Monday, June 12, 2017

A Summer of Learning. 5 Ways to Reflect and Grow


With the ending of another year of leading and learning, I push myself to take the pulse of the year completed. While there are many different moments that I am extremely proud of I know there are just as many moments in which I stumbled. The truth is I rarely take the time to revel in all that was positive. I would say we celebrate and move on. In the same vein, I don't labor on the events that may have crumbled and been obstacles on our path to success. Instead, I give each the attention they deserve. Like you, I learn from the successes we have and the failures we experience.

Now that the year is complete, this is an educators opportunity to get better at their craft. Summer is the perfect time to grow yourself in all aspects of your work. And even though there may not be students or teachers walking our halls and attending our classes, our learning never stops. This is a summer to grow and deepen our understanding of best practices in education.

As you starting thinking about where your summer growth may come from, here are the ways in which I will grow my learning in order to be a better leader:

1a. Dive into a Book. Get reading and think about how the words on the pages can impact the students and teachers that will walk through your doors in August and into September. Need some suggestions on what to read? There are many. Get on Twitter, stop by your local book store or ask a colleague. There is a vast collection and the topics are endless. Make sure to chose books that push yourself as an educator.

1b. Jot it Down. Post-it-notes, pages, sketch-notes or even take to your blog page. If you are anything like me, writing it down is what makes me better at remembering what I have read and will be more likely to apply in the future. Keep it simple and keep in intentional and you will be grateful you took to paper or computer to recall what you have been thinking about.

2. Head to a Conference. Whether an EdCamp, a conference sponsored by your local educational service center or at the national level, conferences are a great way to connect with educators that are passionate about what they do. Find something that works for your budget and commit to making the trip. I have found that conferences challenge the way in which I approach my work and broaden my lens to what others are doing in their schools and in their communities.

3. Pick up the Phone. Today we rely on social media and email to deliver messages and professional information and sometimes we forget that our "old technology" is just as good as the latest and greatest tech tool. Some educators use "Voxer" to be an integral part of their learning journey. Voxer allows you to send a message to either a group or to individuals and then they can respond as they have time. Of course nothing is more personal than picking up the phone and connecting and sharing your journey in leading and learning.

4. Get Outdoors. Regardless of what you teach or where you teach (or lead), there is much to be gained from being outdoors in your community and taking in the culture and surroundings that define it. If fortunate enough to travel, take pictures of where you have been and plan to use those in the year ahead. Remember, every step you take is a step in growing yourself. Use the outdoors as a way to grow and to rejuvenate yourself as an educator.

5. Find Balance. Press Pause. With all that there is that can be done, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. Clear your head, go for a walk and find the time to decompress from the year that is behind you. The pace we keep is intense and we need to give ourselves permission to catch up. So yes, we do have weeks off that other professions do not so use them wisely. Find balance and press pause.

You may be asking where the reference is to family. I purposefully saved that for last. As I have been reading the work of Gordon and Kight they both emphasize the need for clarity and purpose. For me, it is family that helps me achieve both. Regardless of the company that you keep, embrace the moments you have and spend time this summer growing with them. Family is often the reason you give with the effort that you do. Be sure to give back to them in the days and weeks ahead.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

5 Ways to Finish


Spring has arrived and the final quarter of the school year is here. Whether you live in the northeast or the southwest, students and teachers know that the seasons have changed and this school year is quickly coming to a close.

With each day passing there is an opportunity in front of us as educators that we cannot dismiss. It happens every year and we see it around us. Many times it happens within us. Either we raise our game and put the throttle down and finish strong or we simply take our foot off the gas and go on autopilot and coast until that final bell.

Here are five ways to finish the year that is best for students and best for you. As educators we have invested countless hours in planning, delivering and embracing the opportunities of each school day. Now that the final months have arrived, here is our opportunity to deliver some of the most powerful lessons of the year. With that, consider these tips to stay dialed in.

1. Stay Focused. Seasons have changed and it is getting greener. While we hear the birds chirping and see the flowers blooming, remain focused on the lessons yet to be taught. Make sure your learning targets are clear, your lessons are rich with student engagement and you are intentional with your assessments. Measure learning NOT material. This time of year you can get more from your students than at any other point. Keep yourself focused and the impact you will make will be obvious.

2. Relationships Still Come First. You have spent 8 months building upon the relationships that come to your classroom each day. Your students are hanging on every word that you speak and believe in you now more than ever before. This is your opportunity to dive into some learning and really draw from them their passion to grow. Be intentional in your instruction and use the relationships that you have fostered to push the limits of teaching and learning.

3. Grow Yourself. Recently a conversation arose about teachers and professional development toward the end of the school year. Educators are exhausted and administrators are attempting to find balance between allowing for that space to breath while still expecting best practices and growth among their staff. The reality is this, we never stop learning. As an educator you should be pushing yourself professionally as much in April as you did in August. There is no "down time" and there is no break in learning. Model this with your students. Show them that growth happens year round.

4. Check Your Goals. Remember when you sat down created your SMART goals to start the year? This is the time to assess where you are and ensure you have put the effort into accomplishing each and every one of those. If you have not been able to complete what you intended to start, time to get busy. Goals are set for a reason and if you haven't reached them, do not abort your passion to do so, simply find a way to get to the finish line and lean on others for support and guidance.

5. Celebrate. We have worked hard. Knowing we have spent hours upon hours of preparation and delivery and now comes the reality that the year is coming to an end. The relationships you have formed have paid off in the expectations you have set of others. Whether as a classroom teacher, a building administrator or a district office leader, find balance in the push to the end while ensuring that there is celebration of the organizations accomplishments. Just like a graduation ceremony for seniors, include the pomp and circumstance for even the youngest of our students. Celebrate your efforts and the efforts of those around you.

Everything we do in education begins and ends with the interactions we have with others. Our role is to ensure that it is those purposeful and intentional relationships that will drive the successes we experience throughout the entire school year. As you wrap up your academic year remember to finish strong. Avoid going on autopilot and make the most of each moment of each day.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Getting Hired. 5 Tips to Being the Candidate of Choice

This post was first published in May of 2016.

Landing that first teaching job, any teaching job, can be a daunting task. The world of teaching is as competitive as it ever has been. Whether spending hours in coursework, months of field study or after years of teaching, securing that coveted role of educator is not for the faint of heart. It will take more than talent. You will need to build skill along the way.

These past three weeks I have conducted three webinars with the Lead Learning team. In addition, I have had multiple Voxer conversations with five educators seeking advice to land their first job, And, I have had four student teachers/tutors sit down in my office and we have discussed what it will take to be the last one standing when the process comes to an end.

The reality is that getting hired is not easy. Separating yourself from the pack can be overwhelming. Knowing what to say, and what not to say, can be intimidating. So, knowing all of that, I have compiled 5 quick tips to assist you on your way to becoming the candidate of choice and becoming the teacher you have so much passion to be.

1. Be Crisp. Whether your resume, your portfolio or your presence, present yourself in a way that you want the community of learners to see you. There is no second impression. Once you walk in that room and shake the hands around the table, that's it. That is who you are and how you will be remembered as they process their choices while you are there and well after you have left.

2. Be Confident. Getting to that interview table was hard enough. Now that you are there it is time to let the team have it. Come out strong. You are asking to be entrusted with other peoples children. Demonstrate to the team through your words and your interactions that you can handle that responsibility. Whether the students are 5 or 15, articulate through your responses that you are ready for the task at hand.

3. Have Vision. A candidate that knows exactly what they believe in when it comes to education is an impressive candidate to put it mildly. This doesn't mean that they aren't willing to learn. Just the contrary. A prospective candidate that is well-versed in best practices like homework guidelines, grading practices, technology, personalization and blended learning speaks to the vision they posses for teaching and learning. You can't be faulted for having vision.

4. Find Separation. This is my personal favorite. For the most part candidates are going to come across with an 80% overlap of skill, knowledge and pedagogy. My advice therefore is simple. bring the "wow" factor. One of my most recent suggestions was to a candidate that asked me about bringing in a portfolio of her transcripts, lesson plans and some pictures. Honestly, as I told her, that does nothing for me. One, portfolios are required by most colleges and universities. It is an outdated practice. However, here was my 2016 spin of a portfolio and how to demonstrate separation:
Take those pictures of the Medieval Festival, throw in some screenshots of your grading rubric, assessments and exit slips, put it to some Jack Johnson upbeat song (see below) and make an iMovie. Then, during the interview when asked about "a lesson that stands out" or "an example of best practices" you have a real-life, technology driven example. That is how you separate.

5. Leave it on the Table. To conclude the interview process most conversations end with the team asking the candidate if they have any questions. If a question didn't capture a strength or you have more you can add about why you are best for the job, you have to use this time to share it out. Don't get in the car driving away and say, "Oh, I wish I would have shared _______!" This is your time to leave it all on the table.

Hats off to those entering the profession. You are what we need. You are passionate, bright and outgoing educators that will do what is best for kids. As the ones doing the hiring (whether an individual or a team) we strive to find the best of the best. To be selected you have to separate yourself. Bring that 20% that no one else thought of before they entered the room. You will be better for it. And, hopefully get the position you seek.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Building Relationships. Practical Ideas to Implement in the Classroom.

Tribe_Post_Relationships1 (2).jpg


It all goes back to relationships!


Relationships are the essential element in our schools. The old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is true especially in today’s society when kids are used to so much choice in their world. Also, in today’s busy world, it’s important for teachers and school staff to make positive connections with students. We must be intentional and taking time with these relationships must be purposeful.


Members of the Compelled Tribe have teamed up to share practical ways for educators to build relationships with students. As connected educators we also embrace the notion that it is the power of the team that drives much of what we do. How do you build relationships with those that you serve? See the list below for ideas to add to what you may be already doing in the buildings and districts in which you work.


  1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them.
  2. Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year.
  3. Know your students families. As important as it is to know the students, make the connection to home. Great relationships with your kids starts where they kick off their day. As the year continues and both the good and bad arise, having that connection will be crucial to getting the results you are seeking.
  4. Journal writing is an activity to get to know your students well and give students a voice in the classroom.
  5. Make positive phone calls home especially within the first two weeks of the school year.
  6. Genius Hour/Passion Projects really give teachers an opportunity to learn about student passions.
  7. Have kids make something that represents them out of Play-dough and share.
  8. In the first couple of days of school, learn the first name of every student in your first class of the day, and something personal and unique about them that has nothing to do with your first class of the day.
  9. Be vulnerable!  Let your guard down and show your students that you are a learner, you make mistakes, and persevere.  They will see you as a person, opening the door for a relationship built on trust. Share stories about yourself as a learner or challenges you’ve faced when you were there age and help them see what it took to overcome it. It’s easy to forget how much a simple connection can make the difference.
  10. Eat together.  Have breakfast with a small group of kids or join them at the lunch table.  Gathering around meal time provides an informal way to have conversations and get to know your students.
  11. Hold Monday morning meetings (We call them “Weekend News Updates”).  Ask each student to share about their weekend - good or bad.  Ask questions.  Be sure to share about your weekend too!  Occasionally bring in breakfast or make hot chocolate.
  12. Laugh with them. Frequently. Show them that school, and your class, is just not about learning stuff. It is about sharing an experience. Tell them you missed them if they were out.
  13. Keep in touch with past students.  Show past students that you do not have a 1 year contract with them.  The ongoing relationship will also model to your current students the value of a positive classroom community.
  14. At the elementary level -- hold morning meeting everyday as a class and stick to the routine of greeting, sharing, team building activity, and morning message.  This is a sacred time to build and maintain a culture of risk tasking and building relationships.
  15. Send positive postcards home to every child. Have them address it on the first day of the quarter, keep them and challenge yourself to find at least one thing each quarter to celebrate about your students, let them and their parents know.
  16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
  17. Make personal phone calls to parents. Find one good thing to say about the children in your class.  It can be how they contributed to a class discussion or how well mannered they are in class or in the halls. For older students it can be how diligent a student is at learning challenging content.
  18. Share something about yourself that they will find relevant or interesting to extend your relationships with students.
  19. Tell a story from a time you were their age. This approach allows students to see teachers as they once were and make connections easier to establish and maintain.
  20. Create a unique handshake or symbol for each of your students.  Use it when you greet them at the door or say goodbye.
  21. Eat lunch with a group of kids throughout the week. They will enjoy a time dedicated just to them. (And you will enjoy a peaceful lunch!)
  22. As a school, hold monthly celebrations to recognize students and educators their accomplishments.
  23. Take pictures with students. Print. Write a special note on the back to the student.
  24. At the end of a term or year, write a thank you to students telling them what you have learned from them. Be specific and honest - authenticity goes a long way. Try to make the note handwritten if possible, but email works well too.
  25. Each day write two students a personal  note about something that you have noticed about them.  Go into some detail and be specific. Keep track of who you reach out to over the year and try and reach as many students as you can. The time you spend doing this will deepen connections and pay off 10 fold.
  26. Have dance parties! It is so fun to let loose and get down with students. Students love seeing you have fun with them, and the saying goes, “The class that dances together, stays together”.
  27. Play with students at recess or during a free time. Climb the monkey bars, play kickball, or tag. Students will never forget you connecting with them on the playground.
  28. Hang out in the hall to give high fives or to have quick conversations with students. Relationship-building can be squeezed into any time of the day.
  29. Notice students having a bad day. Ask questions without prying. Show that you care. Follow up the next day, week, etc.
  30. When a student is having a rough day, ask if he/she has eaten. We are all more unreasonable when we are hungry. Keep a supply of snacks on hand (ex: breakfast bars, crackers, etc).
  31. Go see students at their events: sports, theater, dance, volunteering. Meet parents and families.
  32. When a student stops to say “Hello” and has a friend in tow, introduce yourself and be sure that the guest feels important.
  33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
  34. Sing “Happy Birthday” to students; send birthday emails (I use “Boomerang” to schedule my birthday emails each month).
  35. Say “I missed you yesterday” when a student has been absent. Be sincere.
  36. We have to make time to grow relationships with our students. This time can not always be in a planner or a calendar. Sometimes, this simply means just being there for your students.
  37. Mail them a postcard for their birthday. They are always amazed to receive personal mail!
  38. In a leadership position, learn as many names as you can. Greet students by their name as often as you are able.
  39. Music! Bond with your students over music. Play soft classical music while they are working. Incorporate music/songs into special events or lessons.
  40. Classroom: Start a compliment jar. Share comments at the end of class or randomly throughout the day. School: Do shout-outs during morning (or afternoon) announcements/news show.
  41. Smile and make eye contact.  “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”.  Something as simple as a greeting in the hall with smile and eye contact conveys both warmth & safety.  Try it tomorrow.  
  42. First day of math class have them choose 10 numbers that are significant to them (3 for number of cats, 1 for brothers, 20 for number of hours they work, etc.).  Everyone shares out.  You will learn lots about all your students in one day.  
  43. Cut them some slack every now and then.  “What were you doing?  What should you have been doing?  Can you do that for me next time?”  We all make mistakes.  
  44. Hold class celebrations and have students develop unique cheers for various accomplishments...these can be anything from a sports team victory, to being selected for something, to earning a grade, and they need not be school related.
  45. Allen Mendler’s 2x10 strategy for challenging students. Spend 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days talking to a student about something not academic.
  46. Share your own goals, successes/failures. Don’t be a mystery to your students.
  47. After morning announcements have students participate in a daily discussion question.  Have a student read the question and set a timer for two and a half minutes.  Each person turns to a partner and answers the question then volunteers share with the whole class.  Each question, in some way, will help you get to know your students.
  48. Halfway through the year, have your parents and students fill out a feedback form.  In my classroom, these forms look different.  Allow them to evaluate you so you can keep what works and change things that aren’t working.
  49. In your summer introduction letter, include a letter asking parents to write about their children in 1,000,000 words or less.  Keep the assignment voluntary and open so they tell you what is most important to them.
  50. Don’t be too busy to truly listen.  Listen to understand, not to respond.  Are you starting a lesson when a student interrupts and tells you they are moving?  Take the minute to hear them out.  That time will mean more to the student than the first minute of the lesson ever will.
  51. When students get stuck in class, teach the other students to cheer them on.  We do a simple, “Come on, [Name], you can do it,” followed by three seconds of clapping.
  52. Teach students call and responses to uplift each other.  When a student responds with something profound and someone loves it, that student gets to start the cheer.
  53. When you check in with groups to give them feedback or see how it’s going, make sure you are seeing them eye-to-eye.  If they’re sitting, don’t stand.  Pull up a chair next to them.  If they’re sitting on the floor, sit down on the floor next to them to avoid standing over them.
  54. Give honest feedback even when it may not be positive.  Your students will appreciate that you expect more out of them than they’re showing.
  55. Create a “You Matter” wall.  Take fun pictures of each of your students.  Print each photo and put each student’s photo in an 8x10 frame.  Hang them all on your wall under a “You Matter” heading.  At the end of the year, send the photos home with students.
  56. Tell them what was hard for you when you went through school and how you worked to overcome the challenges.  It shows they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
  57. Defend your students in front of other people.
  58. Take risks so students feel comfortable doing the same.  Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
  59. Create something that is unique to your class.  For us, it’s a house competition.  It’s something that connects my past students and current students.  It’s also a family bond that only the students who have been in my class understand.
  60. Apologize when you make a mistake.
  61. Cook together and then you can eat family style in the classroom. Some fun and easy crockpot meals: applesauce, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings. Then, make cupcakes for dessert!
  62. Every so often, take the pulse of your building according to students. Convene a volunteer roundtable with student reps from various groups (athletes, scholars, quiet, loud) and ask them for critical feedback about topics you are working on. Some ideas I’ve seen discussed in this format include schoolwide incentives (assemblies, sledding event, etc.), dress code, and discussing recess options for winter.
  63. During your informal walk throughs, saddle up right next to students and ask them the purpose of the lesson they are involved in. Why do you think the teacher is asking you to work on this? You’ll be more than surprised with the honest feedback.
  64. Bring board games back! Add a few games like Checkers, Uno or Chess to your lunch table options. See if any students are willing to play a game or two with you and others.
  65. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the entry of your building with positive messages to students. Have teachers help you write and draw the notes!
  66. Leave nice notes on post-its for students on the outside of their lockers. Recruit other students to help spread the kindness throughout many lockers!
  67. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Remind them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Don’t hold grudges against misbehavior and don’t allow other adults to hold them either.
  68. Make time for dismissal. Tell them you can’t wait to see them tomorrow and share high fives on the way out!
  69. Notice which students still don’t have money to pay for lunch. Help them out when you can. Treat them to a snack they don’t usually get to purchase at lunch time.
  70. Find special projects that need to be done around school and recruit the most unlikely helpers.
  71. Remind your students you and your staff were all kids once too. Have your team bring in pictures of themselves as children (at the ages you have in your school). Post them and have a contest allowing students to guess which teacher is which. Those 80s pictures are the most popular!
  72. My favorite question to ask my students or any student I come in contact with is what are you into lately? This opens communication with your students and let's them know you are interested.
  73. Allow students to do a job shadow. Give them a peek into what you do and how you make daily decisions.
  74. Host an ice cream social for students that meet certain goals.


The list will grow as our experiences and our connections grow. Feel free to reach out to any of the Tribe members listed below to learn more about the power of our team and how our tribe constantly supports each other in our teaching, leading and learning.


Compelled Tribe Contributors:


Jennifer Hogan, The Compelled Educator  @Jennifer_Hogan
Jonathon Wennstrom, Spark of Learning  @jon_wennstrom
Craig Vroom, Fueling Education, @Vroom6
Allyson Apsey, Serendipity in Education, @allysonapsey
Sandy King Inspiring The Light @sandeeteach
Jacie Maslyk   http://jaciemaslyk.blogspot.com/    @DrJacieMaslyk
Jodie Pierpoint  Journey In Learning @jodiepierpoint  
Jim Cordery   Mr. Cordery’s Blog  @jcordery
Allie Bond   The Positive Teacher @Abond013
Angie Murphy ConnectED to Learning @RoyalMurph_RRMS
Karen Wood https://karenwoodedu.wordpress.com/ @karenwoodedu
Lindsey Bohler lindseybohler.com @Lindsey_Bohler
Debbie Campbell The Curious Educator @DebraLCamp
Michael McDonough M Squared at the Microphone @m_squaredBHS
Barbara Kurtz bkurtzteachermentor.blogspot.com @BJKURTZ
Stephanie Jacobs www.thisblogiswhy.blogspot.com @MsClassNSession
Michael Todd Clinton Motivated teacher blog  @MotivatedThe
Cathy Jacobs https://cathyjacobs.org/ @cathyjacobs5
Reed Gillespie Mr. Gillespie’s Office @rggillespie
Molly Babcock Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree @MollyBabcock
Lisa Meade Reflections @LisaMeade23

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Lesson of Silence


It has been a while. There were days in which I asked myself if I was ready to return. There were moments that I wondered if there was anything worth sharing. Was there going to be value, growth and purpose to the words I would put on blank pages? Writing had been put on hold. I had lost my drive to grow through written reflection.

And in this moment I realized something as profound as any moment in my career. The reality was that I had not in fact lost my drive, rather I was seeking to grow. And for me, that meant I needed to listen, more.

We are each consumed with our work and our passion for teaching and leading. Days are full of supporting those we spend countless hours with. Time passes by as we give ourselves to our community of learners. Our actions consume us as we constantly strive to improve all that we do. 

In an unsuspecting moment, through the guidance of others, I was reminded of the need to come back to center, to listen more and to grow in this leadership journey. 

Through this lesson of silence there was a revelation that I did not expect to come face-to-face with. This silence reconnected to me the drive that I had either suppressed or become distant with. The silence became powerful. I began to feel more grounded than I had in quite some time. I found myself recommitted to my tribe both near and far. The journey of teaching and leading and the purpose of both gained depth. Relationships around me strengthened.

In the silence I grew. This unplanned, unimagined silence has inspired me to come back to the pages that have been blank for far to long. Reflection is essential. Sometimes it is sharing our journey and other times it is simply listening to the silence that is around us.

And with that, the silence subsides. Slowly. Intentionally. Purposefully.