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.

kayla notes.JPG

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.