Power Tools Can Make All the Difference: Introduction

I was recently reminded that power tools can make all the difference.

The play cottage Nona and Pop gave our daughter sat in the garage awaiting construction. You see, my husband and I clearly recall a previous play-kitchen construction project that took three times longer than anticipated. As a result, we dreaded this project. Adding to our dread was the suggestion that the play cottage surprise its new owner by magically appearing after nap time. Nona and Pop, the planners of this plot, were blissfully 12 hours away!

However, it was time to tackle the task. We gained confidence, discovering that the cottage comprised only six pieces! And then we found the large plastic bag packed solidly with screws. We hunted down two Phillips head screwdrivers, took deep breaths, and jumped in. Thirty minutes later, with ten screws in and only a fraction of the cottage complete, a couple friends dropped by. Merik, a project manager by profession, sized up our task and our sorry tools. With a smirk he said, “You know, adding a little power to your tools might get you to the finish line a little quicker.” Without waiting for our response, he walked away and returned ready to join the construction crew, power screwdriver firmly in hand. (Apparently project managers keep their power tools close!)

Construction moved quickly, and our dread turned to delight. We constructed the cottage, cleaned up, and even relaxed before nap time was over. And, the look on our daughter’s face when she saw what “magically appeared” was priceless. Thanks to power tools (and good friends), the mission was accomplished.

As a project manager, Merik looked at the job and identified the power tool needed to get it done efficiently. We educators construct knowledge in the classroom every day. What if we could look at our teaching goals and identify power tools to efficiently construct the necessary learning? Over the next few months, we’ll explore what brain research reveals about routines and structures that incorporate such power tools in various areas, including: retention and recall, small groups, literature selection, visual representation of thinking and learning, and modeling.

Unlike play cottages, learning doesn’t “magically appear,” but we can effectively and efficiently ignite excitement for learning in our students. It just takes the right tools.


Brynn Redmond, M.Ed. is a K-12 Reading Specialist, a Clerestory Learning Program Support Specialist, a mom to two beautiful girls, and owner of






4 Benefits of a Vertical Alignment Initiative

Curriculum review, a process often referred to as “vertical alignment,” involves a thorough examination of topics and skills being taught. It is both a discovery and school improvement process with each discipline, such as science or language arts, being reviewed from beginning to end. Teachers from each division and discipline, as well as members of a school’s leadership team, engage in conversations about the strengths of the current program and make improvements where repetition or interruptions are noted. Basically, curriculum review establishes the “what” and “when” of a school’s instructional program.

Schools that engage in this process gain four significant benefits:

  1. Balance. Students learn about a wider variety of topics. For example, if teachers in several grade levels teach about mammals but none of them teach about magnets, a science program will be imbalanced. Curriculum review reveals and corrects such issues.
  2. Flow. Skills build on previously learned skills. Skill instruction from grade to grade must be structured so that consistent skill development can occur. For example, if two-digit multiplication is taught in one grade level, but then not addressed or further developed in the next grade level, students may not be prepared to apply the skill in more advanced classes.
  3. Achievement. Research indicates a strong correlation between schools that engage regularly in curriculum review and student achievement. A more reflective learning community produces more robust learning.
  4. Communication. Teachers gain deeper understandings of how their material fits into a student’s development, and this fosters better communication between grade levels and disciplines. It also helps ensure accuracy in what a school communicates about its curriculum.

We’ve been honored to lead this process in schools, and to witness the dramatic advancements and curriculum developments that arise from it. Many discovered improvements can be implemented immediately; others require strategic program and/or professional development. However, the process always results in improvement.

When was the last time your school or organization engaged in this process?

Can we help get the conversation started?

Increasing Learning By Minding Mindset

The story of “The Little Engine That Could” illustrates the ideas of belief, effort, achievement, and confidence. If we connect these ideas, we notice the following relationships: belief influences effort; effort influences achievement; achievement influences confidence.

This video clip explains how these relationships influence student learning and behavior.

For a succinct summary of the research findings regarding mindset, it’s tough to beat this quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

The complete “Increasing Learning by Minding Mindset” is available via ACSI’s Nexus portal,