STUDENT VOICE. Our Schools’ Most Underutilized Resource

Schools are designed for students.  Curriculum and programming are selected as tools to impact student learning.  Special events are intended to support students’ growth as learners, peers, and people.  Why is it then, that adults in our school buildings so often take the lead on decision making efforts (that often directly affect our students) without including our…. students in the process?

George Couros calls student voice our schools’ most underutilized resource in this regard.  Teams of well-intentioned adults regularly plan programming, classes, activities, interventions, enrichments, supports, assemblies, and events for our students- often without including these students’ voices in our planning, or better yet – letting them take the lead in planning efforts.   Meghan Lawson considers why this might be, and shares her students’ voices in her post:  The Most Underutilized Resource in Our Schools.   Her students’ voices are so powerful and, to me, provide a direct line into one of the best resources we have when planning for kids – the kids themselves:

“I am more than a number.”

“We deserve more than 23 minutes to eat our lunches.”

“Our desks are uncomfortable, and I’m sitting at a desk ALL day.”

“You preach preparation for the real world, but you give us busy work.”

“I have one hour of homework for your class each night, but I have 7 classes…”

“Why can’t I use the bathroom when needed?”

“I only have one remaining credit for graduation. I would love the opportunity to do some internships. I want help getting out into the real world to learn some stuff.”

“We don’t have to run the same schedule every day or every week.”



Barbara Bray, (in concert with Kathleen McClaskey & Sylvia Duckworth) provides a visual ‘Continuum of Student Voice’, illustrating classroom environments that span from teacher-centered to learner-driven.  As George notes, these learning environments are a key component in helping progress the focus in our classrooms from student choice, to student voice, and ultimately, student empowerment.


Have You Asked The Kids?

I recently attended a community gathering of parents organized by our District Superintendent.  The topic for discussion was “What’s Working Well in Our Schools? What Needs More Focus?”  While I was thrilled for the opportunity to provide my perspective as a mother of school aged students, I left the meeting wishing that students had been a part of the discussion.  After all, is school meant to work well for us parents, or our precious kids?

When was the last time we asked our students:  “What’s Going Well in Our Classroom?”  “What’s Not Working For You?”.   The answers to these questions might reinforce the wonderful things happening in our classrooms, or they might downright scare us.  Or – even better – perhaps asking the questions would open the door to climbing Barbara’s Continuum of Voice in our classrooms.



Promote Student Metacognition:  Ask students to reflect on their understanding often.  What has come easily today? What was more challenging? Ask students to set personal and academic goals for an upcoming term, quarter, year.  Invite students to share these goals with others.

Learning Inventories:  Help your students reflect on what they need to learn best.  Help them identify the environments and learning activities that they find exciting, rich, boring, challenging, overwhelming, etc.  Invite them to share their reflections with their peers.


Poll Student Satisfaction:  Use surveys to poll student satisfaction after events, lessons, or changes in schedule.  Specifically ask what could be done differently to improve their experience in the future.

Exit Interviews: Hold End of Term/Year/Course Exit Interviews to poll students about their experiences.  Use this information to inform and guide future planning.


Student Representatives:  Invite student representatives to sit on the planning committees for special events (assemblies, fund raisers, etc).  Ask a student representative to attend portions of department/grade level meetings or add an S to your PTO by inviting student representatives to participate in regular PTSO meetings.  Welcome these student representatives as voting members of the team, there not to simply consume information, but to contribute to the team’s work.


Student Advisory Committees: Create Grade Level Student Advisory Committees.  Partner with the student advisory committee to draft on schedules, fine tune ideas, and mold plans before enacting them.  Working through a dilemma as a team/department?  Bring it to your student advisory team to unpack together.

Curriculum Direction:  Collaborate with your students to design curriculum plans.  Create space that allows your students’ interests and talents to drive the direction of your next learning segment.


Flexible Seating:  Facilitate opportunities in which students can advocate for their learning needs, including the freedom to design a learning environment most effective for them.

Student Advocates:  Use a student advocate team to help troubleshoot specific dilemmas faced by other students.  This group (with rotating student membership) can investigate peer dilemmas, research potential solutions, then make and support recommendations to the referring student.


Student Leadership Academy:  Support students in the development of student leadership teams that tackle community (the school’s, the town’s or the world’s) dilemmas.  Entirely student run, these groups self-identify the goals and focus of the group, as well as the social dilemmas they tackle.


Thank you for providing students opportunities to participate in their own learning.  Thank you for creating spaces where students are able to practice and develop the skills of activism and leadership that this world desperately needs.

A commitment to fostering student voice in our learning spaces is a commitment to empowering children to become the activists and leaders this world desperately needs.







Bray, B. & McClaskey, K. (2016, January 10). Continuum of voice: What it means for the      learner.  Retrieved from

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.  San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Lawson, M. (2017, October 18).  The most underutilized resource in our schools. Retrieved from


The little big things. . .

This week I had a stark reminder about what’s important in this life; What’s truly worth our attention, our thoughts, our time.

My friend Amanda texted me on Sunday afternoon – telling me that she wouldn’t be able to come by the next day because she had been diagnosed with the flu at a local Urgent Care.  “Yikes! Feel better soon” was my response.  To which she said:  “Thank you! :)”

On Wednesday morning, Amanda crossed my mind:  “I should text her and see how she’s feeling”… but as sometimes happens in the hustle of my morning routine, I let the thought slip away without action.

Thursday morning I heard the shocking news.  Amanda passed away on Wednesday evening during transport from our small community hospital to a larger medical center.  She was a healthy 38 year old mother of four.  Her husband, who was following the ambulance in their family car, said goodbye to her on the side of a snowy back country road.

As I work to process this horrible week: “Is this real?”  “Amanda’s not really gone, right?” “How did this happen?”- I am realizing some ultimate truths that I vow to now keep ever present in my life.

It’s the little things in life that are actually the big things.

We have a tendency to give copious amounts of attention to certain parts of life (namely wealth, possessions, status, and power) that can actually be a distraction to our true work here on Earth (which I believe is simply to serve others so that you may leave more in this world than you received).  Today’s culture makes these big things in our lives by reinforcing the idea that without accumulating them, success cannot be achieved.

Consider, for a moment:  What would you like your legacy to be?  What is it about yourself that you would like to live on- long after your time here on Earth? For most, this legacy doesn’t include mention of possessions, wealth, status, or power.  It is not these that people long for more of in their final days.

Rather- it is life’s little things that are truly important:  connections with others, building relationships, quality time, spreading love. These are what matter at the end of the day.  Not having power, wealth, or prestige.  Not being the best, fastest, or strongest.

If we want to be the best at something this week, this year, in this life: let’s be best at the little, big things. Be the best parent. Spouse. Friend. Colleague. Teammate.  LOVE.  Be the best at that.

Doing the Little Things Best | In the Classroom

How can we intentionally focus on doing the little things best in our classrooms?

  1. Value process over product.  Shift your focus away from the products your students produce.  Focus less on the grades they earn and the assessment scores they acquire, and instead, place it on to the process of learning.  Then work to replace the traditional school norms and systems that tell students it is grades and not learning that is most important.
  2. Spend time with your students.  Get to know your students as learners, yes – but also as people.  Spend time with them in an effort to foster true, meaningful relationships.   Check out @lauriesmith1995 ‘s amazing reflection on relationship building and the idea of seizing each opportunity we have with our learners.
  3. Show students their value.  Help students see the value they bring to this world.  Provide learning opportunities that highlight your students’ strengths (not their weaknesses).  Authentically build their confidence by reminding them of their unique value and just how much they matter.
  4. Spread love.  Be a model of love and kindness, yes – but also help spread that love with intentional action.  Help students experience the joy that comes from spreading love to others by facilitating opportunities for them to do so.   Check out @lauriesmacintosh ‘s intentional focus on teaching her students how to love one another:TWEET3TWEET1



Amanda was intentional in her work here on Earth.  She looked me in the eyes when she talked to me.  She never rushed through our conversations.  She spent quality time building relationships.  She loved hard and served others relentlessly.

Amanda did life’s little, big things well & as a result, her legacy message is clear:

Love and serve others with intentional focus and you will find success.

Is that a Twitter in your hand, son?

Have you ever felt so ‘out of the loop’ that it paralyzed you?

Sometimes the pace of change in our field (especially in the technology arena) makes me feel like an outsider.  (Cue absurd thoughts as illustration:  “Is that a Twitter he was holding?” … “Can you Voxer on that?”  …”I need to try that SeeSawGridLet” quickly followed by thoughts of:  “But I mean – I’m not thaaaaat old” … “How did the world move on so quickly?”  “When did I get left behind?”

Today’s endless buffet of new learning tools, approaches, devices, and apps combined with intuitive and convenient ways to connect and share with others is certainly exciting.   I worry, though, about the risk of paralysis that comes with being out of one’s comfort zone.

We certainly know the benefits of time spent outside of our comfort zones.  It is said that this is where the true learning, or “the magic” happens.  This, of course, makes sense – as the safety of our own comfort zones does little to push the limits of our learning.

Image result for sylvia duckworth comfort zone

via @sylviaduckworth

Although I’m typically excited to leave my comfort zone, to try new things, and to explore how new ideas might fit into my current schemas and practices, I do sometimes feel so ‘out of the loop’ that it paralyzes me.  Not to mention, that putting yourself out there while simultaneously trying something new can be very difficult.  For me, too much new at once can cause Action Paralysis.

Vox Paralysis

This was my first week participating in a large Voxer community (if people even call it that).  The group I joined (EduMatch, created by Sarah Thomas & introduced to me by #DitchSummit) is made up of educators from all over the country (and maybe the world) who share stories and resources, ask questions, debate and discuss, and connect with one another.

Although nothing about the group is all that scary in reality, the unknown of public Voxer etiquette combined with the task of sharing my unrehearsed ideas with a large group of strangers, paralyzed me.  I actually sat for a full 3 minutes with my thumb hovering above the ‘talk’ button before my first Vox.

If, like me, the idea of many unknowns is causing you to feel overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, or even paralyzed, consider these strategies for breaking free:

Overcoming Paralysis

Select Tools Intentionally.  Not every new tool or app is for you.  Know your personal learning targets and thoughtfully choose the tools that help you reach specific goals.  Just as we thoughtfully integrate tech based on, not what is new and shiny, but what will truly amplify our teaching (@HollyClarkEdu), we must choose the learning tools that will truly enhance our professional growth.  Reduce overwhelming thoughts by selecting tools because they amplify your personal learning, not because you feel you should try something new.

Explore in Safety.  Give yourself the time and space to explore new apps and tools in a risk free zone.  Ask a friend to ‘figure it out with you’ or create a mock or test account before going live.  Before joining a larger Voxer community, I began using the tool with a colleague.   This allowed me to get comfortable with its features and learn the nuances of the app.  Next, we began using a Voxer group to connect our staff in a in between face to face meetings.  While these baby steps didn’t take away all of my anxiety around contributing to a larger public group, they did allow me the confidence to eventually do so.

Set a Time Goal.  Set time goals for yourself when it comes to exploring a new tool.  Just like children must try a new food hundreds of times before determining an accurate opinion of it, you too must allow yourself the time to gain comfort and skill with a new tool.  Increase the likelihood of providing yourself that time by setting parameters around your learning.  Commit to “10 minutes a day on Twitter for three weeks” or “blogging once a week for three months” before making a determination about whether or not the tool is a good fit.

Allow Yourself GRACE.  Shift your goals from pursuing perfection to garnering growth.  Perfection is a myth that hinders risk taking and stalls authentic growth.  Rather, it is the process of making mistakes – trying and retrying that feeds our creativity, determination, and inspiration.

Allowing ourselves the grace to grow gives us permission to play in the unknown and sets us up for contributing what only we can where it is needed most.








Grace | #Oneword2018

I’ve spent the first few days of the new year pondering my #oneword2018 choice.  This is my first time participating in a #oneword selection, and I want my choice to be intentional (I love the idea of setting clear intentions for the new year), meaningful, and memorable.

Last week our 18 month old burnt his hands on our gas fireplace.

That night, after finally getting him to sleep, I wept.  Tears of fear, and sadness, and lots of guilt.  How could I have let this happen?  What kind of parent doesn’t have the fireplace guard on during the coldest day of the winter? I should have been closer, paying more attention, more diligent.

Enter:  G R A C E  – My 2018 #oneword choice.


What I love About /Grace/

1. We all need it.

We need grace.  Grace from God, grace from others, and grace for ourselves.  None of us (nope, not one) are perfect.  Our intentions for the year ahead will occasionally fall short. We may not always bring our A game.  We will fail.  In 2018, istead of focusing on our inadequacies & guilt, let’s commit to embracing our imperfections, celebrating our failures, and granting ourselves grace.

If you and I are in need of grace, then others in our lives are as well.  This means our friends, students, colleagues, administrators, community members – and even our enemies – are all in need of the grace of others.  Why not be the one to offer it in 2018?

2.  Grace is undeserved.

What makes grace a wonderful (and sometimes difficult) gift is that, by it’s very nature, it is given to the undeserving.  The students, colleagues, and strangers that come into our lives in 2018 will, at some point, be undeserving of our grace.  They will yell, say rude things, refuse to listen, whine, and break their promises.  They will argue with us, ignore us, and give us less than their best.  It is in these moments, when grace is needed the most.  Consider how wonderful and unexpected a gift of grace (kindness, courtesy, & clemency) would be in these circumstances.

3.  Grace is the cousin to empathy.

Empathy, the ‘Not So Secret’ key ingredient to being an innovative educator (and all around good person), sets the stage for grace.

It is empathy that fosters thought patterns of love and equity.

It is only with an empathetic heart that we can consider offering grace to those around us.

4.  Grace is not a free pass.

Offering grace to others (and to ourselves), does not equate to handing out free passes for any behavior.  Instead, it opens the door for ourselves and others to try again.  Consider a violent student or a negative colleague.  Grace says “let me understand”, not “I agree with your choices”.  The same is true of ourselves.  When failure and disaster strike in 2018, grace says “this happened, but it doesn’t have to happen again”;  “This does not define you”.  Grace opens the door to a fresh start, another try, a next attempt.


G R A C E 

is what I believe will be a difference maker in our classrooms, and our world 

PD? That’s on ME.

I have to say- 2017 has been (by far) the most rewarding year of my career in terms of reaching personal professional growth goals.  There were a few events (and more importantly, lots of people) that contributed to my ability to make exponential strides in my professional learning in a short amount of time.  But, a key ingredient in the professional growth I made over the past few months has been my ability to steer and direct my own learning path.  I participated in MOOCs, began blogging, started a book proposal, and actively joined Twitter.  All new learning events for me – and, more importantly, all self selected and meaningful to me and my personal learning journey.  “Meaningful to me” are key descriptors of the growth I was able to experience; words that imply that everyone’s professional learning path should… no, must look differently.

Just as no two students bring the same interests, prior experiences, background knowledge, and biases to a lesson, no two adults share congruent learning paths.  Leaders can honor and respect these innate differences in their staff by supporting autonomy, choice, and freedom in the learning experiences people participate in.

I am certain that had someone told me six months ago that I “must blog each week” or was “being prescribed a certain MOOC to participate in”, my learning would have been superficial at best.  Instead, my time was willingly spent in learning opportunities that were exciting and relevant to me in each moment.   The freedom to direct and drive my own learning provided spark to my motivation and the ability to craft and mold the experiences to my current position gave purpose to my work.

Your Personal Learning Path

Below are some of the learning activities that I chose to engage in in 2017.  Some of them may be appropriate to your current position on your personal learning continuum, and others may not.  Consider where your learning took you in 2017 and what your next best steps might be.

Thinking in the Open:  This year I began asking my students to think and work in public spaces- reflecting openly in blogs, sharing their ideas with one another via Padlet & Flipgrid, and collectively building renewable works that serve a greater good (thank you, Robin DeRosa for introducing me to the world of Open Education).  Because I won’t ask my students to do anything in class that I’m not willing to do myself, I too, began thinking and working in the open (I participated in MOOCs, jumped into educational discussions on social media, & blogged for the first time).  Although this was a seemingly small shift (I was already engaged in similar learning activities in private settings), moving my learning, reflecting, and wonderings to public spaces had a monumental impact on my professional learning.  Opening my classroom truly opened my mind to the greater purpose of our work and to the idea of true life long learning.

Starting to Blog:  Although I realize that blogging is not new or noteworthy to many; when it came to my professional growth, blogging truly was both new and noteworthy!  When I first began blogging, I found myself working hard to write what others might like to read.  Over time, though, I began using my blog as a weekly tool for deeper self reflection.  Having an audience (or even the idea of a potential audience) helped challenge me to refine and specify my thoughts in a deeper way than my personal journal had in the past.  Setting a goal for publishing blog posts helped me remain consistent in the time I spent in self reflection, a critical component to any learning.

Joining The Conversations:  One of the biggest contributors to my 2017 professional growth was actively participating in ongoing conversations with others in our profession. Thanks to #IMMOOC and #DitchSummit, I was not only presented with amazing content to critically analyze, but I was challenged to join in discussion around important topics through weekly Twitter chats, common blog prompts, and live YouTube and Hangout sessions.  These conversations allowed me to simultaneously build an amazing PLN and engage in reflective conversation that pushed my thinking, challenged my preconceived notions, and raised my awareness.  If this is a relevant learning task for you, consider joining 1-2 Twitter Chats each week (Check out #tlap, #TeacherMyth, & #JoyfulLeaders – the time spent will pay in dividends!

Connecting with Others:  My absolute favorite takeaway from 2017 is the first hand experience I had connecting with other educators.  Thanks to Twitter, I have been able to connect directly with authors of phenomenal texts (@gcouros of Innovator’s Mindset, @jmattmiller of #DitchBook series, @HollyClarkEdu of Google Infused Classroom, @Joboaler of Youcubed, @JCasaTodd of Social Ledia among others) and other truly inspiring educators who (as an added bonus) are so easy to chat with that I feel like I’ve known them for a long time (even though we’ve never actually met in person).  Check out @lauriesmcintosh, @AnnickRauch, @TaraMartinEDU, @MeghanLawson, @Mo_physics,  & @tamaraletter @Katiemartinedu to experience the awesome firsthand.

PD?  That’s on ME

I stumbled on this Will Richardson (@willrich45) quote this week – a quote from a few years ago that, amidst ongoing conversations around personalized PD for educators, still rings loud and clear for me: 

And truth be told, teachers should be responsible for their own PD now. Kids wouldnwait for blogging workshop. Adults shouldn’t either.

Yes  – teachers should be responsible for their own PD – in fact, we have a responsibility to reflect on our individual and unique learning needs, and  should welcome opportunities for professional growth that are meaningful, relevant, and challenging to each of us in each moment.

So, yes – let’s not wait – As learners, let’s commit to chasing after learning opportunities that fit our individual and celebrated differences and as leaders, let’s honor our staff’s individuality by providing them the autonomy to self direct their own learning paths.


Classroom Contradictions

Sometimes, as educators, we unknowingly support contradictory statements & actions in our classrooms.  For instance, we work hard to promote equity in our classrooms, but then assign homework (the biggest cause of inequity in our schools @joboaler) or we manufacture real world learning experiences for our students, but neglect to incorporate the real real world.  Matt Miller helped raise my awareness to another common contradiction in this week’s #DitchSummit episode (available here until 12/31/17).  As educators, we strive to create an environment of questioning, curiosity, and student driven learning opportunities, but sometimes our practice of posting lesson objectives & standards unintentionally undermines this goal.

Traditionally, educators begin lessons by providing students an overview of what’s to come – a mini agenda, if you will, outlining the goals of the lesson, the standards the lesson targets, and the skills students will be able to do by the end of the session.  Students are typically quite passive during this overview, listening (or not) to a teacher provide a step-by-step outline of the lesson from start to finish.

Although we have great intentions when we choose introductions like those described above, they do seem to run counterintuitive to 1) the goal of offering captivating and motivating learning experiences for learners (Check out Dave Burgess’s (@burgessdave) Teach Like a Pirate movement) and 2) the notion of letting learners determine the direction of the learning in our classrooms.

Trade posted standards for captivating HOOKS       891669_10201086960165181_465833645_o882022_10201086960445188_2132638155_o

Crush the Contradictions

Crushing these contradictory statements, first takes a commitment to self reflection in the classroom.  You might have heard the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” – this is as true of teaching as it is any other practice.  Without time for metacognition, self-reflection, and time spent committed to personal growth, we lose the opportunity to recognize when these types of contradictions are present in our classrooms.  Consider your nonnegotiable teaching ideals and then pause to analyze your instructional practices.

Do all of your teaching practices align with your educational beliefs?  If not, take the time to press pause on your ‘go to practices’ and make adjustments to better align your actions to your ideals.

For instance, rather than opening lessons with a completion oriented task, let’s strive to spark students’ interest in learning with an intriguing and captivating hook.

Instead of spelling out a predetermined schedule of events at the start of lessons, let’s allow students’ interests determine the direction of their learning.

Rather than telling students what we think they will learn, let’s agree to provide them multiple and varied opportunities to show what they’ve actually learned.


Share the adjustments you make with your students!

Be transparent about your self reflection process, drive for continuous improvement and your commitment to creating captivating and meaningful learning opportunities.  Invite your students to offer insight into your professional practice – honoring the most underutilized (and arguably the most informative) resource in our schools – STUDENTS!


What Educators Can Learn From the Ultimate UltraMarathon

The next time you are looking for a good 90 minute watch, check out the Barkley Marathons documentary on Netflix.  The Barkley Marathons, conjured up by Tennessean Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, are a series of five 20 mile loops (in reality, Barkley runners say that each loop is more like full marathon distance) completed within a 60 hour time limit.

The Barkley Marathon is unlike any other ultra marathon in the world.  This race pushes athletes to the edge of their mental and physical limits as they navigate extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation, drastic elevation changes, and severe terrain challenges through the day and night (Read these race reports from Barkley Marathon finishers to gain a glimpse of what they experienced as a Barkley racer).  Each loop  of the race must each be completed in 12 hours or less and in alternating directions.  This is exceptionally challenging considering that runners must bushwhack through much of the unmarked course to reach checkpoints (runners must return a specified page of the book at each checkpoint as proof of having found them all) buried in the woods of Wartburg, Tennessee.  Since the race began in 1986, only 18 runners have completed the entire Barkley within the 60 hour time limit.  

Are People Crazy?

Identifying our physical and mental limits, and setting goals for pushing those limits, is widely popular these days.  Consider the Tough Mudder phenomenon (said to be one of the fastest growing athletic events), the rising number of marathon completers each year (up from 350K in 2000 to over 500K in 2016), and even the growth mindset movement. People are becoming increasingly interested in self reflection, personal growth, and pushing their limits- in an effort to see just how far their bodies and their minds can take them.

Why are people so interested in Tough Mudders, insanely hard CrossFit competitions, or even the Barkley Marathons?   Why would people want to push themselves to the brink of their physical and mental capacities?

I think, in many ways, these events allow us access to the same feelings and challenges that professional athletes experience in their careers.  Although professional athletics will always be primarily a spectator event for most of us, these events allow us access to similar challenges that illuminate the depths of our perseverance, the limits of our grit, and the bounds of our resiliency.

What is it that we can draw from these experiences that can help us push our personal limits in the classroom?

Decide to be Great:  Professional athletes set their sights on a very high goal and then they commit to reaching it.  Although the goal may not be achieved today (often these goals are years in the making), professional athletes decide that they will get there.  Decide to be great in your classroom.  Set your sights on exemplary status and define what that looks like to you.  Then commit to getting after it.

Set Bridge Goals:   No one reaches peak performance overnight.   Set bridge goals that allow you to close the gap between your current practice and your ideal performance level.  Maybe you can’t go gradeless overnight, but you can start shifting your thought patterns to embrace the learning process and to providing quality, timely feedback.  THAT you can do tomorrow.  Maybe you can’t eliminate homework in your classroom this month, but you can provide meaningful homework activities that honor students and their family time.  THAT you can do tomorrow.   Set and achieve some ‘bridge goals’ as successful checkpoints on the way to your ultimate goal.

Chart Your Path:  Simply deciding to be great isn’t enough. Think about what it will take for you to achieve greatness.  Consider both the amount of time it will take for you to reach your ultimate goal, as well as the steps needed to make it there.  Start moving along this path of growth, just as runners follow a training segment to prepare for race day.  Your training plan will depend on the unique qualities, experiences, and gifts you bring to the challenge, so no two paths will be the same.

Surround Yourself with Top-Notch Personal Trainers (& Avoid Junk Food):  Elite athletes work closely with a team of people committed to helping them achieve their goals.  There are thousands of educators committed to your success as well.  They are present in your school leaders and colleagues, but also in a virtual PLN.  Surround yourself with those committed to the same work you are, and use them as 1) fuel for growth and 2) to counteract any negative energies that are bound to come your way (think of them as tempting junk food).  I use Twitter chats as a way to both fuel my soul and silence the negative energies that threaten to derail my growth.  Try joining one Twitter chat a week as part of your training segment.  Weekly interactions with those committed to the same educational goals you are can bring you much needed encouragement, support, and resources as you make your dreams a reality.

Explore Your Limits:  Every athlete and every educator has differing levels of tolerance for new ideas, change, and even professional growth. Test your limits by mentally exploring and testing new thoughts and strategies.  Reflect on those that make you uncomfortable.  What makes them tough?  Is the challenge impossible, or just out of reach today?  Is it a Tough Mudder that pushes you to the brink or would it take a Barkley Marathon? Does flexible seating make you uncomfortable, or does it push you to your limit? I going gradeless on the fringe of your comfort zone or is way outside? Find out what new idea or strategy pushes you to today’s limits and do it in the classroom.  Reassess in one month. You will likely find that your limits have expanded, and you can now add new ideas to your repertoire. You are moving forward in your training segment and getting closer to your ultimate goal of peak performance.

You'll never know how much you can do until you try something more_

Passion:  Elite athletes have a passion for what they do. Although the day-to-day grind of training may wear them down, they are able to draw strength from a passion for their sport and love for the game. What makes you love teaching? What’s your WHY? Keep your ‘why’ present with photos and quotes throughout your classroom.  Draw on them during long training days.


Ultimately, educators and athletes alike are in hot pursuit of accomplishing something meaningful – something real that lasts long after race day.  Commit with “every fiber of your being” to trying, failing, and reworking along your journey to greatness. Laz



Love Languages in the Classroom

Make Connections.  With Content and with PEOPLE.

I love finding connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information.  Metaphors, similes, analogies, memes -I love it all!  Making connections between new information and pre existing constructs helps learners like me, synthesize and make meaning.  This is why educators often try to draw on students’ past experiences and current constructs – to set the stage for learning by inviting students to find a relationship between new content and their current understandings.

The learning I do in our field (which, by the way, takes place literally EVERYday now thanks to my growing and amazing PLN) nearly always has implication in other facets of my life.  It seems that I can always apply some component of my educational philosophy and learning to the relationships I build as a parent, spouse, coach, and friend.  The visa versa seems to be true as well; As I engage in mentorship, friendship, spirituality, and encouragement in these other important roles in my life, I often discover that the content holds implications for my work as an educator.  My friend, Emily (@TheEdSandbox) often speaks of this “trickle down effect” of education – and she and I agree that it knows no bounds.

When scrolling through my Twitter feed the other day, I stumbled across the tail end of a #teachermyth Twitter chat in which Laurie McIntosh (@lauriesmcintosh) noted her revelation that “gifts aren’t everyone’s jam”:


Laurie is right.  Just because small notes and gifts appeal to her heart, doesn’t mean that they will be meaningful to everyone in her audience.  Recognizing this, Laurie began  considering ways to show her appreciation for her staff in ways that have meaning and value to each of them.  As learners (and people) we crave this personalization (think personalized PD, autonomy in our classrooms, and coffee made just how we like it).

The 5 Love Languages

Gary Chapman (@DrGaryChapman), marriage and family author and presenter, writes about 5 ‘Love Languages‘ (Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, & Physical Touch) and the importance of discovering and speaking your partner’s love language in a thriving relationship.

Dr. Chapman’s work certainly resonates with our work in schools- as we strive to connect meaningfully with colleagues, staff, parents, and, most importantly, our learners.  Consider the following Dr. Chapman quotes on parenting, but with an educator’s lens:

We often try to pour all our children into the same mold. We go to parenting conferences and read books. We are inundated with great ideas that we want to use with our children. We fail to remember, however, that each child is different. What works with one may not work with another. And what communicates love to one child may not be received the same way by another child.

-Dr. Gary Chapman


The Love Languages in Our Schools

Words of Affirmation

For those whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation, positive and encouraging comments go a long way.  Speak freely and affirmatively with these students & colleagues, building confidence through positive talk.  Uplift students and staff with unexpected notes or emails.  Call or write to parents, administrators, and the community to share others’ great work.  Offer encouragement and praise to students and staff through blogs and social media.

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Kayla Delzer’s (@topdogteaching) affirming and personalized notes for her kiddos

Acts of Service

Let your actions speak for you when communicating with students and staff whose primary love language is Acts of Service.  Think of ways you might ‘lighten the load’ for these friends, or ways you can show your appreciation of them.  Attend students’ after school commitments, or help a staff member solve a non-school related problem.  Help a student get packed up at the end of the day or remember an important date in a staff member’s life.  Find out about others’ passions and find ways to incorporate them into their day.

Receiving Gifts

Some people feel love through tokens of thoughtfulness.  Find ways to leave simple (even free) tokens of your appreciation for those whose primary love language is Receiving Gifts.  Leave an inspirational quote for a staff member, or a special treat for a student.  Provide a new school supply for a learner or a classroom want for a colleague.  Buy lunch for a staff member or coffee for a parent.  Be sure to attach notes of appreciation to your gifts.

Quality Time

Your undivided attention is what shows your love to those who resonate with Quality Time.  Show your appreciation to those who speak this love language by offering your time to them.  Invite a student to have lunch with you or play a game with him/her during recess.  Coteach with a faculty member or offer to help him/her plan an upcoming unit.  Facilitate an extra-curricular activity for students or hold a coffee and conversation evening for community members.

Physical Touch

For those for whose love language is Physical Touch, positive facial expressions and touch mean the most.  Find ways to incorporate tools into these students’ day, like sensory related flexible seating or fidget tools, that target their love language.  Share a high five, hug, or handshake with others as a sign of your appreciation.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

It is clear that there is no ‘one size approach’ to expressing appreciation.  Taking the time and energy to get to know your staff and students’ love languages takes a commitment to authentic connections with those in your school community.  Getting to know one another and then using that information to tailor your interactions with those around you is a great way to do what Amy Collier (@amcollier) notes as the true purpose of education: LOVE.


How OPENing My Classroom OPENed My Mind

Grab any sampling of school mission statements and you are likely to come across the words “life long learner”.  This is such a wonderful sentiment, but what do these words actually look like in practice?  What are the identifiable traits of “life long learners”?  What types of activities do these learners engage in and how are they sustained ‘life long’?

Spending the past few months in the open (through #IMMOOC and utilization of Open Pedagogy in my online course) has opened my eyes to this notion of true continuous learning.  Learning in open forums (and encouraging the same of my students) has helped me experience, first hand, a learning cycle of critical consumption, reflection, creation, and finally – contribution.   

Original Image from Empower by AJ Juliani & John Spencer


Continual engagement in this learning cycle is how I envision ‘life long learning’ playing out in…well…real life.  Most educators engage in consumption – on a regular basis: begging, borrowing, and stealing (with permission), great ideas from whomever and wherever we can.  The best consumers then reflect on this content, become inspired to create their own works and ideally, openly contribute them back into the cycle and back into the field.

This is extremely exciting for educators and learners alike, because this experience of creating and contributing openly transcends the restrictions of both physical classroom walls and online learning management systems.  In fact, authentic participation in this continuous learning cycle can’t occur inside a classroom or LMS because the cycle craves a larger audience and bigger stage.  Plus, courses end, grades close, programs are completed, and students graduate.  And when they do, manufactured learning opportunities disappear. 

In the past I worked really hard to mimic the real world in both my face to face and virtual classrooms.  I spent many hours attempting to recreate real world situations and craft real life experiences in my classes.  I was spending a good amount of time and effort orchestrating the creation of fake real world scenarios when the real real world was right there all along.

How OPENING My Course OPENED My Mind:

This term I took a new approach (inspired by Robin DeRosa and local Open Pedagogy discussions- check them out at @actualham & #USNHShare).  I asked my students to immerse themselves in the field of education in concert with current, practicing educators.  I asked my learners to utilize open forums to share their learning, interact with colleagues, authors, and thought leaders of whose work we read in class.  I facilitated real real world learning tasks that asked students to reflect on their learning consumption then create meaningful artifacts that contributed to their personal learning communities.

Doing so facilitated a REAL real world immersion that even the best of my previous mimicked lessons couldn’t touch.  Working in the open naturally increased my course’s rigor and relevancy as my assignments grew in audience, purpose, and value and my students became contributors to our field.   My students were empowered to take an active role in the creation of real content and in the experience of real conversations in their respective fields.  Learning expanded naturally and exponentially, as the connections, discussions, and purpose for my course’s work become much greater than a LMS or classroom could ever hope to provide.

Ideas for OPENing Your Class:

  • Move online classroom discussions out of your Learning Management System and into the open (through social media and/or blogging).  Use a course hashtag to track posts, replies, & comments
  • Exchange a required online discussion for a live Twitter Chat (organize your own, or invite students to participate in a chat of their choice related to a course topic, content area, or age group they are interested in)
  • Ask students to blog weekly as a vehicle for sharing their reflections.  Ask learners to share and comment on one another’s work, pushing their collective thinking and making connections to other existing works, blogs, chats, and discussions.
  • Invite students to share their course artifacts in the open (through a Creative Commons license and on an open platform like  FlipGrid or Padlet.
  • Transition assignments from ‘Disposable’ to ‘Renewable’ (@actualham).  “Disposable assignments” have an audience of only one (the teacher).  They have little purpose and/or the actual product has little relevancy to the real real world as evidenced by their final destination…a trash can or electronic archive).  Renewable work, though, has purpose, meaning, and value in context.  These assignments are created to meet the actual needs of a real (and wide) audience and as a result are living, renewable, and valuable.

BE an OPEN model

What better way to model, foster, and encourage lifelong learning in our students than by openly modelling continuous learning ourselves?  Continuous engagement in the reflective process of critical consumption, creation, and contribution is life long learning in practice.

Let’s free ourselves from the exhausting work of learning in isolation.  Let’s quit the tiring task of recreating real life inside the constraints of our classrooms.   Let’s agree to make, remix, revise, and GIVELet’s break into the OPEN.  THIS is what will sustain a profession.



4 Miles = 4 Blog Ideas | Generating Blog Post Ideas

Creativity is something that many people (myself included, until recently) believe you either ‘have or don’t’.  Our fixed mindset culture leads us to believe that creativity is a God given, natural talent that is simply part of the personalities of a lucky minority.  Similar sentiments are thought about artistic, musical, and athletic ‘talents’, leading us to believe that these traits are either gifted to you at birth, or … not.

For me, creativity was one of these ‘magic traits’ that I deemed myself ‘not blessed with’.  Sure, I had other ‘talents’, but out of the box thinking was not one of them.  That is, until something happened- I caught myself HAVING AN IDEA!

As it turns out, creativity is not something that God has only supplied to a lucky few.  It is a characteristic that with time, attention, careful thought, and focus, can be developed, strengthened, and cultivated.  In fact, I now can’t think of a character trait that isn’t this way.   We aren’t __________ (athletic, musical, math, artistic, creative…) people.  Rather, we are who we commit to being through focus, hard work, perseverance, and passion. 

Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, often shares the frustration he experienced when a colleague told him that designing and implementing off the wall engaging learning experiences was “easy for him, because he’s creative”.   On the contrary, Dave’s ideas (as he explains in the text) don’t appear to him in blinding flashes of light or drop from the sky in a fury of perfection.  Instead, they are honed and crafted by thoughtful “engagement in the creative process” which include trying new things, cultivating passions, and asking the right questions.

Generating engaging, relevant, and meaningful blog post ideas is one area of creativity that I often wish would present as a flash of genius in perfectly timed moments.  Instead, (like all things worthwhile) my creativity requires sustained focus, commitment, and hard work.

Engaging in the Creative Process:  Ways to Spark Blog Post Ideas

  • Actively Seek Inspiration:  Actively seek inspiration for your writing.  Learning in ‘Open’ spaces (blogs, Twitter, etc) embraces the notion of sharing and remixing one another’s ideas.  Take the time to experience the content in your field, reading, reflecting on, and thinking critically about others’ contributions.  Honor differences in opinion, using the opportunity to challenge your own thought patterns, learn, and grow.  Reflect on these experiences in your blog.
  • Journal:  Keep a journal (or two) of ‘blog worthy’ notes.  Notepads and paper in your car, office, bedside table, etc, are great for jotting down inspiration as it comes.  Record specific quotes, questions, and ideas to be unpacked at a later time.
  • RUN:  Aerobic exercise has been shown to encourage growth in the hippocampus, potentially helping to spark ideas and create connections.  Running typically yields me a minimum of one blog post per mile.  It works so well that I’m currently working on devising a system for ‘journalling while jogging’.
  • Prioritize Time for Creativity:   Honing any skill takes focused attention; and focused attention takes time.  Set aside time in your weekly schedule for actively working at the skill of generating ideas and fostering creativity.  Identify what it is that helps  get your creative juices flowing and schedule time in your day to practice.   Some things that work for me (some better than others) are: listening to music, going for a walk with my dog, reading, spending time in quiet reflection, journaling, reading the Bible, playing sports, and going for a drive – certainly nothing Earth shattering and nothing I haven’t engaged in before, but doing so with the specific goal of generating ideas has been quite helpful.  Identify what it is that helps fuel your creative fire and make time in your day to commit to fostering the skill of brainstorming.
  • Cut Yourself Some Slack:  Allow yourself permission to write – to write and share.  Not every idea will be (or needs to be) fully fleshed out before publication.  Open Education embraces and encourages ideas that are ‘not yet’ fully developed, fostering both sharing and collaboration as we work to reuse, revise, and remix one another’s work.
  • Stop Thinking That You Aren’t Creative:   A huge contributor to my ability to ‘become more creative’ was belief that I was capable of producing creative ideas.  Reflect on your personal creativity goals and articulate them as you would when working to achieve any new PR.  Then, shed the fixed mindset, set your sights on becoming uber creative, and actively work to go get it!