Incentives Matter

Individuals’ actions are driven almost entirely by the reward, either immediate or long term, that is received from his or her action. Many studies in many different fields demonstrate this seemingly simple maxim. Sociologists and psychologists study its effect on human behavior; economists study its effect on markets and resource use. That incentives matter is nearly unquestionable. From an economic perspective, removing incentives decreases efficiency of business and society and discourages hard work. Again, many examples abound in the Soviet economies of the twentieth century and the state-run economies today. Incentives matter.

Recently while reading Charles Wheelan’s (@CharlesWheelan) book, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, Wheelan reinforced the importance of incentives in a very important way for me as a teacher:

“Meanwhile, American public education operates a lot more like North Korea than Silicon Valley… The pay of teachers is not liked in any way to performance; teachers’ unions have consistently opposed any kind of merit pay. Instead, salaries in nearly every public school district in the country are determined by a rigid formula based on experience and years of schooling, factors that researchers have shown to be generally unrelated to performance in the classroom. This uniform pay scale creates a set of incentives that economists refer to as adverse selection. Since the most talented teachers are also likely to be good at other professions, they have a strong incentive to leave education for jobs in which pay is more closely linked to productivity. For the least talented, the incentives are just the opposite… Any system that pays all teachers the same provides a strong incentive for the most talented among them to look for work elsewhere.”

Wheelan has written about teacher pay and incentives in more detail in his 2000 article for The Economist.

Problem #1– Teacher pay rewards all teachers in similar ways, not at all related to how well teachers do their job. What metrics, other than test scores, could be used to measure and incentivize good teaching?

Another particular incentives-related problem also bothers me. Students receive a fully-subsidized public education K-12, but a free education alone is not enough to bring students to school. States compel students to attend, or else families are fined. Clearly student incentives are not working well either, or else students would attend willingly every day.

Problem #2- What incentivizes a student to come to school consistently and try his or her best? The long-term incentives are great, related to better college and career opportunities, but what keeps students performing their best every day?

A lack of teacher incentives (as producers) means a lower quality product is produced for the market. No choice among services means student (as consumers) must consume a lower quality product with no short-term incentives. Both issues, among many others, produce less than perfect options all while society generally agrees with the importance of public education and spends millions every year to fund this system.

What incentives could reasonably improve the system, from either a producer or consumer experience? I pose this question to my high school IB Economics students. Their thoughts, in relative anonymity, will be posted as part of this blog. I would love to read your comments below, too. I am certain they will provide an engaging start conversation for my students to follow.

Hard work pays off.

Today Pennsylvania released its updated information for the School Performance Profile, scoring secondary schools across the state. The top performing school was the Downingtown STEM Academy, my school!

I wouldn’t trade my job for any teaching job. Period. That does not mean my job is easy. On the contrary, I am blessed to work hard for hard-working students, devoted teachers, and a very supportive community of invested stakeholders. No day is easy; every day is spectacular. I’ve shared these thoughts before, but now we have state-wide recognition for our work. [A Dream Job: Teaching at the Downingtown STEM Academy; Project-Based Learning at the Downingtown STEM Academy; and An Age of Mass Connectivity.]

Today’s announcement only validates that hard work pays off; our motto “Effort Creates Intelligence,” pays off. Students have been working hard for the past three years, so have teachers. Our school has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School every year we have been open. Students are continually recognized in regional and national competitions in academics and extracurriculars. Our students are being asked to speak at national conferences on the state of education. Our students are continually presented opportunities beyond comparison. Our students are engaged and want to come to school. All these factors make the school I work in the best school in the state; quantitatively and qualitatively.

Thank you to the administrative team and community for saying yes to such a bold endeavor. Thank you, students, for showing up every day willing to take a risk and work harder than you would have to elsewhere. Thank you to my colleagues for constantly inspiring students and fellow teachers to achieve at our highest potential.

Sit and (For)Get: Advice for Better Professional Development

As the new school year approaches, educational leaders get anxious, just like teachers and students. The start of a new year brings new challenges, among which includes teaching teachers– professional development. I hope to share some advice to make this year’s professional development more engaging. Teachers have a phrase for professional development-“Sit and Get”. I content it should be “Sit and Forget.”

The first faculty meeting of the year is your first “lesson” of your yearly professional development. This meeting should be as important to administrators as the first day of school is for teachers. As such, I have compiled some advice for new and veteran administrators alike. I am a classroom teacher, but I do lead monthly professional development as my building’s educational technology leader. My advice below stems from my experience as both a teacher and building leader.

1. Don’t forget your roots– You are a teacher at heart. As an administrator, you are a master teacher. Do not abandon tried-and-true teaching practices because you are teaching adults. After a full day of teaching, or with the stress of the upcoming year, teachers have so much on their minds. Use your good teaching strategies to make professional development enjoyable, meaningful, and useful. Everything that comes next really is a subset of this first point.

2. Start with the end in mind– With no disrespect to Grant Wiggins or Jay McTighe and their Understanding by Design movement, planning your teaching with the end in mind is really a simple concept. Think about how you plan a vacation. You know where you are going, and you make decisions about how to get there. Now, think about how faculty meetings are planned. Piecemeal? Start with the whole year in mind. What do you want the teachers to really learn? Set a yearly goal, share it, then plan backwards to get there. Design formative and summative activities to measure your progress. Make this plan apparent to your staff at the first faculty meeting.

3. Be prepared to fail– Planning a year’s worth of professional development means something will go wrong. Your plan will get amended for an urgent matter in your school. This is okay. Be willing to demonstrate to your staff how to handle failure. If you don’t model risk-taking and failure, how can you expect your teachers to know how to take these risks? While we are on failure…

4. Try new teaching styles (and technologies)– Many administrators want their teachers to flip their classroom content. Flip parts of the first day’s faculty meeting. Please follow some sound advice for flipping content, but experiment with it. Conduct some of your meeting in a blended learning style. Allow your teachers to BYOD and then USE THEM! Set up a Twitter conversation to run while you present. IF you want a less public “backchannel” try TodaysMeet. Again, be prepared for failure, but if you don’t model successful and failed attempts at these new(er) teaching tools, do not expect your staff to use them.

5. Abandon PowerPoint– Even if you manage to make a good PowerPoint, it’s not as good as you think. PowerPoint requires passive responses from your audience, at best. At worst, PowerPoint has negative connotations as boring and ineffective, especially when the presenter is on slide 5 of 54! Peter Bregman called it the number one killer meetings. Fortunately he also gives advice for making your meetings more interactive.

6. Chunk your time– Think 10 to 15 minute chunks. Carmine Gallo, for Forbes Magazine, advised readers on why a ten minute presentation is important. However you design your first faculty meeting, use different teaching approaches, technology, and staff input sessions to diversify your teaching. Over a three-hour meeting, this will mean plenty of changing. You can re-use strategies (i.e., have more than one flipped session), but try not to put them back to back.

7. Include your audience– Rather than handing down directives from above, perhaps you offer problems the school is facing, and through dialogue sessions discuss how or why certain solutions will work. Since you are a master teacher, you know you can still direct the audience to “your” answer, but if you help the idea organically grow from their input you will have greater buy-in. Interestingly, if you work this way, teachers will also understand the importance of a new change. Another way to include input could be to have staff create short recorded videos (1-2 minutes) on a rule or procedure important to the school. These videos, then, could be used to inform the students when they return. How powerful would it be to have the teachers convey the new rules rather than the principal running a long meeting with the students? There are dozens more ways to get your staff involved. Rely on your strengths and find what works best for you.

8. Make learning personal– As much as #1 was the key to the entire list, tip #8 offers a full-circle closure. Your staff will only retain the training if it is personal to them. Your veteran teachers and first-year teachers probably should not be in the same meeting the entire time. Perhaps diversify your message by grade-level or subject. You should really consider a needs-assessment for your staff before you begin. Does everyone need to hear everything you deliver? If not, you are wasting their time and squandering opportunities you can push them further.

If you approach your professional development this year as a year-long learning process and not piecemeal, you will find your teachers get more from your meetings!

Your First Days of School

I’m no Harry Wong, but after teaching for nine years, I have some very important suggestions for the first day(s) of school for both new teachers and the veterans among us.

I’ve been accused of being a reductionist in my views of education; I make complex issues too simple for some. I don’t think my reductionist view is nearly as bad as some of my critics point out, but I thought I should start with admitting their view. I take such a simple view toward education because I think most educators overthink education, making complex issues even more difficult to resolve. We, after all, are simply helping youth along a path of discovery. It’s pretty simple.

Let us begin with two scenarios.

Scenario #1- The First Faculty Meeting

One of your first teacher days back in the coming weeks will be for your first faculty meeting. I’ve taken part in these meetings for nine years, with many different principals and variations. Here’s what happens often. The administrator introduces new staff (usually with an ice-breaker of sorts), shares what is new, reviews the important rules for the school, and reviews expectations for teachers and students. I have experienced these meetings take upwards of three hours. I’m a pretty good listener, but in that time, there is information I will forget and have to revisit. My colleagues and I, knowing these meetings are long, are not excited for them. Yes, we understand the meetings are important, but they are long and difficult to get through.

Scenario #2- A Two-Hour Business Dinner

Teachers do not get to many business dinners, but let’s follow this thought example through. If you are invited to dinner with a new boss, you likely arrive at that meeting a bit apprehensive with many questions in your mind. What can I expect from this boss? Will my past practices be good enough or will I need to change? Will the boss like me? Will we get along? With these questions, and likely many others, what would happen if your new boss spent three-quarters of the time, 1.5 hours of your dinner, lecturing you on his expectations for you? What is your impression of your boss then?

Returning to reality, your first day of school with students is right around the corner. If the first day of school is like scenario #1, what good is it for students? Students who are required to mostly sit through seven hours of ice-breakers, new changes, rules, and expectations will likely forget most of them. This follows the same logic of why teachers should not lecture all day. If you don’t like full-day of lecture-based professional development, DO NOT DO THIS TO YOUR STUDENTS! Especially on the first day of school.

In scenario #2, the boss loses a great opportunity to make an awesome first impression. If you get talked to in this scenario, you are likely to think of your boss as autocratic. You might feel like your opinion is worthless. You might even feel like your boss expects you to act unprofessionally; otherwise why would he lecture you on his expectations and rules? You don’t break rules. This isn’t necessary.

You only have one chance to make a first impression on your students. Please think carefully about the impression you want to make.

I do not profess that these suggestions work for everyone, but below are some suggestions I have found very successful. I encourage you to think critically about them and whether they will work for you.

1. Get personal– Your students want to meet you. You want to get to know them. Make a strong first impression on the first day of school, the first moment you get to meet the students. Stand in the hallway all day. I like greeting students at the door, handshakes, hellos, simple conversations. I like to welcome students into our classroom. I’m not a fan of ice-breaker activities, but whatever it takes for you to develop a personal relationship with students, please do it. I put together a “Who is Dr. Staub” video slideshow for students [this year’s isn’t done yet…]. It establishes immediately that I am a person, not just a teacher. I encourage them to share their personal stories with me over the coming days.

2. Limit the rules– I teach high school (11th grade to be specific), so I know this applies differently to me. The more rules you have, the more it sets the tone that you expect the students to break the rules. Think about which rules are critical. I go over NO RULES the first day. In fact, I don’t list rules in a syllabus, hang them on my wall, or expect parents and students to sign. In fact, I have very few rules beyond: RESPECT EACH OTHER. I used to have laundry-lists to go over with students and get signed, and I found I would rather simply expect students to do good. When students break my expectation of respect, I simply talk to them. If the behavior continues, then I increase my behavior modification plans. It’s not about rules; it’s a personal approach to understanding students. Isn’t that what we want?

3. Don’t assign seats– Why do you need to? Here are the main arguments: (a) It helps me get to know the students. If you focus on a personal approach the first few weeks, greeting students at the door every day, you’ll learn names much quicker. (b) It helps control the classroom. Again, this presumes students will act up. If you let them pick their own seats and they act up, change their seats. Don’t presume they will act poorly. (c) It is required for my sub plans. I haven’t had seating charts for two years. Students are creatures of habit- we all are. Within two weeks, students will sit in the same seats anyway. Make a seating chart from their habits. You will likely not be absent by then anyway. If you are, think about what a substitute does. They READ aloud all names for role anyway. How helpful is a seating chart? If your students understand the responsibility of choosing their own seats, the students will act better for the substitute then they will for you. (d) If I make a seating chart, then I can move their seats. I need to mix the class from time to time. Don’t forget, you are the teacher. If you don’t have a seating chart, you can still require students to sit in specific areas. This is actually easier to do when students have a choice most of the time. While I am talking about seats, AVOID SITTING STUDENTS IN ROWS. We live in a connected world. Why isolate students from the genius around them?

4. Teach something– get the students involved- Give the students a positive reason for coming to school. Get into something worthwhile. Heck, make your first day your A+, best lesson of the year. Remember, this is about first impressions. Go BIG. Set the bar high for yourself. Demand the same expectations from your students in everything they do. Wow them!

5. Connect– Let students know how and when you are available, at school and electronically. Invite them to connect with you how you are comfortable. I have a school-specific Twitter and Gmail account. I allow students to chat and tweet me, professionally, at any time. Students who know you are available will come to you more often, even if this is just the hours you are available at school. Send an email home to parents sharing the same information. The more connected your classroom is, the better year you will have.

6. Refine your message– You will say something the first day of school. Practice it, and make sure it aligns with your vision and big goals for your classroom this year. This is why I do not go over rules. I feel rules set the bar too low. Rules tell students what NOT to do. Rather, here are some of the messages I want to work into my message to the class in the first week of school.

“I don’t care about your grade- NOT AT ALL. I care about how much you learn.”

“I expect to fail a lot this year, attempting new practices I am not comfortable with. I expect you to fail too. You cannot push yourself to new horizons by remaining with what is comfortable. If you fail, keep trying. You are only a failure when you give up trying to get better.”

“Effort creates intelligence. If you don’t give 100%, do not expect to get 100% return. It doesn’t work that way.”

“Your learning is personal, but you need others to help you reach your success. We learn best when we learn together.”


So, there it is. Please think carefully about what you do in the first days of school. Do not set the standards and bar too low. Do not talk at your students. Be engaging. Be personal. Smile. Laugh. Challenge their perceptions on what is known. Set the bar high. Repeat this model every day, and you will have the best year of your career.

You Matter and United Way’s The21 Campaign

At 6AM EDT Friday morning, I got the chance to prove to the world Angela Maiers’s belief, “You are a genius, and the world needs your contribution.”

On Friday, June 21, the United Way (@unitedway) ran a 21 hour event called The 21. Together with Google, “The 21 is a twenty-one hour broadcast of live programming in support of worldwide education… This first of its kind event will feature celebrities from the sports world, entertainment, leaders in the education field, and also everyday heroes who are making a difference in their communities through education… Think of it as a telethon reinvented for the digital age, except our goal isn’t to get money, it’s to recruit 21,000 people to pledge to become volunteer readers, tutors or mentors.”

Angela Maiers, co-founder of the Choose2Matter campaign, invited myself, three of my students, and five other professionals, to speak to the United Way and the global community about the Choose2Matter campaign. Angela came to the Downingtown STEM Academy in June and challenged my students to use their genius to change the world. Since that visit, she has been working tirelessly to spread the message of how successful Downingtown STEM Academy students were, and why this is important for public education.

The embedded video is segment grabbed from United Way’s YouTube Video, and slightly edited by me. Make sure you check out my students’ contribution (after a small technology glitch) around 50 minutes.

United Way #the21 from Justin Staub on Vimeo.

Angela Maiers’s town hall forum on the importance of her #YouMatter campaign in the global fight to improve education worldwide.

Below are a few of the key inspirational points I pulled from the video:

“[You Matter] is an “end run” around the school system.” -Mark Moran

“You are a genius, and the world NEEDS your contribution.” -Angela Maiers

“[You Matter] is not about you, it’s about us.” -Shawn Murphy

“Putting people of all ages under pressure to stretch is awesome.” -Ted Coiné

“[Some people] don’t respect children because they are young, and they don’t know anything. We have to fill their brains with knowledge. You know what? Memorizing stuff is not what school should be for. It should be for sparking their creativity.” -Ted Coiné

“If you’re telling me you want to change, get uncomfortable. It will feel different. Trust me, you will enjoy it.” -Tim McDonald

“WE is smarter than ME.” -Angela Maiers

“Those who don’t adapt will have someone else adapt them.” -Mark Moran

Special thanks to the following participants in the video:

Mindset Summer Book Study

Two years ago I first read Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Every summer I re-read her work and consider how it will change my professional practice. Because of my growing connectedness and sharing via Twitter, I have been asked to lead a Mindset book study this summer. So, here are the details I have worked out so far. Please add comments to this post or to the Schoology group if you want to adapt how we run our book study.

Who: I will moderate most book study sessions. I have no specific experience except having taught in a growth mindset school for two years and putting Dweck’s ideas into practice. I am privileged to work with colleagues who have all read the book and embody the growth mindset.

What: Twitter chats (#mindset13) and reflective discussion posts via Schoology. Create a free account and join our group discussion page.

When: June 24 – August 12 2013 with weekly Twitter chats on Mondays at 3PM EDT.

Where: On Twitter, using the hashtag #mindset13. Also, collected reflections will be posted on an open Schoology group. Please create a free account and join us there.

If you have questions, please add them to the comments below. See you during our Chapter 1 discussion on Monday, June 24, at 3PM EDT!

Dare to change the world

On May 18, 2013, I attended an education “un-conference” called EdCamp in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the movement. At the Saturday conference, I met Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers), who spoke with passion about her believe in student genius. Many educators at the conference were excited about her ideas, but when challenged to implement the vision in their schools, many recoiled. They asked, “What about the standards?” “What is your business plan?” “What if my administration says no?” Perhaps because I am daring, bold, or simply because I like a challenge, I raised my hand and asked to those who doubted- “Why would anyone stand in the way of your students daring to change the world?” I said yes.

The rest of the weekend, I spoke with Angela many times in person and on the telephone. By Monday, I had enough confidence to bring Angela’s and my idea to a set of innovative teachers at the Downintown STEM Academy. These teacher always focus my ambition and provide checks of reality. After a few moments, they agreed we should give this a shot.

I followed by emailing the Headmaster of the school and the superintendent of the district, asking for support for our plan—I wanted Angela Maiers to come to my school for a two-day workshop in the last week of the school year, AFTER students had finished finals. The biggest fear was whether students would show up. They gave me the latitude to continue, and I put aside the doubt and proceeded.

I believe it was Thursday, May 23, that Angela Skyped with some students of mine to discuss the possibility of coming to the Downingtown STEM Academy. The group of about 30 students were very excited. A colleague of mine and I then planned out the two-day event on Friday, May 24. The dates are important because this happened very quickly.

Taking a pause—many times in this process I doubted it would work. Would students show up? Would all teachers support it? Would Angela’s visit be worthwhile? Would Angela be disappointed? Could I organize support from all stakeholders? Would I disappoint them? If I had stopped at any of these breaking points, none of this would have happened. Public education needs risk-takers. Breaking barriers and making school better for your students requires daring and risk-taking. It would have been easy to quit, but my growing network of support kept me going. Voices joined together and said, “Keep going.”

Angela came to my school on June 3 and 4, and still on my way to school on Tuesday, June 3, I had doubts. What if the students didn’t buy in to her vision?

I have a personal belief that students excel with less boundaries; they will use creative, curious, innovate, and investigative means to reach new plateaus of knowledge. Teachers should support these endeavors, not block them with standards, tests, and requirements in schools. Would students buy in to my vision? I had no proof.

Well, Angela has already posted her view of the two-day workshop. More posts are coming.  Below is the proof- in two short days, these are just a few of the organizations my with which my students will change the world.

Do not underestimate the innovation of your students. Do not dare to take risks. Do not say no because everyone else is. Believe you can make an impact and you will. You matter.


Bikes with Benefits (@BikesBenefits)- Supporting emergency medical relief to isolated portions of third world countries. Visit our Facebook page. [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShvPMyZi-4o%5D

Brighter Days (@BrighterDaysOrg)- Raising money, raising awareness, saving lives. Taking suicide prevention to the next level. [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA0udPIOBk8%5D

Cancer Matters

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r82qAksJCRY%5D

Lunchbox Notes (@YouMatterLBN)- Lunchbox Notes sets forth on a mission to create a world where smiles are genuine and happiness isn’t rare. A world where thoughts count and actions matter.

Need2Lead (@Need2Lead)- Providing inner city boys and girls, ages 11-15, with a friend and mentor who teaches what leadership truly is.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA59JEHOyTg%5D

Valour Organization (@valour_org)- We’re setting out to change the world’s mentality toward mental illness. We are part of @AngelaMaiers #Choose2Matter [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2Yw7NObIIY%5D