Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What will You STOP doing?

As we close out the year and start a new one, we reflect on the year and what we want to change or improve upon in the new year. Before we think about the things we want to accomplish, it's important to make note of what we need to STOP doing in order to make room for the goals, dreams, and plans of the new year.

What will you stop doing?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of 2014: Top 10 Posts of the Year

As we look back on 2014, I'm amazed at how this blog has grown into something that I consider the cornerstone of my professional journey. I'm able to expand on ideas, reflect on practices, inspire others, and share practical insight and strategies through my blog posts. If you are considering starting a blog, I encourage you to GO FOR IT in 2015! If you already have a blog and are looking to "turn it up a notch," perhaps you should consider joining the Compelled Bloggers Community, a blogging group started in 2014 by me and Craig Vroom. (We're taking new members in January.) If you would like to join us, there is a link at the bottom of the blog post.

Now... on with the Top 10 list! (This is a compilation only of blog posts that were written in 2014.)


The State Superintendent for Alabama is Tommy Bice. He's the real deal. He's a doer. 
He's in it for kids. 
And he's in it for educators who are in it for kids. Check him out.


Teachers are wired to finding a way to use technology to help their students. Don't use twitter with your students, use it for YOU. A better you will be a huge benefit for your students. 


This post offers practical ideas to use when introducing twitter to staff, and it has been inspiring twitter parties at schools of all grade levels. Free, downloadable resources are included in the post.


As 2014 comes to a close, it will soon be time to choose my 3 words for the new year. While Jon Gordon does a #oneword for the year, I still enjoy choosing 3 words (a la Chris Brogan) to drive my quest for being the best ME I can be.


Sitting in an airport, waiting to head home from an inspiring conference led by Stephen Peters, I read a blog post by a new administrator, Tim Dawkins. I felt compelled to respond, not only to him, but to all new administrators who face the "dream-stealers" and 
the "yea-buts."


This post shares a creative way to find out what your students, administrators, and teachers believe about your school.


Positive relationships between all stakeholders is what makes a school successful. This post includes five questions for reflection, which may prompt you to initiate changes at your school or district or perhaps celebrate what you are doing in your school or district.


In this post, I share a 3-session PD experience I led with staff based on Rick Wormeli's videos. I also include resources in this post. It's a practical PD idea to use when introducing staff to standards-based learning, retakes and re-dos, and defining failure.


This post includes a story about a new scoring system our cheerleading coach will implement for the next tryouts, and it also includes a personal story about my daughter and her tryout for the middle school volleyball team. It also includes tips to giving feedback to students. 


If you're on Pinterest, here are 7 boards that range from BYOD to HS literacy to Bullying & Digital Citizenship. They are excellent resources I've curated for you!

And now, for a few of my favorite 2014 posts that didn’t get many pageviews, but still deserve a mention...

Empathy is extremely important when working with others. In this post, I share why we need empathy, what it is not, and how and when we can practice.

As a former athlete and coach, a life lesson I learned through athletics is that when it comes to our part in life, there are two things we can control: attitude and effort. In the blog post I share ways to have a positive attitude and to improve effort.

I'm a big believer that attitude is a choice and that we create the life we live. In this post I share a lesson I learned at a motorcycle safety class.

In this post, I share words of wisdom from Dr. Jack Watkins: chancellor of Troy University, and Lolly Daskal: Leadership Coach, Consultant, Speaker, and Author.

While my weekly Motivation Monday series did not make the Top 10 blog posts of 2014, I loved the "research" of finding videos and quotes that inspired me and that I hoped would inspire others. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have supported me this year. It has been the best year so far, and I'm looking forward to another wonderful year in 2015. Best wishes to all of you!

Monday, December 29, 2014

True Strength according to Devon Still - Motivation Monday #52 {December 29, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

I love the recent ESPN interview with Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still about his daughter, Leah, who is battling cancer. 

Here's the story about Devon Still's strength, as well as his daughter's.

If your device cannot show embedded video, click the link below:

This is the last Motivation Monday post for the year. It's been a wonderful journey to share with my blog readers. I hope you have a terrific ending to 2014 and a blessed beginning to the new year. 


Monday, December 22, 2014

Band of Brothers - Motivation Monday #51 {December 22, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

I once gave the keynote at an athletic banquet. The theme of my talk was how being an athlete is similar to being in the military. I made the comparisons of preparing side by side with your teammate to go into battle to conquer the opposing side. Also, teammates have a bond that lasts forever. Going into battle with someone means that there has to a huge amount of trust between each other. Nothing can be taken for granted. Each member must be willing to sacrifice his or her own needs for the success of the group. Both athletes and military understand the comparisons and what it's like to work side by side with another person on whom they can fully depend.

And as we close out this year, I feel the same bond with fellow educators. Even if we don't go to battle on the same battlefields, there are many of you with whom I fight the good fight. We wage war on poverty and undernourishment of the body and soul, and we are unwavering in our efforts to educate, support, and encourage the young people of today. 

I thank you and salute you.

(Click the picture below to watch the German General's Speech from the movie, Band of Brothers.)

Click picture above to watch the video clip.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Unbroken - Motivation Monday #50 {December 15, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

I can't believe this is the 50th Motivation Monday post for the year! When I started this weekly series back at the beginning of 2014, I didn't realize the personal impact it would have on me. Each week, it helps me to be cognizant of videos or quotes I hear about, see, or read. It lifts my spirits, fills me with hope, and it empowers me. I hope you enjoy today's video as much as I did!

Without fear,

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How to Share a Private Audio Message with SoundCloud

A consistent message I share is to limit email to good news when communicating with parents about students. In email and text, it is very difficult to determine “tone.” With a phone call or face-to-face meeting, others are able to hear sincerity and concern as well as excitement and joy. 

Last Friday morning on the way to school, an idea hit me -- I wanted to add a voice message to our weekly staff newsletter (that gets emailed out on guess which day? Friday!). I have a small section in the newsletter where I share links to blog posts, technology tips, and images, but I wanted to send a word of encouragement to our teachers as we enter the last couple of weeks of the semester (we have semester exams next week, and our last day is December 19). I wanted it to be a voice message so that they could hear the encouragement and support in my voice.

So... first I had to figure out how to do it! Hmmmm.....

I LOVE using Voxer on my cell phone, and I knew that I could email a Voxer message to myself. The app will send a URL, and when I click on it at home, it looks like this….

In my car on the way to school, I recorded a message in Voxer in the "My Notes" section, then I emailed it to my school email account. I had never sent one to myself and tried to open it at school, but I figured it would work. 

As you can guess by now… it didn’t work. 

I emailed our AWESOME tech guys, Keith Fulmer and Jonathan Sandlin, who got back to me quickly.

Here’s how our email exchange went…

Me: I recorded a Voxer for the staff as part of the Friday memo, but when I tried to play it back, it said that the webpage wouldn't load. Is using Voxer this way possible on our network? 

Jonathan: We checked our ISP seems to be the problem for some reason even outside the web filter it will not direct to the site. Can you try another recording method? We don't really know where the break is but it is with our ISP or their backbone. May take some time to clear up.

I was determined to send a link to an audio message for our staff. How hard could it be, right?

I Googled and read and tried and tried.

I tried uploading to Google Drive, but I learned that you can’t share play an audio message in Google Drive to be played back (I can upload the file and play it back for myself, but it can’t be shared that way.)

Then I tried to read about Google Voice. I couldn't find a number in my area code that was available... and I just didn’t feel like I had time to learn how to use it, so I moved on. 

Podbean? Nope. I couldn’t send a private audio message… the messages would be saved publicly.

Then I came across SoundCloud. I knew it was a platform for sharing music... one of our students is a professional singer

I read about how to share private audio messages, and I realized that this may be how to do what I had been trying to do since my drive into school. 

So next I needed the message to upload into SoundCloud. 

I used the Voice Memos app on my iPhone to record a new message, then I emailed it to myself. I saved the recording on my computer in my office, then I uploaded it to SoundCloud. Finally, I copied the private sharing link and included it in the Friday memo. 

If you give this a try, let me know how it goes for you! I'm always looking for new ways to use technology to connect to others.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Don't Wait to Tell Someone What They Mean to You - Motivation Monday #49 {December 7, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

John Vigiano had two sons, John Jr. and Joe. Both sons lost their lives in the tragedy in New York City on September 11, 2001. 

If you cannot watch embedded video on your device, click here: 

Don't wait to tell someone what they mean to you. 

The video was found on the StoryCorps website. StoryCorps is the largest oral history project of its kind. You can listen to inspiring stories that celebrate public school teachers from across the country here:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What Inspires Me?

For this week's post for the Compelled Bloggers Community, we are to write about what inspires us. 

In general, I’m inspired by the underdog who overcomes adversity and achieves success. I’m inspired by the opportunity to be the change agent for the underdog, and I’m inspired by those who give of themselves to make someone else’s life better.

For the work that I do, I’m inspired by the students.

-The student who told me that she sleeps on the floor each night. Her family shares an apartment with relatives, and she doesn’t have a bedroom, bed, or dresser.

-My former athletes who are now “grown,” successful, happy, and with their own children and families.

-The angry student with a behavior plan who says, “I’m not good at math,” who agrees to meet with me after school every day until he gets caught up.

-The former student with dyslexia who allowed me to read his tests to him, to transcribe his papers, and read the ACT to him… who was admitted to Ole Miss as a result.

-The students who balance extracurricular activities and heavy academic loads and are successful at both.

-The former students who contact me via Facebook who tell me that I made a difference in their lives.

And there’s so many more individual stories to tell.

Most of all, I’m inspired by these two…..

I want them to have a happy and successful adult life built on a strong foundation, and I want the world to be a better place for them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Treating Students as Volunteers - A Mashup of LeadershipFreak and Phil Schlechty

“Perhaps the most important understanding here is that students are volunteers, whether we want them to be or not. Their attendance can be commanded, but their attention must be earned. Their compliance can be insisted on, but their commitment is under their own control.”  -Phil Schlechty

From 2007 - 2009, I worked in a school system that followed the Schlechty Center Framework for school transformation. A few weeks ago, I was reading a blog post by my friend Dan Rockwell, and it reminded me of the quote above and the assumptions of the Schlechty framework. Phil Schelchty posed that students are volunteers. (Additionally, the late Peter Drucker stated that employees should be treated like volunteers.)

Why is it important that we treat people, more specifically students, like volunteers?

Dan's blog post is all about leading volunteers. What if we took his advice and applied it to students? 

(Below, you can read excerpts from Dan's blog post. I replaced the word "volunteers" in his post with the word "students.")


#1. Help them.

The first question to ask students is, “How can we serve you?”
Talk about them before talking about you.
Learn what makes students tick before explaining what you need them to do. 

#2. Adapt:

Align your language with the students.
Leaders who align the way they talk with the language of students show respect and connect.

#3. Help us:

How can you help us?
Serving is a two way street. Don’t stop with, “How can we serve you?” If you do, you may end up with self-centered, self-serving students.
Give students the opportunity to fulfill their inner drives. Help them find roles that enhance meaning, align with strengths, and make meaningful contribution.

#4. Clarify:

Students want to know what success looks like, how they add value, and what you add to the process.

#5. Intervene:

Students appreciate you stepping in when things go wrong.
When things go wrong, take responsibility with curiosity, compassion, and vision for the future.

Have you ever volunteered for something and it seemed as though that the only thing that was cared about was you showing up and completing the task?

Do you think students ever feel like this?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Are You Ready? - Motivation Monday #48 {December 1, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

Odell Beckham Junior, wide receiver for the New York Giants, is a household name because of one catch. The Catch. Labeled as The Greatest Catch Ever.

{Post update: Watch the video below to hear from Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on how they practiced. 
The video below is from ESPN.} 

After Odell makes the catch, he acts it's like it's just another catch for him. No big deal. 

Why? He was ready. 

He practiced that catch before the game. And probably a thousand times before that.

He was ready. Ready to make a catch while being guarded, falling backwards, and stretched out with a few fingertips pulling the ball down to his chest.

And what does OBJ say in the press conference afterwards?

"I hope it's not the greatest catch of all time. 
I hope I can make more."

Are you ready?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Week Off from School (but Not from Learning)

Our students were off the entire week of Thanksgiving last week. As a 12-month employee, we were scheduled to work the first two days of the week. I ALWAYS end up with more vacation days than required at the end of the year, so I decided to take 2 of my vacation days last week. In this blog post, I’m reflecting on the week and my "vacation" from school.

Over the holiday, I tried to stay off of social media as much as possible. I did get on a little to check for notifications and to read a few blog posts, but mostly I stayed off of social media. I did jump on Pinterest and other blogs a few times, but I spent my time reading and watching the Hallmark Christmas movies when I wasn't with family and friends.

What all did I do? Here’s what…

Little did I expect to start my week with a failure! I had signed up with a friend to run the magic City Half-marathon on Sunday morning, but when she hurt her neck and was unable to run and the weather was cold and rainy, I skipped the race. Instead, I painted furniture for my basement! I have a creative side that has been ignored for a while, so getting to paint was an outlet that I needed.

I had never painted with chalk paint, even though I had seen lots of furniture painted with it. I read Diane’s blog for her homemade chalk paint recipe (I used the Plaster of Paris recipe), then headed to Lowe’s to pick up supplies. I spent a few days painting and sanding, and I love the way it turned out.

Painting furniture led to rearranging the basement, which led to listening to old cassette tapes in the tape deck. I found one where my daughters were about 7 or 8 and were reading into a tape recorder. It was so precious to hear their sweet voices from that age. They couldn’t believe it, and we had a lot of fun listening to the tapes together. 

I hosted #ALedchat Monday evening. The topic was gratitude. For a chat during a holiday week, it was a small but mighty chat!

Even though I skipped the race on Sunday morning, I did several runs over the week. I ran 4 of the days, and also got back to working out. I did a lot of reading blogs looking for workout ideas. I have a space in the basement with a treadmill, kettlebells, dumbbells, and exercise ball. I’ll be back to working out 3 mornings a week (before work) starting tomorrow. 

Beautiful view from today's run

Traditionally, we put up our tree on the Friday after Thanksgiving. This year, we decided to go with a real tree, so we put it up on Friday and let it acclimate to the room. Saturday we put the lights on it and enjoyed the Alabama-Auburn game with friends.  Putting ornaments on the tree is one of my favorite traditions with my girls. We’ll be doing that tonight! 

Our first real tree in many years

I also learned how to make J. Alexander’s Chicken Pasta Soup (click HERE for the copycat recipe). Today is my food prep day for the week, which included turkey burgers, sesame green beans, butternut squash, and healthy tuna salad (made with Greek yogurt instead of mayo.) I’ve been reading tons of posts on Pinterest about once-a-month cooking, foods that freeze well, and healthy recipe ideas. (More learning!)

My older sister came to town for Thanksgiving, and it was wonderful to spend time with her and my parents and younger sister. My mom always cooks all of the Thanksgiving feast, so all we had to do was show up and enjoy. We shared lots of laughs during the two days we all spent together.

While I had a week off from school and social media, it’s been a FULL week. I’m looking forward to getting back to the groove of work for the next few weeks as we end the first semester of the school year. Tomorrow night we’re hosting #ALedchat with a special guest moderator, Dr. Frank Buck, who is an expert organizer. This is a great time to get new ideas about getting and staying organized as we close out the year and start a new one. Hope you’ll join us!

What have you learned recently that doesn't have to do with school?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gratitude - Motivation Monday #47 {November 24, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

If the video above will not play on your device, click here:

Tonight's topic on our weekly twitter chat is Gratitude. We hope you can join us as we kick off this special Thanksgiving week.

Everyone is welcome to join us Monday nights 9-10pmCST for #ALedchat. We value the insights, perspectives, and experiences of those in our PLN.

Click this picture for the time converter

TIP: If you have never done a twitter chat before, you may find it helpful to go to and enter the hashtag #ALedchat, then click on Go. The website will "filter out" all of the other tweets except for the ones with the hashtag #ALedchat. The website will automatically add #ALedchat to your tweets, and you will see a scrolling list of tweets from the chat on the page. (P.S. The hashtags are NOT case-sensitive.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Feature: Craig Vroom, Principal of Weaver Middle School

Thank you for stopping by for the Feature Friday post. This is a new series dedicated to highlighting leaders, educators, and innovators. Today's feature is on Craig Vroom, Principal of Weaver Middle School in Hilliard, Ohio.

Craig Vroom is a mover and a shaker. He's been an educator for 20 years, and more than half of that experience has been as a school leader. He's currently the principal of Weaver Middle School, and a member of Connected Principals. This summer, Craig and I collaborated to create the Compelled Bloggers Community, a blogging community of educators. Craig is very active on twitter and is the co-founder of #HCSDchat. You can follow this passionate leader at @vroom6, and his blog is found at

1. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My early childhood was filled with some of the greatest memories of my life. The neighborhood I lived in was filled with kids from one end of the street to the other. It was constant commotion, the kind we all yearn for. Therefore I knew early on, along with my mother as my mentor, it was an educator I would become.

2. What brings you the greatest joy?

I'm blessed to have the four greatest kids in the world (I'm biased of course), and seeing them learn things for the first time is breathtaking. Seeing all kids reach these new heights is equally as joyful.

3. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

That is a challenge, literally. However through the conversations with my wife who knows education we find the time to keep our priorities.

4. What is the best advice you've been given?

Listen. I was once told "you can't listen if you are talking". I have learned that the greatest lessons in life can come from hearing what others have to share.

5. What is a new skill you would like to learn?

Coding - I see my students doing this in their pre-engineering class and it is pretty amazing what they can come up with.

6. What’s on your bookshelf?

Lots. Read Teach Like a Pirate this summer. Also tackled Steve Farber's work. Now I am on to the book - Blended: Using Disruptive Innovations to Improve Schools.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?

It was actually the reinforcement that relationships are the key to our success in education. If you can't connect, you will not survive this job. They struggled with this and therefore was there Achilles. I continue to focus on relationships and grow them, foster them and respect them.

8. What’s on your bucket list?

Travel far and wide. I want to see the world. All of it.

9. You just won the lottery. What one thing would you buy for yourself?

Tough one. Aren't we programmed to giving everything to others? If I did buy something though, I would have to go with some new shoes. Yep, I said it, shoes!

10. What’s your favorite book?

The Places You'll Go - Dr. Suess.

11. What is your number one productivity tip?

File by pile. Know what needs to get done and organize accordingly.

12. If you could have one super power, what would it be? 

I would have to go with super-strength. Could move, lift and shift everything tossed my way. Figuratively and literally.

13. Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?

My grandparents and great-grandparents. They were brilliant people that lived during an amazing time. Need to learn more of my ancestry.

14. What would people be surprised to know about you?

Born in Ohio, raised in Rochester, NY, returned to Ohio for college and beyond. Was a legacy at Heidelberg University.

15. What was your favorite class in college?

English with Dr. Reed. She knew us through and through. Respected us, taught us, challenged us.

16. What quote do you live by?

Do unto others... Have to. It's key.

17. What is one thing you never, ever worry about?

Have to face all that comes my way. I can't worry about what I can't control. If I do my job, everything else should fall in to place.

18. If you could swap places with someone from the past for one day, who would it be?

Abraham Lincoln did so much for our country. Not on April 15, 1865 though. Just saying.

19. Who are your heroes?

Looking back through history, my heroes are those that have provided me the opportunities I have today. Without sacrifice from others my experiences would not be what they are.

20. What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

My parents were right, always.

Edited 2022: During the summer of 2021, we said goodbye to the Compelled Bloggers Community, as we all moved into different directions in our personal and professional lives.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Town Hall Meetings: Student Voice in Action

When I discovered Nathan Barber on twitter, it was like meeting a kindred soul. He is the author of "What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches," a topic near and dear to my heart. He tweeted something about Town Hall meetings that they do at his school, and it sounded like an awesome example of respecting student voice. I asked him if he would write a blog post for me... so enjoy today's post from this gifted writer. 

Student voice may be one of the greatest things school leadership can give a student body. Students need – not just want – to have a voice at school. Therefore, the challenge for school leaders lies in providing safe, meaningful and productive ways for student voice to be heard. For some schools outlets such as clubs and organizations provide students a voice. 

For other schools journalism in various forms offers students a voice. At my school, we decided several years ago to provide students with an actual, audible voice in the form of Town Hall meetings.The vision for Town Hall meetings at my school (an independent school in Houston, Texas) originated with my Head of School before I arrived five years ago. However, the first ever Town Hall meeting happened on my watch. Looking back on that first meeting, I’m often amazed at just how far our student body has progressed with the Town Hall meeting.

We use one of our gyms as the setting for each Town Hall meeting, as we have no auditorium to accommodate the seating arrangement we desire. We seat the seniors together on one side of the basketball court and the juniors opposite them on the other side of the court. We seat the sophomores on one end of the court and the freshmen opposite them on the other end. Faculty sit among the students. This arrangement allows everyone to see everyone else. Additionally, anyone who speaks can address the entire student body face to face. The conversations generated in Town Hall meetings certainly would not be the same if a student had to stand at the back of an auditorium and address the backs of everyone’s heads. 

The conversation for each Town Hall meeting centers on one or two narrow topics, issues or questions. When we began this process several years ago, students did not know the topics or questions before they arrived for the Town Hall meeting. We learned over time, though, thanks in large part to student feedback, that students and faculty alike much prefer learning the topic or questions a few days ahead of time so they can begin to generate thoughts. Therefore, we currently share the topic or questions with everyone a few days prior to the Town Hall meeting. As a result, we have enjoyed much livelier and more meaningful conversations.

At the time of the Town Hall meeting, after everyone has been seated, I open the meeting with a brief reminder of expectations: One student speaks at a time. Remain respectful at all times. Feel free to disagree but articulate disagreements respectfully. Keep comments focused on the issue rather than on a person. After the reminders, I sit down. We usually project the topic or questions on a screen for students to see and to help students stay focused. 

Outside that, we let the students drive the conversation.

Our school’s Prefects (our senior leadership team that we use instead of Student Council) stand at each corner of the basketball court with a wireless mic. When a student wishes to speak, he/she stands, and one of our Prefects hands the student the mic. The speaker has the floor and no one interrupts. The speaker is free to state an opinion, ask a question, make observations, etc., as long as it is relevant to the topic. When the speaker sits, another students somewhere else stands, takes the mic, and speaks. This process goes on for about 30 minutes. I should mention, too, that faculty may participate by responding, asking questions, and the like, but they must participate as a participant and not as an authority figure. In other words, faculty do not correct or redirect students during the process, even if they disagree with or disapprove of what a student says. As a result, students see the Town Hall meeting as a safe place to express themselves. After the time has expired, I stand, thank the students, encourage them to continue the conversation throughout the day, and then I adjourn the Town Hall meeting.

If you are white-knuckled just thinking about handing a mic to a gym full of students, I totally understand. As an administrator, a small part of me prays before each Town Hall that the students will not do something to embarrass themselves or the school. Admittedly, this feeling tends to be amplified when we have visitors on campus to observe. Nothing compares, however, to the unsettling feeling I had years ago before we held our first Town Hall. I still remember some of my teachers saying, “You’re seriously going to hand the mic to the kids and then sit down?” Oh my.

When the Town Hall meetings first began on campus several years, we always had a few knuckleheads who wanted attention and made silly and/or unrelated comments just to get laughter. After all, teenagers do silly things more than just occasionally. Over the years, however, this has disappeared almost entirely because we have created a culture where comments like those are discouraged and not valued, and genuine participation is valued. Even when comments have gotten off-track on occasion, school leaders have never in five years taken the mic from a student nor told anyone to sit down or be quiet. Above all else, the Town Hall remains a safe setting that students know we (the adults) will protect. The students value the safe environment in which they can express themselves and they do a great job of getting the conversation back on track with no adult intervention.

Almost always, the conversation in the Town Hall meetings gets cut off due to time restraints. We like this, though. When the conversation ends abruptly in the Town Hall, it continues organically in the halls and classrooms, particularly if the topic/questions/prompts are good. A few of the topics/questions we have used in the past include:
-What does it mean to be an Eagle (our mascot)?
-What is the value of social media?
-Why do students cheat? Can we stop cheating?
-What would our school look like without grades?

Choosing the right topics and questions can be tricky. Some topics generate more conversation than others. For us,  allowing our students to help select topics has been pivotal for the success of the Town Hall meetings. In truth, not every minute of every Town Hall buzzes with conversation. There often occur periods of time ranging from 30 seconds to two minutes in which no one speaks. The first time this happened, the 60 seconds seemed like an eternity. We have learned to let the silence hang momentarily and to wait patiently. The conversation always resumes. 

These short periods of silence no longer bother us because the same phenomenon occurs in our Harkness classrooms, too. As in the classroom, the students always revive the conversation. On some level, the Town Hall experience mirrors a Harkness classroom: everyone faces everyone else; students drive the conversation; all opinions have value; respect reigns supreme; and authentic, meaningful and rich conversation flows from students being given a voice. The Town Hall experience should not be attempted by the faint of heart. However, once the right culture has been established and once the kids and the adults get the hang of it, the conversations can be powerful.

Could you hold Town Hall meetings at your school?
What fears do you have when you read this post?
How does your school respect and allow student voice?