Yearly Archives: 2019

Living is learning

Character through challenges

Improving Culture

Learning is ruined

Politics and agendas

Stay Purpose Driven

Show Highlights

Imagine what your life would be like if you could not read.  What kind of job would you have? How would you care for your family?  Well, this is a reality for many people across the country. In fact, recent reports show that 1 in 5 adults in North Texas cannot read. This means that more than 800,000 adults in Dallas County alone are struggling with literacy and that number is projected to grow to more than 1 million by 2030.  

This is a problem that impacts all citizens in one way or another, especially our economy.  According to, increased access and funding for adult literacy education resources and a change in public policy, including increased participation of the private sector in adult literacy education, will directly impact all Americans by contributing to a healthy economy through increased employment and reduced public assistance.

My guest in today’s episode is Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) President and CEO, Dr. Linda Johnson.  Dr. Johnson has over 20 years of non-profit management experience with educational and arts-based non-profit organizations.  Linda joined LIFT in 2017 from Dallas Independent School District (DISD), where she served as Executive Director of the College and Career Readiness program.

In her work with LIFT, she strives to enhance the lives and strengthen communities by teaching adults to read.  More specifically, LIFT  is reaching into the neighborhoods where people live, work and worship to teach adults to read, and thereby increasing access to employment, reducing reliance on social services, and improving the quality of life for many students and their families across Texas.

During this episode, Dr. Johnson sheds light on the growing adult literacy problem in Texas and explains how education policy and practice have utilized to address the current situation.  She also discusses the strategies and resources her organization, LIFT, deploys to address adult literacy and strengthen communities across the state through advocacy and partnerships. 

About the Guest

Dr. Linda K. Johnson, President and CEO for Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), has thirty-five years of management experience, including more than fifteen years of CEO experience.  Before joining LIFT in 2017, she served as Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for the Dallas ISD and led three Dallas ISD departments: Advanced Academic Services, Career Education and Workforce Partnerships, and Postsecondary Success. 

Dr. Johnson holds a M.B.A. from the University of Dallas and a Ph.D. in Public and Urban Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington where she is also an Adjunct Professor.  Additionally, she has been involved in numerous national market research and community-wide master planning projects. 

Dr. Johnson was awarded the 2012 Council of the Great City Schools / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Research and Assessment Leadership award for Early Indicators of Future College Success Longitudinal Postsecondary Analysis of Dallas ISD Graduates 1998 to 2009.  Her other white papers include: Models of College Success:  High School Influences on Dallas ISD 2002 Graduates and Reaping the Benefits: The Impact of Immigration on Dallas Public Education.

Contact with Dr. Linda Johnson

Follow Lift on Social Media: @LIFTDallas ∙ Facebook ∙ LinkedInInstagram
Learn more about LIFT:

Connect with the Host

You can reach me on Twitter @drjeffmiller  and Instagram @drjeffreymiller or go to my show website and leave a question or comment about any of the content shared on this episode. You can also read my latest blog post at

Show Highlights

Superintendent of Schools for Community ISD, Dr. Roosevelt Nivens, highlighted his personal story of triumph.  During this episode, Dr. Nivens shared a truly inspiring story of overcoming as his father, friends, and teachers supported him along his journey from a poor, illiterate child, to an NFL football player, and ultimately to becoming a school superintendent. He also discussed how he developed self-confidence and how he is driven to foster the right confidence in those he serves and impacts every day.

Resources mentioned during this episode

About the Guest

Dr. Roosevelt Nivens was born and raised in Langston, Oklahoma. Education comes naturally to Dr. Nivens; his dad, Roosevelt Sr., was an educator for 46 years and his mom, Barbara, was a teacher for 36 years. In 1990, Roosevelt majored in Education while attending Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia, on a football scholarship. He later graduated from college in 1995 and realized his life-long dream of playing professional football. However, his football career was quickly halted due to an injury and he found himself executing his “back-up plan”, using his degree in education.

In 1996 he began his teaching and coaching career with Dallas Independent School District and later, in 2001, he found his way to the principalship with Lancaster Independent School District. He has served as Assistant Principal at Lancaster Jr. High and Lancaster High School. He later moved, in 2005, to become Principal at Lancaster Middle School. His last campus position was Principal of Lancaster High School for four years. In 2011, Dr. Nivens transitioned into a central office leadership position as Executive Director of Secondary Schools and he later became the Assistant Superintendent in Lancaster ISD.

Dr. Nivens earned his Doctorate of Education (Ed.D) from Texas A&M Commerce. He was appointed Superintendent of Community ISD on July 28, 2015.

Dr. Nivens is married to Karla and they have two children attending CISD: Naomi and Roosevelt III.

Contact with Dr. Roosevelt Nivens

Website: Community ISD Bio
Blog: Superintendent’s Blog
Facebook: DocNivens
Twitter: @Dr_RNivens
Instagram: @dr_rnivens
Public Cell: 972-843-1056

Connect with the Host

You can reach me on Twitter @drjeffmiller  and Instagram @drjeffreymiller or go to my show website and leave a question or comment about any of the content shared on this episode. You can also read my latest blog post at

In an age of accountability and high stakes testing, public education has accomplished a lot. We have managed to utilize assessment data trends to identify resources and programs to support students’ educational needs. We have also learned how to breakdown objectives or learning standards to their most intricate parts to align our resources. Most of all we have developed ways to hold educators accountable for student achievement…One question remains: at what cost are we making all of these efforts? In other words, what have we sacrificed for this “data-driven” approach to education?

From the literature on students’ motivation for learning, we have come to understand that students learn more when they experience activities that they enjoy and find meaningful and interesting. However, as educators face growing pressure to prepare students to perform well in math and reading in high-stakes testing, public schools slip into predictable traps. Namely, educators implement instructional strategies that boil down content to isolated bits of information at the same time that they dramatically reduce the amount of time and resources used to engage students in creative, interdisciplinary activities and real-world projects that inspire learning.

We also know that students are motivated to work harder when they are able to personalize the purpose of learning. Yet, our high-stakes testing culture communicates to students that we value scoring well on tests as the overarching goal for engaging in learning. Sometimes in curriculum and teacher professional development, teachers and principals blur the lines between student learning and student achievement when they promote blatant “teaching to the test” practices couched in ideas like “backwards planning” or “teaching with the end in mind.”

Finally, research shows that academic achievement is influenced, in part, by self-concept and self-efficacy. Unfortunately, the heavy emphasis on high-stakes testing encourages teachers and administrators to view students as test-score increasers or suppressors rather than contributors to the learning environment or in terms of their incredible human potential. In turn, students, especially those from impoverished or at-risk environments, perceive this and come to define themselves as winners or losers on the basis of their test performance, to their academic and emotional detriment.

With our current trends, it is clear that high stakes testing and accountability are not likely to go away anytime soon.  Nevertheless, leaders in school systems can take measures to minimize their harmful effects and to foster a school culture that emphasizes student learning and preparation for life’s challenges.  Here are a few ideas to begin this process:

1. If school leaders want to ensure that students get enough test practice, they should schedule periodic practice times that are spread throughout the year rather than just two or three weeks before high-stakes tests are administered. Schools should, at least, refrain from engaging in test-prep boot camps where they shut down regular classroom instruction for intense focus specifically on the test at hand. Such activities only reinforce the impression that the test is the primary goal of schooling.

2. Administrators and teachers should work together to foster a productive mindset about testing. As a start, rebrand “tests” as “performance opportunities” and use language in the classroom that focuses on mastering knowledge, improving individual ability.

3. School leaders should focus on the value of schooling as a method to prepare how to live. As teachers use instructional resources and pedagogy that bring fun and authentic engagement back to the classroom, students can be encouraged to participate in activities that relate to what they’re going to be doing outside of and beyond school.

4. Administrators and teachers should strive to create a culture that encourages cooperation and service instead of competition. We now know that students are more likely to be successful in school when they have a sense of belonging. Making these kinds of connections leads to a more significant effort, greater persistence, and positive attitudes. Feelings of rejection have the opposite effects.

If we put the same energy and intensity that we have invested in high-stakes testing into understanding how to enhance the quality of students’ learning experiences, we might actually experience more success in getting more students to reach their full potential…and, hopefully, make room for learning in education again.

It is nearly impossible to welcome a new calendar year without thinking about what is to come. The pressure to set new goals, make new plans, and start anew is brought on by the constant reminders from our friends, social networks, and media of all types. Essentially, you would have to be living under a rock not to be bombarded with the expectations of setting new year resolutions. Well, this year I asked myself, what if we saw the new year’s resolution craze for what it really was, an arbitrary point in time in the dead of winter that is marketed as a reset button. Upon further reflection, I believe that we are easily charmed by this idea of a ‘do-over’ because we fundamentally lack stick-to-itiveness for many of our challenging goals in life. I say this not as a pessimist, rather, as a realist that aims to focus on the bigger issue to actually achieve real change. After all, isn’t that what we all really want in the new year, change? So to do this, I will embark on the following alternative plan of action for 2019 and suggest you do the same.

  1. Count your blessings and answered prayers for the year.
    Make this a practical exercise by listing out as many blessings you can think of in 5 minutes for each month of the year. You could start with the December and work your way backward to January. Also, if you have not already done so, commit to keeping a blessings/answered prayer log this year to help you with this process in the future. The best way to put the year in perspective is to review your blessings.
  2. Take time to clarify what is most important to you.
    It is so easy to fill our lives with things that really don’t matter. We are so busy with life’s distractions, influences, and entertainment competing for our emotions, energy, and commitment that we can become a magnet for trivial pursuits. To counter this, we have to focus and refocus on ‘the main thing continually’. Try putting your ideas on paper with a simple table using columns for spiritual desires, family desires, health desires, personal desires, and professional desires. I suggest these categories because most people usually end up pursuing things related to them, but feel free to make columns for the things that you tend to commit time and effort. Then list your most desired outcomes for each. I recommend adding results to help you clarify what goal obtainment would look like and to encourage action toward each area. Keep refining your list until you have one for each category. Once complete, your table should contain what matters most to you. As your life changes adjust, but always revisit before establishing a new goal and committing your time.
  3. Recognize what is driving you to make a goal.
    This is probably the most troubling aspect of making new year’s resolutions. Far too often we go with the flow without asking the question, ‘where is this coming from?’ before taking action. Are we being inspired by someone else’s success, the fear of missing out, a clever marketing campaign, or are we merely avoiding a more significant issue altogether? The best way to accomplish this is, to be honest with yourself and ask why five times to get to the heart of what is behind our desires to take action. Getting a handle on our motivations will always result in making better choices.
  4. Drop any dead weight – things that are not working need to go.
    This is easier said than done. You may even say this is harder than starting something new because our human nature and tendency to hold on to things that we have attached emotion or affixed meaning. Unfortunately, the reality is, we all tend to hesitate when it comes to confronting failures. Maybe that is because we are so used to seeing failures as negatives. Don’t get me wrong, I like to succeed as the next person, but the older I get, the more I appreciate learning – that is learning what works and what doesn’t work. We have to work at framing failures like a researcher developing prototypes. Every day we get the chance to make a new and improved version of ourselves, and this innovative mindset should lead us to scrutinize results frequently and make decisions to stop pursuing the things that don’t work. If you really feel the urge to start something new for 2019, how about starting the year with less – no more time wasters!
  5. Make a plan to review the progress of your goals at the beginning of each season – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.
    Yes, the need to review and revise is real, and I am not suggesting that we run from it. Instead, I am recommending that we put it in perspective. If we had a regular routine of goal evaluation throughout the year, we might find ourselves obtaining more goals and achieving what matters most in life. This is what led to my efforts to turn these steps into a practical exercise every quarter. Developing the right habits of mind toward continuous improvement and establishing practical steps for realizing success in life are always more important than following fads, trends, and emotional rollercoasters that end in failure and the need to reset every year.

So here’s to a year filled with daily renewals and not another once a year shot in the arm with the urge to set new goals.