Meaningful Motivation

Meaningful Motivation #IMMOOC

I’m inspired today by @AnnickRauch‘s recent blog post about educators’ motivation – the “why” behind our work.   In her post, Annick reflects on her growth over time – particularly her exponential growth over the past year.  What sparked that energy and growth if her students’ happiness, learning, growth, and safety has always been her “why”?  Our students have always been “more than worth” the HARD HARD work it takes to sustain a path of energy, self reflection, and innovation in our field.   But what other fuel do we have for this fire?

Annick commends her PLN or – even better – her Professional Learning FAMILY (love that distinction by @TaraMartinEDU) for this added energy, confidence, and MOTIVATION to be her best self.

I couldn’t agree with Annick more –  The energy that comes from being part of a connected family of learners is incredibly inspiring.  I find myself harnessing that energy throughout my day – hearing quotes from my EDU family resonating in my mind as I offer feedback to aspiring educators or when students and colleagues push my own thinking.

The thing is, though – being part of this PLF has done something even more for my motivation and my “why”.


Our Professional Learning Family has helped move me from consumer to contributor.  Never before have I felt a greater connection between the work I do with individual learners and our field as a whole.  Being a part of this network of like minded thinkers, all pushing the envelope of status quo has sparked something in me – something incredibly motivating:  the motivation to contribute.  No longer do I want to be on the sidelines of our field.  Rather than my old consuming pattern of reading and implementing, finding and trying, I am inspired and motivated to design, create, and contribute to the discussion.  Because of our PLN, my reflections, my work, my ideas, are now all greater than me.  They have an audience of more than one.  They are part of a movement – part of something great – of which we are all contributing.


We have much in common with our students in regard to motivation.  We are all learners with an intrinsic desire to contribute to something meaningful – something real.  Let’s commit to offering this same motivation to the learners in our classrooms – by providing them opportunities to be meaningful contributors to our world.

Let’s commit to ridding our classrooms of ‘disposable assignments’ that have an audience of only one (the teacher) and instead, replace them with authentic, renewable learning experiences that invite our learners to contribute to a wider audience, a deeper discussion, a greater cause, a larger movement.


Old Me VS New Me|Thank you, #IMMOOC

Old Me VS New Me |  Thank you, #IMMOOC

The Old Me:   The old me used to discuss students as categories, groups, and levels.  I would say things like: “This game really helped my low students understand inferences” or “Wow! My high kids loved this writing prompt”.  My colleagues and I would discuss our students based on their proficiency levels- even coding students who were approaching a benchmark in yellow highlighter and those who had reached the target in green.  We discussed the percentages of students in each ‘level’, banding students together into categories and discussing how we can create ‘more green students’. The process helped me self assess the instructional approaches I selected, and my intentions were pure.  BUT – there was something missing in this data collection and analysis cycle.  One crucial ingredient.  LEARNERS.

The New Me:  I no longer refer to students as ‘low’ and ‘high’, ‘advanced’ and ‘struggling’.  I no longer utter ‘he’s a good kid’ because this implies that ‘bad kids’ exist.

Now, when I discuss students, I refer to them by name.   I no longer consider students’ needs, but consider each student’s needs – individual by individual. 

Learners are no longer defined by numbers, levels, and labels, and instead are recognized for their talents, passions, needs, and interests.

Formative Data Anecdotes

Rather than letting data drive, let’s agree to put learners in the driver’s seat (@gcouros).  Instead of focusing on numerical data for information (numbers), let’s focus on anecdotal data (found in conversation, interaction, experiences, discussion).

You see, anecdotes are relational; numbers alone are not.

 And relationships trump numerical data every time.  Relationships allow us glimpses into each student’s thinking, experience, and understanding – and connect us to students in a way far deeper than numbers and categories ever could.

Anecdotes Trump 2.png



Don’t Lecture on Constructivism

Be a Model OUTSIDE the Classroom

Tonight I’m reminded how important it is that we, as educators, be models for our students.  We have discussed before how important it is to model risk taking, empathy, problem-finding, & resiliency for our kiddos- but this is crucial for the others we serve as well.  In what other roles do you have influence?  Are you a leader of a book club or other social group?  A parent or spouse? A group member in your local church?  a swim instructor or basketball coach?  If we aren’t modelling innovation in these areas of our lives – outside the classroom – we are missing opportunities to share thinking, spark others’ ideas, promote equity, and spread love.

The Trickle Down Effect

As my friend Emily (@TheEdSandbox) says, “the trickle down effect of our work as educators is huge”.  Consider how you approached your first day in the classroom.  It was probably quite similar to what your cooperating teacher modelled for you, or reminiscent of what you experienced in school.

If institutes of higher education (like mine) strive to develop empathetic, innovative educators, we MUST model these practices for them in their courses.  It is not enough to say “read this article on student agency” or “write an essay on the importance of being networked”.  We must be willing to provide opportunities for our adult learners to synthesize, create, and make meaning that is purposeful to them.  We must be willing to let go of control in our college classrooms and allow students the freedom to “go down a rabbit hole” (@gcouros), to make meaningful connections, and to remix content in a way that is best for them.  Isn’t this what we hope their future P-12 classrooms look like?

Lecturing on Constructivism

During tonight’s #IMMOOC conversation, @Katiemartinedu shared an experience in which a conference presenter banned the use of devices during the session.  Katie felt stifled without the ability to take notes on her laptop, which is what helps her synthesize content.  Her anecdote led me to think about some of the education conferences (and college courses) I’ve sat in, in which information was presented in one modality, to a large audience who wasn’t encouraged to do anything with it.  Luckily, as George Couros (@gcouros) mentions a few minutes later in the session, educators all across the country are challenging this ‘one size fits all’ thought pattern and are modelling innovative approaches in their work with adult learners who can then implement the thought patterns in their own classrooms.  Now, educators at a conference synthesize content through conference hashtags, find mentors and resources through social media, and  attend work sessions to remix content in ways meaningful to them.

Our work in teacher preparation is on the path to improvement as well, as professors strive to connect students in meaningful ways and engage student teachers in ‘renewable tasks’ that are purposeful and contributive to the field.

Open Education Pedagogy (OER Supported Pedagogy)

Open Education Pedagogy (or OER Supported Pedagogy) is a wonderful example of how institutes of higher education are shifting their thought patterns to create learner-directed classrooms.  Robin DeRosa and Scott Robinson write about this shift in thought; saying that it allows “faculty the opportunity to create a new relationship between learners and the information they access in the course.  Instead of thinking of knowledge as something students need to download into their brains, we start thinking of knowledge as something continuously created and revised”.

Since this is exactly how we hope P-12 educators approach the learning relationship between students and content in their own classrooms, it is more crucial than ever that teacher preparation programs ‘practice what we preach’.


My Students Make Me Happy

I had lunch the other day with an old colleague that I hadn’t seen in awhile.  When she heard that I had left the fourth grade classroom for higher education, her response was: “UGH –  That sounds like a lot of papers to grade!”

I suppose, if you consider a very traditional lecture style college course made up of 60+ twenty-somethings listening to a professor drone in a ‘Charlie Brown style’ monotone, grading stacks of essays might come to mind.  But this is not what my work is comprised of.  My work takes me into classrooms and brings me alongside amazing teachers striving to build on what they know to affect change for their students.  This rarely takes shape in the form of a written essay for me to read and ‘grade’ – although ongoing written and video reflection is a key ingredient to their success.  Instead, my students’ work is always unique – adapted to their interests, experiences, and most importantly – the needs of their students.   My students are reflective by nature, inquisitive and growth oriented – in fact, they are much like my former fourth graders in that way.

Facilitating our course is like continuous professional development for me because my students teach me so many cool things.  Today I learned all about EdCanvas/Blendspace from interacting with an online learning experience that one of my students created for her third graders.  Another student taught Emily Gannon (@TheEdSandbox) and I about Augmented Reality in a way that we could never have gleaned from reading a stack of essays.  I love learning alongside my students – They have the bravery to ‘cannonball in’ (a tag line I stole from @TaraMartinEDU) and this makes me so so happy.


The ‘Not So’ Secret Ingredient


Empathy is glue.  The most important, and (not so) secret, ingredient that a learner (educator or student) can possess.  This magic sauce holds together all other innovative traits, and gives purpose and meaning to our work with kids, our work with one another, and our work as contributors of  a future rooted in equity and love.

I love this @sylviaduckworth sketch of @gcurous‘s 8 traits of an innovative mindset.  Notice EMPATHY as characteristic #1:


Consider a networked, creative, problem finding, risk taker.   Sounds like the makings of an amazing innovator, right?!  Observant, resilient, creators would certainly impact student lives –  BUT, I would argue that without empathy, the most important ingredient binding these innovative traits together, our work falls flat.

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

Empathy truly impacts the future.

The horrific events of this past weekend only drive home the point that all of the education in the world; all of the creativity; all of the innovation- is all for not, without it being wrapped in empathy, kindness, equality, and love.

Empathy Kindness


Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  It’s important to really ponder and consider this in our roles as school leaders, educators, learners, parents, colleagues, and friends.  I wonder, sometimes: Is empathy really achievable?  How can I with all my unique thoughts and experiences, truly understand and share the feelings of another?  How could I, with my female, white, middle-class biases, truly understand what it’s like to be a person of color?  Empathy then, needs to extend beyond saying simply, “I know how you feel”, and move toward truly creating space for recognizing where our shortcomings and biases influence our very ability to be empathetic.

Consider how we display empathy to our family members, colleagues, and students.  What about our neighbors, acquaintances…strangers?   Should empathy be shown to those who disagree with our own opinions and even our passions?   How do we meet differences in opinion when those differences are a stark contrast to our personal beliefs, morals, and ethics?   Should we have empathy for all, or only those who share our opinions and beliefs?   Is there a limit, perimeter, or restriction associated with the love and empathy we display?

Love and empathy should rule our classrooms, but also our hearts and minds.  I believe this love and empathy should be unrestrained, unrestricted, and know no bounds.


So what does unbound love and empathy look like in the classroom? We can’t pretend to understand the feelings of our students or faculty, having not physically been in their shoes.  Instead, let’s commit to fostering an environment that confronts biases and values empathy as the most important ingredient in our classrooms, and our lives:

  1. Listen. Let’s truly listen to our students; our colleagues who share a difference in opinions; our leaders who hold different viewpoints. Listen for understanding and discuss with patience and love.
  2. Ask questions. We can’t know what something is like without probing and pondering the scenarios of which we have had no experience.  Ask questions and then actively listen to the responses.
  3. Identify biases.  Provide opportunity to recognize biases that exist in ourselves and our students.  Model and encourage self reflection as a way to confront these biases.


Let’s make building empathy in ourselves and others the focus of our work here on Earth.  Doing so will create an environment where the other 7 innovative mindset characteristics can thrive.

Be Brave on The Road Less Traveled

“Take the road less traveled”

“Go against the grain”

“March to the beat of your own drummer”


These quotes seem so exciting and invigorating!  Just reading them aloud gets me fired up to change the world!  But, then I think about actually going against the grain in practice;  Actually travelling an uncommonly travelled path in my own organization; Actually adopting innovative practices and thought patterns.  Hmm..  Suddenly innovating in education (a profession characterized by policy, regulations, and deep tradition) becomes easier said than done.

True learning (the kind defined by new thought patterns and connections), takes more than fancy language and reciting inspiring quotes.  True innovation takes bravery.   It takes courage to step out of our comfort zones and truly take the risks that are needed to innovate our mindsets and shift our practices.

Part of this shift involves modelling not only mistake making, but also the thought processes associated with allowing oneself to be in a space where mistakes are not only okay, but encouraged.  For us educators, this takes embracing mistake and error in both our students and ourselves.  It is about cultivating a culture where ‘not-yetness’ (@amcollier) is welcomed.

Learning is about making connections across content areas and experiences (@joboaler).  For rich connections to be made, students must be given the opportunity to take learning wherever it leads.  The connections students make in their minds, and the meaning that they build based on these connections, will be unique for each student.  Therefore, teachers need to create an environment where it is possible for students to personalize these connection pathways.  Actually doing this in the classroom will mean letting go of some of the control, and not having a full sense of exactly where each lesson will lead.  Lesson plans will need empty space- space left to filled by students.  If we choose not to allow for these unique learning pathways – if we choose to stay the course, consistently carving the learning paths for our students,  not only will they fail to make their own personalized connections, but the level of learning that occurs in our classrooms will never surpass that of our own understanding.  As @katiemartinedu said so eloquently in #IMMOOC Season 3, Session 1: “If we (as teachers) have to have all the answers – how are we ever going to allow kids to surpass us and do better than what we currently know?”  Isn’t the goal for our students to exceed what we have planned for them – to surpass the constraints of our own thoughts?

Facilitating this environment means being able to be innovative, even in systems governed by policy, regulation, and tradition. Educators must innovate inside the box we are given- being brave enough to step out of our comfort zones to advocate for putting students at the center of teaching and learning. This won’t be comfortable.  It will mean carving a new path that challenges the more commonly traveled path of tradition (think: “timed math tests are common in my school”, “homework is mandatory in my district”, “I have to follow the textbook exactly”).  It means facing adversity and seeing disagreement as an opportunity to push the discussion forward, challenge our own thinking, and build new schemas. Then, and only then, will be truly be modeling for students what it means to take risks in learning.


Open House Remix

Tonight I attended Open House at my son’s elementary school – the very school where I spent much of my teaching career.  Leaving the school grounds, I was reminded how exhausted I always was at the end of nights like these when, after days of planning and anticipation, the last of the families finally left (toddlers and balloons in tow) and another Open House was successfully in the books.   Early in my career, I would fret about nights like tonight – the nervous anticipation of meeting families building as I washed desks, organized and rearranged furniture, printed colorful sign up sheets, and carefully selected the perfect student work samples to display.

It wasn’t until tonight, as I walked through the building where I had spent a decade welcoming parents into my own fourth grade classroom, that I realized that I just may have had my Open House planning all wrong.    I’ve spent the last few hours thinking – As an educator, and as the mom of a spunky, animal loving, first grader, – what exactly is it that I would like to see tonight?  What would show me that my boy’s days are spent in an environment where he is valued and loved?  What might demonstrate that his learning environment is one that fosters differences, creativity, and flexibility?  What could I find within these classroom walls to illustrate that he is asked to try and fail, think and rethink?

I’m afraid that the answers to these questions aren’t found in neatly stacked textbooks or colorful name tagged cubbies.  No, you’ll have to go much deeper into the messiness to find the makings of the true, meaningful learning experiences that I would like a glimpse of.  Rather than an Open House focused on the periphery of learning, I propose an Open House Remix.


Team Building Activity or Get to Know You Game:   Have an ongoing game occurring in a portion of the classroom.   Brain teasers, word play games like Whozit, puzzles, and other traditional classroom games are a great way to break the ice while demonstrating a commitment to collaboration, team building, and fun.

Twitterfall:  Utilize a classroom hashtag or Twitter account to share the learning happening in your classroom.  During Open House, display a Twitterfall of the posts by the class account or a search of your class hashtag.

Student Work Thought: During my years of ten years of teaching, I often had student work displayed for parents to view during Open House.  Think about how powerful it would be though, had I shifted this focus from student work to student thought.  Rather than displaying traditional student ‘work’, invite parents to see the inquiry that occurs in your class.  Make the current problems students are tackling available during open house so that children can share their progress and current thinking with their families.

Empathy:  Use the Open House as an opportunity to share the community service projects your students are engaged in and the connections they are making with other classrooms both in and out of the school.  Invite parents to join in the work by sharing their expertise, resources, and ideas for extending learning beyond the classroom walls and spreading empathy and love in the community.

Student Agency:  Offering student choice and voice in the classroom is essential when creating an environment for learning.  Consider how your everyday pedagogical decisions and classroom procedures allow for student choice and opinion.  Display some evidence of student agency like choice centers, a variety of tools to select from, evidence of varied assessment options, etc.  In one classroom at our local middle school, I spotted this bulletin board that got me thinking:

How often do we communicate the specific traits we’d like our students to exhibit, yet fail to ask them what they look for in a quality teacher?  I love this simple way of polling which ‘teacher traits’ are most important to our students.

‘Get To Know Your Teacher’:  Just as you strive to truly know and connect with your class,  your students and their parents want to know who you are as well!  Display a few artifacts and/or photos that allow guests a glimpse into your hobbies, interests, and goals.  Encourage your students and their families to interact with you around the artifacts, share stories, and make connections.

Relationship Building:  What evidence will parents see at Open House to show that you love their child and strive to build a meaningful relationship with them?   Provide space and time in your classroom to let student interests, hobbies, and talents shine.  Prioritize creating meaningful, lasting connections with each of your students and their families -and let this be the central focus of your Open House.

“Let creating meaningful, lasting connections be the focus of Open House  . . .  and everyday of the year”








Keeping Why Present

As I reflect on today’s events in 2001 and on the rescue and restoration efforts of this hurricane season, I am reminded of how easily everyday life can muddy what is truly important, and how often my focus is pulled from those that matter most.   My messy home, needy children, and  hectic workday are all vying for my attention until suddenly, the most valuable moments of life slip into the back seat.

Until disaster strikes.

I’m not sure why it often takes tragedy to spark pause and reflection, but today I am reminded that building relationships with others can’t take a backseat to dirty dishes or lost car keys.   Spreading love can’t be sidelined when the budget is tight, my kids are sick, or I miss a deadline.  Promoting peace shouldn’t have to fight for time in my busy day.

Designating time for intentional self reflection helps me monitor my human nature tendency to undervalue relationships, to prioritize material goods, and deemphasize love.  Self reflection helps bring clarity to the muddiness of life, bringing to the surface the why in our work, the meaning in our actions, and purpose in our lives.

Thoughtful self reflection keeps the why ever present.

What strategies do you have for monitoring your own thoughts, balancing your responsibilities, and ensuring that your time, efforts, and energies are spent doing work that matters?   What stop gaps do you have built into your day that prompt you to refocus, self assess & reflect?


Blogging.  My New Superpower.

Bloggers have always amazed me.  Great bloggers are thoughtful and reflective; consistent, creative, and clear.   They are confident and courageous – ready and willing to take the leap of faith that learning in the open necessitates.

I love this image by @sylviaduckworth illustrating the MAGIC that happens when we (learners) step out of our comfort zone.  The image sparks something in me – it makes me want to be there – outside of comfort – in a new space of magic where preconceived notions are challenged, where fears are faced, and connections are made.

Image result for comfort zone sylvia duckworth

So – as new and daunting as it may be, today I join you, superhero bloggers.  Today I move from consumer to creator.  From participant to contributor.    Today I don my cape and step into the great unknown.  Words won’t always come easily for me, and I won’t be an expert in all things.  My work won’t be perfect and I won’t always have the answers.  But I will be thoughtful and reflective.  I will push the limits of my comfort zone.  I will contribute.  I will be BRAVE.

B  |  Benevolent

R  |  Relationship centered

A  |  Authentic

V  |  Values based

E  |  Empathetic