Rule of the Thirds – Professional Development Secrets

teacher workshops

You might be like many who organize professional development. You are experienced, thoughtful and very, very busy.

So what is the “Rule of Thirds?”It’s the biggest little secret in education. There are three BIG thirds in professional development (PD).

The first third of the three comes from the circumstances of the actual professional development day. I am shocked at how often someone asks me to fly 5,000 miles to his or her school and yet there’s a terrible microphone, poor seating and abominable lighting. Some “providers” ensure there are plenty of donuts, as if that would optimize staff learning. Others give me a screen 6′ x 6′ for 500 people. That’s like watching a movie in your living room on an iPod. Instead get a 10 x 10′ screen!

Over the years, I have been asked to speak in a movie theater, a bar, a library, a lunchroom and, even a racetrack. A cheap or free venue is NOT a bargain if the staff has a bad day. Now you should know that I am good at working miracles with whatever someone gives me, but why take risks if you don’t have to?

The first third of the three parts is: optimize learning conditions!

The second third of the value in professional development comes from having a relevant, high quality, and very engaging presenter. That’s right: 33% of the value from any professional development that comes from the caliber of presenter. By the way, those who hire me say that I consistently get “rave” reviews. I will always do my best to be the best you can get.

The third of three thirds comes from the follow up. Every teacher needs to have weekly or monthly “check-ins” that jump-start the changes. Teachers are busy and sometimes stressed. In fact, they are so busy, that you practically have to “get in their face” to get them to do something out of the ordinary. Without adequate follow up, you are getting only one third of the potential value.

Follow up should be 1) book study 2) professional learning communities 3) weekly emails 4) teachers blogging about the strategies they use 5) short weekly staff meetings with quick sharing and celebrations.

Without those three BIG qualities, you have little chance. But now that you know better, see what you can do to make it happen.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Wesley Fryer

Secrets to Ramping up Student Effort:

The 10 Step Checklist Every Teacher Should Memorize.

Brain based

Over the years, student effort has been called many things. Some call it “motivation” and others call it “work ethic.” But no matter what you call it, students will never rise to their full potential without a strong effort. Here is what research tells us and how you can get the most out of your students. First…

The Research

Here is what research tells us about student effort. Effort can be internally generated (habits of mind, content knowledge, muscle memory, skills and intrinsic motivation) or it can be extrinsic (peers, novelty, rewards, etc.) There are three primary sources of effort and the first two sources are internal. (more…)

From Lowest Performing to “Extreme School” Success

Blackburn School Florida

There are 1,862 elementary schools in the state of Florida. We are featuring another “Extreme School” and its name is Blackburn Elementary. Last year, it was one the lowest performing (5%) elementary schools in the state (one of the VERY, VERY lowest).

Now, when we see schools struggle like this, there are many possibilities. First, we can debunk the most commonly mentioned myths about low-performing schools…

First, we can debunk the most commonly mentioned myths about low-performing schools. Which of these 4 possibilities is actually correct?

Possibility #1: Most all of the kids share some common genetic defect, which prevents them from succeeding at school.

Possibility #2: There is something in the air, water, plants or food in this zip code which is hurting the cognitive ability of the students.

Possibility #3: The parents don’t care about education or their IQ is low, so therefore the kids can’t learn.

Possibility #4: The staff of the school can influence achievement by making some changes.

I am guessing you picked #4, which is correct. I have often shared success stories of schools, so you could see the end “product” worthy of high-fives. But, this month is different. I thought you might be interested in the process itself. In other words, how are the principal and the staff mapping out the changes to build a successful school?

BACKGROUND: This school was the winner of the “Extreme School” prize in early 2013. They were a struggling, very low-performing school. I presented to this staff in August 2013. This is a progress report after five months.


Before her school enjoyed the “Complimentary Staff Development Day”, Principal Kathy Redmond began sharing a clear and compelling vision of success with her staff. The bar was set sky high and she started by “seeding” the faculty with a new vision for the school.

By August 12, 2013 the following had happened:

1) A school team of eight attended the 2012 Poverty workshop.

2) The principal spent extra time observing her staff during the 2012/13 school year to help her make better decisions about staffing for the following year. Then she worked with school leadership to develop a tentative school improvement plan.

3) She got the state test score data and assembled it in a user-friendly format for her staff. She looked at student data carefully, and then they had a faculty meeting to review the data.

4) Her school was the random winner of the “Extreme School” contest.

5) Three months prior to my August presentation she held a telephone conference call with four of her staff and myself (Eric). Goals were set and staff were getting on board.

6) Summer arrived and the principal had decisions to make regarding whether to renew each teacher’s contract. Several staff (who had been quite hostile to change and thought “those kids” couldn’t learn) were not renewed for 2013-14.

7) Book study time: the staff read the book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, so the groundwork was laid prior to my visit.

8) Then, after all of this preparation, I arrived in August. The staff members were excited and ready to launch their plan. All I had to do was to steer them in the right direction and provide the missing strategies.

RESULTS? What is going on at the moment, 4 months after the “official launch” of the new school identity? I will let the principal, Kathy, give the update in her own words…

“It has been fantastic!”

“During the week that you (Eric) were here, we continued to build momentum.  We did several significant things… one, while working on our staff core values, a conversation evolved and our “Gaudy Goals” were brought up.

One of our leadership team members, at her table, suggested that we build core values that would drive us to become world famous.  Her group shared her idea and it has completely stuck.  We have shared it with parents, students and I even went on our local news declaring that our school will be world famous.  Of course, the superintendent, who was present during the interview, just smiled… and other district leaders think I’m crazy… but you know what, Eric? I’m not crazy. We ARE going to be world famous for the huge turn around we are going to make at this school!

And two, our second significant move that first week was creating a list of our most significant learning’s from our work with you…. and the purpose of the list is to put it in front of us as we do all of our work (especially our problem solving work) as we improve our instruction.  We now have a “Working Memory Activities” blog on our staff website.  I have added several of our learnings to the Prof. Learning portion of our school’s “Walk-Through” feedback form.  I have also added working memory activities as part of our lesson plan checklist.  Our monthly faculty meetings are going to have a short (less than 10 min. segment) on working memory activities.

Progress?  While working on our school improvement plan, we listed barriers to some of our goals (which we turned into Gaudy Goals… I can’t wait to explain that to our Florida DOE Differentiated Accountability Team!).  We identified the barriers we have no control over… like “that our kids get no support at home”… and “our kids come to us so low” and we cut those statements off the chart and I made a big deal about shoving them through a shredder.  We really have left those excuses behind…” (Principal Kathy Redmond).

(Eric speaking here). You and I know that it’s only a start… but it’s a GREAT start. There is, of course, no data at the moment, but this is the kind of excitement and momentum it will take to turn the school around. We will keep you posted on the progress. Remember this school is starting out at the bottom 5% of academic scores (among 1,862 K-5 public schools in the state). Let’s give it a bit of time before we check back in again.


Now, you’ve read about another “Extreme School” success story, and we have a question for you. What can you learn from the true story mentioned above? The only good that happens in this world is when you move things from inside your brain to the outside world. What ideas, principles or strategies were affirmed, OR, what was new to you? Could this be a topic of discussion at your next staff meeting?

Miracles do happen every day. Are you ready to be one of them?

FINALLY: If your Title 1 school has an “Extreme School” story to tell (whether you are near the bottom or the top) please email me your story to: In the subject line, put “Extreme School” story. Thanks.

Your partner in learning,

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning
Brain-Based Education

How To Live While You’re Alive

Relecting on the past

Most, but not all, have regrets as they age. People wish they would have done things differently as they look back at their life. Seniors often look at broken marriages and say, “If only…” Many look at bad decisions and wish they could get an “instant replay” or second chance.  I thought it might be productive to ask someone who has heard from hundreds of people (both young and old).

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, Bronnie Ware heard the same five common themes over and over and over. (Excerpted from the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware).

After you read them, ask yourself, “Is there anything (at all) in my life that I truly regret?” And secondly, “Is there anything that I can do now, in the next days, weeks or months, to make my life full, complete and satisfying.

After all, we don’t always die according to our own plan. Well, here they are, all five regrets. (more…)

Can the Holidays Lower Our IQ?

Brain Basd Learning

For some, the holidays are quite stressful.  I’ll introduce you to an important concept that has a dramatic affect on your life. In fact, this concept can literally make you smarter (or dumber) and even dictate job success.

You’ll learn why this occurs, and what you can do to reduce the problem. Plus, I’ll make connections for your kids in school. The concept is grounded scientifically and I’ll show you the evidence. In fact, people joke about this concept all the time. They just don’t know that it’s actually REAL. The mind-blowing concept that can change your life (and raise student achievement) is… (more…)

Emotions in Students

Bullying in schools

Is the expression, “Fight, flight or freeze” a myth or science?

There’s an assumption that if a student in school feels threatened in any way, there’s going to be an immediate response we’ve all heard of before. Those might include “fight” (talk back to teacher, argue or even get physical), “flight” (try to get out of the situation, change seats, rooms or get out school), or “freeze” (quit participating and disconnect from learning).

However, recent research tells us there’s far more going on. In fact, you might be surprised what researchers have discovered about student emotions (and your own)…

Recent Discovery

There are many things you should know about our emotional system, but we’ll focus on just one area (the amygdala) and only the relevancy to school and your own life. Just maybe we can help out your relationships and add joy to your life!

First, there are gender differences in our emotional system.

You may have heard of the amygdala as if it’s singular, but we have two of them (on the left and right side of the brain). Technically, it should be referred to as the amygdalae (plural). Known as small, almond-shaped brain structures, they are highly involved in the fear response. These structures are located deep in the temporal lobes at the foot of the hippocampus in each hemisphere. And, they operate differently in males and females. (more…)

The Best Learning Motivator EVER!

Teacher feedback - Brain based learning

Quick: Name the Best Learning Motivator EVER!

Whether you’re an instructional coach, administrator, counselor or classroom teacher, you are asked to motivate. All of us adults can find our own energy or motivation dropping at times. There’s one factor, when used with another co-factor, that makes the highest contribution to motivation. The secret to motivation is… (more…)