Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

Locations of visitors to this page

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Fan Page on Facebook

EdTech Update





BFTP: Beware the straight-A student

When visiting my daughter this past weekend, she reminded me that while she was in high school that I would give her five dollars for each A on her report card, but ten dollars for every B.* And she knew why.

I'd encountered people who, after an unbroken string of A's in high school, suddenly got a B or C in college and fell apart. Knowing how to handle academic stumbling blocks - that teacher who just can't be satisfied, that concept beyond one's comprehension, that unreasonable assignment - is as critical to one's education as knowing the quadratic equation or how to honor parallel construction in one's writing.

My plan didn't work with my daughter. She still wound up with something close to 4.0 GPA and still handled her college and grad classes just fine. So much for that theory.

But here is another concern I have about stratight-A students: Are they demonstrating, not intelligence, but the ability to conform, to mindessly follow instructions, to support the established order? Do truly orginal thinkers and creative problem-solvers get high grades in school?

So here's the consequence: what happens when our straight-A students become educational leaders - principals, directors, even superintendents? 500 years ago Machiavelli wrote:  

"... it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."

The underlining is mine. Why would anyone want to change a system that has so handsomely rewarded the deserving - oneself?

Perhaps we need need to put the folks who were C and D students, the drop-outs, the poor test takers, pains-in-the-butt, the artists and rabblerousers in charge of the schools for a while.  Maybe we'd see some change.

Or perhaps we should start giving A's for something other than good test performance. What a concept.

Beware the straight-A student leader.

 *Yes, this is a part of my nomination for the title Worst Parent Ever.

See also The Good Girls/Good Boys Club post

Original post April 28, 2011


Budget dust

From The Indispensable Librarian, 2nd Edition, Chapter 8 "Budget"

Here’s a little trick many librarians have learned: A good time to ask for money for a special project or piece of equipment is a month or so before the end of the school’s fiscal year. Principals and others may be looking for ways to spend the small balances of their accounts (budget dust). Have a list of items your library needs that can be quickly acquired and paid for.



Left speechless

Authors of professional books and articles aren't exactly overwhelmed by praise - or even acknowledgement. So when an e-mail like this shows up in the e-mail box - and it is not even from a relative - it leaves be speechless!

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Your most recent book,  Teaching Outside the Lines, has been inspiring me over the last month.  You set out to make a guide for teachers, and to present the research in a clear and engaging way, and I truly appreciate every page of it.  I have been focusing on creativity in my classroom for a long time, but aside from inspiration (Ted Robinson, etc,) there is little to go on.  I have starred and underlined many of your points, and have incorporated some of your advice.  Ban clip art, for instance!  

Also, as a mom of two young boys (4.5 and 3), I loved reading about how to challenge them creatively as they grow.  My eldest is intensely creative and a bit quirky.  

I am writing to ask your advice about my next steps as a teacher to further my own creativity and that of my students.  I am a high school Spanish teacher in a small urban CT district.  I was certified in NY originally and got my MSSE at UAlbany in Spanish Education; I have been teaching for nine years in both middle schools and high schools.  

I have started book groups at my school (we jut read Mindset), and I have been attending PD workshops.  This year I gave a workshop on promoting creativity in the Spanish classroom.  I have also tried to expand my reading on creativity, including articles and your book.  I am now considering how to proceed; applying for an EdD is one next step.  There don't seem to be many programs with a focus on creativity.  Some of them have a focus on gifted education, which may be similar. 
I found a few programs which would allow me to do research in my classroom; that sounds really exciting!  I am always experimenting with my students.  
Do you have any advice for a teacher looking to promote creative thinking, open up young minds, and challenge herself?  Are there any programs you recommend, or people that you think would have good suggestions?  
Again, I can't stress enough how amazing your book was.  You seem to have a true passion for this topic, which is important, because there is so much push-back from students and other professionals.  
Most sincerely,
Libby ________________
___________ High School 
Spanish Teacher
TEAM Mentor
GSA Advisor

My reply...

Hi Libby,

Your email made my day. No, make that, made my year! What a thoughtful letter. I was truly taken aback.

I wish I had an easy answer about how to increase one's own creativity. I still honestly believe that the problems we encounter on a daily basis are from where most creative actions arise. ​ Pragmatist that I am, creativity isn't really creative unless it fills a need - practical, artistic, every-day. It is perhaps fearfulness that keeps people from exercising their​ creativity. What it doesn't work? ​ Will people make fun of me? ​ Could I cause harm? ​ Legitimate questions to be sure, but ones that must be overcome if one wants to be more effective through originality.

Creativity may, in the end, be a personal journey with no single path that works for all. Desire is a starting point and you have that. I expect we in education will hear more about you in the future.

Good luck raising your boys. ​ My children and grandchildren have been the driving force behind much of my work and thinking in education.

Oh, my I share your email with my editor at Corwin? I think he would enjoy the compliments as well.

Thank you and all the very best,



Libby graciously allowed me to share her letter as I saw fit so now I am sharing it with you.