Saturday, July 25, 2015


The Lesson
It was 10:30, and way past bedtime. But, it was Friday evening, and they just finished watching one of their favorite Pixar movies, Brave. I told them that it was time to go to bed, but their dad had a different idea. “Boys, come here. I have something to show you first.” Intrigued, we all gathered around him at the bottom of the stairs.

“All of you need your iPads.” What was this all about? The boys rushed to the charging station, grabbed their iPads, and ran back to their dad, eager to see what was in store. He proceeded to show them a new app, Skyview, that he put on all of their iPads without them knowing it. “A long time ago, people used the stars to find their way to get places. Through this app, we can learn about the constellations they used. Let’s go outside to see them!”

Out they went, iPads in hand, dark night sky, the stars above. Each little guy pointed their iPad to the sky, and the constellations illuminated on their iPads. The next 30 minutes were filled with awe and excitement, the faces of discovery lighting the night. There are no words to describe the faces of wonder as they discovered planets, the patterns of the stars, and how space was all around us. Countless moments of “Look at this!” and “What is this thing?” were shared. Mom and Dad moved among the boys, answering questions, pointing to objects, describing what they were seeing on their screens.

In our living room, an impromptu astronomy lesson took shape. We grabbed a globe, I stood as the sun, and my boys learned about the term orbit, the planets that orbit the sun, and the other objects that fly through space. And when our astronomy lesson was over, the boys rushed back to their iPads, finding the orbits and horizon on their screen, beginning to understand the great space around them. Inevitably, it was time for bed, but the wheels were still turning in their heads, and science just got very cool and real.

Wonder & Discovery
There were no standards posted. No textbook sitting around. We didn’t create a hanger mobile or hand out a worksheet with the planets. We are not going to take a test and analyze the data. Dad had a learning experience in store - discover what constellations are - and my children took that experience to a new level. He certainly did not intend for me to tear his “lesson” apart, he simply wanted his children to explore.

This experience would not have been as amazing as what it was without the technology in each of their hands. It definitely would not have been as powerful as it was if he had showed them pictures in a book or pointed to the sky to talk about it.

The key to this experience was my children’s ability to explore on their own, ask their own questions, wonder and discover on their own, with us by their side the entire time. A tool enhanced the experience, and peaked their interest even more with its vivid images and descriptions. The app could have very easily been used in a different way, modeled by one with direct explanation as a whole group. Instead, the tool was quickly shared, and the power rested in the hands of the children, giving them time to explore and discover, building questions and facilitating discussion. These are the moments, the authentic experiences, that are remembered and treasured. And these are the experiences we need more of in our schools.

How can we build more wonder in our classrooms? How can we create experiences of exploration and discovery on a greater scale?

Today, our schools are often driven by standards and testing accountability. Our curriculums are still founded in the pace and topics of textbooks. And while these elements are not necessarily terrible, our entire purpose in education has been driven by them rather than the wonder of our kids.

We provide experiences for our students to discover and explore topics, and the important piece of this is to get out of the way! Today, many of our children have tools in their hands to explore and wonder, inquire and discover, and it is our role to now stand aside and let this happen. With simple reframing of our classrooms, the content can come to life in their hands, and we simply guide them through it. Imagine the discussion and motivation within a classroom where the students are continually discovering, not just being “told” what is and was and what will be.

Our roles as educators need to change to facilitator, not expert. Build a community of self-guided learners and the standards and testing will take care of itself. Allow children to inquire and explore, and we have built life-long learners, not compliant workers seeking the one and only right answer.

There are so many TOOLS. It is through our approach that wonder and discovery can be the norm in our classrooms.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Smarter & Harder

During a workshop a few years ago, it was shared that we, as educators, need to work smarter, not harder. I took this phrase to heart, because I always felt I was working so hard, spinning my wheels, and it was time for me to get smarter about the work I was doing with my students.

Flash forward to today, with reflection after reading Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, his passion for teaching seeping through every page, and I’m beginning to think this phrase does not hold true for me. It sounds great, but the reality is, educators are working smarter and harder than ever before. We are doing both, simultaneously, because as Burgess says, “This is a tough business…” We are aiming for this magic bullet that will make everything easier, but in reality, there are no easy ways to reach all kids so that they can be successful. It is hard work, persistent work, but work that is so rewarding in the end. It takes smart work, building upon various strategies, techniques, and using multiple tools in order to help those students be successful. It is not one more than the other. We are all working smarter and harder for our kids to be successful.

From an educator’s perspective, this is time and not pay. Teachers did not get into this profession for the pay. If they did, they chose the wrong career. There is time to develop plans, to create the learning activities, to attend professional development to better themselves, to meet with team members to solve the issues of the day. Time to collaborate with colleagues on the data results and manipulate the curriculum so that skills can be addressed again. It is challenge daily. It is more than 180 days a year and more than 8 hours a day. For the enthusiastic educator, time is worth it. Their student’s success is payment enough.

To passionate educators, our smarter and harder living is the ultimate reward. It is uplifting to watch a child figure out the sounds of a word and light up when they read it for the first time correctly. Or when a child figures out how to manipulate the problem to find the answer. Or when a student who often struggled walks across the stage to receive his diploma. These are the moments we live for. These are the moments that all the smart and hard work pays off. We do this for our students, not for us. I am not in this field for the time on the clock or any kind of awards or compliments. Our students' success is our WHY we do what we do.

Here is the reality:
There are no shortcuts in our educational system. If there were, we would have found it by now. Teaching is hard. Change is hard. Teamwork is hard. Learning is hard. And we are all being smart about it. We are applying the best strategies and ideas we know in order to engage our students in authentic work and learning opportunities. We are working together today more than ever before, collaborating and sharing ideas and techniques to make our schools the best place we can for kids. It is “get in the trenches and get your hands dirty” work. Light bulbs turn on and rainbows appear when that smart and hard work has paid off for our students. Walt Disney said, “We work hard to do the best job possible.”

The negativity that resides within our education system is depending on the “work less and get the same or better results” attitude. But this isn’t going to happen. It is time to change the outlook of education to see ALL of the amazing benefits of this work. The best and most effective educators are those who work smart and hard all of the time. They are relentless in their pursuit to help kids. They are not taking the easy road, but the high road that is riddled with bumps and bruises. They are not afraid to take risks and make mistakes so that they may see their students flourish.

Furthermore, our students will work as hard and as smart as we do. Their tenacity will come through as we persist in our efforts to be more creative and collaborative, offering amazing learning opportunities for them. We cannot take a backseat or try to accomplish a task in a easier way and expect the same results from our students. They are watching all that we do. And so, it is important for us to lead by example, to model what we expect from our students. I know it is not easy. However, our students will prosper when we put forth the effort necessary.

To the new educators out there, please know this. Teaching and learning is hard work. And done with your smarts, your students will reap the rewards of your work. There are no easy solutions. But working smarter and harder together, we can change this arena for the betterment of all and our future generations will benefit.

I am proud to be an educator.
I am proud to be a teacher.
I am proud to be a learner.
I am proud to be a principal.
I am proud to be a lead learner.

Our students deserve our very best. They deserve our creativity, our ability to communicate effectively, and our collaborative efforts as a team to make the best opportunities for them so that they can be the future they want for themselves.

No more excuses.
No more complaining.

The work we do today will have lasting influence for those in our classrooms. There is so much good and amazing in education. The changes taking place and the passion found in educators around the world is contagious. Their influence is far-reaching beyond the walls of their schools. Their smarter and harder work shows. Our students' success is the affirmation we receive to continue the smarter and harder work needed to build the schools our children deserve for their future.

“We’re skyrocketing forward into an educational landscape that is changing every day. In these exciting times, we must be ready to take on the challenge of redefining greatness for a whole new generation of teachers and students.” -Burgess, page 148, Teach Like a Pirate

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Inner Drive

I’m a workaholic. I admit it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is a course or a support group out there that would fit into my schedule! It is the summer, and while it is time to rest and get some much-needed projects completed around the house, I find this to be a fantastic time to rejuvenate another way - through my own learning and professional projects. For me, the summer is a mixture of great family time, home projects and cleaning, and my professional growth.

Professional learning is ongoing at all points in the year, but the summer is my time to read many books and reflect, while also exploring more research and ideas than I have time for during the school year. So, here is my to-do list.

  • Hang out with the boys & my husband (A LOT!!!)
  • Visit family from out of town
  • Clean the house, wash windows, catch up on yardwork
  • 6 books to read
  • Study for the GRE and hopefully take it - I’m going to be starting my PhD in the fall of 2016
  • Facilitate 3 summer book studies for staff
  • Blog at least once a week
  • Complete Google Educator Certification, at least the first level
  • Prepare for the IntegratED Conference - co-organizer
  • Attend Google EdCamp
  • EdCamp Global facilitator of 2 sessions
  • Prepare flipped staff videos for the start of school
  • Prepare district administrator leadership academy presentation
  • Paint 3 areas in our house
  • Twitter, Voxer, and a little more Twitter...

I don't strive to complete all of this because I HAVE to. I do it because I WANT to.

At some point, a few would say I am supposed to “rest and relax”, but for me, I enjoy this. I’m not creating this list for accolades or acknowledgement. This is simply my list to do, and it includes all of the things I enjoy doing. I make the time for them, not because I have to, but because I want to.

In reading the book, Drive by Daniel Pink, I’m intrigued by what he calls the third drive, our inner drive. I suppose this is what drives me. I don’t get paid for any of the items on my list. I don’t need to do any of these items. If I decided not to, it wouldn’t hurt my job in any way. I’ve made the choice TO work on these items, whether I complete all of them or not, to better myself. I want to be the best in what I do, and by learning, reflecting, and growing, I feel I am working toward this. I also fully know that I will never be the best, but my goal is to continually strive to be better for my family and my school.

Summer is my opportunity for complete autonomy over my tasks, and I have the time to do it. I am self-directed in these goals, and I personally set them. These are the keys to what Pink describes as "Motivation 3.0". I truly see the power in our inner drive. I am excited to wake up each day, preparing for what I want to accomplish, and making it happen.

Wouldn't this idea be exciting to see all year round? During the school year, this concept is secluded to nights and weekends. And while I absolutely love what I do as the lead learner and principal of my school and interacting with students, teachers, and parents, I also typically do not have a lot of time to devote to my own "projects" or research during the school day. I keep these items for home at night after the kids are in bed and on the weekends. But, what if we, meaning all school staff and students, were given time each day during the school day, to explore our passions and projects like what I typically strive toward during the summer? What if we incorporated more of this 80/20 business model into our school days for staff AND students to explore their passions? It wouldn't be done "for a grade" or "for professional growth points". It would be time to explore whatever we wanted, no strings attached.

I know that some schools are doing this 80/20 model, giving digital badges or completing professional growth portfolios with this work. I know it can be done, and it is happening on a bigger scale each year due to the work of amazing educators giving it a try. Look at Genuis Hour, particularly the recent book by fellow Hoosier Don Wettrick, and Eric Sheninger’s description of the Professional Growth Period in his book Digital Leadership. Look at the growing trend of MakerSpaces, where students create their own creations. Yet, I would love to see a system-wide change, where this is not unique but the norm in schools. With a system-wide change, all individuals would take part, not just teachers and not just students.  The norm is exploration, research, personal projects, seeking self-directed professional and personal growth.

I am struck wondering what the tipping point will be for this idea? At what point will our inner drive no longer be satisfied during our "free time", and want to be developed at all times? With so many passionate and inspiring educators out there who are already dedicating much of their time to their own growth for the betterment of their students and schools during their summer, school nights, and weekends, I'm sure we can find a way for Motivation 3.0 to take hold in our schools and drive us forward. We have wonderful models happening in schools right now with innovation periods, professional growth periods, and MakerSpaces. Now it is time to take it to a new level, spreading it throughout ALL schools like wildfire!

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