices you make.

Build it and it will be there.
The building of character is a purposeful act, not to be left to chance. It requires the diligent and conscious attention of teachers and parents. Resiliency increases in the presence of supportive mentors who possess strong character and in an environment saturated with excellence—good qualities in high degree.

It starts from the inside out—from the core of who we are—our character. Resiliency and grit are the result of strong character purposefully developed and continually nurtured.