Get Rid of Excuses and Get Ahead

Day 42 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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A fictional account of what happened in Daniel captured my interest tonight. Taken from the book Agents of Babylon by David Jeremiah, on page 169, the fictionalized Daniel talks about the peace in the districts he manages and says,


“Unrest always has an underlying — and often legitimate — cause… it serves us well as leaders to listen and learn. In most cases, a simple compromise can appease the people and protect our interests while costing us nothing. And when we work for an agreeable resolution, the people begin to trust us and become cooperative, which eliminates the need for force.”

How to Get Rid of Excuses with Other People

In the fictional example above, Daniel talks about listening. Well, after fifteen years of teaching, I typically know the excuses students make that keep them from learning. So, my strategy is hitting it head-on.

Today is a perfect example. Before I started teaching the hardest thing of the year in my advanced Computer Science class today, binary numbers, I got the excuses out of the way. Those excuses are typically:

  • This looks too hard
  • I can’t learn it
  • I won’t learn it
  • If I pretend to learn I can just not understand this and she’ll eventually move on without me having to learn it
  • I’m not going to pay attention and then blame it on her
  • It is going to take me too long to learn it and I’ll fail the first test so why try?
  • I’m going to make a joke out of it and try to get a laugh

How do I handle this?

Deal with excuses up front

Well, I give an excuse-killing speech that goes something like this,

“We’re going to learn the hardest thing of the year right now to get it out of the way. In all 15 years I’ve taught, every student has learned how to do binary numbers. All of them. And unless you think you might be the first, here’s how this works. I teach it until you know it. When the whole class is making A’s, then we move on.

Sometimes I’ve taught a class in 7 days with 4 or 5 tests. Other times it has taken me two weeks and the all time top record was 14 different quizzes or tests to get to where we knew it.

I’ve got four different ways to teach binary numbers. Eventually I’ll get to the way you learn. If I don’t we’ll spend one on one time making sure you get it. If you’re worried about all of these quizzes and tests, there’s no need. I do something called formative assessment.

This means, I’m quizzing you while knowledge is forming. So, I give lots of little quizzes so you can see how you’re doing. I don’t give a real quiz or test until all of you are answering the formative quizzes with over 80% right and I know you understand it.

Some of you will look at it and think it is too hard. But then, there are some of you who will learn it and it will be ridiculously easy. Don’t say anything to make the others feel bad – it looks really hard until the light bulb goes on and it is really easy.”

Now, yes, that takes a good five minutes and in reality, is a tad longer. However, since I’ve started setting their frame of mind for this, the kids will learn how to convert binary to decimal within 15 minutes of giving this speech – and that time includes a 5-minute movie.

No Excuses Can Mean Real Progress

You see, once they know that I accept no excuses and everyone will learn it and I will teach everyone, they’ll relax and learn it.

But here’s the cool thing, they not only finished in my class, but they went to math class and after they finished started working binary problems “for fun.” I praised the class for how quickly they all learned it as each person showed me their answer.

The first class took 5 problems before everyone got it right. My second class took 4 problems! The previous record was 8 problems!

Who You Excuse Says A Lot About You

I can tell a great teacher by who they blame.

A mediocre or average teacher will usually blame the students or parents or society. They’ll make excuses for themselves, however.

The greatest teachers are always striving to do better. They hold a very high standard for themselves first — but also a high one for their students.  These teachers focus on what they can control — themselves.

I like to stay away from the blame game.

As an aside, every sort of “blame” can be a problem if taken too far. (Who doesn’t know the person who is always saying “I’m sorry” when they haven’t done anything wrong! You can say, it is cold today and they’ll apologize!)

Accepting Responsibility

However, taking responsibility for what you can do is important.

Today’s challenge is to look at areas of your life and see who gets your excuses? Who gets most of your blame?

I have a sign Mom handed down to me in my classroom.

“No Whining”

If I find myself whining, then I do something about it. Either a swift self-kick in the pants or I face facts about a situation and do something to change it or move on.

I just loved how Daniel in the opening didn’t make excuses for poor governing. He showed mercy for his people. And he held the government officials responsible as well as himself.

Today’s Excellence Challenge

Think of the biggest struggle in your life.

Are you making excuses for yourself? Are you blaming others? If others are truly at fault, how will you respond?


The post Get Rid of Excuses and Get Ahead appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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Waste: Finding Balance in a Demanding World

Day 41 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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To complain without action or to pour yourself out without reservation: both of these habits are a waste. Not all bad things are worth belaboring. All good things are not you-things that you have to do. Sometimes a desert of exhaustion and despair is of our own making.

Right now, we have a long weekend off school. Part of what I’m doing is to rest and recover! Looking through old journal entries, I came across a poem I wrote on February 24, 2016 entitled “Waste” that spoke to me about the challenge we all face not to waste our lives complaining about what we can’t change or pouring ourselves into causes we’re not called to do.


There are those who will tell you every wrong.

Listen and they’ll sing their song.

“Woe is me. Poor me – sad me. Everything ill.

So, sit here and hear me complain and I will.”

Crystal spider webs can be woven to make a strong line,

So do grumblers who weave their own straight jacket one tiny complaint at a time.


Then there are those with no boundary

They’ll do their job and others’ without quandary.

But one day they wake up and have lost their art

No thanks. No joy. Just broken heart.

They pour out their pitcher until it dries up

And stare open mouthed at their empty cup.


Oh the happy soul who strikes the chord

Of harmonious balance, each day looking toward.

They don’t whine and complain nor everything touch,

Their life has purpose with some sense left to clutch.

Oh to balance life tween thick and thin, with joy left to put it all in

No binding vest or empty vase, just life to the full with nothing a waste.

By Vicki Davis


I hope you’re encouraged to find balance in your life as you seek to make things better and find your purpose. You’re called to something but not everything. You’re called somewhere but you can’t physically be everywhere.

Life is full of choices. The best among us make those choices.

  • They work where they can make a difference.
  • They refuse to complain pointlessly.
  • They steward their lives as the finite and precious resource that they are.

Nobody is making more time and nobody is making any more of you. You’ve got to make choices about the best way to spend you and your time and nobody can do that for you. But if you burn out and wear out and there’s no more of you, you can’t really do anyone any good, can you?

Today, examine your past week. Did you complain pointlessly at any time? Are you pouring your time and energy into too many things? Even worse, are you pouring them into things that aren’t really a calling for you anymore? Reflect and take action.

This post is day 41 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post Waste: Finding Balance in a Demanding World appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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5 Ways to Stop Bullying in Every School

Rick Rando on episode 260 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

School culture and policies are part of what helps us combat bullying in schools. Rick Rando, school empowerment speaker, shares what schools can do to help stop bullying.

Check out Reinventing Writing, the book I authored that teaches about the nine collaborative writing tools, how to build writing communities, and tips and tricks for collaborative writing in Google Docs and more.

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Enhanced Transcript

5 Ways to Stop Bullying in Every School

Link to show: http://www.coolcatteacher/e260
Date: February 16, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Rick Rando @RandoSpeaks. He travels the country, delivers keynotes, and has a message about anti-bullying. But today, we’re going to talk about five ways to stand against bullying in every school.

So Rick, what’s our first way?

Rick: Well, basically, it all comes down to culture.

Number one? Know your school’s anti-bullying culture and showcase it proudly.

Tip 1: Know your school’s anti-bullying culture and showcase it proudly.

I’m a big Disney fan. Roy Disney said it best, “It’s easy to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

I have a quick acronym for you. It’s BEEE.

  • Build
  • Establish
  • Execute
  • Enforce/Reinforce that culture.

What you have to do is figure out what your school is about, how you want to approach bullying, to find exactly what it is about bullying that you need to look for or identify, and then basically create a culture around not having that be present.

Essentially, this has to be exhibited from the top down. And I’ll do one step further. Once you create your anti-bullying culture — what it looks like, how to identify it –, then you can’t be afraid to revisit that culture, knowing that. Is this something that’s working? Is it not working? Be able to revisit that tool, basically, create it or implement it almost like a business.

In a business when they implement something, it’s create and then train their staff and implement a new idea, and then they have to assess if it’s working or not to retool and retrain.

Essentially, it’s all about creating an anti-bullying culture. That’s something that we forget to do. When I go into schools, it’s something that a lot of schools don’t have, frankly.

Vicki: Yes. I remember seeing two young men today, and they said, “Oh, we’re just playing and having fun.”

I said, “I don’t like how it looks. You just have not to do it, because I don’t like how it looks.”

That’s part of that culture of, “This is how we treat each other.”

OK, what’s our second, Rick?

Rick: Give everyone the resources to live and to thrive in the culture that you’ve actually just created.

Tip 2: Give everyone the resources to live and to thrive in the culture that you’ve actually just created.

Like I said, once you clearly defined what bullying actually is (because there’s a difference between bullying and name-calling, teasing — there’s definitely a little bit of difference there, so it’s important to establish exactly what it is) but then, go ahead and give your staff, your parents, your students, your administrators the tools that they need to go ahead and stamp it out, identify it, deal with it.

To give you an example, like staff… I went to one school once and they all had t-shirts on that said, “We are not a bully school!”

From verbal training to disciplinary procedures to positive reinforcement of an anti-bullying platform or message…

Parents: In Allegany County, Maryland have on their website information that you can access, but also submit and anonymous incidence report. What happens is they get a chance to — the school board can assess to see exactly what this is and where it’s happening and follow up with administrators and hopefully serve those needs in that particular school. Parents feel really connected, that they have a platform to reach out and know that the school and the school board is going to handle it.

Students: Posters, fliers, assemblies. I do assemblies. I just came from one this morning in schools, talking about anti-drug, anti-bullying. Again, it’s about creating that culture of, “We’re not going to stand for it.”

Staff: Having those messages from the guidance counselor — guidance talks and handouts.

Administrators: I think that too many times, administrators are hamstrung about what they can do and what they can’t do because they can’t share information due to confidentiality. Or a lot of times, they just don’t know where to turn.

Giving them the resources necessary to again, identify it, and also be able to thrive in that culture where it’s going to be a zero-tolerance. So you’ve got to give your staff and your people the opportunity to be able to have the resources to deal with it and thrive in that culture.

Vicki: Very true. What’s next?

Rick: The third one is empower your students to take a stand.

Tip 3: Empower your students to take a stand.

At my martial arts studio, we have a program called Common Sense Before Self Defense. We give an anti-bullying tip every single week, and it’s all using your mind or your brain to be able to diffuse a situation or outhink the bully.

We say, “Using your brain before causing pain.”

We say, “Find your voice. Find a trusted adult. Find the courage to tell a parent your guardian. Find your voice to stand up to a bully. Tell them how that makes you feel, that it’s not OK. Find a trusted adult to confide in at the school system or a babysitter or childcare provider. Also find the courage to tell mom and dad, because a lot of kids think it’s their fault, that they’re doing something wrong, that they have shoes on or they speak the wrong language or have the wrong skin color.

In more concrete terms of being able to handle bullies, when you empower your students to take a stand, you can teach them how to agree with a bully. “Yeah, I know these glasses maybe look a little odd. But, man, I can see crystal clear, and that’s why I get such good grades.” Or, “I know these shoes might look a little off, but man, I can run really fast.”

You know, being nice to the bully, walking away, using trickery. If you’re caught into a bathroom, and all of a sudden the bully comes in. You can suddenly start itching like you have poison ivy or something. “I wouldn’t touch me. I’m really contagious.”

Of course refusing to fight or calling for help — these are all concrete things that you can use to teach to empower your students and your kids to stand up to bullying.

Vicki: So important. OK, what’s our fourth?

Rick: Reinforce effort. Work at leadership success as often as humanly possible.

Tip 4: Reinforce effort. Work at leadership success.

So as a teacher, as an educator, we do what we call spotlighting or highlighting. When we see a positive behavior being done, we want to say, “Guys, did you see how Timmy lined up so fast and so quickly. He’s standing perfectly still, and this is what we want to see everybody do.”

What we’re looking for is once we’ve created this culture, this anti-bullying culture in your school system, saying we’re not going to be picked on, we’re not going to tolerate this behavior, we’re going to go ahead and showcase people that are actually modeling that culture, modeling that positive behavior.

Essentially, in business, we say, “Find somebody doing something right. We’re going to spotlight it. We’re going to highlight it.”

Everybody’s version of success could be different. Johnny with ADHD is having trouble concentrating, so when he does something in that realm, that one step further of concentration, we want to pat him on the back, and we want to spotlight him. Whereas Timmy who gets good grades all the time, and for him, it could be really going above and beyond on a project, where we want to highlight him and give him that high-five and that fistbump. Also just making sure that we’re catching kids doing something right in that positive behavior realm.

Vicki: Oh, and catching them doing something right is so important, because otherwise, people are always running because we’re never saying anything positive! (laughs)

OK, what’s our fifth?

Rick: Our fifth thing is probably the most important element as far as anybody that’s handling or being around children. It’s to be there for your students and families. Serve their needs each and every day.

Tip 5: Be there for your students and families. Serve their needs each and every day.

“Serve” is this catch phrase. It’s this buzzword now in the corporate world. It really comes down to being present, listening, paying attention, and being willing to go above and beyond — even when you don’t want to, even when it’s inconvenient, even when you feel like this kid doesn’t deserve it. OK, you’ve got to be there, and you’ve got to pay attention. You’re looking, and you’re noticing these small things, these small imperfections. How do we, as parents, know that our kid is being bullied anyway? We’re looking for different patterns of how they’re eating, or how they’re behaving. Maybe they’re short with us. We know when our kids are not feeling well because of the signs, the physiognomy that we use to study our child. Why can’t we do the same thing in a classroom? Why can’t we do the same thing in our class of 25 kids? We’ve got to know these kids. We’ve got to know that THEY know that they care about us and we care about them because we’re in that leadership position.

As a teacher — and I’ll just end with this — you have an unshakeable accountability to continue to be a positive example in our society, but the most awesome responsibility lies in the magnitude of our daily actions in the minds of our adolescents that we model and are around. They continuously look to us with wide eyes and open hearts to mimic our actions, repeat our words. Our ultimate role — of a teacher, of someone that influences children — is to be their superhero. Be present.

Vicki: Wow, Rick. I think we’ll end with that.

Educators, let’s take a stand against bullying. Let’s really be present for our kids.


Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Rick Rando – Bio as submitted

Author, Consultant, 6th Degree Black Belt, and Keynote Empowerment Speaker, Master Rick Rando is regarded as a High-Octane Motivational Master. Focusing on instilling confidence and individuality, Master Rando has conducted thousands of presentations on empowerment and leadership in the business world and in academia. He owns one of the largest open-spaced martial arts studios in the country, teaching hundreds on children weekly.

Rando is a CEO (, philanthropist, marathon runner, and most importantly husband to a beautiful wife and father of two wonderful children.


Twitter: @RandoSpeaks

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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The One String Masterpiece: What We Can Learn from Paganini’s One String

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Paganini was there to play his great work “Napoleon.” His violin glistened. One string popped. He continued to play. Then, another one! Paganini played on. After his third string broke, he had one left. As he looked to his sold out but shocked audience in Italy,he held up his violin and yelled,

“Paganini and one string!”

And proceeded to wow them with the entire piece played on just one string. He received a standing ovation when he was done.

While it wowed his audience, no one redesigned the violin with one string. The violin is still a violin although Paganini could play a masterpiece on one string. That is because Paganini is a master. Everyone in the audience knew that one string was not dripping with talent. Nor was that one string possessed. That one string was played. Played by a master. And so it sung.

There are master teachers. They can teach with just their voice. Or a stick. Or a book. Or a computer. Hand them one string and they’ll make learning sing. These craftsman teachers — they teach. Anyplace. Anytime. With anything.

And yet, we worship the string.

Certainly, some strings are better than others. They are stronger. More resonant. Better tools. That is great. I’m all for great tools.

But we should not forget that the master is the one who plays the strings. People in the audience watching the teaching should know that one app or tool or feature is not dripping with talent. That one app is not possessed. That one tool was played. Played by a master. And so it taught.

There are people who buy and sell strings. They talk about the music played on the string as if the string is possessed. They hawk the masterpiece as if it lives in the string and can be played at will.

What our modern world does with tools would be like walking on stage after Paganini finished his piece and pushing him off the stage. Then, grabbing his one-stringed violin, the seller would hold it up high. He would start asking the audience to kneel to the one string. Or start selling one stringed violins. In homage to its greatness.

That string was just a string. The master had left the stage.

There is a method of the master. A way to play the string that produces great music.

Likewise, there’s a method of the master teacher, leader, master businessperson, master marketer, master parent, master speaker. Anything of worth can be mastered.

But often, many of us in search of excellence place too much emphasis on the tools and not on the craftsmanship of becoming a master of the craft.

As for me, I shall not worship the string. I shall learn from the masters.

Those who worship strings will find themselves in quiet company. Sitting around surrounded by tools, gadgets, and bills for downloaded apps. In boxes. Unused. Or broken. Misused. But not played for masterful accomplishment.

The advancement of any art form requires an honoring of the master craftsmen who know the trade.

Here’s to you master teachers or masters of any trade. Those of us who play the tune of learning know where the masterpiece really starts.

Honor your profession. Learn the craft from great craftsmen. Become a master. Play on.

This post is day 40 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post The One String Masterpiece: What We Can Learn from Paganini’s One String appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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