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Changing Education One Post At A Time


She Said Yes To Him AND The Dress!

Posted by Tim under Personal

On Saturday, Chase Clark was finally able to officially propose to my daughter, Sarah. I say finally not because he was hesitant, or because there was some strange thing stopping him in the back of his mind. No. I think he’s known for a long time he was going to come to this moment. And Sarah knew what her answer would be long ago.

Chase simply wanted to propose to her in front of their families. It was a special moment that he wanted to share with those who love both them beyond measure. And…he wanted it to be a surprise.

You can see the result of our hard work in the blog post submitted by our photographer, Stephanie Richer. You can read that here.  Go ahead. Take a moment and look it over. Then come back and finish up here.

We started working on this a few weeks ago. Chase let Sarah’s mom and I know he was bringing her to Chattanooga from Florida for Easter. It was a time for both of them meet each other’s extended families and for those families to meet one another as well.

And as with a lot of things with Sarah, we hit a several road blocks along the way.

First of all, her mother (Lisa) and I enlisted the help of my other two daughters to pull this off. Alycce and Brittany went into full stealth mode to come up with a plan.

Sarah’s Saturday was to be spent looking at wedding dresses, then she and Chase would meet Lisa and I for dinner at a nice restaurant later that evening. Pretty simple plan, right?

Her sisters concocted a plan to meet for breakfast before the 10:30 dress appointment. Sarah was given specific instructions: be at your mom’s ready to eat breakfast and get your hair and makeup done absolutely no later than 8:30. That would give Brittany about 90 minutes to do makeup and try out a hair design, ostensibly as practice for the wedding. In fact, it was to make sure Sarah looked as good as possible for the pictures she didn’t know she would be in.

Sarah arrived at 8:30 on the dot. Then she proceeded to take a shower. And then she had to dry her hair. And then she wanted to eat before they got started rather than eating while everything was in process. As a result, Brittany had just under an hour to do makeup and hair for an engagement photo session. Did I mention that Sarah wanted a braid style Brittany had never attempted before? So there was some quick Pinterest searches for tutorials thrown in as well.

But we made it, and we were only about 5 minutes late for the dress shop. I can’t tell you about the dress except to say that Sarah found one that literally made her eyes sparkle with excitement. It was like a magical moment for all of us.

Sarah had a hard deadline to be back with Chase of around 2:30. So we had time to go out to lunch. It was at lunch that we found out Sarah had not packed any nice clothes. All she brought were sweatpants and t-shirts. And that wasn’t going to cut it for engagement pictures. We all reminded her that we were “going to a really nice restaurant” for dinner, so she agreed to buy something. And that made her late back to Chase (get used to it big guy!).

Then… out of the blue Sarah decides she needs to go back to her mother’s house to get some things just about the time Lisa was trying to bring things into the house for a family reception she was hosting for after the event. Lisa left until they were gone, but Sarah decided to take forever! While they were there, Lisa’s friend, Kristine, showed up early to help her out. She rang the doorbell, and heard a man’s voice inside, but no one would answer the door. She called Lisa to see if she was home, and Lisa told her to get out of there fast. Kristine said she would just tell them she stopped by to go to dinner with Lisa, and Lisa said, “No! They are going to dinner with me!” So they both hung out at Walmart for a while.

It seemed like everything would fall apart several times throughout the day. But they didn’t. Like Sarah said at lunch, things just have a way of always turning out for her. And, as I reminded her, the way things always turn out is that everyone around her runs around trying to pick up the pieces!

But it was worth it. We had most of the families tucked away at the Hunter Museum of Art. A few less mobile individuals were stashed at the Ice Cream Show at the foot of Walnut Street Bridge. Once Sarah and Chase passed that location, I texted those stationed at the museum to start down toward the bridge.

You’ve already read how Stephanie got them to pose for some pictures (you DID read it, right?), so I won’t repeat those details. But after she said yes, the crowd of family behind her started yelling and cheering. Sarah turned around and seemed genuinely surprised that a total group of strangers was watching them. And then, like a light bulb turned on, you could see in her face that she started recognizing people.

And that moment was worth all the planning. All the hassles. All the “we almost didn’t make its.” And we’re so thankful that Stephanie did such a great job capturing the moment.

Now if we can all just survive the wedding planning…


Sometimes Things Deserve a Second Look

Posted by Tim under Personal

Some time ago I attempted to watch the BBC series, Endeavour, found on Amazon Prime. Endeavour is a series that shows the early life of Inspector Morse (he never shared his first name, just the letter E) as a Detective Constable working with his mentor, Fred Thursday. I tried, but I just couldn’t do it. It lacked…something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

This week, after watching a few episodes of Inspector Morse I had never seen (they aired after I returned from living in England…thank goodness for YouTube!), I decided to try it again. I rewatched the entire first season. And now I’m hooked.

Endeavour sheds a lot of light on some of the nuances you see in Inspector Morse. For instance, Thaw walked with a slight limp. You don’t see it all the time. It seems to be more pronounced in later episodes. In Endeavour, he is shot in the leg and waits to see the doctor until a case is solved. The doctor tells him he will probably walk with a limp in later life.

Endeavour winds up being a bit of an alcoholic knocking down bottle after bottle of Scotch. His mentor, Thursday, tells him to lay off the spirits at work and only drink beer (socially acceptable in England) at lunch. Inspector Morse states that he is not an alcoholic, but uses the beer to help him think.

Morse’s love of opera is present from the opening scenes of Endeavour; a true fish out of water as an Oxford educated man who starts his police work as a constable. And one episode of Endeavour lays out where Morse developed his disdain for, and his continued troubles with, the Freemasons.

Inspector Morse’s boss, Strange, is behind Endeavour in promotions and tells Endeavour he won’t ever make it up the ladder on his brains like Endeavoyr will, so he joins the Freemasons to develop the contacts he needs to rise through the ranks.

There are so many layers of what happened in Inspector Morse, and it is done quite well.

Our interactions with students can often be the same. Just because a student acts up in your class doesn’t mean he or she will act out in other classes, or later years. They are, after all, still children even when they graduate from high school. If we get stuck with our first negative impressions, we do our students a grave disservice.

Sometimes things, and students, deserve a second look. And many times we are pleasantly surprised with what we find when we finally see the nuances of who they will become in later life.


Just Making Up Stories

Posted by Tim under Personal

(This post is adapted from something I previously put on Facebook)

In his book, Clear Leadership, author Geravase Bushe explains that we are wired to make sense of the world around us. We are meaning-making machines. We want, we need facts that help us understand what is happening in our world.

In the absence of facts, we start to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with stories that make sense to us. The stories we tell ourselves then take on meaning and become the reality in which we live.

This happens to all of us on a daily basis. A friend doesn’t speak to us at the water cooler at work. We wonder what the problem is. We start looking around inside our heads for scenarios that make sense. We settle on, “they are made at me for something I said yesterday.” We think about it. We analyze it. We decide it makes sense. And that becomes our reality. We don’t have all the facts, like the fact that they just received a phone call that a loved one is in the hospital in another state and not expected to live. They are preoccupied with their problem of whether or not to take off work and travel the 800 miles to see this person before they die, or wait and attend the funeral. No. We are settled on the “fact” that is about something we said.

There are two things we have to understand about this storytelling we do to ourselves according to Bushe. First of all, nearly all of the stories we make up are negative. Second, nearly all of them are wrong. But that story is now our reality, and we begin to feel badly toward someone over a story that has no basis in real facts. Yet, it is a settled reality in our minds.

When my wife and I would discuss problems with our children, or between ourselves, or about things at work, we began to change our vocabulary after discussing this book. We went from “this is what is happening,” to “the story I’ve made up is this.” It seemed more honest, and demonstrated an understanding that we don’t have all the facts, the story is negative, and the story is probably wrong.

This happens many times in news reporting. They are so quick to get a story on the air, yet they don’t have all the facts. It leaves people wanting to know more, and so they make it up. In newspapers, this kind of reporting may get one or two news cycles, then it drops off the face of the earth (thank goodness). But in a 24-hour news broadcast on television, they bring in all kinds of analysts who do one thing: they make up stories about what might have happened. And, depending on where your predisposition for belief lies (MSNBC or Fox News are two polar examples), you will believe whatever scenario is being shared even though it is totally made up, negative, and probably wrong.

It happens in our classrooms as well. Johnny acts out in class. We don’t know why he is doing this, and we don’t have time to be a psychologist. So we make up a story. Johnny is being disrespectful and needs to suffer some consequence for his actions. That story is negative and probably wrong. We never stop to think about other possible scenarios: Did Johnny get enough sleep last night? Did he get into an argument with his parents before school? Did he break up with his girlfriend, or did she break up with him? Is his grandmother ok? Did one of his parents lose his or her job? Did he lose his home? Is he being abused in some way?

No. It is far easier to just decide that the reality is Johnny is disrespectful, so he must be sent to the office.

In order to change the way we interact with one another, we are going to have to change the way we think about the behavior of others. A good place to start is to be honest with ourselves. Saying to yourself, “The story I’ve made up is _______. I know it is negative, and it is probably wrong, but it is the first thing that made sense to me” is a good habit to begin in this process.  Then, take time to investigate the facts before you settle on a reality. Otherwise, you’re just making up stories.

If you would like to read more about this principle, click this link. Over the picture of the book, click “Look Inside,” and go to page 19.


When You Think It’s All Gone Wrong…

Posted by Tim under Personal

I’m just finishing up a week’s vacation planned around doing some photo walks and taking pictures. When I set it up, I had these delusions of grandeur about how this would all work out.  I could not have been more wrong.

The weather was a total bust. Gray, dreary skies with no clouds meant meaningful landscapes are out. Then it rained. And I forgot to wipe off my camera lens during the drizzle, so an entire morning of photos turned out useless. But no problem right? Just move indoors. That’s when the freeze hit. Roads were shut down. I spent 2 days in my hotel room.

As a result, I’m going back home with just a handful of mediocre pictures that have little context or intrigue. It would be easy to chalk this up as a total bust where everything that could go wrong did.

But it’s not.

I got one really clear, handheld panorama shot using a new technique I found on YouTube. This is something I’ve been struggling with for a long time, and I think I may have finally started down the right direction.

And I concentrated more on my focus technique than “wow” shots. As a result, my images are more tack sharp than they’ve ever been before. They may not be great images, but they are incredibly focused pictures. And that counts for something.

It was like this when I was a Christian Servicemen’s Center Director in Scotland and England. On more than one occasion I would end a sermon and feel that I simply failed to connect. I missed the point. It had no clear ending with any meaning. And then, while chatting with people after the service more than one would come up and tell me how much the message spoke to them, or how it fit where their life is right now. I thought the evening was a bust, but…

It is the same in our classrooms. We are constantly connecting with kids in ways we cannot even imagine. Even on those days when our lesson plans get thrown out the window, or that kid acted out again, or the laptop crashed, or the SMART Board bulb blew, or the myriad of other things that can, and do, go wrong on any given day.

As a teacher, you are making a difference in the lives of children that often goes unseen at the time. You may feel like you failed to connect. Sometimes you can’t judge your effectiveness by a classroom full of kids. Sometimes you have to look at the one. Look at the one student that simply needed you to show up today. Look at that student who needed the positive 30-second feedback you gave them and left the class standing just a little taller as a result.

When you think it has all gone wrong…it didn’t. Don’t lose sight of that.


What You Can Learn From a Headshot

Posted by Tim under Personal

Recently, my yearbook photo was published online. It looked fine in the yearbook. It looked like every other faculty picture, so it fit its environment. But it looked awful in the context in which it was published. You’ll see that image on the left below. My shirt is almost the same color as the background. (Don’t pay any attention to its blurry-ness. That’s a by-product of stretching it to make it the same size as the one on the right). My smile is mediocre. It looks washed out and tired.

So a friend of mine, Stephanie Richer, suggested I get some new headshots made. It was the right suggestion at the right time, so I did. And here is what I learned.

Obviously, a yearbook photo is a photo-mill where you sit for less than 30 seconds, get told to turn your head slightly downward and to one side. A couple of photos are taken…and boom…you are dismissed for the next person. They look homogenous, and taken as a whole on a yearbook page, they work out okay.

A professional headshot is different. The photographer wants the finished product to not only be the best representation of his or her client, but also of their own work. The professional photographer tries to make sure the surroundings are somewhat unique and aligns with your personality or style.

The yearbook photo usually has two umbrella-style soft box lights used to both light you and the screen behind you. We don’t want any shadows. Everything is lit equally, and the background appears to be pretty much as in focus as your face.

The professional headshot takes lighting entirely differently. There is a soft box light off to one side in the front. It is set up light one side of your face, but allow the other to fall into shadow a bit. There is a reflector placed just below you to bounce some light back up onto your face and take out some of the heavy shadows of your chin or nose. And a light over your back shoulder to help separate you from the background that falls off into a heavy blur in order to truly highlight what the photo is about…your face.

The yearbook pose is “sit here, turn your body to the right, turn your face back toward me, down a little, and smile.” Snap. Done.

The headshot is quite different. I was sitting on a bar stool. I had to learn my entire body as far forward as I could toward the soft box light while putting my hands slightly behind my back. Then, I stretched my neck forward and tilted my head slightly. It was not a natural pose. It was a bit uncomfortable. But the camera catches something entirely different and it looks amazing even with an older gray-haired guy in the shot.

The yearbook photo is “smile.” It looks forced. It looks flat. It looks a bit uncomfortable.

The headshot is “I need to get you to laugh, because that looks like a  much more natural smile through the lens.” And laugh I did. Stephanie is quick-witted with a great sense of humor, and I was laughing in spite of myself. And, as long as you don’t laugh with your eyes closed, it looks like a very natural smile. (I chose a different picture for the comparison here in order to have a more even look across both images).

And here’s my take away. You’ve been very patient to wait for it.

In the classroom, everyone doing the same thing from class to class may be effective if you are trying to work on a factory model of education. But the bottom line is that it is flat, forced, and fake. It won’t have the impact for which you hope.

To teach, to teach effectively, one must be individualized. And a bit uncomfortable in the process. You need to be stretched. Contorted. And pushed to do things you ordinarily would not do. Kids relate to that like the camera lens relates to weirdly contorted poses.

Yearbook photos have their place. In yearbooks. Don’t be a yearbook photo in the classroom. Be your own personal headshot. The difference will amaze you.


Live to See

Posted by Tim under Personal

It is always interesting to me how two people can witness the same events and come away with totally different stories about what happened. Watching the same movie. Watching the same TV show. Watching the same presidential speech. Reading the same book. Reading the same news article. Reading the same Tweets.

It all comes down to the lens through which we view the world. And that lens changes over time. And no two lenses are the same.

I was raised in the North by Southern parents. That’s a lens. I was raised in a fairly conservative Pentecostal tradition. Movies were bad. Drinking was bad. Smoking was bad. At one time chewing gum was bad. That’s a lens. I went to an all-white elementary school.  That’s a lens. I attended our church college. That’s a lens. I was married with a child at 19. A college drop-out. That’s a lens. I’ve lived in Indiana, Illinois, South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Scotland, and England. Those are all lenses that impact the way I view the world.

I was once the Christian Education Director for both the Protestant and Catholic chapels at RAF Mildenhall in England. Definitely a lens! I’ve been married twice and divorced twice. Lenses. I have three daughters and zero sons. Each one changes the focus of my lens a bit. I came into education at age 42. A lens.

You get the idea. You’ve got your own unique life experiences that give you a particular lens through which you see the world. Some lenses are empathetic. Some are hostile. Some fearful. Some bold. Some conservative. Some liberal. Some gay. Some straight. Some religious. Some not so much so.

So, when you read things on social media, or watch things in the news, or read the papers, understand that no one has exactly the same take on that information that you do. It does us no good to lash out at people who see things differently from us. It does no good to call people names, or threaten, or refuse to listen.

Each encounter we have that is different from our own worldview helps us focus our lens a little better. A little differently. Refusing to allow others to impact us leads to the macular degeneration of our worldview. It becomes myopic. Covered in cataracts. And soon, we are blind.

Live to see.


I have written often about my battle with weight. I’m back in it now. Having reduced myself to 215 pounds, and feeling really good about hitting my goal, I took a break a while back. That break led to more and more unhealthy eating. When I finally hit 233 pounds, I hit a wall in my head that caused me to make a turn and try to start peeling back the pounds once more.

I’m about 99% on a Paleo diet. I make cheating choices occasionally that still fit the low-carb mindset, but might fall outside the pseudo-science of the Paleo diet.  It’s really about low-carb, real-food choices as opposed to the quick-and-easy fast food route.  And it’s working.

At least it appears to be working. (No, that is not my scale).

They tell you to only weigh about once a week when you are dieting.  That makes sense to me, since you should not be obsessing about where you are on the journey.  Make healthy eating and living choices, and let the weight fall where it will.

Yeah.  I don’t do that.

I usually weigh before bed and again when I get up the next morning. I want to know, with more immediacy, if I have strayed too far too quickly.  However, I do only record my weight in the LoseIt app on Sundays.

I’m two-and-a-half weeks back in the game. As of this past Sunday, I had gone from 233 pounds to 227 pounds.  I’m very happy with 2 pounds each week. I’m looking for results.  Not magic.

Yesterday, other than purchasing a Cobb Salad for lunch (which fits the Paleo guidelines), I did not do anything any different from any other day of eating.  Tuesday morning I verified I’m still at 227. This morning?  230.

Two hundred and thirty. A gain of 3 pounds in one day. What the….?

There is a part of me that understands this is a fluke. There are physiological reasons for this. The frontal cortex of my brain that controls logical thinking tries to assure my inner self that this will just disappear in another day. It is an outlier.

Then there is the lizard brain that shouts at me, “My God, Childers! A three pound gain in one freaking day? Are you serious? You are a failure, that’s what you are! A pretender! Just give up and eat what you want. You’re going to do that anyway. Your tombstone should read, ‘At least he ate what he wanted.'”

Some of you can relate.

Are teacher evaluations any different? Our teachers teach three classes every day.  They do this for 180 days.  540 lessons taught in an average year.

We look at 2 or 3 of them and make decisions on what the other 537 looked like throughout the year.

The tyranny of a single data point can be the difference between an under qualified teacher thinking they are rocking it with their kids, or the proverbial rock star thinking they are simply a failure pretending to be a good teacher.

Our teachers deserve better than tyranny.


I hate grading.  No, not the actually giving of feedback on student work. I hate those numerical distortions of what that work actually means. The reasons we are stuck with grading are myriad.

  • Parents expect them (is there any way my child can get this high enough to at least be a B?).
  • Kids obsess over them (how much late work do I need to turn in to get at least to a 70?)
  • The press obsesses over them (this year’s valedictorian beat out the rest of the pack by less than 0.1 point)
  • Colleges look at them (what was your overall GPA?)
  • Grading is easier because of them (you got a 75 out of 100 on this assignment)

But what do they mean exactly?  Take a look at this chart:

This is a list of 10 grades for a teacher grade book. They are totally arbitrary in that they don’t represent any particular grade book.  On the left, the teacher decides that every missing assignment deserves a zero. On the right, the teacher feels that is too harsh and gives missing assignments a 50 in order to keep the kid from giving up.

In one class, the student receives a 45 average.  In the other, a 70.  The kid did exactly the same work. Even extra credit for the teacher on the left (don’t get me started on extra credit) won’t bring this grade up to passing. Both teachers gave a significant failing grade to missing work.

Or, take the tale of the teacher who gives 10 grades per grading period compared to the one who gives 25. Averages begin to change quickly. Poor work is penalized less when surrounded by more helpful grades.

Even emojis work better as feedback than arbitrary numbers on a page.

The Thumbs Up – I really like what you did here. It met the basic requirements of what we were looking for and is considered along the line of average work.  Good job!

The Heart – You went above and beyond on this assignment. You not only covered all the basics as required, but you added a lot of things that really made your work stand out. Keep it up!

The Laughing Face – I am absolutely giddy with delight over this work. It is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t give out laughing faces lightly.  Well done!

The Surprised Face – Your work was really good. I’m happy to see that you included some elements I hadn’t thought about while reading it. I liked it so much, I’m going to change the way I look at this assignment in the future. I’m going to add some of your elements to my expectations. Way to go!

The Sad Face – I truly wish you had worked just a little harder on this one. It was close, but it did not meet all the expectations we laid out in the rubric for this work. I’d love it if you would try again. After we go over some exemplary work product in class, see if you can figure out where you went wrong and submit it again after you edit it. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask me. Stay on it!

The Angry Face – This didn’t even come close to our expectations. In fact, you didn’t cover the material expected at all. I cannot accept this in it’s current state. Please do a complete re-working of your submission. Editing won’t help it. Stay Focused!

What do you think? What are you using that’s better than grades?


You’re Killin’ Me, Smalls!

Posted by Tim under Personal

Most of us of a certain age probably remember the movie, The Sandlot. It was an irreverent look at a sandlot baseball team made up of misfits who eventually come together and make something great of their team. Reminiscent of The Bad News Bears, it made us laugh at the uncomfortable situation of knowing these children were acting and talking like adults often do. After laughing, often times we might even be embarrassed by the fact we found something funny.

Because, you know, if that were my kid, it would not have been funny at all. And he may not have survived to play another year.

But it wasn’t my kid.  It was somebody else’s kid. It was somebody else’s problem. We could laugh at the words of these foul-mouthed youngsters because they were going home to some other parents.

It’s a fine line for teachers. Elementary teachers often have 25 to 30 kids in their classrooms that are theirs, but yet they are not theirs. Middle school teachers might have 125 to 150. Some high school teachers have nearly 200.

While they are in our classrooms, we expect them to act like they are our kids. Our rules. Our norms. Our expectations. And yet, a small group of students don’t do anything of the sort. They act out. They can appear to be hurtful and cruel and unfeeling and often seem to totally lack empathy.

It is interesting as a teacher observer to watch students in the classroom. I’m somewhat detached from the goings on. Just a fly on the wall. If a kid acts out, I have the freedom to sit back and figure out the why of her actions. Was she just hit by another student? Was she ignored by the teacher? Did someone take her backpack? Did someone invade her personal space by touching her arm with their finger?

Teachers are busy. They are juggling 17 balls, 8 plates, and 3 very sharp knives all at once all day. They can easily miss the cause of the behavior and focus only on the after effects. And, just like that, the student who was actually a victim becomes the villain. Hallway talks take place. Office referrals are sent. Parent phone calls are made.

I know. I was once in that position and making mistakes with kids all the time. Dealing with these behaviors, and their root causes, is something it takes most teachers several years to master. A few are naturals. But not all. Not by a long shot.

I struggled with classroom management as a new teacher. At the end of my first year, my principal basically said, “Childers, I’ll give you the summer to figure it out. But if it is like this next year, there won’t be a third.” Not exactly helpful, but at least it was motivating. And I figured it out. Mostly.

While I’m observing teachers I watch with more than a little envy while some of them just seem to have kids eating out of their hands. They’ve made that all-important connection. Kids that misbehave everywhere else calm down and do what is expected in this one class. I long to be like that as a teacher. As an administrator. Heck, even as a dad.

Two quotes have guided a lot of my in-class practice.  The first is from that same administrator I mentioned earlier.  He was quite fond of saying, “If you can’t control them, you can’t teach them.” And the second comes from my first Christian education textbook. “If the student hasn’t learned, you haven’t taught.”

Me? I’m better known by one of the more famous the quotes from The Sandlot.

You’re killin’ me, Smalls!


How Personalized Can We Get?

Posted by Tim under Personalized Learning

There is a big push across the country to personalize learning. As educators, we just shake our heads. Of course learning is personal. We’ve known that for decade upon decade.

And yet…

  • We standardize curriculum
  • We standardize classroom spaces
  • We standardize teacher preparation
  • We standardize testing
  • We standardize teacher evaluations
  • We standardize lesson plans
  • We standardize technology purchases
  • We standardize professional development
  • We standardize report cards
  • We standardize PBL
  • We standardize online learning programs
  • We standardize graduation requirements
  • We standardize maker spaces
  • We standardize libraries
  • We standardize textbook adoptions
  • We standardize IEPs
  • We standardize Response to Intervention
  • We standardize staff sizes
  • We standardize school lunches

I could go on, but I think you see my point. I get it. Standardization is scalable. It’s quick. It’s easy. You can budget for it. It fits nicely into a Google Sheet or a standardized PowerPoint file.

But let’s not kid ourselves. It isn’t personal.

And now it appears we are attempting to standardize personalization.

How personalized can we get in that environment?





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