What I did this summer: Focused

I unplugged. Really. I didn’t go online except to check my email once a week all summer long. It has been so refreshing. So what did I do with my time?

I trained for a half marathon, expanded my gardens, enjoyed time with friends and family and I read. I read for pleasure and I read for professional growth. For the first time in my career, I did not write curriculum over the summer. The reason? I read Mike Schmoker’s book Focus. Mike has some clear thoughts on this topic and that thinking influenced how I spent my time.

A summary: Instead of piling on one new reform fad after another, here is a book that boils down solutions for improved schools to the most powerful, simple actions and structures that ensure you prepare all students for college, careers, and citizenship. Best-selling ASCD author Mike Schmoker explains why and how to take a “first-things-first” approach to school improvement and focus laser-like on only three essentials:

  • Coherent curriculum (what we teach).
  • Sound lessons (how we teach).
  • Purposeful reading and writing (authentic literacy).

In making his case, Schmoker delves deep into the significance of the three essentials so you get a complete understanding of what they mean to your daily practice.

This book has been a game changer for me. Upon my return to school, I learned our new Director of Curriculum will be basing our back-to-school inservice on this book. I can’t wait to participate in this discussion!

What to teach when they have “visions of sugar plums” in their heads?


Yesterday afternoon I attended a high school department chair meeting. As we were discussing various items on the agenda, I started thinking about how kids behave in class that last day of school before the holidays (the principal was going over the building schedule for those last few days of school before break).

If you are looking for something creative, interesting and festive try this (and hit a few PA CEW academic standards at the same time):

1. Ask the kids to recite the twelve days of Christmas and then show them what the experts predict the “twelve days shopping list” would cost.
2. Begin a discussion as to why these things cost so much. Student thinking will prove interesting. Turn the topic to who could have been involved in producing these “gifts.” Why do we always discuss the cost of this list and not who has trained and earns a living providing these items and services?
3. Ask students to work together to brainstorm as many professions as they can that are involved making the 12 gifts.
4. If you have a Pathways or Career Clusters model in your school you might ask your students to put the identified professions into the proper paths. Bring technology into the picture with spreadsheets, presentations, etc.
5. Have your students share their thinking and presentations. Wish them a happy and restful break and enjoy!

PDE CEW Standard: 13.1 Career Awareness A-H