Author Archives: Mike Muir

About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.

What We Misunderstand about Yahoos

This post is part of a series for school leaders working on implementing large-scale, learning-focused school change. Your success depends not just on your technical knowledge about the initiative, but also how well you understand the three kinds of staff in your school (Yahoos, Yes Buts, and NFWs) and how their support needs differ.

The Yahoos are those folks who are always excited about new and interesting practices, programs and resources and are anxious to try them out in their own classroom.

This post focuses on how we misunderstand Yahoos.


Yahoos seem a dream to work with.  We all wish we had more of them on our staff. Not only are they quick to implement any quality learning-focused school change initiative that school leadership brings forward, they are often already working on many of their own.  They are quick to learn new strategies and approaches, invent and design a few of their own, and implement at a high level.

Therefore, we often hold them and their work up to their colleagues as examples of where we’d like to go with the initiative and the kind of work we’d like from each staff member.

The problem is that the Yahoos don’t really have the right kind of “cred” with their colleagues for moving the initiative forward. Their colleagues certainly recognize that Yahoos work hard and do good work and generally respect that work. The problem is that the rest of the staff don’t consider Yahoos to be like them. They think, “Thats just what Yahoos do.” When school leaders hold up the work of the Yahoos, the rest of the staff don’t say, “Oh, I can do that!” They say, “Well, I’d do that, too, if I were a Yahoo.  …but I’m not.”

Frankly, just as we should not judge the “success” of a school by the successes of their high performing students (we really must look at the successes of their hard-to-teach kids!), we should not judge the success or progress of an initiative by the success of our Yahoos. We only have truly moved the needle when there is wide scale, proficient implementation of the initiative by the Yes Buts.


Next in the series: How to best support Yahoos.

Working With A Diverse Staff: The 3 Types of Colleagues in a Change Initiative

Creating educational programs and systems that work for all kids has been my work for a long time. I have grown to understand that asking educators to change how they work produces a range of very human responses:

  • Let’s go!
  • Sounds good, but how?
  • Maybe… Can you show me that it works?
  • Yes, but what about this?
  • No Way!

Student Aspirations guru Dr. Russ Quaglia (Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations) was one of my graduate professors and served on my dissertation committee. He used to talk about three kinds of educators, when it comes to school change:

  • Yahoos
  • Yes Buts
  • NFWs

The Yahoos are those folks who are always excited about new and interesting practices, programs, and resources and were anxious to try them out in their own classroom.

The Yes Buts seem hesitant and skeptical of the initiatives with their questions of “but what about this and what about that?”

The NFWs are the folks who look a little like Yes Buts with their questions of “but what about this and what about that?” but who are really saying to themselves and their fellow NFWs, “No freaking way am I doing this!”

Each present their own challenge to school change and each needs a different kind of attention and support.

This is the beginning of a series of posts exploring what we misunderstand about Yahoos, Yes Buts and NFWs, and how to best support each. Frankly, the advice is counterintuitive in places, but is based on practical experience successfully implementing large-scale, learning-focused school change.


Next in the series: How we misunderstand Yahoos.

12 Professional Learning Curriculum Buckets for Teaching and Learning with Tech

As we think about our teachers becoming highly skilled at using technology in the classroom, we could certainly generate a very long list of abilities, approaches, tools, apps, strategies, and other competences we’d like them to get good at.

But there are certain behaviors/professional learning that have been linked to fostering a quality, learning-focused 1to1 technology initiative. These become our 12 buckets that would make up a professional learning curriculum for teachers.

Four of those buckets focus on teachers’ being able to use the technology themselves and create the conditions in the classroom for students to use the technology for learning.

  1. Personal Use: Can teachers use the device themselves as their own productivity and learning tool?12 Professional Learning Buckets for Learning Through Technology
  2. Classroom Management for Tech: How can teachers insure that students are focused and on-task when using technology in the classroom (especially when every student has a device in front of them!)?
  3. Student Motivation & Engagement: How do teachers ensure that students are mentally and physically engaged? How can teachers create the conditions for student self-motivation?
  4. Teaching Digital Citizenship: How do (all) teachers help students learn how to use technology safely and appropriately? (This isn’t just the responsibility of the computer teacher!)

And 8 of those buckets are the pedagogical approaches that make up “Powerful Uses of Technology” (notice that they focus on educational goals, not technology tools):

  1. Tech for Foundational Knowledge: How can we help students learn the basics?
  2. Tech for Practice and Deepening Understanding: What tools and resources help students develop some fluency with those basics?
  3. Tech for Using Knowledge: How can we contextualize learning and make learning engaging and meaningful? How can students use their knowledge? What is the role for creating and creativity, and for project-based learning.
  4. Tech for Learning Progress Management: How do we keep track of student learning? Promote a transparent curriculum? Make learning progressions clear? Help students navigate their learning? Maintain evidence of mastery?
  5. Tech for Personalizing Learning: How does technology help us tailor the learning to the student?
  6. Tech for Supporting Independent Learning: How can technology help the student do more on their own and need the teacher less?
  7. Tech for Assessment and Evidence of Learning: How can technology help us capture what students know and can do?
  8. Tech for Home/School Connection: How can technology help us stay better connected to parents?
Remember, we’d like to promote and encourage these buckets because they focus on creating quality learning experiences for students, not simply focusing on tools, skills, and devices. This keeps learning first, ensures we are talking about learning, not the tech, and promotes the idea of “More Verbs, Fewer Nouns.”
How might the 12 Buckets serve your school?

All About Micro-credentials

What are they?

  • A verified indicator of skills, competencies, interests, and accomplishments.
  • They are stored and managed online.

Why do we like them?

  • They value multiple pathways for learning
  • They are transportable and shareable
  • They represent professional learning on educators’ own terms
  • They are transferable from multiple sources
  • They are evidence based
  • They are stackable
  • They hold the potential to transform when and where learning is valued.

How can you use them?

  • Earn them
  • Share them on the web and through social media
  • Use them with employers and perspective employers

Learn More about Micro-credentials


And Even More about Micro-credentials

Introduction to MLTI

If you are a new Tech Director or Principal, or if you are new to Maine, or are “from away” but working on your own local learning through technology initiative, you might have questions about MLTI.
MLTI is the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which started in 2002, providing 1to1 laptops to all 7th and 8th grade students and teachers in the state. From the beginning, we made the point of this being a learning initiative, not simply a tech buy. The program has expanded over the years. Schools can opt in, at district expense, for elementary schools and high schools. The state still provides funding support for 7th and 8th grade students and teachers, as well as for high school teachers, if the district opts in for all their high school students. MLTI is the only statewide 1to1 learning through technology initiative, and (depending on who you ask!) is currently the largest 1to1 program in the country.
Here are some places to get you started to learn more about MLTI…
You could browse the MLTI website:
Be sure to check out the overview of MLTI page:
Also, you might try these three articles:
They will provide an enormous amount of context for you.

Not All At Once: Breaking Your Initiative Into Phases

Leading large-scale school change is a challenge. These kinds of initiatives are often complex and include numerous parts and components. Further, the initiative often includes practices educators, the folks responsible for implementing the initiative, have never experienced themselves as learners. Such initiatives often seem overwhelming to teachers!

While I was with Auburn schools, one lesson we learned from working with other districts further along implementing Customized Learning (proficiency-based learning) than we were was “not all at once!” Although there are many components to this school reform effort, following a certain sequence seemed to lead to successful implementation more often than other processes or approaches.

We teased out those lessons about sequence into phases for implementing Customized Learning and started applying them to plans for training and supporting teachers, as well as plans for implementing a statewide requirement for a proficiency-based diploma.

Seeing the practical benefits of breaking our proficiency-based learning work into phases led us to also consider our work around learning through technology within a 1to1 environment, and we created phases for implementing technology for learning, as well.

Although there is flexibility in how districts implement each phase, or even in how they might break an implementation into phases, there seems to be real, practical advantages to thinking of a complex initiative in phases. Each phase focuses on building the capacity of teachers to implement the key components of a complex initiative, but by making the transition manageable by breaking it down into doable steps.

The Power of Breaking an Initiative into Phases (as viewed from the example of Proficiency-Based Learning)

The Phases – Customized Learning

The Phases – Technology for Learning

What Makes for Good Learning Experiences?

The more we try to to help build the talents of every student and help every learner succeed in school, the more we have to be deliberate about creating good learning experiences in our classrooms. I have certainly added to the conversation about what I believe gives students good learning experiences.

The roots of those ideas are not just my own experiences as a learner and a teacher, and not just conducting research and reviewing research, but from actually asking people about their own good learning experiences. The Good Learning Experiences Activity is one of the ways I have explored different people’s perspectives on how they think they learn well.

The Process

learn-939239_960_720Gather a group of stakeholders: student, teachers, administrators, parents, community members. 

“Think of a good learning experience,” the script for the activity begins. “It can be in school, or out of school. It can be when your grandfather taught you how to cast a fly rod, or when your teacher worked with you to write that really good essay. But think of a time when you had an ‘aha!’ or something finally made sense, or you could finally do something. Think of a good learning experience.”

I give small groups of participants a few minutes to share their stories. Next, I ask them to jot down on scratch paper what it was that made it a good learning experience. What were the characteristics of the experience? After a few more minutes to share their lists with their neighbors, we compile a class list on chart paper, an overhead, or on a projected computer.


Before reading on, just take a second to think about a good learning experience of your own, and what it was that made that a good learning experience.


I have conducted the activity with people of nearly every age group: upper elementary students, middle school students, high school students, college students, teachers, parents, and community members. Only a few participants have ever stated that they can’t think of any good learning experience. Many of the learners state that their best learning experiences have taken place outside of school. No one has ever said that their best learning experience came from a terrific lecture, or an interesting textbook, or an engaging worksheet (although I believe each of these can be a useful teaching tool when applied wisely).

Having conducted this activity with so many groups, I am intrigued by the results. I was surprised to find that, regardless of the group involved, there were common elements with other groups’ lists. Since 1992, I informally tracked the results and found that certain characteristics of good learning experiences come up in nearly every list:

  • The work was well connected to other ideas and to the real world
  • The content of the learning experience was personally relevant, interesting, useful, or meaningful to the learner
  • The learner had choices, shared authority, control, and responsibility
  • The learning was hands-on and experiential
  • The learner learned from and taught others
  • The learner had the support of a patient, supportive, and nurturing mentor
  • The learning was individualized and although there were standards for the work, the learner could meet them in his or her own way
  • There was a positive aesthetic component to the experience: it was fun or left the learner feeling good
  • The experience helped the learner understand him or herself
  • The learner had success and accomplishment with challenging work

Now, these are my words synthesizing the lists I have collected over the two and a half decades I’ve been doing this activity. Certainly elementary students aren’t going to use these word exactly. But doesn’t this list reflect what has made your own good learning experiences good?

Much can be learned by investigating how students believe they learn well. What better source for finding out what motivates students to learn than themselves?

But with knowledge comes responsibility. If you know what makes for good learning experiences, don’t you now have an obligation to ensure that you model these in our own teaching? – Or at least start learning how to do these in the classroom?


(Note: I have been with educators who have used the prompt “think of a good experience” or “think of a good school experience”, and it never gets to the right information about when people learn well. If you are considering doing this activity with your own students, teachers, or parents, I highly recommend that you stick with the prompt “think of a good learning experience.”)