The 7 Questions every teacher should be able to answer

Food for thought…


The 7 questions every new teacher should be able to answer

June 13th, 2016




Teaching for the 21st century looks a lot different. Here’s what admins — and teachers — need to know for job interviews and beyond

Not long ago, the leadership team of a school district I was working with asked me: “If you were going to hire a new teacher, what would you ask in the interview?” They were concerned that hiring teachers with the right skills now can save a district a lot of money in staff development later. Moreover, they wanted to hire teachers who would be open minded about changes to come. The problem is to balance the reality of today’s pressure for test scores and required teacher evaluation with the changes that can be anticipated during the next two decades.

As I wrote in my last column, the traditional skill we have valued in teachers when paper was the dominant media—the ability to transfer knowledge of a subject—is becoming less important. Increasingly, a teacher’s knowledge can be found online and in various learning styles. As the internet drives down the value of a teacher’s knowledge, their ability to personalize learning with resources from around the world will increase. We will have more data generated about our students as we build out our online communities. We will need teachers who understand how to make meaning of this data to personalize learning for every student from a vast digital library of learning resources. Also, of increasing value is their ability to teach students to be self-disciplined about how “to learn to learn.” Rather than losing overall value, teachers will be more important than ever.

The big change is not adding technology to the current design of the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning and fundamentally changing the job descriptions of teachers and learners.

I offer seven questions we typically ask of teachers in the interview process, along with corresponding questions I think are geared to align with how the internet will force the redefinition of a teacher’s added value:

Current question: What do you know about your subject?

New question: How do you manage your own professional growth?

We typically hire teachers for what they already know, subject knowledge. But what may become more important is to hire teachers who have a great capacity for continuous learning. How do you find resources around the world that you can share with your students? How do you continuously learn?

I would hope that candidates would be able to demonstrate how they follow critical hashtags on Twitter, and how they participate in professional communities online, sharing with other teachers from around the world. Or maybe they’ve taken online courses on their own, from sources such or

Current question: How do you share what you already know with students?

New question: How do you teach students to learn what you don’t know?

A common interview question is to demonstrate a lesson you’ve created. But at a time when knowledge transfer is less important than learning how to learn, we may need to reframe this question to: How can you teach students how you learn?

Increasingly, teachers are going to be in a position where their students will have jumped ahead in the curriculum as they explore YouTube and iTunes U for content in the subject. Increasingly, curious students will come to class asking questions about the subject and the teacher may not know the answer. Teachers can either encourage this spark of curiosity and “awe and wonder,” or not.

Current question: How do you teach students to solve problems?

New question: How do you teach students to become problem designers?

With relatively limited access to information in the world of paper, we generally give (maybe spoon feed) students the problems they need to solve. We emphasize finding and memorizing answers. But now that the internet is replacing paper as the go-to media we need to balance our students skill set from finding answers to asking the most interesting questions.

A seminal moment that jolted me to understand the value of teaching students to ask questions came when I had the chance to spend most of a day with Stephen Wolfram, who invented the computational search engine WolframAlpha, along with his brother, Conrad. He was showing me the remarkable capabilities of this “knowledge engine,” which can instantly produce answers (and very often all of the steps) to traditional assignments, such as how to balance a chemical equation or to solve a math problem (even word problems). By the end of the day, it was clear to me that his tool was disruptive to giving students traditional assignments. We would either have to block it to prevent students from finding answers (cheating) or we would have to use it creatively to reach higher levels of creative thinking (teach invention).

I asked Stephan, “What do you think is the most important skill for students to learn, given their access to a knowledge engine?” He immediately said, “The ability to ask good questions. Almost all of the answers to traditional school problems are on the internet—What is not on the internet are the questions.”

If I were interviewing a new teacher I would love to hear their answer to “What do you believe are the most important skills to teach your students? I would hope that a successful candidate would answer, “Teaching students how to ask the most interesting questions.”

Current question: How do you assess student work that is handed in to you?

New question: What are your expectations for students to self-assess their work and publish it for a wider audience?

Researcher John Hattie has pored over nearly 1,200 educational studies from around the world to identify the factors that most strongly contribute to student success. Of the 195 independent variables he has identified, self-assessment ranks third on his list.

We need graduates who are independent. Yet in our schools, too often we’re fostering a culture of dependency, where kids are waiting for teachers to tell them how well they are doing. In some cases, our system of assessment becomes a ceiling for quality work. Many students will ask “What do I need to do to get an A?” The rubric for an A can lead can stop students from creating their very best work.

Giving students the tools to self-assess their work helps them develop a sense of autonomy, and research suggests it can lead to deeper self-reflection.

The good news is, we now have more tools to help students self-assess. For example, after a student attempts to solve a math problem or balance an equation he or she could produce a screencast explaining the thinking behind the answer. So now you’re getting students to reflect on their work, instead of just providing the answers. What’s more, you could have students go to WolframAlpha, type in the equation, and then compare their work to the steps that WolframAlpha provides. They can reflect on how their own work compares and where they might have gone wrong. This provides deeper insight for both the student and the teacher, and you’re also helping students take ownership of the assessment process.

Current question: What is your contribution to our faculty?

New question: What is your global relationship?

Many schools have formed professional learning communities in which faculty work together to improve instruction. Who can argue against the value of educators sharing best practices and how to help specific students? However, if all these conversations are limited to people you see every day, within the structure of a school, there is a very real danger that an echo chamber will develop that has serious limits to professional growth. There is even a danger of unknowingly perpetuating bad practice.

If you look at research on effective systems, it turns out that systems with some outside influence tend to become stronger over time. But many schools don’t really operate this way.

We need educators who value the ideas wherever they can be found. We need teachers who are willing to share their work and seek feedback from colleagues all over the world. For example, my colleague, Kathy Cassidy, first-grade teacher from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, seeks ideas from colleagues in Argentina, Italy, and many other countries. She shares student work with these global colleagues and is continuously gaining insights (see Kathy’s website).

Current question: How do you make sure students are on task?

New question: How do you give students an opportunity to contribute purposeful work to others?

This comes from Dan Pink and others who have written about purpose, and why it’s such a motivator for doing our best work. Educators know that all students aren’t motivated by grades; achieving a higher grade is an external reward (or punishment) given by someone else — the teacher. By adding a larger purpose to the design of student work, we may be able to have more students who are much more likely to become engaged and self-motivated.

For example, a friend of mine who teaches geometry in Istanbul had her students design the entire geometry curriculum for blind children. This requires a very deep understanding of geometry, because it’s challenging to understand physical concepts when you can’t visualize them.

My friend had her students visit with children who came to a center for the blind every Saturday, and over time, her students got to know these children well. When I talked to her students, it was clear that designing this curriculum gave them a deep sense of contribution or purpose. They went well beyond the required number of hours. When I asked them why they were spending so much time on the project, they said, “These kids need us. They expect us to come, as do their families. We have to do this work.”

Current question: How do you manage your classroom?

New question: How do you teach students to manage their own learning?

Traditional teacher evaluation systems often focus the evaluator’s observations on the teacher’s behavior. Much of this behavior is focused on creating students to become dependent upon their teacher. Many classrooms are set up to teach students “how to be taught.” What we need are teachers who can teach students to “learn how to learn”.

In a teacher-centric classroom, students are dependent on the teacher for direction. But compare that to a teacher who has taught her students to be self-directed and collaborative learners. Our society needs people who can figure out ideas from all over the world and manage their own work. This is a really important skill.

Learning how to learn

Notice that there are no interview questions that ask about the candidate’s technology skills. While an understanding of technology is essential, these questions revolve around the application of technology to fundamentally change the culture of the classroom.

Collectively, the questions move away from a classroom that is designed to “learn how to be taught” to one that highly values “learning how to learn.” In some ways, the teachers we need moving forward are the antitheses to the teacher skills we have been demanding. It will be difficult to avoid the tension that would naturally evolve between the two approaches to managing a classroom.

While disruption of the traditional classroom culture is inevitable, it would be impossible to simply flip a switch to the new one. We will need leaders who understand how to manage the transition.  Now is the time to rethink the added value of a teacher in the age of the internet and to redesign our hiring practices to match this new role.

I see you…

To Teachers everywhere…

Superhero Teacher button1

In case you think it goes unnoticed…

To the teacher who changed one small thing in your classroom thereby making a difference to the learning, I see you.

To the teacher who struggled to communicate difficult news to parents and managed to make them feel supported, I see you.

To the teacher who found technology challenging but overcame fear and got the children blogging, I see you.

To the teacher who wrestled with the option of an interesting job offer and made the decision to stay and make a difference, I see you.

To the teacher who had to deal with complaints, yet has risen to the challenge and decided to become the best educator possible, I see you.

To the teacher who thought she was ordinary and had to be pushed to realise her incredible potential, I see you.

To the teacher who was afraid to let go, but is gradually beginning to hand over control to the learners, I see you.

To the unassuming teacher, reluctant to put herself out there and share the amazing learning taking place in her classroom, I see you.

To the teacher who finds difficult situations intimidating and often blames herself, but works tirelessly to make things better for other human beings, I see you.

To the teacher who worried about managing what everyone else was doing and instead had the courage to try something different, I see you.

To the teacher who shifted from ‘doing school’ to observing carefully in order to be ready when the special moment happened, I see you.

To the teacher who measured herself against others and didn’t see herself as a leader but is ready to step up now, I see you.

To the teacher fearful of change, who clung to old ways of doing things and finally leaped out of her comfort zone, I see you.

To the teacher who is filled with self-doubt, always thinking he could have done better, not realising that’s how all good teachers feel, I see you.

Thank you.

Last 2 second year subjects! (insert happy dance here)

Well… say it’s been a while between postings is an understatement!
Since my last entry, I have knocked over another 6 subjects, and I’m now staring down the barrel of my final 2 second year subjects.  This means that I am over the hump of never ending units, and on the downhill slide to finishing and graduation!

To even say that word still seems so far away…. #2018ComeAtMe….but hey….I’m closer than I was yesterday, so that’s amazing!  What is also amazing is the fact that I have scored so well on my overall unit achievements thus far…..and I’m now hoping that I have not just mozzed myself with the final two….lol
Out of the 14 units I have completed, I have achieved 9 overall High Distinctions….3 overall Distinctions….and 2 overall Credits…!!  That is seriously nuts for a woman who works full time, runs a family & home and somewhere in between studies full time! #High5Me  🙂

So, this study period I am ticking off another 2 subjects: Inclusive education & Prac…and then….Helloooooooo 3rd year…!!!  EeeeeK  🙂
And….as a complete nerd, the SP starts tomorrow……but I have already completed weeks 1 & 2 for both units…..nothing like getting out of the blocks early!  🙂

Degree come at me..!!!  🙂


It’s been a wee while……anyone would think I’m freakin’ busy!


So, since my last entry I am VERY happy to say that **WOOHOO**…..I am into my 2nd year of my degree!
I won’t lie and say it’s been a breeze, as I’ve kicked my studies up to full time….on top of working full time, but it’s soooooooo ACE to see more units crossed off my list.  (…Sleep is soooo overrated..!!)  Having said that, I am also happy to say that I not only passed my last two units (Language & Literacy for teachers….and Childhood Development), but finished with overall Distinctions for both!
Who says you can’t teach oldies new tricks 😉

So, this semester I am completing Educational Psychology & Visual and Media Arts …..I think at the end of this semester I shall need some psychology advise myself, as they are pretty full on……but so far so good….

DORY BLOORY is still swimming  😉


3 exams, 1 micro-teaching video, and 2 learning journal portfolios (that consist of a combined 24 pieces of academic work) to go ~ yep…..I’ve sooo got this….

#CoffeeIsMyAcademicFriend   #ChardonnayIsMyCreativeFriend   #SleepIsOverRated

C’mon….Get Happy :)

I found this great article on “We are teachers”

Defeating Debbie-Downerism: 7 Tips for a More Positive Mind-Set

7 Tips for Improving Your Mental Teaching Game

Want to take a test? Of course you do! It’s the 21st century in education; testing is all the rage.

The test is simple. As you read this post, make a note of every word you read that rhymes with “YELLOW” (Feel free to write your words down as you see them). At the end of the post, you will be assessed on your observation skills.

In the meantime, consider a couple mentalities a teacher might have:

A) These kids are driving me crazy. I knew that they were going to be annoying yesterday, and sure enough, they were. I bet today students are going to roll in late, sit like a bunch of slugs and be rude any time I ask them to do something. Don’t even get me started on all the ways I’ll get interrupted as I teach; it’s like a flippin’ circus here.

B) I’m going to have some fun today. True, some students will look at me like a freak but—meh—I’ll still have fun. I believe they’ll perform well today also. I mean, we’re not talking Freedom Writers performance, but better than yesterday. I can handle mellow rather than raucous. It’s going to be a good day.

Which of these two classes will have more student annoyancesmore interruptions, more disruptions? The answer: I don’t know and neither do you. For all we know, they could be the same … Maybe class B is worse. But that’s not the real question.

In which of these two classes will the teacher be more annoyed? This question we could probably answer with some confidence. Teacher A is probably going to hate his/her life more than teacher B. Why?

Because you notice what you look for in life.

Confirmation Bias. The Tetris Effect. Both these concepts are critical for us to understand. In short, by priming our brains to focus on a certain type of stimuli, we increase it’s ability to find such stimuli. And we are more apt to focus our perception on our existing beliefs (e.g., I already think Kurt is a jerk, so I’ll notice his jerk-like tendencies more often). Relatedly, in noticing one type of details, we may miss another entirely.

In case you want a “video break,” here’s a great example:

Awareness Test

We notice what we look for, and we may miss important details in the process.

How often do teachers go into an experience expecting the worst? We meet with an administrator or dean lookingfor him or her to criticize our teaching. We conference with parents looking for them to blame us for their child’s ills. We surge our blood pressure looking for those mean punks in third hour to terrorize our souls. We draw our mental weapons, ready to duel the educational trainer or consultant who comes to our meetings. What kind of idiot are they sending us today? I bet they haven’t taught my students at my grade level in my classroom in my district in my space-time continuum.

This isn’t to say that we aren’t going to face criticism from admin, blame from parents, terror from teens or consultant hocus-pocus from time to time. But are we also looking just as hard for the good in our colleagues, communities and classes?

Let’s check in: Have you been noticing those words rhyming with “yellow”? Keep looking.

Before your test, here are seven ways we can foster and teach more positive perceptions.

1. Do Some Positive Prep

Before your next meeting, training or conference, set a goal of finding and writing down X number of positives that are helping the education of your students. Maybe it’s a caring colleague who has never lost her passion for teaching, even after 40 years. Maybe it’s an idea that could help minimize interruptions. Compete with a fellow colleague to see who can find the most positives.

2. Hand Out Goodness Awards

Make a weekly/monthly goal to bestow a “Goodness Award” to someone (staff member, student, etc.). Be sure to explain why that person has demonstrated a certain quality or goodness. Bonus: Between meetings, the current award holder must find the next award recipient.

A coveted award in our classroom

3. Seek Daily Gratitudes

At a habituated time each day, write down three things for which you are grateful. Clearly identify why you are fortunate for each thing. Be sure to check out some of theresearch on the short- and long-term effects of this practice. To stoke your inner techy, you can even use apps like Gratitude365 to hold you accountable. For more, consult the guru of gratitude, Dr. Robert Emmons of UC Davis.

4. Avoid the Downers in the Teacher’s Lounge

I’m sure you can think of at least a couple fellow teachers who always have some gripe-of-the-century to bellow at anyone in earshot (find them in their natural habitat: the teacher’s lounge). If you’re feeling particularly mopey, it may be worth avoiding these folks for a bit. If you can’t (or shouldn’t) avoid these people, be extra vigilant in looking for the good qualities in each person. Remember: If you go into a conversation looking for someone to be negative, you will find it. Or make a note to do one positive for your students or staff for every one gripe or excessive complaint a downer says.

5. Conspire to Inspire

Create positive conspiracies. Place a student’s favorite candy bar on his/her desk before class begins. Enlist your class to give a fellow teacher random high-fives throughout the day. Mail a positive, thankful note to a parents about their student. Most importantly, do these random acts of kindness anonymously so that the recipient doesn’t know who initiated it. The anonymity will require the recipient to see everyone as a potential source of positivity.

6. Kick-Start With Mood Boosters

Say hello to a brighter day or meeting by starting each session with positive shares. Students write compliments to hand one another (or place in a box to be reviewed and distributed later). Staff share “great moments” they’ve had that day or week before getting on to the learning or business. Parents must list three things they like about their child before commencing with the conference. Play an inspiring or hilarious video or read a positive news story in the morning.

7. Teach Tetris Effect Thinking

Ask students to take a mental note of every yellow thing they see in the next week. Make sure that students know their “observation skills will be assessed” by listing what they see. Remind them to look for the yellow each day. On assessment day, have them list out all the green things they have seen in the last week. After they spaz out and throw things at you in disbelief, explain the concept of “seeing what you look for.” Lead a discussion on the benefits of seeking positive observationswith their peers, with their classes and with their daily lives. Note:Please don’t actually grade students on their observations. If you do so, you deserve to have things thrown at youand for them to hit the target.

With that, it’s time for your test:

List out all the words you noticed that rhyme with GREEN.

I’m sure you took great note of all the words rhyming with YELLOW (there were four). But did you miss the words rhyming with GREEN (there were also four)?

You notice what you look for in life.

It’s important to note that there are still times in which criticism and judgment are necessary in education. Not every complaint is misguided. Not every day will be a Mary Poppins sing-along. Unrealistic optimism can be just as muchif not morecounterproductive to education as excessive pessimism. In only looking for positives, we may actually miss serious issues like bullying or violence.

Has the scale been tipped too far to the negative? Are we constantly setting ourselves up to only see the malice in every moment? Can we do more to find the goodness in every day, every student, every colleague and every part of our community?

Look for the green. You’ll find it. And you’ll love it.

7 Ways to Get Your Happy Back