Wednesday, May 3, 2023

You have two seconds...Part 2


  • You have two seconds to grab and hold your students’ attention. They have conditioned their brains to consume content they wish to consume for short periods of time.
  • Students lacking attention, focus, and respect for elders is not something new so how do we become better teachers tomorrow than we are today?
  • Three principles that help us be better teachers: (1) build relationships (2) provide opportunities to struggle and fail (3) make learning relevant.

You Have Two Seconds

Back in November 2022, I wrote a blog post titled, “You have two seconds…” about observing my 8th-grade students coming in and out of focused attention. I observed that I had about two seconds to snag their attention and once I had it, I had about 12-15 seconds before it was gone.

“I believe that students have conditioned their brains to do two things: First, they only consume content that they want to consume. If something shows up on their screen (TikTok, Instagram, Netflix, YouTube, etc.) that they don’t like, they do not watch it. They scroll up. Next.

Second, they refresh their attention every 15-60 seconds. TikTok videos average 21-34 seconds and Instagram Reels average 15-60 seconds with bloggers and influencers stating (limited sources) that on both platforms the “best” length for video engagement is 7-15 seconds. They will watch it until the end, building up the algorithm better than if they scroll off a 30-second video when they are only 15 seconds in.”

I am a better teacher today than I was before I wrote that post due to the conversations I have had with parents, teachers, and administrators about our observations. One of my good friends who is now the principal of an elementary school printed it off and used it as professional development with his staff. He said that the conversations in their small groups were incredible!

You may only have two seconds to gain and keep a student’s attention: Use it wisely!CLICK TO TWEET

Those conversations have made me a better teacher today than I was yesterday, but I want to be better tomorrow than I am today!

Before making those observations and putting my ideas down on paper, I would get frustrated with the lack of attention, lack of focus, and what I considered disrespectful behavior. As a history teacher, I know that this is not the first time that a teacher has been unhappy with the mental behavior of their students, so I went back a little over 2,400 years and found this gem:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
― Socrates (470 B.C – 399 B.C.)

In 400 B.C. students didn’t have SnapChat and TikTok, but the same types of issues arose. Lack of attention, inability to focus…Interesting!

So how do we become better teachers tomorrow than we are today?

The techniques, language, and classroom dynamics have changed, but I believe that the overarching principles have stayed the same. Here are three that always float to the top of my thinking.


People don’t want to be alone. Biologically, we are meant to be in a tribe. Unfortunately, we can be in a room full of people and feel completely alone, chasing the next dopamine hit on social media. Building relationships between students can be difficult, but it’s something that must be done. I’m a firm believer that it must be done face-to-face. There are about 100 million (rough estimate) team-building and relationship-building games you can find based on the age of your students and their ability level. Fun, silliness, and laughter will help build friendships within your classroom.


I use the example of “Playing Madden on Rookie” to describe this. Once and a while, it can be fun to put up 100 points on a video game, but in reality, it’s not as fun as you would think. Daniel Coyle in his book, “The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else” states it this way, “Struggle is not an option: it’s a biological requirement.” He continues, citing a study from 1995:

“According to a 1995 study, a sample of Japanese eighth graders spent 44 percent of their class time inventing, thinking, and actively struggling with underlying concepts. The study’s sample of American students, on the other hand, spent less than 1 percent of their time in that state.”

Wow. If you read about the training routines of Kobe Bryant (I recommend, “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play”) and Michael Jordan, you will find some of the same ideas about struggling and pushing to be better.

We can do that too. Your students are more capable than they think they are.

With struggle comes failure. But is failure so bad? When I was teaching Pre-K thru 5th grade S.T.E.M., I routinely heard the following progression from students as they were attempting something difficult.

“It’s impossible.”
“I can’t do it.”
“I think I got it.”
“This is easy!”

What I observed in my S.T.E.M. classroom wasn’t a new concept. Benard Shaw (1856-1950) said, “People who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those who are doing it.” Help your students get out of their own way! Read my blog post “Prepare to Fail!

[scroll down to keep reading]


I’m not talking about the speed of light as Einstein was. Wait. Yes, I am, just in a different context. As a “more seasoned” teacher, I grew up without cell phones, iPads, Instagram, and Netflix. However, our students will never know such a world. To them, everything happens quite literally at the speed of light.

Putting that history teacher hat back on, something I struggle with every day is making events of the past relevant to events of today. Luckily, the last few years have been rich with “history repeated itself” moments. Arguments over free speech, taxes, war, and the environmental impact of industry are all hot topics of today. They were also hot topics in the 1760s, 1810s, and 1890s.

It doesn’t take that much more effort on the teacher’s side to intertwine my history lessons with modern-day events. This enhances my student’s experience in the classroom and challenges some of their preconceptions about history.

This idea of making the material relevant also sets them up to struggle in order to make connections between something that happened two days ago with something that happened two hundred years ago. Lucky for our students, because of the relationships that they build with their teachers and with each other, those struggles never have to be faced alone.

You may only have two seconds to gain and keep a student’s attention: Use it wisely!

Monday, February 27, 2023

Do You Have a Wish or a Goal?

 The Problem: “I wish…”

As the first semester came to a close, I sat down with a young lady who was frustrated about her grades. For a nine-week quarter, my U.S. history class usually has between 8-12 assignments based on what projects are associated with the material. This young lady missed four assignments and had done poorly on the assignments she turned in. Almost in tears, she said, “I wish I could do better but I just can’t!”

I sat down next to her and pointed to her first quarter grades where she had an A- and said, “You can do better! You have done better!”

Slumped in her chair, I asked if she had ever heard of a growth mindset. She said that she hadn’t, and I asked if she would be willing to hear about it because I was sure that it would help her get better grades. She said “no,” so I went back to my desk.

As I reached my desk she came up and said, “Ok. Fine. What’s a growth mindset?”

I gave her a basic definition and explained that if she really wanted to do better, she would need a plan. I said, “A goal without a plan is simply a wish. You can wish to do better or you can plan to do better.”

The classic middle school eye-roll and hair toss was followed by, “I don’t know how to make a plan, so I guess I don’t know what to do.”

Teacher mode: ENGAGE!

Setting a Goal: Process Over End State

As I walked her through a plan to improve her grades, we took it one step at a time, answered some basic questions, and came up with some simple ideas to turn her wish into a goal. Her entire plan consists of three items on a sticky note with a date that is taped to the inside of her computer case. Your plans may be more intensive, but the same process can help you improve at anything from a personal best in the gym, reading more books, or your classroom instruction.

What does the end state look like and what process do we need to get there?

This is a big-picture item. For my young student, the end state was earning a B+ by the end of the third quarter. She had earned an A- during the first quarter, but to her, shooting for that goal was “too big” after such a lapse in quarter two. Some like to use “SMART” goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely), while others like to concentrate on the process. I am a process-oriented person, so I try to look at what can we do every day that will get us to the goal we want.

In order to earn a B+, what has to be done?  Her simple answer was this: “Turn in my work.”

I said, “GREAT! Now how are you going to do that?”

She came up with two items to make sure she can turn in her work. The first was to use her class time to complete her work, and the second was to use primetime (our version of homeroom) to catch up on any missing assignments.

What resources do you need to continue the process every day?

Maybe you have everything you need, maybe you don’t. It’s important to identify where the resource gaps are so that you can fill them. In the case of my young student, she needed her computer to check grades and her class materials for each class. Her computer isn’t an issue. She remembers to bring it almost every day. On the other hand, bringing a pencil to class is a struggle!

After a short brainstorming session, she decided that the best place to keep a pencil was in her computer case. Sometimes the simplest plan is so obvious. It makes us laugh out loud when we finally figure it out.

The ratio of 4 to 1 vs. 1 to 4

To ensure she brings the materials she needs to class, we did a simple change in her passing time schedule. She is very social and likes to use those five minutes in-between classes to catch up with her friends. The problem was that she would spend four minutes talking with her friends and one minute frantically trying to grasp what she needed for class. Often times this left her in class without a book, or the wrong one, half-finished work left in her locker, and…shoot…where’s my pencil?!

The simple change was to bring her materials to class in the first minute (if it takes two, that’s okay) and to spend the last few minutes of her passing time talking with her friends. After the third day of this switch, she is much better about having her materials and is still able to catch up with her friends. Sometimes the simplest plan is so obvious that we struggle to see it for ourselves.

Moving Forward: Planning Your Work and Working Your Plan

How will you know you are moving in the right direction?

The simple answer is to measure something. But what and how often? If you are trying to measure against the end state, then it may seem too big, too far away, and become discouraging instead of motivating. A better way is to measure against the process you implemented and measure it every day. In the case of my middle schooler, the two measuring sticks she has are:

Did I use class time wisely today?

Did I use primetime to catch up on missing work?

Somedays the answer to both of those questions is yes, while other days they are both no, or a mix between the two. However, each day grants her a new chance to be successful. Another technique, which she is not ready for yet, but may be in the future, is to keep track of the answers with a tally mark. It’s a simple but effective way to see if your plan is working. Do you have more “yes” days than “no” days?

In lieu of having her keep track on a daily basis, she wrote a date on her sticky note when she will check in with me and we will see how her plan is going. At that check-in, she may be ready to keep track of her progress herself. If so, that will be the next step in attaining her goal.

The Process Becomes the Goal

The wonderful thing about concentrating on the process instead of the goal is that you can work on the process every day, and the goal takes care of itself. Talking with my student, I asked her what would she do once the third quarter came to an end. She said, “I don’t know…what do you mean?”

“Once the third quarter is over. If you get a B-, a B+, or an A, what then?”

With a very confused look on her face and a nervous giggle, she said, “I don’t know! Keep going I guess?!” Exactly!

By concentrating on the process instead of the end state, she will easily be able to adjust her everyday habits so that she can achieve her goal. Not only that but her goal can be adjusted without making massive changes. Simple adjustments to the process will help her achieve her next goal. When that happens, the process becomes the plan and the end state is simply the byproduct of keeping yourself not with your eyes on the prize, but with your focus on the next two steps. Keep marching forward and your wish will turn into a goal, and your plan will turn into your process.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Writing a book....

Never in a million years did I think I would write a book...
Heck...growing up I didn't even like reading books! I was a big "BOOK IT!" person, but I only did that for the pizza.

My book "LESSON 1" was published on August 12, 2021. What an excellent experience! 

Here's the story behind the story.

Starting to Read: I would occasionally read a book in my adulthood. The first full book I remember reading was, "Rainbow Six" by Tom Clancy. I was in my 20s and had many more exciting things to do than read books. Even in college, I would do the absolute minimum amount of reading. I would lose focus, get to the bottom of a page, and have no idea what I had read.

I really started reading a lot when I was working full time for the Army in 2014-2016 because I found myself on an airplane every other week going to a conference, recon, or training event. I decided that because I spent so much seat time, I would become a reader.

I started with hard-copy books and found a few that I really enjoyed. Then I moved to digital books using my tablet and found it awesome that I could carry an infinite amount of books with me and read whatever I felt like. Sometimes I wanted to dig into the genius of Nick Saban or some other football coach while other times I just wanted a good Dan Brown story. I didn't read at home, only on the plane, so when I stopped flying all the time, I really stopped reading.

I go through phases of reading. For months at a time, I will read in the morning before I go to the gym. Then for months at a time, I won't. 

Writing down angry notes
: While at those conferences, recons, and training events, I found myself interacting with several different organizations, both military, and civilian. I found that many civilian organizations had much more efficient ways of doing things than we did in the Army. I would take those lessons back to my organization and implement what I could. I really enjoyed seeing how other organizations did the same things that we did. I enjoyed seeing how other organizations developed their task organizations, task management systems, and their ability to communicate laterally and vertically. Some of those things were able to fit into the Army, and others did not. Some of those things worked really well, and others made things worse.

I would take a few minutes after each trip to reflect on what went well and what I didn't like. I had a word document on my desktop and I would simply open it up, take a few minutes to type out some notes, then close it and wait until my next trip. There was no real format, organization, or thought behind my notes. Some of them were rants, and some of them looked like praise pieces. 

Forgotten: In the fall of 2016, I transitioned from working full-time for the National Guard back into the classroom. I moved back to my hometown, was teaching a new subject, and my world was moving very fast! I had forgotten about my comments for months at a time. Once and a while I would be cleaning out my Google Drive and would say, "I remember this" and open up the document and reminisce about the great times I had in the Army. I would close it and move on to the next thing I had on my agenda, forgetting about my future book for another few months.

Kyle Anderson: I met Kyle during my first week of college and we became friends right away. He is still one of my very best friends over 20 years later. He published a book, "
To The Edge: Successes & Failures Through Risk-Taking" on March 7, 2020.
Kyle was the first person I had ever met that wrote a book. That was cool!

A week later our school shut down for the rest of the year due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. There I was, sitting in my upstairs bedroom, waiting for my students to log in to Google Classroom. It was a crazy time. I had a lot of time sitting. Waiting.

One morning I opened up that old document with my notes and started organizing it. I had 12 single-spaced pages of rants and rabble. I thought to myself, holy smokes...this could be a book! I started expanding on some of the topics, linking them to classroom and locker room issues and it started looking like a book. The title was a struggle- to learn the book. 

Rejection: I talked with Kyle and he linked me up with his publisher. I sent my (VERY) rough draft to them and waited. They got back to me and said that due to the pandemic, they were understaffed and not taking on new authors, but encouraged me to try again.

Forgotten Part II
: I had a fairly solid rough draft, but now it was summer and I was basically back to "normal" with my activities of fishing, four-wheeling, and preparing for my first year as a head coach for the freshman football team with all the intricacies of being a head coach combined with all of the external COVID-19 policies. School went back to in-person and combined with everything else, I was also prepping for hunting season.  

In the fall of 2020, another book hit Amazon. "Daily STEM: How to Create a STEM Culture in Your Classrooms & Communities" by a friend of mine, Chris Woods. Chirs was the second person I had known to write a book. That was cool!

After football season, I talked with Chris and he linked me up with his publisher. They got back to me fairly quickly stating that they loved my book idea, but because they were in Canada, they felt it would be a better fit for a new publisher, "Road to Awesome."

BOOK: I had a conversation with Darrin M Peppard and he loved the idea of my book. Through several zoom calls, cover renditions, and grammatical editing, my book, "LESSON 1" was published and available on AMAZON on August 12, 2021. What an incredible experience!

Since then there have been some great conversations about my book and the leadership lessons contained within it. A huge thank you to Kyle and Chris for the motivation and to Darrin for taking a chance on me and my idea.